“What now?” Nile asks when they leave Copley's house.
“Now we'll rest,” Andy says.
They get on a plane and Nile doesn't even ask where they're heading for. She is painfully awake while the others are sleeping in uncomfortable positions, looking peaceful despite everything that has happened, despite what they did only hours ago. But maybe this is what decades, centuries, a millennia of killing people does to you. She'll find out soon. For now, those memories hinder her from closing her eyes since whenever she drifts off she smells blood, hears shots being fired and bones breaking, sees the light leaving the eyes of a unnamed solider (a solider just like she was only a fortnight ago), and then she feels herself dying, feels her heart stop beating and her brain shutting down.
She is exhausted and wants nothing more than to hear her mothers voice once again, to be held in her arms and told that everything is going to be alright. It won't, she realizes, she's immortal for a few days and doesn't even remember how often she has been killed since then. Nothing will ever be alright for her.
The safe house is somewhere in Asia and it's surprisingly big and luxurious, taking the old chapel and abandoned mine into account where they've stayed before. When she says so everyone sort of chuckles and Booker states, “Well, you get bored of broken down places after a decade or two.”
They take showers and eat dinner and it feels so awfully mundane that Nile wants to scream. She doesn't, instead she keeps her mouth shut all night until everyone decides to go to bed and sets off for the same room. There are three big beds and when she stops in her tracks and looks at them confused, Andy suggest, “I'll sleep with Booker so you'll have your own.”
“I don't... why? Are there other bedrooms?”
“It keeps the dreams away,” Andy answers her first question and when Nile doesn't move an inch she adds, “Upstairs.”
Without saying anything else Nile practically runs away.
She spent the majority of the last few years sharing a room with other people, but always out of necessity, savouring every night she was on her own. However, when she lies upstairs in that too wide bed and feels the same panic clutching on the edges of her mind that already threatened to take hold of her on that plane, she regrets not staying with them despite the weirdness. They're strangers, still, even though fate or God decided to bring them together and it seems wrong to let herself be that weak in front of them.
She realizes she is an intruder to their shared lives, just as they are to hers, and thinks back to all the instances she saw them lying, sitting and being together. She doesn't belong.
In the end she catches an hour or two of restless sleep and only gets up when Nicky knocks on her door to tell her that breakfast is ready. It seems pointless, feeding a body that cannot stay dead, but her growling stomach tells her she's still in need of it. She wants to ask about it and in the end she decides against it, afraid she won't like whatever the answer will be.
During the day she watches them, is shocked and reassured by how human they act. They talk, and laugh, and sit outside to enjoy the sun and read everything from papers over magazines to novels. They even try to get her to talk to them some more, but she doesn't know what to say, suddenly overstrained with the whole situation. When she goes back to her room again no one stops her, however, they knock on her door once again when it's time for dinner.
Days go by and Nile just is. She still doesn't sleep much, and when she does she dies again and again, and it somehow exhausts her even more. The others are probably talking about her, she isn't too sure, but she thinks she interrupted a few conversations by merely setting a foot into a room. Perhaps they just don't want her listening to whatever hundreds of years old people are talking about, though. It doesn't really matter. Sometimes she wants to ask what they'll do next, what the plan is, but Andy's words still echo through her mind, 'now we'll rest,' and when Nile is completely honest, she doesn't feel ready for anything else.
“I once was the 'new one', as well,” Booker tells her one night when she sits outside and watches the sinking sun. He sits down in the chair next to hers, places two bottle of beer on the table between them and huffs before continuing, “The first few years were hard. And those first days and weeks... to be honest I don't even remember them, I was drunk out of my mind all day, every day. I think I even died from all the alcohol a few times, but that didn't matter, did it.”
He chuckles and sounds so sad that she wants to say something, but no one taught her the right words to use when you're confronted with another person's shared inability to die.
“Whatever, I wanted to tell you that I know what it feels like, thinking you don't belong. They've spent a few hundreds years together when I met them and it was intimidating. I didn't want to be there, with those people who put into words what I already knew for quite some time then; that the life I knew was over. And at the same time I wanted what they had, this bond, thinking I would never be part of it.”
Nodding she adverts her eyes from him, doesn't want him to see how much those words hurt her, for herself just as for him.
“You will belong, Nile, you already do.”
She wakes up shaking, breathing going so fast that she doesn't get any air into her lungs, and it takes her a few moments until she remembers her training and is able to force her body to calm down. The pictures she saw in her nightmare don't fade like they normally do, instead they're played on repeat inside her head, refusing to let go of her. She sees Joe and sees blood, his skin covered in cuts that don't want to heal, some bones are crushed and other parts are missing entirely, and despite his lungs clearly still working he never looked more dead.
The pain refuses to leave her, as well, just like the fear of losing him, of spending the rest of her life without him. It's irrational, she doesn't understand why this dream left her so upset, and when this panic is still holding onto her after minutes, she gets up in order to catch some fresh air, hoping it'll clear her head.
Later, she doesn't know what made her go to their bedroom instead, maybe she merely heard a strange noise, wanted to make sure it really only had been a dream, or she felt the same pull that brought them all together in the first place. Whatever it was, upon entering the room she knew this was where she should be, even though she didn't understand that thought until her eyes landed on Nicky.
He sits upright in his bed, (Joe next to him, sleeping, and breathing, and unharmed) and under the hallway's in-shining light she sees the same fear, the same pain in his eyes that she feels ever since she woke up.
She realizes why this dream has shaken her so much before he even opens his mouth, “I'm sorry you had to witness this.”
Getting a few hesitant steps closer she whispers, “What happened? When?”
“A long time ago,” he holds his hand out and she takes it, lets herself be pulled closer and sits down next to him, “There were always people figuring out who we are, what we are, and who tried to use it for their personal gain, no matter how cruel it was.”
His warm touch under her skin, this proof of them being alive and with her, makes the memory of Joe's nearly destroyed body slowly fade away and with it the pain that made it so hard to breathe until now, “Why did I see it?”
“It's like we reach out subconsciously when the pain, when everything, is too much. However, I still don't quite understand it, even after all this time.”
She looks at the other two beds, sees Andy and Booker sleeping with calm looks on their faces, so widely different to the ones they wear while being awake, “And why didn't the others?”
With a shrug he says, “Staying close helps to keep the dreams away.”
So that is what she does from then on; staying close. This first night she sleeps in Nicky's and Joe's bed, feels uncomfortable and awkward despite Nicky saying he wants her there all over again until she drifts off. She doesn't dream that night, and for once wakes up well-rested (and awfully glad that everyone else left the room already).
All through the day she wants to talk about it, tries to find a way to tell them that she changed her mind, that she can't bear to stay in the room upstairs for even one night more, but doesn't dare to open her mouth. She didn't need to worry, though, maybe Nicky talked to them for her, or they just know like they always seem to know everything, because when they go to bed Joe merely takes her hand and leads her to their room.
Andy stays true to what she said that first night and lies down with Booker so that Nile has a bed on her own. She is relieved.
Listening to the sounds of the others' breathing she falls asleep and doesn't dream of dying once.
With being well-rested for the first time in nearly two months she starts to take things in she was too exhausted to catch up on before. Those four people who took her in do not just share their lives, they share their emotions and thoughts, as well, at least to some extent. Maybe that is what makes them move in-sync, makes them get up at the same time, and then lie down together once again, what makes them eat together, and laugh together, and just be together.
Nile goes with it, just like she did before, but the more she stops to hold herself back, to hide from them, the more she feels at ease.
“It's not like we're telepathically linked,” Joe explains without explaining anything, “It's more like we can sense each other. I think it always has been there, but you need time to understand it, to understand us. It'll only grows stronger then.”
And while those words confuse her at first, she sees what he means by them. She has always been good at reading people's emotions, so it didn't strike her when she could tell who is feeling what, especially when they're so close all the time. What's new, though, is that she can tell where everyone exactly is as long as they're inside the house, like she's aware of their presence somewhere in the back of her mind at all times. She tests it, tries to feel the others when she or them leave the grounds, but the further they're apart the harder it is.
“What's the longest distance you're able to tell where exactly one of us is?” she asks Andy who only shakes her head.
“I wish we could track each other, but it doesn't work like that.”
There is a flash of pain in Andy's eyes, and Nile remembers the stories they told her about Quynh, sees a beautiful face that seems to belong to the woman that was taken from them centuries ago, left to die over and over again.
The atmosphere is heavy for the rest of the day and Nile regrets that she has asked.
Ever since she started to sleep in their room she dreams less often and when she does the feelings accompanying those nightmares are less intense. She still lives through the various ways she died, but every time her heart seemingly stops beating she's aware that it won't be for long. She wonders whether it's due to the reassuring presence of the others' minds that she's so calm, or if she merely gets accustomed to the horrors she lived and died through.
One night she wakes up to a dream she only watched as a bystander and to feelings that aren't her own. At first she is disoriented, hasn't lived through another person's memory since the first night with Nicky, and she only understands what has happened when she opens her eyes and sees Andy in the bed next to hers, shaking all over.
“We're all here,” Booker says, “Nicky, Joe, Nile and me. We're with you.” He holds Andy close, presses her head against his chest as if to make her hear his heartbeat.
To not intrude any further into this intimate moment Nile turns to her other side and closes her eyes. The realization that not even millennia are enough to make your peace with seeing yourself and others die, keeps her up for the rest of the night.
She sits in the kitchen and reads a novel about space-travel. When she was a child she spent hours upon hours indulging herself in different stories and worlds, but adulthood and joining the Marines kept her away from it. Now, that time is something she'll probably never run out of, she rediscovered that old habit, finding an escape to the sometimes painful awareness that it will never be like it has been before.
“Science-Fiction is the only thing that keeps us all sane in the end, it gives you hope that there will be a tomorrow, that there will be a new beginning when mankind ultimately destroyed the planet,” Joe once told her, “Besides, travelling through space just makes for a damn good story.”
He's currently with her in the kitchen, he and Nicky both. They are preparing dinner, chatting about something Nile didn't caught up upon, she merely enjoys their happiness that sends her mind into a pleasant, subdued state.
At some point she puts the book aside, watches them work, her own thoughts drifting off to nothing and everything at once, thus she doesn't realize it at first when the contentment she feels shifts into something else. It starts as a weird tucking in her chest and when she focuses her attention back onto them she finds them staring into each other eyes, grinningly.
Suddenly she's hit by such an intense feeling of love that it seems to spread into every cell of her body. She feels it for Joe, and for Nicky, doesn't know where they begin and where she ends. There has never been something like that before, not with them or anyone, and she isn't able to cope.
The tears fall from her eyes continuously, however, she's only aware of them when there are hands on her cheeks, brushing them away.
“It's alright,” Joe says, his face mere inches from her own, “Everything is alright, just let it out.”
There is a sob and it takes her a moment to realize it came from her. It's like she comes crashing down; she feels the pain of losing her old life, of losing her family, feels the content, the wholeness that was first there when she met all of them in that chapel, only an afterthought then and getting more and more prominent over the months, only to nearly consume her now. And there is the feeling of love that is theirs and hers all the same.
The arms around her middle seem to hold her together, stop all those feelings from bursting out and ripping her apart to die once again. It's Nicky who embraces her, who's head lies on her shoulder to whisper the same soothing words into her ear like his partner does.
Being surrounded by them, to feel the same love in their touches that she feels in their minds, is too much and too little at once, and she's still crying, and crying, until the tears took everything from her and only the calming awareness of the their consciousness is left.
She's ashamed of that sudden outburst, doesn't remember the last time she truly cried, and even then the tears were only for her mother and brother to see. When she's able to think again she twist out of their embrace, ignores their offers to talk. She runs for the room upstairs instead, lies down on the bed she hasn't slept in for weeks now, and wants to go home, to be anywhere but here, while at the same time even the thought of being separated from them is unbearable. It scares her more than anything else did ever since she met them.
At some point the door is opened and Booker lies down with her. She is on her side, facing away from him, and he's so close that she can feel his body-heat, realizes that they're nearly touching head to toe, but not quite. It grounds her.
“Experiencing it for the first time is scary, I even killed Andy just to make it stop. We try to hold our feelings back, hinder them from spilling over, but sometimes it doesn't work, sometimes it's too much. It gets easier over the years, easier and more intense. You'll learn to read them and to control yourself.”
She turns around and looks into his face, sees a smile on his lips and feels an ache in his chest. His words don't make any sense and she understands them all the same. “I couldn't differ between their thoughts and mine, it felt like we were one, like I lost myself. I didn't know where I began and where they ended.”
He nods, “Sometimes I don't know either.”
Booker and Joe are fighting and Nile doesn't know what to do. During their time together she has never witnessed something like that. Sure, they would all bicker now and then, and more often than not one was in a bad mood and it was better to stay away from them, but it never has been like this.
She doesn't know what the fight is about, and maybe they don't either, they merely started shouting at one point, insulted each other and began to throw punches soon after. It escalated so fast that she couldn't interfere, only watches helplessly when Joe's nose breaks for the second time and Booker loses all his front-teeth, and the longer she stands there the angrier she gets. She's aware that it's probably not her who's feeling it, but the fury clouding her mind makes it hard to think, and she wants to make them stop.
“Leave them to it,” Andy suddenly says and through the haze Nile didn't even hear nor feel her enter, “They'll snap out of it sooner or later, they always do.”
She lets herself be led outside, and they sit down with Nicky who seems unfazed by his partner getting his bones broken.
“You have to learn to distinguish between which are your emotions and which aren't,” Andy remarks and looks at Nile's shaking hands. The need to punch something grows stronger, and she tries her best to breathe through it, to not give in.
“I know,” she says through gritted teeth, “But it's hard.”
“We all learned it,” Nicky shrugs, “You will, too. Don't worry.”
Later, when the anger finally abed away and Nile feels exhausted, she finds Joe and Booker inside, sitting in their own blood, holding each other. They're crying, she realizes, crying and whispering and stroking each other skin. It feels cathartic.
Copley suggests a mission to them, some drug lord who found a liking in holding slaves and skinning his enemies alive, and Andy tells them about it over dinner. She finishes with looking at Nile and saying, “I think you're ready.”
Nile wasn't aware that they thought she wasn't ready before, and her first instinct is to be offended, she spent the last few years as a Marine after all, it's not like didn't experience death before. Then, however, she remembers all the times she felt overwhelmed by just being with them, and can't deny that Andy has a point, so she only nods.
They begin to talk about the logistics, about the wheres and whens and hows, and she only listens until Andy turns to her again and asks, “What do you say? Should we get through with it?”
At first Nile is confused, she has never been asked about her opinion regarding a mission (she was only ever told where to go and then she went), after a few seconds she realizes that this isn't the Army, though, that there is no one else telling them what to do, only them. “Yes,” she says whole-heartedly, “I think we should do it.”
Everything works out fine. Nile catches a few bullets with her torso and it doesn't even hurt, they free the slaves, kill the cartel's head and his henchmen, and are out in under an hour.
She feels the adrenalin rushing through her body, is invincible, and then Nicky is shot by a guard who hid in the bushes. For the split of a second she thinks the bullet hit her, but then she sees Nicky going down, realizes she isn't hurt, and sinks down to her knees all the same.
It's like a part of her soul is ripped away from her, the pain is so all consuming that she's unable to breathe through it. She wants to scream, but no sound leaves her lips, instead she presses her hands to Nicky's chest, tries to get the blood back inside, is certain that he died for good this time.
“He's alright,” Andy says, “He's already coming back.”
He opens his eyes the same moment, breath hitching ever so slightly, before he sits up like nothing has happen, like he didn't just die and took a piece of Nile with him.
“Is it always like this?” she whispers and takes his face into her hands, needs to feel his warm, alive skin under her fingers.
“It gets better,” Andy says, and Nile hears the lie in her voice.
Copley calls to inform her that her mother has died a week ago. A car accident. Nile got shot so many times that it seems like a sick joke that people are still dying from such mundane things.
“I want to see her grave, I need to say my goodbyes,” she explains to Andy who takes Nile's hand into her own and says, “You don't need my permission, you're free to come and go as you like.”
Booker offers to accompany her and she gladly accepts, his presence reassuring her on the nearly twenty-four-hours journey to her old home town. Somehow, she only fully realizes her mother is dead when she stands in front of her grave, the earth still plain, the stone barely visible under all the flowers. Next to her lies her father, and next to him is a stone with Nile's own name on it. She wants to go back, wants to see her mother one last time, apologize that she let her die thinking she lost her daughter the same way she lost her husband.
“I need to see my brother,” Nile says without taking her eyes of the graves.
Booker's voice is harsh, “No.”
“You can't stop me. He thinks he lost me and our mother in the course of a few months, he thinks he's alone. He needs me, I have to be there for him.”
“How are you going to explain it to him? How-”
“I think of something!”
“And then what? In the end you'll leave him anyway, and then you weren't taken from him, but it was you who seemingly decided to abandon him. It will make everything only so much worse, for him and for you.”
She knows he's right, that she only wants to see her brother because she's selfish, because she needs to be assured that at least he is still alive, that she hasn't lost everything. “She's dead. I wasn't even here when they buried her,” she says, her voice nearly inaudible even to her own ears.
“I know,” Booker whispers and takes the few steps separating them to hold her in a tight embrace, “I know.”
Finally, she begins to cry, feels her own tears mix with his where their cheeks are pressed together. She wonders how many of them are coming from her pain and how main from his.
Getting back feels more like coming home than anything ever did before. When they drive the last few meters to the house she realizes she hasn't been able to truly breathe ever since they've left a few days prior, and upon setting the first step over the threshold the tight feeling in her chest is gone. The others are hugging them, Joe, Nicky, and even Andy whom she hardly ever traded gentle touches with. So, it probably wasn't only Nile who felt lost ever since they got separated.
It's only later that day when she lies in her bed, alone, exhausted from travelling and never sleeping more than two hours in a row, that she fully accepts what she knew deep down ever since she met them for the first time; their lives, their fates, are irrevocably interwind and there is no going back.
Part of her is glad, reassured by the fact that she won't spend the eternity alone, but deep down she's terrified because there seems to be a way the can die after all (not to mention the possibility of being locked away like Quynh was, like all of them nearly were). She remembers what she felt like when Nicky was dead for a few seconds, when she thought he took a piece of her soul with him.
The fear gets worse and worse until it seems to choke her, and before she can do much more than trying to get her breathing back under control Joe is suddenly with her, holding her in his loving arms, her own pain visible on his face.
“I'm sorry,” she mumbles.
“Don't be,” Nicky says. She didn't realizes he came in as well, only sees him sitting next to Joe, his hand stroking her head.
“We were all there,” Booker affirms, puts his arms around her and Joe both, places a kiss to her neck.
“None of us will stay dead, whatever it is that we're here for, we aren't done yet,” Andy states, her touch hot on Nile's skin.
The bed certainly isn't big enough for five, it's cramped and too warm, and Nile feels finally whole.