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Nefarious

Chapter Text

The spy had finally been restrained and overtaken, but not before over a dozen had been taken out before an alarm had been raised. All this carnage and there he sat in the interrogation room, not even breaking a sweat at the thought of what could lie ahead for him.

“You say we have a Russian spy in there? And he is literally sitting in there smiling ? Don’t we need to call in a specialist for this or something?”

“Sir, you are the specialist.”

“Are you sure you do not want to be the specialist today?”

“My post is out here, thank you, sir.”

“... I’ll rock, paper, scissors you for it…? Loser goes in and talks to him?”

“You have to be kidding me. You love talking to people! You never shut up!” The officer stopped himself, coughing awkwardly. “Sir,” he added weakly.

Agent Alfred F. Jones shrugged. “Alright, alright. I’ll do it. This Russian spy totally doesn’t scare me. I’m an American spy. He should be wetting his pants at the thought of me ,” Alfred told the officer, taking a heroic stance. The officer nodded agreeably, giving the agent a thumbs-up and rolling his eyes the moment the blond had turned away.

Alfred threw open the heavy steel door to face the enemy that had dared trespass onto their base.

And stopped right in his tracks.

“Dude, what the Harry S. Truman is going on here? There’s nobody there! Guys, it isn’t, like, April Fool’s Day or anything is it?”

The alarm started shrieking at about this point in time. Darn. They’d just gotten that thing deactivated.

It didn’t matter! Alfred was called to duty and he would be sure that this alarm-set-off-er would be brought to proper American justice. Well, what passed for proper American justice when it came to secretly dealing with international spies.

The flashing lights of the alarm helped to accentuate a feeling of ‘something is wrong’ as Alfred hurried back down the corridor he had come. There was only one way out of that room-- Alfred had the blueprint of this building memorized-- and that was through the one door that had been opened. Someone on Team Stars and Stripes had moved from their guard post and someone from Team White Blue and Red had gotten out.

How this was done, when the door was deadbolted from the outside, was a very good question. Nothing that couldn’t be easily found out, though, with the help of some handy dandy super secret high tech, right?

Very simple, actually, considering every human body that was authorized to be in this building or on the grounds was required to carry their identification card. Little did many of those proud card-carriers know, the material that those credit-card-looking things were made of basically meant that anyone who was supposed to be there could be detected. And vice versa, anyone who wasn’t supposed to be there stuck out like a sore thumb when an agent of certain rank and security clearance had one of these bad boys.

Well, it looked like a Game Boy.

But it was not a Game Boy. And it was this Not-Game-Boy that was going to be this intruder’s downfall.  

Alfred flipped it on, only half-interested. This was going to be too easy. He may be the only one with this device currently on duty, but all he had to do was give the troops a call, give the location and voila, all is well and done.

There it was now, the screen showing 2 red blips moving rapidly along a map of the compound signifying 2 human heat signatures not carrying an identification card. Well, that explains the question of how Mr. (or Ms.) Antagonist got out; they’d had an accomplice. Not too exciting of a development.

He put a hand to his earpiece to call up some agents… But… Oh, what the heck.

Stuff wasn’t working. It was like the radio waves were… occupied? Jammed? He didn’t even know.

That happened sometimes. America wasn’t the only one with cool tech-y stuff that helped with secret missions. (But America’s gadgets were totally the coolest, Alfred was sure).

However, that did leave him with an interesting situation. No one but Al had the exact location of the enemy agents and he sort of doubted that anyone clever enough to sneak into this place without being intercepted for quite a while would be caught on the way out either. Not if Alfred could help it.

Following his device to their location wasn’t the hard part.

However, as he turned the corner with a raised weapon, he found only an empty hallway where the interlopers should be according to his gadget… That was odd. He shook the thing. Smacked it a couple times. You know, just the standard professional procedures to make sure that it was working properly.

Good news: the gadget wasn’t lying to him.

Bad news: Alfred learned this upon receiving a right hook to the jaw. That wasn’t fun.

Alfred went staggering back, blinking up at the massive amount of man that was suddenly right in front of him. Neat trick.

Alfred scrambled back to his feet, his training kicking in to dodge the kick that was sent towards his ribs. The big man seemed… surprised to find that his foot had not connected with flesh. Well, surprised enough to give him the fraction of a second it took to turn his weapon around to point at the enemy.

He squeezed the trigger… at the exact same time that he was made aware of the other one’s presence. The Russian spy’s accomplice. A thin hand smacked the small pistol downwards… only enough to redirect the shot to his own thigh.

The accomplice was much smaller than the Russian and of Asian descent. The new man in the equation hissed at the feeling of the dart hitting his thigh (not a bullet-- Alfred hadn’t been aiming to kill anyone here, but that dart was enough to knock down an elephant in 30 seconds flat, so it took care of humans fairly easily too). The man staggered, confused for a couple seconds as he tried to comprehend what on Earth he’d been hit with before finding himself collapsing to his knees, only lucid long enough to see his hulking partner in crime make another rush at Alfred.

The Russian managed to grab the gun and Alfred swore he had not been that fast before. It must have been for incapacitating his partner.

The two grappled for control of it. Man, this guy was strong. What kind of steroids did they have this guy on anyway? Alfred considered himself pretty darn tall, but this guy was huge. Not fair. Totally not fair.

Well, John Quincy Adams, Big Guy over here had the gun wrenched around enough to be pointing at Alfred’s arm. Alfred’s fingers were still in control of the trigger, though.

He made a split second decision.

He pulled the trigger. He felt the dart, barbed, stab into his arm. He felt the, frankly dangerous, amount of tranquilizers injected into his bloodstream in a whirl of chemical. Another flash of confusion spread across the Russian’s face as Alfred’s vision started to go a little wacky. As his head felt light yet strangely heavy. As the tainted blood reached his brain. That was one of the last things Alfred managed to comprehend before he went down. One of the last things. He also remembered the pain of yanking out the dart (he really deserved a raise for this; that thing was barbed specifically so that the yanking out wouldn’t be easy or fun ). Then, he could fuzzily recall jabbing it into the enemy spy’s back with a winning all-American smile, the remaining tranquilizer without a doubt enough to take him down too, if slightly slower.  

And then sleep.

Chapter Text

Alfred woke up slowly and not particularly pleasantly, not sure how much time had passed. The stark white fluorescent lights of the base’s infirmary made his already swimming head dully ache. He groaned unhappily, his dry mouth feeling like it was stuffed with cotton. He groped around blindly towards the side of the bed, hoping that his hand would come into contact with a nice glass of water on a bedside table. “Good afternoon, agent,” came a familiar voice to his side. Al broke into a grin.

“Hey, Japan,” he croaked out. It was only a code name for the Japanese man, of course. Alfred had learned his true name-- Honda Kiku (Kiku Honda if you wanted it the Western way of first name-last name)-- on a mission years ago. They had been partners on many missions. Well, they were partners in a lot of things, actually. They still had to use codenames often, though. If there was any chance at all that they would be overheard, Kiku was Japan and Alfred was America. “How long was I out?”

“A little over 24 hours.”

“Have you been waiting up for me all this time? You’re too cute.”

“Actually,” Kiku’s small smile was heard in his voice but Alfred knew from experience that it wouldn’t show on his face. “After the two agents, and you, were found unconscious in a hallway, I was only told that the prisoners had been apprehended. I was informed on where to find you only about an hour ago. They sent me to collect you when you wake up. You have an assignment.”

“Can’t it wait? Like, until after breakfast?”

“I have been assured that you are wanted directly after you are physically able to attend a briefing meeting.”

“Ew. Mission briefings require some brain food. I have just been tranquilized… 24 hours ago…?” he trailed off as Kiku shook his head sympathetically. His bright smile returned when Kiku slyly pulled a snack cake and a water bottle out of his tote bag for him. “Aww! You’re the best, Ki--” a stern look. “Japan!” He tossed him the snack.

“You will have to eat it on the way to the briefing room. Let’s go.”

 

~~~

 

Ivan Braginsky awoke slowly, but then snapping to a state of alertness when he remembered what had happened to him. He didn’t open his eyes. He just listened. He heard nothing. He did not feel restraints on any of his limbs. A holding cell then, perhaps?

He slowly opened his eyes to gauge his surroundings.

Well, this was certainly unlike any holding cell Ivan had ever seen. It was a dimly lit, plainly decorated room with a very business-like aura. There was a long, polished table taking up most of the room’s space. It was stretched out before a large screen, presumably for presentations. The room was not empty of people.

A large, muscled blond man sat at the head of the table, flipping through a magazine with an air of boredom while waiting. Waiting for Ivan to awaken? “Welcome, Ivan Braginsky,” the man said before Ivan could decide on what would be the smartest plan of action. He had an accent. German, Ivan decided, but with very practiced English. Ivan didn’t respond. Even acknowledging his name would give them more information than he would like. “I am sure you would like to know why you do not find yourself in an interrogation room.” No response. The man looked up, raising an eyebrow at him curiously. “Or perhaps you are more interested in whether or not your partner is ?” Ivan tensed against his will. It was one of the few drawbacks of working with a partner one knows better than themselves. On one hand, movements on missions could be anticipated and coordinated like a perfectly oiled machine. On the other, in the case of capture, closeness could cause… trouble. The blond’s eyes sparked with interest at this reaction.

He tossed a folder onto the table. “Agent Wang Yao, am I correct?” Ivan’s eyes bored into the blue ones carefully judging his every response. He wanted to take this man down and get out of here, with or without what they’d come for, and take Yao with him. But that was the problem. These people had Yao. And Ivan knew better than they did that with that simple fact, they could play him however they liked. “Well, perhaps it would give you some peace of mind to know that he is not being very forthcoming with any information, if that’s what you care about.”

“What is being done with him?” Ivan found himself saying venomously, almost against his will. A barely noticeable smile ghosted on the man’s lips.

“Nothing, actually. He still hasn’t woken up yet. He is much smaller than you or our agent; the tranquilizer will keep him down for a longer span of time. His condition is stable. The drugs did not damage any of his bodily systems, while that is a reported occurrence.” Ivan sat back in the cushioned chair, watching the man across the room.

“Why am I here, then?”

“A very good question, Mr. Braginsky. It was certainly nothing we were expecting, as you likely guessed. However, we are a very… flexible agency when there is a job that needs doing. And. Well. You did break into our compound. You are clearly impeccably talented.”

“I did not do it alone,” Ivan found himself saying. Were they wanting to use him? What was this?

“We know. And, after our little mission is explained, you will not be working alone then either.”

“Mission?”

“America, and, indeed, every other country that the United States directly affects-- most of the world-- requires only the best agents. If it sweetens the deal any for you, Russia would be affected as well. Your superiors are being contacted. We are almost certain that they will divert your mission from whatever you came here today to acquire to working alongside us once they understand the situation,” the blond told him, lacing his fingers together in a way that could only be described as nervous. Whatever this madness was, it was not something that this man could allow to fail.

That was when the door opened.

Ivan was considering making a run for it, but then he saw who it was. The American agent that had stopped Ivan and Yao from making their escape. Or rather, the American agent who was responsible for whatever this mess was that Ivan was being pulled into by this absurd agency whose compound he had been assigned to rob of crucial government and agency data. It was this man’s fault that Ivan was sitting where he was now and Yao was unconscious elsewhere. “Hello, agent,” the German greeted him. The American nodded towards the man in acknowledgement along with a gruff ‘sir’, his eyes never leaving Ivan’s. The German cleared his throat, not wavering either of the agents’ focuses off each other for even a second. “America, meet Russia. Russia, meet America. Your new partner for this mission.”

Both whipped around to gape at him.

“Oh you have to be Millard Fillmore-ing kidding me.”

Chapter Text

Alfred was, to put it simply, ticked off. The Russian spy was completely silent as Germany explained that agents of the highest caliber were required for this mission. Normally, that would have been quite the compliment to receive. Then, Germany explained that the original plan had been to place Alfred with Kiku, since having them together yielded the best results. However, when the compound had been invaded with such skill and useful technology, the superiors had wanted one of the enemy spies on the job.

First off, emphasis on the troubling phrase enemy spy there. Second, one does not simply split up America and Japan’s secret agent partnership so easily. Sure, there was a little bit of a concern that in the event of capture, Alfred and Kiku could be used against each other. Sure, because of that concern Alfred and Kiku had been given different partners on missions or gone solo after Alfred marched into his superiors’ office and demanded that he be allowed to marry Kiku.

But none of those missions were so important. And in none of those missions was Alfred being paired with someone who he had had to apprehend as a criminal .

But sir !” Alfred argued with his blond higher-up in a voice that totally wasn’t a whine. “You know for a fact that Japan and I would totally have this in the bag! We’re, like, the best possible partnership because we know each other so well! This is a bad idea , dude!” Germany gave him a look at being referred to as ‘dude’. Alfred did not correct himself due to the previously mentioned bit about being upset. The enemy guy, code name Russia (how lame), sat there. Menacingly. Also, his nose was stupid. Kiku had a beautiful nose and he sat in a manner that was not menacing.

“America, your displeasure is noted and understood, but these orders come from people much higher than me on this chain of command. You have been given an assigned partner and you will do as you are told,” Germany told him simply. Alfred made a noise to remind everyone that he didn’t like it.

“Alright, sir-dude. What do I gotta do?” Alfred slouched backwards in his chair, spreading his arms in proper bring it on fashion. He hoped that his confidence would imply that he’d rather work alone than with some possibly communist Russian guy. Germany straightened his papers on the table.

“To put it simply, you will have to save the world as we know it,” Germany summed up succinctly.

“Oh is that all? Psh! Been there, done that!”

“Your false bravado is not being appreciated,” Russia quipped sharply. Alfred had half a mind to stick his tongue out at him. Or perhaps a middle finger.

“Thank you, Russia. I can agree to that,” Germany sighed before continuing. “This is a matter of international importance and concern. I can assure you that you two will not be the only agents working actively to neutralize this threat, but I can also assure you that your roles will both play a crucial part.”

“Okay, cool. Are you gonna tell us what we’re going to do and what we’re facing?” Alfred asked calmly.

“You are facing an enemy that seeks to destroy the entirety of the United States. It is unclear the exact nature of the threat we are facing, but it is clear from the information we have managed to gather that this is an organization. This is an organization with an expansive network of informants and supporters. This organization is strictly, fiercely anti-Western influence and who is considered the largest hub of that? The United States of America. This threat believes not only that the USA is a source of modern-day evil, but also that the complete extinction of it and its inhabitants will greatly solve other modern day problems-- such as overpopulation and the acceleration of climate change. This organization quite literally believes that they will be saving the world if they can decimate the US.” Alfred squirmed in his seat, his blood running icy through his veins.

“Yeah, okay. People hate us. People want to kill us. Nothing new, though, right? This is what the whole war on terrorism thing is about, isn’t it? We’ve got the actual military for that,” Alfred pointed out. He was used to matters of national security and he was used to it being linked back to terrorism, but this seemed way too broad a topic.

“No, this is different because thus far we cannot link anything back to any terrorist cells. This extinction-level agenda is not linked with a grotesque distortion of religion. In fact, our sources that have been able to map out some of the people involved with this organization and there is no pattern that we have found yet . Not race, not religion, not age, not income level, not nationality, etc etc. Nothing that we can find that links these people together except for the fact that they have all committed apparent suicide before they could be taken in for interrogation.”

“Alright. Fun, fun. Good job on these sources, by the way. Really excellent work they’ve done here gathering all of this together for the real expert--” Alfred was cut off.

“Yes, they have done brilliant work. I would pass along your compliments, but every source we have has ended up dead. As a matter of fact, after a last bit of information was relayed back to us, our source was captured. We sent rescue and backup, but they were never found. We still have no remains. However, we were sent an HD video of our informant being tortured until they were far past the point of literally begging for death.”

“That’s messed up, man.”

“Indeed,” Germany cleared his throat. “And that is what you two will be facing.”

“I have no reason to be forced into this. Send another piece of American cannon fodder to die. This is not my fight,” Russia practically snarled. You know, Alfred had never been entirely sure what people meant when they talked about people ‘snarling’ their words. That. That right there was what they meant.

“I beg to differ, Mr. Russia. Your partner is being held here until you return successful or until your death has been confirmed. The death of this most recent agent will not be in vain. Going back to the case of the tortured agent, the information that was delivered back to us before their capture gives this situation a certain urgency.” Russia looked like he wanted to strangle Germany. Alfred was positive that he had every ability to do so. Alfred also had a feeling that the only reason that he didn’t was the leverage of the imprisoned partner the secret agency had over the Russian. “Our agent confirmed that this enemy organization has arrangements or is nearly capable of having a weapon capable of destroying America in their possession . Further speculation by those that analyzed this information has determined that the weapon is most likely biological or nuclear warfare.”

“Well fillet my ass and call me gourmet. That’s not good, fam.”

“No, it’s not. Which is why we are sending the best possible agents to help us uncover more to this plot or stop it altogether.”

“And… you’re sure that I have to do this with Russia and not, say, Japan by my side?” Alfred wanted to confirm. Russia nodded in agreement to his argument. What a pal.

“You really wish to continue fighting to work with Japan after what has happened to our sources?” Germany asked, raising an eyebrow. Russia turned to him too with a raised eyebrow to mimic Germany’s. You know what? Not a pal. Screw him. Alfred spluttered some and raised his hands innocently.

Just sayin ’, your Dudeness.” It was like a mocking ‘your Highness’ but without the respect of implying that he was royalty. Oh snap; Alfred was good. Germany sighed and put his face in his hands. Alfred smiled widely at him.

Germany had sent Alfred off on missions that could have very well been a death sentence loads of times. They were practically bros by now.

“You will be called for in the morning at 10 AM sharp for briefing on your covers and the specifics of your mission. We will have word directly from your superior’s by then, Russia. America, go… do whatever it is that you do. Russia, you will be escorted to a holding cell until then.”

Chapter Text

It became abundantly clear to Ivan as to why exactly they would take him to a holding cell instead of treating him like an agent of their own, but with more guards, for the night. It was not because they were worried about him escaping. No, they were too sure of themselves that they had Ivan precisely where they wanted him and that they could pull his strings any way that they wished.

They had a mutual understanding as Ivan was shoved roughly into a heavily guarded cell. The final pieces clicked together when Ivan learned that Yao was in the very same cell.

These Americans knew almost without a doubt that they were sending Ivan to his death. They did not expect him or his silly American partner to come back with a pulse.

They recognized that and with that information, they were not entirely heartless. Or perhaps it only made them more cruel.

Yao stared at him evenly, eyes glinting cleverly. He did not move. Ivan knew why. Surveillance cameras watched them from two separate panoramic angles. It did not take a genius to guess that it captured every sound emitted within the chamber as well. Nothing was left to chance here. To Yao, the two of them were still only prisoners apprehended on a mission. One did not allow people to get much leverage over oneself… if one could help it.

For example, one did not allow captors to know that they were not merely partners in espionage. One would never give captors the knowledge that the person with you is your spouse. They will use that information to break you.

Yet, they knew. The captors knew about it all. Ivan had read it in their file. For all Ivan knew, the silly American spy that he was being partnered with for a ridiculous mission was or would be allowed to view that file.

Ivan dropped the pretense. He dropped the professionalism.

Yao saw it vanish in his features immediately. Yao looked at him, confused and warning of danger. His eyes flicked up to the camera as if Ivan may have missed it. Ivan shook his head. Yao, sitting stiffly with his legs crossed, visibly tensed. “What did you do?” the familiar voice rang out loudly in the small, silent room. Yao rose and walked to him, stopping inches away, searching Ivan’s face. “What happened? What have you done?” Yao asked him in Mandarin.

“Yao,” the smaller man flinched slightly at the usage of his name. “They already know everything. They have a file. They know our names. They know we are married. They know who we work for. I read it all there.”

“Ugh. Americans ,” his small nose curled distastefully, making Ivan giggle despite himself. Yao looked up at him, a hint of a smile on his beautiful face. “Such know-it-alls . You had me worried, darling.” He reached up and patted Ivan’s cheek before sitting down on the hard cot provided. Yao gestured to the empty space beside him and Ivan sat down, slumping against him for purchase after all that had happened. Yao picked up Ivan’s limp hand, much larger and paler than his own. More calloused. Yao’s hands were thin and crafty-- made for the delicate art of espionage. Ivan’s husband gently rubbed and massaged the hand that he was holding. “Now, why don’t you tell me what’s happened?” Yao whispered in Mandarin again.

~

Alfred kissed Kiku slowly. Kiku was snuggled perfectly against him, the soft lips of the smaller man enticing Alfred into another deep kiss. It spoke everything they didn’t have the words or the time to say. Alfred threaded his fingers with Kiku’s. “I love you, babe,” Al whispered into the air between them.

“And I love you,” Kiku said, never breaking eye contact as he gently touched their foreheads together.

“My arm is falling asleep.”

“It would be astonishing if it was not.” The two took a moment to awkwardly adjust and do their best not fall to the ground. It was not the most ideal lodging, per se. But, you see, the big room with a bunch of cots and bunk beds that regularly housed agents that were passing by or soon to leave… Well, it was housing agents. Alfred had this night with his husband and he wasn’t going to spend it to the sound of strangers’ snoring across the room.

Alfred had an office. He was pretty much a full-timer and he’d lived to tell the tale (except, he couldn’t actually really tell anyone because it was mostly highly classified information) of enough missions that they’d agreed that, hey, this guy can have his own office space. Al was also the proud owner of a nice hammock that was good to be set up just about anywhere. So, being the totally smart fella he was, he now had a hammock IN HIS OFFICE. Being a super spy hero person was awesome sometimes.

In the almost complete absence of light in a hammock in a locked office in a secret compound on government property, Alfred held his husband close and was held close by his husband. Kiku knew about Russia being partnered with him. Kiku knew that Alfred was going to leave tomorrow with Russia in tow. Kiku knew that Alfred and this stranger’s, this enemy spy’s, lives were in grave danger and may not come back. That was the case with nearly every mission, though.

And they didn’t talk about any of that. Nah, there was no need for that jazz.

They talked about how Alfred was going to get to try out his new apple pie recipe he’d found online when he got home. They talked about the possibility of getting a dog. Or a cat. Or a parrot. Or all of the above.

They shared ‘I love you’s between kisses.

Alfred played with the wedding ring that he’d put on Kiku’s hand that he held fiercely, an unspoken I’ll never let you go .

They talked about Alfred’s parents (Kiku’s in-laws) and how they would probably spend Thanksgiving with them this year (again) despite how crazy things got. It made memories, Kiku would argue for in a determined tone that would make Alfred laugh.

Kiku complained about how he would make sushi and, until Alfred got back, there would be no one to tell him how wonderful it is. Alfred complained that, until he got back, there would be no one to make sushi so freakin’ awesome for him.

Sooner or later, Alfred dozed off there in the office. It was kinda by accident because he was more than willing to stay up the whole night talking to his sweetheart, but he fell asleep to the feeling of Kiku’s arms around him and Kiku’s hand running gently through his hair.

Chapter Text

“Literally, I’m gonna shove my Captain America action figure up whoever’s ass it was that decided making me go with this guy is a good idea,” Alfred announced.

Every person that was involved in the decision?” Kiku wanted to confirm. Alfred nodded.

“I am a patient man. I can do this methodically. One at a time. Maybe I’ll buy more Captain America action figures.”

“Alfred, you are an incredibly im patient man,” Kiku reminded him as he made sure that Alfred had all necessary toiletries packed after last time when he’d forgotten deodorant and a toothbrush. “And I feel that this would be a counterproductive way to inform them of your displeasure.”

“They’re not gonna shoot me. Maybe taser me, though. But it’ll be worth it.”

“Or who knows. They could enjoy it. Like you did. Before I had to take you to the hospital, that is, and attempt to explain why you had an action figure stuck in--,” Kiku broke into a smirk as Alfred groaned loudly in protest to stop his retelling of a story that Alfred A. couldn’t recall all the details of and B. was working to forget those that he did remember.

“Okay, but babe, that was one time . I was drunk . Let it go .” Kiku stretched up on tiptoes to kiss him.

“Never.”

“Babe.” Kiku’s smile faded abruptly when there was a knock at Alfred’s office door. Alfred sighed. They’d sent someone to fetch him and make sure he was awake, packed, and prepared. Al threw his duffel bag over his shoulder before leaning in to kiss his husband.

“I love you,” Kiku told him, hushed and hurriedly. “So much.” They kissed again, a noisy and disgustingly cute smooch. “Don’t get too friendly with that muscly new partner of yours,” Kiku joked. Alfred mimed vomiting.

“No worries there, sweet iced tea. Have you seen this dude? Ugh, what a tool. Not just a tool. A whole basket of tools. A tool basket, is what this big guy is.” The knock came again, more insistent this time. “Ew, I hate this part,” Al said as he looked down at his hand. A wedding ring is not something that a spy can wear safely in the field for a plethora of reasons. He slipped it off his finger, placing it gently in Kiku’s outstretched palm. His hand always felt funny without it. “Be back soon, sweetheart. Love you!”

 

Russia was flanked by a couple guards, but he wasn’t handcuffed or anything. He held his head high, looking down his big nose all pretentious-like. Geeze, how Alfred would prefer to hang out being cute with his husband for a bit longer. But no, he had to get on a trans-Atlantic flight with this guy.

Multiple aliases and passports were arranged. If something even remotely fishy appeared to occur, it’d be all too easy to slip into another name and backstory altogether. For the flight over, he would be a brown-eyed, bald-headed individual on an entirely different flight from Russia. His accent would take a far more Southern drawl and he’d be a tourist going to Europe alone after he’d won the trip on a radio show. No spouse. No kids. Larry Jenkins.

Maybe at some point they’d clear an alias for Alfred and Kiku to live under together, legally married. Maybe after it was cleared, they’d get a house together. A nice house with one of those fancy, modern kitchens. Maybe, under aliases, they could start a family. Alfred had always wanted a bunch of kids.

But they hadn’t even allowed for Kiku and Alfred to be married under aliases or their own names, for their own names were buried as completely as the government could bury them. Being spies, neither of them could afford to have practically any information available under their names. And they wouldn’t spend the resources to clear aliases for such a deep cover when it was not for a mission. Also, that was assuming Alfred made it back from saving the United States alive and not tortured to death with no body for his unlawfully-wedded husband and relatives to bury.

But hey, if he saved the United States, they just might do the thing. Last time he went on a big mission and saved a bunch of people, they gave him an office. Kind of the same thing, right?

~

Ivan resisted the urge to sigh in annoyance. His only outward sign of discomfort was when he allowed himself to attempt to rub the soreness out of his neck and shoulders, only to stop when his thoughts wandered to Yao’s expertise on the subject of massages when one was in order.

Ivan personally had no doubt in his mind that he and Yao, together, could have gotten out of that cell the moment the door had opened. He and Yao wouldn’t even need to discuss it; it was a silent agreement-- they would try. Curled up (voluntarily smashed together would be a better description) on one stiff, narrow cot (two were available, but when it is one’s likely final night with one’s spouse, it is not an option) Ivan told Yao of the situation presented to him. Yao had harrumphed. “No way would our superiors okay that,” his Mandarin was a welcome sound; Ivan had all but begun to view English as words spoken only by the enemy. Ivan replied to him in Russian merely to be more of an aggravation to anyone attempting to listen in.

“We can only wait for the word from our superiors that the Americans have sent for.”

Yao had stroked the back of Ivan’s hair gently, thoughtfully as he looked into his eyes. They knew what that meant. If no word arrived or if their agency would not have such a mission approved for Ivan, they could escape. They could return to Russia or to China.

If it was not approved.  

If it was… Well, then Ivan would be the puppet of the Americans.

Word came in the form of a video call received on an iPad passed through a food slot in the door. Ivan, after a few technical difficulties with the usual glitches and Russian ‘can you hear me now?’s, was instructed to do as he was told. Yao was to do the same. It was as simple and gut-wrenching as that.

Ivan had stood at attention as he was informed by the man known as Germany after his superiors signed off that, until further notice, the plan would continue as previously stated. Translation-- Yao would continue to be a prisoner and used as leverage over him. Too much was at stake to allow the possibility of a foreign agent such as himself to abandon his post or go rogue.

Ivan pretended to listen intently at the meeting occurring that morning as his new partner sat beside him. Yao was still taking up most of his mindspace. His goodbye still rang in his head. “You’d better be back for me. Their food here sucks balls . They tried feeding me instant macaroni and cheese last night, Ivan. Noodles were not intended to be used in such a disrespectful manner!” A hug, then. Quick, desperately clinging to him for a second. A kiss on the lips in front of the guards. Yao had looked him in the eyes with that intense passion of his. “I love you.” It was full of conviction. “Don’t die and leave me with the fat Americans and their poorly prepared food,” said with a flash of a smile from Yao. It had dragged a giggle out of Ivan, despite the situation, which was what Yao had been wanting.

Ivan went through the motions, listening enough to the final pre-mission meeting to stay alive wherever they intended to send him. He nodded to his partner as the blond American left the room for his flight, giving him a short little wave and a “See you on the other side, dude.”

Ivan entered the airport approximately two hours after America’s flight had taken off. He meandered through the crowds, already sick of this mission. He used the credit card that he’d been given for his current identity to buy some Hello Kitty fridge magnets and a small Hello Kitty snowglobe that snowed multi-colored glitter on the mouthless feline. His persona was supposed to have a small daughter, so it made sense should anyone be monitoring the purchases. But Yao, being Yao, would love them.

Also, there was a certain amount of joy that could be gleaned for making useless, non-mission-related purchases with the Americans’ money. If they were going to send him to his death, so help him they were going to pay for some Hello Kitty knickknacks for his husband.

He spent the majority of the trans-Atlantic flight fiddling with the snowglobe, watching the glitter swirl in rainbow-colored clouds around the plastic figurine in the middle as he devised strategies for the mission. That got tedious, however, and he then charged the bill to use the airplane’s WIFI to the American credit card to watch some funny cat videos on the YouTube.

He could imagine a financial coordinator’s groaning at the fact that a portion of the agency’s likely already limited budget had to be set aside to fund an agent’s silly kitten Internet searches.

Ivan was busy looking up animals surrounded by flowers when the plane touched down in Europe, marking the beginning of a three day period of reconnaissance before he would meet up with America to establish a short-term plan of action.

 

Chapter Text

Super spy mode: activated .

But first Alfred had to put away some clothes in the hotel closet like Kiku had told him to so that he wouldn’t be running around in wrinkled clothes. Then, dinner was in order to make the character he was playing seem totally legit. Also, Alfred was hungry. He’d had some stuff on the plane, but airline food existed in a dimension all its own and did not count.

Then would come recon as a super spy . Of course, he’d meet up with Russia in a few days and really get this butt-kicking, Earth-saving show on the road.

He ordered some room service, ‘cause he could (perks of being on mission; the agency pays for stuff). He kept his order low-key and not too expensive, as his character would. He checked the room for listening devices, he equipped the room with his own listening devices for security purposes, he located the weapons stash that the agency had planted in his room (because there was no way he was getting on the plane with ‘em), he struck some poses and tried out different voices in the mirror for giggles, and washed his hands (gotta stay hygienic, yo) before food arrived.

Then he had to go through that annoying bit where he checked his food to make sure it wasn’t poisoned or anything because people were rude and tried to do that sometimes. His little food testy thing assured him that room service wasn’t trying to kill him yet, so that was a good sign. Also, post-chowing-down, his vitals monitors that the agency wanted him to wear told him that he was not dying. So that was good too.

Filled up on some European room service food, he did some research (i.e. flipping through the files that the agency had already given him). He checked out the profiles of the suspects who were assumed to be involved with the nefarious organization, and who had all wound up dead ( apparent suicide… hint, hint-- maybe not actual suicide). Well. They all appeared human. (Or perhaps that was just what they wanted you to think, Alfred wasn’t sure. He still couldn’t convince them to give him Area 51 clearance.)

But hey, these suspects definitely existed (note the past tense, regrettably).

And so did their families and other connections.

Of course, their families, friends, acquaintances, significant others, etc. had been scoured relentlessly for information already . However, time had passed. Things could pop up now that hadn’t before. Regardless, Alfred had no other leads.

Therefore, he would take on the character of a journalist-- no, a cop!-- who was doing some extra checking in on the case… Which may be a bit awkward, considering the case was supposed to be closed, but Alfred had work to do! Grieving families kind of came with the package.

Conveniently, immediate family members of the “suicide” victim’s were living their lives nearby (not a coincidence; Al assumed his agency wanted him to take this sort of route). Some time had definitely passed, according to the death date on the little portfolio, so Alfred assumed it would be less likely for him to be met with anguished screaming and tears.

Al grabbed his cop stuff, complete with badge and legit creds, and headed out.

 

Fifteen minutes later, he was awkwardly holding a croissant in the family’s parlor as, who was presumably an elder brother of the deceased, escorted a wailing mother out of the room. He was left alone with the father who was barely keeping it together himself. Al munched quietly on the croissant.

Then, the brother dude was coming back and exchanged places with his father dude, the father dude hurrying out of the room to console the mother dudette. (That’s French for lady-dude.)

“What do you want from us?!” snapped the brother at Alfred in French. Alfred was pretty sure he’d been pretty clear that he’d wanted to talk about the member of the dude’s family that had killed himself, but whatever. Al repeated his intentions, asking about the death (en français, as they were, you know, in the France part of Europe. Oh, and also Alfred could speak it. And a bunch of other languages. Which was a big factor in actually getting his job as an agent. Which was super cool. Minus dealing with grieving families. And also imminent dying. And not being allowed to legally marry your special guy. Plus some other stuff.)

The brother recounted a not-too-nice tale of some not-too-nice stuff related to discovering his not-too-freshly deceased sibling. But Alfred had heard all that. No, he needed to get to the juicy bits like, for example, whether this guy’s brother would be interested in exterminating a nation. But asking stuff like that outright usually ends up with someone getting sniped, so Al applied some more finesse to his methods. “Was your brother ever involved in questionable activities? Drugs? Any connections to the mob?” See? Finesse. The brother started sniffling. Nevermind. Abort. More finesse needed. “My apologies, but I need to go through the routine questions.”

The brother shook his head slowly. “No, of course not.” Of course not. It’s never that simple. Why can’t it ever be that simple?

“Okay, but, think on this : was anybody connected to your brother into that jazz?” The interviewee blinked, shaking his head without thinking. “Please, sir, this information could be groundbreaking,” Alfred pushed.

“Well…” Oh, Alfred loved the sound of that. “He did have a friend , more of an acquaintance, who’s into the drug scene a bit…?”

“Okay, sure. Now tell me. What all do you know about this acquaintance of his? How did your brother and the acquaintance know each other?”

Chapter Text

The details of the process are boring, but it is important to note that there’s some super cool spy network of information that helps fill in all the deets (that’s spy talk for ‘ details ’). Al got some info about some loser friend of the victim from the victim’s bro. It didn’t seem very significant, but you have to work with what you’ve got. And Al and the homies behind the scenes to whom he was relaying his collected data had a loser friend of the victim to work with.

So Al got his intel on where the dudebro lived. Al also got downwind of some spicy development that Loser FriendTM  was going to host a party. Also , this party was being held on the grounds of ‘just bring whoever’. That opened up the perfect little opportunity for a certain dashingly handsome American and a certain glaringly sketchy Russian to pretend that they were friends of friends who were attending the party. Also, the party was apparently going to be full of illegal drug users so, like, probably no one was going to actually bother to fact check their story.

Al still wasn’t counting on this little party to scrounge up anything relevant to the destruction of a nation, but then Ivan showed up for their scheduled rendez-vous.

Russia hadn’t gone to the victim’s family for his intel. He’d gone… Al didn’t know… Elsewhere . But anyway, Al decided to go ahead and be a gentleman and let Russia present his info first. Give him the benefit of the doubt when it came to his usefulness.

The location was secure. Nobody would be listening in. Nobody would see them together. It was all good to just have a nice heart to heart between secret agents.

Russia broke out a laptop to present his findings. What a show-off. All of Al’s findings were in his mind (and also in some database back at headquarters).

“So I have found something fishy,” Russia started, hardly giving Alfred more than a bored glance. “Upon monitoring of financial activity--” That was probably highly illegal to access, Al mentally noted. “There is, naturally, the usual corruption and discrepancies among the wealthy, but looking beyond that, there is another case that… stands out… from the rest…”

“So, like. A pickpocketer that had had a good steal and was being careful about things,” Alfred challenged. Boom. Whatcha gonna do, Russian beefcake man?

“No, no. Hardly a criminal record on this one. Some minor drug offenses, but they could never bust him on anything major.” Bank records and criminal records pinpointed on a tiny hunch? Dude, this guy worked spooky fast . Al didn’t like him. “But the amounts of money being transferred around until it’s lost in anonymous accounts? Untrackable? This man works at a grocery store. These sort of suspicious activities seem to be occurring on a regular basis. And the activities are being covered up. It is not a surprise that he has not raised a single alarm until now.”

“Okay, yeah. Sure, bro. We’re definitely going to look into this and all, but how have you gotten all this information?”

“I’m Russian.”

“What’s that supposed to imply?” Russia stared at him evenly until Alfred looked away. Maybe some things were better left unsaid.

“And what did you find out with your allotted time, American?” Russia asked. His tone carried politeness and appropriate interest in hearing the answer, but it was that kind of voice that you knew was mocking you. Alfred puffed up a bit with pride. He totally had stuff. Useful stuff. Not just some loser friend of a victim and a party to attend.

“I legally interviewed some family members of the most recently deceased apparent suicide victim. They honestly seem pretty in the dark about the juicy bits, but the brother did know that our guy had a sketchy friend that was into the drug scene. I got the dude’s address, information, and I’ve got a scheduled party he’ll be hosting. I think we should attend and see if there’s any nefarious activity goin’ down.”

“Besides, perhaps, drugs?” Russia suggested, obviously not taking any of Al’s intel seriously.

Yes , besides drugs,” Alfred said through clenched teeth. He hadn’t spoken with some grieving family to be made fun of like this. He didn’t think it was a bad lead. It was all they had so far that could be proven directly connected to a recent victim -- a victim that had been suspected of being in some way involved in this unnamed enemy organization. Sketchy activity made people suspects, being made a suspect made the suspect wind up dead, and now a sketchy connection to the suspect had been made. It was worth looking into .

“Fine,” Russia humored him. “What is your man’s name?”

“Jean LeCerf,” Alfred told him. Something flickered across Russia’s expression. “What?”

“It just so happens… that our information seems to correspond,” Russia said, almost grudging to admit that Alfred may be good at his job . “You see, that is the name of the person I mentioned having suspicious financial activity.”

“So, Mr. Russia, it looks like we have a party to attend, don’t we?”

 

Chapter Text

Alfred was hella pumped, like he always got if at all possible before executing an important part of the mission. He was busy rocking out with his earbuds in while he was getting ready, taking a moment to dance in front of the mirror and lip sing into his deodorant, when he spotted movement behind him. A shift in the shadows of the room caught in the mirror. His hand went for the gun he had concealed in a holster at his thigh. He shut off the music, his ears straining.

“They did not train you well, I am seeing,” came Russia’s voice from the hotel room. Alfred wasn’t quite sure he should relax yet.

“What are you doing in here?” Alfred demanded, cautiously turning around. Russia was not in his line of sight. “I had the door locked and deadbolted.”

“Yes. Just locked and deadbolted. And you had your ears plugged. You did not hear me knock or enter your room when I suspected the worst. Such sloppiness will get you killed.”

“Why the ever-loving Franklin D. Roosevelt did you come knocking at my door?! We’re not supposed to have that kind of contact! It links us together; it blows our cover. We had a designated meeting place for a reason, dude! Don’t be whining to me about being ‘sloppy ’!” Alfred burst into the room to confront him.

“We also had a designated meeting time ,” Russia told him sweetly, tapping his watch. “You are late. One of our profession is. Not. Late.” It was positively venomous.

“Dude, chill! I was coming! I was on my way!” Al stared at him. Honestly, what was the big deal? So he was a couple minutes late. No biggie!

“You,” Russia said very gently “were not even attempting to arrive on time for the sake of your own vanity and entertainment.”

“What’s the problem ? Come on, let’s just go . We can put it behind us.” Al tried to walk past him. A mistake. Russia kicked his feet out from under him. Alfred, not ready to be attacked by his partner , laid there for a second in shock on the ground. Then Russia was standing over him, pointing a gun. Alfred’s gun. That he’d swiped off of the American’s person as he fell. “ Whoa there , big guy, we can talk about this--”

“Hush,” his voice was ice. This guy’s insane. I’m gonna die. Holy mackerel; he’s gonna kill me. “I don’t quite think you understand. I would like it if you would listen.”

“Well you’ve got a captive audience,” Al smarted off.

“I have too much to lose, my little American spy. I intend to get back from this mission successful and alive because I have no other choice.” He enunciated his words slowly and carefully for Alfred. “Now, you are my partner for this mission. I expect perfect professionalism as if every moment you are on high alert-- no one has come back from this mission alive, but I have to. This sloppiness will not be tolerated. You are to be punctual. We are to be a well-oiled machine so that this mission can be completed successfully and I can get back what they’re holding over my head.” He dropped the gun. Alfred caught it, releasing a silent breath.

Geeze , man,” Alfred whined. “You know I’m gonna have to report that,” he told Russia, hopping to his feet, more defensive this time.

“So be it,” was Russia’s response. “Shall we? We do not want to be late.”

 

The party was in full swing when the two arrived. Music played loudly, the thump of the bass clearly audible from outside. People walked in and out the front door freely, many chatting and smoking outside. Alfred was still tense from the confrontation with Russia. The ‘leverage’ that the agency had over his head was his partner guy being imprisoned, right? That’s quite the bond between the two. Or Russia is just completely and utterly insane. Or both.

Alfred had to shake it out of his head, rehearsing their agreed cover stories. They were to be friends attending the party together. They were to avoid confrontation, seek out information, and leave. It should be a fairly simple task. The place was swarming with people that their sketchy guy had no chance of knowing. Two more strange faces in the crowd would raise no eyebrows whatsoever.

Inside they went.

It smelled pungently of alcohol and cigarette smoke, Alfred noted. The music was deafening, trashy songs played for wasted people groping all over each other with abandon in this dude’s living room. People laughing, people squealing, people yelling over the music.

They separated from each other, remaining aware of the other’s location at all times, and mingled inconspicuously as planned. Alfred grabbed a cup of the cheap beer at the table, holding it and laughing and smiling at nothing in particular. He danced by himself a little, pretending he was as drunk as the others without having ever taken a sip. There were a couple giggly girls that, on separate occasions, tried to snatch him up and grind on him. Each time, he managed to cluelessly wander away without the girls feeling like they were being rejected.

He kept his eye on Russia as best he could through the throng of people, waiting for the agreed upon signal that would send them both making their way through the crowd to investigate other areas of the house with the keen eye and training of their profession.

He gave the signal-- getting himself a glass of beer.

Alfred pushed gently through the crowd, ignored by the other party-goers. Russia was moving to join him.

Once in an empty back hallway of the house, Alfred motioned for Russia to scope out the home in one direction while he went the other. They would reconvene with their findings in the hallway after they found anything worthwhile.

Alfred was on high alert, muscles tense to fight if need be. His gun pressed firmly into his lower back. Adrenaline chilled his blood at every indication of human presence; there were couples making out in more than one of the bedrooms. But where was their guy’s room? Alfred gently opened one of the doors, finding a closet. Pulling out his flashlight, he pulled the door closed to inconspicuously inspect the area.

Holding the light in his mouth, he rummaged through the pockets of the coats hanging there. Candy wrappers were the only thing coming up so far, but he kept searching, pushing the coats aside. He was busy shaking out shoes, internally musing that he never thought he’d be ‘back in the closet’, when a soft knock came at the door. Not just any knock, either-- the code knock that he and Russia had agreed upon.

Alfred flicked off his light and opened the door a crack. Russia did not meet his eyes, pretended he didn’t even see him, but gestured subtly with his chin for Alfred to follow him. Alfred let Russia walk casually back the way he’d come before silently slipping out of the closet and following.

Russia didn’t hesitate before he entered a room. Alfred followed, closing the door behind him.

It was the master bedroom; Russia had found it. He had found something else too. Russia held up an unfolded, crumpled piece of paper. Then, he quirked a finger at Alfred to come examine what he’d found behind a painting.

Alfred’s heart skipped a beat. A concealed safe. Locked. Alarmed?

Alfred flew into action, pulling his gloves from his pocket-- no need to leave behind any fingerprints. Options flew through his mind. He could open it forcefully with miniature explosives, probably disabling the alarm, but definitely not being subtle about it. He could make an attempt at cracking the code-- he’d actually done that once before successfully. He did presume that anyone related to a nefarious plot to destroy America would not set their combination as their birthday. Besides, this safe could have always come with a preset, randomized combination. Maybe if he googled this brand he would know if he was working with random numbers or not--

Russia cleared his throat. Al turned around to look at him over his shoulder, annoyed. How much time did this guy think they had? He’d locked the door and everything, but they were snooping through the owner’s bedroom trying to break into a safe that could hold vital information to them… Russia held up the paper he found and then proceeded to shove it into Alfred’s hand, pointing at something in frustration.

Al gave it a quick glance…

Then a longer glance.

Ok, so it may have been the manual for a newly bought safe with the combination printed right there on the inside cover. Al looked back at the safe. Looked pretty dang new to him. Alfred squinted at the paper in his hand suspiciously before shaking his head slowly. “Nah, there’s no way this isn’t a trap, Russia, my man,” he decided, wondering how his partner could be so far behind.

A brand new safe? Pieces were beginning to slide into their gut-wrenching places. Wasn’t this all suspiciously… easy? Both Alfred and Russia had come across this one guy who had decided to throw this party on some whim. I mean, they were totally awesome at their jobs and all, but this was a big job. And big jobs were never so simple. Seriously? A direct connection to a suspect? And then the combination to an easily-discovered safe right there in the trash? No. If you’ve got the combination with something to hide, you burn that junk. You flush that junk. You drop that junk in some random public trashcan that’s emptied into an incinerator five times a day.

Alfred didn’t feel so good about opening this safe.

What if it had arrived on the premises… after Russia and Alfred had arrived in the country?

What if someone knew they were here already? And threw a party to greet them, knowing full well that they’d come and discover what would be presumed to be ‘evidence’ in an easily cracked safe? If that was the case, then… Well, by Benjamin Franklin’s spectacles , they needed to get out of there!

Russia had pulled some sort of device with a screen out.

He scanned it, his brow furrowing as he adjusted some dials on the gadget. “Oh,” was what he finally said.

“What is it?” Al asked.

“I cannot be sure, but… There is a vial. A scientific test tube. It appears to be rigged to be punctured with a needle as the safe is opened.”

“I vote we don’t open it,” Alfred squeaked. “We need to find our guy. He must know something. This is proof , is it not?”

“It very well could be,” Russia agreed thoughtfully. “Somebody wanted… something to be released when that door was opened. That is never a good sign. They also… knew that the door would be opened. France is a close ally of the United States; it is reasonable that our antagonists would want to make an example of them before moving onto the main event. Do you think this indicates biological warfare?”

“Well, makes more sense now than the nuke theory does. But we have no idea what’s in that vial. It may not be some deadly disease. It could be something to knock us out so we can be apprehended.”

“Regardless, it seems that whoever is behind this safe intends for the opener to die, based on their history with those they’ve captured. My question is this: is it the death of agents? Or is it the death of our suspect?”

“Huh. Didn’t think about it like that. But why would he have a safe in his house that he hadn’t opened yet?”

“Perhaps he was given specific instructions.”

“Whatever this thing is about, what are we supposed to do with it? We can’t just leave it here! How the Sacagawea are we supposed to get out of here inconspicuously with a suspicious, probably lethal safe?”

“Simple. We have to call the police on this little party. It is not incorrect to report illegal drug activity,” Russia proposed. “We take the safe as everyone scatters. Perhaps through a window would be best.” Russia nodded towards the bedroom window that was plenty big enough for the two of them to get through easily.

Alfred shrugged. Seemed like a good plan to him.

So, they were sitting on the dude’s bed using the home phone to call the local cops. Al put on his best ‘native French’ accent and told the dispatcher some tale about copious amounts of cocaine and meth or whatever. So they were on their way. All Russia and Alfred had to do was wait until all hell broke loose.

Al was having a lovely time uncomfortably sitting beside the hulking Russian sociopath, but then the universe decided that their plan was going too well.

The doorknob jiggled. Then jiggled some more, confused and aggravated that it was locked. Then someone was pounding on the door, demanding to know what was going on in there. Russia hissed a curse under his breath in Russian that Alfred didn’t understand, but knew it probably wouldn’t make his babushka very proud.

Alfred was already up, moving to re-hide the safe. “ Un moment !” he called to the door, peeling off his gloves and then ruffling up his hair. Russia gave him a weird look. “Just follow my lead,” Al whispered, already sick to his stomach about what he was gonna have to do. But what other reason would two people lock themselves in a bedroom?

He opened the door, facing four people. Their suspect was among them. “Who the fuck are you and why the fuck are you in my bedroom?” their suspect demanded. Al put his hands up with a lazy laugh.

“Look, we just wanted some privacy, yeah? I didn’t know it was your bedroom, pal.”

“We?” another member of the posse wanted to know, curiously trying to peer around Al, probably hoping to spy a pretty girl. Russia had already caught on and walked up behind Al, winding his arms around the American’s waist and laying his head on Alfred’s shoulder. Gross. The Russian, playing a different character than himself, offered the people a coy, docile smile.

“Aww, cute!” the lone girl of the group half-squealed. Sometimes, the fetishization of queer men came in handy. The dudes played along.

“Aw, it’s fine, guys!” their suspect laughed. “I totally get it. No harm done.” They shook hands. “What are your names?” was the next question.

“I’m Louis and this is Thomas,” Alfred introduced, smooth as butter.

“Cool, cool. How long have you two been together?”

“Our two year anniversary is next month,” Russia told them, his voice sounding cutesy and excited. Gross. Gross. Alfred chuckled and patted Russia’s hand in a way he hoped looked loving.

“Very good! Shall we have a toast to your relationship? Perhaps an early celebration of your anniversary?” the host of the party proposed.

“I don’t drink,” Alfred and Russia said in unison. They looked at each other. Russia giggled. Friggin’ giggled . What was he trying to imitate? A five-year-old?

“That’s fine!” the agents were assured. “A kiss, then, to commemorate the moment?” As if on cue, the girl and one of the dudes shared a smooch. The group looked expectantly at the agents now. Why do bad things happen to good people? Alfred wondered. Russia ended up taking the initiative by reaching around and pecking Alfred on the corner of the mouth.

Gross, GROSS, gross , EW, gross.

For the sake of the part he was playing, though, he smiled shyly as the group aww’d and cheered.

All except that one chick.

That one chick could rot in hell because the next thing out of her mouth was “Oh, come on ! That’s it ? Where’s the passion, boys?!” Then the others were laughing and goading them on for more. Then, Al was looking up at Russia, wanting to hurl up his lunch or just run for it, but he was a professional. Russia looked down his fat, stupid nose at Al. Then, he was giggling uncomfortably in that weird character he was playing.

“Oh, I would rather not,” Russia put his hands up, playing shy at kissing in front of a crowd. Bless him.

But peer pressure is relentless. And these guys were egging them on even more. They were starting to draw some attention. Couldn’t have that.

Russia gave a sideways glance at Al, letting only Al know that he wasn’t up for this any more than Alfred was.

I’m a professional actor. I am a professional. I can pretend. I cannot blow my cover. Alfred was thinking to himself as he reached up to take Russia by the scruff of the neck and bring the big lug down to his level. Gross. Too close for comfort. Gross, gross, gross. Dude really needed to brush his teeth. Ew.

Then their mouths were mushed together. Pretend he’s Kiku. You’re a professional. Don’t make a sour face; you’ll blow your cover. Then Russia’s tongue was in his friggin’ mouth. God, he tastes like a fuckin’ slug. Kisses like one too. Yep, no way I can pretend this dude is my Kiku. I can get through this. Just imagine all the awesome not-slug kissing I can do with my Kiku once I get home and marry the heck out of him again. But legally this time.

Then, sirens were wailing and police were on the scene. Alfred and Russia broke apart, both gasping and wiping their mouths instinctively. Thank the founding fathers of America.

The group split, running for it. Just as planned. Awesome. Way to make it worth it, guys.

The agents didn’t look at each other as they slipped back into the bedroom unseen. Russia grabbed the safe. Alfred grabbed the window.

Then, they were outta there. Both would report to HQ from their separate rooms. HQ would give them word on the next step of action to take. The cops would apprehend their suspect, seeing as he was the host of the party. Interrogation could go down later.

The suspect did, however, seem strangely innocent to Alfred.

 

Chapter Text

A small, lethal metal safe tucked under his arm and concealed beneath his long coat. The shrill wail of police sirens. The chill of the night air. The sound of his shoes on the pavement, steady. The more distant sound of shoes slapping against the roads, running away. The city lights. The roundabout route he took to his hotel. The polite, casual greetings exchanged with the concierge.

For Ivan, all of the input from his senses blended together as he methodically sorted through it-- important vs unimportant. What was dangerous versus what could be ignored. Was he safe? Ivan did not for a moment entertain the idea. The corner of the safe pressing into his side made sure that he did not forget. This was a matter of delicacy. This was a matter of life and death at every second, at every turn of the corner.

This would be a matter better suited, Ivan thought, for a pair with Ivan and Yao’s credentials.

This task was not a proper match for an American with a god complex and the notion that he had testicles the size of a bull. Whatever had occurred at the party that had caused America to stop Ivan from dialing the combination, Ivan was more willing to suppose divine intervention than actual professionalism on America’s part.

Ivan climbed the stairs to his room, subtly checking to make sure that the door had not been disturbed since he had left. Seeing that his miniature alarm device under the handle was still intact and untouched, it was reasonable to presume that it was safe to enter.

He dead bolted the door behind him.

He set the safe down carefully.

And finally, finally allowed himself to make a disgusted face as he stepped into the restroom. Washing his mouth out with tap water and spitting a good few times was about as close to relaxing he got when it came to missions. God , why did Americans automatically jump to relationships as their default cover? It is so unimaginative and so inconvenient for faithfully married men just trying to complete the mission .

His burning displeasure aside, Ivan was required to report back to the American agency with his findings. Following the procedure given to him, Ivan was put on hold as the secretary in charge of the phone lines transferred his call.

Grating music in his ear as he waited. Ivan took a seat on the end of the hotel bed. “Report,” was the only thing demanded of him. Ivan recognized the voice of the man known as Germany.

Thus, Ivan did. From his uncomfortable perch on the edge of his temporary bed, Ivan dutifully relayed every last detail of information, just as he had been trained and conditioned. He idly wondered if American agents, under relatively normal circumstances, would be expected to maintain the respect and submission to authority that was essentially programmed into Ivan. Germany, on the other end of the line, was silent as he gave his account.

“Thank you, Mr. Russia,” Germany told him, sincerely. “America and the rest of the civilized world thanks you for your work.” Ivan remained quiet, unsure if he was to respond or not. “We will send an agent to recover the safe and bring it into our labs for testing. This agent will come tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM. This agent will knock seven times on your door. This agent will be wearing a scarlet red tie. Is this understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” There was a pause. Cars passed by outside, cruising lazily along the street. “My superiors have informed me that, due to your cooperation and your valuable service to our country, you should be rewarded. A sort of… incentive for further good work, if you’d like to think about it that way.” Ivan said nothing. “After the incident earlier today, i.e. threatening your partner with a firearm,” Germany chuckled here. “While an understandable action, nearly lost you this privilege.” It felt as if they were treating Ivan like a kindergartner whose snacktime rights may be revoked. Germany coughed awkwardly. “Just keep that in mind. Thank you, again. And just one moment please.”

The grating music played again in Ivan’s ear. Ivan felt hollow and tired as he sat there, waiting as he had been told. An automated voice informed Ivan that his connection was secure and unrecorded-- implying that the previous connection, while secure, was being stored away in American archives somewhere. The phone line clicked as someone picked up on the other end. “Yes, hello?” came a familiar voice.

Ivan’s heart skipped a beat. He clutched his phone tighter to his ear. “Yao,” he breathed, voice cracking a little.

“Ivan!” he sounded surprised. They must not have told him either. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” Ivan told him instantly. “No injuries. Are they treating you well?” There was a hesitation. Ivan felt a pang of anger.

“Yes.” A lie. “Yes, of course they are. How is that partner of yours? I heard you put a gun in his face,” Yao changed this subject, a smile leaked into his voice now.

“I did. He was unprofessional. Such behavior could get us killed.”

“You’re so cute,” Yao mused. “Good for you, dearest. He deserved it. Any other entertaining incidents?” Yao always enjoyed gossip. Ivan pictured him leaning back, ready to hear some juicy details. Ivan blew a strand of hair out of his face, annoyed as he thought back.

“He is so unoriginal, Yao-Yao,” Ivan whined to his husband. “We were executing a potentially critical portion of our mission and were interrupted. Do you know what he did?”

“Oh this should be good,” Yao laughed, encouraging him on.

“He pretended we were a couple , Yao!” Ivan exclaimed. “As repulsive as that is in itself , those that interrupted us told us to kiss , Yao!” Yao snorted on the other end, amused at Ivan’s distress. “The American cannot even kiss like a functional human being! It was humiliating.” Ivan pouted alone in his room, as if his husband was there to wrap him up in his arms to console him and kiss the poutiness away.

“Ugh,” Yao scoffed. “Well, I wouldn’t expect any better from such a sloppy child.” Ivan smiled to himself, picturing Yao bringing a cup of tea to his sly lips after stating such an insult so matter-of-factly. Ivan hoped that they gave him tea. “Come back to me quickly and I can more than make up for your unpleasant experiences with my own mouth.” A wry smirk could be heard in the tone of his voice, but Ivan could detect the underlying stress that he was trying to hide-- the uncertainty that Ivan may not come back.

“I am trying, sunflower,” Ivan whispered, trying and failing not to sound exhausted. He ran a hand through his white blond hair and swallowed hard. “We are making progress. I am keeping my partner in check. I will be back to you as soon as I can.” A stone-cold determination set itself firmly in his voice.

“Good,” Yao told him, voice trembling slightly with emotion. Ivan clenched his fist. How dare they keep Yao confined? How dare they treat him poorly when Ivan was putting his life on the line for this ridiculous mission? How dare they force Ivan into this alone so that he could not even hold his husband through it?

Yao cleared his throat. Ivan’s anger diminished. “I love you, Ivan,” Yao told him. “Stay safe for me, won’t you, darling?”

“I will try, sunflower.”

“Good,” he repeated, then made an exaggerated kissy noise through the phone. And Ivan smiled. “I hope to see you again soon. Try to refrain from kissing anymore American boys, yes?” Ivan made a noise of repulsion at the mere notion and Yao laughed, one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.


 

“Alfred, if you could please stop yelling that would be appreciated,” Kiku’s voice came through the speakers of the computer.

“You don’t understand , babe! It was so gross !” Al yelled, taking the toothbrush out of his mouth to do so and managing to splatter an abundance of toothpaste on the laptop screen. Al wiped it off. “Kissed me like a slug!” Alfred told him for the fifth time. The American leaned against the bathroom counter, melancholic. “I wanna come home,” he sighed into the air. Kiku winced. Alfred realized what he’d said and winced too. “I’m sorry, babe… I know this is hard for you…” Kiku shook his head and Alfred trailed off.

“It is hard for me,” Kiku agreed slowly. “But, Alfred, it is your profession. Because I share this profession, I understand the difficulties and am willing to deal with them,” Kiku reminded him reasonably. Sometimes Alfred needed to hear it. Al chewed the inside of his cheek, still feeling guilty that he was such a sucky husband. It sucked that they had to endanger his life. It sucked that Kiku was on call to do the same thing if asked. It sucked . Jobs like these really made Alfred want one of those suburban PTA housespouse lives. “ However ,” Kiku continued, seeing Al getting lost in his thoughts. “I would prefer not to spend the time we have together speaking of unpleasantries,” he suggested quietly. Amen to that.

“You’re totally right, babe,” Al gave him a grin. “So how’s the doctor of the dead stuff going, Dr. Honda?” One day that boy would be Agent Dr. Honda- Jones . But they were saving that name changing business for renewing their vows with legalities.

“Can’t say that the cadavers are particularly active,” Kiku told him sarcastically.

“Aww, c’mon, you’re telling me my man isn’t fighting zombies all day everyday? What are my fantasies gonna be about now?” That coaxed a smile out of Kiku.

“What? Is my ‘man’ telling me that I am not making the performance of autopsies look sexy?” Kiku asked him playfully. Al snorted. The two of them lapsed into a comfortable silence, just watching each other through the screen for a moment. “I love you, Alfred F. Jones,” Kiku said, suddenly sincere. It made Alfred’s chest ache.

“I love you too, Honda Kiku,” Alfred’s voice was firm. “Fiercely,” he added for good measure.


 

Ivan slept lightly, resting yet primed for action at the drop of a hat. More than once he rose to walk about the room, inspecting it for possible dangers as well as attempting to soothe the restless thoughts in his mind. While the careful tend to stay alive, so do the rested.

A slice of city lights slipped in through the crack between the black curtains. The digital alarm clock cast an angry green glare across the room. Ivan’s steady breaths made no sound. The safe stood exactly where it had before, its deadly potential not betrayed by its unassuming appearance.

Ivan watched it for a long time, at times unsure if he was fully awake, as if the small black cube would move. Or slowly creak open, releasing a virus that would wipe out the city before the night was over.

Ivan tapped his revolver thoughtfully against his knee, uncertain of how long he’d had it in his hand, but deciding he preferred it there. The sickly glow from the alarm clock glinted dully off of the dense metal. One half of his mind told him to sleep-- there would be bigger challenges ahead. The other half knew that he was not safe-- not with the mysterious contents of the black cube in his possession.

A glance at the clock told him that it was 4:27 in the morning. Truly, there was no point in sleeping at this point. He was rested. Enough.

He stood, moving to set down his firearm, but then deciding against it. A shower was in order. Leaving a proper weapon so far out of reach would be a childish mistake the likes of which only an American agent could possibly make. He gave the safe one more look, as if to ensure that it was still there, before closing the bathroom door behind him.

There were no windows in the restroom. It protected against snipers, but came with the inherent risk of no exit strategy. One way in, one way out.

Ivan locked the bathroom door, though he recognized it would do little good in the event of a well-trained intruder. 5 and a half hours , Ivan told himself. 5 and a half hours and the safe will be out of my responsibility. Showering should shave off some of the remaining time. He set down his gun on the counter.

 

Chapter Text

Alfred awoke with little ado, finding his face pressed into his drool-covered pillow as he hugged it in his sleep. Man, he’d been sleeping hard. All of this excitement was really getting to him. Drowsily, he looked over at his alarm clock. 4:31 AM. Gross. Why was he awake this early?

Maybe… Maybe having a gun on hand would be the best way to go. Hey, Alfred didn’t have these super spy instincts for nothing. So he grabbed his gun out from under the bed.

And then he sat there, criss-cross applesauce in his jammies with his tough-looking handgun. It was quiet. The city was alive outside, of course, but quiet in that relative, not-directly-outside sense, you know? There was certainly no monster hanging out in the dark; Alfred was the scariest thing here. Why was he so tensed for action as if there was something there? Probably some nightmare that Alfred couldn’t remember. Yeah. That sounded about right. Dumb old paranoia had kept him up a lot of nights and hardly ever helped anything. There had been a couple times, though…

Nonsense. Alfred’s cover was good. Russia’s cover was good. Russia had the safe, not Alfred. Their suspect dude was to be arrested. Alfred should be fine.

Although… was the suspect already arrested like he should be? Alfred hadn’t gotten any word. Was he supposed to get word? Probably not. But…

Did the suspect, or whoever,  know that Russia was the one with the safe, not Alfred? It had been chaos last night when the cops arrived. But how could anyone know that it was them who had the safe? Their covers were good , remember?

But, then again, who had the rigged safe been intended to (presumably) kill? Seemed like a trap waiting for them if Alfred had ever seen one. Plus, Alfred and Russia were the last ones seen in the bedroom by more than one person-- including the maybe-not-yet-arrested suspect.

A click. Quiet, but clearly heard.

Alfred forced himself not to freeze as the flood of adrenaline coursed through him. What was that? A noise to be ignored? A gun? The click of a lock being opened? Alfred couldn’t even pinpoint the direction it had come from.

He took the safety off of his gun, drying a sweaty palm on his pajama pants.

Silence. Al’s heart pounded in his chest as he waited.

He scanned the room slowly from his position on the bed, careful not to miss any details. Nothing. The curtains were still drawn, obscuring him from the outside and obscuring his view of the outside. The world was still dark, judging by the tiny sliver that was visible.

He was looking at the window, contemplating his chances of escaping via the fire escape without getting sniped when he saw it. Terror zinged up Alfred’s spine.

An eye. A human eye. Watching him from the fire escape. Al wouldn’t have even noticed if the unwelcome guest hadn’t shifted.
The agent and the intruder made eye contact.

Alfred fired his gun. The shattering of the window was followed by a very human yowl of pain and returned gunfire that shredded the pillows and blankets where Alfred had been sitting not seconds before. He was already on the ground, using the bed for a little bit of cover.

With a crash, the door to Alfred’s hotel room burst open. Fire escape dude was still shooting. Now, Al was facing that guy on one side and some new visitors on the other. He was gonna need more guns.

Al found himself staring down a machine gun with no cover between him and it. Time slowed down.

They were all wearing Mardis Gras-style masks, giving an extra freakish element to the situation. Gloved jesters and clowns wielded three fully automatics between them. Another had rope. Perhaps they did not intend to entirely tear him apart with bullets, but Alfred definitely was not going to count on it.

Alfred had gotten a lot of guns pointed at his head in his lifetime. This was one of those times. These baddies were no worse than the usual baddies. Just a bit more firepower and malicious plotting to these ones.

Fingers on triggers.

Alfred took a chance and barrel-rolled back across the bed. Of course, he was met with fire escape guy. However, Alfred decided that he preferred him to those who were now at his back when they started emptying magazines at him.

Al had speed and surprise on his side; they had clearly been expecting him to go all submissive and let them do whatever to avoid getting shot. Better to get your lights snuffed out on the run than get your knees blown out and then find out what makes a well-trained agent beg for death on tape.

They weren’t far enough behind, though, to make much of a difference, Al quickly found out. Cuss. Cuss. CUSS. CUSS CUSS CUSS CUSS.

He zigzagged across the room as fast as his little secret agent legs could take him, thanking panic for speeding up the process. Zigzagging saved his life, as it does, from both a line of machine gun fire and fire escape guy’s bullet. Fire escape guy had dragged himself into the room through the window, clutching his wounded stomach with one hand and holding his gun steady towards Alfred with the other. Al leaped over the incapacitated man and out onto the fire escape like a deer, machine guns rattling behind him. Sliding on the broken glass, Al was helpfully reminded that he was in sock feet. CUSS.

Fire escape guy was shrieking at the others to go after him as bullets peppered the wall. Thank President John Adams for darkness and terrible shots. Alfred was moving fast, though, so they couldn’t be blamed too much. The shrieking from fire escape guy was abruptly silenced. They didn’t even care enough not to pump their own gooney full of lead.

Alfred catapulted himself over the railing of the fire escape, not wasting time with trying to scurry down the stairs. He hit the ground running (hey, it was only from the second floor of the building. It probably couldn’t have gone too bad).

He sprinted down the alley, clutching his gun for dear life as he fully expected to be intercepted before he could read the streets. Furthermore, he ran in zigzags, feet pounding against the concrete, in a pathetic attempt to prevent being mowed down from the second floor or sniped by another goon.

Some people would say that there’s nothing in the world like a baby’s laugh. Some people would say there’s nothing like warming up in front of a fireplace on a cold day. Some people would say that there is nothing like squishing your bare toes into a nice mud puddle.

Alfred, however, would say that there’s nothing like running for your literal life in socks, driving shards of broken glass further into your flesh with each excruciating step. Nope. Nothing like it.

The streets were empty. No one was off to work yet, no one was arriving back from their night shift yet, and there were no clubs or anything around to ensure that there would be anybody still out on the city. Alfred was alone. Calling for help would alert the Baddies to his location. Lovely. None of those convenient 24-hour American businesses to pop in and take a load off picking glass out of his bleeding feet before he crippled himself for the rest of the mission. Wonderful.

Nowhere to go but away and fast in order to hopefully not die. Nowhere to go but find his Russian pal.

Chapter Text

Ivan gently filed his fingernails on the hotel bed, wrapped cozily in a fluffy robe that the hotel supplied. What a nice touch the robes were, in Ivan’s opinion. The Russian man glanced down at the safe, feeling a nearly fatherly sort of protection towards it after all things were considered.

The two bullets that had been put in it had done nothing to breach the metal, but had marred the surface.

4:39 AM, read the digital clock. Regretfully, an attempt to shower had not taken as much time as he had been hoping. Even after he had returned to the shower stall to finish rinsing the suds from his hair after his little surprise party, it had not wasted any noteworthy amount of time.

Ivan was rather appreciating the peace, though. Yao would love it-- this early morning quiet before the rest of the world awoke. He would probably choose to use the time wisely-- keeping limber with yoga exercises. Ivan was never one for yoga, though Yao had tried to lure him more than once into joining him in his complex poses and stretches. Ivan preferred to spend quiet mornings with a cup of something warm, watching Yao from a comfortable chair.

It was not entirely quiet, however. Not yet. Yao, if he were there, would find the little dying whimpers made by the man on the floor to be a tad annoying. Yao would have silenced him by then.

A clamoring noise, then. Loud, sloppy. Ivan squinted at the window. Someone was ascending the fire escape in such a manner. It was unlikely to be anymore friends to play with; they preferred their surprise parties. Only one person that Ivan knew could be so pathetically ineffective at his job.

His suspicious were deemed correct as a hand slapped at the glass of the window, a loud voice hissing that it was America and to please let him in because they may be in trouble. This was followed by a thud.

Ivan calmly drew the curtains back and politely opened the window for his American partner who had chosen to take a seat on the fire escape, head drooped backwards in a pathetic show of pain.

Ivan sighed after a quick examination of the fire escape that the American had so loudly scrambled to climb. He had smeared two trails of blood up the expanse of it, undoubtedly also leaving a trail from his hotel room. They would both be receiving some more visitors soon. “Help me in, man. I’ve just had a hell of a time,” America breathed, letting his discomfort seep into his voice. Ivan tsk ed.

“No,” Ivan replied simply. “You got yourself here, you can make it the final steps.” The honey blond glared at him. Ivan did not extend a hand for him.

“Dude, they’re coming . Come on ! I need to patch myself up so we can get out of here!”

“Well, come on in then.” With that, Ivan turned his back on him and returned to his spot on the bed. America, groaning like a child, managed to roll himself onto his knees and drag himself up over the window sill without the use of his feet. He fell ungracefully into a heap, bleeding on Ivan’s carpet. America allowed himself a moment to wince and whine. Then, as he turned to whine in Ivan’s direction, he let out a startled yelp upon coming face to face with a corpse.

Ivan graciously tossed the American a first aid kit as he was busy gaping wide-eyed and open-mouthed around him. “What…? What did you… do ?” Ivan smirked over at him.

“I offered you my own first aid kit. I would suggest using it; the French do not appreciate blood on their carpets.” Ivan thought his little joke was amusing. Evidently, America did not.

“Are they all… you know…?” America gestured to the six unmoving bodies on the floor, most of them continuing to lose the remainder of their blood onto the floor. The whimperer coughed piteously, the loudest noise he could make. America, seeming to forget about his own injuries tried to stand and run to the remaining man. Being quickly reminded, he instead crawled on all fours as swiftly as he could.

“He is far past the point of saving,” Ivan told him, undeniably intrigued by America’s actions. He was taking the man’s pulse as if the pool of blood around him was not proof enough that it was too late; the man was better left for dead. America did not listen. America was trying to talk to the man. A paramedic’s questions as he busied about, helpless to stop the bleeding-- ‘Can you tell me how you feel right now?’ ‘What’s your name?’, ‘Do you have a family? Tell me about your family.’, ‘Can you move?’

The American was met with a blank, glassy stare and a hand weakly gripping onto his sleeve. Then, even that fell away along with the heartbeat. America did not initiate CPR. At least he could accept reality in this case. Instead, he turned a cold look to Ivan. Ivan met his gaze evenly. “Yes? Can I help you?” Ivan could not help the sassing quip to his tone.

“He could have given us information. He could have been the only source we have gotten alive . And you killed him. You killed all of them. How could you?! And you have the balls to tell me that I’m sloppy about my work! When they find out about this--”

“Hush, American.” Ivan watched his companion’s mannerisms closely. An agent who was uncomfortable with death. How unusual. “I am aware of this. They would not have been killed if I could have escaped alive otherwise. They were very adamant about fulfilling their intentions. They even interrupted my shower. They got too scuffed up in the ensuing fight for their own good. I tried to interrogate the ones that remained, but they passed without yielding any information.”

“Yeah, they attacked me too . Our goal is to preserve them for interrogation because they always end up dead before we can talk to them! Our objective is to learn who they are and what they can do !”

“You will not be achieving that goal very effectively with your injury. You ran for self-preservation-- no other choice. You were outnumbered, I take it. Likely outgunned as well. I killed them all for self-preservation-- no other choice. They had me cornered in a shower . And furthermore, I am to protect that safe at all costs. It is protected. I am alive. We move on .” America grumbled and pouted unhappily, but was finally beginning to turn attention to himself.

“Where will we go?” America asked him after a moment, the click of tweezers and the distant wail of police sirens-- undoubtedly heading for America’s hotel-- the only sound in the room.

“Simple. We adjust our cover and become somebody new after the safe is taken off of our hands.”

“I think we may want to use one where we stick together,” America said through gritted teeth, both from the act of removing a sizeable shard of glass from his heel and what he had actually said. Ivan raised an eyebrow.

“And why is that?” Sharing temporary living quarters with the American was a hellish thought in itself. It did not take a genius to extrapolate that America felt the same way. Self-preservation came into play as well-- the American was sloppy by Ivan’s standards. Moreover, they had already been targeted together by the enemy. It was a dangerous move.  

“Hmm. I dunno, man. It might have something to do, though, with the fact that my feet are in Millard Fillore-ing ribbons right about now and we’re being actively pursued by baddies with machine guns who have their feet in tact .”

“So you are wanting my protection, then?”

“Or maybe I just wanna use you for piggyback rides. You run, I shoot.” His tone was sarcastic, the meaning behind the words was serious. Ivan blinked.

“If you… America,” Ivan was pleading now. “If you bandage it tight enough…”

“Oh, sure, I may be able to hobble along for a little ways. Russia. Dude. You know that I don’t wanna hang out with your miserable sociopathic self any more than you wanna hang out with me , but we both wanna get out of this alive ,” America scrunched up his nose in displeasure.

“No. I won’t do it. You are too much of a burden on this mission in your current state. Perhaps your American agency will take you off of the mission.”


 

“The fuck do you mean you can’t replace me!” Ivan cringed at the sound of America yelling at his superiors over the phone. The safe had been picked up without further incident. Ivan had no idea where those pursuing America had gone, but they had not made a reappearance.

Perhaps they were regrouping. Perhaps they were still watching.

The room that reeked of blood and death was to be occupied by an agent whose job it was to, essentially, clean up such messes. The agent had been brought along with the man who had picked up the safe. They had not left it yet; they were only just receiving word on how they were to handle the situation. The unfamiliar agent looked just about as uncomfortable at America’s yelling as Ivan did. America seemed to be unique in being able to get away with such tomfoolery.

“I don’t care if it ‘goes against procedure’!” America mocked a German accent. It was purposefully insulting, Ivan noted, seeing as the agent had the ability to put on accents. America calmed himself for a moment to hear whatever Germany had interjected. “ Fine , then! Don’t do anything! Have fun fucking explaining this to Japan , asshole. Don’t gloss over the little detail of you putting ‘procedure’ over me and Russia’s lives !” Ivan absorbed the available information.

There was that ‘Japan’ character mentioned again. America seemed to be implying that Japan would be one informed in the event of America’s death. Ivan was not intimately familiar with this agency’s particular policies, yet it was not a stretch to imagine that any partner in previous mentions would not be receiving such information. America spoke as if Japan would be prioritized when it came to breaking the news of a death-- he was using it for emotional effect over Germany. Japan was no mere ‘ partner ’ to America.

Also, as this agency had an affinity for crudely using nationalities as code names, Japan could not be a full blood relative of the-- obviously not Japanese-- America. Half-relative, adopted... or adoptive relative-- Japan could be a parental figure, no?-- or a long-term significant other were the most likely explanations. Unless every American involved in this secret agency was as much a lunatic as America himself. In which case, Japan may very well be just a good friend of America’s. Ivan filed this information away for later use.

Now for the other piece of information, the one that Ivan preferred not to analyze too deeply: America was going to be staying with Ivan.

God help them all.

Chapter Text

“Dr. Japan, may I speak with you for a moment?” Honda Kiku looked up from the file he’d been analyzing for the past hour. He recognized the voice well, having received multiple assignments from the man. He was known only as Germany to Kiku. He saw to the deployment of agents to the field and was the individual to whom gained information was to be reported.

Seeing this man go out of his way to speak with Kiku, whose expertise was vital to this agency, left a growing pit in his stomach. It seemed unlikely that he be reassigned from his current duties as full-time forensic pathologist, though not impossible. If not reassignment, however, then what?

Kiku stood and followed Germany out of the room, having already inferred that this was about his husband.

Is he alive? Is he alright? Has he been captured? Has his cover been compromised? Questions swarmed Kiku’s mind as his heart raced within his chest, but he remained silent. He kept his expression neutral.

Germany looked exhausted as he ran a hand down his face. Kiku stood before him at an almost-but-not-quite attention stance. The blond man looked around the two of them at the drab, empty hallway heading away from the morgue. “Here is as good a place as any, doctor; I do not have news that requires a more formal setting,” Germany told him. Kiku let out a breath, a little bit of tension leaving his body. Alfred was alive. Alfred was not captured. Germany would be required, on official protocol, to tell Kiku if either of those were not the case.

Note, though, this was not due to the agency’s requiring spouses be informed of such grave incidents. Their marriage was not legally recognized. Alfred had had to make a special request for Kiku to be told in the event of his death/capture.

“This concerns your husband,” Germany decided to begin, making Kiku’s heart leap regardless. “He…” Germany hesitated enough for Kiku’s dread to multiply. “He has been injured in the line of work. His cover was compromised. We have reason to suspect he and his partner are being surveyed, though they are falling back on an alternative cover.” Every additional detail fell like a blow. Kiku kept himself in check despite feeling himself shake apart.

“Why are you telling me this?” His voice did not shake. He did not meet his superior’s eyes. “Are you authorized to tell me this?” Kiku decided to ask. Germany clenched his jaw.

“He has been incapacitated. Injuries to both feet did not necessarily render him immobile, but his alias will be in a wheelchair in order to assist with the healing.” Oh, my Alfred.

“Mr. Germany, sir, why are you telling me this? If he is incapacitated, can you not take him off of his mission? Are they considering reassigning me to take my husband’s place? How is none of this official business?” Kiku was breathless, throat constricting.

“He cannot be taken off the mission. His injury is not life-threatening. Those that attacked him have not been subdued. We cannot compromise the cover of our other agents on the field. His case cannot be referred to higher-ups for review when these aspects have been taken into consideration. It is protocol.”

“Could a case not be argued that, with the nature of his sensitive intelligence work and the nature of the enemy, his injuries would be life-threatening? He would not be able to defend himself properly against the enemy. Refusal to remove him from the high-risk environment could not only jeopardize his own safety, but the entire mission and the safety of those around him-- whether they be his partner or civilians,” Kiku didn’t care that he was beginning to sound standoffish with his superior.

“I… Dr. Japan, the other agents on the field that it would take to remove him…”

“Respectfully, sir, my husband’s life and the lives of those around him are equally as important as the other agents’, are they not?”

“But you must see that protocol stops me from even referring it to the higher-ups for scrutiny. It’s just protocol…”

“And I see that there are loopholes that can be considered, sir. Do not endanger my husband’s life for your worthless protocol, Mr. Germany, sir.”

“Agents are injured on the job everyday, much worse than your husband, I might add. We cannot send in the cavalry for every last agent with a non-life-threatening injury. They are trained for these things, you would know. I cannot play favorites with my agents.”

“You cannot treat them as cannon fodder either, Mr. Germany, sir… There are other agents who can take his place… I can take his place…”

“Rubbish!” Germany thundered. “Your skills are needed here! We have no other agents of such shining credentials as your husband!”

“Be that as it may, you do have agents of superior physical health at this time.”

“The protocol… It is my duty to understand the protocol we follow here. Wasting our superiors’ time can cost me my job when the protocol is clearly articulated.” Kiku stared him down evenly, nevermind Germany’s imposing stature compared to his own. There was still something nagging in his mind, however.

“Mr. Germany… Why are you telling me this?” Germany looked away. “You are having reservations about your decision? Do not put your job over his life--”

“Damn my ‘job’! He told me to explain how the procedure clearly tells me how to handle his situation because he was not happy about this either! None of us are happy about this, Dr. Japan!”

“Refer his case to the higher-ups. Make your plea based upon an alternative interpretation of ‘life-threatening injury.’ They will understand.”

“You seem to think our superiors are ‘understanding’ people,” Germany chuckled dryly. Kiku stared at him. “But I see it from your point of view,” Kiku gave him a look. “Relatively speaking,” Germany corrected himself. “Which is why I’ve sent in a request for his replacement already…” Kiku shook his head, bewildered.

“Why on Earth did you--”

“I need you to understand why they will not be treating this situation as you and I would; the protocol always dictates the final decision.”

“I am sure this case will be an exception to this perceived rule, sir.” Germany nodded, troubled. He wasn’t as heartless as his job required him to be; he wanted to get Alfred back alive and he was exercising his limited authority to do so.

Yet, he had doubts. Perhaps this was because the higher-ups truly were heartless enough to overlook Alfred’s life-threatening situation in favor of The Way Things Are Done. Perhaps there was more to this case that Germany could not, according to protocol, confide in Kiku.

It was not Kiku’s place to question orders from above. He was an officer of the military. This industry hinged on a soldier’s submission to commands.

Kiku left his superior in the hallway, the morgue suddenly seeming to be the preferable location for once. He walked stiffly away from the tension-filled atmosphere, feeling Germany’s blue eyes burning into the back of his head. Perhaps he was already imagining himself delivering Alfred’s death report. Perhaps this was a warning of the inevitable.

Kiku was on autopilot as he returned to his paperwork, trying to force his thoughts back to his work. He stared at the file before him. This was important. It was his duty to avoid missing any details that may reveal new information about the most recently autopsied corpse chilling in its own drawer… But he couldn’t. His eyes were scanning the words before him, but he was comprehending nothing.

He shoved his chair back in defeat, taking a deep breath as he buried his face in his hands.

Oh, my Alfred.

Kiku needed a walk. Fresh air would do him good, he decided.

There was a courtyard in the complex for agents who needed fresh air. It was little more than a glorified basketball court of cracked concrete-- the only greenery being the weeds that forced their way through before being eradicated with the janitors’ pesticides. Yet, it still symbolized an escape from his morgue. Stuffing his papers back in their proper folders to give the semblance of order in his life, Kiku grabbed his thermos and headed for the door.

Germany no longer stood in the hallway, the unforgiving florescent lights offering no indication that the man had ever set foot there.

Kiku took the stairs, climbing his way out of the many subterranean levels of the complex. A few more floors and he would begin to see windows-- sparingly and always pathetically small and bulletproof. This building’s primary function was not that of a prison complex, though one would not guess that it was designed for anything otherwise. Desks and offices, perhaps, instead of cells made the crucial difference. Though, there certainly were cells.

Kiku reached the ground floor. He pushed through the heavy steel door of the stairwell and out into the glaringly white, bustling activity. It was always bustling. For what purposes was unclear; that was classified information. White tile floors. Off-white walls. Soldiers in various military uniforms. Agents, higher-ups, and whoever else had business being in this vast, secretive complex wearing black. No friendly chatter. Just movement.

Kiku moved among them, ignored entirely.

His route led him down a familiar corridor of a familiar branch of this ever-mysterious place. Kiku was perfectly aware of this and he had made a silent resolve not to stop.

He stopped.

Alfred’s office was unmarked-- so easily repurposed for any other soul.

It was dark.

Kiku had no business to be done here. He did, however, have duties elsewhere and should be getting back to them as soon as possible. The break for fresh air could be excused. Lollygagging around the complex would be frowned upon.

Agents, soldiers passed Kiku in the hallway as they went about their business. A few chanced second glances at the lone figure standing immobile beside an empty office, but all moved along.

Kiku’s hand wandered to his pocket where he kept the spare key. No. He should be getting back to work. He had no excuse to go into Alfred’s office.

He continued to linger, now holding the key between two fingers. The metal clicked gently against his wedding ring. Oh, my Alfred, how I want to bring you home to me.

Kiku made a decision, then. He turned on his heel, walking silently back the way he’d come. Down the endless stairs. Indifferent signs needlessly pointed his way back to his morgue. Down the hallway, a flickering light reflected by the glossy white tiles along with his shadow. He swiped his ID card to reenter his workspace, the air stale and sterile inside. Nothing separated Kiku’s desk, tucked away to one side, from the operating tables or the ‘refrigerator.’ Very simply, Kiku scooped up his files, placed a pencil behind his ear (Alfred had pens, but all of his pencils were chewed on), scribbled a note explaining where he’d gone, and determinedly made the trek up the stairs once more.

Alfred’s office was a mess, exactly how he left it, exactly how he liked it. Kiku tidied it up a bit for him anyway. Papers in whatever chaotic system of organization Alfred claimed to have were one thing, but candy wrappers on the ground and a full wastebasket were another thing entirely.

Then, Kiku was sitting in Alfred’s chair--soft, spinning, and wheeled. Kiku liked it here. He’d brought his work upstairs like this before, when Alfred wasn’t away, just to vent his frustrations and have his husband scoff at the workload right along with him. Kiku had filed reports in Alfred’s office hammock, currently folded neatly in his desk drawer, lying against his husband’s chest while he filled out paperwork of his own.

Further, it felt as though Alfred may walk in at any given moment, wielding a smile and a goodie from the vending machine down the hall.

Kiku sighed quietly to himself, alone, and returned to scrutinizing his papers, allowing himself to imagine Alfred doing the same, probably fiddling with that accursed fidget toy that kept his hands busy. The blond had taken one from his collection with him, after all.


 

“America,” Russia said gently from the other queen-sized bed. “If you continue clicking that cube, I will put a bullet into your brain.” The guy didn’t even look up at Al to say it. Alfred sighed. He’d had similar, significantly less likely to be executed, threats from Kiku.

“Dude. This is what this thing is for, alright? Deal with it, man.” Maybe not the best thing to say when your friendly neighborhood sociopathic murderer is field stripping his weapon, but Alfred didn’t give a bologna and cheese sandwich if he was being annoying. He was laid up in this dumb bed with this dumb creep with no dumb privacy with a dumb cover that left him mostly, dumbly helpless and mostly, dumbly reliant on this dumb creep he had to share this dumb room with. He could still probably fight some. But undercover, because they were supposed to be letting his dumb feet heal, he would be confined to a wheelchair. Wheelchairs were fun and all and there were totally badasses in wheelchairs, don’t get him wrong, but Alfred didn’t know how to work with this.

Alfred kept clicking his fidgety toy thing.

Russia looked up at him now. “Do you think I am joking with you?” he wanted to know.

“Do it. You won’t. No balls,” Alfred said. Again, probably not the best thing to say. Again, not a bologna and cheese sandwich was given. Russia hummed as if he had said something interesting.

“Perhaps you are right and I cannot get away with shooting you,” the man mused, which put Al on guard because c’mon, how sketchy can you be? “I have this, though!” Russia chirped happily, picking up a little somethin'-somethin' from his array of weapons he was doing routine maintenance on. A taser. Right. Okay. Yeah those things weren’t too fun. Al would pass on this one.

He put the fidget cube down, hands up innocently. Russia, smiling cheerfully now that that was taken care of, set down his taser and went about singing a lively little tune to himself in Russian.

“Oh, so my clicking is annoying but your singing isn’t?” Al complained loudly. Russia picked up his taser, not looking at him. Alfred shut his mouth, crossed his arms, and pouted. He was so gonna report that jazz. That’s not cool, man. He was just a poor, injured secret agent.

Alfred reached over for the TV remote and flipped on some food show. It drowned out Russia. Russia gave him a look, but decided he’d allow it and went back to nurturing his little metal babies and singing. “You gonna do that Russian dance to that song?” Alfred inquired. Russia ignored him. Fine, then. Didn’t wanna talk to him anyway.

A shrill ring erupted, startling both agents. The phone. Not the hotel phone, not some ordinary cell phone, the phone. Looked like a cell phone, wasn’t a cell phone. It was the way that the Big Guys, the higher-ups, got into direct contact with them. They were calling. Alfred and Russia were on a mission, possibly in danger (although the Baddies hadn’t made any reappearances… yet… They were taking their time regrouping, reformulating their plans…), and the agency was calling them.

Uh, what?

Then, it dawned on Alfred. Maybe they’d changed their mind. Maybe they found someone to replace him after all. Al dove for the phone.

Chapter Text

Wang Yao was forced awake by harsh lights and harsh shouting. Really, Yao didn’t know why the Americans bothered themselves with this routine; it had to be exhausting for them as well. Yao stretched lackadaisically, not giving them the satisfaction of being startled awake and leaping to his feet at attention like they wanted. “Good morning,” he yawned lazily. He said it in Mandarin, of course. He would not stoop to speaking their language or, heaven forbid, cooperating with these people.

They had to have an interpreter brought in just to deal with him, which was all the more frustrating to them-- this unnecessary hassle. Oh, they knew perfectly well that Yao spoke English. They tried to force the language from him at times, not enjoying the extra expense being squandered and certainly not enjoying being mocked.

Well, Yao personally did not enjoy being held as a prisoner, fed slop, shoved around, insulated from any word about his husband, and roused at preposterous times for no particular reason other than to remind him that he was under the thumb of the American government.

So, he would speak Mandarin. And the Americans would glare and pout and shove and smack when their supervisors were pretending not to see.

It was all the more satisfying for Yao.

Though, while red marks faded, how the supervisors could pretend not to notice the gouges left by fingernails and the dark bruises across his jaw was beyond Yao who viewed it as no more than a testament to American oversight and idiocy.

They had the translator with them today, of which Yao took note. At times, they did not. Whether this was due to laziness, frugality, or a desire to force him into speaking English could not be ascertained.

Yao combed his fingers through his long hair, bored as commands were shouted his direction in English. They knew better; Yao would not respond to anything in English except with an even stare. Yao’s fingers got caught in the knots and tangles of his, frankly, glorious mane. No one had ever offered any sort of brush. Yao did not blame them there. They had tried to shave his head, of course.

Tried.

Then, when Yao had had to be restrained by five burly, smelly men because of his refusal and he’d taken a chunk out of one of their arms with his teeth… Well, they decided it was not quite worth trying to get near him with anything sharp… and he’d been left to rot with his unkempt hair. He would not have it any other way.

The translator stepped in, gently translating all the yelling with a vaguely apologetic look in her eyes. Yao liked her a lot better than any of these savages. What a shame she was loyal to them.

They wanted him to get up and follow them.

Yao took his time rising, tossing his hair over his shoulder and holding his head high.

“Tell them they smell repulsive for me, won’t you, darling?” Yao asked the translator. She gave him a look. She hated her job. Yao couldn’t imagine why; he would love the opportunity to translate all of the profanities these Americans must have slung their way.

She relayed the message. They never could quite keep poker faces. Some of them thought Yao was hilarious and adored being assigned to be his escort. Others, not so much.

The Americans told him to shut up and follow without causing a ruckus.

Now, what fun would that be?

“Ask them if they’ve ever heard of deodorant, if you please,” Yao smirked to himself a little when it got a snort out of the translator.

They marched Yao out of his cell, tense for him to attack. Wise of them.

Yao presumed that he would be taken to shower (or at least to the restroom, as they were known to let him putrefy without a shower for a few days but only occasionally decided to be aggravating about toilet rights).

Instead, they headed the opposite direction. Yao went rigid. What did this mean?

At the first security checkpoint, they patted Yao down for any pointy things and blindfolded him-- standard procedure for a prisoner never to be truly familiar with a building’s layout. His arms were restrained. Yet, they left his feet free.

Yao was shamefully out of practice, wobbling slightly on his feet as he was shoved this way and that. He had trained for this, extensively, for functioning at top performance even in the event that your captors took your eyes-- whether masking them with a blindfold or removing them with a scoop.

They marched him, Yao memorizing every last turn. It seemed to be never-ending. They entered an enclosed space; Yao could hear the sound echoing closely. The ground lurched-- an elevator. His inner ear informed him that they were ascending.

Were they removing him from the prison? Why?

The door opened with a pleasant ding. Yao moved forward before he was shoved, the palm of a large, meaty hand barely brushing his back. Yao chuckled lightly.

There were more people in this unknown place; Yao could hear them moving, clothes swishing, shoes scuffing on what felt like a marble or polished concrete floor. A larger space, judging by the echoes and number of people moving freely. No one spoke with Yao or his guards. No one stopped them. Yao wondered if they-- whoever they were-- even spared him a passing glance, though he did not expect their sympathy.

Yao’s skin warmed. Natural light. There were windows here. Bulletproof and incapable of being opened, no doubt, but windows to the outside nonetheless.

Just as quickly as he felt it, it was gone again. Closer echoes. Perhaps a hallway of sorts. An intercom somewhere asked for a certain two agents-- Prussia and Denmark-- to report to their superiors together.

The sound of a door opening to Yao’s right. Yao registered a sharp intake from that direction. The unknown individual dropped their papers. Yao turned his head, earning him a smack. “Wang Yao,” said a quiet voice-- the one who had dropped his papers. Yao froze for a fraction of a second. Oh, it had been a long time since he had heard that voice.

Yao’s guards had stopped in their tracks, which he found out when he ran face-first into them. “Is that his name?” one of them asked. To the guards, Yao was just a number assigned a face. “You know the prisoner?” The boy-- well, now a man, Yao supposed he must be-- must have given some nonverbal answer. “Hmm… I see.”

That was the extent of the interaction. They were moving again. One of the guards had pulled out a walkie-talkie, mumbling coded language into it between the sounds of static.

They took some more turns, more hallways. Over the course of approximately a minute, the loudspeaker came on again. “Cancel Agents Denmark and Prussia. Repeat, cancel Agents Denmark and Prussia. Agent Japan, please report to your superior. Agent Japan, please report to your superior.” Another door was opened.

Yao was shoved roughly-- always with the shoving-- down into a chair, hands forcibly secured to the arms of a chair. Silly Americans. As if that could stop him. Yao flexed his hands, rolled the tension out of his shoulders.

The door was closed. A series of locks clicked. The blindfold was removed.

Yao blinked.

Ah, he recognized this face. ‘Germany,’ this man was to be referred to. The muscled blond had his fingers steepled, an expression of deep thought present on his face. Yao kept his face devoid of emotion despite his racing heart.

How had Honda Kiku managed to get himself here?

“Wang Yao,” Germany began, snapping him out of his thoughts. “You may be wondering why I have called you here today.” Americans. Always with their preambles. “The purpose of this meeting has changed. Its initial purpose is not lost on us, though. A reliable source has reported instances of cruelty during your imprisonment.” The man’s eyes wandered to the scratches and bruises. Yao said nothing. “Would this… Would this happen to take on the tone of the previous report that has reached my ears?” Germany asked, disconcerted.

Yao had met Germany once before, though he had heard tales of Ivan’s meeting with him as well. The previous meeting was because of another report of abuse, one that would have gone without recognition had Yao’s translator not inquired where the scrapes and bruises had come from.

Having a petit, attractive bodily shape did not mix well with showers shared with other prisoners unfortunate enough to have landed themselves buried here for life.

A cracked skull did typically dissuade any would-be attacker, though.

The guards had said the other man had slipped.

Yao presumed that the translator was, once again, the one who had taken the time to report the guards’ behavior.

“No, sir,” Yao answered. He felt a dirty look on him for the English from the head guard, the only one allowed to stay in the room and ensure that Yao played nice.

“Have there been any further attempts at sexual assault?”

“No, sir.” Germany let out an inaudible breath, likely to go unnoticed by any without his carefully trained eye. “Nor any other forms of sexual abuse,” Yao added helpfully.

“But there has been abuse,” Germany surmised. Yao shrugged reasonably. Germany looked up at the head guard, absolutely livid. The guard shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. Yao smiled over at him amiably. “This conversation is not over, but a new topic of discussion is, unexpectedly, now in order for this meeting,” Germany told Yao before turning to the guard. “You wait outside. Send in Agent Japan.”

“Sir--” the guard started.

OUT!” Germany thundered suddenly. He ran with his tail between his legs. Germany straightened his tie. “Such behavior will not be tolerated…” he grumbled, mostly to himself.

Yao was tempted to make an escape attempt the moment the door opened, subtly trying to determine how heavy the chair was. “It is bolted to the floor and I am armed,” Germany sighed, reading Yao’s mind almost boredly as he tapped his fingers against his desk thoughtfully. “Ah, Dr. Japan!”

Yao looked up into the eyes of Honda Kiku.


 

In a moment of what was clearly momentous self-control, America managed not to throw the phone against a wall. He dropped it on the soft bed where it would not shatter into a million pieces.

Ivan’s partner very pointedly sucked in deep breaths through the mouth and released them in great puffs of his cheeks.

Ivan watched him. “Well?” he prompted. America chewed his cheek, thinking.

“You’re stuck with me, big guy!” the American had the displeasure of announcing. “They won’t pull me. They’re sending in ‘backup’ to ‘reinforce our safety and the success of our mission.’ No idea how many people they’re actually gonna send. We won’t be in any contact with whoever they are. But they promise there’ll be a few extra boots on the ground.”

“I see,” Ivan said slowly.

“So it’s business as usual, I guess,” America summed up, lip curling in disgust. Ivan nodded. Then he stood, making up his mind. When he grabbed his coat, however, America had to speak up. “And what are you up to now?”

“Simple reconnaissance. Staying here will do this mission no good. I am going to find out if any word on our suspect has arisen, since we have yet to receive information about the contents of the safe.”

“Woah, woah, and woah there, Red,” America stopped him with waving hands. Ivan sighed, annoyed by his cumbersome presence. “I’m gonna come too. It ain’t safe for me to be here alone! They’re probably waiting for that!” America was just starting to scramble for his socks when Ivan shook his head.

No,” the word was clipped and final. “You will stay here. You will only slow me down.” Ivan left America, mouth open and finger raised, leaving no room for argument in his wake.

Ivan allowed himself to transform, adopting a meandering, optimistic gait. His hair had been adjusted to sweep across his forehead under the brim of a flat golfer’s cap. New contacts behind large, round wire glasses made for unassuming, cow-brown eyes. He would speak with a stutter and a frequent but fidgeting smile accompanied by fluttering, expressive hand gestures. He would be introduced as Herr Jakob Mudgett with his loose, fleeting handshake and broken, German-accented French. He was to be caretaker of Herr Jonathan Eichel.

Ivan, or rather, Jakob was nothing but a harmless tourist who was popping out of his hotel to bring some extra snacks back to his and Jonathan’s room.

Ivan did not imagine that the scheme could be too convincing for anyone who was constantly monitoring them, even with some basic appearance and mannerism changes. If Ivan and America had had sufficient time and resources to spare under this looming, invisible threat and had underwent a dramatic appearance update to fit this new cover, he still did not believe that it would have made them safe.

There were no listening devices in or anywhere near their room, both Ivan and the foolish American had checked. Yet, Ivan knew that their covers had been well-executed previously and they had been found. It was either the safe which had alerted the masked figures to their location or undetected surveillance. If the enemy was not watching before, Ivan fully believed that they were now.

He carried an array of weapons for these purposes.

America, doubtless, was doing the same back in the hotel room.

The American could likely handle and defend himself for the time being. If he did not, well… Perhaps his wish to be taken off the mission would be granted after all. Though, Ivan did not imagine he hoped to be returned home in a body bag.  

Ivan trotted along, often referencing a handheld map of the city as if he had no clue where he was heading. Any locals would assume that he was some lost tourist who would find his way eventually. He was ignored, another clueless face in the crowd.

Kevlar armor protected his heart, but there was nothing to prevent Ivan from taking any sort of bullet to the brain. Thus, he made himself invisible within the crowds of people on their way to work, hat pulled low.

Ivan stopped into a little shop, bought some chocolate, wandered around a square as though admiring the displays in boutique windows, and finally drew close enough to a local police station where he knew their suspect was being held. He looked up, observing it from the outside as though vaguely interested in the building.

He waltzed right inside it like he would any other tourist attraction.

Inside, everything seemed to be functioning as usual. A secretary went about her work calmly, typing into a computer and looking up when he entered. He greeted her. He seemed confident enough in his place here that she did not question him. Ivan squinted. Something was amiss.

Officers moved about briskly from office to office. They messily shuffled around paperwork, argued into phones with carefully worded language, busied themselves with whatever assignment was given to them. They were trying to address a problem. Or, rather, judging by the rushed French that he heard, they seemed to be attempting to determine to whom the problem should be referred.

Ivan moved forward. He would have gone directly past the secretary to the station commander, but his face was not recognizable to her. “Monsieur?” she called, blinking at him. She asked if she could help him.

Ivan showed her his badge and politely asked for the commander. She looked surprised at the badge, then strangely relieved. She called him an officer escort.

The escort was young, freshly out of training. She was jittery, an excited skip to her step as she tried her best to be alert of everything at once but focusing on nothing important and noticing nothing important. Ivan mused to himself about how easily he could disarm her, but decided to spare her the embarrassment of a lesson. Now did not seem the time.

She took him to the commander. The man was rubbing his temples in an office as phones rang around him. He looked up when Ivan entered, shutting the door gently behind him. “What is the matter?” he asked, setting his badge on the commander’s desk. The commander stared at it for a long time.

“How… How did you get here so fast?” he asked, almost mumbling. Ivan took this information in stride; the police station had made an attempt to contact the agency. So this was about the mission, then.

“It is classified information,” Ivan replied simply without missing a beat. The commander nodded numbly. “Tell me. What has occurred?”

“Follow me.” The commander led Ivan downstairs.

A morgue.

“W-We don’t know how he managed it… But he’s dead. Jean LeCerf, only a suspect, nothing more! He killed himself in his cell. Hanged. Neck broken. We were holding him for his upcoming transfer to your jurisdiction,” the commander was shocked, rambling. “We were keeping him under such tight surveillance! We had guards patrolling the entire cell block! They should have passed by his cell door every two minutes! I have no idea how he managed to do this in such a short amount of time--”

“Apparent suicide,” Ivan stated into the air as he observed the freshly dead body on a slab, glassy eyes staring up at the ceiling. No one had yet closed them.

“Apparent… Yes, yes indeed it is apparent. There is no other way this could have happened…” the commander trailed off at Ivan’s cold, even gaze.

The police officer had no idea that this man had been taken out in exactly the same manner as every other suspect tied to this hidden, evil organization-- ‘apparent’ suicide.

“Sir,” Ivan addressed him calmly. “Lock this station down. No one should leave. No one should enter. I would like to say a few words to your guards you had patrolling his cell block, firstly.”

“The guards! Sir, there was no foul play involved, I can assure you that! My most trustworthy guards were assigned to patrol this afternoon. Another guard would have seen it if someone had entered the cell! The cameras would have caught it on tape! This was clearly suicide!”

“No,” Ivan said, expressionless as he dealt with the man, frustrated that he would not obey. Every second lost was a second another death could be dealt and another second that the murderer could get away. “Look at the way the neck was broken.” He gestured with his chin. The commander winced, squeamish as he did what he was told. “This was done quickly, efficiently, but sloppily if you have trained eye. The neck was not broken by the hanging, but rather by another’s hands. Get me the camera tapes. Shut down this building.”

The station commander floundered, eyes bulging down at the corpse with the new information buzzing in his head-- murder. Then, he composed himself enough to shout orders into a walkie-talkie and take off at a jog to make sure his commands were executed to a T.

Ivan was left alone with the corpse of the man from the party. “What is it that you have gotten yourself into?” he murmured both to himself and the cadaver, snatching up a latex glove to close the dead man’s eyes for him.

Next, a call to his partner in this mess was in order. He used the police station’s phone in the morgue to call the hotel room. America greeted him in perfect German. Ivan responded in kind. After all, the name on his badge was that of his cover.

Even in character, America did not miss the opportunity to complain about how annoyed he was to be going out in his wheelchair… but he was on his way. To anyone managing to listen in on the painfully unsecured line, it seemed as though Ivan-- Jakob-- was calling to explain to his companion that he had been pickpocketed and had managed to forget his passport in the room. Jonathan would bring it to him so that the police could, as standard procedure called, confirm Jakob’s identity.

Ivan ascended the stairs into the organized chaos of a police station going into full lockdown.

Ivan coolly observed all of the different officers and other staff members that the commander was getting lined up for him. “Is everyone accounted for?” Ivan asked the man smoothly. The commander was out of breath but focused-- unaccustomed to such a situation but adjusting as needed.

To Ivan’s displeasure, he shook his head. “No. Almost everyone, but not everyone. One of the officers who was patrolling the temporary holding cells we have here has gone home. Her shift is over. We have contacted her, but she did not answer. It is, of course, possible that she is already home and asleep because she worked the night shift…”

“Unacceptable. Send a team of officers from another station to bring her back. Do not hesitate to bring her in handcuffs if she is uncooperative.”

“Of course. Right away, sir.” The commander looked slightly taken aback at being ordered around like a child in his own station, but did not protest. Some more officers, obviously ‘trusted’ by the commander as well, scrambled away to make this happen. Then, a single officer came sprinting into the room yelling for the commander.

Ivan stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “What is it?” he asked the officer in a placating tone.

A death!” the man, hardly more than a boy, gasped. “There has been a death in the camera room. Officer Arrieta is dead, sir. Hanged with wires, sir. His death appears to have gone unnoticed for some time, sir. All footage from the past 24 hours has been destroyed, sir.” Well, the enemy certainly lacked creativity but had an infuriating capacity for being thorough.

“Thank you, officer,” Ivan sighed. “It will be taken care of. Please stand with your coworkers and await interrogation for now.”

Interrogation?!” the officer squeaked as the commander sharply interjected the same.

“Yes. We must find the murderer,” Ivan calmly replied. “Now, has a team been dispatched to return the missing policewoman?” The commander consulted his walkie talkie to give Ivan his answer.

“Yes. An officer from the next closest station who was making his regular routes near her neighborhood has been given the assignment. We should receive new details soon,” the commander announced, glad for what seemed to be good news. Ivan nodded. This would do.

America chose this moment to make his entrance, startling everyone as he knocked on the locked bulletproof glass doors. A few people instinctively went for their weapons, only to remember that they had been disarmed. Ivan opened the door for him and locked it behind him. America wheeled forward, surveying the scene before him. He introduced himself as Jonathan Eichel to the commander, offering up an official badge that confirmed this.

America received a few strange looks, doubtlessly wondering how a handicapped man had landed such a seemingly prestigious position in such a physically active line of work. Little did these people know that truly handicapped individuals, unlike America, often made the most effective agents. Amputees, the paralyzed, the blind, etc. were so often simply overlooked by clueless enemies or were falsely mistaken for powerless. This was a fatal mistake.

Ivan noted every last individual who had either consciously or subconsciously made this judgment, mentally leaving them to America to take out if they turned hostile.

Ivan was removed from his headspace of determining each officer’s weak points as they stood in a row before them when the commander’s walkie-talkie hissed and crackled with an update.

The policewoman was dead in her bedroom with a bullet through her temple and her gun in her hand. Apparent suicide.

Chapter Text

Honda Kiku was down in his morgue, as he always seemed to be. His mind felt muddled with all of the day’s chaos, but he could ignore it here. Here, he could do his job and focus on nothing else even as his mind screamed with the ghosts of his past.

Another body bag on the table. Another assignment shipped from overseas, entrusted to him for his expertise.

He saw it all as he moved, almost sluggishly, not quite feeling as if he was controlling his own body.

White light. Sterile white gloves. Light blue scrubs reminiscent of the sky he never got to see anymore. A surgical mask across his face. A silvery scalpel glinting in his right hand. The fingers of his left hand pinching the zipper on the body bag, tugging it down mechanically to reveal the lifeless form within.

And it was Alfred.

 

Kiku gasped awake, flailing in the dark for purchase. His hands clutched tightly to the fabric of his husband’s office hammock. All of the horror and worry and stress caught up to Kiku at once because at that second he was shaking apart with tears. He clamped a hand over his mouth as the tears fell. He needed to reign himself in. He had to get control of himself. But he was choking on the sobs that uncontrollably racked his body, pathetically muffled by his own palm. He was hiccuping and gasping for air around the unsurmountable lump in his throat. The tears came whether he stared into the darkness or squeezed his eyes shut against them. The nightmarish image of his husband no different than any of the other corpses-- assignments to be dissected, the causes of death to be officially determined-- stood fresh in his mind and in vivid detail.

It wasn’t real, clearly, but perhaps the most horrific aspect was that it could be. A realist would argue that would be.

Alfred’s digital clock-- the blond hated analogue with a passion-- told him that he’d been asleep for only an hour.

One hour removed from a long day.

He had been given an assignment-- a field assignment. He was reliable and useful enough for them to send him three new bodies to autopsy: all but one unable to be proven anything other than suicide. One man broke the pattern with a neck snapped in a manner atypical for a hanging, but rather the clean break one would see in an assassination case. Kiku’s services were needed enough that they let him finish with his paperwork before he would be sent away.

Why they would choose to send Kiku was confusing and aggravating; presumably he was merely the most conveniently available agent. However, his doctoral degree more often than not now ensured that his services would be utilized in the morgue, not the field.

Yet it did not stop there. Kiku had an assignment, yes, but moreover…

Kiku would be on assignment with Wang Yao.

Germany had inquired about the relationship between Kiku and the man, the prisoner … Oh, how had Kiku not known that Yao, of all people, was being held prisoner in this place? And Yao…

Yao had avoided mentioning some of the most key elements in understanding just how he and Kiku knew each other. “We were business partners for a good, long while before we parted ways,” Yao had told Kiku’s superior. This was… well, this was technically a factual interpretation, but it omitted far, far too many details… but Kiku could not digress. Kiku could not necessarily point out the misleading nature of Yao’s word choice.

Kiku had no idea how Yao could possibly recognize the corner that he had backed him into, but then again, Kiku had stayed by Yao long enough to know that Yao was crafty enough to be perfectly aware of everything he was doing.

Yao wanted out; that much was obvious. And Wang Yao could always pull the right strings, play people like instruments, and use their flaws as tools to his own advantage. The idea that Yao may have other motivations for cleaning up the nature of the ties that connected him and Kiku sent chills down his spine. Yet, he could do nothing about it.

If Germany knew the true nature of Kiku’s “business” with Yao, Kiku could very well lose his job.

So Kiku went along with what Yao had said and this line of work just happened to be layered with so many clouds of secrecy that Germany did not press further. Germany did not have to, after all. The job had been done for him. Before Kiku had ever been admitted into this agency, the sheer breadth of extensive background checks ensured a lack of need for anyone to press for further information about any agent’s past. Those background checks had brought up nothing but an orphan with shining, perfect grades, an abundance of skills pertinent to this line of work, and a flawless criminal record.

Theoretically, Kiku was a perfect candidate for his job here. This job paid for his higher education in its entirety and now this job supported Alfred and Kiku’s existence at a significantly higher pay rate than before with his doctorate and Alfred’s successes now in the mix.

They could never know that…

Well, because they could not learn of the full truth behind Yao’s words, Yao was effortlessly cleared to be Kiku’s partner for the upcoming mission due to the ‘impeccable skills’ he brought to the table.  

Why did it have to be Yao?

Kiku was stuck with a mission with Wang Yao as his partner. Kiku’s life was going to be put on the line with only Wang Yao to back him up.

And Alfred…

Would Alfred even know? If Kiku were to die, Alfred would not not be alerted if he was still in the field. It worked the other way around as well. Should his Alfred be captured or slaughtered while Kiku’s mission was still underway, Kiku would not be informed until he returned home. The cruelest of homecoming gifts: they tell you what you missed while you were focused on your assignment.

Another sob ripped itself out of Kiku’s throat around his hand.

I can’t do this , his mind was gasping. I can’t do this, I cannot… Though, logic told him otherwise. His life had not been in his own hands for years; that was the thing about a career as a spy: one does as one is told. When one is given an assignment, one cannot simply decline . The fact that he felt that his life was only now spiraling out of control was illogical. He knew this. It did not seem to be changing his attitude towards the subject in the slightest.

Logic also told him that he was being erratically emotional and, in such a state, should be exceedingly careful about any actions he wished to take.

Yet again, this seemed to be making no impression Kiku at the moment.

The doctor was already tearing into the contents of Alfred’s desk, dragging out a laptop that he most certainly should not be handling. Disciplinary consequences did not even cross Kiku’s mind as he squinted against the light of the screen in the darkness.

After only a few clicks, some typing, and inputting a password that he should not know (but then again they also should not have let Alfred create the password himself as he only ever used the same one), Kiku was in. His thumbprint, recognized by the agency’s system, was enough to complete the process.

Everything was secured automatically and stored in the nearest supercomputer to be easily recalled if need be by those of the agency. There was no danger in utilizing this program, but to use it without advanced permission and without sound reasoning was highly frowned upon. Kiku could not bring himself to care.

The video call gave Kiku a loading screen as it waited for Alfred’s end to answer.

If Alfred was in peril, he would not pick up the call. There would be no risk of jeopardizing his cover. It was simple and harmless. Yet, the higher ups fretted about information leaks and distracting the field agents. Kiku would take whatever punishment they saw fit, but he needed to see Alfred.

The seconds dragged by, long and torturously slow. The loading wheel indifferently circled around and around. No agents burst into the office or pounded on the door demanding to know just what Kiku thought he was doing. The office was dark and quiet. Activity shuffled along outside the door in the same white noise as ever. This complex did not sleep.

Kiku’s image shone ghostlike in the corner of the screen. The light of the laptop reflecting off Kiku illuminated an exhausted, tear-stained face appearing out of the darkness behind him. Kiku, shuddering and sniffling, made a feeble attempt to scrub away the evidence of his breakdown with the back of his hand.

It did little good. Alfred would see through any mask that he could possibly attempt to use to save even a tiny amount of face. Kiku’s husband was not an incredibly perceptive man, but he could always tell when someone had been crying.

The loading circle blinked away, the computer playing catch-up to display the clearest image it could manage, still pixelated in some places as the newly-revealed figure shifted.

Blue eyes and a nose too close to the camera peered out at him. Those eyes brightened and widened with gleeful surprise. “Ayy!” was how Alfred greeted him, drawing a shaky, wet laugh out of Kiku. “Well, look what we have here! What’s up, doc?!” Alfred’s grin could outshine the Sun.

Then he got a good look at Kiku through the rush of his elation, his face instantly falling down into the stony mask of professionalism Kiku had only ever witnessed being Alfred’s partner in assignments. Al looked to his side, somewhere out of the shot that Kiku could not see. “Get out,” the blond commanded, harsh and unapologetic. “I don’t care where you go, what you do, but I need you to get out. Right now.” Alfred’s partner for the mission, the man code named Russia, must have understood the gravity of the situation of which he was not a part because there were no protests, no questioning. There was the creak of bedsprings as the man rose from an adjacent hotel bed, barely audible receding footsteps, and then the gentle close of a door.

Alfred watched the other man leave to ensure that he was truly gone, settling himself back against the headboard of his hotel bed and balancing the laptop on his knees.

Another tear slipped down Kiku’s cheek and he was not quick enough to wipe it away before Alfred turned his full attention to him. Alfred’s eyebrows drew together in concern as he reached to clutch at the side of his laptop, as if he could cup Kiku’s cheek through the screen. “Baby, what’s goin’ on?” he whispered. “It’s, like, the middle of the night your time isn’t it?”

“Yes, but…” Kiku’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat. How was he to explain himself? “I missed you.” Alfred waited expectantly for more; he knew Kiku better than this. Kiku took a deep, steadying breath. “Alfred, my worry for you has wormed its way into my nightmares and I fear… I fear I may not be able to hear from you again after this call.” Kiku squared his shoulders, making a base attempt at dignity despite how pathetic his words sounded to his own ears. Alfred thought about what he was going to say carefully before speaking again, so still Kiku briefly wondered if they’d lost connection.

“I’m alive, sweetheart, and I miss you every second I’m away and I can’t tell you how totally awesome it is to hear from you, but ya’ve gotta give me more info than that. What’s eatin’ ya? Like, besides me being gone. Nightmares? How are things holding up over there?”

Kiku took a deep breath. “Yes, nightmares…” How much could of an explanation could he give his husband without breaking rules of secrecy? “The agency has kept me exceedingly busy here… My mind has been nothing but… well, my work, the cases and the files. And you. Naturally, I have been thinking of you. Today alone I was assigned a total of three autopsies. So, yes, in my dreams it was you on my table instead of them.”

“Ew,” Alfred scrunched up his nose, eloquent as ever. “Now that’s a gross thought. Three, though? That’s a lot! Don’t those things, like, take a while, though? Eugh, I changed my mind. Don’t wanna know. But hey!” he perked up. “If it makes you feel better! That can’t happen because there’s, like, procedures and stuff preventing my dead self from showing up at your door. ‘Cause, ya know, personal connections and whatnot. That’d be real heckin’ weird to make someone dissect their spouse. That sounds like something that’d be straight up against the Geneva Convention, right there.”

Surprisingly enough, this did not make Kiku feel too much better, but it did coax a smile out of him which was sufficient for Alfred.

“Also, my feet are looking kinda better! I mean, hey! No more pus! Babe, you’ve gotta see this; it’s actually sort of neat to look at--” Alfred did his best to contort himself enough to show a foot to the camera. He failed and left it alone, waving it away. Kiku smiled wryly at him. “Anyway, thought you’d like to know that that’s doing better!” It was good to know that he was healing. Alfred was watching him carefully. After a moment or two, the blond slumped with his cheek in his hand. “I still feel like you’re not telling me somethin’...”

“My dearest,” they were technically not supposed to use names, even during a secure connection, not that they often troubled themselves with keeping such a rule. “I have been given an assignment in the field.”

“Okay, whaaat?” a reasonable reaction. “First they’re giving you three dang corpses to chop up in one day-- and I know you get a buttload of paperwork with each one of those!-- and now they’re sending you off to Timbuktu?”

“I have been having similar thoughts. And further, I have… Well, I am familiar with my partner for this excursion, not from previous work, but from before I was ever employed here.” Alfred would understand. Kiku’s husband chose his words very slowly.

“A… A friend?”

“He was a friend to me once, yes.” Even the most vague of diction would give Alfred enough of an idea. “He was never anything but good to me.” A shadow passed across Alfred’s face.

“So... you and your old pal are going to be traipsing through the wilderness on some worldwide adventure… and I won’t be able to interrupt your fun with my whining, will I?”

“Nor will I interrupt yours with mine.”

“Aww, babe…” Alfred shook his head, not knowing how he was to voice his feelings. “Now how will my dream of having video chat sex during an agency-sanctioned call come true?” Kiku blew a strand of hair out of his face, unamused. Al had a nasty habit of burying seriousness and emotional situations under layers of facetiousness.

Alfred,” Kiku sighed in a tone that would be scolding if he’d had the energy.

“I know…” Alfred chewed his cheek. “Okay, okay, how ‘bout this, then?” his voice was a little strained, though he tried his best to hide it. Alfred sniffed. “Ya know how I said you’d be ‘traipsing through the wilderness’ on an adventure with your,” the slightest of hesitations “friend?” Alfred gave him a smile. “Remember that one mission that we went on?” Alfred’s grin fully returned when Kiku hid his face behind his fingers, undeniably smiling. “Yeah, you know the one.” Kiku played along.

“Are you referring to the one where you learned about the existence of cadaveric spasms?” Perhaps it was not kind to laugh at Alfred for it, but, as a person who dealt with corpses, it was exceedingly hilarious.

“Yeah, that! That’s what they’re called! And can I say again how messed up it is that that’s a thing?!” Kiku scoffed at Alfred’s disgusted tone, so clearly harkening back to his own point of view of that tale. Kiku remembered it well.

Alfred and Kiku had been put together on a mission, once again, due to how well they worked together. There was nothing more than a strictly professional relationship between them at the time. Kiku knew the man as nothing more than America. America and Japan, together attempting to deal with a particularly unpleasant situation involving a mob scene that was growing more and more powerful and lethal by the hour.

It was an unusual case in the sense that the men found themselves hiking through virgin wilderness in search of a kidnapped woman of prominence, agency helicopters on standby for word to come retrieve her once she was found by one of the many teams searching the city, the countryside, and-- yes-- the mountainous woods.

“We were the ones who found our Jane Doe,” Kiku mused. “Not alive, but we received a bonus for finding her nevertheless…”

“I bet you anything they only gave us bonuses because they couldn’t get their dumb fancy helicopters to land anywhere closeby and made us carry the dang corpse.” Al shivered, making a sour face at his memories.

Kiku had been a medical student at the time. The corpse was not long dead, that much even Kiku at such an inexperienced and untrained stage could pinpoint. Further, the body had been pliable, so Kiku had known that it was either pre- or post-rigor mortis, for what that was worth. (Such information is worth much, Kiku now knew.)

“It is possible. It is also possible that we got bonuses because you were so upset about it. Alfred, we did not move the cadaver where they wanted it.”

“GEE, I WONDER WHY?!”

Why Alfred had gotten worked up was a simple matter. They had been instructed to carry the corpse to the nearest site possible for a helicopter to land. They’d had no body bag (they had been expecting to find the captive alive and thus avoid any costly hostage negotiations) and they’d had no masks to protect their lungs from the positively horrid potential onslaught of bacteria, but they did have gloves, which was better than nothing. Kiku had been reluctant to take up the task due to the unsanitary conditions. Alfred , however, very much did not want to touch a dead body, let alone pick it up and move it.

But orders were orders and they could not leave her there to rot.

Kiku remembered Alfred whimpering like a puppy during a thunderstorm. Alfred had agreed to carry the corpse’s legs for the sheer purpose of staying as far as possible from its face. ‘This is so gro-huh-oss!’ Kiku could still hear him whining, sounding close to sobbing as he did his best to hold his breath and breathe only through his mouth.

“Because,” Kiku needlessly answered his husband. “On occasion…. Corpses in such a state are known to twitch... or jolt. As the one we were carrying did.”

“Which was messed up!” Alfred put in.

The American had certainly thought so at the time. It had not necessarily been a drastic movement, but a noticeable twitch did seize the very much dead muscles of the body they were laboring to carry. Kiku’s limited medical training was enough for him to know that it most certainly did not betray life in the cadaver, but Alfred didn’t know that when he promptly dropped his end of the corpse and started screaming.

‘IT MOVED. JAPAN, IT MOVED. OH MY GOSH, OHMYGOSH. IS IT STILL ALIVE?! HOLY COW OHMYGOSH WHAT THE HAMILTON.’

‘America, that happens sometimes. It is still dead. Come on, let’s move along.’

‘OH HECK NO. THAT THING MOVED! NOPE. NUH UH. NOOPE. NOPENOPENOPENOPE.’ At which point Alfred marched a good distance away, shaking his head and dry heaving. Kiku had set the corpse down to go to him. The jostling made the corpse’s mouth fall open in quite the unsightly manner and, while her eyes had been closed, they no longer were. Alfred, meanwhile, was hunched over on the ground unable to vomit. He did not see this occur.

How can you be so chill about this?!’

‘I am studying medicine. I have examined cadavers far less aesthetically pleasing than this.'

‘Oh, you gonna be a doctor, then?’ Kiku had shrugged.

‘We must be going… but I will warn you that, ah, before you look at it again…’ Alfred turned back around before he could finish. And then successfully lost his lunch all over the ground. It was Alfred who contacted the agents with the helicopter and told them to come haul it the rest of the way themselves because he ‘was not paid enough for this kind of thing.’

Kiku recalled the memory fondly even if his husband did not, which was, of course, Alfred’s motivation for bringing it up.

“Do you remember the night before that?” Kiku asked him. Alfred squinted into the distance.

“We had to camp. It was cold and rainy. I improvised a tent.”

“It was freezing,” Kiku agreed. “Despite how well you set up the tent and attempted to insulate and camouflage it with leaves.”

“OH YEAH! Dude, I’d totally forgotten about that ‘cause of the corpse thing! Dude! Yeah, the tent was tiny, just kinda in a natural ditch so the baddies couldn’t interrupt our beauty sleep. And it was just a waterproof tarp I propped up into a little hidey hole. Dude, I remember  that night! It was awkward AF.” No matter how long they had been in a relationship, Alfred never failed to fall back on using ‘dude.’

“‘Awkward,’” Kiku snorted. “An understatement, perhaps. You see, I remember you-- the one who actually has experience with camping and an unhealthy obsession with survival situations--”

“It’s gonna come in handy for the zombie apocalypse, babe, gosh.”

“-- you were concerned, very reasonably, with hypothermia or becoming sick. And you went on   about how sharing body heat would be best for us and, further, how the most effective way to do that is without clothes.”

“It’s true!” Alfred defended himself, a little red now.

“So, and I do not think I have told you this, likely my most vivid memory from that mission is shivering-- without a shirt-- in the tent while you finished rigging alarms outside. And then I remember you sliding down next to me in a tent in which there was not even room enough to sit up. You removed your shirt, you were ice cold, glistening from the rain, an abundance of gorgeously sculpted muscles--”

“I work out,” Alfred’s face was red and his grin betrayed that he was very proud of himself.  

“-- and, Alfred, I remember thinking to myself in that moment the following statement:" Kiku articulated it very carefully for him "oh, I am too gay for this.” Alfred burst into a fit of giggles which alone made the video call and any repercussions from it entirely worth it.

“Really?” Alfred wanted to confirm, hardly able to get the word out past his laughter.

“Yes, really!” Kiku scoffed, offended that he may suspect he would make up such a thing. “It was a genuine concern of mine--” Alfred laughed harder. “--that I could honestly somehow be too gay to continue working at the agency if they knew!”

“You’re precious, Kiks,” Alfred wiped a tear of amusement from his eye. “And I love you so much,” he sighed dreamily. “In the most gayest way possible,” he tacked on with a snicker. “Without, of course, erasing that I’m bi, but you get it.”

“I understand," Kiku agreed, chuckling along with him. “And I love you as well, Alfred, more than I can say.”

“I’m glad that you called me. And I’m also glad that you’re not crying anymore. When are you leavin’ for your mission?”

“Tomorrow morning directly after a final briefing.”

“Baby, you need to get some sleep.”

“I know,” Kiku sighed quietly. “I will. Please stay safe, Alfred.”

“Right back atcha, cutie. See you on the other side."

Chapter Text

Yao was terribly occupied when they sent for him in the morning. Oh, he had slept like royalty. Granted, the dormitory accommodations available to American agents were not worthy of kingly fantasies, but my how those bleached sheets sang of an American’s favorite commodity-- freedom.

Honda Kiku, once again, was proving himself to be delightfully useful.

Yao’s belly was full of food. The Americans apparently fed their agents slightly better than their prisoners, but it was easier to steal extra rations when one is not receiving meals through a slot in a door. He had had a peaceful shower, complete with warm water. They had even supplied him with new toiletries and clothing of his own. American blue jeans were nothing to scoff at when one has been upgraded from unsightly prisoner jumpsuits.

They had also given him a hairbrush.

It was about time, the lazy sacks of hamburger grease.

So yes, when they sent for him that morning after he had rolled out of bed of his own accord and showered at his leisure, he was too terribly busy for any of their nonsense.

Did they not see that he had a full, beautiful head of hair to attend to?

Yao looked up at the agents they had sent after him, gazing at them evenly in the mirror as he sat cross-legged up on the counter in the communal restroom facilities of the agents’ barracks.

They stared at him expectantly, waiting.

Yao rolled his eyes and returned his attention to his hair, working at a particularly stubborn knot. The agents continued to take up space in Yao’s peripheral vision. “Yes, can I help you?” he sighed, annoyed when they did not take the hint and shoo.

One of the men snickered lightly at the sound of his English, not because it was unpracticed, but because Yao had not addressed them in Mandarin. Yao shot him a conspiratorial smirk. They had sent one of the very guards who had imprisoned him. Granted, one who had always viewed his non-cooperation as a game rather than taking offense, but Yao still found it deliciously ironic that they had sent one of his captors to see him off.

The other agent sighed irritably and tapped at her watch. “Agent, you are expected to attend a briefing meeting.”

“Is that so? Well, I do not imagine they will start without me,” Yao hummed, stroking fingers through silky hair to locate any remaining imperfections.

“Don’t push your luck around here, Agent,” the woman’s lip curled distastefully. What an unpleasant individual.

“And why not? I haven’t yet tested their patience properly.” The man giggled; the woman glared.

“You are expected to report to your superior immediately,” the woman agent said simply. Yao shrugged noncommittally. It was not that he did not wish to be rid of this place, but Yao had long ago learned that if he was not the pest that pushed back or stretched the boundaries within an agency, then there would be nobody to fill that role the way it should be. And, truly, what a bore life would be if there wasn’t a little trouble.

The Russian agency, of course, did not much appreciate this sentiment.

Nor, it seemed, did this woman of the American agency care to deal with Yao. Yao wondered if she knew what fun he was having with this fact.

The man was laughing quietly to himself, endlessly amused by how easily she was irked by Wang Yao because he was familiar with Yao’s similar behavior in prison. Yao smiled wryly to himself, deciding that the man was having altogether too much fun at the expense of his bitter coworker who was, by all means, performing her job perfectly as he stood there and chortled as if he and Yao were on friendly terms.

And yet, this man had been with all of the other stupid prison guards who never failed to look the other way.

That was why, when the agent handed him a golden opportunity on a silver platter, he was positively delighted to take it.

“How did someone like you even end up here?” the agent asked, chuckling some more. A simple rhetorical question, intended as a form of compliment. Yao looked up at him politely in the mirror as he spoke.

“Because I broke into your compound and killed your fellow agents.” Yao flashed him a winning smile. The man went quiet.

“Look, kiddo, we can walk you to your superior or we can drag you to your superior, but you have a meeting to attend,” the woman sighed, unphased by the revelation. Yao stretched out his legs contentedly and hopped down from the counter. He was amused to find the agent hovering a hand over his weapon.

“Now that you mention it, being carried does sound rather nice,” Yao mused.

“It ain’t a matter of preference. It’s a matter of stop being a dickhead and move it before we resort to moving it for you, Agent.” She twisted the last word into a joke on her tongue. Yao smirked.

“Very well, then.” Yao could even make lying down on the ground like a petulant child look beautiful and elegant. “Move it for me. To the meeting that you’re so worried about.” He smiled easily up at the two faces gawking down at him, astounded by his shamelessness. “And hurry it up!” he barked suddenly, loud enough to make the man flinch for his weapon again and rude enough to make the woman’s mouth contort with hatred. “I’m late, remember?”

 

“I think it’s funny,” Yao commented to neither of the agents in particular, yet he chose his words specifically for the man. Both were hilariously easily played, but Yao had a sneaking suspicion that the man would be the one to be provoked out of the two.

Why provoke the armed guards-- one on each side holding an arm-- dragging him through a secret complex of the American government? Yao found it entertaining. They danced like trained monkeys for him. If he was to be leaving soon, he might as well leave a lasting impression to remember his wonderful presence by.

Neither of the guards bothered to speak with him, though, so he continued on his own. “You know, yesterday I was a prisoner. Can you believe that they could ever think about leaving someone like me to rot in a cell?” he sniffed as if the idea were silly. His heels were left to drag along. He hoped it would leave a nasty scuff mark for some unfortunate soul to clean.

No reply.

“But they knew that I am far too talented, far too skilled for such treatment! Far better than any American agent of their own. They would rather me get their dirty work done for them properly and without mess than anyone around here.” His grin was cocky when he felt the man’s hand clench in fury around his arm. “How convenient it is for me that they will let the man who butchered their useless Americans take on the responsibility of such an important task for them!”

The man dropped him. Yao was left hanging by his right arm still held firmly in the woman’s grasp. “Agent,” she said warningly. But the man had no words.

Well, it was clear that he certainly had a few choice words he wished to throw at Yao, but knew it would do no good. He stood there silent, fuming, and trying to regain his foothold on rationality through the haze of anger. Too easy. Pathetically easy.

“Does it bother you?” Yao asked, voice silky and calm. The man inhaled deeply through the nose, released his breath slowly through the mouth.

“Does what bother me?” he asked, trying to pretend he was now levelheaded enough to be conversing.

“Does it bother you that I killed your coworkers and, out of their great respect for the memories of the fallen, your bosses would still have me working for them? Free as a bird?” A seed of doubt so simply planted, but now nearly impossible to uproot.

The man said nothing.

“Does it bother you that their deaths-- they were trying to stop people like me, Agent-- are now meaningless because the only justice that has been served in your America was giving me a fresh opportunity to do what I do best?” Yao inquired this sweetly.

“They died doing their damn jobs. Not for nothing,” the woman sighed. “You go get some fresh air, Agent,” she addressed her coworker. “I’ll take care of the brat.” She side-eyed Yao.

Yao gave a toodaloo wave to the agent who continued to stand there, motionless, averting their eyes. A little seed of insurrection in the agency to remember him by.

It was a testament to the blindness of Americans and their values how, if one were to make the mistake of listening to Wang Yao, a well-functioning agency who was doing nothing more than using a prisoner as their cannon fodder so as not to lose anymore of their own than need be… Well, perhaps it should be concerning to the Americans how easy it was to make them look like the villain to the very people they were trying to protect.

Or, perhaps, the Americans simply were not as sentimental as Yao took them for and all that he’d said to the agent was perfectly accurate.

He didn’t care either way. Yao was rather concerned, however, with how this brutish woman was eyeing him like she was making mental measurements. “You gonna walk now?” she asked him. It sounded like a threat.

“Why should I?” he was treading slightly more carefully. Without answering, she reached down and slung him over her shoulder like he was a sack of potatoes and weighed even less.

How undignified. Only Ivan was allowed to get away with doing that.

“I will scream if you do not handle me properly.”

“Seems to be working just fine to me. Throw a tantrum if you really want; you’re not going to get your way.”


 

Kiku sat quietly in the mission briefing room. It was designed as more of a conference hall, but Kiku shared it only with Mr. Germany at this time.

Yao was supposed to have been here nearly fifteen minutes ago.

Mr. Germany was not one to appreciate tardiness.

Kiku was unsure what to assume, so he remained still in the uncomfortable expectant silence. The briefing room was soundproofed; one could have heard a pin drop. All outside noise was effectively hushed.

Then, it wasn’t.

Kiku did not react to the screaming that began outside of the room until Germany did, his superior squinting up at the door in confusion. “Is something wrong, sir?” Kiku asked, glancing over his shoulder at the door as well. Mr. Germany, the man to inquire about most of the goings-on of the complex, shrugged.

Outside of the room, the screaming continued. It did not seem to Kiku like a scream of pain, but it was clearly piercing enough to penetrate the extensive soundproofing. Surely, it would be deserving of the attention of agents. Yet, it continued. Actually, it seemed to be growing louder.

Kiku and Germany both had turned their attention to the door in their curiosity, though the closed door would not be a likely source for answers.

Kiku had no clue what to make of the noise as its screeching, shrieking, and carrying on only increased in volume. Prisoners were typically gagged, anesthetized, or had dignity enough to accept their punishment with cold, professional grace. He could not get a proper idea of the emotion being expressed through the muffling walls of the briefing room.

It grew louder still.

It dawned on him then. The lone voice was approaching the room, not passing by it. That would leave one possible culprit.

Perhaps Yao had made a failed escape attempt and was being dragged to his superior? Why would he do such a thing? It would have made logical sense for him to wait until he was free from the confines of the compound to slip away into the night.

The screaming was directly outside the door. There was another voice, too quiet to make out. The screaming stopped.

The door was opened.

Yao, calm and collected, appeared very pleased with himself as he was carried into the briefing room-- bridal-style-- by an agent. The agent, however, did not seem as enthused about her situation. Mr. Germany’s eyebrows drew together in concern. “Where is Agent Navajo?” he asked. The woman dropped Yao without warning. He landed as gracefully as ever, which must have disappointed her.

“Agent Navajo is taking a much-deserved break after attempting to deal with this one,” was her reply. Yao smirked, casting a look over at Kiku with amusement in his eyes. Kiku looked away from him, focusing instead on his superior.

Mr. Germany did not comment on the tardiness. The other agent was dismissed.

The blond’s attention turned to the two agents overdue for their briefing.

“Good morning, Agents,” he began, expecting no reply. “You have been chosen specifically for a mission of great importance and of great urgency.” Germany presented identical manila folders to each of them, sliding them across the sleek table.

Kiku opened the information allotted to him, scanning over it with a growing sense of unease. The sheer magnitude of the mission was beginning to take a more coherent, more daunting shape.

Yao leaned back in his chair, kicking his feet up and resting his hands behind his head.

“Multiple agents, now dead, have worked to provide you with this information. Many others are still struggling to piece together the exact nature of the threat we are facing. Agents, this is what we know: we are facing an organization with such an amount of diversity among the suspects that it is unclear what bonds these individuals together. It is also unclear precisely which of our suspects were truly involved in this organization: all suspects, anyone that could be valuable to us, have died before information could properly be extracted.”

Kiku turned to the reports of the suspects and his blood ran cold. It was beginning to make slightly more sense to him as to why they would choose him to take part in this mission. He was familiar with these reports, as he had performed some of the autopsies himself. Only one, as reported by him, could be ascertained--with a reasonable amount of certainty-- that the suspect had not died of suicide but that the death had been staged to appear so. The neck had been broken all wrong.

The three autopsies Kiku had performed had been shipped freshly and carefully from overseas for the complex to investigate for themselves. They were all included.

One suspect, male: hanged in his cell before interrogation procedures could proceed. Staged suicide.

Two police officers, male and female: apparent suicide, both taking potentially vital information with them to the grave. The policewoman was a possible suspect, and the most likely suspect, for the murder of the man in his cell.

Alongside the three, there were six files with the times of death reported within minutes of each other. The bodies had been identified as members of an upstart gang-- the only members of the gang. Killed in a conflict with an agent. Whether these men had been paid to attack the agent or were actively involved in the mysterious organization was unknown, but being investigated.

These were only the most recent.

“Information from agents concludes that this organization has an extinction-level agenda,” Germany continued, recapturing both Kiku and Yao’s attention. “This nefarious group wishes for the end of America and its influence on the world. They intend to save the world by ending America.” The blond leaned forward to emphasize his words. “Weapons of mass destruction are potentially within reaches for this organization.” He paused, letting the agents absorb this. “So you must understand the urgency with which we are sending you.”

Kiku nodded. Yao looked intrigued.

“Is this what you’ve gotten Ivan into?” Yao asked, curious. Kiku stopped and stared at his partner, then at his superior. Germany was very, very still and very, very tense. Yao waved them both away. “I know, I know. You’ve got a big red no-no policy over speaking names. It’s not like Kiku is going to do anything with it.” Kiku shifted uncomfortably. Germany’s eyes looked ready to bulge out of his head.

“You will refer to your partner only as Agent Japan and you will remember that… that Ivan’s code name is Russia. Further, you will only refer to yourself as--”

Please. I know Kiku. Kiku is more than welcome to know about my Ivan. And I refuse to be referred to as, heaven forbid, ‘China.’” He squared his shoulders. “My name is Wang Yao. Kiku knows it. And until I am given a cover with an alias to use, I will not be referred to as Agent China.”  

The silence stretched out for many long moments, the tension palpable in the air. Kiku could see Germany warring with his own notions of a procedure behind pursed lips.

“Agent Wang,” Mr. Germany’s voice was quiet, dangerous. “You are walking on eggshells,” was all he said. Yao glanced over at Kiku, smug. Kiku sighed to himself. “Further, any information on the whereabouts or mission of Agent Russia… or his partner,” Germany did not look at Kiku, yet he knew that those words were directed towards him. “Are strictly classified. Any information on any agent can be dangerous.”

Yao rolled his eyes as if the safety precaution was a joke.

“However,” Germany continued, his gaze steel upon Yao. “You must know that, should either of you recognize any agents in the field, you are entirely forbidden from any form of contact.” He looked over at Kiku to be sure that he knew that the words were pointed sharply towards him as well. “Understood?”

“Understood,” Kiku assured him. Yao nodded.

Germany took a deep breath. “Agents,” he said. “This is a dangerous mission. No agent has returned alive. No suspect has been stayed alive long enough to question. Your mission is to better uncover the nature of the threat and, if at all possible, neutralize the threat. America and, indeed, the world is depending on you.”

“How will this affect the deal you have made with Ivan? His cooperation is the ransom for my freedom, is it not?” Yao raised an eyebrow.

“Agent Wang, why would you assume that because you have been given an assignment, you are any less of a prisoner now than you were in your cell?” Germany raised an eyebrow right back at the Chinese man.

“What is stopping me from going rogue?” Yao had the temerity to ask.

“A reasonable question. Your superiors have agreed to these orders and have demanded your cooperation. If you do go rogue, there will be no one to take you back. You will have the death warrants of both of our agencies on your head. In addition to this, Agent Russia will be taken into our custody because the deal will be broken. Both yours and  Agent Russia’s freedoms rest on the completion of this mission.”

Yao blew a few loose strands of hair out of his face, pouting.

“Any further information available to you is located in the folders. There is a possibility you will be asked to become reinforcements to ensure the safety of other agents in the field, but until that time there will not be any contact with other agents. You will be given multiple aliases and cover stories. You will have two hours prior to your departure to study these. You will depart together and you will be sharing living quarters unless a need arises for you to take on alternate aliases.” Mr. Germany stood. “And good luck, Agents. You are dismissed. The agent outside the door will be handing you the paperwork for your covers.”

Yao swiped his manila folder off the table and sauntered out the door while Kiku was still gathering his papers into his satchel.

“Agent Japan,” the higher-up called gruffly. “Will you stay behind a moment, please?”

“Is something wrong, sir?” Kiku asked holding his head high, already knowing what this was likely to be about. Mr. Germany watched him, contemplating.

“How are you doing, Agent Japan?” he asked finally. Kiku squinted at him.

“Pardon me?”

“Are you doing alright?” his expression suggested that this question was not merely small talk.

“Yes, sir.” Kiku peered at his superior questioningly.

“Agent Japan, you must be aware that we at the agency were alerted of your contact with Agent America the moment that contact was made, yes?”

“Yes, Mr. Germany.”

“The team that analyzed the interaction between you and Agent America were… confused. As well as concerned. They referred the recordings to me for my own opinion on the matter.” When Kiku was silent, he continued. “Agent Japan, do you have anything to tell me?”

“No, sir.” The answer was immediate.

“Clearly you are concerned for Agent America’s safety. Correct?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you appeared to be quite distraught when you contacted him. Were you aware that this contact was strictly forbidden to you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And yet you made contact anyway. Why?”

“I wished to speak with him before being dispatched on my mission, Mr. Germany.” The blond sat quietly, thinking over Kiku’s words in the meticulous and unrelenting fashion he was so known for.

“As you were speaking to Mr. America, you mentioned your partner for this mention and a previous relation to him. Agent Japan,” his blue eyes were calculating, but not necessarily cold. “Is there anything I should know about the previous relation between you and Agent Chi--” he stopped himself. “Agent Wang?” he finished firmly.

“No, sir,” Kiku’s tone was smooth and collected, though his mind and heart raced.

“You have no reservations about being partnered with Agent Wang for this mission?”

“That is correct, sir,” Kiku held Germany’s gaze. Germany looked away first. The man clasped his hands neatly in front of him on his desk.

“Disciplinary actions will not be taken for the contact with Agent America. You have a mission to focus upon. However, if this occurs again, I will have no other choice.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And Agent Japan?” he sighed through his nose as if his next thought troubled him. “As with Agent America’s mission, the higher-ups have made the decision to forgo the psychological evaluation typically conducted prior to missions due to the urgency of the situation at hand.” He paused. “So again: Agent Japan, is there anything you need to tell me about yourself or your partner before this mission?”

“No, sir.” Kiku swallowed. Germany watched him.

“Very well,” Germany said after a time. “I wish you luck on your mission. The world as we know it thanks you for your work to save it. You are dismissed.”

Kiku exited the room, shaken by his own lies. They were necessary, he knew. A necessary unpleasantry.

He thanked the agent handing him the file containing his various cover stories, but his mind was drifting elsewhere. Germany’s words resonated hauntingly with him. Is there anything I should know about the previous relation between you and Agent Wang? The agency could not discover the truth hiding behind so many blatant untruths.

Yet, would that endanger Kiku's life? 

If the agency did not understand, and they could not understand, then Kiku would remain partnered with Wang Yao for this mission. Yao would not... Would he? After what had happened... After what Kiku had done... 

Kiku should not be paired with Yao. The agency should know what had happened between them. But, agonizingly, the agency could never find out. But at what cost to Kiku? He was trapped. 

Chapter Text

Okay, it was time to admit it. These Baddies were pretty tricky dudes.

Alfred slumped forward with a groan, planting his forehead on the nearest vaguely horizontal surface available to him. Subsequently, this led to a long line of ‘t’s scrolling itself out on his laptop screen.

Russia gave him a judgmental side-eye, but said nothing.

“UUUUGH,” Alfred said to bring more attention to his plight. Russia ignored him. “What the Helen Keller is even with these guys?!”

“If I knew the answer to that, we would not be here,” Russia’s tone was bored and clipped. Oh, sure, so he was allowed to be outwardly tired of things and clip off his words like a short-tempered goose or somethin’, but when Alfred expressed his displeasure it was ‘irritating’ and ‘not helpful to the mission’ and ‘America, ordering takeout would be a breach in our already fragile security.’

But, c’mon though, there had to be one trustworthy place that would deliver tasty treats to hardworking spies in the metropolis of Paris.

Which, by the way, they were officially on the inside of the city rather than hanging out in the business district of huge, hulking modern buildings just outside of it. So that was neat. But there wasn’t any time for sightseeing and whatnot, which sucked.

Nope, Alfred and Russia were still looking into the credentials of the dead people who would be significantly less dead if a certain Russian hadn’t up and killed all of them like a total jerk.

And now they were stuck playing Scooby Doo trying to find clues about these six guys’ lives and how they were connected to the main hive mind of evil. Great. Just wonderful.

Alfred took a deep breath and sat back up, deleting the multiple lines of ‘t’s from his screen. So what did they have? What could they work with here?

The Baddies’ corpses had been identified fairly easily by family and friends and preexisting police mugshots. The family and friends had been estranged for quite some time since their boys had joined a gang to do drugs and graffiti up monuments, so they didn’t really have any up-to-date or useful-at-all information. There weren’t any more members of the gang; that story seemed to check out everywhere they had looked. Right now it really seemed like Russia had managed to kill every friggin’ source worth a grain of salt.

The gang members were druggies; that much was obviously clear. The gang members were broke; that much was also clear. The thugs had no status to speak of, struck no fear into the hearts of anybody, and were generally more of a pathetic nuisance than anything. Petty criminals with no real goal except another means of getting high.

Anybody could have approached these guys with money and they’d have done anything for it. And it really seemed that they had. Dudebros had straight up agreed to kill for cash. At least, that was the prevailing theory. But, that theory didn’t give them any leads either.

If they were paid, Alfred and Russia didn’t know who paid them. Alfred and Russia didn’t know if they’d already been paid or were supposed to get the dirty work done first. Alfred and Russia didn’t know if these dead thugs were going to be in any way relevant to finding the Big Boss Baddie.

Russia had killed all the thugs sent after him; no leads there. Alfred had ran away from the ones that came after him; no leads there. And, bonus, they apparently cleaned up after themselves and took the body of Fire Escape Guy with them; no leads there.

There was the interesting little detail of security camera footage oh-so-conveniently blacking out when the spies needed it most. As in, all security camera footage within, like, over a mile radius blacking out at the same time for the same amount of time. Guess the good guys weren’t the only ones with techy gadgets that let them get away with things.

So, the agents had no idea where the Baddies had come from and where they had went, which, in addition to being another dead end, led to the unfortunate happening of Alfred getting Cotton Eyed Joe stuck in his head.

“UUUUGH,” Alfred wanted to emphasize. There were smarty pantses behind the scenes that were good at researching the annoying detail stuff for a reason; no one liked doing it! Especially not heroic agents heroically putting their lives on the line in the field! But agents had to know their next move and in a high-risk situation like this, it was all hands on deck.

But didn’t Alfred at least deserve something greasy and fried for his efforts?

“We’ve been at this for days,” Alfred helpfully told his partner.

“That would be correct,” Russia acknowledged.

“And we haven’t found anything. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nichts. Nothing--” Alfred was more than happy to go into different languages’ words for ‘nothing,’ but Russia gave him a stern look. He wasn’t happy about this either. But, c’mon, what’s the point of being a polyglot if you can’t be annoying in multiple languages? (Aside from the obvious ‘being a successful spy.’) “Maybe if we go outside we’ll receive a sudden stroke of genius that will lead us right to our next culprit,” Alfred suggested.

Russia sighed like he might just consider it at this point. “We are not sure that the men in the gang were not involved in this enemy organization,” he reminded Alfred, needlessly.

“Yep. And even with, like, the reasonable suspicion that they weren’t, you’re right. We can’t be sure. YOU WANNA KNOW WHY? BECAUSE THEY’RE DEAD.”

“And yours are running around at large, potentially killing others and plotting the extermination of your nation.”

“Whatever, dude. Yeah, we can’t know if they’re not the suspects we’re looking for. What about it? The police people hold so much more potential… even though those suspects are dead too. Plus, we can’t just drop the lead of our original dude Jean. Just ‘cause he’s dead don’t mean we can’t learn anything--”

“Hush,” Russia interrupted. And rudely, might Alfred add. “And listen. I recognize this. Have you considered that Jean LeCerf and the gang members are both involved in drugs?”

“Yeah, sure. The dudes back at HQ brought that up almost right away. But we can’t really… do anything with that...? Dude, lots of people are involved in drugs. What’re we gonna do? Investigate local drug dealers? Investigate literally almost everybody at our guy’s party that one night? Interrogate some junkies in a dark alley; see if they wanna kill a nation? Heck, police arrest druggies and some of our suspects were police, by that logic, the whole police force of France is guilty!” Alfred would have kept rambling on and putting Russia’s dumb idea down some more, but Russia held up a hand.

“I merely would like to make this point: what if the man was paid to keep the safe in his possession in exchange for drug money, much like the gang could have been similarly bribed to do dirty work?”

“Huh. I dunno. Maybe. But the toxicology reports for the contents of the safe came back, remember? It was, like, knockout gas. The safe wasn’t aiming to kill. The gang certainly was!”

“America,” Russia shook his head, continually amazed by Alfred’s intellect. “And what do you think someone would do with unconscious, incapacitated agents?”

“So are you thinking maybe our homie Jean was planning on killing us when we opened his safe? Or maybe someone else at the party?”

“I am unsure, but someone had to have known where we were stationed to break into our hotel rooms. I cannot imagine how I could have been followed from the party, but my location was known, as was yours.”

“And Jean was taken into custody that night. Maybe the gangs were a plan B?”

“No way to tell.” And there it was. Back to square one with bonus speculation. Alfred held back another groan.

“So what do you suggest we do, O wise one?” Russia shrugged easily.

“It is your country at stake, not mine.” Okay, so that royally ticked Alfred off. He huffed and fumed for a good few seconds as Russia smirked about the reaction. Big-nosed creep. “I would simply like to know if your own brain can contribute to this mission,” Russia said in a softer tone that’d give the impression he didn’t really mean what he’d said if he wasn’t such a big-nosed creep and also insulting Alfred.

Alfred wasn’t done with his seething rage to answer the question immediately.

But what should they do?

“Alright, I’ll bite. Drugs seems to connect the suspects. Maybe they were offered money they couldn’t refuse in their vulnerable state. So we need to find who paid them, if anybody. Their drug dealers seem like a good place to start.”

“Why would a drug dealer pay those that buy the drugs? You have a fundamental misunderstanding about how this works, American.” Look at him playing all high (ha, ‘cause drugs) and mighty. Little did he know that Alfred was totally prepared to answer that!

“FIRST OFF, RUSS, MY MAN, we don’t know if the suspects were paid. Remember?” Russia glared. Yep, he remembered. He was the one that brought it up. “But we do know that they were into drugs. So we gon’ go see the dealer and see if they know anything ‘cause you see value in this connection. SECONDLY! Dude, if the drug dealer is one of our Baddies, the guy could just straight up pay ‘em in drugs. No one said they had to be paid in cash.”

Russia bit his tongue to halt himself from arguing for the sake of argument. He chose to smile instead, which kinda ground Al’s gears because Al was so down to verbally destroy him, but whatever. Whatever!

Russia, still smiling, replied, “I can check local police records for--” HA! Wrong again, bucko!

“Noope! I’ve had this partner on previous missions, okay, and if he’s taught me anything it’s that you never go to the police if you want specifics about criminal activity.” Russia was watching him carefully in a way that Alfred did not at all like. Plus, he was still smiling. Alfred didn’t like that either.

“You speak of Japan.” Not a question. No change in facial expression. A test? Trying to see how Alfred would react? Al’s guard went up immediately. He bet that Russia knew it too. An outright denial would be suspicious, even if it was a casual ‘nah.’ He would see through that. A simple ‘yes’ would be giving this big-nosed creep an ounce of information, which was more than Alfred would prefer.

So, Alfred puffed up and squared his shoulders a bit. “That’s Dr. Japan to you.”

Russia nodded as if Alfred had told him what he needed to know. Why did he even care? Did he even care? Weirdo.

“Interestingly enough,” Russia said “I think my partner would say the same.” Woah. He talked about his partner. That was, like, totally a sore spot for him, right?

Was this a bonding moment? Alfred wondered.

Nah, Alfred decided. Screw him.

“Yet,” Russia continued “it is still a decent place to start.”

Or, we could go about this like actual professionals. C’mon, Schnoz, this’s gonna take some footwork!” Russia gave a pointed look at Alfred’s wheelchair. “And arm-work!”

Chapter Text

Kiku had never been one to be anxious before flights; he had always rather enjoyed flying. It could be peaceful in the air, above it all, watching the landscapes of the world float by while he was not a part of any of it…

Yet, he found himself in the restroom past security, ill at ease.

It was not his first flight of the mission. Wang Yao had been on the same plane, in fact, but he had been seated far out of Kiku’s line of sight. They had been together for three days; even agents hoping to save the world were subject to long, infuriating delays due to early winter storms in the North. Yao, however, had chosen to explore the city as Kiku caught up on rest in an airport hotel.

Now, as they awaited their final international flight, everything had to change. Yao could no longer be kept at a safe distance.

Looking at his face in the mirror, nothing was betrayed. Expressions and reactions could be harnessed and controlled. Stress, a body’s natural reaction intended to assist in preserving one’s life, was managed by Kiku with more difficulty, but typically managed nevertheless. However, this mission was anything but ‘typical.’

Breathing exercises were providing little solace, which was strange to him as well as concerning. If one could regulate the breathing, peace could easily be found. Kiku had trained himself in this particular skill since he was nothing more than a child in a high-risk environment.

But this was different than any mission he had been assigned by the agency. Not because of the stakes-- Kiku’s life as well as many innocents’ lives on the line-- but because of Wang Yao.

Again, Kiku’s breath was stolen from his lungs by a spike of adrenaline telling him to flee, cutting short what was to be a deep inhale. He should not be here.

Yao should not be here…

Kiku stooped to splash some cold water on his face in the empty restroom, squeezing his eyes closed against things he had worked and come so far to leave behind and forget. He stood himself back up tall, groping blindly for the adjacent paper towels. In through the nose. He grounded himself with the restroom’s sharp scent of cleaning chemicals; Kiku was here, now. The past did not matter now. Out through the mouth. He opened his eyes.

Instincts ingrained in him from years upon years of training were the only reason Kiku did not cry out at the sight of none other than Wang Yao himself standing beside him. Years and years of training were also the reason that Wang Yao had to sidestep a punch aimed at his gut as Kiku’s visceral reaction. “Hello to you too,” Yao greeted evenly.

Kiku stared back at him, not apologizing for the reaction or the consternation that had caused it. Yao was the only one who had ever had the ability to slip past Kiku’s keen senses and it would seem that the man remembered that detail.

Yao tilted his head, thoughtful. “What’s the matter, Kiku?” he spoke gently, in English. “It looks like you’ve seen a ghost.” That was in Mandarin, a language that Kiku had learned to perfect in order to survive so long ago. A flash of a smirk on Yao’s lips as Kiku remained silent. Yao held his gaze, a morbid amusement and something else that Kiku could not pinpoint present there. Kiku looked away.

Kiku did not shy from Yao’s hand on his shoulder; although, his mind would rather he shirk away as one would from a particularly unpleasant, venomous creature. “Come on. Our flight will be boarding soon. I think these are the airplanes with the little screens on the back!” With that, Yao flounced off to return to his seat.

Kiku slumped against the sink with an exhale of air.


 

Ivan and his headstrong partner did not come to an agreement on the most appropriate next step to take. Both agreed, however, that the time for action and separation from each other’s infuriating presence had passed by days ago.

America was to investigate the connecting tie of drugs between suspects, a connection that Ivan had acknowledged to have value, but he would investigate it in his own nonsensical ways. Meanwhile, Ivan prepared himself to check in once more with the local police station, an unclosed case that America was eager to pursue. Ivan was not about to allow such a delicate matter fall into such foolhardy hands.

Ivan fell back into the German personality that the station commander had come to know over the course of the station’s handling of the case. If it was up to Ivan, the officers would not have authority over the case either, but, regrettably, there was no taking their hands off it at this point.

There were three main points of concern regarding the police station: the officer hanged when all camera footage was lost, the suspect hanged in his cell before interrogation procedures, and the officer shot in her home.

The man in control of the security cameras and the woman known to have been patrolling the suspect’s cell block at the time of the suspect’s death could not be proven anything other than suicide despite the reasonable doubt that it was. The suspect, a death that had to occur within a short time frame, seemed to have been murdered. It was within reasonable suspicion that the deceased policewoman had murdered him.

However, doubts, suspicions, and educated guesses could only be taken so far. The fact of the matter was that there were no inklings of proof.

To Ivan, the sloppy nature of the suspect’s staged suicide, even taking into consideration the time crunch, seemed incongruous with the apparent suicides of the officers. Likewise, the gang that had come after Ivan and the presumed-gang that attacked America lacked this deadly precision and tact.

Was the suspect’s death at the hands of an inexperienced killer, sloppy due to time constraints, or was it truly suicide with an exceedingly unusual neck break? Was it possible that the suspect was capable of making his own suicide appear to be a murder? Was the apparent suicide of the policewoman a wild goose chase?

All questions to consider.

Hopefully, Ivan or America would shed some light on such frustrating situations.

Ivan walked into the police station. It did not bustle with unfortunate news this time. It was quiet. The secretary gave him a nod, recognizing him immediately. “The station commander is in his office,” she told him, waving vaguely in the direction he already knew.

The commander smiled at him when he entered, on edge as always around him. “Do you have the camera footage documenting the officer’s commute home?” Ivan did not waste time with pleasantries; it would be out of character.

“We do!” the man assured. There was something unspoken.

“But?”

“I did not say ‘but.’” Ivan was unamused. The commander sighed. “But the camera outside of her apartment building malfunctioned. We have her entire commute home via the metro, her walk home, we even have her walking into the ground floor of her building! But long before her return, the security camera facing the outside of her building went black.”

There was no point getting upset. Ivan had suspected as much.

“Let me see the tapes that we do have.”

There were many tapes from many angles. Ivan settled himself into a chair in front of the old computer available to him. Officers dispersed, leaving him to his work so that they could attend to their own.

It was not improbable that the cameras would be a waste of time, Ivan could already assume. However, if slip-ups had occurred, it would be up to a trained eye such as his to catch.

Ivan watched the policewoman exit the station from poor quality footage from a camera located across the street, not belonging to the station and thus not having been wiped. Blurry figures milled about around her, identities nearly impossible to ascertain. None of them seemed to make any contact with her. Regular commuters. A few pickpockets turning their heads to her purse, but quickly moved along at the sight of her uniform. Her pace was quick as she maneuvered her way towards the nearest subway station. Nervous? She cast no glances over her shoulder.

The next tape, from the subway station. She boarded a train. A few figures seen in frames of the previous tape had also boarded the same train. All were in different cars.

The next tapes, from inside the subway cars. The few people that had boarded the same train exited at different stops, never once giving a look to the suspect.

More tapes proved that these individuals were all merely headed back to their separate homes. Dead ends.

Ivan scrutinized tape after tape. None of the footage was showing any promise, but he persisted. Over an hour had dragged itself painfully by.

He watched the suspect walk the couple streets from the subway station closest to her apartment building. Nobody gave her more than a passing glance. She had neither slowed nor sped up her pace. Ivan sighed to himself, scanning the passerby around the suspect and in the far reaches of the camera’s field of vision, observing the background as well as the foreground.

A familiar click, not from the footage, but from the room behind him.

Ivan dove out of the chair without a moment’s hesitation, drawing his concealed weapon. Hesitation could mean a bullet to the brain. The weapon was already trained perfectly in the direction of the click-- the release of a handgun’s safety. He flicked his own safety off as well.

The station commander flinched at the movement that was so much quicker than his own, but held his ground. Ivan hovered his fingers over the trigger. The officer had every right, every obligation, to shoot him in that second. But he had not. Nor had the other officers fanning out behind him, weapons drawn.

Ivan’s mind raced. “What is this?” he asked, voice calm and soft.

“Who are you?” was the question given to him like a punch. Ivan lowered his gun slightly in his best attempt to be nonthreatening. What did these men know? They were aware that the man taken into their custody was wanted by an international organization who contacted them after the arrest had been made. The station had arranged to hold the suspect for the agency. The name of the agency the officers were given was one of the hundreds of pseudonyms that the American agency used, rather than their true name. "Jakob’s” badge matched.

They knew he was an agent or an officer. They did not know he was undercover. They did not know that he was a spy. Most countries did not appreciate spies in their midsts whether the spies were after government data or not. Especially not spies sent by countries closely allied with the country being ‘spied on.’

“I am Jakob Mudgett. You have seen and verified my identification. If you would like to see it again, as I think there is a misunderstanding--”

“There is no misunderstanding. And there is no Jakob Mudgett. Put your weapon down. You are under arrest for falsifying documentation and impersonating an officer.”

 

Chapter Text

Why couldn’t drug dealers be nice? Nice and understanding and willing to take bribes. Of course, Alfred found that they were plenty willing to take bribes. It was just that they were a bit less willing to give up information about their clientele in return. And then they’d get all defensive and demand to know if you’re a cop and sometimes they pulled out weapons to ask this question and, like, seriously. C’mon, guys.

But anyway, Alfred was a super spy so he had everything handled, don’t you worry.

And since he had handled things, he now had some useful proper nouns: the names of a person and the place they could be found. Except, as awesome as having such info was, Al couldn’t find it in himself to be thrilled about this next endeavor to come.

Hey, at least he wasn’t stuck digging through paperwork at the police station like Russia was. Ha. Loser. He’d probably be holed up in there all day.

Meanwhile, Alfred stood in line. His feet were really going to hate him for this, but he couldn't exactly take a wheelchair where he was going. They were wrapped up real nice, though. It was a bit chilly out, he had to admit, but it was way milder than some of the climates he’d been stationed in before. Plus, he now had this nifty I <3 Paris jacket from a tourist-y shop. There was even an Eiffel Tower in the heart. Which perfectly matched the Eiffel Tower on his beanie that was the colors of the French flag.

If only his dads could see him now. His current cover was supposed to be English, so all those years of making fun of Dad’s accent were paying off. Also, Pops would love all the French stuff. Dad would pretend to hate it. Al should bring it home to them and claim he got it somewhere in the States.

But that was thinking quite a bit ahead. Just a little bit further, however, was a real problem to deal with.

Did you know that, under Paris, there’s somewhere around six million dead people that they had to move out of their cemeteries forever ago? Did you know that Paris now has these people’s bones on display as a tourist attraction? Here, let’s emphasize that: TOURIST ATTRACTION? As in, not only did people’s grannies get dug up and chucked down a dark hole, but someone had the job of making the place a kinda respectful burial ground with the bones all stacked and orderly in designs and walls and stuff… only for that burial ground to be repurposed as a place for tourists to take selfies with people who had, ya know, actual lives and are actually dead and actually buried there.

The concept of the Paris catacombs is messed up.

So, yeah, haunted much? Alfred was prepared to guess it was much haunted.

Alfred may be a super spy, but even he could not punch a ghost in the face. Yet, Alfred had a name and that person worked here. Of all places in the big, beautiful city of Paris, Alfred had been tipped off about a person that worked… here.

Great.

Alfred had to spend over an hour in the line to get in. He was still well within his person’s shift, as he was told by this person’s fellow drug dealer. Did this person hold any significance to the case? Eh. Maybe!

Jean Lecerf, a very easy name to remember considering it was literally Frenchified ‘John Deer,’ was into drugs. The people Jean surrounded himself with were also into drugs. The gang that attacked Russia was into drugs. Illicit illegal activities like to stick around each other, so maybe the true Baddies got some funding from drugs. Or not. It was at least a connection worth looking into. That was Russia’s theory anyway. If it was a waste of time, it was all on him.

Tossing around names isn’t the safest practice on the street, but Kiku had shown him how to go about getting information from sources below police radars. Money, finagling, and instilling a belief that you belonged there. Plus, guns if things turned south, which they were liable to do.

Thanks to the world’s smartest, kindest, cutest, hottest, bestest husband, Al got the name of Jean’s dealer. Turns out, Jean had been recommended to this chick by a friend. Some ‘friend,’ right? Don’t do drugs, kids.

And now Alfred knew about this chick that worked at the catacombs doing who-knows-what full time and ruining people’s lives with drugs in her free time. Unlike the other people that Al had spoken with, this woman likely would not be armed because she was at work. If it was any consolation, Alfred wouldn't be either. It’s hard to carry weapons when they’ve got metal detectors at the front doors.

Ain’t hard to carry alternatives, though.

He got into the place just fine. Then it was stairs. Stairs and stairs and stairs spiraling deep, deep down into the ground. Then it was a passageway. Narrow, dark, rather low. If video games had taught him anything, it was that there were certainly going to be monsters lurking around corners and in these weird little nooks. Alfred had a particular hatred and distrust of weird little nooks.

There were occasional doors to the side, probably not exits seeing as they were friggin’ barred. BARRED. Sketchy AF. Yeah, Alfred really wasn’t into this place. His only ways out were back the way he’d come or pressing forward until he came to the end of the tour. Every bone in his body was telling him that, hey, this wasn’t a good place to be.

There were tourists descending the stairs behind him, there were tourists treading along in front of him. If anyone wished him harm, this would be as good a place as any to do it. The only security that Al was seeing had been back upstairs.

If somebody worked here, what would they be doing? Architectural crap? Restoration junk? There had been no women on duty upstairs. Did they have janitorial work to be done during the hours the catacombs were open to the public?

Al moved along down the path, alone, not liking this at all. He hoped the ghosts knew that he felt for their plight.

A nice ominous sign telling him to “Stop! Here Lies the Empire of the Dead.” Real cute. Alfred definitely wasn’t shaking. Nope. Not one bit. He was a super spy. He snapped a picture of the sign and, like every other tourist, proceeded despite the warning.

Then he started seeing bones. Sweet Betsy Ross, Alfred was NOT into THIS.

For the briefest moment, Alfred forgot why he was there because he was a bit flabbergasted by the many-feet-thick WALLS OF DEAD PEOPLE. The remains of people, long dead, just stacked. Alfred watched some tourists snap a duck-faced picture with people’s skulls. If Alfred was a ghost, he certainly wouldn’t be too happy with such behavior.

He didn’t imagine that these dead guys were particularly smiley about the affair. Oh, no, what if-- like-- a spirit followed him home and started haunting his and Kiku’s place? WHAT IF A GHOST STARTED HAUNTING HIM? What if a ghost, a really cranky one, wanted to hurt him? He’d seen those ghost shows. He’d seen people get scratched by some malicious presence that they shouldn’t have messed with in the first place.

Al stuck as closely to the middle of the path as possible, not wanting to disturb these guys. Oh, NO, what if he accidentally brushed up against one? What if it FELL and the whole wall of dead people came TUMBLING OUT into the path? Was it even safe to breathe this air full of long-decomposed human? Kiku would probably know. Man, he really wished Kiku was there with him. But WAIT, what if KIKU got haunted?

Alfred wanted to leave. He wanted to go back to the hotel. No more of this haunted nonsense. Russia would probably get something done at the police station. He could get some room service. Maybe take a nap. Alfred was pretty sure he deserved a nap at this point. They could raid this drug dealer’s house later or something, right? Raid her house, ask if she has anything to do with some Baddies, bid her a good night if not, and take her in for proper interrogation if so. Sounded legit.

There was some kind of old fountain or a well along the path. It was dry and barred up. Alfred didn’t appreciate it. Too spooky for a decorative piece.

The skulls and other bones were actually more decorative than it was; they had the skulls in these neat little designs. Which was messed up. But it looked kind of cool. Alfred hoped the ghosts thought it was a cool use of their remains too. There should be more options for cool uses of your bones, honestly. Especially in America. The fact that more people weren’t capitalizing off the option to make your dead parts into something artsy and aesthetically pleasing was an offense to the free market.

Alfred wanted his ashes--or his bones, whichever-- made into some kind of super cool SWORD or DAGGER and, dude, maybe if Kiku was still alive and spyin’ he could be the ninja he was and take down some Baddies with it and pass it on to their kids as a family heirloom. And those kids’ kids could talk about how they had a kickass sword made out of Grandpappy.

Yeah.

Alfred officially had his 287th (but who’s counting, right?) reason for wanting some littluns of his and Kiku’s own.

Anyway, drug dealer and immediate danger of vengeful ghosts. Alfred had yet to catch a glimpse of either. He hadn’t seen one person that worked down here! He had, however, seen two tourists disrespectful enough to, despite specific instructions not to do so, touch the bones. Neither ghosts nor security guards leaped out of the walls to stop them.

On and on the catacombs went. Nobody seemed to be working there. None of the tourists seemed to want to attack him. It was a bit too uneventful for Alfred’s liking, but he was just grateful that there was also no paranormal activity going on.

Finally, he came across… stairs. The publicly accessible portion of the catacombs had come to an end. He was expected to rejoin the world above.

Alfred was ready to sprint out of this joint, but he did as all the tourists did and trudged painstakingly slowly back up the spiral staircase. Stairs and stairs and stairs later, he got a glimpse of beautiful, unhaunted daylight. His feet were only mildly hating him. He exited. 

But that wasn’t it. He really should have done his homework first, because it hadn’t occurred to him that not only had the Parisians transformed a burial ground into a tourist attraction, but they also had a gift shop for it. More emphasis needed: A GIFT SHOP FOR ALL YOUR POST-HAUNTED LABYRINTH TOUR NEEDS. Full to bursting with cheap little skull knickknacks along with your standard I <3 Paris goodies.  

The Coke in the little refrigerator did look appealing, but Alfred was a professional. 

So, shaking the ghost heeby jeebies off and trying really hard not to imagine the chills at his back being ghostly fingers desperately trying to claw him back down into the depths, Alfred took a lap around the gift shop.

Conveniently, the store clerks wore nametags. And there was only one gal whose name matched Alfred’s tip.

She worked behind the counter and put on a smile to repeat prices back in English to American tourists staring blankly at her upon being thrown French numbers. Her shift did not end for a couple more hours.

That entire tour, and it turns out Alfred could have simply come around the back way to find his person. The drug dealer did not look at him. She did not see him in her store. She did not see him exit. The cameras had seen him, but he was only one anonymous foreign face among so many others.

And it wouldn’t be hard to slip into a different character and wait for her to leave.

 

Alfred changed his look and hung around at a nearby bar filled with plenty of people despite it being the middle of the day. The business spilled out onto an outdoor patio; people sat, people danced, people drank. From there, Al could keep an eye on the exit of the gift shop in case his suspect got to go home early.

He spoke French with a few highly inebriated individuals to pass the time. On a hunch, he wondered if they were even comprehending what he was saying. On that hunch, he found it immensely funny that none of them noticed him switch casually into Japanese and then Cherokee because he still put on a French accent.

Al purchased some water for his new clueless friends.

Time slowed down the closer the end of the suspect’s shift crept. He carried no conventional weapons as he stepped from the area marked off to belong to the bar, a different person than he’d been last time he’d stood in front of the catacomb’s gift shop.

The character of the addict stuffed his hands into Al’s jean pockets to halt the nervous twitches and shakes. It didn’t take much more than a change in posture-- let alone mannerisms and facial expressions-- to cause people to give you a wide berth on the street without a second look. Al half-leaned, half-sat on a stone post as he folded his arms and tucked his hands away once again under his armpits.

It took a little bit for Al to mentally work himself up into enough of a state to sweat even in the chilly air. For giggles, he’d once taken his acting outside of training in the agency compound. The act was at least good enough for an on-site medical professional to take one look at him and say ‘drug withdrawal; probably heroin’ and startle Germany enough that he’d had to get a blood test even though he’d literally just come from training on how to get into covers but WHATEVER. The point being, the dealer would probably believe it too.

And there she was. She stalked out of the shop with a vengeance, still working her purse over her shoulder in her eagerness to be out of the place. Probably a long day. Customer service sucks. She was trying to light a cigarette as she walked, shielding it from the wind with her hand.

Al got up abruptly, making a painfully obvious display of attempting to be subtle and casual and failing miserably as he meandered his way towards her. She’d just slipped her lighter back into her purse when she noticed him, expression tired but immediately on guard. “Hey,” he called, voice cracking. She hurried along, having lived long enough in this city to know not to stop for crazies or cat-calls. “Can you help me, miss?” Another off-putting phrase, Alfred knew, but the clients she worked with likely weren’t exactly charming. “Jeanette!” Her name. Jean got drugs from a gal named Jeanette. Ha.

She faltered, looking back over her shoulder at him quickly. She hovered between slowing for him and running for it, brows drawn together in confusion. She looked him up and down. She took in his mannerisms.

And she came to the conclusion that he wasn’t a cop.

She pulled the cigarette out of her mouth along with a thin roll of smoke. “What do you want?” Her voice was hostile, but Alfred knew an act when he saw one. She’d deemed him someone that could use her services.

He opened and closed his mouth, looking around at all the people passing them on their way home. He scratched at the inside of his arm anxiously, staring at her helplessly as his mind clearly struggled for smooth words. She watched him and she understood.

Her hands went to her purse, fingers lightly pulling at the zipper. Mace, pepper spray, or she managed to get a gun into her workplace. “How do you know my name?” she demanded of him.

“I-I-I got your name from a friend! He told me when you get off work because I n-need…” he shrugged. More of a twitch, really. She squinted at him.

“I don’t have anything on me now.” Her voice was cold.

“P- Please,” he begged. She looked around herself cautiously. The middle of the street in broad daylight was not the place for such a transaction to occur.

“Who’d you get my name from?” she asked again. Alfred told her the truth. She groaned, apparently not even needing to check his story. “That idiot…” she grumbled. “You probably had to pay him to get my name, didn’t you?” Alfred had. He nodded. “And you still got cash left?” she looked wary on this point.

“Of course I do!” he practically yelped.

“Meet me back here at 8:00. Last admissions are at 7:30, so make sure you find me. Bring your cash. Now, what should I bring for you?”

Al’s lopsided grin was genuine, but then it hit him. She didn’t want to make this ‘transaction’ out here in an alley or something. She intended for it to happen down in the catacombs. Great. Alfred’s favorite.

Chapter Text

Kiku was drooling on Yao’s sweatshirt when the plane began to descend. Yao didn’t mind. Eight hours on a plane next to Honda Kiku, a man that wouldn’t even look at him yet remained perpetually tense, was getting to be rather draining for Yao. And Yao had helped raise enough children to know when to spike their drinks with crushed sleeping pills.

Sleep helped reduce jet lag, so it was fine.

His ears popping must have finally woken him. Kiku’s face scrunched with discomfort and his fingers curled lightly into the fabric of Yao’s sweatshirt as he shifted closer. Remnants of a pleasant dream of someone else, Yao imagined. Then, Kiku flinched. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately. Really, all of this stress must be wreaking havoc on his qi. “We’re landing,” Yao explained. Kiku nodded quietly. Again, avoiding his eyes. “Sleep well?” Another nod. Why must he make this difficult? “You found yourself someone that you trust, I see,” Yao politely made conversation. A questioning glance and a blank expression, betraying nothing. How annoying.

The Kiku that Yao was familiar with was an introvert, yes, and never favored social interaction, true, but this was different altogether! Out of common decency you’d think that Kiku would be the one that would be trying to mend this! Perhaps expecting such actions on Kiku’s part was unfair, but you’d think that he’d feel he owed Yao something.

But to answer Kiku’s frustratingly unspoken question… “The way you sleep.” That should have been enough of an answer, but then Kiku was waiting for elaboration. Yao was beginning to think he’d been in America too long and forgotten how to use his brain. He sighed in impatience. “When you are between your dreams and alertness,” Yao explained. “You’ve clearly gotten used to waking up with someone you trust.”

Kiku listened to him. Kiku nodded as if it was an interesting proposition. And he looked away again. Oh come on!

But Yao knew he was right whether Kiku wanted to confirm it or not. “Is this the silent treatment?” Yao demanded of him suddenly. Kiku blinked over at him, genuine surprise spreading across his face. Better.

“What…?”

“Show some respect to your elder! What is this?”

“‘This’?” Kiku shook his head, bewildered. “I do not know to what you are referring--”

“This!” Yao helpfully gestured to all of Kiku. “I don’t like it!” Yao informed him as the plane touched the ground. He stood the moment that he was able, reaching for his carry-on above him. “And I will not be having it!” Yao scolded.

Kiku appeared both stunned and insulted to be spoken to like a child. He did, however, seem to let it go based upon who he was speaking with. “I--” Kiku started, sounding conciliatory.

“And another thing!” Yao whirled on him suddenly, pointing an accusing finger. The movement startled Kiku, who tensed to defend himself. As if Yao would attack him.

Well, that hurt, didn’t it? Yao continued as if it hadn’t, only missing a beat. People exited the plane around them. “Why are we even speaking this infernal language!” Referring, of course, to English.

Kiku swallowed. “It is a language we have in common,” Kiku replied, gently, and-- blessedly-- in Mandarin.

And just like that, Yao found himself in his past-- a very dangerous thing for a spy indeed. It struck him like a wave, cold and harsh, and Yao was lost in the dark whirl of its force. The two of them-- Wang Yao and Honda Kiku-- getting their first good look at each other through the shadows of an alleyway. Kiku, shivering and hardly able to stand, staring up at him through messy black bangs wet with his own blood and the rain. And English, the only language shared between them. They were both so young.

But Yao was in the present. And Honda Kiku was not the person that Yao had once thought he was.

He was ready to get off the damn plane. Eight hours was far too long!

The covers that the Americans had arranged for the two of them were thoroughly done, which is appreciated when you have to go through customs. If they were foolproof was hard to say, but surely the Americans were good at something that wasn’t outsourcing their manufacturing for cheap labor.

So Yao was no longer Yao, but another generic Chinese name. Honestly, he was a little surprised that they bothered to cover for the fact that Kiku wasn’t Chinese, but perhaps he should throw the Americans a bone and say that they could feign their heralded multiculturalism when it counted.

Hold on, was Kiku an American citizen now? Yao glanced over at his partner as they exited the plane, supposedly two students coming to Paris to study together. He would have to ask once their every move no longer counted.

For now, however, they were being watched. Not in a malicious sort of way yet, probably, but by the airport security cameras, by the French TSA, and by those seemingly harmless civilians around them that could always speak up in concern if they smelled a rat. So for the time being, Kiku needed to get it together because they were supposed to be friends in a new and very foreign place.

Such people were all around them. They clumped. They listened longer to the announcements in hopes that whatever was said would be repeated in their own language over the bustle. They clutched at foreign passports. They conferred with their groups to figure out what they were supposed to do.

Yao thought it was funny; to be a perfectly calm and knowledgeable tourist was downright suspicious.

But Kiku knew what he was doing as he stood tall, gripping his passport, and staring straight ahead. He chose to play the part of that tourist that had prepared as much as possible for the trip. Kiku was that tourist desperately trying to remain calm and remind himself that he had prepared for this even as every fact about the French people slipped away under pressure.

Yao could play off of that. “So do you think they speak Mandarin?” Yao asked, the clueless tourist who did nothing to prepare and had only planned to siphon off his companion’s knowledge. “Or will they have to call in a special interpreter like in America?” “Will they ask me questions in French?” “How do I politely greet someone again?” “Do I say ‘Au revoir’ when I leave? Do I say ‘Merci’?” “Are we supposed to smile at people passing on the street?” “What were the snails called again?” “When are we going to see the Eiffel Tower?” On and on like that.

Try ignoring me like that again, Kiku, and see how it works out for your temper. Yao had decided he was going to force the boy to pay attention to him whether he liked it or not.

Yet, Kiku had always had a remarkable temper. He took every question in stride, perfectly in character. Kiku’s Mandarin took on the tone of someone who’d learned it in a classroom: practiced, tidy, vaguely accented, and little slang.

So Yao made sure to throw in as much slang as he knew just to be a nuisance because Kiku would have to pretend as if he didn’t know words. Kiku was already looking worn ragged with Yao’s games. Yao was having a great time, though.

Good thing the customs line would take about two or three hours to get through.


 

“I’ll ask you this again: Who are you? What do you want?” This officer was not well-trained on the topic of interrogation, but he was persistent.

“I am Jakob Mudgett. I would like to get some rest,” Ivan, in the spirit of the original character he had been given, tried for a quick smile.

The hours blended by seamlessly in the white room. No indication of time was available to Ivan. He was not sure of how long he had been there, but he did know that this officer had been there the longest. They had cycled through many.

“You can get your rest once you tell me the truth.”

“I have been telling you the truth from the minute I got here. But I must say, this is getting rather old.” Ivan sighed, leaning on his hand.

“Is it?” The officer sighed too. “Hadn’t noticed.” Ivan gave him another, tired, smile for the sarcasm. Ivan was not tired. The officer was growing restless, though. The man had tried getting angry already, twice now. Ivan’s story had not changed.

The officer didn’t like this. He was uncomfortable. He did not believe Ivan to be guilty, Ivan knew. As time wore on, as there continued to be no flaws in Ivan’s story, the man chewed at his mouth more frequently. He shifted around more in his chair; he was restraining himself from, once again, standing up and walking around. Those that were watching through the one-way glass doubtlessly were feeling similarly.

Ivan pretended to be worn down as well. One of them would reach their breaking point first. It would not be Ivan.

He scrubbed weary hands under the wire glasses, no prescription within them, he wore for his character. “There has been a mistake,” Ivan restated. The repetition, the monotony, the doubt was more taxing on the officers than their ‘interrogation suspect.’ “Let me help you find out what is wrong.”

After so many hours, Ivan still had not gleaned this information from the officers. It seemed that there was a disparity regarding his identification, or perhaps his cover’s name, within the station’s system.

The officer puffed out his cheeks. Ivan knew he had won before the officer stood up. “I’m taking a break,” he announced. “Need anything? Water?”

“That will not be necessary, thank you.” Drinking the water offered in an interrogation setting only provided the interrogators with more pressure put on the suspect once bathroom privileges were put into the equation.

“It’s not good to keep refusing water like that.”

“It is not good to keep me here when I have done nothing wrong.”

The man left. Ivan sat back and gently went about cleaning his glasses. He had undergone less orthodox methods of interrogation during training than this police station could legally provide.

Ivan would presume somewhere around fifteen minutes passed before another officer entered the room. He carried a file. “It isn’t everyday we have a suspect in custody that won’t identify himself,” this new man commented. Ivan feigned annoyance with this statement.

“My name is Jakob Mudgett.”

“We’re not so sure about that, sir.”

“Why?” Ivan asked, hoping to finally receive an answer. The man opened the folder, thumbing through it leisurely, licking at his fingers to turn the pages.

“Jakob Mudgett: an officer of the law. You seem to speak rather poor French, but your German has our native speakers convinced. Your accent even matches the area your identification says you come from, they say. Your passport runs. Your badge runs. There seems to be proof of your completed training with the organization you say you are with, an organization we have worked alongside before. They do good work in helping stop illegal drug activity in Europe.”

“I have no reason to lie about who I am!” ‘Jakob’ protested.

“Where is your partner? The paralyzed man?”

“As I have told your friends before, I do not know! He does not require my assistance. He is investigating the case of our suspect that you let die!” The officer appeared amused at Ivan’s ironclad cover.

“You are truly fascinating. You know your story so well.”

“It is the truth,” Ivan insisted.

“Your organization vouches for you, even if we can only seem to contact them via e-mail.”

“Well, I do work for them!” The Americans likely had set up some automatic machine to answer inquisitive e-mails. They had better be getting around to doing more than that considering the determination of these officers.

“We’re not sure who you work for, actually. Or why. Care to answer?” Ivan gave them the same story he had four times previously. The officer listened, peering at him curiously. “That’s lovely. Now, would you care to explain--” the man set a series of photos down on the table before Ivan. Ivan leaned forward to shuffle through them. His blood ran cold. “What you are doing in these photos?”

Ivan took his time looking at all of them. Grainy still frames from security camera footage. The photos did not depict the character of Jakob Mudgett, but it was clearly the same large man with the same unmistakable light hair. Ivan knew that he had worn the same coat on his first visit to this station.

Ivan also knew exactly what he had been doing, though the officers could not hope to know that the object he carried beneath his coat was a safe stolen from the residence of the same suspect that had ended up dead in this police station. The officers did know, however, that he was fleeing the scene of the house party they had raided on a tip about illegal drugs.

Ivan looked back up at the officer. “Sir, you said yourself that you’re aware my organization specializes in eliminating criminal drug activity. I was investigating our suspect when the house was raided. You helpfully arrested him. Then, you unhelpfully let him die.”

“Why did you flee the scene if you’re an officer?”

“I was in plainclothes to enter the party to inspect for suspicious activity, but…” Ivan made himself blush and looked away in shame. “Someone managed to pickpocket me.” The issue was practically an epidemic in Paris. Ivan shrugged sheepishly. “My badge was in that wallet. Unlike now, I could not prove my innocence.”

“What a shame to lose a badge. Lucky you had an extra, wasn’t it?”

“I agree.” Ivan watched this man carefully. He had more ‘incriminating’ evidence in his folder, based on his smugness. It was not difficult to explain away in half-truths, though that was certainly more of Yao’s area of expertise.

“We have the cameras in the metro, even if we do not have other security cameras. You returned to a hotel in La Défense, not to the hotel you are currently registered in within the boundaries of Paris. You entered a room that has been registered-- and still is -- under a Mr. Peter Wallace from America.” The cover that Ivan was given initially, but abandoned after being attacked by the gang. “Travel records confirm a Mr. Wallace on flight from America to France. When you pull up passport records of a Mr. Wallace from America, we are greeted with this photo.” The man gently placed a passport photo of Ivan down in front of him, but the officer was not done. He laid out Ivan’s ‘Jakob Mudgett’ passport beside it. Different pictures, but both Ivan. His eyes were brown in Jakob’s. His appearance had not been altered for Peter’s.

“A striking resemblance,” Ivan commented. “But I think I know what my face looks like and I think I know what my name is,” he scoffed, rolling his eyes.

“Our facial recognition software claims that this is the same person. In which of these photos are you wearing colored contacts?”

“I don’t wear contacts!” Ivan pushed the fake glasses up his nose pointedly. “Colored or otherwise!”

“Of course not.” Biting sarcasm. “But let’s talk about this hotel some more. Because there is a Peter Wallace staying in the room that you entered that night after you fled the scene of a crime. We spoke with him.” The agent that had taken Ivan’s place in that hotel room in order to clear evidence of the commotion that had occurred there. He would have taken on the same cover as Ivan slipped into a different one. The man set a paper in front of him. “Here is a copy of his passport. It runs as well. An identical barcode, identical name, different picture and description to fit the man with whom we were speaking. Now how could that be?”

Ivan shook his head, pretending to be shocked. “Identity theft?” Ivan scrunched his eyebrows. “I’ve never seen such a thing with passports!”

“We were thinking something similar. Though,” He was given a hard glare. “That does not explain why this man with a passport identical to the one with your face on it is staying in the room that you entered.” Ivan couldn’t exactly blame it on a passport photo doppelganger with different-colored eyes anymore, as he had admitted to the footage being of him. He remained silent. Yao would have thought of something witty to defuse the situation. “We got a warrant to search the hotel room. There was a noise complaint from another guest the night you returned to this room, you know.”

The opportunity presented itself for Ivan to explain it away as a one night stand with the agent who had, presumably, already cleaned the room when the police got their warrant. Yet, Ivan was hesitant. Not only because he did not want to stoop to the level of America and jump directly to relationships as a cover, but something was nagging. Something about the evidence presented was not adding up. Ivan had not done days’ worth of investigating into the gang members’ attack to miss it, either.

“You claim to know of a room that I supposedly entered?” Ivan spoke slowly. This was dangerous territory to tread. “My partner and I have looked into mysterious camera outages as well as disappearances from the business district of La Défense during this time. No hotel had cameras throughout the night. I am curious as to what you have that claims to be incriminating evidence?” Ivan spoke it with a mocking tone, superior and knowing that their claim against him was bogus.

“Camera footage did not lead us to the hotel room. An anonymous tip, however, did.” The man smiled unpleasantly. “Have you made some enemies, my friend?”

Chapter Text

Alfred had time to get all gadget-ed up. He was prepared for action this time! Super spy tech, the agency’s vitals monitors, a bit of first aid junk, a badge, rewrapped feet, and weapons. The firm press against his lower back of a gun was reassuring; as was some Kevlar under a hoodie, a taser strapped to his thigh, your usual Swiss army knife in an ugly cargo pants’ pocket, your friendly hankie and chloroform combo for those that liked to resist arrest, etc. etc.

He was feeling alright about himself when he stepped out of his hotel room, actually. Paris was gorgeous at night. It was the city of lights, a city with a buzzing night life unlike the area where Al’s feet had gotten messed up. The darkness did not bring out any more monsters than the daylight. Plus, Alfie Jones was armed to the teeth so like... What could possibly go wrong?

Then he showed up around the catacombs’ exit. And he remembered where he was going.

Alfred didn’t fear the drug dealer or any cronies she might have brought along… but he did admit to having some trepidation about the ghosts. You can’t taser a ghost. Weren’t ghosts stronger in the nighttime or something too? Did evil, frustrated spirits come out to feast on druggies and their dealers in the labyrinth? Oh no they probably did, didn’t they?

But there wasn’t time to dwell on the hair raising on his arms or the sweat accumulating under his bulletproof armor covering only portions of his body-- and certainly not the most vulnerable either-- because he had spotted his suspect.

She stood smoking a cigarette in the shadows outside of a street lamp’s reach. She inclined her head at the sight of him and flicked the butt to the ground, unfinished. Her posture as she approached him was tall and sure. She had an illusion of control over the situation as she looked him up and down, eyeing his pockets. “What’s your name, kid?” she asked. Her tone was bored, but her eyes drove into him with an intense ruthlessness that would be intimidating if it was not at least partially faked.

“Why?” he asked as his character trembled and fidgeted and sweated and glanced around as if expecting cops to jump out of a tree. She sighed, but it was clear that she was buying the act. Yay. “D-Does it matter?” his voice was small and quivering. She pretended to think about this, though she must have been used to paranoid customers worried about their names getting sold to law enforcement.

“I guess it doesn’t,” she decided. “As long as you’re okay with me referring to you as ‘kid,’” she snorted to herself, despite not being in the mood for jokes. “C’mon. Let’s get this over with.” With that, she turned to walk towards the closing gift shop.

“W-Wait!” he called out, jogging weakly to keep up with her. “Why can’t we… do this… here?” his eyes flitted to the dark exit of the catacombs in thinly veiled apprehension. It was strange to want to go out of your way to conduct a drug deal in a tourist attraction. That’s a lot of stairs to go down just for some baggies to exchange hands.

“Do you want it or not?” was her simple reply that made neither Alfred nor the character he was playing feel any better.

So Alfred followed her as she gave an amiable wave to a janitor in the store and to the security guard just about ready to lock up the exit. The guard gave her a look. “C’mon, Jacques, we won’t be long!” The man blew some hair out of his face in irritation, but said nothing to the contrary.

“Just help Paul kick the stragglers out,” was the only condition they were given before they began descending the stairs that guests were supposed to take to get out. Alfred kept expecting to have to squeeze to the wall to let some slowpoke tourists push by. They were definitely fire hazards, you know!

But there was no one. The supposed ‘stragglers’ made no appearances as Alfred and the dealer reached the bottom. Hello, bones. Hello, ghost-demons. Come out, come out wherever you are, potentially sketchy humans.

Alfred didn’t like this. He didn’t like this one bit. He didn’t have to force himself to sweat anymore. But it wasn’t because he was a weenie or anything; it was because he was a super smart superhero, okay? And any super smart person could reasonably speculate that ‘stragglers’ might be code for ‘gun-carrying cronies in mardis gras masks.’

Al’s feet gave a dull throb of agreement through the bandages. Thanks, feet. Happy to have your support (THAT’S A PUN).

Alfred’s astounding hilarity and intelligence aside, the dealer was leading him deeper into the maze of bones. Alfred would personally prefer not to join the ranks of dead at the moment.

“Where are you going?” he asked, acting annoyed as well as anxious. Dude, he just wanted to have this chick hand him drugs so he could arrest her (the fact that it wasn’t technically his job at all to arrest her notwithstanding) and then take her into the police station. Simple enough, right?! Easy peasy! So, then, why was she stalling?

Alfred was going to go ahead and call it: he smelled something fishy and it wasn’t the drugs.

His hand wandered cautiously down to where his taser gun was concealed. Sweat slipped down the curve of his cheek. The cool, musty air stood as still as he did as she turned to face him with arms crossed disapprovingly. “Why do you keep asking questions? Do you want to get caught?” she demanded of him.

“There’s no one here,” he pointed out. “Just give me the stuff!”

She reached into her coat pocket. Alfred tensed, fully expecting her to draw a gun. As there was no inconspicuous way to stick your hand down your pants to get at the weapon strapped to your thigh, Al casually started to reach behind him-- the location of his own handgun.

She smirked as she tossed him a baggy of the requested illegal substance. He caught it easily with one hand. “There you go. Now, tell me, why did you come down here armed?” she leaned against a wall of bones, making Alfred cringe internally. “I figured as much, but why? Not planning on paying up?” her voice was innocent enough as she looked at Alfred’s hand, his fingers already brushing the metal of his firearm.

“Reasonable precaution,” he choked out, then went digging in his pocket for a wad of cash to hold out to her. He removed his hand from the weapon. She would have to step closer if she wanted the money. She stared at him, debating whether or not she wanted to take that step.

She did.

And then Alfred had a handcuff clapped around her wrist. She flinched belatedly, making a strangled noise of panic as she instinctively tried to yank away. Not this time, though. Not this one. Alfred had a suspect, alive, and would not be losing her anytime soon. He went for his badge, already starting with the French arrest protocols to make this seem legit.

The dealer was cursing up a storm and generally not appreciating the service that Al was doing for the community as she insisted on wriggling about, hissing like a cat and growling about how she ‘knew it’ or whatever. Shut up, lady; you didn’t know it. Alfred was just too awesome and, honestly, why did no one whose eyes he’d ever pulled the wool over ever acknowledge that? Like, denying that Alfred was awesome definitely wasn’t going to help anything, was it?

So, she was handcuffed nice and tight and certainly not going anywhere-- not on his watch! The bones did not applaud. Alfred was rather glad that they didn’t. He allowed himself a deep breath of that lovely stale air now that the hard part was over, then released it in a long exhale as he gazed back toward the stairs that he would have to ascend with his none-too-cooperative culprit. They should really invest in an elevator with as much traffic as this place got--

--GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER.

Good news: he found the stragglers. Bad news: the stragglers found him first.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best time to gloat on how he’d totally called it, but that was what his mind chose to offer him as he dodged a knife. Dummy left his torso all exposed trying to get such a high arc on his shiv like that.

A sharp jab straight to the attacker’s gut. A knee targeted Baddie's groin. Gun drawn from his waistband; the most accessible weapon. Al smashed it against the side of his head. One down.

The gun did not dissuade the others, nor did the release of the safety. The others weren’t stupid enough to rush him. The others weren’t stupid enough to bring knives to this fight. But Alfred was.

A shot rang out, deafening. Skeletons shattered, fragments littering the floor. An overwhelming wave of dust and Alfred was hacking on it, but his bullet had done what it needed to do-- distracted them. They were yelling-- all of it nonsense, nothing he could use. But he could use his knife and he did, sent it sailing. It hit its mark. A hand couldn’t hold a gun if you drive a knife through the back of it. Screaming, scuffling, dust in the air, blood dripping on the ground. Gunshots, not Alfred’s own, blasted in the midst of the chaos. “STOP HIM, STOP HIM!”

Alfred was already diving behind a wall of bones. Probably not the best cover. The Baddies had the same thought as their bullets pummeled into it. Dust, splintering, bones spreading across the floor, shrapnel from them them stinging every inch of his exposed skin, a wave of them collapsing at once, human remains pouring into the walkway as the Baddies advanced-- as Alfred listened to their crunching footfalls advance. One voice was cussing louder than the rest about his hand; he seemed to lead the charge, revenge focusing his mind more than the pain.

The hollow racket of bones being kicked aside, rolling along the floor as they waded through them, unable to see Alfred through the disgusting, unbreathable dust asphyxiating the tunnel yet they knew precisely where he was. Or where he had been.

Why not use another weapon? Was Al’s delirious thought process as he took aim with filthy, sweaty fingers yards and yards away. He squeezed his eyes closed, targeting with his ears, and damn the echoes because he hadn’t done this in awhile; God damn it,  he couldn’t breathe. Frustrated, he yanked his hoodie up over his face. He steadied his hands, aimed.

Fired.

The crack of a gunshot as muscles involuntarily seized. A scream. Then another. A body hit the floor, convulsing as the taser hissed. “You fucking idiot! You’ll kill us all!” The English hit Alfred. Then the bullet did.

Alfred went down, the poisoned air rushing from his lungs. GEORGE FUCKING LUCAS, WHY?! His hands scrambled for purchase, struggling uselessly as the bones rattled away from him. Well, that might be problematic, Alfred had the mind to note.

It wasn’t like the bullet had gone through the Kevlar, but cheese and crackers OUCH.

Ever been hit with a baseball bat? Just friggin’ slammed with a Louisville Slugger because screw you? While mildly more appealing than, say, a bullet to the chest cavity, it is not a recommended experience. Nor something one immediately bounces up off the ground from.

But Alfred was a superspy!

Also, he realized how severely he’d messed up when the taser-- hey, he was no quitter and didn’t let go of that trigger for nothin’! Not even a break for getting shot!-- ignited the dust.

So sue him, it hadn’t occurred to Alfred in the heat of the moment that the electricity was a horrendous fire hazard!

An explosion is a remarkably good incentive to get up, even with a boo-boo.

Shrieks, unbearable heat, the oxygen eaten alive by the demon that raked its claws up Alfred’s back. His yells joined the others’. He was burning, he was sprinting, he couldn’t breathe-- and then his foot caught. And then he was weightless.

Man, don’t you just love it when your body absorbs the majority of the blunt force impact from a gunshot and then you just fall right on it? ‘Cause Alfred didn’t. Some son of a redcoat had tripped him!

He looked behind him wildly, way more toasted than he’d like, and saw… his drug dealer. She was pretty singed too and absolutely livid, army-crawling through the bones in her handcuffs. In one blistered, bloodied hand, she clutched a fractured leg bone-- razor sharp. Alfred assumed that was meant for him.

He rose again, like a beautiful blond phoenix from the ashes, and kicked it out of her hand while she screeched for the others. Sorry, honey, but Alfred was done here. He picked her up, kicking and screaming and trying to beat him upside the head with the handcuffs. In his lightly seared pants, he had the solution for a quieter trip outta here. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t take kindly to Alfred pressing a rag that she watched him douse in a mystery liquid to her nose and mouth.

Out like a light. How convenient.

He slung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, breathing heavily and shaking as his body began to let him know how much it hated his career choices, but a glance at his vitals monitors claimed that he wasn't dying yet and that was good enough for him. He squinted off into the rubble. Silence. Did the fire…?

He dropped his suspect’s limp body to the ground and went charging back in. Taser’d dude lay still in a bed of blackened bones-- eyebrowless and lightly smoking. Al dove in to check for a pulse. Alive. Shiv dude was still out, mostly untouched by the fire, where Al’d left him. Now, where was injured hand guy? And there were at least two others, right?

Waiting for him in the stairwell? Outside in the dark?

A sharp, wrenching pain in his chest. Oh yeah. Alfred might be seriously injured. Better get that checked out. Ya know, after he strained it and his feet some more by picking up a lady’s dead weight and carrying her up something like a hundred or so steps. The cops could take care of these guys down here.

Dragging the dealer was an option, he found, as she bumped along roughly behind him the whole way up. Alfred mentally apologized to the skeletons he’d disturbed as he climbed up and up and up, expecting danger with every twist of the stairs. The drug dealer lady could deal with it because she’d been quite rude to him. Though, he guessed, they might be even after he’d chloroformed her, dragged her up stone steps, and was kind of entirely kidnapping her because it wasn’t his dang job to arrest her for drug offenses.

He emerged from the depths, breathing the cold night air with relief. Then, the bracing aroma of evacuated bowels alerted him to the presence of the corpse. Aww, gosh dang it! Someone had shot Jacques the security guard. He’d just been doing his job…

And the other Baddies? Disappeared into thin air.

Sirens wailed mournfully as they approached the desecrated burial ground, demanding to know who would commit such an egregious crime. Alfred, as one of those individuals in the wrong, decided that he should probably go to the police rather than have the police catch him in such a compromising position. Readjusting his suspect across his shoulders, he started the painful trudge to the subway. He tiredly wondered how long it'd take for someone to stop him considering he was literally carrying an unconscious woman. There was, however, a spark of consolation in the midst of such blackness. He had a suspect. And, unlike every other soul thought to be wrapped up in this mess, she was alive. 

Chapter Text

Ivan rested his cheek against his fist, still in the interrogation room. “Why did we find an enormous amount of stashed weapons in the hotel room?”

“They must have belonged to the man in the room.”

“Do you work together?”

“No.”

“Are you planning a terrorist attack?”

“No.”

“Explain the passports. Why change the eyes?”

“Identity theft, and I haven’t the slightest idea. Really, officer, these questions are becoming a bit old hat, don’t you think?” Ivan yawned. The officer, a new one, was getting rather sick of this too.

“The evidence is entirely against you.”

“The evidence is more against the man in that hotel room and the strange call attempting to point the finger at me.”

“The man in that hotel room’s story does not align with yours at all.”

“I imagine he is trying to defend himself.” If the American agent went down, that was his agency’s issue for not coming to either of their aid sooner.

“Well, one of you is.”

“Why do you assume it is I who lies? The important next step is uncovering the identity of that caller. It must be traceable--”

“You seem very interested in the caller for a man whose fingerprints were found on the hidden weapons, whose trace DNA was found in the room where traces of bloodstains--expertly removed-- were found matching the DNA of at least two men who went missing from the area that night, a man who fled a crime scene, and a man whose credentials have still not been personally verified by your employer.”

So they had DNA verification of the gang members’ presence as well as his own now. That was new information to Ivan. He had assumed the American agent had taken care of such things.

The discrepancies in his own story were gaping with this addition to the evidence.

Ivan had stooped to explaining away his presence in the hotel room as a one night stand with the American agent, while the American agent had denied all contact as he was questioned separately. Ivan had claimed that the two had been alone. Ivan had claimed that the American agent must have stolen his identity during this time. He had claimed that he had no idea of the weapon’s stash.

Ivan, personally, would enjoy a nap at about this time.

He didn’t particularly bother to listen as the officer triumphantly pointed this out. He’d let the police have their moment of competency before it soon would be stripped away. Ivan had no intention of sticking around for their legal games. He tapped his fingers against the table, bored by the officer’s display of superiority over him.

Yao would scold him, would say that he’d been outwitted merely because the smaller man had not been there to smooth over the flaws. Ivan had been in a situation similar to this before. Though, Yao had not known him well enough to say such things on that day years ago.

It was one of their first missions together, so hesitantly placed as partners by their handlers. The superiors had not trusted Yao. Nor did Ivan fully trust Yao, nor did Yao fully trust Ivan. They had had an understanding, then, of the necessity to complement each other’s strengths and fill the other’s weaknesses. Trust was not a matter of concern; effectiveness was.

The fact that Ivan and Yao had found themselves captured was only a matter of dumb luck on the enemy’s part. To be an agent, one must be equipped with an unhealthy amount of the devil’s luck. Tumbling into a life of waking nightmares was their unavoidable tragedy and the misfortune to live through it was the looming curse.

Ivan’s cover story was practiced and infallible, even through the removal of his pinky finger’s nail in a dark and grimy room. But the villains had not wanted his story anymore than the police officers did as they bickered among themselves about whether they wanted next to remove the finger altogether or the rest of the nails.

Until Yao all-too-casually unlocked the door and gunned every last one of them down in under three seconds in a flurry of blinding light and deafening noise. Admirable efficiency, had been Ivan’s dazed thought as his savior, silhouetted against like the light like an angel-- beautiful and terrifying-- unfastened his restraints with stolen keys in his nimble hands and a sandwich held in his mouth. ‘You stopped for a snack?’ Ivan had rasped out.

‘No,’ Yao had told him. ‘I stopped for lunch.’ This man, this infuriating, rude, uncontrollable, insubordinate, illogical, insane man, then proceeded to grin as he pressed a sandwich of Ivan’s own and a weapon into his freed hands.

But Yao was not here. He was rotting in an American cell awaiting his own rescue this time.

Frankly, a prison such as this was an easily solved issue. And it was going to be the last thing that was going to stand between him and his beloved. 


 

Kiku was hesitant to unpack. Yao was getting overly friendly with the weapons.

“They just store hoards of these for you!” Yao gushed, repeating the surprised sentiment verbatim for the seventh time, as he marveled over another submachine gun. “Oh, and this,” Yao continued, “This is beautiful.” He hefted a fully automatic and held it up to the light to watch it glisten.

To Kiku, Yao was reminiscent of a dragon savoring its treasure.

“So! Let’s get started!” Yao quipped suddenly, swinging his legs off the side of the bed. “Anywhere you want to start? Stop being lazy! Let’s get a move on!” There had been a time that Kiku had felt he understood Yao and his moods and his motivations. Those years were long passed. Kiku felt that he was functioning a second or two behind his mission partner, a sensation that he did not enjoy in the slightest.

“Well,” Kiku replied softly. “I was planning on examining the information available to us and following the most promising lead, to begin,” he explained to Yao, hoping that it was reasonable enough that even Wang Yao would find it agreeable.

“'The information available!'” Yao scoffed. “You mean in this file?” Yao raised an eyebrow at him. Kiku shrugged noncommittally. Yao hurled the file at him.“Don’t you pay attention at all?” Kiku sighed to himself as papers and photographs floated to the floor. This was going to be a long mission. He clasped his hands behinds his back, silent. He would prefer not to give his companion the satisfaction of inquiring what on Earth he was raving about. “We cannot just waste time getting settled in when agents end up dead! Tell me, Kiku: What did they do incorrectly?”

“There is a myriad of causes of death among the agents--” Kiku began to protest, but he stopped himself. This was Wang Yao. Kiku could not imagine Wang Yao thinking as an agent would. Yao did not reach for the given data to review for such a question, so neither would Kiku. It was an interesting way to ponder it. The agents’ deaths were at the fault of the enemy that they were all working to stop, if just to honor the memory of the deceased. But what if the agents’ deaths were their own faults? What was their shared mistake?

Yao was waiting for an answer.

“The agents failed…” Kiku’s voice was barely audible, even to himself. “Because no matter what they did, they always performed exactly how an agent is expected to conduct oneself.” The idea that this might be correct was horrifying to Kiku. He gathered the scattered file from the floor. He turned to the agents’ death reports immediately, running a finger down the page as he scanned the words before him.

“Well, that’s a fun way to look at it. I was just going to say that what the agents did incorrectly was died, which I would personally like to avoid, so we should stop being sitting ducks in a hotel room.” Yao blew a strand of hair from his face. “But thank you for your very ominous input. I guess having a positive outlook on our chances of survival would be silly.” Kiku looked up at Yao from the file, vaguely annoyed with the sarcasm.

“The agents messed up by dying?” Kiku repeated, unamused. Yao gave an exaggerated, exasperated shrug.

“If you like yours better, that’s fine!”

“Yao, look at this.” Kiku tapped the file pointedly before tossing it back to the man, who grudgingly did as he was told. “All of these agents. They all had perfect covers, they all arrived in their assigned locations without issue, they all reported back to headquarters with every promising lead, they were all highly trained and heavily armed, everything they did was executed with an agent’s precision and tact, everything was well-planned. Yao, everything should have gone without hindrance. Some of these agents even got as far as relaying highly useful information before their demise. These individuals are not easy to pin down, let alone kill.”

“They don’t seem too immortal to me. I, on the other hand, am quite good at not dying. I have been not-dying for every year of my life! I really have it down to an art, you see, and you have to believe it because I am your elder and I said so. To not die, we must avoid death. We do not do that by sitting fat and lazy in a hotel room, mind you.”

“This is not a joke.”

“My,” said Yao, blinking. “Aren’t you a ray of sunshine?”

“Yao, listen, or I will start calling you Agent China.” Yao grinned; Kiku was relearning how to speak to him.

“You have my full attention.” Yet, the laughter in his tone had not diminished. “What do you recommend we do? I will have you know that I am very good at conduct unbecoming of an agent.”

“I…” Kiku faltered. He didn’t know. Yao was smirking. Oh, how Kiku was going to regret saying this. “What do you think?”

“I am so glad you asked!” Yao praised brightly, folding his legs up onto the bed like an excited child. “You are saying that our would-be murderers know how agents work. How, then, you are wondering, do we take them by surprise as agents? Kiku, I think you’ll remember that we were rather successful criminals before we were agents.” Yao spread his hands. “Let’s treat it as a heist.”

“How?” Kiku’s voice was weak as he avoided Yao’s eyes.

“Your agency is going to fucking hate you as much as both yours and mine hates me!” Yao told him, all too cheerily. He let this sink in a moment. “But I get results.” Kiku couldn’t look at him, not when he was speaking so flippantly about… their shared past.

“I am listening,” Kiku rasped, voice steady.

“We cut the agency out of this picture. It’s just you and me. We’ll catch back up with them when we’re done.” Kiku went on guard, and it was not because of the major break in protocol.

“I am not going rogue. And I certainly will not assist you in doing so.” Yao could not get out of this mission so easily. Not when so much was on the line. Not when Kiku’s husband was one of the people on the line.  

“Oh, please, Kiku. Really?” Yao scoffed and rolled his eyes, but he was stiff in his movements. “Been there, done that!” his dismissive chuckle was forced. “Trust me. You can’t get out of this line of work once you’re in.” He cleared his throat. “You just can’t. And I’m not looking to get out of this ridiculous mission. I am cooperating so that I can take my Ivan home.” His eyes bored into Kiku’s with an unusual intensity. “Do I make myself understood?”

“Yes,” the answer fell out of Kiku’s mouth clumsily.

“Good!” Yao clapped his hands together. “Now, your agency likes to mollycoddle its agents a bit more than they do in Russia. They’re proper control freaks, actually. We need to be free of that nonsense to give ourselves the best chance.” Kiku shook his head, though he believed that Yao was likely correct.

“They’ll think something went wrong. They’ll think we went rogue. They’ll send people after us.”

“You can tell them what we’re going to do, but I don’t like these constant correspondences.” Yao gestured at all the status reports and data inquiries recorded in the file prior to all information available on causes of death. “How do we know that the enemy doesn’t have capabilities to intercept these communications?” Yao shook his head. “No. The enemy does not need to know every scrap of information we collect, nor does your agency. And we don’t need them to do our research for us, no matter how impressive their databases.”

Could the enemy intercept seemingly secure communications between agents and their superiors? It could explain many of the deaths. Kiku’s question was whether such eavesdropping could be traced back to its source. “I will do it,” Kiku announced to Yao. “But I need to call Mr. Germany about it.”

Chapter Text

Alfred finally made it to the police station. He was just really hoping that his feet would wait a bit longer to tear back open despite the fact that he’d way overexerted them. The bandages seemed to be holding them together alright, but also his feet were swelling inside of them. That’s usually not good. Also his chest. His chest was ouchie. Hopefully these helpful pain signals weren’t alerting him to cracked ribs. Al was hoping it was only some bruising. The word ‘contusion’ was a fun one.

Really, they should make bulletproof armor more… bulletproof. Like, it’d done its job and all, but ouch. ‘Bulletproof armor’ should take away more of the ouch, ya know?

But Alfred was a resilient man! And it certainly was better when he stopped off at the hotel (making it more frustrating for everyone by knocking out the cameras with a handy dandy agency-approved gadget. Hey, if the Baddies were doing it, so could he). He’d gone in a back entrance with a good old-fashioned lock pick to avoid the eyes of hotel employees. Up the now-camera-less elevator. To his room. And he got to sit his butt down in a wheelchair because of his cover as the German guy. No time for checking on injuries (Alfred kinda didn’t wanna know yet).

And, yes, he FINALLY made it to the police station with a still-unconscious woman over his lap on the good old Rollstuhl, as the Germans would say.

He wheeled right on in with purpose and triumph! He was expecting confusion and he was expecting officers to rush over to help him with the unconscious woman. They were going to do the interrogation correctly this time! No one was gonna die. No one was gonna go missing. No one was gonna get away with this. Their first giant breakthrough on this case! Things were really going to pick up from here, which was exactly what an urgent mission like this required.

He greeted the secretary in his thickly-accented French, the simple Bonjour just about the only thing he was supposed to be able to say in the language.

Officers poured into the room. Alfred was pleasantly surprised by the reception, actually. He was only expecting a few concerned souls sent to assist.

But then he got to looking at them.

Something was wrong. They weren’t betraying what it was yet, either. Alfred was on guard. Did he want the officers to know that, though? Too close. Too many guns. Alfred was sitting in a wheelchair that he pretty much did need at this point if his pulsing, swollen, overused, sharply stinging feet were any indication.

He let them take the girl. They were police officers, for goodness sake! They lifted her off without a word. No ‘who is this?’ No ‘what happened?’ All eyes were trained on him. Hands were not on guns, but hands were twitching and ready to go for them. Alfred had made a mistake in coming here. But he had no idea why.

Did Russia do something?

“I need to speak with the station commander. Is my partner here?” he asked this in German. There had to be one German speaker in this group. Some hands wandered to their weapons. Uh oh. Not good. NOT good at all. “Listen,” Alfred emphasized, frustrated. There was no freaking way his mission was going to be thwarted by freaking police officers. Granted, because Alfred was a spy in a country other than his own, the cops technically wouldn’t be on his side at all, but the cops didn’t know that! For all intents and purposes, they should be helping him right now! “This woman is a suspect. We must interrogate her the moment she regains consciousness. She has potential to blow this case wide open. You have to understand. This is vitally important. Lives are on the line.”

But the officers weren’t listening. They mumbled orders among themselves and the suspect, Alfred’s only suspect, the case’s only living suspect, was taken out of the room. “Nothing can happen to her!” Alfred yelled at the officers, trying to get this through their thick heads. Like, come on!

Nobody said anything. Where was the station commander? Where was Russia? Wasn’t he supposed to be here? What had Alfred missed?

“She is a drug dealer,” Alfred continued, for lack of anything else to do. He wasn’t going to fight his way out of here! They were cops! They had his suspect! “She was the drug dealer of Jean LeCerf! Remember him? The man who died here? She’s involved in something bigger than herself; I am sure of it.” Nothing. Absolutely nothing. “Look, I need to call my superiors to alert them of the suspect so interrogation can be done properly this time. This could be a major breakthrough for us. Can I use your phone?” It was kinda an act of desperation-- Alfred couldn’t contact the agency through anyone’s phone but his own special phone-- but he needed some sort of reaction here!

“Mr. Eichel, is it?” The man wound through the crowd of officers. FINALLY, the station commander. Maybe he could help Alfred make some sense out of what was going on.

“Yes, yes, hello! What’s going on here? What’s with your zombie officers? Did your coffee pot break?” he laughed it off. Seeing as more hands were on weapons, however, Alfred doubted he could write this off as caffeine withdrawals. Out of his peripheral vision, Alfred was already sizing up the distance between himself and the door and the speed of his wheelchair vs the speed of ready-to-pounce officers. It wasn’t looking too good.

Some officers had scooted around behind him, effectively standing between him and the exit. It would make sense that they could lock the door via some remote too, lockdown procedures and all.

“Your partner was wondering about you,” the commander told him. Al laughed that off too.

“Yeah? Where is he?”

“He has been arrested because he is an impostor of who he says he is and accessed police data that is not open to the public. Might I ask who you are?” The man clasped his hands behind his back like a teacher wanting to see if a naughty child would tell the truth.

Time to go.

He really didn’t wanna be shot again through the Kevlar (or through the head for that matter), especially because the other wound was starting to chafe something awful and he might be bleeding there-- heck if he knew-- but he couldn’t get held up here. His country was on the line. Everyone he loved was in that country!

Alfred made a mental note to put, like, rockets on the wheelchair or something if he got out of this.

The door was likely bulletproof glass. It was also reinforced with steel beams. Alfred was going through it anyway.

Al popped a 180 on his wheelchair and he was off like a shot. His chest screeched in protest, along with the wheels. Weapons were drawn, safeties were off. Yelling. Commands in French and German to halt. A single officer had the mind to dive for his wheelchair and grab hold of it. Alfred punched him in the nose, took a fistful of hair, and slammed his head into the metal frame of the chair. He let go.

Despite lacking a proper spy wheelchair with guns and rocket settings, Alfred still made a good Inspector Gadget. Perks of being an agent: the government is hiding super cool weapons from the general populace! For example, the thing that Alfred had under his jacket. It was a very handy tool. Not something he would want to, say, point at a person. Or break into a safe if you wanted whatever was inside to remain unmelted by concentrated heat that burned ten times hotter than a forge. It came with a bit of a warning label.

Don’t try this at home, kids. Alfred was a trained professional.

Al pointed what looked to a cop as something that they did not wanted pointed at them. They got out of the way as Al barreled towards them, picking up speed with one hand, the tool in the other. It made that cool sci fi zyOOM sound that Alfred loved so much.

He guessed it was kind of a laser? He wasn’t sure if that was an accurate description, though. But it was SO COOL. It was BEYOND laser cool. He loved getting the chance to use this thing. Which, by the way, there’s-- like-- approximately never an appropriate time to use one. First time using it in the field, baby!

He cut out a wiggly semicircle as the glass and metal screamed. It fell forward, smoking at the melted edges. He disengaged the tool.

The cops started shooting. Al guessed that they’d been waiting for him to run smack into a locked, unbreakable door. Easier to arrest someone if they have a broken arm and/or realize that there’s nowhere else to run. It is less easy to arrest someone that lasers through your locked, unbreakable door.

Alfred wheeled away, arms burning, super awesome dangerous laser weapon/tool pinched between his thighs as he made his getaway. The cops did not follow him with guns blazing. Too many people. Alfred liked that aspect of cities.

People also, very conveniently, got out of the way of the wheelchair hurtling towards them with only a little cursing. The cops were following close behind, worming their way through pedestrian traffic with a vengeance. Faster, faster, faster! Alfred genuinely had no idea where he was going. He had weapons on him, a laser tool, a gadget that knocked out cameras, bad feet, cargo pants, a hoodie, and a wheelchair. Al was at a loss on how to creatively combine such things to help him in an on-foot/wheelchair police chase. But surely he would think of something.

But perhaps it was too late. The police had called in the scariest among their ranks.

The rollerblade cops.

Paris has police that patrol tourist-y areas with submachine guns in an intimidating display of force. Paris also has police that patrol on rollerblades.

Alfred had to say, though, the Roller Cops were a fair match for his wheelchair. FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, his arms were tiring out fast. Al could lift weights, Al could do cardio, but Alfred had not trained for vigorous wheeling with an injured chest. But you know what the Roller Cops hadn’t trained for? Alfred popped a U-ey. Hello, subway entrance.

Al really should have properly put away the laser before he sent his wheelchair down the stairs, but whatever.

Being a super spy meant keeping his cool even in the most unsavory of situations. Or, that was what Alfred liked to tell himself. His thought process was more along the lines of: AAAAAAAAGH, WHY DID I THINK THIS WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA?! KEEP UPRIGHT, UPRIGHT, UPRIGHT, UPRIGHT! GET OUT OF THE WAY; COMING THROUGH, NOT STOPPING! OH ELVIS PRESLEY, I’M TILTING!

And then the stairs stopped. And Alfred had not been dumped out on his face. Yay.

Roller Cops were frantically attempting to remove their blades, Foot Cops were on the way. Passerby cursed Alfred and his reckless stunt, but nobody bothered to help apprehend the stupid wheelchair man for the cops and Alfred didn’t stop for any of them.

Alfred pulled himself up and over the barrier with just his arms, still playing the paralyzed man for the cops coming after him.

A train was arriving in the station. Shouts followed Alfred.

The train doors opened. People spilled out, people piled in. It would close in seconds.

Alfred went for it. There certainly wasn’t room for him and his chair. People shrieked as he raced towards them, his intentions clear, and they tried to push each other out of the way in the already-packed car. “WATCH YOUR TOES!” was all Alfred thought to holler at them as he bumped over the threshold, coming to a shrill stop just within the subway car as the doors closed behind him. 

Alfred breathed. It would take the officers a second or two to get all the trains stopped if they really wanted to catch him. People were staring at him. He offered them kind smiles as he carefully tucked away the laser weapon and inconspicuously pressed the button on the device in his hoodie. And just like that, the cameras on the trains blinked out.

Alfred inclined his head to a gypsy kid-- easy to spot because of her young age, lack of parental supervision, and the way she was staring down people’s bags. She quickly looked away. “I bet you could get a couple euros for my chair,” he joked with her before standing, stretching easily, and just walking away. He stripped off his hoodie in exchange for the t-shirt underneath. They were looking for a man in a wheelchair with a black hoodie, after all.

By next stop, thanks to his friend the thief, the wheelchair was gone. He rode the line for quite a ways before disappearing anonymously into a crowd. The police never did have the trains stopped for him.


 

Yao was not in the mood for the bullshit of Kiku’s agency. Honestly, why couldn’t the Americans just let them do their jobs? Kiku was trying to be reasonable and respectful and placating and open for compromise and it was so exhausting to watch. “Mr. Germany, sir, if you will please consider--”

“Absolutely not, Agent Japan. This goes against all protocol, is highly dangerous, and-- should something happen to the two of you-- would leave successive agents without any information you may have gained. We cannot afford that with the magnitude of this case, you must understand. I simply cannot authorize such freewheeling behavior!”

But of course it was probably better for Kiku to do the talking with this nincompoop, Yao thought. He examined his fingernails at Kiku’s side in the webcam's sight. This ‘Germany’ character would follow his protocol off a cliff if it was asked of him. “Sir, my partner and I recognize the risk, sir, but please, sir, the magnitude of this case calls for drastic measures to be taken to ensure its success and you must consider the possibility of these communications being intercepted, Mr. Germany, sir.”

“It is impossible that the communications are being intercepted, Agent. You need not worry about such things. This mission will continue as any other mission to which you have been assigned. This is not open for debate, Agent. You will send us all collected information and leads as planned, as always. And that is an order.” Ooh, look at the blond playing the veto card with his ‘order.’ Kiku clammed up, his mind racing for a way to counter that without being insubordinate. Yeah, this was getting old.

“Germany?” Yao hummed, not bothering to grace the man with eye contact. “Germany, darling, I’m going to need you to pull both your head and that stick out of your ass for one moment, if you please.” Kiku, very slowly, turned his head to give Yao a terrified glare and shake of his head. The boy needed to live a little.

Germany, meanwhile, was spluttering and taken aback. “I will not sit here and be addressed as such; I am your superior officer--” Yao waved him away. Kiku was pleading with his eyes for him to play nice. Well, playing nice didn’t achieve much in life, so Kiku could adjust to deal with that.

“Of course you are our superior, dear sir, but we are not your puppets. Yet someone’s made a puppet out of you, haven’t they? Or, certainly, it could be your natural predisposition to submit to authority as well. Mr. Germany, don’t you see? There is nothing wrong with a chain of command, but this is getting in the way of our job, it is stopping you from making your own decisions as our superior, and it is blinding you to what might be a very real issue.”

“Real issue?” Germany humored, bright red. It was impossible to determine if it was from anger or embarrassment.

“The moment you begin to think it’s impossible for our transmissions to be intercepted is the moment that they do. It would seem to me that your agents met their doom because someone knew precisely what they were doing and when they’d be doing it.”

“I can look into that if it will appease you,” Germany sighed. “But, Agents, I cannot authorize such a massive breach in protocol that has kept our agents safe since the founding of this agency.”

“The agents are not safe anymore, sir. We are in danger, sir. You know that the protocol has its issues when it comes to ensuring the safety of our agents,” Kiku spoke up once again, at last. The venom in his tone surprised Yao. Germany sat so still, expression stony, that Yao thought the video call was buffering until he shifted in his big leather boss chair.

How interesting. Germany knew precisely what Kiku was talking about. And it made him uncomfortable. And it made Kiku angry. Germany, uncomfortable. Kiku, angry. Trouble in paradise?

“Agent,” Germany started, tone conciliatory and warning against taking this conversation further. Oh, how Yao hoped that the first juicy topic he had encountered thus far wouldn’t be dropped.

“The subject of our conversation is home, then? The infallible protocol returned the subject to safety?”

“That is classified information.” The answer was no, in case anyone didn’t catch that. Kiku looked away from the camera in disgust, his jaw clenched. A touchy topic, this seemed to be. What fun. “I did what was in my power to do, Agent Japan,” Germany added, as if that helped anything. Judging by Kiku’s expression, it really didn’t.

Perhaps Yao could use this to his advantage?

“Well, it seems to me that both of you know full well that the protocol is garbage, that Kiku is a trustworthy and skilled agent, and that your garbage protocol is keeping us from doing our jobs. Do explain that to your puppeteers when we go off the grid, won’t you?” Yao was not in the business to ask permission when it came to such matters.

Germany huffed and puffed some more; he was frustrated, but thinking about it. Thank you, Kiku. The Japanese man was too busy staring off into the distance to see that they were about to get their way.

“Surely we can make a compromise,” Germany decided after a long, tense moment, lacing his fingers together on his desk before the camera. Kiku released a breath. Yao smiled wryly. He was so good at his job.

Chapter Text

They kept an eye on Ivan as best they could. They kept Ivan away from the American agent as best they could. But they should have inferred that their best would never be enough.

Words of English passed from one agent to the other when no one could hear, when no one could see. Messages passed nonverbally within the pattern of shoelaces. It was disappointingly simple.

There was no explanation as to why the agency had not intervened, only the knowledge that escape was in the capable hands of the agents. It made sense to Ivan; the agency would need to save the face of their pseudonym that the police seemed to trust. The agency could not risk endorsing criminals. The ‘criminals’ would merely have to clean up their own mess.

Ivan did not have a name for the agent. He was a tall man of what appeared to be, perhaps, Middle Eastern ancestry. Names were unimportant. Ivan liked that the man was far more professional than Ivan’s actual partner for this ridiculous mission.

Only three days passed. The plan developed. The officers were so predictable. The officers were so blind. The officers had, unbeknownst to them, decided to make the escape easier for Ivan by putting him in a cell alone.

The agent would be arriving with the keys soon. Ivan pretended to sleep, remaining acutely aware of his surroundings. He could hear the breathing of other prisoners around him. The last of them had fallen asleep. Ivan had the pattern of guards memorized. Ivan had the footsteps of each individual guard on shift that night memorized.

Escape worked within a much narrower timeframe than one would expect. Action had to happen as quickly and as efficiently as clockwork. There was one last guard to pass before the agent would appear. Exactly on time, Ivan heard the guard's approach in the slightest rustling of fabric. The airy swish of pant legs. A shoe scuffed against the ground.

Ivan opened his eyes immediately. It was not the uniform shoe of a guard. It was, at least, not the shoe that that guard had worn not an hour before. It was not the same person, Ivan realized, as footsteps came closer. The footfalls were far lighter. Exactly on time, the new guard moved to pass by Ivan’s cell.

A hesitation of movement, the slightest hesitation. A click, nothing that could have been heard except by anyone straining their ears for it. And all other prisoners were sleeping.

Ivan rolled off the cot just in time to see his pillow go up in feathers. There was a silencer on the gun and Ivan was trapped in a jail cell. Unlike any suppressor Ivan had ever used, the device on this assassin’s gun reduced the sound of a gunshot nearly to nothing. No one would be waking up to help him and judging by the perfect shot on the pillow, Ivan was facing down a marksman with nowhere to run.

There was a third party at large here in the prison facility. The police, the agents, and the enemy. Should he shout? If he did, and awoke the prisoners or aroused the suspicion of the officers, the other agent would be discovered. 

The shooter, almost casually, fired two more shots in quick succession. Both blackened and ricocheted off the wall where Ivan had been standing. But Ivan had thrown himself on the ground. The enemy had a revolver. A very limited number of bullets. Everything was happening in slow motion. Ivan struggled to a crouch, feeling clumsy with the precious second it took.

Ivan looked down the barrel of the gun in the darkness. If he rolled out of the way, surely the aggressor would now anticipate it.

And then there came a heavy thud. The aggressor grunted, pained. A scuffle. A nearly inhuman growl. The gun was wrestled away by the American agent. The shooter was put down like a dog. The agent sighed to himself, then stood to unlock Ivan’s cell. There was no exchange between them. 

Ivan stepped over the corpse, carefully minding the placement of his shoes so as not to dirty them in the brain matter splattered across the floor. The police would surely take detailed records of just who this individual was when they found the scene in minutes; Ivan needed only to slip past their firewall with his laptop. First, he needed to get out of this place.

Ivan and the other agent walked briskly together, the agent in a stolen police uniform. They had minutes before the next guard would discover the body and the missing prisoners. The agent pressed the enemy’s revolver into Ivan’s hand. Ivan checked the chambers. Two bullets remaining.

Were there more people here to kill them?

It was easy, quick work. No alarms were raised as the two agents silently unlocked door after door. They were nearly out. Their minutes continued to tick down.

Ivan swiped an officer’s identification card-- easy to pickpocket, easier to conceal for later use-- revealing what should be the final corridor of the actual prison. Visitor areas and offices lay beyond. The ID card should be sufficient to allow them to simply walk out of the building. The other agent had taken care of the officer working the cameras, after all.

Just then, however, the door at the end of the corridor burst wide open. The agent was shot before Ivan fully registered it. The agent went down, writhing but--thankfully-- silent… But then Ivan observed that there was something connecting the figure in the door and the agent. In the low light, Ivan finally recognized that his companion was being tased, not shot. He felt stupid.

And then, “Not to worry, pal! It’s me! Here to rescue you!” Oh no.

America,” Russia hissed, much better at whispering than the blond, “You are tasing one of your own agents!”

“... That’s a cop.”

“No, you idiot! We were escaping without your help! Stop it!” America finally let go of the trigger. The other agent groaned.

“So it is that kid, isn’t it?” said the other agent, taking a second to lie on the floor.

“IS THAT MY FINE FEATHERED FRIEND TURKEY?!” America gasped, far too loudly for Ivan’s tastes. Their minutes were nearly up. Ivan helped his acquaintance, potentially called Turkey, back to his feet.

But America had wasted the remaining time with his little stunt. Alarms blared around them. The body had been discovered. The two missing prisoners would be the likely culprits and had yet to flee the scene as planned. Ivan cursed America in Russian as he sprinted to the end of the corridor, trying to open the door that not even the ID card would unlock now. The prison had gone into lockdown.

“That’s rude,” America surprised Ivan by responding neatly in Russian. “I’m not good with slang and stuff, but I do know how to say ‘bitch,’ okay? And that is a rude thing to say to your rescuer.”

“It was going just fine before you came along!” Ivan growled, staying in his mother tongue petulantly.

“Guys, I speak English, Turkish, and can ask for food and drink in Spanish,” Turkey complained at them in English. America thought it would be funny given the circumstances to say something in Spanish. Ivan caught ‘taco.’ Apparently that was all Turkey understood as well. Ivan weighed the pros and cons of shooting his partner. On one hand, it solved many problems. On the other hand, it would leave him with only one bullet in his gun.

Police officers smashed their way into the corridor.

“Get us out of here, then,” Russia told America. He brightened at this request.

“Imma need you guys to stand back, do not look directly into the beam, keep in mind that this is a top secret government-issued tool that only I have the clearance and training to use here, and also don’t let them shoot me, please.” He seemed very full of himself for one who was turning his back on four officers who were drawing handguns.

“I’ll go left, you go right,” Ivan muttered so only Turkey could hear. The revolver in his hand was ready to fire. The part of him that had underwent his agency’s training told him that the weight of the gun in his hand, the feeling of his finger on the trigger, the perfect aim and the perfect shot were good things-- a job well done. Part of him didn’t seem to feel anything at all. Ivan had tried to be more aware of this ever since Yao had confronted him about it.

“So, quick question,” Ivan could still hear him saying, still picture him filing his fingernails. “Are you a sociopath? Or psychopath; really, I don’t know the difference.”

“Excuse me?” Ivan had been taken aback.

“I dunno. Do you dissociate and commit atrocities often?” Ivan hadn’t known how to answer that question, so he hadn’t. “I’ve seen you fight. There’s got to be some sort of compartmentalizing going on with you, yes? Do you ever do it outside of work?”

“No.”

“Did they do this to you, then?”

Two bullets and the two officers farthest left were relieved of duty. Turkey handled the rest. It was over in under a second. But there would be more to come. Ivan was out of ammunition.

Ivan turned at a strange sound and watched America… cut the door down with a laser. Perhaps he was good for something other than enthusiastic cannon fodder after all. The three agents filed out of the dark, bloodstained corridor. This area was designated for visitors. Tiled floors underneath their feet. It was entirely dark save for the startling white flashes of the alarms, catching the three maneuvering around waiting room tables as if in stuttering frames of a film.

Shouts were heard behind them. Turkey followed America blindly forward. And into the restroom facilities to be used by those visiting prisoners. Ivan found himself hesitating. Was he seriously thinking that they could hide in the toilets? Surely that was not America’s train of thought. Ivan did not, however, have enough faith in his partner to assume otherwise. He could not be separated from the group if America did have a plan, though.

Ivan entered the restroom, gripping the revolver as if it had anything left to fire. The door closed soundlessly behind him. Ivan stared down the gaping hole in the wall. The cool night air bled inside.

So that was how America had gotten himself in.

The two Americans were already jogging off into the night. Ivan followed suite. 

America,” Ivan spoke up. The blond graced him with a quick glance over his shoulder. “Somebody tried to kill me in there.”

“I mean if you escape from your prison cell and then point a gun at cops--”

“No, not a police officer. Not a prisoner, either.”

“Yeah! I saved this guy’s life!” Turkey proudly put in, puffing out his chest. “There was a man trying to shoot him through the bars. Hell of a silencer on that thing,” he gestured vaguely to Ivan’s revolver. America scrunched his eyebrows together.

“So… Someone tried to kill you in prison like someone killed our first suspect?”

“Or like the gangs that were sent after us, but this was a man who had killed before. This man knew what he was doing. He merely had no way of knowing that I was awake and preparing to escape.”

“Someone really has it out for us, dude. And I don’t like it. I was attacked too, down in the catacombs. And I managed to capture a suspect, only to find that the cops are out to get me too! And that you got yourself arrested! So the cops have our only live suspect right now. Oh, also, the dudes that attacked me underground? They knew that I spoke English! I don’t know how far to read into that, though. Maybe they only spoke English? There’s lots and lots of English-speakers in France.”

“But would there be anyone else from the enemy here?” Ivan pressed seriously. “How are we to know that this was not another attack done by more than one individual?”

“Heck if I know, dude!” America huffed. He looked around himself as if the darkness of the prison yard would suddenly reveal another monster. “But right now I think that everybody is kinda out to kill us.”

“And,” Turkey added. “Don’t forget that they didn’t know we were escaping tonight. They probably thought their one guy could do the job.” It was a fair point.

“I imagine that they will be resorting to snipers after this,” Ivan speculated. “We must take extra precaution.”

“Hey, I wouldn't count on it. Good snipers are hard to find, my dude. I would know! My partner in a buncha missions--” Japan, likely. “--he’s got sniper training and that stuff is so not as easy as it seems, ya know? Like, my partner is a one in a bazillion kind of dude. A bazillion squared, cubed, zenzizenzizenzic, Russia.” America smiled to himself. America was so much more transparent than he thought he was. Turkey, however, was stuck on the word that Ivan had never heard in all his years of learning English.

“What the fuck.” It wasn’t a question-- more of an expression of irritation and bafflement. Ivan refused to acknowledge the word. Acknowledging the word was what America wanted of them both.

Indeed, the next thing out of America’s mouth was, “What, man? I never get to use the word ‘zenzizenzizenzic.’ Let me have this. Zenzizenzizenzic is such a good word!”

“How many goddamn z’s are even in that word?”

“Enough. There are simply enough z’s in the word zenzizenzizenzic. I could say the number of z’s is zenzizenzizenzic, maybe, but that’d just be exaggeration, Turks.”

“Zenzi… how many ‘zenzi’s was that again?”

“Zenzizenzizenzic.”

“Zenzizenzi--”

“Need I remind you both that we are trying to make an escape?” Ivan sighed, running a hand down his face. Americans.

“And we’re almost out, dudebro, chill! The hole in the fence is right there and they haven’t even turned on their searchlights yet! Ha. Losers.”

The police chose that moment to activate the searchlights in the yard.

Chapter Text

Kiku could only hope that he had not made a grave miscalculation of Yao’s intentions. Perhaps it should have felt freeing, as Yao liked to put it, but it only ‘freed’ either of them in the way that a rock climber was ‘freed’ by forgoing safety ropes and harnesses. Yao found the monitoring and teamwork with the agency cumbersome; Kiku regarded it as a safety net.

‘Let’s treat it as a heist,’ Yao had said. Yet Yao knew better than anyone that their final heist together had gone terribly, terribly awry. The safety net was gone-- as Yao wished-- and now Kiku was truly, completely alone with the man he had gone on that final heist with.

Did Yao honestly intend to complete the mission he had been coerced so abruptly into? Or did Yao simply want no witnesses and no safety net for Kiku to fall into?

Yao was packing a duffel bag, stuffing it with weapons. Kiku was to be doing the same.

“What’s on your mind?” Yao did not look up, his tone was conversational, he was by all means entirely non-threatening, and Kiku still started. Yao noticed. Kiku knew this. Yao did not comment on it. The question hung in the air between them. As did a certain tension. Or was Kiku only imagining the situation to be tense?

Kiku shook his head and pointedly returned to gathering his supplies. The elephant in the room remained unaddressed.

“You’ve lived in America for how long now? And you go on a nonverbal streak? Aren’t you supposed to be assimilated and refusing to hush like any of your other good countrymen?”

“I do not know to what you are referring,” Kiku obviously lied as he hoped Yao would drop the subject. Yao let out a snort of laughter. It did not seem to Kiku like he would discontinue feigning cluelessness in his nagging about Kiku’s silence. Yao knew precisely why Kiku was silent. How could he not? It was a morbid sort of game for Yao; he was interested to see how long Kiku would take to mention the circumstances in which the two had parted ways. Kiku interrupted Yao before he could make a retort. “Where are we going to begin?”

“Take a guess,” was Yao’s answer. Kiku stared at him. “Kiku,” Yao huffed. “Where do we usually start?”

“The typical first step in missions… ” Kiku trailed off. He had realized his error. They were not to be treating this as a mission. Yao smiled as he watched the realization dawn on Kiku’s face; both knew exactly where they would start. “Does Paris have a reliable network?” ‘Network,’ as in mafia, gangs, thugs, homeless, and all forms of illicit illegal activity. ‘Reliable,’ as in useful. All threads of a city’s underground network were connected. One must only pull the correct strings. And Yao had an uncanny knack for doing just that.

One would come to find that, in a hunt for unidentified adversaries in a delicate line of work, it was not the databases of law enforcement that would uncover them.

Paris,” Yao sighed. “The city of lights, romance, pickpockets, illegal merchants, scammers, homeless, human trafficking, and drugs. Shall we begin our tour?”


 

Ludwig Beilschmidt took a long, steadying breath. He straightened the pen that lay at the right side of his desk planner-- the most logical and efficient place for a right-handed man’s preferred ballpoint ink pen. Ludwig’s desk planner was different from his other planners with which he kept his time carefully managed and diligently cataloged. Ludwig’s desk planner contained only color-coded marks--perfectly parallel lines categorized in a system that only Ludwig knew. It was his workday planner. Ludwig had it committed to memory, though he frequently checked and double-checked it regardless. Ludwig knew that there were many items to be attended to today.

A lunch date with his husband was one of these items.

Receiving the highly sensitive data from multiple field agents were other items. Ludwig Beilschmidt wordlessly checked another item from his agenda.

He straightened his tie, the strip of fabric around his neck suddenly much too tight. A well-educated man such as Ludwig knew well that the necktie was no tighter and no looser than it had been throughout the course of the day. His discomfort--Ludwig acknowledged-- stemmed from other sources. These sources, two of them, Ludwig had just checked off the day planner on his desk.

Ludwig sat at his meticulously arranged workspace, alone, in the silence of his soundproof office broken only by the tick of the clock that never stopped.

The screen of his office computer was darkened. The call had been disconnected for some time. He had an obligation to report directly to his superiors, as any of the agents under his own jurisdiction were obligated. It was procedure.

Ludwig allowed himself a moment longer of strict composure, and then he allowed himself to slump forward to bury his face in his hands. Ludwig had always found it strange that humans could find a modicum of solace in this position. Was it the simple act of hiding one’s face from the world, escaping for just that second? Or was it the pressure of the hands that oh-so-briefly soothed the dull ache of tired eyes, headache, and jumbled thoughts?

The procedure.

It was something with which Ludwig was required to be intimately familiar and rigorously execute in practice. It was his job. Ludwig was good at his job; that was why it was his job.

Yet, here were these agents. They were good men, both of them, Ludwig knew from the extensive time he had had them as his subordinates. Ludwig also knew that it was not necessarily the manipulative and troublesome Agent Wang who was the agent of change for this mischief. These men-- Agent America, Agent Japan-- had a propensity for stirring the pot. They challenged things that were not Ludwig’s job to challenge.

For example, relationships between agents are, by procedure, to be strictly professional in nature. That was not to say that affairs did not occur, but such relations did not warrant anymore than a slap on the wrist. Such relationships did not cause issues or conflicts of interest. However, Agent America had a brazen attitude unlike anything Ludwig had ever seen except, perhaps, in his own older brother.

Agent America married Doctor Japan.

Not by law, for that went against procedure, awoke the possibility for cover breaches with government records of the two, and posed an awful workload to secure a deep cover for a relationship that went against all regulations of agent conduct. Ludwig had been approached on the topic, Agent America swaggering right into his office without so much as an appointment. It had been Ludwig who had made an inquiry to his own higher-ups. It had been Ludwig who had had to tell Agent America and Dr. Japan no.

It had been Agent America who managed to track the location of a standard-- and highly classified-- meeting between a council of Ludwig’s superiors. It had been Agent America who abused his abilities as a spy to infiltrate the meeting and make his demand himself, Dr. Japan standing tall at his side… only to be told, again, that the answer was no.

Ludwig had no idea whose idea it was to get married anyway, but it was undoubtedly in the style of Agent America to give Ludwig himself-- the man required to deliver the refusal to them-- an invitation.

Not that Ludwig had been able to attend, whether he wanted to or not, because it was against too many different clauses of the procedure to count.

But now Agent America and Dr. Japan were challenging things that should not be challenged once more. Agent America hoped to be sent home due to a non-life-threatening injury, against procedure. Dr. Japan demanded that his spouse be sent home as well, against procedure and declined upon inquiry.

Dr. Japan, atypically but not against procedure, was given a mission he was to complete with an enemy spy with whom he was already--surprisingly-- familiar (an advantage in the eyes of the higher-ups). With that enemy spy, Dr. Japan now intended to entirely break procedure once again by going entirely off the grid. Supposedly it was for the success of the mission.

And Ludwig, Ludwig Beilschmidt, had agreed to this nonsense.

Without inquiry. Against procedure.

Why?

Of course, Ludwig knew why. This case was of the highest concern. With this case, so many lives had been lost and they had yet to fully grasp the nature of the threat. These agents proposed a solution, persuaded him that it was valid, and he had agreed. He had knowingly agreed to something as highly against procedure as one could get. And why? Because they had shown that it was not 100% foolproof, as in the declined request to return Agent America to the base? Because he had been accused by Agent Wang of being a spineless puppet?

Ludwig hid his face for a second more.

Then, he stood. He gathered his papers, straightened them on his desk with a few assured taps, checked his day planner, and exited his office to face his superiors with jaw set and shoulders back. He was entitled to make judgment calls, he realized, without first needing the opinion of the higher-ups. He had made a decision in a high-risk situation. He now had to face the consequences of it.

Chapter Text

Alfred flopped down on the couch, remembering to mind the cape this time. He stretched out, too lazy to wrestle with the spandex just yet. BUT WHAT AN AWESOME DAY HE’D HAD! Oh, he could hardly believe it had happened!

He had gotten to see a panel of some of his favorite superheroes EVER! The actors, at least. But they were SO COOL! AND! He’d gotten to see a preview for Marvel’s next movie! The first EVER showing of that preview! And he’d witnessed it! And dressed as Superman too! Sure, Superman was a DC hero and all, but he was still dope. He’d gone as Captain America to Comic Con last year anyway.

Plus, Kiku was cosplaying Black Widow and he didn’t want it to look like they were a ship or anything ‘cause Black Widow is a strong independent woman who don’t need no man.

Heck. Kiku, though. Kiku, his Kiku, was cosplaying Natasha Romanoff-- AKA the Black Widow. Their first Comic Con as a married couple and Kiku hit him with Black freaking Widow cosplay.

And then Kiku himself was walking into their apartment, catsuit and wig and contouring and all. As if he wasn’t literally looking like one of Alfred’s ninth grade fantasies. Franklin Douglas, he was perfect.

Kiku caught him staring. Again. As he had throughout the entire day, to be honest. But this time, oh but this time, they were home. Alfred sat up a bit only to be pushed back down by his husband with a gentle hand on his chest--warm fingers splayed right on the ‘S’--and a slim body knelt between his legs.

Alfred pulled Kiku in for a kiss by the shoulder, mouths clashing in a messy and searing and deep kiss. Kiku’s lipstick on his tongue, Kiku’s body pressed flush against his, Alfred’s hands grasping, gathering him closer. Hips bucking, hands in hair, teeth biting, two forms vying for attention and friction. Alfred pulled off Kiku’s wig, flung it somewhere across the room, out of the way, grinning as his beautiful husband and his messy hair was revealed. “Much better,” he whispered into the heated air between their already-panting mouths. Kiku smiled at that, lipstick smeared and eyes burning. Already so disheveled.

Kiku attached himself to Alfred’s neck, painting it with his lips and a passion that had Alfred gasping and squirming. Kiku ground down into him and Alfred keened at the feeling of his covered erection rubbing so hotly against his own. He needed this. And he needed those extra layers gone. “Help me get out of this,” Alfred managed, mouth hanging open until it was recaptured by Kiku. Then the costume was being pulled away, Kiku’s hands electric against his skin where they slipped beneath the fabric. They were kissing again, Kiku’s hands still peeling away the morphsuit, Kiku’s thigh at the fork of his legs and driving him crazy wanting more as he rutted against it.

Al wanted him, wanted him so bad--

 

“America! Wake up!” snapped an irritable voice. Alfred flinched himself almost off the hotel armchair. He blinked rapidly against the daylight in disorientation. It took him a good second to put two and two together to figure out where he was, what was happening, and that he need not fend off an intruder in his home while half-naked, half-Superman.

Ugh. Gross. Russia.

“UUUUGH,” Al groaned loudly, shrugging the weird cricks from passing out in a chair out of his muscles. “I hate you. I hate you, I hate you, heck you. Why’d you wake me up, man? I pulled an all-nighter to bust you out, dude. A guy needs his rest!”

Russia gave him a look that Alfred didn’t really get until Russia gave a pointed glance down. Alfred followed his gaze, still huffy.

Ah. Understandable.

Being scared awake apparently was not enough to ward off the evil that was a sexy dream boner. “You are about as quiet asleep as you are awake,” Russia commented. Great. Hey, in his defense, it’d been a while. Also, that’d been such a good day too.

Like, after-Con activities hadn’t really went down in quite that manner ‘cause Alfred had had too much non-sexy fun giggling about Kiku’s fake boobs he had stuffed in his cosplay. (They were so squishy, though!) And Alfred’s spandex had been a real pain in the neck to get his sweaty butt out of. And he’d had to help Kiku out of this cinched tummy corset thing he had to give him that nice Black Widow hourglass figure under his catsuit.

Gosh, what he’d give to curl up under the covers with Kiku, bring him some sake warmed up like Kiks liked it, kiss it off his lips, drink in him--

Russia had asked him a question. “Huh?” Alfred replied elegantly.

“He asked what you wanted to do about people trying to kill you,” Turkey helpfully piped up from across the room. “I am going to get out of here, thank you. I’m just the professional blood maid. It is time that I get going and let you professional bullet targets do your job.” Ah, Turkey. Classic Turkey. What a tool.

But they were totally bros.

Russia asked nothing of his Turkish compatriot even though Al would have thought they were making each other BFF bracelets in jail the way they were working together. So, Alfred took the liberty of inviting him to the world-saving party. “You sure you don’t want to help us save the world?”

Turkey snorted, laughed at him a bit, slung a duffel bag over his shoulder, and walked out the door of the hotel. And after all they’d been through together in the past, like, four or five hours!

Alfred was stuck with Russia. Russia was stuck with Alfred.

And Alfred still hadn’t answered the question. “I dunno,” he shrugged his shoulders. “We need to avoid police.” An understatement ‘cause Alfred had it officially confirmed that he was working with some kind of Viking-esque berserker after having a run-in with some cops that got in their way trying to escape the prison yard. Alfred shrunk away from the fresh, gorey memory.

Russia remained silent, but he gave Alfred this creepy, cheery little smile that wasn’t at all happy. The Russian clasped his hands behind his back, waiting. Al blew some hair out of his face, annoyed that he had to save the world with this guy, of all people. He wasn’t even grateful that Alfred had come to break him out of jail! And! He’d interrupted a very nice dream! AND! As if it could get any worse than that, they still had a lot of work to do together.

“Do you think the cops know anything about the assassin dude or the catacombs dudes yet?” Alfred asked. “Plus, ya know…” Alfred scrubbed the sleep from his eyes trying to piece everything together. There had to be something. “There was our first suspect, our first suspect’s killer cop, our first suspect’s drug dealer, the maybe-gang that attacked me and lived, the gang that attacked you and died...” Alfred was counting them off on his fingers now. “Am I missing anything?”

“Yes. There was a tip, supposedly anonymous, that blew my cover,” Russia replied, face illuminated yellow by the slit in the black curtains. He was turned half towards Alfred. Both of them were painfully aware of Russia’s position relative to the window. Being agents, being familiar with actual snipers, they had a learned aversion to windows. But there weren’t many places in this room that a sniper couldn’t figure out an angle for. It was the best they could do on such short notice.

What a mess. Alfred added Russia’s little detail to his finger count.

“Great. You got any ideas or do you wanna run our list through HQ?” Time crunch was the name of the game here. Plus, HQ would want to know these things anyway; it was information that could be made available to other field agents just in case it was that missing puzzle piece they’d been hunting for. Three cheers for teamwork!

Gosh, Alfred needed to draw a graph or something to keep all of this straight.

In his exhausted state of mind, Al was vaguely reminded of that kid’s song about bones connecting. The dead suspect’s connected to the… druggie! The druggie’s connected to the… drug dealer! The drug dealer’s connected to the… dudes that like to attack other dudes in the catacombs of Paris! Didn’t quite have the same ring to it. Plus, the druggie Jean LeCerf was also connected to sketchy financial activity and had a safe full of knockout gas and had been assassinated by a cop who then killed herself. Plus, you couldn’t just forget the initial dead dude that had gotten Jean LeCerf on their radar in the first place due to association! How did that work in children’s song format?

How did any of it really connect at all? How much of it was viable connections to be spending valuable time and energy on?

“I would like to check on any updated police records before we give a report,” Russia said. Alfred nodded, yawning and scratching at his bruised chest (which was, thankfully, only sporting a très gnarly bruise from the bullet’s impact). He didn’t question Russia; Russia hacked things that shouldn’t be possible to hack.

“Cool. You do that. Can I go back to sleep now?”


 

“--We really are so proud of him,” Francis Bonnefoy continued to gush, delicately swirling the fragrant wine in his glass. The tittering and gossip of the Wine and Book Club filled the foreground; the television droned on in the background. The romantic novella they were to be discussing lay forgotten at the feet of every member of what was more aptly titled a social circle.

At his side, Arthur, grumpy at being coerced into taking part in the group alongside his husband, shamelessly took full advantage of the alcohol and hors d’oeuvres as he nodded along with Francis’ tale when appropriate. His audience, dominated by female listeners-- why, Francis and Arthur were the only men in attendance!--sat entranced and tipsy.

“Our military man!” Francis went on, tossing his full head of hair in pride for his son. “And he is married to a doctor! Really, our son-in-law is such a small thing, but cute as a button!” ‘In-law’ was a term used loosely in their family. Despite the wonderful new opportunity for a man to wed another man in the United States of America, Alfred and his husband had decided against getting an official marriage certificate. Something about-- how did Alfred put it?-- wanting to stand in solidarity with Achillean men refused the right to marry their loved one for so long. Silly, but sweet.

Francis held his glass to the light, admired the lush glow filtering through the rosy depths. A thing of beauty, wine.

“Are they on the front lines?” asked Debra, a woman in her mid-forties who had taken quite a repugnant fancy to Francis despite his happily-married status. Francis shrugged her and her question away.

“They are always being shipped around,” he sniffed. “We do not always know where or for what. They simply cannot disclose the locations of our finest troops.” A more unpleasant topic, that. The armed forces did not agree with Francis’ thoughts that a parent should have the right to the whereabouts of their child. 

Francis gave Arthur a stern look when the man had the temerity to knock back another cup of wine as if it were something so crude as whiskey. Arthur returned his glance with tired, bored eyes that begged him to leave this place. Seeing, however, that Francis was not budging, Arthur’s gaze sluggishly made its way back to the television. The news caught Francis' attention-- and his ire.

They spoke of his beautiful Paris, and of the monstrous deeds there that continued to capture news coverage. Murder, the report was saying. Murder-- a sickeningly young security guard-- and destruction and an explosion in the catacombs of all places. Terrorism, the report was prematurely claiming. Francis puffed up with righteous indigence.

Quelle horreur! You see, these are the despicable acts my son risks his life to put an end to!” Francis Bonnefoy swirled the wine in his glass, balancing it between his fingers. “No doubt such swine will find themselves in Hell very soon.”


 

The man spat blood, but had the mind to know not to sully Yao’s shoes with it. “Now, to whom should I pose my question?” Yao asked. The tone of his voice was gentle, but so was the pressure of the gun to the man’s abdomen. Kiku, standing at his side, repeated these words into French for him.

“I know someone that might help you,” the stranger told him. Kiku translated, the calm of his voice not befitting of the man’s near-panic. “But I cannot.” He rushed on, fumbling desperately for words as Yao raised an eyebrow. “Please, sir, I send this money to my family in Mali. I know nothing.” A pause as Kiku's neutral voice put this into English as well.

“Tell me what I need to know. I would advise against lying to me. I do not have to hurt anyone.” The man shifted, bent uncomfortably against the wall from where Yao had kicked him down to his own height. And Yao received another name, another location, and another reason why this would be the one to talk to, just like that.

Yao was in his element. He held himself with purpose as he strode along the streets of Paris. Streets were clogged with people, beggars were ignored utterly by natives and eyed uncomfortably by tourists, cigarette smoke rolled in lazy waves from cafes. Every city had its heartbeat, but all heartbeats have the same basic rhythm.

Not that there was anything poetic about accumulated, concentrated poverty and filth.

It was a bad thing to be so good at, but oh Yao was so good.

Kiku was his shadow, a perfect mirror but never the real, despicable deal. The Russian agency’s missions were too cut and dry lately, even if he spent them with Ivan. Kill this person, leave no survivors here, bring this one to us, collect that information there. Boring, as a general rule. Until this.

While there was certainly no glorifying his and his husband’s lives being turned into novel little pawns for the Americans to play with, and then there was the matter of Kiku, but at least this mission offered a bit of a challenge. In a hideous slew of emotions lay a glimmer of something that might just be fun. Like threatening to shoot a man in the groin for a lead.

Paris was much less sightly away from areas dolled up for tourists. Kiku and Yao picked their way through grime and trash. Men like Yao’s whistle-blower were the easiest place to start; they would not shout for the police that they had to spend their day avoiding as they illegally sold trinkets to tourists. These men subsisted entirely on Paris’ network of crime. Illegally in the country, illegally making a profit; these men were a direct link to a subculture that Paris could not weed out.

Yao wasn’t a fan of Americans for many reasons, but he did hold an appreciation for their attraction to big guns. The weapons always made reliable companions on such outings. Yao could talk himself out of many situations, but there was a certain beauty to the simple-mindedness of lower street thugs who hadn’t the slightest interest in anything you could possibly have to say. Guns did, however, change these variables.

“Yao,” Kiku murmured as they took their walk. “I don’t know if this is the wisest method.”

Yao scoffed. He was always having to explain himself with this one. As if he didn’t know what he was doing! Kiku, thinking that he might start to know better than Yao just because he’d been put through school. Kids these days! So ungrateful and disrespectful!

School was nothing but a rotten influence, but it got kids out of the life that Yao had been forced to live. So Yao had gotten Kiku into school, a terrified little street rat groomed up and attending classes that would never allow him there if they had any idea who he was. And now he thought he had useful input into these situations!

He liked him better when he was trailing dutifully along with Yao on heists, doing his best. Then again, though, Kiku hadn’t been more than ten years old when Yao had come across him while he was in Japan on ‘business’ and carrying himself like an adult when he had little to no right to the title. As always, the most vulnerable had the biggest targets on their backs. For example, a scrawny, homeless orphan on the streets alive only by some miracle. It could have been a gang that had cornered the child in an alley, it could have been rich bullies that thought beating children in the evening rain was fun, but they all scattered when Yao had appeared. Cowards. And then there had been Kiku, tiny and pathetic, bruised and bloodied, with no one in the world that did not wish him harm.

Kiku became less useful for squeezing into small spaces and mindless obedience as he grew, but by then he was nearly as skilled a thief as Yao. Nearly.

And now the boy Yao had raised, a doctor, was getting mouthy with him again. “And why isn’t it the best method, Kiku?” he humored.

“We’ve gotten the same name twice now,” Kiku reminded him. “If you keep threatening people for information, they are going to alert our suspect before we can reach him. Two recurrences of the same information is enough for us to pursue the name as a suspect.”

“You’re just wanting to be lazy about translating for me.”

“What? No, Yao, I--”

“I will not stand for laziness!”

“How many more sources could you possibly need?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Doctor. Is this outside of your comfort zone now?” Yao wondered how long it would take Kiku to figure out that he was messing with him. Kiku was stiff and uncomfortable around Yao. It was hindering him from properly using that tissue between his ears.

Sure enough, Kiku opened his mouth to stiffly and uncomfortably argue some more. Yao gave him a look that shut him up. “Seriously, Kiku? I just want to grab a panini before we see our suspect. If he knows we’re coming,” Yao shrugged. “Maybe we’ll have a couple more people with guns waiting for us.”

Kiku couldn’t even complain, though he looked like he wanted to. He knew Yao to do things like this even if he was not accustomed to accommodating for it in his routine as an agent. Yao gave him a grin before swerving off their path and following his nose to the tiny panini shop desperately trying to stay open in a part of town like this.

Yao offered a bright smile to the gray storekeeper as he ordered smoothly. “Would you like anything?” he called over his shoulder, in the same French. “I’m buying!” he waved around the agency’s card. Kiku stood there like a statue for a long moment. Then ordered a chicken panini.

The two walked side by side along the sidewalk with their sandwiches; no time to observe the French tradition of sitting around a place for an eternity. Yao allowed Kiku to confiscate the pay card that he’d nicked off of Kiku and that only Kiku, the single bona fide American agent, was to be handling. “Why, might I ask, did you pretend not to know French? And just let me translate while you interrogated those men?” Kiku kept up with the French. His tone was polite but demanding. 

“I thought it was funny,” Yao answered simply, mouth full of sandwich. “Now, let’s see where this suspect leads us.”

Chapter Text

Ivan had been sitting at his laptop computer for a time. His mind swam with the delicately precise coding that came with maneuvering around a digital firewall. America, irritatingly but not unsurprisingly, had managed to slouch back into sleep, mouth gaping wide and snoring when Ivan made the crucial breakthrough.

Antivirus programs did not raise alarms to any issue; they did not so much as acknowledge his unannounced presence on the police officer’s heartily fortified servers.

Ivan went about his work quickly. There was no time for dallying and no room for error in this. He could not leave any trace of this hacking behind.

He accessed the same records that he had been allowed before. As expected, new additions awaited to the data set awaited him: deaths of slaughtered police officers, professional reports of his and Turkey’s escape, information that there was a third accomplice in the escape who was not a prisoner, arrest warrants out for a paralyzed man impersonating an officer. Ivan waved it all away. The police were nothing more than inconvenient gnats to this operation.

But then Ivan found it. There was another death on record from that previous night. The records were honest enough to state that they had no idea about the individual’s role in the prisoner escape.

But the records also identified this man, so quick because they already had pre-existing records of him for a different case altogether.

“America.” Ivan’s voice was quiet, strained. America responded with another loud snore. A string of drool slid down his cheek. How repulsive. “America,” Ivan bit, more sternly this time. The blond sat up with a deep inhale of breath, eyes fluttering open once again. He squinted at Ivan, straightened his glasses that he’d foolishly put back on before-- once again-- falling asleep when he should be awake and preparing for action.

“Wha’s goin’ on, man?” he mumbled. “Don’t remember dreaming this time--”

“I have gained access to the police records,” Ivan interrupted him.

“Oh yeah? Anything cool?” Ivan tried very hard not to stare at the trail of half-dried spittle from the corner of his partner’s mouth to his chin. It was truly a wonder that he did not notice it was there.

“America, look at what I have found.” The intensity of Ivan’s tone earned him an odd look, but America took the laptop from him without questioning. America’s brow furrowed as he read the death report of the assassin. Then, America read the name.

“Duuuude. No way! No WAY!”

“So it is him?”

“Hold on, lemme check. Could be someone using the same name. Do they have pictures?” America clicked around carelessly, Ivan internally cringing. “SWEET, they do! Oh. Ew. Gross. They do have pictures.” Ivan resisted the overwhelming urge to roll his eyes. America looked up at him. “But yeah. Dude. That’s the same guy.That’s the first person I interviewed when I got here-- the older brother of the suspect who supposedly committed suicide.” America’s eyes were wide. “Russia, dude. DUDE. Russia. This was-- dude.” He couldn’t spit it out, so Ivan said it for him.

“This was the man that sent you towards investigating Jean LeCerf, the man with a safe full of knockout gas.”

“As though he was expecting someone,” America finished. He leaped to his feet, pacing and flapping his hands around ridiculously as he tried to sort his thoughts. “Okay, OKAY. So first suspect, dead of apparent suicide. HIS BIG BROTHER, in police records ‘cause he was questioned about the suicide but never for anything else, TRIED TO KILL YOU! And would have! If you weren’t busy escaping that same night! Dude! This is huge! Assassin-brother got into this prison. He’s not a police officer. What about the policewoman that probably killed Jean LeCerf? How does she connect to this? What about those whacky financial transactions going on with LeCerf? And his drug dealer? She’s still alive, man! Ohmigosh, ohmigosh we’re getting somewhere, kids!” He jumped up and down.

Ivan was not amused at this display. “Enough. Where did the brother work?”

“I don’t heckin’ remember, Rus! Doesn’t it say there?”

“America, this is a report, not a eulogy.”

“REPORTS! Right! I’ve got folders over family info! Thanks, HQ!” America looked around himself. The realization dawned on him. “I… have my folders…” He was wide-eyed. “Russia, the gang that attacked me! They cleaned up after themselves; they took the body of the guy they shot on the fire escape, at least. They didn’t take my laptop… and they didn’t take my information portfolios either.”

“What are you implying?”

“You’d think… Wouldn’t you think that the bad guys would want to know our next move? And would look for information? Like my laptop? Like my folders, which literally has suspects, autopsy reports, what we know, what we think?”

“America,” Ivan sighed. “Once again, you miss a crucial point.” America scowled and pouted. “It appears that these gangs were hired by the enemy, not to do a spy’s work, but to do a hitman’s work. Their instructions seemed to have been only to kill.”

“Okay, smarty pants, but we don’t know that. It’s probably the case, but we don’t know that. We don’t know that because you KILLED yours!”

“And you let the other gang get away.” Once more, they found themselves back to this argument. America opened his folders, still making ugly faces at Ivan between page flips.

“Hey. This could be fun. Our guy the assassin worked at L’Opéra; he did the lights for performances and rehearsals.” America grinned to himself. “So now that our guy is dead, do you think he’s a ghost that haunts his old workplace? You could say he’s… The Phantom of the Opera!” America looked up, expecting a laugh. Ivan raised an eyebrow. America stuck his tongue out at him petulantly. “You are literally zero fun, you know that, Schnoz?”

Ivan ignored him, deciding instead to stay on topic. “Shall we attend an opera, do you think?”

“Actually, L’Opéra-- more specifically le Palais Garnier-- is used mainly for ballet performances now. If you want an opera, you go to The Opéra Bastille.” America looked very proud of himself. Ivan entertained the idea of shooting him.

Instead, he rose. “There is no place for wasted time here. We must uncover how this man was involved with our enemy. His workplace seems a good place to start.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let’s go.”

 

“Ya know, my pops says there actually is a lake under the opera house,” America told him as the two strolled along. “Think we’ll have to take on any Baddies down there?” Ivan gave him a sidelong glance.

“If I were you, I would seek to avoid confrontation at another tourist attraction.”

“I’m as spry as ever! I could take ‘em,” America assured him as Ivan’s point entirely went over his thick skull.

“I meant,” Ivan said this slowly for him. “That you should not be making anymore monuments go boom.”

“Dude, I told you: that was totally an accident.”

“If you are meaning for this to make me feel better, you have not succeeded.”

America shrugged. “Oh well.” He was not regretful. “But you can totally say ‘monuments go boom’ again ‘cause that was the funniest thing I think you’ve ever done.”

“I will keep that in mind,” Ivan told him, mainly to quiet his partner as the two of them approached their destination. It was a beautiful building, elegant and extravagant as many French things were. Very real gold winked down at them from the statues flanking its roof. But Ivan was not here to admire the architecture.

Like every last beautiful place in Paris, tourists swarmed. If there was any confrontation of any kind here, it would not go unnoticed. They were making a very dangerous wager. Retrieving information without drawing negative attention to themselves was absolutely vital. For Ivan, this should not have been a difficult task. For America, however, who seemed incapable of keeping his mouth closed to save his life, Ivan had doubts.

They proceeded, walking as casually as any other visitor.

The security was minimal, consisting of two guards who checked bags, but had nothing to detect the concealed weapons beneath Ivan’s clothes. A good-natured smile, an easy-going air, and a polite greeting were sufficient to dispel any suspicion that might have arisen. America got through equally easily.

There was a line to enter and there was a fee to enter. Ivan’s eyes never ceased in their movement. He was another tourist who was admiring the rich beauty of the opera house; he was a spy who remained ever-vigilant for those that wished him harm.

He was also just a man, a little voice told him, that was only here through the most tragic of circumstances. In hopes of returning his husband to him. In hopes that they could survive, together, off of his agency’s allowances because there was no hope to return home anymore. Because, truly, they had no home anymore. Because neither would go back to that place even if they were not restricted from doing so by the agency. And none of this was because they had been captured by Americans.

He shook his head slightly. Now was not the time. Such memories might keep him human, but such memories also left him vulnerable. Vulnerability was not something that could be afforded in the field. Humanity was not something that could be allowed a man in this profession. Only with Yao was the agent stripped away and Ivan Braginsky able to show a little face.

“So where should we go first when we get in?” America asked him as they neared the front of the line to pay. He snapped back to attention. It was a vague enough question that, if overheard, no one would think much of.

“We should find someone,” Ivan responded, measuring his words. “Someone that can tell us a little history.”

“I wonder how many people work here.”

“It is a large building. Plenty of room to look.”

The fees were paid. The entire building was left at their disposal. Ivan took a deep breath as he began to fully gauge their surroundings. Such a wide area, all requiring utmost thoroughness. “We are splitting up to cover ground.” Ivan was not asking.

“Fine by me.” Ivan glanced over at his partner. He had agreed far too readily not to cause concern.

“You are not to go looking for the lake.”

“Okay, first of all, why the ever-loving JFK not? Second of all, heck you; don’t tell me what to do. Third of all, I wasn’t planning on it but now that you say no I really want to out of spite and curiosity.” He was very matter-of-fact about all of this.

“And you are not to waste time looking at the Phantom of the Opera’s box.”

“Russia, I really appreciate your dedication to this mission, so I’ve got somethin’ for ya.” He dug into his pocket, closing a hand around something. Ivan stared at it, brow furrowed. Honestly, he did not know what to make of this. America huffed at him, hand still in his pocket. “C’mon, you want it or not?” Ivan, reluctantly, held out his hand. Ivan half-expected him to pull a weapon from his pocket right in front of everybody.

Instead, America withdrew his hand with his middle finger raised defiantly.

Ivan scoffed, unimpressed. America smirked, quite proud of himself. “Please, instead of making rude gestures in front of children...” America followed his nod to the small group of French elementary children staring at the impolite American with wide eyes. He promptly stuffed his hand back into his pocket. “... I would make a suggestion that you do your job.”

“I’ll go that way,” America decided, pointing away from the schoolchildren he had just given an important lesson in American culture. Ivan smiled.

The agents began the mission in opposite directions.

Ivan walked with hands clasped behind his back. Every last detail in this ethereal place bespoke of wealthy tastes, evoked awe. It was lavish, no sense of frugality anywhere one could look. This was a place intended for the rich to flash around their superiority. This place was not so much constructed as a work of art as it was to be an arena for the wealthy to show off. That an assassin had once stalked beneath these lofty, decorated ceilings in his profession was, to Ivan, unsurprising.

But now that the assassin was dead, a bullet through his brain, what had he left behind?

Ivan stepped into a crowded space to gaze into the main auditorium. Rows and rows of lush, red velvet seating on each level, more exclusive seating on the higher levels. All of it garnished with gold. Beneath a grand chandelier hanging from the painted dome, workers were preparing for a performance no different from any other theater craft. Ivan watched as they tested the raising and lowering capabilities of different backgrounds and curtains. Ivan watched as they practiced the stage lighting, just as their assassin once had.

How perfect.

When Ivan stepped out of the room, he was no longer a tourist. He strode with purpose, looking at nothing. As far as anyone was concerned, he had seen it all countless times over and he had important duties to contribute to the the ballet performance that evening. In fact, he was the replacement for the previous lighting specialist whose coming administration had failed to notify the others of. Not late, but only just receiving an unexpected call-in to work.

A person who appears to belong gets far. Ivan was not questioned as he slipped into an ‘Employees Only’ door, marked in several languages to dissuade clueless tourists. The auditorium was completely empty, only the technicians in their quarters at the back who were too busy to pay him mind.

That was, until he approached them. Two men, one woman, one androgynous individual. They had been arguing amongst themselves as they were all gnawed on by the importance of facilitating a successful performance. They saw him and stopped. “Hey, you! Who are you? What are you doing here?” the woman yelled in rapid, angry French. Ivan blinked, feigning confusion.

“I am the new lighting specialist,” he answered, seemingly hurt at being attacked as such.

“New specialist? Where’s Victor?” The name of the assassin that had once been a comrade of theirs.

“Victor?” he blinked some more, confused.

“Yeah, our lighting specialist. He didn’t show up today. Didn’t call in either. Bastard. He does this sometimes, though.” Oh Victor, Victor, Ivan thought. How unwise of you to allow your coworkers to notice your absences when you kill.

“I was called in just an hour ago. I was supposed to start work next week, but they wanted to know if I could come in today. How often was ‘Victor’ absent? Perhaps he was fired?”

“He was only a part-timer,” another of the workers spoke up this time. “He went long stretches without being here at all. And then sometimes he would call in when he was finally scheduled to work. Sometimes he wouldn’t show up at all.” Victor did not seem to be a favorite of his coworkers.

“Does he have another job? Business trips?” Ivan suggested, pretending his interest was figuring out what had occurred to their dear Victor as he stepped inside the box with the others, positioning himself in front of the lighting portion of the controls. Luckily for him, it was all labeled. The workers all looked around at each other. Then they focused on the gender-non-specific worker among them. So did Ivan. The others recognized this person as the closest to Victor, automatically making the person the most likely suspect for further investigation to Ivan.

The person looked affronted and held up their hands innocently. “I don’t know why you’re looking at me…” they grumbled. The others smiled knowingly at each other. The worker rolled their eyes in disgust at their coworkers. “It was one time.” This didn’t take any of the gazes away. The worker turned to Ivan, annoyed and defensive. But Ivan recognized a tension that was not purely embarrassment at being singled out by their coworkers. “We hooked up one time, okay?” Ivan chuckled along with the other workers.

“Yeah, and both of you were gone that day. Maybe you’re the reason Victor got fired,” one of the men joked. This was too simple. The technicians had no idea how helpful they were being.

And then the assassin’s 'lover' made it difficult by becoming angry. “I think I’m going to take my break early, assholes.” They turned on Ivan. “You’re making a great impression so far, aren’t you?” their sarcasm was biting. The worker stormed off. Ivan could not afford to permit this suspect to leave. But now that he was here, he could not very well dismiss himself so casually.

“Don’t mind her,” the woman told him. “He’s always very temperamental about things like that.” Ivan’s knowledge of French took a second of recalibrating to comprehend the alternating pronouns.

“I should apologize… Where would she go?”

“Let him go. We need you here. Now, for the second song the ballet will be performing--”

“I’m sorry, but I really must find our coworker and apologize. I will not make enemies my first day.”

Fine. Just make it quick. Good luck finding Alix. We have no idea where she runs off to when he gets in these moods.”

Ivan took off at a slow jog, quickly exiting the auditorium through the door he’d entered. He was met with the bustling activity of countless tourists milling about, climbing the lovely staircases, snapping pictures. He looked around, hurried. Nothing. Would the suspect attempt to leave the premises?

He kept scanning for shoulder-length black hair, dark green dress shirt, black slacks, and black shoes as he waded through tourists. He scanned over the railing from the third level down onto other floors. Nothing. This person knew the building and Ivan did not. Surely, the suspect had already found the nearest exit… Ivan stopped.

He and Yao had been on more than one mission in which Yao had passed as a woman. And when people came after them, the enemy was always looking for a woman in the same feminine garb, only to be blindsided by Yao.

Ivan’s suspect was genderfluid, or something of the sort if the alternating pronouns were any indicator. The profile of the suspect Ivan was looking for could have entirely changed. Even as Ivan shifted between the characters he played, it did not take significant alterations of appearance or mannerisms to throw people looking too quickly entirely off his scent.

He focused on searching out black hair or hats; it was highly doubtful that the suspect was carrying around and concealing a wig.

And then he spotted a red beanie on the ground floor. The person was now wearing a jacket, but the slacks and shoes were unmistakable even if easily overlooked in a crowd. Ivan pursued, rushing down the nearest flight of stairs quick enough for tourists to instinctively sense his urgency and get out of his way, but slow enough not to draw attention. His gun was warm against his lower back. The knife was secure within his boot.

Alix passed through another doorway restricted to tourists, recognized by security lurking near it. Ivan, however, was a stranger to them. They saw him and moved to, as casually as possible, block his way. So Ivan called out to his suspect “Alix! Wait!” It was risky to potentially alert the suspect of his pursuit, but he could not be halted or cause a scene with the guards. The name established the needed familiarity.

“Piss him off?” one of the guards guessed. Ivan nodded, feigning breathlessness and guilt. The men laughed together, murmuring to each other about how Ivan must be new. They let him pass unhindered.

Beyond the door, Ivan found stairs descending into much lower light. He steeled himself, not yet drawing his weapon. The suspect could always be innocent. He closed the door behind him and began walking. His ears strained for noise, for the sound of shoes scuffing on the stone steps. Nothing. No response to his call. No sign that the suspect had descended these stairs.

With each step, he was farther from the surface. Around and around the stairs spiraled, the potential of danger on every last revolution. The air grew colder, sticky. More humid. The out-of-place, unbecoming stench of water

Yao had been beside him for a similar situation. Ivan had been hesitant about the limited visibility offered by the dark space; enemies could have an advantage. On the spiral staircase below L’Opéra, Ivan could practically hear Yao’s patronizing lecture about confidence being the deciding factor in just who gets to use the shadows to their advantage: they or the enemy. Ivan could also remember Yao’s flinch at the scuttle of a mouse, protectively throwing an arm in front of Ivan as well as clutching onto Ivan’s arm for protection in the same instant. Yao had smacked at him for smiling.

Ivan was below the level of the basement now. There were no lights in this space. Ivan placed the pair of glasses from his pocket neatly behind his ears. They may have been reading glasses for anyone that did not discover the touch-activated scanner blending seamlessly into the frame. For Ivan, however, they represented the unique power to see perfectly in locations lacking light without the encumbrance of becoming a beacon to the enemy. They represented also a secondary option: reading heat signatures. The Americans would surely fall all over themselves to possess the improved technology.

With the glasses in place, Ivan drew his weapon. There was nothing down here that did not scream of trouble.

Ivan treaded lightly, soundlessly. What the bottom of the stairs presented him was an expanse of brick arches and damp stone. There were no heat signatures within his range of vision. Ivan rubbed his thumb over the safety of his handgun, holding it at the ready. There were too many places to hide here, even if one’s body heat could not be concealed.

But there was not so much as the warm speck of a mouse in this subterranean underworld. No moody stage technician would go to such efforts to conceal themself. Ivan was hunting an individual who fraternized with assassins.

Silent, it was all so silent.

Ivan stepped over puddles; such a repulsive, wet place.

In any mission, there was always this point of anticipation before explosive action. Survival was a matter of reaction time, adrenaline, and surprise. And, perhaps, Ivan decided to add as he turned another corner with his weapon, aim would also be of importance.

His breathing was steady, as was the grip of his hands. There was tension and readiness, but there was no fear. Ivan was too much a product of his work for that. Nothing but a man, yes, but a man who had been broken, conditioned, and trained to be a perfectly functioning weapon. He did not fear those that he could tear apart.

Ivan located the lake America had spoken of. A stretch of water, perfectly still. Nothing to ripple the placid liquid. As far as Ivan’s thermal camera was concerned, there was no life here but his own.

Through the glasses, the lake was an inky black. An undisturbed void. Impossible to determine the depth of. Ivan was instinctively repelled from the glassy surface. There was nothing for him at its edge and, while there were certainly no horrific creatures lying in wait within this man-made environment, Ivan felt the gut sense to distance himself from it. One learned when to trust their instincts in this line of work.

Ivan shifted his weight to turn from it.

And was tackled viciously from behind.

It was a flurry of claws, ripping his cheeks, tearing at his hair as he was hit with the blunt force of a person colliding with his firm stance. Ivan was unbalanced and the demon was animalistic.

Even as Ivan lashed against it with the nose of his gun, his world lurched out from under him.

A hard hand using the momentum of his fall to slam his forehead against the concrete with a sickening crack. And a splash. His vision flashed white and the water his face was forced into was not cold.

A struggle in the lake, water in torrents as Ivan contorted his body against the assailant. Brute strength against a whirlwind. The glasses were broken, shattered into razors. And Ivan’s neck was wrenched back, but the hands were too slick, and Ivan too strong, for the suspect to get grip enough to snap it. The life-or-death struggle was a game of physical overpowering that would not end with the enemy coming out on top. A fact that was well-understood by both. So Ivan’s new friend threw everything she had into that chaotic, explosive energy with an inhuman cry.

Impact, splashdown. A skull on bricks. Air passageways underwater.

Primal instincts of survival and adrenaline, panic beating against a mental block of so much conditioning, so much rewiring, and Ivan was submerged in water that was not cold but it was not the blood because the blood was blistering hot and Ivan was drowning in both. A space removed from human logic, but a space also removed from animal terror. Ivan was neither human nor animal, a life force stripped of all that was not a monster and all that was not a well-trained weapon.

Ivan held a gun in his hand, no matter how the enemy worked to slacken his fingers by concussing or suffocating away his consciousness.

Ivan was stronger. Ivan was larger. Ivan was more monstrous than even this demon. He freed his arm. How foolish of the suspect to assume he was like any other man, because any other man’s mental facilities would be reduced to nothing but getting air into the lungs when presented with a forced drowning.

He pulled the trigger.

A gunshot, a gasp, a lapse in attention.

Ivan punched with precision and in quick succession. A jab to a gunshot wound was enough to bring down lesser individuals, to send someone into shock. Ivan sent the right hook directly into Alix’s solar plexus.

But Ivan was blind and in the water and coughing it and blood from his mouth and from his lungs. And the enemy found himself in the throes of a fight or flight panic. She could not breathe and she was bleeding out through a wound in the gut that no amount of pressure could stem. And this demon was able to stagger away at a desperate, flailing jog.

No night vision, but Alix’s ragged struggle for air was audible enough. Ivan pursued in pitch blackness, head swimming with vertigo and dripping with blood. Blood was all he smelled, a far more pungent odor than the mustiness. A nasty dragging shuffling, grunting ahead of him, the suspect able to navigate the passages below the opera basement without sight and without half of his wits.

Ivan was closing in. Alix was going to die down here. Ivan was going to dig into that gunshot wound until Ivan was told everything and no one would hear the screams. It would not be an act of fury, but of stony calculation. Ivan was cold, but at the same time he felt nothing. He only knew what needed to be done. And what needed to be done was to spill every last bit of that person’s blood on this floor where it would be left to rot undiscovered for weeks.

Then there was a flashlight, followed by a yelp. Ivan paid it no mind; the suspect was silhouetted ahead of him. It was only America anyway. “Help me,” a last resort plea from a dying human.

Ivan raised his weapon to shoot Alix through the knee. No more running.

“Woah, woah, woah, man! Stop!” America, ever the hero, leaped to the rescue. Alix fell sobbing and bleeding into his arms.

“Not now, America,” Ivan growled through gritted teeth.

“Russia, stop! We need suspects alive! God, you fucking psycho! I think I’ve got a first aid kit; hold on, kiddo. We’re gonna take care of you.”

America!” Ivan shoved the two apart just as Alix slid America’s knife from his coat. The metal flashed in the beam of light. And then Alix was sprinting up the stairs, stuffing the beanie into the wound to staunch blood flow. There was no time for reprimand. “We cannot have civilian witnesses.”

“I got this,” America was breathless from surprise and the adrenaline of the chase. “FIRE! FIRE! EVERYBODY GET OUT!” America’s French boomed up the stairs far ahead of him as the agents tore up the spiral staircase. “I’VE ALREADY CALLED THE FIRE DEPARTMENT! EVERYONE OUT IMMEDIATELY!”

“You idiot! Alix will escape in the mass panic you’ve just caused!”

“Not if we get there first!” America laughed at him. “FIRE!” he went back to calling. Indeed, when the two of them reached the ground level, people were taking heed to the warning. A horrified security guard grabbed America’s arm, yelling accusations and questions at the same time. America flashed an official-looking badge and then the security guards were all evacuating along with a stampede of tourists. The message carried without America having to keep yelling about it.

“America, there!” Ivan hissed, spotting a limping, bloody figure climbing the main, grand staircase alone.

“Where’s the suspect going?!” America hollered over the roar of chaos around them.

“America. Alix is not planning to escape or to fight.”

No! We need them alive!”

America beat Ivan to the stairs. Up, and up, and up, they chased the suspect that was going to jump. But America had broken from the crowd first. And Ivan soon found he had lost them both.

Ivan stalked, gun drawn, around the top floor of an empty building. Blood ran from his head injury, dripping with a certain weight onto his clothing. He knew of its pain, but he could not feel. Vaguely, he recognized that he was not quite Ivan, as Yao liked to insist. Vaguely, he knew that the icy distance he felt from emotions, from reality, yet while still remaining hyperaware of his surroundings and options was not the product of nature. But Ivan also knew that none of it mattered because the mission was not completed.

Yelling. Shouting. Ivan followed it without conscious thought. The auditorium. Alix faced off with America, wrestling for control of the knife the demon has stolen. The suspect was weak, but cornered. Ivan raised his gun. But the struggle was too intense. Shooting America would not truly solve as many issues as Ivan would like to think. He awaited an opening.

America had Alix backed against the railing, which was concerningly close to the position Alix wanted to be in. America’s back to him, concealing the enemy completely. Blood ran like sweat down Ivan’s chin. Alix screamed with effort.

And America was the one who went over the balcony.

Chapter Text

WHOOPS, was the thought on Alfred’s mind. It was a rather pressing thought, ya see, considering he was literally hanging onto an overly polished banister by the tips of his sweaty fingers.

There were gunshots above him. The dull smack of blows on flesh. A thud. He couldn’t see what was going on, but he was also preoccupied trying not to fall to his death. Cause of death: slippery fingers. Herbert Hoover, this was not how Alfred wanted to go. Actually, Alfred would prefer not to ‘go,’ as a general rule.

Nah. He couldn’t die yet; he hadn’t married the heck out of Kiku the legal way yet! He wanted that boy’s last name and his kids, dang it! Al gritted his teeth and clung tighter.

Then Russia’s ugly mug was looking down at him. Al saw him let out a breath. “Hey, pal. How’s it hangin’?” Al’s voice cracked but it certainly wasn’t because he was low-key panicking or anything. “Please help me.”

Then there was that bit where Russia was clasping onto his forearm and Alfred had to make the lovely choice to put his life into his bloody, meaty, Russian hands. Al may or may not have shrieked as his body was suddenly weightless, accelerating upwards. He stumbled to regain footing, stuttering steps sending him tipping into the large, damp body in front of him.

They made eye contact, Alfred in Russia’s arms like the lady in a dance routine.

“Dude, your nose is, like, all outta whack. Eugh. You should really do something about that, man. Like, I didn’t think the schnozz could get any uglier, but--heaven’s to Betsy Ross-- you really succeeded there.”

Russia rolled his eyes and let him fall. Alfred only stumbled a little bit more. Al dusted himself off, indignant.

So then there was the body on the ground. Dandy.

“Come on, man. Again? Freaking again?” Al waved a disgusted hand at the limp form.

“I did not kill this one.” Russia defended himself, almost sounding offended. Al nudged the person with his shoe.

“‘This one.’” Alfred scoffed. The suspect had a new gunshot wound through the knee. This suspect wouldn’t be able to run even if they woke up. “We need a tourniquet on that. Stat. Looks like it hit an artery,” Alfred commented. “Lucky for you, I think I’ve got something that might work--”

“What… What is going on here…?” Alfred and Russia both whipped around. A single firefighter stood in the doorway to the box looking very lost and very confused and very horrified.

“This person was injured--” Alfred began, a professional.

“We believe that this is the individual responsible for lighting the fire.” Russia interrupted, inclining his head. “I had to incapacitate the suspect.”

“Oh,” said the firefighter. “Um. Well… Would you happen to know where the fire is?”

“You know that lake downstairs?” Alfred cut in.

“Oh! I do, actually! The fire is there?”

“You betcha, pal. We’ll take care of the suspect; don’t worry!” Alfred assured. The firefighter left. Wow. He couldn’t believe that worked. Alfred looked to Russia, wide-eyed, trying to convey that vibe of let’s leave now as best he could.

Russia understood. They were officially out of time.

But, ya know, tourniquets just aren’t something that you can procrastinate doing, so Alfred took the liberty of doing that. Leg: not bleeding anymore. Gut: still bleeding quite a bit. Nothing that some good ol’ fashioned pressure wouldn’t temporarily remedy. Hopefully. Alfred was a professional, so it would probably be fine. They had to go.

Alfred had Alix’s bloody legs, Russia had Alix’s bloody torso. The suspect was off the ground, stable enough. Al peeked out from the little box/room.

The firefighters and officers were trickling up from the sub-basement, looking indignant and confused. More officers were beginning to swarm like friggin’ wasps or something. The moods Alfred was reading were as follows: 1. Where’s the fire? 2. There is no fire; now we find some kid to arrest.

And Russia and Alfred were holding a not-quite-dead body.


 

There were too many variables. There was too much at stake. Too much was just waiting to go wrong. Kiku had been involved in this profession for long enough to know that decisions made on whims were everyday occurrences in the field. Kiku had worked with Alfred F. Jones; Kiku was used to impulsivity on the job managing to work itself out.

Kiku had also worked with Wang Yao, under different circumstances, and had dealt with… Well, Kiku had, at one point, been used to Wang Yao on jobs and the heists had… for the most part… been successful. Despite this, Kiku’s current situation was nothing for which he had any comparison or previous experience.

Yao seemed to be the same person, the same man who had taken Kiku into his care, the same man who had raised him. But was he? How could Yao possibly be the same? After what had happened… It had been so many years. They were agents; they were no longer thieves. What had occurred after...? How had Yao become an agent of the Russians?

Too many variables. Too many unknowns. Too much at stake. Wang Yao held a loaded gun just outside of Kiku’s peripheral vision. Kiku’s skin crawled at this fact more than the threat of the danger ahead of them. Though, Kiku was certainly alert for that as well.

“Your attention is divided.” A cold shiver squirmed its way down Kiku’s spine as Yao’s voice came from several meters away from where Kiku had placed him. Yao was silent in his movements; Kiku could not even determine where he was behind him without turning to look. “Focus or I shoot your balls off,” Yao continued, eloquent and mysterious as ever. Kiku shot him a withering look over his shoulder, both to check the Chinese man’s location and to chide him.

A blustery gust of wind down the repulsive, dark alleyway brought with it the smell of trash and the burn of evening cold. Kiku exhaled. He had the back door open in three seconds. He and Yao filed into the ground level of a decrepit apartment complex. The soles of their shoes left tracks on the filthy tile floor. Yao scuffed them as they went with a practiced criminal’s expertise. No surveillance systems in place.

Kiku ascended the worn limestone staircase, knowing Yao would follow.

The apartment building felt abandoned, uncared for. Their suspect lived on the third floor, but they did not know what they should be expecting beyond that. One would think, after men had been roughed up for the information of this location, there would be somebody waiting for them. It was quiet, excepting the sounds of the outdoors and the light murmur of a television behind some of the doors.

They stopped before their man’s door. Kiku glanced to Yao. Breaking in would be rash. Announcing their presence with a knock could have dire consequences. If there was the possibility of surprise, it was necessary to wield it as efficiently as any weapon.

Yao stepped up to Kiku’s side in front of the unassuming door. He examined it. He shrugged. And to Kiku’s chagrin, Yao knocked, stowing his gun as he did. Kiku released a breath. Was Yao trying to kill them both?

The seconds stretched on excruciatingly as they stood in the dark stairwell. Kiku counted them in the beats of his own heart. Yao was still beside him, friendly and professional enough as they waited for any signs of life behind the door. Kiku could point out the locations of multiple concealed weapons he knew Yao had no qualms about using. Kiku also knew that Yao could draw such weapons before Kiku had the ability to react.

Kiku had never seen Yao hesitate-- anything less than pure mercilessness would have meant death for a child in Yao’s place, so he never made the mistake--and, truly, it would be understandable if that ruthlessness could now be extended to Kiku. Kiku had none of Yao’s paper-thin trust. Not anymore. That went unsaid

A latch was unlocked on the other side of the door, ripping Kiku’s mind away from Wang Yao. The man cracked the door open only enough to take a look at the two of them. “Who are you?” he asked. His French was slow with an accent Kiku could place only as African.

“Adunbi Dumashi. How are you this evening?” Yao smiled, voice pleasant enough to strike fear into the heart of someone with something to hide. The man’s brow knit together at his name.

“Who are you?” he repeated. “What do you want?”

“We have a few questions, if you’ve got the time.” Yao twirled a knife that neither Kiku nor Adunbi had noticed in his hand. It left little room for argument and no indication that the man had the option of declining.

Adunbi scowled. “You threaten me? I do not know who you are.”

“A threat, yes. A promise? Not yet. All I want is some civil conversation, you must understand.” Yao pouted, the glint in his eye matching that of his knife. Adunbi watched him, calculating, carefully taking in his words. The suspect was not underestimating Yao. “There are some things that we need to know.” The suspect chuckled, the sound dark.

“Would you like some coffee?” He opened the door.

 

Kiku sat uncomfortably beside Yao in the suspect’s living room. Yao toyed with a gun. Adunbi hummed as he put on a pot of coffee. Kiku could not say that he had ever found himself in such a… hospitable interrogation or hostage situation before. Adunbi poured three cups of warm coffee and set them in front of Yao and Kiku. He sat himself in a ragged armchair opposite them.

“Now,” the man began again. “Who do you think you are?” He took a sip and raised an eyebrow. Kiku discreetly tested the coffee for poisonous substances or drugs; the agency’s thin device closely resembling a thermometer. The coffee was perfectly clean.

“Adunbi Dumashi, I believe you can answer some questions about the men who illegally peddle goods around Paris,” Yao stated.

“So, you are police, then?”

“No,” said Yao. “Merely interested parties.” Adunbi laughed at that.

“It is a business, my friend. And I am only one part of it.”

“We know. We also know that there are bigger fish in the Paris underworld than you.” Yao sat back. “But you are a good place to start. We need names, Adunbi, of those bigger fish.”

“The name you seek depends on what you are looking for.” Yao shrugged, deeming this reasonable enough.

“I am looking for someone,” Yao said after a moment. “Or, perhaps, multiple people. Someone was taken from me, Adunbi. I do intend to get him back. But,” he smirked. “I need to kill some people first.”

“You do realize that me and my men are in the business of selling knickknacks to tourists, do you not?” Adunbi was expressionless. Yao sighed. Kiku read his irritation at a lead going nowhere. But Adunbi had more to say. Kiku placed a hand on Yao’s shoulder, stopping him.

“What do you know?” Kiku asked of him.

“I know…” Adunbi continued hesitantly. “That if it is people you are looking for, it is the mob that you must seek out.”

“I didn’t know Paris had a ‘mob,’” Kiku put in.

“Little more than common thugs with firepower and gang hierarchies,” Adunbi agreed. “But they are good for information. It is the mob boss you want.”

“Where can we find him?” Yao stood abruptly. The suspect was unphased by the movement.

“You cannot find him.” The answer was as simple as that. Yao went for a weapon. Adunbi held up a finger. “But,” he said. “I can make an appointment. He knows of me.”

“Why would you do that for us?” Kiku asked.

“Because he is an evil bastard and I do not care what happens to him.” Adunbi smiled; Yao smiled back. Yao extended a hand. Adunbi shook it.

 

Such 'meetings' were not arranged in a typical fashion; one could not send an e-mail request to a mob boss. The underground network was far more word-of-mouth, far more complicated, far more dangerous, and far more conniving. It was a reality Kiku had grown up with. It was a system of which Yao had mastered plucking the correct strings. And Adunbi Dumashi was a very good string indeed.

Kiku and Yao left his home with plans to return the next day, possibly to receive news. Possibly not. It was a tricky game to play and Kiku felt out of practice.

Kiku also had to walk to the hotel in the middle of the night through an unsavory portion of Paris with Yao. It was cold. They did not speak. There was too much unsaid. Too much unresolved. Though, what ‘resolution’ there could possibly be, Kiku did not know. The two walked side-by-side down the street.

Yao turned, then. And Kiku reacted.

Yao was flung backwards, only missing a step before righting himself, weapon drawn and at the ready. Kiku stared the down the gun, stunned. Yao stared back at him, stunned. Yao swallowed. “What are you doing, Kiku?”

“Me?” Kiku coughed, astounded. “Me? You are holding a gun, Yao!” he hissed.

“I drew it because you attacked me! Out of nowhere!”

“What were you doing? I was defending myself, Yao. That was a move to attack.”

“I did no such thing! Are you tripping balls? I was just about to ask if you’d gotten that stick out of your asshole yet and you attacked me!” Yao raked a hand through his hair as Kiku processed this. He was so tense he had mistaken Yao turning to speak to him for aggression. Kiku shook his head, ashamed.

“Yao, I--”

“Look. We need to get something clear here. And if you want to do this now, we will do this now.” Yao’s voice was low, full of controlled emotion. Kiku looked around them. The street was empty. Yao concealed his weapon once more and snapped his fingers for attention  “No. You look at me, Honda Kiku. And you listen because this has gone on long enough and you have made it a hindrance to our work!”

He took a deep breath, steeling himself. Then-- Kiku observed the change with little comfort-- Yao decided he did not want to take an iron approach.

“Stop being so full of yourself!” Yao snapped at him suddenly. Kiku blinked. This was not what he had been expecting. “You think everything is about you, don’t you? About what you did. About how you left. Well, listen here, Honda Kiku: My life did not begin and it did not end with you.” Yao huffed sharply and turned around. He must have gathered his thoughts because the insane man immediately whipped back around pointing an accusing finger under Kiku’s chin. “And another thing! You think that you are worthy of my vengeance? Get over yourself, Kiku! I am still the man who raised you and despite everything you have done, I would still never raise a finger against you. So stop acting like you have earned the right to my wrath when you have no idea what has happened to me within all the years we have been apart!” Yao backed down, rolling his shoulders with a sigh. “Do I make myself clear?” he asked, head high.

“I…” Kiku’s mind swam with the bombardment of information. “Yes,” he answered.

“Good boy.” Yao grinned and reached up to pat him on the shoulder. Then, he scowled at the world around him, irritated that the weather had the gall to be cold. “Ugh. Let’s get back to the hotel. I need some tea. Or a few shots. But I will settle for tea; I only drink with my spouse. Do they serve tea this late?”


 

Ivan sat on the fire escape in the cold air. America needed the room to work. The American was no medical professional, but he knew emergency medicine as well as any field agent. And they had enough supplies to turn their shared hotel room into an impromptu hospital ward for the suspect.

Ivan just breathed, let the city air burn his lungs. He had set his own broken nose back into place, but he was still coated in his blood. It was dry now, most of it caked to his head and face. He would clean up after the suspect was stabilized.

He was tired. He felt the exhaustion as almost an afterthought.

To escape L’Opera was to run from police officers and firefighters who had all noticed the two men carrying the body. Paris’ brave men and women had rushed up the stairs in a wave. Ivan and America had run upwards too. To the roof. And then off of it; an American grappling hook launched to smash into the stone of the neighboring structure. A risky escape across the roofs of buildings; Ivan and America clutching to each other and the suspect as they slid along an unstable chord, shrieking.

Now, Ivan waited. Left alone with his own mind and the wind.

But then America pulled open the window with a deep sigh as he climbed out to join Ivan outside. “Suspect is stable. Will be out for a while. On fluids and meds.” Ivan nodded absently. America scrunched up his nose, whether against the cold or against Ivan he could not be certain. “Your turn, big guy. Lemme take a look at you.” Ivan gave him an inquisitive look, but then America was sitting down in front of him and shining a flashlight into his eyes. “Gotta make sure you don’t have a concussion. Concussions are bad, Russ.” Ivan let him do his examination. “Wow,” America commented. “All this blood really brings out your cold, dead eyes.”

“I could push you off this fire escape.”

“I don’t doubt it. Does your head hurt anywhere?”

“You mean, aside from the open lacerations?”

“Was that sarcasm?”

“It is sensitive…” Ivan thought about before he simply shrugged helplessly and gestured everywhere. “The suspect hit my head multiple times against the concrete.”

“That’s fun. But, hey, ya didn’t die.”

“This is true.” Ivan did not share in America’s optimism regarding his condition. America stopped shining his flashlight and sat back.

“No signs of concussion. You’re lucky as heck, dude.” Ivan could not agree with this statement, even if he was concussion-free. America punched him in the arm. Ivan did not agree with this show of chumminess either. “Thanks for, ya know, not letting me die. From falling. Like, twice. ‘Cause the thing in the auditorium and also it’s hard to keep hold of a suspect and the-- I don’t know what to call it--zip-line thing.” Ivan allowed himself a small snort.

“It is my job, America.”

“Sure, but still, man. You’re, like, totally gonna be a good prince charming for some damsel in distress. Ya know, if you can find a gal who’s into psychopathic Russian agents.” Ivan gave him a look. America put his hands up innocently. Ivan rolled his eyes.

“I’m married.” It was not dangerous information. “To a man,” he decided to add.

“Oh,” said America. “Dude, same!” He held up a hand for a high-five. Ivan really did not want to high-five America. He gave his partner’s hand an unenthusiastic pat. “How long have y’all been together?” Americans liked this sort of conversation.

“Long time.”

“But you’re Russian? And you said you’re married? Is he trans or somethin’ and you got around the pro-hate laws? Or are you married somewhere else? Or not legally?” America started spouting his confusion all at one time. Ivan gave him a reprimanding look for it.

“We are married,” Ivan repeated slowly. America hushed and nodded and looked away awkwardly. Ivan smiled slightly to himself where America could not see, remembering his and Yao’s wedding fondly. “There was a yak in attendance,” Ivan mused into the uncomfortable silence.

“That’s pretty cool.”

“Yes,” Ivan agreed. Yao had been so beautiful in his white tuxedo, flowers woven into his long hair at the shy, giggling insistence of the village girls. Ivan wore white as well, embracing his husband before an elder on a bright day in the mountains. The two men taken in by a kind, traditional nomadic herding community that, while knowing they were fugitives, had not originally been privy to the information that they were in a relationship.

The day of their wedding contrasted so completely with the black night that Ivan had come shuffling back into the agency dormitories. Yao, waiting for him on his bunk, had been expecting him hours earlier. Yet Ivan was to be detained by his handlers. Ivan could not remember what had happened at the meeting. Just the pain, just the panic that only they could induce in him after so many years.

Ivan did remember, however, Yao taking his face into his hands in the barracks that night. Ivan remembered Yao’s hands shaking as he examined Ivan’s black eye and the new bandage at his neck, a new scar when one had not been added for years. “They did this to you.” There was no question in it anymore.

Ivan remembered Yao holding his head to his chest as he spoke and the whimsical fantasies they’d made solidifying into plan. And they had run. And they had killed. And, together, they had gone rogue. Finding themselves in a pastoral society in Mongolia--a country nestled between their respective homelands-- making their criminal status very clear to the elders before being accepted regardless.

Two years. Ivan tended sheep with the other men. Yao found himself better suited for cooking. They inhabited their own yurt.

And there on the mountains, they had been married.

“What was his name?” America asked, shattering the reverie. Ivan was immediately on guard.

“Excuse me?”

“The yak, my dude. What was his name? Or was it a lady yak? Yak-ette?” The American was so strange. But the memory of the village-people’s gift to the unusual couple in their midst brought a small smile.

“My husband called it Beastie. Also, Shithead.”

“Step in a cow patty, I’m guessing? Or… yak patty…?”

“Many times, yes. Once in his white wedding attire.”

“Ooh. Poor guy.” The two lapsed into silence. “Welp.” Of course America could not allow the silence to last. “Since you’re not concussed, guess we should report back to HQ. Tell ‘em all the juicy deets we’ve found. Maybe they’ve got some new information for us.”

Chapter Text

Yao held himself with grace as he took a leisurely stroll through Parisian slums. A sense of a belonging was power anywhere, but it was critical here. A small, long-haired Chinese man walking alone in one of the roughest neighborhoods stuck out like a sore thumb. But it did not matter if you stuck out. It mattered if you owned it enough that people knew better than to mess with you.

Yao did not fear rough neighborhoods, nor their potentially dangerous inhabitants. Desperation turned some men to savages; it turned others into individuals such as Wang Yao. He was by far one of the most lethal things the gut of poverty had ever puked up. If he could own anything, he could own that.

Besides, he was not as alone as he seemed, in some ways.

The bug on his clothing transmitted one way, ideal for Honda Kiku to be the perfect little fly on the wall. Kiku had become many things that Yao was not aware of, nor would have expected of him; that little confrontation on the street the other day had answered nothing for either of them.

Honda Kiku was an agent, Yao knew, and a doctor now. And when the message came that a meeting with the mob boss had been arranged, but with the stipulation that Yao was to arrive at the designated location alone and unarmed, it had been revealed to him that Kiku played another role within the American agency-- that of a sniper.

It fit his character, Yao supposed, though he was not sure Kiku would agree to that sentiment as much as he liked to avoid bringing attention to his grotesque deeds. But, shockingly, the two of them hadn’t exactly sat down to have a pleasant heart-to-heart about their work as agents. Instead they, like good little pawns, had sprung into action.

How cute. They might have actually though he would listen to directions. Yao was not arriving unarmed and he was not arriving without backup. Weapons were concealed all over his person and not all of them would raise the alarm of a metal detector should this be a technologically advanced ‘mob.’ And then there was Kiku, camped out with a rifle and beautiful angles through the windows of the designated location since an hour after the message had been relayed. Waiting, watching, listening. Really, the fact the mob thought themselves any form of force to be reckoned with was precious

The location was abandoned. Cold. Dark. Unlike most other Parisian buildings, this sad collection of buildings did not share walls with the next building over. Isolated, then. All entrances boarded closed, save the one that the ‘mob’ had torn their way into. The entrance was not visible from the narrow street, so Yao assumed they thought themselves clever. Yet, the stench of smoke, the haze of multiple cigarettes wandering into the alley, led the way far better than his instructions.

It was an unassuming location on an unassuming street, not the tallest building. Boring. They could have at least had the decency to give him and Kiku a challenge. Yao had half a mind to wave to the area he knew Kiku occupied, just to keep things interesting.

Yao walked right into the building, ignoring the imposing individuals probably intended as security as they shouted after him. Yao took in his surroundings with little concern. Ivan liked to memorize details. The darling always gave such importance to filtering that which was ‘dangerous’ in his environment, like he was straining to follow a step-by-step guide he’d had ground into him. Telling him to relax, that these things were much better handled by letting it flow naturally, was pointless.

Yao used to tease him on that. Agents that thought stony, stick-up-the-ass professionalism the proper way to handle missions were something that Yao had found intensely hilarious when he’d first traded one living hell for another, naively believing it may entail freedom. There were reasons Ivan was-- well-- the way he was. Reasons that Yao had not then understood.

There were many times in Yao’s life when he’d learned better than to be naive. And he was not naive because he did not fear the ‘danger’ that lurked in this situation. Ugh, he had been through way too much shit to think some asshole like this was any challenge at all.

So, anyway, the security was still yelling and being generally annoying. “HEY!” they repeated as if he may not have heard them. “W-WAIT A SECOND--” they were indignant at this point, but Yao was quite through with them.

“Where is the man with whom I am meeting?” he inquired, giving them the attention they seeked.

“You can’t see him without first removing the weapons you have from your coat!” So petulant. Yao glanced down at his pea coat, scowling, then fixed his irritation back on the security. There were three of them. Two backed off.

“I am aware of my instructions. I was not to come with weapons.” They looked at him distrustfully and uncertain of what to do with these words. They looked around at each other for guidance, finding none.

“Prove you’re not armed, then,” one proposed. “Take off your coat.” Yao did. He handed it to the brute, who shook it out and palmed at its pockets. The others eyed Yao up and down, trying to determine where he might have a gun stashed. Yao blew a strand of hair out of his face.

The security guard found the small knife strapped to the inside. “Ha!” he exclaimed, thinking himself victorious. “Thought you could pull a fast one on me, didn’t you?!” he tossed Yao’s coat back to him. “Well, you can’t!” he nodded, proud of himself. “So, uh. Get rid of any other weapons you have now, or you can’t see him. You know the rules.”

Yao arched an eyebrow. And then pulled the pistol the guard had missed from the coat draped over his arm. He set it neatly on a table. The guard’s eyes were bugging out of his head as he struggled to comprehend how he’d missed it. Yao then placed a handgun beside it. And an additional knife. And then the other two knives. And then the guard’s motorbike keys he had swiped.

The guard stared at the pile while the others checked their own pockets. The guard snatched his keys from the table, and also a serrated knife. “You’ve got some nerve coming here--” he growled, his threats so empty Yao didn’t even bother with a step back.

“That will do, Jean-Pierre, thank you.” The guard instantly balked, put down the knife, and exited the building without another word. The others shifted as if they wanted to follow suite. Yao looked this new man up and down as he entered the room.

The mob boss held himself well as he analyzed Yao right back. He even had himself a suit. He tossed around an apple. He was flanked by two more poker-faced men. It was laughable. “Please, sit,” the man invited, gesturing with his apple to a wooden chair situated at the weapons' table. The man sat first, a very typical show of confidence.

Yao played nice and sat without a word. “You very deliberately disobeyed my instructions of no weapons,” this man mused and picked up the pistol to admire it in the light. “I do not appreciate that, Mr…?”

“My name is Yao. And I see that you did not uphold your part of the bargain, either.” Yao nodded to the suit jacket. “It would seem both of us thought to bring insurance.” The mob boss chuckled and pulled his own gun from the coat. It joined Yao’s weapons on the table between them.

“Yao,” the boss hummed. “That is not a name that has reached my ear before. Do you know Adunbi well?”

“We have only just made acquaintance. He was my key to you.”

“Mr. Dumashi does not much care for me,” the boss flicked his eyes away from Yao’s gun to look him in the face. “What are your intentions here today, Yao?” The boss’ intentions were to lower Yao’s gun and shoot him, should he give a displeasing response. Typical! Such a cliche.

“Someone was taken from me, boss.” Yao smirked. “And I’m not too happy with the people that did this. So I need some information.”

“Information. Interesting. Usually it’s a favor people want.” The boss tried to read him and found that he could not. “Tell me more about your missing person.”

“Oh, my missing person was stolen. You must understand that I do not like it when people touch my things.” False bravado, emotional detachment reverberated much farther than a pissy spouse. People died in drug deals all the time; people like the boss didn’t want to deal with the encumbrance of a vengeful family. So, for all intents and purposes, Ivan was to be nothing more in this scenario than, “My favorite bitch, if you must know.”

“And you want to know who got their hands on the bitch?” There was amusement in his voice and he was intrigued.

“Oh, I know exactly who put their filthy hands on him.” The boss noted the masculine pronoun with further fascination. “I’m after some people that the assholes care about. And you’re the man with the information.”

“Hell hath no fury like a queer scorned, hmm?”

“You have no idea.”

Silence between them. Yao supposed this was why he was not a sniper. A crack like that? He’d at least have taken out the window. Just as a friendly warning! But Kiku and the boss were the ones holding the guns here. Getting the information was Yao’s job.

“So… What information do you need from me?” Fingers drumming on the table.

“There have been attacks. Gangs. Some of these gangs have ended up dead; others have not.” Yao stared him down evenly. “I can give you the names of six dead men. Do you know these men?”

“Lots of men die in gangs.” He was hiding something. He knew something.

“And, you know what else? Another man ended up dead in prison. The common denominator is drugs. But maybe it isn’t, boss, because the person who made his death look like suicide was an officer. What would that connection be, if not drugs?” Of course, the United States was the common thread the Americans had told him of; that’s what the Americans believed. But there could be more to uncover here than a plot against them. And the Americans could always have it all wrong.

“Yao, you haven’t given me any names. Why assume I know what you’re talking about?”

“LeCerf.” Even the best of poker faces couldn’t have hidden the flicker of recognition.

A dark chuckle. “Now, why do you ask about that?”

“What am I asking about, boss?”

“Something I really don’t like.” He nodded to the blank men at his side and security. “I caught wind of something I didn’t know about. And I don’t like not knowing. So I sent some men to investigate, good men, we got some names-- just names, nothing more-- and then I had to get new men.”

“Dead?”

“Murdered.”

“Who did it?”

“We have no idea, but the message was clear enough. It pissed me off. It challenged my authority. Nobody challenges my authority. But you’ll find that those names we got aren’t in service anymore. Dead. It sounds to me like you’re getting involved in something over your head, Yao. You’ll end up dead like them if you keep at it. Trust me. If it’s something I don’t poke; you really don’t want to poke it. Leave the bitch for dead.”

More fingers drumming. “That isn’t it. You know more.”

“Don’t be a fool, Yao. You seem sensible enough.”

“Do they have anything to do with America?” Yao put it into the air. “Do they want anything with the United States of America?”

America?” The boss gave him a strange look and finally took a bite of his apple. “We’re in Paris.” Yao did not relent. The man rolled his eyes and swallowed. “Don’t think so. But like I said, I don't have any wish to poke at it. And I don’t intend to do so.”

“Tell me what I need to know, boss. I’m already a dead man as far as you’re concerned.”

“That’s all you need to know. I don’t know about any connection to America.”

“Let me rephrase this so you may understand: Tell me or you die at my hand rather than theirs.” The boss laughed in his face.

“Oh really? You and what army?” The boss’s guards cracked their knuckles. “You are alone. You have no chance.”

“Kiku, if you please.” Yao spoke no louder than he had been. The boss scrunched his eyebrows together. The security looked around the room as if someone would step out of the shadows.

And there went the window, glass shattering into a million particles. Good, he hadn’t fallen asleep. “You fucking bastard.” The boss pointed Yao’s gun.

“Shoot me and you die. Do we understand each other?” His voice was silky. “Tell me what you know.”

“You can’t threaten me!”

“I just did. Three seconds and my dear friend starts taking the guards.”

“You’re bluffing.” The guards didn’t want that chance taken, most of them leaping for cover. Yao returned one of his knives to his hand. The boss dropped the gun, scowling. “Be my guest and get yourself killed, then! There was one. I don’t have a name. He has killed. The people that died after I learned their names? Officially, they killed themselves. But, maybe they didn’t. At least not all of them. Because I watched this man shoot one point blank and then put the gun in the woman’s own hand. He thinks he has no witnesses. He left the country. I don’t want him back.”

“So what do you have for me, if not a name?”

“A location. A country, a city. You’re looking in the wrong place if you’re looking for him. It isn’t Paris. He killed here, but he didn’t stay here.”

“Tell me where.”

“Mongolia. He went to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.”

Yao thought for a second Kiku had shot him. He stumbled. Dropped the knife. No. “That’s a city of millions.” He ripped the words from his own throat. He was cold.

“So is Paris.”

“When.” He couldn't breathe. Memories of blood.

“What?”

“WHEN WAS THIS? WHEN DID HE GO TO MONGOLIA?!” Yao had the boss’s shirt in his fist before he could blink. The boss was shocked by Yao’s sudden change. But Yao wasn’t in Paris in that moment. He was a full continent away. 

So much blood. So many markers in Yao’s life marked in memories of so much blood.

“I saw him kill-- I don’t know-- about a week ago? He left three days after, on a plane to Ulaanbaatar. Because it's not like you can find flights to any other place in Mongolia.” The boss jerked himself away unhappily. Yao let him.

“Name. I need a name. Affiliations. Who sent him.” Yao’s voice was devoid of emotion, devoid of patience.

“I know nothing. I don’t even have the flight information anymore. I am not touching this animal. You are on your own if you do. Now get out of here.”

Yao retrieved the knife, retrieved his other weapons, and left.


 

Mother of Marilyn Monroe, Alfred was pooped. He kind of expected everyone in the room was. What, with the big guy getting beat up by the culprit and with the culprit, ya know, receiving multiple gunshot wounds.

It’d been a long day.

And now they were wrestling with technology tryna get back with HQ while the culprit was sleeping it off (read: the Baddie was unconscious, as multiple gunshot wounds tends to do to a person) and Russia was looming ominously and the Secret Agent Skype app was loading.

And loading.

And loading. Like honestly, you’d think that it’d be a more conveniently functional sorta thing considering they were literally secret agents from a literal secret agency of the literal government, but whatever.

Alfred let himself pretend that the loading screen would go away to reveal the face of a certain gorgeous man, but alas. Kiks was kicking butt and taking names in the field. It wasn’t even good ol’, mildly pixelated Germany. It was some other, presumably good, old, mildly pixelated dude. Which didn’t mean anything fun. Not that Germany did either, but this, this meant special orders. Always did. And ‘special’ most certainly did not mean 'fun.' Alfred was required to be on his best, most bestest soldier-y behavior for this.

Old Dude peered out at the two of them sternly. “Report.”

“Evenin’, sir!” Alfred tried for a sporting smile and wave. Old Dude wasn’t having it, waiting for info. “Right. So we have a suspect in our custody. Unconscious. Injured, but stable. Name is Alix, was initially under investigation for a direct correlation with an assassin seeming to work for the enemy. Sir, Alix attacked and was handled. We intend to extract information regarding the late assassin. We firmly believe that this lead will take us exactly where we need to go, sir.”

Old Dude’s face didn’t change. He didn’t take notes like Germany did sometimes.

“Good work, agents. Very good work indeed. Show me the suspect. I have a hunch, but I would require visual to establish certainty.” A fair enough request. Alfred picked up the laptop, carried it over to where Alix was restrained and recovering.

Old Dude squinted down from the web camera at the immobile form hooked up to a bunch of improvised IVs on the bed. “I see. Just as I suspected. I am familiar with this Alix from other agents in the field.” A pause as Alix shifted, groaning. The Baddie was fighting unconsciousness tooth and nail, despite all the jerk had been through.

Alix tried to move and discovered the restraints. The Baddie stiffened, mouth struggling to form questions or demands or deals as Alix blinked against the haze of pain and medication. Alix made eye contact with the man on the screen Alfred was holding aloft. The uncomprehending confusion was clear on Alix’s drawn face even through the medicinal bleariness. Alfred chalked it up to the meds.

“Stay down. You’re injured. And we have some questions for you--” Al started to address the suspect before being cut off.

“No, none of that,” said Old Dude. “I come bringing orders for you two regarding this one. We know all about this criminal from other field agents. Congratulations, agents. You are the ones to bring this snake to justice.”

Alfred looked at Old Dude for a long moment, as confused as the drugged suspect. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” growled Old Dude. “That no questions are to be asked because this individual has proved to be a very slimy mongrel.” Alix was trying to form words, letting out an undignified squeak. Old Dude met the suspect’s gaze evenly. “Your fellow agents have already gathered any information you could possibly hope to gain from the culprit, and it is readily available to you for use in your continued mission. It’s not over yet, but this is a milestone, agents.” Old Dude nodded, proud of the two. “But the next step in your mission is nonnegotiable and absolutely necessary for justice, liberty, and the future of the American people.”

Alfred could see what would be asked of them a mile away. He was going to be sick.

It seemed Alix could see it coming too. “You…” The English was accented and heavy with medicine, but it was unmistakable. Alfred couldn’t place Alix’s tone. Frightened? Confused? Angry? Accusatory?

Did Alix recognize Old Dude? Old Dude, some executive Alfred had gotten orders from before, had said that the agency had information about the Baddie. Maybe this wasn’t Alix’s first time escaping a reported hostage situation?

Listen,” Alix got out, directed toward him and Russia. Alfred was really trying not to at this point. “He…” The Baddie shook their head, woozy and unable to convey their thoughts. Alix tried a different approach by starting again with a very serious “I…” Alix looked around desperately, before going back to staring at the image of the man on the laptop. “Agent…” Alix was imploring. Of course the Baddie was.

“Enough.” The word cut through everything. “Agent America, Agent Russia, you have orders to kill.”

Chapter Text

“Respectfully, sir:” said America. “What the ever-loving fuck?” Ivan sighed internally.

“Yours orders are to kill before any further harm may be done. There is no argument to be had. Do it.”

“I can’t just…” America was floundering, gesticulating largely without any words. “I can’t just kill someone, sir! I don’t even know what information we do and don’t have from this Baddie!” 

“You have orders, you fool,” Ivan had to speak up. He spoke slowly but firmly to his partner. Ivan put his weapon in his hand. The target stared him down. “If you cannot follow orders, I will. I have too much at stake here.”

“Thank you, Agent Russia.”

Ivan raised the gun, equipped with its suppressor. America looked away in disgust. “My imprisoned partner-- is he safe?” Ivan inquired of the American handler without breaking eye contact with the target, who made no noise despite the gun directed at her forehead.

“He is safe, Agent,” Ivan was assured. The safety was off. The target opened his mouth to speak last words, but the man on the screen spoke first. “Do it.”

White hotel bedsheets, turned hospital bed, turned place of execution. Red and pink spray dousing the pillows.

America rose from his seat on the adjacent bed, did not once glance at the corpse, said no words to Ivan or to his superior, crossed the room to the bathroom, and closed the door.


 

Kiku joined Yao in their hotel room shortly after the latter had returned. Kiku set down his duffel bag gingerly, not wanting to disturb Yao. Kiku watched the man for a moment; the words of the meeting repeated in his mind.

Yao was utterly silent. He did not move. He did not turn to look at Kiku as Kiku entered. He sat on the edge of his hotel bed, facing the wall. Kiku shifted unsurely on his feet. He had never witnessed Yao behave in this manner. There was, however, a promising lead to be investigated. Finally, Kiku mustered the courage within himself to cautiously approach with a low cough. “Yao…” He had nothing to say, he realized. What has happened to this man? Yao responded neither to his name, nor Kiku’s unspoken question. “Yao,” Kiku tried again. Nothing. “Shall I look into flights for Mongolia?” Kiku asked the air.

“No.”

Kiku cleared his throat and clasped his hands in front of him. “You fear the tickets and financial transactions will be monitored.”

“No, Kiku.” Yao stood and turned to look at him. Kiku searched his face, but it was blank. “We will not be going to Mongolia. We will be staying right here in Paris.” There was no room for argument in his tone, but Kiku steeled himself; he was not a child taking orders from a parental figure any longer.

“Surely, it is the best lead we have received thus far,” he attempted to reason politely. Yao smiled lightly, but it was venomous.

“Kiku,” Yao told him, voice gentle but dangerous. “I’ll go back to Mongolia over my dead body.”

“What was it that happened in Mongolia?” The question held a weight that Kiku had not measured before asking it. Yao turned away from him without an answer and began to rifle through his suitcase.

Kiku was in a whirlwind as he tried desperately to call back every last detail of their confrontation on the street and piece it with the information shared between Yao and the mob boss. There were so many things he did not understand, and now there was the question of Mongolia. Kiku had no idea in the world how Mongolia related to anything. It had occurred in China.

Kiku had betrayed Yao in China.

But then... what?

There should not have been a ‘then.’ None of this made any sense. Kiku knew nothing.

Wang Yao found the pajamas given to him by the agency. For the first time since the two had reunited, Kiku watched Wang Yao pull off his shirt.

Kiku had thought many things. Kiku had thought his old life as a high-profile thief would never again be able to touch him. Kiku had thought he was through being physically ill about what he had done.

Then, Honda Kiku saw the scar. A vicious, dark line slashing down Yao’s spine.

“You should be dead.”

Kiku’s words hung heavily between them.

Yao hesitated in readying himself for bed. He met Kiku’s eyes across the room. His expression was still unreadable and Kiku hated it. “And why is that, Kiku?” Yao strolled leisurely to him, his night clothes draped over his arm for the time being. Yao raised an eyebrow. A challenge.

“Because I killed you,” Kiku whispered.

 

A heist. Another heist. Kiku had wanted nothing but to remain in his family’s temporary home for the night. He was preparing for his exams. If he was to attend medical school, he needed to earn exemplary marks. He also needed a perfectly clean record, but that had never been a problem. Kiku was with Wang Yao. The heists never went wrong, no matter the caliber of the job. They were never caught.

But Yao had found a job that had the potential to put him through at least the first two years of the schooling. Kiku needed this heist. They all needed the money; they didn’t even have a house.

The others also had to eat. Kiku was not the only child that Yao, through a variety of circumstances, had come to look after. Kiku was only the first. Yao, Mei, Yong Soo, and little Xiao were depending on this job. Yao trusted only Kiku enough to do it right.

But it had gone wrong.

Perhaps the police officers had been waiting for them, perhaps there was an alarm that they overlooked. This was not what mattered as Honda Kiku and Wang Yao tore across rooftops, through alleyways, through buildings, trying to escape from the sirens and the shouts.

Kiku followed Yao. Yao was amazing at this. Yao never got caught.

Then, too many police grew too close, snuffing out their ways to run. Kiku was pressed against Yao in a tiny nook of an alleyway. It did not conceal them. Kiku knew the hiding would not work. Yet, Yao insisted it would-- that the police would move on and search elsewhere-- when Kiku knew they would be discovered, beaten, arrested, and abused. And the policemen’s net became tighter and tighter and Kiku’s entire future, his career, his education was on the line and Yao was still so sure in his belief that the police would simply fail to spot them.

Kiku had a knife. He was always armed on heists.

Yao was mid-sentence, mid-grinning-reassurance, when Kiku plunged it into his caregiver’s spine… and ripped it downwards.

And then Kiku had walked away, as though nothing had happened. He was able to, because the police had found Yao’s body in a pool of blood. It was a distraction enough--Yao had had half the jewels on his person-- that Kiku simply disappeared with the rest of the money into a crowd without once looking back.

 

“‘Killed me,’” Yao laughed in his face. “Well, you did a shit job of that, didn’t you?” Kiku was quiet for a long time.

“You were arrested,” Kiku guessed. “And they saved you. Then how--” Yao stopped him with a shake of his head.

“I wouldn’t say they saved me, Kiku. Stopped the bleeding, yes. Stapled the wound, yes. All as obligated.” Yao chuckled darkly to himself. “But did you really think my name only made its rounds with criminals? No. They knew who I was. They knew what I’d done. They left me to die too.”

“If you are expecting an apology, I have none to give.” Now it was Yao’s turn to be silent. “I intended to murder you. I did not intend for you to suffer.”

“You did not murder me,” said Yao. “And I did suffer.” They looked at each other, as if the other may speak, but what was there to say? Yao did not want Kiku’s apology; Kiku had no apology for him. Kiku did not wish for Yao’s vengeance; Yao was not vengeful toward him.

“You are an agent of the Russians?”

“I am.”

“How? The Americans do not know of my past. I would not have my position if they did. You were a wounded man in prison.”

Yao shrugged. “I was less wounded when they found me. And that’s just what they did: they found me. I was a skilled fighter. I was expendable trash. I would kill. I would keep secrets. I would take their money and accept their freedom when it was offered to me for spy work.”

“That is reprehensible.”

“Oh, absolutely. They know that too. I don’t imagine your Americans are so virtuous either.”

“I assure you we function under a much higher code of conduct. Our agents are soldiers, they are scientists, they are highly trained professionals. We do not hire individuals with the idea that they are useful yet ‘expendable.’”

“They hired me, didn’t they?” Yao challenged. For that, Kiku did not have an answer. “If I were you, I would forget the idea that your employers are some great and powerful source of morality and justice. My Vanya and I are convicted and guilty of espionage in your country. I broke into your compound. I killed your soldiers, your scientists, your highly trained professionals. And what did they do, Kiku? They hired my useful yet expendable ass. But, of course, only after ‘reprehensible’ negligence of duty surrounding my imprisonment.”

“You would not understand--”

“Enlighten me.” Kiku could not maintain eye contact with this man. Debating what was and what was not appropriate moral conduct within the agency was a waste of time. The business was blood-soaked. The business was complex.

“Mongolia,” Kiku attempted to steer the conversation once again.

“No.” Kiku sighed in utter frustration.

“And why not?”

“Because I said so. You need to do a better job of listening, Kiku, really.”

Kiku opened his mouth to protest, but Yao waved him away. “We can talk compromises in the morning. Maybe. But right now, I need a shower, and I need sleep. I’ve earned it.” Yao smiled and patted Kiku’s cheek, much to his indignance.

“Yao, we have to talk about this --”

“Eh. We’ve talked about enough tonight.” He walked away. Kiku pursued; this was not a lead that could be procrastinated. Measures were to be taken immediately.

“Yao!” he called after him, reaching out. Yao shut the door to the restroom in his face.

“Tomorrow!”

Chapter Text

Alfred was ready to go home. Being a spy in Paris really wasn’t as fun as it should have been.

He splashed cold water on his face in the restroom, door locked. The locked door didn’t shut out the fact that there was literally a bloody corpse in the next room. There shouldn’t have been a corpse there. Alfred had just finished making sure the suspect--culprit--whatever survived. And then this big boss guy just waltzes in… And then Alix was dead.

And now they had to move hotels again, before research could be done on who this ‘Alix’ even was, when police were actively hunting their sorry rumps. Lovely. Just dandy.

He took a deep breath. He only smelled the soap of his hands, which was almost worse than being able to smell the gore.

But Alfred had to pretend that it was all peachy-keen, didn’t he? The agency was probably right, and while that didn’t make the sudden slaughter easier, it made it justified, right? There was so, so much work to be done yet, but at least that part was done and over with. They were saving the world, Alfred had to remind himself. He may not understand this complex, ugly system, but he would. It wasn’t like he was barred from knowing what the agency knew or barred from getting answers. The agency had a lot to hide with so many undercover and even deep-cover agents out in the field, but the agency was also as transparent as it could be with its pieces. Alfred would get answers. It would make sense soon. Just not yet.

At the moment, there was just a dead body and no good reason behind it.

Yep, he was gonna be sick.

Alfred sat on the bathroom floor, putting his head between his knees to ward off the nausea. He’d changed his clothes after getting Alix stable, so he wasn’t covered in the person’s blood. He might as well be, though.

A knock on the door. “America. Come. We must go.”

A lot of words came to Alfred’s mind to yell back at the door, but then he was picking himself up off the floor and he was opening the door and he was smelling the blood that was there and he wasn’t looking at it and he was gathering his small bag of things and he and Russia were leaving the hotel to be cleaned up by another agent.

They didn’t talk or anything. They just left. Alfred wanted far away from his partner, but he knew that that wasn’t fair to him. Russia was doing his job. Too much work to do together anyway. Besides, every agent he knew had killed. Kiku wasn’t sniper-trained for party tricks (though Alfred bet he could do some pretty awesome party tricks).

Kiku at work in the field was all stealth and logic, avoiding hand-to-hand combat because he was small but he was still a total ninja when it came down to it. Russia at work in the field… Well, the dude seemed unapologetic about his job. Al could give him that. It was gross and merciless, but it was his job. It was Kiku’s job. It was Alfred’s job. It was Old Dude’s job.

“So…” Al croaked out. “I wonder how having the agency’s information about Alix will change everything.” Russia didn’t reply.

 

Getting a new hotel under ANOTHER fake identity was crazy easy. New identities, new wig, new eye color, new wardrobe. Two separate hotel rooms, thank Oprah! It was clean. The black out curtains on the windows were closed tight. No fire escapes for villains to utilize. Al wanted sleep and a shower, but then the agency was wiring them every file they had regarding Alix.

So Alfred buckled up, brewed Russia and him some coffee, and the two of them cracked open some knowledge in Russia’s room.

Murders of agents. That bit smacked Al right in the face from the get-go. ‘Crafty’ like Old Dude had said. Al clicked into some death reports of agents, names censored with code names. Oof. Lots of carnage.

Hey, Kiku signed off as the forensic pathologist for a couple of these! He was so good at his job! Causes of death among the agents were varied, was what Kiku’s work was telling him. There was no murder-signature sort of thing going on with this Baddie, and Alix wasn’t shy about the bodies being found as the product of murder. No attempts to frame the deaths as suicides. All agents confirmed to be killed by Alix were killed within the boundaries of France.

So there were the death reports; time to hunt down what sad sap figured out it was Alix, ‘cause, you know, the Baddie didn’t seem to have a signature in all the murders. Also, Alfred wanted to know why Alix was killing. Sure, the Baddie was part of this grand scheme the agency was beginning to uncover, but what was this individual part of it for? There was still a lot of paperwork to go through, and a lot of professional jargon the agency had to stuff it with.

“America,” Russia finally spoke up. Al grunted through a mouthful of coffee. “There is no mention of Victor here.” Al looked up at him and swallowed.

“Woah, really? Nothing?”

“The name is not mentioned once.”

“And the agency has Victor’s dead brother listed as a suspect, so that’s who we first investigated, and Victor is who we first talked with, and Victor is the one who sent you us to Jean LeCerf, and Victor worked with this Alix character… And we’re the only ones finding this connection?”

“It is possible ‘Victor’ was not his true name, but there is no mention of an accomplice anywhere.”

“If Victor wasn’t a known accomplice, but all these reports are attributed to only Alix, is it possible some of these deaths were done by our assassin guy, Victor? How do we know Alix was the murderer at all?” That was the million dollar question.

Alfred and Russia dove back in.

The agent reports were what Alfred was assuming he’d find the answer in. Just like his and Russia’s check-in with Old Dude would be recorded somewhere, they had access to all files that involved this mission. This particular selection of digital documents was focused on one single piece of this mission: Alix. It was unclear how many agents were on the case, only that there were many different reports. It wasn’t necessarily marked whether or not the agents reporting were even still alive either.

Alfred sorted them by dates. Some were very recent. Others were not.

Alfred was getting a headache.

No mention of a ‘Victor.’ Not actually as many mentions of an ‘Alix’ as you’d think. And reading through the accounts that did mention the Baddie, it was like the identity of Alix was common knowledge with sentences like “Alix had two confirmed kills; Alix escaped the scene without detection.” Vague crap like that with dates that corresponded to death reports. There wasn’t even the use of a surname in all reports. Just ‘Alix.’ What, was this Baddie heckin' Beyonce or something? 

Alfred was missing something, then. The first mention of Alix must not have been through some field agent report. But where? Alfred examined the different folders of documents available to him. Not death reports, not field reports. “Russ, what are you coming up with when you just search ‘Alix’? Where’s the first mention of the name?”

“Of the name ‘Alix’?” Russia gave him a strange look. “Do not all of these selected documents correspond in some way to the culprit?”

“Yeah, of course, but…” Alfred shrugged. “Where is it written that we first figured out who Alix even was? Couldn’t have been that long ago; Alix isn’t a figure that was in my suspect list when we got here. Victor wasn’t there either. But Victor’s brother was.”

“What made Victor’s brother a suspect?” was Russia’s question.

So that had Alfred dragging out his old folder of paper documents and digging around until he found Dude #1’s info. The connecting factor between these suspects was the apparent suicides, sure, but they had to look deeper than that. More basic than that.

Dude #1’s profile explained his suspected involvement in the organization in simple terms. “‘Agents had reason to suspect,’” Alfred read in his best professional voice. “That our dude had ‘malicious intent towards the United States of America’ because of some social media posts, sketchy correspondences with enemies we couldn’t read, and sketchy financial transactions we couldn’t really track down--so, we’re seeing the weird finances going on with Dude #1 as well as Jean LeCerf-- but then Dude #1 killed himself, presumably, before he could be questioned.”

“Which enemies?” Russia asked, distracted as he scrolled through further documentation on his laptop. “The correspondences?”

“Just says ‘enemies,’ man. Must be a plethora.” Russia sighed.

“Is there any reason to believe that the suspect was innocent, and that it was his brother consorting with America's enemies? With an assassin as a brother, the suicide could have been easily staged.”

“We don’t have proof that Victor was an assassin.”

“America, I know assassins. I know hitmen. Victor was a professional killer; it matters only for whom he worked.”

“Sure, dude. I guess-- in that case--” Al swished the words around his mouth a bit “aside from it being a total Dick (Cheney) move, no, we don’t have a good reason to believe that Victor didn’t kill Dude #1 and no good reason not to believe he was the Baddie all along. But what about Alix? Dude #1 was a suspect because of some sketchy stuff we couldn’t quite prove and wanted to investigate. Alix literally killed people. Alix should’ve been, like, suspect number one!”

“Maybe there were other agents on the case, and your agency needed us investigating elsewhere,” Russia suggested.

“Okay,” Alfred took a gulp of coffee to clear his head. “Okay. Um. Okay. But where did the agency first figure out that it was Alix at all?”

“I’m looking,” Russia waved him away. Alfred felt like throwing his coffee at him. “This is not enough data,” Russia told him after a moment longer of typing. “I will see all of the files regarding this mission.”

All of them?”

“All of them.”

“You do that, pal. I’m going to bed.” Al petulantly left his coffee mug on Russia’s nightstand. Russia glared at it, then at him. Alfred reclaimed his mug. “I say that tomorrow we go and check out the one person who’s still alive in this mess-- drug dealer lady.”


 

In Russia there was no timidity about the procedure of making an agent request such paperwork several days in advance only so it could be put off. The Americans seemed as if in a mad, passive-aggressive scramble from start to finish. But Ivan received the massive amount of digital files he had requested within a matter of hours. A few lines of code flushed out hundreds, brought yet hundreds more to forefront.

It could be read like numbers, much of it colorless fact. Yet, there were interpretations to be made, as one might find in the hidden rhetorics of cited statistics. Deciphering these was the challenge, as the earliest references to Alix seemed to be written in nothing but vague language. This was likely so as to account for any information acquired at later times.

Ivan sat in the dim light of the desk lamp, tapping a stirring straw to his lips as he worked. When the corresponding data was discovered, Ivan reread it several times. It was not necessarily a connection he had been expecting. Typically, such implications would be standard, but this… this caught Ivan’s eye. In the context of the current mission, this could bring simmering questions to a boil.

Ivan mulled it over for a moment. The language was indirect enough to hold potential for alternate motives entirely. However, it seemed obvious to Ivan. He sat before his laptop for a moment more, contemplating.

No. This could not wait.

Ivan rose from his seat, tucking his laptop mindfully under his arm, and slipped into the empty, carpeted hallway. America’s hotel room was directly opposite his own. He froze with a fist lifted to knock. 

He heard something. A voice from inside the room when America had retired to bed hours ago. A chill of caution stiffened his muscles. Ivan's mind raced with possible scenarios. Talking to himself? To another? Ivan recalled the mysterious call America had taken from an individual at the agency, during which he had forced Ivan from the room. Was the muffled vocalization speaking at all? Pain?

The hallway was deafeningly silent as Ivan stood there, ears straining, body tense.

Then, it came again. Unmistakably a low, drawn-out groan. Unmistakably America. Torture.

Ivan had the door open in a matter of seconds, thundering in with weapon drawn--

He made a mistake.

“WHAT IN THE NAME OF FREE-MARKET CAPITALISM--” America shrieked, flailing in the nude for a weapon before making the same shocked realization that Ivan was. They stared at each other in disbelief for a long second before America was yelling at him, frantically moving to cover himself and what he’d been doing. Ivan had seen too much already. “DUDE, I WILL LITERALLY BEAT YOU WITH THIS GODDAMNED DILDO UNTIL YOU DO HAVE A CONCUSSION IF YOU DON’T GET THE HENRY FORD OUT--”

But Ivan had already shut the door. He stood, mildly shaken, in the stillness with his laptop and pistol in hand. He rapidly stowed the firearm, chiding himself for the silly mistake.

America poked his head out the door after a moment. “Can’t this wait ‘til morning?”

“No.”

“UUUUGH. Fine. Gimme, like, five seconds to put on pants, man.” The door was shut. Ivan stood in the hallway. He did hope the individuals in neighboring suites would refrain from calling in noise complaints. Ivan checked his watch. America finally reopened the door to allow Ivan’s entrance. For once, it did not seem he had much to say. Perhaps the American had a sense of embarrassment or shame after all. “So what exactly is so important it couldn’t wait until morning?” Naturally, it did not last.

“And why are you awake when you went to bed hours ago?” Ivan retorted.

“Because I wasn’t planning on the research being so boring and fruitless when I drank two cups of coffee.” America wasn’t happy. Ivan wasn’t happy. Ivan did, however, have evidence to dispute America’s comment. He put the documents in question beside each other on the screen. America pushed his glasses up his nose and read for a long while. “The dates,” America yawned, pushing away the laptop. “They correspond. What’s your angle?”

“Agents report kills. Other agents are reported dead same day. We were given none of these documents, so perhaps they do not correspond with Alix, but remember orders to kill the enemy came immediately upon identification. The earliest mentions of Alix are vague, reporting only kills of American agents.”

“You think there’s agents getting told to kill agents. You’re saying you think Alix was an agent. Ya know, I could’ve sworn Alix seemed to recognize Old Guy on the screen. But...” The realization dawned on America. “You think Alix went rogue?”

“And that fellow agents are the ones that take care of such cases, yes.”

“Rogues are put down, as your documents suggest, sure." America shifted uncomfortably at the thought of traitors, a fact incompatible with his golden worldview. "Alix and the assassin wanted us dead; wonder if we’re getting close to stumbling on something they don’t want us to see, if not their betrayal.”

“We’re getting close. I know it.” Ivan looked into his partner’s eyes. “But agents do not go rogue without great reason. I am thinking that Alix knew something we do not.”

“Personal gain, man! Alix was probably consorting with the enemy, with Victor if nothing else! And killing agents! Good, not-rogue agents, right? With an assassin. That’s dirty work for personal gain. That’s someone paying a backstabber who maybe knows about --or knows how to find--agents that are onto them. We think the gangs were paid, right? Why not pay a rogue agent?”

“America, there is an issue with your statement. We do not know that the agents killed by Alix were all patriots working solely for United States. With these documents, there is no indication that orders to kill were delivered to fix the issue of a rogue. There is only the evidence of agents killing agents. Alix could have been following orders to kill rogues, not killing agents for personal gain from an unseen enemy; such differentiations are not made on death reports.”

“We killed a rogue.” America was adamant. 

“I have no doubt about that-- the assassin is evidence enough-- but did Alix also kill rogues?”

“If Alix was a double agent, killing good guys and bad guys, then Alix was still a Baddie. You can’t kill good guys.”

Ivan tensed. “You suggest that those who, as you say, ‘go rogue’ only do so for malevolent purposes?”

“They’re killing people, Russia. I think it’s a pretty safe assumption. Who is stupid enough to turn their back on a secret agency anyway? Like, if you’re that level of greedy--”

“America, I have run from agency in my past. It was not for greed.”

America went quiet, his mind working overtime to separate ‘bad’ from ‘rogue,’ but then deciding he didn’t have to because both applied to Ivan in his small mind. “That’s whack, man. Dunno how you’re still alive and working for the Russians, but ‘Merica don’t take lightly to traitors. I mean. I thought we just locked people up for that kinda junk, but I guess it probably depends on the situation. Alix was just a bad situation, whatever actually happened.”

Defenses came to Ivan’s mind, as though he should explain himself to this American. But it was over. Ivan again worked for the same handlers who hurt him. But it was over; no more foolish attempts at life that was not the work they could not escape even if they had--for a moment-- believed they had.

“Think it over,” Ivan told the man. “Is only food for thought.” Ivan took his laptop, and left. The role of traitors, rogue Americans, and assassins was left in the stiff air between them. "Rest," Ivan barked the command over his shoulder. "Tomorrow we evade police and we face the woman from the catacombs." 

Chapter Text

“So you became a doctor?” Kiku really wished Yao would keep his voice down in the outdoor cafe. Kiku pulled slowly at his croissant, looking around himself cautiously.

“... Yes…?” He truly did not have any desire to go into the details of his career with so many civilians around, whether spoken in Mandarin or not.

“So you got to your exams on time,” Yao commented through a mouthful of bread. Kiku’s ears burned hotly. “You passed those exams,” Yao made a wide gesture that drew more eyes than Kiku would have liked. “And yet you still failed to kill me?”

“Yao--” Kiku started, a warning.

“Not even a good ol’ spinal cord injury!” Yao slammed his hand on the table before abruptly standing. “Look at this!” Yao proceeded to stretch his arms over his head and bend, demonstrating his flexibility. “Full body movement!” Kiku buried his head in a hand. Yao continued with the twisting yoga poses. This man was going to get the both of them killed for the sake of delaying productive conversation. “You call that a job well done? Do you know how easy it is to sever a spinal cord? You failed so badly it is hard to replicate!”

“Yao, what are you doing?” Kiku sighed. The other customers had yet to return to their breakfasts and Yao had yet to take his seat.

“Giving you shit,” he answered, matter of fact.

“Sit down.”

Sheesh, you buzzkill.” Yao plopped into his seat.

“While I am at it,” Kiku retorted, “How will we be purchasing our plane tickets?”

“Oh, we are not. I told you last night; I won’t be accompanying you to Mongolia.”

“You said we would discuss the topic--”

“And we are! And the answer is no! Discussion over!” Yao grinned brightly. Kiku began to consider the possibility of sedating his partner. He did, however, doubt airport security would allow it past them.

“The concern I see is the financial transactions,” Kiku carried the conversation on his own. “This is the most promising lead we have, and we cannot afford to alert the suspect should agency fund records be intercepted. I am considering withdrawing a large amount of funds to purchase the tickets in cash, but I also do not want my agency truly believing there is something amiss and looking into the matter. There is also the possibility of the passports being tracked.” Kiku waited expectantly. Yao gave him a wry, almost sympathetic smile. “Yao, what of Ivan?” This hung between them.

“He's hot,” Yao quipped, but he was listening now. There was dangerous light in his eyes.

“Ivan needs you to cooperate with me,” Kiku was pleading. Yao scrunched his nose distastefully. “Do you understand this?”

“And I can’t go back to Mongolia,” Yao growled through his teeth with a tone sweetened enough that those who did not speak the language could infer it a conversation about the food. “Do you understand this?” he mocked Kiku’s tone and folded his hands on the table.

“I do not understand.” Yao released a breath through the nose at this. “But I do know that Mongolia is where we need to be, and you will be joining me by any means necessary.” Kiku’s voice was much stronger than he felt in that moment. Yao was quiet for a long, long time.

“You have no idea what you’re asking of me... But I guess I could always use someone in debt to me.” There was no mirth about his humor. “And I guess I can’t let someone as incompetent as yourself go alone.” Yao looked away from Kiku. Kiku could not read him, but there was… something… deeply troubling the man. When Yao met his eyes again, the intensity of it was enough to send Kiku’s heart palpitating. “For Ivan… And, sure, let’s say for you too… I can get us to Mongolia without worry of detection.”


 

“So did you sleep well last night, Guillaume?” Russia made conversation as the looped camera footage of an empty hallway came to replace the tape of two men near solitary confinement. Alfred kept checking his watch. It was timed beautifully. By all video records, the two of them had never been in the place at all.

“Whattaya mean by that?” Alfred chuckled back to him.

Police were on their backsides, but the police were searching for the paralyzed Herr Eichel and the police were searching for the tourist with blond hair and blue eyes who escaped the scene at L’Opera. Alfred, at that moment, was neither. And they were in.

It was going so well! Alfred was actually feeling real good about himself.

“It’s just that the boys were all talking about how you got some action last night,” Russia continued with a poker face. Heck this guy. Heck this guy.

“Dude,” Alfred poked Russia in the chest. “I am a grown-ass man--” Russia shushed him before he could defend his dignity. It wasn’t Al’s fault Russia barged in on his sexually frustrated self! But they couldn't exactly miss their narrow window of time to discuss what Alfred shoved up his ass at night in the coded language of agents pretending to be regular staff.

Alfred was reminded of why he enjoyed his job and also of why he hated his partner!

The hallway felt insulated or buried. There were heavy, quiet doors on either side of them and sleeping cameras above them. Russia had a hand, casually enough for an ‘officer,’ resting on a handgun. The tension in the air was stretched like a rubber band. The clock was ticking.

Al got to work on the door. Ironically enough. ‘Cause Russia CLEARLY was SO SKILLED at barging through doors, RIGHT?

The weight of the job had him sweating. Drug dealer lady was gonna have to talk right here, right now. There was no dragging her out of the prison and questioning her at their leisure. There was no getting caught by guards. It was a confined, dead end space. No duking their way out. It was do or die.

The clock ticked on the inconspicuous loops of the security camera. The clock ticked on the threat to his country. Alfred’s future, his husband’s future, his family’s future, his nation’s future suspended in a job and whatever happened when he got the dang door open. And that kinda totally sucked, but it also kinda ruled; he wasn’t gonna lie.

Maybe he should look into being a fireman or somethin’ when he and Kiks got home. It would probably be a healthier action-filled career choice, all the better for them and their future kids. More environmentally friendly than commuting from their place an hour into Nowhere-Land-Oh-Wait-Look-A-Government-Base on a regular/almost-daily basis...  

The door opened with a pleasant click.

Russia and Alfred entered and closed the door behind them.

The woman inside looked up in confusion when the door closed.

Rocky mountain oysters. Come on. Come on! “UUUUUGH!” Al vocalized to Russia, but in a French accent which made it, like, ten times more horrific a noise. Russia looked at him. For a long moment. An understanding, at least.

The woman, appearing quite different than she had in the catacombs-- but infuriatingly, frustratingly the exact same person they’d had the displeasure of meeting before-- stood to her own defense. Russia pointed his gun to her forehead. “Sit,” he invited. She sat.

“What do you want?” she demanded, eyes darting for an escape though there was none.

“Do you know who I am?” Alfred asked of her. She did not respond. Of course she did, disguise or no, even if Al hadn’t recognized her in hers. The drug dealer of the catacombs. The woman from the party who’d caught them in Jean LeCerf’s bedroom. Honestly, Alfred wanted more retribution for the kissing thing than the whole ‘attempt on his life’ thing.

“Tell us what we need to know,” Russia’s voice was smooth.

“I’ll tell you anything you want,” she promised. She lied. “I can give you a list of every last druggie I sold to--” Russia flicked off the safety. “I’ve seen you before! I dealt to Jean LeCerf. You know him, right?”

“How did you come to know LeCerf?”

“He came to me at work. Like you did. I don’t know how he got my name. I swear.”

“Why were you at the party that night?”

“House full of druggies needs a supplier.”

“Was a man named Victor at this party?”

“I don’t know any ‘Victor.’”

“Are you quite sure about that?” The woman laughed in their faces, and then she refused to talk. Through threats and a bloody nose, she just smiled. They were running low on time and she knew it. She didn’t care if they killed her; she wanted them to have no evidence that she was ever anything besides a common drug dealer. And maybe she also knew they wouldn’t kill her on that alone.

Russia finally yanked Alfred aside. “We can’t do this here,” was Mr. ‘I’m so good at getting people to talk because I’m a big violent sociopath’s conclusion. Internally, Alfred was all WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE CAN’T DO THIS HERE?

Externally, he was more like, “Then we get her out of here in the time we have left.” Alfred huffed, running a hand through his hair and giving her a sour look for the inconvenience. “And we hand her off to someone who’ll do this semi-legally. Waterboarding usually gets the job done.” This was insane. There was no way this was going to work. Getting in here was risky enough... But their lady was suddenly very, very pale. “You wanting to talk or…?” Al asked her.

“Who are you with?” she demanded, eyes wild. “Who are you with?”

“The right side of this equation, ma’am.”

The drug dealer was silent for the span of a heartbeat. And then she started screaming. Russia cursed and raised his gun-- an empty threat and she knew it. She rushed him, fingernails ripping for the firearm, mouth screaming for help. Forget minutes; they had seconds before officers stormed the place.

So Alfred took a swing, hoping to knock her unconscious. And she blocked it. Like a highly-trained fighter, she blocked a haymaker. Russia shot her in the foot. The screaming went up about an octave, but she threw a punch right back at Al. Al dodged. Russia got her in a headlock. Two against one, baby!

Her fingernails tore at Russia’s arm as she struggled, trying to croak out more screams for help. “Who are you with?” she got out one more time. Alfred didn’t like this.

“What does that mean?” he asked her, approaching cautiously. “We are looking for the people Victor, Alix, Jean LeCerf, the gangs that attacked us, and anyone else who wants to hurt people are working for because we are trying to stop an enemy. Help us.” She looked at him with terror in her eyes, but also she was being choked out by a Russian so…

“No,” she decided. “You won’t get away with this. You will lose.” Russia tightened his grip appropriately.

Officers burst into the cell, guns drawn. They hesitated at the scene before them. “Well, don’t just stand there!” Russia barked in his officer uniform. “Help me! The damn janitor got here before you did!” Spoiler alert: Alfred was the janitor. But the officers were very good about buying a tale about her attempted suicide despite a glaring lack of evidence for it. Very helpful about getting the woman restrained onto a gurney and very good at getting her up to medical attention. And very good about letting the officer who’d found her and the janitor who’d helped him slip away into a Parisian morning.

There were so many questions unanswered, but now they did know one thing: she knew something. She was in it. She was in it! Alfred had no doubt about that anymore. They just had to regroup! They just had to regroup and get her into agency custody! A quick change, a call to HQ, and they should be able to set something up to get this mess entirely cleared up! Alfred was practically skipping.

Germany answered their call and heard their reports. Germany also offered them an apology, saying that Old Dude would be handling more of this case until it was closed, but that Old Dude was off on a sick day. So, Germany had no updates for them. Germany said he would request authorization for a move; one planted medical physician to say the injuries sustained were consistent with a suicide attempt, one psychiatrist to say that the drug dealer had bigger issues than the prison could handle, and a team of agents to remove her from the premises and into agency custody.

Seemed cut and dry enough. Alfred was still bothered by some stuff, though.

“So,” he talked at his computer screen as he scrubbed some totally sick contouring off his face. “Alix. What was the deal with needing to kill Alix? Russia and I were thinking rogue, ‘cause we found some stuff that suggested you guys’ve had agents take care of traitors before,” Al’s tone was conversational; Germany’s face was hard as he listened. “And Alix was definitely killing agents…” Germany didn’t let on that they’d figured anything out. “So…? Was Alix one of our own gone bad?”

“Agent America,” Germany began after a long time. “You must understand that this is no longer fully under my jurisdiction and I cannot possibly--”

“Yeah, yeah, ‘kay, but that’s kinda bull isn’t it?” Germany gave him a look. “If Alix was a rogue, then that’s totally a huge step towards figuring this out. So… was Alix a rogue?”

“I am not familiar with the individual you had to…” Germany made a vague gesture. “Do away with. This individual, if once an agent, has never been under my jurisdiction. I only keep track of so many agents.”

“Congrats, Germy. You’ve told me exactly nothing useful.” Germany pursed his lips, thinking. “You’ve gotta be more transparent with me, man. I’ve gotta know stuff to get stuff done.”

“It is true rogues have been taken out by agents in the past. I am not privy to further knowledge on that particular subject. I suppose it is possible this case has been partially taken from my hands because it may include agents--rogue and/or otherwise--who fall outside of my jurisdiction, and thus must be handled by a higher-up for the management of classified identities.” Germany shrugged reasonably. “But this is only speculation. Ask the man who can answer such inquiries when he is well again.” Al sighed, disappointed. “For now,” Germany tried lightening the mood. “I will be sure to see if I may get a move underway.”  

Chapter Text

Yao ended his phone call with finality and a grin. Kiku sat uncomfortably as he awaited any form of explanation. “So that was Mei. Surely you remember Mei,” Yao cooed. Kiku sighed internally.

“Yes, I remember Mei.” He kept all emotion from his voice. Yao wanted a rise out of him. Kiku had no desire to give him the satisfaction.

“You know, the lovely girl who was like a little sister to you when you abandoned her--”

“Yes, thank you, Yao.”

“I just find it funny how you never went back for any of the kids to, say, tell them what happened. Or would feeding them be too troublesome?”

“I sent money.”

“Oh, did you? See, it must not have made too large an impression as they never once mentioned your loving financial support when I found them after prison. It seems to me like you were cutting all ties. Do tell how many times you ‘sent money.’”

“You are harboring anger for this,” Kiku observed.

“No, you ass,” Yao laughed. “It’s that you aren’t harboring guilt for this. I’m only ensuring you’ve properly thought about your actions is all.” He smiled and patted Kiku’s hand. “Anyway!” he chirped. “As you insist on making this journey! Mei will be getting us to Mongolia.” Kiku was shocked to discern that Yao was entirely serious. Kiku’s mouth was full of questions, but it was abundantly clear that Yao would be answering few to none. “Go! Stop sitting around! Get your things! We’ve got a train to catch!”

“A… train…?” Kiku coughed. Surely he had misheard. Yao nodded. Kiku’s mind reeled as he gathered his meager, impersonal packed belongings in the hotel room.

Mei. What had become of her? She had appeared to Yao a tiny girl in pink pajamas. She had had tears in her eyes, no shoes, a gun much too big for her shaking hands, and a painfully rehearsed demand to be taken in by none other than Wang Yao. She was younger than Kiku, and Kiku had been so young. Kiku had had no family; Mei’s had just been slaughtered in a gang feud.

Kiku trailed behind Yao as he charged onto the streets with a certain vengeance. It seemed that, since Yao would be partaking in this trip, Yao would be participating with as much spite and irritation as he could muster. Yao answered no further questions regarding the train.

Yao did not stop, shoving ever-forward. The city was forgotten in Yao’s wake. Kiku was somewhat relieved for this. He was grateful for the silence between them and he was grateful to forget Paris. It was far too cold a place without Alfred. It was best left alone. Paris, to Kiku, was comprised primarily of aching feet and heart.

Yao brought him to The Gare de Lyon train station. Rail lines from this place exited the city. Yao purchased two tickets with euros retrieved from an ATM on their way. The whole building was a constant flurry of motion with the crowds under a bright glass ceiling. Neither agent stopped to take it in. Kiku received clarification of their destination from the ticket, just another French town. Kiku supposed he should demand to know why Yao was so intent on fleeing the city, but he could not find the energy to grapple with Yao. Kiku followed silently with Mei on his mind. The train was soon to board.

Mei learned to steal with the rest of them, but her heart was always well-placed. She was always full of courage and of kindness from the moment she had shyly presented Yao a stolen Hello Kitty thermos in thanks for allowing her stay, to the moment she had fixed Kiku’s black cap prior to he and Yao leaving for their final heist.

The agents were caught in the surge for the train doors. “We’ll have some free time once we’re there,” Yao told him as he took a seat beside Kiku on the train. Yao popped a stick of gum into his mouth from the packet in his hand. Kiku stared at it. Yao offered him a piece. Kiku declined on the stolen candy. Yao smirked, quite satisfied with himself, and blew a bubble.

“Is Mei in France?” Kiku kept his voice down even as he spoke in Mandarin. Service workers in Paris were too often polyglots.

“Of course not. But she will be in,” Yao looked at his watch. “About fourteen hours.” Flying, then, on extremely late notice.

“Does she know that I am here?” Kiku compared his thumbs in his lap. “Or are you intending to escape your obligations with her help?” Yao noisily popped a bubble, which earned him a few glances. Yao, without looking or changing expressions, smacked Kiku in the back of the head.

“Is this working?” Yao asked him, smacking his head again for good measure. “Dumbass.” Yao rolled his eyes. Kiku knew better than to relent. “Do I know where Ivan is?” his voice was bored. “No. Now, does the agency that is holding him as leverage know where Ivan is?” Yao waited for answer that Kiku did not provide. “Why, yes, Kiku. I imagine they do know where he is.” Yao withdrew slightly. “I told Mei to leave room for two people. I assume she thinks she will be meeting my husband. She seemed excited to get going.” Yao laughed. “Can’t wait until she sees you!”

Kiku looked away.

 

Kiku found Yao sprawled across three seats in an empty, private terminal of the sparsely-populated airport on the outskirts of the French town in which the train had left them. He had created himself a wall of disposable cups. He sipped at another as he watched Kiku's approach. “I do recommend the chai,” Yao crooned.

“There is a jet coming here from Taiwan. It belongs to a millionaire.”

“Mei’s girlfriend is a pilot for the man,” Yao answered evenly. He did not acknowledge Kiku’s research into the matter. “He let her borrow it.” Yao watched the steam rise from his tea, distant or ignoring him or choosing to put off the air thereof. Kiku had spent the day removed from Yao; Yao had spent it here. There were things to be said, Kiku felt. The air was sick with things unsaid, but Kiku sat without a word. The sleek aircraft touched the runway exactly on time. “We’ll meet them on the tarmac.” Yao stood as he adjusted a tie and smoothed a crimson dress shirt.  

Kiku trailed a distance behind Yao. He had left his stomach elsewhere. The jet had come to a stop, reflecting a harsh white sky. Airport workers rushed to attach a staircase, indifferent to the men. Kiku minded that his face betrayed nothing, but Yao’s smirk told him that he knew better. Kiku would not look at him. Yao squeezed his shoulder, not unkindly. They stood together. 

The door of the craft opened suddenly and without preamble. At the top of the stairs, unmistakeable, dressed in pink, with her arms spread wide and a carefree grin so happy to spot Yao waiting for her, was Mei. She was halfway down the stairs, running and smiling, before her eyes fell on Kiku. He felt it like a blow.

Mei froze. The woman behind her ran into her. One moment stretched into many like so many hooks tearing at him.

“WHAT’S THE HOLD UP, GALS?!” And then it was worse. Yong Soo. Oh, Yong Soo. Kiku had not been informed of Yong Soo’s coming. Kiku’s adopted brother hopped into view. He, too, saw Yao first. Yong Soo was mid-wave when he spied Kiku.

Mei reciprocated Yao’s hug numbly at the bottom of the stairs. Her focus never wavered from Kiku, the ice of shock yet to melt into further emotion. Mei’s, Yong Soo’s, and the pilot’s eyes seared into him, branded him everything he worked to forget he was. Yao watched on, betraying neither amusement nor sympathy. All notions of professional obligations seemed to have fled Kiku as he faced, for the first time in years, his family.

“Look who I brought!” Yao ruffled Kiku’s hair as though he were a prodigal child returned. Mei and Yong Soo shared a startled glance. Kiku tried, fruitlessly, to get past the frantic pounding of his heart as he held himself like a soldier awaiting reprimand. He could not look away from them, could not stare past them, and could not run from them anymore than he could his past.

Yong Soo made efforts to swallow what was before him; Mei did not bother. Mei went straight to him, motions quick and jerking. Kiku did not budge. He kept his eyes open for whatever punch, slap, or words she would deem appropriate. The violence and the pain burned in her wet eyes and she stood chest-to-chest with him-- nearly but not quite his height-- ready to snap like a chord pulled much too thin. She was shaking.

She raised a hand that he only watched sadly, but she did not strike him. Mei touched his face, as though assuring herself of his presence, only to withdraw it quickly. It may have pained her. “Honda Kiku,” she whispered. Just his name. Not an accusation, not an insult, not a question.

He nodded. An acknowledgement, a greeting. “Mei.”

She shook her head and desperately looked to her other brothers. Yong Soo crossed the tarmac with hesitance in his face but not his gait.

And he folded Kiku into a hug.

Kiku’s mind whirled, disoriented and off-balance. Yong Soo squeezed him tightly, then released him before he could process it. Kiku stood dumbly-- not a soldier, not an agent, not a scientist, not a brother, not a murderer--nothing but a man lost in vertigo.

“What are you doing here?” Mei bit viciously as she forced back tears. She whipped around to face Yao. “What is he doing here?”

“We’re working together,” Yao told her cheerfully. “And, yes, he knows some of the effects of his actions. No, he does not know all of them; please enlighten him! No, I did not call you to exact revenge as a family. No, he is not going to apologize. Does that about cover it, Kiku?” Kiku opened his mouth before realizing there was no answer to this question.

“We must go.” He swallowed hard around the lump in his throat as he was met with disbelief. “We can converse on the plane.” It was robotic, far too befitting of what he thought of himself. The tarmac was no place to discuss such matters, yet he could no longer meet his siblings’ eyes.

Preparations for take-off blurred together in a numb rush. The exceedingly luxurious interior of the jet did not give him pause. He stowed his belongings as he would on any other flight. His mind was loud but blank, as if filled with radio static. He sank into a soft seat, exhausted by it all, troubled by it.

Kiku did not consider himself an evil man, but then he supposed no one did. He did what was necessary, unpleasant but necessary. He did not fool himself in claiming there was any moral justification for his actions. His actions against his family used to make him sick, shake him awake at night in a cold sweat. Kiku had--at least thought he had-- killed Yao, the man who had saved him from the streets and raised him. For this there was no redemption. Kiku had killed strangers with a rifle from blocks away on an order. For this there was no redemption. Kiku had killed those referred to as enemies by those who gave him orders without question. There was no argument to be made that this was a morally just thing to do.

But Kiku did kill to escape. He was born at a disadvantage, had known nothing but the fight it was to break the cycle of poverty and crime and starvation and abandonment and he had known nothing but the fact there was nothing he could do about how it repeatedly dragged and held him underwater. He was expected to accept it and drown. Only, he did not. He did that which was horrific because it was essential to escape.

And he could not apologize because of where it got him. He passed his exams. He got out of the country. The agency funded his education when he followed their orders. He earned his PhD. Kiku fell in love in America. Kiku was married to the most wonderful man and he had a career that helped to sustain them both. And, yes, it was because he had killed. Kiku would do it again. If it meant meeting Alfred, if it meant getting his education, if it meant getting out, he would do it all again.

The others distanced themselves from Kiku in their choice of seats for take-off, but only so much distance could be put between them. The runway receded from view behind the jet, and that distance began to close. 


 

Yao had bitten his fingernails to nothing, not that he let any of them notice. He put on his show of adoring the disgusting display of wealth-- the image of a man enjoying the finer things in life-- and under the guise of basking in it, he left them to sort out themselves.

Yao tasted blood where he bit his thumb. He squeezed his eyes closed, trying to breathe as he pressed his forehead against a cool window. The others slept in the silk sheets, even Mei who had brought hers to the cockpit to curl up where a co-pilot should have been. And Yao sat on some posh leather couch, warding off a panic attack. It happened. It was ironic, in a way. Ivan’s mind would not allow him to feel anything at all while Yao’s forced him to feel everything at once. An almost-poetic tragedy how they failed to cope in perfectly opposite ways: dehydration and drowning.

A foot dragged on the carpet.

Oh, Yao was going to throttle him. “Go the fuck to sleep, Kiku. Jetlag will kick your ass.” But Kiku wouldn’t listen, he never listened, and sat beside him instead. Kiku sat there and just watched him.

“Yao…” His voice was calm, trying to take some high road, thinking himself glowing with responsibility and enlightenment after spending multiple hours with his estranged siblings. Yao wanted him off-balance. “I spoke with Yong Soo and Mei.” As if Yao didn’t know.

“Did you now?” Yao allowed the sarcasm to leak.

“...Yes.” Kiku coughed, a few of his feathers ruffled. “I would say we have a better understanding of each other…” What a useless preface, but Kiku was never one to be blunt. “But… I cannot say the same for… our understanding of each other.” For fuck’s sake. Yao would prefer to drown alone; Kiku did not seem to be registering this concept, trying to offer an olive branch as if he could fix anything.

“What, are you a therapist now? Do tell what it is I do not understand about you, Kiku. Do skip the bullshit,” Yao lashed out against him.

“You think that you are unreadable, but something is wrong.” Yao almost laughed. “You did not join our conversation, though it was you I initially wronged. Even now you push me away, but your tales do not add up, Yao. You said you were left to die in prison, but you would not say what happened. You are an agent, but I know nothing of what you do. You would not go to Mongolia, but you would not say why. I do not know the fortunes or misfortunes that have befallen you since I hurt you, but this lack of communication can only bring hindrances to our work.”

Yao did not want this conversation. “What do you want me to say?”

“What happened in Mongolia?”

“I’d rather talk about how I was left for dead with an infection in prison.” It wasn’t enough to shove Kiku from his high platform, didn’t have the shock value to put him in his place. Yao sighed through his nose. “A lot of things happened in Mongolia, Kiku,” he finally whispered at the expense of a spike through his heart. He focused on his breathing. He hated this. He hated this.

“Like what?” And Kiku was being gentle with him, which made Yao want to punch him right in his calm face.

“Ivan and I were married there,” Yao made light of it, sounding more strangled than he’d intended and cursing himself for it. Kiku looked at him evenly.

“Then why does it bring you such dread?”

“Because, Kiku, we had a life there. And then we didn’t.” Yao met his eyes, refusing to be overtaken by it even as his heart hammered and his palms sweated and he bit his bleeding fingers to stop them shaking. Yao coughed out a laugh. “But you don’t get to escape your old life now, do you?”

Kiku thought about this a long while before rising. He walked away, into another room. Yao closed his eyes again. It wasn’t worth it not to feel. Ivan’s dissociation was a curse just as evil as Yao’s. But sometimes Yao had to remind himself of these things.

Kiku returned in a matter of minutes with a tea set. He’d brought him chai.

The jet cut smoothly through night air, Mei and Yong Soo slept, Lien piloted a world removed from them, and Kiku began to tell him a story in a cabin infused with the aroma of chai. Yao watched the steam rise from his tea, and Kiku spoke of good memories of which Yao was not part, and Yao welcomed the distraction.

Yao heard his tale of a wedding: a ceremony that went well and a reception that did not. Kiku had married. Kiku had a home and a life waiting outside of his work. Kiku spoke of plans enacted and plans changed, all working themselves out in the end, so unbecoming of the life Kiku had chosen for himself... “My husband-- his name is Alfred--” said Kiku, a passing remark in his account. Yao choked on his tea.

“YOUR WHAT? KIKU YOU DIDN’T TELL ME--” Kiku shushed him, gestured for him to lower his voice. “You never told me you liked boys!”

“It never came up,” Kiku smiled sheepishly.

And so Kiku spoke of an American man with reverence, with adoration, with love. Yao leaned against him as he prepared himself another cup of tea. So many memories were wounds; Kiku was vomiting his gay little heart out all over the fancy leather couch to try to wield some as bandages. Yao wasn’t sure whether he found it amusingly quaint or kind.

“Our shared superior, Germany, was obligated to call us as the marriage, being directly against the code of agent conduct, was not legally recognized and thus could not make us eligible for a certain amount of allowed leave from duty. We were given an assignment during our wedding reception. Alfred--”

“Why are you telling me this?” Yao interrupted him bluntly. Kiku blinked.

“Yong Soo and Mei know that I am married. You did not. We are awake. It passes time.”

“Without the bullshit, if you please.” Kiku chewed on this for a good moment. It should not have been chess, yet it was, Yao supposed. Memories and hurt and comfort and duties.

“It affects you, what happened in Mongolia. I hoped to learn why, and if it should affect our work there,” Kiku pulled the layers of deception to make his words something near transparent. “You show very, very clear signs of a lot of anxiety when the topic is broached. I apologize. It was not my intent to cause you pain--” Kiku grimaced at unintentional irony. “-- So,” he continued with a point, “Tea.” He raised his cup with a small smile. “And good memories. A good memory gets us through the worst of times. Tell me one of yours,” Kiku led, abandoning his heartfelt reminiscence for Yao’s. “What kind of man would want to marry Wang yao, of all people?” Kiku was never good with jokes, but that forced a grin from Yao. Yao elbowed him; Kiku laughed.

Memories. Yao’s first thought was his coming out to the villagers, which entailed a couple mischievous kids bursting into his and Ivan’s yurt, catching them in quite a compromising position, and then gabbing to anyone who would listen about how funny it struck them that the newcomers among them wrestled naked. But Kiku had shared of his marriage. Yao supposed he could make an attempt at being less of an asshole than usual and try for something honeyed too.

Yao had a memory for him.

“I proposed to Ivan,” Yao offered. “In Mongolia, when we lived with nomads--” Yao could still feel the brush of the animal furs caccooning him, still hear the howl of the wintry storm outside, still smell the stove keeping warming the space with an orange, homely glow. Yao lay barely awake for his lover when he returned home late from tending the livestock, the man wrapped in so many layers he was little more than a towering pile of animal skins and some snow-flecked eyebrows.

“--but I don’t think ‘proposed’ is the right word for it,” Yao amended, words coming easier.

Yao blearily watched his Vanya strip himself of his winter clothes, sleepily opened his arms to his darling, no words needed for Ivan to sink into them. How domesticated they’d become. Ivan smelled of the cold when Yao buried his face in his hair.

“--I was tired, waiting up for him, and when I had him in my arms, it just struck me enormously funny.” Yao giggled for no reason other than contentment, taking Ivan’s cold, exhausted face into his hands for a kiss the Russian reciprocated with eyes already closed. “‘Thus, the mighty warrior makes his homecoming to his betrothed, eagerly awaiting his return,’ is what I said. I am not sure why. It was nonsense; I meant nothing by it, you’ll understand.” Ivan peeked out at him with wonder. “Beg pardon?”

“You know,” Yao drew his words out lazily as he snuggled to him, tired, pressing himself comfortably against his human space heater. “We live like an old married couple.”

“--My poor Ivan, he didn’t really know what to make of it.” Yao took a drink of tea.

“You would like to think us married?” was what Ivan had whispered to him that night.

“Why not?” Yao shrugged, delicately removing himself from the lure of rest. He looked at Ivan, careful. “I am not leaving you for anything,” Yao took his hand, the weight of the situation taking its perch on his heart.

“... Would you want that?”

“I want everything you would give to me, Ivan,” Yao breathed it. “If that would include wedding vows… I would trade yours for my own.”  Ivan’s kiss was sudden, full of such passion. Yao was gasping when he pulled away; Ivan’s hand was tucked gently into his hair. “I love you,” it tumbled from his mouth, as it always did, always would. “Ivan, I love you.”

“--But it was when we decided we were engaged.” Kiku was smiling. Yao decided to let himself do the same. “That is my story. Now, Kiku, you dumb egg, go the fuck to sleep.”

Chapter Text

Ivan rolled the tension from his shoulders. It rained in Paris. The American agency was nothing if not swift. No further word was heard from Germany, but correspondences with the other superior were frequent. The careful orchestration was coming together, all pieces of the web winding to form the Americans’ so-called “move.”

Countless agents without faces, without names, without identities, moved as chess pawns.

“I am tired as...” America began at his side, trailing off when he could not name a historical figure to fit his displeasure. He waved it away, giving up.

“--What of Hoover?” Ivan offered. America barked out a laugh.

“No. Not Hoover. Gotta get that mood right." He thought a moment. "As shit. I’m tired as shit, man. But I’m sure Hoover was tired as shit too, having to deal with the Great Depression and all,” America grinned at him, hoping to receive one in return.

The two waited for orders before daybreak. The rain came in sheets. “ Je suis fatigué ,” America reiterated. “ Ich bin müde. Nemutai --”

“Please.”

“No, actually, I was saying ‘I’m tired’ and I’m still goin’, Russ. Estoy cansada --”

“Take something, then, why don’t you?” Ivan suggested.

“Dude, you’re not seriously telling me I should do drugs, are you? C’mon. Who do you think I am?”

“I think you are very annoying.”

“Ouch. You got me. Right in the heart. How will I go on?”

Ivan chose to ignore his partner, paying his attention to the phone glowing in his hand. The water streaking across the window was illuminated electric blue. One passcode unlocked access to agency correspondences; another to display a typical cell phone for qualifying covers. It had been one hour since last message. The distance to the prison was not significant. The woman was to be transported. Ivan and America were to accompany.

Ivan set down the device. The two remained in darkness and in silence; dim light came from the street. Ivan stood; America reclined against a bare wall picking at the clip of the submachine gun across his lap. Armed to the teeth. There was an expectation, it seemed, of this not being a simple extraction.

Fatigue hung like weights on Ivan, America not being the only one with reason for discomfort, though America was the one petulant enough to voice it. “So is that why you’re so big? They drug you up in Mother Russia?” America put on a poor Russian accent as if he found himself funny. Ivan cast him a withering look. America rolled his eyes and leaned his head against the wall. “Is that how they brainwash you? Give you all that protein and steroids but none of the good stuff? There was an episode of this cop show where this crazy guy had, like, all these kids doing his bidding ‘cause--” America gasped in a personal realization. “--Dude, is that why you came back from being rogue? You’re brainwashed by--”

He was quieted by the serrated knife that stuck hilt-deep in the wall by his head. Ivan did not bother looking at his work. Yao had managed to teach him in some things regarding thrown projectiles. “Next time I will not miss. You will do well to be quiet about that.”

“Dude, not cool! I’m gunna report that! That is dangerous! My husband is, like, the master of throwing pointy things and even he can be off sometimes by inches! Wind! Physics!” America pointed at the knife by his head. “And that is a matter of inches! Not cool--”

Ivan faced him. “Then you will know never to speak of why I ‘came back’ again.” Silence. Tension. America scowled at the floor. “Do I make myself clear?” Ivan articulated the English carefully for him. America scowled at him, dug the knife out of the wall, and tossed it unhappily to the ground at Ivan’s feet.

Ivan swallowed the lump in his throat, simmering hotly in anger against the American for the moment. Ivan was manipulated by the agency, this was true. This was knowledge Ivan had gained ability to grasp through Yao. Yao, the insurgent, the wild card, once nothing but a convenient source of work, once a man Ivan despised on principal, the agency’s one mistake.

But such manipulation was a reason for Ivan’s escape. It would never be reason for their return. And Ivan would find it very agreeable to bury that knife in the American’s skull for daring suggest it. America knew nothing of him, and thus he should remain very, very quiet about that.

The rain poured. Headlights slashed through it outside.

America stopped fiddling all at once, a sudden change that Ivan noticed immediately. “You hear that?” he stage-whispered over the noise of the rain. He stood abruptly, shoving the clip into his gun. “Dude, do you hear that?”

Ivan was listening. Ivan always listened. There was the occasional passerby struggling through the rain, footsteps nearly soundless. Ivan shook his head. America nodded to the window, but did not dare to go to it. Ivan loaded his weapon as well.

“There's people out there.” Ivan did not hear America’s voice, but read his lips. “Not sure how many. The pedestrians; some doubled back.”

“Agents?” Ivan mouthed. America did not look so sure, and no agent should have been granted access to another’s location. America gestured to indicate going outside, a question of if an enemy would be so brazen to make a scene on the streets. Ivan shook his head, making a circle around his eye as if looking through a telescope-- tactical hand signal for sniper. America put his gun between his knees to form a flurry of hand signs that certainly were not reserved for military use. Ivan shook his head, uncomprehending.

“You can’t use ASL?” America hissed.

“I’m Russian! Why would I know American Sign Language?!”

“Isn’t Russian Sign Language close to ASL?”

“I am not familiar with Russian Sign Language either!”

“Well why are you pulling the ‘Russian’ card, then?! I said--”

The door was kicked in, and the enemy entered shooting. Ivan immediately returned fire as America fumbled for his weapon. There was one gun less when America joined him, both ducking behind a temporary wall, the only barrier between bodies and exchanged gunfire. Even over the deafening rattle of automatics Ivan heard an upper floor be breached, window shattered, boots on stairs behind them. There was not enough shelter for such nonsense. America covered him without being asked.

A knife in one hand, his fully automatic in the other. Ivan met his guests at the stairwell door as America busied himself with those pouring in from street. If it were Yao, they would already be taken care of. Ivan forced the knife through the ear of the first on the stairs, following this with bullets for the rest.

The blood was warm where it sprayed and their cries were strangled by their own naive surprise. Ivan returned his knife to his hand in order to introduce it to another body. That which stopped bullets did not always offer similar protection from those alternatively armed. There was no room for such mistakes in Ivan’s work.

The dead and dying men had masked themselves. Ivan remedied this for his reports. Ivan’s fingers slipped on blood that smeared across the touch screen. Deaths reported with a smartphone’s camera.

The room smelled of metal, from blood and from rain. America was yelling. Ivan doubted he realized this as the room was ripped apart bullet by bullet. Shards and debris and gunfire making the room a cataclysmic hell. Ivan could not see his partner through the clouds of plaster dust.

A man whimpered on the stairs as he quite literally held himself together. Blood fell from his mouth along with cries of please in every language he knew. French, English, Spanish. Ivan made him quiet.

As America did his job, Ivan took the stairs. Perhaps there were more guests to join the party there. Sirens screamed from far away, but it was all very muted. There was no cleaning this mess. Men were not so easily repaired as buildings. The door was open at the top of the stairs.

And there he found more! They must have been waiting for him. When Ivan hopped back down the stairs, they need not wait for anyone else. Ivan could hear the rain again over the sirens. America ran into him, sweating profusely in his hurry, the dust sticking to him. America did not meet his eyes, but he did jerk his chin in an indication to leave. “We gotta go, man,” America’s voice was a croak, eyes fixed firmly away from Ivan. The orders from the agency were yet to come. 

Blood-soaked clothes stripped, black jackets stolen from dead men, gloves changed, weapons and soiled clothing shoved into bags. Together they slipped into the back alleyway, new hats pulled low, new coats close.


 

Al couldn’t remember when he’d started falling in love with Honda Kiku, but he could pinpoint the exact moment he realized it. There was work for the agency, sure; there was a lot of work together. But that was work! Work was a young man’s exhilaration at serving his country and saving his world and risking his neck because he had the luck to get away with it.

It could’ve been the trust in work that did it, started him falling in love. Coulda been eventually getting in touch outside of work. Surely it had something to do with Alfred’s raging bisexuality when faced with Kiku’s, like, everything. It could’ve been any number of things that got him falling, but it was just one thing that made him realize how bad he had it.

There they were, grown-ass super spy adults, hanging out at Alfred’s apartment… playing video games. Because Kiku was awesome. And they had taken a break or something because, at one point in the day, they were chilling on Alfred’s couch. Alfred must’ve asked him about school, but Kiku was just… talking. Just talking about med school. And Alfred was listening.

Kiku was learning how to determine causes of death, which, gross, but you had to hear him talk about the science. ‘Cause, of course, no one likes the ‘dead’ part; it’s that sciencey shit that has beautiful people cutting open dead guys. So, Kiku was explaining to Alfred how you can determine time of death using plants or some wacky thing like that and his eyes, dude. His eyes were so bright and he was so excited about the science and chasing that PhD, and yeah, even if that meant cutting open some smelly dead guys. But you could just see it in his face, in his body language, that he loved everything about this crazy crap. And seeing someone talk about something they’re passionate for? Geeze. Alfred was in love. Alfred was so in love.

Not that he said anything about it at the time. Not that it wasn’t, like, forever of pining before he kissed the man.

Alfred knew some science stuff too--some of it from Kiku, some from his own experiences and training. He knew enough science stuff to know how the gloves in his bag were stained with gun powder residue, blow back patterns that put his weapon in his gloves, and the inevitable skin cells to put his gloves on his hands.

Al found it interesting as hell, in theory. He had the mad skills to look at his own gloves under a microscope and be like ‘yep! The person whose hands were in these gloves fired this sorta weapon!’ because he was a super spy. Then the other scientists would get some swabs up there, collect those skin cells, and bam! Something like six months later, the DNA results would be back and the profile would match Alfred’s exactly.

Because it was Alfred’s hands who had fired the damn gun.

The science of it was super cool; Alfred loved learning about how you know these kinds of things. It was just that… It’s not… so great… when you’re the culprit. ‘Cause in all the movies, when the badass scientists match the DNA to the subject? That person isn’t any kind of hero. In all the movies, it’s the good guys doing the cool science and it’s the bad guys who fired the guns.

And yet in real life, it was Alfred shooting the gun. It was Kiku, the badass scientist, who was probably doing much of the same on another mission. When you see all the real world applications for that cool science stuff, when you’re the reason people need to know that cool science stuff, it honestly really, really sucks.

It usually sucked less, after missions were over, because Alfred was a super spy and totally rocked at saving the day. But he sure as heck didn’t save those people in the building. Baddies or not, no justice came out of it. Not one speck. And it sucked.

It was also raining! Perfect for Alfred’s miserable mood and internal angst fest. No word came from the agency on the move against Drug Dealer Lady, and they’d already reported the bloodbath, so now it was a matter of ‘Let’s try real hard not to get sniped! ’ until they heard back. Those Baddies were armed and ready. The Baddies’d found out about the move. Alfred wouldn’t be surprised if he and Russia got the call to backup other agents in the area. He and Russia couldn’t have been the Baddies’ only targets. Ugh. Poor saps.

Al followed Russia, pretty sure their winding route was aimless. Russia was in work mode--or having some psychotic episode, whatever you wanna call it--so Al trusted him to keep them both alive at least. Alfred was too busy being miserable in the rain. He also had some Jimmy Buffet song stuck in the back of his head for whatever reason, which was totally inappropriate and irrelevant, so Alfred was pretty miserable about his half-hysterical desire to whistle the tune to Margaritaville on top of everything else.

Russia shoved the agency phone at him. Al quickly sheltered it from the elements in his coat. It was sticky. Ew. Ew. Screw this guy. You can’t play hot potato with a piece of tech vital to communication with your agency in the rain, even if it was downright nasty to hold in your hand. He would definitely have to throw it at Russia later. Al made a mental note.

Maybe he could puke on his shoes for now. His stomach felt about in agreement with that notion.

“Contact them.”

“Did you not?!”

“I made my reports. I want you to directly contact them with regards to the move.”

So Al did. He tapped the right stuff into the phone, put it to his ear, listened to it ring. And it rang. And rang. And rang some more as the pit in Alfred’s stomach grew, heart race accelerated. Guess what? It still rang.

Alfred hung up abruptly. Russia gave him a strange look for it. Forget this; Alfred was going with his instincts, and every last one of his instincts was screaming at him. He was going to come home to his husband alive.

Al smashed the ‘phone’ against the pavement and ground it into the cement with his heel. He calmly collected the shattered pieces into his palm as Russia gaped. Alfred really couldn’t properly convey the sheer level of shook Russia was at his actions, but Alfred rather liked the word ‘aghast.’ Alfred dusted the pieces into the nearest public trash bag thing. “I think we need a more secure location,” he spoke partly to the garbage and partly to Russia (hard to tell the difference between the two amiright?)

Alfred turned back around to stand face to face with Russia. Ugh. Big Guy reeked, but his face was funny. They were both silent a moment. Russia blinked first, slowly shaking his head. “I would like to ask something…” he was quiet. “What the fuck, America?”

Alfred giggled. “Dude, you just said ‘what the fuck.’” Russia’s mouth was open slightly. “And I said we need a more secure location. You feel me?” Russia’s face said he did not, in fact, feel Alfred. Al didn’t care; it was Russia’s turn to follow him anyway.

And Al got on the metro, populous as always despite the early hour. Neither of them were too worried about Russia’s funky smell, because everyone was pretty funky. Forget that wet dog smell; have you been on a subway car full of unpleasantly moist humans?

Al imagined the news would already be covering the shootings unless the agency got there first. Though, judging by the fact they’d just been attacked, Alfred’s money wasn’t banking on the agency’s priority being with cleaning messes at that exact time. He was only hoping the Parisians wouldn’t shut down the subway systems in response. Also, he didn’t know where he was going, but he decided trying to go ballsy with tourist areas wasn’t the best idea. As tempting as hanging at La Tour Eiffel for a bit while things got sorted out, dragging work there really wasn’t his style. So: secure location, regroup, save the day. Hell yeah. Al chose a subway stop to exit at.

“From what are you running?” Russia inquired as they climbed the stairs back into the rain with a tone precisely polite enough to be insulting and ruin that brewing day-saving mood.

“Something wasn’t right, man,” Alfred explained. “So I got us out of that snake pit. You’re welcome.” Russia stared at him. The disrespect! “Look! The agency doesn’t just not pick up the phone, dude. I’m not gonna let whoever may or may not be on the other end track it! Something happened to more than us, dude!”

“So your solution was to… move away from the intended target who may have the information to end this mission?” Al stopped on the sidewalk to deal with this.

“Hey, man, regrouping is usually a good idea after some hefty stuff--” Alfred cut his own half-lies off, already tired of it. “--Right. ‘Kay. I want to get home to my husband. Staying alive is a good way to do that, Russ.”

“I want to return to my husband as well,” Russia’s voice was dark and dangerous. Al puffed up with pride against him. “And I think a good way of doing that,” he took a step toward Alfred, “--would be to complete mission.”

Alfred was tired. “Cool. Take that opinion and stuff it up your big nose. We’re working on getting this mission wrapped up. But that guy’s jacket doesn’t fit you, for one. You’re not wearing a shirt under it, for two. There’s evidence--blood evidence! I can literally smell the blood on you!-- on every inch of us. Before we go to--oh, I don’t know--hit up the heavily guarded transfer of a prisoner, I think spiffing up may be within our interests.” Russia opened his mouth, lip curled into a very Russian snarl and finger raised to signify what was sure to be a stupid point. Al slapped his hand down. Russia didn’t like that. Alfred didn’t care.

Their window of time was closing, and they needed a serious makeover if they hoped to pull it off without getting gunned down by police rather than Baddies. Alfred saw Russia’s concern, sure. If Baddies got to the police like they’d gotten at them, Drug Dealer Lady was in danger! And they needed Drug Dealer Lady for the mission! Like, they really needed that chick or it was a whole lotta steps back. Infiltrating that jazz was high up on Alfred’s priorities, but doing it right and getting in and out of there alive was admittedly a tad higher than jumping right into it. Alfred was good at his job!

Unlike some people.

They got further and further from the metro stop. More and more distance from the scene. Something kept nagging Alfred to keep going, to make absolutely positive they weren’t being followed. Russia didn’t say anything about stopping at any particular place; maybe he felt some of it too; maybe he was humoring Alfred. “Anyone from the subway still in sight?” Alfred finally asked. Russia did not need to look around them.

“All individuals who got off same stop have gone different ways.” It didn’t mean they weren’t being followed, and Russia wasn’t implying otherwise, but, hey! That’s a good start!

“How many got off on the same stop?”

“Fifteen; five from our car.” Al liked five possible pursuers better, so he went with that. They zigzagged down more narrow roads. Less cafes, less snooty Parisian eyes watching them pass, less beggars, a few more homeless folks sleeping in shady doorways away from the noise of the city. Paris was great, don’t get him wrong, but it wasn’t all beautiful.

Russia stopped suddenly. Alfred did the same. “Did you hear that?” Russia growled. Alfred hadn’t heard anything but the stupid rain, but looking around at the shut up dirty buildings pressing in from what felt like all sides, Al deemed this particular area with its lack of visibility into some alleyways and around those corners up ahead quality real estate for muggers.

Alfred wasn’t scared of muggers or dudes that hid around corners. What he didn’t like was their guns.

Wait. He wasn’t scared of that stuff unless, of course, the muggers or dudes hiding around corners were ghosts, in which case, yeah. Alfred decided he’d be pretty scared if there were ghosts waiting for him. Did ghosts have guns? Were there some angry French revolution spirits with bayonets or something? Alfred would bet Paris would have some of those. It was getting lighter out, though, so maybe the ghosts--

It wasn’t ghosts, and it wasn’t muggers. It was an ambush. They came in a surge, all at once. Baddies in black. Alfred lashed out with bare knuckles at too many attackers, his senses overwhelmed.

Alfred decked one guy straight in his masked face, and he got the taser and Swiss army knife out because he was was a super spy tornado, okay? And most people back the Hemingway up when a super spy tornado starts slashing and zapping.

But, ya see, they didn’t, and it was scary coordinated. People grabbing at his arms. Trying to restrain him. Al nearly busted a knuckle on some dude’s cheek despite the taser clenched in it.

They didn’t have weapons. That was what was freaking Alfred out most. No guns, no knives. Not this time. The Baddies were trying to stop them but they didn’t have weapons. But Alfred did! And it didn’t make ‘em stop for a second! Even as Alfred dealt, like, A LOT of papercuts with his dinky little pocket knife.

He went on tiptoes to jab and hold the dang taser against an exposed neck. Baddie went down.

But Al figured out that the others didn’t care about the one who went down. They cared about how Al, for a whole second, was in one spot.

A stinging, sharp pain in his taser arm. Al caught the flash of a hypodermic needle. Oh. Oh no. Nah. Nope. Not today. No, no. Time to leave. Forget super spy tornado, Al became a super spy hurricane. If hurricanes were faster and more violent. Come to think of it, Al might’ve just become a tornado. Or he went from a solid F5 to F7 tornado. That’s above the Fujita scale.

And he started yelling, because Baddies hate witnesses as much as good guy spies. (...Goodies?) “Au secours! Au secours! M’aidez!” M’aidez was a good one for even tourists-- ‘mayday’ is universal. Thanks, French.

Also Alfred punched some more people because screw ‘em; he was getting out there. Russia glanced over for all the yelling, a lapse that cost him. Alfred’s next cry for help stuck in his throat as he watched Russia get the same crap to the arm. Not good. Not good, not good.

Poison? Was it poison? It had to be poison. Obviously the Baddies wanted them dead. Alfred was still fighting. Whatever it was, it was in his bloodstream. Whatever it was, Al needed immediate medical attention to, ya know, not die.

And he did feel funny. He told himself it was all in his head. Just in his head. He just thought he could feel something off. Someone grabbed his knife from him at the expense of their own hands, sure to be cut up. He got in a good zap for it. He tripped someone else. That was pretty gratifying. There were so many of them. He fought all of them.

But then his legs gave out from under him. The Baddies watched it happen.

Okay, so Alfred was internally freaking out and externally really trying to get his legs to move. He wasn’t tired, which was what initially struck him SUPER weird; his legs simply didn’t work. Like they’d relaxed completely without his say-so and he was the opposite of relaxed.

It wasn’t only his legs either. It spread, to his growing horror. Poison? Was he dying? He didn’t feel like he was dying. He could feel stuff, nerves were all in order. His mind was running a million miles an hour. The Baddies didn’t watch him crumble; they started dragging him off into a building. No one answered his cries for help. There came a point when his mouth couldn’t shout anymore.

The Baddies left his limp body on the floor. Al heard the dragging of another body behind him, but he couldn’t move to see Russia. His mouth hung half-open and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. Not poison. A muscle relaxant. A paralyzing drug.

Now that was a realization that had a panic settling into his bones. These people wanted him dead. All they had to do was wait until the drug took full effect. His muscles would relax until even the ones keeping him breathing stopped. He would suffocate without so much as a grimace, and feel every second of it.

Four minutes.

That was about how long it took of no oxygen to kill you. Four minutes until his mission was over and he’d never be back to tell Kiku how cool he’d looked fighting off all the Paris Baddies.

He begged his fingers in front of his face to do something. Anything. Maybe if his adrenaline was high enough it would mess with the potency. His fingers didn’t move. And then he stopped breathing, despite his fully conscious terror.

He couldn’t even struggle for air, though his mind told him that was certainly what he should be doing. Sit up and cough and gasp and heave giant gulping breaths and he couldn’t. He was just laying there on the cold floor with people all around and not one to help as he choked without a single cough.

Someone rolled his body over, and then they were intubating him, which was also a messed up thing not to be able to do anything about. And then there was a noisy machine breathing for him as he laid there limp with a tube shoved down his throat, still in total panic mode--

Alfred heard the door to the building open. Four people picked him up. He wanted to kick them. He wanted to kick them and scratch them with everything he had. He was set in a black, bus-like vehicle. He was strapped upright into a hard seat, and he felt the cold metal of a handcuff enclose his wrist. What that was going to do was beyond him. Maybe the drug wouldn’t last that long, then? Not one part of him would move.

Al watched Russia be passed in front of him, totally limp too, and heard him be shoved into the same position he was. The click of a handcuff. The bus lurched into motion.

You are horribly hard to catch,” came a woman’s voice. Alfred couldn’t see her. Definitely couldn’t respond. But if he could’ve tensed he would’ve. She had an accent, unmistakable. The machine kept his breathing mechanically even. She came into view, sort of. Al could see her out of his peripheral vision.

She stood in front of Russia.

Even without viewing her full-on, he recognized her. The prison jumpsuit certainly helped. Drug Dealer Lady. Catacombs Lady. Party Lady that could go to Hell. The object of the agency’s coordinated move standing looking very much like a free woman… and speaking to Russia in a Russian accent on what he now realized was a prison bus. 

Alfred couldn’t make any sense of it.

“You and your little American friend killed our people,” she spat at Russia in disgust. Ms. Monologue here, shockingly, didn’t receive an answer from him. “How long did you think you could get away with that?” Was she seriously asking questions right now? She took a threatening step toward Russia, putting her a bit more out of sight. Her next words were in Russian, but Al spoke it well enough. “I would kill you right now if I had the orders. But we’ve got something much worse than death planned for you, filthy rogue.”

Chapter Text

Mongolia was a beautiful country, from the little Kiku glimpsed through the heavy cloud cover. Day was breaking when the jet cut like a knife into Ulaanbaatar airspace. The city sprawled beneath them. It was Mongolia’s capital, largest, and most populous city. Yao and Kiku searched for a single individual without a name.

The plane glided slowly downward.

Kiku had not slept well, or much. Yao was on his mind, as was the work ahead, as was Alfred. Kiku suspected Yao had not slept at all. He had been sipping chai in the same place Kiku had left him when Kiku rose that morning.

Kiku sat between Mei and Yong Soo as Lien brought in the jet. They asked him no questions of his mission. They seemed to know better than that. They knew their role was to play rich people taking a day trip, and to report fraudulently the two as leaving with them on the jet when they disappeared in the evening. Instead of his mission, they asked of his life. Instead, they told him of theirs.

Yao listened in front of them without a word.

Both of Kiku’s siblings hugged him goodbye as the jet gently touched the runway. Kiku didn’t know when he would see them again, but he gave them half-full promises of keeping in touch nevertheless.

The air threatened of ice as it crept into lungs and onto exposed flesh. Kiku had heavier clothing befitting of Paris’ late-fall antics, but Ulaanbaatar weather reports warned of early winter storms. Past customs, people were bundled in coats, fur, and boots as they hurried from destination to destination if there was reason for any such activity at all.

“Enough people speak English,” Yao spoke with breath fogging before him. His face was shadowed under the black hood of a pea coat, “but I speak only passable Mongolian. Ivan was always better at it.” Kiku allowed him the privacy of his hood, and of his secrets. Yao hid with both.

“And what do they speak in the slums?” Kiku asked. Yao sniffed.

“Which one?” There was a dark, humorless irony to his tone; Yao bit his words here, rather than sharpening them. Kiku pulled his jacket tighter.

“You know this city. Where will we find its network?”

“I did not live here a criminal,” Yao spoke to the air, lacking conviction. Kiku knew there was more, but did not drag it from him. Not here. Kiku waited for him to continue. “... But of course I got familiar with some of the network.” Yao held his chin high as he walked. He stood tall. His voice did not shake. Everything in Yao rebelled against this place-- he was a chord strung too tightly, but he had come here despite it, and Kiku could feel it as it stretched Yao only further.

“... And is the network of use to us?”

“Have I taught you nothing, Kiku?” Yao sent a grisly smirk toward him, “A good network is always of use, if you pull the right strings.” His old lessons to Kiku and his siblings. Both agents let smiles slip. Kiku shouldered his bag and followed Yao.

 

Kiku shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably as neighbors watched on. He avoided eye contact with the onlookers at all costs as Yao beat on the door of the yurt, hollering a name and a couple lines of a language with which Kiku was unfamiliar. An old woman watching from her property clucked her tongue in disapproval.

Kiku’s face burned with the unprofessional nature of it. This was not the politics of an inner city slum; this was something far more akin to a low income suburb.

Yao had taken him to the outer city. Past, present, heritage, and culture blended seamlessly in Ulaanbaatar. It was temples and skyscrapers. It was tourist attractions and, on its outskirts, it was a city of tents overlooking the skyline from the Steppes. Typical board-to-board fences and dirt paths separated white yurts.

There were nicer areas of yurts, as with any other neighborhood of houses, and there were worse areas to be. In the nicer areas, yurts were rented by tourists on AirBNB; in less ideal locations, Yao had connections to networks of criminal activity. Kiku rubbed the cold from his fingers. The agents stood out like sore thumbs. Yao yelling at an unresponsive door did not provide remedy to this.

Finally, the door flew open. A man stood and shouted back at Yao, presumably for the shouting. The man stopped suddenly as Yao threw back his hood. It was not friendly recognition; the man flushed. “Why are you here?” he immediately switched to English. He looked around at his couple neighbors, who suddenly pretended they saw nothing. He lowered his voice. “I don’t do that anymore. Leave now.”

“I don’t do that anymore either,” Yao’s facade of confidence only became more difficult to detect under pressure. “Do you have tea?”

Tea?” the man spluttered in disbelief. Yao shoved his way into the man’s home as he protested.

“We need to talk.”

The man huffed unhappily. “Talk? I thought you left! Who is this?” the disgruntled individual waved a hand at Kiku. “Did you get rid of… the large one?”

“Do not be silly. Kiku is family.” Yao sat comfortably on a mat. Yao nodded for Kiku to seat himself next to him. Kiku sat. “Now, about your business…”

“I do not do that anymore!”

Please. I can smell the marijuana down the street.”

“Of course I do that! I do not--”

“Hush. I am looking for someone. I need names. I need what you know--” Yao began, examining his fingernails.

“What will you give me?” the man interrupted. Yao’s jaw clenched. Kiku’s mind swam. The man with which Yao was familiar was a drug dealer. It was not uncommon partnership for a thief, but it was for a man who claimed not to have lived as a criminal. Kiku, again, stared at a man he was painfully aware he knew no longer.

Yao smiled at the dealer before them. “Absolutely nothing, but I would suggest you listen and answer very carefully, and I would suggest you watch your tongue.” The man shifted uncomfortably under the threat, sensing it wasn’t empty without this needing to be proven. Yet, this foolish man met the intensity of Yao’s gaze and tried to call a bluff.

“Do you know how often I am threatened by miserable wretches like you? I do not have to listen to a thing you have to say--” the man’s hand went toward his side, but Yao stuck a gun in his face before he could pull anything. The dealer went cross-eyed looking at it.

“I need information,” Yao reminded him smoothly. “I want nothing from you but some knowledge in your head, if you would like to keep it in your head, of course.”  

“Of course,” the dealer squeaked in agreement. “What would you like to know?”

 

They left with a list of names and addresses written in shaky script on a sticky note. A few snowflakes weakly floated through the air as the agents distanced themselves from their source through unspoken agreement. It all felt very procedural, as if Kiku wasn't performing his duties as an agent in the manner of a common criminal.

“We can do this your way,” Yao said, “and research these individuals. Or we could do it my way and pay them all a visit right now.” Kiku’s toes were going slowly numb from the cold.

“It’s your city.”

“I thought that once as well! I thought I was so smart, moving here.” Yao shoved his hands into his pockets, his bitterness palpable. “We should have stayed in the mountains.” Kiku said nothing in response to this. He supposed Yao was entitled to bitterness at this point. Yao shrugged, thinking on the matter. “Let’s go shoot the bastards now; why wait?”

Kiku looked away. “Maybe we extract information first?” Kiku proposed quietly. Yao laughed.

“No, first we get you some damn winter clothes. I was wondering how long you’d go before saying something. I should have known you would sooner succumb to hypothermia than mention you would like a scarf.” Yao unwrapped his own and threw it at him.

 

Kiku listened through an earpiece and watched through a scope. There was nothing. Yao argued in a conglomeration of languages to be even partly understood. The fourth lowlife who seemed to offer nothing. 

Kiku lay still, a sniper in position, a secret weapon. Perhaps there was some poetry to be found in the idea of a doctor taking the role of such a final form of insurance in the field, but perhaps it also fell rather flat given his expertise was reserved for the dead rather than the living.

Kiku adjusted his grip slightly on the weapon.

Yao continued to receive confused looks as he, again and again, hit a language barrier. Kiku sighed internally. This was getting nowhere. Yet, withdrawing was at Yao’s discretion; the one-way communication assured this. And thus Kiku remained at the ready, too well-trained to make an assumption of pointlessness.

The howl of the winter winds did not conceal the noise of an individual sloppily breaking and entering into the building. Kiku tensed, but did not leave his position. It could be nothing more than a homeless person hoping for shelter, or an addict looking for an innocuous location to use. The person certainly did not have any professional notion of quiet or secrecy as they seemed to wander around the ground floor of the unfinished building. Kiku listened to their grumbling and stomping come closer, recede, and come nearer again.

His attention was again called to the scene through his scope and earpiece, though he minded to pay attention to the one downstairs, who did not seem the pressing danger as the thug grew tired of Yao’s antics and voices raised. Fists were shaken. Yao appeared still resolved to find this individual’s last nerve. Kiku sighed internally.

A lighter flicked.

Kiku lurched around, noticing the white man in the same instant the man saw him--frozen as he ascended the last few steps trying to light a cigarette. The mistake registered as the man saw Kiku’s rifle. The cigarette fell from his hands. “ M’excuses --” the stranger stuttered on startled instinct. French.

Yao’s argument was sharp in one ear, but Kiku was already up with a hand on a knife at his belt. The stranger tried to push some heavily-accented semblance of the local language, but he stopped as Kiku advanced--faster than the man could process as he blinked rapidly at the danger. “Can I help you?” Kiku spoke lowly in the Parisian’s native language.

“I-I-I was--” The man remembered his gun before he remembered an answer. He made the mistake of going for it.

“I would not do that,” Kiku gently warned. He did not listen, at his own expense. Kiku threw the knife. He shrieked as it pinned his hand to his thigh.

Kiku cringed; the noise could give away his position. The man punched in a mad panic before Kiku--easily sidestepping-- kicked his feet from under him, shushing as if the command would be obeyed. It was not, everything moving too rapidly for the fool to fully comprehend as he blindly struggled with his fists and elbows and knees. He was only going to injure himself further doing that. Kiku went to pull his knife from the mess before the idea occurred to him.

I’m sorry, my friend; I’m sorry, my friend--” was the phrase the man had decided was going to save him. Kiku interrupted him.

“I can fix that,” Kiku nodded to the hand and to the thigh. “But there will be no guns drawn here.” The man looked like he may faint, mouth gaping stupidly.

“Sure?” he agreed in a squeak and in a question.

“You will answer every question I ask truthfully or you will die,” Kiku informed him in the calm voice of a physician.

“I’m sorry, my friend--”

“You speak French,” Kiku began, training a gun with steady hands on the culprit as he stood and crossed the room to reach into his bag. “Where are you from?” Yao, on the earpiece, had not calmed his situation.

The man answered Kiku with more squeaks. “Paris? I’m sorry, I did not mean to inter-- to interrupt--”

“You saw nothing,” Kiku reminded him as he removed the first aid kit from his bag. The charge of 'doctor' was not misleading; forensic pathologists were physicians, a person's final advocate after they could no longer speak. He had attended medical school, and as such had taken a Hippocratic Oath to 'do no harm,' which seemed a cruel joke of fate. 

“I saw nothing!” the man nodded in agreement, frantically.

“What are you doing here?” Kiku inquired, assessing what tools with which he had to work before seating himself before the man and beginning to evaluate the damage to the shaking hand and thigh around the knife. 

“My boss!”

“Who is your boss?”

“The head of the mob! In Paris.” So the ass from whom Yao had received the tip leading them here. It figured. Kiku nodded encouragement. The knife appeared to have hit no major arteries. The extent of nerve or muscle damage was difficult to determine, but the knife could be removed.

“What did he ask of you?”

“To watch the airport! No. Er. Listen! You must understand. I was told to watch the airport--”

“For whom?”

Listen! The boss, he--there was a man, yes? I think it was that he killed somebody? And the boss knew about it? People--our people-- died? He sent me here to make sure this man did not return to Paris? I had to watch the airport!”

“Were you given a name?” Kiku pulled on some gloves to handle the open wound, readied gauze and antiseptic.

“Er, no. The boss gave me some description? Told me to watch? So I did! He-- Are you a cop?”

“No. May I remove this to dress this wound?” Kiku traced the circumference of a pant leg. The man was pale, close to tears, and he nodded. The mob was so sloppy with their henchmen. On the earpiece, Yao made comments suggesting his suspect had genitals of diminutive size. Kiku winced as gunshots echoed across the street.

“--The boss paid me in, ya know, the good stuff to--”

“Would you hold that thought one moment for me, please?” Kiku asked of him. The man nodded vigorously as though he were more than content to sit and sweat and bleed. Kiku made sure to disarm him before hurrying to the rifle across the room. The man cried out as he tried to move and found that it was quite unpleasant with a knife through a hand and thigh.

On the earpiece, there were sounds of a struggle. Kiku peeked through his scope. Yao was on the suspect’s shoulders, smacking him with his own gun. He seemed to have it under control. Kiku jogged back to his suspect, patient, and interloper.

The small syringes of numbing agent were strong and quick-acting, as Kiku knew from having used it on another occasion, but Kiku was also familiar with the fact that it was a less-than-long-lasting formula. Kiku gave the suspect the numbing shots before cutting away the surrounding pant fabric.

“You were compensated by the boss with drugs?” Kiku continued their conversation as slight relief eased the tension in the suspect’s face.

“Yes. What of it?” he scowled, defensive.

“I am merely acquainting myself with the details of your story,” Kiku soothed, giving the numbing agent time to take full effect. “Can you give me the description of the man for whom you were paid to watch?”

“I---Yes, I can, but… I am here marked for death. The boss told me to follow you--the two of you--I am sorry, my friend; I thought you were both in the other building. The boss wants information; he needs to know if you work for the killer--”

“Why? Why does the boss believe we work for the killer of your men and why are you marked for death?”

“Because he does not like not knowing! Our men were killed looking into this, for learning anything, for looking for anything! We do not know if our men learned anything! I am marked for death because I learned something! The boss gave me the name. He would not give me the name before. He did not want to return death to Paris." 

“You have the name of the killer?” Kiku whispered.

“Yes. The name on his passport. The boss has connections, and records say the name is still here. In Ulaanbaatar. It is why he told you here, and you came. Boss thinks you either look for death or for orders from the killer, because there are no answers to be found. I am sorry, my friend.”

“Give me the name.”

“I cannot. I will be killed. I am sorry, my friend. I have already said too much, and I will say anything but that.” Kiku pulled the knife and tossed it aside. The man went pale as he watched the blood flow freely. Kiku put his gun to the suspect’s stomach.

“You will give me the name, or you will die slowly here. It takes an awful long time to bleed out from a stomach wound, but perhaps the leg and hand will speed the process slightly.”

“Batukhan. Batukhan Ulan," There was little hesitation, "He is Mongolian. He had long hair in Paris. Please help me. I will say nothing. I will return to Paris immediately. I will tell the boss you do not work for him, that you seek to kill the killer. It will satisfy him. He will look no further. I swear.”

Kiku cleaned and bandaged the wounds without another word. He called the man an Uber to have him taken directly to the airport. Yao’s suspect ran from the building before Kiku could interrupt their squall to tell him to come along. Yao gave Kiku an inquisitive look to find him waiting as he hopped down the stairs, shaking out bruised knuckles with an air of nonchalance.

“I had a visitor. Now I have information,” was all Kiku gave him. “We need to fly much, much farther under the radar. We were followed. The private jet was too much; even if they leave without us, we have to disappear where no one can find us. No hotels; that would be too predictable and too traceable.” Yao blinked, and said nothing. Kiku started walking in a hurry to vacate the premises. “Your display certainly did not help with the ease of tracking us,” Kiku added while the flurries stung any inch of bare skin, the storm working itself up to a blizzard.

“‘Display,’ Kiku, please,” Yao scoffed, “That was stress relief.”

“One can find many manners of stress relief in Ulaanbaatar,” Kiku noted into his scarf.

“Aiyah, Kiku! Don’t be so passive-aggressive. If you have something to say, say it.” It was nearly a dare.

“Are you clean?” Kiku’s breath fogged in the air. The question had been stewing since the morning. 

“Yes. Any other questions?” Yao did not elaborate. Kiku sighed inwardly.

“Where can we go?”

“I know a great chai place.”

“Yao.”

“Kiku, has it occurred to you that I have no idea? We’re not camping outside, and Air BNB counts essentially as hotels with all the records you leave behind.”

“Anywhere. Do you have friends? What about the drug dealer?”

“You’re suggesting we have a slumber party with one of the men I threatened today?” Kiku waited. Yao was silent for a long, long time, stubborn. “I may know a place.”

Chapter Text

Rogue?’ Alfred’s mind raced, frantic; he could not see Russia.

“I should kill you now for what you’ve done,” Drug Dealer Lady sniffed. When she spoke again there was a smile in her tone. “But we have so much worse in store for you.”


 

The city was still beautiful, the buses still ran the same routes, people went on with their lives, and Yao took it as an offense. He should burn this place, because of and despite of its indifference to him. The setting sun threw orange rays between the buildings. Beautiful and stupid.

They took the bus; Yao would know the way in his sleep. He did not talk to Kiku, in part because it was unnecessary and in part because he was trying very hard not to smack him for this. Kiku could shove the ‘no hotel’ notion up his ass. It was like he was trying to make this into more of a living hell for him!

Yao did not attempt to conceal his exhaustion; he let his head fall back against his seat, eyes closed. He knew Kiku watched him, trying to think of how to console him or of what to console him. Yao did not want his pity or his guilty conscience or his reason, and perhaps Kiku knew this; he wasn’t stupid.

Are you clean? ’ Ugh. He had no fucking idea. Kiku still talked about a gleaming, glittering future-- gushed about it, really, to Mei and Yong Soo--because he had no fucking idea.

“There is no escaping this life,” Yao said into the silent, empty bus. He did not bother to open his eyes. Kiku was quiet for a long time, considering this.

“Is that all you have to say?”

“That is all, yes.”

Kiku took this in stride, and said no more. There were only a few more blocks left. The bus drove slowly in the snow.

Are you clean?’ Yao held his bruised knuckles in his lap. There was a certain Yao whom Kiku had known. Kiku had never known the sloppily thieving, opium-addicted brat he had been, supporting himself on the streets after his mother passed and before he could be called a teenager. Kiku knew him after the Buddhist asshole got ahold of him. Not all the street brats were stupid enough to try to rob a monastery that did kung fu tricks for tourists to support themselves, but Yao was young and Yao was high. The minimalist asshole who caught him thought it wise to have a child endure the pain of opium withdrawals and to teach him to fight in lieu of medical attention. As if teaching a thief to fight would turn his life around...

Kiku, also, did not know him after Ulaanbaatar.

Yao got off the bus, walking in an old nightmare. One in which he could not breathe, one in which he could not help the shaking. Kiku, in his own way and in his own ignorance, broke the overwhelming sense of haunting nostalgia. Apart from Kiku, nothing was different, not really, as he walked the familiar path.

He stopped when he saw the house. Kiku came to a halt with him, wary of the simple neighborhood around him. Yao didn’t move. “What--” Kiku began, snow piling.

“Fuck you,” Yao told him.

“What? Yao, I don’t underst--”

“I didn’t want to come back here, but no we can’t get a hotel? It’s your damn job to fit in wherever you go--”

“The stakes are higher than they have ever been,” Kiku cut him off this time. “Where are we?” he spoke slowly. Yao was so, so tired. Yao shrugged, and gestured toward the little dark house.

“My home.”



“We still own it, technically,” Yao told him. Kiku thought this ironic, as they proceeded to break and enter into the dwelling. Kiku tried to keep work at the forefront of his mind, and pretended he believed Yao’s shaking hands were due to the cold. They got the back door open.

Kiku smelled dust as he stepped inside. Floorboards creaked beneath his feet. They had entered into the kitchen. It… was a house. Small, empty. Cold. Yao disappeared back out into the blizzard, and Kiku did hope he would return.

Kiku stayed in place. It seemed improper even to look around. Yao had called this his home, and Kiku could not recall him referring to any place as such. It was a bizarre thought to Kiku-- Yao having a home, a husband, a stable life. But Yao did not act as if returning here was any form of relief, so Kiku was slow to draw any conclusions about Yao's life here. 

The sound of a heating system reverberated through the vacant house. Yao returned moments later, massaging cold and battered fingers. “I can’t turn on the lights, but I can do that,” the twitch of a smile flashed across Yao’s face. “You can’t expect me to have paid all the bills the city wanted!” It was so ridiculous, so befitting of Yao, that it drew a smile from Kiku too.

Yao shifted lightly on his feet as he looked around himself. He was haunted here, uncomfortable. He was past pretending he was not, though he had yet to relinquish his masks, and his secrets. “It’s been looted. Furniture is gone,” Yao told him. He sounded pleasantly surprised. He looked at Kiku. “Well, Mr. ‘I don’t bring a coat but I don’t forget a sleeping bag,’ you may set up in the living room.” He tossed his ponytail over his shoulder; he led the way.

The two lay with a camping lantern between them, in silence as wind howled through a broken window somewhere. “Thank you, Yao, for bringing me here,” Kiku spoke to the wind, to break the stretching pause, because Yao did not appreciate the sentiment. Yao scoffed.

“I’m not here for you.” Yao did not bite it with malice; he merely stated a fact. He sighed. “So you have news?”

“I have the name. The name that the Boss in Paris did not give to you.” Yao’s face did not change with the knowledge he had been given less than the whole truth. “A Mongolian. By all records he is still within the city.”

“That does make it interesting, doesn’t it?” Yao crooned, waiting expectantly. “Do tell me the name, won’t you? The suspense is killing me.” He teased. Kiku allowed a half-smile.

“Batukhan Ulaan,” Kiku spoke it lowly. Yao shrugged.

“We will find him tomorrow. Sleep now.” He rolled over. But Kiku was not done speaking with him.

“Yao.”

“Yes, I got it; we find our friend Ulaan tomorrow!”

“We need to talk. Yao, you said you were clean, but you’re not telling me something.”

“Something? Kiku, I’m not telling you a lot of things,” Yao snorted, thinking himself funny.

“You had been clean for a decade.”

“It was longer than that. Give an old man some credit.”

Kiku let Yao’s words fester. Yao kept his back to him. “‘Was?’” Kiku asked gently. “It was a decade?” Yao threw a sock at him. It bounced off his head.

“Kiku, I’m sure we can have a lovely heart-to-heart tomorrow--”

“A second,” Kiku made himself stern, “Yao, I ask only for a second of transparency.”

Yao rolled over, grumpily, and faced him, squinting against the lantern light. “I relapsed in Mongolia.” Kiku said nothing, though Yao gave a moment for him to react, to comprehend the depth behind that which he conceded. “Is that what you wanted to hear?” his words were carefully articulate, sharp and poisoned with unnamed anger and hurt. “An addict, no matter the stage of rehabilitation, may be free of physical dependency on a substance, but it is never forgotten that the escape from troubles exists. So, yes, Kiku. Three times I got high off my ass and our friend we threatened this morning was happy to supply.” Yao waited, took a breath. “Now do tell me, is that what you wanted to hear?”

Kiku made an attempt to pick his words with care, but there were none he found to be proper. “Why… did you…?”

Yao did not look at him anymore. His eyes shone in the light of the lantern, and he did not answer.

“Why did you stop, then?” Kiku tried again, quiet.

“Ivan,” Yao whispered, then cleared his throat and rolled onto his back. Minutes passed; the winter storm shrieked outside. The house that ‘technically belonged’ to Yao and his husband was warm, save for the chill that reached them from the broken window.

“Do you ever miss it here?” Kiku asked him, burrowing further into his sleeping bag. “Living here with him?” Yao’s mouth quirked up into a dark half-grin.

“I can’t really afford to, can I? I can’t ever come back to it. There’s no leaving behind the life Ivan and I--and you and your American, for that matter--have chosen. I can want it everyday for the rest of my life, and where will it get either of us?” Yao picked at his nails. “We were fools to think we could escape.”

A chill crept down Kiku’s spine, and it was not from the cold.

“The life of my husband and I,” Kiku said slowly, “has little resemblance to yours.”

Please. I heard you speaking with Mei and Yong Soo. Did you lie?”

“About what, Yao?” He was getting personal, Kiku knew, only to lash out from exhaustion and from the trials of his own life.

“You told them--” Yao bit his tongue, unlike himself. Yao shook his head. “I am tired. Do you have anything more pleasant to say?” Kiku filed away the comment about him and Alfred for later inquiry into his meaning. “You had nice stories on the plane,” Yao quipped. “Your wedding. The Americans sent you on a mission, you said? Do tell how that went.”

“Details of the assignment are classified,” Kiku murmured on reflex, “But neither of us,” Kiku considered each word, “were ecstatic with the timing.”

“So you were pissed,” Yao nodded. “Understandably.”

“Alfred actually thought, for a moment, that our superior whom he had invited was calling to congratulate us. Mr. Germany, of course, was only passing along orders.”

“Shame. Did you at least get your wedding night before departure?” Yao crooned. Kiku coughed. Yao waited expectantly.

“The, ah, flight was the same evening and, well, overnight,” Kiku cleared his throat.

“No time for any activity, then?” Yao inquired, shameless and knowing very well that Kiku would not delve into the subject.

“We did not rush our first time, no--” Kiku huffed, hoping the conversation would come to its conclusion soon--

“Wait,” Yao sat up, held up a finger. “Wait, wait, wait. Say that again.” Kiku stared at him, uncomprehending for a moment before it hit him. He cringed internally. He did not want to get into this with Yao, of all people. His and Alfred’s intimacy was no one’s business but their own-- “Your first time?”

Kiku assumed that, with Yao, there would be no allowance to preserve a sense of dignity. “It was his wish to wait, yes, for our wedding night, and I respected--”

Aiyah, your white boy must be gorgeous to hold out so long with nothing--”

“--Yes, he is, but it was more of the principle of our relationship being built on more than the physical--” Kiku tried, if only to defend the honor of his spouse.

“Well it doesn’t have to be built on sex to have sex, sheesh!” Yao waved a hand. “‘The principle,’” he repeated. He shook his head in wonder. “Did you at least have any other American boys before him who knew how to treat you or are they all so repressed?”

“I… No. No, Alfred is the only one I have...” Kiku vaguely gestured, red and regretful the conversation had carried this far. Yao made a face.

“I’m so sorry for you,” he sniffed. “Is he at least good?”

“I will not answer that, Yao,” Kiku sighed. “Go to bed.”

“Oh, so now you’ll let me sleep just when I’m learning how lousy your husband is in bed?”

“He is not!” Kiku protested with indigence before realizing he had reacted exactly as Yao had wished. Kiku rolled over in his sleeping bag. Yao could ask questions to his back. Yao laughed at him.

“So, not bad in bed?” Yao clarified, just to torture him.

Kiku mustered the remains of his pride. “My husband is great in bed, thank you. Now, please. Stop.” Yao cackled.

“Oh, mine is fantastic also,” Yao told him. Kiku did not acknowledge that this comment was made. “Our first time was on a mission too and, my, was that an event.”

“I do not want to hear--”

“He was a virgin at the time as well!”

Yao.”

“I can absolutely agree that there is a beauty to a man’s sexual innocence, but experience has certainly helped to improve--”

Kiku threw a boot at him, and Yao dissolved into laughter.

Chapter Text

It was an island, a tropical paradise. It was an island of sparkling blue waters, white sand beaches, tourist traps, and-- just past some razor wire-- a fleet of government submarines just waiting to have their specifications stolen by the two agents.

So they played the part of young men with money in the daylight, and the part of spies long after the island sun had set.

Ivan tried to make it about the work, still a dog loyal to his handlers, but hardass Russians weren’t the ones Yao’s darling dared to kiss where no one would see, not the one that called him ‘Vanya’ against his lips, his cheek, his ear. No, it was Yao, not his darling’s superiors, who meandered leisurely in the fat heat holding his hand in public for the first time in the months since Ivan had first kissed a boy and found he liked it--and Yao-- very much.

It was to Yao that he voiced his worries in quick, curt Russian that people were staring, and it was Yao’s hand he gripped all the tighter, daring the fat civilians to take this simple freedom from them. Ivan could have torn the lookers apart, but then Yao was laughing and kissing him. An agency had tried to make this man into a weapon, but they were fools because they did not know the man Yao did.

The agency did not know of Ivan’s kisses, soft and nervous and quick but sweet. They did not know of the gentleness of his large, calloused hand sweating in Yao’s. They did not know of his taste for something warm spiked with something hard and alcoholic. They did not know he liked to watch and breathe the early mornings. They did not know of his hesitance toward touch paired with his unspoken wish for it. They did not know their dark, monstrous weapon had a boyfriend.

Ivan would have killed any man that looked at the two of them funny that day, but he was only stressed. Yao found it precious, and suggested they go to a club.

There was a calming factor found in chaos. Alcohol flowing. Finger foods. Pulsing lights. Beating music. The press of bodies. The anonymity of a crowd. The smell of sweat and fruit and the ocean. Ivan was neither good nor coordinated at dancing.

Then they’d escaped the noise and the night was cooler from the vantage point of a hammock by the sea sipping fruity concoctions through straws. Ivan kissed him there, no rush in it. And Yao kissed him, tasting the cherries and vodka on his darling’s tongue. Slow, close. Ivan rubbing a hand along the stomach exposed by Yao’s open, floral tourist shirt. Yao ached with the innocent, but increasingly brave, touch. A breathy suggestion to move to their cabin.

Yao hanging on his arm across the beach, to their shared lodging for the trip: a rented oceanfront cabin. Ivan closing the door and pushing him against it, mouth hot against Yao’s neck, hands pressing into his hips. Yao sighing, gathering him closer. “Whatever do you have on your mind, Vanya?”

“Can I--” he grunted as Yao ground his hips into him. “I would like to touch you,” a rushed sentence spoken against Yao’s mouth.

“How?” was the question which had Ivan flustered.

“However you want,” was the answer.

The moonlight filtered through the windows and made the white curtains glow. Yao’s bare feet were pale against the hardwood floor and Ivan was porcelain as he stayed put in the armchair. The air was infused with anticipation and sea salt and the tourist company had left lube and condoms in a basket by the bed.

Ivan’s fingers had been the subject of many fantasies. Why pretend otherwise?

Yao guided his hands, kissed his lips, straddled his lap. Yao helped Ivan slide a thick finger into him. Bodies burning, eager, straining. Ivan-- so disciplined, so beautiful--stroking inside of Yao as if he had no want for his own pleasure. Ivan’s unoccupied hand at his side until he learned it was okay to touch and explore.

One finger becoming two at impatient insistence. The fullness of Ivan’s fingers. Shameless moans at the feeling. Ivan petting along his ribs; goosebumps at the electricity of it. Yao putting his mouth to Ivan’s neck-- to scar tissue and sensitive skin alike-- until Yao’s mewls weren’t the only ones filling the cabin. An encouragement to move the fingers, to stretch him, to fill him, please, yes.

Ivan discovering a spot unlike any other within his partner. Yao’s legs shook with need as he begged that Ivan focus there. Ivan’s massive erection trapped in his pants because the dear hadn’t thought to take them off. Yao ground himself against it to see his face and, oh, his face. The fingers stuttered, but did not stop. Yao clung to Ivan, bare chest to bare chest, mouth to his ear, just feeling. A gentle bite to Ivan’s ear. “We can take this further,” a breathed, groaned option for the Russian yet to be tended to. A nod-- desperate, wanting, needing.

The distance required to rid themselves of any remaining clothing was nearly painful, but quickly closed. His Vanya’s eyes were blown so wide, only to snap shut when Yao curled his hand around him. His body was so beautiful, but endless time for indulgence would come after; Ivan would not be lasting long. And so Yao put a hand to his jaw, raising Ivan’s pretty eyes to his, condom, more lube, lining himself up, Ivan’s chest rising and falling so rapidly, Yao pressed his forehead to Ivan’s, they were nose to nose, Yao playfully biting his lip to drag a smile from him, and then Yao got to watch his face as he slowly lowered himself.

Shit, it’d been a while, but fuck the noise Ivan made.

Yao rode him, Ivan squirming. With hips gradually rising to the occasion to meet Yao, Ivan learned how it felt to move inside a man.

Their bodies moving together. A cacophony of intermingled breaths, Yao’s legs straining to find his prostate, the air pungent with the aroma of sex and sweat and sea salt and Ivan. Yao praising him, kissing him hungrily. Whispered, moaned encouragements to aim there. “I can help,” Ivan offered, thrusting into him magnificently, and Yao nodded dumbly neither knowing nor caring what he meant.

He gasped as Ivan lifted him into his arms and carried him to the bed. Ivan’s body pressing him into the mattress. Ivan, on top of him. Inside of him. The sheets, for the moment, cool against their heated skin. Yao laughing in the surprise of the position change, deciding Ivan was perfect. Beautiful, perfect. And better angled to please him how he liked.

Hands trailing up the Russian’s back, legs around his waist, holding him close as Ivan neared his climax panting into Yao’s neck and shoulder… Yao not far behind...

... Bodies curled together, reluctant to part an inch. Tired kisses. Ivan, the poor dear, had fallen asleep to Yao’s fingers stroking through his hair before another round could be suggested...

 

Yao lay awake. If he must remember, then he would much rather the memory make him half-hard in his pants than bring about a panic attack. He would not give this city a second of his thought. Kiku’s breathing evened out though the storm raged.  What was, what could be, what could have been were nothing to speculate on. He just needed to sleep. 


 

Kiku woke up long before Yao to the stillness of the abated storm. Crystalline, white light poured through the curtainless windows. He crawled soundlessly from his sleeping bag; Yao could use the extra sleep. Snow piled white in the quiet neighborhood in which the house was nestled, already turning to blackened slush from the city’s never ceasing activity on a nearby street bustling with citizens commuting to work. Footsteps trailed from a few houses and created a small trail on the road passing through the neighborhood.

Batukhan Ulan, wherever he may reside, would not be able to cover his tracks so easily. Though, Kiku supposed, the same went for Yao and him.

Kiku looked back on his lightly snoring companion. His mouth was partly open as his cheek rested against the floor. He did not look wholly untroubled, like one should in sleep; his brow remained ever-so-slightly drawn as if he was stressed even in his dreams.

Yao did not used to sleep on his stomach. Kiku wondered if he had developed the habit recovering from the wound Kiku had delivered. Kiku looked away.

He sighed inwardly. They were older now, Kiku felt it in his joints, but the past did not change.

Kiku collected the cash which had been gathered from France and exchanged for Mongolian Tugrik, and he wrapped himself in as many layers as possible. The colder weather was better for concealed weapons, if it did make moving more cumbersome a task.

There was a pistol holstered to his hip, but Kiku put his care into the knives and shuriken he placed on his person--better for nonlethal deterrents. He did not bother with disguise; he would not be long. Alfred was far more the one for personas, truly a showman. Kiku’s niche was in forgettability, in seeming perfectly unassuming and non-threatening. A polite but unnotable guest, customer, pedestrian, or whatever he needed to be.

Kiku walked out into the biting cold without waking Yao. His footprints joined the others; the snow and ice crunched underfoot. Hood up, Kiku matched the flow of people on the main road. His breath clouded in front of him. Any cameras would catch nothing but the hood and the shadow of his face.

Yao had pointed out the chai place as they had searched for winter clothing. Kiku took the bus; they ran often enough.

The teas kept his hands warm on his return.

Kiku attempted to sneak into the home, so as not to wake Yao should he still be sleeping. The door opened without a noise, but Yao had a gun trained on him the moment he entered anyway. Yao scoffed upon seeing it was him and collapsed back into his sleeping bag, the gun not far. Kiku raised the teas at him in greeting. “Good morning--”

“What time is it?” Yao grumbled.

“Early,” Kiku informed him, taking a sip of his own tea, “I brought chai.”

Yao grunted, reluctantly interested. He did not sit up, but raised an expectant hand for his tea anyway. Kiku brought it to him. Yao took it and rested it on the ground near his head, allowing the cup to warm his hand. “I suppose I should thank you,” Yao mumbled into his sleeping bag. Kiku sat down cross-legged. Yao peered over at him. “But it feels very early.”

Kiku hummed in acknowledgement of this. “We do not want to give our culprit any chance to get out of the city.”

“He’s a madman if he gets up this early to get out.” Yao rose with grace, cup of tea in one hand, the gun with which he slept twirled carelessly in the other. He was certainly no model for gun safety. “Did you learn anything on your outing aside from how right I was about the chai?” Yao mused. Kiku coughed and shook his head. “How would you like to go about solving that little issue, then?” he asked, splaying knuckles mottled blue, red, and purple for him to see. “I think I got a little too into my duty to America, don’t you think?”

Kiku rubbed at his neck. “Did you… put disinfectant on that?” Yao, feigning surprise and innocence, examined his own hands with thinly veiled disdain.

“Disinfectant? The skin is only split in a few places.” Of course he hadn’t disinfected it.

“I could use… ice?” Kiku tried to reach for medical knowledge. Both of them looked out the window at the snow. Yao stepped over their items to pat him on the shoulder.

“I’m so glad I have a doctor’s wisdom at my disposal. I think I will wear gloves," Yao told him. "Bring your rifle. Let’s do our research elsewhere. I’m sure someone in this city’s network can point us in the right direction.”

“Maybe you should take it easy--” Kiku proposed.

“Fine. I’ll shoot; you punch,” Yao countered. He went toward his firearms more-than-readily.

“I feel like, now that we have a name, we should take a more careful approach,” Kiku stated. “As in,” he added as Yao rustled through bags to find more clips of ammunition for a fully automatic that Kiku, truthfully, had no idea how he intended to conceal, “Perhaps we should not use the network.”

Yao whipped around, offended, and still holding a very large assault rifle.

“Yao, we are too easily followed. Anyone with expertise close to ours can retrace our precise steps. Even an ammateur can stumble across our path.”

“What? Do you want to use the police? They work about the same a lot of the time, you know, easily bought--”

“The man who gave me the name said that Batukhan was here according to records. What records, Yao?”

Yao shrugged. “Maybe he means that he hasn’t left the country using his passport.”

“He said that Batukhan is here, in the city, by all records. The boss had connections.”

“Surveillance?”

“Maybe. I say we pay a visit to someone who will know that,” Kiku asserted. Yao grinned.

“Well, what are we waiting for?”

 

Chapter Text

They had put them both to sleep with more needles in their arms.

The room in which Ivan awoke was of bare concrete. There was no window. There was no way to determine how much time had passed, or what time it was.

This was wrong. It was… incorrect... It settled as a pit in his stomach and frost in his blood.

He was unbound, and he could move freely around the small room. They had taken all articles of clothing except for his undershirt and trousers. Ivan could hear nothing beyond the heavy metal door. The silence was absolute. He peeled himself off the hard cot protruding from the wall, driven like a machine. There had to be something.

His head groaned in protest at his actions as Ivan scoured the room. It did not slow his actions. He soon found the listening device with which they intended to monitor him, tore it from its place beneath the mattress, and shattered it against the wall... He released a breath and he straightened his posture. That was done. 

Without the device, Ivan imagined he would soon have visitors.


 

Large guns and large men had always been a preference of Yao’s. He ran a hand down the weapon, absently admiring the simplicity and strength to the dark metalwork. There was power in his hands, and he quite liked that. He was especially fond of the notion of using it to return his favorite large man to him.

Yao soothed the pang in his heart by loading another, lovely, American-made high capacity magazine. If there was anything that could assure no witnesses to a heist, it was a beauty like that. And what a heist was it going to be. They were on the home stretch. Yao could feel it. He would be seeing his Vanya soon.

He strapped the rifle securely to his back. It pressed against the scar his partner for this heist had dealt.

Kiku emerged from the bathroom, dressed in black. Oh, how long it had been. “When we find Batukhan,” Kiku was instructing as he tied a bandanna across his face, concealing all but his eyes. No one would think him a doctor in that. “We need to get him to a secure location. We do nothing at the place of capture. We will not contact the agency until we have the information we need from him.” Yao hummed in acknowledgement of this, placing revolvers in holsters at his hips.

There was no doubt in either of their minds that Batukhan Ulan was their man. They had had a busy day! Well, mostly Kiku. Yao had taken a nap partially through it. Poring over information and files was far more in the job description for the studious doctor than the cooperating enemy spy.

Tedium aside, the agency had given them Jean LeCerf--a faceless name to Yao--and LeCerf was dead. Kiku knew the details; Kiku performed the autopsies. Kiku used the vague language of a scientist--all ‘leads me to believe’ and ‘evidence strongly suggests,’ tiresome disclaimers his education told him to give--to tell Yao that it was Ulan who silenced LeCerf’s killer. Yao had no need to know the fine print.

Kiku was modest in his approach to weapons, all carefully concealed. Pointless. Even the night of a city did well to cover dangerous men. Yao tied his hair up into a cap, Kiku following suite, because even a hair out of place was DNA evidence against them. He hid his identity in the same manner Kiku had, a matching set of thieves.

Yao did not allow himself to hesitate at the door of his home, ripping through the net of memories tangled at the entrance. Leaving was so much worse than returning. The darkest points in Yao’s life were marked by going out that door. Yao closed his eyes against the onslaught. He should burn it to the ground.

Yao breathed in the wintry night air of Ulaanbaatar. That was all past.

It had been far too long since he’d worked a heist with Honda Kiku.

The first step was exceedingly simple; the road passing through the neighborhood was utterly black. Yao knew the location of the storm drain, Kiku covered their tracks, and together they lugged the heavy grate away. It was laughable--how pathetically easy it was to disappear.

The sewers of Ulaanbaatar were exactly as fragrant as one would imagine and any move they made was amplified against the concrete walls, so they moved with haste, stooped due to the low ceiling. Their target was likely going to smell them before he saw them. Kiku had thought everything through so thoroughly--with no help from Yao, of course--but that may just have been a gap in his beautiful plan. Yao couldn’t wait to bring it up after they succeeded anyway.

The sewers were dreadfully uneventful, no fun at all, really. Thankfully, they didn't take the agents all they way to where they wanted to be. Kiku came to a halt in front of him, and he started climbing. Their place of exit did not at all resemble Yao’s old neighborhood; Yao pulled himself from the sewer into an equally dark alleyway between two monolithic buildings. This was the apartments district.

Mere yards away, a steady stream of civilians trickled along. Yao and Kiku were shadows, even if any were to dare a glance down the alley. Things were finally going to get a bit more interesting; they still had a block to go and this was the stretch that was difficult to plan for. Kiku took in their options with a careful dignity, a professional diligence. Yao looked around too. There were two options.

There was the option Kiku would choose, which would be a stupid decision. Kiku would take the obvious route away from the city street, toward the brick wall the alley ended in. Kiku would never move in any direction that may involve a poor, innocent civilian spotting Yao’s choice of brazenly-displayed weaponry.

But Yao wasn’t going to make the stupid decision, so he wouldn’t give Kiku the option either.

Yao grabbed Kiku’s arm and marched him away from the dead end he was eyeing down for climbing, thinking of stupidly wasting their time and energy and absolutely risking announcing their arrival to Ulan as they went trouncing across rooftops. No. Unacceptable. Foolish!

Kiku made a strangled noise in his throat as Yao shoved him toward the streets and the nightlife. “What are you doing?” Kiku hissed, low enough that no one would hear.

“Shut up and follow me. I’ll get us there.”

“You know I can’t just do that, Yao!”

“Oh, I’m aware. You stabbed me last time I told you to trust me during a heist, if you’ll remember,” Yao smiled sweetly at him, catching him off guard and sending his mind into a flurry. It made him easier to push. “Relax,” Yao whispered into his ear. “We belong on these streets. We’re cops or we’re heading to a party!” Yao established the loose cover to give him something of his usual safety-blanket routine to hold onto. “There’s not that many people out anyway, and your face is covered. I don’t see any cops, do you?”

“No!” Kiku bit, “How will we--” Yao shoved him onto the sidewalk.

“You worry too much!” Yao started walking. The street was not busy, but it was not deserted. At the very least, no one was going to make an attempt at bothering the man with the big gun. Kiku just wasn’t thinking that way, to his own detriment. No creativity! Agents buried their heads in professionalism and made patterns. Patterns got you killed. Kiku was once a thief; he should know that.

And this, this, was Yao’s expertise. Why did no one ever believe him?

Kiku was in a space somewhere between panic and obedience, walking stiffly beside him, twitchy as he searched for a way to get out of the public eye. Kiku hated this so much. It was almost comical. Yao put a hand to Kiku’s arm, refocusing his energy back to him. Kiku went for a furious glare, but he was too nervous to pull it off. Yao looked him in the eye, faked the same small, confident smile he used for conducting ‘business’ so many years ago. “Kiku,” Yao soothed, “I own these streets.”

Since they were already busy pretending, it could be one more thing to believe for a moment. Maybe they could believe for a moment Kiku had never left him to die, that they had never become puppets of an agency, that Yao had never thought Ulaanbaatar a refuge, that this really was just another heist to help themselves and fuck over some rich people in their nice neighborhoods. 

Kiku watched Yao with his sad brown cow eyes, took a breath, and played the character Yao asked of him--an inkling of trust put in Yao. It would have been sweet, if at that moment the siren of a police car hadn’t started up behind them. It didn’t take a doctor to deduce their awful screeching was expressing their wish for Yao to drop his firearms.

Kiku’s character shattered like a mirror along with their briefly enjoyed luck. He gave Yao a withering look, more disappointed in Yao than concerned with the law enforcement, but Yao supposed he could do his job in a way that would change that.

Yao leaned to him. “Do you want the car?”

Kiku made a noise, surprised and indignant and still clearly expressing a ‘NO!’ Yao shrugged. He could have it his way, then.

“Distract them a moment for me, would you?” Yao tapped his chin with a fingernail, surveying his options.

“Yao! No!” Kiku begged, though Yao didn’t know why he bothered considering he knew perfectly well that Yao wasn’t going to listen to a word he said. Kiku visibly sighed, only to let Yao know he would obey but he wasn’t going to be happy about it. Kiku got to his knees, hands up, exposed to the possibility of police gunfire like a good citizen.

The police liked this, and it gave them some confidence to get out of their car and come a bit closer while they yelled. Kiku was putting on a show of worry and submission, speaking rapid Japanese to imply that Yao--for some reason--wasn’t listening because he didn’t speak their language. It was a strange tactic that didn’t make much logical sense, but they found typically worked for at least a little bit when cops couldn’t figure out what the ever-loving fuck was going on with them.

But then, oh but then, Yao saw it. And it was gorgeous. The motorcyclist was glancing their way, mildly interested in what the police were up to as any passerby would be. Yao ambled into his path as if he didn’t notice.

Tires screamed as loudly as the policemen demanding he stop moving. The motorcycle came to a messy halt a meter from Yao. Two things happened at once: the safety came off a handgun behind Yao, and the biker threw off his helmet in a fit of road rage.

This had always been Yao’s favorite part of the job.

Yao broke the motorcyclist’s nose in a roundhouse kick. The man was thrown to the pavement before he could comprehend the spray of blood. Yao straddled the motorcycle; Yao pointed a gun in its owner’s face.

Kiku’s concealed shuriken had found a home in an officer’s arm.

Pain and confusion were blinding, but there were two officers and one was shouting for more into a radio. So Yao shot him in the throat. Kiku leaped for the back end of Yao’s new toy, hardly getting a grip before Yao took off like a shot.

WHY DIDN’T YOU SHOOT THE OTHER ONE?!” Yao yelled at the exact same time as Kiku wanted to know,

“WHY DID YOU SHOOT HIM?!”

The answers to these questions could wait. Sirens were after them, making themselves known over the roar of the wind one by one. Yao liked his new toy, though. His toy went fast. Yao aimed to find out just how fast, the engine loud beneath them. “You’re going the wrong way!” Kiku graciously informed him. Yao elbowed him in the gut, which was about as helpful.

Yao swerved onto a street nearly clogged with motorists.

Cops liked to obey traffic rules, and cops did not like to endanger pedestrians. Kiku had a stranglehold on Yao’s waist, shouting profanities into his back as Yao wove between cars at 130 kilometers per hour. So much for trust, Yao supposed. Kiku’s cursing went up an octave as Yao plunged through a red light, paired with a sharp turn a block further. Driving was like figure skating; it was just that everyone else was marching.

A single police car, caught off guard, tried to block his way. He even waved around a gun! Sirens behind him. More sirens closing in to join the car in the middle of the road. More guns to shoot out the tires at this speed. Couldn’t have that. Yao made a decision, another one that Kiku wouldn’t like.

It was a good way to categorize his choices and options, Yao found--things with which Kiku would be okay, and things against which the ever-reserved Kiku would loudly complain.

Yao took the only turn available to him.

He was staring down the narrow lane of stairs for half a second, breathless with adrenaline. And then. They were weightless.

Yao wondered why they always slowed down a fall in movies, because everything hurtled by more rapidly than he could process. Kiku was screaming. Gunshots rang out behind them on the streets. There were no pedestrians on the dark set of stairs, which apparently led to a temple of sorts, and the back tires hit the stairs first by some miracle and then they were tumbling and bumping and Yao’s muscles strained to steady the bike—

They hit the ground and Yao revved the engine, smooth tile beneath the wheels.

Kiku was sweating against him; Yao could feel him heaving with utterly delirious laughter as they sped into the night, down alleys, merging with traffic, into dark streets… Ugh, it was so cold! The sirens grew quieter as Yao and Kiku caught their breaths. The wind stung the portion of his face that wasn’t covered.

“We could have taken the roofs,” Kiku observed quietly, voice hoarse.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Yao breathed. Kiku groaned, leaning his forehead against Yao’s shoulder, choosing now to be careful not to touch the rifle as if he hadn’t been hugging it and Yao like his life depended on it.

His life probably did depend on it, but that was beside the point!

“We could have died. Yao, that was stupid.”

“I knew what I was doing!” Yao protested. “Ulan may have heard us if we had taken the roof and then climbed our way down. That is conspicuous so that our suspect knows we are after him, giving him time to go for a gun or get out. This was conspicuous so that our suspect does not know we are after him. Now, we may walk into his building however we choose! What are you? An amateur? Sheesh!”

“Well, going through the roof was my plan, as there is roof access to the stairwell. We were never going to go about this as cat burglars.”

“The risk was still there! You can hear it when someone is walking on the roof! You can hear when someone makes a jump and lands on the roof--an especially telling sign--from several floors down! Do you remember nothing?”

“I remember stealth being a key element, and one that was fundamentally lacking in that stunt you pulled.”

“Suck my entire ass, Kiku. This was the right way to do it.”

They ditched the bike behind Ulan’s building; the street was quiet now, any pedestrians having scattered, any police not expecting them to return anywhere near the point of the theft. There was a lone camera pointed toward the entrance to the building. Not a place for the well-paid individual. Yao raised an eyebrow at Kiku. Kiku wouldn’t look at him. Kiku didn’t want to admit he was right.

They could walk in.

Kiku hurled a knife at the camera, petulant. That started a timer of sorts; they both knew it. Someone could notice the vandalism. Someone could have been watching from that shattered lens. Possibilities, possibilities.

And anyone that tried to stop them now had a target on their forehead. Ivan would be in his arms again, soon… and there would be no more need to think of Mongolia. Yao would finish the mission, and then they would have work and they would have each other and that was all. The sooner Kiku learned that this, and only this, was the best his future could hold, the fewer the people who would get hurt. Yao clenched the rifle in two hands.

Yao took the lead, plunging into an empty, dingy lobby that reeked of body odor. There was a relic of an elevator, but Yao doubted the tenants used it anymore than he would. The stairwell was lit well-enough, yellow and grimy. Yao’s skin crawled with each step toward it. No visibility around corners, tight quarters, and their man lived on the floor second from the top! How fun.

His trigger finger itched as he climbed. Ascending was slow work. Yao hated that. He could deal with fast. Slow work was boring, and it was painful! The anticipation dragged and grated on every last nerve he had! The fast-- the attack, the ambush, the fight-- at least had the decency to be over promptly once initiated!

Fast and rough had always been a preference of Yao’s. With a few exceptions, of course.

A few voices chattered beyond the heavy stairwell door as Yao and Kiku slipped to the next floor up. The door opened below them. The agents halted, tense and waiting. The girls were talking excitedly, about a party as far as Yao could tell, clueless about the guns waiting for them if they went up a couple stairs. The moment stretched as they discussed who had keys, who was driving, shuffling around on the landing. Yao sighed internally, waiting for them to move on as he stood with a gun pointed their way.

Kiku touched a hand to his shoulder--a suggestion to flee upwards. Any judgment call that put your back to potential enemies, especially this far in a mission, could be a very, very poor decision. But Yao would have to agree with it. Yao didn’t trust people, but he knew a group of blissfully unaware civilians when he heard one. They weren’t any wiser of the agents’ presence as the two climbed the rest of the way up.

Yao could still hear sirens, distant and faint, but the thieves they were seeking were already standing in front of the door to the target’s floor. Yao watched Kiku take a deep breath. He must have felt there was a lot of pressure on his doctorly shoulders to get this right. How cute. That would make two of them. Yao offered him a grin, which Kiku hesitantly returned. Oh, yes; he remembered this part of the old heists well--the extraction.

It was the part where you got what you were after.

Yao held up three fingers to count it down for Kiku, who was no longer shy about his weapons with a gun in his hand. Yao was so ready for this. He opened the door with a casual slowness--nothing but a neighbor returning home as far as Batukhan Ulan would be concerned--firearms at the ready.

Empty.

Their dear Ulan lived in the middle of a hall of quiet neighbors, a door perfectly matching the others, perfectly inconspicuous. Yao rolled any remaining tension from his shoulders. Ugh, he better be home for this. It would be just Yao’s luck for him to have chosen this evening for parties or murder. But then again, Yao supposed, maybe Ulan would have a full pantry to peruse at their leisure. Yao was subsisting primarily off chai and whatever takeout noodles from Kiku he’d downed purely for show at this point.

Yao had his tools out already; Kiku covered him as he knelt down to put the lock at eye-level. A lovely, average heavy duty lock and deadbolt. Please. It at least could have been a challenge; he’d be inside in three seconds at worst.

If Yao possessed even an ounce of shame, it would be entirely shameful how good he was at his job. Or how many times he’d done this to develop such a refined skillset.

Click, click, click. Like music, like clockwork. Like a cue, if you will.  

Kiku burst through the door, gun drawn, ripping the chain from the door. He immediately got to shouting the one word of the local language he’d learned from the policemen, which he must have assumed meant ‘stop’ or something, but was actually more of a ‘hey,’ but that worked too. Yao meandered after him into the small apartment, ready to be the show-stopper.

Ugh, it smelled fantastic. The homeowner’s bowl of dumplings was spilled across the couch and floor. The midnight-snacking homeowner himself, however, Yao did not get the privilege of glimpsing yet. Reflexes too fast not to be guilty. Kiku too frugal and slow with his bullets to stop the suspect from somersaulting off the fucking couch and moving for his own weapon. Of course.

Yao plowed after the suspect, dauntless; Kiku tore around the other way. The TV cast a ghostly white, flickering light through the dark apartment. The bedroom was black, but undoubtedly where they’d find him. What man in this business didn’t sleep with a gun beside him?

Yao didn’t play with the lights. Yao lit up the room himself. If their man didn’t come out of this with knees, that wasn’t Yao’s problem. The gunfire illuminated a bed, a dresser, a window-- fuck!

Yao found their friend Ulan.

The silhouette peeking from an adjoined bathroom had his heart leaping into his throat on a sharp spike of adrenaline.

He’d seen Yao first. And that meant only one thing.

The horrible blow of a gunshot ripped Yao’s arm backwards, leaving fire in its wake. Shit. Pain. Blinding, disorienting, wrenching pain. No exit wound. The single marksman’s bullet had stuck in his arm. So it’d probably hit bone. Shit. 

But fuck him. This wasn’t about Yao; it was about his husband. And Yao had two fucking arms, and both could hold a gun. He dropped the fully automatic, just like the asshole wanted, arming a revolver with his left hand in the same instant--

Several shots, not from Yao, all in neat row--

A high-pitched groaning--

Ulan sunk to the ground, and then had it in him to try to crawl as Kiku flipped on the lights, charging past Yao, his gun still hot from the discharge.

His bleeding arm be damned, Yao clenched the pain into a fist in his heart, where it could sit pretty with the other pain that he turned to rage and to action until all the shit in his life was nothing but jet fuel to burn and the tears in his eyes burned hot because fuck Ulaanbaatar and fuck this life. Yao crossed the room in heavy, deliberate steps. Kiku was speaking Mandarin and Japanese at Batukhan Ulan, but it was all white noise to Yao.

Batukhan Ulan held his wounds curled in the corner of his bathroom, forehead pressed to his knees. Yao went straight to him, straight to the faceless murderer who sat between him and the one fucking person he had left, grabbed his stupid braids in a fist, yanked his head up, put a gun in his face--

Batukhan Ulan met Yao's eyes. Yao blinked, so did Ulan. Ulan’s brow scrunched in confusion before he could hide it.

“What?” Kiku demanded, watching Yao’s tense body language. Yao looked back at Kiku.

“I know him.”

Chapter Text

It was official! He swore on Buzz Aldrin’s boxer shorts; he was going to be the best firefighter this side of the Moon landing when he got outta here. Alfred could picture it now. He’d make a giant crockpot of chili when it was his turn to cook for the firehouse. He and the guys would all invite the spouses to dinner. Kiku would bring the kids. Alfred would hoist little Alfred Jr. (or Alfreda! That was to be determined!) onto the counter to be the first to try it out and tell everyone how great it was and then he’d be called into action to save a cat from a tree and Kiku would think he looked totally hot doing it—

Because Alfred was getting really sick of this part of the job, the part when you get in places you definitely shouldn’t be in. The part you may not… Alfred didn’t want to think about that. Or how fast his heart was beating. He took a deep breath. Firefighting. Chili.

Kiku. He didn’t want to think of stuff like that, so he’d think of Kiku. Yeah. He’d have his ring back and snug on his finger soon, where it always felt oddly light without it. And Kiku would talk about all the sick science he did to help the good guys save the day because Alfred was totally getting out of here, wherever here was. All Alfred knew was that he didn’t particularly like ‘here’ and the cot sucked and he hadn’t seen a single Baddie since he got here when it would probably be a matter of time and he had nothing to work with for when he did see them but a pair of jeans.  

It could be worse! His partner in the mission could be some sorta traitor! Oh, wait! ‘Jeanette’ the Drug Dealer Lady talked in a very Russian accent all about how they had crap worse than death lined up for the two agents. SURELY there was NO correlation to the big-nosed RUSSIAN jerk who’d said something about going ROGUE before!

He kept rolling it around in his mind, looking at it up close and then holding it away at a distance to look at it some more because it was bizarre and he almost didn’t want to believe it. Russia. Russians. Rushy-rush Russian Russia. Big-nosed, lying, traitorous jerk. Rogue? Russia?

Russia was responsible for this? Russia the dude? Or Russia the agency? Maybe Russia the government? Russia the agency had, supposedly, sent Russia the dude to America the agency. And Russia the government was always sketchy toward America the government.

But Drug Dealer Lady had called Russia (the dude) a traitor, so if he was a traitor to Drug Dealer Lady the Baddie, did that mean he could even be a traitor to Alfred? Al guessed he shouldn’t generalize all Russians, but… the connection was there. Jeanette knew--or knew of--Russia, that much was obvious. And the death threats certainly implied this wasn’t a partnership sorta deal between the two of them…

Russia went rogue from the Russian agency at some point. That was pointing toward Jeanette the Baddie being… from the Russian agency, did it not?

How much of what Alfred knew about Russia ‘going rogue’ was a lie? Didn’t Russia’s superiors okay this mission? You don’t okay a mission for a rogue; you tell the folks who captured the insubordinate to fire at will. Unless they didn’t get a hold of Russian agency superiors like they thought, but how could that mistake have been made? And what were Russia and his partner doing at the American agency anyway?

Al’s head was starting to hurt and his heart still wouldn’t calm down, spikes of adrenaline kept shooting through him as his brain tried to shout at him to ‘get out of here!’ As if he hadn’t already gotten the memo. He wondered if he could get away with dropping a sticky note with a ‘sayonara, bitches’ on Germany’s desk in place of a resignation letter. Surely that was clear enough.

BUT WHICH RUSSIANS WERE THE BAD GUYS? He couldn’t get his head wrapped around it!

They were captured during the move. There was no way the Russians should’ve known about that move, but obviously they did. If Russia was a rogue, like Jeanette said, then he wouldn’t have told them… would he? Hold on. Hold on a New York minute. Brainwashed. They’d talked about this before the ambush! Russia hadn’t exactly made a convincing argument that he hadn’t been brainwashed by his agency; he hadn’t ever said why he’d “come back” from being rogue--just thrown a knife at him and told him to shut up! Not a great sign! So, had Alfred guessed correctly, then, that day--that Russia was brainwashed to come back by the Russians? Like, clearly the guy had some mental issues… So, was he brainwashed to tell the Russians about the move to get Drug Dealer Lady into their custody?

But if he told them, wouldn’t he be greeted with a pat on the back and not “filthy rogue?” If Russia was sent by the Russians, how could he be rogue? Again, was that a lie? Al’s mind was working overtime. The Russians had to be the bad guys. That’s, like, the only constant in the world. And everyone knows the Russians try to mess up America’s stuff. Al’s agency set up the move all nice and pretty and perfect only for it to be thwarted by an ambush that captured at least him and Russia and let Drug Dealer Lady escape… Maybe it was Russia, maybe it wasn’t, but some kind of communication had leaked to the bad guys. Someone on the good guys’ side gave them up and let the suspect escape! WAIT. WHAT IF...

Russian plants in the American agency.

Oooh. That was good stuff and fit the rogue theme he and Russia had been looking into with Alix and Victor… but it DIDN’T EXPLAIN WHAT WAS UP WITH RUSSIA. Ugh. Alfred didn’t like this. Didn’t like this one bit. Not one bit of this did he like.

He wondered if the Baddies would just let him go home, since he decided he was done with this bull and all. Like, if he could just opt out of the torture that’d be great. Give them a firm “no thanks” and they could send him to his packing and resignation letter writing. Maybe send him off with a nice new toaster to celebrate Wedding 2: But This Time It’s Legal with Kiks.

The rush of his heart and the pit in his stomach just wouldn’t let him off the hook, though. He was going to have to fight himself out of here and he knew it. Or they’d torture him until he died, just like the other agents. There wouldn’t be any good guys coming for him. He wiped sweaty palms on his jeans.

He was only freaking out a little! Hoo boy. Yep. Definitely freaking out a little. Just a little. It was okay. He would have this under control in a giffy. The Baddies would regret ever locking up Alfred F. Jones! He’d kick Russian ass and take Russian names!

The noise was slight, but had Al flinching to his feet. Someone out there. Someone out there. He had fists, he had jeans, he had strength, he had training. Then, the door ground open.



The wall was cool against Ivan’s forehead, though it did little to soothe the pulsing ache.

The shards of the listening device remained strewn across the floor, as if they did not care about losing their ear. They left Ivan waiting. No answers. No water. Hours must have passed without even the smallest response.

He was a trapped animal, toyed with, left to rot until docile… or until manageable. The technique was easy to recognize. Familiar.

This was wrong. The target had called him ‘rogue.’ Ivan felt far removed from the clench of his heart; he knew its pain, but he did not feel it. Even the headache was now distant. Ivan shut his eyes tighter. Yao wouldn’t like it if he let himself get like this. He and Yao had made progress with this, with feeling. But it hurt.

He and Yao… had come back. Who would accuse, then, of such a thing? The target called him rogue and murderer in his mother tongue, but what did that make the target? What of this imprisonment, with its familiar games?

Ivan pressed his forehead more firmly to the wall with a sigh against the throbbing of his skull. The mind games were old hat. They would have to try harder than this. Ivan had endured more than they could ever match.

Ivan could laugh. The games were silly now. And his sunflower had called them games too, but poor Yao had never fully understood the games. No, not for a long time, though he suspected. Yao had never belonged in the world he swaggered so boldly into, and Ivan loved him. Loved him in every way. Yao never played well with Russian ways, never out of naivety but out of spite toward them all. Unmanageable. A quality Ivan had hated from fear engrained with pain.

Yao winked at a man across the bar, running his tongue up his straw, only to have the young man look quickly away in embarrassment. “Have some decency,” The gruff voice came from Ivan, of its own accord.

Yao looked at him with boredom for the comment. “Problem?” he inquired, the gleam of mischief finding its way to dark eyes. Ivan looked away, his jaw working. Yao wanted a rise out of him, but his behavior made Ivan squirm. Infuriating, undisciplined, shameless -- Ivan forced it from his mind, drowned it in a mouthful of vodka. Their work together was temporary.

“What? You’ve never kissed a boy before?” Yao smirked, sipping his drink.

Unmanageable. Yao had not been raised on the games Ivan had. Though, Yao’s mocking tone on that early mission held no resemblance to that of much later, as Yao sat before him on a dingy motel couch. Ivan hadn’t met his partner’s eyes then, either.

The radio played lowly--insurance against thin walls--in a room that smelled of cigarette smoke. Yao held the arm he’d finished bandaging for him. Ivan wished he wouldn’t. Not after all that had been said. Ivan sat stiffly, closed-off as if Yao didn’t know. As if Yao wasn’t the only person who had ever known.

A hand on his cheek, gentle. Ivan watched his socks even as his heart beat faster in his chest. “Ivan.” Yao was firm, left no room to continue hiding. He looked up at Yao, as if he wasn’t terrified. Yao searched his face, a wry, almost sympathetic smile gracing his features. His hand still cradled Ivan’s jaw. It made Ivan tense. Made him hurt in his chest, in his stomach. “You’ve never kissed a boy before?” There was no joke in it anymore; there was hardly question.

Ivan did not respond. There was no need.

Yao was close. An old voice in Ivan’s mind told him it was too close, but Ivan could not bring himself to listen a second longer. His heart ached. Wished Yao would draw closer. It was a stupid, mindless wish. This was Yao. Yao--one of the multitude of reasons it was stupid… and the reason he wished it anyway.

Yao held Ivan’s face, his injured arm. He could pull Ivan against him, if he wanted. Ivan wanted him to, wished he would. He could never say such a thing, wouldn't know how … and yet… Yao was not shifting away.

His lips were parted slightly, and Ivan was staring.

It was like breathing. Ivan’s eyes didn’t flutter shut until Yao’s mouth was on his. The pressure was soft, warm. Yao’s fingers brushed across his cheekbone as he tilted his head further to the side. The mission, the injury, the tension and defeat of Yao knowing about him were evaporating in an instant.

Yao pulled away to gauge Ivan’s reaction. Warmth spread through Ivan’s face, his mouth, his stomach. He released the breath he had been holding. It was bizarre, the knowledge of what they had done. They were agents. Weapons. Yet it was so simple, and it was everything.

Yao rocked up to his knees on the sofa cushions so they were eye-to-eye. There was mischief in his expression, on the tip of his tongue. Perhaps it would have a taste.  Yao draped his arms across Ivan’s shoulders, raising an eyebrow at him, playful. “Better?” Yao mused, breath fanning across Ivan’s lips. Ivan hummed in answer, a bit distracted.  The longing made him bold; Ivan kissed him. Yao allowed it. His lips were silk as he molded them, patient, to Ivan’s clumsy push. Ivan kissed him again, and again, and again, feeling foolish yet deliriously freed. Ivan felt him smile. Yao sunk against him, pulled him nearer. It elicited a groan from the back of Ivan’s throat.

Ivan panted against Yao’s mouth with hooded eyes, chest-to-chest, the pressure of a body against his so good it hurt. Their lips touched with each intake of breath. Ivan wanted to breathe in him, because he was breathless.

When Yao fit his mouth to Ivan’s for a deeper kiss, Ivan couldn’t help the stuttering noise. Yao’s lips, his tongue, his teeth-- tender, sliding, indulgent movement--were consuming. It was relief from something coiled within him far too long. Ivan couldn’t bear the thought of the absence of Yao.

They must have stayed like that for nearly an hour. Crooning music fuzzy with radio static wafted through the motel room. Behind drawn curtains, the room’s occupants were wrapped in each other.

Yao moved from swollen lips to nuzzle his cheek, his jaw, dragging his mouth there in a way that had Ivan sighing. Ivan absently ran fingers along Yao’s arm, just feeling. For now, it could be allowed just to feel. Just to relax. It was good, he decided, to be held, caressed. Everywhere Yao’s lips touched brought fire, blazing at some points and smoldering softly at others. Ivan’s head was soft with bliss.

A head that had gone too soft to notice Yao brushing aside his scarf.

Ivan was dizzy with new experiences, tilted his head to give Yao better access wherever he went.

It was only that no one but he and the handlers had ever touched the scars.

Yao put his mouth to the surgically neat lines of scar tissue, lightly, harmlessly… and it sent an involuntary bolt of panic through Ivan’s entire body. The flinch was impossible for Yao not to notice. As adrenaline sent ice coursing through his veins, Yao pulled back with face scrunched--surprise, confusion, concern…

Pain was a lasting memory, and the most effective tool to wield for disciplinary action or correction.

The motel wasn’t that place with its sterile whites and cold restraints. They were hundreds of miles from it, in actuality, but Ivan could almost smell the antiseptics even as residual heat lingered between his and Yao’s bodies.

Yao gave him space that Ivan did not want, and Ivan looked past him at a wall. Ivan shook his head, but he was trying to convey too many things at once. He winced, flooded with shame, as he readjusted the scarf. “I’m sorry, I--” It was clipped short. Ivan had nothing to say. He bit his tongue. “Just… Not there.” His face burned hot with the embarrassment of having to say it. It sounded so pathetic to his ears.

Yao was quiet a long while. Ivan could not look at him.

“Don’t apologize.” Yao’s voice was sharp, and Ivan glanced up at him like a kicked dog. The conviction and fury in Yao’s face caught Ivan by surprise, and his instinct was that what he had done was incorrect, but when Yao again took his face his touch was gentle. Ivan blinked, then nodded. This did not seem to satisfy him. Yao stared into the distance, scowling like he was weighing something he found distasteful in his mind. Finally, he blew a strand of hair from his face. “I’m not good at this.” Irritated with himself. “Listen,” Yao held up a hand,“I want you to understand.”

He seemed very adamant on this, but Ivan had no idea what he meant.

“Let me make something clear, because I do not think I have,” Yao whispered it, close enough Ivan thought their lips may brush once more. “You never have to be ashamed of yourself when you are with me. Yes?” Before Ivan could offer another stupid, noncommittal nod, Yao stood.

With Yao’s back to him, Ivan momentarily thought the encounter over. Then, Yao tugged his shirt up over his head. It was a shocking action to Ivan, Yao’s sudden disrobing, but then Ivan’s breath was stolen from his lungs.

The scar was long--stretching nearly from shoulder to hip--red, and deep, and cruel.

“We all have some unpleasant history,” Yao balled his shirt in his hands with a certain dignity, tossing it onto the opposite end of the couch. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Yao grinned over his shoulder at the speechless Ivan. “You can touch it, you know; it doesn’t hurt.”

Ivan traced it lightly with a finger, wide-eyed. “An enemy did this to you?”

Yao took his seat again, serene smile unbreakable, and shook his head. “Someone I trusted.”

Ivan tilted his head to consider this. “I will kill them for you,” he decided, tone bright and earnest. Yao laughed. Perhaps this was unexpected.

“Thank you, but that will not be necessary.” Yao leaned his forehead against Ivan’s, thoughtful. “You’re cute, though,” Yao told him. Ivan looked into Yao’s eyes, touched his face. Yao felt small in his hand. Ivan shook his head once.

“I don’t have words enough for you.”

Ivan wasn’t certain if Yao concealed an eye roll or blush with a kiss to his brow. He pinched Ivan’s chin between his thumb and index finger, eyes flicking to Ivan’s lips. “May I?”

“Please,” Ivan breathed , already moving to reunite their mouths.

They wanted him manageable, because they were fools. The handlers had tried to make him so; Ivan knew the games. What the enemy did not understand, was Yao. Yao, the insurgent, the wild card, once nothing but a temporary mission partner, once a man Ivan despised on principal, the agency’s one mistake. Now, Yao was the mistake of the enemy.

Ivan knew the games. Ivan knew more pain than any of the games--the scars, the manipulation--had ever given him. He and his sunflower had come back to the games they knew. If they could not escape as rogues, then they may as well return and use the work for distraction from that which was unbearable.

Oh, would not it be precious if they thought they could hurt him more?

All he had was Yao, and Yao was held by the Americans. It was simple. He would be back to Yao, or Ivan would lay waste to them all so that he could. Yao would only do the same to the Americans. They may still kill the Americans, together, should they have touched a hair on Yao’s pretty little head.

The slightest of noises reverberated through the cell. Ah, at least he would not have to be waiting any longer for his visitors. He turned to meet them with a smile.

Chapter Text

Kiku stared at Yao. “What do you mean you know him?” Kiku demanded. Yao released the suspect. He curled in on himself, gritting his teeth and putting pressure on gunshot wounds. Both he and Wang Yao were in desperate need of medical attention, with Kiku as the assumed medical professional, and now there was this Kiku had to sort out.

Yao gave Kiku a sideways glance, and there was confusion in his eyes. “We trained together,” Yao’s tone was low. “He was an agent for the Russians.”

Kiku’s blood went cold.

A chill slid down Kiku’s spine.

“I never knew him well,” Yao added, a little lighter though he clutched his own injury, “but Ivan never liked him.” Yao’s smirk was fleeting. “He said this kid used to kick his ass. When Ivan was smaller, of course.” Yao raised his chin. “So, Ulan, what are you doing here?” The suspect glanced up at his name, but otherwise did not acknowledge Yao. His breathing was heavy.

“He won’t talk here; we have to get him somewhere secure. The police will be headed our way due to the exchanged gunfire—”

“He’ll talk.” Yao knelt before Ulan. “Are you on mission?” Batukhan’s expression was blank. Yao repeated his question in Russian, then in English. Batukhan groaned and let his head fall back against the wall. Kiku watched the blood seep between his fingers with concern. They needed to get him back to Kiku’s equipment, immediately. He should have taken better care not to shoot somewhere he was not familiar with repairing.

Kiku took a few steps to peer out the window. No sign of law enforcement yet. It could not be long. They should use the time they had.

Batukhan shouted, and Kiku trained his weapon on him in the span of a heartbeat. But Batukhan was not the aggressor. Yao wrestled the injured suspect to the ground without the use of his own wounded arm, pinning Batukhan’s arms to the floor beneath his knees.

Yao dug a thumb into one of the gunshot wounds, repeating his question again calmly—in English, in Mandarin, in Russian—as Batukhan screamed.

“Yao—” Kiku started, but was interrupted by Batukhan, shouting in the local language like a trapped animal. Yao cursed. Kiku swallowed his concerns. “What did he say?”

“He said he doesn’t understand,” Yao scowled. “He claims… He claims he only speaks Mongolian.” Yao cursed again, frustrated and in pain, as he wiped Batukhan’s blood on the suspect’s shirt. Yao stood. “I wouldn’t believe him… if that didn’t make so much sense!” Yao gestured in disgust. “He never talked to anybody! I thought he was just more of a stoic asshole than the rest of them!”

Kiku released a short breath. They couldn’t communicate. In a way, it made Batukhan Ulan an agent effective in the case of capture. If his captors could not speak with him, nor he with his captors, no information could be lost. Or gained.

Yao asked him something in the little Mongolian he did know. “What are you doing?” Yao repeated helpfully, for Kiku. Batukhan replied. Yao looked at Kiku and shook his head helplessly. “I don’t know what he said.”

“So we need a translator,” Kiku summarized. His mind swam. They were running out of time. Contacting the agency for assistance at such a critical stage in the mission could prove fatal if the communication were to be intercepted. Yet it was solely a language barrier between them and truth.

“We’ll find a translator somewhere in Ulaanbaatar! I’m sure we can pay my old dealer to do it. Now please do put some damn morphine in my arm! I don’t know how he isn’t unconscious yet!” Yao rushed. Kiku nodded. Yao was right. They had to get out of there.

Kiku looked to Batukhan. Now, they had to get him home. Yao’s house was the securest location they had, and Kiku had brought zip ties and rope to restrain the culprit. Kiku moved forward with his weapon drawn and restraints ready. Batukhan spoke something as Kiku came closer, quick and curt. Yao could not, or did not, translate. Kiku put the gun in his face, as Yao had, and gestured for him to hold out his hands.

Batukhan spoke louder, angrier. A refusal. He nodded down to where he held pressure to the open wounds. The message was clear enough: he would not allow his hands to be bound, because his hands were slowing the process of bleeding out. Kiku sighed. He had no idea how to communicate that, while not Batukhan’s friend, Kiku was a doctor who could help.

Well… Probably, in any matter.

This was frustrating. “It would be easier if he was unconscious,” Kiku agreed with Yao. Kiku and Batukhan Ulan flinched together as Yao immediately struck with his firearm. The crack of the metal connecting with the culprit’s skull was resounding. Kiku sighed again as Batukhan went limp. “That is not what I meant,” Kiku complained, indignant. “Now we have to carry dead weight down the stairs.”

“‘We,’ please, Kiku.” Yao twirled the gun. “I have a bullet in my arm.”

“And I am the reason you do not have more bullets elsewhere,” Kiku reminded him. He scanned Yao up and down, because he felt compelled to confirm this now that he had said it, in the case that Yao would attempt to conceal further injuries. “You seem competent with the one arm,” he decided. “Help me to stop the bleeding until we can get him back.”

Yao, to his credit, squatted beside him to obey. Kiku tied Batukhan at the wrists and legs, should he regain consciousness when they packed the wounds. He did not. A nasty knot was swelling on his temple, but Batukhan would be staying with them for some time yet. Yao knew it was his turn without Kiku saying a word; he looked away as Kiku turned to him with gauze. He hissed through clenched teeth as Kiku wrapped his arm tightly.

“Yao,” Kiku murmured, the chill in his blood having yet to leave. “If he was an agent of the Russians, how do we know his actions were not done, while on mission, and under Russian order.”

Yao looked at him for a long time, squinting. “Did you use your brain before making that statement? Because I’m working for them, last I checked,” Yao smacked him with the arm Kiku wasn’t bandaging. “They would not send me to stop their own man working toward their own nefarious world-ending goals. My superiors and yours are working together in this, not against each other!”

Kiku clenched his teeth. “We are hardly ‘working with’ an agency with such low standards of conduct. We are merely borrowing their tools. Yao, you would do well to remember this.”

“Ooh, ‘tool.’ That’s fair. But your agency is not so squeaky clean as you’re trying to let on. You are as likely to have traitors as the Russians. So, who from your agency will arrive first? A translator? Or an assassin?” He sniffed. “Oh, my mistake. You have your scientists, your professionals, and your repressed American boys. Most of them can function as translator and assassin.”

Kiku thought of his conversation with Germany, of a superior unsure of his own guidebook, of the flawed protocol put before his husband’s life. No, Kiku supposed, he doubted even the Americans were without enemies from within. Kiku tore the gauze cleanly.

“Right,” Yao groaned, face pale with pain he refused to acknowledge would hinder him. “You grab the Mongol; I’ll drive.”

“You are not driving. You are wounded.”

“Oh, I’m driving,” Yao nodded to himself, and started out the door.

Without Kiku.

Kiku sighed, alone in a bloodstained apartment. He sized up Batukhan on the ground. Perseverance, he told himself. He must only have perseverance. He hoisted the culprit onto his shoulders. And patience with Yao. A lot of patience.

Yao waited with the motorbike when Kiku arrived, panting and sweating, with Batukhan Ulan. Kiku glared him down. Yao smirked. “Don’t look at me like that. Thanks to me, you’re not carrying him all the way to the house. Really, Kiku, I’d think you’d learn to be a little more grateful for all I do for you.” A few choice words came to mind, as did the possibility of using a little less morphine for Yao’s arm… Patience.

“Help me get him onto the bike,” Kiku gasped, muscles quaking at the mere thought of lifting this poor man. Yao did, with his one arm making him significantly less helpful than Kiku would have preferred. The bike was not intended for three, and Kiku desperately wished that Yao would drive carefully. Falling off the back failed to appeal.

Police sirens erupted nearby.

Yao revved the bike’s engine. Kiku squeezed his eyes closed, and vaguely wondered if he should make peace with dying at the hands of Wang Yao’s driving. His mind helpfully provided a picture of the death report. “Yao,” Kiku begged.

“Shut up and hold on.”

 

Kiku washed his hands of the memory of blood with a water bottle as Yao carried Batukhan Ulan--bound and drugged--to the basement of the small house. Kiku despised treating gunshot wounds. In his profession what he enjoyed was the mental stimulation of diagnosis, of investigation. Treating the suffering was not, nor had it ever been, his area. His PhD should have assured his medical expertise was used elsewhere, and yet there he was, again the medic.

The bullet from Yao’s arm lay on the kitchen counter.

It was not so long ago that Mr. Germany had told him he would not be allowed to take the place of his husband, due to his credentials being needed at the agency. Still, Alfred was not home, and Kiku was not at the agency. He sighed through his nose.

No, instead Kiku was babysitting not one, but now two, Russian agents. The Russians certainly did not breed loyalty within their agency. Yao and his husband, having once run from it. Batukhan Ulan, seeming to work with the threat his agency was cooperating to extinguish. This entire case was bizarre, packed with baffling situations and volatile characters to the brim. Kiku would be glad to get it over with. He shook the water from his hands, dried them with an old shirt.

He could not allow himself to become frazzled so close to potential breakthrough.

There were many things they did not know, but for whom Batukhan worked, and why could give the agency what they needed to neutralize the threat. They could go home, a feat no agent had accomplished with this mission yet. He could go home. Alfred could come home.

Kiku wandered the shell of a house, restless, as Yao secured the suspect as best they could. The heating struggled feebly against the broken window the next room over. The house was anything but secure, but it would have to do. This process should not take long. Not with Yao’s... determination. Kiku inwardly sighed. Yao was slipping--becoming more brutal, taking more risks. This place corroded him. Perhaps he was growing hasty to leave it, or perhaps it merely drew the worst from him.

Kiku hated this. They were sitting ducks as long as they were in this place, no matter how armed.

What difference would it make if the suspect was bound? The whistling wind mocked him as it poured freely into the creaking civilian house. The broken window, the entry point for whoever stole the furniture no doubt, was evidence in itself. Kiku could not stand it a second longer. Surely he could outfit it with rudimentary security measures so they, at the very least, would be alerted if someone were to pass through it…?

He took a step away from the lantern’s ring of light, and stumbled haltingly. Beyond here, Yao had not shown him to any other area of this house. To set foot anywhere else was to breach territory that did not belong to him. He hovered there, at the edge of the lantern’s reach. Instinct tugged against it, or perhaps only polite sensibilities.

And the wind carried on its tune, behind one of two closed doors.

Kiku pushed through the hesitation; this certainly was not the time.

Kiku focused his energy on the window to soothe the nameless sense of unease frothing in his stomach. The cold lashed out at him the instant he opened the door. What was once a bedroom lay bare and featureless, save for the sheen of glass particles littering the floor near the window. Nothing for his use but a gaping pane. He shut the door, as quickly as he had opened it.

Alfred was typically the one to set up security mechanisms, if there was ever the need, but Kiku supposed an improvised form of tripwire would do no matter the specifics of the situation. Kiku’s thoughts wandered to the supplies he had, and what could potentially fill that role, or if he would have to unravel an article of clothing for its thread--

Kiku stopped, there in the small, dark hallway. His mind nagged; his gut remained restless. He saw it out of the corner of his eye. There were two closed doors, not one. One concealed the window, and the other…?

He reached for the doorknob.

Kiku pulled the closed door open, and froze. His pulse hammered, quicker and quicker to his ears, as everything--his breath, his thoughts--hitched in a moment. 

Inside, there was a crib. There was a mobile of stars above it. There was a rocking chair in one corner. It was a nursery, covered in layers and layers of dust.

The floorboard at his side creaked, and Kiku started. Yao stood at his shoulder, the only one who had ever had the ability to slip past Kiku’s keen senses. Kiku’s mind raced as he looked at the man beside him. Yao’s expression was carefully guarded, a perfect mask as he gazed into the room, as if Kiku were not there. Kiku tried to reign in his bewilderment. Why would he--?! “You have a child?”

Something behind Yao’s mask shattered, and Kiku realized as his heart sank that he was wrong.

“Yao…” But there were no words.

Yao cleared his throat, gazing pointedly away from him. “I told you, Kiku.” He was quiet, strained. “We had a life here. And then we didn’t.” Yao’s hands shook, clenched though they were into fists to stop it. “Of course the burglars took everything but what was in here. They probably thought it was cursed.” A dry, humorless scoff.

“You… You didn’t tell me…” Kiku took a breath, “You didn’t tell me you lost a child.”

“Lost?” Emotion wracked his voice, forcing him to a pause. “No. It was murder.” Yao closed his eyes. “You cannot escape this line of work, Kiku. It catches up with you, no matter how long it has been, no matter what you have done.”

The cold words turned Kiku’s stomach. Their shoulders were nearly touching, but Kiku watched Yao from a distance. He had so many things to say and yet he had no words for any of it. There were regrets. There were questions. So many of them. There was no reaction and no condolence for this. He allowed Yao silence, because it was all he could give him that seemed to offer an ounce of respect.

It smelled of the dust and the cold. Beside him, Yao’s hands shook.

Yao kept his jaw clenched, his shoulders straight. It was not the anxiety of the jet ride; that was merely the anticipation of this moment. Now he tried only not to shake apart.

Kiku had brought him here. Rather, Kiku had coerced him here using his husband as the leverage above him. He had known there was something that Wang Yao hid so ardently behind his masks.

You cannot escape this line of work… It echoed. Kiku was still placing all the pieces now that he had the missing one. Yao’s reluctance to come here. Yao’s relapse with old habits. Kiku’s head swam with pieces that now formed a horrific picture.

“You won’t ask,” Yao noted aloud. “But you need to know.” Yao swallowed as his voice grew too strained. He took a moment, clasped his hands behind his back. “We left the nomads for Ulaanbaatar because we knew someone was looking for us. A stranger had asked about us, they told us about it, we disappeared to the city. We thought ourselves so wise. Untouchable. We were fools, Kiku, but we thought we were free.”

Yao shifted, fatigued by the unfathomable weight on his psyche but bearing it nonetheless. His sigh shook slightly, but he forced himself on anyway. “We built the life we wanted, the one we thought we would never be able to have but now could. The house, the jobs. We were comfortable enough we thought-- Well, you would understand us better than most, wouldn’t you?” Yao held his chin high. “We thought we would start a family.”

Kiku straightened. He heard it now. Yao’s warning.

“It wasn’t the most illegal thing. Adoption wasn’t going to work-- we were two men in Mongolia. Undocumented to boot. We had a surrogate, a friend from work, a lovely woman--

Kiku’s ears rang. “I heard you speaking with Mei and Yong Soo. Did you lie?”

Kiku had spoken of light-hearted things with his siblings, of his husband, of their marriage… and of their consideration of having children.

Yao watched him bristle as he began to understand.

“Yao, I cannot pretend to know how you feel,” Kiku tread lightly, “But this is not about me, nor my husband. Please do not--”

“Don’t you dare,” Yao spit venom. “Don’t you dare interrupt me, or pretend you understand this, when you know nothing of what I have gone through.” His voice broke, his anger revealed for the pain it was. He looked away, jaw working. “So forgive me,” through clenched teeth, “if my story is not quite what you wanted to hear.”

Kiku swallowed his objections like the soldier he had become. His heart crashed against his chest with each beat, painful.

The silence stretched as Yao forced himself to retain composure. “Our child,” Yao said, when he was able, “was with a babysitter for the evening, when Ivan and I received a phone call.” Yao shook his head, violently, unable to go on as his breaths heaved. Kiku felt he should reach for him, ground him here, but worried Yao would break if he did.

“Tell me, Kiku, who have you killed?” It made Kiku dizzy trying to follow him, blinking. “Do you know their names? Did they have families? They all have some manner of family, don’t they?”

Kiku winced. What a twisted, painful word family had become for the both of them. And again, work and dreams had wormed its way into the heart of it. The both of them were perfectly aware of what Kiku's work consisted. 

“I hardly ever bothered with the names much, really,” Yao’s expression contorted, distaste an unsightly addition to his pain. Yao turned to look into Kiku’s eyes, unyielding. “A pathetic relative of some nameless target--” he spat it, “--came after us. For revenge. Took it personally.” Yao bit the already-destroyed thumbnail on one hand, almost absently, a far-away look in wide eyes. “We had taken his family. And he took ours.”

Yao squeezed his eyes shut, and Kiku thought for a moment he would scream, or collapse, or tear at Kiku, or himself… yet he didn’t, and there was something about this, about Yao suffocating himself so as not to fall apart, that Kiku found so much worse.

Yao took a gasp of a breath, and again shook his head.

“I can’t stay here.”

Kiku was well past arguing with him. “Where will you go?”

Yao didn’t answer, slipping out of the house without another word.

Chapter Text

The basement had one entrance, and one exit. Batukhan would need to be a magician indeed to be capable of a feat like awakening from the medication and escaping expertly-tied binds with multiple still-fresh wounds. It was not the suspect that worried Kiku.

Yao did not return, and so Kiku put sniper training to use and did not sleep. Awaiting a target called for one to be still, to be focused, to be alert, for hours--or days, depending on how unlucky Kiku was when assigned to such a project. He extinguished the lantern for the night, not wanting to draw any unwanted attention, and remained in darkness for the night with his thoughts, and with his unsettled stomach. The training allowed for him to take a shot, so it would allow him to survive the night... but for the long day... he would still need Yao. After the night, it would not exactly leave him in peak condition to fend off intruders. 

Dawn broke, and then so did a frozen morning.

It revealed no sign of the enemy coming to reclaim their wounded pawn, and it revealed no Wang Yao.

He hated himself for it, but it was stark fact. Yao was given the night. Kiku must have him for the day. They would both be getting out of here.

Kiku stood, resolving himself to do this quickly. His joints popped in protest of the idea of movement. He just hoped Yao was in a place where he could be brought back, both in terms of Kiku finding him, and in terms of mental state. Kiku himself felt numb, in a headspace removed from the world due to exhaustion from all sources. Despite the time he spent bundling himself in layers, he still grimaced at the sharp nip of the cold when he opened the door to the outside.

The neighborhood was empty in the early morning. Kiku had no concept of where to go looking for his partner… but he did resolve to save the house of the dealer, for last. Kiku chose not to think of him like that.

The chai place was open, empty of customers, Chinese or otherwise, but Kiku warmed his hands with two cups. Kiku strode down the street as though his trek had an aim beyond wandering.

Ultimately he did not need to go far. He caught sight of it out of the corner of his eye. It was an open area, white with mostly-untouched snow. There was a single trail that disturbed that pattern, and a lone thin figure at the end of it. Kiku was jogging before he could help himself, grateful the lids were tight on the cups.

Yao sat in the snow, head down.

Kiku slowed as he came closer, realizing with yet another jolt to his stomach where he was, but then plunged ahead anyway. Yao turned his head to watch him come, a small headstone at his side, brushed free of the snow.

Yao’s cheeks were pale.

“What are you doing?” Kiku could not make the words bite. He yanked Yao off the ground by the back of his coat, restraining himself from taking the man by the shoulders and shaking him. “How long have you been out here?!” Kiku whispered, glancing down to gauge the amount of alcohol missing from the tall bottle chilling in the snow.

Yao looked back at him, drained and cold.

Kiku hugged him then, tightly. “You’re so stupid,” Kiku told him, relieved to have found him whole. He squeezed tighter as Yao let his head fall onto his shoulder. “Have some dignity. Drinking? You told me you only did that with your husband,” Kiku recalled, tone lighter, hesitantly teasing him.

Yao shook with laughter against him. “Kiku, when have you ever known me to go about anything with dignity?” He sounded awful, but halfway sober. Kiku shoved the tea into his hand. Yao stepped away, holding the warmth close to himself. Kiku looked him up and down.

“How… are you doing…?”

Yao took a contemplative sip of the tea. “We’re standing at my daughter’s grave right now, Kiku, how do you think?” Kiku couldn’t rise to Yao’s challenge of meeting his eyes. Yao took another drink, longer, giving Kiku time to soak in that. “I contacted my old dealer last night,” Yao told him.

Kiku slumped. “Yao--” But Yao waved him away.

“Shut up, won’t you? It wasn’t for drugs,” he sniffed. “He’ll be translating for us today, at noon.” Kiku squinted, trying to imagine how that exchange had transpired.

“Is he… This is very sensitive business; confidentiality is beyond vital at this point--”

“Believe me, what I offered him, he won’t talk. You may want to tell your superiors not to check the bill, though. They won’t like it too much.”

The bill was the least of Kiku’s troubles. He shook his head. “Very well. But I need you to get out of the cold.” Yao thought on it, head tilted. He went for the bottle on the ground, but Kiku anticipated that and swiped it up first. Kiku glanced at the label, then took a sniff. He recoiled.  

“What are you drinking? Lighter fluid?”

“It’s not wine; you’re not supposed to smell it!”

“How can you drink this straight?”

Yao shrugged. “Ivan likes it.”

Kiku shook his head and cleared his throat. “Okay,” was all he could give to that. Kiku paused. “Yao, I need you to come back with me.”

“Maybe I’ll show up around noon.” Yao thought about this. “Actually, I don’t think my presence is entirely necessary even then.” He put a hand on Kiku’s shoulder, forced an ugly smile. “Thank you for the tea. I think I’ll--” Kiku caught his wrist in a hard grip, and tugged off Yao’s glove.

“You are going,” Kiku said this slowly, “to get frostbite. Your hands look terrible. I will also need to redress your arm. You are coming back with me,” Kiku tried to make his voice gentle, sincere. “I am not asking.” Yao snatched the glove back, and as Kiku walked away, he begrudgingly followed.

Noon. They had only to make it to noon. Exhaustion would be put to the back of the mind. They only had to make it through an interrogation. The case would be blown wide open. They could contact the agency. They could get out of here, and they could go home.

There was another thing Kiku did not know, what home would look like for Yao. If he and his husband had anything that resembled this place, or if the Russians housed active agents on the site of the agency between missions. If Yao and Ivan’s concept of ‘home’ at all resembled the ‘home’ of Alfred and him…

He shook it from his mind, the cruel echo of Yao’s words digging their claws into him. Even with all their differences, how similar their situations were.

Batukhan. They had a suspect in Yao’s basement, and he, too, had something in common with Wang Yao. Kiku would be the only person in that house who wasn’t an agent of the Russians.

The two walked down the neighborhood street.

“After we get the information, I also say we get ourselves home,” Yao said, voice hoarse.

“Are we just going to leave him?”

“I don’t see you providing a better idea to assure I get home to Ivan after this hell. One free of any leaks in your or my agency.”

Kiku sniffed. “You don’t trust the Russians?”

“Why the hell would I trust the Russians? I work for them!” Yao scoffed. The two made their way to the back entrance of the house.

Yao’s steps faltered at the doorway, and Kiku half-wished he did not know why. It was easier when Kiku didn’t know, when Yao was frustratingly unforthcoming. It was better than seeing him like this, and now knowing why, and still having to bring him back here.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Yao spoke lowly, standing tall with a distasteful scowl as he peeled off his layers in the warmth. Yao still work a mask, but it was haggard with wear, with his exhaustion, with the lasting effects of the alcohol used in attempt to blur harsh realities. It would seem neither of them had slept.

“I just found you sitting in the snow, drinking away your trauma. I am allowed to assess your condition.”

Yao rolled his eyes at that, clicking his tongue. “Doctors. Such know-it-alls. You’d think somewhere in all that schooling they could teach you how to be pleasant to be around!”

Kiku laughed, and Yao allowed a half-smile to break through.

Kiku was still smiling when he looked down to pull off his boots. He froze, suddenly, all of him tensing at once. Oh, he was such a fool. Yao saw him, and was instantly sobered, a hand going for a weapon in his coat.

He hadn’t counted the tracks in the snow.

But the wet boot print on the kitchen floor, was neither his, nor Yao’s.

Kiku slid his hand to where his handgun was holstered at his side, fingers curling around it--

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the voice was calm, and spoke English. The click of a safety. Then another, and another. They stepped out where Yao and Kiku could see them. Snow crunched from outside. Surrounded by figures in black ski masks. “Hands where we can see them, now. You caught us off guard, guys! Thought you’d at least be a little longer. Come quietly, and maybe we can work something out for you two.”

Kiku had to absorb the scope of it in an instant, and relinquished his hand on his gun with great hesitance, mind working a thousand miles an hour as he looked about himself. Maybe they would take him and Yao alive, but Kiku had done enough of the death reports for this case to know they wouldn’t stay that way if they went with the enemy.

He had a knife up both sleeves, and one strapped at his thigh. One tucked in his boot.

Kiku raised his hands slowly, exposed, banking on them wanting to capture the two of them before killing them. He knew the patterns of this case: they would make it look like suicide, or, they would torture them until they died, with no bodies to be returned to Alfred, or to Ivan.

Kiku stood, tense, waiting to see which it would be. The man had said they'd been caught off guard. Kiku looked the nearest men up and down. Their body language was not that of people who knew they were in control of the situation. The men inched reluctantly closer, with their guns, and with their advantage, as if asked to put their hands into a burning flame. Whatever their plans, they hadn’t been fully prepared for his and Yao’s arrival. Kiku could not see Yao behind him.

“Keep ‘em raised.” Kiku couldn’t precisely place the accent, tainted as it was with the sound of local Mongolian, like that of a person who hadn’t spoken their native tongue in a long time.

The gun and holster were removed from him by the gloved hands of a person behind him. Yao cursed whoever must have been doing the same for him, in Mandarin and English, just so nothing could be lost in translation.

The barrels of guns glared Kiku down, and his blood roared in his ears. He let the curling of his fingers seem natural; he was so close to the knife--

--The gloved hands were about to discover another of Kiku’s weapons--

--Yao made a suggestive comment toward the person patting him down, and the blunt sound of a fist connecting with flesh was as resounding as Yao’s groan, and it was exactly the distraction Kiku needed.

The knife sailed across the room, hitting its mark with more than enough force. Many things happened, then, very quickly. As the leader fell, impaled, Kiku slashed out with the other knife against the man who’d taken his gun. He retrieved the firearm as Yao accepted the opportunity to lay waste to those around him, his hair flying wildly around him as it fell partially from its ponytail in the scuffle.

No gunshots came from the enemy, who fell back. Yao snatched the bottle of alcohol from the floor by Kiku and shattered it over someone’s head as they tried to retreat out the door. Then the two of them were back-to-back, firearms in hand, ready to take the rest from any side. “Nicely done. A little slow. I took out two more than you,” Yao felt the need to tell him through heavy breathing, and Kiku found himself coughing on a laugh that bubbled up of its own accord on his adrenaline.

He didn’t have enough bullets for all of them, Kiku was thinking, counting them as he watched their movements. More than one had gone out the door, and Kiku noticed in the back of his mind they’d thought to shut it behind them.

The enemy stood, menacingly poised with their guns, but not shooting despite the body count. Kiku didn’t like it, the inaction more concerning than a gunfight.

Then, one of them started counting.

Yao shot him, but not before the others had taken the cue. They pulled out gas masks.

Kiku’s breath rushed out at once. “Get out. We need to get out. Now.”

Yao went for the door, and found it wouldn’t open. One of the men in black had a large vial in his hand, stoppered with a layer of plastic. He had a needle in the other hand.

Kiku raised his gun to stop him, but he heard the gentle pop of the seal from across the room, and the hiss of a gas released into the air. It was tossed toward the two of them.

Kiku held his breath, wrapping his scarf tightly around his mouth and nose, tugging up his shirt too. But the enemy had masks. It would not be enough. Yao’s thin shoulder hit the door, trying to break it down. It didn’t budge. They must have been holding it shut from the outside.

Kiku grabbed his wrist. They didn’t have time. They had to go for a window and take their chances with those on the outside. They were already running on borrowed time; had they shown up any later, the gas would have been waiting for them when they came in the door, Kiku was certain.

He turned to run.

A gunshot splintered the floor directly in front of his feet, so close Kiku thought for a single instant it hit.

His gasp was involuntary. The gas burned against his nose through the fabric, noxious. He ran for it, telling himself the instantaneous wave of dizziness was only in his head.

He made it to the next room over before his knees buckled. Yao tried to catch him, and stumbled himself. “Go,” Kiku tried to hiss, but his tongue was heavy in his mouth.

Yao laughed humorlessly, tugging him weakly with elbows hooked under Kiku’s armpits, “I’m trying!” The pressure released. Yao fell.

Kiku’s vision grew increasingly fuzzy as the room spun, and then it was black, the boots on the floor by his head were distant echoes, and then, there was simply nothing...

Chapter Text

Good news: his swollen mouth was gradually starting to stop bleeding. Some of the bad news: they knocked out a tooth, which was less than sexy, but the agency would probably cough up the dough to get him another fake one. Now if only the various aches and pulsing and sharp pangs would cut it out. Like, I get it, bodily signals, things are ouchy. He didn’t need the constant big little reminders.

What he needed was a nice nap.

Or maybe a pina colada with Kiks on the beach. With his sexy new fake tooth. Heck yeah. That was the American dream right there.

He’d had training on these sorts of situations. Of course, there was only so much you can be prepared for in the capture and torture department. Al just remembered the creepy instructor dude who kept insisting over and over that a person could ‘only handle so much,’ and he really really wished his mind would stop supplying that line next to the one about national security taking the priority over the agent, because he had a husband and a life to get back to. Plus, ya know, a resignation letter to write out because he was over this junk. Way over it.

Al resisted the urge to curl in on himself on the cot. It wasn’t going to make anything feel better if he did. Plus… They’d be back. They were on lunch or sitting in a dark room rubbing their hands together while they muttered hatefully about Americans. Whatever it was Baddies did. And if they were going to be back-- on Mrs. Butterworth herself-- Al wasn’t going to give ‘em the satisfaction.

So, he lay there. In the quiet of the cell, in pain, in the echo of their shouted questions, in the slurry of his worries and notions of duty in the face of this, and in thoughts of his life outside of this mess… He teetered on the edge of troubled unconsciousness...

… In a sort of fever dream, where his creepy instructor chuckled and wheezed about their best options for killing themselves, where Russians screamed questions at him in English that he couldn’t answer as they struck him, cut his skin, threatened his life… where Kiku held him close as shelter against it all… Alfred could almost feel his hand brushing a sticky strand of hair from his injured face… where everything hurt, but Kiku was there, his touch, his lips so gentle…

Al jolted, and then regretted the movement, as the door opened with an atrocious scrape. He closed his eyes against them as they ordered him to stand for them. He wished idly he knew more bad words in Russian. He could only call them bitches, if he wanted, but that was about it. They understood English well-enough, he’d learned, but there was something about insulting a man in his mother tongue that was so much more gratifying.

They shoved him roughly off the cot, and he swallowed a yelp. ‘Bitches’ it was, then! “I’m sleeping,” he muttered around his messed up mouth, in Russian for them. They kicked him in the ribs, in one of the largest bruises along his jaw, and he forced a cry to become a hyena’s laugh. Because it pissed them off. Plus, if they knocked him unconscious, that was their problem.

They took his arms and dragged him, which really, really wasn’t pleasant, but he went ahead and laughed some more while he could.

They tied him to the same chair. Alfred didn’t know how long he’d been in this place. But it certainly hadn’t been long enough since he’d been in this dingy, stinking room. “I was having a good dream!” He told the one who approached him as the door grated to a close. “There was a frog there, and she invited me to her pet fly’s funeral, and the whole frog colony was in attendance--”

It got him punched. How rude. He’d thought it was a rather charming story.

“Who are you?” Alfred was asked.

“I told you, Vlad! I am Fernando, of Madrid! Hola! Visiting my sick grandmother in Paris!”

Baddie sighed. Alfred was also Juan, from a quaint little village in the Pyrenees. He was also Karl from Berlin who was practicing his French in Paris, and Charles from Paris who was just looking for his dog, and Jacque the dog catcher from Versailles, and Jonathan the horribly lost foreign exchange student who hitchhiked from Ireland. Maybe it was a bad idea to be so many people, but Alfred really didn’t have a better plan. These Baddies had been after him since before he’d set foot in Paris.

“Who are you with?”

¿Qué? No hablo ingles, lo siento.”

They finally got around to breaking his nose for that one.  

“Damn, you got me, Viktor. I do speak English after all. My grandmother would be ashamed of me for lying. You must understand that this situation has really got me spooked, and I’d rather like to be going!”

“Who do you work for?”

“Who do you work for, Boris?” He laughed as the blood ran freely down his face. “I work at a deli! I’ve got to support my wife, our 5.7 children, and our lazy, good-for-nothing cat. What about you?”

The Baddie sighed again. “Have it your way, then.”


Сука released the grip he had on Alfred’s hair, and Al’s head fell forward. He watched the blood draining from his mouth drip onto his jeans.

The Baddie sunk back into the shadows a bit, in proper Baddie fashion, and Alfred squeezed his bruised eyes shut at the sound of metal instruments rattling against a tray. Whatever he had, Al didn’t really want to see it. “I suggest you start talking for us,” Alfred was told.

“I’ve… I’ve been talking this whole time,” Al mumbled back, mostly to his jeans, not having any energy left for this.

“And yet, you’ve said nothing.” Wow, what a poet. “Let me be clear... It is in the interest of more than your big mouth, for you to tell us all about your business here.”

The Baddie picked up something from the tray with a small scrape of metal on metal, and moved forward.

Alfred’s arms were strapped down at the wrists; he wasn’t able to stop them prying his hand out of a fist. What the flying Frank Lloyd Wright was up with this thing Baddies had for messing with hands? Had they not done enough to ‘em already?

Alfred kept his eyes closed. He wouldn’t watch.

He hissed, arm jerking as something cold and metallic was pushed onto his poor, injured fourth finger. It came to a stop, painfully constricting against the damage toward the base of the finger. He grit his teeth and he tried not to look, he really did, but it wasn’t like he could just ignore it! So he took a peek.

His breath stalled right along with his heart in an instant. Pain to shock to crescendoing horror.

They’d put his wedding ring on his finger.

It was like they’d doused him in ice water.

“Think on it,” the voice purred, but Alfred was listening from a distance. They had him. They had him. And they knew. Holy fuck, they knew. The ring Kiku had put on his finger at their wedding--the ring that Alfred had entrusted only to him for safekeeping while he was on his mission--shone brightly, out of place in this dark room. And God was it sickeningly painful to wear it. 

Then, they were undoing his bounds and tugging him up. He collapsed against them, not to be a pain or anything; his legs took the idea of holding him up into consideration and then decided it was a ‘nope’ from them. He groaned despite himself.

They half-dragged him, going back toward his cell. He watched the drops of blood fall to the floor as they went.

Al’s breathing was ragged, rattling in his chest with his racing heart. They had Kiku.

He got a foot under himself. The guards were laughing and joking among themselves, half-paying attention to the limp, bloodied form between them. There were three. His ring finger was smarting something awful with his increased heart rate.

They had Kiku. Damn it all.

He wrenched his right arm free from a sweaty hand and lunged with hysterical desperation. He got his footing--barely feeling his shaking legs--and decked the nearest one right in the face. His ring cut where it connected with the guard’s temple--serves them fuckin’ right--and the guard went down in a heap.

He got the next one in the solar plexus, bending the man over as the air rushed from his lungs before he got him in the throat.

The last came at him with a gun, as if that was going to be any sort of deterrent at this point and Al smacked it from his hands before kicking him in the stomach, catching his doubled-over body by the ear, and slamming his head against the concrete wall.

Not one of them had raised an alarm.

He went for their guns, and found all of them empty of bullets. Using ‘em as appeals to a prisoner’s will to live while making ‘em useless if the victim happened to get their hands on one. Wonderful.

He didn’t know where he was going, but he had to get out of here. Unarmed. Injured. The adrenaline acted like it was trying to do him a solid and keep the pain at bay, but it wasn’t exactly doing a fantastic job. Tell ya what the guards did have, though. Keys. And handcuffs. Okay. Okay, then. He wasn’t too sure what he was going to do, but he knew where to start.

These corridors were as echo-y as they were prison-y. Someone would have had to have heard the scuffle, he would have thought, but then Alfred would have been able to hear footsteps approaching. His ears were straining and he was sweating as his body violently protested his every movement, but he dragged his dudes into his own cell and handcuffed them there. He couldn’t do much about, ya know, the face thing… but he took the Baddie-issued jacket, the Baddie-issued hat, the second-hand worker’s slacks and sensible shoes, and one dude’s gloves, and he was looking enough like a Baddie that he might be able to get away with it for a bit.

If no one was watching the cameras.

But he was going to assume someone here was good at their job, so he did his best to hustle.

The Baddies definitely hadn’t clued him into where he was, in relation to this prison--basement, though, he was gonna assume--nor his relation to, like, the world. Maybe they shipped him out to Siberia. But maybe he was still in Paris. The one key on the lanyard fit into his cell door, so that was useless, but the ID card had to be good for something. 

He turned down a solid bunch of hallways. A gaggle of hallways. An annoyance of hallways. He was limping, and he was still bleeding in multiple places, and his husband was probably behind one of these doors, and he was kind of totally freaking out, but things were going suspiciously well so far? Then, one of the hallways was wider than the others, and there was a door with a window set in it and it looked like there was actual light leaking through from that direction and there wasn’t a single Baddie to stop him.

Please open this door please open this door please open this door --he swiped the key card nonchalantly, as if his life didn’t depend on it. Light went green. There was a click.

He was a super spy. He was the best. Hell yeah. Time to own these wounds as if he earned them from someone on his side and not the Baddie’s side. He felt delirious and kinda dizzy--which was hopefully not him about to pass out--making his mind think method acting again. He pushed through the door.

There wasn’t a window, but bright fluorescent lights. Ugh. But there was an elevator, with up as the only option. He was going to take it as a sign that things could only get better from here. He’d get out. He’d rescue Kiku. They’d live happily ever after.

The Baddies had conveniently marked the ground floor with a star for him; thanks, Baddies. He chose that one.

The elevator started going up. But then it stopped, making his heart sink, and the doors opened a floor before where he was heading, and some dudebro got on who was too busy flipping through papers to see the bloody mess in front of him.

The doors slid closed. Dudebro looked up, a passing, uninterested glance. Then he did a double-take, the horror very thinly veiled in his expression. Alfred scowled like a pouty Russian soldier who wasn’t too happy about being gawked at. Russia was totally gonna be his muse for this character. Maybe he was good for something after all. Papers dude looked away, embarrassed. Then, the guy coyly asked “What happened to you?” In Russian, mostly to his papers.

“Work,” Alfred replied curtly, praying his Russian sounded Russian enough in his messed up, not-Native-speaker, kind-of-mediocre-at-this-language, mouth. Papers dude just nodded very quickly and returned his full attention to his papers. Hooray! Or, since it looked like he was doing as the Russians do for a bit: Ура!

The door opened at the ground level, and Alfred and Papers Dude stepped outside together. Alfred walked like he had somewhere to be, very aware of Papers Dude throwing him one last pitying look, and then he was trying to take in--well--everything as best he could without announcing to the people moving in this space that he was much an outsider as an outsider could get.

Big space. Big open space. Had some chairs in the middle if anyone wanted to hang out; nobody wanted to hang out.

It wasn’t home, but it looked kinda like home. Except the folks moving around in the same uniform as him spoke to each other in Russian, not English like the folks at the agency did.

Alfred’s mind was swimming. This place was, like, nice. Not villain-y. And it was big. It wasn’t some evil lair, some bunker in the woods (well, maybe they were in the woods; he hadn’t seen outside yet). There were windows way up high in the ceiling livening up the space with natural light, so it definitely wasn’t even in the Parisian sewers!

Who the Abraham Lincoln did this place belong to? Who the ever-loving Sojourner Truth owned this joint? The Baddies had to be Russians, but whichever Russians they were, they had matching outfits, a headquarters that had tasteful seating in their lobby and tortured prisoners in their basement. Whichever Russians they were, they were loaded, and they were influential.

And, if they were still operating under the outlines of Alfred’s mission briefing, these loaded, influential Russians wanted to kill all Americans.

Like, the natural thought would be that the Russian Baddies were with the Russian government, ‘cause they’ve got nukes and stuff and Russian-American relations still ain’t so amiable, but that also wouldn’t make sense unless the Russian government just absolutely was not communicating with the Russian agency Al got his charming mission partner from, right?

But the Baddies that picked ‘em off the street of Paris called Alfred’s partner a rogue. What did that mean in all this? Looking at any of this--this entire mission--aside from ‘these people are speaking Russian and they’ve got a complex here’ made no sense! Someone was lying; Alfred didn't know who. 

And Alfred still didn’t know where on Earth he was, but they had his husband and they were liable to find that they were missing a prisoner and some guards at any time now!

He didn’t know if he could get out of this complex without getting caught; that was his main, pressing concern (ya know, since he was just gonna assume his injuries weren't). He didn’t know what had happened to communications with the agency during the move to get Drug Dealer Lady, but he was really, really banking on those not being down anymore. He’d get his location, contact the agency, spill everything he knew, and--whatever happened to him--maybe at least the agency could get Kiku out of this nightmare.

Hell yeah. He was a super spy. All he needed was a computer.

He’d wandered down a hallway of offices that was looking conveniently vacant for such purposes and he found the next hallway was even vacant-er. He stumbled upon a smallish conference room--for all your nefarious world-ending budget meetings, of course-- and he could have cried in the relief of that knob turning in his messed up hand.

They had a nifty high-tech little computer corner with a few of those cool expensive monitors made out of small televisions that universities with something to prove will have in their, like, engineering wing or whatever. For all your villainous PowerPoint slide changing needs, Al guessed.

He turned on the computer, begging it to hurry. All he needed was to get on Google. That’s it. Then he could search ‘McDonald’s near me,’ it would get his location, and boom GPS would work its magic.

Hey, he knew for a fact that search worked on his agency’s computers.

The computer, however, had other ideas when it asked for a user to sign in. Alfred bit back a groan. Yeah, this was gonna take some work…



Blindfolded, gagged, bound at the wrists. Hands shoved Yao onward.

They put him in an elevator, bodies packed around him. They had allowed him no read on how volatile the nature of his environment was; that is, if he were to lash out, whether he would be met with fists, or a bullet. Testing such waters had a time and a place, yet frankly Yao couldn’t say he had bearings on either of those either. 

The doors opened, there were keys, and then there were stairs.

When his captors pushed through yet another door ahead of him, Yao stumbled slightly in his shock at being hit in the face with wind. They were outside, in the bitter cold.

And the air was buffeted by the sound of helicopter blades.



Ivan smiled at them as they walked him. He could hear them squirm when he did; their steps grew just a little quicker, jumpier. They had taken such efforts to restrain him as they led him to their next game. Ivan thought it funny! They were the ones who wished Ivan pain, and yet it was Ivan they feared. He smiled all the wider. 

Chapter Text

Ludwig rested his chin on his fist, eyes closed. He had the transcripts memorized, naturally; he had briefed enough agents on their contents.

The case was no longer in his hands. Instead, it was in the hands of those much more, well, qualified--he was sure--for the matter. It left him with no more agents under his jurisdiction in the field.

He listened to old agent correspondences with headphones. After all, he had no other work to do. Some communications were sent in an emergency, others were the potential last words of the agent. All of them deeply troubling. Many things nagged in Ludwig’s mind. Perhaps it was why he listened again for himself, a sort of reassurance. Reassurance of what… he didn’t know.

He had been informed that Agent America, Agent Russia, Agent China, and Dr. Japan had all been apprehended.

‘Suspect wants to save the world from the enemy. Won’t say who he thinks the enemy is. He just keeps saying that it’s me. Refers to an “us” and a “we,” but won’t say who he’s with; he only implies that they’re after me.’ The tone of the agent on the recording was almost bored as he made the routine report. Ludwig peered over his own notes made at the time, though he knew them, too, by heart. Authorized for further interrogation procedures… Suspect commits suicide. Hanged while agent was out.

Ludwig moved to the next recording, the same late agent, voice now frantic and gasping. ‘They want to kill us. They… They can! They can kill us all! Americans. They hate us. They’ll kill us. All Americans! It's--’ It was cut off, with no indication of what caused the loss in transmission.

Ludwig clicked onward, jaw set. ‘Their enemy is us--Americans! I don’t know why, but they want to kill us!’

He squeezed his eyes closed, trying to push the missing agents from his mind. He needed only to trust the agents and the higher-ups to do their jobs. He had a vacation coming up, after all, and Hawaii was nowhere to let such things trouble him. Feliciano deserved his full attention.

Yet, troubled he was.

Ludwig pinched the bridge of his nose, and replayed the tapes again.


 

The helicopter took off after they had securely strapped him into a seat. They did not remove the blindfold for a long, long time. They wanted him blind to his surroundings. He could hear them talking to each other on their headsets, but he could not hear what they said above the roar of the wind. Over an hour passed before they acknowledged him. They gave him a headset of his own. “I have questions that I would like answered,” a voice told him, “And I expect you to cooperate.” The tone was like silk even as it crackled with static in the headphones.

Ivan did not respond but for a smile. They had come to find he did not play well with their games. Hands began to undo his bonds. A mistake. He would break their neck with one hand free. Their stupidity was laughable!

But, before he was free, the hands removed his blindfold.

Ivan was the weapon his handlers had made of him, programmed not to be repurposed by any others if they were to acquire him. And his handlers had made only one mistake.

Ivan’s heart shot into his throat as his eyes locked with his husband’s.

They released him from his restraints and Ivan remained very, very still. Ivan looked away from Yao. One did not allow one’s captors to get much leverage over oneself, if one could help it. One did not allow captors to know that they were not merely agents on a mission. One would never give captors the knowledge that the person with you is your spouse. They will use that information to break you.

Yao was restrained across from him. The open doors of the spacious helicopter showed only a cold night. The man who had spoken into the headset stood in the aisle, watching him. “I picked up this one at about the same time as you,” he jerked his head toward Yao, “Do you know this man?”

Ivan swept his gaze over Yao once more, flooding his expression with imitations of disinterest and relief, as if glad that it was no one with whom he was familiar. He shook his head. “I don’t.”

The man hummed, stuck out a lip and looked over at Yao, who glared defiantly right back, betraying nothing. He meandered toward Yao, thoughtful. Then he struck out, punching Yao squarely in the jaw.

Ivan did his best not to grit his teeth. He would kill this man for laying a finger on Yao. It was that simple. But if this man were given the knowledge of just who Yao was to him, he would do much, much worse to him than punching to get to Ivan.

The man looked back at Ivan, a glint in his eyes. “Are you quite sure?”

Ivan met his gaze firmly. “I don’t know him.”


 

Alfred had gone cold. He felt like he was going to throw up.

The computer monitors shone brightly in the dark room, casting everything in an eerie glow. Part of his mind clung to the denial like a lifeline as he tried frantically to prove himself wrong, reading more and more of the files he’d hacked into. Files he was never meant to see. Getting sicker and sicker with each one. The weight of what was before him taking over and God, it was too big.

Fuck. Fuck. They wanted him dead. They wanted them all dead. Americans, dead! 

The people trying to kill him ‘wanted them dead,’ yeah, he guessed that wasn’t news, but… He never thought those people were… He raked a hand through his hair, minding the wounds they’d put there. Alix was right, he realized. Alfred was right. He and Russia and--fuck--there wasn’t really anything they found that wasn’t right, but they didn’t… They didn’t have all of it. They couldn’t have. That was the thing about a goose chase; they could never have all the pieces.

With shaking hands, he contacted his superior. Because they’d kept Germany--Ludwig Beilschmidt, said the files... Files they would have him killed over before ever letting him lay eyes on... They’d kept Germany in the dark right along with all the rest of them.

The call rang loudly in the deafening silence.

It didn’t complete its second ring before it was picked up, a familiar blond taking shape through the pixelation of the screen. Alfred was sweating something awful from the pain, from the shock, from the answers he’d been searching for this whole damn time--answers that were a good hack away from them the whole fucking time.

Germany straightened, concern and business on his face in an instant, recognizing him through the bloody mess. Al tried for a smile, just because he could see how bad he looked in the image in the corner. “Hey, Germy,” his voice cracked. “Guess who got kidnapped to Russia!”

Germany--Ludwig--cursed in German, immediately rushing to track the call. “Agent--”

“Couldja keep your voice down? They might hear. Please come get me,” Alfred begged him, feeling himself on the verge of tears now that they were face-to-face. “They have Kiku. I haven’t seen him, but they gave me my wedding ring and he was the one who had it. Also, I solved the case?”

Ludwig’s stony face went through a lot of emotions in two seconds.

“Are you alone?” Alfred whispered, rushed. They couldn’t afford to waste time. They couldn’t afford to be overheard. “Is anyone monitoring this call?”

“There’s a team looking into your location at this instant, but they are not authorized to do anything but deliver this information to me,” Alfred’s superior told him. “What have you found?”

“Your name is Ludwig Beilschmidt.” Alfred’s voice was dry, tone low. “You’re going on a trip to Hawaii this weekend with your husband. On the second day of your trip, you’re going on a boat ride, and your bosses have agents scheduled to kill you both and make it look like a boating accident. Because you’ve gone rogue.”

Germany was very, very quiet as Alfred spoke. They both knew all that he said could be confirmed by the name alone.

“The Baddies want to kill Americans. But we’re the Baddies, Mr. Germany. It’s the agencies--the Russian one and the American one. They’re working together, remember? The Russians want to kill their rogues. The Americans want to kill theirs. And they can. And they have. And they’ve been trying this whole time.”

“I have done nothing but work toward the goals of this organization,” Ludwig’s voice was a strangled whisper, “How, then, is ‘rogue’ defined here?”

Yeah, Alfred was definitely sick. “More trouble than they’re worth.” He swallowed. “It’s just killing agents who are more trouble than they’re worth, and covering it up. Or they’ll hire gangs who have no clue who their donor is...  But taking those kinds of seedy shortcuts hasn’t been as effective, has it? It has to be agents who kill agents. Like Alix. Like Victor. Like Russia. Like Jeanette the Drug Dealer Lady. Like the agents who were at the move; they weren’t after Drug Dealer Lady--they were sent after me. Me and Russia. That move was to get us into ‘custody,’ and her out. They’re just going to torture us until we die here. Which is pretty fucked up? Please come get me? Calvary’s not comin’ on your bosses’ watches.”

Germany’s breath shook. “Agent America,” he vowed, “I’ll do everything I can.”

Alfred laughed, drily. They’d taken all the power they could out of Ludwig’s hands, distanced him from this case, distanced him from his agents--Alfred had read that much in his file-- but Alfred didn’t doubt he meant it. “They were supposed to catch us at the party with the knockout gas in the safe. They were supposed to get me in the Catacombs after I messed up my feet getting away from the gang they hired. They were were supposed to get Russia in the prison. I was supposed to die or get captured so many times throughout this shit, Germy, but guess what?”

Germany humored him, like you’d do for a man who was about to die, “What, Agent?”

Alfred leaned in close to the camera, hearing the boots pounding against the tiles outside. “I’m a Millard Fillmore-ing super spy.”

He didn’t bother to flick off the computer monitor when they rammed through the door with guns drawn. Alfred wasn’t listening to them as they shouted, already raising his hands in surrender, shakily getting down on his knees. “They lied to you,” he said, his Russian small in the roar of their many commands, no clear leader among them. He tried to say it louder, and was shouted down. They grabbed him roughly by the arms, at least one of them noting the fucked-up-ness of the general area and trying to be a little gentle. But ya know, Alfred was going to go ahead and say that it didn’t help.

“Listen,” he tried to groan out, “Look at the computer. They lied to you. I’m not your enemy. Just look at the computer. All the proof is there.” At least a couple dudes in the room shared a confused glance with each other. “I--”

“Get him out of here,” scoffed a familiar voice from the dark room. Ah, so Сука had come with the little search party. They listened to him, not Alfred. He released a breath, his desperation welling in his throat.

Wait , just look--!” Сука struck him with the handle of his weapon, and Alfred saw stars. Didn’t exactly help with the wooziness. They dragged Alfred out of the room as his ears rang.

“Call one of the handlers to investigate the computer. We cannot afford breaches of cover or of protocol on behalf of a prisoner,” Alfred heard one of them mumble to another.

The Russian agents made a point not to look at the body between them, even as Alfred began weakly trying to dig in his heels against the tiles. They’d kill him. If a higher-up saw the files dredged up, it was over. It was all over.

“My name,” his voice was a croak, so he raised it as loud as he could as they reached the edge of the enormous open space, packed with agents, “Is Alfred F. Jones. My name is Alfred F. Jones. I work for the American agency.”

His heart raced as he tried to dig in his heels more, but they yanked him along anyway. He pulled at the agents holding him and they just tightened their grips, unconcerned by him, and he didn’t have anymore time, and it sent him into a panic. “MY NAME IS ALFRED AND THEY’RE LYING TO YOU. THE PEOPLE YOU’RE WORKING FOR ARE LYING TO ALL OF YOU. I’M ON YOUR SIDE. I’M ON YOUR SIDE,” he screamed his throat raw, trying to get any of them to look at him, “PLEASE, THE ENEMY ISN’T ME; IT’S THEM--”

Сука fell into step with the guards holding him. “Fernando of Madrid,” he mused, words clipped and mocking, “Since you have become so enlightened in this short time we have spent apart, tell me. What is my name?”

Some agents looked over then, intrigued, at the question posed. Alfred’s despair soared, crushing. He shook his head, tears brimming in his eyes, “Please, I--”

“No more of your stories,” he cut him off venomously, “I asked for my name.”

“It’s not a story; you have to listen to--” Alfred rasped,

“--You went looking for answers, but found nothing of the man assigned to settle your case?” Сука clucked his tongue, “I do find that interesting, Jacque, of Paris.” He snorted as the other guards barked with laughter too.

“You’re just a pawn,” Alfred tried, begging them to understand, “Why would I waste time on something that wouldn’t give me any answers--”

But they weren’t listening to him anymore.


Ivan didn’t watch; he shut his eyes and dug his fingernails into his palms. Yao tried to remain silent, even as they kicked him on the floor of the helicopter--bound to be unable to defend himself. The air stank of Yao’s blood where blows had broken the skin, and of seawater as the helicopter flew over dark waves.

Ivan understood this game. If Ivan rose to Yao’s aid, they would kill Yao. The guns trained idly on his husband while the eyes remained on Ivan told him at least that.

No matter how grueling, though, a trained agent would not rise for a stranger made victim. The questions, meanwhile, were a constant voice in his ear, prickling with radio static. “For whom do you work? You both work for the same force, do you not? Will you not speak for your coworker?”

Yao’s whimper sent an involuntary shudder through Ivan’s body, every fiber of his being rejecting this.

“He seems a lot more receptive to our tactics, wouldn’t you say?” The man commented, vaguely interested, “And I must say, you are quite reactive toward the plight of this stranger. Are you certain you have no ties?” The voice hummed.

“Anything you do to this man, you could do to me,” Ivan spoke evenly through gritted teeth. “Why should he have to suffer in place of a man he’s never met? This is repulsive.”

The voice coughed on a laugh. “Because nothing else has proved so effective with you. Now, tell me, who is your employer? What brought you to them?”

Ivan’s stomach lurched against his constructed facade as the dull impact of a particularly vicious kick was accompanied by a low groan.

The man made an interested noise. “You may have to become more forthcoming with your answers. Your friend here will be of no further use to us dead or unconscious.”

Ivan’s fingernails bit harshly into his hands in white-knuckled fists. Would they force his hand…? His mind rebelled against the idea. No. It was a bluff. The threat was empty, he was certain. He and Yao had a shared employer, that they seemed to know. The elimination of a source would be foolishness, at best--

--They struck Yao again, and his ragged panting fell quiet. Ivan’s eyes shot open to find Yao slumped, breathing evening out.

The voice clucked in his ear, and Ivan tensed. “Shame…” The man rose, trudged casually over to nudge Yao with a boot. He did not awaken, though Ivan begged him to. “Such a shame.” The man hoisted Yao into the air by the back of his shirt; his sunflower had never been difficult to lift--

Ivan very suddenly saw the ending of this game when his captor took a step--

--Ivan leaped to his feet, surging forward. The guns flinched toward him, but none took the shot. They knew how it ended too. It was no bluff.

The captor dumped Yao’s body from the open door toward the waters below as Ivan jumped and slid to catch him--

--His fingers brushed Yao’s hand, and then Ivan grasped at air.

Not one of them stopped him as he jumped after Yao.

Chapter Text

Ludwig swallowed hard, left staring at the now-dark screen to process this information.

His mind made a tally. How many agents? How many agents had he sent to meaningless deaths? How many agents were still to die before they came for him? But not only him; they planned to bring Feliciano down with him. Dragging Feliciano into a world he did not belong.

Ludwig ran a hand down his face, taking a deep breath. He was the only one who knew about the higher-ups. The only one, in a complex of hundreds obedient to the orders of their superiors.

And that call, like every correspondence here, was recorded by the agency. Agent China and Dr. Japan had been so concerned about leaks of information to the enemy.

Ludwig wrapped a hand around his concealed handgun. He wondered idly if any of the agents who had been under his jurisdiction would be the ones sent for him.

There was a knock at his office door, and Ludwig tensed at once. He rose to his feet, gun in hand. He reached for the knob, painfully slow—

“Yo, Deutschland! What the fuck are you doing in there?!”

Ludwig released a breath at the voice and opened the door, yanking his brother inside with a surprised squawk. “WHY THE FUCK DO YOU HAVE YOUR GUN OUT—" Ludwig clamped a hand over Gilbert’s big mouth.

“Agent Prussia,” he said lowly, “Listen carefully because we do not have time. You’re a target now. I just solved my big case. Would you believe my bosses are trying to kill me? And now they will likely attempt to kill you. They have been slaughtering agents, and now it’s my turn.”

Gilbert’s eyes were wide. Ludwig released him. “Uhh…” he spluttered, and then shrugged, “Okay. Okay, then. Shit. Shit. They’ve been considering putting me on that case for a while now, you know, because I’m so awesome, but they sent two other guys—"

Because Dr. Japan and Agent China were quite suddenly of higher priority to have extinguished than Gilbert’s big mouth. Anger flew like fire through him. “--We need to act now," he cut Gilbert off, "We’ll lose more lives if we do not. I need you to--”

“--Hold on. One of your bosses just sent me to come get you. Said to tell you he was calling a meeting about one of your cases. So, yeah, definitely don’t do that if they’re out to get you... and you are sure they’re out to get you…?”

“I am positive.” Ludwig clenched a fist, restraining himself from punching a hole in the wall. They had used their protocol to put his agents in harm’s way and he had helped enforce their wishes. Now, they came for him because they knew he may not be their puppet for much longer. How many agents dead? “Which boss?”

“I don’t fucking know! The one that orders me around when my usual superior doesn’t! The old guy? The one with the jowls? He’s in the big conference room upstairs.”

Ludwig waved him away. He knew the one Gilbert spoke of.

And the higher-up waited for him in the same room he had assigned Agent Russia and Agent America their potential death sentences.

Ludwig stowed his weapon, keeping his hand on it. “I need you to get a team of agents together. Get a pilot. We’re going to Russia.” Ludwig grabbed his suit jacket hung neatly over his chair as Gilbert gave him a shaky little two-fingered salute in the affirmative. “The technicians on the third floor, room 328, have your exact location.”

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

“To meet my boss,” Ludwig told him. Gilbert looked like he was going to protest, but knew full well he couldn’t stop him with anything he said. Gilbert shifted uneasily on his feet, chewing on Ludwig’s statement a moment.

“You better fucking meet me on the roof when you’re done.”

Ludwig gave him a nod, watching him carefully. Then, he pulled Gilbert in for a tight hug. “Be careful, brother.” Ludwig strode from his office, purposeful.

No guns stopped him. The guards outside of the conference room nodded him in.

The higher-up had his back turned, unbothered as Ludwig entered. On the television intended for presentations, the man watched a recording of Agent America’s call. He paused it as Ludwig approached him, turning to face only one of the agents he intended to have killed.

Ludwig towered over him. The higher-up gazed evenly up at him. “You must excuse me for sending Agent Prussia to fetch you; I had to assure that you wouldn’t shoot the messenger.” He gave Ludwig a light smile, then nodded to Agent America’s bloodied face staring desperately out from the screen. “I see you’ve had a conversation with one of our missing agents,” the man noted. He took in Ludwig’s expression carefully, then wandered over to the table to reclaim the coffee mug from its surface, taking a contemplative sip. Ludwig stayed in place, glaring him down with nothing but disgust.

The higher-up stroked a finger around the rim of the mug. “Would you believe me if I said he’s sorely misinformed?” Ludwig’s boss inquired of him.

“I wouldn’t.”

The higher-up hummed, as if he found the words only of vague importance, “Then would you mind terribly if I instead told you how Agent America is misinformed?” he tried again. He read the hesitation in his underling even as distrust welled within Ludwig. The higher-up smiled again, his expression a mockery of sympathy. “Care to sit?” he invited, taking another drink of coffee. He sighed, bored, when Ludwig didn’t budge.

“Agent Germany, you simply have no idea of the conditions and the rigor under which this agency operates. Inspiring international goodwill and cooperation, between ourselves and our Russian sister agency-- especially at a time when relations between our countries remain so fraught!-- is truly a modern wonder, you must understand. And, it is only one factor to take into consideration in the larger conversation of our operations.

“We have such amiable relations with our Russian friends, because we have such similar concerns! We have but two main concerns, Mr. Germany: Ensuring national security, and maintaining our ability to do so! To ensure national security, Mr. Germany, we must be assured of the quality of the work we do here. To maintain our ability to do our duty to our country, is as simple as a question of budget.”

He had given this spiel before. With a certain amount of amazement, and of trepidation, it occurred to Ludwig that his boss very well could have figures, slides, and graphics to accompany his words. The higher-up paused for a drink of coffee before he continued on.

“You’re a reasonable man, Mr. Germany. I would not be telling you this if you were not. Then again, I couldn’t stand for anyone to believe such--” he gestured with distaste-- “distortion of the facts. Agent America,” he shook his head, lip curled in an ugly snarl, “Reported on his findings of insubordinate deaths, but naturally being one himself, chose to be utterly mute to the purposes they serve! Any insubordinate is a weak link, and any act of insubordination is unacceptable. It strengthens the agency to have them gone, does it not? This is not a place for doubters or rulebreakers; we operate under very high standards of which each agent is made aware in order to assure only the best quality of work. It is our duty. It is why we’re here.” Ludwig restrained himself from clenching a fist. His boss wasn’t yet done.

“With each agent taken care of, it is more power to us. In many ways, you must understand! Our agents will do anything we ask, clean up any business we may have, all while our government wholeheartedly believes every mission is in the interest of national safety. Our government loves us! We have an arrangement with them, actually, you see. We cool relations with the Russians for the government, having the Russians on our side doubles our supply of human capital, and in turn the government understands that this is such a costly and important business. The tax breaks and funding are a given, and as nice as those are, well--ha!” he straightened his tie proudly, “On top of the power we’re given to do what we must, the government knows how hard to find our agents are. Our highly trained professionals, scientists, patriots! You should see the check we receive for each loss in the field, each loss in the name of national security we receive directly into our accounts. I assure you, Ludwig,” The sound of his name on this man’s lips made his skin crawl, “if you saw one of those checks--and you can, partially, in your paycheck and mine-- if you saw how much one expendable, insubordinate agent life was, you would know it’s all worth it.

“And besides. They were one step away from rogues anyway, and heaven knows we can’t have those. We might as well take them out as such and cash the check. As long as we keep up this tedious game, as roundabout as it must be to be kept quiet, we can keep cashing the checks. And our agency, and our country, and our world is better for it. Messy as it can be--as it must be-- we’re doing everyone a favor here.”

He finished his coffee, “It’s not too late to redeem yourself, Ludwig. Do you see now why we reacted to your mistakes as we did?”

Ludwig looked at him for a long moment before admitting, “Yes, sir, I think I do.”

Ludwig pulled his gun from its holster and shot his superior between the eyes.


Alfred woke up on the floor of his cell, blood gluing his cheek to the concrete. He winced. Everything hurt. Everything hurt.

They’d left him here, and he hadn’t even made it to the cot before passing out. Great. Stiff muscles were just what he needed on top of everything. At least he’d managed to puke on Сука’s shoes before they got him down the elevator. Good job, self.

Moving seemed an impossible feat, but the sudden surge of fear got him to his feet.

How long had he been out?

They were going to kill him. They were going to kill him and he had no concept of time--maybe he got a good ten minute nap in, maybe it had been three days. There wasn’t exactly anyone he could ask. And his body feeling way more awful than usual wasn’t great for puzzling it out either.

And they were going to kill Kiku.

But would they just kill the two of them? An execution-style bullet to the head seemed, like, a really tame way for this to end. Given, ya know, everything. Alfred closed his eyes, sitting down on the cot as he went a little light-headed. He held his aching head in his hands, trying to steady himself, trying to think. He brought his hand to his mouth, gently feeling the cold metal of his wedding ring against his lip.

They knew about him and Kiku. Of course they did. Their marriage despite the agency's protocol was listed as one of the strikes against the both of them in the agency’s file. And because they knew, they would use Kiku against him, or him against Kiku. Wasn’t that what they were threatening in the first place with the ring?

But now that he’d found out about the higher-ups’ scheme against them…

Alfred tried not to shake apart, though the tears leaked from his eyes. They were already into some messed up crap trying to get ‘information’ from him--information that the agency higher-ups knew, but that the underlings were clueless to. To people like the guards and his good pal Сука, he was still the enemy, working with a rogue agent from their own ranks, in a case they’d yet to solve. But if the higher-ups had wanted him dead before, they wanted him and Kiku double-dead now. And what would that entail?

His imagination offered plenty of things worse than death, especially if done to Kiku, probably with him forced to hear or--Harding forbid--watch.

He was sick again. His agency was supposed to protect them. But now all he had was the training they’d given him and the pain they’d dealt him and a death sentence they’d ordered for him.

His old instructor wheezed in his ear.

They’d let him keep the guard’s uniform, minus the shoes, which the guy probably needed back. He shed the jacket. He knew how this went, how it could end.

They couldn’t use him to hurt Kiku if he was dead before they came for him. All you gotta do is break the neck, and that really wasn’t all that hard.

The tears ran down his face freely. God, he should’ve gotten outta this job the second Kiku got out of school. They could have left, together. And then they’d have had the future together they wanted. They’d have had a future. But, then again, did anyone ever really escape this line of work?

If he tied the jacket to the cot and to himself, he could roll off the cot with more than enough force, and he knew it.

His whole body shook. He could never do such a thing to Kiku, but could he... for him? To save him so much pain? He felt paralyzed with the jacket in his hands, unable to move.

But the cell door opened with its heart-wrenching scrape and any remaining composure he may have had shattered, and he was crying openly. They didn’t say anything to him as they grappled him up and out of the cell. It wasn’t exactly a fair fight; there were five this time. New guards, not even Сука was there this time.

They didn’t take him to the dark room or its chair with restraints, and his heart was a jackhammer against his ribs. There was no doubt in his mind where they were taking him, or, at least, who they were taking him to.

He made the tears stop, for Kiku, to at least try to look like a less of a disaster than he so obviously was.

They pulled him out of the basement, hitting the star for the ground floor in the elevator.

“My agency is working with yours,” Alfred said into the elevator, “They’ve lied to you, and they lied to me. We’re on the same side. They told you my partner was a rogue, but he’s not. They’re killing us for their own personal gain…” They didn’t look at him, didn’t acknowledge that he’d spoken. He weakly tried to hockey check the dude at his right side, who hardly stumbled, “Look at me. I can prove it if you--”

The guard looked at him, a little affronted by Alfred’s insistence, but his expression was otherwise blank. The guard then turned to the one behind himself and muttered something. Not in Russian. Alfred didn’t recognize the language. And any language learner, or traveler, or person in an environment where there was no common language, was familiar with blank stares like the one given to him in that moment. “Do you speak Russian?” Alfred asked, surely a phrase that would be known by anyone in a Russian-speaking place. That, the two guards who had acknowledged him understood. And they shook their heads, a little apologetic, extremely wary. So Alfred tried another. “English? Do you speak English?”

They made no acknowledgement that they did. Any language that he tried, none of the guards responded in the slightest to. All began to ignore him, despite his efforts. Of course his superiors were aware of what languages he spoke, and gave him guards that wouldn’t understand a word he said. He had dangerous things to say, after all.

They forced him onward when the elevator stopped, in a direction he hadn’t gone before.

Their path was meandering, and Alfred was hardly strong enough to walk the distance himself, let alone fight his way out. There was no way out of this as far as he could see. He let them drag him.

They took him through a tunnel of sorts, and when they came out on the other side of it, they were in a large warehouse-looking space. Super high ceiling, wall-like shelves stacked high with boxes.

There was a guy in a suit that barked at the guards to get a move on, which a translator repeated for him in a couple different languages. They tugged at him faster. The guy in the suit leered at Alfred with pure disgust radiating from him. Suit guy didn’t follow as they rounded a corner made by one of the towering shelves.

There was a large, gray open space behind the shelf. And a swarm of people in the Russian uniform.

Alfred’s eyes raced to take in what was going on across the huge space as the uniformed Russians hurried about their duties. But his eyes stilled on the bodies, six hanging in a row, kicked away stools far below their feet. A couple were moving. The others were not. All were masked with cloth sacks over their heads. He’d walked into an execution.

None of the bodies were Kiku, he could see that much, but there were others on the floor who weren’t in uniform, other captives, who he almost didn’t see as they were nearly concealed by the Russians surrounding them-- and he kept spotting more.

The Russians were getting rid of their prisoners.

Alfred’s heart stopped when he heard a familiar voice curse in a familiar language, from the middle of a tangle of Russians. Alfred threw logic to the wind as he shouted his husband’s name. He ripped against the guards holding them, but they were expecting it, and held him back. More Russians joining his guards to force him down to his knees so he couldn’t try to run.

When he finally glimpsed Kiku--his Kiku--they’d managed to get a rope around his neck, a bag over his head. His hands were tied. But he was fighting like hell.

There were too many of them. And Kiku was so small compared to them.

Alfred fought against the guards with everything he had, shouting and hysterical though he could hardly hear himself--

--They got Kiku off his feet, Kiku lashing out viciously, blindly, with kicks and elbows, but they were stronger than him--

--Alfred’s throat was scratched raw by his screams, and one of the dudes Al punched in the dick trying to get free got sick of him and wrestled the thrashing American into a headlock, a hand yanking his head back to put him in a choke hold--

-- There were too many people --

--Alfred clawed at the arm around his neck, Kiku’s name on his lips--

--Alfred was helpless to do anything but scream as they dropped his husband, the rope around his neck jerking sickeningly when it reached its end.

And then the windows exploded, agents with guns sliding down ropes into the building.

Chapter Text

The infiltration was enough of a distraction; the arm around his neck loosened. Alfred buried his teeth in the muscle, the guard howled, and at once Alfred was out of the hold and pointing the man’s own handgun in his face. “Your knife. Now. Give me your knife.”

The guard--in shock, in pain--hesitated to obey, obviously looking for an alternative. Alfred flicked off the safety. He didn’t have time. Four minutes. That’s all it took for a brain without oxygen to die. “YOUR KNIFE!”

The guard’s hands flew up in surrender, “I-I don’t have one! Please, I--!”

It was chaos. The Russians were hefting their own guns, some of them pointed at Alfred, and he didn’t know what to do besides get a knife. Glass covered the floor, Russians were shooting at the agents in black, agents in black were returning fire, members from both sides were falling, and Alfred didn’t have any damn time.

A Russian raised his gun in the corner of his eye. He didn’t think. He just shot first.

The man went down.

Alfred ran for it. There was an extra pistol holstered to the dude’s thigh, but Alfred wasn’t looking for a stupid gun, one pocket was empty, what kind of agent didn’t carry a pocket knife?! But in the other—jackpot. The blade was small, but it was a knife.

He felt like he was running through molasses, knife in one hand, gun in the other. Kiku wasn’t moving. Kiku wasn’t moving at all. The gunfire, the shouts, were all happening a million miles away. All he could feel was the panic in his heart.

Then he was on the stool, holding Kiku’s body in an arm, viciously sawing the rope away.

Support the head, support the head, support the head, he couldn’t risk any further damage to the neck--

Al got him on the ground, cutting the noose from his neck, peeling away the stupid bag, he didn’t have enough hands for this--

Kiku wasn’t conscious. Al put a hand to the pulse at his neck, finding it fluttering, and then discovered something that made his blood run even colder. Kiku still wasn’t breathing.

Alfred grasped for his medical knowledge, but it was like trying to take measurements in a building that was going up in flames because this wasn’t some patient, this was his Kiku, and he wasn’t breathing. But Alfred did know to start start rescue breathing.

He pinched Kiku’s nose closed and sealed his mouth over his. Two breaths. Al’s body was probably a target, but he shielded Kiku’s from the violence around them.

“C’mon, baby,” Alfred murmured, “C’mon, Kiks.” Two more breaths, Kiku’s chest rising and falling with them. Nothing. The panic resettled like weights on him. “Baby, wake up,” Alfred begged him. Two more breaths. Then, there was movement in the corner of his eye. An agent in black rushed at him and Alfred lifted the gun on instinct. The guy slid to a halt, hands up.

“Woah, woah woah!” the guy spluttered. An American accent. Didn’t make him trust the guy. This could be just another situation like the move to get Drug Dealer Lady. “We’re here to help, man! We’re here to get our guys out of here!” the guy yelped. But then again, Alfred guessed, they wouldn’t have broken the windows and shot some Russians if it was. Alfred lowered the gun, tears welling in his eyes. Germany had come through for him.

“Then help me,” Alfred choked out past a constricting throat, broken, “Please. He’s not breathing.”

The American dropped to his knees beside Alfred, checking Kiku’s pulse for himself as he pressed a button on a walkie talkie “Yeah, I need another med evac. Now.” The American helped cover Alfred, helped keep Kiku’s neck steady, as Alfred desperately tried to breathe air back into his husband’s lungs. But the other Americans worked fast too, and then amidst the flurry of activity they were securing Kiku onto a stretcher, being lifted into the air. Up and out of there.

There was a hysterical sort of relief about having the medical professionals taking over the job. But Kiku still wasn’t breathing on his own even after they’d gotten the both of them into a chopper.

Everyone was shouting orders, everyone stressed, hooking Kiku up to all sorts of shit, getting a heart monitor going, swarming him. It was all happening so fast, and Alfred was getting dizzy, everything spinning around him in a turbulence, everything but the hand he clung to, everything but Kiku’s face. Alfred held his husband’s hand in a white-knuckled grip, his wedding ring making an impression in Kiku’s skin. A promise.

But then a tone sliced through Alfred’s haze, cutting through the chaos and the noise, cutting through Alfred’s heart, as the heart monitor read that Kiku was flatlining. “Kiku--”

But they were shoving and pulling Alfred away, all qualified personnel swamping Kiku, “Agent,” someone was saying to him, “Agent, we need you to give them space to work--”

No, I-he’s--” Alfred immediately protested, struggling against them. Kiku’s hand slipped from his as they pried him away.

“Agent, you need to step back--”

“NO, that’s my husband. Please, he’s my husband, you can’t--”

Hands on his shoulders, pushing him back firmly, “I’m sorry, sir, but we need you to--”

Alfred decked the agent across the face, “THAT’S MY HUSBAND!”

A strong arm caught him as the agent went reeling backwards from the blow and spun Alfred around. Germany. He gripped Al’s shoulders tightly, keeping him still, “Germany, you have to tell them--” Alfred begged.

But Germany winced. “I’m sorry, Agent America,” and Alfred was still sputtering his protests when his superior jabbed him in the neck with the needle. He gasped, watching Germany’s sad face in betrayal as his vision swam, fading fast. Germany caught him as he collapsed from the tranquilizer…


Yao’s feet hit the ground, cocking the gun they’d been so kind to give him. He was going to burn this motherfucker to the ground.

Ivan landed next to him, standing tall as he scanned the area around him, a deadly calm amidst the gunfire the Russians met them with. Yao nodded to himself. And he’d burn it all with Ivan at his side. As it should be.

Yao lifted his gun. There were hardly proper ‘sides’ here. There were just Russians who were going to be stupid enough to get in his way. He surged forward, Ivan covering him.

Ivan tread water for the both of them, arm firmly around Yao, struggling to keep their heads above the dark, icy waves. Yao thrashed weakly to keep them above the surface, arms and legs bound. Even without the restraints, the arm that had taken Batukhan Ulan’s bullet would have him dragged under before it would have him swim. They wouldn’t last here, not like this, yet the only thing they could do was attempt to double-back and return to the hell they’d left. The cold seeped steadily into his muscles.

Then, past the walls of water, blinding beams of searchlights scorched the black water.

Yao screamed, all of his rage and all of his pain, striking a boiling point as he mowed down the men of his former agency. It didn’t matter who was responsible. They all could burn with this place.

He lay beside Ivan, dripping wet, catching his breath in the back of a helicopter. Yao crawled to him--shaking-- and curled weakly into his side, pulling him as close as he could, resting, for one second, with his head on Ivan’s shoulder. All of the horror set aside--as much as it could be--in a single moment of solace listening to him breathe. The moment was all they were allowed. Because then they were given a change of clothes--military gear--and called for a briefing.

Yao and Ivan let the other agents secure the situation in the storage area. There were bigger fish to gut. The two, flanked by a select few others, delved into the Russian agency itself. Yao’s old coworkers weren’t the problem; it was the animals who pulled their strings and watched them dance.

Yao poised himself with dignity on Ivan’s lap. Yao’s old acquaintance from the American agency, Germany, sat before them, fingers laced under his chin.

“You are exceedingly fortunate,” Germany told them, severe, “We have been intercepting agency communications, which alerted us to your superiors’ plans with you. We were not certain we would find you alive.”

“What is going on?” Ivan demanded. Yao threaded his fingers through Ivan’s; Ivan gripped his hand back. An understanding between them. It was like they had never been apart.

Germany took a deep breath, “Can I offer you a drink?”


 

Ivan positioned himself at Yao’s side. The Americans ahead of them breached their agency in tight formation while the alarms screamed.

They were greeted with guns, Russian agents dutiful to the superiors who would have them kill each other if they so much as sneezed out of place. The men were only working, doing as they were told. What an unlucky day for them, then, that Ivan was working too.

The agents were not targets of this mission, but the consequence of their loyalty was the carnage that unfolded at Ivan’s hand. Blood slicked the floor as gunshots rang out, stark crimson splashes on white tiles.

The Americans stood their ground, inching slowly forward. A formidable force. They were certainly enough for Ivan’s countrymen to… fail to notice the two insurgents slinking away from the group. The dispatching of those that did stand in their way helped greatly with this.

Ivan sweated under the weight of his body armor, assuring that none followed the two of them as they plunged down a vacant corridor. The Americans had taken care of the cameras; no one left alive would know their location.

Ivan knew where to go. His handler had summoned him there more than enough times.

Ivan took in the information the man known as Germany shared with them in stride. But his agency being of… dubious conduct… was hardly new information for him to grapple with. It would seem Yao took the revelation that their employers wished them to be dead similarly. It was too fitting of the evidence to deny.

And Germany played for them the words recorded on a wire threaded into his suit jacket of the American who had given Ivan orders to kill. The tape ended with the sharp crack of a gunshot.

Yet, after the noise had faded away, Germany had more to say. Ivan registered the change in tone immediately.

Yao shot the locks from the door, and then the gun from the man’s hand. Ivan put his body between the man he loved and a man who had once struck so much fear into his heart. Ivan stood over his handler as he howled, clutching his wounded hand.

Ivan watched him shriek with a tilted head. This was one of the men who had hollowed him out and replaced anything that had once been there with obedience, and with fear. And Ivan saw the fear in the man’s eyes, registered it as a fact, however ironic. Ivan couldn’t feel for him. This man had seen to that when he splintered who Ivan was from the work they bid Ivan do, making sure to leave very little Ivan left, the wounded remains stored away in a nearly irretrievable place. Yao watched the door behind him. Only nearly irretrievable.

Ivan lifted his gun, watched the man flinch, and smiled. “Where do I find the others?” he inquired sweetly.

“I give you my sincerest apologies. This is not the environment for you to learn of this, but it is imperative that you are informed… Your agency attempted to close your… Well, they would call it your ‘case file.’ Your files report that discipline failed-- with Mr. Braginsky, at least. But I understand that... prior to that call for discipline...  you both, truly, went rogue from your agency.”

Ivan felt Yao tense in his lap. He placed his thumb gently over the pulse point at Yao’s wrist, to find his heart rate accelerating. “What of it?” Yao demanded, a flash of anger. Ivan flattened a hand over his stomach, steadying him. Yao gave his hand a little squeeze, not wanting his concern.

Germany took a drink of water before continuing. “It is also my understanding that you… It is my understanding you suffered the loss of a child.”

The handler stared up at him with wide eyes, “Find who? Your other handlers?!” he whimpered. Ivan took a step forward, putting the warm muzzle of the gun to the man’s forehead as he squeaked with begging words that were meaningless to Ivan.

“Are you aware of the atrocities committed?” Ivan asked of him, softly, “In regards to my family?”

Yao looked away from the American. His heart rate had grown too fast. “Choose your words with care,” Ivan growled, holding Yao to him protectively even as his own stomach dropped.

“Let him speak,” Yao commanded, hoarse. He moved his attention to Ivan, putting a hand to his cheek. When Yao met his eyes, his pain was bare.

Ivan met his gaze, bringing Yao’s hand to his lips to kiss.

The handler, stripped of his power over the agent before him, was a wreck. And he claimed ignorance. Ivan was not so sure.

“This agency wanted us dead, did they not?” Ivan prompted lightly.

The handler blinked rapidly, mind clearly racing and reaching for answers, “You-You were loose ends! Any agent that goes rogue is a massive breach of--” Ivan pressed the gun harder into his skull-- “But we failed! Look! Our attempts failed!” the handler reminded him, “You’re alive!”

“Hush,” Ivan growled, and it was the handler who obeyed him now, “Your first attempt in Mongolia may have failed, but your second did not.” The man’s face twisted with his fear, and his regret, because he knew precisely what Ivan spoke of.

In his mind, he could still hear the phone call. He could still smell Yao’s cooking, feel his arms around Yao’s slender waist as he made them dinner for their date night. His face had been in the crook of Yao’s neck as Yao lazily flipped on the speaker phone to answer it.

Ivan could still hear the screams of the babysitter, and the gunshots, and the silence. The murderer had wanted them to hear.

The house was mere blocks away. The race was frantic, Yao gunning his motor bike as fast as it would go.

Ivan remembered kicking in the door. But they had been much too late.

He would never forget Yao’s screams, or the smell of the blood.

Ivan clenched his jaw, his knuckles white on the gun. “There’s blood on your hands,” his tone was low, quiet, “And I need you to tell me where to find them. So that I can fill them with bullets. I beg that you don’t make me waste any on you.”

“Agents,” Germany addressed them, “The men you were working for can be considered... directly responsible for your loss.” Ivan clenched his hand around Yao’s. Germany gave them a second before continuing, “The man who sought his revenge from you was armed by your agency, given rudimentary training by your agency, and given a location. Trying to close your case directly, with their own manpower after the two of you, was considered too risky and too wasteful of resources; they did not want you to disappear from their sights for yet another indeterminate length of time... Both of your psychological profiles were taken into consideration in the question of how to close your case. Once they tracked you to Ulaanbaatar, it was decided upon that, should you suffer such a loss… should you suffer this loss... you would--with incredibly high likelihoods-- self-destruct.”

Yao straightened his shoulders. Germany coughed uneasily.

“... And it would seem, if I may… that they were correct.”

Yao remained still and silent at the words. Resolute. And Ivan clung to Yao, working to ground himself when everything ingrained into him fought to distance himself from the wounds because they hurt more than he could stand. Yao did not smell of smoke there in the helicopter.

But in Ulaanbaatar Ivan had followed him one night, to see where he went when he left him alone in the dark. A man had opened the door, allowed him entrance, to find Yao spread on his side across a mat, a pipe held loosely in a hand.

Ivan had locked eyes with him. And Ivan had understood... And Ivan had joined him, there, on the mat, curling behind Yao and gently taking the pipe for himself. “Don’t,” Yao had whispered, a hand on his wrist. But Yao was hardly in any state to stop Ivan from taking a long drag.

Two broken men, sharing an escape in pipe dreams.

Ivan threaded his fingers with Yao’s, on a helicopter, not nearly far enough away from that place.

“They did not, however,” Germany carried on, background noise to him, “take into consideration that one of your means of self-destruction--or attempts at coping-- would be returning to them. They do acknowledge that you were useful to them once more, for a time, and you were no loose ends if you were again loyal agents. But they found you were not under their control, as they would have liked. Their methods of discipline no longer evoked the same responses and they would not keep you under such circumstances… And thus, they sent you to our agency to die. You just happened to be apprehended by one of our agents who has a strong distaste for using lethal force.”

Ivan scoffed despite himself. Agent America had done something right after all.

“Speaking of…” Germany offered the two of them folders for the mission, “Your mission, if you wish to accept it; I want you to know it is entirely voluntary--”

Yao swiped the folder from Germany’s hand, Ivan doing the same.

Ivan and Yao tore down one hallway after another.

The other handlers had scrambled their way to secret panic rooms, of which there were two the next floor up. Ivan and Yao slid to a stop in an intersection of hallways. To infiltrate both rooms, it was there they must part ways. Yao kissed him there, desperately passionate, catching Ivan off-guard.

“Kill them all,” Yao told him, a hand on his cheek, “And find me afterwards.”

Ivan squeezed him in a hug, his small frame feeling deceptively fragile in his arms. “I love you,” Ivan whispered, breathing the smell of him for one second more.

“I love you too,” Yao stretched to kiss his cheek, “Take care of yourself, darling. I expect you back in one piece by the end of this.”

And then Ivan was alone, with a powerful gun in his arms and an empty hallway ahead of him.

This ended today.

Ivan stalked silently down the corridor, on edge. The cowards’ hiding spot could be accessed through one of their offices. Ivan pushed through the heavy door to a stairwell, the emergency lights of the alarms bathing it in flashing red. Ivan was cold. He could hear boots pounding on the flights below him, frantic, moving away, moving toward the Americans on the ground. Ivan paid it little mind. He was going up.

With the attention focused on defending against the Americans, there would be no one to guard Ivan’s targets. And with a dead man in the office below him, there would be none sent to intercept him.

In the flashing lights, Ivan climbed.

This was different from the cold impersonality of missions. This was fire. And it was rage. And it was so, so much pain.

The gun was hot in his hands.

And the topmost scar on his neck was visible above the Kevlar armor.

There wasn’t an ounce of fear in him anymore. Nothing that would be wasted on the likes of them.

Ivan pushed through the stairwell door, into another hallway nearly identical to all the others. The office door at the end was shut tight, so innocuous among the rest that lined the hallway. The alarms faded to nothing in Ivan’s mind, the red lights pulsing with his heart.

Ivan checked the knob, then shot the locks away. It was as good a time as any to announce his presence to his other handlers.

The office was dark, smelling faintly of a cinnamon air freshener. Ivan gently removed the abstract painting from a wall, and typed in the code he’d been given by a dead man. A light flashed green, a click resounding in the empty beat between alarm screams. How easily men became traitors when they thought it would save them.

They were there, as promised. Hunched in their suits, cowering like rats in a corner.

Ivan looked them over for a long moment, head tilted while old handlers tried to order him to stop as if they still had any power over him. The panic room was fully furnished, quite extravagantly, in fact. In a mirror’s reflection, Ivan’s smile was illuminated blood red and ghastly in the alarm lights.

Ivan unsheathed his knife, and the weapon turned on its makers.

Chapter Text

Alfred woke up to the unmistakable stench of a medical ward. He flinched, Kiku’s name in his throat, and found IVs poking out of his wrists, found himself in a white bed enclosed by ugly blue curtains. He looked around frantically, taking it in. He was in a hospital gown, patched up just about everywhere with bandages, especially his hands--

He wasn’t wearing his ring.

Alfred looked up at the fluids attached to him. The stand holding them was wheeled. Alfred had just struggled into a sitting position when the curtain was pulled back, startling him. A kind-looking nurse smiled down at him, seeming pleasantly surprised to find him up. “Oh, good morning, sir!” her voice was thick with her Russian accent.

“Where am I?” he demanded, in Russian. She looked relieved at not being forced to speak English.

“You’re in a hospital in Moscow, dear. Your organization has a whole ward blocked off for you young men. Please, lay back. You must rest. I will get you some water.” A ward of agents in a civilian hospital.

“How long have I been here?”

“Only a day.” She helpfully handed him the clipboard from the end of his bed that detailed all his injuries. Under… his name. He was here under ‘Alfred Jones.’

“Where’s Kiku Honda?” he demanded. She raised her eyebrows, not liking his tone much.

“Sir, I cannot give information about other patients.” Fair enough.

“My ring is gone. Where’s my ring?” he tried again, voice quivering. Her face softened.

“It was removed; it looked terribly painful with the injuries on your hands. I can ask about getting it back to you. I would advise to give your hands time to heal before wearing it again.”

He nodded. Anything to get her to leave. “Water?” he asked, weakly. She turned on her heel and left him alone.

To hell with this.

He squirmed out of his bed, wincing as his bare feet hit the cold floor. He waited a second to make sure she was gone, then went for it, wheeling the squeaky IV cart with him. He limped along like he knew what he was doing, the couple other nurses giving him a glance but not paying him any mind.

He left the ward to wander down a hallway, barefoot, ass out, half-blind without his glasses. The works. He followed the signs until he found a receptionist. The woman looked up at him over her glasses. He gave her a winning smile. “Hi!” He told her, “I’m with the Americans. I was looking for Kiku Honda.” She wasn’t phased by his projected confidence.

“What is your relation to this patient?” she asked in one of those classic chain-smoking Russian lady voices.  

“I’m his spouse.”

She stared at him a moment, giving him one of those looks, because apparently you simply couldn’t have a visit to Russia without some good ol’ homophobia. Nevertheless, she typed into her computer. She squinted at her screen, quiet a long time, “You say you are… patient’s spouse?” she asked him slowly.

Alfred set his jaw. “Yes,” he gave her a small, polite smile. “Yes, I am.”

She shifted, “Sir, if you could please wait over there…” she reached beneath her desk, pressing a button. Alfred tensed. She was calling security. His mind whirled in his confusion. And then he realized his mistake. Betty Marion White, he was an idiot.

This was a civilian hospital. According to legal records, Kiku had no spouse.

And they were probably on high alert since they were housing multiple agents here. If security caught him, they’d probably drag him back to his bed and make him stay there.

Alfred hobbled quickly away, the Russian lady raising her voice after him.

Okay, Plan B it was then. He had no Plan B. Alfred turned down hallway after hallway, no concept of where he was going, but with the singular notion that he had to find Kiku. He leaned against the IV cart, using it for support as he limped along on bandaged feet that made a weird sticky sound as he walked. He’d find him. He didn’t know how, but he wouldn’t stop until he knew where Kiku was.

“HEY!” a voice down the hall shouted, and Alfred limped faster, a hand on the wall now. “STOP! HEY, I SAID STOP!” Boots pounded against the floor. Hands yanked Alfred around to face them, and he stared down a gun. And someone he knew.

“P-Prussia?” Al panted, out of breath. He’d had this guy as a mission partner before.

“America?” Prussia lowered his gun, “What the fuck are you doing? I didn’t know you were awake.”

“I-I was trying to find Japan and I… They-They called security and I--” he leaned against the wall, choked by tears, everything starting to catch up to him at once in a wave of things he didn’t know. Prussia stowed his weapon, steadying him.

“Hey, easy, easy,” he soothed, but Alfred didn’t want to listen to that.

“Where’s Japan? His name is Kiku, Prussia. Kiku Honda. He’s my husband. We’re not legally married. Please, I need to know where he is.”

Prussia held up a hand, placating, “I know. I know. But America, I… I think you should... take some time to rest--”

“--I said where is he?!”

“America--” Prussia’s expression was pained.

Al couldn’t take it anymore. “--Is he alive?” he choked out. “Prussia, is he alive?”

“Yeah! Yeah, he’s alive,” Prussia was too quick to say. He rubbed his neck uncomfortably. “But he’s… not doing so hot, man. He’s in the ICU.”

“Can I see him?” Alfred demanded to know, voice breaking.

Prussia nodded.

They were quiet for a bit as they walked side-by-side and then, “I’m in charge of reporting on how all you guys are doing in here. And... He broke his neck in that fall.” Alfred winced at the words. Oh, Kiks. “I’ll tell the doc to talk to you, but they got him on a lot of shit in there. I think the doc said it was more the heart thing than the neck thing that got him fucked up,” Prussia said, none-too-delicately. Alfred squeezed his eyes shut. Prussia paused. “Uh… And America…?”

Alfred opened his eyes to look at him.

“We… We actually don’t know… how things are gonna turn out.” Alfred supported himself against the wall once more, and Prussia offered him an arm. Alfred didn’t take it. “Doc says it’s too early to tell; said to give it time.”  

Alfred nodded, trying to reign in his breathing.


 

Yao sat alone with a blanket over his shoulders and a cup of tea radiating warmth into his hands. He sipped his tea lightly, staring at a wall and listening to the faint sounds of life drifting in from the hallway.

People, footsteps quick and bustling, passed by his hospital room. Never lingering. There was far too much going on, far too much to sort out, to dawdle.

And Yao sipped his tea, on the hospital bed they’d encouraged that he remain confined to. It wasn’t that the bullet wound in his arm required him to stay, nor the antibiotics that warded off the burgeoning infection that inflamed the skin around the wound; it had far more to do, Yao suspected, with the Americans keeping track of them.

He heard Ivan’s footsteps approaching from a distance. Yao imagined kissing him, imagined Ivan tasting the tea on his tongue, imagined Ivan stepping gently closer not insinuating anything until Yao cupped a hand on a part of Ivan he’d quite missed.

Ivan opened the door quietly, not disturbing the quiet of his room. Ivan lifted his successfully reclaimed duffel bag for him to see and joined him on the bed, pressing a soft kiss to his temple as Yao leaned into him. “Any news?” Yao murmured. Ivan shook his head. Yao sighed. 

“Anybody who may have had doubts has seen the records by now.”

Yao nodded, and was quiet for a beat. He’d best do this now. “Vanya, I need to talk to you.” Ivan looked to him, questioning. Yao took a breath, “My mission took me to Ulaanbaatar.”

Ivan was silent, the arm across Yao’s shoulders holding him ever-so-slightly closer.

There were many matters on the tip of his tongue. I visited her grave. I stayed in the damned house. It still gives me panic attacks. I missed you so much. I wanted you at my side for every second of that nightmare, but I couldn’t wish that on you. Yao sorted through them, soaking in the warmth of the tea and of his husband.

Finally, he settled on a question that held much of it, “What are we going to do now?” he whispered it away from Ivan, not letting it poison the space between them. It was a question he’d asked before. It was a question to which the answer had--once--been as convolutedly simple as let’s run away together. But… After everything… Yao didn’t know if he could do that again.

Ivan pressed his lips to the top of Yao’s head, thoughtful. After a long silence, “Why don’t we first see where we are needed?” Ivan suggested, then leaned to kiss the corner of Yao’s mouth, “We’ve always been rather good at making it up as we go,” his tone had a note of teasing. It drew a tiny, reluctant smile from Yao. He turned his head to kiss Ivan. He’d needed this... “We will figure it out, sunflower,” Ivan whispered to him, stroking his hair.

Yao set his tea aside to kiss him more fully. Oh, how he’d missed him. He stretched his good arm over Ivan’s big broad shoulders, sighing against him, kissing him slowly. Ivan pulled away after a minute with a wet smack. “Since I got my belongings back from the agency...” Ivan murmured to him, “I bought you something with the Americans’ money.”

That made Yao grin. “Is that so?”

Ivan kissed his cheek and reached for his duffel bag, digging into the clothes. Then, Ivan pulled out a plastic snow globe with… Yao smiled wider, heart growing three sizes. It was a Hello Kitty snow globe.

Yao snuggled back under Ivan’s arm and kissed him, “It’s perfect.” Yao shook it up, watching the glitter for a moment before setting it on his bedside table with his tea. Ivan was right. They’d deal with ‘what’s next’ later-- when the glitter had settled, when the tea was gone, and when he was quite through kissing his husband.


 

Prussia got him into the room, leaving Alfred alone at the doorway with promises of grabbing someone who could explain the situation a lot better than he had. Then, it was just Alfred, his IV fluids, the squeak of the stand, and an impossible few steps to take into the room. He tread lightly, footsteps faltering when he came into sight of the bed. Oh, Kiku.

Alfred approached his husband... and the many machines attached to him. It left an alien feeling inside of him, seeing Kiku like that, and a terrifying one. Al took a seat at Kiku’s bedside side, carefully reclaiming his hand, mindful of both of their IVs. If it weren’t for all the… well, everything, actually… he’d look like he was sleeping.

But as it was, they had him on a ventilator to assist his breathing, who-knows-how-many fluids and medications, and a neck brace. And he wasn’t responsive, like someone who’s merely sleeping should be.

Alfred rubbed Kiku’s cold hand in his; Kiku’s hands were always cold.

“Hiya, Kiks,” Al cleared his raspy voice, taking a second, “You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had, baby,” he tried again, laughing a little, but it felt hollow, and he felt stupid because he didn’t have anything else to say and now that he was here he was holding back tears as if Kiku could see whether he let them fall or not. He released a shaking sigh, pulling himself back together enough to say, “I love you.”

He stayed there, holding onto Kiku’s hand a long few minutes, Alfred’s sniffs and the steady working of the ventilator the only sounds in the room.

“We still got so much left to do, Kiku,” he whispered, “I’m not even supposed to be in here because I haven’t married you the legal way yet. I’m gonna do that, though, when we get outta here; I don’t care who the cheese says we can’t or what names we have to do it under. I don’t care if we get hitched by an Elvis impersonator in Vegas; I wanna marry you all over again because you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I want to start a family with you. I’m… I’m done with this job. You can stay and do your doctor of the dead thing all you want, but I… I thought this job would be different. I thought I’d be saving the world, but I…” I don’t even know if I can save you. Alfred swallowed hard. He wasn’t going to think like that. “We’ve just got a lot left to do, baby.”

He was interrupted by Prussia barging through the door, “Right, so you tell this guy everything,” he was saying to a doctor trailing in on his heels. Prussia nodded in greeting; the doctor gave him a smile. “Doctor, Alfred. Alfred, doctor,” Prussia helpfully made the introductions. Al shook her hand. “Can I get you anything?” Prussia asked, hovering, “A drink? Or… pants?”

“Both of those things would be great,” Alfred admitted, distracted by the clipboard the doctor offered to him. Prussia gave him a thumbs up and booked it out of there.

Alfred took a moment to look over the clipboard, swallowing thickly. He cleared his throat, turning it back toward the doctor and pointing to the name, “This is wrong,” he informed her.

“Excuse me?” she asked, leaning to examine it closer.

“This,” Alfred tapped the little ‘Mr.’ they’d put in front of ‘Kiku Honda,’ “He’s a ‘Dr.’ not a ‘Mr.’”

It pulled a small smile from her. “I’ll see what I can do about that,” she assured him. But her solemnity was quick to return. She lowered her voice, “Would you like to have this conversation… here?”


 

Yao traipsed through the hospital with a finger affectionately hooked in one of Ivan’s belt loops.

Germany was a busy man, with many of the issues that came so naturally to half-collapsed international organizations held up with chopsticks falling onto his presumably-capable shoulders.

The Russians had thanked him for his service by saddling him with more work to do, and with a temporary set-up in the hospital that housed his agents. They had tucked him away in the basement for safekeeping and all the people with something vaguely important to say to him lined up down the hall, stretching nearly to the hospital morgue. Yao swept his eyes over the weary, haggard line members--some in suits, some in hospital gowns, some in civilian clothing-- and chose not to cut them. Seeking updates and distractions was hardly pressing business anyway.

Yao made his way toward the end of the line, tugging Ivan--whose scarf now coyly concealed a few good hickeys--along with him.

They were in line for only a couple minutes before shuffling footsteps alerted them all of a couple newcomers. Yao looked up idly from playing with his snow globe, then straightened. Ivan looked too, uncomprehending as he followed Yao’s line of sight to the man.

It took Batukhan Ulan a moment to spot him, but when he did it stopped him in his tracks.

His good friend Ulan was among the ranks of those cloaked in hospital gowns. His steps were careful when he took them. Yao nodded to him. There was no ice in Ulan’s expression when he nodded back. He joined them in line.

Perhaps it would have been uncomfortable if it had not been so utterly bizarre. They’d shot each other as enemies far too recently for either of them to be remotely healing from it, and now they stood in line as--what? Allies? Coworkers? Did either of them actually have an employer anymore? They were people, Yao supposed, who had never truly been on opposing ‘sides’ of situations. Yao reached for his piss-poor grasp on Mongolian. “How are you doing?”

Ulan snorted, and replied. Yao squinted, not catching a word of it. The woman with him spoke up then and revealed herself as a translator. “He says, ‘How do you think? Your partner shot me four times.’”

A couple eavesdroppers in line turned around in some concern.

Ulan continued nevertheless, a tiny smile making an appearance, “How’s the arm?” his translator asked for him. Yao pulled up his sleeve to show off the bandage.

“Slightly infected,” Yao informed him, matter-of-fact. It drew a little sympathetic nod from Ulan as the message was relayed. “My partner took the bullet out, so I had that going for me, at least.” Ulan tilted his head thoughtfully.

“Your partner is quite good at his job. How is he faring? Is he here as well?”

The question gave Yao pause; he had no clue where Kiku was. He shook the feeling of unease, offering a cool smile, “Why? Feeling vengeful?” Yao mused.

Ulan shrugged his shoulders. “He is the reason I am alive. He didn’t have to do such a good job, spend so much time for someone he saw as an enemy, as he did; I am appreciative.”

“I’ll relay the message when I see him next.”

Chapter Text

I am not giving you an assignment. Either of you. I want you to rest, and I want you to take this time to recuperate. Go back to your room. We have this under control.’

Germany could kiss Yao’s ass. The American should be grateful that he’d listened to the ‘orders’ for the rest of the day! The night too, even! But there was no way in hell he was staying in that room a second longer, doing nothing!

Yao peered around the corner and gave Ivan the all-clear. The Americans had patrols; the hospital had nurses who knew full well that the agents were to be resting.

The two hurried to the desk, unoccupied before the hospital’s visiting hours began. Ivan went to work quickly on the computer. Yao kept a lookout, though there was hardly reason for it. Not one person happened past the dark information desk while Ivan wormed his way into the hospital’s systems. It wasn’t five minutes before Yao felt Ivan’s eyes on him. Ivan gave a nod. They’d found him.

If Germany was going to be a cryptic asshole with his ‘wanting them to recuperate’ and his ‘I can’t tell you where Japan is,’ then Ivan and Yao would have to take such matters into their own hands.

Yao rejoined his husband behind the desk, kissing him for a job well done before peering at his findings. Ivan turned the monitor toward him. “Dr. Kiku Honda, room 237.”

Yao scrunched his nose, “But that’s not in the wing they have for the agents…?” Hearing himself say it aloud, however, made something in Yao’s heart lurch. Yao looked up at Ivan, who shook his head, clueless as well.

“I can try to look into patient records, if you would like?”

Yao kissed his temple. “We can ask him ourselves, darling, but thank you.”

Ivan was watching him closely, sensing something off about his mood. Yao waved him away.

The two took the stairwell a floor down as the morning sun began to gray the clouds outside. The floor’s directory signs pointed them toward different medical wards, and their corresponding range of patient rooms. Not one listed Kiku’s. Yao scanned the signs several times for the numbers, but they were simply missing. What kind of convoluted hospital design--?

“Yao,” Ivan spoke up into the silence, “Is he here, then?” Ivan pointed. There was one ward that didn’t have its rooms explicitly listed. Yao straightened his shoulders, taken aback.

“We can look,” he croaked before clearing his throat.  

The two followed the signs, Yao swiping the ID he’d knicked off a doctor to get them through every door. Yao’s stomach churned with spiking nerves to find Kiku’s room number listed on a sign here. He quickened his pace. Kiku was going to have some god damn explaining to do for scaring him like this.

Yao threw open the door to Kiku’s room.

A tall blond tumbled out of the chair he’d been passed out in, hauling himself to his feet, and getting one aggressive step forward before Yao was bracing to take the intruder out. Ivan entered behind Yao, the sight of him stopping the man in his tracks.

Russia?” he choked out.

Ivan stopped too, equally bewildered. “America?”

“What are you doing here?” ‘America’ demanded, shaking his head. Yao stepped fully into the room, looking the American over cautiously, recognizing him now through the bandages and bruises as the agent who had apprehended them in the American agency, and as the man who had been assigned Ivan’s partner.

“I raised the brat!” Yao scoffed, casting a troubled look at the eerily still lump under the bedsheets, “What are you doing here?”

America blinked but then, “He’s my husband!”

You’re the husband?” Yao scanned him up and down with renewed scrutiny, his shirt and sweatpants wrinkled from his less-than-ideal sleeping arrangements, though they didn’t seem quite to fit him anyway. “Wow, he is not what I pictured,” Yao addressed Ivan, in Russian.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” America countered, in Russian, affronted. Yao raised an eyebrow, wondering idly if he spoke Mandarin too, but then Kiku’s husband was waving his hands in the air for everything to stop, “Wait, wait, wait--” he pointed to Yao-- “You’re here to see him. And Russia’s with you…” he pointed back to Ivan, connecting the dots, “Are you Russia’s husband then?” The two of them nodded. America ran a hand through his hair, “And you said that you-you raised him…?” Another finger at Yao. Yao was quite through with all his pointing.

“You could say that,” Yao confirmed for him, quietly.

Harrison Ford,” America… cursed…? Yao and Ivan shared a look. Ivan had only a shrug to offer him. America, meanwhile, was making a positively awful face toward Ivan. “Does that mean…? That you and I are…?” Ivan made a sour face in return, knowing precisely where America was going with this-- “We’re in-laws?!”

Yao looked back and forth between the two. “Oh, please. The ‘law’ wouldn’t recognize any of us as anything.”

“Well, yeah, duh; the law isn’t even in on Kiku and I’s marriage, let alone whatever you and Kiks have going on, but? Still? Does that make you, like, my… unlawful… fathers-in-law? Fathers-in-unlaw? Fathers-out-of-law—?”

Woah, woah, woah!” Yao stopped him right there, “I am not his father!” Yao spluttered, “He is like a brother to me, at most!”

America tilted his head, finding this more agreeable to him for some reason, “Russia, dude, we’ve been basically-brothers-in-law this whole time and we didn’t even know it!” America spoke, partly to Ivan, partly to the sky, mystified. Ivan raised a finger in protest, but Yao put a hand on his arm.

“America, as lovely as this… family reunion has been…” Yao turned his gaze to Kiku, and America deflated instantly. He slumped back into his chair. Yao approached the bed, looking over the pallid face of a man he had once known so well. “How…” Yao steeled himself. He hated this. “How is he doing?” He had to look away from Kiku, eyes falling now on the golden band America had on a string around his neck.

America stretched to reach a clipboard that rested on the bedside table, offering it to Yao, “The Baddies--The Russians--had him hanged,” America told them, voice strained. Yao furrowed his brow, looking down and trying to decipher the medical jargon. America took a shaky breath before continuing, “It fractured--didn’t break--some bones in his neck. There wasn’t any damage to his spinal cord or anything, so that’s good, but, uh… He suffered respiratory arrest, and then cardiac arrest… And he hasn’t woken up yet, which isn’t… the best.” America was hunched over in his chair, weighed down by the words. “And the doc… the doc said it’s too early to give a good guess on… on how he’s gonna be when-- if, it’s still an if-- he wakes up.” He looked back up, “She said we’ll keep an eye on him, and that we should have a much better idea in a day or two.”

Yao was quiet, processing this. Damn it, Kiku. “Okay, then,” Yao nodded, very suddenly wanting nothing more than to leave this place entirely. Yao tossed his hair back over his shoulder, running a hand down his face, “We’ll see in a day or two. No point rushing judgment.”

America nodded, a half-hearted lie.

“Do you need anything?” Yao asked him, turning.

America shook his head. Yao sighed through his nose, knowing full well that he wasn’t the one America needed to console him. Well, knowing full well that--unless it was Kiku--there was no consolation.

“Then at least tell me your actual name so we’re not going by these ridiculous code names. Kiku did tell me before. I forgot.”

America’s face twitched with a bright little smile, showing off a missing tooth but otherwise making it slightly more comprehensible how Kiku could’ve fallen for an American. “Kiku talked about me?” he wondered aloud.

“You should have heard him talking about you; he’s utterly infatuated. I’ve never seen him blush so much! It’s like the two of you never left your honeymoon!”

Yao left America in peace--red in the face, and smiling down at the bandages and fuzzy slippers he had on his feet.


Ivan gave Yao space, watching from a distance. Yao was ever-so-composed as he made his way back to the room in which the Americans were doing an exceedingly poor job of keeping them prisoner. Ivan trailed in after him to find him tearing viciously at a roll of gauze. For a single second, Ivan worried the wound in his arm had opened.

This was not the case.

Ivan was silent as Yao spat curses at it, his injured arm too painful to give him the dexterity he wanted. He stuck his good arm out for Ivan to take, blowing a strand of hair out of his face. “Please wrap this for me,” Yao ground out, not looking him in the eyes. His hand shook in Ivan’s. Ivan picked up the gauze from the bed, holding Yao gently.

“Can I ask why?”  

“So I don’t break my hand when I punch a hole in that wall,” Yao clipped back, not angry with Ivan, but angry. “The Americans can pay for it, since they’re so insistent on keeping me here.”

Ivan considered this and Yao’s arm coolly, “You don’t need two injured arms--Perhaps you can share your thoughts with a pillow?” Yao worked his jaw, thinking about it for Ivan’s sake. He shook his head. Ivan took this in stride-- “Then what if I hugged my Yao-Yao so tightly he forgets why he is upset?”

Yao snorted despite himself, retracting his hand to scrub viciously at an eye with the heel of his hand. This time, he nodded and allowed Ivan to gather him into his arms. And Ivan held him fiercely, together against this.

Chapter Text

Alfred shifted stiff, creaking joints, not wanting to open crusted-over eyes. He knew the footsteps by now. He knew the routine. The nurse didn’t pay him any attention anymore; Alfred was basically a growth in the corner of the room at this point.

He swallowed against a dry throat, running his tongue along teeth he realized he’d forgotten to brush.

Two more sets of footsteps approached, and Alfred tried not to scowl. Maybe if he played dead they’d go away--

“--God, you look like shit.”

Alfred grunted.

“When’s the last time you showered?” Yao demanded. And Alfred had thought that Russia had had the Mega Douche role all covered… Though, admittedly, Al had to stretch his memory to find his answer to that particular question. “Have you eaten?”

Alfred stayed quiet. That was all the answer Yao needed. He groaned his frustration.

Then, Alfred was sent reeling as he got smacked upside the head, “Hey--!”

“Get up!” Yao sighed impatiently. “Lazy!” he scoffed. Alfred tried to look to his former mission’s partner, lurking tall and menacing behind his husband, examining his fingernails. Russia glanced up at him and offered a shrug.

“He is not wrong.”

Fantastic. Al didn’t know why he even bothered.

“I’m never wrong,” Yao agreed. “UP!”

The nurse awkwardly left the room at about this point. Al gave the guy a two-fingered salute. At least someone here was being a decent human being... Yao was waiting. UGH. Fine. Alfred pulled himself to his feet and patted down his hair. Russia and Yao both looked him up and down and Al could SEE the list of things they thought he should do writing itself in their heads. He already HAD two dads worrying about him; he didn’t need two more.

“He wouldn’t be mad at you if you slept in a bed, you know,” Yao commented. Alfred bristled, tension crackling in the silence. Yao didn’t back down.

Alfred worked his jaw, looking away. He wasn’t in the mood. “Well, I can’t exactly ask him, can I?” Alfred swallowed, biting the inside of his cheek. “I talk to the doctor today.”

Yao’s expression didn’t change behind the meticulously constructed facade everyone in this business had, “And I trust you’ll tell me how that goes.” He left no room for argument. “Now get your ass out of this room. Go... play baseball, or whatever it is Americans do. And please. Deodorant is a wonderful invention. Use it.”

 

Yao and Russia didn’t leave him alone until he was picking pitifully at some soup in the hospital cafeteria, a cheek in his hand. They’d moved Kiku out of the ICU, back to a cardiac ward, but no one would give him a straight answer about whether this was something he should consider “good.” And there was something about levels of ‘responsive’ versus ‘unresponsive’ and no one could give him a straight answer about what all that meant either because no one in the medical field could give him any sense of guarantee or of hope, Al guessed, frustration and confusion adding to the weight on his lungs.

He tried a spoonful of the soup in front of him and winced. Couldn’t even taste it. Wasn’t like he was hungry anyway...

Alfred pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, everything pressing in. He was a literal spy. A secret agent. He’d solved his case, unmasked something awful, just like the good guy is supposed to. But if his mission was over, if it was all really over, how come he still couldn’t breathe?

The noise, the commotion, and the smells of the cafeteria were very suddenly way too much. It was all too much. He was drowning in it. Fuck, he couldn’t do this--

Sacré bleu! They are calling this food?!”

Oh, GREAT. He made ONE PHONE CALL and now he was hearing things!

His head snapped up anyway, into the chatter and bustle.

Alfred nearly knocked the soup onto the floor. His parents spotted him from across the room. And then he was up and moving, and he was sinking into their arms, there, in the middle of everything, and the two of them were holding him. They didn’t ask questions--just fretted about how he looked like everyone else. Alfred wasn’t listening. They were here. He’d told them where he was so they at least could relax about that and they were here...

Papa took his face between two hands, and Al had been getting a little healing done--swelling was way down, anyway--but he still looked like a hot mess, definitely accentuated by the big ol’ bandage making sure his nose got put back into the right place. Al gave him a wobbly little smile and watched Papa’s eyebrows shoot into his hairline when he added the missing tooth to his assessment. “Oh, mon fils.” Papa enveloped him into a tight hug, Dad joining in too.

There was silence when they pulled away. Dad clasped a hand to his shoulder, concern and pain shining behind his eyes. When he spoke, his tone was careful, “Tell us everything you can.”


Yao dozed lightly against Ivan’s shoulder, lulled by the gentle movement of his knitting as a Russian sunset seeped through the curtains. A hand curled into Ivan’s sweater, the click of the needles, the scent of old tea still hanging in the room...

The quick knock on the door made the both of them start. Yao’s stomach dropped, adrenaline icing his body while Ivan stood to get the door. Kiku--

But the door did not open to reveal Kiku’s husband, nor any nurse. Yao fell to his feet, unsteady.

Mei gaped with wide, gleeful eyes up at Ivan. “Yao?!” she gasped, unbelieving. “IS THIS HIM?!” Yao coughed on a laugh, the smile stolen from him. The scene before him was so bizarre he wondered as he nodded if it were a dream.

“You must be Mei,” Ivan greeted her, delighted. “Yao has told me a lot about you!” Her grin grew three sizes.

“Aww! You talk about me?!” Mei pressed a hand to her heart, touched, as if he wouldn’t mention the young woman he’d raised--

“Ooh! Ooh! What’s he said about me?” Yong Soo immediately wanted to know, waving an arm wildly behind her. “Oh! Also! Sorry I didn’t bring Xiao; I wasn’t going to get him out of school for a questionably legal--”

“--Yeah, not even questionably--” Mei admitted.  

“--Totally illegal little adventure,” Yong Soo shrugged one shoulder.

Yao’s heart warmed, pushing the two inside. “How did you possibly know to come here?”

Mei scoffed. “You’re the one who raised us. What? Do you think I can’t even find some simple information anymore? I wanted to meet your husband!”

Yao jabbed a thumb at the man he loved, “It’s him--” Ivan waved “--Now, what are you doing here?” 

“Gosh, OKAY, Dad,” Mei huffed at his tone, playful, yet striking a chord in him nonetheless, “We’ve been trying to keep an ear out since we got you to Mongolia. We got word there might be some trouble--”

“--And you found us? You two are probably more suited for this than I am.”

Yong Soo slung an arm over Yao’s shoulders, “You wish you had our help, old man.”

Yao rolled his eyes, a soft smile tugging at his lips, “‘Old!’” he sniffed, “The nerve!”

“Positively ancient,” Mei agreed. Yong Soo gasped, theatrical, and clamped two hands over Yao’s ears as Yao scowled and swatted at him.

“Careful, Mei! His wizened old heart can’t take it!”

“Get off of me!” Yao huffed. “I may have raised two thieving rats, but I didn’t raise you rude to your elders!” he scolded. He paused, with grace, “But this old man is very happy to see the both of you…”


Ludwig splashed some water on his face in the restroom. The American agency was in shambles and many of his best operatives were out of commission. He had taken care to broadcast the tape of the higher up’s appalling view of the agents over the intercom system before he’d left, and yet nothing was in its proper place and he couldn’t even get stupid, distrustful agents to properly report. He still didn’t have confirmed whereabouts for--

A knock on the door startled him out of his wits, a hand instinctively going to his weapon. “I’m on break,” he snarled at the door, “Wait for me at my office!” he commanded.

Mein Gott, shut up and get out here!” Gilbert huffed from the other side, impatient. Ludwig could have throttled him in that moment.

He toweled off his face with a vengeance before reaching for the doorknob and tearing it open. What was so damned important that they couldn’t give him five minutes--

Ludwig stopped. A breath fell from his lips.

Feliciano beamed as brightly as the sunshine.


Yao laughed with Ivan’s arm over his shoulder leaning against the headboard. Mei took up the chair at the side of the bed; Yong Soo had spread himself over the foot of the bed, giggling up at the ceiling. The dark and the cold of the Moscow evening was left forgotten outside, unable to reach any of them. Yao curled into Ivan's side, warm, Yong Soo still trying to get through his tale without breaking into laughter. 

A knock interrupted them. “What?” Yao snapped at the door. It cracked open.

“Can I come in?” The English was jarring. Yao stumbled off the bed to his feet, clearing his throat.

“Of course.”

Kiku’s husband walked in and immediately Yao looked him up and down, trying to pry the answers from him. Yao took in Alfred’s eyes first--red and puffy from tears. The wind was knocked from his lungs. He couldn’t do this again.

Kiku’s husband rubbed at new tears with the back of his hand.

And then Yao realized that Alfred was laughing--half-delirious, with relief.

“The doc says he’s gonna be okay.”

Chapter Text

Kiku woke up days later with a grimace, and Alfred had never been happier to see him make such an ugly face. His hand twitched in Alfred’s, this time flexing his fingers and then giving his hand a little squeeze back. Kiku’s eyelids fluttered, free hand moving to wipe the gunk from his eyes, but then hesitating upon finding the IVs there.

They had him drugged the heck up, but he was awake.

“I’m here, Kiks,” Alfred wanted him to know, and Kiku opened his eyes to look up at him, “Welcome back to the land of the living, baby,” Alfred laughed, feeling the tears brimming. Kiku's face broke into a little smile, tubes and all, and he was the most precious thing Alfred had ever seen.

The nurse in the room stepped forward, “Good afternoon, Dr. Honda. We’re very happy to see you awake!” she looked to Alfred, “Call if you need anything.”

And then Alfred was alone with his husband, who looked like he was trying to do math in his head, a little disoriented, a little high. “You were out for a week and a half,” Alfred filled him in, “You fractured your neck, and uh…You died a little? I mean, obviously they got you back. I punched a guy when they wouldn’t let me stay with you, though, and Germany fuckin’ tranq’d me for it?”

Kiku shook his head as much as he could—which wasn’t a lot— grunting a little as he tried to talk and found he couldn’t, so Alfred tried to help, “Here, no, I got a whiteboard and marker—Harley Davidson, where’d I put the whiteboard—?”

But Kiku tapped a finger against his hand, getting his attention as Alfred looked wildly around for where he’d set it.

And Alfred was reminded that he’d taught Kiku a bit of ASL, like, forever ago, because Kiku lifted a hand with one of the few signs he remembered. I love you.

And then Alfred was sniveling because of, ya know, everything, and he was also laughing because Kiku remembered and Alfred was so unbelievably glad to have him back. Al swiped quickly at the tears, laughing at them too, and then Kiku was pulling at him. Al let his gorgeous husband gather him against his chest, crying and laughing and mumbling nonsense about how much he loved him too, careful to mind all of the chords and tubes.

It was more than a little awkward, with Al kind of half-sitting on the very edge of the hospital bed, one leg on the ground, leaned over with his cheek on Kiku’s chest. But neither of them could care less. Kiku wrapped his arms tightly around him, stroking his hair, wiping his tears, rubbing his back. Just holding him.

When Al had calmed down, Kiku tapped his arm. Al looked up at him, and Kiku signed the other thing he knew with that stupid little smile: You’re beautiful.

Al snorted. “Shut up,” he buried his head in Kiku’s chest once more, simply listening to his heart beat, feeling him breathe. “You shoulda seen me a week and a half ago, baby; I looked a lot worse. At least my nose is almost better now.” Al gave him a grin to show off his missing canine, pulling his lip back with a finger, “I go in to get this fixed next week. Thinkin’ ‘bout getting it in gold; it’d be super sexy,” he winked.  

Kiku rolled his eyes, but reached out to stroke the line of his jaw. A very gentle, very silent, I love you, I’m so glad you’re here, now please shut up. So Al, for once, honored that wish and let Kiku hold him and let himself be held by Kiku.

He felt Kiku’s breath evening back out, and Alfred allowed the cocktail of drugs the poor guy was on to knock him back out. Let him rest, recuperate. Maybe he’d be out when they took the tubes out of his throat; that wouldn’t be too fun to be awake for, Al didn’t imagine...


 

Yao hesitated in the hallway, hand raised. He didn’t know what he was waiting for.

Yao gave a light tap on the door with a knuckle, pushing through when no answer came. Someone--presumably Alfred--had decided somewhere along the way he was important enough to be notified of how Kiku was doing. He’d been told Kiku had been awake for a few hours--dozing on the medication, but this time it was just sleeping.

He had grown accustomed to Alfred’s alert watchdog of a presence at Kiku’s bedside, but Yao’s entrance hadn’t disturbed him in the slightest. Looking at the American now was almost comical-- snoring as obnoxiously as he spoke with his head on Kiku’s chest. It was a much deeper state of rest than Yao had ever witnessed him in.

Yao took another step into the room, soundless.

He may have not disturbed one of the American agents, but the other’s eyes glinted in the low light. He’d known Kiku was awake. He’d known Kiku would awaken for a while… And yet…

Yao cleared his throat and nodded to him, Kiku inclining his head slightly in return. Yao approached him almost carefully, not quite sure yet what to think. He could see the drowsy, medicated haze in Kiku’s eyes from across the room. And despite everything, he still held himself with that ridiculous, ‘doctoral’ pretentiousness he had. It never stopped with this one. He was ever an agent awaiting his debriefing, a student awaiting his tests, a boy awaiting his directions for a heist.

Half a smile pulled itself from Yao and he offered another nod, “It’s good to have you back, Kiku.”

Chapter Text

“It’s no Hawaii,” Feliciano stretched like a cat on the hotel sheets, a sleepy grin across his face, “But I’m happy I’m here with you.”

Ludwig smiled over at his husband, reaching to take his hand. Feliciano’s deft fingers twined delicately between his. Looking at him, his breaths came slightly easier. “You deserve better than this place,” he whispered into the space between them. Feliciano drew nearer to kiss his lips, free hand stroking over Ludwig’s bicep.

“Oh, we’re still doing Hawaii,” Feliciano made sure he knew between kisses, “But I suppose it can wait another year. Moscow is quite a nice little get-away, isn’t it?” he giggled. Ludwig set aside the papers he had on his lap, multiple reports that took far too long to reach him, multiple reports that broke stomach-turning news—all encrypted with gentle euphemism.

“Of course,” was all Ludwig could think to whisper, for now pushing aside the logistics of that. How on Earth he’d make Hawaii for next year work was unimportant compared to what was in front of him. Feliciano pressed some kisses along his jaw and Ludwig let his eyes fall closed, pretending the files weren’t screaming of one issue after another that he would have to attend to.

“You’ve still got work on your mind,” Feliciano noted, gentle, and Ludwig squeezed his eyes shut tighter.

“I have just received reports and, believe me, I am trying not to think about it—” Ludwig was grateful for the kiss that quieted him and rendered him breathless.

“We can talk about it if you like,” Feliciano offered in earnest, pulling away from the kiss with a light smack, fingers still petting along his arm, “Of course—” he laughed— “if you can talk about it.”

Ludwig gave his hand a squeeze, and settled back against the headboard with a deep sigh, “It’s just that… I’ve gotten word that a certain few of my bosses are… unaccounted for.” Ludwig chewed the inside of his cheek, measuring each word with care, “The cowards are probably hiding—hoping to escape justice. I have agents looking into it…” he shook his head, unable to explain his instinct on this, “But I will feel much better once we’ve located them.”


 

Yao drew Ivan down on top of him, Ivan ever-mindful of his injured arm. Yao kissed him lazily, reveling in the smell of him, the feeling of his body, the taste of his tongue. He’d needed this. The comforting pressure of Ivan’s weight helped to release a certain pressure within him—a stress, a tension—that had been wound so tightly within him for far too long, and Yao couldn’t stand to let him go. He just needed him close for a while.

Yao slid a hand under Ivan’s sweater, wanting to feel him, spreading his fingers across the hot skin of his stomach. Ivan broke the kiss, panting lightly, curiosity in his dazzling eyes. Gazing up at Ivan—so beautiful—pulled a smile to his face, half-delirious with the relief of him. Yao reached to kiss his pretty nose, “What is it?” Yao asked him.

Ivan shook with a little laugh, “Here?” Ivan wondered aloud, glancing around the hospital room.

“Whatever do you mean, darling?” Yao hummed, smirking as he licked the taste of Ivan from his lips.

Ivan sighed through his nose, but dipped down to kiss him softly nevertheless, “You are…” Ivan nodded downwards. Yao raised an eyebrow, feigning cluelessness. Ivan was so cute when he tried to talk about sex. Perhaps Yao was a little hard, though Ivan wasn’t wrong; this was hardly the place for catching up on a round of reunion sex.  

“I am what, darling?” Yao smiled up at him.

Ivan was red in the face, knowing his games well, “You are… wanting me…?” Ivan tried, picking his words slowly with a knowing little smile.

Yao stroked a thumb over Ivan’s cheek lovingly. “It wasn’t my intention,” Yao admitted, “I just want to be close to you, just to be with you for a while,” Yao breathed to him, searching his love’s eyes, “ But …” Yao gave a wry smile, “I am a flexible man, if that’s what you have on your mind,” he purred.

Ivan rolled his eyes, playful, his love shining gently in them. Yao’s heart flushed with warmth. He loved him so much. Ivan gathered him into his arms, kissing him once more, “When we leave this place,” Ivan decided, “Let me hold you,” his lips brushed over Yao’s ear, goosebumps spreading over his flesh, “I missed you, sunflower,” Ivan groaned lowly, entwining their legs as he pulled Yao to his body.

Yao melted into his embrace. He ached. Everywhere. His arm, the bruises from the beating he’d taken on the helicopter, the mental load of having been back in Ulaanbaatar, back in that house… none of it healed well, healed easily, healed cleanly.

But the man he loved held him—in a drab, ugly hospital room in Moscow—and it helped the ache more than Yao could say.

Chapter Text

Ivan stepped back into their room, Yao hot on his heels and slamming the door behind them. Ivan certainly could agree with the sentiment. “They can’t just trap us here!” Yao shouted back at the closed door. “‘Rest’ my ass !” He tossed himself back onto the bed with a grace only he could manage. 

As Yao steamed Ivan joined him against the headboard, arrested in the uncomfortable lack of options. Sit, wait, rest-- again, the same orders of inaction from Germany. Perhaps they were expected to welcome this, but idling was far from a reward for men clawing their way from a darkness that was only too easy to sink back into. 

It was a creeping feeling, and Ivan knew they both felt it. What would they do—what would they be—without their work, the only distraction they knew? 

“What now, after all that’s happened?” Yao demanded, not necessarily of him, but of a world that seemed to tip ever out of their favor. Ivan reached for him, the man who had given him everything Ivan had ever had, even in a world like that. There was silence, Yao’s hand small in his. 

“Now,” Ivan answered, swallowing, “We have to consider the possibility of a future. A future without them.” None of the Russians, the handlers, the agencies, the work—and none of the manipulation and the pain and the empty distraction that came with them. Yao sunk against his chest with a deep sigh. Ivan rested his chin on the top of his lovely head, watching the wall. 

“But what if I…” Yao trailed off, talking to the ceiling. Ivan played gently with Yao’s fingers, counting their scars with his thumb, allowing him all the time he needed. 

Kiku had been awake for a day. It was an obvious relief for Yao. At the least, they had that. They still found themselves at a crossroads with questions piling high and with Germany again denying them distraction; the American seemed to hear them but to listen to very little—likely having enough on his own mind—but at the least there was one less tragedy in their world. Kiku’s betrayal had been the agent that had long ago delivered his Yao from a Chinese prison to the hands of the Russians… and such violence had brought his Yao to him—Wang Yao, the strangest of angels, saving him from what he’d become. At the least, they had that.  

And perhaps, Ivan thought as Yao shook his head at the sky and pulled him nearer, their past was as inescapable as their present reality. “I’m just so tired of running,” Yao whispered.

Ivan hummed lowly, thinking. “Then we will not run, sunflower,” he decided, determination in his voice. He didn’t know what he meant, only that he would figure it out for the both of them... Yao reached to cup his cheek, returning Ivan’s thoughts to him. There was a smile in his eyes-- almost pitying, almost tired-- that didn’t quite reach his lips. 

Yao was right to laugh. As if either of them had ever truly known a life without running. What such a life might look like was fantasy… And yet, they fantasized together. 

Ivan had just opened his mouth to speak when a man wandered right into the hospital room. Ivan straightened on instinct, hand going for an improvised weapon-- before seeing it was only the usual suspect. Yong Soo blew a bubble out of his chewing gum, greeting the two of them with a peace sign. “You could knock, you know,” Yao sighed, used to it by now. He returned his attention to Ivan, kissing him on the cheek. A reassurance. “We’ll talk about this later,” he whispered, Ivan nodding. Yao sat up as Yong Soo busied himself blowing another bubble. “How is he?” Yao inquired for the both of them, sounding bored with the intrusion.

Yong Soo shrugged a shoulder. “He looked like he was surprised to see us. Happy, though.” He chewed for a moment more, thoughtful. “Also? Alfred is cool? I don’t know what you were talking about--?”

Yao waved that away, “Yong Soo, is there something you wanted to say…?” he prompted, somewhat gently. 

“Mei wanted me to tell you… Well… since Kiku is doing better, and you guys are doing alright, we’re probably going to head back in a couple of days.” 

Ivan watched his husband. Yao blinked. “Okay.”

Yong Soo pushed the bubblegum to one side of his mouth, “We also wanted you to know that we’ve got an extra room in our shitty little flat that’s--well, it’s an office right now, but if you old farts were… you know… maybe needing a place to crash for a little while your workplace is busy imploding…” He blew another bubble, giving the two stunned agents a thumbs up and letting it burst. “I mean, you took us in. I guess we can repay the favor,” Yong Soo laughed like he thought himself funny. 

Yao swallowed thickly, conversations of what now, after all that’s happened? still echoing much too freshly in both of their minds… He looked to Ivan, who gazed evenly back.

Yao cleared his throat, taking a beat to collect himself, “We’ll think it over.” 

Yong Soo nodded, giving them yet another thumbs-up as he chomped away on that ridiculous wad of gum, and with that he turned on a heel to leave them in peace.

“Yong Soo,” Yao called after him, making him stop. Yao gripped Ivan’s hand. “Thank you.” 


Alfred turned his ring over and over in his fingers, the light from the hospital window glittering softly off the gold. “Kiku?” 

Kiku looked up from penciling in his sudoku. “Alfred?” 

“Will you marry me again?” Alfred asked him from his chair. 

Kiku’s eyes gleamed with the smile that took over his features. “Well, Alfred, I was planning on it,” he laughed at the slight absurdity of the situation, then pulled him over to kiss his lips, “Of course I will.” 

Alfred said the first thing that came to mind: “We could be Dr. and Mr. Honda-Jones when we get reservations at places.” 

“Certainly a reason to consider when getting married,” Kiku agreed, smiling. 

Alfred kissed him desperately, scooting onto the bed with him for a better angle. “We could file our taxes together.” 

“Naturally.”

He had Kiku giggling now, gathering him gently into his arms to pepper his pretty face with kisses, “We could have a doughnut cake for the wedding this time around. We could invite Germany again and he might actually come.” Alfred touched his forehead to Kiku’s, “We could get a place with a bigger kitchen. We’re filing jointly, we could get a bigger loan, that means an even bigger kitchen. Imma bake you so many pies, baby.” 

Kiku ran a hand through his hair, humming, “I like the sound of that.” He lowered his voice, making it jokingly sultry, “And then what would you do?” Alfred barked out a laugh, climbing the rest of the way up on the bed so Kiku could lie back. Alfred rested his head on his stomach, Kiku’s fingers stroking through his hair. 

“Whatever you want, sugar plum. We could get a dog. Or two,” Alfred sighed contentedly, turning his head to look up at the man he loved, melting like butter under his touch. Now the ordeal was over, now he could breathe. Maybe he was about to drop his ‘dream job’ like so much baggage, but George Takei look at what he won by losing. Kiks could make a neck brace look cute. Now that’s how you know you’ve found the one. Al snuggled closer, “We could elope in Vegas. Go ziplining in our tuxes.” 

Kiku shrugged, Alfred feeling the rise and fall of his laugh against his cheek, “Why not?” 

“We could adopt ten littluns of our own and move out to a farm where no bullshit agency is gonna tell us we can’t.” 

Kiku closed his eyes with a soft smile, “Maybe not ten…” Kiku gently amended, bringing a hand to Alfred’s face, thoughtful a long second before sighing, “But I’d want that with you.” How did Alfred ever get so lucky? Kiku fell quiet, gazing off into space, the thumb stroking over his cheek stilling as his thoughts preoccupied him. Alfred examined his face curiously. Something was bothering him. 

Al covered Kiku’s hand with his own, drawing his eyes back to him, “Sweetheart, what’s up?”  

Kiku worried the inside of his cheek with his teeth for a second, “What if… What if this line of work catches up with us?” he whispered it. And it was definitely something Alfred had to chew on for a while. 

Alfred looked up at Kiku, and Kiku looked down at Alfred. “You know…” he said, “I was worried about the same thing kissing you for the first time--how my job might get in the way, why I shouldn’t, how it might only hurt us to take that step. And it terrified the heck out of me when I was thinking about marrying you…” he offered a small smile, “Guess we just have to ask if it’s worth it to try.” 

Kiku let out a long breath, fingers combing through Alfred’s hair again as he lost himself in contemplation. Finally, “I love you, Alfred. More than anything. But what if we were to have children of our own--”

The door opened without any fuss, scaring the ever-loving crap out of both of them, “--Then those children would have quite a few extra eyes looking out for them, wouldn’t they?” Yao mused from the doorway. Kiku’s hand clenched in Alfred’s hair. 

Kiku coughed, muscles suddenly tense, “Yao...” he started, but Yao shut him down with a look. 

“Ivan and I were going out for tea with Mei and Yong Soo. Did either of you want anything while we’re out?” Yao inquired of them. Alfred looked between his husband and Yao, reading the soft incredulity in Kiku’s beautiful eyes with interest. Kiku was busy being speechless, so Alfred went ahead and answered the question for himself. 

“They got Coke anywhere in this city? I’ve been dying for one, man.” 

It got him an eye roll, so Alfred guessed this was a bit too ‘stereotypical American’ for Yao’s tastes, but Alfred also got a nod, so it was definitely worth it. “Anything for you, Kiku?” 

Kiku shook his head, still dumbfounded by something that Al was missing, and cleared his throat, “Yao, I--”

“--Of course,” Yao sniffed, tilting his head, “If you had children, you would have to come around more often, you know.” 

“WAIT, DID YOU SAY AL AND KIKU ARE HAVING BABIES?” Alfred heard Yong Soo shout from down the hall, then running feet, and then the man himself was shoving his way in beside Yao, “I’M REALLY GOING TO BE AN UNCLE?!” 

“I mean, hopefully someday, dude!” Alfred pumped a fist in the air from his very dignified position laying on Kiku’s tummy. 

Yong Soo looked to Yao, overjoyed, then seemed to come to a realization and elbowed Yao in the ribs, “We’ll make a grandfather out of you yet, old man!” 

“‘Grandfather’ --?” Yao protested. 

“Aww!” Mei chimed in, appearing from nowhere to hug Yao around the middle, “You’d be Yeye Yao!” 

Yao blushed, taking this under consideration, “... That may not have… the worst ring to it I’ve ever heard.” Yao paused, regarding Alfred and Kiku coolly for a moment before turning to the other two. “Would you mind giving us a moment?” Mei and Yong Soo both offered their agreement to the unexpected request, leaving the room with their curiosities bare on their faces and closing the door behind them. Alfred opened his mouth to ask what that was about, but Yao held up a finger. They were silent a beat. Yao pulled the door open. Mei came toppling in over Yong Soo to the floor. “I said, a moment,” Yao sighed, stern. 

The two picked themselves bitterly up off the floor, Yao watching them slink away down the hall.

“They don’t know do they?” Kiku asked quietly, once they had gone. Yao shut the door gently, leaning against it. 

He shook his head slowly, eyes closed. “No. No, they don’t know a thing about the life Ivan and I had, outside of me having a husband. We had an agency after us. Giving out details could only endanger the ones I loved.” Al went ahead and drew a neat little line between this little bit of info and Russia saying he’d gone rogue from his agency. Oh, AND Russia throwing a knife at him for asking about ‘the details.’ Al stayed quiet this time, not putting it past Yao to have gotten hold of a knife himself. But Yao and Kiku were pretty much ignoring him at this point anyway.

The two were silent a long, long while, some sort of tension and some sort of understanding between them. Kiku swallowed, gathering up the courage to speak first, “Yao, I want this with him.” 

Yao nodded, thoughtful. “I know you do.” He pushed off the door, claiming the seat by Kiku’s bedside Alfred had abandoned, “I know the feeling.” Yao leaned forward onto his elbows, resting his chin on his fist, “And… if you do…” Yao looked up at him, eyes flashing, “Then I’ll do everything I can to see that nothing disturbs your peace.” 

Kiku entwined his fingers with Alfred’s, clinging tightly. Al squeezed his hand firmly back.

“But, like you said, we’ll have to come see you guys more, right?” Alfred finished for Yao. 

Yao scoffed, seeming to remember he was there, “You had better.” He gave both of them a wry little smile. 

Then, the two of them were again left alone (at least until Alfred got that Coke he’d asked for). Kiku let out a long breath into the silence. “That was fun,” Alfred thought aloud at his husband. Kiku groaned in response. 

“Alfred,” he said, “I love you. So much.” 


 

It had been nothing but radio silence from the American agency, and Ludwig was never one to go off instinct rather than hard data, but… he was glad to have Feliciano close. Ludwig scribbled another report for the records, only able to detail the quiet--alone in the makeshift office while his brother entertained his husband in the city. 

Ludwig flexed his aching hand, setting aside the pen for a moment. Only a moment. 

His informants back in America were late getting their information to him. 24 hours late. Such tardiness was not unheard of, of course, and it was difficult to receive proper reports from the midst of disorder and confusion anyway--agents unsure of their commanding officers, unsure if they had commanding officers anymore. 

Ludwig sighed into the air, stilling the rising threat of anger within himself. He and Feliciano were supposed to be in Hawaii. 

There was a knock on the door, then, and Ludwig’s eyes flicked to the clock out of habit. People did not schedule their appointments with him anymore; he was simply expected to accommodate. And, it would seem, ‘accommodation’ included handling restless Russian agents looking for assignment. Ludwig sighed. If it was them, at least they had given it a couple days this time before trying again. He called for the guest to enter, picking up his pen once more. 

The door opened without further ado, and Ludwig looked an unfamiliar agent up and down, and Ludwig opened his mouth--a standard ‘State your business’ already held loosely on his tongue--and then Ludwig Beilschmidt was looking down the barrel of a gun. 

Chapter Text

“This is a delicate operation, Ludwig,” the gun owner growled through smiling teeth, “Come without a fuss, or it will be handled less delicately. And please don’t go for that button under your desk.” 

Ludwig stared down the black metal of his death sentence. His own handgun was holstered at his side, discretely covered by his suit jacket. That did not mean he would be the faster draw. “What is this?” 

“I don’t think you’re in much of a position to be asking questions right now. Stand up.”

Ludwig obeyed. 

“You’re familiar with missions briefs, I’ve been told. Listen closely to yours: you and I are going to walk out of this building. We have somewhere to be; I expect you to act like it. No stopping to chat. Speak only if spoken to; can’t have our cover broken just because you’re too quiet. My name is John if someone asks--Mr. Smith if you’d deem it more appropriate. Eyes straight ahead. Go where I tell you to. The moment you break any of these rules, the moment you arouse any suspicion, the nurses will be cleaning your brains off the tiles-- and how very inconsiderate of you would that be?” 

Ludwig swallowed. “Why are you doing this?” he chanced to ask. 

“Well, Ludwig, unlike you, some of us actually know our duties.” He shrugged. “But I wouldn’t worry about me. I’m just the delivery boy, and we have more than one set of eyes overseeing this little transaction.” The man gestured with the gun for him to move. “What are you waiting for? Your superiors want to have a chat with you. Would be a shame if we had to kill you before we can get something hashed out for all the rest of these agents you’ve led astray.”



Gilbert Beilschmidt shoved another pirozhki into his mouth, trailing ahead of Feliciano who’d stopped to take another picture of a Russian something-or-other. They were early getting back, sure, but Feliciano had claimed his feet were hurting as a way to get some trinkets back to his overworked lover boy. Sheesh, if being married to Feliciano didn’t get that big buzzkill to have some fun, Gilbert didn’t know what would. 

He was brushing crumbs off his awesome new scarf, the two of them walking up on the expansive hospital complex once more, when the big main doors slid open and--wait, what was he doing out in the sunlight?
“--Yo, Deutschland, what the fuck?” Gilbert called, because that’s how a sibling should be greeted.  

Ludwig glanced up, looking even more constipated than usual, and nodded his greeting to him and Feliciano as they approached. 

The rando he was with murmured something to him just before Feliciano tackled his husband in a gleeful hug at the marvelous serendipity of seeing him actually out and about. 

Hallo, Bruder,” Ludwig said over Feliciano’s head, almost casual, even as he squeezed the little Italian desperately tight. “Wie geht’s dir? Hast du den Kaffee probiert?” 

Gilbert opened his mouth to ask him what the fuck he was talking about before his brain finished loading exactly what Ludwig was saying. A chill ran down his spine. Shit. Shit.

 “Yeah,” he said, “Yeah, I tried the coffee. It’s shit. I don’t know what you were talking about.” 

Ludwig chuckled good-naturedly and shrugged. “I thought you might like it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some business to attend to. Mr. Smith and I have a meeting.” Ludwig kissed Feliciano full on the mouth, in front of them all, taking the smaller man by pleasant surprise. Gilbert nodded to ‘Mr. Smith,’ who gave him a tight-lipped smile, hands deep in his coat pockets. “Ich liebe dich,” Ludwig promised Feliciano lowly. Feli giggled, and said something sweet back in Italian. 

Gilbert’s ears were ringing as he and Feli turned away from his little brother, moving back toward the hospital. 

He counted his steps. 

“Well, that was nice. You know, he never does that--” Feliciano started. Gilbert wasn’t listening. His hand was in his jacket. 

“Don’t turn around.” 

The gunshot cracked through the air. 

‘Mr. Smith’ crumpled to the ground like a bag of laundry. And Gilbert stood stock-still with the smoking gun. He let out a breath. The code phrase he and Ludwig had devised was old--and for one horrifying moment it occurred to Gilbert that he might’ve gotten it all wrong. 

But then Ludwig was hurtling toward them yelling at them to get down. Gilbert dropped on instinct and Ludwig tackled his husband to the cement as the glass doors that had been behind them a second ago went up into a million sparkling pieces.

Chapter Text

Yao slowly folded a pair of pants with his good arm, his wounded one healing steadily in a sling. The door opened and closed quietly behind him and Ivan slid his arms around his waist, pressing a kiss to the back of his neck in greeting. Yao swallowed, closing his eyes and covering Ivan’s hands with one of his own. “Are you ready?” Ivan murmured. 

“I still have to put…” Yao trailed off, realizing the physical packing wasn’t what Ivan meant. He sighed, leaning back against him. He nodded. “Yes.” 

Ivan held him closer. 

It was time for a change. No more running. 

There was a quick knock at the door, and Ivan moved to let Mei in while Yao placed the remaining articles of clothing allotted to him in his bag. “Our ride is almost here, fellas!” she let them know, a skip to her step. Yao tossed the letter telling the Americansor the Russians, whoever caredthat they wouldn’t be back onto the pillow. They could all go fuck themselves. 

Yao shouldered his bag, and so did Ivan. 


 “I could always carry you,” Alfred offered as Kiku wobbled on his feet. 

Absolutely not,” Kiku huffed as he clutched to Alfred, “Yao would never let me hear the end of it. I’m just…” he took a shaky step, stretching the ol’ legs. Alfred raised an eyebrow. Kiku patted his chest, reassuring him like Alfred wasn’t keeping him upright, “I was just a little unsteady.” 

“Was?” 

Kiku, stubbornly determined, let Alfred go. Then decided he may just allow himself a hand on Alfred’s arm. 

His face was stony with his resolve and concentration; Alfred couldn’t help stealing a kiss to his cheek. It forced a sweet smile from him. After a bit of shuffling and bit of readjusting, they were meandering arm-in-arm down the hall like an old married couple, talking lowly about nothing important, giggling. It turned some heads, but neither of them gave it any mind. Looking a little lovesick was the least of Alfred’s worries. 

He snuck one more kiss. Kiku pushed at him, playfully chiding. “You’re going to make me trip over your big feet,” he coughed. 

Al wound an arm around his husband’s waist, “Don’t worry, babe. If you trip, I can totally just French dip you in the middle of this hallway. We’ll make it look planned.” 

That got him a breathy laugh, “I’m afraid I’m on a strict no French dipping regimen, Alfred.” 

“I’m sure one can be excused. Ya know, in case of emergencies.” 

“I’m afraid not, my love,” Kiku peered up at him with a gleam in his eye, “Or else it wouldn’t be strict.” 

 

The helicopter was waiting on the hospital’s landing pad. Yao and ol’ Big Nose were standing around talking to Mei, Yong Soo, and the pilot. Alfred waved. Only part of the merry bunch waved back. Gotta love those un-in-laws.

Yao started toward Kiku, so Al let the two have their moment and wandered up to his old mission’s partner. “How’s it going, asshole?” 

Russia regarded him coolly, “I was wondering if you would try for decency.” 

“Never,” Alfred told him. 

Russia sighed through his nose, gazing over the city with his hands in his pockets, his scarf blowing semi-majestically in the wind. “You really were an awful partner, America.” 

“Right back at you, dedushka.” Alfred thought on that a moment, then added an extra “De-douche-ka” for good measure. 

Russia side-eyed him. “You never cease to amaze.” 

It was a cold day in Moscow, the mid-morning sunlight washing the city with a silvery-white sheen. Mei slugged Yong Soo in the arm for something he’d said as he laughed hysterically about it. Yao had his arm in a sling, talking with his chin high and a small, tentative smile on his face while Kiku nodded. Then, Yao was tugging a surprised Kiku into a hard, one-armed hug that took Kiku a good few seconds of shock to reciprocateawkward, but sincere. 

The future was, as of yet, undefined. It was a question left wide-open, and as Alfred breathed in the chill of the air beside a big Russian jerk, all he knew was that it was going to be theirs. He was starting to think he really liked it that way too. 

And then the door back into the hospital burst open. All of them turned as Germany stumbled to a halt and caught his breath, pushing his hair back into place with a hand. “Agents,” he gasped, “I’m so glad I caught you. We have a situation.” 

Alfred and Kiku shared a glance. Yao put a hand on his hip.

Seeming a second behind its cue, an alarm began blaring from within the hospital. 

“There were three American higher-ups who were unaccounted for in the aftermath of the truth getting out,” Germany announced. “In the wake of a very recent attempt on my life, I believe it is safe to say they are now accounted for and they have agents working for them. They have told these agents I’m the head of some nefarious scheme to turn our agency against the higher-ups. The men who have caused all of you so much pain are trying to regain their power over the organization.” Germany worked his jaw. “I would not be here if I were not desperate. So many of our own are wounded. You know their methods better than anyone. You are the best hope we have.” 

Germany cleared his throat before continuing, “So, agents,” he said, “I have one last mission for you, if you would choose to accept it.” 

A shocked hush fell over the group, leaving no sound but the helicopter blades still buffeting the air and the alarm screaming of emergency. Alfred looked at his companions, at his husband.

You have to be Millard Fillmore-ing kidding me.”