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Shifting Gears

Chapter Text


There was the sharp bang of a Glock going off -- once, twice -- then a wet grunt and a resounding splash. The sun was eye-wateringly bright in a cloudless sky.

*

The place even smelled just like Kato remembered. There was a whiff of lemon detergent that always floated in the lobby around 8am, to be replaced later by the smell of people and city air when the door was wedged open to let the breeze in. The new AC unit still wasn't working right since it had replaced the one smashed by a stray volley of bullets, and at this time of summer the heat could get stifling.

His boots squeaked on the still-moist floor.

The inside of the elevator no longer smelled of fresh paint, but rather sweat and carpet wash. Kato drew a deep breath as the doors whooshed open at the executive floor. He was hit by the murmur of fifty people typing and talking, the brightness of window glass and metal-framed furniture, the smell of atrocious office coffee, and Lenore, who nearly ran into him.

"Kato!" she exclaimed, thoroughly failing to drop the stack of folders she was carrying, thus proving there was no truth in television. The cacophony of sensory input switched into focus on the incredible blueness of her eyes.

"Hi, Lenore," he said. "Still remember me, then?"

Lenore stood still for a moment, and then hit him on the shoulder with her folder stack, hard enough to bruise. "That's for running out on us."

Kato rubbed his shoulder. He hadn't expected open arms, perhaps, but it had been six months. "Not even a hello?"

“You incredible, selfish--” She hit him again, and lowered her voice. "Do you have any idea what it's been like to manage – you know – all on my own?" She seemed to recall their surroundings, looked around and grabbed his arm. Kato allowed himself to be steered in the direction of a supply closet and shoved in.

Lenore switched the light on and advanced on him until he had his back to the copy machine. She sparkled with anger. “Kato, since you've been gone there have been two gang take-over attempts and we're now in the middle of a third, which you might say has been something of a success so far. I'm up all nights just doing detective work, which is on top of the research that I have to do for my actual job - you know, the one I'm being paid for, and which isn't exactly nine-to-five either. This would be more than enough if I didn't also have to manage Britt."

Kato lifted his hands. "Lenore, calm down, I'm--" he said, just as she said, "You really messed him up, you asshole."

Kato stopped and stared. So did she. Lenore recovered first. “You're coming back?” Her eyes flickered, and he could tell she was doing her mastermind thing, trying to puzzle him out. He hated it when she did that, mainly because she was so good at it.

They had only spoken once since the night he left, and that hadn't been long after. Lenore had sounded flat and resolved, then. He wondered how much she knew about his reasons for leaving, or the things he and Britt had said to each other that night before Kato had climbed on his motorcycle, driven out of LA and just kept on driving until he'd left California behind. Knowing her, and knowing Britt, probably everything.

“You're not planning on coming back,” she said at last, stepping back and crossing her arms.

“No, never,” Kato said hotly.

“Well, I guess you'd better go tell him that, then,” she said, moving back and opening the closet door. “That's what you're here for, right? You're lucky, because he's in today. He had a couple of meetings with potential investors.”

"Nice to see you too, Lenore," he said. She gave him a wry smile in return, and he pushed past her back to the floor.

Chandra, the office gossip, was slotting coins into the Coke machine not five feet from the closet. He'd hardly expected less – it was a room full of reporters, after all. Luckily Chandra had a dirty mind and would interpret everything she heard according to whatever she'd expected to hear. Lenore was likely to find out second-hand that she'd been having a quickie in the closet with her boss's ex.

Kato took a deep breath, then took off his leather gloves and stuffed them in his pockets, suddenly self-conscious of his riding gear. He could feel curious faces turned towards him as he kept his eyes on the floor. He'd never got very friendly with the office staff despite being the supposed go-between between them and the boss - he'd hardly ever been around, to be honest, and could only name a handful of the people in the room. Some of the faces were new, too. He forced a smile and a hello for the people he recognized, asked after the twins he only just remembered Sweeney's wife had had, and ignored the buzz he left behind as he made his way through.

Axford was standing by the coffee machine in the kitchenette across from Britt's office. He gave Kato a tired look and a pair of lifted eyebrows.

A rattle startled Kato as the blinds in Britt's office windows came down. He hadn't even thought to glance inside for a look at what he was walking into.

"I guess he spotted you," Axford said and saluted with his coffee mug. "Try not to wreck the place this time, will you?"

Kato couldn't be sure whether he meant the time he and Britt had got into a... wrestle, as he finally decided to call it, and wrecked the drinks cabinet, or if he knew about the time they drove a tricked-out Chrysler Imperial through the office. Not that it mattered. Who Britt chose to share these things with no longer had anything to do with Kato.

He steeled himself with remembered anger and pushed open the office door, not bothering to knock.

Britt was standing by the drinks cabinet, downing a glass of something dark brown and almost certainly not suitable for the hour. He turned only halfway when he heard Kato close the door behind him.

"So I hear you haven't quit the game yet," Kato said, "or been arrested."

Britt shot him a look, eyes narrowed, but whether in curiosity or resentment was impossible to tell. Britt looked much the same as he always had -- possibly a little leaner, which was a surprise. He'd always looked good with a bit of - never mind.

Britt put the glass down. "Yeah, who would've thought, right?" he said. "I am good for something after all."

You had Lenore, Kato thought, but he didn't want to start a fight. You never knew where a fight with Britt could go. "It's good," Kato said, looking around the room. It was neat and didn't look remotely lived-in, or even worked-in, but there were some empty glasses and an ashtray on the coffee table. "I'm glad it's working out for you."

"It's not exactly the way I planned it," Britt said.

The man had a lot of nerve. Kato had never liked the way Britt insinuated blame rather than having things out in the open.

"Don't tell me you're thinking of coming back," Britt said, pouring another drink. "Ran out of money and missed all the toys I used to buy you, I guess."

"What?" Kato laughed out loud. "You would go there? You--"

"Yeah, well, what the hell do you want then, Kato?" Britt shouted, twisting around to face him, his face red with anger. "'Cause you made it pretty damn clear it wasn't me!"

"Listen," Kato said, anger rising in answer to anger, "I am not coming back, not now, not ever, not for the 'toys' and yeah, definitely not for you."

The dramatic effect was somewhat lessened when his last word was drowned out by retro hip hop blasting out of Britt's breast pocket. Angry or not, Britt was a 21st century man, so he fished out his cell and turned away. "Hello? Axford? Why? Yeah, I know."

Kato snorted. He was pretty sure that if he caught a glimpse of that screen, the caller ID on it would be Lenore's.

"Dude, are you kidding me? No way. No. Look, I know. All right. All right."

Britt shut the phone and turned back to Kato. The anger wasn't gone, just under control again, etched into his jaw line. He gave Kato one of his searching looks, which were nowhere near as shrewd as Lenore's, even if the guy thought he was goddamn Columbo.

Kato lifted a finger. "No," he said firmly.

"That was Axford," Britt said.

"No it wasn't."

"Okay, it was Lenore. She wanted me to say I had to go to an emergency meeting or some shit so you'd have to wait to say whatever you were going to say, and she'd have time to think of something to make you stay. Which you can forget about, because as far as I'm concerned you can just turn around right now and go back to wherever the hell you've been all these months."

Kato's jaw twitched. "I knew I shouldn't have come back here. Look, Britt, I only came to say--"

Britt held up a hand. "Does any of it include the word 'sorry'?"

"Why the fuck should I apologize?" Kato exploded. "It didn't work out. We had a fight. I left. It happens, Britt! It was not some kind of a personal insult!"

Britt looked like he'd just been slapped in the face, but at least he shut up. Kato sighed. He hadn't meant for this to go this way. "I only came here to wipe the slate clean."

"What does that even mean?"

Kato walked over to the window and looked out over the sun-drenched city. The view was magnificent and intensely familiar, and so deeply linked to the life he'd left behind that it didn't make what he had to say any easier. Britt had been the lodestone of that life.

"I'm going to be law," he said at last. "I'm joining the police force."