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safe til the morning light

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Einstein wasn’t the one at fault, really. It’s just that they’d been waylaid by squizzards, and by the time Einstein arrived, they’d been fighting so long the sky was already starting to lighten. Sasha is pretty sure that, when he shouted a WHERE TO? , Azu had screamed back HOME on pure instinct.

So they blink into existence on the dusty main road of a village somewhere, high in the mountains, in a place that Sasha feels reasonably confident deducing as Kenya.

Sasha groans, staggers. She’s been feeling - well - off, lately. And teleporting never really helps. Azu catches her by the elbow. “Are you okay?”

“Er - yeah, ‘m alright. Uh-” Sasha blinks a few times and wills her head to settle. “Oh. Uh. This is, huh. That’s a lot of sky.”

There is a lot of sky. Sasha has been getting better with open air, but she still prefers some trees or something, so she only has to deal with sky in patches at a time. A nice damp basement still sounds coziest to her. Here, there’s just air to conceptualize. Sasha turns around  a few times, trying to fit it all into her field of vision, and then sways violently. She would’ve gone down if Azu hadn’t steadied her again, one broad hand on the small of her back.

“Ah - thanks, mate. So. Uh. This is you?”

“This is me,” says Azu softly. There’s a main road of hard-packed earth, and small, cozy-looking buildings lining it. Through the gaps between houses, Sasha can see fields stretching down the valley, with mountains rising steep and craggy to either side. It’s still early, but they’ve actually gone far enough south that the sun’s higher here than it was in Cairo, and it’s making gold of the fields. The road is empty, but there’s smoke starting to curl from a few chimneys, and one larger building that Sasha tentatively assumes is the forge.

“Huh.” Sasha’s heart is still thumping from the adrenaline of a fight hundreds of miles away, incongruous with the quiet morning they’ve found themselves in. “Einstein’s probably out of magic juice, huh.”

“It’ll be alright,” Azu says decisively. “Einstein will know to get the others out. We’ll be safe here until he’s rested.”

There’s something wistful in her voice. Sasha examines Azu in the morning-light. Sasha hasn’t known her all that long, really, but she can spot the easing of some long-standing tension in her shoulders.

“Yeah,” says Sasha. “Alright.”

It is a morning of learning. For example, Sasha had been under the impression that Azu was tall. It seems she was incorrect. If the crowd of roughly two hundred orcs thumping her on the back are anything to judge by, Azu is of fairly average height.

They have been invited into Azu’s childhood home. As the village awoke, the main room filled quickly with Azu’s siblings and “cousins,” which seems to be how Azu refers to any relative, friend, or neighbor who is even vaguely similar in age to her. In the corner, Sasha tries not to huddle, and mostly fails. She kind of feels like a shrub.

It’s - it’s not terrible, though. Sasha has vague memories, cracked and twisted with age, of long days with Brock and the rest, the rare peaceful moment. Running through Other London streets, ducking into spaces too small for the grown-ups, existing as part of a we. This is adults and Sasha doesn’t speak a word of their language and outside the door is more open space than she ever really wanted to know existed, but. Still.

After Azu has done a lot of physical contact with all the people who may or may not be actually related to her, she turns to Sasha, and there’s so much sunshine in her smile that Sasha can’t even resent the crowd of orcs bearing down on her next.

The fact of the matter is that Sasha and Azu were fighting all night, so, once they’ve done enough conversation, which was mostly Azu doing conversation and Sasha lurking in her shadow like a nervous terrier, Azu’s brother - Emeka, Sasha thinks his name is; he knows enough French that they can fumble through a conversation - intervenes with some pointed words about how exhausted they both look. The mass of siblings carries bedding up to a spare room, and Azu and Sasha follow.

“That was my room,” Azu says over her shoulder to Sasha as they go, gesturing at one of the doors. Sasha peeks in and sees two beds that she’d fit in comfortably, which means they’re probably intended for orcish twelve-year-olds. “They gave it to Durah’s kids when I moved out. Betrayal, I say.” The sibling tide rolls past them in the other direction, and Azu leads Sasha into a room that’s been strewn with cushions and blankets, with a square of morning sunlight falling through the window.

Azu’s father, gentle-faced and the shortest of the family at a miniscule 6’2”, brings them two bowls of something delicious that smells like sweet potatoes and spice. Sasha mumbles some thanks, remembers that he can’t understand her, looks up to apologize, and realizes that he’s already closed the door behind himself. Nice going, Rackett.

She checks the bowl for poison, the room for traps. Old habits or whatever.

“Help me out?” Azu asks.

Sasha turns from the window, which doesn’t have so much as a tripwire on it, and then regrets it. Azu is loosening the straps on her armor, which is. Well. Huh. Hmm. Sasha has seen her do this before. She tries not to think about how it tends to make her feel.

“Uh, sure,” she says anyway, and tries to help.

She manages the greaves, but when she tries to lift the breastplate, it barely budges. “I’ll get it,” Azu says, which leaves Sasha watching Azu pull the loosened breastplate over her head. Underneath, she’s wearing a white linen shirt, no sleeves. Her arms are thick with muscle, her shoulders broad and prominent. Sasha’s only really seen that much muscle on people who do it for show - rich types with sponsorships, who can pick up a lot of heavy things but wouldn’t be able to make it through one winter if they didn’t have fire elementals heating their houses.

Azu, conversely, looks like a mountain. Sasha catches the scent of sweat and dirt and other people’s blood, and swallows a little.

“Breakfast?” Azu asks, once she’s set the pieces of her armor near the door.

They eat, Azu sitting cross-legged in the middle of the cushions, Sasha curled up near the window. Old habits.

“You were hurt,” Azu says, when they’ve finished their food.

“Oh - yeah, um. Yeah.” Sasha wavers for a moment. She doesn’t really want people to know about her - uh - her condition. Last time she told someone was Zolf, and he said he’d make sure she was alright and then he left before the week was out, so. But she’s got some regular old injuries, too. And she’s pretty sure Azu can’t actually tell what she’s fixing, just that she’s doing it. It probably feels like hearts and stuff. “Yeah.”

Azu puts her hands on Sasha’s shoulders, and there’s that familiar glow of what Sasha collectively refers to as paladin stuff.

It always lasts long enough to make her slightly uncomfortable. Which, to be fair, is not that difficult. Hmm. You’re supposed to talk to people when you’re near them, right? Sasha tries to think of something to say, and settles on, “You should put some traps on your windows.”

“What? Why?” Azu’s hands are warm against her back. Sasha can feel her injuries closing up, the flesh knitting back together.

“Well, someone could just come in right now. I could leave through the window.”

“We wouldn’t stop you from leaving,” Azu protests.

“No, I mean - well, I guess that wasn’t a good example - someone who sucked at picking locks. And whom you didn’t want here. They could also leave through the window. If they wanted.”

“They could do that anywhere here,” says Azu.

“What? Anywhere?”

“I don’t think there’s a single door in this village with a lock.”

Sasha makes a distressed noise. Azu chuckles at her, and moves away. “All done.”

“Thanks,” Sasha says. “This is, um. It’s nice.”

Contentment was already radiating off Azu, but at that, she starts full-on grinning. It’s kind of ridiculous, that she gets that happy about healing people. Shouldn’t it make her happier to heal herself? “You’re very nice,” Sasha adds. “Very selfless.”

Azu beams.

“No, it’s not a - what if someone - well.” Maybe Sasha is being too harsh. “I guess it’s good sometimes. You’re like. You’re like, if shelter were a person.”

“Oh?” says Azu, sounding soft.

“Er - I mean - I didn’t mean it like, um. Uh. You’re good for distracting, you know, the lads’n’blokes, so I can go round the back. Well. I guess I kind of did mean it like. Uh. Um.” Sasha squirms a little. She’s got a reputation for quietness, sure, but it’s more that she mumbles her stream of thoughts until someone else starts talking over her and then she trails off. Azu never talks over her, which kind of makes Sasha feel like a pinned butterfly sometimes. “Uh. You’re, um. You’re big,” is what she finally settles upon. “Yeah.”

Azu is smiling hugely. “I am big,” she agrees. Sasha relaxes a bit. This is one of the most productive emotional conversations she’s managed to have in, well, pretty much ever.

That’s also about as much talking as Sasha ever wants to do. Fortunately, Azu also seems sleepy, and she sprawls out over the cushions, arms folded above her head. Within a few moments, her breathing is steady and slow.

She didn’t even wait for Sasha to lie down too. What if Sasha wanted to kill her in her sleep? Foolish. Someone needs to watch out for these things. Sasha is a light sleeper, or she’d have to sit watch and everything. Foolish.

Sasha curls up in a ball, and if she falls asleep a good two feet from Azu and wakes up tucked into her side and breathing in rhythm - well - nobody’s saying a word.