Getting drunk with an immortal liver is a challenge, but after over 200 years, Booker thinks he's got it down to an art. He's giving his liver a good fight tonight, cradling a bottle while lying on the couch, staring at a spot of black mould in the upper corner of the shitty safehouse he's holed up in, wondering if he should bother to do anything about it or just watch it slowly consume the entire ceiling over the next few years.
Two weeks into his 100 year exile, and if he thought he was lonely before, he was a fucking idiot. Well, that had already been established. It's the small things; like how the cheap takeout can't compare to the care Nicolò put into the team's meals, how when he watches the football, he turns to tease a Joe who isn't there, and when he goes to pour himself another drink, he grabs two glasses, just in case the boss wants one.
He drinks straight from the bottle now.
The rattling of doorknob brings him sharply out of his melancholy, he rolls heavily off of the sofa, grabbing the nearest gun and training it on the door. His mind races, who knows he's here, who would seek him out now, what can he do if he's outnumbered--
"Uh, Booker? You there?"
He frowns, flicking away the hair that has fallen into his face with a jerk of his head, "Nile?"
"Yeah, dude, can I come in?"
He lowers his gun, arm still extended, eyes flickering across the room, taking in the yellowed walls, takeout containers and scattered bottles. Shrugging, he lumbers towards the door and turns the key, pulling it open. Nile stands in the doorway, looking expectantly up at him, as if her coming by was a regular occurrence.
"Hey, Book- Oh my god put some pants on!" She exclaims, bringing her hand up to shield her eyes.
He looks down at his boxer shorts, confused and still a little drunk, "I have pants on."
"You know what I mean."
Booker staggers away from the door, stopping to pick up a pair of discarded jeans from the floor and stepping into them as Nile enters, shutting the door behind her.
"Has it been 100 years already?" he jokes, with absolutely no humour in his voice.
Nile looks around, nose scrunched up. She looks good. Still so painfully young. The team have clearly taken her to get some new clothes from the type of shitty thrift stores that have no cameras, but she's made the best of her limited choices.
Booker sighs, fixing his eyes on the wall again, "Why are you here, Nile?"
Nile pulls one of the frail wooden chairs away from the kitchen table, sitting in it a little hesitantly, like she isn't sure it won't collapse into dust under her weight. "They miss you, you know," she says, simply. It's not quite an answer.
Booker huffs in disagreement. He feels self conscious all of a sudden about the state of the room. He tries to tidy discreetly, picking up empty bottles and placing them in the corner of the counter.
"I'm serious, man. Nicky's walking around like someone kicked his puppy," or held him down and stuck a gun in his mouth, Booker's mind supplies helpfully, "and Andy keeps just spacing out and staring at the wall."
"Joe?" he asks, despite himself.
Nile shrugs, "He's just. Pretending. That he's pissed. That he doesn't give a shit."
"Sounds like him," he pauses, walking back over to the dirty couch and sitting down heavily, "Do they know you're here?"
"They're not my parents," she glares a little, but then perks up, "They did take me thrifting, though."
She spreads her arms, as if showing off her outfit. It's terribly 1990's, a pastel pink polo with a white collar and high-waisted acid washed jeans. Just over her heart is a truly hideous bedazzled brooch in the shape of a cat's face, with huge black eyes. The brooch is possibly the ugliest thing he's seen in some time.
"Very nice?" he says, uncertainly.
Nile drops her arms, crossing her legs, her expression turning serious, "I came because I wanted to hear it from you."
Booker's hand itches for the whiskey bottle he knows is on the floor beside him, "Why I did it?"
"Yeah. No," she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath through her nose, "The whole thing. Start at the beginning."
"The beginning?" Booker almost chokes, laughing bitterly, "You know I'm over 200 years old, right?"
She shrugs, "Hey, I've got time."
He rubs his hand up and down his face, shaking his head, "Yeah. Sure. Okay..." he breathes out a shaky breath, "You know it was Joe who I met first, right? Did he tell you that?"
Getting back to France should have been easier. It should have been quick. Sebastien should not be still stuck in fucking Russia two years after his death.
Still, there have been hurdles, such as; having to avoid both sides of the conflict, freezing to death, the strange dreams, not speaking any Russian, freezing to death, having no idea of where he is, having to beg and steal and oh, yeah, freezing to death.
He thinks he's died over twenty times in two years, not counting the three days he spent hanging, but that's probably a low estimate.
This week, he's gotten lucky and managed to find an abandoned barn, half burned down and far too exposed to the elements, but with a nice corner of the structure still standing. Sebastien can curl up with his blanket and his pack of (mostly stolen) belongings.
The dreams have been different recently, the others are in Russia. He knows it. Well, apart from the one screaming under the sea. She remains, as ever, drowning. Did they do that to her? Will they do that to me? Is that why they're hunting me?
He's been fleeing more intensely, desperate to shake these strange pursuers before they find him. They all seem insane, unreal, to him. The woman who dresses like a man, the furious wretch beneath the sea, and the two men who whisper sweetly to each other in a language he doesn't know.
Luckily, this night's sleep has been dreamless, but he still wakes in the middle of the night. The moon is full enough that he can see pretty well without having to light his lantern, and he shivers miserably.
He's just about to turn over and try and go back to sleep when he hears the crunching of snow outside his little shelter. Warm orange light pours in through the holes in the destroyed wall.
Sebastien fumbles for his dagger, grabbing it with numb fingers as the footsteps approach, pulling himself into a sitting position, coiled and ready to strike.
The man who steps into his view isn't from the French or Russian forces, but his profile strikes fear into Sebastien for an entirely different reason. He's seen him before, in his dreams. He is the darker of the two men, the one with curls and a short, neat beard. The man casts his gaze across the ruined barn, and blinks in recognition when he sees Sebastien.
The other man opens his mouth to say something, but Sebastien doesn't give him the chance, he lunges. Dagger raised, aimed towards the man's throat.
Lantern still in hand, the man leans back, grabs Sebastien easily by the wrist with his free hand, and then moves in one swift motion. His leg shoots out, sweeping Sebastien's feet from under him, and his hand twists, causing Sebastien to curse and drop the blade. Sebastien ends up crumpled in the snow, looking up at the man's amused face.
"Now," he smiles down at him, his teeth alarmingly bright in the moonlight, "is that any way to greet your brother?"
Sebastien stumbles backwards, "Who are you?" he demands, "How are you-?"
"In your dreams?" The stranger interrupts, "Simple. You are in mine. We are the same."
"The same?" Sebastien hisses, fumbling for his dagger in the snow. The stranger watches him calmly with a polite smile, "I am nothing like you! You -"
Booker winces, "I won't repeat what I said there. But it was something unkind about him and Nicky."
Nile puts it together quickly and her expression sobers, "What the fuck, Booker?"
With that, Booker reaches down the side of the sofa, fingers closing around the whiskey bottle. He unscrews the lid and sighs, defeated, "Yeah," he takes a long swig, "So, uh, yeah, he punched me in the face and snapped my neck."
"Which you deserved," Nile says, head still cocked and eyebrows raised in offense.
"Which I deserved," he agrees easily. He had apologised to Joe, much later, many times. Joe had simply shrugged and told him that his first meeting with Nicky had been much more hostile.
Sebastien wakes with his hands tied behind his back, but at least his face is resting on his blanket, and not on the snow. The man who killed him is sitting beside him, leaning against the wall with his hands on his knees, his lantern resting beside him, bathing them both in warm light.
"Now," His killer says calmly, "Seeing as you're being rude, we can do this the hard way."
Sebastien feels a white-hot flash of panic shoot down his spine, "Don't throw me in the ocean," he blurts out, before he can stop himself.
The man freezes, every muscle in his body tensing up at once, "What did you say?" he whispers, his voice strained.
"Like the other one. Don't put me in there, too."
He's startled by the noise that comes next, a wet, muffled sob, as the man who killed him brings a hand up to his mouth, overwhelmed, and turns his head into his shoulder, hiding his face.
"JOSEPH?" a woman's voice calls, distantly, barely audible over the wind, "I'm freezing my TITS OFF, Joseph!"
"Shit, shit, shit," The man - Joseph, he assumes- curses, punching the wooden, splintered wall beside them, pausing to wipe his sleeve angrily across his eyes. He turns to Sebastien, earlier slight apparently forgotten, "Listen to me," he hisses, "Do NOT say anything about the woman in the ocean. We won't harm you, we didn't hurt her, I promise, but you cannot mention it in front of Andromache!"
Sebastien nods against the rough woolen blanket, not understanding in the slightest.
Joseph stands, squares his shoulders, takes one deep breath, "I found him, Andromache!" he yells, "Over here!"
Footsteps approach, and another of the dream's inhabitants appears. It's the woman who dresses as a man, her hair shorn short and tucked into a soldiers cap. She's armed, with an axe draped over her back and a gun in her hand.
"What happened to him?" she asks, disinterested, taking in his bloodied nose and lip, now healed but still filling his nose with the smell of blood.
"I did," Joseph says cheerfully, hauling Sebastien up by the arm, "He was being uncouth. He knows better now," he turns to Sebastien, expression sharp, and jostles his arm once, "Don't you?"
Sebastien just nods again, looking from his captor to the woman beside them. Her gaze is utter steel, chin jutting up, as if daring him to say anything impolite to her. He keeps his mouth shut, and he can't tell if she's pleased or disappointed at that.
"Well, nice to meet you," the woman shrugs, "I'm Andromache, but you may call me Andrea."
"Sebastien Le Livre," he grumbles.
"Andrea. Andree. Andrew. Andromache. Andy." Booker gestures vaguely, "Depends on the time and the place. Joe was Joseph back then and Nicky was Nicholas."
He sees her hesitation, the question on her face.
"You don't have you change your name if you don't want to," Booker says gently, inwardly cursing that none of them have explained this to her yet, "You might need a different one for fake IDs, but they'll still call you Nile."
Nile lets out a breath, "Good. Yeah, good. I'm not- I'm not ready for that."
They gather up his belongings and lead him to a little camp a short distance away, where two horses are tied up. It's sparse, but he can see that they have plenty more supplies than Sebastien does.
"We're staying about half a day's ride from here, but we'll stop here for tonight," Andrea says, in a tone that leaves no room for argument, then, nodding her head to Joseph, "Untie him."
Joseph huffs, then moves to release him. Sebastien flexes his fingers and rubs his wrists once he is free of the rope. He thinks about running.
Before he can even consider it, Andrea pulls a dagger from her belt and slices it across her palm, holding it up for him to see as the wound oozes blood, slows, and then closes itself neatly.
He feels a heavy hand on his shoulder, and Joseph laughs at his stunned expression, "There, see, I told you we are the same."
Sebastien feels like the air has been knocked out of his lungs, "Why?" he manages to gasp out.
Andrea gives a short, irritated sigh.
"We don't know," Joseph says softly, giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze, "It just is. When a new one comes along, we dream about them, until we meet them."
"There's one more of us. We'll take you to meet him tomorrow." Andrea says casually, leaning to dig something out of her bag. "Once you know everything, you can decide for yourself."
One more. He thinks of the man with Joseph from his dreams, the one with the intense green eyes. He also thinks of the woman, screaming under the sea, the water filling her lungs again and again. He makes eye contact with Joseph, who shakes his head minutely, lips pursed.
They give him dried meat and water. He takes it gratefully, with only a minor complaint that he'd prefer wine. Sebastien had learned quickly that alcohol numbed the dreams, having four people inside his head had been overwhelming, and the alcohol meant he was able to fall into dreamless sleep most nights.
"I'll take first watch," Joseph offers, when they show him where he can place his bedroll. He doubts there's any actual danger around, it's more likely Joseph is staying up to watch him, to make sure he doesn't run.
He settles down for an uneasy night's sleep. He dreams of a cabin near a river, the green-eyed man humming to himself as he moves around the room, washing the dirty windows and sweeping the floor. Sebastien gets to feel his inner sense of calm. Then he is at the bottom of the ocean with her, screaming wordlessly and banging bloodied limbs against an unyielding iron lid, her entire body alight with a deep, endless rage.
"You were right," he says flatly to the other two immortals in the morning, not missing the uneasy way Joseph is eyeing him, "I didn't dream of you two last night."
"How come Joe didn't tell Andy right away? About Quynh?" Nile asks. She's gotten on her feet and started to pick up his empty takeout containers and drop them one by one into the bin. By this point, Booker's just buzzed enough to not feel too stressed about his living conditions, so he stays seated. No point pretending it's any better than it is.
"I wondered that myself," he takes another swig of whiskey, ignoring her frown, "I think he was worried she'd just go running off to sea before they could put me through the whole 'Intro to Immortality' thing. That, and if she hauled them all off to sea and left me there, I'd still be stuck dreaming of Nicky, too."
"But, really, I think he was just panicking. She'd been in the water so long, already. They all thought- hoped- that she was really dead. They didn't even consider it, how she could die so many times and still live. Joe just wanted to spare Andy that pain for a little longer. I wonder, if I hadn't told him-"
Nile's face is oddly still, for her, "It still would have been true, Booker. It still would have been happening," she says quietly.
He wants to ask her how she's handling the dreams. The drowning.
He takes another swig of his drink.
If Sebastien had expected Andrea to meekly share her horse with him, he would have been mistaken, but the look she had given him when she mounted her large black horse in the morning left no room for misunderstandings. He suffered through the next few hours in silence, sharing the saddle with Joseph, who was happy enough to fill the silence with mundane chatter. Sebastien wondered dimly if he wasn't simply talking to ensure that Sebastien wouldn't mention the drowning woman.
Soon enough, the road led them to a clearing, and Sebastien's stomach tightened as he recognised the cabin from his dream last night. While he could see the warm glow of candle and firelight through the windows, and the wooden building by the river looked as serene as a painting, he still couldn't shake the feeling of wrongness. He should not be seeing things with his mind before he sees them with his eyes. The word unnatural springs to mind, and he touches a hand absently to his throat, where the rope had choked him again and again.
They hitch the horses to a post outside the cabin, and Sebastien takes a few shaky steps towards the river, thighs somehow both numb and burning from hours in the saddle. He hears the door to the cabin creak open and he turns around just in time to see the green-eyed man fling himself at Joseph, who catches him in a tight hug.
"We were gone for three days," Andrea says flatly, tending to her own horse.
Joseph lets out a wordless, happy noise, his hand carding through the other man's hair, "Yes, and every minute without Nicolò by my side was a dagger in my heart, Andromache."
"I'll give you a dagger in your heart," she grumbles, but there's no bite in it.
The man hugging Joseph draws back and they share a firm kiss, smiling against each other's mouths, and Sebastien drops his gaze, unsure of where to look. He was in the army, and in prison before that, so he is no stranger to such things, but he's never seen two men so open about it. Still, he isn't risking Joseph's wrath again, so he keeps his eyes down and his mouth shut.
"And this must be our new brother!" Sebastien looks up to see Joseph's man walking towards him, arms outstretched, his face split in a wide smile. He draws close, putting his hands on Sebastien's shoulders and for one insane moment Sebastien thinks he's going to kiss him, but instead he pulls him in for a brief, crushing hug, "You may call me Nicholas, or Nicolò, I do not mind."
"Sebastien," he grits out, squirming out of the man's grip.
"Sebastien," calls Joseph, levelling him with a heavy look, "Why don't you go inside and get settled? I... we have something to discuss."
He's going to tell them about the drowning woman, Sebastien can see it in his eyes, and the tension he holds in his shoulders. Sebastien doesn't know how the conversation will be received by Andrea, but he can see from the way Joseph is steeling himself that it will likely not go well. Sebastien is more than happy to miss out on it, so he hauls his bag further onto his shoulder and heads inwards, ducking his head as he passes the other immortals.
Stepping into the warmth of the cabin, he's greeted with the smell of something cooking gently over the fireplace, and it makes him realise just how hungry he is. Clearly the cabin has been tidied in a hurry, the evidence of many years of neglect still obvious to anyone looking closely enough, but there are blankets strewn over wooden chairs and fresh bread on the table, and it's more comfort than Sebastien has had in years. He takes a few unsteady steps inside, dropping his bag next to the old wooden table, and sitting hesitantly in one of the creaky chairs. He's just gotten his feet under the table when he hears raised voices outside, Andrea, shouting words he can't understand-
Sebastien leaps to his feet, wheeling around to the window, hand flying to his knife in his belt. From the window, he sees Joseph on his knees, his hand pressed firmly against his shoulder, saturated in red, his teeth bared in pain. Nicholas stands between him and Andrea, hands outstretched in a placating gesture, ranting in a language Sebastien doesn't recognise. Andrea faces away from them all, looking out to the river, the gun still smoking in her hands.
"She shot him? Andy shot him?!"
Booker huffs, "What, are you surprised? She shot you."
"I- that's different, I was brand-new, and she didn't even know me! Joe- Joe was-"
"He was family, and not new, and that's why she shot him in the shoulder," Booker says patiently, "If she had wanted him dead, she would have killed him."
"Oh, yeah, right," Nile snorts derisively, "What's a bullet in the shoulder between friends?"
"Now you're getting it," Booker replies bluntly, swilling his whiskey around his mouth before swallowing.
He hadn't understood Andy, back then. He had thought she was mad. Years later, soaking in his own grief, he understood all at once. Andy wasn't thinking about Joe, or even about Quynh, at that point. She was looking back at all the years without Quynh, at every time she had let herself be happy, and she hated herself for it- fresh with the knowledge that each time Andy had smiled, had felt joy, had been okay, Quynh had been drowning. Quynh was never okay.
Andrea storms into the cabin, gun thrown to the ground outside, rounding on Sebastien immediately. He could say it's chivalry that stops him from drawing his knife on her, but really it's the way she barrels towards him with her eyes burning, tense as a bowstring. There's no question of who would win if they came to blows, even unarmed as she is.
"Where is she? Where is Quynh?!" she demands, her voice thick, eyes shining, but no tears fall.
Quynh. It's the first time he's heard her name. The first time he's wondered about the woman she used to be, before she was the silently screaming demon of his nightmares.
Sebastien flinches, confused, "Y-You know where she is," he stammers out.
"No," she continues, teeth bared, "Where is she? What can she see? Any rock formations? Do boats go overhead? How often?!"
"She doesn't see anything," he shakes his head, watching the way her eyes search his face for any sign of a lie, "Only water."
Andrea pales, all the fury seeping out of her at once. She turns, paces once or twice across the room, then rounds on him again. She grabs him by the shoulders, looking into his eyes - looking past his eyes - as if she could see the woman, Quynh, lurking behind his pupils.
She babbles something in a tongue he doesn't recognise. Repeats it once, twice, three times. A message for her, and for the first time, Sebastien considers that Quynh dreams of him, too.
"Did you ever ask her what she said?" Nile says, leaning forward in her chair.
Booker shakes his head, twirling the now-empty bottle in his hands, picking at the label, "It wasn't for me."
"She used you like a two-way mirror-"
"Aren't I?" he asks roughly, snapping his eyes to hers, aren't you, he doesn't say, but she sees it in his face anyway.
Nile rubs her forearms, pulling in on herself, and he's hit by a new wave of guilt. He holds the bottle a little tighter, hoping maybe it'll shatter in his hands and give him something else to focus on.
"I don't like thinking about it like that," she says quietly, "I've been talking to Copley, we've been looking into ocean mapping and other technology. I want- I want to find her. While we can."
While Andy is still alive.
"If we find her- Maybe we could- we could both meet her," Nile says, the hope clear in her voice.
Booker eyes Nile quietly, and remembers what it was like to think that it might be done with one day. The dreams are not every night, they never have been, but they never leave. Some people - foolish people - think of drowning as peaceful. Drowning is not peaceful, not until the very last second. Not until your vision dims and your grip on consciousness slips away from you. Until that moment, it's agony, a constant, rushing pressure- water pushing in on you from every side, filling you, sinking you, all while your lungs burn and your brain screams for oxygen.
The first time Booker drowned in his waking life, nothing about the experience was a surprise to him, except for when he had revived, Nicky and Joe each holding one of his arms as they dragged him from the river, and Booker screamed. And screamed. And screamed.
I don't want to meet her, Booker thinks, she's done too much to me. I just want her to stay dead.
He wonders if maybe that's how they all feel about him now.
The next time Nile visits, she brings a pot plant. It's two weeks after her last visit, and the spot of black mould on the ceiling is now roughly the size of a dinner plate, but there are fewer bottles littering the room.
"It's a spider plant," Nile says casually, in response to his frown as she pushes it into his hands, "They're supposedly very hard to kill."
"We have that in common, at least," Booker replies weakly.
She laughs, sudden, unexpected, and he doesn't realise at first that he's smiling too.