"Ah, finally finished studying…" Lexi moaned out, flopping onto the couch beside Nana. The older woman glanced at her granddaughter, smiling widely.
"Oh, you get so serious with those studies of yours. Take a break for awhile, dear. We don't want you catching another sickness like last time." Stretching out and propping her feet up on the coffee table, Lexi leaned back in the couch.
"Nana, I'm pretty sure studying has nothing to do with getting sick."
"Well, you never know." She responded, nodding resolutely to herself as if reminding her that she was right. Law watched the exchange from the love seat set opposite the room, smirking at the old woman's habit of always putting her two cents in, whether it made sense or not. Lexi only smiled and shook her head, used to Nana's ways by now.
It was after dinner the next evening, and Lexi had finished up her studying for the night. There weren't any big tests coming up, and she'd finished most of the work she needed to caught up on, so there wasn't so much stress involved in this go around.
Everyone was lounging lethargically around the living room, watching the latest episode of family feud. Bepo lay nearest to his Captain, always the faithful follower and ready at any moment to defend his friend.
Tonight was a good night for Nana, who must have felt as sleepy as the rest of them, because she watched the show in relative peace.
For a good twenty minutes they were content to simply relax in comfortable silence, watching the program without distraction. Before too long, Nana began yawning and snoozing while sitting on the couch. Lexi noticed this after awhile and nudged her side.
"Nana, let's get you to bed, alright?"
"That sounds like a good idea. But you wake me if any Nazis infiltrate the camp, you hear me?" She scolded, standing with the assistance of the brunette. She gave a little salute.
"I sure will, Nana. Now, come on." Muffling a yawn of her own, Lexi led her grandmother into the master bedroom, shutting the door to allow for some privacy.
Helping her out of her normal clothes, Lexi retrieved her pajamas from the dresser, and she began gently assisting Nana step into the pants. Next she started threading her arms through the shirt sleeves, and Lexi moved to put the shirt above her head and through the collar, since it was difficult for her to reach up sometimes.
"Oh, Lexi. Sometimes I wonder if this war will ever end. Can't our countries just agree to live and let live?" Nana sighed suddenly, making Lexi hesitate. "It makes me wonder if your generation can ever know times of peace."
Nana sounded so…tired. So frustrated and worried, but too worn out to really sound was then that Lexi really took in the frailty of her grandmother. Her skin was wrinkled and sagging more and more as time passed. The bags under her eyes more pronounced, more defined. While the fire of the Rose family stubbornness still burned in her eyes, she could see a sort of plea for help. Some kind of end to all the torment that she must go through on a daily basis. A torment that no one could truly rescue her from.
Unable to find something to say initially, Lexi simply finished pulling the shirt down over Nana's chest, pulling her into a tight hug. "I'm sure it'll end soon, Nana. Wars can't last forever."
"Oh, I hope so, Lexi. It's about time I come home." She muttered, straightening up and popping her back with a grimace. Lexi released Nana, letting her wander over to the bed and slide under the covers. The sting of oncoming tears pricked at her eyes, but she made sure not to let Nana know that.
"Goodnight, Lexi." She called, smiling as the brunette helped cover her with the comforter.
Giving a wavering smile, she reached over to the lamp. "Night, Nana." With a click, the light went out and plunged the room in darkness. Making her way in the blackness back to the door, she opened it and stepped out into the living room, closing it behind her as quietly as possible.
She turned, stopping when she saw the look on Law's face. Brow fixed downwards, he looked confused and a little shocked. Even Bepo looked on with interest. Frowning, she directed her attention to the tv, which Law was watching intensely. The volume was low so as not to wake Nana, but loud enough to hear when she was standing right near the tv.
"…officials say that they have positively ID'd the victim found in the woods as 24-year-old Cooper Langley of Jefferson County."
Lexi's blood froze, eyes wide as her attacker's picture was displayed on the news report. Penguin and Shachi, who were laying on the floor, watched the two of them quizzically. They did not know the significance of the name or picture.
"Shh!" She shushed, waving at them to stop talking. They did.
"Police say that a jogger found the body this afternoon while on a run down Pikeview Trailhead, calling 911 immediately after the gruesome discovery. Langley's father, Micheal Langley, reported his son missing this morning, after reportedly receiving a call from his son as the attack occurred.
"It's still early into the investigation, but initial reports indicate that Langley was stabbed multiple time with a sharp object. When investigators arrived on scene, they also noted that the victim's hands had been removed. His cell phone was found broken nearby. The murder weapon has not been found."
"Oh my god…" She muttered, covering her mouth with her hand. The tv showed the entrance into the woods, the trail where the scene took place, blocked off by police tape as emergency vehicles and personnel wandered the area. "That's…that's a few blocks from where you and I were last night…" She finished, staring at the screen and missing Law's sharp glance in her direction.
"Police are still investigating who could be behind this heinous crime, but details of this case seem to closely correlate to those of an ongoing string of murders in the surrounding counties. We'll have more details as the investigation proceeds."
The news report switched back to that of the regular newscasters in their headquarters, but Lexi couldn't hear them talking. She was too stunned by what she'd seen and heard.
'Cooper's…dead? He was murdered?' She thought, a mix of emotions swirling in her head. She was relieved, there wouldn't be any chance of running into him anymore. He could no longer hurt her. The other half, the half she was partially disgusted by, wondered what the scene of the crime had looked like. The medically inclined side of her thought about an autopsy and how she'd always wanted to watch one…
…what was wrong with her?
"Lexi-ya? Can you hear me?" He called softly, gaining her attention.
"There's a murderer in our area…" She said softly, not quite sure how to take that information in.
A loud buzzing sound interrupted their conversation, and Lexi saw her phone vibrating on the coffee table where she'd left it before. Picking it up, she swiped the screen and held it up to her ear. "Hello?" She asked, knowing who it would be.
"Did you see the news? Did you see what happened?" Brittany's frantic voice demanded. She sounded breathless, as if she'd just run a marathon.
"Yeah." She answered without emotion.
"Don't get me wrong, he kind of deserved it, maybe…that was pretty brutal I guess, but holy shit there's a murderer in our county."
"Yeah.." She trailed off, staring off into space. Her mind was all jumbled, and it was difficult to form cohesive thoughts. The back of her head felt light, the same feeling before a headache came on. "Listen, I gotta go."
She really wasn't up for talking to Brittany at that moment, and the black-haired beauty seemed to realize this.
"Just…be careful going anywhere, ok? Take one of those exchange students with you if you have to. I don't want you going out alone."
"You too." Lexi said, ending the call. Tossing her phone on the couch, she slumped over on the couch.
"What's going on?" Shachi asked the question for the two of them, Penguin glancing between Lexi and their captain for some indication as to what was happening. All they knew was that some guy was killed and it affected their host somehow.
"Cooper was the guy at the party." She explained, covering her eyes with her arms.
They were silent, then jumped and waved their hands defensively. "Woah, ok, we said we'd kill him for you but we didn't do it! We promise!" Penguin supplied, and Shachi nodded frantically in agreement. Lexi chuckled a little.
"I know, guys. Calm down." They reluctantly sat back down on the floor. Law was being uncharacteristically quiet, having taken a seat once more in the love seat, staring into space. "What's on your mind, Law?"
Her words cut through his trance, and his eyes flickered up to her face. "Simply observing how your world reacts to unexpected death."
"How do you mean?" Lexi cocked her head in confusion, looking back at the weary pirate captain. He shrugged.
"You act as though death never happens," He started gesturing to the news now displaying the weather on the tv, "whereas in mine, death is so common it is registered more as a daily event, rather than a tragedy."
"Hmm. Interesting." She answered, switching her gaze back to the tv. "So you come from a world of murderers, huh? Does that mean you're one too?"
Slowly, Law dipped his head down, shading his eyes under the brim of his hat and blocking Lexi from analyzing his emotions. Simply from the way his jaw tensed, it was obvious he was at least a bit miffed at her question.
"I wouldn't expect you to understand the actions we are forced to take to survive. Call it what you may. I feel no regret for my actions."
She didn't know quite where her bitterness came from, or why she was pushing them away, but anger bubbled up somewhere inside her, and it was directed towards the captain. She couldn't quite place the reasoning why, and it was frustrating to the extreme. But right now, after hearing this news and having no way to take action or really do anything about it left her boiling in her spot.
"I'm going to bed." She announced, suddenly rising from the couch without looking at anyone and making her way to the stairs. Shachi and Penguin said their half-hearted 'goodnights' but she didn't reply.
Before allowing herself to even think about what was going on, she first got ready for bed and lay comfortably in the sheets.
Something about her situation brought her back to a psychology class she took in her first year at the university. A conversation they'd had. The professor, on the first day, had waited until everyone had shuffled in, then paused, searching the faces of the crowd.
"Can any of you tell me," She began once the class had settled, "what the basis of human nature is?"
Lexi remembered sitting in several minutes of silence, waiting for someone to be brave enough to answer. The professor, a thin woman no taller than five and a half feet, had that expression that indicated she would wait as long as it took for a response. Finally, one brave soul raised his hand, and she nodded for him to speak.
"Uh…procreation?" He guessed, and she smiled.
"Not quite, but that is definitely a strong instinct ingrained into the thread-work of humanity." She rambled, then surveyed the room again. "Any other guesses?"
No one answered, simply waited for her to tell them. She folded her hands behind her back and began to pace the front of the room.
"The basis of human nature…" She began, garnering everyone's attention. "…is death." She concluded, confusing many of the students.
"I can see many of you are confused by this statement." She observed, her small smile still in place. "Allow me to explain. Within each and every one of you in this room, lies in wait the makings of a murderer."
Thick, heavy silence filled the room, with dozens of eyes staring at the woman as if she'd suggested turtles could fly.
"Have you ever wondered how such innocent looking people turn out to be the most heinous of killers? How did they come to be that way? Why could we not tell what they were before they were allowed to harm others? That, my dear students, is because the capability of becoming one yourself is ingrained within every single one of you.
"The mind is a delicate organ, and the only one that truly sets us apart from the rest of us. Psychology is the study of behavior, all of which stems from the brain, and in order to hope to understand anything about it, we must look both at the best and worst outcomes.
"Our upbringing, culture, society, past experiences, our environment, and even how we look all affect how our brain shapes and develops. Your thoughts and feelings," She pointed to a random student in the class, "are vastly different from hers." She swung her finger to the opposite side of the room, indicating yet another student. "Or his. Or the person right beside you. None of you have experienced the exact same things in life.
"Most killers who we get the chance to interview describe their turning point as not a single event, but a period of time in which their mind was shaped to accept that what they would do in the future was acceptable. Abuse, neglect, a series of tragic events that built up over time. It could be anything. But it leaves them with thoughts and urges that others who have not shared their pain could never imagine possible.
"Those who choose to exercise these urges become the killers, while the rest of us are left to condemn them for their actions, as right as it may be to do so. And while they took a large part in choosing to commit those crimes, something had to make them that way. Something had to give them that push to pick up the knife or cock the pistol. So my question for you is…just because you've not experienced those specific set of circumstances, are you any different from those you fear?"
Law simply watched her disappear upstairs to her room. He detected a hint of suspicion, or…distrust in her voice, something that he hadn't heard from her since the first few days of their arrival.
Her question held no objective answer. Truly, in his world, everyone was a murderer, in one way or another. Whether by intention or simple ignorance. The constant back and forth of shifting central powers made death commonplace, enough to indicate to the rest of the world how it would function. By taking the lives of those who refused to bend to another's laws.
Law was no fool. To believe that him and his men were any better, ethically speaking, than the marines he so despised was idiocy. There were several instances in which he could think of where his actions had been questionable. Still, defending their lives and taking others in retaliation was nearly the only way to survive, and if that was what it took, then so be it.
Law knew what he was, and what he was capable of. That didn't exactly give Lexi the right to question his integrity. Had their roles been switched, he was willing to bet she would turn out as he had, or die in the process. Although her world was very much different from his own, she didn't understand. She never could.ns 220.127.116.11da2