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but the nightingale sings, and the lilac is in bloom

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They shore fragments against their ruins. And then they do it again, and again.

 

They reach the new safehouse after two days of travelling, and Nile immediately misses the old church and the infernal planes always zooming overhead. The church had indoor plumbing. It even had running water, even if it ran full of rust. She hadn’t thought she’d miss the comforts of the twenty-first century this soon.

Andy, Joe, and Nicky notice her eyeing the small peasant house as they enter, but they choose not to say anything of her reaction.

“It’s not too bad, you get used to it,” Nicky says. “And you’ll love the well water.”

Out back, the view is lovely—breathtaking if you’re into the whole rural thing. The haystacks, the creased ground, the mountains standing sentry along half the horizon; it all speaks of calm, of restrained power.

Nicky drops the bucket in the well, letting the string unwind itself, but putting his hand on the wheel to slow it. Then he slowly brings it up, takes a testing sip, and encourages Nile to do the same. If she thinks anything of drinking straight from the bucket, she didn’t say it.

“It’s good.” It’s cold and it invigorates her; it tastes good in a way that little water does, but she’s not quite ready to admit it, lest it be understood as her approving of the place.

“Water of Life,” Joe says with a smile. “ ‘Living Water’ if you want to be literal.“

“It’s what the locals will sometimes call fresh water drawn from a well like this,” Nicky completes. “‘Water of Life’ and ‘Water of Death’ are mythical concepts in Romanian folklore, they can be used to heal wounds and bring the hero back to life.” He’s poured the water in a red plastic bucket with a white handle, and is now drawing a second bucket.

Nile nods. “So a bit like us then.” A thought flashes before her eyes. “Did you- Is it you? The revived heros?”

Andy just scoffs, but both Joe and Nicky are looking at her now. “We’re way too young, these kinds of fairy-tales are thousands of years old. What about you, boss?”

“I fucked around here for a while, after we came this way. Pretty sure there were already stories about resurrections flowing around, though. People were always scared of death.”

“We?” Nile asks.

“We Scythians.” Andy smiles bitterly and picks up a bucket of water to take inside. Nile wonders if she asked because she forgot how old Andy is, or if Andy herself forgot when she spoke.

“So why backwater Romania then? Do you guys speak Romanian or is there something about it?” Nile’s been turning the question over in her mind on the ride over (terrible regional roads and even more terrible country roads in the heavy SUV laden with food and supplies).

Nicky shrugs. “It’s off the map, the food is good, they have baklava… Andy brags she knows every language, I know some Latin, Joe knows a dozen dialects of Italian—between us we can order a beer.”

“Although that says more about people’s ability to understand Italian than about our linguistic prowess,” Joe laughs. “Habibi, remember when you asked about bears and the receptionist told us there’s both slopes and valleys on the trail?”

“That was a thing of accent, you know that,” Nicky gives a perfunctory protest, but his eyes have gone soft and soon he’s laughing with the memory too.

Joe sees Nile looking lost, so he continues: “Took us a week to figure it out. The words for ‘bears’ - ‘urși’, and ‘you climb’- ’urci’, are pronounced the same in the Moldovian accent. Our host thought we were asking if there’s a lot of climbing on the slopes of the trail, not if we might encounter bears.”

“We spent the whole trip avoiding both hills and valleys for fear of bears.” Nicky’s smirk and Joe’s wink say there’s something more to it.

“Yeah? How did that go?”

“Terribly. We were in the Subcarpathians. It’s all hills.” Nicky’s finished drawing and pouring the second bucket by now, so they go back inside.Joe takes the bucket from Nicky’s hand, making sure to brush their fingers together. Nicky lets him, because he knows Joe wants to do it for him. It took him a long time to accept help, especially small gestures like this.

The house is not small as such, but it only has two rooms, a pantry, and a narrow porch that goes around it. It also has two stoves, one of which still includes an oven and old fashioned cooking hobs, despite the gas stove and tank sitting docile in a corner, as if they know they’ve already won this battle. One of the rooms also boasts four beds, but not much space for anything else. Andy seems to have already taken offence to this arrangement by the time they enter, and wastes no time in enlisting them in her endeavours.

“Joe, help me with this one. You two move the other bed. We’re taking them to the front room.”

Nile and Andy don’t see it, but Nicky and Joe exchange bemused looks. They appreciate that Andy’s giving them privacy, but the efforts aren’t merited...too much.

“Why are we--”Nile starts to ask, but she finds her answer as soon as she raises her eyes from where she’s stepping, encumbered by the end of a bed, to look at the others. “Ah, got it. Never mind.”

“Why do we always get shoe boxes for safehouses?” Andy asks, but she’s not too put upon. In truth, witnessing people fucking two horse lengths away from the fire has been the norm for most of her life, and she’s not about to find some long buried modesty now in her mortal life. But Booker’s words are still swirling in her mind. You and Nicky always had each other, right? She wonders if she should have tried to be closer with Booker, even if she doesn’t know how she would have managed that. “Let’s get all the supplies stored away before they go bad,” she says instead of continuing to think about it.

“Yes, boss,” Nicky salutes her lightly.

They’ve brought bread, meat, frozen and fresh, milk, and pasteurized milk, and tins of everything, jars of preserves, of jams and pickles, and many kilograms of fresh produce that they’ll be freezing, as well as onions, garlic, hot peppers that will keep without needing to be chilled. They’ve also brought six-packs of soap, of shampoo, dish and laundry detergent.

So, all in all, they’re ready to be here for a few months. Nile wonders when immortality and being a warrior got so domestic.