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the bets we make

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There is something fond, and warm, in the way they throw money at each other. That in a course of two hundred years, they’d really dug into. Before they found Booker, the bets weren’t as  common. After? Every one of them had something the rest  would bet on, would crow victory  over and laugh and pass money around for. It made the reunions all the sweeter, and eased the ache of the time apart. 

And it gave them challenges to look forward to. 

Joe was always hunting for more unique, obscure, bakeries to buy treats for Andy. He’d only fooled her a handful of times, and most of those had been before the invention of flight. These days, he can’t seem to find a place she hadn’t been to yet, a sweet she hadn’t tried. 

Nicky is helpful, in the way he usually is. Which is smiling, charming the bakers, and being an all-around wonderful distraction. He often baits Joe into trying more than he expects to, or perhaps even wants to, insisting it will help him finally beat Andy’s incredible recognition skills. Joe never complains. Anything that makes Nicky smile like that is a more than worthwhile detour.

Nicky knows this, too. And if he weaponizes his smile just to hear Joe laugh? Well - Joe probably knows he does that intentionally. He’d be surprised if there was anything Joe didn’t know about him. Though he feels as if every day he gets to learn something new about his love. It’s truly a wonder, a millennium later, that there is so much still to learn. To see in his gaze.

In any case, it isn’t like they’re in a hurry to be anywhere. Even with a meeting arranged in a week, they always make it first. Probably because they’re more than happy to just spend time in each other’s arms at a safehouse. Booker wasn’t like that, always moving, always doing something. And Andy? She didn’t tell them much. But no amount of betting or speculation would bring them any closer to an answer on that front. 

It doesn’t matter where the pastry is from - though this time it’s Plovdiv - she still gets it right. Nicky teases that they’ll have to find a bakery in Antartica to best her, and she just smiles that soft, enigmatic smile. She looks happy, then. 

--- 

Andy and Booker have their own running bet. Every decade, they put money on each other to see who’s going to walk in on Joe and Nicky the most. Andy almost always wins that one, too. She actually pays attention to her surroundings, the rooms she’s about to walk into. Booker tends to look up and into spaces after he’s walked into them. 

Nicky and Joe don’t even blink when they’re interrupted. Joe usually grins, Nicky often rolls his eyes at Joe, and Booker will say something under his breath as he turns around and vacates the room. 

When they catch Andy off guard, it’s even more unexpected. The few times she’s lost in thought, or they’re in an inventive position, like the time Nicky had Joe bent over the hood of their car, one of the first with short wheels in existence. 

She just clicks her tongue, a soft sound of amusement, and turns around, walking away. Joe’s laughter follows her out, and she’s smiling to herself, shaking her head. Still, it always makes her feel that warmth in her chest, to see how in love they still are with each other. She’s glad they have that. She always will be.

---

Some of their bets are seasonal, belonging to the times they live in. The first round happens during  World War I, and the second goes even more intense in the next. 

Every death is hard, every death hurts. And when they fight in a war, they die often, and painfully. In times of peace, it might be one bullet in a barfight, an altercation with a murderer. In war, it could be anything. Minefields. Mortars. A dogfight. A broken parachute. They don’t keep track, not really.

But they do keep the bet. Whoever had the most unbelievable death, the most ridiculous, would get to choose their next safehouse location, where they’d go to unwind and  relax and remember how to breathe again after the war. 

It’s Nicky, who wins that one. His parachute sticks when they deploy at the beach, and by the time he gets it to unrfurl, he barely steers back to shore, landing in knee-deep water. And then gets run over by one of the amphibious craft coming from the ships. It doesn’t crush him, so much as break a few bones and hold him underwater long enough that he drowns. 

Joe lands after him, barely tearing his parachute free to run into the water and away from battle - and ignoring the jeers of ‘Hey! The war’s that way! No tickets home!’ to find Nicky. His shouts don’t get heard, not over the din and the movement, and the frothing water makes it impossible for him to see him. 

But a few moments later he spots the parachute, the only one floating like a kelp bed in the water, and he lunges for it, grabs it, and starts to pull. It doesn’t give - it’s still attached. Which means Nicky’s at the other end of it. He pulls harder, dragging the weight towards him and himself towards it.  If Nicky hasn’t lunged out of the water yet, something’s holding him down. He keeps hauling. His gun, his ammo, it all gets wet and hell, he could use his sword for all it mattered. He’s sure he’ll find another gun on another body somewhere else.

And then he walks into something thrashing, an arm hits his leg, and he lunges down, grasping for it. The grip on his forearm is bruising, and he tries to pull him up to the surface. His harness is snagged on something, and Joe can’t find out what, because the thrashing is growing weaker. 

He’s not about to let him die again, so he does the first thing he can think of, which is ducking under the water, finding Nicky’s face - just inches from the surface, but as close as it is, it’s too far - and pressing his lips to his, forcing the air into his lungs. 

Nicky lets out a mass of bubbles, and Joe almost thinks he’s laughing. His hands run down his sides, finding the harness clips, and clicking each one free, one by one. 

NIcky surges past him, sitting up and coughing out seawater, gasping for air in the same breaths. Joe thumps his back, holding onto him  as he recovers. Andy and Booker are long gone, pushing the front lines of the battlefield. They’ll circle back for the two of them if they don’t show their faces up there soon enough. 

“What- was that?” Nicky asks, half laughing as he pulls himself to standing, taking his gun off and throwing it into the water, as well as everything else he can no longer use. Left with just his longsword, the only weapon he’s always relied on for eight hundred years. 

“Adaptability,” Joe says, as if he’d meant to do that all along, instead of just acting before his heart beat another time. 

“Whatever you say,” he says, though he kisses Joe, and tugs him back toward the battle.

For all that anyone tries - though not exactly on purpose - no one beats Nicky’s beach disaster in the next year. Booker gives it the good old philosophical try, when a mortar hits him and sends his body flying two hundred feet and into the enemy trenches, making the rest of them do a midnight charge into the thick of it to get him back. They end up shifting the battle line that night, and the bulge ends up shifting forward, and breaking, for a deep advance for the Allies. 

Booker takes credit for it, but he loses the bet.

Nicky chooses the island of Spinagola, where any news that is going to get to them has to come by ferry and chooses to come even less often. They all decide he made the right choice,  letting the world pass them by for a year or two before something else calls them back into the fray.

--- 

They’re in France, a little before the riots, when Booker places a bet that no one expected of him. 

“Bet none of us can guess where Andy goes,” he says.  He means in their years apart. They can all figure that out.

Andy’s eyebrow quirks up. “That means I get the money if you’re all wrong,” she says. 

They all slap down whatever cash they had in their pockets, usually some substantial sum that ended up being at least a few thousand between them. 

“So? what do you think, Booker?” Joe asks.

“collecting art, to keep in all her stashes for centuries,” he says, a wry smile at her.

She replies with a similar expression. “Those tend to happen, I don’t go out seeking them.”

“You go to the sea,” Nicky says. He’s seen her come back with salt on her arms, sand in her belongings.

Booker opens his mouth to protest, that that’s too general, when Joe sits up, gaze snapping to their leader.

“You’re looking for her.” It’s not a question, and the way Andy stills tells him he hit the arrow on the target. 

Her jaw twitches, as she swallows, and she nods. “...Yeah. Yeah, I am.” 

Joe doesn’t take the money. None of them move, really.

It’s Nicky who speaks first. “Why didn’t you tell us?” he asks. There’s a pain in his eyes, and Joe thinks that’s the pain that he knows he’d feel if it was Joe who was lost, trapped for centuries, alone.

Andy’s expression twists. “It’s my fault I lost her.”

“It is not,” Joe says vehemently, though he doesn’t raise his voice. “If there is anyone to blame, it is us for not being able to reach you both in time.”

“Let us help,” NIcky says, heading off a speech from Joe at the pass. He knows Andy knows all the things he’d say already, and that she doesn’t believe them, either.

Andy exhales softly, looks to each one of them in turn. Booker meets her gaze the steadiest, because he wasn’t there for it. Nicky glances to Joe, and Joe meets his gaze before latching onto hers. 

“The rest of the world can wait, Andy,” Joe says. “Quynh needs us more.”

Andy nods.

They always have a purpose.