It all starts because she wants to go clubbing.
“What do you mean, none of you want to go?” Nile asks, waving her arms.
Andy stares at her calmly while Joe and Nicky crane their heads to look at her, sprawled out together on the couch. They’re crashing at another safehouse: this one has warm red bricks and a fireplace, and piles of pillows and blankets, soft and warm and comforting. Normally, Nile would want to stay, too. Would want to curl up with a laptop and put on some bullshit movie, or maybe try to read a book.
She doesn’t want to tonight. Tonight, she feels young and invincible and curious, like she wants to go out and burn up the whole world. She wants to put on something sparkly, and do her makeup, and take shots. Maybe kiss a stranger. She wants to go dancing, god damn it.
“I mean we’re not going,” Andy explains patiently. “We’re tired.”
“None of us even died!” Nile exclaims, which is, like, not something she would’ve said five years ago, but whatever. None of them did die, not even Andy, who's been dying just because she can, just because she's reveling in her returned immortality. They’re all fine. Nobody's clothes even got too bloodstained.
“You are an adult,” Joe says. “Just go yourself.”
“We will be here,” Nicky adds reassuringly.
“That’s not the point!” Nile exclaims. “I don’t want to go out alone! And we’re in Germany! I don’t fucking speak German!”
“A great opportunity to learn,” Nicky serenely says.
“Ugh,” Nile says. “No, thanks.”
Jesus, fine, she’ll just stay in the safehouse. It’s not like it’ll be a hardship, not like that frigid cave in northern China. The house even has, like, wi-fi, so. Whatever. She’ll deal. She’ll spend some more time with her family, who she loves and cherishes, even if they won’t fucking go dancing with her.
She stomps over to the couch and collapses huffily on the other side of Joe, who immediately throws his arm around her shoulders. He looks amused, his dark eyes twinkling. Normally Nile would find that look charming, would smile and settle her head on his shoulder. But she’s annoyed, so she doesn’t.
Booker troops through the front door a moment later, bags of groceries juggled in his arms, and Nile watches as he nearly drops them. It almost makes her smile. Quynh glides in behind him, red heeled boots clicking against the hardwood floor, then goes over to Andy and settles in her lap. Andy swipes Quynh’s hair behind her ears and kisses her forehead.
Besotted, Quynh kisses Andy on the mouth and then leans her forehead into Andy’s neck, all the tension leaking out of her. It almost hurts to see.
There’s a long moment where Nile tries to let go of her annoyance, tries to be content staying in, even though she’s never been to Germany and wants to go and see some sights. Wants to drink and dance and feel like she’s living, not just still alive.
“What are you frowning about, Nile?” Booker asks, eyebrows quirked.
“Nobody wants to go dancing with me,” Nile immediately whines, then feels young and stupid and embarrassed. God, so what if nobody wants to go dancing. It’s stupid to be this upset about this. It’s whatever. She is an adult, and she will get over it.
Booker is still watching her, his pale eyes shining sharply in the cozy light. Nile pulls a face, half apologetic, half making fun of herself, and Booker’s expression shifts. Settles into something firm, like he’s made a decision.
“I’ll go dancing with you,” he says, putting down the last of the groceries.
For a moment, the words don’t register. When they do, Nile leaps to her feet immediately, beaming. “Really?”
Booker’s mouth twitches. “Oui, yes, really.”
Nile is so excited she bounces on her toes.
“Wait, really?” Joe asks. He cranes his neck to stare at Booker, and Nicky sits up. Andy and Quynh are both staring, eyebrows halfway up their foreheads.
Booker shrugs, unbothered. “Haven’t gone dancing in a long time. I would like to, I think.”
“Great!” Nile exclaims, before anyone can talk Booker out of going with her. “Great, okay, I’m going to get ready— do not go anywhere, I’ll be out in, like, ten minutes, I promise! Stay right there!”
“Should I change, too?” He calls after her while she bolts to the bedroom where her bags are stored.
Nile pauses, spins on her heel, and gives him a once-over, eyes narrowed. He’s wearing semi-baggy pants and a long gray shirt, plain and not entirely well-fitting. “Actually, yes,” she decides. “Wear your black jeans, and that blue t-shirt. Your arms look great in that!” She beams at him, so excited she can barely contain it.
“My— what?” Booker asks, blinking.
“Thanks, Book, be right out!” Nile tells him, then bangs shut the bedroom door.
She blares her music for ten minutes, wiggling into tight leather pants, flicking her long braids over her shoulder. She slaps on makeup just because she wants to, lipstick, highlight, and mascara going on effortlessly. After a short debate, she smears electric pink eyeshadow carefully over the lids of her eyes.
Nile hasn’t been clubbing in so, so long. She wants to make the most of it.
She dives out of the bedroom with thirty seconds to spare, shoes in hand, running barefoot back into the living room where everyone is waiting, still a little bemused.
Booker is scrolling through his phone, settled next to Nicky on the couch. He has that handsome blue shirt on, and Nile nods, satisfied. Good. They’re going to fucking kill at this club. At… whatever club they end up in. Shit. She’s got to find a club to go to.
Glancing up from his phone, Booker gives her a long once-over, face indecipherable. Nile crosses her arms and waits. And then, miraculously, a wide grin breaks across Booker’s mouth, boyish and new. “Oh, chérie, you look beautiful. Très belle.”
Nile beams back at him, feeling a little like she’s being picked up for prom. Excited, and eager, and flattered. Like going clubbing is an event. “Thanks, Book. Your arms look fuckin’ great in that shirt!”
Booker throws his head back and laughs. “So you’ve said. I’ve found a good spot— we’ll take a cab down, there’s plenty of options.”
“We can bounce around,” Nile agrees, crouching to put on her shoes.
“So you’re… actually going,” Joe says, slowly.
“Yes,” Nile says, the same moment Booker says, “Oui.”
“You’ve never gone dancing before,” Andy says, but she’s looking at Booker, her eyes piercing and sharp. Clever and missing nothing.
“Nobody’s ever asked before, boss,” Booker says, then swings his leather jacket over his shoulders and yes, that’s perfect— they can match!
“You are my fucking favorite,” Nile breathes, and Booker throws his head back and guffaws.
“Ma belle, it is an honor,” Booker answers, then offers her his arm. Delighted, and feeling a little like a lady in a period drama, Nile accepts it. They saunter out the door together, steps matching, and just before it swings shut behind them Nile hears Joe say, “that was weird, yes?”
Nile doesn’t care. She’s going fucking clubbing.
Surreally, and best of all, she’s not going alone.
The club’s lights are strobing, blue neon flashing, and Nile is pleasantly drunk. Booker is white-knuckling a can of coke, but watching her with gentle eyes. He’s sweating, blond hair sticking to his forehead, stains on the pits of his blue shirt. They’re both leaning against the bar, Booker caging her, so that nobody grinds on Nile without her permission.
They both danced for two straight hours, weaving in and out of the crowd with different partners, keeping one eye on each other for safety. Booker rescued her from pushy men two separate times, and she paid him back by pulling him out of the writhing crowd when a woman and her boyfriend refused to stop petitioning Booker for a threesome.
By some weird, unspoken agreement, they didn’t dance together. Nile couldn’t say why. If it were anyone else, Joe or Nicky or Andy, maybe even Quynh, Nile wouldn’t have hesitated. But there’s something— something different about Booker, to her. There always has been. There’s a weight to their interactions. Something heavy and fragile, something unique to him. Unique to the two of them, together.
So, they don’t dance together. Whatever. But they do dance, and Nile drinks, and she feels like she could fly away.
Booker, maybe, feels the same way.
“I have not done this in… a very long time.” He says, and his shoulders are loose, relaxed. He hasn’t stopped smiling. Booker looks young, younger than she’s ever seen him.
“How long?” Nile asks, grinning at him. She can’t help it, and she doesn’t want to. Booker looks good here, like this: hair flopping, arms straining against his shirt, all his attention on her.
“V-E day,” Booker answers.
Nile chokes. “You haven’t gone out since World War II?”
Booker snorts. “Well, nobody wanted to.”
“Did you ask?”
Booker pauses. “Not… exactly.”
Nile shakes her head at him, but Booker continues before she can say anything. “In the beginning, after… my son. It was— difficult, to want to do anything. To go out and dance, or to see new things. Explore new cities. And by the time I thought maybe I would like to…”
“What?” Nile asks, when it seems like he won’t continue.
Booker’s mouth quirks, a little sardonic, a little sad. “I was stuck in a rut, I suppose. I’d never asked before, and so I couldn’t. And… well. Once, I did ask. We were in Egypt, and I wanted to see the pyramids. I’d barely brought it up before Andy was talking about seeing them built, and Joe was telling me how many times he and Nicky had seen them already. It just seemed…”
“It felt stupid, to make them go see it again,” Nile finishes.
Booker sighs. He rests his coke can against his forehead, eyes closing at the cold. It’s hot in the club, everyone dancing, music pulsing. It’s busy and familiar in a way Nile loves.
“It did feel stupid,” Booker agrees, but then opens his eyes and looks at her intently. “But it shouldn’t have. Because if they’d known it was important, they’d have gone. If you want to see something, or do something, even if it’s just clubbing… we will go with you, Nile. I’ll go with you. Alright?”
Nile feels her eyes well up, touched and a little overwhelmed, because— because this had been important to her. And he’d seen it, and he’d come, and he’d known how it felt.
She reaches out and grabs the hem of his shirt, curling her fingers in it. He sets his free hand over hers and leans in a little closer, so she wraps her arm around him. Holds him, just for a minute, her ear to his chest.
“Can't believe you haven’t gone out since World War II,” she grumbles, to lighten the mood, and she knows he hears her because he laughs. “Book, same goes for me, alright? You might be old as dirt, but if there’s something you want to see, or do— you just let me know. I’ll drop everything, alright? We can go exploring together.”
“I would like that,” Booker says, so softly she barely hears him over the music, and briefly bends so that his nose is in her hair. He kisses her forehead, and her heart feels so strange, and big, and is beating so fast, that she pulls away and says the first thing she can think of.
“We’ll just commit to the buddy system.”
“Buddy system?” Booker asks, eyebrows raised.
And— okay, fine, maybe she’d intended the sentence to be bullshit filler, but actually… this is a good idea. This is a great idea. “Sure, everyone else is doing it anyway.”
“What do you mean?” Booker asks, forehead wrinkled.
“Keep up, old man, come on!”
“I’m only two-hundred something, Nile.”
“And I’m only, uh, thirty-something, so.”
Booker presses his fingers to his eyes for a moment but then laughs. It starts quiet and gets louder, until his head is thrown back and his teeth are gleaming in the dark club lighting. He is, suddenly, kind of beautiful. Which she knew. Of course she knew that. It’s just— she feels like she knows it more, somehow. Really feels it, this time.
She decides to ignore all that. Shoves the feelings down in favor of her extremely good idea.
"Us young people, we've got to start presenting a united front," Nile declares.
Booker raises his eyebrows, still half laughing. "Weren't you just calling me old?"
"You also use emojis when you text me," Nile tells him. "Which means you're on my side. We've got to unionize, Book."
“Of course I’m on your side, Nile,” Booker answers, and it must be a gut response, because he blinks afterward like he didn’t mean to say it. Or maybe didn’t know he was going to. “Why are we taking sides, though? What are we— why are we unionizing?”
“Who are we doing it versus,” Nile gleefully says, unthinkingly echoing an old line from a TV-show.
“What?” Booker asks, completely lost. The neon dance lights are in his hair, twinkling like stars.
“Okay, it’s like— Joe and Nicky. And Andy and Quynh. They saw everything together, you know? And they’d go if we asked, but they’re, like, old, and tired. They’ve already done everything!” She’s not articulating this very well, but she’s so excited, and honestly kind of drunk, and it doesn’t matter. Booker will keep asking until he understands. She has faith in him.
“And I am so young and hip, hm?” Booker asks, all sarcasm this time.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Nile says sincerely. “You know what emojis are, and how to hook up the wi-fi, and ride motorcycles and stuff. Joe still FaceTimes me at nostril height. You don’t even fight with a sword! Like me!” Her thoughts are a little disjointed, but she can tell she’s wearing him down. He doesn’t want to say no, anyway.
“I could if I wanted to,” Booker defends. “I know how to use a sword!”
“But you don’t,” Nile says, tugging on his shirt where she’s still holding it. Shit, is she still holding it? Still holding him? She is. It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t stop. “They’re old, Booker. I know it. You know it.”
“I do know it,” he admits.
“So buddy system it with me!” Nile exclaims, then sways a little because, God, honestly her drinks are kind of hitting. Good thing Booker is sober, his arms strong and unmoving around her. “We’ll go dancing, and sight-seeing, and we’ll keep up with new tech. They don’t want to, but we do, and this way we don’t have to do it alone, sneaking around because we’re embarrassed about looking like— like fucking rookies.” Nile leans her forehead against his chest. “Fuckin’ unfair that they’re a million years old. Some of us still want to have fun.”
“A united front, hm?” Booker muses. For some reason, when she looks, his eyes are wet like he might cry. His lip trembles, and in the dim light it reminds her of him in France, crumbling like an old wall in the firelight. He’s better now, usually, but.
He’s still himself, that’s all.
And that’s not a bad thing to be, either. Sensitive isn’t a bad thing to be.
Nile smacks a drunk, sloppy, silly kiss against his chest, on his shirt over his heart.
“Alright, Nile,” Booker says, amused. “I think it’s time we go home.”
“Yeah,” Nile agrees. “I miss Andy. And Joe. And Nicky. And Quynh!”
“You were just complaining about them,” Booker reminds her, swinging her to the door, his arms still around her. They’re doing an odd sort of shuffling dance across the floor, neither of them letting go, hands fisting in clothes and clinging. Booker’s palm is pressed against her bare back, slipped beneath the edge of her crop-top.
“I wasn’t,” Nile says, wounded and slurring a little. “I love them so— I love them so much, they’re my family. I love, love them. They’re just— they’re everything. They’re everything, Book.”
“I know, chérie,” Booker soothes.
“I love training with Andy, and I love art days with Joe, and I love cooking with Nicky, and I love shopping with Quynh,” Nile babbles. “I love them so much, Book. They’re so great.”
“I know, chérie,” Booker says again, and this time his chest is shaking, and she feels his laughter rumble through her. They stumble out the door together, wrapped up together, and the cool air kisses her hot cheeks. It’s nice. It’s just— it’s just been a really nice night.
“It has been,” Booker agrees. “Shut your eyes, Nile. I will get us a cab.”
“You’re the best,” Nile tells him, leaning her cheek against his chest again.
He gets them a cab.
They go home to their family.
The next day, something is different. Shifted. Nile can’t put her finger on it, and it’s not because she’s hungover. (She doesn’t get hangovers anymore, thank God.) It’s not something definable. Maybe it’s not even noticeable to anyone but her.
This is what she notices:
When she stumbles out of her room in the safehouse, everyone is already awake and lounging around. Joe and Nicky are again on the couch, and this time it’s Nicky holding Joe, stroking his hand gently through Joe’s curls, taking care not to tug. Joe nuzzles in closer to him, nose brushing against Nicky’s jaw, which he kisses softly, lingering, his eyes half closed. In love, the both of them— love leaking out of every pore.
Across from them, Andy and Quynh have commandeered a recliner, pressed shoulder to hip to thigh, Andy’s head on Quynh’s shoulder. Quynh whispers something to her, something quiet and in an ancient language, and Andy smiles. A nice smile, a kind smile. They kiss, then keep kissing, then part and press their noses together. Nile looks away and finds Booker.
He’s sitting at the kitchen table alone, half eaten plate of eggs and toast in front of him. Sunlight comes in through the window, bouncing off the four empty chairs and touching his hair and shoulders. Lighting him up.
“Good morning, Nile,” Nicky says, a little sleepily. He cards his hand through Joe’s hair again.
“Morning,” Nile murmurs, leaning one shoulder against the doorway and watching all of them.
“How did you sleep?” Andy asks, finally leaning away from Quynh.
Nile smiles at her, gentle and feeling full of love. “Just fine, Andy,” she reassures her.
None of them seem to notice her hesitating. Or maybe they do, and they’re giving her time to sort herself out. Being patient. She’s an adult, after all, and they’re so careful about acknowledging it. Usually, she’s grateful for it. But this morning… This morning she’s not quite sure what to do with herself; not sure where to sit. Joe and Nicky are sprawled out on the couch, and they’d move if she asked, but she doesn’t want to ask. They look so comfortable, wrapped up in each other like twin vines. Andy and Quynh are even more inseparable, these days.
Across the room, Booker shifts. He stretches and kicks out the chair next to him, his bare foot against the wood spokes. The chair’s legs scrape across the floor, making an abrupt dragging sound, and Nile can’t help it.
She laughs. She thinks, oh, here it is. Here it is: buddy system. No man left behind. Then, quieter, she thinks: me and Booker, just like it should be.
She’s halfway across the room before she notices that Joe and Quynh both jumped half a foot in the air, startled at the sudden noise. Nicky and Andy are staring, eyebrows raised, and Joe looks like a spooked cat, hackles up, eyes wide. Quynh looks like she might hiss. And then they both blink, and Joe laughs at himself.
Nile throws herself into the chair next to Booker, ignoring the four of them. His foot is still on the spoke of her chair. He doesn’t move it. Nile grins at him, her cheeks almost hurting because she’s smiling so wide, and reaches out. She slides his plate over so that it’s between them, then steals one of his toasts. Shoves the whole thing in her mouth, her cheeks bulging.
Booker just shakes his head and laughs at her, then hunches over, leaning into her space so he can get at his eggs.
“So,” Andy says, voice so dry it could be a desert, “How was clubbing?”
They swing their heads to stare at her in unison, their cheeks bulging. Nile feels caught out. Which is stupid, because they didn’t do anything. They especially didn’t do anything wrong. Nile raises an eyebrow while Booker freezes, then consciously relaxes. He snorts noncommittally.
Nile swallows her toast hastily. “It was great!” She enthuses, bopping her head. She leans to stare at Andy and everyone else, one arm braced on the back of Booker’s chair for balance. He still hasn’t moved his foot.
When nobody responds, only stares at her curiously, she flicks the back of Booker’s neck. He huffs quietly, but lifts his head from the plate of eggs and wipes his mouth with a napkin, then leans back. Her hand presses against his shoulder blades. Neither of them move.
“It was great,” Booker admits. “I haven’t gone dancing in years.”
“Fucking World War II,” Nile says cheerfully. He kicks his foot against her chair, and she flicks him again.
“I did not know you danced, Booker,” Nicky says, so terribly gentle it almost hurts to hear.
They get like this sometimes: cautious around Booker, nervous, like they’re afraid to set him off. It hurts every time she sees it. It hurts to see them reach out so hesitantly, like Booker might snap at them, dismiss their curiosity. Dismiss their love. He’d done it in the past. Done it over and over again. And it hurts to watch Booker give a tiny flinch, then set his shoulders and turn gentle eyes on Nicky. Makes her heart throb in her chest painfully.
But it hurts the same way healing hurts. It hurts clean and bright, then fades.
“I don’t, not really, but I like… I like being in the crowd,” Booker tells Nicky.
“He’s not half bad,” Nile declares cheerfully. “Like, he’s not great at it, but—”
Booker scoffs. “We cannot all dance like you, Nile, chouchou.”
Nile frowns. “Did you just call me a cabbage?”
“A pastry,” Booker corrects.
“That’s not better!” Nile objects.
“Hold on,” Joe interrupts. “This is going too quickly for me. I am trying to— to digest, here!”
“Digest what?” Nile laughs then steals Booker’s other piece of toast. He tries to bat her away with his fork, but doesn’t succeed, and Nile triumphantly shoves the whole slice in her mouth, jam smearing on the corners of her lips. She doesn’t care.
“Make your own toast,” Booker grumbles, but immediately contradicts himself after by saying, “Are you hungry? I can make you something.”
“Eat your eggs,” Nile tells him, feeling so fond she isn’t sure what to do.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” he grumbles, but he says it around a mouthful of eggs, so.
“I see,” Nicky says. Booker chokes.
“See what?” Nile asks, swinging her head around and pounding Booker on the back.
Andy has a hand over her mouth, is staring at them with her eyes shining, and Quynh is looking at Andy with a gentle smile on her face. Joe’s mouth is half open in shock, like something’s surprised him badly enough he can’t find his feet, and Nicky is beaming, absolutely beatific, looking smug and satisfied and absolutely fucking thrilled.
“Okay, what the hell?” Nile asks, mostly addressing Booker. Her hand is still on his back, but she’s not hitting him anymore. She’s just… touching him. Just touching him, because apparently she can’t fucking help it, and Jesus, she’s got to— to stop that, probably.
“Eggs,” Booker declares. “I am making more eggs.”
“Okay,” Nile says again, a little helplessly. Booker stands, glances down at her, takes one look at her baffled face, and starts laughing. It’s a deep laugh, ringing and loud, and she can’t look away from him for a long moment.
When she can finally tear her eyes away, Nicky is still smiling, except this time it’s softer, somehow. A little like how he looks at Joe. Joe himself is, apparently, realizing something, new knowledge breaking over his face like the sun until he’s almost glowing with it. Andy’s taken her hand from her mouth, is watching Booker with a strange, fragile look on her face. Kind of like hope. Quynh just looks pleased, absolutely satisfied in a bone-deep sort of way, warm from the inside out.
For some reason, they all have tears in their eyes.
Nile stares between them, her cheeks burning, then busies herself with eating Booker’s breakfast, forcing her mind to stay blank and calm.
In the kitchen, Booker starts making eggs.
Three days later, they leave the safehouse in Germany.
They hop across the ocean and into Ireland, Nile nestled between Quynh and Andy on the plane, teaching them a stupid hand-clapping game she learned as a kid. They whack at each others’ hands and arms gleefully, while Joe splits his attention between a worn poetry book and a soccer game that's playing on the plane's TV. Booker and Nicky are passed out almost on top of each other, the both of them having worked through the night organizing flights and memorizing mission stats and talking to Copley.
As soon as the plane wheels hit the ground, it’s go-go-go: they fan out through the city, everyone splitting off in different directions to try and find their target. Whoever gets to him first gets bragging rights for the next ten years, and Nile is determined to win. The metal of her glock is cold against her spine, and she walks quickly through the busy streets, drizzling rain slowly dampening her jacket.
Not even ten minutes later, her phone buzzes in her pocket.
It’s Booker. When she swipes up on the text, it reads: quynh got him :/
“Fuck,” Nile says out loud, then sighs and laughs at herself.
god damn it, she types back. And then, in a message she sends right after, theres a coffee shop right here. im getting something hot. u want anything ?
Please, Booker responds, and she can almost hear his plaintive, resigned tone.
She laughs again, delight and some other happy and light emotion fizzing up in her chest, and turns on her heel to hustle into the yellow warmth of the shop. While she waits in line, her and Booker text back and forth, just talking bullshit. She doesn’t stop smiling once. Even giggles out loud, a few times. An older man, gray and wrinkled and cheerful looking, keeps giving her fond looks out of the corner of his eye. Behind the bar, a young barista glances at her, shakes her head, and grins.
Nile, very determinedly, does not think about why they’re looking at her that way. Instead, she texts Booker, and rubs some warmth back into her fingers, and orders herself a mocha and him a large black coffee, then dumps half a container of sugar into it. He could use the energy, with his late night.
It takes her kind of an embarrassingly long time to find the hotel they’re staying in. She gets turned around four times, and when she texts Booker for help he just laughs at her and, apparently, tells everyone else not to help her, for training, we would simply be preventing your growth if we helped you now, chérie.
Whatever. She manages it, in the end, and it does feel good to do it herself.
She’s the last one to walk through the door, everyone else sprawled out on the floor, their backs against the two twin beds. Leaning against the far bed, Joe is trying to toss fries into Andy’s mouth from across the room, and Nicky is determinedly devouring some sort of hot sandwich, sauce dripping down his chin. Against the other, Quynh is triumphantly accepting bites of fried fish from Andy’s fingers, occasionally dropping small kisses to Andy’s wrist. Booker is sprawled out on his back between the two beds, in a kind of no man’s land, a half-empty McDonald’s bag on his stomach.
“Well, look who has finally made it!” Joe hollers gleefully, a large teasing grin on his face.
“Do not start,” Nile warns him, juggling coffees between her hands and trying to get her coat off.
“Cannot believe you got lost, Nile,” Nicky says, licking sauce off his lips sloppily.
“Well, maybe if I got better fucking directions—”
“We gave good directions! We said it was right by—”
“I’ve never been to Ireland before! How am I supposed to know where—”
“Is that coffee?” Andy interrupts, staring hungrily at Nile’s hands.
“Greedy,” Quynh scolds. “It’s not for you.”
“She’s got two!” Andy protests.
“This one is mine,” Nile declares, then licks the entire rim of the cup to claim it, because she did grow up with a little brother. “And the other one is Booker’s, so keep your paws off it.”
Nile finally gets her coat off, and kicks off her boots, then walks across the room in slightly-damp socks to deliver Booker his coffee. He wraps a hand around her ankle to keep her in place, so she waits. When he taps at her shin, she rolls her eyes and sits down by his head, leaning against the nightstand between the two beds.
He sits up and takes a deep drink, then scoots back until their shoulders are pressed together. When he hands her the McDonald’s bag and she sees an unopened box of chicken nuggets inside, she almost cries.
“Got you a snack,” Booker says, a little pointlessly.
“You did not give me a snack, Booker,” Nicky says, his nose in the air and his eyes twinkling.
“And Nile didn’t give me a coffee,” Andy says, except she isn’t teasing so much as walking through the stages of grief. Baklava and coffee: Andy’s two unshakeable vices.
“Yes, your life is very hard,” Quynh tells her, giggling and rolling her eyes.
Booker huffs, and takes a long sip of his coffee, throat working. He smacks his lips and shuts his eyes, then sighs, deep and satisfied. “Exactly the right amount of sugar, Nile, thank you.”
“I pay attention,” Nile grins, knocking her shoulder against his. And then she just… doesn’t move it. He doesn’t either. Maybe he moves closer? Does he move closer? Not that she cares. It’s fine either way. Like.
She tears into the box of chicken, switching between taking long, warming drags of her coffee and shoving whole nuggets into her mouth. Everyone else goes back to what they were doing, but they’re all looking at her and Booker out of the corner of their eyes, like her and Booker are the best damn thing since the invention of daytime soap operas.
Nile doesn’t care. Beside her, Booker feels warm and solid, his arm pressed against hers. He’s wearing a sweater, dark gray, and his hair is damp and hanging in his eyes. A cozy sort of exhaustion rushes through Nile, and without thinking she drops her head onto his shoulder.
Booker freezes, his spine going straight and stiff for a moment, then he relaxes all at once. After a moment, he slumps into her, and they’re holding each other up.
“So, Quynh won, huh?” Nile murmurs.
“Yes, Quynh won,” Booker sighs. When Nile glances up at him, a sardonic little smile is tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“What’s that mean?”
“It means that her and Andy get one of the beds to themselves.”
“Shit,” Nile says. “How do we decide who gets the other one?”
“Fight to the death.”
Nile looks at him, unimpressed, and his blank face breaks into a quiet smile. “No, you are right. We don’t do that. Maybe we all squeeze in together?”
“Three of us could fit,” Nile says, eyeing up the bed. “Not four.”
They’re both quiet for a moment, watching Joe and Nicky joyfully bickering, watching Andy and Quynh talk quietly together.
“I’ll take Nicky, you take Joe,” Nile offers. “We claim the bed and hold our ground, they’ll get tired eventually. They’re old. They won’t even see us coming.”
“I am not taking Joe,” Booker immediately objects. “You can take Joe.”
“Did they already dibs it?” Nile asks, eyes squinting. She is sleeping in a bed tonight, god damn it. She is. She’s sleeping in a bed even if she’s got to fight off Joe and Nicky singlehandedly.
“No?” Booker says, and it’s mostly a question, like he isn’t quite sure what she means.
“Hey!” Nile immediately says, voice loud enough to draw everyone’s attention to her. “Me and Booker have dibs on the other bed.”
“You cannot dibs the bed!” Nicky protests, the same time Joe says, “Respect your elders!”
“I am sleeping in that bed,” Nile says, pointing her finger at them. “I don’t care what I have to do. I am sleeping in that fucking bed and neither of you are going to stop me.”
“Boss,” Joe instantly says, like a team captain calling in a referee.
Andy grins, lightning quick, with all of her teeth. “Well, you didn’t dibs it.”
“Ha!” Nile cheers, and Booker gives a little gleeful whoop!
Yes. Fuck yes, fuck yes. She's sleeping in a bed tonight, with her family around her and food in her belly. Everyone close and warm and safe, after an easy job, with Booker beside her all night. Nile grins contentedly for a moment before the smile slips off her face and her eyes widen in horror.
Oh, shit. Damn. God damn it all to hell.
Wide-eyed and feeling a little wild around the edges, she stares out at the room, trying to find some way to get out of the mess she's made for herself. Joe is cheerfully arguing with Andy, Booker and Quynh chiming in every so often, the four of them thoroughly distracted. But Nicky stares back at her, pale eyes twinkling, an absolutely devilish smile pulling at his mouth.
Help, Nile mouths at him.
Nicky pulls his hands apart and half-shrugs, like, my hands are tied. He doesn't look sorry about it, the absolute bastard.
At her side, Booker shifts, then throws an arm around her shoulder and pulls her tighter to his body. Nile heaves a deep, oppressed sigh, nuzzles into Booker, and gives the problem to God.
They all decide on an early bedtime, get ready to sleep almost as soon as the sun finishes setting. Joe successfully petitions them to give up their extra pillows and blankets and builds a cozy little nest on the floor for himself and Nicky. All that’s missing are candles, and some soft music, and it could be a date. Which is probably the idea. Nicky looks hopelessly charmed when he emerges from the bathroom and sees it, and kisses Joe for way too long, with a lot of tongue. Booker and Andy roll their eyes, but Nile and Quynh giggle then remind Andy that she, like, doesn’t really have a leg to stand on about that, not anymore.
Booker looks beset on all sides, so put-upon that Nile laughs at him. Nile laughs until she gets lightheaded and Booker starts laughing, too, just because she is.
It’s another good night.
The six of them have been having a lot of good nights, recently. Nile is thankful for it.
Lazily, half dozing, she watches as everyone gets changed. Quynh layers on two sweaters because she runs cold, and Andy strips down to her underwear because she runs hot, and Joe and Nicky shimmy into sweatpants. Nile had thrown on her bonnet and shrugged into a gigantic old T-shirt earlier, goosebumps racing up her bare legs before she dove under the covers.
She’s been with them for several years now. Her sense of modesty is basically completely gone, and the others never really had any to begin with.
Booker is the only one she avoids looking at. She knows what he wears to bed, anyway: sweatpants chopped off at the knee, an old hoodie. Her heart is pounding. She very firmly tells herself to shut the fuck up and calm the fuck down.
It doesn’t really work.
When Booker climbs under the covers with her, Nile shakes with her whole body then tries to pass it off as a shiver. He lays on his back, like usual, even though Nile knows he sleeps best on his stomach. He just never relaxes enough to do it.
“Hey,” she whispers, low enough that only he hears her. She pokes his arm. “Come on, get comfortable.”
“I am,” he says, but he’s stiffer than a board.
She snorts at him, and he snorts back, and then they both laugh. To their right, Joe and Nicky are already curled up together, and Andy and Quynh are giggling. Nile’s heart races in her chest, does cartwheels, does backflips and handsprings and somersaults. She reaches across the narrow bed and puts her hand on his chest, near the base of his neck.
It’s dark and quiet in the room, and nobody can see them. Nobody is paying attention to them. She can do this, can touch Booker like this. Gently. Firmly.
His breathing stutters, and she can almost feel his throat work. Almost.
She wants to feel it, wants to put her fingers on his Adam’s apple, wants to rub at the stubble under his jaw. She can’t do all that, but she does slide her hand up, just a little. Just until she’s touching his neck for real.
All his breath whooshes out of him, and his hand comes up to cover hers, presses her palm against his throat harder. Nile’s mouth feels, suddenly, very dry. He doesn’t let go of her hand. Beneath her palm, Booker’s throat works, then works again.
Neither of them move. Nile breathes, and Booker echoes her. Her free hand curls into his sweatshirt and tugs. Slowly, Booker leans into it, lets her pull him on top of her. Her hand slips from his throat and a pang of regret, or loss, or something, rushes through her and then disappears just as quick. Because his leg slides between hers, and he tosses an arm across her chest, and buries his nose in her neck.
Hesitantly, she slides her hands up his back, then down, then up. Booker presses his face further into her neck, his lips brushing her skin. His breath ghosts across her, gentle. When he worms his other arm beneath her and squeezes, she squeezes him back. It’s not enough. Why isn’t it enough?
Booker grips her with his legs, too, and she squeezes back with her thighs. Her chest burns and aches like she’s been shot. Nile throws one of her hands into his hair and grips it tight, pulling probably more than a little. Booker doesn’t seem like he minds. A tiny, choked down noise rips out of his throat. He squeezes her tighter.
They’re both shifting a little restlessly, like they’re trying to get closer, closer, even though it’s impossible. Nile wants it anyway. She feels hungry, feels like she’s starving. Like she’s on fire and like she’s drowning and dying, and she doesn’t even fucking care that she’s being dramatic. It’s what she feels like. She wants him so fucking bad, which is horrible, because obviously she can’t do anything about it, but she can’t seem to stop.
“Ma chérie,” Booker says, so quietly only she hears it, and it’s not a whisper. It’s more of a moan.
She pulls harder at his hair because she can’t think of anything else to do about it. Booker moves against her, huffing and biting down on his lip, which she can feel, because they’re pressed so close together. His whole body rolls.
See, this is why they couldn’t dance together at that club. They would’ve fucked right there on the dance floor.
Another wave of heat comes at the thought and Nile firmly tells herself enough. Enough. It’s not the time. Maybe it won’t ever be the time, but it’s sure as shit not the time right now. Slowly, she unfists her hand in his hair, takes a deep breath, then strokes back his bangs gently.
“Alright, Book,” she breathes, so quiet she doesn’t know if he hears her. “We’ve got to settle down.”
“Hm,” Booker chokes out, but he stills, only his shoulders trembling. And then he goes limp, completely relaxed against her, nose still in her neck.
Nile strokes his hair back again, and declares silently to herself that she doesn’t care that Booker’s leg is between her thighs. She doesn’t. Not even a little. Nile breathes out, slow and measured, a couple times.
And then Booker starts laughing. His whole body trembles with it, his belly heaving against hers, and Nile starts giggling, too, because— because what the fuck was that? What the fuck was that!
A snort rips out of Nile, and Booker damn near howls with laughter in response, and then Joe, Nicky, Andy, and Quynh toss pillows at them, hollering at them to shut the fuck up, some of us are trying to sleep.
They don’t talk about it in the morning, but Booker does bring her breakfast, and he sits by her on the plane ride back to Germany, so.
It goes on like that for a long time: her and Booker bringing each other food, and sitting too close together, and laughing until their stomachs hurt. They don’t share a bed again, but that’s alright. That’s probably for the best.
Nile doesn’t… she’s not sure what’s happening, with Booker. She knows she wants him, but. But. The feeling is big enough already, deep enough already, that she can’t do anything about it. Because it would be serious, to her. It would be important. She loves him, because of course she does, but she could be in love with him so, so easily. So, she can’t. Obviously she can’t.
But every day, she sees Joe and Nicky together, and Andy and Quynh, and she thinks maybe. Maybe. Maybe if they go slow, maybe if they’re very careful, maybe if they try really, really hard.
The thing is, she’s not sure what he wants with her, if he’s even ready for anything with her. Nile could ask him, probably, but it’s… well, they’ve got time. She can ask him later; she doesn’t have to break her own heart just yet.
In the meantime, they have the buddy system.
When Andy and Quynh are talking about seeing the pyramids being built, or something equally nuts and mind-boggling, Booker and her will make eye contact, make faces at each other. When Joe and Nicky cook together in the kitchen, wrapped up together in intimacy so thick it might as well be a physical blanket, Nile drags her laptop over to Booker and queues up a bullshit TV show.
Her and Booker start going to science museums, start fucking around at Apple stores testing out the new products. They start saving each other seats in the living room, start walking next to each other on group outings. Suddenly, they’re a pair, a duo. Instead of each being one-sixth of the guard, they’re one-third of the guard’s couples. And, fine, they’re not a romantic couple, but that barely even matters. They’re each others’ other half. When Joe wants to find Booker to watch the game, he asks Nile. When Andy wants to find Nile for sparring, she asks Booker.
One night, a little delirious and watching Booker sleep from across the room, Nile thinks of Finding Nemo. Thinks, do you have your exit buddy, and then has to stuff her fist in her mouth to keep from laughing and waking everyone up.
It goes like that for a long time. Months. And then they get a mission, and they go to Italy, and their streak of easy assignments ends.
Most of them die, honestly, but Booker… Booker’s death is bad.
Booker takes a knife to the gut, and it slices through his intestines. It’s a slow death: they have to drag him with them, half delirious and struggling, for a long time. He loses feeling in his legs, loses control of his bowels. He’s not conscious enough to be embarrassed about it, thank God.
When he finally dies, Nile holds her breath and guards his body, Quynh and Andy rushing ahead, Joe and Nicky fanning out to find the hostages. Nile kills five people while she waits for Booker to come back.
When he jolts up, gasping, she reaches out blindly and grabs his stained shirt so tightly her fingers ache. Her eyes burn. When he covers her hand with his, Nile sobs, just once, before she chokes it back down. Hauling him to his feet, she shoves all her emotions away, deep down inside her, and then runs to help Andy and Quynh. When she glances back, Booker is with Joe, fixing explosives to a door.
They finish the mission two hours later, and nothing changes.
The six of them get to their safehouse, make dinner, and crash together in the living room. Everyone on top of each other, limb on limb on limb.
Nothing changes. Nothing except for Nile, who has suddenly lost the ability to lie to herself.
She’s already in love with him. Has been for a while— for a long while.
When she climbs between Joe and Nicky, shoulders shaking, they don’t say anything. They wrap their arms around her and hold her until the sun rises again.
Nile avoids Booker for three days before he snaps.
Joe and Nicky, God fucking bless them, have been helping her dodge him. Joe’s been taking her to wander around museums, Nicky and her go and gawk at cathedrals— they’ve even got Quynh in on it, who’s started tapping her feet in a particular rhythm whenever she hears Booker coming, so that Nile can make herself scarce.
Andy must get fed up with it. She calls Nile into the living room, pats her on the shoulder, then turns around and leaves. Booker is waiting on the couch.
He stares at her for a long moment before giving a wry, ironic little smile. “What happened to the buddy system, hm?”
Nile’s heart cracks right in half, because she can’t do this to him. It’s not his fault she scared herself shitless. Fuck, the first night they met his guts were hanging out of his stomach. This is on her, and it is not fucking chill of her to act like this.
“I’m so sorry, Book,” she says, her eyes watering. “I’ve been a— a shitty friend, I’m so sorry. You didn’t do anything, this was all me—”
Booker’s eyes go wide. “Nile, chérie, mon coeur, it’s alright—”
She cuts him off by stumbling across the room and throwing herself into his arms. Booker lets out a startled oof before wrapping her up and pulling her into his lap. Throwing her arms around his neck, she burrows in against him. When she takes a deep, shaking breath, Booker echoes her. He strokes down her back, to the base of her spine, then strokes back up it. Soothing her, calming her. Treating her gently, kindly. Like he loves her.
And Booker does love her. She knows he does. She can’t label the exact brand of love, doesn’t know how deep it runs, but she knows it’s there.
He holds her for a long time, because she can’t seem to stop crying. A lot of different things bubble to the surface, and all she can do is cry. Booker, bleeding and groaning and dying. Her own temporary death, quick because it was just a bullet to the head. The strange, sudden fear, that maybe this time was the time he wouldn’t come back. That maybe this one was it. Maybe this was it, and she never would kiss him, or hold his hand, or ever again feel him wrapped around her in the middle of the night.
And then suddenly she’s not just crying about Booker, she’s crying about Joe and Nicky, crying about them going through this all the damn time. This uncertainty, this unshakeable fear. And then she cries for Andy and Quynh, for their long years apart, because Lord she just doesn’t know what she would do, if that were Booker and her.
Nile cries for a long time. Booker squeezes her tight, tight, tight, and doesn’t say anything. She thinks maybe he cries, too, but she can’t calm down enough to check.
The feelings sweep up and over her like a wave, tug her down and under, but slowly, she remembers how to swim and resurfaces. Starts taking deep and slow breaths, starts paying attention to the way Booker’s hands squeeze comfortingly at her hips, then rub across her back.
A long time later, Nile rubs her nose against his shirt and sighs, finally calm. She feels better, if a little empty.
Booker is the one to break the silence. “It was a bad death.”
“It was,” she agrees, and her fingers fist in his clothes without her permission. She admits, “It scared me.”
“Is that why you…” Why you broke down out of fucking nowhere. He doesn’t say it, but he probably thinks it. Well, he’d think it in nicer words than that.
“Yeah,” Nile says, and it’s true even if it’s not the full truth. It’s enough.
“Alright,” Booker says again. “Alright, chérie.”
“Sorry I didn’t, like, talk to you about it though. Sorry I avoided you and let it… fester, I guess.”
Booker huffs against her shoulder. “Be hypocritical of me to stay mad at you for that.”
Despite herself, Nile laughs. “Okay, yeah. But you’re better at it now. Don’t sell yourself short.”
Booker lifts his head to stare at her, his eyes lidded and a little wet. “The next time something frightens you this way… I don’t have all the answers, Nile, but— but I am here for you. Always. Alright?” Booker’s voice is rumbling and gentle, and his arms are strong around her waist, holding her steady.
She pulls up a strained-but-genuine smile for him. Booker starts swaying with her on his lap. Nile gives him a weak giggle, and he smacks a kiss against her cheek in response. And then he keeps going: he kisses over her cheeks, her nose, across her forehead, her ears, the base of her neck. Her shoulders, her collarbones, the curve of her jaw. He does it until she’s laughing, eyes squinted up and cheeks hurting from smiling so wide, and then he does it more.
He’s still smacking kisses against her shoulder and throat when everyone else pokes their heads around the corner.
“Is it safe to come in?” Andy drawls, then raises her eyebrows at the sight of them.
“Boss, get out of the way—” Joe says, and then stumbles to a stop.
Nicky and Quynh shove them through the doorway and then pause, too, because Booker is still acting like a complete fuckin’ idiot, and Nile still hasn’t stopped laughing, and she should— they should stop. Except she doesn’t actually care if they see this, so she doesn’t push Booker away.
When Booker glances up and sees them staring, he doesn’t pull away, just shifts her on his lap. “We,” he announces grandly, eyes piercing into Andy and Joe and Nicky and Quynh, “Are going dancing.”
“Are we?” Nicky muses, but he’s almost glowing, he’s so pleased. When Nile meets his eye, Nicky raises an eyebrow, and Nile tries to send him a silent thank you. For helping her avoid Booker, for trying to cheer her up, for not looking at them strangely now. Nicky’s face melts into something softer than fuzz or feathers, and Nile knows he understands.
“It will be fun, Nicky, my dearest heart, hayati,” Joe says, a little theatrically. He hasn’t looked away from Booker, his eyes burning and intent. Nile can’t tell what he’s communicating but knows Booker gets the message, because she feels Booker nod behind her.
“Why are we going dancing?” Quynh asks, grabbing Andy’s hand and swinging it.
“To cheer Nile up,” Andy answers.
“Ah,” Quynh says, and her eyes twinkle like stars.
“Alright! Alright,” Nile laughs. Booker’s arms squeeze a little tighter and then let her go so she can stumble off his lap. “I’m gonna go get ready, I guess.”
When she walks by, she gets four more kisses against her cheeks: one from each of them.
“This is not,” Nile says, her eyebrows up her forehead, “What I thought you meant when you said dancing, Book.”
“You thought Nicky was gonna go bump and grind?” Booker asks. “Nicky?”
“I don’t know!” Nile defends, but she’s laughing again. He’s so good at making her laugh.
She feels, somehow, over-dressed and under-dressed at the same time. Most of the women around her are wearing dresses with skirts meant for twirling, floaty and long. Nile is wearing bell-bottom pants and a tight top, gold necklaces dangling.
On the dance floor, couples throw each other around, stepping quick and wild, swing dancing like it’s 1943 all over again. Saxophones and trumpets blare through the speakers, and Joe and Nicky look like they’re having the time of their lives. Nicky is leading, twirling Joe around and around, pulling him through his legs and tossing him over his shoulder.
Quynh and Andy are even more impressive, spinning and spinning so joyfully it almost hurts to look at them. Andy is wearing tight black pants and a white button-down, looking so dapper it’s like she stepped out of a magazine. Quynh floats around her, red dress flaring.
“I don’t know how to dance like that,” Nile says, a little wistful. She can’t help it: she went as a princess every year for Halloween, when she was younger. She just loves the idea of putting on a dress and being dipped, laughingly, on the dance floor. Feeling beautiful and being the center of attention.
“We’ll teach you,” Booker says, and on some unknown and unseen signal, Joe, Nicky, Andy, and Quynh glide off the floor and over to them.
Joe grabs her first.
He drags her out, ignoring her protests, her hand gripped tightly in his. Stopping in the middle of the floor, he lines up their bodies, pulls her in close, then says, “just step when I step.”
And then they’re off. The music throbs around them, a pulsing base beneath the shining saxophones and trombones and old-timey vocals. Joe is flying and he’s bringing her with him. Spinning her out and in and around, easy as breathing, and she lets him. Bops and hops and laughs. Lets him dip her.
There’s no pressure with Joe— there never is. She’s not trying to impress him, not trying to learn quicker than she can manage. They’re just having fun together. When he smiles, it’s all warmth, nurturing and steady, like the sun.
Midway through the song, he spins her out and someone new catches her. Andy. It’s Andy, white teeth and white shirt shining, hair flopping against her forehead. “Keep up, kid,” Andy says, and then they’re dancing, too. Their chests are pressed close together, and suddenly it feels a little bit like sparring— feels like a competition. Andy grins with all her teeth and Nile grins back, feeling wild, and Andy dances them faster.
She spends two whole songs with Andy, starts throwing Andy around the same way Andy is throwing her. They switch leads back and forth, laughing and baring their teeth, and Nile feels free as a bird.
“I am cutting in before you two injure yourselves,” Nicky says, at the end of the second song. “Or, more likely, injure someone else.”
“Spoilsport,” Andy says, the same moment Nile says, “Boo, you fuckin’ whore.”
All three of them are grinning, though, and Nicky grabs Nile around the waist and lifts her bodily away from Andy. Nile shrieks with laughter while Andy shakes her head.
Nicky, it turns out, is even better at this type of dancing than Joe is. He’s confident, almost cocky, and grinning like a shark. His hands span the width of her back and swallow her fingers whole. Nile raises an eyebrow then leans the fuck in. If Nicky wants to impress her, she’s gonna let him.
The crazy thing is, he fucking does. It’s almost unreal how fast they spin, how many moves he guides her effortlessly through. She’s on his shoulder then between his legs then spinning out from his arms, all in the space of a blink. Never once is she nervous, either. Nicky is rock steady and sure of himself, patient and calculating and smug, the way he is behind a sniper’s scope. When he throws his head back and cackles, a little fiercely, Nile starts laughing, too. It’s unrestrained and vicious and swinging. Victorious, or maybe triumphant. Nile doesn’t really know.
All she knows is that it’s fucking fun.
When the song ends, Joe pounces on Nicky and drags him away, eyes already dark and biting his own lip. She can’t blame him. Nicky looked good like that— looks good now, hair tousled and longer than it usually is, button-down shirt pushed up to his elbows. Nicky tosses a wink at her over his shoulder and Nile giggles, feeling dance drunk and high on endorphins.
“Alright,” Quynh says from behind her, and Nile spins around to look at her. “It is my turn.”
Quynh is grinning at her, bright and beautiful, her eyes twinkling. She’s recently chopped her hair to just above her shoulders, and it flounces and flips weightlessly with every move of her head. Bright red lips, bright red dress; Nile loves her tremendously.
She can’t help but smile back at Quynh. When Quynh grasps her hands, Nile easily adjusts them, settling into position.
“You wanna lead, or should I?” Nile asks.
“It should be you,” Quynh says easily. “I am not quite good at this dance style, yet.”
Nile snorts and shakes her head, because Quynh was cutting up a rug with Andy not ten minutes ago, but leads anyway. It’s different, leading instead of being led— even with Andy, when they switched leads back and forth, it wasn’t quite like this. She’s thinking a lot more, planning ahead, but every time she stumbles Quynh is there to correct her.
Soon enough, Nile has Quynh over her shoulder, between her arms, woven through her legs then out and spinning. It’s fun. It’s really, really fun, and Nile can’t stop laughing. Quynh is giggling, high pitched and cheerful. Despite it all, Quynh is so cheerful.
Three songs later, Nile’s chest is heaving, and she’s got to stop for a break.
Quynh and her walk arm-in-arm over to where Andy and Booker are hiding in a corner, Joe and Nicky nowhere to be found. Andy reaches a hand out and Quynh takes it, lets Andy pull her in and kiss her on the mouth, both their eyes slipping shut. Nile smiles to see it.
When she walks closer, Booker nudges her arm with his and she nudges him back. Silently, she wills him to put his arm around her, to hold her like Andy is holding Quynh. He doesn’t, but he does lean into her, the whole length of his body pressed against her like he wants— wants to climb inside her, maybe. She wouldn’t mind.
She really wouldn’t mind.
To encourage him into touching her some more, she tucks her fingers into one of his belt loops and wraps her other arm around his bicep. And Jesus fucking Christ, Booker’s kind of built like a tank. Which she knew. But it’s nice to know it like this— nice to know it through touch, warm and solid, proof that he’s here with her.
Come on, Book, she thinks at him, trying to will him into doing… something. Anything at all, really. Throw me a bone here. Be a little brave.
He doesn’t move. They just stand like that, pressed together, while Andy and Quynh get lost in each others’ eyes. After a while, Nile has to look away, has to focus on the ceiling because her eyes are burning.
“Nile?” Booker asks, and when she turns he’s staring at her. He always seems to be staring at her, one way or another.
She clears her throat and forces herself to pull it together. “Haven’t danced with you yet,” she says, and she almost manages to sound level-headed and teasing. Almost.
“Oh,” Booker says, startled. “Do you— would you like to?”
Nile stares at him for a moment. Then another.
After the third beat of silence, Booker prompts, “Nile?”
Christ, but sometimes Booker is so fucking stupid. Beautiful, and cunning, and so full of emotion he can’t seem to contain it all— but also so, so fucking stupid.
“Yeah, Book,” Nile finally says, and then she starts laughing. “Yeah, I’d like to dance with you.”
“Oh,” he says again. Ducking his head, he looks at her from beneath his lashes, sandy hair in his eyes. Her heart races. Her hands shake, just a little. And then he grins, close-mouthed, and holds out a hand to her like a gentleman from the 1800s. Which— well. Makes sense, considering. “Come dance with me, Nile, ma chérie.”
Gently, she places her hand in his. Booker curls his fingers around hers and keeps looking at her, eyes burning and dark, his lips parted just a little.
“Alright,” Nile grins. “You’re leading, though.”
“Don’t know how good I’ll be at it,” Booker cautions her, scrubbing at his scruffy chin with his free hand. He keeps hold of her while they walk back into the crowd.
“Thought you went dancing on V-E day?” Nile prompts him, grinning. She can barely hear him over the brassy music, the people dancing and talking around them.
“I did,” Booker says, “But everyone else went… a lot more than once. Even Andy.”
Nile laughs. “I’ve got your back, Book. I won’t tell if you suck at it.”
Booker snorts at her but doesn’t answer, just stops on the edge of the dance floor and steps in front of her, so they’re chest to chest. She puts her other hand in his and waits.
He takes a big breath, pulls her a little closer, and then they’re off. It’s exactly like dancing with everyone else and it’s nothing like it all at once. The dance is the same, but her reaction to it… When he swings her out, all she wants is to be back in his arms. When he hoists her across his shoulder, drags her back down his body, she scrapes her nails against his chest on purpose. When she slides under his legs, she thinks about his thighs, his strong hands holding her.
As the song goes on, their moves get less complicated. It’s like the opposite of dancing with Andy, or Quynh, or Joe and Nicky. Instead of getting more daring as they go, instead of laughing louder, swinging out wider, they get quieter. They dance closer and closer together.
When the song switches into something slower, more crooning and less trumpet, he tugs her in even tighter. Booker pulls one pair of their joined hands to his chest, rests it against his heart, and holds the other out loosely. He leans in until their foreheads are pressed together, noses nudging, their lips barely a breath apart.
Nile wants to kiss him but she also doesn’t want to break the moment. It’s peaceful, holding Booker like this. Being held. She can live without kissing him, she thinks. But she doesn’t know what she’d do if he let her go.
They turn slowly on the spot, the toes of their shoes touching because they’re dancing so close together. Drifting aimlessly, they pass other couples. That slower song is still playing. Nile doesn’t notice any of it.
Nile feels like a princess.
She loves him, loves him, loves him. Loves him so much she isn’t sure what to do with it. The feeling is so overwhelming she untangles their hands where they’re resting against his chest and gently grips him by the back of his neck, so he doesn’t pull away. So he can’t.
And Booker doesn’t. He doesn’t even try. Instead, he does the most perfect thing: he presses their noses together firmly, then ducks his head and buries it in her neck. Kisses her at the hollow of her throat and then holds his lips there, like he never wants to move again. Like he never wants to let her go.
When Booker slumps against her further, rests some of his weight on her, Nile cards her fingers through his hair. They turn slowly in circles. Nile thinks, if she could pick a moment to freeze and live in forever, it would be this one. It would be this night, in this hall, with her family happily dancing together and wrapped up in Booker’s arms.
She can’t freeze time like that, of course, but it’s a nice thought anyway. Nile dedicates several long moments to memorizing as many things about it as she can, so that she can pull out the memory five hundred years from now and hold it like a marble in her head.
“Ma belle,” Booker sighs. She can feel his lips move against her neck. “What are you thinking about? I can hear steam coming out of your ears.”
Nile laughs. “Shut up, Book.” She noses into his hair, rests her chin on his head. He finally gives up the pretense of dancing and just wraps his arms around her, so that they’re tangled in a swaying hug. “I’m thinking about how I’ve never had a night this good. And how I want to remember it.”
Against her throat, Booker breathes out hard. Under her hands, his shoulders shake, just once. “Yeah,” he says, voice like gravel. “Tell you what, I’ll remember it too. We’ll remember it together, so it doesn’t get lost.”
“I’d like that,” she tells him, smiling helplessly.
He kisses her throat in response. Nile squeezes them together until there’s literally no possible way for them to get any closer. Booker does the same: his strong arms flex and wrap around her like rubber bands. He shoves his face against her throat again, this time hard enough that she can feel his nose get squashed. But he doesn’t move. Instead, he lets out a tiny, satisfied sigh.
It’s so endearing that she can’t help herself: she starts pressing kisses to his hair, across his forehead, her nails trailing up and down his back. Booker shivers, and she presses her nails against him a little harder. Crushes her lips to his head in something that isn’t really a kiss and isn’t really anything else, either.
Song after song flips by them. They don’t let go of each other.
After a while, a long time maybe, she glimpses Andy out of the corner of her eye. Swaying in order to get a better look, she finds Joe, Nicky, and Quynh surrounding her, the four of them staring out at the dance floor. They’re doing their damndest not to look like they’re watching her and Booker, but… well. None of them are particularly subtle.
It’s their expressions that give them away: eyes gleaming, a little bright with tears, mouths pressed together and smiling. Nile wonders what her and Booker look like, to them. Wonders at how young they must look, how new. If she stops and thinks about it, she figures that Booker’s two hundred some years must look like nothing, to them. Must look like pocket change. Her own thirty-odd years must look like even less.
Nile raises an eyebrow at them and has the satisfaction of seeing Joe jump, shove his hands in his pockets, and start examining the ceiling. Nobody else reacts that animatedly. Nicky only raises an eyebrow back, and Andy grins at them, and Quynh nods her head acknowledgingly.
When Andy raises her eyebrows, Nile nods and glances down at Booker.
“Hey,” she says, pressing her lips to his forehead again. “Time to go.”
Booker gives a great, heaving sigh, so defeated it makes her laugh. When he stands, his face is dazed and a little foggy, like he’s just woken up from a nap. Nile reaches out and brushes his hair out of his eyes. In return, he cups her face in his hands, leans in, and kisses her slowly on the forehead.
“Alright,” he murmurs against her head. “Let’s go home.”
He wraps his arm around her shoulders and she wraps hers around his waist. Together, they walk off the dance floor and over to their family.
None of them say anything for a long moment, looking over her and Booker with kind, compassionate eyes. Two tears drip down Joe’s cheek and into his beard, and Nicky kisses them away with an indulgent look on his face. Andy fumbles for Quynh’s hand and twines their fingers together.
“Thanks, guys,” Nile says, breaking the silence. “This was… this was a really good night.”
“Of course, Nile,” Joe says, his voice thick. “It is good to see you smiling. It is good to see you both smiling.”
“Mi amore,” Nicky says, tugging Joe under his arm. “You are going to make the rest of us cry.”
“No more crying tonight,” Nile immediately declares. “Please, please no more crying. I’m so emotionally drained already.”
“They are good tears!” Joe defends. “Happy tears!”
Andy shakes her head. “Let’s go home. It’s late. I want to be in bed.”
Quynh quirks an eyebrow at her and Andy grins with all her teeth.
Nicky grins smugly. “Should have gone for a quickie like me and Joe.”
Joe immediately starts protesting, or maybe eludicating on how handsome Nicky looks under the streetlights, and Andy starts talking over Joe, and Quynh eggs them both on. Beside her, Booker makes a face like Atlas holding the world. Nile laughs so hard she almost falls over.
Her and Booker still haven’t let go of each other.
Something’s got to give.
They go another two months like that: clinging to each other, putting their mouths on any bit of excusable, if-you-squint-real-hard-it’s-platonic piece of skin they can manage.
They sit pretzled together, their legs stacked in the most ridiculous way— hers, his, hers, his, and it’s a tactical weakness, frankly, because there’s no way they’d be able to stand up quickly even if they had to— and Booker sprawls out against her chest more often than not.
Together they stay up later and later, eyes itching and red in the mornings, because they can’t force themselves to separate but can’t quite figure out an excuse that allows them to sleep in the same room. Buddy system isn’t quite good enough.
Instead, they play endless puzzle games on Nile’s phone, devour countless hours of bullshit YouTube videos, and learn several new dances that the American teens are flipping out about.
Sometimes, Booker scoops her up, one hand under her knees and the other braced against her back, and carries her into the kitchen. He drops her on the counter, or the table, and she swings her legs cheerfully and watches him bang open cabinets or the fridge. Usually, she ends up drinking hot chocolate, but sometimes it’s tea. Occasionally, if it’s really late in the night, Booker just makes coffee and they don’t go to bed at all.
But he's always the one boiling water and finding cups. Always the one who pours it and doctors it with whipped cream or sugar or extra milk, and he always brings it to her.
Nile always brushes their fingers together when he hands the mug to her. Every time.
The fourth time Andy finds them slap-happy and sleep deprived at the kitchen table, having very clearly not gone to bed and with the sun rising around them, she pulls Nile aside.
“You know, none of us would mind,” Andy says firmly, her eyes burning holes into Nile’s head. “You’re both adults. You can just share a room.”
“No idea what you’re talking about!” Nile says, feeling cornered. “And also, even if I did, I would’ve tried that!”
Andy raises an eyebrow.
“Well, you know Booker.” Nile picks at her nails. “I’m working on him.”
Andy just shakes her head and abandons her in the hall. She slaps Booker upside the head, steals the coffee mug that he’s got halfway to his mouth, and leaves again.
When Nile collects herself enough to walk back into the kitchen, Booker is staring at his empty hand trying to work out where his coffee went.
“We need to sleep more,” Nile tells him.
“Nap on the couch?” He suggests, looking hopeful.
Nile is a soft fucking touch. She’s a soft fucking touch, and she can’t say no to him, even though she should probably start. Just on principle, or something.
“Yeah, alright,” she says, and lets him pull her over and down into the cushions.
He piles blankets over them both, curls them up together so tightly she couldn’t leave if she tried, and then promptly passes out against her chest. Nile sighs and strokes down his back then presses her nose into his hair.
She’s only barely conscious enough to glare at Nicky when he walks out of his and Joe’s shared room, hair sex-mused and love bites still fading, and laughs at them. He raises a cup of coffee to her in a mock toast, then shrugs encouragingly at her, like, hang in there!
I hate you, she silently mouths at him, but lets him wander over and tuck the blankets tighter around her and Booker anyway.
Between one breath and the next, she’s asleep, Booker’s own quiet and soothing breaths rumbling through her chest.
Something’s got to give. It’s got to stop somehow.
Ironically, the thing that stops ends up being Nile’s heart.
They’re in western Europe again, on the coast of Portugal.
Sand shifts under Nile’s feet, slipping and making her stumble, and all she can think about is finding one of the guard. They’re all at the villa still, up a ways, and Nile had gone off with their mark’s brother in order to maybe, hopefully, please fucking God finesse more information out of him. She didn’t get any.
Instead, Nile walked naively down the beach with a reasonably handsome and dubiously ethical man, drank half a glass of champagne, and started losing feeling in her legs. By the time she realized what happened— fucking asshole drugged her— she couldn’t do anything. Nothing but knock the guy out, haphazardly tie him up with the belt of her dress, and then stumble back the way she came.
God, fuck, if she dies like this Quynh will never let her live it down. Andy either.
Nile’s stomach cramps, and she thinks maybe she’s going to throw up, but when she gags nothing happens. She’s got to get back, got to warn them their cover’s been blown, somehow. But she’s not sure she’ll make it. A blank, cold numbness is creeping up from her fingers and toes, spreading over the rest of her body. Her tongue is heavy in her mouth and she’s seeing double. She’s so, so fucked, the guard is so fucked—
Nile reaches into the pocket of her dress and pulls out her phone.
“Booker!” She cries, as soon as he answers. “Our cover’s blown, you’ve got to—”
He alerts Andy before she finishes the sentence. In the distance, she sees the villa burst into motion, people drawing guns and yelling. If she squints around her swimming vision, she thinks she can make out Andy with her axe, and Nicky and Joe with their swords. Booker and Quynh start shoving folks into tables.
“Oh, good,” Nile sighs, and then collapses in the sand.
Despite being on solid land, she rocks and sways. Everything feels like it’s spinning, like it’s flying by her quicker than anything ever has. Nile starts breathing in heavy, panting breaths, and this time when her stomach churns, she tips her head to the side and vomits.
No relief comes. Her stomach winds itself tighter and tighter, cramps up so badly she starts crying, tears slipping down her cheeks and into the thin sand. Fuck, fuck, this is going to suck. This death is going to suck.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees five people running at her. Good. Maybe one of them will kill her, get this over with. A factory reset on her body. But when they get closer, she sees that it’s the guard. Her family.
That’s okay, then. They won’t kill her, but she won’t have to die alone, either.
“Nile?” Joe calls, sprinting toward her flanked by Nicky and Quynh. Booker and Andy are bringing up the rear, each firing off a couple more shots before turning, satisfied. “Is that you?”
“Uh, yeah,” Nile croaks back.
“What happened?” Andy barks, crouching at Nile’s side.
Booker hits his knees right after, pulling Nile’s head into his lap. “Oh, chérie,” he sighs, stroking her forehead and down her cheek.
“Fucker drugged me,” Nile answers, starting to slur a little. “Asshole. Shit.” She blinks at them while they settle around her. They look like they’re having a silent debate, Nicky shaking his head and Quynh jabbing her finger into the air, none of them speaking. Joe puts his hand on Nicky’s shoulder.
Finally, Nicky purses his lips and blows a sharp breath out of his nose. He leans over and meets Nile’s eyes, face compassionate and regretful. “We’ve got to move, Nile.”
Nile shuts her eyes, a couple frustrated tears slipping down her cheeks. She takes a big breath in then lets it hiss out, her chest spasming. “Alright.”
Immediately, Booker is shifting, wrapping an arm behind her and working with Andy to pull her upright. Nile bites her lip so she doesn’t whimper, but she can’t stop the fresh wave of tears that drip out of her eyes.
“Alright, kid,” Andy murmurs. “One step at a time, come on.”
Joe and Quynh bolt ahead and make sure they’ve got an exit. Nicky falls back, ready to defend them from anyone coming from behind. Nile barely registers all that, though. All she can focus on is the awful, piercing pain in her stomach. It just isn’t stopping— it just goes, and goes, and goes.
Something crawls up her throat again, but when she tries to puke all that comes is spit. Frothy, and white, and absolutely a fucking horrible sign.
Booker presses kiss after kiss to her hair, murmurs quietly to her in a combination of French and English. She can’t quite make out what he says either way. Her vision and hearing keep cutting out.
“Gonna die, I think,” Nile warns them. She's slurring so badly she isn't sure the message gets across.
“Okay, Nile, that’s okay,” Booker says, at the same moment Andy says, “We’ve got you.”
More kisses to her hair. Nile’s head feels wobbly, like she’s a bobblehead, and she drops her forehead against Booker’s shoulder. She can’t feel her legs but she tries to walk anyway, tries to help Booker and Andy carry her. It doesn’t really work.
Her heart is slowing down. She can feel the fading beat of it, disappearing like mist in the sun. She’s never died this slowly before. It’s— it’s terrifying.
“Book,” Nile gasps out, hands clawing at his shirt. Her throat is closing and she can’t breathe, can’t see, can’t move anymore. Something crawls up her throat again, but she doesn’t have the strength to spit, or vomit, so she chokes on that, too. “Help,” she finally manages, panting and shivering and pulling at his shirt.
Maybe he makes a noise. It’s hard to tell— she can’t really hear anything. She thinks maybe she feels his chest rumble, like he’s talking. It’s hard to focus. All she can do is hurt, hurt, hurt, and gasp, and try to vomit. Her heart is going so fast she thinks maybe it will explode.
And then it’s done.
When she comes to, she’s slung over Joe’s back.
“Joe,” she moans, whacking at his shoulder, her stomach making a horrendously ominous burbling noise.
“Oh, shit,” Joe says, and jolts into action.
As soon as Nile has her feet under her, she collapses onto her hands and knees and starts puking. After a moment, Joe comes up next to her and pulls her braids back. Nile heaves until there’s nothing left in her stomach, and then she heaves some more.
“There we go,” Joe murmurs comfortingly. “Get it all up, Nile, it’s okay. Take a minute.”
Nile spits, then spits again, trying to get the taste out of her mouth. “This fucking sucks,” she whines, wiping at the sweat on her brow.
Joe laughs, a cheerful and relieved noise. “Oh, Nile, habibti, I know. I know.” He leans forward and hauls her to her feet, straightening the strap of her dress as he does. “Good to see you back.”
Nile frowns. “How long was I gone?”
Joe purses his lips but still tries to smile, concern darkening his eyes. “Oh, a few minutes. No more than four.”
“Four fucking minutes?” Nile screeches.
“The good news is, only you and me know that,” Joe says, patting her shoulder. “And we don’t have to tell.”
And that’s— that’s another thing.
“Where is everyone?” Nile asks, and by everyone she means Booker. She tries really, really hard not to feel wounded by his absence. It feels kind of like abandonment, except that’s stupid. They’re in a fucking dangerous situation, the op is tits up, and she’s a fucking adult. A bona-fide big girl.
“Nicky and Quynh are finding a car,” Joe reports. “Andy and Booker got waylaid by a group of men with guns, and had to pass you off to me. Everyone should be back in a few moments.”
Joe’s eyes are big and understanding, and sorry for her, which normally she would bristle at but— it feels nice. That someone understands. That he knows, really genuinely knows, how badly she wants Booker with her, holding her, because he’s felt it before with Nicky.
While they wait for their family to come back to them, Joe offers her a stick of mint gum. Nile takes it gratefully. Chews until she vanishes the puke taste from her mouth and then spits it onto the ground. Joe raises his eyebrows at her for it, but Nile sticks her nose in the air and pretends not to see him.
Not a second later, Quynh and Nicky return, roaring up in a big black car and tumbling out the doors when they see Nile conscious. Nicky pulls her into a gentle hug and then passes her off to Quynh. Joe leans his weight on Nicky, apparently exhausted, and Nicky takes it easily.
Quynh presses her palms to Nile’s face and peers into her eyes. Blood is streaked across Quynh’s forehead and Nile reaches up to wipe at it.
“This was a bad death,” Quynh muses.
“Yeah,” Nile sighs. “Fucking blew.”
Quynh’s mouth quirks. “Fucking blew,” she agrees, and kisses Nile’s cheek.
A beat later, Andy and Booker come crashing through the treeline.
“Oh, thank fuck,” Andy says, when she sees Nile standing.
But Nile barely pays any attention to that. All she can see is Booker: Booker staring at her, mouth open; Booker with a bullet popping cheerfully out of his forearm; Booker dropping his gun. Apparently, her legs are steadier than she thought they were. They must be, because Nile is sprinting at him and launching herself into his waiting arms.
He catches her easily and Nile clutches at his shoulders, wraps her legs around his waist. Her momentum spins them in a circle, Booker’s hands scrabbling at her. He grabs her back, her waist, her ass, her thighs. None of it is sexual. All of it is desperate. It’s so, so desperate. Nile’s heart hurts again, but just in a normal way. Just in a way that makes her want to cry.
So she does. She buries her nose in Booker’s shoulder and cries. Nobody will hold it against her— actually, Booker just holds her tighter.
He starts kissing her, then, in that way of his: smacks desperate little pecks all over her face and hair, dipping to press a couple against her throat and shoulders.
Their family buzzes around them, grabbing guns and swords and backpacks then herding everyone into the car.
Booker climbs into the backseat with her still on his lap. Someone puts their hand on Nile’s spine and starts rubbing. When she glances over she finds Nicky, with Joe on his other side. Booker just keeps kissing her, his lips against her nose and ears and eyebrows. He can’t seem to stop. Nile doesn’t want him to stop.
She gives herself two minutes. She cries for two minutes and then she takes a big breath, holds it, and forces her shoulders to stop shaking. Nobody will judge her for breaking down like this— just a month ago Quynh sobbed into Nicky’s neck after receiving a particularly unpleasant stab wound— but Nile forces herself to stop anyway.
All she’s doing is working herself up. This isn’t making her feel better, this isn’t a good type of crying. It isn’t cathartic. It’s just freaking her out all over again.
“Okay,” Nile gasps. “Okay. Okay. I’m okay.”
Booker immediately responds. Immediately knows what she needs.
“Yes you are, chérie, trésor, mon coeur, you’re alright.” He continues in a long string of French that she can’t puzzle out, his voice rumbling through her chest and soothing her. Nile shuts her eyes and listens to him, sets her hand on his chest to feel him breathe. Copies the rhythm of his lungs, matches it. After a while, Booker’s speech devolves into him repeating, “You’re alright, Nile, you’re alright.”
In the front seat, Andy and Quynh start a quiet conversation, with Joe interjecting every so often. Nicky keeps rubbing calming circles against her back.
Another deep breath in, and Nile finally feels calm. “Okay,” she says again, and presses her fingers against Booker’s mouth to quiet him down. He kisses them, then kisses her palm. She's really, actually calm, now. That had been a scary death, and a bad one, but she's back and it's done. Her family is with her, she's safe and loved and held in this car. Safe and held by Booker. Loved by Booker.
God, she loves him. Damn everything to hell, but she loves him.
Nile wraps herself around him, twisting so she’s sitting sideways and can look out at everyone in the car, then cradles his head to her chest.
When she meets Andy’s gaze in the rear mirror, Andy asks, “How long were you out?”
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Joe purse his lips. He won’t tell if she doesn’t want him to. Nile, touched, reaches behind Nicky to grab his shoulder. Booker makes a complaining noise but calms as soon as she settles back against him.
She’s touched, but there’s no point in lying. Nile doesn’t want to lie.
“Four minutes,” Nile reports. “Apparently.”
Dead silence in the car.
And then Booker makes a high, wounded, almost animal noise against her chest. He pulls back to stare at her, his eyes gigantic and afraid. There’s blood streaked across his scruffy jaw, and his hair is once again flopping into his eyes.
“I’m alright,” she tells him, and pulls his head back to her chest. “I’m fine,” she declares firmly, after another moment when nobody else in the car speaks.
In the front seat, Andy breathes out for a long time, her knuckles white on the steering wheel. And then she relaxes. “You are fine.”
“I am,” Nile confirms. “I’m right here. I’m fine.”
Nicky’s hand is still on her back, and Joe grabs it. Laces their fingers together, then rests their joined hands on Nile’s spine again. A moment later, Quynh reaches out and grips Nile’s shoulder. They ride in silence for a while before letting her go.
As the minutes tick away, the group of them relaxes, having proven to themselves Nile isn't going to collapse suddenly, or disappear. Nicky settles against Joe and Quynh puts her hand on Andy’s thigh while Andy drives. The four of them start a rambling, pointless debate about which safehouse they should use next, with Nile interjecting occasionally.
The only one who doesn’t relax is Booker. Nile doesn’t blame him. Shit, the last time Booker died she absolutely lost her marbles, and he resurrected quicker than blinking.
As the ride continues, he winds up tighter and tighter, shoulders hunched together so hard he starts shaking. Or maybe he’s shaking for a different reason— she can’t tell. He buried his head in her chest ten minutes ago and hasn’t moved since. Nile traces down his biceps with her fingernails, trying to get him to look up at her, but it doesn’t work.
Abandoning that plan, she instead sets about comforting him as much as she can without pointing out to everyone in the car that he’s, like, having a breakdown. Booker wouldn’t appreciate it, and everyone already knows, anyway. Joe keeps glancing over at them with sad, far-away eyes, like he’s remembering other missions, other bad deaths.
Nile offers him a wry smile and he gives her one back, then kisses Nicky’s head.
And, hey, that’s not a half bad thought— Booker’s always kissing her when she gets like this. It’s fair game to do it back.
With five minutes left in their car ride, Nile starts brushing her lips against Booker’s hair, the top of his forehead. Just ghosting them, almost no pressure at all. She does it over, and over, and over again. Strokes down his neck with one of her hands and buries the other in his hair, scratching at his scalp.
“Almost there, Book,” she murmurs, and kisses him again.
He doesn’t respond. Nile takes a deep breath and doesn’t let herself worry.
There’s only two bedrooms at the safehouse. Normally, when that happens, Nile bunks over with Joe and Nicky, and Booker stays with Andy and Quynh.
Nile already knows that’s not going to fly tonight. Not for Booker, and not for her.
Biting her lip, Nile musters up the courage to ask, “Andy, could we borrow—”
“Of course,” Andy says, before she can finish the sentence. “Me and Quynh will stay with Joe and Nicky tonight.”
“Just like old times,” Joe says, mouth smiling but eyes sad.
“Very like old times,” Nicky agrees, staring down at Booker, who is still hiding his face.
When the car finally rolls to a stop, everyone climbs to their feet and stumbles out, stretching and retrieving weapons. Booker doesn’t move at all. Nile can’t tell what he’s thinking, or if he’s thinking anything. Sometimes, Booker’s head just sort of… floats away from his body. It’s a lot of work to get him back.
Heaving a sigh, Nile starts the long process. “Hey, Booker, we’re here,” she murmurs, kissing his head again. She tugs on his hair gently, and then a little harder, trying to force him back into his body. “Come on, Book, we’re so close. You’ve got to let me up so we can go inside, alright?”
Slowly, he starts shifting, and Nile bites back a smile. “Hey, there you are!” She cheers, tugging at his hair again. “Come on. It’s getting hot in this car, Booker.”
“Nile?” Booker says, pulling away from her chest and blinking. His eyes are far away at first, but then his pupils dilate, and he seems to really see her. “Oh, shit, Nile—”
And then he’s wrapping her up in his arms again, burying his face in her shoulder, which. Hm. She’s getting mixed results here.
But he pulls away on his own, almost right away, and shifts her around until he can throw the door open.
“Let’s get you inside,” Booker says, stepping out with her still in his arms. A little bemused, Nile wraps her legs tighter around his waist and allows him to carry her. “Let’s— do you want a shower? Let’s get you a shower. And some food. Soup? Do you want soup?”
“A shower sounds nice,” Nile says, and finally, slowly, she starts to smile. “And… waffles. I want waffles. Or pancakes, I guess, whatever we have. But I want breakfast food.”
“Waffles or pancakes,” Booker says, shoving open the door with his shoulder. Nile obligingly squeezes her knees in against him, so she doesn’t get bumped. “I think we can do that.”
He marches right past the other four, and Nile gives them a semi-confused wave as they pass. Nicky waves back.
Booker carries her into the room with the adjoining bathroom, then sets her on the marble counter next to the sink. He straightens the straps of her dress, then arranges the skirt over her legs, then tucks two braids behind her ears. He is, very obviously, stalling. After a minute, he tugs the rings off her fingers and bends to take her shoes off her feet.
His blunt fingers trace over the bones in her ankle. Slowly, he unbuckles her right heel and tugs it off gently, his fingers ghosting over the arch of her foot. Massages up her calf, working at the muscle, then strokes down her shin softly. He repeats the process with her left leg, dropping a couple kisses to her knees.
And then he stays there, frozen, kneeling in front of her. Nile rests a hand on his cheek and stares at him. Really measures him up, tries to figure out what he’s thinking and feeling. Tries to figure out what to say to him.
She’s got to say something good. Something really good. Because tonight is— tonight is when it all boils up and over. She just knows it.
Nile licks her lips. What comes out is, “Don’t leave.”
“What?” Booker whispers, still kneeling in front of her, his hands on her bare ankles.
Nile strokes a finger down his nose and figures— you know what? That’s not a bad start. It’s not a bad start at all.
“Don’t leave,” she repeats. “Stay and— and get in the shower with me. Or stay out here, if you want. Just— stay in the bathroom. Where I can see you.”
He breathes out so hard his whole chest shakes. Relief paints over his face, so obvious it might as well be tattooed on his forehead in plain English. His hands tremble against her shins and he drops his forehead to her knee again. She cups his jaw in response, and he dips his chin to kiss her palm.
“Oh, chérie, yes, I— I would like that very much.” He breathes out hard. “Thank you, Nile.”
“What are you thanking me for?” She teases him, then pulls him to his feet. A pause. And then— there: just the barest hint of a grin, his lips curving up, eyes squinting just a little.
Booker stands there, really fucking close to her, while she shimmies off her dress. Kicking it to the floor, she’s left sitting next to the sink in her underwear. The marble is cold against her thighs and ass and Nile shivers, just a little.
“You next,” she says. When he raises an eyebrow, confused, she tugs at his shirt and laughs just a little. “Come on. Take your clothes off, Book.”
Booker’s whole body goes still, eyes flicking across her face, trying to find the joke. Trying to figure out if she’s fucking with him. Nile just waits. Finally, he huffs out a breath and shakes his head. Smiles closed-mouthed and a little sarcastic. It’s one of her favorite looks of his.
“You only needed to ask,” Booker says, then shuffles back to work at the buttons of his shirt.
Nile licks her lips. Takes a breath. Thinks, come on, Freeman, you’re braver than this. “Come back here,” she murmurs, looking up at him from beneath her lashes purposefully. “Let me do that for you.”
He stumbles forward like she threw a rope around him and started pulling. It’s only two steps and then their knees are knocking together, her bare ones caging his. Booker rests his forearms on the mirror behind her, boxing her in, like he wants to shield her with his body. When he bows his head, their foreheads clunk gently together.
“There we go,” she murmurs, encouraging. And then she smiles because she can’t help it, not with him. “Just like this.”
Eagerly, her fingers fly to his buttons, undoing them one by one. He sways closer, presses his forehead to hers so hard it almost hurts. The tips of their noses bump and mash. Nile laughs into his face and finally, finally, he smiles with his teeth.
She yanks his shirt open and he shrugs it off. He’s only in a white tank top and pants, now, and his arms look gigantic. Biceps the size of her fucking head. Nile laughs, a full-body chuckle, and then tilts her head and bites him right on his ridiculously-sized bicep.
Booker jumps half a foot in the air and then laughs, too, loud and booming and surprised at himself.
He steps back and pulls off his tank top, kicks off his shoes, and starts on his belt before pausing. Flicks his eyebrows up at her, a question, a silent are you sure?
Nile grins at him.
Booker shakes his head, a little rueful and a lot amused, like he’s thinking how’d I fucking get here, huh?
“Go turn the shower on,” she tells him, and he kisses her on the forehead and turns.
Unabashedly, she stares at his ass in his briefs while he turns on the shower. Whistles at him just to make him smile.
“Come on, then, chérie,” Booker tells her. “Let’s get you clean.”
“You calling me dirty?” Nile frowns down at herself.
“I am saying,” Booker declares grandly, lips twitching, “That you vomited several times.”
“Well, that part is true,” Nile allows, then hops off the bathroom counter and saunters over to him.
As soon as she’s in arm’s distance, Booker grabs her into a hug, resting his chin on her head. Nile heaves a deep, contented sigh, and listens to the shower run. Against her ear, Booker’s heart thumps steadily, and she kisses his bare chest for the very first time.
There’s a lot of skin out. A lot of skin pressed against her own. A lot of Booker’s skin pressed against her. It’s… a blessing. It’s a fucking blessing, to hold him like this, to be held like this. They are so fucking blessed.
She died today. She died today, and now he’s holding her, and her heart is beating strong and steady in her chest.
They are so fucking blessed.
“Okay,” Nile says, eyes feeling misty. “Take your briefs off and get in the shower.” She swipes her hand across her eyes then pulls away, starting to slip her bra strap off her shoulder.
Booker jerks back, already sputtering. “What?”
“What?” Nile repeats, confused.
“I thought—” He gestures between their bodies wordlessly, then flaps his hands. At that moment, he looks so like Nicky it’s a little surreal: struggling to find English strong enough for his emotions, waving his hands to compensate. “Swimsuits! The underwear is like swimsuits!”
“You thought we were gonna... keep our underwear on in the shower?” Nile asks, taken aback. She forces herself to take a breath. The shock softens, then thaws into a sort of— endeared understanding. Because of course he thought that. Jesus, fuck, but she does love him. “Whatever makes you comfortable, Book.”
She means it, too. Whatever makes him comfortable.
Booker makes a startled pauh noise, so incredibly dramatic and so incredibly French that Nile starts laughing.
“I’m sorry,” she snorts, “I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you. Sorry. It was just— that was so fucking French, I’m sorry—”
“We cannot all be Americans! Getting naked everywhere!”
“I thought— I th-tho-ought—” She can’t even make it through a full sentence, she's laughing so hard. Her belly heaves, and her lungs ache, and her cheeks hurt from smiling. “I thought you wouldn’t mind! Since when do Frenchmen care about a little bit of tit!”
“You are stereotyping!” Booker protests. He licks his lips and she tries to get herself back under control, shoulders still shaking with laughter. And then: “I care about nudity when it’s you.”
Everything goes still. Nile's hands try to shake, except she doesn't let them. Instead, she curls them into fists against his back and focuses on his arms, still wrapped around her. Is this—? Is he going to—?
“Me?” Nile prompts him, heart thumping. Come on, Booker. I’ll beg. Please, please say it.
He stares at her, his scruffy jaw flexing while he searches for the right words.
The words don’t need to be right, Nile wants to tell him, they’ve just got to be there. You’ve just got to say them, Book. Say literally anything.
“It’s—” He starts, and Nile leans forward eagerly. He huffs, shuts his eyes, and then… She can see it, when he gives up. When he gives in and lets the feeling roll over him. When he finally leans in and accepts it. Accepts that he loves her, sure, but that wasn’t the issue—
Nile gets the unprecedented pleasure and blessing of watching him accept her love. Of watching him accept that she cares about him.
“It’s damn stupid of me to protest, huh?” Booker finally says. “We’ve been— we’ve been… whatever we are… for months now.”
“We don’t have to,” Nile says, even though she’s not sure what she means, exactly. She’s not sure it matters. “We can wait as long as you need, Book.”
Booker shakes his head. “Just because we’ve got a lot of time doesn’t mean we should waste it. And it— it would be wasted. If we could… and we didn’t, just because I was a coward.”
Nile takes a big breath, her heart leaping and somersaulting, and reaches up to grip his face. Her hands cover his cheeks, then slide so that her thumbs are beneath his eyes. His stubble scratches her palms. She orders, “Full sentences, Booker,” in that I’m-in-charge-tone she practices sometimes with Andy.
“I love you,” Booker says. “Nile, chérie, I am just— so in love with you it’s hard to breathe.”
“Oh,” Nile says, and then bursts into tears.
Fucking again. She bursts into tears fucking again.
“Happy tears!” She quickly babbles out, slapping her hands over her eyes while her shoulders shake. “These are happy tears!”
“Oh, mon coeur, mon trésor, come here. Come here.” Booker pulls her against his chest, and lets her tuck her face against his shoulder, and she just— just bawls.
It’s so fucking embarrassing, but that’s what she does. Because he loves her, and he said so, and she knew, but she— she didn’t think she was ever going to get to hear it. Or, at least, not for a long time. But he said it. He said it!
Nile pulls back abruptly, stares at him staring at her. She wipes her cheeks and her nose and takes him in. His brow is furrowed, hair flopping, chest bare. Concerned but not panicked, not upset. Just— steady. Waiting for her.
“Christ, Book, I fucking love you, too,” Nile tells him.
And then she throws her arms around his shoulders and kisses him on the mouth.
Immediately, he lunges forward, wraps her up, and kisses her back. They grapple each other closer, halfway to wrestling, because Jesus, it’s just— they can’t get close enough. It feels impossible for him to be close enough, because she wants him beneath her skin. Under her ribs.
It doesn’t stop them from trying, though.
Booker opens his mouth and Nile dives in, slipping her tongue inside as soon as she can. A moan immediately pops out of Booker’s chest and Nile pulls him down by his shoulders to get a better angle. He groans again and Nile, delightedly, realizes that Booker might make a lot of noise in bed.
She kisses him, kisses him, kisses him— and he keeps kissing her back. Booker’s lips are chapped, and his chin is bristly, and his hair is still a little greasy with sweat. Despite all this, it’s the best kiss of her life.
When Booker’s hands slide up to the clasp of her bra and tap on it, questioning, she pulls back just far enough to slide the straps off her shoulders. Taking the hint, he slips the hooks loose, and she’s throwing it off and grabbing him by the hair. Booker stumbles forward hard enough that he throws her against the glass door of the shower, which is still running.
Nile bites his lip in return, tugs his bottom lip between her teeth and nibbles at it, and Booker crushes them together chest to toes. Their hips are, for the first time, pressed together. Immediately, Booker’s hips jerk forward before he stills them, his lip still caught between Nile’s teeth.
Sliding a hand down his bare back, and taking a minute to admire the muscles she finds there, Nile traces her fingers over the tops of his briefs. Over the top of his ass.
“Off?” She asks, tearing her mouth away from his.
Booker laughs, eyes squinting shut. “S’il te plaît,” he says, then bites his own lip when she grabs his ass.
Nile laughs, feeling a little drunk, her whole body buzzing. “Mine, too, Book,” she tells him, and they tangle themselves in knots trying to get each others’ underwear off.
Booker’s briefs slide down his legs without any trouble and he kicks them off without any further fuss. There’s a pink flush traveling down his chest, and he’s already hard, and Nile skims her nails over the tops of his thighs, into the crease of his hip. Booker hooks his fingers in her underwear and slides it down her thighs, bending and then kneeling— his knees crack and Nile smiles. Booker makes a face at her.
“Old man,” she teases.
“Chérie, that is not exactly what I like to hear in bed,” Booker says, raising his eyebrows and still kneeling in front of her. He noses along her thigh and Nile winds her fingers in his hair.
“We're not in a bed," Nile points out. And then, with a smile: "And what do you wanna hear, Book?”
Booker stares up at her, suddenly speechless, his mouth hanging open a little. “Uh.”
Nile snorts, then laughs so hard Booker rolls his eyes at her.
“Get in the shower, Book,” Nile says, still grinning. “We’re wasting water.”
Kneeling in front of her, Booker raises his eyebrows. “After you.”
When Nile slides open the glass door and steps inside, Booker smoothly stands, takes a step forward, and boxes her in. Nile reaches around him to slide the door shut. In a happy coincidence, this pushes her back up against Booker’s front.
Nile accidentally makes a breathy little sound in the back of her throat, because. Well. Her nipples are kind of sensitive and Booker’s chest is kind of hairy, and there’s some rubbing happening, and. Well.
Whatever. She doesn’t care if he knows, and he hasn't been completely quiet, either.
Booker’s eyes go dark and wide. He grips her by the waist and pulls her in closer, so that she’s pressing him against the cool shower tile. Water hits against her back, warm and soothing.
“So,” Booker says. It’s a filler word, there just because he doesn’t know what else to say.
“So,” Nile says back, staring at his face.
He stares back at her and then crushes their lips together.
Nile grins and kisses him back eagerly, sloppily. Booker’s jaw works, and he opens his mouth wide enough that she thinks maybe he’s trying to swallow her whole. It’s not, exactly, a good kiss. He’s definitely trying to touch her tonsils with his tongue. It’s not really a good kiss, but it doesn’t have to be— she likes it anyway because he’s hungry for her, because he wants to be as close as he can, because he’s desperate and aching for her.
Oh, she likes it. She likes him, and she loves him, and she claws down his chest just because she doesn’t know what to do with all of it. Booker keeps trying to climb inside her via her mouth. Nile tilts her head back and lets him.
Booker keeps huffing, frustrated breaths he breathes out through his nose, and Nile puts a hand on his jaw. Stills him. Lifts his head by his hair and then guides him to her neck. Booker latches on immediately, kissing and nipping and sucking. Nile grins up at the ceiling and feels like she could float away.
He hunches down and works his way over her chest: kissing her collarbones, her shoulders, then lower; kisses across her breasts and then fixes himself on a nipple.
Nile moans, high pitched, and Booker surges against her with his whole body— he looks a little like a crashing wave. He brings his hand up and starts plucking at her other nipple. She fists her hands in his hair tighter.
She can feel his cock, hard and hot and heavy, against her hip.
“Nile,” Booker breathes out, still nipping at her chest. “What do you want? Tell me what— what you want, mon coeur, I’ll give it to you—”
Nile jerks his head up to look into his eyes. Well, she tries to look into his eyes— when she pulls his hair like that, jerking at his head, his eyes roll back and his mouth drops open. A grin tugs at the corner of Nile’s mouth, and she pauses for a moment to think.
Everything he’s done so far… the way he shivers and moans when she pulls his hair, the way he keeps getting on his knees, like he’s just waiting for her to tell him to stay there…
Oh, this is going to be so good. Shit.
“On your knees, soldier,” Nile teases. And then, just in case that was too vague: “Eat me out, Booker.”
His eyes go wide. He drops so quickly Nile thinks maybe his knees gave out. “Yes, of course, merci, s’il te plaît Nile.” The words don’t make sense together, exactly, but also they do. The spirit of them makes sense, and it makes heat coil tighter in her stomach. Makes her thighs flex.
Booker said thank you and please, just like that. Just because she told him what to do.
Simultaneously, she thinks: what the fuck, and fuck yes.
Booker scoots so that Nile can put her back to the shower tile, then shuffles in until he can kiss up her thighs and over her stomach. Nile throws one leg over his shoulder and braces herself with the other. Wraps her fingers securely in his hair. He slides his hands up her inner thighs, thumbs brushing up and up in circles. When he’s close enough that his nose bumps into her curls, Nile loses patience and pulls him the rest of the way in.
Immediately, Booker licks up her slit and finds her clit. He kisses her there over and over and Nile rewards him by not choking down any of her noises. Lets herself laugh and moan. Lets herself stroke through his hair then pull.
When she says, “Oh, Booker, baby, that’s so good—” He shoves himself against her harder and lets go of her hip to grab his cock.
Nile laughs, breathy and shaking, and twirls her fingers through her hair. “Did you like that, baby? Which part did you like—”
Booker makes a muffled noise against her and doesn’t raise his head. His hand is still on his dick, except he’s not stroking it. He’s— shit, he’s trying not to come, what the fuck? God. This is the best fucking day of her life.
“Okay.” Nile grins at the ceiling. “So, you like it when I talk, huh? I can do that. You’re making me feel so good, Booker, you’re so good at this.”
And she’s not even bullshitting, is the thing. Her knees are knocking, her thighs are trembling, her chest is heaving. She is, genuinely, going to come crazy quick. His stubble rubs against her, his tongue licks over and around and in, and his jaw works and flexes. He’s fucking good at this. He’s so fucking good at it.
Nile takes a deep breath and trembles. Lets herself moan and pant. Lets herself whine a little. When she starts working her hips against his face, Booker lets out this high pitched noise and pulls her in tighter.
“Oh, just like that— Book, just like this, God, you’re so good at this. I love you so much, shit, oh fuck, Booker, you’re so good—”
Under her knee, she can feel his shoulders tremble. He’s making noise now, too, and they vibrate up her core and into her chest. He’s let go of himself to hold her open with both hands and his jaw works, works, works at her, the motion repetitive and endless.
Clawing down Booker’s back with one hand and pulling his hair with the other, Nile works her hips against his face. The feeling in her hips winds itself tighter and tighter, and shit, she’s going to come.
“I’m gonna come, baby, you’re making me feel so good—” Nile bites off on a moan. She thrusts against his mouth.
Booker’s tongue twists once, twice, a third time, and then she’s gone. Nile is up and flying away, shaking and bucking against his face, holding his hair so tight he can’t move away. It feels like it goes on forever, just her shaking and moaning and saying his name, like it’ll never stop.
He works her through it, all lip and tongue, and it’s… a lot. It’s a lot, and it’s so fucking good, and she already wants to do it again.
“Shit,” she pants out, finally letting go of his head.
Booker reaches out and catches her hand. He lifts his face from between her legs, mouth slick and shining, and puts her hand back in his hair.
Nile grins at him, still breathing heavy, and huffs out a laugh. “Alright, baby. I hear you.”
Wordlessly, he licks his lips, still staring up at her. Still on his knees. Nile cards her fingers through his hair, her other hand coming up to cup his jaw.
“Stand up,” she tells him— and she’s not asking.
He does almost immediately. His knees pop again but this time Nile doesn’t laugh. Booker’s eyes are blue and intense and not looking away from her. Nile traces across his face, under his eye, then over his mouth.
He parts his lips, still not speaking, and she slides two of her fingers onto his tongue. Booker shuts his eyes and moans. Nile strokes over his tongue gently and listens to the hiss of the shower. He shivers with his full body.
Between them, Booker’s cock jerks and spits, and for a minute Nile thinks he just came. But no— it’s just pre.
Nile grins. “You’re so wet, Book. All for me, huh?”
He sucks harder at her fingers, like he’s not sure what else to do with himself. She lets him do it. When he tears himself away, gasping, he says, “You cannot just— just say these things, chérie.”
“Why not?” Nile asks, then bites his chin. “You like it.”
“Because you’ll— you’ll kill me,” Booker says, then moans when she bites down his jaw and to his neck.
“Great way to go,” Nile says.
After a split second’s hesitation, she moves her hand from where she’s holding his face. Slides her spit-slick fingers down, until they rest on his neck just below his jaw. Because she remembers, months ago, holding him here. Remembers him jerking against her while she gripped him by the throat, both of them biting their tongues in the dark.
She remembers. She’s been remembering it every night for a long time.
As soon as Booker realizes what she’s doing, he tips his head back eagerly, so eagerly it almost makes her hand slip. Nile catches herself, though, and places it back where he wants it. And then she squeezes, just a little. Not enough to hurt him, or even cut off any air. She’s not squeezing any tighter than a stuffy collar, not cutting in any further than a too-small necklace.
It’s enough, though. It’s enough to make his eyes roll back and clutch at her arms so he doesn’t lose his balance. It’s enough to make him gasp. Enough to make his cock jerk and leak again.
“How d’you wanna come, Booker?” Nile asks him, digging her thumb into his throat a fraction harder. “Tell me, baby.”
“Just— just— soon,” Booker stutters.
Nile quirks a brow. “That’s not really helpful.” But she’s teasing him, because it is actually helpful to know he doesn’t want to be teased, right now. That he’s not sure he could handle it.
Booker looks shamefaced, though, which— wait. That’s not what she wants.
“Désolé, mon coeur,” Booker tells her. “I am not picky, is what I meant—”
“Hold on,” Nile interrupts him. “I’m not mad, or anything. I was teasing. I’m never going to be mad at you for doing, or not doing, something during sex. Okay? It’s okay that you weren’t sure what to say.”
Booker’s throat works as he swallows and ducks his head. She can feel it under her palm.
“Alright, chérie,” Booker says.
Nile rubs her thumb against his throat soothingly, then tries again. “Do you want me to blow you? I’ll do that, Book. I’d love to do that for you.” She trails her other hand down his chest, rubs soothing circles into his public hair. “I can touch you,” Nile says, then strokes a hand over his dick loosely.
Immediately, his knees tremble and a moan rips from his throat, vibrating against her hand. Nile grips his neck soothingly.
“I can touch you just like this,” Nile murmurs, not quite squeezing his throat— more just holding him. Secure and safe beneath her palm. She trails her fingers over his dick again, trips them against the head of his cock. “Just like this, baby, until you come. I bet it wouldn’t take long.”
Before he can look embarrassed, or think she’s making fun of him, Nile says, “It’s so hot. You wanting me so bad. It makes me so wet, baby, it makes me feel so good. You’re so good, Book.”
Booker’s knees tremble and he half laughs, like he’s overwhelmed, like he’s not sure what to do with himself. His scruffy jaw drops and his hair flops into his eyes when he leans his head back further. One of his hands comes up and covers hers. Pulls her palm tighter to his throat.
“You could fuck me,” Nile tells him. “Could come inside me.”
Every part of Booker twitches. Again, his cock leaks.
He huffs, mouth twitching wryly, eyes warm. “I wouldn’t last.”
Nile smiles. “It wouldn’t matter,” she tells him. “Healing factor, remember?”
Booker stares at her, open mouthed, like he hadn’t thought of that.
“What do you mean?” He asks.
“Jesus, Book, what kind of sex have you been having?” Nile asks, a little taken aback. “You’re functionally immortal. You’ve got a ridiculous healing factor. Of course you can come more than once.”
Booker is silent for a long moment. “Bad sex,” he finally responds, more than a little stunned. “Apparently, I have been having bad sex.”
“Well, we can fix that,” Nile says.
“Nile, chérie, you have already fixed it,” Booker says.
Nile raises an eyebrow, tightens her grip on his throat, and then strokes down his cock again. Booker’s eyes slip shut and he moans.
“Maybe,” Nile allows. “So, come on, Book. Tell me how you want to come.” She bites across his chest and then bites one of his nipples. Digs her thumb into his throat, hard, for a second and then releases. “And then I can make you come again.” She massages his dick. “And again.”
Booker moans, and his thighs tremble, and he presses her palm against his neck tighter. His other hand flies up to tug on his own hair.
“Touch me like that one more time and I will,” Booker tells her, his chest heaving.
Nile grins with all her teeth. “Good,” she says, then tightens her fist, strokes up, and— yeah. He’s right: that’s it.
His head snaps back and his eyes roll, his thighs shake, he tugs on his own hair and moans, moans, moans. Nile feels giddy. She bites across his chest and holds his throbbing cock until he calms down. She squeezes his throat tight and then loosens her grip, gentles it, until she lets go of him.
She lets go of his neck and wraps her arms around him in a hug instead.
Booker drops his head onto her shoulder, panting and shaking. Nile sweeps her hands over his back, ignoring the renewed throbbing between her legs. God, but she wants him to fuck her. Wants him inside her.
She kisses the back of his head and he presses his lips against her shoulder. They breathe together, chests rising and falling in unison. Nile thinks that, if she measured their heartbeats, they would match. Beat for beat for beat.
A minute later, Booker starts laughing. It sets off Nile, and they spend a long minute giggling together under the shower’s spray.
“Okay, alright,” Booker declares, after a moment. He lifts his head off Nile’s shoulder then brushes a braid behind her ear. “We’re washing off, and then—” He cuts himself off, visibly debates for a moment, then barrels forward, “—And then I’m fucking you in a bed until we both come three times. With your permission, of course, mon ange.”
“Big talk,” Nile says, impressed. But something about Booker still looks hesitant, like he’s not exactly sure he’s allowed to talk like that to her, even though they just fucked. And then Nile thinks, oh, right. 1800s. She throws her head back and laughs again. “I’d like that, Booker, baby. Sweetheart. I’d really like that.”
He damn near glows and she’s not sure if it’s because of the sex, the petnames, or the gentle tone she’s using. Nile thinks— hopes, honestly— it’s the petnames. She’s starting to really like calling him baby.
“Alright,” he says again, then reaches around her to grab a washcloth and body soap. He quirks a brow, those endearing wrinkles showing up on his forehead again, scruffy cheeks folding in a grin. “Can I?”
Nile gazes at him for a moment and then holds out her arms. He doesn’t break eye contact while he washes her, suds running down her chest, down her legs.
He bends her elbows to wash under her arms, the small of her back, between her legs. Rinsing and lathering and rinsing again. He washes between each of her fingers, his own blunt ones massaging her palms. He doesn’t try to touch her hair and Nile loves him. She loves him so fucking much.
Booker scrubs her down and Nile shuts her eyes and drifts. Lets herself bask in his attention. The longer it goes on, the more peaceful it all feels: the steady hum of the shower, the steam hovering in the air, Booker’s body against hers. Loving her so easily.
Maybe Nile dozes off. It’s hard to say. When she opens her eyes, though, Booker is finishing scrubbing himself off, passing the wash cloth over his body thoroughly and economically.
He sets it back on the little shelf and shuts off the water while Nile blinks herself awake.
“I wanted to do that,” she grumbles.
Booker huffs out a laugh. “Next time, chérie, I promise.”
“Good,” Nile says, satisfied. “Now carry me to bed.”
This time, Booker’s laugh isn’t a huff: it’s loud and long and beautiful. He throws his head back and laughs with his whole body. “Yes, ma’am,” he tells her.
And then he does.
They don’t leave it for a very long time.
When they stumble out of the bedroom the next morning, everyone is sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast.
Nile and Booker both freeze.
They hadn’t… like, it wasn’t that Nile had forgotten other people existed. That would be ridiculous.
She had kind of forgotten other people existed.
Nile is in nothing but her underwear and one of Booker’s long shirts, legs bare and cold, lips still a little puffy. Booker’s hair is an absolute mess, sticking up in weird directions and not pushed back like it usually is. He’s in a tank top and sweatpants, bruises still fading on his pale throat, his lips slick and red.
“Oh,” Nile says, surprised. Booker shuffles closer to her, leaning so that she’s hidden slightly behind his shoulder. It’s unbearably, painfully sweet.
Nile curls her fingers around his and he grips her back. When she nudges him forward, he goes without any protest.
Andy glances up at them and then looks back at her plate— they’d made waffles, apparently— and doesn’t do anything more dramatic than smile to herself. Beside her, Quynh kicks Joe’s ankle with an audible thud, focusing very intently on her own breakfast, and Joe snaps his mouth shut. His eyes are twinkling, though, and his beard can’t hide his gigantic, sappy smile. Nicky only pats Joe’s shoulder serenely, mischief twinkling in his pale eyes, and then shoves his fork into his mouth, enough waffle heaped on it that his cheeks bulge.
“Last night, you said you would like waffles,” Nicky declares, pointing his fork at her, when he can speak again. “And so. Waffles!”
Nile’s eyes burn. “Thanks, guys. It’s— thank you.”
“Of course, Nile,” Joe says. “Of course.”
“Come sit down,” Andy tells her, and for the first time Nile notices they’ve set out two empty chairs for her and Booker.
They’re placed right next to each other.
Booker squeezes her hand. Nile squeezes back.
Indulgently, Nile watches as Booker pulls out her chair, then puts a waffle on her plate, then patiently passes her the butter and syrup. He scoots until their knees are pressed together and he can throw his arm across the back of her chair.
For a minute, Nile is shocked that he’s not more shy, and then she shakes her head at herself. Of course Booker is like this, of course he is. Who was she kidding? He’s been like this with her for— forever. For as long as he’s thought he could get away with it.
So touched she’s not quite sure what to do with herself, Nile takes a breath, thinks for a minute, then cuts up her waffle. Sure. Okay. If Booker likes PDA— which, like, the intense JoeandNicky PDA jealousy implied, now that she thinks about it— then that’s fine with her.
None of the others are going to judge them. They don’t fucking have legs to stand on, anyway.
Nile shakes her head at herself and then leans over to kiss Booker’s cheek, then his jaw, then the base of his neck. Then she leans back and keeps eating her breakfast.
Beside her, Booker is frozen, fork halfway to his mouth. When she glances at him out of the corner of her eye, he’s blinking very fast, his eyes big and blue and wet. He looks like she broke his heart and then pieced it back together. It’s— kind of a big reaction for a kiss on the cheek at breakfast, but then, Booker’s always had big emotions. Feelings too big for his chest.
Nile kisses his shoulder and puts her hand on his leg. Rubs little soothing circles onto his knee. Booker moves his arm from her chair to around her shoulders in response, then kisses her forehead.
They keep eating their breakfast without any further drama.
When Nile is full— she ate fucking five waffles, because dying and then resurrecting and then having nine orgasms over the course of a night can, apprently, make a person very hungry— Nicky stands and starts clearing their plates.
Andy slugs down another mouthful of coffee, then wordlessly leans over to refill Nile’s own mug.
“So,” Joe says, into the silence, and Booker sighs preemptively, burying his face in his hands. “You have worked it out, then? The two of you, together?”
And this is— not what Nile thought he was going to say. She thought he would tease them, maybe. Booker obviously thought so too, because he lifts his head up in confusion.
Booker glances at her out of the corner of his eye, obviously asking if he should answer or her. Nile smiles at him, softly, and shakes her head.
She answers for both of them. “Yeah, we figured it out.”
Joe nods, satisfied. “Good,” he murmurs, his eyes dark and kind. “Good. It is no fun, yearning and pining and sighing. This is much better.”
“I am glad you two will not be alone,” Quynh says.
Andy rubs Quynh’s shoulder, her eyes shining. Her jaw works like she’s mad but Nile knows she’s just trying not to cry.
“It is good,” Nicky agrees, coming back from the kitchen and looping around the table to kiss both Nile and Booker on their heads. “We’re not meant to be alone.”
“Buddy system,” Nile agrees, and Booker snorts and starts laughing.
“Fucking buddy system,” Booker chuckles.
Nicky settles beside Joe, kicking his feet out and up, so that he’s lounging with his arms crossed. A frisson of fear runs through Nile— not real fear, of course, but. She knows that look. She did grow up with a younger brother, after all, and Nicky is all twinkling eyes, hidden grin, and mischief right now.
For an ex-priest he’s got his share of devil in him, that’s for sure.
“So,” Nicky announces grandly, and Nile straightens up, not sure if she should glare or throw something at him. Either way, she’s already fighting down a laugh. “How was the sex? It sounded very good!” He effortlessly dodges the fork Nile tosses at his head. “Of course, if you are requiring tips, me and Joe have very many to share. Andy and Quynh, as well, I am sure.”
Booker tosses his head back and starts laughing.
Everyone yells over each other, Joe immediately waxing poetic about Nicky in the moonlight, Quynh promptly beginning a frankly unrealistic story about Andy and a cave in ancient Romania, with Andy dead-facedly adding in more and more outrageous details.
After a moment, Nile gives in. She starts laughing too.
Booker leans over and buries his head in her shoulder, chest shaking and voice booming. Nile throws an arm over his back and buries a hand in his hair, still cackling.
It’s another good morning.