Title: Cops and Robbers
Author: Ice Cube
Rating: K+ for mild depiction of child abuse
Spoilers: For basic background on Michael, shouldn't be anything that wasn't revealed in the first couple episodes of season 1. This little snippet came from a comment in Old Friends from season 1.
Disclaimer: Right, if I owned them anywhere outside of my dreams, the characters that are forthwith mentioned in this story would be making me a lot of money and very happy…so no, they aren't mine, and I'm a just out of school with no money, so if you're going to sue, feel free, you won't get anything.
Characters: Michael/Fiona, Nate, some Madeline and some Frank Westen
Archives: Feel free; just let me know where so I can find it again.
Summary: Michael had the scars on his face to remind him of his father. That didn't mean he wanted to remember how they got there. Set sometime near the end of season 1 – after False Flag.
Warnings: To those who think that I am capable of writing a fic that is torture free…I can't, and thus, if you don't want to see h/c, various possible tortures, and other forms of angst, find another story.
I don't always have my stories beta'd, I'm too impatient to wait for someone to proof it after I've written it, so I apologize for any mistakes, and if you email me to tell me that they're there, I'll fix them later.
Reviews are always a plus; it's great to know that people are reading my stories and that they evoke some strong reactions, but as I'm a horrible reviewer, I won't hold my breath for them. Constructive criticism will be taken under advisement. Flames, however, will be treated with the utmost respect they deserve…they will be ignored completely or poked fun at with friends.
That said, on with the tale…
When you're a spy, you build cover identities on top of cover identities. You mix and match and you mold who you are to the job at hand. There can't be any separation – it just might get you killed. The important thing, the most important thing – far more important than who the identity turns you into and what your mark believes you are – is to make the little details as close to the truth as possible so they're easily recalled under fire and don't get you killed because of a missed cue. The trick is to create these identities without compromising that little piece of yourself you keep buried so deeply that hours of interrogation and torture can't come close to touching it. You don't bring that out into the light for anything. You keep it to yourself and there's nothing and no one that can get to it. Work in the business long enough and you bury it so deeply that even you can't get to it. You might learn to forget it's even there. Because it's that little part of you that remains untouched from before you got recruited into this mess in the first place. The little piece of you that's still completely human and not just a tool someone's using as means to an end. And sometimes, that little piece is all you have left of who you really are.
"So what'd you tell the kid?" Fiona was feigning nonchalance as she ran the whetstone down the length of a KA-BAR that looked distinctively familiar to Michael. He ran through his memories, trying to remember if he had left that knife at her apartment for any reason – trying to figure out the last time he'd even pulled that particular blade from between the mattresses in his loft.
"Where'd you get that?" The question was meant to deflect attention away from the image burned in Michael's skull. The ten-year old kid with two black eyes and tears running down his cheeks was not what he wanted to be thinking about right now. The job was done, the kid was out of his stepfather's line of fire, and Michael's emotions were running far too close to the surface for his liking.
Every spy knows better than to get emotionally attached. Every spy knows better, but there aren't many humane ones who can accomplish it. Better to forget about it and move on before the fallout leaves you scrambling for some semblance of control. Sometimes control is the only thing that keeps you alive; the only thing that keeps you able to function at some level of normal, even when everything around you is falling apart.
Unfortunately for Michael, Fiona wasn't the type to let him get away with evasive techniques. It was part of what made life with her difficult at every pass. Not that he'd trade a minute of it for the world; not ever again. After all, there was a reason he'd never taken her name out of his wallet as his emergency contact and constantly called in favors to keep her cell phone number current.
Fiona's non-committal shrug did nothing to raise Michael's hopes that maybe this time she'd give in and play his game. That maybe this time she'd understand there were just some things that didn't need to be examined and hashed out, some things he just wanted to leave behind.
"It was just lying around, you know how it is. Tommy looked a lot happier after you talked to him." It was thrown out there as a statement, it even sounded like a statement, but Michael hadn't worked with her for this long to miss the demand for answers.
"Yeah. I think he'll be eating a lot more yogurt from now on." He hoped that the vague response would be answer enough to appease her, but when the stone clicked down on the tabletop and she turned to face him fully, Michael knew this wasn't going to end quickly. Fiona was idly playing with the knife and there was a glimmer in her eyes as she locked gazes with him. There was something about the way she stared at him at times like this that was far more effective than any interrogator he'd ever faced down. And there had been a good number of those.
"I told him he'd make a good spy some day. All right?" Michael turned abruptly away and made a beeline for her fridge. If they were going to talk about the kid, then at the very least he was going to have something to distract him. Fiona was always good about keeping a stock of blueberry yogurt handy for him.
If he'd really thought about it, Fiona's couch was not the most tactically sound of places to crash down to some semblance of sitting. Not if he wanted to keep his distance and be able to beat a hasty retreat if she continued needling at his defenses. But the toll of the day's events had exacted a hefty price on his body and the few ibuprofen that he'd crunched between his teeth before talking with Tommy had only just barely scratched the surface. With them he was able to walk without too much of a limp and breathe without having to grit his teeth. But that was about it. The pills would help with the inevitable inflammation, but couldn't combat the exhaustion. The aches and shooting pains currently assaulting him were screaming for somewhere soft to sit and let the tension ease just a bit. And a part of him that he tried not to examine too closely just naturally let his guard down whenever he was in Fiona's apartment, like he knew that no matter what, it was safe here. It was a subconscious instinct that had no logical reasoning, and one he'd long ago associated solely with her presence. It wasn't a luxury he afforded himself in too many places.
Fiona didn't let the mistake slip by. She landed herself down as close to Michael's side as she could get away with and stole the spoon out of his hand. There was a glint in her eye as she ignored his affronted look and annoyed huff. She gulped down the yogurt before returning the cutlery to his outstretched fingers with a triumphant grin. Michael sighed in defeat as she rested her head gently against his left shoulder. To her credit, he didn't even have to adjust for her to miss the worst of the bruising. He simply waited – knowing he was trapped – until she got down to what she wanted.
"How do you know he'll make a good spy?" The tone was sweet and innocent, two adjectives that rarely applied to Fiona. When she was spitting mad, throwing punches or kicks and generally trying to lay him out, those times he could deflect and protect himself. Those times were safe. Physical bruises and lacerations healed with little problem and could be forgotten with a modicum of focus. But this Fiona? The one who was being coy and acting like a television sitcom girlfriend? She had the ability to tear down every mental wall he had and could stomp on his heart, his emotions, and his psychological health without even breaking a sweat. This Fiona was downright frightening.
Despite knowing that when she was like this, he needed to have his best defenses up and in full lockdown mode, Michael rarely came out of the encounter unscathed. It was almost futile to even try. But he wouldn't have made it very far into his career if futility was a reason to cave in to pressure. Covert operatives who threw in the towel at the first sign of hopelessness ended up with a silver star on a wall at a pretty young age and a badly crafted cover story meant to aid their family's grieving process. At the very least, Michael was going to make Fiona work for whatever she was trying to weasel out of him this time.
"How do I know that? I don't…I was just talking to the kid. It didn't mean anything." Michael glanced at Fiona out of the corner of his eye and then went back to studying his next bite of yogurt as if it was the schematics for a high security defense system he needed to breach undetected. If there was one thing he knew would do him in more than anything, it was making eye contact. Somehow, Fiona had found a way to see directly into his soul. It wasn't always advantageous to either of them.
Of course, avoiding eye contact was useless when the way she was slowly tracing her fingers up and down his bare forearm was just as disarming as if she'd trained her H&K USP Compact – the one with the silver slide – between his eyes and removed his Glock 9 millimeter from the small of his back. Michael gritted his teeth and attempted to ignore the sense of safety she was conveying – the one that tried to convince him to let her inside. He had to fortify the walls around his psyche, and he had to do it now.
"Michael…" Fiona dragged out the syllables of his name just long enough to let him know that she knew he was bluffing. Sometimes there were disadvantages to knowing someone so well. "I've never known you to lie for the sake of lying. Especially not to kids. You wouldn't have said it to him if you didn't mean it. So…how do you know?"
Michael glared into the cup of yogurt that was disappearing far too quickly for his liking. At this rate he was going to be completely defenseless before she got to the point. "He fits the profile. That's how I know."
"What profile? Kid looked kinda scrawny to me." Fiona shrugged as she stole Michael's spoon again, this time dipping it into the cup to take an even bigger bite.
"He'll grow. Recruiters look for kids with his kind of family life. A bad childhood is the perfect background for covert ops. We don't trust anyone, are used to getting smacked around, and never get homesick." Michael shrugged as if this was common knowledge and took back his spoon. She wasn't going to steal away his only distraction.
"Hmm?" Michael didn't realize the pronoun was so important.
"You said 'we don't trust anyone'. Not 'those kind of kids' or 'they'. You said 'we'."
The furrow on his brow and the way his eyes slid over to try and size her up without looking her fully in the face showed that he either didn't get where this conversation was going yet or that he knew full well and was trying to beat a neat tactical retreat. Fiona wasn't going to let him off the hook now.
"Yeah. 'We'. You know; spies? Covert operatives? What I do?"
"Who you are." It was a statement that Michael was pretty sure didn't warrant a response. He just nodded and wondered if he'd dodged a bullet somehow when Fiona didn't push the subject any further. She'd been in Miami long enough now to size up the relationship he had with his mother and his brother.
He was so intent on scooping out the next mouthful of yogurt that he missed the satisfied grin on her face. She was like a cat with a mouse, toying with it and letting it think it had escaped before pouncing in for the kill.
Michael had to force himself not to flinch when he saw her reaching up towards his cheek. As a covert operative, he had long ago been trained to get used to suppressing his natural response to someone getting that close to his face. Learned responses were hardwired, however, and he'd never quite managed to keep the adrenaline from starting to race. This was Fiona; she wouldn't hurt him – not like that anyway.
When her fingers traced the scars under his eye, however, Michael had to slam all of his walls up in full force. The fire that her touch lit on his skin and the tingling it left behind felt too much like blood trickling down the side of his face and threatened to send him tumbling back to the memories of his childhood. It was hard enough keeping those at bay just being back in Miami, he didn't need the addition of tactile reminders. His breathing and heart rate both started to skyrocket before he could get a handle on them and force himself to slow them down. A response like that in the field could have gotten him killed. He had to start thinking of this like being in the middle of a mission. He couldn't get too close.
Michael wasn't naïve enough to think that Fiona had missed the reaction, and for once he hoped that she misinterpreted his response to her touch. After all, they did have a history and what man could resist reacting to the touch of a beautiful woman? He hoped that she'd take his reaction and focus on that rather than the path she was heading down now.
"Where'd you get these scars?" No such luck.
This time Michael did turn to her, trying to play it cool and disarm her by kissing the palm of her hand and still hoping to avoid the memories that were attacking his walls with C4 and assault rifles. "I told you the story already."
"No, Michael McBride told me a line about screwing around with his brother when they were kids. Michael Westen never told me what happened." Fiona tried to trace the marks again, gripping his wrist with her other hand to keep him on the couch when he jerked his head away. Michael had to stifle a groan as the harsh grasp lit up recent bruises and he bit down on his lip while shutting his eyes tight.
That was a mistake. Behind closed eyelids, the memories had that much more ammunition and renewed their assault against his strong hold. He wasn't getting out of this one untouched. Even now, his past was stomping on his mental health.
"Nate and I were screwing around. I didn't lie to you, Fi." The haunted look in his eyes gave him away, but he wasn't giving in without a fight.
"But you didn't tell me the whole truth either, did you?" Fiona laid her head back down on his shoulder as if she knew that there was no way to pry the story out of him if he had to look her in the eye. Some things you just couldn't tell another person unless you could pretend they weren't really there.
Michael sighed and shifted until she took the hint and let him go. The cup of yogurt was abandoned to Fiona's hands as he made to get up. He needed more separation than just a lack of eye contact. With a groan that led to him holding his breath until he was standing steady on his feet, the burned spy pulled himself away from the safety of her presence and moved over to the window, resting his palms on the sill and his forehead on the cool glass. Not the most tactically sound of positions if anyone outside wanted to take a shot of him, but the sense of danger actually grounded him a little bit, let him put a handle on everything that was coursing through him. She wasn't going to let this go and he didn't have it in him to lie to her.
"When Nate was five or six, he had this obsession with wanting to be a police officer when he grew up. He always wanted to play cops and robbers. So I'd steal something outta Ma's purse or one of her drawers and he'd try to catch me. We'd have some kind of gun battle or wrestling match and he'd get to take me to jail and then present Ma with whatever I'd stolen." Michael smiled at that – he rarely remembered the good things about his past anymore.
"She'd always act like it was the best thing in the world and he'd get to have a cookie before dinner or something in reward. God, his face would light up so much at that."
Michael gripped the wood under the window tightly as he tried to figure out the quickest way out of his predicament while at the same time satisfying Fiona. All he wanted to do was stretch out somewhere flat – preferably somewhere soft as well – and crash for a few hours. A sprint down memory lane had not been part of that deal.
"So what happened?" Fiona had given him a few minutes to ground himself before her soft tone guided him back to his story.
Michael surveyed the perimeter from the window before closing his eyes and surrendering to her whims. He knew it had been a losing battle from the start, and finally admitted complete and utter defeat.
"Nate came home from school one day going on and on about how one of his friends called him a sissy for wanting to be the cop all the time. So he decided that he was going to be the robber and I had to catch him. Dad hadn't come home in almost a week, we were getting low on groceries, Ma was sick, and I was at the end of my rope already so I didn't really think anything about it. I guess he was too little to realize that I always took something of Ma's." Michael bit back an incredulous laugh. "Then again, it's Nate – he might just have not wanted me to get the cookie before dinner."
"You're never gonna catch me, copper!" Nate's squeal of laughter echoed through the house as he sprinted past Madeline and made a beeline for the back door. His mother's reminder not to run in the house came between drags on her cigarette as she pointed it at Michael.
"Don't you let him get hurt. You hear me, Michael? He's a lot smaller than you are."
Michael rolled his eyes as he avoided the lit end of the cigarette and headed out the door. "Yeah, Ma. I got it. I'm gonna get you, Nate!"
The two boys sprinted in circles around the small backyard before Michael's taller frame managed to close the distance and take both of them to the ground. He had to hold back a groan as he twisted so that Nate fell on top of him and the little boy's weight compressed already-sore ribs from the last time his father had been home. Before he could breathe, Nate was trying to pin him and Michael had to struggle to his feet. The cap gun at the small of his back couldn't be pulled until he could get one of his arms free, and Nate was trying his hardest to keep that from happening. The little boy's giggles made it hard to concentrate on pinning him – Michael knew that the only way this game was going to end was with Nate stomping off to his room, angry at being pinned. There was a reason the older brother had always been the bad guy.
When Nate was huffing and puffing and squirming beneath him finally – unable to get away again – Michael searched the boy's jean pockets for whatever he'd taken. He expected to find a roll of mints or a pack of cigarettes and was still playing the part of cop when he finally got a hold of the small, metal object. Any thoughts of make-believe fled his mind faster than water running over a dam.
Michael pulled the ring out of Nate's pocket with his eyes closed. He was sending up a silent prayer to whoever was listening that when he opened his eyes and hand, his little brother wouldn't have stolen what the older boy was sure he had. His father's things were not for little boy hands. They were especially not to be found in Nate's possession. Michael knew all too well what would happen then. His innocent little brother didn't need to face that. Nate still thought that their father was the coolest person ever. Michael was determined to let the kid have that illusion for just a little bit longer.
"Nate, go inside and wash up. Help Ma with dinner. Now." His tone was so strained that the younger boy didn't even protest and headed into the house. Michael pushed himself off the ground and sprinted back inside. If he could get the ring back onto his father's bureau before the man got home, then maybe he'd never find out. Frank Westen was not someone you wanted to run afoul of. Especially not if your name was Michael and the last time you'd seen the man, you were refusing to help him steal tools from the neighbor's garage.
"Where are you heading in such a hurry, Michael?" The masculine voice stopped him in his tracks with his hand on the knob of the bedroom door. There was no hiding where he'd been heading. Michael gulped and turned around slowly, steeling himself to face his father.
"Dad! When did you get home? Did you get some stuff for the Charger?" Deflection, that was the key. If his father had already started drinking, then maybe he could be distracted long enough for him to forget that his oldest son was caught in the act of breaking one of Frank's rules. Never go into the bedroom unless it's life or death – and even then, think carefully first.
"What do you have in your hand, son?" Frank Westen was a big man, so when he took two steps towards the boy in front of him, Michael didn't have a choice but to back into the room behind him.
When the door shut soundly behind Frank, the boy couldn't suppress the shudder. He wanted nothing less than to be alone in a room with his father. When the man's glare sized him up, telling the boy without words that he was waiting for an answer, Michael wordlessly extended his hand and held up the ring. The gold glinted in the waning sunlight from the window.
"You ungrateful little cur. You stole my championship ring?" Frank's voice was cold and clipped as he snatched the ring out of Michael's trembling palm.
"I just…I just wanted to look at it, sir. You're always talking about how you won that football game." To his credit, Michael's voice barely quivered as he faced down his father and lied through his teeth. He couldn't help staring as Frank slid the enormous ring onto the pointer finger of his left hand. It was like there was something keeping him from taking his eyes off it.
"Well then," Frank paused to look down at the jewelry adorning his hand, "I guess you'd better get a really good look at it then, shouldn't you, kid?"
Michael didn't have time to realize what was happening before his father's hand backhanded across his face. The impact spun him around into the dresser before he hit the floor and curled into a ball. There was no telling if his father was done with him or not.
"Frank! What happened?" Madeline's voice screeched through the room and Michael didn't waste time marveling at the distraction before stumbling to his feet and beating a quick retreat to his bedroom. The blood that was pouring down his cheek left spatters on the carpet down the hall, but he didn't dare to stop until he was safely behind the heavy oak door.
Michael could already feel the swelling beginning to surface under his eye as he clasped his hand against the lacerations. He'd have to wait awhile until he would risk heading to the bathroom to get cleaned up. The tissues next to his bed would have to suffice to staunch the bleeding – and the tears he'd never admit to – for now.
The boy wasn't sure how long he'd sat there before hearing the scrape of a chair down the hall. He knew his father was going to shove it under the door knob and Michael just shook his head – wincing when it made his cheek sting. It looked like it was going to be time to pull up the floorboards again.
Madeline's voice right outside the door startled him. "Frank, there's a lot of blood here. Don't you think we should take him to the hospital? He probably needs stitches and he could bleed to death in there."
Michael winced as his father's gruff voice interrupted her. The boy wasn't entirely sure if he imagined the sound of a slap or not. "Stop overreacting. The kid's fine, Maddie. It'll do him some good to toughen up a little. You're going to turn him into a baby if you keep treating him like he's going to break."
Michael's head dropped against the wood of the door behind him as his parents moved off towards the kitchen. White hot anger laced through him as salty tears mixed with blood and stung at the cuts on his face. Babies cried, and Michael wasn't going to be a baby anymore.
He wasn't entirely sure how long he'd sat there when the chair outside his door scraped and he heard the door knob turning. The boy surged to his feet and stumbled to his bed before the door could open. If it was his father, then Michael was determined not to be a baby. If it was Ma or Nate, well then Michael had to be strong for them too.
It was hard not to cry, though, when Madeline sat next to him on the bed with a damp cloth and tears running down her face.
"Why do you always have to antagonize him, Michael?" The question burned in his ears even as the coolness of the cloth soothed his hurts.
"The one right under my eye is from his football ring. The other one is from his wedding band." Michael reached up to finger the scars himself and was surprised to realize that Fiona's smaller hands were wrapped around his. He didn't know when she'd left the couch. Now that he had shaken himself back to the present, the burned spy could feel her forehead resting between his shoulder blades.
The ghost of a kiss on the back of his neck sent shivers coursing down his spine as Michael tried to get a grasp on the cool detachment he often prided himself in.
"Thank you, Michael." The whisper came as Fiona's arms held him tightly and she pressed the side of her face into his back. He could feel her thumb tracing circles in his palm as if she could soothe away hurts that had been long ago inflicted on him. Michael was mildly surprised – although he supposed he shouldn't be – when he felt the dampness on the back of his shirt from Fiona's tears. He'd forgotten just how little she knew about why he'd left home for the Army before graduating high school. Michael McBride wasn't from an abusive home; it didn't fit into his cover. And after they'd gotten close – even after she'd learned he was American – their pasts just weren't as important as keeping their presents intertwined. And then he'd left her behind without thinking he'd ever get to see her again and there hadn't been a good time since being burned to sit down and explain the Michael Westen life-story.
"Fi, I…" She cut him off with a finger to his lips and pulled him away from the window. He watched, almost transfixed, as she intertwined her fingers in his hand. He could see the tremors of exhaustion and the crash after an adrenaline rush that were coursing through him now and making his hand shake in hers. Michael wasn't sure how much longer he could stave off a complete crash without rest or caffeine. At the moment, he wasn't sure which he preferred. With his memories running this close to the surface, he wasn't sure that sleeping would actually help with the exhaustion of the day.
Fiona seemed to understand this even as she tugged him towards the bedroom. Michael kept his gaze locked with hers as she walked backwards down the hall with him following blindly. The soft smile on her face reassured him as much as her words.
"Come lay down with me, Michael, and get some rest. It's gonna be all right. I'll keep watch."