Their first mission in two weeks had wrapped up successfully, if a little messily, and they had crammed themselves and their weapons into a tinted black car, driving stealthily deeper into the Tian Shan mountains via the help of the gigantic, fancy GPS screen that vocally relayed directions to the safehouse Copley had arranged.
Nile had pressed herself against the window, wishing Andy would give her the go-to to open the damn thing, because they were far enough away that surely nobody was following them and Copley would have made sure of it, anyway, Andy. For fuck’s sake. The car was rather stuffy--so it went, when you shoved four sweaty immortal warriors clad in tac gear, several large melee weapons, and a generous supply of semi-automatic weapons into a sedan. It smelled sharply of blood, and Nile wrinkled her nose, worrying that she might be stuck with that smell in her nose all night.
She was in the back, Nicky at her right side, sitting backwards in the seat with his rifle and scope resting snugly on his shoulder, pointed out the rear window. Nile was still pretty sure no one had followed them, but if the security made them all feel better, then so be it.
Nile shifted in her seat, trying to get comfortable with her clothes soiled with blood. She could feel herself vibrating from the leftover adrenaline and endorphins that always ensued after a battle. She mentally patted herself on the back for being smart that morning and deciding to wear a headscarf, lest her hair get covered in blood again , leaving her to have to wash it all out in some safehouse that had absolutely none of the products she needed.
Andy pulled into a long, winding road that cut through a thickly forested area. They drove along that path for another fifteen or twenty minutes before coming up on a small, stone house. It was more of a block than anything, with what looked like very few rooms from the outside and a weathered brick chimney stuck to its side. Nile hoped one of those rooms was a bathroom with a shower.
They hopped out of the car, grabbing duffels of weapons and ammunition. Nile fished her personal duffel bag out of the trunk and moved to pass Andy hers before her elbow gave out and the bag nearly hit the ground, taking her arm with it.
“What the hell?” she gawked, getting a better grip on the bag as Andy reached to take it. Nile wasn’t jacked, but she had pretty strong arms. “What’s in there, bricks ?!”
Andy’s impassive face was enough of an answer.
“Why do we need bricks?!” she shouted, exasperated, at the back of Andy’s head. On the other side of the car, Joe was laughing.
“Wasn’t sure if the safehouse would have a fireplace,” Andy said, her tone casual as if the answer were obvious. “There’s firewood in here, mostly. It can get seriously cold, here.”
“So you were gonna build a fireplace?” Nile mumbled. Incredible. Andy never did things the easy way.
The four of them sauntered over to the house, Andy muttering something about covering up the car with branches because it sticks out like a sore thumb.
“I’m gonna wash off,” Andy exclaimed once they’d dropped their bags on the floor inside. She looked at Joe and Nicky. “Care to join?”
Nicky shrugged his sniper off his shoulder. “If you’re going, I’ll keep watch.”
Nile smiled inwardly at the fact that they were still speaking English despite talking only to each other, a little gesture for her, and then she paused and made a questioning face at the fact that Andy had asked Nicky and Joe to shower with her, or at least that’s what it sounded like.
Joe didn’t seem put off at all. He smiled and unzipped the duffel at his feet, and said to Nicky, “I’ll spot you.”
Andy shrugged. “Suit yourselves. But you boys are kind of ripe.”
Nile withheld a chuckle as Joe slapped a hand to his chest, mouth agape in offense. “This is coming from the woman who’s only been using deodorant for thirty years!”
Nicky snorted and Andy ruffled his hair a little aggressively, pushing his head towards the window as he assembled his sniper rifle in his hands.
“Begone,” Andy ordered them both. She then turned to Nile and grinned. “Just you and me, then.”
“So I guess there’s no shower at the safehouse,” Nile asked as Andy lead them through the trees toward the sound of running water.
Andy smirked back at her over her shoulder. “I wouldn’t count on it, kid.”
The trees cleared, and suddenly they were standing next to the bottom of a waterfall. When Nile looked up, she saw mountains upon mountains, lush green and dipped in snow at the tips, hazy in the clouds. It looked somewhat like a watercolour painting.
Nile hadn’t realized she’d been staring with her mouth wide open until she vaguely heard Andy laugh beside her. The water was crashing so loud she had to struggle to listen when Andy said,
“It’s amazing, right? Tian Shan. It means, The Mountains of Heaven .” She rolled her eyes a little at that, but Nile paid her no mind.
She blinked up at the scene. The Mountains of Heaven . They were indeed.
Andy shuffled beside her, and Nile, too distracted by the almost other-wordly beauty of the scenery, didn’t notice Andy was stripping down until she saw her sweatshirt hit the rocks.
Nile startled and looked away, back at the trees. “ Whooooaa , okay. You’re bathing here ?!”
Over the sound of rushing water, Andy’s voice called back, “Yeah, of course?” There was a pause, then she said, “You don’t have to join. But you might wanna splash a little water over yourself just to get the blood off.”
Nile turned around, eyes locked on the sky instead of at Andy. She could hear Andy’s laugh building up.
“Don’t call me a prude or anything,” Nile said before Andy could tease.
“I wasn’t going to,” Andy promised. “You’ve really never bathed in a river before?”
Nile finally looked at Andy, who was, to Nile’s surprise, already knee-deep in the water, slightly below where Nile was standing on the rocks. She was completely naked--she’d even taken her wrist bands off. The water must have been painfully freezing, but Andy stood, unmoving. Taking in the sight of her, Nile felt a strange sort of time-period-whiplash in her head. Andy looked like something out of the bronze age, blending seamlessly with the environment and lacking the kind of modesty that humans had only recently adopted, Nile knew, but that Nile had only ever known.
Nile looked her up and down, feeling gradually less self-conscious and more as if she were sketching a picture. Andy would make a good life model , she thought. She couldn’t help but smirk, though, and she prodded,
“Jeez, Andy, ever heard of a razor?”
That elicited a laugh from Andy, who then rolled her eyes and waded further into the water, toward the waterfall.
“Come on,” she called back.
Nile took a look around, peeking back at the trees over her shoulder, probably looking a little too meek for her liking, but she didn’t care. She took a deep breath and started removing her tac gear. Fuck it. Fuck it, fuck it. She was going to swim in the lake and touch the damn waterfall and look up at the damn mountains because she could . The artist in her couldn’t help but be intrigued by the drama of it all, if she was being honest. Still, with only her jeans and t-shirt on, she stole another series of glances around the area as she tugged the rest of her clothes off like a band-aid.
“Don’t worry!” Andy called, voice cracking over the rushing water. “Nicky’s watching!”
Nile ducked into a naked little ball lightning-fast. “ Us?! ” she screamed. She was seconds away from going into a long rant about her friends and the issue of fucking privacy when Andy let out a belly-laugh.
She reassured Nile that no , he was watching the treeline the way they came, and that if anyone had followed them, they wouldn’t make it past the trees, much less all the way to the water.
With a little more time psyching herself up, dipping her bare toes in the water and counting to three, backing out, and doing the whole thing over again, Nile finally waded in.
Her previous speculation that the water was freezing was a bit of an understatement. It bit like something mad , and her teeth started to chatter instantly, but she stayed, going deeper until she was waist-deep in the water because despite the freezing cold and the slippery rocks and her modesty, it felt like freedom.
Andy grinned at her and nodded her head in approval before bending forward to duck her hair into the water and scrub.
Nile felt something bubbling up in her chest and she had to let it out. She heaved a breath and raised her chin to the top of the waterfall and let out a howling whoop , sort of like a wolf call. She had no idea what compelled her to do so, but it felt damn good.
Andy grinned and joined in. The two of them howled and whooped and scrubbed the blood off of themselves. Nile was the first one to splash Andy, and something in Andy’s eyes flashed wild as she splashed back and Nile screeched at the freezing water touching her neck. She then dunked herself in to her neck and swam backwards, pulling away from the waterfall to calmer waters. So her hair was getting wet. She would have to care about that later.
Andy stepped under the waterfall and Nile craned her neck to see, taken aback by the spirit of her wild friend, because that must have fucking hurt.
Truly, Nile thought that Andy had never looked more ancient than she did then. Her head was bowed, splitting the curtain of cascading water, and her strong arms were limp at her sides. At her hip, Nile could see the raised pink circle that was a slowly-healing bullet wound not long ago. Andy didn’t look forlorn or tired as she often did when Nile would catch her eyes over the dinner table, or when she would slump off to bed and see Andy on a chair through the crack in the door, nodding off but unable to find restful sleep.
Nile remembered Andy telling her, not long ago, but it felt like ages ago, that she was once worshipped as a God. Nile could see it.
Maybe Joe’s poetic declarations were rubbing off on her.
Their tranquillity was interrupted by a sudden clap of thunder and Nile startled and planted her feet on the rocks under the water. Andy simply looked up, poking her head out of the flow.
“Shit!” Nile screamed, swimming closer to the edge of the water.
Andy grinned up at the sky, eyes flicking around curiously at the clouds. She clambered over the rocks on the edge of the water and shook her hair out just as Nile climbed out.
“Didn’t that hurt?” Nile asked, nudging her head to the waterfall.
Andy smirked, “Like a bitch.”
They grabbed their clothes in soiled bundles to burn later and Andy lead them to the treeline, up a steep hill. Nile was about to ask what the hell they were doing, but she figured it out soon enough.
Up the increasingly steep hill, which was better to climb than the rockface, they made it up to the top of the waterfall. It wasn’t too high anyway, and the waterfall was definitely not the largest or most remarkable waterfall Nile had seen--or, seen on TV and in pictures, at least. But by the time they reached the top and got a look at the calm waters and the grass and the winding river through the mountains below, Nile was awestruck.
They whooped a few more times and Nile had nearly forgotten she was still butt-ass-naked. But alone with Andy, at the edge of a waterfall, as the clouds turned dark above and the thunder rumbled, Nile found she didn’t care much.
Thunder clapped above them again, much louder this time, and Nile had to cover her ears as she jumped. Andy steadied her, making sure she wouldn’t fall off, and screamed back at the clouds, wide grin on her face. The sky opened up, then, and it started to pour.
Nile was suddenly quiet, and didn’t speak for several minutes. They both just stood in the rain, feeling the wind on their faces. The rain was cool--not as cool as the water below, but regardless. It left little wet kisses all over her skin, and she tilted her face, eyes closed, to the sky, letting it cleanse her. By the time Nile snapped back to reality, she had started to feel a little self-conscious again. She could feel Andy’s eyes on her face.
“What?” Nile asked, covering herself with her bundle of ruined clothes.
Andy shrugged. “It is sort of a baptism, I guess.”
Nile raised a questioning brow.
“You had that look on your face,” Andy explained, though it explained nothing. She smiled slightly.
“Why am I here, Andy?”
Andy held her gaze. She didn’t speak for a few moments.
“Because you chose to be.”
Nile wanted to pull a face and say, that’s not an answer, and did I really have a choice? I was chosen by some other power to be immortal . But that wasn’t what Andy meant, and she knew that. She sucked on her lip and looked out at the scenery.
“You’re a warrior,” Andy said, so surely and matter-of-fact that Nile’s eyes swam.
Another thunder clap alerted them that they should move, and Nile tried her best to cover her naked body as she slipped and stumbled through the mud down the hill, back into the trees to the safehouse. She tugged on her undies and boots, then her t-shirt, as they ran through the rain. Andy made no move to get dressed, choosing instead to just let everything hang out as she dashed through the trees, howling at the thunder in the sky that urged them along.
“ Ragazzi! ” Andy called as soon as the house was in view. Nile was laughing, breathless, feeling like a million bucks from their little wilderness adventure.
Andy shouldered the door open and dropped her sopping wet pile of clothes on the floor with a plop . Nile slammed the door shut. She was soaked from head to toe, dripping onto the stone floor, and she hadn’t even noticed how damn cold it was.
Across the room, Joe was poking at a fire in the fireplace. He turned to them and beamed, eyes crinkling. He seemed to not notice at all that Andy was still naked. Nicky was crouched in front of the open window on a stool, and he looked up momentarily from his scope to give them a tiny smile. Between the two men was a small folding table with an assortment of sandwiches and fruits, and a few thermoses, presumably filled with tea.
“Welcome back, boss! Nile!” Joe nodded. “We made you some sandwiches. And your clothes are heating up here, next to the fire.”
Andy thanked them and grabbed a sandwich and an apple and then, to Nile’s bafflement, stepped back outside.
“Uhh…?” Nile was about to ask, but Joe and Nicky simply shared a glance and a smirk. Nicky turned back to his scope and Joe grinned at Nile, beckoning her to the table.
The sound of thunder was deafening over the little house, and Nile cringed a bit. She hoped the building could handle a storm. It looked old as dirt.
A flash of lightning brightened the entire room for a second, quickly followed by a boom of thunder. Joe looked at the window excitedly, mouth slightly open in surprise. When Nile followed his gaze, Nicky was smiling back at him, delighted.
“Don’t worry, Nile,” Nicky said. “This house is very sturdy.”
Nile chewed her sandwich. “I’m not really worried about… the house.” She nudged her shoulder to the window where Andy could be heard howling at the storm.
“She’s been in a good mood today,” Joe observed. Nile agreed.
“What did you two get up to?” he asked Nile, and she looked away, a little embarrassed.
There was movement by the window and Nile turned to see Andy leaning into the house, tugging Nicky by the arms. She caught sight of Nile and Joe and beckoned them outside, too. Nicky held his hands up in surrender and started packing away his sniper rifle, smiling softly.
Joe shrugged and stood, clapping the crumbs off his hands and brushing his jeans. He leaned close to Nile to whisper, “Is she high? Did you find some magic mushrooms, or something?”
Nile laughed and started to explain, but Joe just winked at her and she knew then that he was joking.
“Andy, show some modesty, please,” Nicky chided when they’d all made their way outside. The sky was dark now. The sun had reclined and the clouds were moving fast above them as the storm raged. Every so often, the sky would light up with another flash of lightning and Nile could see Andy, standing farthest from the house, head tilted up at the sky and arms out, and she wondered what she was thinking--where she had gone, in her head.
Andy responded to Nicky in Italian, or maybe it was some long-dead dialect, but either way he paused for a moment, turning his head down as he thought about something. Nile thought he looked rather priestly, then. Andy turned around and nodded, eyes on Nicky, and he looked up at her through heavy-lidded eyes and smirked and then, surprising Nile, screamed.
Andy howled with laughter at the crack in his voice and screamed, too. Joe joined in, and soon the four of them were screaming, drowned out almost completely by the roaring of thunder. Nile didn’t know what the fuck they were doing, but it felt cathartic.
Nile couldn’t help it--her screams devolved into fitful laughter. Joe had tugged his shirt off and joined Andy, running around like kids. Was this something they did a lot back in ye olde times? Or were Nile’s friends just weird as hell?
Joe tried to goad Nicky into taking his shirt off, lifting the hem and tugging, and Nicky let him. Joe waved it around like a prized flag and soon Nicky was laughing as hard as Nile was. Another lightning strike and Joe ripped his own jeans off, and Nile turned away faster than the next thunder clap could sound.
“Joe, Nile !” Nicky reminded him, and Nile just laughed.
She watched Andy, who was calming down now. She must have been somewhere in her head, because she had closed her eyes and taken up her earlier pose of holding her arms out, like she was hugging the sky. Nile couldn’t resist the smile that pulled at her face.
Andy was fearless and fearsome, like the storm. She was Nile’s leader, her teacher. Nile looked around at her friends--Joe, now nearly completely naked but keeping his underwear on likely as a courtesy for Nile, Nicky running after him, successfully stealing his shirt back and discarding it over his shoulder to instead pull Joe close and kiss him in the rain, and Andy, pensive, powerful, the oldest woman in the world, butt-ass naked in the middle of a storm in the Chinese mountains.
Dramatic as hell, they all were. And Nile would choose to stay over and over again.