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Nina Siwak
#11
Yeah ok. Maybe he wasn't doing all that great. Angel seemed to take her care of him seriously. Which, you know, was pretty damn cool. Not like the other girls who ran with them were bitches or anything. They were fun- hella fun, obviously- but they also were just girls.

And he was rather partial to women. Like women women. And he let 'em know. Oh quite a few chuckled at his brag and tease, even as their eyes said they enjoyed it, walking home maybe lighter in their step. He'd laugh, imagining their boyfriends or husbands or whatever might be in for a bit of fun later that night. But in some, he saw a bit more than appreciation. The ones with black eyes. The lonely. Or who were on the outs with their pimps. Holy Mother, it broke what little heart he had.

Pools of ache and emptiness inside and all they wanted to be was appreciated. Well, he could do that. And as for the other...well....he wasn't a snitch or nothin' and he wasn't the police. He was just a guy. But when some chuckle-fuck thought he could knock his mom around, well let's just say that a cinderblock brick slammed hard to the face has a way of shouting Booooyakasha! Not like guys around here had a lot of money for nose jobs and the like. Toothal reconstructions or dentures. Jaw fixings and such. So a thoroughly busted ass nose, along with a few other broken things (or squashed, as in the case of the guy's balls) pretty much ended that noise.

And while no one had actually seen it, most knew enough to stay clear of him. So maybe one of those assholes who thought hitting a woman made them all manly and shit found themselves enjoying the smack-crack-tearing of rebar. Not like today was his first time it was his weapon. And it wouldn't be the last.

Course that brings its own kind of attention. Maybe today was retaliation and maybe not. Northsiders didn't exactly need much excuse. Territory was territory after all. And it wasn't like he wasn't careful when he acted.

So....wait! What the fuck had he been thinking about? Damn, his head hurt. Hard to follow the train of thought.

As if on cue, Angel stopped to check his wounds. Mother in Heaven, but her smile. Oh yeah. Now he remembered. Older women. Yeah. He liked older women. Responsible. Mature. Not as flighty and stupid as girls his age or younger. And they were always a lot of fun, especially those who thought he was their boy-toy.

Which he was. He didn't mind in the goddamn slightest. Lots'a learning there. Education's important, son, Sarge had said to him back when the gang first started letting him hang with them. He'd be grinning, eyeing some fox, adding Hit that college, is all I'm saying. Major in hearts and ass. And Bas, just a 12 year old kid, had laughed and laughed. Partly because he was being included by a man he looked up to. But also because for all of that brag and 'advice', Sarge would always have only the same one girl in all the years he'd known him, right up until he'd left the crew. Bas missed him even if he didn't understand why he'd gotten out. But, eh, people were different, was all. Still if Sarge ever called for him, he'd be there in a heartbeat. You don't abandon your people.

So yeah, just sayin'. Be good to people. Nina Angel was good to him. And he'd be good to her.

Her look at his request made him laugh and it was totally worth the stab of pain from his broken rib (ribs?). She seemed to blush and after a moment her hand went into his front pocket. Jokingly with a stupid ecstatic grin on his face, he said breathily "Ahh baby...yeah..." and then laughed again. Haha! He did love seeing her blush.

And then the door opened and the smells of dinner drifted in. Ma had left something on the stove- probably a stew. Which meant she'd be out the rest of the night. Arkady was probably off with his buddies or something. Kid was only 11 and not part of any of his stuff (though he wanted to). There were rules about that sort of thing. Street justice was merciless and there were no protections or rights. He was safe.

The small kitchen was fairly clean. Good. Ma hadn't messed it up too much since he'd cleaned it before he went out this morning. And Arkady hadn't left any clothes on the floor. Not like he was a neat freak. But it wasn't hard to keep things looking presentable if you kept up with the little stuff.

He limped in with Nina's help, touching his fingers to his lips and then to the statue of the Virgin on the table next to the door. The walls had a few icons- not with any gold or jewels or anything, just colored glass and gold painted plastic. A table with books that he never touched. Not his thing. Some fake flowers in a vase. He'd gotten them for Ma a few months ago. Real ones never lasted. She liked the bright colors.

It was a small apartment but it was home. Where he felt at peace. He limped over to the kitchen with her help and despite the strain, reached back into the cupboard and felt around for a jar. Arkady thought that it was just for salt. Which kept it safe, obviously. He pulled out a wrapped pastry. It was only from yesterday and taken from a convenience store so it probably coulda spent months in there and be good to eat.

He handed it to her, face showing some shame. "Look...It's not much. It's all I have at the moment. It was something I was saving for a special occasion." He smiled ar her, looking deep into her eyes, and he leaned into her a bit. "But I think you're a special occasion." Ok. Maybe corny. Who the hell cared.

The moment seemed to drag out. Here he is probably dyin' and what-not. But damn, if you're gonna die, in the arms of an angel is a pretty fucking good place to do it, he figured. Fuck yeah. Let me die with a beautiful woman beside me, he prayed to the Mother.

He was only half joking.

The quiet of the moment was punctured by the sound of her stomach rumbling. His mouth split and he laughed, hugging her into his chest despite the pain to give her cover. He was sure she was embarrassed. "Aww. Come on. Have some stew first. Ma's specialty. Then dessert."

[Nina modded and grumbling with permission ;-)]
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#12
Nina, weighed down by her pack, was supporting Bas as they went to the kitchen. She was in a foul mood. She wasn’t sure if it was in response to Bas’s tawdry fantasies around the Holy mother, or to the neglected plans of her day that had been usurped so unexpectedly by the self-same man. Oh, but this was such a glorious waste of her time. She came away with a few perks, but she doesn’t know this yet!

She disliked religion in principle; it might work for Bas, but it did not work for her, and from there it also caused many issues for her. Her family’s own religious practices defined her, after all. Life was hell on a stick; their belief in this cult was an old wound for her, and this matters to Nina more than she’d like to admit.

As the romani, they’ve walked through bad, and worse, and worse still. Case and point to the memories of the day that they were driven out of town of Nice in southern France for being romani scum. You’re called nice?  Hello? Why do you believe in a power that allows death, destruction and mayhem? And what did the atharim do for them? Hmm? Nothing, that’s what they did. When the dust settled, her family got overlooked. Not even a pat on the back or a card for the holidays…

“And you would have beaten the ‘god’ too, in his place. Have you ever met a ‘god’?”

Nina's dad looked at her.

“Yes, god, one of the reborn monsters.”

“No.”

“No, never?”

“Never.”

“So, if you’ve never seen one, how do you know they exist? You weren’t there, how can you know for sure—,”
Nina smiled.

“They’re real. I know they are.”

“Just asking,”  Nina gave a sweeter smile this time.

“Don’t,” said Nina’s dad.

“For a moment or two there,” she said, turning to point at the book, “for a moment, I was on the verge of believing it was actually like that.”

“But I doubt the gods are real. It’d be different if we had personal experiences. But neither of us have, nor do I think we ever will. For us, that story’s just a story.” she laughed. “I mean, you guys have never even met an atharim!”

“Nina. Enough!”

She watched him. He stared at the floor for a moment, and then looked up into her eyes.

“Gods are real,” he repeated. “I applaud your skepticism, but it’s not like that. I believe in the atharim because it gives me hope and something to cling to when there is nothing else. Whether or not these I’ve met the atharim is not really important, it is that I chose to believe, albeit for selfish reasons, but I don’t think the atharim minds. And think how light favored us that we’ve only met these monsters with our imagination. Believe what you like, Nina, the only thing you really need to know is this: I would have never missed the chance of becoming your and Rena’s dad. We love you.”

They both looked around as mom cried out from the other room. “Stop yelling!” Mom was yelling.

Nina laughed again.


Not much say for Rena and herself. Two young women. Two young girls. Little choice between them. Sisters, fighting like furies for their parents’ love; inheriting. And in death, only in her parent’s death, would the two of them be free to practice as each one pleased. Yes, their parents read them stories. Nina memorized them, and when asked to pray, she grudgingly did so. But that was out of love, out of filial obligation. There was no real chance of Nina worshipping, not without meeting either one of the atharim or gods, or a real traumatic change of her personality. Besides, it’s like conversing, only to herself, which she did if the occasion arose, either out loud for others or in the silence of her mind, even if it made her stomach feel funny.

Motioning for Nina to join him, Bas began and quick and private interchange with his cabinets before pointing to a wrapped pasty and nodding, smiling at Nina. As he searched, Nina left her pack slump on one of the chairs and glanced around.

Up and away from the public eye, Bas’ premises were basic in layout, but warm and relatively clean. At least, the kitchen was astonishingly well organized. It felt almost sterile like the waiting rooms at the Guardian. But there was an underlying scruffiness. Nina noticed immediately the odd chip in the paint, the hasty way the drapery had been gathered and pinned, the faint smell of musty dampness that scents of cooking could not quite hide. She wondered what was through this kitchen area to other rooms. For all you know, Bas could be living in the back rooms like a slob.

Still, you make do and all.

The stew and pastry Bas found were welcome, though Nina had a suspicion that he was holding her in an attempt to give comfort, in the same way that her own hands were pressed to her stomach in an equally vain attempt to silence it.

Oh, ode to Nina’s stomach. I mean, it was no opera to listen to, but it had one hell of a growl. Ventre aflame n’a pas d’oreilles, Viva l’estomac!

“Sorry that was loud! I’m so sorry about that. Gosh, don’t you just hate it when that happens, I swe—,” She used her own will power to close her mouth before her tongue made her sound ever more the fool than her stomach.

Now, it occurred to her that she would be fed soon, if so, just be cool around Bas and don’t get too excited. Well done, congratulations, it’s not a huge thing; hot food was welcome and damn it, tummy, stop it before I cry! She could not decide if the butterflies were Bas hugging her, or the result of not eating for some time. Anyway, it made little difference; just smile and try not to feel awkward.

Bas and Nina ate their stew and bread sitting under the lights in front of the table with books and a great big vase of plastic flowers. She was so busy devouring her stew and bread that she didn’t even properly look at the decor. If Nina wore glasses they would have steamed up.

“Thanks,” replied Nina, spooning more stew into her mouth as if there was a race to finish first.

The growling of her stomach subsided somewhat. She wondered if Bas’s mom would teach her how to make this.

“Do you cook?” she asked, between mouthfuls.

Nina lowered her bowl, swallowing. She looked over at Bas, sitting on the nearby chair. He should manage a little more stew and bread before sleeping, she thought. Some rest would turn things around.

“What flowers are these?” she asked, mouth full, nodding at the vase. Maybe she’d buy Rena flowers with her first paycheck…

She sat back on her chair, and stared at the wrapped pastry for a long time. Her propriety warred with Nina’s sweet tooth. It was too rich, too precious a reward for the likes of her from Bas.

“No thank you, I’m already full,” she said at length. He’s lucky she was brought up to be polite! Admittedly it was hard for her to give up such a treat.
Nina
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#13
They both sat at the table, though he moved the books off to one side. The vase he left with the plastic flowers. They really did do a nice job. The leaves felt cool and soft, the stems firm but delicate enough you were afraid to break 'em. And the petals....well nah, they weren't real silk. But actually, they felt better. Soft and alive and tenderly firm and smooth.

He stared at them, at Nina's question. "You know, I'm not sure. Something-dragons. No. Snap dragons. Yeah, that's it." He rifled his hands through them carefully. His voice was absentminded. "I was just walking home one day. And I saw a mom haggling with the guy for an athletic jacket. You know, like the ones we all wear. So....she's trying to bring him down, you know? It's her boy's birthday tomorrow and she wants to get it for him. But he won't budge."

He looked from flowers to her. "I coulda been a dick about it...but he wasn't bein a jerk. And I had scored not long ago. So...I covered the difference." It had felt good, actually. She'd be appreciative. "She was so happy she'd give her son something special. And....I guess I realized how much moms love their kids and I wondered what ma had done to get me my own jacket." He nodded at the bedroom door. "Still have it you know." Yeah, one guy was half blinded, but he had gotten it back. "I had a bit left and got her these. Not much, but it's something."

The room was quiet. "But yeah, I do cook. If ma's at work or Arkady hasn't eaten. And the cleaning. I don't mind."

He looked down at the pastry and leaned forward, sliding it to her. He smiled. "Please. Take it. I need to do something." He laughed. "You're the most beautiful sight I've ever seen. An angel deserves something from her worshippers."

And then, stomach settled, he did feel tired. He eyed the door. "Can you give me a hand?" he said as he carefully stood, though he swayed a bit. With her help he went to the door and opened the room. There might have been tape down the center, the contrast was night and day. His side was fairly neat, bed made, nightstand and table clear of junk. He liked it that way. Less clutter. And it was easier to find things. On his wall was a display screen cycling through scantily clad women, motoGP bikes, sports teams, and bands.

Arkady's side was just a big ole mess. Fucking prick. Kid needed to get his shit together.

He sat on his bed, struggling to remove his combat boots without busting a lung. "Maybe just a bit more?" And stripping down to his boxers was tough too. But eventually, he could crawl into his covers.

His eyes were open but he was tired. "You don't have to leave. I can put something on the TV." He motioned toward the pastry. "You might get to wanting that." He looked at her, stared at those deep blue eyes. "Stay?"
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#14
At the age of nine or ten, Nina Siwak lived in Paris for some time. That was when she discovered her dream of pastries. To her young mind, the cakes and ice creams were the epitome of wealthy living, not just their cost or beauty, but the fact that if you bought one it would not last forever like a necklace. It would vanish in the time it took you to wolf down. That was high living to her. The Nina who would have cheerfully scoffed at luxury merchandise like silks, bags, shoes, jewelry—sparkly good clothes and expensive augmentations—all over people who owned more than her family’s collective wealth in the outfits they stood in, people whose conversations, when she overheard them, where about culture and politics and art, and economic systems, and all sorts of other ridiculous issues that seemed to the young Nina a waste of breath.

It had been her habit, every week or so, to find one of the high end pastry shops or bakers, mostly in the XVIth arrondissement, and spend a few, wet mouthed hours admiring the unobtainable things in their windows, and wonder what they tasted like.

They looked glorious.

She’d seen luxury food before, but the french pastries were something else. Under the canopy display, behind the panes of its window, there were cakes, puffs, tarts, buns, pinwheels, croissants, and a hundred other confections of sugar and art that were every bit as exquisite as the displays in the jewelry shops. The colors, the shapes, the decorations, all these things made her marvel. So did all the foreign names handwritten on the cards beside each work of art. And the prices…

If they cost so much, what in the name of light did they taste like?

She would spend hours pressed against the glass of display windows, gazing at extravagance, until the angry shopkeepers chased her away…

In Bas’s shared bedroom, Nina lifted the pastry and unwrapped it. “All right, I tell you what,” she said. “We’ll share it. Half and half.”

She looked at the pastry, trying to restart her inner voice. Coincidence and something she privately believed in, called fate, had just opened the future up to her.

And it looked very inviting. She took a few mouth watering moments to admire it.

Then she turned from the pastry and looked down at Bas on the bed. She placed her hands gently on Bas’s shoulders. “my thanks, Bas.”

Cutting the pastry carefully not to spray crumbs or ruin its structure, Nina collected up her half and took a big bite.

She blinked and then laughed. The laughter boomed out of her, hard and joyous, and she was quite unable to keep it in.
Nina
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#15
Bas watched her curiously, fascinated. It was like....well fuck, he didn't know what it was like. Like the little pastry was made of gold or something. Or some magic potion or lamp.

The way she looked at it, stared at it, studying, before taking a bite...the way she chewed, the pleasure on her face.

Damn, it was sexy. Like for reals. Orgasmic. If that's how she felt just enjoying a pastry, well...he couldn't help the grin that slowly formed. One day. If he played his cards right. Heh. He would lift his head and see that same vision of heaven on her face, only a thousand times more powerfully.

One day...but not today. He was hurt. And tired. Part of him didn't even want the pastry, he was so full. He took his half and folded it in the wrapper, gently handing it to her. "I can't Angel. Too full. And tired. Keep it for later. Or if you have a brother or sister, give it to them."

He studied her face. She was a bit on the thin side. Not homeless or on the street. But definitely had a tough life. Weird. She was older than him, but she seemed childlike. Her reaction...as if she had been deprived of normal things.

He reach out his hand and took hers, gently carressing it with his thumb. He smiled at her through tired eyes. "You saved me, you know. You're family now." And it was as simple as that. For Bas it came down to loyalty. No better friend. No worse enemy.

His thumb slowed as he gradually fell asleep, the warmth of her hand a comfort.
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#16
Nina was snoring.

When she woke she found Bas, a natural leader of people, the youth whose body was on his bed, broken and hurt was different from those that writhed with cries of pain. Despite his painful injury, he was laughing. It was a snotty, snorting sound.

“Something funny?” she asked as she rose.

When had she fallen asleep?

“How long was I out?”

She looked around.

Somehow she got drawn in by recklessness. She should have gone home before her absence was noticed. But this didn’t feel foolish. It felt like a thing young women persisted in doing, in defiance of their parents. Every day, she woke and took care of Rena, and the others at hospital. It was good not to feel proper for once. To feel happiness, pure and genuine. Not different. Not for a moment. Nina felt she was being liked as a woman might be liked, not big sister, not superwoman.

She seldom considered how she had taken mom and dad’s place to take care of Rena throughout the years. She hadn't even questioned it. She’d done what was expected and asked of her, and had never really appreciated the truth and admiration her family had shown her. In truth, her parents, had seen in Nina enormous promise from the very start. The fact that she herself was oblivious to her own talents was a key part of her worth. She had no arrogance, no vice of ambition (for now), she was the very model of the selfless daughter.

She was brushing crumbs off her face. In truth, it was one little thing. But he noticed, or maybe it was just a guess.

Was she so transparent? So… weak to temptation? Bas held out his half of the buttery, wrapped pastry, and Nina balled up the bag to give to Rena later. Bas’s offering.

She couldn’t stop herself from grinning as Bas touched her hand gently. She had to leave but this was so comforting.

Because Rena, in her opinion, has nothing. Because Rena was the youngest of all, and felt she was in the shadow of the whole family, including Nina. By merit of being the foremost, the eldest sister, Nina was allowed some freedom by their parents. It gave her pause. Was their family, was Nina not enough for Rena? No! She’ll think no more of this…
Nina
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#17
The warmth and weight of her against his leg was comforting. Her soft snoring was cute too. Not that he wasn't gonna tease her, of course. I mean seriously. Can't pass that up.

But in about 100 different ways to wake up, this was at least in the top 10. I mean come on, she was gorgeous with those big beautiful eyes and thick full lips. There were only a few ways it might be better. Just a few.

But hey, top 10 was still top 10, right? And he smiled at Nina and pulled her to him, heedless of the pastry. It was in her bag anyway, he thought.

Because he fucking liked her. Haha! Bas with a crush.
Who'd a'thought? Not in this life anyway. So maybe he was a pussy after all. Who the fuck cared?

"Sorry angel. You woke me up with your singing." Just a whisper.

And he kissed her on the forehead. And then paused, looking down at her face, tilting it up slightly so she was staring up at him. God damn! Her eyes. That smile. He wanted to bite her lips away. To cover her eyes with kisses.

He pulled her closer and kissed her on the lips. Just a chaste kiss. Moms to sons. Well maybe not that. There was a bit of tongue. Not porno tongue. Just church tongue.

And then, "Go home Angel. Go take care of your people. But come back to me. Promise?" He caressed her cheek. God, how he could explore her face. "I'll be waiting for you."
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#18
Her first kiss. She blinked, and went over to the nearby table, pouring herself a glass of water. As she drank it, Nina saw how her hands trembled. Wine, wine would have been better. Wash out that metallic taste.

“Why’d you do that…” she began to say, then stopped. She recalled what small learning she had about the complex ways people move around each other, indifferent and unaligned. She had followed the path of her life along its own measurements, traveling from city to city, school to school, but it was entirely possible that places new to that path might have gestures that meant different things. There was no absolute degree to kisses.

“Um. That was nice,” she said, believing that was the thing one was supposed to say. She wondered if it hurt him because of his split lip.

She put down her water and came over to him, staring up at his face. “I will,” she said, and hugged him, stretching her arms carefully around the broad case of his chest bandages.

“You smooth talker,” she laughed, gamely, and playfully slapped his hand away. “Light, I’m years older than you. Thanks, and bye. Try not to die next time.”
Nina
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