They’re in an abandoned firehouse at the outer limits of Berlin. The place, still owned by the city, hasn't been refreshed in years, since they cut the budget in 2029 if Booker’s infos are correct. The cut in the budget is a political excuse, but the reality is far more sinister: the firefighters had suffered a series of misfortune that had escalated to one of them killing two coworkers then himself in an act of distress after a messy divorce and the death of his son in a fire. The population speaks of a curse, it’s nothing the Guards fear so they took claim of the building at their arrival a week ago.
Right now, Nile is making coffee while keeping an eye on the two people sitting around the table, they don’t look at ease on the squeaky chairs that look like they’re ready to give way under the weight. It’s particularly obvious in Booker’s case and Nile can’t help the little smile appearing on her face. It’s the first time since she’s in Berlin, she notes absentmindedly, and it’s enough to make the smile drop out. They knew it would be hard coming back here, as hard as it is for Andy to travel by boat (she would look at the water for hours, wondering if Quynh wasn’t under them), but they couldn’t stay away and watch the city get torn apart. Fifteen years and the pain is still as fresh as it was then, somehow this angers Nile who had believed the Guards when they told her that pain faded away with time, it was all lies. She looks at Andy and Booker and all the anger leaves her body, they look miserable, tired face and tensed body, Booker whose eyes are wet and red but if you ask he’ll tell you it’s because he needs a drink even though they all know the French hasn’t feel the need to get drunk in five years.
“The meeting is in two hours, what did you get on our contact?” Trust Andy to keep her head in the game no matter how down she may be.
“Detective Parker Strauss born in 1995, the mother is from the States and the father from here. He moves a lot between Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg so it’s hard to get much on him, but I guess it’s to stay safe since he has a good position in the anti-terrorist division, made a lot of enemies…. He’s married to Joseph Vandenberg.”
In the last two decades, Germany has grown as a very powerful piece of the european union, but that means that it started to see a lot of passing through and imigration which was met by an escalation of violence and terrorist acts. Politicians all around the world fear a civil war and, if won by the wrong side, another world war; nobody was ready to see the nuclear war become a real threat.
“Copley Jr. contacted us, then him, because the CIA has identified an incoming attempt in a metro station in Berlin, but the anti-terrorist division isn’t a fan of Americans dealing with their job. Strauss was the only one willing to get some help.”
“Shocking news.” Andy muttered.
“Where are we meeting the guy?”
They meet in an underground parking, the contact is smoking and pretending not to see them approach, it’s a smart move if they’re onto an organisation big enough to worry the CIA. As they got closer, Nile can help but feel how much time has gone by since she became an immortal and joined the Guard, the man is one year older and he looks close to twice her age. As if he senses what she’s thinking, Booker knocks her shoulder with his and offers a gentle smile. It doesn’t reach his eyes. Nothing will truly make any of them feel joy when they’re in Berlin.
The terrorists they’re after are white germans who aim at hurting people who shouldn’t be on their land. They’re not the kind to use bombing, they wanna be seen, which is why gunfire is their attack of predilection. It’s creepy. Parker agrees with Andy. He opens a laptop, showing all the infos he has gathered during the six last months, the attack is set to happen the next month, the four of them agree on spotting the location at the end of the week, Andy wants to read and learn the group behavior before analyzing the scene. During that time, they would meet Parker daily in a parking lot at the outside of Berlin.
The spotting is a failure, the group has been there for an hour when everything turns sour and none of them can exactly pinpoint the moment it goes off the rails. That’s how it happens: the station is full of people, Andy and Booker are scanning the area, Parker explaining why someone would touch this place in particular and there is a scream, a woman throwing herself in front of her children, a man falling on the ground, people running away, gun shots, a few more screams and falling bodies. It takes Nile a few seconds to register the pain in her torso and the look of shock on the detective’s face, his hands coming forward to catch her body which is not falling like it should if she was a normal person. There’s no point trying to press on the wound, there is no wound anymore and Detective Strauss is getting aware of it as the frown on his face tells her. Yet, he doesn’t ask, he’s still supporting her as he leads them both out of the station where no one else could see that she survived her wound. Booker is quick to join them but Andy takes a bit longer, assisting those who are hurt but survived. Ambulances and police vehicles are on their way. they should move before someone sees Parker because the detective is supposed to have taken the week off, he informs, and with the knowledge he has on the case, that can look suspicious to the authorities.
In the car, no one is talking for a few minutes, trying to calm down from the rush of adrenaline, yet Andy and Booker are having a whole conversation through their eyes. What when wrong? Is there a snitch inside the anti-terrorist division? But the first word says out loud comes from Parker’s mouth.
“So… It’s already all healed up, hum? That’s nice.”
“I guess, it would have sucked to die there.” Nile’s voice is uneven, she doesn’t know how to react to this man. “God must have other plans for me. Lucky me!”
“Not the first time, I guess, considering your lack of surprise… Are they... “ He gestured toward Andy and Booker in the back of the car.
“Yes, we are.” Andy cuts him off. “You don’t look too surprised either, Strauss. It always means bad news for us when people react so… evenly.” Next to her, Booker looks sick, it’s still a sour spot and he doesn’t think that he will ever forgive himself even if the others have.
“You’re not the first I’ve seen.” Parker doesn’t catch the frown on their three faces, too busy turning left. “Was it a group experience? Or did you find each other along the road?”
“We find each other. What do you mean we’re not the first?”
“I mean that’ I’ve already met someone like you.” The detective says, parking the car in front of the firehouse. “My husband.”
“Not possible.” Andy is the first to react, as concise as ever, opening the building.
“We dream of each other then we find each other.” Nile explains, “If your husband was one of us, we would already know.”
“And considering that we all are and were some kind of warrior, soldier or … je ne sais quoi … If one of you two was an immortal, that wouldn’t be the philologist husband.” adds Booker.
“Well, you don’t have to believe me, but I know what my husband can do. And facts are facts, so… Why don’t you have dinner with us tonight? You can make up your mind after.”
They shouldn’t, getting personal with a contact is a bad idea, but Booker is curious and Andy craves a homemade meal, Nile is the only reticent one and the cause is easy to find, she hasn’t been able to relax around the detective since their first meeting, unable to remember that they both were supposed to be of the same age. The dinner will be at seven o’clock, the address is quickly written on a flashy post-it and then Parker leaves.
They shouldn’t go, Nile insistes, she still remembers how hard it was when Copley died and she remembers that’s the way it started, they’d stopped seeing the man as only a professional relationship, had invited him to their meeting and went to his place in between jobs. Then Copley died. The call came out of nowhere, the death unbelievable, how could have one of them die? Of course, the Guard has seen people die in the past, has seen loved one disappear, has seen kingdoms and empires fall, but Copley’s death was like one of them dying, it reminded them that they weren’t infaillible. Yes, she likes Parker, just like the rest of the group, he’s quite the nice guy, but they can’t make friends with him. It’s Andy who had the last word, it doesn’t have to be a courtesy call, they just want to meet that supposedly other immortal, that’s all. Nile has nothing to add, she too wonders who that man is, what he is and if he’s an immortal, why they hadn’t dreamt of the man yet.
“Ok. And what if he’s not like us? Or worse, what if he is? Do we tell him to dump Parker right there during dinner?”
“She’s got a point. Parker sure seems in love with the guy, I don’t see this going very well. Plus… Will we be able to deal with all those coeurs brisés and sadness, we already got a lot on our plates with Copley, Quynh, Joe and Nicky.”
Andy doesn’t answer, it’s the first time one of them mentions the elephant in the room and a heavy silence falls onto the conversation: Nile’s knuckles whitened around her mug, Booker looks ready to throw up or faint, and Andy loses herself inside her haunted mind. After a few seconds, Andy’s hand lands softly on Booker’s cheek, his eyes are red from unshed tears.
“He might not want to follow us after the job, but we own Parker to be there for his husband when he’ll need us and it will happen. Most likely sooner than later. We might as well give them a way to contact us for when it’ll happen.”
“Yeah, t’as raison.”
They are fifteen minutes late for dinner, the road had been busier than they had planned, but Parker opens the door as if they’re in advance, smiling and ushering them inside as if they were old friends. In the first days of working with them, the detective had put his friendly and easy behavior as inherited from his mother, she was an american saleswoman and had always said that this kind of behavior could make anyone raise pretty high in society. She wasn’t wrong.
Parker and his husband live in a cute little house, Nile doesn’t have any other words in mind: it’s a semi-detached house with a garage on the right side and a small garden in front made more for decorating purposes than to make use of it, the windows are plugged by deep saffron--yellow curtains. They take off their shoes and coats in the hall, Booker already sniffing the air to identify the smell coming from the kitchen. The dinner is far from being ready, Parker admits, the couple has lost track of time while playing scrabbles, the excuse earns him an amused snort from Nile.
“Schatz, let them settle in the living room and get something to drink. They’re not here to admire the hall, are they?”
Parker leads them to the living room, unaware of the odd feelings emerging in Nile’s guts, blind to the looks of concern and wonder shared between Booker and Andy, There are a few snacks waiting on the coffee table, a few glasses appearing in their hands while the detective moves around his guests. As Parker tries to pour white wine in his glass, Booker raises a hand to stop the man’s action.
“I… euh… I don’t drink.”
“No worry! See, Joe! I told you that you wouldn’t be the only one. Joseph doesn’t drink either.” He then explains to the guests, gesturing toward the kitchen.
Standing in the doorway, there is a man who cannot be a new immortal, a man that Booker refuses to qualify another way than “ghost”, a man whose voice Booker thought he wouldn’t never heard again, a man that Booker has cried over for many night thinking that he would never see him again and that he hadn’t been able to bid him a proper goodbye, a man who had been his brother.