Author's Notes:

Here's the next chapter, and things are beginning to unfold in this one. I apologize for the late update, but I have been extremely busy with work (which always seems to be busy these days) and my vacation.

I hope you enjoy, and as always please leave your review in the review section.

Chapter 13:

Rico's First Crush!

Dawn's first light began to creep over the horizon, painting the few clouds visible in the sky a soft rosy pink. With a pleasant autumn's breeze brushing through the jungle, the trees swayed in a unified dance. Everything that morning rested under a false veil of peace. Everyone, including Mother Nature herself, remained blissfully unaware of Marco's true intentions, or the evil that continued to bide its time within the northern boundaries of Rio de Janeiro.

As the first few beams of sunlight filtered through the opening of the hollow, Luciano opened his eyes and came awake. He yawned and clicked his beak together as he attempted to shake sleep from his mind. He could feel the breeze. It lulled him, and forced him from the nest. There was nothing he loved more than a beautiful morning, or his family. He peered around the hollow for a couple of moments and stretched his talons to allow the stiffness to disappear from his limbs. The grogginess of just coming awake needed to be lifted off his chest. Without a word he rose up to his full height and cocked his head to one side. He could still hear the sounds of his wife deep within the clutches of a full night's sleep. His son too remained with his eyes closed, though he could tell that the boy was only pretending.

His eyes hardened as he rubbed his wing across his son's back and forced him up onto his talons. The young macaw opened his eyes almost instantly and peered around the room. There wasn't the slightest bit of grogginess or stiffness about him, an obvious conclusion that the macaw had been awake for quite some time. Luciano allowed himself to pass a wicked smile as his suspicions about the boy proved to be true. Despite his feigning innocence, he could not even begin to hide the truth.

"What do you want?" Rico yawned. "Is it morning already? I must say that it came far earlier than I expected."

Luciano stifled a chuckle at his son's antics. It wouldn't get him out of the events which were to take place that day. After all, as son of the grotto's chieftain, he needed to set an example for everyone. He also needed to test the boy to see if he could obey his wishes and begin to take over his place as a good, honest, yet sneak and undetectable thief. He needed to see if the boy believed in justice, and a desire to help those who needed his help.

"Nice try." Luciano swatted him in a stern yet playful fashion. "You were awake, and you and I both know it. Now get ready, you've got some community service to do as punishment for your actions yesterday."

Rico's eyes narrowed. Without a word he peered at his mother who remained sleeping. Luciano could read his thoughts despite the long drawn out silence. The boy continued to feel a sense of lingering guilt and regret. Luciano could see some unshed tears in his eyes. He followed his gaze towards his wife and nodded his head. The elder let his voice ring in a soft whisper.

"Don't worry," he said. "Your mom does not know about what you've done. I thought it would be best if I dealt with you. Remember what I told you yesterday. Obedience and doing the right thing is what you need to do if you wish to begin your training. They should always be your guide if you are to face off with the villains within the world."

Luciano leaned in closer for a minute. He whispered in his son's ear. He kept his voice low. His eyes peered out at the opening of the hollow. He kept a close watch on movement just outside on the branch.

"There's movement outside. I don't know who it is, but I have a feeling that they have been watching us for quite some time." Luciano's voice continued to lower into a more secretive, yet rushed whisper. "The real reason I want you to go to Marco's today, is because I want you to keep a close eye on him. Even though he keeps to himself, he remains strong and determined. These are traits you will want to capture for yourself. You'll want to use them to your advantage. Think of this as training."

Rico's eyes shifted towards the hollow's entrance. He smiled as he saw a small head spying on them. He recognised it almost immediately. He spread his wings and formed a welcoming smile as he addressed the newcomer who studied them.

"Welcome to my home, Angelina." He called out. "Don't just hang outside, come on in."

As if on cue, the young female macaw fluttered into the hollow. She bowed her head low, but kept her eyes on Rico. She held a positive smile on the end of her beak. Her cheerful attitude seemed contagious to the two male macaws who also smiled at the sight of her.

"Hello, Rico." She said a little sheepishly. Her face went bright red as she spoke to him. She couldn't wipe the smile off her face. Before long she turned her attention to the older male. "Good morning, sir."

Luciano lowered his head in returned respect and bowed towards the young female.

"Good morning," he replied. "What brings you here, this morning?"

Angelina cleared her throat and stood to her full height. Her tail feathers drooped as she contemplated her choice of words. She wanted to sound confident in her request, but she didn't want to sound rude or forceful. She peered at Luciano for a moment and grasped his wings with hers.

"Please, sir. May I please speak to Rico in private?" She asked. "It's really important."

Luciano thought about the request in silence for a few moments. He peered back at his son who stood slack jawed and confused by what he heard. He stroked a wing through his feathery crown and tried his best to contemplate an answer. He nodded his head and let out a sigh.

"Very well," he sighed. "But I am afraid that you can't talk to him for long though. He has to do some community service for Marco today as punishment for disobeying my rules."

Angelina nodded her sweet head.

"Please don't be too hard on him, sir." She pleaded. "Rico wasn't trying to cause any problems. I asked him to meet me. So if you're going to blame anyone, it's my fault."

Luciano peered back at his son who stood with his jaw dropped by his friend's admitting to her role. Not one word of what she said held any truth, but she attempted to try and take the heat off of his shoulders. Luciano chuckled to himself and shook his head.

"So you are admitting that it is your fault?" he asked, arching a curious eyebrow. "Well, I can't say that I was expecting that. But since you were brave enough to admit such a thing, even if it would place you in serious trouble, I will go easy on you. You may accompany my son and help him with Marco today. Just make sure you don't disobey any more rules. Do you understand?"

Angelina nodded in understanding.

"I understand, sir." She admitted. "But before we leave, I still must speak to Rico."

# # #

Rico and Angelina stepped out onto the small branch just outside of the hollow. An awkward silence ruled between both birds for several minutes. Neither one knew what to say. Though they knew they needed to say something. Rico's eyes remained wide as he stood in shock from the events the day had already brought into play. He peered into his best friend's clear blue eyes, and tried his best to speak to her. His voice came out shaky as he attempted to make sense of everything he heard while she confided to his father.

"Why, Angelina?" he asked. "Why would you make up a story, and put yourself into the blame for my mistake? Surely you must have known that you would have been putting yourself into some serious trouble."

Angelina avoided his eye contact. She placed her wing against her opposite wing. She didn't really have an answer for her friend. She lowered her head and let her voice slip out in a hushed whisper. Her face went bright red as she began to grow more embarrassed by her confession.

"I didn't want you to get into more trouble." She explained. "All three of us are to blame, not just you. Ricardo protested the idea of coming clean, but I couldn't let you take all of the blame. You are my best friend after-all, and good friends do the right thing especially if we're all guilty on doing something."

Rico formed a nervous smile and tried his best to clear his throat. He shuffled his talons along the branch and tried to force himself to speak clearly. He avoided all eye contact, knowing that his question would be too awkward should he be looking right at her… he couldn't have that. He needed to ask this now, while he still held a clear moment without any distractions.

"Angelina, have you ever considered that there might be more between us than just friendship?"

The young female's eyes widened as she held a wing to her beak. Her face continued to deepen into a bright red. She clicked her beak together as she thought about it for a moment as hard as she tried, she couldn't think up an answer.

"What do you mean?" She asked.

Rico swallowed a large lump of anxiety forming in his throat. He held a wing in his throat and ruffled his feathers as he shook off a slight chill creeping down his spine. He lowered his head further and began to explain himself.

"I mean, do you think it could ever be a possibility to consider me more than just as a friend?"

Before Angelina could take the time to respond, Luciano poked his head out of the hollow. He glared at the two children for a moment and frowned. His eyes hardened and showed his serious mood, his voice reflected a will of iron and demanded respect from the children.

"Okay you two. Your conversation is over. Get going to Marco's or you will never get done your community service today."

Both children let out a sigh and nodded their heads. They didn't argue with their elder. They spread their wings and took to the sky. Luciano watched them disappear from sight and turned to see his wife awaken. She let out a cheerful smile as she eyed him.

"Good morning." She said.

# # #

Marco frowned as he watched two small macaws land within his hollow. He rose up onto his talons and eyed the newcomers. His disgust towards the unexpected arrival of the female seemed very evident, though he tried his best to hide it. His beak curled into a unimpressed sneer as he addressed them.

"Welcome to my home, Rico." He said. "Welcome… girl… I must say I wasn't expecting you."

Angelina bowed her head and tried to avoid the old hawk's stern gaze. She didn't like being in his presence. There was something about him, which frightened her to no end, but she wanted to spend the day with her friend. She wouldn't let him scare her away. She closed her eyes and addressed her elder politely.

"I know. Luciano insisted that I come and help Rico today. I am also responsible for breaking the grotto's rules."

Marco waved his wing in open defiance. He rolled his eyes and glared at the girl with an unwelcoming eye.

"That won't be necessary." He snarled. "The only one who should be here is the boy. He is my main concern. You however, are nothing more than an accomplice. You are nothing more than his lackey. You sicken me…"

Angelina's eyes filled with tears, stung by the scathing insult. She peered at her friend with her peripheral vision. Her beak trembled as she fought back the urge to cry. Rico held out his wing to stop her retreat. He glared at the hawk with an unimpressed expression.

"Enough!" he growled. "Unless you want me to go back and tell my father that you are insulting innocent birds, and questioning his judgement. She has come to help me out… if you don't like it, than tough luck."

Marco's eyes widened as he took note of the macaw's voice. He seemed so certain, so compassionate towards the girl. He chuckled to himself and formed a wicked smile. His eyes went narrow and drew towards the female. He let his voice hint at the macaw's intentions towards her.

"Spoken like a creature in LOVE." He cackled. "Could it be that little Rico, the bird I have watched since he was a newborn chick has a CRUSH."

Rico's face went bright red. He lowered his head and knew that his friend watched him with a shocked expression. He couldn't see her but he knew her eyes widened as she contemplated everything she heard… as if considering the possibility for the first time.

"You know, don't you?" Marco grinned. "You're his weakness. You're the threat to his safety should any evil creature find out. Wouldn't that be a shame, if someone tried to use you to hurt him?"

"I doubt that would happen." Rico protested. "There isn't a single evil creature within this area. I am certain of that. My father would deal with the threat before it became too big. He takes safety seriously."

Marco nodded his head and turned away from the two birds. His eyes shined bright as he thought about his next move. His mind raced with thoughts. He needed to prepare everything for his plan. The girl would play a valuable role in upcoming events. She would ultimately play a hand in the grotto's destruction, Rico's fate, and everything which had been set in motion for the past thirteen years.

"You are quite right, my little friend." Marco cackled. "I'm afraid I have somewhere I need to be today. So just go and enjoy the day with your little girlfriend. I'm sure she wants to spend some… quality… time with you."

Rico bowed his head.

"Thank you," he sighed.

"Of course, my young friend," Marco grinned. "Young love is something far more special than you know."

Marco watched the two birds leave his hollow. He cackled and swung his wing against the nearest wall. His eyes darkened with murderous desires. He hadn't expected the macaw's weakness to appear that easily.

"Young love… what a powerful, yet stupid thing." he grinned. "By tomorrow, that girl will be mine, and Rico will be forced to play my game… a game in which only I shall be the winner."

A puffball bird landed in the hollow. He panted and dropped some flower bulbs upon the ground. He squawked as he eyed the large predatory bird. His fear rooted him to the spot. He couldn't run, or move a muscle.

"Jollo asked me to deliver the flowers to you." He squeaked. "Please don't hurt me… please."

"Get out," Marco growled. "And do not speak a word of this to anyone, or else you'll be the first on my hit list."

The hawk grabbed a flower bulb from off the ground and eyed it for a moment. He admired the oozing blood red liquid for a moment. The poisonous liquid of the orchid seeped upon the wooden flooring.

"Everything is going as planned." He cackled on final time. "This is almost too easy."