Chapter 1: Patchwork
Julia paced her apartment for what felt like the thousandth time that night. Nothing was making any sense. Devineaux had been kidnapped, Chief had seen Carmen in the room with his unconscious body, the damage to the room indicated someone had been thrown around quite a bit, but Devineaux had barely a scratch on him. She couldn't be sure of anything until the police records were disclosed to ACME, and that was driving Julia up the wall. With Devineaux unable to talk and Carmen not answering her calls, Julia worried that something truly terrible had happened to both of her partners.
It didn't make any sense. In all her heists, all the times she came into contact with law enforcement, Carmen had never hurt anyone. Julia won't deny she stole Devineaux's ID card, but using it to bait him? Why would she? It was glaringly obvious that Agent Devineaux was highly incompetent, so she had nothing to fear from him.
With a sigh, Julia fell back on her bed. None of this was adding up, none of it made sense, and, coupled with the lack of sleep, it was all giving her a headache to think about. She wasn't likely to get any answers soon and mulling it over would do her little good without further investigation.
As she prepared to remove her glasses and leave all this for the morning, Julia heard her phone going off. Moving to the chair she'd set it on, she hurriedly answered. "Hello?"
"Hi, is this Julia Argent's phone?" A teenage voice could be heard on the other end of the line.
"Yes, this is Julia speaking."
A soft sigh of relief. "Thank goodness. We've never spoken before, but I'm Player, Carmen's friend." The mention of her name made Julia's heart jump.
"Carmen? Do you know where she is? Is she alright?"
There was silence on the other end for a moment and Julia's mind settled on the worst conclusion before Player spoke up. "She's... not okay. You know where her Poitiers penthouse is, right?"
"Yes, I do." Julia immediately began getting dressed, throwing on a regular shirt and jacket. There was no time to waste. "I presume she's there now?"
"Yeah," Player responded. "Um, a word of caution. Do you know any first aid?"
Julia stared at the phone suspiciously as she stepped into her flats and grabbed her keys. "A bit. Why do you ask?"
"Carmen's... not looking too good right now, so, uh... be prepared for that." Player sounded nervous and a tad worried. Julia could understand that. Even though she and Carmen had been dating for a while, she and Player didn't know one another. He was basically sending an officer to his injured friend, not knowing if she'd be arrested.
Julia took a deep breath. "Understood. Does she have a first aid kit?"
"Then I won't be taking any detours. Thank you, Player." With that, she hung up and made her way out the door.
On the other end, Player leaned back in his chair with a relieved sigh. "Thank you, Julia."
The night had been a rollercoaster for everyone. Zack was still disoriented from his run-in with Coach Brunt, so Carmen had sent him to the ER with Ivy to get him fixed up. Unfortunately, she couldn't go with them, being an international criminal and all, and had stayed at the penthouse. But doing that left her susceptible to her injuries, which were taking their toll now that the adrenaline had worn off.
Player didn't know if Julia was trustworthy, but Carmen spoke highly of her and always kept him updated on important or mundane info shared on their dates. She was the only one Player could reach out to right now, so he'd taken the chance. After speaking with her, he felt confident that he'd made the right choice.
Julia didn't take a car. She didn't want to leave a trail. Thankfully, Carmen's apartment wasn't too far from her own, and she arrived in less than half an hour. She flashed her badge at the elevator operator like usual and he immediately took her up to the penthouse.
Before entering, Julia took a few deep breaths. She wasn't sure what to expect, but she needed to be prepared. Opening the door, she glanced around. Everything seemed to be in place, which at least meant the struggle hadn't been brought here. Ragged breaths from the couch drew Julia's attention. She shut the door behind her and hurried over.
"Oh, Carmen..." she breathed, kneeling beside her girlfriend. Bruises from her face to her hips, one hand bent at an awkward angle and the other clutching her ribs. "What happened to you?"
Carmen's eyes slowly opened and she smiled cheekily, even through the pain. "Heya, Jules," she rasped. "Devineaux get out safe?"
"Yes, he's in the hospital right now." Julia brushed Carmen's hair from her face. "How do you know about him?" She already knew how, but she needed Carmen's side of the story.
"Tried to rescue him." Carmen shrugged. "Got into a fight. Had to leave once the feds showed up. Glad he's okay."
Julia smiled. She knew it. However, she could celebrate in her relief later. For now, she needed to help Carmen. "I'll be right back," she whispered with a kiss to the injured woman's temple.
She stood and made her way to the bathroom. Julia found the first aid kit under the sink and checked to be sure it was fully stocked. Grabbing a nearby washcloth, she dampened it in the sink and headed back out.
Carmen offered her another smile when she returned and Julia took another deep breath. "Does it hurt when you breathe?" she asked softly.
"Yep," Carmen responded. "Coach held back, but wow did she do a number anyway."
Julia ignored the mention of this 'Coach'. Carmen rarely told her of the people she knew, both of them understanding that too much information shared could put either of them in danger. Instead, she shook out her hands and prayed she didn't screw this up. She was no doctor, after all, and done wrong, this could go horribly.
"Alright, I'm... I'm going to try to reset your ribs." Julia's eyes widened when a hand grasped hers.
Carmen stared up at her seriously. "I trust you, Jules."
Julia nodded and slowly set to work. Thankfully, Carmen had removed her shirt before Julia's arrival, which made things easier. Carmen grabbed the rag Julia had brought back and bit into it, nodding to her girlfriend.
The next several minutes were agonizing for both of them as Julia worked carefully to reset the bruised and dislocated ribs. Fortunately, none of them were broken. Carmen tried to mask her screams, but it was a futile effort.
At last, that part was finished and Julia sank back with deep gasping breaths while Carmen finally took her own deep breath. It still hurt, but not as badly as before. "You did great, babe," she called to her pale girlfriend.
"It was not easy," Julia grumbled, but spared a small grin at the thief. "Now that the hard part's over, let's take a look at that hand."
Carmen held up her hand and Julia set to work once more. As she worked with the bent fingers, Julia asked, "Can you tell me all you're able about what happened?"
Carmen mulled this over. "Alright. Two people from my past, Samurai and Coach, apparently got it in their heads that Devineaux was my partner somehow. Seems it never occurred to them that he was a reckless pursuer. Anyway, they took him as a way to bait me. Figures. They didn't rough him up any from what I saw, but they did use some kind of brain device thingy on him, created by The Doctor. He's gonna be disoriented for a few days, his memory'll be pretty fuzzy for a while, too."
Julia's shoulders relaxed a little at that. Devineaux would be okay. The man could be a boor sometimes but he still hadn't deserved this.
"I had some friends provide backup and get Coach and Samurai to leave him alone. While they were playing, I tried to get Devineaux outta there, but Coach came back early. She tossed me around like a ragdoll. Brute strength and all, ya know. Tried to bear hug me like when I was younger, but, you know, to kill me this time."
Julia cringed at that. She couldn't imagine how much that must be hurting Carmen emotionally. "How did you escape?"
Carmen laughed. "You won't believe this, but Samurai saved me from her. Cut open our way out and got me outta there before the police could get to me. Pity they couldn't get Coach, but at least Devineaux's okay."
"Did... Did Agent Devineaux say anything when you found him? Maybe try to fight you off or something?" Julia needed to know how Chief had gotten involved. She started tending the bruises and scrapes now as she listened.
"Yeah, he pulled a lady from a pen." Carmen laughed, as if she thought Julia would find it absurd. "Hologram or maybe it was a ghost or something. Had to smash the pen before she got too good a look at me."
Julia sighed, finishing with the makeshift splints for Carmen's fingers and moving on to patching up everything else. That at least explained how Chief had found out Carmen was in the room. Devineaux must've been trying to report to Chief. Julia was going to have to tread very carefully from now on. Chief would be out for Carmen's head and Julia had no way of clearing Carmen's involvement without drawing suspicion to herself.
Fingers on her face drew Julia's attention to narrowed gray eyes. "You've got a look," Carmen said. "It's a 'oh no this is bad' look. Was I not supposed to smash the ghost lady pen?"
"No," Julia responded automatically before catching herself. "I mean, yes. I mean..." She took a deep breath. "There are... complications now that you've done that... The pen ghost lady thinks you... were responsible."
Carmen blinked at her before understanding dawned on her. "Pen Ghost Lady was important..."
"That is correct." Julia set about putting the supplies away.
"Lemme talk to her." Julia nearly dropped the first aid kit as she whirled on her girlfriend. Carmen looked at her expectantly.
Julia pushed her glasses up. "I beg your pardon?"
Carmen shrugged. "Lemme talk to the ghost pen lady. Clear things up."
"Carmen, you don't understand. She... she won't respect your boundaries the way I do. She'll want information. She'll triangulate this location and send agents and you're in no position to fight or run."
Julia tried not to let her panic show, but she was bad at it. She couldn't just click her pen right now. Chief would want a full interrogation with Carmen, something Carmen wouldn't be willing to consent to. Just because she was a gentleman thief didn't mean she would just spill all of her secrets to a random woman in a hologram. But if she didn't talk, Chief would be less inclined to trust her than ever.
"Jules," Carmen called. Her voice was hoarse and soft. Julia glanced down to find her slipping into unconsciousness. "Please think about it? I don't need any more trouble on my tail. I gotta fix it however I can..."
She slipped into slumber and Julia bit her lip. She would be taking a terribly huge gamble if she did that. She would be under greater scrutiny by the organization and possibly taken off the case entirely. Still, Carmen really didn't need more competent people coming after her. Lifting the communication earring from the nearby table, Julia pressed the button.
"Yo, Red," Player called cheerfully. "Julia patch you up okay?"
"Carmen is currently resting," Julia informed him. "However... I have a matter to discuss with you..."
Chapter 2: Risks and Rewards
Carmen takes things into her own hands and contacts Chief
"Is she nuts?" Player shouted incredulously.
"I'm currently questioning her mental state as well, yes," Julia agreed. "I don't know what to do, Player. It's true that she's in no position to defend herself from competent agents, but I can't abide by Chief knowing where she is and encroaching on topics Carmen isn't comfortable talking about. She hasn't even told me why she steals or from who. She just gives vague answers or changes the subject, but Chief won't allow that."
They were silent for a bit as both tried to think of a solution to Carmen's proposal. Neither wanted to risk her safety by calling Chief, but they couldn't let her be blamed for something that was neither her fault nor in her control. She'd been injured trying to save Devineaux, after all. To blame her would be a grievous offence to her efforts.
"What if I counter the triangulation?" Player spoke up finally. "If I do that, then they won't be able to find her here and she can end the call whenever she wanted."
"That wouldn't explain my involvement, which would be a whole other can of worms," Julia sighed. "Any way this plays out, either Carmen takes the fall for something she tried to prevent, I risk losing my job, both, or something potentially worse."
Player sighed on the other end. "This is so whack..."
Julia chuckled. "I suppose we can try to figure it out more tomorrow... I'll get some rest."
"We'll find a solution, Julia," Player told her firmly before signing off. He wasn't completely sure of that, but he definitely wanted to try.
Julia smiled and made her way back to the living room. She snuggled into one of the plush chairs, not wanting to disturb Carmen on the couch. As she drifted off, she didn't see gray eyes slowly open.
Carmen, light sleeper that she was, had heard the entire conversation. This was causing both of her closest friends a ton more stress than they deserved. She knew neither of them would support this, but she had to act or they would run themselves ragged.
Making sure Julia was sound asleep, Carmen stood and stretched, checking her injuries. Her ribs would be sore for a while, but if she took this slow, she'd be fine. Her fingers would also be a problem, but not as much. She turned to the closet and contemplated leaving her signature outfit behind, but that might make her less recognizable. She grabbed the hat and coat before scooping up her communication earring and slipping quietly out the door.
She didn't have most of her tools in an effort to travel light, but she made sure she at least had a simple lock pick. It would prove essential for this little outing. Carmen sighed as she stared at the Poitiers landscape. No time to waste.
She slid through the shadows easier than she expected, but it was late, so no one would be around. She made it to Julia's apartment and picked the lock in no time. She spotted the pen on the bedside table and picked it up.
Carmen took a deep breath and pressed the talk button on her communication earring. "Red?" Player asked in confusion. "What are you doing up?"
"Player, I need you to go into record mode," Carmen stated.
On the other end, Player did as instructed. "Okay, but why? And where are you right now? Where's Julia?"
Carmen couldn't help the smile at the mention of her name. "She's sleeping. No need to wake her. And I'm gonna need you to stay quiet for right now, but stay in record mode the entire time, okay?"
"I'm... not gonna like this, am I?" Player sighed.
"Nope." With that, Carmen pressed the button and dropped the pen.
"Agent Argent, have you found-?" Chief stopped at the sight before her and her expression cooled instantly. "Carmen Sandiego."
Carmen smirked. "To answer your question, yes. She found me. I'm afraid she's not in a position to tell you that herself, though."
"What have you done with Agent Argent?" Chief demanded calmly.
"That remains to be seen," Carmen responded. "Right now, I want to talk to you."
Chief raised a brow. "What would you want with me?"
"A temporary truce." Gray stared into gray as Carmen laid out her terms. "I'm willing to meet some of your agents at a secure location of your choosing for questioning."
"What's in it for you?" Chief eyed this woman curiously. Carmen Sandiego didn't seem ruthless and coldhearted in the slightest. Hard to imagine this was the same woman who tortured Devineaux.
Carmen blinked. "Clearing my name." She held up a hand. "But I have some conditions."
"What makes you think you're in a position to negotiate?" Chief huffed irritably.
"You don't follow them, you never find Agent Argent," Carmen said in her most dangerous tone. She wasn't going to play to anyone's tune. It would be her rules or no rules.
Chief gritted her teeth. On the one hand, the law did not cave to criminals. On the other hand, Julia Argent was a fine agent and would likely rise quickly in the ranks with proper training. They couldn't afford to lose her. "Fine then," she snapped lowly. "What are these conditions of yours?"
Carmen sighed in relief internally. Outwardly, she maintained a calm, cold facade. "Regardless of what is disclosed, Agent Argent must keep her job."
That caught Chief off guard. She wouldn't have expected a public criminal to care about a law enforcement agent. "Why do you care?"
"Because she convinced me to do this," Carmen stated. "If she's not in your force, you don't find me or her."
"Done. Anything else?"
"A few things. One, I answer questions I deem you need to know the answer to. No exceptions. Two, you follow any instructions I give you alongside the sensitive information I do disclose. Three, stop your agents from entering this building right now. And four..." Carmen's shoulders sank tiredly. "I need proper medical assistance."
Chief perked up at that last one. "Medical assistance?" she inquired, curious despite herself.
Carmen removed her hat and stepped closer. "I need my ribs and hand checked out," she said. "But being labeled a criminal kind of makes walking into a hospital difficult, especially with no paper trail..."
Chief raised an eyebrow. When she had seen the woman, she had been completely unscathed and Devineaux unconscious. What had caused those injuries if she was gone before the police showed up? Refraining from asking, Chief nodded. "Very well. I accept this truce, Miss Sandiego. I have agents stationed outside the building. If you go with them, they can get you proper medical attention."
Carmen breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you. How will I know where to meet you? I'm giving the pen back to Jul-uh Agent Argent."
"If you're bringing her along, I'll be giving her directions." Chief watched Carmen nod.
"By the way, she's not, like, taken hostage or anything," Carmen muttered. "I just really needed you to accept the conditions. She can't be here cause she's sleep."
Chief blinked in utter shock. That... hadn't even occurred to her. It was late and the poor woman had a stressful day. Even more than that... "W-why did you disclose that information?"
Carmen shrugged. "Jules told me any kind of relationship is built on trust. I don't trust you, you don't trust me, we gotta start somewhere."
Chief stared at the thief before slowly nodding. "Understood, Miss Sandiego. The agents have been informed of the situation. They're waiting in the lobby."
"Thanks again Ghost Pen Lady," Carmen yawned.
A chuckle was her response. "Call me Chief." Then the hologram disappeared.
Carmen waited a moment before phoning in. "Still there, Player?" she rasped.
"You're taking a huge risk, Red," Player told her worriedly.
"I know," Carmen groaned. "But I owe it to you and Jules for looking out for me. I gotta try."
"I'm with ya all the way, Carmen."
She smiled and made her way down to the lobby. When she arrived, two agents stepped from the shadows and she nodded to them, removing her coat and folding it under her arm. No attention drawn is the perfect amount. The agents shared a look before flanking her and leading her from the building.
Chapter 3: Stupid, Reckless, and Okay
Julia is not happy with Carmen putting herself in danger.
Julia groaned as she awoke. The first thing she noticed was that Carmen was no longer on the couch. She sat up quickly, grabbed her glasses, and looked around. "Carmen?" she called worriedly.
She snapped her head around as the door opened and in walked an ACME agent. Her heart froze for all of a second before the agent held out a bundle to her. "This is your new uniform," he told her calmly. "And this was instructed to be given to you by Miss Sandiego." He handed her the small communication earring.
Julia grasped it thankfully. "Um, where is she?" She was afraid to ask, but she needed to know that her girlfriend was okay.
"Currently being held in an ACME medical facility for treatment," the agent responded. "I've orders to take you to her once you're dressed."
"Of course," Julia agreed. "I'll be ready soon."
The agent nodded and stepped from the penthouse. Once he was gone, Julia lifted the communication device. "Player?"
"Julia?" Player called from the other line.
"Player, I had no idea they were following me last night," Julia hurried to explain. "If I had, I would have remained home a little longer. Now they've got Carmen and-!"
Player could hear the poor woman devolving into a panic. "Julia, listen!" he called, quieting her. "They didn't tail you last night. Carmen told them where this place is."
"She what?" Julia shrieked. "Why would she do that?"
"She struck up a truce with them," Player explained. "She's going to meet them on her own terms so information can be exchanged. Right now, she's getting professional medical attention."
Julia sighed as she began undressing. "I'm so confused."
"She snuck out last night and went to your apartment to talk with your Chief Ghost Lady. They came to an agreement and no sensitive information will be disclosed until Carmen's well enough for it."
"Alright," Julia sighed. Then she gave a soft laugh. "That woman drives me mad sometimes..."
"You and me both," Player chuckled. "Talk to you after you shower."
Julia smiled and turned on the water, stepping under when it warmed up. She needed to stay calm and focus. She needed to think things through. She needed to... find Carmen and give her a stern talking to about being reckless... after hugging her.
Twenty minutes later, Julia stepped from the penthouse with all of the gear in hand. There wasn't much since, according to Player, Coach had taken it all the previous night, or at least cut Carmen from her tools. Mostly just extra clothes and a few gadgets and a strange-looking green device, all packed neatly in a bag.
The agent nodded to her and they exited the building together, slipping into an ACME-issued vehicle. Julia tried not to express how anxious she was, but she couldn't help her fingers tapping on her thigh. Thankfully, if the agent beside her noticed, he didn't say anything.
They arrived at a nondescript building and the agent led her inside. It was sterile and white inside, and some of the rooms were actually occupied. Julia refrained from checking in on the other rooms and waited until they finally stopped in front of one. The agent gestured for her to enter and, slowly, she did.
On the bed sat Carmen, staring out the window in boredom. She turned at Julia's entrance and smiled. "Hey, Jules," she called cheerfully. "You look good in that suit."
Julia returned the smile. "Thank you, but discussion on my new attire can wait. How did this happen?"
Carmen's face fell and she sighed. "Okay, but you gotta promise you won't be mad."
Carmen explained everything in as vivid detail as she could so that Julia was fully aware of the situation. Julia, for her part, listened attentively to everything, not making a sound. Once it was done, Carmen sat back and waited.
Julia took a deep breath. "That was reckless."
"I'm aware," Carmen nodded.
Julia paused. "There was no guarantee Chief would agree."
"Needed to take that chance."
"You could've been captured."
Carmen shrugged and gave a small smirk. "Hasn't happened yet."
They lapsed into silence for a moment before Julia threw her arms around Carmen's neck and buried her face in the thief's shoulder. "I could've lost you," she whimpered quietly.
Carmen wrapped her arms around Julia's waist and held her close. "You're worth that risk, Jules. I need to keep you safe. By any means necessary."
Julia just shook her head. "Stupid reckless superthief."
Carmen only chuckled.
Outside the door, Chief watched the two of them curiously. It was clear now why Miss Sandiego's first condition had been for Agent Argent. Well, if whatever this was led to Carmen Sandiego helping them, Chief could look the other way for however long it lasted.