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butterflies on the wind

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Booker

Nile gives herself a weekend. Three days, counting Friday because she wants that extra day dammit, to grieve, to cry, to scream and shout at the unfairness, to drink her misery away. It’s been months since she woke up from having her throat cut and for the most part, she’s adjusted pretty well, if she did say so herself. Andy, Joe, and Nicky had helped, had been wonderful support really, but Nile had had to leave her entire life behind. Everything and everyone she had ever known; it was all still out there and she had to stay away, she had to cut herself out of her life and somehow be okay with that.

She wasn’t. No matter how much she pretended she was. So she gave herself a weekend to mourn and rage against her new reality, to let it all out, and then she’d be okay.

She’d be okay.

Nile woke cold and gasping on the banks of the river on Sunday. The last two days were mostly a blur of tears and anger and alcohol but she didn’t remember being near the river. There was a moment of clearness, the disconcerting breath of fresh air after coming back, before her head revolted violently. Nile twisted to the side and vomited into the river.

“Death by alcohol,” drawled a familiar but unexpected voice. Nile spun, or tried to, in shock. Booker smiled crookedly. “It is the only one that leaves a mark.” He tapped his head. “Even we cannot avoid the damn hangovers.”

“What,” Nile’s teeth chattered when she tried to speak. “What are you doing here?” She tried again.

Booker looked around them, like the walls of the Seine had all the answers. “It is Paris.”

“I know it’s Paris.”

He laughed. “Nile,” he said gently. She almost felt like he was being condescending but not quite. “I am French.”

Right. Napoleon. 

“Aren’t you sick of it yet, then?”

“A little bit,” he confessed. “But where else would I go? The rest of the word is painfully inferior.”

Nile groaned. She stood up and shook her limbs, the warmth returning to them. “You’re French.”

“For better or worse,” he agreed. “So what brings you to my fair city?”

“I needed to get away and I’d never been here before,” Nile shrugged. She resisted the urge to rub even more warmth into her arms but Booker must have seen it on her anyway because he took off his own jacket and handed it over. “Don’t you need it?”

He shrugged. “I am used to it.” She waited for him to ask again why she was here, why she’d gotten so drunk she’d somehow ended up dead in the Seine, but he didn’t. “Need another drink?”

Nile thought about it. She couldn’t truthfully said she didn’t. “I shouldn’t.”

Booker accepted that with a nod. When he turned to leave, Nile found herself following. They walked quietly side by side until they’d made it back up to the streets and Booker turned left when Nile needed to go right. 

She stopped. A few steps later so did Booker. “I’m that way.”

He nodded. “Stay away from the booze,” he warned. “It will not do you any favors.”

“I don’t want it to,” Nile confessed. “I wanted to not think. Just for a little while.”

A hint of a smile appeared on his lips. “I know the feeling.” He didn’t say anything else so Nile turned away. They still had over 99 years to go.

“Nile,” he called softly when she was almost too far away to hear it. “Not thinking for a little while will turn into not thinking for a long while if you are not careful. A lifetime of oblivion is not nearly as much fun as it sounds sometimes.”

Nile accepted the advice with a careful nod and watched as Booker disappeared down a side street. 

It was only when she got back to her hotel, she realized she still wore his jacket. No one said a word when she turned up at the latest safe house with it in tow so she kept it. The next time she wanted to not think, she curled herself in the jacket instead.

Nicky

It was late, late enough that even Andy had succumbed to sleep. Nile headed for the kitchen when she passed Joe and Nicky’s room. Through a crack in the door, she saw Joe curled up on the bed, alone. Nile wasn’t sure she’d ever seen either of them sleeping alone; they were always curled up around each other, even when one needed to sleep and the other didn’t.

Nile forwent the kitchen in favor of searching for Nicky. It took only a matter of moments to clear the small house before she stepped outside.

A few yards from the house, on the edge of the cliff which offered stunning views in the daylight, was Nicky, his body casting a small shadow in the moonlight.

“Nicky?” She called softly. He didn’t respond and Nile instantly went on alert. She couldn’t see any danger but that didn’t mean there wasn’t any. The others’ senses were far beyond hers, honed over many many more years, and she’d learned to trust them more than her own. “Nicky?” She hissed.

Slowly, Nicky turned his head to indicate he had heard her. “Everything’s fine,” he told her softly. “What are you doing up?”

Letting her shoulders relax slightly, Nile crossed the yard to where Nicky stood, not saying a word until she came abreast of him. He had his eyes closed, his head slightly bowed, and he didn’t so much as glance at her as she came into view. “Couldn’t sleep,” she replied softly. “You?”

“Praying.”

Nile startled slightly. “You pray?” After what Andy had said the first time she caught Nile praying, she hadn’t expected any of them to believe in God.

Nicky’s lips turned upwards. “I do.”

“Andy said-”

Now, Nicky laughed. “Andy hasn’t believed in anything in a very long time. She has not had reason to.”

“But you do?”

“I do,” he bowed his head a bit more in acknowledgement. He still hadn’t opened his eyes. “Though what I believe in, I cannot say.” Nile cocked her head in confusion. Before she could ask, Nicky continued, “I have had my faith my entire life, I see no reason why I should abandon it just because I live longer than I expected to.”

Nile suddenly remembered that Nicky had fought in the Crusades, the most famous of religious wars. “You fought for God, once,” she wondered.

“Of course,” he smiled. “I had already pledged my life to His service, fighting for it was a given.”

“Pledged your life?”

Nicky finally looked over at her. “Before I died the first time, I was a priest,” he told her. Nile’s eyebrows rose in surprise. Nicky laughed. “Priests then were not quite like priests now. The rules were different.”

“Apparently.” Nile returned Nicky’s kind smile. “How do you reconcile our lives and your faith? I’m having trouble.”

“I cannot tell you that,” Nicky told her. “It is something you must decide for yourself. But for me? I discovered what was most important. My faith and my prayers. I don’t always know what I’m praying to but the act of it gives me comfort. If you ever need to talk about it, I am here, but I have always found faith to be of a personal nature.” He paused. Nile watched in amazement and confusion as a look passed over his face that she had only ever seen directed at Joe. “Or you could abandon your faith like a heathen.” His voice raised slightly and he leaned back into Joe’s arms as they wound around him. Nile hadn’t even heard him approach.

“You believe in your God,” Joe said teasingly. He nosed at Nicky’s hair. “And I will believe in mine.” From the look on his face, Nile inferred that Joe was not talking about a celestial god. From the look on Nicky’s face, she knew she was correct. “I can’t sleep, Nicolo,” he whined.

Nicky rolled his eyes but let Joe pull him back into the house without complaint. 

Nile listened to the door close and turned back to the view. She was familiar enough with it by now that she could imagine the sight before her, even if she could not see it. Taking a deep breath, Nile let it out slowly and felt some previously unknown tension leave her with it. Her faith had always been important to her and a part of her had feared the day it wouldn’t be any longer. But if Nicky could still believe even after a millennia...

Andy

When they’d first met, Nile could not have guessed how old Andy was. Depending on her behavior or her clothes, she could appear of a similar age to Joe and Nicky, or as their older sister, or even as their mother, at least in relation to Nile. She had an ageless look to her that Nile had marveled at, especially after realizing just how old she really was.

But that was no longer the case. Andy had found her first gray hair this morning. Or rather, Joe had found it and immediately teased her about it until she rushed into the bathroom to stare at herself in the mirror.

When she didn’t come out after 20 minutes, Nile knocked on the door. “Andy?” The door opened.

Nile eased it open to find Andy still as a statue, her hands braced on the edge of the sink, and her eyes fixed on the strand of gray hair that fell just on the edge of her hairline. “Andy?”

“I never thought I’d get old,” she whispered. “Even before. I only ever knew two people who were old enough to have gray hairs and I knew I would never be one of them. I was a warrior and warriors didn’t get to grow old.” Her voice was barely audible. “When Lykon died and I knew that one day I might get to, I never even considered the possibility that I would get to actually live with my mortality. I just assumed-”

She assumed that she’d discover she could finally die when she didn’t come back. 

Nile closed the door behind her and sat on the edge of the tub, unsure what to say. Even in the face of Andy’s mortality, Nile had long resigned herself to never aging, to never seeing her own hair turn white. 

“You can stop,” she found herself saying. Andy looked at her in the mirror. “Joe, Nicky, and I can keep going. You can stop. You can grow old.”

Andy smiled and it wasn’t brittle. “No.”

“Andy-”

“I’m not going to stop,” she said firmly. “And I will grow old.” Her smile grew. “The two are not mutually exclusive.”

Nile stared at her. “You don’t have to do this, Andy. Not anymore.”

Andy rinsed her hands in the sink and dried them. She placed the towel carefully back on the rack and opened the door before facing Nile. “Neither do you. But you’re going to.” She left without waiting for Nile to reply.

It was true, Nile supposed. She didn’t have to do this, this job of theirs. But she was going to, because it’s who she is. 

Something settles inside her at the thought. She’s not here with these people, doing these jobs, because she has no other choice. She does have a choice. She’s chosen this.

Joe

The anger felt good. It felt right. Andy was dead. The skies should rage and the ground should quake at her absence but the earth stayed silent and the skies stayed clear and Nicky knelt quietly over her in prayer and Nile wanted to scream. Andy was supposed to have more time. She hadn’t even gone gray yet.

Nile left. 

The compound was empty, everyone else already dead, and Nile ignored the bodies in her way as she sought clearer ground. A ways away, death in her rearview mirror, Nile screamed. Loud and long, the sound pierced the air. When she stopped, her chest heaved and her hands clenched in tight fists. There was no one left to fight but oh did Nile cra-

Her head whipped to the side with the force of the punch. She went with it in a faint attempt to lessen the blow. When she spun around to face her attacker, her gun was in her hands and pointed at Joe’s face. He ripped it from her without a thought and Nile lashed out.

Her hits landed hard and his landed harder. When her leg snapped and she fell to her knees, Joe went with her. Their bout lasted a few more seconds before Nile just stopped. 

The anger fled her as if it had never been there and left only sorrow in its wake.

Joe’s arms were around her before she even realized she was crying. He held her as her leg knit back together and then he held her longer. When her tears ran dry, Nile noticed the wet spots on her own shoulder and reached up to hug Joe back. 

“I’ve never felt so angry in my life,” she confessed in a breathless whisper. In hindsight, she hated the feeling, knew it had no place in her.

“Grief is funny like that,” Joe replied. He put his chin on her head and held her closer. “Makes you feel things you don’t want to. But it’s all part of the process.”

“Breaking my leg is part of the process?” She asked sardonically.

She felt him smile. “If I hadn’t, what would you have done? You wanted a fight, Nile, and there is no one else around to give it to you.”

Nile knew he was right. She had felt the rage under her skin and the itching for violence. It was gone now and despite the grief, she felt better for it. “Thank you.”

“No need,” he replied immediately, like he always did. 

She pulled back to look at him. His cheeks were shiny with spilled tears. “What do you need?” She asked, even as she knew the answer.

Joe smiled. “The only thing I have ever needed.” He glanced over his shoulder and Nile followed his gaze to find Nicky kneeling next to a covered body. “We have had time to prepare for this and we will be okay. We have each other.” Joe turned to her. “You’ve had Andy all these years. Will we be enough?”

Nile wanted to say yes, wanted desperately for these men who had become her family to be enough, but they all knew that Joe and Nicky had a habit of forgetting the rest of the world when they were together and Nile wasn’t sure she could survive on her own right now. She looked up at Joe, unwilling to admit it aloud.

He read it on her face anyway and nodded. “Alright,” he sighed. “We’ll go find Booker.” But it hadn’t even been ten years, yet, and Joe was the one who had needed the time apart.

“Joe-” she started to say.

He shook his head. “It’s all part of the process,” he said, echoing his earlier words. Nile cocked her head in question. “I needed to grieve the man I thought I’d known and the relationship and trust I’d thought we’d had. Anger was part of that,” he confessed. “But so is forgiveness.” He stood and pulled her to her feet. “We will find Booker.”

Nile swallowed the lump in her throat and sent a quick thanks to God for giving her these people to spend forever with. She wouldn’t have made it on her own, or with anyone else. “Let’s start in Paris.”