“Did you remember to bring the food?”
“Of course I did. Do you have any other stupid questions to ask?”
“It wasn’t a stupid question! I was just making sure we don’t have to sneak back into the compound to get anything we forgot.”
“Just go find wood for the bonfire. I’ll start the food…”
“I’ll start the food. There’s no way I’m letting either of you cook anything, especially not if I want to be able to eat it. You go help her find wood.”
“He’s right. You don’t have to be so catty about everything, you know.”
“Catty? Was that you trying to be funny?” Their voices faded away into familiar bickering as the man and woman walked off.
The summer sun beat down on the hidden cove like a hammer, pushing the five of them into the shade of the trees. A small pit was dug out and edged with rocks; the fire was started and allowed to die down into hot embers. The young man preparing the skewers of meat and vegetables was kept busy watching them roast over the flames. Another woman organized dishes and cutlery, getting things ready for lunch. She pulled a cooler of drinks between the stumps arranged in a circle around the bonfire pit before sitting down to watch their cook.
“I really wish those two didn’t have to argue all the time,” she said. “I mean, I know Rob doesn’t like me, but that’s no reason to take it out on Angel like he does.”
“You don’t think Angel doesn’t antagonize him in return? Alura, you’ve never been able to admit that your sister picks fights with Rob because she wants to. It’s not all his fault.” Blueno continued turning skewers in between assembling more food to be cooked. “She’s really the only one that dares to fight back with him like that.”
“That doesn’t mean he should just pick on her like he does.”
“Alura, give it up! Those two are going to fight no matter what you want,” Jabra yelled from the tree line. He stomped over carrying an armful of thick logs, dropping them beside the firepit with a crash. “I expect them to fight in bed, once they eventually make it there. Gyaaahahahahaha!”
“Jabra, that’s disgusting! I expect my sister to have better taste than that. And you should to!” Alura poked him in the shoulder with a stick. “Honestly, why would you want your foster sister to be involved with someone like Lucci?”
“I think you’re too late for that, Alura,” Blueno said calmly.
The returning sounds of bickering got louder as Angelina and Rob headed back towards the others. Snatches of their conversation floated through the air and brought a scowl to Jabra’s face.
“Dammit, not that again….” As the two stepped out from under the trees, he stepped forward to roughly grab the stack of wood from Angelina’s arms, saying “Stop it, you two. Do you honestly have to bring that topic up all the time just to argue about it? Just admit you have different views on justice and let it go!” He spun around to add the wood to his pile and then stomped back off into the trees.
“Great, now Jabra’s pissed off. Nice job, Rob,” Alura said accusingly. “Why can’t you just…”
“Oh, shut it, sis. I brought the topic up, so stop being pissy at Rob. I’ll go get him back.” Angelina glared at her sister before turning back around and following Jabra. Rob simply gave Alura a flat stare before moving to stack wood for the bonfire.
Eventually, the two returned, Angelina with kindling to start the bonfire with, and the five sat around the firepit eating and drinking. Jabra had managed to get ahold of a large quantity of alcohol, so as the sun started to sink into the ocean and the bonfire was finally lit, all of them were well on the way to being pleasantly drunk. They lounged around the bonfire, watching the sun go down over the waves and enjoying the breeze at their backs. All of which would explain why no one noticed the summer storm building at their backs.
The “sudden” downpour caught them all off guard and almost instantly doused the bonfire. They scrambled to grab their things and get under the trees for protection, but the rain was coming down so hard that it was useless.
“There’s a lighthouse nearby, let’s run there to get under cover!” With Blueno leading the way, the friends all dashed along the beach. The rocky point the lighthouse stood on wasn’t much higher than the surrounding land, but the short climb still left them all gasping once they got inside the attached building. Flipping the light switch revealed a large open room before a sharp *POP* plunged everything back into darkness.
“Great, the lights just blew out, now what?”
“There’s wood for the fireplace over here; I’ll get a fire started. There should be some dry towels in the bathroom,” Blueno said.
“It looks like someone is pouring buckets or water outside. Was it supposed to rain like this?” Alura asked.
“I didn’t check the weather before we left; I thought you were going to,” Angelina said as she walked out of the bath with a stack of towels and handed them out. “It can’t keep raining like this for long though, can it?”
Hours later, they were all dry and the rain was still coming down in torrents.
“I’m bored! Lucci, spar with me!”
“No. Why don’t you go take a nap like you usually do, Jabra?” Lucci leaned back on the couch and kept feeding seeds to Hattori.
“Nah, too much noise from the rain. Alura, spar with me!” At her nod, the two of them got up and moved away from the fire, further into the shadowy room. Blueno followed to act as a referee.
“Found some more seeds for Hattori in the kitchen,” Angelina said, sitting down on the couch next to Lucci and leaning against his shoulder. Hattori hopped down onto her knee and began picking seeds from her open palm. Rob shifted enough to put his arm around her shoulders while they both watched Hattori eat. “Have you heard any word from HQ on when we’ll be given our first official assignments?”
“Nothing yet, why?”
“Just wondering. I figure you’ll be getting something soon, especially since they went through the effort to get you and Blueno and Jabra devil fruits. That’s not the kind of thing you give to agents you plan to have stick around the compound.”
“Hmm. The Director will send us where needed, Lina. You worried about not getting an assignment?”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just… we’ve been training together here for over ten years now. Going to miss being part of the team if the higher-ups decide to split us up.” Lucci responded with a grunt of acknowledgement and they both fell into a companionable silence and listened to the other three throw faux taunts and insults while sparring, taking turns to pair off.
“Rob! Angel! Get over here and spar with us! I’m tired of beating Jabra up!”
“You aren’t winning! Stop saying that!”
“Come on, before they drag us over there. Besides, I’m starting to fall asleep like this.” Angelina squeezed Lucci’s knee gently as she stood up with a stretch. She smiled down at him, holding out her hand in invitation.
“Fine. The couch was getting too comfortable anyway.” He let her pull him up before they both walked over to where Alura and Blueno were practicing.
They took turns pairing off and practicing, but as the night wore on and the rain kept coming down, the oppressive humidity in the room started having an effect. Jabra had rescued the alcohol, so the drinking hadn’t stopped with the rain. The taunts and insults took on a sharper edge as their pleasant drunken buzz turned into something harder.
“Come on, Rob, are you getting lazy and slow now that you have devil fruit powers? You haven’t managed to hit me once,” Angelina taunted after landing yet another blow against his ribs.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he gritted out in return, throwing a quick punch at her head and when Angelina ducked, he caught her with his other fist, tossing her back against the wall.
“Rawr! Kitty’s finally getting his act together,” she said, wiping away blood from split lips. Her grin got sharper at seeing his scowl.
They continued on as their sparring started to turn into an actual fight. Blood flowed and deep bruises blossomed against exposed skin. The other three started to get worried and Blueno stepped in to try to stop the fight. Angelina skipped around him, sending a kick at Lucci that he blocked with his thigh.
“Angel! Stop it!” Jabra tried to grab her but she danced away from his grasp. Alura had better luck getting a hold of Lucci’s arm, but it wasn’t enough.
“Stop it, you idiot! No wonder the Director likes you! You’ll beat up your friends if you think it’s the right thing to do. Bastard!” Alura’s voice was almost lost in the sound of thunder rolling over the lighthouse.
“Oh, she’s right, isn’t she, Rob? That whole absolute justice, gotta follow the law no matter what. You’d do whatever you had to if it served what the admirals and the Director wanted, wouldn’t you?” Angelina’s taunts grew more and more pointed, bringing up things only friends who’d known each other for years could say.
Angelina jumped up and aimed a kick at Lucci’s head, letting her speed carry her towards him without worrying about being able to get away. She’d landed enough hits on him already that her confidence was high; she wouldn’t miss at this close range.
But when he shifted into his leopard form, her speed advantage was taken away. He grabbed her leg, stopping the blow coming towards his head, claws digging in deep around her knee. Blood flew as she used her right leg to push herself away, ripping long furrows into the skin as she fell to the floor. Lucci stood panting over her curled up form before Jabra crashed into him, taking them both down to the floor.
“ANGEL!” Alura ran to Angelina’s side, lifting her sister’s head onto her lap. Blueno grabbed several towels and pressed them to the bleeding wounds, trying to ignore Angelina’s cries of pain as he straightened her leg out.
Jabra hit Lucci in the jaw, making him pause and growl at the older man. “STOP IT, ROB! Angel’s hurt!” He continued to press his friend to the floor until he started to calm down and finally reverted to his human form. Once he saw that Lucci wasn’t fighting any longer, Jabra got up and went to help with Angelina’s injuries. Rob Lucci just lay on the floor taking deep breaths, not moving.
“Bueno, can you use your ability to get us back to the compound? I don’t think we can wait for the rain to stop and there’s no way we should take her out into this.” Alura asked urgently.
“I should be able to. Let’s grab what we need to and I’ll open a door. We should keep Angel as flat as possible. Let’s get a blanket underneath her first.” Once arranged on a blanket to support her leg as much as possible, Blueno created a door in the wall opening into the hallway outside the infirmary. Jabra picked up one end of the blanket but when Alura moved to grab the other end, she was shoved aside as Lucci picked it up instead. His glare silenced her and the two men stepped through Blueno’s door carefully carrying Angelina to the infirmary.
-- Four weeks later –
Rob Lucci sat in his room staring out the window. Hattori fluttered in and out the open pane, occasionally helping himself to the birdseed scattered on the ledge. He’d been confined to quarters since the “incident” as the training coordinator called it, making it seem like what had happened wasn’t anything very important. He ignored the first soft knock at his door, finally turning his head and saying “Enter” when it came a second time.
A cane tapped against the floor as Angelina limped into his room. Her knee was still heavily bandaged but she was obviously being allowed to put weight on the joint. She looked gaunt and pallid from her stay in the hospital, but that wasn’t unexpected. After looking her over quickly, Lucci turned back towards the window, staring out it once more.
“I’m withdrawing from team nine. I’ve already informed the training coordinator and the Director of my decision. I felt I should tell you first before the rest of the team though.” Her voice was faint and sad sounding, weak.
“Because it was my fault, you mean?”
“No, I didn’t say that. I don’t even really think that. I was attacking you pretty hard as well, so it’s not like you just came at me out of nowhere.”
“So now what?”
“Well, I’m not sure what Alura’s going to do. I doubt she’ll stay. Even if I hadn’t been injured, I think she was going to leave. She really just doesn’t like your form of absolute justice and it’s obvious you’re the leader of the group. So that’s another person gone as well.”
“I’m sure the director will assign new members to the team, so that’s not a great loss if she goes.”
“Thank you, I think.”
“For implying that it might be a loss that I ‘m leaving. No,” she said as he started to speak again, “don’t try to explain. I knew what you meant; I usually do. The Director has offered me a position working with the propaganda division, as his assistant. He said that although I can’t be an assassin, my talents can’t be allowed to go to waste either.” Now she sounded bitter.
“So you’ll still be useful to Cipher Pol. That’s good for you.”
“Perhaps. I still have a lot of recovery to do though. I’m leaving for Marijois tomorrow, so the doctors gave me permission to get up so I could come see you. I mostly wanted you to know that I didn’t blame you and I was going to be fine.” Her weakness came through in her voice, she definitely sounded tired. “I’m going to go talk to Jabra and Blueno now, let them know what I’ve decided.” He heard the door open and her cane tap against the ground.
“I didn’t mean for that to happen, I’m…” Sorry. He couldn’t continue.
“I understand. Good-bye, Rob.”
He turned in time to see her face and realize that she’d been silently crying the whole time.