Maldoror (maldoror_gw) wrote,

OP Fic: The Lazarus Ploy (CP9-centric)

Yes, I still write OP. Or rather, I'm spring cleaning my hard drive and trying to finish off the couple of fics I had half written and not had the time and energy to work on since.

Multiple POV fic, which is rare for me. Also features a somewhat warmer version of Lucci (though this is not immediately apparent) and a different take on Kaku which is in no way supported by canon :P This was initially planned for one of my PWP prompts (this one was for Lucci/Kaku, Rapport de Force, prompt by Jainas) but then story happened, the R-rating dropped to PG15-rated foreplay, and I kinda lost my handle on it ^^; The story still doesn’t have any claim to depth, I hasten to add.

This story is situated some nine years in the future after the current series. This is not related to any other other of my CP9 stories, it's standalone.

The Lazarus Ploy

The hallway outside the morgue was a grimly appropriate setting for a congregation of CP9 agents. Four of them had gathered by now, those who had their ears to the ground and who'd heard the news. The alleged news. Each of the four felt differently about it, but would not betray their thoughts or act upon it until it was confirmed.

The door to the morgue opened. Corroboration or refutation was now moments away.

If Kaku was aware of the four gazes studying him from various shadows and dark corners of the clinic's basement, he didn't show it. He showed nothing. But there was something in the way he held himself, in the way Director Kalifa closed the door behind them with a harsh clang, that said volumes. CP9 agents survived on instinct and an ability to instantly read a situation (as well as on their ability to spy and kill very well indeed). Four held breaths were released. Four different emotions - from anticipation to a muted sort of regret - were finally acknowledged. The news was almost certainly true, then.

Somo, Essler and Ai weren't in the hallway at that point in time, as they had neither the desire nor the need for speculation. While their colleagues lurked in the corridors and tried to read two people who'd joined CP9 back when the rest of the current rank and file still wore diapers, Ai had bribed the morgue attendant and the three of them were getting the full details without possible misinterpretation in the undertaker's office.

"Yes, I'm afraid Kaku-san identified the remains and confirmed it," said the morgue attendant, looking a little shaky. "The body they found in the water was that of Rob Lucci."

"The king is dead," murmured Essler in the silence surrounding this pronouncement like a circle of gravestones. His sarcasm went ignored by his two colleagues, but not the message. The king was dead. Long live the king. The three young men exchanged weighing glances. Up until now, the three of them had formed a team. Team B, since the Director was 'old school', like the now-deceased king, and had always trusted her two oldest agents above all others. But things were about to change. A lot. Team A was a two-man unit, and it was now missing a half.

"What did the director say?" asked Ai.

The morgue attendant wiped his forehead with a handkerchief that had seen better days. It had bloodstains on the hem; all three CP9 agents recognized them as such out of professional habit. "Um, not much. Just gave the dispositions to take in regards to the remains. The usual."

"Did she look angry?"

The attendant made a squeaky noise of uncertainty.

"She always looks angry," Essler interpreted. Then he poked the attendant in the ribs. "What did Kaku say?"

"Uh." The morgue attendant looked perturbed. "He- he asked me extensive questions about the cause of death. Examined the body despite its, ah, condition. Very, um, very professional. He-" the attendant gave a nervous laughter, "- I guess I was surprised, I'd always heard he and Rob Lucci were, ah, close."

"Partners for 12 years, lovers for 10," said Somo, who had the particularity of only talking in quantifiable facts when he wasn't undercover. His voice was as hard as his numbers as he added, "Why were you surprised?"

"What did you expect?" added Ai. "An emotional outburst?"

"Tears?" sneered Essler.

The attendant took in the three arctic stares directed at him and wilted back against an empty metal gurney, as white as one of his corpses. The three agents turned their backs on the quailing maggot and left without a word. Team A had been slipping for years, shining with past glory only, their power increasingly lost to age. But maggots weren't allowed to cast aspersions on the professionalism of their betters, not within earshot of anyone in CP9.


"It looks like it's you and me," said Ai, pulling up a chair opposite Somo.

Somo glanced up inquiringly. For answer, Ai tilted his chin towards the other side of the refectory.

The place was sparsely occupied. CP9 and its attendants spent a lot of time in the field. But the space left around Kaku's table was still conspicuous. As if the rest of the agency didn't know how he might react, ten days after his partner's death, to a request to pass the salt. Kaku was, at last count, the fourth strongest man in the unit, and though more forgiving of worthless interruptions than his partner had been, he still inspired awe in the lower ranks. This didn't bother Essler, though. He'd gone right up to the older agent and had asked him something, leaning over him, a hand on the table near Kaku's coffee cup. Kaku had put down the papers he was reading and tilted his head up to answer. Ai looked at Essler's body language and sniffed internally. Subtle. Not.

Ai and Somo exchanged glances. So that was that. Essler had made his move, breaking the three-way deadlock between him and his two colleagues. This put Ai and Somo in the same camp and with the same aim by default, and Ai found he liked that much better. He and Essler could never have formed a stable two-man unit, not without some kind of buffer.

"So he's going to try to reform the A Team with Kaku...He might stand a chance, the director relies on Kaku a lot," he said.

Somo nodded, and took another bite of his ragout.

"That leaves two questions: will she think Kaku and Essler can make a strong enough unit to take point on the Big Bad missions, and will Kaku want to group with Essler in the first place? I'm kind of surprised Essler took that gamble. Especially when you hear him scoff about how the two top dogs hadn't got much bite anymore."

"Essler has had the hots for Kaku for 3 years and 5 months," said Somo after wiping his mouth on a napkin.

Ai gave his teammate a surprised look. But if Somo never talked in anything but facts, those facts were, conversely, rock solid.

"Really? Reaaaallly...That explains a lot. So he's hoping it'll be a partnership with benefits. No wonder he had it in for Lucci so badly." Three and a half years ago...? That'd been when Ai, Essler and Somo had risen from the lower ranks of CP9 to the upper echelon and spent some quality time on an assignment with Lucci and Kaku, a qualifying mission to take off the training wheels and let them play with the big boys. The three of them had been respectively seventeen, nineteen and twenty at the time, with a good number of low and medium rank missions beneath their belts, and they'd been quite full of themselves and their abilities. By comparison, their two 'tutors' were has-beens over the age of thirty. It had been painfully obvious to the new generation that this wouldn't be a training mission, it was a passing of the baton, and a well-deserved retirement for their venerable elders.

Kaku had been calm, professional and polite. Lucci had been calm, professional and polite in the most terrifying way imaginable. And then the two old dogs had proceeded to show the up-and-coming puppies that they could still teach some new tricks when it came to infiltration, counter-espionage and elimination (CP9's current charter had replaced the word assassination with its politer counterpart, as well as directing its 'eliminations' towards targets in enemy nations and the criminal underworld rather than innocents. A court of justice would still not have approved, but nobody thought to ask them).

Ai had been fast gaining on Kaku's douriki level back then, and even Lucci had been in his sights, but he'd been left with a feeling of respect towards his elders and the knowledge of all he still had to achieve. Essler hadn't been anywhere near as positive. Tthat look he'd given Lucci on leaving would have justified a hard-knuckled reprimand in itself, and maybe Lucci insulted him even more by ignoring it. Essler had since then coveted Lucci's position in CP9, especially when he'd managed to raise his power levels above those of the aging senior agent. And it seemed that Lucci's position wasn't all Essler had coveted.

"Essler sure aims high," Ai concluded. "Always has. Well, if that's his tack, let him take it. He might wind up teamed with Kaku, and he might even end up in the guy's bed if Kaku shows a lapse in taste, but that won't make them A Team. That will be you and me. Assuming, of course, that sleeping together isn't mandatory. That'd leave us two straight guys high and dry."

"You're only 80% straight," his colleague informed him, reminding Ai why nobody ever cracked a joke with 'Specs' Somo.

Ai chewed that over for a few seconds before deciding to let it drop.

The two of them watched Essler maneuvre at Kaku's table for awhile. It was rather sickening.

"Kaku's too nice for that guy," Ai muttered against his better judgement.

"Essler's nice too when he sets himself to it. I put his chances of success at 30%, though that is only an estimate based on incomplete observation."

"Right," said Ai absently. Somo meant 'nice' as in 'greasy, opportunistic weasel who can be charming when he wants to be' while Ai had meant 'genuinely decent guy for a spook'. Kaku was strict with the other agents in CP9, but not in the gut-wrenching way Lucci had been. Kaku had been like everybody's big brother from the moment they could prove themselves. Sure, his douriki levels were lower than Ai's by now, but Ai still respected him for both his past services and his present experience and skills. Yet Ai was clear-sighted enough to know that all these things didn't necessarily mean Kaku had a terrific taste in lovers. Just look at his now-deceased ex...Kaku was too nice for Essler and he'd been way too nice for a stone-cold killer like Rob Lucci, however much blood had cemented them together. So yeah, Essler had his chances in all likelihood.

Kaku was nodding in response to what Essler was saying, something about a mission from what Ai could catch from Essler's lip movements. Essler was worming his way in. Kaku had been...cold, for want of a better word; that space around him wasn't just there because of the assumption of others. A CP9 agent didn't show grief, didn't show anger at his lover's violent death, and that very absence of what should be there created a vacuum that sucked the heat out of a ten-foot space around him. Ai weighed Essler's chances of putting a little warmth in there and thought 30% was generous.

Kaku cut short his polite answer to Essler and got abruptly to his feet. "Excuse me," he said absently before going after the director, who'd just crossed the refectory with her fourth cup of tea en route to her office. Essler was left with a few papers and an empty coffee mug at a vacant table.

Ai made a soft "wheeeee-kaboom!" under his breath and Somo snorted.

"But Kalifa-"

"That's 'Director Kalifa', unless you believe that my being female allows you a certain familiarity and the right to skip protocol," said the director in a voice that suggested an accusation of sexual harassment - and the steep penalty now rigorously imposed for same - was about to follow closely. There wasn't a man alive who would dare harass CP9's current director, sexually or otherwise, but Director Kalifa found the ploy effective in derailing any male's argument, and she never hesitated to use it.

The raised voices had drawn everyone's attention. All agents present were assiduously concentrating on their lunches while ears strained to overhear. There'd been rumors of discord amongst the one-time colleagues. It was well-known that Kaku wanted to head the investigation into Lucci's murder by an as-yet-unknown criminal organisation, and it was equally well-known that Kalifa didn't want him to. Ai approved of her decision. Kaku was a sterling agent, but he'd obviously gotten too close to this case. Couldn't blame him. Ai, unlike some of his colleagues, didn't go for the 'control your emotions' approach; emotions could be useful. They could also be traps, which was why he was personally never going to have anything but the most casual of relationships with anyone, and never a fellow agent.

As Ai looked away from the argument, he caught Essler watching him. There wasn't the faintest hint of defeat in Essler's expression. The smile he directed at Ai and Somo was self-confident - good luck, losers, you're going to need it - before he sauntered over to where the argument had descended into intense, chilly whispers. Ai watched Essler put a hand on Kaku's shoulder, turn towards Kalifa and add his voice in support to Kaku's request. He was making a case for both of them going after Rob Lucci's killers, which, seeing what Essler intended to do if he and Kaku partnered up, and what Essler had always thought and said about Lucci, was chutzpah of the highest order. But Director Kalifa was listening, and Kaku was looking at Essler in surprise and even with a flicker of gratitude.

"Son of a bitch," said Ai, both disgusted and, as a CP9 agent himself, reluctantly impressed.

"40% and rising," agreed Somo.


Kaku had fallen into the habit of taking long solitary walks along the sea-side cliffs of Mariejoie. It helped reinforce the impression of an agent battling repressed grief, and more importantly it gave him leeway to slip out of sight for the night, though it took some work to get away from that pest Essler. Six weeks of letting that kid come onto him while keeping up the whole wounded-heart-beneath-the-mask routine...To make it all worse, Kalifa thought the whole thing was funny. It almost made Kaku regret the good old days of Spandam's half-baked plans.

His boot crunched in the gravel as he neared the cliff. A last glance around to make sure he wasn't being followed, and then Kaku launched himself off the sheer surface and tumbled down to the shore two hundred feet below. Wheeee!

He landed with an elastic bounce that put him within a yard of the boulder on which a scarred and disreputable-looking sailor sat splicing rope.

"You still gotta make an entrance, mountain monkey," was all the grumbled greeting he got.

Kaku nodded. "It's good to see you again, Jyabura. How's life as a freelance gun treating you?"

"Can't complain. Being my own agent is damn good. I got overhead and shit like that, but at least I don't have the harpy lording it over me."

"Right. Is Gyatharine doing well?"

"Doin' fine too, she keeps our accounts straight and she's the one who gets the contracts- hey, what are you implying?!"

"Oh, absolutely nothing. So, how's our favorite dead body?"

"Wrong on both counts," Jyabura grunted, pulling the rope tight with a jerk.

Kaku cocked his head. "Hm?"

"He's your favorite body, not that I ever wanted to know that much, and he's anything but dead. Though I grant you I rather like the notion of him being deep-sixed after the past two months of putting up with him."

"Have you two been fighting the whole time?"

"He's the one who starts it!" said Jyabura, hurling down the rope as if it had personally annoyed him for far too long. "Him and his fucking pigeon! Do you have any idea-"

"More than you can possibly know, Jyabura. Look, stay out here and take a break. You can keep watch for intruders. I'll be thirty minutes. Then we can-"

Jyabura's explosive "Hah!" rang out all the way to the top of the cliffs. "Forget that! I'm gonna go for a long walk along the beach, and I'm not comin' anywhere near this place till dawn. This creek's off the maps, nobody comes here, you don't need a lookout."

"We're doing an information check-in, I'll be half an hour at most-"

"Yeah, right, pull the other one, herbivore. Like that time in Mariejoie. 'Hey, Jyabura, come get us in an hour' and when I open the door-"

"That was only the one time."

"- do you know how much I had to drink to get the image outta my head? You owe me a liver, man. I'm not coming anywhere near this boat until you two nuts get it out of your system and that's final. It's bad enough I'm spending months on end pretending to be a down-on-his luck buccaneer shacked up on a one-tonne schooner with the fuckin' pussy-cat, you want me to catch you two doin' that again? Ack, get outta my way." And Jyabura stomped off, the dramatic effect somewhat ruined by the sand beneath his sandals.

Kaku shook his head and headed up the gangway. Jyabura's assumption was insulting. He'd lost some of his moral fiber if he thought Kaku and Lucci could be so easily distracted from important mission parameters by mere sexual impulses.

Kaku turned a corner and found himself looking down a flight of stairs into a poky cabin at water-level. Framed by the door, Lucci sat on a chair with his legs stretched out and crossed before him. Hattori was dozing on his shoulder. The pigeon was wearing a little skull-and-bones bandana over its head, as always an echo of his master's apparel. His master who was dressed in a pirate's crude sleeveless vest that fit tight around his chest, cut low at the neck in a fashion that displayed the medallion he was wearing, a golden doubloon that was popular amongst corsairs. It was just a part of the disguise that Lucci was wearing with a great lack of enthusiasm, but it had to be said that the decoration did interesting things to the hard lines of his shoulders, chest and throat. Holy shit, thought Kaku, then tried to pretend he'd been impressed by his colleague's thoroughness in pursuing his undercover role.

Their eyes met and Kaku felt a familiar thrum run through his veins. But they were two serious men on a serious mission. Distractions were not welcome.

Even if Jyabura was going to be away until morning.


The round-up of facts took half an hour. Nothing was written down. Lucci recorded every piece of new information in his head, lined them up with others and added a few more inches of rope to the noose closing around their targets. The only piece of paper involved was a copy of treasonable material sent by one high government official to another, as well as money transfers Lucci had intercepted. Kaku looked them over in a businesslike manner and folded them into a small courier pouch to give to Kalifa later.

"That wraps it up," he said, getting to his feet.

It looked like Kaku's time here was limited. Lucci felt a twinge of disappointment, which he promptly murdered and buried in a mental cellar. If Kaku was buggering off now, it must be for an important mission-related reason, and the fact that they hadn't seen each other in months or gotten laid in all that time made no difference whatsoever.

"Make sure you tell Kalifa not to let the finance minister's aide get away," Lucci said, turning back to his mental data. "He's the most astute of the lot, and the one who can do us the most damage. Do we need to meet again?"

"Doubtful. The targets have gotten careless since your unfortunate demise and my apparent collapse into a pathetic wreck out for revenge," Kaku said genially. But Lucci, with the familiarity acquired over more than a decade, picked up an edge of annoyance behind the satisfaction. Had something happened? It must be non-critical to the mission, or Kaku would have brought it up. It had to be personal instead. That made it less important to know, but a whole lot more interesting. Lucci could have asked, but his instincts told him Kaku would brush it off, and pressing his partner would put Lucci at a slight disadvantage in the ten year old game they were playing. So Lucci would ask Fukurou instead, once this damn mission was over. Fukurou was now a team leader in the Intel division and not even posted on the same island anymore, but he would know what was going on, oh yes, he would know, and he would definitely adore telling Lucci the unimportant yet very interesting details of what the latter had missed in his months of being dead.

Kaku, already at the foot of the stairs, tapped the papers in their pouch with the back of his hand. "I think this is all going to go down before the month is out, but I'll send word through our network if we need another meeting before then."

"You mean you'll send word via a greedy bitch of an ex-waitress and the mangy mutt wrapped around her little finger. Don't dignify that with the name of 'network'."

"Now now, be nice, they're helping us out a lot," said Kaku, the only man on the planet who'd dare to tell Lucci to be anything, particularly 'nice'. He paused halfway up the steps leading out of the under-deck to check his surroundings. A half moon, starlight and the white cliffs beyond the boat framed his shoulders, then his back, thighs and those damned long legs as he reached the deck. Lucci terminated a drop of frustration and interred it next to his previous mental victim.

Kaku looked around, like the prudent agent he was. Then he reached up and zipped open his top, a long slow zzzzzzzz. He slipped it off, pulled up his t-shirt and languidly slipped the courier satchel into his belt, arching his back a little, a flash of skin showing white in the moonlight. He tucked the shirt back over the pouch and turned back towards Lucci, leaning both arms against the upper frame of the hatch, hips tilted at an angle that left nothing to the imagination.

Lucci had by now figured out that he was going to get laid tonight, but it wasn't going to be a quick roll in the sheets. It was going to be the game...

"Jyabura is still taking his looooong walk along the beach," Kaku said lazily with a last look around outside. "That guy...he thinks we have no self-discipline."

A few choice things to say about Jyabura and self-discipline came to Lucci's mind, but he stayed silent. He had an intuition where this was going, just from that short sentence. That sentence, and many, many years of this game.

"He thinks we're going to be all over each other the minute his back is turned." Kaku shook his head. "Does he think our control has eroded that much, just because we've been playing a role for five years?"

Lucci was almost entirely certain this was the game, but if it wasn't and Jyabura's big mouth had in some fashion cost him a good lay tonight, the wolf Zoan was about to find out what neutering was like.

"There's certainly nothing wrong with your self-discipline," added Kaku with a respectful nod.

"I should hope not. If you have a point, get to it."

"Nope, no point, just honest admiration. How long have we been partners now?"

"Is this amnesia of yours a recent event?"

Kaku's hitch of a smile said, fine, pretend you're not playing, but you're still following my rules. "The strength of your determination is really admirable. So much focus. On the mission, I mean. It's quite a thrill to watch."

The way he said that word, 'thrill'...Lucci would have jumped him at that point if Kaku wasn't outside. A crucial piece of the five-year mission they were about to wind up hinged on a lot of people thinking Lucci was dead, and Lucci wasn't about to compromise the safety of his government, his duty towards justice and the satisfying bloodshed that was soon to occur over an impulse.

"Hmmm, I bet if I came onto you right now, you'd just stay seated in that chair and you wouldn't lay a hand on me whatever I did..."

Hattori suddenly chuckled and hopped off of Lucci's shoulder to flutter to the nearby table. Even the pigeon could figure out where this was going now. Hattori preened a feather, glanced at his human and at Kaku, and then leaped into the air and flapped up and out of the cabin. Maybe he'd go find that idiot Jyabura and take a dump on his head.

The rules for this match were laid down, the gauntlet thrown. Lucci said nothing and didn't move from his chair, which was all the acquiescence needed. They were both old hands at this game, they could take shortcuts.

Kaku walked slowly back down the stairs. Hands in his pockets, he circled the chair once, twice...A giraffe zoan really had no business exuding that much predatory intent.

He stopped directly behind Lucci. Of course, Lucci's blind spot. Where else would he have stopped?

Silence. Lucci could not tell what the bastard was doing, if anything. Was his lover moving? Not a single stir in the air-

"So controlled," Kaku whispered right next to Lucci's ear.

Lucci didn't twitch. Not even when two hands settled on his shoulders. He acted like the electric tingle that had gone through his body hadn't happened at all, because that was part of the game. All of this, Kaku staying behind him, the words, the very lightness of the touch, were challenges, dares. Kaku knew damn well Lucci hated to turn his back on anybody if he could help it. And considering how Kaku touched Lucci at other times, as if stress-testing his endurance, the contrast to this caress was a violence in itself. Ten goddamned years of this and Kaku could still keep him on edge. And that was where the greatest pleasure was, in the game, in the savage control that ratcheted lust up and up until the final snap-...

Next time it would be Lucci's turn. He wasn't as subtle, but he had the god-given instinct of finding the weakest spots, the shatter points, the little handles that could twist small pains into pleasure until he was the one in complete control, Kaku breaking beneath him, lips bitten blood-red in a useless effort to keep from screaming Lucci's name-...Then it was once more Kaku's turn to play with fire. There'd been an attempt to keep score back when they'd started this, in their effort to pretend this was an actual contest rather than attraction, lust and twisted affection. They still called it 'the game' after all these years, but the fact of the matter was that Kaku, despite having half of Lucci's strength, still tempted him with his inventive little dares, and played him and defeated him - him - and that meant Kaku had already won the game long ago, as much as Lucci disliked admitting it.

"Let's see," Kaku murmured, and the fingers did a little dance of duress against Lucci's nerve endings as they traced the leather cord holding that bloody stupid medallion, down to the gold warmed by Lucci's skin. Kaku's mouth was still close to Lucci's ear, and Lucci could feel the way his lover smiled at the sensation, his breath quickening a fraction. A fingertip dragged the doubloon up to one side until it swung back like a pendulum. The fingers ghosted down Lucci's bare arms, applied fingertip pressure against his wrists, forced him to uncross his arms and let them hang loose at his side. "There you go, you look relaxed now."

"I am relaxed," Lucci sniffed. Shortcuts into the game were one thing, but now it was on, and Kaku wouldn't want an easy victory anymore than Lucci wanted to give him one. Where was the pleasure in that?

"Of course you are," said his partner in Lucci's ear in precisely that indulgent tone of voice, with an effect on Lucci's grip that would normally not be accomplished even with whips and chains.

Kaku straightened up, circled the chair until he faced Lucci. He'd put down his top and the papers at some point in the last two minutes. The oil-lamp's flicker danced on broad shoulders beneath a black tee, pale skin and scars on his bare arms like a tiger's stripes. Kaku put his hand on the chair's back, wrists barely brushing Lucci's shoulders, making blood thrum through the latter's skin with the sheer nearly-there ache of it. He sat down on Lucci's lap, slowly. The heat between two bodies burned in the space where they nearly touched as if they already had nothing between them but skin.

"Stoic," Kaku murmured sardonically and leaned forward until his lips brushed Lucci's. His fingers tangled tantalizingly in Lucci's hair, lightly caressing the back of his head - if the bastard scratched his ears like last time, there was going to be hell to pay.

Then Kaku's fingers gripped and pulled.

Head bent back, mouth crushed and forced opened and invaded, Lucci didn't move. Because instinctively shoving the lunatic off and optionally breaking something would have been losing control and conceding defeat. Lucci could feel his heart hammering at the violence and the way he was forcing himself to sit there and take it, and his fingers tightened on the seat of the chair.

"See what I mean?" said Kaku, breath brushing sensitized lips. "Like a rock."

The son of a bitch was well-positioned to know exactly how true that was...

Lucci had a sudden picture of what he looked like, sitting on his chair like a schoolboy. The hiss slipped his control and sounded way too irritated.

Kaku leaned back and cocked his head. "What now?"

"It appalls me," Lucci muttered.


"That all those numbskulls in the agency think I'm the twisted one."

A breath of laughter touched his lips. "They're not wrong. Remember that time in Equadora? I couldn't walk for an hour afterwards and I was the one on top."

Lucci definitely remembered. He could also think of a host of counter-examples. If those simpletons at the agency who assumed Lucci was the aggressive dominant in this relationship could see them now, they'd have a reassessment of the power dynamics involved.

Kaku tipped his head back and gave the ceiling an unfocused look. "It'll all be over soon, and we can get back to normal, assuming we remember what that's like anymore. And then those numbskulls as you say-..."

Lucci looked up from where he was admiring the curve of that long neck (and making truly evil plans regarding it for the next time it was his turn to play). "What, tired of being a babysitter?"

"Tired of playing good cop."

"That's surprising, I'm not tired of playing bad cop at all."

"I bet you're not. Are you even sure it's an act?" A finger wound idly through Lucci's hair. Kaku's mouth had that one-sided quirk again, never seen outside of these moments. Lucci knew what the natural set of that mouth was - and how much more grim and foreboding than the brats knew - and knowing that, it was amazing how appealing that small, intimate upturn of the lips could be.

"Just between you and me?" Lucci whispered in the two inches that separated them. "It wasn't really that hard. Now ask me what it was like pretending to let age rob me of two thousand douriki."

"You're a martyr to justice," Kaku said gravely and then laughed, a low soft sound that understood and assuaged the daily grind of keeping up the sham, as well as the faint, lingering fear that it might one day come true..."Come on, no more thinking about those kids tonight."

Fingertips touched Lucci's chest, wormed their way between buttons, gently teased skin and then raked across a nipple to see if it would make him jump. It didn't, but the night was young.


It was a bitter pill to swallow. Not only was the whole of A Team alive and well, but they'd been in charge of an ultra-secret operation to clean out the government, rounding up the perpetrators of a massive fraud and derailing the preparations of a coup d'état. The only plus side to all this as far as Ai was concerned was that he was looking right at Essler's face when they heard the news. Every cloud has a silver lining, though in this instance it was more of a violent shade of green.

A busy period followed as every member of CP9 hit the field to tie up loose ends, and occasionally wrap them around some perpetrator's throat. It was over a week before Ai staggered back to his room in the new Tower of Justice and slept like a rock until habit got him up at six AM.

All the other agents were still out on cleanup duty or sleeping. Ai headed like a sleepwalker through empty hallways towards the gym. It was Team B's routine when they were between jobs. The three of them were given some pretty hard-to-handle enemies after all, and training themselves individually and as a group was going to make the difference between winning one for the World Government and ending up buried in an unmarked grave.

Somo and Essler were already waiting for him. Essler still had that sour look on his face. Ai and Somo weren't all that transcendently pleased at the return to their former status quo either, but CP9 agents were above all pragmatists. The three of them were stronger together, and that was that. It was what would get their B Team its upgrade in the alphabet eventually. And the day that happened, the words 'you will love your teammate like a brother, even the slimy backstabbing one' would still not be part of CP9's field guide. Ai was okay with it, as long as he got to do the job.

...Man, Essler really did look sour today. And the last time Somo had frowned like that, someone from Intel had made a mistake in the number of guards around a target. What-...

A little frisson of foreshadowing ran down Ai's spine as if it was in a hurry to be somewhere else.

"Ah, so you made it," said someone who'd been out of sight from where Ai stood in the doorway. "I was suggesting to your friends that you boys help me with my warm-up this morning."

Ai looked over at Lucci in suspicious surprise. In the five years he'd known the man, Lucci had always been an ice-cold killer with no sense of humor and a lethal aura that could make children wail from ten feet away. But now Lucci was smiling. Not even murderously; it was a little amused corner smile that implied he not only knew a really good joke, but he was looking right at it. It was like seeing a completely different man, a more relaxed one, someone who could appreciate the finer pleasures in life such as challenging three younger, stronger men who didn't like him much right now to provide him with a 'warm-up'.

Ai wasn't as strong as Essler and he wasn't as smart as Somo, but he made up for it by having exquisite instincts. They were now telling him he should have stayed in bed this morning.

Well, that was as brutal as I thought it'd be, thought Ai, staring at the ceiling. If he just stayed flat on his back, it didn't hurt quite so much. Besides, he'd blacked out earlier when he'd tried to roll over and stand up. Before his vision had gone dark, he'd caught a grin from Lucci. The grin said, 'I'm pleased to see you're still willing to fight, that's what I expect from an agent I helped train, but it won't stop me from kicking you like that again if you don't stay down.'

Somo was counting stars somewhere off to Ai's right, and from the sounds coming from the left, Essler was getting chewed over. Ai glared at the ceiling. All three of them at once. Fuck it all, just how deep had this undercover operation run?

"Not too bad. Just not good enough," said Lucci. He sounded like he was enjoying himself, in the way of a cat with three blind mice at his disposal. The comment had been meant for Essler, Ai nearly missed it over the tinnitus ringing in his ears.

Ai let his head flop towards the left and was grimly pleased when he stayed conscious. Essler and Lucci were ten feet away. Essler was trying to twist his way out of a headlock and looked furious enough to kill, not that he was going to be doing much of that right this minute.

"You- fucking-"

"Is that any way to talk to your elders?" Lucci asked. His smile was as pleasant as rusty wire. He'd picked up a couple of bruises on his forearms and one on his chin, and that was all.

"Fuck- how- many douriki- do you have- you freak!" snarled Essler, which was what Ai had been wondering.

Lucci laughed. It was an unpleasant sound even by the standards of a profession that came packaged with a fair amount of screams and death rattles.

"Just think of this as a growing experience. A valuable one. It's in thanks to your contribution to our mission."

Essler made a wheezy noise, more lack of oxygen than interrogation.

"You're the one who kept shooting your mouth off about how I was losing my edge, aren't you," Lucci murmured. "It was invaluable to our cover, since you so obviously believed it yourself."

The headlock put Lucci's mouth close to Essler's ear. Ai had to strain to hear what was being said.

"It was ambitious to try to take over my spot in the agency. I expected no less of the three of you. I hope you won't give up. It's good to have a little competition now and again. But..."

Essler went suddenly very still as if the hold around his neck had tightened in order to get his full attention.

"But trying to hop into my bed before the sheets were even cold...don't you think that was a little tacky?"

The breathless silence was broken when Lucci glanced over his shoulder as if someone had called his name, though Ai hadn't heard anything. "What's so funny is that you thought it was a good move," he added softly, still looking around. "It wasn't, and not only for my inability to gracefully lie down and die. You and Kaku? You should thank me, boy. He'd have eaten you alive."

He released his hold, spilling Essler into the dirt, and stood up. Ai followed Lucci's exit with his eyes and realized they had an audience. Director Kalifa stood at the far door leading out to the sparring yard; she was dressed in her usual business suit, a cup of tea in hand and an expression on her face that said this was as good as the morning newspaper as far as entertainment value went. Kaku was beside her, and his odd little smile as he watched Lucci walk towards them buried the last few shreds of Ai's illusions about his elders.

Apparently he still had a few things to learn as an agent of CP9...



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