I'm not even sorry.
sweeter than a georgia peach
Sometime between his nineteenth and twentieth birthday, Spartacus finds the distillery on his uncle's farm. It is in the hay loft of the old barn, the one nobody ever used.
The moonshine jars are lined up like peach-flavored promises against the back wall, covered by a dirty white sheet. The peaches bob up against the jar lids, bumping their mouths against the soft press of tin.
Spartacus isn't an idiot, and he recognizes rebellion when he sees it, so the first thing he does is to scramble back downstairs to where Crixus and Agron are waiting, smoking with their hats down low over their eyes like a couple of newsies.
"Boys," he announces, "just come and see what I've found."
Mira is the first to find out, because she's Mira and because she and Naevia have acquired the habit of sneaking out of Mira's father's house and following the boys to the speakeasy that they run out of back of the nicest restaurant in town, The Ludus. Spartacus gets in because he's Spartacus and he does that thing where he shakes the guard's hand and says, "Good evening, friend," and then suddenly the guard realizes that yes, they are friends, and Spartacus is the best thing ever, and if that means he has to let those assholes Agron and Crixus in too, well, thems the breaks.
Sometimes, when Spartacus is stuck at home, Crixus and Agron can still get in by force of Agron being crazy German and Crixus being, well, just genuinely a little bit crazy. Mira doesn't understand what Naevia sees in him when she sees him picking fights behind the post office with boys who are older and bigger and meaner, wailing his fists on them to expel an anger that he himself doesn't fully understand. But after, when Naevia presses a cold compress to his bloodied knuckles and he looks at her like she invented water just to soothe him with it, Mira thinks she can imagine.
But Naevia is kinder than Mira, and more trusting, so when Crixus tells her that she must stay out of the barn, she takes him at his word. Mira thinks that if you listen to the boys too often they'll start thinking that they have an advantage over you, and Mira is not in the business of giving others the advantage, so she follows at a distance as the boys push and shove each other up the ladder and go to work, filling mason jars and stacking them in the back of Agron's truck.
They're ten minutes from the Mason-Dixon line when she reveals herself in the truck bed. Spartacus slams on the breaks and nearly swerves off the road, but he lets her ride up front the rest of the way and, next time, lets her carry the peaches.
The first one to get arrested is Agron, because of course it's Agron. He flips his truck a mile outside of town, swerving to avoid a deer, and when the police come to help clean up the wreckage they find the three left over mason jars he had been saving for Gannicus' birthday.
He sits in the cell for three hours before anyone comes to talk to him, and even then it's just the quiet deputy bringing him water. They blink at one another with slow eyes before Agron spits at his feet and says, "Pig."
The deputy keeps his hand extended, water clutched in his fingers. He shrugs. "I'm actually here to help people," he says mildly. "There's more to police work than busting moonshiners."
Agron curls his lip. "You're just a slave to Sherriff Batiatus," he announces derisively.
The deputy sighs in his general direction. "So," he guesses, "this means that you don't want the water."
Agron makes a furious sound and accepts the cup.
At some point, people start calling them The Moonshiners with capital letters and nodding at them in the street. Spartacus decides that making moonshine had been fun, but now it's important, now it's about freedom. He pounds his fists against the dining room table and reminds Agron and Crixus that they have a God-given right to drink, that the government has no place dictating their private lives, and that this isn't about the alcohol, it's about the principle.
"Okay," agrees Agron, who has technically been out of prison for three weeks but keeps hanging around the precinct and harassing the deputy anyway, "but we can still drink it though, right?"
Spartacus gives him a look. "Obviously," he says, because he's a leader, not a saint.
In July, Sherriff Batiatus sends Naevia to work in a woman's textile factory up north, but no one will say where. Mira hides herself in the back cupboard of the house and hears his wife Lucretia explaining to somebody on the phone that she "suspected her niece of associating with moonshine runners," but when confronted Naevia had been "uncooperative with the authorities." Then the woman had laughed and examined her nails. "And anyway, with her out of the picture there's no reason I can't enjoy myself with that post office oaf, Crixus. He's dumb as a brick, but darling, he has the chest of a god."
She told all but the last bit to the boys. Agron reacts with a shrug, and Spartacus with a tight frown, but Crixus punches a hole through a cinderblock wall.
Agron wakes up to the sound of pebbles hitting his window. He doesn't bother putting clothes on as he goes outside, because if you're going to wake him up in the middle of the night then you're going to have to deal with him as he sleeps, which is naked.
The deputy is standing on his lawn, out of his uniform for once. Agron had been beginning to think that he even slept in it.
"What do you want," he snaps out irritably, because his stomach flips over when the deputy looks up at him from under distressingly long eyelashes. He has eyes a deer would kill for, Agron thinks dizzily, and then, oh my God, and shit.
The deputy shoves his hands into his trouser pockets. He blows a long breath out of the side of his mouth, the sound like a stamp of resignation, and says, "I know where Naevia is."
Crixus doesn't listen when Agron tells him that going to get Naevia would be stupid. Where will she live? How will they hide her? Can they afford to draw more attention to themselves?
But Crixus can't think of anything except Naevia's perfect hands bleeding from where needles have stabbed her. He can't think of anything except the way her hair curls at the base of her neck. He can't think of anything except the way it will feel when she folds herself into his arms and never leaves, not ever, ever again.
The plan—a stupid one, Agron is quick to point out—is to drive up to the factory and sneak her out of the dormitories after work. Mira will pose as one of the working girls.
The four of them are at the gate by the time they realize girls have to be signed in and out, that they are accounted for at all hours of the day, and that the walls are too high to climb. Crixus makes a despairing croaking sound from the backseat when suddenly a dark car pulls up behind them and a soft voice says, "Hello, gentlemen. I'm here to sign out Quintus Batiatus' ward. The name is Naevia."
The guard at the door glares at the group and demands in a grumble, "Badge?"
The deputy presents his ID smoothly, face a blank, and then accompanies the guard into the dormitory. When he emerges fifteen minutes later, it is with Naevia in tow and a beaming smile on his face.
Agron gives up his seat to Naevia in Spartacus' truck and rides alongside the deputy. They don't say anything for a while, and then Agron grumbles, "Well. All right. Fine. That was … good. What you did."
The deputy beams at him, looking so plainly pleased to have teased an almost-compliment from Agron's lips that it frankly hurts Agron's chest to look at him. "My name is Nasir," he offers. "I became a police officer because I wanted to help people, not take away their alcohol."
A strangled sound forces itself out of Agron's throat. "Of course you did," he says, choked.
After that, things get harder and easier. They have to keep Naevia hidden in Mira's house, because Sherriff Batiatus finds out that she's been removed from the factory. Deputy Nasir claims that he received an urgent message from the sherriff that stated he was to take Naevia out of the factory and send her into hiding. Nasir looks at the sherriff with such an honest, sincere expression—that is, his regular one—that even Lucretia believes him when he says he sent her into hiding so well that he's not even sure where she is. Finding her will take weeks, he says. He can begin the search now, but we won't have her back until Christmas.
Spartacus becomes more brazen, driving with the moonshine clear in the back of his truck, Mira hanging out of the passenger window and hollering into the night.
"It's not about the alcohol," he tells them all, over and over. "Batiatus is corrupt."
"Of course he's corrupt," Crixus spits. "He's the police."
"Not all police are corrupt," Agron snaps.
Crixus curls his lip in disgust. "Just because you're in love with the deputy doesn't make him not corrupt."
Agron throws the first punch, but Crixus draws first blood. They go down in a tumble of fists and teeth and only come up when both are bruised and bleeding. Spartacus remains seated on the table and watches them lay side by side in the dirt. Then he asks, "Can we start fighting the actual enemy now, instead of each other?"
Crixus nods. He rolls his head to look at Agron and says, "You are in love with the deputy, though."
Agron makes a helpless gesture. "He saved Naevia," he points out. "He didn't have to. Fucking … deputies."
Crixus laughs, and claps his shoulder, and Spartacus helps both men to their feet.
No one is exactly surprised by the raid when it comes, but they hadn't exactly planned for it either. It's just the boys, Mira and Naevia in the hayloft, and Mira is the first to notice—Mira is always the first to notice—when smoke starts filtering up the ladder and filling up the windows.
Naevia sprints to the exit only to find the hem of her skirt on fire. She rips the fabric off and throws it, down and away, before returning to the others. "No way out," she declares, gentle as she always is but grim all the same.
Outside of the window, they can see Sherriff Batiatus and his men holding torches. The man grins. "Come out, come out, wherever you are," he calls, sounding pleased. "Or burn. Your call."
Behind him, Deputy Nasir stands with his hands clenched at his sides. He meets Agron's eyes and then makes a sound like a hiss, pulling his gun out and shooting into the air.
In the commotion that follows, Spartacus leaps out of the window and lands on one of the officers, stealing his gun. Crixus refuses to leave Naevia until the two women force him out, pushing with four hands until he stumbles backwards and out. Agron is already long gone, charging head first into the fray toward the figure of Deputy Nasir, who fights surprisingly well for a man that looks like he'd be better suited to being a nanny than a policeman.
The women climb down the water pipe. Mira grabs a stick and starts whacking people with it; Naevia stands behind her with a gun with a trigger she doesn't want to pull but that doesn't waver, trained on the men Mira brings to the ground in case they try to get up.
Between them—Agron, Spartacus, Mira, Naevia, Crixus, and Deputy Nasir—they manage okay. It's not until one of the police officers remembers that he has a gun and doesn't need to depend on his baton that things start looking bad. Deputy Nasir takes a bullet to his side and collapses, hand stubborn over the wound. Naevia and Mira drag him behind the burning barn for cover while Agron howls and Spartacus fights his way toward Sherriff Batiatus, eyes red.
When the gunshot sounds, everything goes still. Spartacus breathes heavy, standing over the collapsed body of the sherriff, gun in his hand. The other officers watch him with caged eyes. Then Crixus straightens up and asks, "This town feels safer already, don't it, Sherriff?"
Spartacus meets the eyes of every officer individually. He says, "It sure does, Crixus. Anyone got something to say? Because we've got ten mason jars of moonshine that needs drinking if you don't."
It is quiet, but for the sound of someone murmuring, "Shit, I could use a drink."
Naevia sews up Deputy Nasir using a sewing needle and a strip of her nightgown. He bites down on the stick Mira had been using to fight and doesn't make a sound as Spartacus pulls the Sherriff badge off Batiatus' jacket and pins it to his own.
Agron finds them like that, Deputy Nasir slouched up against a tree, and his hand shakes as he curls it around the wounded man's chin. "Are you," he begins gruffly, then clears his throat. He has to swallow several times before managing, "Are you all right." Even then, he doesn't quite make it sound like a question, more of a demand. Be all right.
Deputy Nasir nods. He grins the way he always does, the way that gives Agron's heart a charley horse, and then says, "I'm just mad I didn't get whoever did it."
Agron's eyes flash as he beams, glad at least that he can give Deputy Nasir this: "You didn't have to. I did." His free hand curls into a fist as the one holding Deputy Nasir's jaw begins to caress the skin, completely of its own accord. "I killed him. I—when I saw you go down I just—no one has the right to—I'll. I'll kill them all." He breaks off helplessly. He meets Deputy Nasir's eyes when he asks, desperate, "Do you understand?"
And the other man laughs, the softest, most beautiful sound, before slumping forward to catch Agron's mouth with his, perfect, perfect, and murmuring, "Yes, you beautiful idiot, yes."
Technically, it's a dry town, but the water at parties comes out of mason jars and tastes sweet, like peaches.