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For as long as she could remember, she would sneak out to watch her guardians spar late at night. Most times Igaram or Terracotta would catch her and send her back to bed. When she did slip past, she always curled up on the edge of the balcony overlooking the courtyard they met in, watching the two soldiers below match each other speed for speed, strike for strike. She may not have understood why they would go out each night, but she did recognize a type of beauty in their motions.

Now, after two years with Baroque Works, Vivi thought she understood.

Unable to sleep, she wandered back out to that balcony; the courtyard was empty. She leaned on the railing, images of feathers and fur and fluttering robes mixing with memories of peacock slashers and baseball bats and instruments-cum-guns, all geared towards the same goal—not perfection, or even becoming the best, but just to be strong enough. Strong enough to leave home, to become an Agent, to save a country.

Strong enough to die.

Her body reacted before her brain, squatting into the shadow of the railing as she caught movement below.

Pell limped into the courtyard, Chaka easily matching his pace. They both looked better, Vivi noticed; Pell was not leaning as heavily against his crutch, and Chaka had lost the drawn look he’d worn the past few days. She watched as Pell laid aside his crutch and faced Chaka for a moment before throwing a soft punch.

It was nowhere near the ease Vivi remembered, but still they matched speed for speed, strike for strike. And when Pell’s leg twisted from under him, Chaka met him before he fell.

More than strong enough.


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Make UP

May. 8th, 2017 01:15 pm
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“Are you sure you’re up for this?”

“Yes, Chaka,” Pell said, studying his face in the mirror. He rarely bothered to cover his markings, but the effect was usually worth it. Somehow, no one ever recognized him without the black lines. “It’s been two months. I can handle a patrol through the marketplace.”

“I’d still feel better if one of the other officers went instead,” Chaka said, meeting Pell’s eyes in the mirror. “They need the experience.”

“And I need the exercise.” He did not say that they’d had experience; this wasn’t the first time since the revolution they’d heard rumors of Baroque Works members within Alubarna. It was just the first time Pell had volunteered to blend with the crowds while the royal family was outside the palace. With at least three pairs of Frontier agents still unaccounted for along with the remaining Millions and Billions, some paranoia was warranted.

Giving his reflection a satisfied nod, Pell turned around. “How do I look?”

Chaka stared at him for a second, taking in the pants, jacket, and makeup before giving an aggravated sigh. “Unrecognizable.”

“Good. And I don’t know why you’re grumbling so much.” He wrapped his arms around Chaka’s waist, pushing onto his toes to kiss the taller man’s jaw. “After all, you’re the one touring Yuba with Vivi-sama, with barely healed stab wounds I might add, while I’m here under Dr. Ooh’s watchful eyes.” He dropped another kiss at the corner of Chaka’s mouth. “I’ll be worried.”

“You’ll be careful.” It wasn’t a question.

“Swear on my grave.”

Chaka shot him a dark look but turned towards the door. “I’ll let Igaram-san know we’re ready then.”

“Chaka?” Pell gave him a bright smile when he turned. “You might want to wipe the kiss marks off your face first.”

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It has been far too long, Chaka realized, nuzzling Pell’s neck as he eased his partner back onto the makeshift blanket of their robes on the sand. Hands clawed at his back, teeth sunk into his shoulder, and Chaka reached for their pack, fingers groping to find something, anything, to make this go smoother.

—only to bump into a package he knew for certain hadn’t been there when they left their rooms.

“Someone’s been into the pack.”

Pell pulled away instantly, eyeing the pack warily. If something was planted by a rogue Baroque Works member or a stubborn rebel, it certainly wouldn’t be the first nor the best hidden. Strangely certain that anyone trying to kill them would be slightly smarter than to hide something within their… personal effects like this, Chaka pulled the paper-wrapped package out.

It wasn’t lightweight, or particularly large; tucked into one end was note, which Pell plucked off. He blanched, coughed uncomfortably, and read, “‘For the occasions I missed.—Vivi’.”

“Ah.” Both stared at the package for another moment before the paper was tossed aside and the box opened. There was a horrified silence, then it was Chaka’s turn to cough.

“She is certainly… practical.”

“Yes…. Oh, look, a book.” Paper rustled, and Pell placed it down carefully. “With pictures.”

They studiously looked past each other.

“She was being thoughtful.”

“Yes.”

“But it would probably be best to dissuade her from giving us another gift like this.”

“Yes.”

“Or at least,” and here Chaka glanced over, catching the faint twitching at the corner of Pell’s mouth, “keep her from buying books we already own.”

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Reunion

May. 8th, 2017 12:53 pm
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He’d been on the wall, inspecting both the rebuilding and the soldiers with Igaram, when the messenger came. He remembered a glimpse of Igaram’s shocked face before the city was a blur, splashing through puddles and wind making his eyes water was he ran through Alubarna at full speed.

That was hours ago. Now, he sat by the bed in his—their—room, patiently reading a book he’d been meaning to finish for some time now. It was a little difficult to turn the pages at times, between the constant ache in his chest and shoulder where his stitches had pulled and the necessity of using only his left hand.

The pulse beating slow and steady in the hand grasped in his right hand was too important to let go of for even a second. So Chaka sat and read and listened to the rain, only looking up when he felt eyes upon him. He set the book aside and looked into tired copper eyes.

“Sleep well?” Chaka asked, reaching forward to brush a stray lock of hair from Pell’s face. Pell made a small sound of affirmation, turning his head to nuzzle Chaka’s fingers.

“Come t’ bed,” he mumbled, eyes already drooping shut again.

Chaka blew out the reading lamp, performed the stretches needed to reach the other side of the bed without letting go of Pell’s hand, and wrapped his arms around his friend. He buried his face in Pell’s hair, tenseness washing away with the smell of feathers and medicine.

“I’m home,” Pell said through a yawn, shifting closer to the jackal.

“Welcome back,” Chaka answered.

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