Alibaba woke up to the unpleasant sensation of water splashed into his face. It was quickly followed by pain in his shoulders, shooting up his arms and finally searing in his wrists. He heard mocking laughter. Then he felt the rest of it - there was definitely a bruise on his face, he could taste blood in his mouth and his whole body ached .
“Well, looks like our little thief is awake.”
He looked up to see several men grinning smugly at him. They were thugs, sniggering to themselves as Alibaba shakily stood on his feet to somewhat relieve the strain on his arms. His hands were bound and chained to some piping from the ceiling.
He was beaten and tied up.
Part-instinct and part-training kicked in - he started to survey his surroundings. It looked like an abandoned warehouse. Rickety table, guns, cigarettes, unhealthy food, half-empty bottles and beer cans… computers, several surveillance monitors… The typical thug lair. Then he surveyed the people. Besides the four guys laughing at him, there was someone watching the feed on the monitors. There was a door that led somewhere further in the base, so he had no way to know what laid in wait there. The door with light seeping in from the cracks must be the exit, add to that the fact that there was another thug guarding it.
So at least six mean-looking grunts then. Looks like Alibaba landed himself in quite a tight spot this time. God, they chained him to the ceiling, too! He always hated being chained up. They couldn’t have just tied him to a chair? He always preferred the chair, easier on his legs-
“-look at me when I’m talkin’ to you!”
Ah, the thugs were talking. Right. Alibaba looked at the man - tall, hulking, muscular, tattooed, pierced, scarred, bald… Way to break stereotypes.
The thug stepped forward and growled. “You think you can just sneak in our truck and steal our merch, ‘ya bastard?”
Alibaba blinked. “Um, yeah… Why else would I sneak in your truck and try to steal your merch?” he chuckled. “Keep up, man.”
A punch to the gut.
“Owww, that hurt...” he grunted out, wheezing. “You asked a question and I answered!”
“Don’t be smart with me!” a hand grabbed his shirt, before someone snarled to his face. “Who do you work for?!”
“Can’t answer that.” Alibaba said, then when he saw another fist being raised, he took a step back, arms raised in an instinctive attempt of self-defense. “Whoa whoa whoa, I said I can’t ! Literally! I get a call, I do the job, they send the money! I’m a merc, dude. I don’t care who I work for. I just mind how much .”
The thugs stepped back, irritated, and Alibaba heard some mutters that sounded a bit like ‘fuckin’ useless’ and ‘just kill him’ .
‘Yep.’ he thought. ‘Definitely stereotypes.’
Then he heard ‘not working alone’ and he froze.
“Oh, look, he’s perkin’ up.” one of the thugs said, grinning deviously. Alibaba winced as he was pulled roughly by this shirt again. “Where’s your partner, thief? Or is it a team?”
“I… I work alone.” Alibaba answered, trying to steady his voice. “I’m working alone. There’s no team.”
A scoff. “ You jammed our comms and hacked our surveillance, while sneaking in?”
“Y-Yeah.” Alibaba said, pouting. “I did.” He hoped Aladdin was doing okay.
A laugh this time. “Right, right, let’s say ‘ya did. But after we caught your little sorry ass, we counted our merch and found out we’re short. Now, now… where could you have put two whole crates of guns, eh?”
He gulped, but tried his best easy chuckle. “Can’t tell you, bro. You know, trade secret and all?” He thought about Kougyoku. He rarely had to worry about her, but she never did like just being a getaway driver. Hopefully she was doing fine on her end at least...
“I won’t ask again!” the thug said, shaking him threateningly. “Where’s your pretty girlfriend at?”
“Ah. You’re here. My favorite agents.” was Kouen’s greeting when the door opened to let his two ‘favorite agents’ in. He stood in front of a set of monitors showcasing all sorts of information. “Take a seat, we don’t have much time.”
Alibaba and Kougyoku exchanged a look before they sat down. It took them a moment to notice that Aladdin was sitting across the table, the boy’s laptop open before him. He smiled at them before passing two Kou standard-issue tablet computers that no doubt held the relevant files for whatever it was that they got called in for. Alibaba took both and passed one to his partner.
“So... what did we do? We’re only your favorite agents when we’ve screwed somethin’ up.” Alibaba asked, looking down at what he recognized was a mission profile.
Kougyoku sent him a chastising look before swiping through the opened documents in her tablet.
Kouen rolled his eyes. “You’re right, but this time, you’re my favorite agents because you two are going on the field to finish this cursed job. I know you just came back not even 12 hours ago, and I wouldn’t put this on you if everyone else hadn’t, as you said, ‘screwed something up’.”
Kougyoku looked up in apprehension. “The… the others worked on this? And they… failed?”
“Spectacularly.” Kouen said with a sigh.
“But it’s-” Alibaba took a quick look at the file for reference, then raised a brow. “-it’s just busting some small-scale syndicate?”
Kouen looked at the monitors with a frown. “It might be small-scale, but it’s a critical operation for us. The one running it, Markkio, has significant ties to Al-Thamen. This is part of a long game.”
Hearing the organization’s name instantly convinced both agents of the gravity of the mission. Al-Thamen was elusive, an opportunity for intel was rare.
“Busting drug and weapon smugglers to arrest their boss.” Kougyoku said, eyes still analyzing the information before her. “This is Hakuryuu’s and Judal’s forte.”
“I know.” Kouen looked like he was nursing a headache. “...Aladdin?”
Aladdin looked amused, then began counting on his fingers. “So first, we sent Hakuryuu. The plan was he’ll pretend to be an interested buyer, so they’ll let him in their base to show him the merchandise and then he’ll do his stuff. He took Morgiana with him. But he’s the worst actor we have, and Morgiana accidentally threw someone, so they both got busted quick.”
“Yikes.” Alibaba mumbled.
“Are they okay?” Kougyoku asked.
“Oh, they muscled their way out easily. You know those two.” Aladdin only shrugged, then raised a second finger. “Cassim was up next but it turns out he knew the boss. Like, personally. So it was risky. Plus he really just wanted to blow stuff up, so we called him back.”
Well. That was probably the right call. They couldn’t have Cassim picking fights with old friends. His slate has been clean for years.
“Then it was Kouha… but he actually blew a whole base up without even trying, so the entirety of that operation relocated.”
That… went as expected for Kouha.
“Then Judal and Olba tried too, they were supposed to release ferrets… but they got attached to the ferrets because they were so cute, so they couldn’t do it anymore-”
Alibaba raised a hand. “Hold up, ferrets? What-... Is that some new tech of ours or-”
“No, like, actual ferrets.” Aladdin answered bluntly.
Kougyoku took in Kouen’s long-suffering look before also raising a hand, catching Aladdin’s attention, “Actual… ferrets? Like, small… furry... adorable… ferrets?”
“Yeah. Don’t ask.” the teen said, shaking his head, expression almost as tired as their Director’s. “Judal had a whole powerpoint presentation on his plan. Olba thought it would be awesome so he tagged along. It wasn’t awesome. And now they’re shopping for pet supplies. Toto’s been posting selfies with the ferrets.”
“Um… May I ask… where’s Koumei?” Kougyoku inquired ever-so gently, because it was obvious that their resident strategist was not involved in any of the planning that happened in any of those attempts.
“On vacation with Hakuei. They’re in some tropical island spa or something, I don’t know.” Kouen provided with a shrug. “They just closed that three-month-long deep undercover job with very impressive results, so I didn’t have any problem approving their vacation leave request. Until… now.”
That explained a great many things.
And also reminded them all that Koumei should start looking for a protege or they would all be doomed every time he was absent.
“So… you think we can do this?” Alibaba asked their director.
“Yes.” Kouen said, regarding the two field agents before him with his usual steely gaze. “You can. You should. You’re our last resort.”
Alibaba had to hold back from gulping nervously, while Kougyoku bit her lip to keep herself from squeaking. They looked at each other and knew they had to pull this off.
So there Alibaba was, one of Kou Agency's best operatives, chained to the ceiling and approximately two sentences away from being beat up again.
“Don’t screw with us, kid. We all saw the girl, almost believed her cute lost girl act, if you hadn’t tripped on your ass and given away your position. Just tell us where she took our merch. Maybe we’ll let you run together before we shoot you.”
“I told you, I’m workin’ alone!” he said, cringing from the thug’s nasty smell of beer.
“And I toldja, don’t screw with us!”
Alibaba saw it coming - the raised fist and the glint of the brass knuckle attached to it. He drew back and flinched, practically screaming.
“ Stop! Just- Please- I’ll talk! I’ll talk!” he slowly opened his eyes to see his captors laughing and mocking him. He gritted his teeth before giving up and sighing. “Shit… Let… let me talk to your boss.”
A scoff. “Boss ain’t here. Don’t push your luck, kid.”
Alibaba frowned, unimpressed. “Look, I’m tied up right now, sure, but I also managed to outsmart you guys by myself . I got- I stole two crates of high-grade weapons right from under your nose. Now I’m about to turn from my people here, and if I’m gonna be added on one group’s hit list, I wanna at least keep things balanced and be removed from another.”
“Are you serious? Ya wanna work for us after you turn?” the thugs let out another round of jeering laughter.
He blinked when the laughing abruptly stopped, and followed the thugs’ gazes to see someone standing by the doorway.
“I have to say, for such a bad thief, you have some guts.” the man said, smirking at Alibaba.
Suit, cane, moustache, fancy rings, ugly face, creepy smile... Definitely the boss.
God, this job was a cliche. How did the others manage to mess it up?
Alibaba grinned as the boss walked towards him. “Hey, man, uh... nice digs. Mr. Markkio, right? Would you happen to have a job opening? Your guys are about to punch some juicy details outta me that some people would kill me for-”
The man called Markkio, known drug and arms dealer and syndicate boss, cut him off with a laugh. “I know you’re stalling, boy.”
“Nah, sir, I’m really just-”
“You’re waiting for your team to rescue you.” the man said, shaking his head, amused. “But what’s left of your team, thief? Probably your tech person and a driver? What do you expect them to do? You’re the muscle, and we’ve got you.” Markkio grinned as he saw the boy’s easy smile slowly turning into an shaky frown. “You’re wondering how I know this? Well…”
Alibaba froze when he heard an uncharacteristic but familiar-sounding whimper and saw another thug dragging someone over. A girl. Wearing clothes that Alibaba recognized. She had a bag over their head, and her hands were tied. The thug pushed her over and as soon as she fell on her knees, Markkio pulled the bag away to reveal none other than Kougyoku’s face, her red hair in disarray. She looked around her new surroundings, terrified.
“Shit.” Alibaba mumbled, through gritted teeth.
“She was sneaking around outside, trying to bribe my men to set you loose. Tears and all.” Markkio provided, huffing. “Even brought our missing merch back to us to trade for you. Some rescue team you’ve got, boy.”
Alibaba glared sharply at the man, seething. Then he looked towards Kougyoku. “Baby, are you okay?”
"Y-Yeah..." Kougyoku held his eyes and nodded, but she whimpered when Markkio leaned down and cupped her face to get a better look on her face. “P-Please, sir-...”
“Let go of her!” Alibaba snarled.
“Tsk. What was your plan anyway?” the man asked, still with that smug, creepy grin. “A cute helpless girl acts as distraction while you sneak on board and steal? Did you really think it’ll be that easy?”
“You’ll be in the field, Aladdin will run backend from here, Ka Koubun will be on standby for extraction, and I’ll supervise.”
Both agents nodded dutifully. It was a common setup that they were comfortable with.
Kouen continued, “We’ll be using a tactic you’re both very good at. You’ll do ‘Lost Damsel’.”
Alibaba chuckled. “Classic.”
Kougyoku’s reaction was less pleased. “Are we sure? I don't like that strategy.”
“What? But you’re amazing at it!” Alibaba said.
“You do all the work, and I just sit back and act...” Kougyoku frowned.
“You’ve never failed when you used this one.” Kouen reasoned.
“He’s right, Kougyoku.” Alibaba said reassuringly. “We have a 100% success rate with that one.”
Kouen nodded. “And you shouldn’t let this one destroy that record.”
Alibaba struggled against his restraints. “I said let go of her-”
“She’s really pretty, I’ll give you that.” Markkio said, tilting the girl’s head to examine fine features. “A face like this, your plan could have been effective against my men.”
Alibaba watched as Kougyoku tried to wriggle out of the man’s hold, but a thug held her firmly in place. His eyes met hers and-
She looked, above anything else, annoyed.
Better wrap this up quickly, then.
“You’re assuming.” he said, catching the man's attention as he subtly tugged at his restraints, testing them.
Markkio raised an eyebrow. “Assuming what?”
“That that’s all there was to our plan.” he answered, and smirked when the man looked at him.
The boss scoffed. “Bluffing’s useless, boy.”
“Oh, I know.” Alibaba sighed. “I’m not bluffing.”
Perhaps choosing to indulge his captive, Markkio only crossed his arms across his chest. “Very well, what’s the rest of your plan, then?”
“Nothing much, really.” Alibaba shrugged. “Just wait for you to talk my ear off and tell me what you think our plan is. You got a lot of those details right, you know. There’s just… one thing…”
“And what, pray tell, is that?” the boss hissed this time, getting annoyed.
Alibaba grinned as he looked into the man’s eyes. “You went ahead and decided that I’m the team’s muscle.”
It happened fast - almost too fast, but Alibaba still managed to catch most of the action. In a split second, Kougyoku had freed herself from the thug holding her down, knocking the man out in one smooth move.
Even with her hands still tied, she tripped Markkio, who landed face first on the floor. She was quick to kick one of the tables’ rickety legs, sending everything on top of it toppling over before the other thugs could reach for the guns they had left on top of it. After that, she knocked one of them back before struggling with another who attacked her with a knife. With a quick knee to the gut and a twisted arm, the thug howled in pain and let go of his weapon. Kougyoku caught it quickly and knocked the man out while cutting herself loose.
They had severely underestimated her by binding only her wrists.
As soon as her hands were free, she threw the knife across the room, effectively stopping a thug who almost reached one of the guns. Another man was able to retrieve it, and quickly shot at her, but she pulled another guy to use as her shield.
With the thugs momentarily distracted at having shot one of their own, she dove to the floor, grabbing an item in each hand. One was an empty beer bottle, and she threw it towards the guard sprinting towards her. She hit him on the head and it stalled him enough for her to slide behind the toppled table for cover and quickly check the gun she had just swiped. She tested it on the guard who had just managed to recover from the bottle she just threw. He went down with a pained cry, grasping at his wounded leg.
She wasted no time - as soon as the two remaining thugs stood up, she kicked the table towards them. They had expected her to hide behind it longer and were caught off guard. With precise aim, she raised the gun and shot at the men, bringing them to their knees in no time.
With all the thugs incapacitated, Markkio tried to crawl away. Unfortunately for him, Alibaba was just in the perfect distance to kick him, and he fell down again.
The boss struggled, but froze when he felt a cold muzzle pressed against the side of his head. Shaking, he turned to meet the girl’s steely gaze.
When she spoke, her voice was sickly sweet.
“Still think I’m cute and pretty, sir?”
Alibaba whistled. “I’ll never get tired of watching you do that.”
Kougyoku’s expression visibly shifted as she smiled softly at her partner. “Thank you. And you did amazing, as always.”
“Hey, I’m not the team’s best damsel-in-distress for nothing.” Alibaba grinned. His grin turned into a smirk when their mark turned to look at him in horror.
With a blindingly bright smile despite his bruises and restraints, the agent declared, “Mister Markkio, you’re under arrest for charges of illegal trafficking of drugs and firearms, under orders of the Kou Homeland Intelligence and Protection Agency.”
"Why can't I ever be the rescuee?" Kougyoku whined.
"You can try that on your own time." Kouen said, patting his sister's head. "This time, we'll go with what's been tried and tested. No risks. Alibaba will be the damsel. He makes for a very convincing one."
Alibaba grinned. "I'm counting on you, my dashing savior."
Kougyoku frowned. "This plan is terrible."
"But effective." the two men added.
She grudgingly shrugged. "...but effective."
“Ow! Okay, you’re lucky you’re cute.” Alibaba groaned, petting the cute critter that just leapt and climbed up on his bruised side. He smiled down at the pure white ferret while he leaned back into the comfort of the fluffy pillows in his couch.
“It’s so adorable.” Kougyoku said. She was sitting on the floor by his legs, her head propped up on his knee as she reached out to stroke the ferret. “And so sooooft…”
“You two should keep it.” Cassim chimed in from his lazy slump on another couch nearby. Hassan’s and Zaynab’s little boy Zassan was sitting on his lap and giggling while playing with another ferret.
“You think?” Alibaba asked, seriously considering, if only because Kougyoku looked so pleased, cooing at the thing.
“Yeah.” Cassim nodded, not missing the way his best-friend-slash-brother looked at the girl petting the ferret. “I’ll even buy you some pet stuff as thanks for takin’ down that fu-...” he paused abruptly, remembering the toddler in his care. “That shi- bast- that bad guy , Markkio.”
“You hate him that much?” Aladdin asked. He was perched on the armrest right beside Alibaba, shoveling through a pint of ice cream. There was a ferret on his head.
Word had gotten out fast when Alibaba and Kougyoku returned from their mission with good news. Kouen had heaved the biggest sigh of relief and thanked the two for their service before dismissing them while muttering that ‘finally I can go to sleep for the first time this cursed week I’m going to retire tomorrow’ .
The others, however, decided that a celebration was in order. In consideration of Alibaba who was tired and beaten, they concluded that movie night in his place was the best course of action.
Somehow, that also warranted Toto bringing over a whole horde of the ferrets her boyfriend took home. Apparently Judal and Olba had decided to split the creatures between themselves and keep them . So Alibaba’s whole apartment was now filled with ferrets, and he was too tired to care.
Also, Kougyoku. Kougyoku was very happy with them. Her eyes were sparkling and Alibaba was weak .
“I mean, yeah, I used to work with the bast- bad guy, and he was a good-for-nothin’ ass-... butt.” Cassim shrugged, absently playing with the squeaky toy that his godson had abandoned in favor of playing with something fluffier and more alive.
Alibaba snorted. “He was a butt?”
“I’m babysitting!” Cassim cried, throwing the squeaky toy at the guy and widely missing. It landed on Kouha’s head instead.
“Watch it.” Kouha drawled lazily from his comfortable position lying spread eagle on the floor, at least four ferrets draped over him. He took the toy and threw it back, then sighed happily when another ferret curled up against his neck. He was determined to be buried by the creatures, it seemed.
Cassim caught the item and squeezed it. The toy let out a high-pitched wheezing noise to the delight of his young godson.
A few moments later, Mariam, Morgiana, and Toto emerged from the kitchen with enormous bowls of popcorn. It didn’t take long for Hakuryuu and Judal to arrive with boxes of pizza, followed by Olba with drinks. After a debate about movie choices that ended up with them just letting the toddler in their midst pick a colorful animated family-friendly film, they all settled in for a mellow movie night.
It was in the middle of the movie when Kougyoku, who had been leaning against Alibaba’s legs, felt him shift and heard him whispering, “Wait no no no, not there, it tickles! Don’t make me laugh, I’m injured!”
She turned to find him struggling with a squirming ferret and trying to keep from laughing. With a giggle, she lifted the creature from his lap and transferred it to the floor, where it promptly skittered away.
“Are you okay?” she whispered to him.
He nodded, but flinched when he felt pain on his side. “Hurts, but I’ve had worse.”
Kougyoku took a quick assessing look at their friends who were all engrossed watching the movie, before she climbed on the couch with him. She sat on his uninjured side, so with some careful shifting, he was able to hold her against him comfortably.
“I told you I hate ‘Lost Damsel’.” she said with a soft sigh, snuggling closer, her arms loose around his torso to avoid his bruises.
He nodded, giving her shoulder a squeeze before settling his hand on her waist. “Because I do all the work, sure, but you finish it like a badass! I feel like we’re in some awesome super smart action movie.”
She looked skeptic. “We’re already field agents. Do you really need that much drama?”
“It’s boring otherwise.”
“I just hate that you’re the one who gets hurt.” Kougyoku said with a pout, not bothering to join the others laughing at something funny happening on the movie they were watching.
“I know. Sorry.” he sighed. “But let’s face it, I can’t take seven armed guys by myself with my hands tied. You can. What I can do is act , so here we are.”
It was the perfect tactic for them, Koumei had always said. Fooling the enemy into thinking that Alibaba was some amateur working a job way over his head, presenting them with a clear weakness they can use to break him, and then letting them capture both and use the girl as leverage, not knowing that it was not the thief, but the girl who they ought to watch out for.
They had the perfect personalities and skills for it. Hence, the 100% success rate.
“You’re right.” she said, then shifted a bit so she can face him. She pouted, poking his chest playfully. “I’m still upset, though.”
“Oh no…” Alibaba whined, pulling her closer as he nuzzled her cheek, making her immediately drop her act and laugh. “How can I make my princess not upset?”
Kougyoku smiled. “Well, how about I get to pick when we can accept a new job?”
He blinked. “You just want me to rest and recover before we go on missions again.”
She shrugged nonchalantly, settling her head on his chest again, turning her attention back to the movie. “Injuries compromise an agent’s performance on the field, you know.”
Alibaba only chuckled, tilting his head slightly to press a kiss on top of his partner’s head. “You’re too good for me.”
To his surprise, everyone in the room said, “She is.”
There was even a muttered “You lucky little shi-... shrimp.” from the other couch. Cassim.
“Ew. Feelings.” - that was probably Judal.
“Which one of us gets to be maid of honor…?” - one of the girls, most probably Mariam.
“You guys were listening?!” Kougyoku shrieked.
“Yeah, we were just waiting for the right time to tell you guys to go to your room.” came from Aladdin. “Also... I’m like, right beside you guys, but you obviously forgot. So.”
“This is my apartment.” Alibaba deadpanned. “I own all the rooms.”
He was promptly booed.
"Whaaaat? You guys are mean!"
Alibaba thought up of a complaint, but with his friends and family laughing around him and the best partner he could ask for blushing but happy beside him, he concluded that, like his bruises, it wasn't that bad.