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Nile is half an hour early to the café. She has the book Nicky gifted her on their arrival in Cologne – he and Joe arrived first, after a quick jaunt away – but even though it’s open in front of her, she hasn’t read a word of it.

It’s been four years since Merrick, four years of missions and travelling and dying, which happens a lot, more often than any of them let on, and Nile still hasn’t told them she’s been talking to Booker all of that time.

She certainly hasn’t told them she’s been meeting up with him for the past two years and that for the past eight months, since three weeks of being stuck in a two-room apartment in Paris with Joe and Nicky apparently reliving their honeymoon phase had gotten to be a bit too much, they’ve been, well…

Booker, it turns out, doesn’t care much for the term fuck buddies. Nile is trying not to use friends with benefits because she doesn’t want him to think the sex is the only benefit of their being friends.

Besides, it’s not like they do it every time they meet. For one thing, they don’t always have the time – Andy, Joe, and Nicky like to keep one of them with her at all times, generally, and she understands the urge – but for another, they are friends, and so sometimes their hanging out is just that: hanging out, no strings attached.

She knows why she’s half an hour early to the café, though. She doesn’t want to admit it to herself. It’s the same reason her stomach’s fluttered the last three times she’s met him; it’s why she smiles every time he sends her a text…

It’s why she’s thinking of calling the whole thing off. The sex part, at least. The rest of it is mostly fine, and she’s somehow convinced herself that if they go back to being friends then she’ll only see him as a friend – which has to happen, because she sure as hell can’t dump a truckload of feelings on him. He’s still dealing with everything that happened with Merrick, all that stuff in his past, and it wouldn’t be fair; not to mention the fact that it does make her angry too, sometimes, to imagine Nicky and Joe strapped down by that doctor–

Nile slams the book shut and startles when she sees Booker standing opposite her. He has his hands on the chair she’s resting her foot against and his amused smile makes her blush.

So, as she ever does, she powers through. “Book!” she exclaims, standing up to pull him into a hug that’s just a little too tight. He suffers through good-naturedly, his hands big and warm on her back, and when they part, he orders his coffee from a server who smiles at him just a little too long.

Not that Nile can blame her. Booker looks good, and she’s not just thinking that because they haven’t seen each other in a couple of weeks. He’s wearing jeans that are just as tight as they should be to show off his thighs, and when he shrugs off his coat, his t-shirt stretches across his shoulders.

Nile tears her eyes away, down to the cover of her book. She’d said, in her text, that they could just get coffee; the others are out this afternoon on the other side of the city, exploring something or other Joe was very excited about this morning, and they’re expecting to meet her for dinner.

She knows Booker’s staying at a hotel pretty far away and their apartment is just around the corner, really, but that’s too risky–

She realises, suddenly, that Booker’s saying something to her.

“Sorry?”

He chuckles. His hair is falling in his face, just a little, and she resists the urge to push it back. “I asked if the book was any good,” he says. “But you appear… preoccupied.”

Nile pushes the book aside. “I didn’t really read any of it,” she admits. They’ve promised to be honest with each other, though sometimes, she knows they are both careful to not offer more truth than they intend. “But I assume it’ll be interesting. Nicky gave it to me.”

Booker doesn’t flinch as much now, when she mentions the others. There’s still a brief pass of sadness over his face, but it is gone as quickly as it came.

“He always had good taste,” Booker says, tapping the cover. “Although, you know he will quiz you on it.”

She pulls a face and Booker laughs. The server brings his coffee; he thanks her in German and this time, she blushes. Nile leans back in her chair and when Booker’s eyes track her movements – even though she’s not doing anything, not really – she feels a curl of satisfaction. She’s not a jealous person, not really, it’s only that she sees him so rarely, she finds she wants to soak up all of his attention.

“So,” she says. “What are you doing in town?”

He wouldn’t tell her over text, which was unusual. One of the first messages he sent her, he asked her to never tell her any details of the missions she was going on, but he always tells her why he’s nearby. Always.

When he doesn’t answer, Nile narrows her eyes. She leans forward when she sees the pink dusting his cheekbones.

“Booker?”

He sips his coffee and she’s trying not to laugh, lips twitching because she trusts him, she knows that, so whatever he’s keeping from her cannot be all that serious.

“Ah, ma chérie,” Booker says and when he looks her in the eye, Nile doesn’t much feel like laughing anymore. “I came because you were here, of course.”

Oh, fuck. So maybe she’s not the only one who’s caught feelings but there’s really very little room in her mind for that, because she’s thinking of all the ways to show this ridiculous man, who last time she heard was in the Caribbean, so he’s sure as hell travelled miles to be here, that she really, really lo–

Nope! She pushes that thought straight out of her head and knocks one ankle against Booker’s under the table.

“Please tell me you’re nearly done with that coffee.”

Booker, at least, has the good grace not to pretend he doesn’t know what she’s talking about. “Finished,” he says. He still has half a cup left; neither of them mention it.

“Our apartment is around the corner.”

His hand lands on her knee. “The others?”

Nile shrugs. It’s risky but she doesn’t care – but if Booker does, then they can always make the trek to his hotel, although she’ll have to come up with a good reason for cancelling on dinner.

More importantly, she isn’t sure she can wait that long. She reaches out, touches the back of Booker’s hand and he turns it without hesitation, tangling his fingers in hers.

“Let’s go,” he says and that might just be the most wonderful thing anyone has ever said to her.

***

Nile shouts, “Hello?” as she lets herself into the apartment ahead of Booker. His hands are tight on her hips already – he’s so close behind her that she can feel his breath on the back of her neck – but they both wait for a moment, listening.

No one replies and she can’t hear the tell-tale sounds of movement, which means that Nicky and Joe aren’t back. Even if they’d come in for an afternoon nap, Nicky would have woken when the door opened.

Andy might be there, but Booker skims his lips along her shoulder and Nile decides, fuck it, she’ll just have to risk it.

The door closes and she turns, pushing Booker up against it. Her purse and the book land on the floor but she doesn’t care because now she’s got her mouth on his and she’s framing his face with her hands and his hands are roaming, so greedily she can’t even stand it. They part, as he grabs a handful of her ass – he’s getting daring but she likes it – and then again when she slides her fingers into his hair, tugging gently on blond strands. He pants helplessly when she does that, pupils blown already and Nile presses open-mouthed kisses down the pale skin of his throat.

“Nile,” he moans, voice husky and God, it does something to her, hearing him like that. “Nile, I want to touch you, please…”

She pulls his hair again. She knows she can, knows it will make him whine at the back of his throat, and when she presses up against him, those tight jeans are doing nothing to hide how hard he already is. Nile kisses him again, swallowing down his moan, but then he sucks on her lower lip, pulls her close so that his thigh is between her legs, and she feels her knees go weak.

She’s sure she’s hurting him, just a little, where her fingers are digging into his shoulders, but he simply lifts her like she weighs nothing at all. Fuck, but that gets her too, every time, and so she wraps her legs around his waist, because good behaviour really ought to be rewarded.

“Ma tigresse,” he murmurs, nosing at her jaw before he kisses down her throat. “Your bedroom, where is it?”

He licks along her collarbone and Nile squirms in his grip. She wants him so badly, now, that she almost aches for it. “Down the hall. First on the left.”

They kiss again and then he’s walking, still carrying her, and she’s sucking on his earlobe, rolling her hips against him. He fumbles with the doorknob and Nile laughs, breathily; he stumbles inside and, when the door closes behind them, he drops her unceremoniously onto the bed.

She’s about to protest but he’s shrugging off his jacket and already sliding to his knees and Nile grabs at the coverlet in anticipation. Christ, but she’s been wet since she thought of dragging him back to the apartment – and her stomach flutters because he’s so good at this, looks so pretty on his knees and is oh-so-willing to please…

Booker curls his fingers around her right calf, tugs her closer to the edge of the bed, and then he’s kissing her knee, lips travelling up her inner thigh, and the rough drag of his beard leaves a tingling sensation in its wake. He’s never a tease, though; once he’s face to face with her, he lets out a hot breath, almost a sigh, then licks her over her underwear, and even dampened by the fabric between them, Nile lets out a curse.

He’s just – so fucking good at this, so into it, and today is no different. He gently presses her thighs apart as he flicks his tongue over where her clit is, and Nile arches up into him. She wants to pull off her underwear but she’s too busy grabbing at the bed, and besides, she knows better than to hurry him along. He’s sucking at the fabric, licking her, rubbing his nose against her and Nile’s legs twitch, she feels her thighs try to clamp shut, but he just gently spreads her open again.

When she’s cursing up at the ceiling, he finally pulls back, pressing a sticky kiss to her inner thigh. Her skirt is already rucked up around her waist. Booker tugs off her shoes, then reaches up, drumming his fingers against the soft skin on her stomach.

Nile lifts her head. He’s looking up at her, lips shiny and slick, and she groans.

“May I?” he asks, the picture of innocence, and she nods.

“Fuck yes, please…”

She lifts her hips as he pulls off her thong, throwing it to the floor. Whatever he sees on her face, after that, is enough – he licks along her vulva, presses his tongue inside her and Nile rests her right leg on his shoulder, wanting to get him deeper, still. It’s even better now she can heal; his beard leaves her sensitive but she knows there’ll be no lingering pain, and she knows too, from copious experience, that they can both keep going more or less as long as they’d like.

She rocks her hips towards him and he growls, dragging her a little further off the bed. She lifts her other leg and now her thighs are pressing either side of his face but he doesn’t seem to mind. Instead, he sucks on her clit, working one finger inside of her, and Nile wants to scream. He’s relentless, it’s like he can’t get enough, and the best part is that she knows he isn’t even touching himself; all his single-minded focus is on her, on getting her off.

“Book,” she moans, reaching down to grab his hair again. He withdraws his finger immediately, eyes flicking up to meet hers. “Let me…”

Booker licks along her again, tongue flicking against her clit, and nods. He buries her face back against her and she holds him in place as she rolls her hips. Last time they fucked, he had her sit on his face and ride him like this – and then, when she’d come, he’d rolled her over and used his mouth and fingers to bring her off again.

She really, really wants his cock inside of her, though, so she pushes herself against him harder, faster, and everything is hot and wet and messy and he’s moaning just from this, fingers pressing tight enough on her thighs to leave bruises and–

Nile pushes her hips forward, Booker catches her clit between his lips, and she moans as her orgasm rolls through her, her legs twitching from the force of it. One of her legs drops from his shoulders but he holds the other in place, resting his head on her thigh.

For a moment or two, Nile lies there, trying to catch her breath. Booker waits, but when she says, “Come here,” he rises instantly up onto his knees, lets her reel him in. They kiss and when she tastes herself on his tongue, she squirms again. The movement brings her into contact with his cock, still confined in those tight jeans, and Booker groans.

“How do you want me, mon trésor?” he murmurs against her lips.

Nile leans back, looks at him as though she hasn’t already made up her mind.

“Naked,” she says finally – because why not, when they’ve got a room all to themselves, “And I’m gonna ride you.”

He nods and scrambles to his feet, pulling his t-shirt up and over his head, and Nile clears her throat. Booker pauses with his hands already on the waistband of his jeans.

“Slower,” she says, because she’ll be damned if she’s not getting a show out of this, too.

He smiles almost bashfully, hair falling in his face again, and then pops the button on his jeans, lowers the zipper. Nile is leaning back on her elbows and she doesn’t even care about how on display she is because she only has eyes for him.

Booker has already kicked off his shoes and when he starts to lower his jeans, Nile’s mouth goes dry. He’s not wearing any underwear – which she should have been able to tell, she supposes – which means he knew before she did that they’d end up here, and he’s absolutely ready for it.

She lets out a frustrated noise and pulls off her skirt, kneeling up on the bed to take her shirt off, too. Booker’s there when she throws it to the floor, kissing her, and when his hands go for the band of her bra, she lets him. He’s got just a little chest hair that feels so good against her skin, even better once he removes the bra and she presses up against him.

“You are beautiful, mon ange,” Booker says. He’s not usually so generous with the endearments, but Nile does like them, though with all this conditioning she isn’t sure he can ever use them outside of the bedroom.

She maps his skin with her hands, trying to convey her reply in every touch, and then she pulls him onto the bed because she wants a lot – she wants everything – but what she wants most is Booker, inside her, right now.

Still, he surges up to kiss her breasts, sucking on one nipple and then the other, and Nile is in his lap, his cock hard against her ass as she rocks back against it. She moans when he bites down and then freezes – they both do – when she hears the apartment door close.

“Fuck,” she hisses. The murmur of low voices reaches them and Booker looks just as startled as she does.

“Do you think they heard us?” he asks and Nile shakes her head.

“I don’t think so, but we have to–”

Heavy, purposeful footsteps head toward her door and Nile almost startles out of her own skin when someone knocks on the wood.

“You have to hide,” she says to Booker.

“Where?”

She climbs off his lap, looks around the room – and he’s right, there’s really nowhere to hide in here. She can see clean under the bed and there’s no wardrobe, so that’s the two most common spots out.

Except – there is a small balcony attached to this room, the reason she’d argued with Nicky and Joe for it.

“Out there,” she hisses.

He looks at her, looks at the window, and then looks back at her again.

“You have to be kidding me!” Another knock. “Nile, they will still see me–”

“Not if you–”

“Nile, are you alright?” It’s Joe. She and Booker exchange another look and then he’s scrambling for the window and she’s grabbing her robe off the hook on the back of the door.

“Yes! Just a second!”

Booker is out of the window and when she turns around, she can’t see him. She grabs all their clothes, depositing the pile on the other side of the bed and then quickly adjusts the sheets on the way past. Hopefully, it’ll look more like she’s been napping than anything else. Thank fuck they heal quickly because she has no way of explaining any visible marks away.

She opens the door an inch and Joe peers in at her. “Are you sure you are alright?” he asks.

Nile shrugs. “Fine. Why?”

“You left these by the door.”

He holds up her purse and the book.

“If you didn’t like the book, you could have just said,” Nicky calls from somewhere else in the apartment.

“Oh, no, I do! I just… I was tired so I came back, I must have dropped them by the door.” Not for the first time, she curses the fact that they never get sick. She can’t feign a headache, or food poisoning, or anything else, which would be incredibly helpful right now.

She opens the door a little wider when Joe holds out her things and doesn’t miss the way his eyes sweep her room.

“I thought I heard someone in here with you,” he says finally and she shrugs.

“I had a podcast playing,” she replies. “One of those sleep ones. Probably that.”

He nods, as if understanding, and then smiles. “Well, we came back to get Nicky another shirt. Someone spilt wine on his.”

“You did!” Nicky shouts. Ah, he’s in their room – he emerges now, flattening his hair with his hands. “Someone, really?”

Joe laughs and kisses him on the cheek before he turns back to Nile. “You are still joining us for dinner?”

Nile resists the urge to look back. She doesn’t know how Booker’s hiding on the balcony and she really wants them to go; maybe this was a terrible idea…

“Yep!” she says. “Just text me the time and the place and I’ll meet you there.”

Joe opens his mouth, as if to say something else, but Nicky elbows him in the side and nods. “Enjoy the rest of your nap,” he says, and then he’s dragging Joe away.

Nile waits until she hears the apartment door shut to run to the balcony. It really isn’t large and all of it is visible through the window – so when she looks down and sees a completely naked Booker hanging from the iron railing, she almost isn’t surprised.

She reaches down and together, they get him back up again; she hustles him back into the room because he’s shivering already.

“Are they gone?” Booker asks and Nile opens her robe, pulls him against her to try and warm him as best she can.

“Yes,” she says against his chest. “Look, I know I should tell them, I just–”

“No, ma chérie, do not worry about that. That is a discussion for another time.” They both have good reason to keep this under wraps, after all.

His fingers are running up and down her spine and Nile smiles, turns her face up for a kiss. Booker obliges and when she starts walking him back toward the bed, he goes. They part when she pushes him onto the mattress and he watches as she slips the robe from her shoulders. He’s not hard, when she crawls over him, so she kisses him, reaches down and strokes him. She likes feeling him fill in her hand – likes it more in her mouth – and especially the way he moans against her lips, letting out little gasping breaths as his cock hardens.

Nile leans back to look at him. She’s still stroking him, almost absentmindedly, and she scores marks down his chest with her free hand. He doesn’t shy away from the touch. The red marks fade almost immediately.

“I can’t say it as nicely as you,” Nile says, “But fuck, you’re hot.”

Booker blushes at that and Nile’s straddling one of his thighs, rubs herself against him. She’s ready for him again – wants that inexorable feeling of being full to the brim of him – and so she shifts, positioning herself above him.

He grabs her hips as she starts lowering herself down. Booker might not have the biggest cock she’s ever fucked but he’s thick and she takes it slowly, rocking back and forth as each inch fills her. She moans when she’s taken him to the base and smiles at the sweat that’s broken out on Booker’s brow. He won’t move until she does and, just to tease, she squeezes around him.

Booker throws his head back and groans, fingers on her hips tightening. She sees the advantage to not, but sometimes she wishes she could wear the bruises he presses into her skin for days.

“Tell me you want it,” she says. He makes her feel so in control – of herself, of him. Still, he reaches up, thumbs a nipple so that she gasps.

“Ride me, ma tigresse,” he says and shifts his hips. “Show me I am yours.”

Oh, but that just isn’t fair. Nile plants her hands on his chest and lifts herself up and down, letting him slip out a little way before he fills her up again. He trails his hands up and down her thighs, content to watch for now as she fucks herself on his cock over and over – she isn’t sure if she wants to come first and have him work for his own orgasm, or if she wants him to come inside her and then rub her clit to the sound of his cries.

After a few moments, he sits up, shifting so he seems to somehow end up deeper, and they settle into a fast rhythm. He’s closer than she thought, fucking up into her hard and fast, and she scratches her nails over his scalp, pulls his hair. His eyes flutter shut and she kisses his cheek, his nose. Pleasure is chasing up her spine – Booker’s thrusts are getting uncoordinated – and she wants this moment to last forever, just the two of them in this bubble of intimacy like she’s never experienced before.

Booker tips his head forward, mouths at her neck and Nile grinds down against him. She reaches between them but he bats her hand away, rubs her clit with his thumb. “Booker,” she hisses, “Fuck.”

“So eloquent,” he laughs but he sounds wrecked and when she bites his bottom lip, he groans and comes, the hand he has on her hip squeezing tight.

She waits it out with him but when she goes to move off him, he holds her in place. They’re sweaty, the room smells like sex, and he sucks a mark against her throat as he starts rubbing her clit again. She rocks on his cock, still inside her, and God he has to be oversensitive but he makes no sound of protest, and when he licks over the mark he’s made, she comes with a cry, all but collapsing into his arms.

Eventually, they separate and lie beside each other. Booker reaches over, entwines his fingers with hers, then kisses the back of her hand. She closes her eyes. He really is going to be the death of her.

***

Two hours later, Nile leaves Booker at the S-Bahn station. They find a spot to wait, outside of the reach of any of the cameras, and Nile licks into his mouth, sucks on his tongue. She can’t help herself; if the situation between them all was any other way, she would have locked them both in that bedroom for a week or more.

He pulls back as the train starts to pull in. “I have to go,” he says, and he sounds sad again, which just breaks her heart.

“Text me when you get back,” she replies, “And if we have time again, while we’re here–”

“No promises,” Booker warns – another of their agreements, along with always telling each other the truth.

“No promises,” Nile agrees. “Just a wish.”

He smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling, and kisses her on the forehead. His train is here; he has to go.

“Au revoir, mon rêve.”

“Au revoir.”

She watches him leave, then waits at the station for another fifteen minutes. He’s obviously not going to turn around and come back – what would that achieve? – but she needs some time to get her thoughts in order.

In the end, she arrives at the restaurant ten minutes before the others. She’s learnt enough German to ask after their reservation, and all three seem surprised to see her there first, but they don’t mention it. Instead, they tell her all about their day – including the lead up to the wine incident – and by the time their food arrives, Nile doesn’t feel so bad about sneaking around.

Nicky is chatting to Andy about some exhibit they saw at a museum when Joe turns to look at Nile. He seems vaguely concerned, so she puts her fork down and takes a sip of her wine.

“We should go shopping tomorrow,” he says. “Those clothes really will not do, habibti.”

Nile frowns and looks down at her outfit. She’s wearing dark jeans and a gold top that Joe had liked when she’d bought it and shown it off to him. “I’m sorry, what exactly do you think is wrong with this outfit?”

Andy snickers. Joe shakes his head. “Not that outfit,” he says. He looks around and then lowers his voice conspiratorially. “Nile, you are of course fine to wear whatever you want. But if you are going to choose men’s clothes then at least let me pass on some wisdom.”

Nile looks from Joe to Nicky to Andy. They all look back at her, entirely straight-faced.

She really doesn’t get it.

“What are we talking about?”

Joe shrugs. “I mean, we have all had to do it. I don’t like wearing women’s clothes myself, but my Nicolò–” He smiles, and it’s a particularly indulgent one, “Well, he went through a period of trying dresses in the sixteenth century. He really looks quite fetching, we should try it again some time. Although they are, of course, difficult to remove, so I can see why you might be inclined to try something simpler…”

Nicky waves Joe off, mouth full of food as he rolls his eyes.

“And Andy has not really ever conformed to how people believe women should dress–”

“Clothes have no gender,” Andy says on a sigh and if Nile were not so bewildered by the situation, she thinks she might have laughed, at that.

“So, we are not new to this idea. And it’s nice that you’re trying something new! Just, please, I cannot convince Nico to let me dress him all the time but I will not have you fall victim to a lack of fashion sense.”

Nile stares at him for a moment, two, before her brain catches up with her.

He must have seen Booker’s clothes. She debates, for a moment, how much of the truth she can tell versus the painful future where Joe takes her shopping – in all earnest – and she has to pretend she’s enjoying it. Not that she’s all that bothered by what kind of clothes she wears, either, but she does prefer to choose them for herself.

She rubs her temple and as she does, she catches sight of Nicky’s expression. Completely neutral.

Too neutral.

“You assholes,” she says, though it is without heat. “Would you have actually let me go through with that?”

Andy cackles and holds out her hand. Nicky pays her, which Nile thinks is fair, since he’s the one who gave the game away.

“I would have chosen some very nice outfits,” Joe says and he’s only pouting a little, so Nile laughs.

“Okay, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I had… someone back to the apartment. I just…”

“We know,” Nicky says.

“I mean, I know I’m an adult and it’s not a big deal, I just wanted to–”

“No, you don’t understand,” Andy interrupts. “We know.”

All the blood drains from Nile’s face. “Ah. When did you…?”

Nicky shrugs. “It was obvious you were texting him,” he says. “We were all in the room with you.”

Well, shit. She thought she’d been more subtle than that.

“And the rest?”

“Guessed you were meeting him about eighteen months ago,” Andy says. “The sex part is new.”

For a second, Nile prays for the ground to swallow her up. Then she realises who hasn’t spoken. She looks at Joe.

“You’re not mad at me, are you?”

He smiles and it reaches his eyes. “Of course not, habibti. But I still do not wish to see him. Not yet.”

“Yeah, okay… Okay.”

She’s relieved, and when Nicky kicks her gently under the table, she laughs, because they might not want to see Booker yet, but they’re clearly happy for what she’s found with him.

“I do have one question,” Nicky says. “Where was Booker hiding, when we, ah, interrupted you earlier? There is nowhere to hide in that room.”

“Uh…” Nile starts, but Andy beats her to it.

“His bare ass was hanging over the balcony,” she says. “I had a hunch; went around back to check.”

Nicky nods and then looks at Joe; there’s a dangerous gleam in his eye and Nile gets the feeling all the attention will be off her soon enough.

“Reminds me of Boston, hayati. Remember? When you–”

Joe throws a bread roll at him and Nile laughs. She really does love her new family – all of them, even if she can’t see them all at once.