He is a natural; Carmelita often thought to herself. Experienced, sharp, deductive... Except that it's all a lie.
Having him on side had raised a few eyebrows at Interpol, though Cooper's true face had never been proven. She told them that he was an informant, now her partner. It wasn't odd for field operatives to find someone along the way that helped them on a case. Someone who knew a particular suspect, or had experience with an obscure lock... it wouldn't have been the first time that an Interpol agent had suggested recruitment for someone with the skills.
After Neyla, nobody was too game to join Inspector Fox as a partner, let alone join her on her hunt. She was obsessed, and obsessives left a trail of destruction behind them. The betting pool at Interpol had gone into triple digits on whether or not she'd actually catch the Cooper gang.
The story she'd given him in the middle of a burning battlefield was never going to stick. Too many people knew the name 'Cooper' for it to last much past escaping the Vault.
They had run from the Vault to the approaching backup. He was almost unconscious by the time she got him there. She had hidden his mask quickly and demanded medical attention from her boat. He'd been put through a grinder even before she'd got there.
She stared at his face the entire night as they sailed back to the mainland. She had never seen him without his mask before. He was... handsome. She'd wondered what he looked like under that mask more often than she would ever admit to anyone. And now she was holding the mask in her hand, and he didn't even know why he would ever be wearing one.
The panic hit her then. All the masks were off, except for the ones that her lies had created. She had never so much as fixed a ticket in her entire career, and now she was directly responsible for a wanted international thief being treated as an Interpol agent...
The lie had come to her unplanned, unprepared. She just wanted to keep him on her side a little longer. They had worked together before, when needs demanded it...
But this was different. The second she told him that 'Cooper' was his cover name she was living on borrowed time. The minute she told Interpol that he was an informant of hers... She was a criminal.
She knew she was committed.
She is a natural; Sly often reflected to himself. Creative, adaptable, quck to improvise... it was a shame it was all a lie.
He wasn't lying to her at first. He'd really lost his memory. Dr M had knocked his skull hard enough to send his marbles rolling all over the place, but he'd come back to himself on the ride back to civilization.
And the realization of the truth had been delicious, tempting, exciting, daring...
It was like her. A chance to be with her. A chance that she had apparently wanted also.
The first time meeting the Director of Interpol in Carmelita's office was a nerve wracking experience for both of them. Sly knew she'd crossed a line by telling him he was a cop.
"The Vault was sealed, in the island's collapse." Carmelita finished her report. "All its wealth and secrets, whatever they were, are buried, almost certainly forever."
The Director took that in. A large lion, with flecks of gray in his mane, he cut an imposing figure. "And Doctor M?"
"Dead." Carmelita said shortly, jerking a thumb at Sly. "He can vouch for that."
"And good riddance." Sly said easily.
"What about Cooper?"
Sly didn't gulp, didn't blink. "No sign of him." He said instantly, and Carmelita turned to stone. "We found no trace of him, or a body. But based on what I saw, he's almost certainly dead."
The Director looked at him like he was a bug that had crawled into the room. "Inspector Fox, who the hell is this Raccoon?"
"My new partner. Until recently, he was an informant." She said calmly, having rehearsed this. "I've been cultivating him for a while for work on the Cooper case. As you can see, there's a resemblance to Sly Cooper. I commissioned him to pose as a member of the Cooper family. The plan was to use him to get into the vault myself."
He almost kissed her again right there.
"Your report says that he suffered some head injuries in the battle with Dr M. They are..." He waved over Cooper's many bandages, a few over his face. "They are severe?"
"Severe enough." Carmelita said. "He's suffering total amnesia. We have an appointment with the doctors to see if that's permanent."
"Well, that's for later." The Director said. "For now, we have the matter of him working here."
"Is that a problem?" Sly said carefully.
"Inspector Fox had a pretty good record at bringing in gang members and crime lords, so her opinion counts for a lot..." The Director said.
Even if none of them knew that my Gang and I had helped on more than one occasion... Sly put in silently to himself.
"...but the notion of an unexplained partner that we know nothing about was too much to brush over. We don't really just pull people in off the street here."
"But if I'm her partner, I must be in the system." Sly had piped up. "I just don't remember..."
Carmelita had frozen as her employer turned to look at her, asking for confirmation. She was trapped neatly, and Sly had rescued her, one last time.
Sly had used enough phony ID's to get a new name. And Bentley had hacked Interpol enough times to get them through checkpoints that he could easily slip in one last time and give himself a past.
Sly sat down at the computer, put his hands on the keyboard, and seemed to pause a moment, before his fingers flew across the keys and logged in. A username, a password...
His false picture had popped up on screen. It was close enough that the face staring back at him could be his brother. The bandages on his face from the battle were enough to cover it up.
"His name isn't there." The Director said coolly.
Carmelita turned the most adorable shade of red when she realized that Cooper had been in her system the whole time. Sly nearly busted a gut trying not to laugh. She couldn't even call him on it, because his cunning deception was hers now.
"Well, obviously." Carmelita said without so much as blinking. "Cooper hacked our system more than once. How else could he know our every movement? Why do you think I went on my own so often? Why do you think I couldn't give any personal details of my informants?"
The Director wasn't happy, but he wasn't suspicious. Why would he be? Carmelita was an exemplary cop, above suspicion, above reproach. Her word was trusted.
"Make sure he gets put on our books properly; make it legit. If Cooper's dead, it hardly matters." The Director said, and turned to go. "Well, I've got about a thousand other cases and two thousand police officers acting like babies wanting the first crack at the database. Hope you get your marbles back soon, 'Cooper'."
He left them then, and Carmelita almost fell into her chair, gripping her sides as hysterical laughter took her for a moment. Sly smiled for her, loving it. He knew the thrill that came with getting away with an impossible con, and Carmelita had just pulled it off in spades. It was a criminal thrill, and they both knew it first-hand now.
Damn, I love this girl.
And just like that, Carmelita Fox had a new partner, Constable Cooper.
"I know that's not my real name." Sly had said quietly to her. "But until I know who I am, can I keep it a while?"
She felt just the tiniest spike of guilt then. She had invented his story and given him none of it. He had given himself a name in the database, but there was nothing there. No address, no family, no contact details, and why would there be? Anything she could give him would be a lie.
"Is there any sign of his memory returning?" Carmelita had asked the Interpol doctors.
"Amnesia can be a tricky thing." The Doctor told her. "It's selective. There are two kinds of memory, the personal and the background. Background memories are things that don't relate to us. Things like knowing how a computer works, or what a car is. Then there's muscle memory, things you can do without thinking. An artist can still make a work of art without remembering how to do it, or a musician can still play expertly without remembering a single lesson. But personal memories like phone numbers, people... it might come back on its own, it might never happen. There is no treatment I can offer that would do this. It would be best for him to be around familiar things. Things that might trigger memories."
Carmelita suddenly realized she was on two clocks. If she moved fast she might be able to keep her superiors from finding out what she had done. But if Cooper remembered...
As bad as it was, living under a swinging sword, it had to be worse for him, having no memory of his life, and what he knew of it nothing but lies.
She almost felt sorry for him.
He almost felt sorry for her.
"Well..." Sly had said quietly as they left the doctor, and went back to her office. "I do remember one thing."
"You do?" She asked, concerned.
Sly nodded, looking at his feet, ever so innocent. "It's kind of embarrassing."
"No doubt." Carmelita said under her breath. "What is it?"
"Can... can I just show you?"
"...yes?" She said. It sounded like a question, and Sly struggled to keep his grin in check.
He came over, leaned in, and kissed her. Sly felt her freeze. But she didn't pull away.
Her brain locked. Of all the times she'd shot at him, and the memory that stuck was when he kissed her by surprise?
It was oddly flattering.
He deepened the kiss and she could almost feel her hair straighten out like she'd been hit by an electric shock. She responded almost automatically, unable to stop herself.
After a while, they broke for air, but they didn't pull away. They stood there in her office, eyes wild, skin flushed, in a clinch as Interpol agents walked past her office door...
"Carmelita..." Sly crooned.
"Sly." She hissed. Oh, please put your lips back where they were a second ago...
"Was I really just an informant you hired?" He whispered.
But to her, he was asking her if he was really just a thief to be captured.
"No." She confessed at last.
Well, I caught you, Cooper.
The doctors told them that Sly should be kept around things that were familiar. There was nothing in his memory, except that kiss, no people in his life except her. And she wasn't game to let her out of his sight, in case his memory started coming back.
She had been banged up a bit in the battle at the Vault, though nowhere near as bad as him. Cooper was considered dead, and there was no trace of a body, though there was one or two sightings of some of his gang. They had apparently split, gone straight, found regular jobs. Bentley and Murray were unaccounted for.
Interpol was starting to think that maybe Carmelita was right, and Sly Cooper's career was over.
And when she agreed to take time off for the first time since Cooper's first escape, they were certain. She was obsessed with catching him, and now she wasn't hunting any more. She said she would take a few weeks of her accumulated sick days to care of her 'partner' during his convalescence.
It was only later that Carmelita realized that she had no idea what to do with him. He didn't have a regular address...
And suddenly she had a room-mate.
It was a sinful thrill to realize that he a key to her home. She had a guest room, and it wasn't like he had a lot of possessions.
When they came to her residence in Paris, she showed him into the guest room, and told him that they'd find a place for him soon. She told him not to go anywhere, and went to get a few things for him. Toothbrush, his prescriptions, a change of clothes...
He'd responded by having dinner waiting when she got back. Complete with candles and silverware. She'd half expected to find her TV gone, and instead her functional little under-used kitchen had been transformed into a romantic dining experience.
"Still a charmer..." She murmured, though he pretended not to hear it.
They spent time together then, away from others eyes. They talked non-stop. Mostly about her. They talked about art, about movies, about food, about Paris...
And not once did they mention theft, police, the law, or what other people thought.
It took her less than two days with him to decide that she was glad she'd done this.
Another two days for her to get a reminder of how horribly fragile the whole thing was.
He'd lived in Paris of course. He'd pulled enough jobs there that he'd have needed a private residence. She knew that, but never knew where.
When he suggested they visit the art gallery, she felt her heart give a solid thump.
He put his arm in hers as they walked through the halls. She watched him out the corner of her eye, and she was watching him like a cop. He had the same carefree grin on her face that he had when he lifted the Gold Bavarian Chocolate Bar.
She shivered when he started telling her about the Renoir impressionist painting on the wall. He was well versed in art, but he could tell how tense she was. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." She said. Are you casing the joint subconsciously?
Sly looked at her, eyes getting big and warm. "You were wondering if the gallery would bring a memory back, weren't you?"
She blinked. He knows. No he doesn't.
"Well it's working." Sly told her. "I can feel it coming back."
Her heart stopped. God, please don't...
Sly leaned in, sliding her hands around her waist, putting his lips to her ear. "Car-mel-i-ta..." He dragged her name over five syllables. "The guys wearing sunglasses are casing the joint."
It took her a full two seconds to comprehend what he said. "What?"
"Don't turn your head, don't look at them." He whispered. "The one on the left is the brain of the outfit. He's looking at the keypads, but not the cameras. The one behind him is the head of the operation. He keeps touching his sideburns like they aren't sitting right, and the moustache is a different color. His features have been faked. They're looking at the impressionists, but they don't stay looking at the large ones. They're studying the paintings that are easy to carry, and one of them keeps glancing at the ceiling. They're going to come in the roof."
She felt a goofy grin threatening to spread. He was here, in her arms, and he was working with her, against a crime. All the old instincts were still there, and he thought he had the mind of a cop. It was better than she could have hoped for. His interests, his mind, his charm, his downright gleefulness... all of the things she loved were still there, and he thought he was her partner.
He thought he was...
A spike of guilt hit her then. He is a natural. Too bad it's all a lie.
He felt a spike of guilt hit him as he told them, but she was watching him so closely he had to tell her something. He had to give her a reason why he would know all the things he knew, or they'd never be able to go anywhere together ever again.
The ones in the corner were idiots. They were focusing on too many paintings. They were planning a volume job, thinking to get away with as much as they could, so they didn't have a buyer lined up, or any personal interest...
They were amateurs, and they were obvious to him. Getting them caught would make more room for proper crooks like...
Proper crooks like me.
"If they're wearing disguises, then they probably have warrants out. You want to do something?"
"I'm only carrying the shock-pistol. No backup." She murmured in his ear. "Timing is wrong."
"You carry a gun when we go out on a date?" Sly responded. "That's... sort of exciting."
She smirked. "I'll come back tonight, let them break in, catch them in the act. That'll add a few charges, put them away for longer."
"We''ll come back you mean." He corrected her. "I am your partner."
Sly was stationed on the roof, Carmelita in the Louvre security room. There were at least four plain-clothes units of police officers surrounding the building, though not in uniform.
Sly had directed Carmelita where to put them, and then told her to put them a little further. French police had no subtlety whatsoever, and stuck out to anyone who had an idea what to look for.
Sly was invisible against the air conditioner, the dark shadows in the moonlight concealing him easily.
They came around two am. They had fired a zip-line from across the street and were coming in via the roof, just as he knew they would. He saw the line and grinned. He could have sprinted across that cable; could ave done a little dance on it, but these amateurs were hooked onto it with pulleys, pulling themselves along under it, hand over hand.
They paused at the skylight, and pressed their ears. They were talking to someone.
"Cooper! The picture just froze." Carmelita's voice said in his ear. "They rigged the cameras!"
"Wait for it." He whispered.
The guys in question were thugs. Thick necked, slightly dull... The Clockwerk Gang had more impressive hired muscle as cannon fodder.
They managed to work the skylight and they lowered a rope into the building.
"Carmelita, they're in." He whispered. "But don't come in yet."
"Because these aren't the masterminds. They're expendable. These aren't the guys we saw this afternoon."
"Maybe the real crooks aren't coming."
"They'll be here. They won't be able to help themselves."
Carmelita was silent, and Sly kicked himself. He'd been too obvious.
And then the sounds of combat came from downstairs. "What's happening in there?"
Carmelita swore. "They went looking for guards! They didn't evade, they attacked the East Wing night watch. I have to get in there!"
"The East Wing? Not the Impressionist Wing? Do you have them on camera?"
"Yes. I have to-"
"It's a diversion." Sly said. "They sent expendable ones into the East Wing, but they killed the cameras to the place they were casing this afternoon. Its a double cross, they want you watching the thugs attacking the guards."
"I'm on my way to the roof right now!" Carmelita agreed.
Sly was about to respond when he noticed the line from the next roof. "The rest of them are coming!" He warned her, and waited for the moment.
Sure enough, the ones casing the joint had come along. They were different. They were dressed differently, had their own sense of style, kept an eye on each other...
Sly wished he had his Cane. He had flatly refused to use a gun.
They went to the rooftop and headed over toward the skylight. Sly watched them. They were heading for the Impressionist Wing, where they were taking notes that afternoon.
"Freeze!" He shouted, his shout exploding the still Parisian night. He was pleased with himself. He sounded just like a real cop should.
They froze, then freaked out, swinging around blindly, looking for a target to fight their way through. One of them ran back to the wire, trying to escape the rooftop, abandoning his team.
Amateurs. Sly thought in disgust, and lunged. He brought the isolated one down in a swift pounce, trying to knock him out of commission.
The other two were on him instantly, and Sly reacted, trying to get free of them. He managed to get a grip on one of them by the shoulder and toss him aside. He went sprawling into the air conditioner, slamming into it head first, and crumpling to the rooftop.
"Cooper!" Carmelita shouted, and the snap-hiss of her Shock-Pistol filled the air.
Sly didn't think, he just reacted. He leaped forward, flipped once, and skidded along the wire the crooks had left, almost flying to the rooftop across the street.
He sudden gust of cool air as the went was like a bucket of ice-water, and he woke up to himself as he arrived at the next rooftop.
She had seen the reaction he had to her voice, and froze. She had hit the thug behind him with her shot, but he was out of sight by then. She wasn't attacking him, she was protecting him.
But he'd reacted to the sound without thinking. It was hard-wired into him, engrained. He didn't know his own name, but he knew to dodge when she shouted his name.
He knows. No he doesn't.
She kicked herself. Had she just brought it all back? Had she woken him up and given him a head start with that shot?
He stared back at her from the next rooftop. They stood in the dark in Paris, staring deeply into each others eyes; with a gaping distance between them. The symbolism alone floored her for a moment.
"Well come on!" He shouted over at her finally.
"Constable Cooper and I are going to go and see if we can find their hideout." Carmelita said shortly to her radio. "Two more on the roof. Get up here and arrest them before they wake up."
And with that she switched radio off and leaped across the street, taking off after him.
He was already moving by the time she got there. Running across the rooftops of Paris, and she chased him. Her glided, moving as a ghost, he could run on a wire and he could dance on a spire. He could walk through walls and vanish in a shadow.
And she chased him every step of the way.
He was beautiful.
She was beautiful.
She could leap across chasms, and fly up the walls, she could see through darkness like a noon-day sun and she could hear even his ninja footsteps.
Her long leaps were matching his nimble footwork over the rooftops. It was their dance, their forever dance. He would chase and she would stand, he would run and she would chase. The dark was their dance-floor, their movements their own. Murray could never keep up, Bentley would never try. This was always them; just them.
It went longer than it should have, but he had missed this. He hadn't gone free-running since the Vault. They flew, seeking glimpses of each other, yearning for each other, defying gravity to get closer...
He could hear her laughing. She never laughed. This was the first run without a weapon drawn. This was their first chase without threats... And she was laughing. She was having fun.
Walking along the Seine, coffee on the Eiffel tower, viewing artworks in the Louvre... It was nothing compared to this.
He almost didn't notice when he stopped running. He landed on a spire and posed, she was seconds behind him, barely checking her momentum before she slammed into him. He caught her as she came skidding to him, and bent her back in a passionate moonlit kiss.
He lost himself as she returned it hungrily. He had forgotten completely how natural it was for him to come here, how well he knew the 'streets' above Paris. It was as natural to him as breathing, right up to the natural place to stop.
It was the Paris Safe-house.
She felt her blood thundering through her veins, her every cell electrified. How had she never noticed this? How had she never seen how much fun this was? How had she never been aware of the absolute freedom that came from flying through the air at night. The ground ceased to exist with every leap, and it was just her and the air and the sky and the moon... and him.
She landed flawlessly on the latest rooftop, and came up ready to charge for the next leap, when she felt herself slam into something that wasn't exactly soft, but was warm and perfect and hers.
She was miles from everywhere now, on top of the world as Paris spread out beneath them like a carpet of lights and the moon shone on them both as she gave in at last and devoured his lips with hers. Why haven't we been doing this all along?
They broke for air and stared deeply at each other, the stars above nothing compared to the light in his eyes...
"Sly..." She gasped out. "Sly, I..."
And then she saw it. The Cooper Gang calling card. A taunt to her every time she checked a vault that was meant to have a priceless jewel in it. A smaller version of it, was placed over the handle of a hatch on the rooftop they stood over. It was his mark, on this rooftop door.
He saw her face change and looked. He saw it to and she saw the blood run away from his face.
He knows. No he doesn't.
"I... I..." Sly struggled for something to say.
She was tempted then... To tell him everything. She wanted to. The only thing in the way was her lies. The only thing keeping them together was her lies.
She almost lost it when he turned away from the hatch pointedly.
"Wait." She whispered, and he froze.
And for only the second time in her life, she did something without pausing to think about it.
She opened the hatch.
Idiot! Fool! Dolt! Moron! He raged at himself. You had the whole city and you came here.
And then his brain derailed completely when she reached out and pulled the hatch open. "Come on." She told him.
She knows. No she doesn't.
But he followed her willingly. He could hardly do less.
They weren't there of course. They had bugged out of Paris the second he went with her. They knew he wouldn't give them up, but still, they were living in Paris and didn't know how he'd play it.
All his stuff was still here. All of Murray's exercise equipment, Bentley's projector, the computer...
"Anything familiar?" Carmelita whispered.
She knows. No she doesn't.
"Familiar?" He said aloud. "You mean because... because I was undercover? Planning to infiltrate the place?"
The rationalization seemed thin. Even to him. He'd tipped his hand. He had to.
He knows. No he doesn't.
"Yeah..." She whispered. "Yeah, that's why."
It's who you are Sly, remember? Please remember...
She shook her head slightly. If he remembered, he would hate her. If he remembered, she was going to jail.
Inwardly, she took a moment to acknowledge the irony. She had taken to spending her nights just wandering the streets of Paris, once upon a time, in the ridiculous hope that she might just stumble on to this exact room. She was in the Cooper Gang safe-house, the holy of holies... And she felt sick to her stomach.
Sly never took his eyes off her. She resisted the urge to go snooping, and watched him.
Sly collapsed into an easy chair. He looked good in it. It looked like he'd done it a thousand times before. "Are you... are you going to call it in?" He asked her at last.
"No. She said finally. "The Cooper file is closed. He's presumed dead, no body... there's no sign anyone's been here in weeks..."
"So, I was thinking..." Carmelita said finally. "You still need a place, and this is a pretty good location... If the Cooper gang is disbanded, they won't be back..."
"You think I should live here?" Sly blinked, stunned. "Tired of my company already?"
"It's not like I wouldn't be here every day." To see if you remember.
He smiled broadly at that. "You would, huh?" Sly seemed to think a moment. "Well, I suppose it's time we got back to our lives..."
Our lives as Interpol agents. Carmelita thought. It's not like I can pretend he isn't up for it now. I can't play the 'recovery' card any more. Not after tonight.
The papers had made a big deal of it. An attempted robbery at the Louvre. Sly asked to keep his name out of the paper, and she had supported that for her own reasons. It bothered her that she got the credit, but it wasn't the first time he'd helped her discretely. It wasn't the first time she'd got a medal for it either.
The Louvre had invited her to a hastily arranged Gala Ball as a thank you.
Sly had insisted on coming as her plus one. His hideout apparently had a fully stocked wardrobe, and he looked so good in that tux...
She had worn the same evening-dress she'd worn in India. It was the only real expensive dress she'd had on a cop salary, but she put a little extra effort into her looks since she had a date. She knew she looked good when she wore her hair up, showing off her neck and bare shoulders...
Sly had given her a truly hungry look when he'd seen it, and she told herself she wasn't posing for him as she extended her leg out a little...
They were getting some attention to say the least, the way they looked together was sublime.
There was a speech, there was a toast...
Mr Gellar, the head Curator of the Louvre had reacted to her the same way Sly did and had cornered her when Sly went to get them some drinks. His eyes never once strayed above her neckline, and she was regretting not bringing her shock-pistol along, when he suddenly came to her rescue.
"Mr Gellar." Sly said brightly, with a drink in each hand. She had stepped next to him gratefully and took a sip to hide her smile. "I was meaning to compliment you on your security refit."
Gellar wasn't thrilled to be interrupted while he was... 'hunting'. "Thank you." He said politely. "After the robbery, it's standard procedure to review security, plug any holes."
"When does it finish?" Sly asked innocently.
"Finish?" Gellar blinked.
"Well, the seal on the north side of the east wing skylight isn't sealing, the keypad on the maintenance entrance needs three keys replaced, the infra-red emitters on the second floor aren't aligned, there's two loose screws on the tertiary fuse box, and there are four blind-spots in the motion sensors in the Impressionist wing."
Gellar paled. "Ahh... well, if you'll excuse me, I'll just go make a note of that."
Carmelita almost kissed Sly right on the mouth, right then as he all but ran away. "Thank you." She said under her breath.
"You looked a little pinned down." Cooper teased her. "And that's supposed to be my job."
"Want some air?"
"Yes I want air." She agreed instantly and they went out on the balcony.
Paris was lit up for them, and they had privacy on the balcony. The party was just getting started, and nobody had any need to get air just yet. Once again with the city spread out below them, it was just them alone in the world.
She seemed distracted, and Sly thought for a moment that he saw Bentley peeking through his viewfinders at them from a distance, but he didn't care less. He had other things on his mind.
"Tomorrow." Sly said. "Tomorrow we go back to Interpol."
"Nervous?" She asked him.
"A little." Sly was fearless at any speed, but the notion of being surrounded by cops forever... it couldn't last. And he knew it couldn't last. It was such a fragile balancing act they had now. There were so many holes in the cover story, it could not possibly work for long.
"You're such a good Cop, Sly." She said quietly. He kicked away his conscience. If he told her the truth, she would hate him for lying to her.
The music started up, and Sly immediately seized on something to distract him from the web of lies they had built. "Dance with me?"
They had danced before, in India, and he thought that she had enjoyed it as much as he did, but she was working. Always working.
Tonight she was not working. Tonight was all about enjoying themselves. It was possibly the last time he could enjoy himself with her for a long time.
They danced for a while, then took a break and walked on the balcony again, then came back in for another dance. The smile had run away from her face and he hated to see it. She was feeling the worry too. The next day their little hiding place would vanish and the real world would come in and put them under siege.
The night was starting to wind down, but they did not think to leave just yet as they waltzed. "Still having fun?" He asked her.
"I do love the way we dance." She admitted softly.
The waltz ended.
"We should head home." Sly said finally.
Carmelita sighed and nodded, knowing not to force the moment to drag out.
And then the band started to play again.
Halfway off the dance-floor, they froze in the same moment.
They weren't going anywhere.
The Tango was their dance. The only time they had ever been anything like this before, and that night had ended with a police raid and her screaming threats after him when she realized who her partner was...
Sly's face hardened. Not this time.
He did not ask her, did not suggest. He just took her hand and pulled her back forcibly. She did not resist. In fact she met him halfway with fire. The look in her eyes was a challenge. He could see the thought clearly in her face. Bring it on Ringtail!
It was not like their chase over the rooftops. This was not a chase, it was a hunt. They were in perfect unison, perfect harmony. They knew the steps without speaking, without looking. They were beyond their own steps now, bringing nothing but heat. He dipped her and she captivated him, she spun away and he recaptured her.
They were getting attention, ruling the dance-floor, other couples parting and retreating instantly to give them room as they set the bar too high for lesser pairs to match it.
They flowed to the music in an Argentine passion, electricity building between them as they held each other possessively and powerfully.
The other guests were openly gaping at them as the music swept toward the finale. He spun her around, her body sweeping the floor low as she matched his aggressive moves, almost claiming him as she matched him step for step. She raised a leg and wrapped it around his waist to keep her balance, as he drew them both back, taking the whole dance-floor as their domain for this last act in their greater dance.
It was furious and frenetic and it held nothing back from either of them, the most honest either of them had ever been about their frustrations or their desire. It was intimate and full blooded and wild, put on show for the world to stare in awe as they ravished each other.
The music crashed to the crescendo, as she swept up around his body and clung to him from behind, splaying her hands over his chest, and the crowd murmured; before he spun around, twirled her once more and dipped her back far enough that it would have broken a lesser woman in half; and the audience applauded strongly.
They straightened from the dip but did not pull away from each other, pressed together so tightly that he could feel her heart beating wildly. She drew him close and whispered eagerly in his ear. "Do you remember this? Tell me you remember!"
It was such a loaded question that he didn't know how to answer. Carmelita was tortured by it too. At first it was masks and laws keeping them apart, and now here they were, in each others arms, nothing between them but their mutual deception.
When he didn't answer the spell was broken, and they were both suddenly aware of the crowd for the first time, still applauding.
Sly smiled broadly and took a bow, immediately holding out a hand to Carmelita, giving credit where it was due. Carmelita flushed a little under the attention, but also took her moment of adulation.
And as it faded, Sly looked to her. Her eyes were burning for his, and he knew it was more than mutual.
She met his eyes nodded. "Your place." She said shortly.
They never spoke a word all the way back. They never spoke a word as they got out of the cab and went into the hideout. Sly could count on one hand the number of times he had entered this place by the front door, but he opened it for her as a gentleman would.
"You were so good tonight." She whispered. She was kicking herself inside. Why had she come in here? Why had she done this? Why had she suggested he live here? Surrounded by the whole place, it would all come back to him. It had to.
"I was good." He agreed. "But we were... magic."
She came to him them, cupping his face in her hands, trying to memorize every detail of his face in that moment. Tomorrow they would go back to Interpol, surrounded by cops. He would carry a badge, with a false rank and number on it. He would work with her, be with her, and he would be so good at it.
And then there would be the other cops. There would be reviews and debriefings, and her superiors would wonder why he was living in her guest room if he was no longer in recovery. They would wonder why he had no place of his own. They might go digging.
And somewhere out there were his two closest friends.
Their secret little world, far from suspicious eyes and complications, was ending.
"I don't want to go back." She confessed, almost inaudible.
He kissed her again, this time without hunger, only with love and a desire to comfort. She returned it, trying to quiet her conscience as she led him to the bedroom.
Sly woke up before she did, and shivered. He had dreamed of waking up to the smell of her hair for how long? And now it was here...
He had gone too far. He had to tell her what he knew. If he did, it wasn't like she could turn him in. She was trapped.
How about that Inspector? He thought bleakly to himself. I caught you.
He didn't want her to be here because she was trapped. But they both had to know this couldn't last. It just couldn't.
He slipped out from beside her, looked back at her peaceful face, and stroked her dark hair back for a moment, before slipping downstairs.
When he got to the kitchen, he grabbed a drink of water, headed back through the safe-house to her side... and froze.
His signature Cooper Cane was there, propped against the table with a red bow tied around it. They had gone past it last night and neither of them had noticed. He saw that there was a note on the table, with his name written on the envelope in a Bentley's familiar scrawl.
I hate to interrupt whatever you've got going on, but there's something you need to know. Something has happened to the Thevius Racoonus. If you want to talk about it, come find me. You know where I'll be.
It'll be good to see you again regardless. It's been a while.
Sly read it twice, and picked up his Cane. It was like he'd never put it down...
Carmelita was upstairs, and he was down here, getting ready to slip out without a word, after their first night together. How could he be anything but slime if he left now?
And with that came anger. It wasn't his idea to start this, it was hers. It wasn't him breaking the rules this time...
What do I tell her? He thought miserably to himself.
He spent over an hour trying to think of something.
But in the end, there was only one thing he could think of.
She woke up, feeling wonderful. Then memory caught up and she took in a deep breath. She had gone way over the line. This was more than bending the rules, more than breaking the law. She'd gone too far. And even if he wanted this for years, she'd done a despicable thing, hiding the truth from him, especially since they...
Where the hell is he?
"Sly?" She called.
She got up and dressed quickly, heading into the kitchen.
Sitting on the kitchen counter was a familiar shape.
It was a Cooper Gang calling card.
Carmelita felt her legs go out from under her. He remembered.
She reached out and took the card; turned it over.
I forgive you. I'm sorry. Please don't hate me. I love you.
"Oh god what have I done?" She whispered mournfully.
Just then her cell phone beeped. She checked it automatically. It was a text message from her superiors at Interpol: "Come in to work. NOW!"
She expected to get arrested at the door. She'd broken at least a dozen laws...
Instead, she'd been taken to the Director's office.
"I would have appreciated a heads up." He glared at her.
Carmelita didn't know how to answer that. "I... know?"
"About your partner."
Another question she didn't know how to answer. "Right."
The Director stared at her. "You don't have a clue what I'm talking about, do you?"
"No." She confessed.
The Director pushed a piece of paper towards her. "Your partner resigned this morning."
Carmelita read the page quickly. He didn't mention anything about his memory coming back, or his relationship with her. Sly had told Interpol that he got a job offer in another country, and the money was good. He told Interpol that he was looking for a fresh start after the memory loss, and this was the way to do it.
Carmelita felt her heart start again. He was letting me off the hook. "He talked about it..." She said finally. "About the job offer, but he hadn't decided. It was extremely short notice."
"Well, it couldn't have come at a worse time." The Director said darkly. "It seems we were a little premature at closing the Cooper file."
Her heart stopped again. "What do you mean?"
"Cooper was seen early this morning. He lifted a painting out of the Louvre."
"The Louvre?" Carmelita breathed.
"Went through the security like it wasn't there. You were there last night, did you notice him casing the joint?"
Carmelita shivered. "No, but I wasn't there to work. Offhand, it doesn't surprise me." She recited Sly's little speech from the night before. "The seal on the north side of the east wing skylight wasn't sealing, the keypad on the maintenance entrance needed three keys replaced, the infra-red emitters on the second floor aren't aligned, there's two loose screws on the tertiary fuse box, and there are four blind-spots in the motion sensors in the Impressionist wing."
The Director stared at her. "You didn't happen to mention this to anyone?"
"The Curator, Mr Gellar, but I was wearing the black dress, so he may have missed it."
"Right." The Director said simply.
"Do we have footage?"
The Director turned his laptop around. There was a video playing. Surveillance footage of the night before. Cooper was on screen, not even trying to hide from the cameras. He danced across the motion sensors, the infra red, in and out of the guards. He lifted the Renoir, the one they were looking at when they went to the Louvre together.
He removed it from the frame, rolled it up, put the frame back and adjusted it so that it would be straight...
...and he calmly turned to the camera, blowing it a kiss.
He knew she'd be watching.
"So." The Director said shortly. "With your partner gone, the timing sucks, but it's your case. Cooper's back. What do you intend to do about it?"
Carmelita bit her lip. There was only one answer she could give.
"Catch him." She said shortly.
AN: Read and Review.