4; The Talk
She threw a punch, and he caught it with ease. He sweeped below her legs and knocked her on her ass. Sweat dripped down her brow and threatened her eyes with salt. A wipe of her similarly sticky arm served only to spread the liquid. The man before her was about the same. A shark-like velen left sweat on the training mats in his wake as he approached; Pallorus offered a hand to help her up off the ground, and she gladly took it.
“Wanna take five?” He walked over to a bench. He knew her answer was yes.
Micali followed, sat next to him, and took a long sip of water from her bottle. Her back ached from the amount of times she’d fallen on it today, but thank god for the mats that the Insidiis laid out for spars. Her hand reached to her back, but recoiled at how wet it was. “Gross.”
“That’s a sign of good training. The more you sweat, the more you...bet...that you’ll...win.” They made brief eye contact then, before both bursted out in laughter.
“What?” She clutched her stomach as she chuckled. “Genuinely, what?”
“Aww, c’mon. That was a good one!”
“A good attempt, sure, but don’t quit your day...night job?” Another round of soft giggles came from the corner of the basement of the Insidiis safehouse. It eventually died down as they both just breathed for a moment. “You really think I’m improving?”
“Yeah, you’re doing good, most people don’t take to it so well after just a couple weeks. You’re even starting to put on some muscle,” he accentuated his statement with a light grab of her bicep. She allowed it, and beamed with pride at the concept.
“Yeah, I guess. It’s just,” she said when she moved to untie and re-tie her hair after it had become unkempt in their spar, “on our last mission, when that one guard got past Corruma and Cid, I really thought that could’ve been it for me.” The laicar grabbed her nearby towel, wiped down the sweat as her internal temperature finally cooled. “So this,” she motioned to the rest of the very large room, “seemed like a smart plan.” They were alone, as night was already upon them, and the rest of the Seven Devils were either out, a celebration of the successful mission only one day prior, or slept off the lost rest from nights of formed plans.
“Yeah. I mean, it’s always good to be well-rounded. We all fill our little niches in the group, but there’s no reason not to have all the tools you need to defend yourself. I’m honestly surprised they never trained you on hand-to-hand as you grew up.”
Micali nodded along, before she rolled her eyes. “I did a few times, but I asked them to stop after I got pretty messed up by another trainee.” She rolled up her pant leg, pointed to the burn scar on her calf. “Valgora.”
“Shit. She’s always been a loose cannon, then, I guess.”
“Yeah. Thanks for helping me, by the way. You could be out drinking but you’re here.”
“Pshh, please, it’s nothing. ‘Sides, bars aren’t exactly my scene.”
Micali gave a sympathetic look. “I feel that.”
“We were the first two to meet that first night,” he began, a long stretch of his arms cracked out all the joints in his elbows and fingers. “We’re the original two devils, I guess.” He offered a fist bump, which she took with a smile and a pat on the large velen’s back, before she recoiled once again at the copious amounts of sweat that coated him.
“I’m pretty sure if you wanna get technical, Corruma and Cid are the first two devils.” She rolled her eyes, fully aware of the air of comedy.
“Nah, it was us.” He stood, a guffaw poured out at his own comment. “Alright, we got another two weeks until that mission in Estro Boris.”
“Yeah! Alright, back to it!” With a full grin, she stood and flexed her arms with a laugh before she moved to the center of the mat, ready to get knocked down once again.
Waking up alone.
All of them.
Kill all of them.
Micali woke with a start, sweat threaded beneath her bangs. She sat up, and wiped the sweat with her arm. The sleep she had gotten left her both too hot and too cold, a conflict of interest and temperature both. She hadn’t come out of her room in three days. Every so often, someone - probably Dom - would come up, knock on her door, and she’d find a plate on the hallway floor with some fresh food on it. She smelled pretty terrible. The occasional peek out of the window was all she had to tell her the world still turned, dark clouds brooded above the streetlights. She braced herself for the past few days, waited for the day she’d awaken to a man in her room, one with a gun that worked. The day never came.
On the fourth evening, she descended.
Rosa seemed shocked to see her. The velen disappeared into the kitchen. It was late, they were about to close. Paranoia really decimated a sleep schedule. She hadn’t kept an eye on the time, but she must have woken up just before six.
Dom came out, then, and approached Micali. “Hey.” He reached out to her, and she almost tripped as she jumped back from his hand.
“Hey.” She steadied herself on the counter.
He sighed, but nodded, sat down at the bar and beckoned her to sit next to him. She chose to instead move around the bar and face him across the counter, much more comfortable with her back to the kitchen. “You want to talk about it?”
“No. I don’t know. What’s there to talk about?” She hated when Dom got like this. He always had to be there for her, always knuckle deep in her business. Some things she just had to do alone.
“Mick. A lot’s changed, and if you want to discuss it, we can do that.”
“I...Can we take this to the kitchen?” Her eyes darted around the room, lingered on the seat where the man had sat not a week prior. “Please.”
He nodded, air pushed out of his nose as they both moved back. He whispered something to Rosa. She protested for an instant, but he must have managed to convince her. The brothers hardly noticed their presence. They darted back and forth around the kitchen, sure to keep everything ready to go. The brothers had started work there just a month after Micali did. They were from the slums; they were never really private about their past. The slums weren’t kind to people. Those who wished to leave had to work, but work in the slums was dirty. It was murder, theft, robbery, and buried bodies.
Dom looked to Micali as they settled in at the sink. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now. These people - they took everything from you, Mick. You have every right to act weird and moody. Every right.”
She braced herself for the but.
“But,” there it is. “I need your honesty. I need communication. You can’t just lock yourself away for days on end. Rosa, the twins, they worry about you. Rosa especially. After closing, I want you to come sit with us and talk. Tell them everything, because this isn’t just about you anymore.”
She mulled possible sentences over in her mouth, swished them between her cheeks before she spat into the sink. “Okay.”
The night passed too quickly.
“Thanks, Miss Immersa. Have a great night!” Rosa locked up behind the woman, and turned back to the two in the front half of the store. “Do you want me to grab all the garbages, Dom?”
“Not just yet. Take a seat, I’m gonna go grab the twins.”
Micali’s stomach grew roots that extended through her limbs and left every part of her sore and nauseous. Rosa appeared next to her, a hand on her shoulder.
“You okay, Mickie?”
Micali felt something in Rosa’s touch. There was something to it - some sort of tenderness, some level of genuine care. The cold of her hand both ceased the ache in Micali’s limbs and her mind. “Yeah. Thank you.” She placed a hand on top of Rosa’s, then dropped it to her side. She took a seat. Rosa did the same, her hand retracted to her lap.
“No offense, but you really need a shower.”
The twins walked out of the back, followed by Dom. He motioned to a table that had been left. Micali stood, and the four of them went to pull up a couple extra chairs and sit. By the time they were done, Dom approached with five tall mugs of wine. One of the really expensive ones. “So. We have a lot to talk about, all of us.” He made sure everyone had their drinks before he too sat. Magno and Rosa replied with grace, and Paulo smiled. His lack of speech was something Micali had never thought to ask about. They all had secrets and scars, and it wasn’t her business.
Dom looked to her, and Micali sighed. “So...hi.” Rosa giggled a little at that, a nervous laugh far too high in her throat to be genuine. “Uh, as you know, five days ago, a guy was in my room and tried to kill me.” She took a sip, the sound of her swallows the only thing to be heard for what felt like miles. “I’ve uh, I’ve got some enemies. Some history. I’m,” she cringed as her voice cracked, “I’m a hitman, technically. I kill people for money.” The twins nodded along, seemingly surprised but not entirely surprised, as though they had their suspicions. Magno was attentive while Paulo looked down into the deep purple swirls before him. Rosa seemed shell shocked, her mouth agape and body stiff. “I used to work for an organization that did stuff like that. They basically raised me, I don’t remember my parents.” Dom just looked to the others for their reactions. This was a tale he knew. “I was good. Am good, I guess. I got put on a team with six other people. We were unstoppable. We were all raised to work together, each covered different tactics. I was the sniper.” Micali nodded her head upstairs, to Cora.
“I thought...you were just like, a hunter, or something. That’s what you said.” Rosa finally broke her silence, and Micali’s gaze was drawn to her. The pink velen was paler than Micali had ever seen her. The younger chugged back some wine with a wince before she continued. “I guess you didn’t really lie, huh. Just, like, were half-honest.” She looked around, as though only just now aware of her surroundings, the eyes that looked to her, and shook her head lightly to herself.
“Yeah. I’m...sorry that I didn’t ever really talk about this before. It was something I mostly left behind, and even when I do it now, it’s few and far between, just for enough exa to hold me down for a while.” She looked to Dom, and felt tears come to her eyes. Why was she about to cry? This was something she’d thought long about for years, something she’d considered a confession about many times. She brought a wrist up to her eyes, any water there quickly dispelled. “Anyway. I was on the team for about seven years. About four years in, though, we took on an eighth member. We uh, were a thing. There’s some more details I’d rather not go into right now, but basically,” another drink, her mouth full of cobwebs and sand, “when I wanted to leave, they didn’t like that. They thought I’d snitch them out. They tried to kill me. They…” She weighed her words heavily, and realized for an instant that the box in the corner of her mind no longer shook and threatened to explode. She had opened it herself, neatly took each piece out. There was a small book inside, though, that wiggled. Micali breathed.
In for 7, hold for 7, out for 7.
“They killed my daughter. Our daughter. He,” she let the tears fall freely, the box was almost empty now. She could see the bottom with that book gone. “The father participated.” She traced the wooden patterns of the table, watched as her tears mingled with them. A hand appeared on her back, but she couldn’t quite tell who it came from. She fully cried, but wasn’t sure what emotions she was experiencing. There was sorrow, such sorrow that it overwhelmed her, had locked itself away for years. But the joy that came from the sight of that box as it finally sat still, that was just as much fuel for her tears. “They didn't know I survived, I think. I never heard from or about them ever again after I recovered. I was homeless for a while, before I came to Dom.” Her sentences must be incomprehensible between the sniffles and warble of her tone, but a hand on her shoulder kept her speech at its pace. “My daughter and I, we planned on moving in here together. I was gonna-” Micali’s voice broke, and someone wrapped their arms around her from behind. “I was gonna open the library in the slums, fix it up. She loved books.” The salinity of her tears left her mouth dry again. She took a small sip, as best as she could with the two arms that held her tight. “She loved to read.” A hand on top of hers. She brought her own arm up to wipe away her messied vision and the tears that stained her cheeks. Paulo had a hand over hers, Magno’s hand on her shoulder. Rosa’s arms around her, a wet sensation on the back of her neck as she noticed the arms shake every few instances. She looked up to her left, to Dom. He too wiped a tear while his other hand rubbed circles on her back. “Good. Now,” Dom tucked some of his green hairs behind his ears as he spoke, “how can we help?”
“Let me go so I can go take a shower.”
The water on her body was a shock at first, a cold wall over an overheated body, but once she adjusted to the temperature, she simply stood there. Her eyes were tired and red from the cry session only five minutes prior, when she’d excused herself. They wanted to help, and she needed to seriously weigh that possibility. If they were to get hurt - to die - because of her, she’d never be able to face it. The thoughts were difficult. Micali decided instead to trace her scars as the water poured from her bangs and down her eyes. She started at the bottom of her foot. A barely-there dot from when she stepped on a nail on a stealth mission and managed to keep quiet. The burns along the back of her left calf. The thirteen cuts along her legs, all from the same night. The jagged cut just a couple inches below her belly button that left her barren. The deep, gnarled stab wound in her gut from an all too familiar knife. The further burn scars along the right side of her chest, the various cuts and scrapes she collected from close calls. The cut from her left shoulder to spine from the other night. The cut just below her right jowl, unnoticeable unless you looked for it. The dozens upon dozens of other wounds that never went deep enough to embed themselves in her permanently. The box in her mind, which she’d now folded down nice and tight, and thrown away.
She cleaned herself and left the shower. She heard faint laughter as she dried off and dressed, some fresh clothes she’d grabbed from upstairs before she went in. A sky-blue tank top, black pants, cozy white socks. She let her hair dangle freely, hoped it would dry quickly.
“Hey.” She sat at her previous spot, and three voices greeted her. “I thought about it, and yeah. I have ideas. I went to see an old contact of mine, and she told me where one of them is. I’m gonna...I’m gonna go kill him, I think.” The smiles faded.
“Is that really a good idea, Mick?”
“No, but I’m gonna do it anyway. I have to.” Her drink emptied into her gut.
Dom eyed her up and down before he went quiet.
“I have to.” The topic changed at some point, and the group turned to happier tales and laughter. It was close to midnight when Micali made to leave. She reached the bottom of the stairs, several layers of warmth over her body to protect from the storm that brewed, but cringed as the last step groaned as she put her weight on it. She braced herself for as many seconds as possible, before a door opened upstairs, and a figure appeared to her.
“Mickie?” The pink velen wiped at her awakened eyes.
“Hey, Rosa.” The jig was up.
Rosa descended the stairs, past Micali, and toward the door. The older woman followed, a brow cocked. “Rosa?”
“Do you really feel like you have to do this?” The pink velen’s voice was shaky.
Micali just watched as the tied-up black bun turned away, Rosa’s face now apparent, white nightclothes just barely visible in the darkness of the room. “Yeah. I get it if you don’t-” Impact. Arms around her again.
“Do it. If any part of you tells you that this is what you need to do, don’t hesitate. I can’t pretend I know a lot about what you’re about to do, but I know decisions. Just,” she sighed, “please come back. Please.”
Micali felt weird. With the exception of the incident earlier that night, she hated contact. But something about this was different. Something about Rosa. She returned the hug for a short time before they parted, hands held together as their arms came apart.
“Mickie, can I ask something that you don’t have to answer?” She thumbed over Micali’s knuckles as she spoke.
“Yeah.” The laicar braced herself for whatever this could be, but assumed - no, knew - that Rosa wouldn’t ask anything that was too much.
“What was her name?” Rosa looked her straight in the eye, coral into brown.
Micali huffed for an instant, memories and daydreams flooded her mind, some she’d love to be true, some she’d love to forget.