Two months after the epic clusterfuck that ended with a dead handler, a wounded Vice President, a costly series of public relations coverups, and a nice step up the corporate ladder for CIA agent William Cooper, he returned to his office late one afternoon to find the door slightly ajar and the lights already on inside. The blinds were as he'd left them -- three-quarters closed, occluding any visitor he might have -- and a quick glance around the blandly busy office behind him turned up no carefully watching co-workers.
In any ordinary office, that might have been enough checking to justify blithely walking on in and assuming his assistant had simply been careless. Cooper's office -- and his job -- were rather more than ordinary, though; and the sharpest of the CIA's current crop of assassins felt his skin prickle with sudden caution at the thought that it wouldn't even be the first time that year someone with mayhem in mind had trespassed on his turf. His pulse picked up a few notches, then settled into a steady background drumbeat; his focus narrowed down, picking up in clarity and speed what it sacrificed in wider perception. He took a calm breath, eased his service weapon out of its holster, then pressed his fingertips against the glass, shifting his weight for maximum readiness.
Nothing happened; no sound, no evidence of who might have entered, and his nerves tightened another notch. In his line of work, less sign of obvious danger was often cause for more worry -- especially since he'd made the acquaintance of a certain group of his trainers' trainers' generation who still hadn't figured out what the word 'retirement' meant. He took another breath, then shoved the door open and entered the office in one fluid, sweeping movement, shifting the SIG-Saeur to cover each section of revealed space from the likeliest position of an intruder to the least.
Nothing moved but the blinds disturbed by the swift movement of the door, swishing slightly back and forth as they settled again. Cooper allowed himself to relax infinitesimally as he shook his head at his own caution, then turned back to push the door closed -- and froze, the muscles of his thighs and forearms tightening like overwound springs. He didn't know what had warned him: some indefinable trace of awareness, probably prompted by a subtle scent out of place or the susurrus of restrained breathing. He shifted his grip on the SIG and swiveled again, aiming at the space directly behind him -- and let out an explosive breath as the cause of his paranoia lifted calm, empty palms and raised coolly arched eyebrows at his expression.
"Jesus," Cooper said, shifting his finger a fraction off the trigger. "I could have shot you. What the hell are you doing here?"
Former agent Frank Moses, designated R.E.D. and the most troublesome target ever to evade his designated fate at Cooper's hands, looked much as he had the last time he'd stood in that office. Bald, smooth shaven, crows'-feet and smile lines gentling a face that otherwise could have been carved from stone, casual business wear draped over a fitter body than most men half the guy's age could claim, even in the CIA -- he was hands down the deadliest 'old' man Cooper had ever met. He was the reason half the furniture and accessories decorating Cooper's office still had that factory fresh scent.
Up until the moment Cooper had pressed that cuff key into Moses' hands at the end of the Dunning mess, he hadn't been able to decide which emotion he felt more strongly toward the former agent: fierce loathing, or grudging admiration. There were talented agents in the CIA, and there were old agents, but there were very, very few old and talented agents on Cooper's playing field, and if Henry down in records was to be believed Moses was by far the best of them. He'd certainly flattened Cooper faster than any other hand-to-hand opponent had managed in years; and if Cooper hadn't got his hands on his weapon that day to even matters out -- well. The results spoke for themselves. They'd both walked away from that encounter considerably the worse for wear.
But they had walked. Subsequent events had eventually put them on the same side; and Cooper'd thought they'd evened the scales and gone their separate ways in peace. What the hell had he done to deserve the pleasure of another visit?
Moses eyed him with cool amusement, then reached out with a casual hand to nudge the barrel of the SIG out of alignment. "That's cute," he said, a wry curl at the corner of his mouth. "How've you been, Coop? Or -- sorry, never asked. Do you prefer Bill? How 'bout Willy?"
Cooper sighed, then holstered the SIG, irritation boiling up in his veins to replace the ebbing flow of adrenaline. Legend he might be, but Frank Moses could also be an utter pain in the ass -- and if he had any real reason to attack him this time, Cooper had no doubt there'd already be blood on the carpeting.
"Cooper will do," he said, firmly. "And I suspect you know as much about what goes on around this place as I do." He gestured vaguely toward the world beyond his office door.
"Yeah, well," Moses shrugged, a touch of sheepishness softening his expression. "There's only so much exercise and maintenance a guy can do in a tiny apartment like Sarah's, and I'm not exactly a green thumb, so the community garden's a bust. I've got to keep busy somehow."
Cooper narrowed his eyes his eyes at that, mistrustful of the light undertone to Moses' words. "Don't tell me you're here because you're bored," he said.
Moses grinned at him by way of reply, deliberately baring his teeth. "Not exactly," he said.
"What, then, exactly?" Cooper replied warily.
"More like -- in the mood for a spar? My training bag doesn't exactly fight back, and it's been a few weeks since the last time I had to really work for it." Moses flexed his fingers, then braced the knuckles of one hand against the palm of the other and popped them, the sound like a cluster of ordnance going off.
Cooper opened his mouth to reply -- then closed it again as memories of their last fight flashed back in slices of vivid texture and color. The heft of the paperweight in his hand before he threw; the give of flesh under his fist as he landed a solid hit; the burn of muscle pushed to its limits; the crack of the flatscreen against his back and the smack of smooth tabletop mashed against his cheekbone; the searing pain of a dislocated shoulder; and the sweaty warmth of another strong body straining against his. The raw thunder of survival instincts blotting out all higher thought; the hot, metallic taste of his own blood; the buck of the weapon in his hand.
It had been a few weeks on his side, too, he realized, thinking of all the time he'd wasted cleaning up Wilkes' mess since he'd handed a slightly damaged Vice President back into the care of his Secret Service detail. And even if it hadn't been -- a gauntlet had just been thrown down. An offer of a rematch.
Moses flexed his other hand, repeating the treatment, and Cooper snorted, then reached for his tie and started loosening the knot. "If you think you can keep up with me, Grandpa," he drawled, deliberately exaggerating his accent as his pulse began to pick up again in anticipation. "It has been awhile since I had a good workout."
Moses' grin shifted to something darker, lids drooping lower over green eyes, a smirk all sharp edges and satisfaction. "We'll see, kid," he replied readily. "We'll see."
Cooper stepped out of his car that evening wrung out, sore, sporting the beginnings of a truly nasty black eye among other souvenirs -- and still riding the trailing edge of an intense adrenaline rush.
He smiled at his wife as she opened the door, then leaned in to greet her with a kiss, heedless of his scratched face and split lip. "Hey," he said.
Michelle accepted the press of his lips against hers, then pulled back a little, scrutinizing the evidence of his injuries. "Hey yourself," she replied, shaking her head slightly at him. "I see you had fun today."
He gave her a sheepish shrug, still feeling too good to be very apologetic. She'd thought he'd had a normal job -- at least as 'normal' as a guy who worked for the CIA could be -- until Moses had broken into their house and disabused the entire family of that notion. Since then, she'd paid a little more attention to the condition he came home in -- and started reserving her concern and sympathy for more severe signs of injury. It had felt strangely good to know that his wife knew he was a badass now, and respected him for it. Still, she seemed a little -- less dismayed than he would have expected about today's damage? He followed her as she turned and led him down the entry hall, wondering what else was on her mind that day.
The answer became apparent as soon as they stepped into the living room. Michelle stopped just inside the door, shaking her head at someone else seated by the coffee table. "He's home; and it looks like you were right," she said, a rueful tone in her voice.
Cooper furrowed his brow at the lack of introduction -- then froze, for the second time that day, at the identity of his unexpected visitor.
Sarah Ross looked up from the half-empty mug of tea in her hands and gave him a thorough once-over, gaze skimming from the scuffed toes of his work shoes to the loosely re-knotted tie at his throat. Then she gave him a luminous, unexpected, knowing smile.
"I suppose I'd better head home and feed the conquering hero," she said, "if he looks anything like you do." Then she set down her mug and stood. She approached right into his personal space bubble, then reached out to skim along one stinging cheekbone with soft fingertips.
He let her, not sure what she wanted but sure he wasn't going to do anything to upset her; he remembered very clearly how confident she'd been in Moses' ability to make him regret it even when they'd had her securely in custody, and also knew all too well why a man like Moses would value a civilian partner in the first place. He glanced up over her head at his lovely and long-suffering wife, who stood with her arms crossed over her chest and an amused smile on her lips -- and at that moment, it occurred to him for the first time that with their dark hair, pale skin, similar features and near-identical height Michelle and Moses' girlfriend could pass for relatives. Sarah's eyes were darker, though -- and crinkling up at him at the moment, even more amused than his wife's at his befuddlement.
"It was nice to see you again, Miss Ross," he managed to say, falling back on politeness. At least with her, he didn't have to worry about whether he was taking his life in his hands, just talking to her.
"You too, Agent Cooper," she said, smile widening in response. Then she stretched up and replaced fingertips with whisper-soft lips in a quick, impersonal kiss. "And -- thank you," she added. "He's been impossible for days. He says he wants a normal life now, but just between us? I think he's even less suited for that than Victoria and Ivan. It's good for him to get out and play with the other children sometimes." She sounded very satisfied with herself.
"...You're welcome?" he replied, choosing the least loaded of the available responses that came to mind, and turned to watch as she sashayed down the hall and out the front door.
He frowned a little as it shut firmly behind her, and raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Michelle. "You do know who she was talking about, don't you?" he asked, wondering just how much Sarah had told her.
She waved an aimless hand at that as she picked up Sarah's discarded mug and carried it toward the kitchen. "Yes, she explained all about the misunderstanding," she said calmly. "I have to say, I feel a lot better now, knowing there isn't some enemy agent still out there who knows the layout of our house."
Cooper swallowed his astonishment at that bald-faced lie, and gave Michelle a reassuring smile. Damn; Sarah was getting even better at that. He'd never automatically dismiss suburban housewives with a love of adventure/romance novels again -- at least without checking to make sure they didn't have a reckless streak and a deadly significant other hidden beneath their floral-drapery exteriors. Not that Sarah had ever, apparently, been exactly a model suburban housewife, any more than Michelle was.
"Good," he said, drifting after her, stepping up to frame her body against the counter with his arms as she paused to drop the mug in the sink. "So what else did you two talk about?" he asked casually, stooping to brush a kiss against her pulse-point.
She turned in his arms and threaded her arms around his neck in return, leaning up for a proper hello kiss. Then she shrugged, eyes soft and warm with affection. "She wanted to know how I did it," she said, threading the fingers of one hand through the soft, short hair at the back of his head. "Living with someone with your kind of training and experience. Whether you were always tense and paranoid like her Frank gets sometimes, since he retired again, and how I dealt with it. How it affects us as a family."
There was so much indescribably wrong about that. 'Retired again?' As if Moses had ever been un-retired at all: which was the only reason Sarah knew so much about his occupation to begin with. As if he had ever been a burden on his wife and kids: he'd made a deliberate effort never to let the job affect them. And as if she and Moses could be currently described as a 'family'....
His brain threatened to break at the implications of that thought, and he decided to ignore it. "And what did you tell her?" he asked.
Michelle's smile widened, bright with amusement. "A girl can't spill all her secrets," she said, teasingly. "But I did agree that you get a lot worse when you've been spending too much time indoors."
He winced at that. "Have I really...?" he asked.
"Mmhmm," she nodded, apologetically. "I appreciate it that you try not to bring it home to us, you know; but I always feel like I'm failing you when that long-suffering stoic expression starts making an appearance at dinner."
There was no other apology for that but a thorough kiss. Then he gave her a rueful smile. "So -- she sent him after me to keep him busy, huh?"
She nodded. "Just because their relationship's still new doesn't mean he can't have other friends. She's suggested teaching, too, but he hasn't followed up on that idea yet."
Friends. Teaching. Cooper spent a moment contemplating the full horror of that thought: the promise of repeated reoccurrences of Frank Moses in his life, fully enabled by well-intentioned significant others to pound the life out of him in the name of making him better.
Today's spar would be child's play compared to what Moses got up to when he thought he was 'passing on his experience', Cooper was sure. Sneaking into his office while he was out would be the least of what he could expect to come his way. He had a sinking feeling that his life had just got a lot more interesting -- and it had been more than interesting enough as it was.
But that didn't change the fact that he felt a certain degree of inexplicable anticipation at the thought.
"I'm glad you get along with her," he said, then rested his forehead against Michelle's, contemplating the myriad possible intriguing shapes of that future.