“She’s with Booker,” Nile says, dragging herself panting and sweat-soaked from a dream.
In the doorway of her room, Joe reaches back for Nicky’s hand, his face very calm. Deliberate; she’s learning to read him outside a fight. Nicky is less placid, stiff, eyes sliding constantly to the left, where Andy’s sleeping on the other side of the wall.
“It looked like France,” Nile tells them, and lets herself fall backwards on the bed. The sheets are wet, but she relaxes against them, exhausted. After a few seconds, she feels the mattress shift as they sit next to her. She doesn’t have to look to know Nicky’s chin is on Joe’s shoulder.
“She’s really free, then,” Nicky whispers.
Nile cracks an eye open. “What the hell are we gonna tell Andy?”
Joe says, “The truth,” like it pains him. Nicky digs his chin into Joe’s shoulder once, agreeing, and pulls them both up to go make breakfast.
They’re very careful about nutrition, with Andy still convalescing. Nile taught them the wonders of protein shakes, and the blender doubles as Andy’s alarm. She’s not a morning person.
They’re in Bucharest, waiting for Copley to tell them where they’re going next. When Nile asked why Bucharest, Joe said “Baklava,” like that meant anything. Later, after they’d settled in the safehouse and taken Nile’s blindfold off, Nicky quietly explained about the Ottoman inheritance here, how the food was closest to what both Andy and Joe prefer while still being in Europe.
Nile wonders sometimes, as she lies in bed avoiding sleep, what she’ll hold on to when she’s older. Whether she’ll stop feeling less invulnerable when it’s a white hand pointing the gun, or if the flinch will fade eventually, in a hundred years, the way it did between Nicky and Joe. Whether she’ll forget the taste of MREs, which her dad used to bring home for her to try because he complained about them so much when they talked on his deployments, or if that’s the craving that stays with her. The first time she ate an MRE in Afghanistan, her hands shook so hard that Dizzy almost told their CO. Nile didn’t explain it, and now, she never will.
She wonders what Quynh craves after five hundred years at the bottom of the ocean.
It’ll be Nicky who tells Andy, they’ve decided. He’s the kindest of them, the most patient; a sniper. He’ll know how not to hit Andy in the heart, even if it’ll hurt. It would hurt no matter how they break it.
She learns about Quynh in bits and pieces.
Nicky and Joe couldn’t be left alone without it turning into a fight for decades, so Andy and Quynh each picked one of them at the start of every mission or long, miserable wait. It wasn’t until they realized what they were to each other that they also realized what the constant separation meant to Andy and Quynh, after so long together.
Quynh was the one who told them about Lykon, how even this life wasn’t endless, right before locking them in a room without weapons for three days. Joe and Nicky came out of it holding hands, and Quynh had grinned at them before pulling Andy into her lap for a truly filthy kiss.
They always bring up her smile. Her laugh. Almost every story ends with her drinking the others under the table and tucking them safely to sleep, Joe wrapped around Nicky, Andy and Quynh back to back, always pressed together. Sometimes they were found like that by people who hated it, and Joe and Quynh would deal with it.
“She was worse than Joe,” Nicky says fondly, and Nile remembers Quynh’s knife-slash smile from her dreams, and dreads meeting her a little more.
The decades the others spent trying to find her are nothing to the centuries she spent drowning. Nile doesn’t know how to tell them this in a way that they’ll understand, that won't add to their guilt. Booker is using his exile to keep Quynh away from them, but he won’t be able to hold her forever.
Nile can’t imagine what might hold her, now. Even if Nile stays inside this nondescript apartment for now, with the curtains closed and nothing but Netflix in front of her, when they leave, Quynh will be able to see where they are, and she will come for them.
Nicky and Joe split the 1920s and ‘30s between Paris, Berlin, and Bucharest, and it takes them less than a week to update their vocabulary and accents, curled up together with a laptop. After that, they go explore the city. Nile’s used to going places and only seeing the inside of military bases, so she makes herself not care that she can’t even Google the city she’s in, lest Quynh sees the screen in her dreams.
“It was their apartment,” Andy tells her over lunch one day, rolling her fork at the tall ceiling in the long, narrow kitchen. “They bought it under an alias in ‘32, lived here on and off until ‘37. Booker and I went a little mercenary, never stayed anywhere for long. We were all sick of each other after the war, I guess.” She takes another bite of chicken, chews, swallows, then smiles vaguely at the original mosaic tile on the floor. “I didn’t know about this place until the first night we got here, but it feels like them, doesn’t it?”
Nile can’t pinpoint why, but it does. It could be any building in Europe from the ‘30s, really.
The heavy velvet curtains don’t let in much light, but what little comes through is warm. The furniture is all modern, the walls painted white, but she can imagine Joe lifting Nicky up onto the marble shelves above the same big, creaking cast iron radiators in the ‘30s and kissing him quiet and needy. She walked in on them doing that yesterday. Nicky’s eyes were closed, and she now sees the muscle memory behind the way he grabbed for the edge before he landed on it.
“It’s not theirs now,” Andy says, pushing the food around her plate. “We’re paying some foreign students to make themselves scarce. We haven’t owned property since the end of World War II.”
“They were happy here.”
“We were happy in many places,” Andy says, suddenly studying Nile’s face. “Miserable, too. Most of them are gone now. I think they all have little secrets like this, you know? We all have some of the same places - we watched executions from The Pelican. That’s what the place we talked to Booker was called, back when we were smugglers. But we also have secrets.”
Nile likes this woman. Loves her, probably, in a way that’s uncomfortable and unfamiliar; respects her, wants her to be safe, trusts her at her back, but also sees the frailty and mortality in her. Her own immortality is something she’s not even close to coming to terms with, but she’s spent most of the time since she found out with the team or killing people who can still die. There’s a distance, now, between her and mortals. A strange tenderness that has no immediate target but Andy, who will grow old (God willing) and die, while Nile doesn’t age.
It makes Nile greedy for these talks. Makes each of them feel like another brick in the grief she’ll carry later, insurance against the apathy that lurks around the edges of Nile’s new perspective.
“Tell me a secret,” she asks, hands itching to touch Andy’s arm. Alive.
Andy huffs a laugh and picks up the plates, then turns on her heel and puts them in the sink. Squeezes dish soap on the small yellow sponge, turns the tap on to a trickle, flings a dishtowel on her shoulder absently. Nile feels like crying. She admires, in the back of her mind, the fact that Andy automatically turned around to talk, so Quynh won’t lip-read her in a dream.
“We came through here during Justinian’s reforms,” she tells Nile, barely above the sound of the water as she scrubs the plates. “Not where the city is now, a little to the north, I think. It was all forest back then. We came by sea from Greece, on the way to Apulum to deliver something. Can’t remember what. I was dressed like a noblewoman and she was dressed like a servant, that’s how it usually was, and we had guards. We stopped for the night, and we traded clothes in the tent.” She stops scrubbing for a moment, then resumes. “That’s how it usually was.”
“Was he-” Nile starts, then falters.
“He was dead,” Andy says, scrubbing a spotlessly clean plate. “He died around the time your Christ was born.”
“Real? Never met him, or any of his first followers, but I was told he was angry. Kind, but angry. Not sure about divine.”
Nile goes to her room and doesn’t cry.
Quynh was the center of Andromache’s world. That’s what all the stories mean. Quynh was the most loyal of them, the most patient, the tactician that balanced Andy’s bleeding heart. The one who put Andy back together after Lykon died and the one who made space for Nicky and Joe to find each other and grow into each other.
She’s there in every gesture, in every look between Andy and Joe and Nicky, like a ghost. Like they’re trying not to set a place for Quynh at the table, even now.
When she’s feeling particularly trapped in the apartment, Nile wonders whether they only see her as a one-way channel to Quynh. She knows the pleading, guilty looks they default to when they talk to her aren’t meant for her, but even then, she knows it would be unfair to think she’s a proxy.
In all their long lives, there were only ever six of them. Seven, counting Nile. They’re closer to each other than mortal people ever get, and even just months off her own first death, Nile can already feel the before-and-after of it. She already knows she’ll remember Andy’s face in Afghanistan better than her dad’s face, her mom’s face, her own face as a child.
It’s a sickening thought, but she knows she’ll miss Andy more than her family when they’re all gone. Miss her longer, the pain closer to her fast-mending bones.
They go on a mission, Nile blindfolded in three helicopters and for almost two days in an armored car, then blindfolded on the way back. She didn’t kill anyone, but Joe and Nicky still flank her all the way back to the apartment.
It all felt like home.
The others were there, so even when she didn’t know where in the world she was, Nile was home.
“Do you want to retire?” she asks Andy, six tequila shots into a Narcos marathon, the guys out for a concert in Old Town. They saved the lead singer’s great-grandmother in World War II, and they all love the angry barricade songs he sings. Nile is expecting a personalized autograph to start her keepsake collection.
Andy swallows her shot wrong and coughs, laughing and clutching her almost-healed wound.
“Kid,” Andy sputters, “what the fuck made you think we retire?”
“Mortal?” Andy skewers her with a look and thumps her shot glass near the bottle. Nile refills it.
Escobar is talking about his wife onscreen. Nile couldn’t give less of a shit; she’ll rewatch all the series and movies she went through with Andy, find this apartment again, wear Andy’s least-holey leather jacket until it falls apart or they put a grenade through it, then she’ll make a bracelet from the pieces and wear it until it falls apart. Then she’ll try to live in a way that makes Andy proud, until her time finally, blessedly comes. Like Nicky, and Joe, and Booker.
“You know the one thing that doesn’t change?” Andy asks, looking at her and not through her to Quynh. “The one thing that stays the same?”
“I have a pretty good idea,” Nile says. “Tell me anyway.”
“You’ll want to do good,” Andy says. “You won’t be able to fucking sleep for all the difference you can make in the world. That’s why it’s us.”
“She’s coming, isn’t she?”
Andy laughs again, that soundless laugh she must’ve perfected mid-battle. “I won’t make it another three years. But you, kid. You’ll have her at your right hand. You’re so fucking lucky.”
It doesn’t lessen the fear. Nile gives in to impulse and grabs Andy’s forearm, and Andy grabs hers, and it pings something from movies Nile watched with her dad. Her eyes are burning. She lets Andy pull her in for a hug.
It’s a lesson, for the future where Andy isn’t. Nile knows how command works; she weeps now, when the boys aren’t here, and learns how to steady her shoulders.
She dreams about airports when Andy tucks her in. She recognizes the language from Nicky and Joe’s whispered conversations.
She doesn’t wake up until the sirens blare.