Matt looked up from tending the fire at the sound of Thom’s limping footsteps, then reached for one of the ceramic mugs stacked on a cutting board. “Made coffee this morning. You want some?”
Thom nodded, slowly sitting down in the grass nearby, wincing a little. “Please.”
“That book helping?” Matt filled the mug from the pot sitting next to the pile of mugs and passed it over to the other man, who had stretched his bad ankle out toward the fire and started to take out his sketchpad and pencil. He’d found a book on Roman architecture and engineering among Marin’s books and passed it along to Thom. Something told him that maybe the other man could use any possible inspiration he could get.
“It might be, actually. I’ve been reading some of the sections on the baths and it’s been helping sort a few things out.” Thom took the mug, cradling it in one hand as he balanced his sketchbook with the other. “We might be able to pull that off.”
“Pull what off?”
“Baths,” Thom said, taking a sip of the coffee. “Among other things. I think I have the heating situation figured out, it’s just going to require some trenching and pipework, but you guys brought pipes and ductwork and stuff back on the flatbed.” He glanced toward the fallen dorms. “…and we might find more stuff in the rubble.”
Probably. Hopefully not caked in asbestos, but I don’t think most of the buildings are quite old enough to worry too much about that. Matt nodded, getting up to add a few more sticks to the fire. “You really think that you can build baths, Thom?”
“Not by myself. I can design them, though.”
“I hope you’re going to engineer a way to pipe water into them, too, and aren’t going to be relying on whatever well we manage to dig.” That’s going to be a beast, but we need it. I just hope it doesn’t take as long as I’m afraid it’s going to.
He shook his head, frowning a little. “I was thinking a rain and snow-fed cistern for most of the year.” He took another swallow of coffee before he glanced at Matt again. “Why?”
“Just not looking forward to digging wells, that’s all. I’m not quite sure I know what I’m doing, going out to do it.” Matt sat back again, looking at Thom. “But none of us are really sure what the hell we’re doing in that, so it might as well be me. Tala knows what to do after we hit water.” We just have to hit the damn water first.
“Better than rain barrels and hiking to the river.” Thom shivered, then winced.
Matt stared at him for a moment, frowning. “Are your ribs still bugging you?”
“Don’t tell your sister,” Thom mumbled, hunching over his mug and his sketchpad with another wince. “She’ll worry, decide it’s been too long and that I’m doing too much and she’ll make J.T. sit on me or some shit so I stay put.”
She loves you, dumbass. Matt shook his head. “I’ll only tell her if you piss her off again.”
Thom opened his mouth, then snapped it shut again and shook his head. “Right.”
Picking battles, Thomas? That’d be something new. Matt felt his annoyance ebb. “Is she okay?”
“Yeah. No…more nightmares or anything.” Thom rubbed his face. “It’s a relief, really.”
Matt gave him the hairy eyeball for a moment more, then nodded. Maybe the end of the world did teach you something. “I don’t quite believe her all the time, either, y’know.”
Thom flinched like he’d been hit. He stared down into the mug cradled between his hands, expression tightening and lips thinning. “I do believe her, Matt. I just don’t want to sometimes.”
I don’t want to believe her most of the time. Matt felt a pang of regret for all the fights he’d picked, though only momentarily. Maybe he and Thom were a little more alike than he’d thought. He suppressed a shiver at that and grabbed a bag of bread, starting to make toast. “Is she staying here today, or is she riding out with the others to that sheep place?” Damn, we’re going to run out of bread pretty fast here. Have to start baking it in those dutch ovens until we can put together some brick ovens and crap.
“She’s staying here, I think.” Thom took a long swallow from his mug and started to thumb through his sketches, making notes. “I’m not sure what she’s going to do, though. Probably help Professor Doyle with the planters or something. She was making noises about taking a couple sets of hands and trying to get as much stuff out of the library as we can, though.”
“I guess that’s not a terrible idea,” Matt said, briefly frowning. “Dangerous, maybe.”
Thom shrugged. “We can’t afford to lose those books, I guess.”
Matt didn’t argue the point. Who knows what we’ll find in those books, anyhow? Maybe help surviving, beyond all the academics. There’s got to be some stuff in there that’s practical applications, right? He thought briefly of the book he’d given Thom. Then again, even histories have their uses. “She’s still playing for the long game, huh?”
“We’re all playing for the long game, Matt. Otherwise you wouldn’t be digging a well and I wouldn’t be designing a bathhouse.”
Choking on a laugh, Matt nodded. “I guess you’re right.”
“First time for everything,” Thom mumbled, eyes returning to his sketches.
Tala appeared with two buckets of water. “Toast again, Matt? When’re we going to get some eggs around here?” She grinned at him, teasing as she set the buckets down near the fire.
He snorted a laugh. “Around the same time Stasia’s chickens start laying them again. She keeps saying that shouldn’t be much longer.”
“Well, at least we’ve got milk…which I have to go help her take care of.” Tala sighed, grinning helplessly. “And everyone said that my historical reconstruction background wasn’t going to help me do a damn thing.”
“Sounds like they were wrong,” Thom offered her a weak smile. “Have a cup of coffee before you go.”
She shook her head. “After, with my toast.” She grinned at Matt. “Save me a couple slices?”
He nodded and waved her off, getting up to start readying the buckets of water for skimming and boiling clean. Thom watched him for a minute and shook his head.
“And all that Eagle Scout training is paying off for you, too.”
Matt snorted. “Thank god for small favors.”
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