They told Lucci it was "well-deserved vacation time". They explained that, after all the good work he had done for them over the years, he was due for a break. They said that the rest would do him some good and that he would come back on top of his game, not that he ever wasn't, of course, what a laughable notion, haha, but really, wouldn't it be nice to have a break from all the small fry ordering him around on the island?
He at least agreed with that last part, but not vocally. The most they got from him was a hard, level glare that promised endless pain and suffering, but not death, oh no. Death was too good for these pitiful weaklings who weresending him away because he was in their hair. That was exactly the problem. They thought he was stressed. That he needed a break. That he needed some time away from work, because they had made it out in their insignificant little heads that even Rob Lucci needed a vacation after all he'd been through, or he might snap. And snapping leads to dead bodies, and they'd had quite enough of those around for the time being.
So they were sending him on a vacation.
That was Lucci's new least favorite word, right up there with "straw hat", "pirate", "reprieve", and "mercy". Vacation. It even sounded ugly.
But the way things were going, Lucci couldn't simply refuse. He had become a liability, and everyone knew what happened to liabilities on the Island of Justice. Not that they could do anything to him, but after 28 years of living on a government leash, snapping it just didn't seem like a particularly entertaining option. So, vacation it was.
Willingly he might go, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to make every possible effort not to enjoy himself.
"You know," said Kaku, who was being sent along with him as, on paper, the 'official escort', and, in reality, the one-man 'make sure Lucci doesn't do terrible things to innocent people while no one is looking' force, "this might not turn out to be so bad."
Lucci gave him a very evil glare, and then turned to look back out over the expanse of ocean the boat was leaving behind as Kaku rubbed the back of his neck in a mildly apologetic fashion.
"It's just that, well, maybe a break really will do you some good—don't look at me like that; hear me out. If you think about it, there's really only so long any person can last in a job like this without some kind of an…outlet. Even yourself."
The look Lucci gave him this time suggested that he had an outlet, thank you very much, and Kaku of all people should know exactly what it was, in great detail. Kaku was quite certain that if he had been anyone else, he may have blushed.
"That's not what I meant," he muttered. Then, louder, he added "You know, a hobby, or something. Like, well, Kalifa reads a lot and Blueno has his baseball thing, and—"
"I have a hobby. It's called 'work'."
"Try to make the best of it, will you? It's not as if I'm enjoying being sent away from the island for two weeks any more than you are."
"Are you enjoying it more than being shot in the gut?"
"What? …Well, I suppose so, but—"
"Then really, Kaku, you are enjoying it significantly more than I am."
"Now you're just being melodramatic."
Before Lucci could come back at that with something sufficiently nasty, the captain's voice over the loudspeaker informed the passengers that they had just reached their destination. Lucci turned without warning and stalked off toward the cargo bay, intending to get his bag and leave the godforsaken ship as soon as possible. Kaku followed, exasperated, mumbling things under his breath about stubbornness and unwillingness to cooperate that Lucci planned to hurt him for later.
It was a winter island. Summer was all well and good for people who enjoyed water, but in this case, such was not appreciated, and besides, the twittering higher-ups had decided that somewhere with twelve hours of solid dark each night would be a nice change for someone who spent most of their time on an island of perpetual daylight.
Kaku thought it was pleasant. He liked snow. Lucci hated snow. Lucci hated sun, too, and water and sand and grass and leaves and birds—with a notable exception—and umbrellas and gravel and all things considered, snow was probably a better idea.
Anyway, everything was paid for, incidentals included. This, at least, was a good thing. Lucci needed a drink.
Kaku insisted upon putting everything away in drawers, because it made things easier to find and careful organization was hardwired into his brain. Lucci sulked in the living room while this went on, Hattori roosting obliviously on his shoulder. They had wanted him to leave the bird behind. This had resulted in a flat, icy stare that sent the vapid creature who'd suggested this scurrying for higher ground.
They shared a room, which was the only entertaining thing that had come out of this yet: the look on the director's face when Kaku had mildly informed him that they would not require separate lodging. Even if Lucci knew this was mostly so that Kaku could keep an eye on him.
After the putting away of things was finished, Kaku found Lucci on the sofa and flopped down on the other end of it, remaining silent for a long moment as he took stock of the general surroundings. Hattori, glad of the presence of a living roost not infected by a deep funk, hopped onto Kaku's head and settled there. Minutes passed.
"We could go skiing," Kaku suggested.
Lucci glared. Time passed.
Kaku cleared his throat. "…I bet I can accidentally get more people to fall on their faces than you can."
There was a moment of consideration.
"What did you do with my coat?"
"It's in the closet. I'll go see about renting some skis."
Three hours later, the slopes were scored with deep tracks of quite unnatural design, the resort's infirmary was overstocked to the point that the staff cafeteria was being used to temporarily house victims of what was being dubiously and bewilderedly called a "freak natural disaster", and the ski area was regrettably closed to all guests, with refunds available and offered.
Kaku handed Lucci a cup of coffee and sat down next to him in the snow at their secluded, breezy vantage point on a nearby mountain. "Sorry it took so long. They're having a bit of trouble with the aftermath."
"Is anyone seriously hurt?" Lucci asked, accepting the coffee and brushing off some of the fine snow that had settled on his shoulders.
"Oh no, they'll all be fine," said Kaku, pulling the top off his own coffee and examining the bright, sunless sky.
Lucci sipped his drink. "Damn."
On the second day, Lucci had had every intention of sitting in his room and seething for as long as possible, but eventually the need for a good cup of coffee overcame his rage long enough to motivate a journey into the lobby of the hotel.
Apparently, it took a ridiculously long time for a clerk to fetch coffee for someone looking at them as if they were a particularly unpleasant smashed insect. Long enough, in fact, for a young woman to approach Lucci and ask him, in a gratingly cheerful voice, if she could perhaps pet the adorable pigeon on his shoulder, and what its name was, and how long he was staying and if he had any plans for the rest of the day, because she was thinking of going ice skating and thought it would be nice to have a partner, and Lucci reminded himself repeatedly and forcefully that killing a civilian, even an especially annoying one, was strictly unacceptable.
Eventually, Kaku found him. "Ah, I was looking for you! I see you've made a friend. You seem to be getting along quite we—er…"
Lucci, without a flicker of change in his expression, had reached out, grabbed Kaku by the elbow, and yanked him into a very insistent arm-around-the-waist embrace, all while glaring steadily at the girl in front of him, who paused, continued to twitter hopelessly about skating and pigeons for a few dejected seconds, and excused herself.
"You know," said Kaku, watching her leave, "you could have just told her you weren't interested…"
Lucci removed his arm from Kaku's person in order to accept the coffee that was finally proffered to him. "Perhaps, but it's much easier to witlessly pursue someone who 'isn't interested' than it is to chase after someone on vacation with his boyfriend." He took a very grateful swig of lukewarm coffee. Caffeine could easily be lived without, but Lucci saw no reason to when it was readily available anyway.
"Boyfriend?" Kaku said, scratching behind Hattori's wing. "I wasn't aware I had a title now."
"If you'd prefer, I can think of several other things to call you."
"None of which you are saying in the lobby of this hotel, of course."
Lucci headed toward the elevators. "Concubine," he said idly, as if testing the word.
"I know I didn't just hear you say that. By the way, I think your admirer over there might have had a good idea."
"Yes. Skating. We could go ice skating."
Lucci looked over his shoulder. Kaku, smiling amiably, as if this were a perfectly normal thing to suggest, shrugged. "It might be entertaining. Have you ever tried Soru on ice? I wonder what would happen."
"Probably something terrible."
Kaku was still smiling.
"Let me put Hattori back in the room."
Lucci sat on a rock near what was left of the ice, tying on his boots. Kaku showed up with a mildly annoyed expression and his shoes in hand. "I wasn't able to get my hat back, unfortunately."
"They seem convinced that the sinking woman in the orange parka is more important than everyone else's needs," Lucci commented, watching the commotion with passive interest. "I don't suppose anyone's going to freeze to death?"
"Probably not," Kaku said, sitting down to take his skates off.
"Shame." Lucci pulled his laces tight and watched as the orange parka woman was dragged to safety. "You do have another hat like it."
"Well, yes, but not with me."
"Better the hat than you."
"Well, that's true. It's not as if they wouldn't have fished me out, though."
"Hmm." Lucci stood, picked up his skates, and stretched casually. "I'm not so sure about that. It was your fault in the first place, anyway."
"Excuse me?" Kaku said, pulling his shoes on. "The hairline fracture that started this mess was your fault, if I recall correctly."
"No one said you had to test its structural integrity."
"Hmph. I still say you're a showoff."
"It's not showing off if I'm spectacular without trying to be. Let's go back to the room; I feel like a drink."
Kaku followed him away from the ice, glancing back at the collection of sopping, shivery guests sitting around the edge of the pond. "It looks like they do, too."
The third day was less eventful, because there was nothing much left to do, what with several portions of the resort closed off for renovation. Lucci stretched out on the sofa and plotted dire and terrible things while Hattori roosted contentedly on the back of a nearby chair, occasionally cooing and ruffling his wings in his sleep.
Eventually, Kaku returned from places unknown (probably making sure none of the guests had suffered grievous injuries, the bleeding-heart) with a book and a fresh supply of coffee and shoved Lucci's feet off the sofa in order to make space for himself. Lucci, not to be thwarted, moved his feet back onto Kaku's lap with typical cat-like determination to take up every possible inch of space.
For a long time, the only sounds in the room were the pages of Kaku's book turning, occasional sips of coffee, and Hattori's feathers rustling sleepily. Lucci accidentally forgot that he was supposed to be hating every second of this vacation for nearly an hour before remembering and industriously making up for lost time by imagining unpleasant things happening to the irritating clerk at the front desk.
It wasn't a terrible day, all things considered.
Unfortunately, the fourth day was the same, bringing restlessness rather than relaxation, and by the fifth day Lucci took to pacing. It was either that or participate in the ice fishing competition, and while Lucci was good for waiting patiently by a hole for his prey to turn up, he didn't hold with sitting next to gaping holes of black, deep, unforgiving water in shades of unbearably icy. In the cold, no less. So pace he did.
"Why don't you read a book, or something?" Kaku suggested, on Lucci's twenty-third trek from the back of the restroom, through the bathroom, past the living room, and into the kitchen.
"I've read all the books you brought." He circled the sofa and tread into the bedroom again.
"Surely they're not so boring that you couldn't read them again?"
There was a noncommittal noise from somewhere near the bed in the other room.
"This place ought to have a library," Kaku commented, and turned a page.
Lucci walked out from the bedroom and toward the kitchen.
"You're going to wear a hole in the carpet. Possibly literally."
"At least the reactions of the staff will be interesting to see," came a voice from by the fridge.
"Did you read the paper?"
"This morning." He paced by the coffee table.
Kaku turned another page, thoughtful. "You could go to the lobby and…I don't know…socialize a little. Talk to people. Not all of them are irritating, you know—I had a nice conversation in passing with a man here on vacation with his wife on my way up from breakfast this morning. Did you even have breakfast?"
"I ate the rest of your croissant."
"Oh, so you did. I was saving that."
"They have more."
Minutes passed. Kaku sighed as Lucci passed through the living room for the forty-second time. "Why don't we go out for a walk?" he suggested, leaning over the sofa to watch Lucci disappear solemnly into the bedroom once more. "The scenery from the mountains is actually very nice, I hear."
The slow, even tread of footsteps halted just before the bathroom door. There was a pause, and then they turned and strode back into the living room with purpose. "Actually, that's not a bad idea," Lucci said, lifting Hattori from the chair his coat was slung over and pulling it on. "In fact, I think I'll go out by myself, if you don't mind."
Kaku was surprised. "Er…really?"
"Yes. I'll be back by sundown." His hand was already on the doorknob.
"If you're sure…"
"I am." The door clicked shut behind Lucci's retreating form.
Kaku sat on the sofa, book in his lap, staring at the front door. Hattori cooed a question and fluttered to sit on Kaku's shoulder.
"I honestly don't know," Kaku said, by way of reply, "but as long as he has something to do…" He shrugged his unoccupied shoulder, shook his head, and continued to read, with a vague sense of trepidation.
Maya Engles was being watched.
She was a pretty girl, barely twenty at most, with blonde hair and blue eyes and charming freckles and the disposition and IQ of a mildly concussed kitten. Maya was having a perfectly lovely skiing vacation with her rich parents, despite the fact that not much actual skiing had occurred before that dreadful accident on the slopes happened. And then the unfortunate incident at the skating pond…such a tragedy. Maya loved to skate. But the scenery was positively lovely, and she was having a wonderful time exploring the interesting little paths through the mountain woods created by wildlife and previous tourists. The only thing that could have made it better would be a hiking partner to explore with; what a shame it was that that handsome man with the adorable little bird was already, er, taken…
There was a crackling sound in the forest behind her. Maya turned slowly, hoping to catch sight of a deer, but nothing was there. Hmm. She turned and kept on through the trees, but soon the sound came again; the snap of a twig, followed by a soft swish, like someone dragging cloth through the snow…but still, Maya saw nothing. She continued to walk.
Suddenly, the crackle-swish sound was right behind her. Maya whipped around; the forest was empty. This was suspicious…surely she wasn't being followed?
"Hey," said a voice. Maya jumped, gasped, and turned so fast she almost toppled into the snow. No one was there. "Look up," said the voice.
Maya froze. From the rock outcropping above her head, a fine dusting of snow slipped to the ground, followed by a stray pebble and a couple of errant pinecones. The swishing sound started up again; to Maya's terrified imagination, it sounded almost like a tail lashing through the snow…
She looked up.
"Boo," said the leopard crouched on the outcropping.
Maya screamed, high-pitched and hair-raising, and ran off into the woods as fast as her wool-padded legs could carry her, stumbling and shrieking all the way down the hill.
Lucci dropped from the outcropping, flexed his claws in the snow, and stretched languidly before slinking off into the forest to seek out more victims.
On the sixth day, Kaku found Lucci sitting in front of the room's fireplace with the daily paper and a feathered companion drinking from his glass.
"Yes, Kaku?" he replied, without looking up.
"Interesting news. Apparently there have been a number of mysterious leopard attacks reported in the woods nearby."
"That's certainly rather odd." He turned a page.
"It is odd, especially considering that the last reported leopard attack around these parts happened almost fifteen years ago."
"Indeed. Did you know that one girl swears up and down that the leopard in question actually spoke to her?"
Lucci shooed Hattori onto the chair arm and picked up his glass. "Absurd. She must have been scared out of her mind."
"Clearly," Kaku said flatly, arms crossed. "I honestly don't know what might compel a leopard to leave the comfort of his lodgings and seek out victims in the woods, Lucci."
The glass clicked back onto the table. "Perhaps the leopard had been going stir-crazy, cooped up in a dull, cramped cave with only a mountain goat for company and decided to go out and find some way to entertain himself. You shouldn't fault him; it was either that or eat the goat."
Kaku pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, long and tortured. "Lucci, you're going to get us kicked out of the resort."
"Good," came the immediate reply.
"Look," said Kaku. "This is on me. If you get us kicked out, if you hurt anyone or cause anyone to hurt themselves, if anything goes wrong? It's on me. Have some consideration, will you? It's only a week longer, and then we go home. You spent five years undercover in Water 7; why can't you act like a normal person for two weeks?"
"Because that waswork," Lucci said, snapping his paper. "This is not work; this is ridiculous, and I—"
"And you refuse to cooperate? Lucci, you're a grown man. Stop acting like you're still a trainee back in the academy. In fact, I'm sure you were never this immature even when you were twelve."
This earned him a glare that bordered on evil. Kaku deflated.
"I'm sorry. But just…try to find a way to enjoy yourself that doesn't involve being a menace to society?"
Lucci gave him half a sardonic smirk. "I saw you jumping through the trees this morning."
Kaku blinked. "…point taken. But at least I don't roar at people."
"Look, how about we go on a normal, two-legged walk? Both of us. We'll find some way to entertain ourselves. You've never suffered a dearth of ways to unnerve people without fur, anyway."
Lucci thought this over for a moment and grudgingly folded his paper. "Fine."
"Thank you," Kaku said, relieved.
"But if we run into that vapid blonde from the lobby again, I make no promises."
On the seventh day, Lucci woke up feeling very strange. His throat was sandpapery, his tongue felt thick, and he had an urge to sneeze for no reason that he could discern. Plus, he was unreasonably chilly, and he ached.
"Did you slip me something?" he asked Kaku, who was in the kitchen buttering toast. Kaku glanced over his shoulder, confused.
"No. What's wrong?"
"I'm cold, my skin is crawling, and my sinuses feel like hell."
Kaku's brow creased in confusion and something almost approaching concern. He put down his toast and pressed his hand to Lucci's forehead.
"What are you—"
"Lucci…you have a fever."
"You have a fever. You're sick." Kaku looked bemused.
"I do not get sick," Lucci said firmly. "I have never been ill in my life."
Now Kaku just looked blown away. "Well, there's a first time for everything…"
"I'm not sick," Lucci insisted, and then he sneezed.
Kaku was trying not to smile. "Uh-huh. Sit down. I'll get you some orange juice."
Lucci had already decided that someone was going to die for this; he just wasn't sure who yet, but the scales were tipping in Kaku's direction. He took the glass of orange juice pressed into his hands only because he was considering how best to dispatch him. "Drink it all. I'll, um…I'll see if I can get you some cold medicine, or something…"
"I don't need any," said Lucci, staring at his orange juice. His head was pounding.
"Okay," Kaku said reasonably. "You can be sick and miserable for the rest of the trip, or you can let me get you something to help clear it up. Your choice."
Lucci forced his grip not to tighten on the glass to the point of breaking it. "I don't. Need. Any. Medicine."
"Suit yourself," Kaku said. He stood next to Lucci's chair for a moment in silence. "Well, all right. At least go and lay down, then."
"…Okay, then come and sit in the living room."
Lucci got up and trudged into the living room, because he happened to like it better there. He was still holding the orange juice. After a few second of consideration, and with reluctance, he drank it.
Kaku came into the room with a blanket and tossed it over Lucci's lap. He sat down on the sofa next to him. "You're not a snow leopard, you know."
"Maybe a summer island would have been better after all."
"I'm going to see about getting the heat turned up in here." Kaku patted Lucci on the shoulder and stood up. "Just so you know, I'm pretty sure pigeons can get colds."
As Kaku left the room, Lucci turned to look at Hattori, who was perched on the back of a chair and looking at him with oblivious, beady little eyes. "Cooo?" he said.
Lucci stared back at the bird for a moment, and then downed the rest of his orange juice. "I hate you all."
Much later, Lucci got into bed with his back to the room, yanked the covers around him so hard they nearly ripped, and decided that when he woke up in the morning, he wasn't going to be ill anymore. Viruses were not allowed to set up camp in Rob Lucci's body.
After roughly half an hour of lying immobile under several layers of blanket that were doing nothing to dispel the cold, Lucci heard the door open and close. He heard bird wings flutter across the room and light on the windowsill, followed by footsteps treading toward the bathroom. Water ran, things moved around, and eventually Kaku reemerged into the bedroom and climbed into the bed.
"Are you sure you want to sleep with an invalid?" Lucci muttered, and Kaku paused in the act of fluffing his pillow to sigh as though put upon.
"You're being melodramatic again," he said quietly. Lucci tried to scoff, and ended up coughing into the pillow. "Well…maybe not entirely melodramatic."
"Die," said Lucci. He could practically feel Kaku smiling.
A moment passed in relative silence, shuffling and the occasional cough aside. Wind was howling outside the bedroom walls; it rattled the window and startled Hattori into relocating to the coat rack near the door. And then, with another harried sigh, Kaku rolled over and wrapped an arm around Lucci's chest, pressed up against his back.
"What are you doing?" Lucci asked, though he didn't have much of an inclination to actually move—he told himself that this was because he was perfectly comfortable the way he was, rather than that he felt too stiff and cold.
"You were shivering."
"I was not."
"Liar. You were shivering; I could feel it from the other side of the bed. Now shut up and stop twitching."
Lucci suppressed another shiver. Damn. "Well…don't get too comfortable."
"Around you?" Kaku said against the back of Lucci's shoulder. "I'm fairly certain that's impossible. Go to sleep."
Lucci went to sleep, because he was too irritatingly exhausted not to.
The eighth day passed tediously and with a lot of orange juice. Lucci, while not actually complaining, made as much of a physical effort as possible to convey exactly how much he hated everything by polluting the room with his aura of disgruntlement. Hattori started to seem depressed, because when his master was as deeply upset as he was, his little pigeon brain could only assume that terrible things were afoot and that he should probably be alarmed.
Kaku honestly tried not to act condescending to Mister I-Never-Get-Sick, but it didn't work very well.
Later that evening, Kaku was replacing the pillow case Lucci had coughed all over with a less diseased one when the other came into the room, pulled it out of his hands, grabbed him by the back of the head and kissed him.
Several long seconds later, when Lucci let him go, Kaku blinked. "What was that for?"
Lucci looked annoyed. "Do I have to have a reason for everything I do, now? When did it get to be that people started questioning me?"
Kaku opened his mouth to reply, but Lucci kissed him again and pushed him onto the mattress.
"You know something?" he said against the side of Kaku's neck. "You're supposed to be the one who believes I'm not just a liability, even when I am one."
"I never thought you were," Kaku said, confused, one of his hands ending up in Lucci's hair. "You know better than that. I'd never think that about you."
"Good," Lucci said, sliding one hand under Kaku's shirt and threading the other in his hair to pull his head to one side for better access. "As long as that's settled."
Kaku awoke to the sounds of things rattling in the kitchen. He sat up with a start, blinking groggily against the sunlight streaming through the window. "Lucci?"
"What?" said Lucci's voice from the other room.
Kaku yawned, stretched, cracked his neck to one side, and then froze.
Suddenly, he sneezed.
Lucci, making coffee in the kitchen, mentally counted to three…
"You utter bastard!"
When the two strongest members of Cipher Pol 9 got back from their vacation, Lucci certainly seemed a lot less stressed. Everyone would have been very pleased with this, if not for the fact that Kaku was, for whatever reason, inexplicably furious with him.