The Cinderella Syndrome
Summary: J just wanted to go to the party so he could hang out with his friends. Unfortunately, there just weren't enough invitations to go around.
Timeline: Post End-Game, by about one year (so they've had time to rebuild MIB).
Disclaimer: MIB isn't mine; I'm just playing in the sandbox and promise to put them back when I'm done. Will, Phos, and the Karzaxxians are mine.
The nNdgo skidded into the alleyway and found himself face to face with K's blaster. He turned, but J had already appeared behind him, his own gun pointed at the alien in question. He looked nervously from one agent to the other.
"Got you surrounded, Phos," K said. "Hand over the transmitter and surrender peacefully."
"This transmitter?" Phos held it up tauntingly. "Sure. You want it... go get it!"
He threw it into the alleyway, then swept his tail around to knock K from his feet. K jumped the swinging tail and punched Phos in the face, while J darted into the alleyway to catch the transmitter before it could fall and shatter.
He managed to lose sight of it when a stray shot nearly took his head off, and when he looked again he could no longer see the transmitter. He looked around desperately, hoping it had not landed on anything hard enough to break it. A moment later, K joined him, Phos now an ice sculpture at the alleyway's entrance.
"Where's the transmitter, Slick?" he asked. J shrugged.
"I'm not sure. Don't see any pieces, though. That's a good sign, right?"
They began searching together, but before they'd looked long a sharp whistle cut through the air, interrupting them.
"Hey boys! Up here!" They looked up. A young woman was crouched on the wall above them, holding up the transmitter. "This what you're looking for?"
"Yes, it is," K said. J wondered how she was able to stay on the side of the wall like that.
A moment later, the woman landed lightly in front of them. She handed K the transmitter.
"Thanks for your help, Miss... umm?"
"Name's Will," she said. "And don't mention it. I'm hardly gonna leave a couple of MIB's in the lurch, now am I?"
"Appreciate the assist, ma'am," K said. "Come on, Slick, time to go."
J was pouting. K and Zed were ignoring him in favor of checking their tuxes were on right.
"I still don't get why I can't go," he said.
"Told you, Slick," K said, straightening his bow-tie in the mirror. "Invitation only, and MIB only got two, one for me and one for Zed."
"X and L are going," J protested, gesturing at the two agents, who had just entered the room. X tugged at his collar, annoyed.
"The Karzaxxian ambassador is a close personal friend of mine," he said. "He hooked me up."
"Agent L is going as my plus-one," he said. The two exchanged annoyed looks. "She didn't leave me much choice in the matter."
"He means I threatened to break his arm if he didn't take me with him."
"The Karzaxxians are the best party-throwers in the galaxy. I wasn't going to just-" she hesitated at the look that K was giving her, then coughed discreetly. "That is, I thought it would be a prime opportunity to observe several alien cultures in a less secretive state."
She coughed again, then dragged X over to the mirror and made a great show of adjusting his tux, while he complained about wearing human formal attire. K put what was probably intended as a comforting hand on J's shoulder.
"Relax, Slick. There'll be other parties."
He crossed his arms and sulked even lower in his chair. K shrugged and followed the others out, leaving J to pout alone.
"But I wanted to go to this party," he muttered, to no one in particular.
Twenty minutes later, J had stopped sulking in Zed's office and gone to sulk in the kitchenette instead. Apparently even the Worms had somehow scored invitations, so J was alone. He heaved a particularly dramatic sigh and wished someone would come along to take pity on him.
At just that moment, a Karzaxxian happened to walk by. She heard his sigh and poked her head around the door. Like all Karzaxxians, her grey-black skin was covered in markings; in her case, they were jagged red lines. There was something familiar about her, though he'd seen so many Karzaxxians in the past two days that she could easily have been among them without him realizing.
"Raditz for your thoughts," she said. "You're top brass, right? Why aren't you at the party with the rest of the MIB higher-ups?"
"Not enough invitations," he said, a fresh wave of self-pity washing over him.
The Karzaxxian rubbed her chin thoughtfully, then grinned. "Well, that's easily solved!" she said cheerily. "I have a plus-one on my invite, but no plus-one to bring. You can piggy back on my invitation, if you want."
"Really? You'd do that? Why?"
She winked. "I'm not just going to leave an MIB in the lurch, now am I?"
His mouth fell open. "Will?! I didn't know you were Karzaxxian!"
"What, you thought humans could move like that?" She chuckled, then rubbed her chin again. "Although... you'll have to disguise as a Karzaxxian."
"Because..." She fiddled with something in her pocket. J got the distinct impression she was trying to think of an excuse. "Because I'm just rank-and-file," she finally explained. "My invitation only allows me to bring another Karzaxxian as my plus-one."
That didn't exactly add up in J's head, but it was his only chance to attend the party and he didn't see any real harm in it. He shrugged. "Okay. Shouldn't be too hard to get a disguise."
Will pulled an item from her pocket and gave him a sly grin. "Oh, no worries there. I've got you covered.."
The device didn't so much disguise J as it did rewrite his DNA so that he actually was a Karzaxxian. It was uncomfortable, but fortunately it only took a few minutes. He leaned on his knees and waited for the nausea to pass. Once it had, he stepped in front of the mirror to see how he looked.
Karzaxxians were on average slightly taller than humans, with high-set ears that swept back into a trio of ridges. Their hair and eyes were both pitch black; their arms and legs proportionately longer. Their skin was grey-black and covered in colorful markings; these markings varied by the individual and no two Karzaxxians had the same ones. J's markings were a rich, cobalt blue, which swirled and spiraled all over his body. His hair had grown out so that it now curled loosely around his face, and was streaked with the same shade of blue. He smiled, and was greeted with a pair of fangs.
"I make this look good," he said, flaunting a little in the mirror. Even his voice was different- a softer, more even tone, typical in Karzaxxian men.
Will turned him around and looked him over appreciatively. "You really do," she said. "By Karzaxxian standards, you're quite the looker." She fiddled with his suit thoughtfully. "Come on, let's get you some Karzaxxian formals. They're probably more comfortable than your human tuxes anyway."
Karzaxxian formals turned out to be a loose white tunic and pants, trimmed in gold and the deep blue of his markings. He needed help with the shoes, a pair of blue sandals that laced around his ankle and had to be tied in a specific way. When he was dressed, he looked himself over in the mirror. Even he didn't really recognize himself as a human, so he doubted anyone else would, either.
And Will had been right- this was way more comfortable than wearing a tux.
The party was in full swing when they arrived. Will handed over her invitations to the men at the door and swept J inside before they had a chance to look too closely at him. Once inside, he looked around for his friends.
On one side of the room, X was chatting with the ambassador- clearly he hadn't been lying about them being friends. Zed and L were on the dance floor together, doing some kind of weird waltz-like dance that J suspected was alien. Near the buffet table, K was contemplating a suspiciously potato-salad like dish that seemed to get bored and wander off after a few minutes. He snickered, then looked away hastily when K glanced in his direction.
"Give me one dance," Will said, "and then you can go hang out with your friends, okay? Just make sure you don't tell anyone else about being human."
Will showed him how to do the waltz-like dance he'd seen L and Zed doing, which turned out to be a lot easier than an actual waltz. When the song ended, she dropped his hands and smiled.
"All right, all right, go have fun." She winked. "Oh, wait! I almost forgot- the disguise only has a battery life of about four hours before it wears off. It'll alert you when it gets ready to go- so try to be gone before you turn into a pumpkin, okay?"
"Uh, sure." He gulped nervously and hoped that was just an expression. He spotted K speaking to a tall Karzaxxian with teal body markings and decided to wait till he was alone to approach him. In the meantime, he headed over to the punch bowl for something to drink.
K glanced over at the punch bowl just as a Karzaxxian man he'd not met before was pouring himself a glass. His mouth nearly fell open in shock.
He wrenched his attention back to the conversation at hand. "Um, excuse me, your majesty, I have to go... something." He gave a respectful bow and headed quickly for the punch bowl himself.
The emperor took a sip of his own drink and glanced surreptitiously at the unknown Karzaxxian. He was pretty.
"The human clearly has good taste," he said quietly.
J was trying to decide if the fruit pieces floating in the punch were Terran or Karzaxxian when K approached.
"Hi," K said. "Care to dance?"
J gaped. K was asking him to dance? K? He was about to reveal himself and save K some embarrassment when something in the back of his mind stopped him.
K was asking him to dance. Not only did he not realize who J was, but he thought J was the sort of person that he'd want to dance with. K was never going to feel the same about him, and he'd long since accepted that as just plain fact. But if K didn't know it was J he was dancing with, J could pretend... right? Just for a dance or two, anyway. What could it hurt?
K was still waiting, impassive as ever. J held his hand out and let K take it.
"Sure," he said. "I'd like that."
Zed was sharing a dance with the ambassador's wife when he spotted K dancing with an unknown Karzaxxian. He quirked an eyebrow.
"Now that's unexpected."
One dance became two became many. J knew he should probably go before his cover was blown, but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and he couldn't bring himself to leave just yet.
"Nice night," K said. J nodded; he was trying not to speak too much and give himself away. "Do you... want to step out onto the balcony?"
J gulped and hoped K didn't have any particular ulterior motives for the privacy, and nodded.
On the other side of the room, Will peered around a corner at them and nodded. She touched one of the many decorative chains hanging from her ear.
"Mark one, out," she said quietly. "Crin?"
A voice crackled from the other chain. "Two's in the washroom," it said, "and Shay's clearing out three as we speak."
"Good," she said. "That just leaves Tav and four."
"Working on it," a third voice replied. "Five minutes."
L made to leave the washroom and was surprised to find that the door was jammed.
"Great," she said. She rammed her shoulder against it, hard, but it failed to move. She tried a few more times to no avail, then tried banging on the door, hoping to get someone's attention. When she got no response, she pressed her ear to the door to listen. She could hear no one in the hall. Someone would eventually need the facilities themselves, she decided, and she could get out when they opened the door. She sighed and leaned against the wall to wait.
X had been dancing with a pretty Karzaxxian girl all evening. She brushed her fingers gently along the back of his ear, extracting a soft moan of pleasure from him, and leaned in close.
"Think we could go somewhere a little more... private?" she said suggestively. She brushed the tender spot on his ear again and he shuddered delightfully.
"Oh I am right behind you, my dear," he said. He looked around and pointed at the exit to the gardens. They could probably find some privacy there.
Zed was in the middle of an anecdote about the biggest fish he'd ever caught when a young Karzaxxian in an apron approached him.
"Uh, excuse me, sir," he said quietly, "but uh... are those four Nightcrawlers with you?"
"The Worms? What are they doing this time?"
"Well uh, they're in the kitchen and, uh... could you just get them out?"
Zed sighed. "All right, all right, just take me to them. Knew I shouldn't have let them come along..."
"Mark four, out," the voice said over the comm.
"Good work, guys," Will said. "Now it begins. Tav, Crin, you two initiate the lock-down. No one out, no one in- especially those MIB agents. Shay, Vash, you two are with me; watch my back and make sure I get to the emperor in one piece. Everyone else, keep the guards busy. Everyone ready?"
An affirmative crackle transmitted from her communicator. She pulled out her blaster.
"All right. On my mark..."
J leaned on the railing of the balcony and stared up at the stars, steadfastly ignoring his partner's gaze. He was starting to get a bad feeling about the whole thing.
"They're beautiful, aren't they," K said. He leaned on the railing beside J and followed his gaze. He was close enough that their shoulders were brushing against each other, sending a charge through J's body. "You know, as a kid I used to look up at the stars and wonder if there was anything else out there. Never dreamed I'd get to spend every day among it."
Suddenly masquerading as an anonymous Karzaxxian felt a lot less like a harmless fantasy, and a lot more like an invasion of K's privacy. J pulled away, wrapping his arms around himself and turning his back to K.
"I have to go," he said. "I'm sorry."
K actually looked hurt, but of course, an anonymous Karzaxxian wouldn't have been able to tell that expression from any of K's others. J grabbed the door handle, hoping to make a quick leave before he hurt K even more, but the door was apparently stuck. He pulled on it a few times, but to no avail.
"Door's stuck," he said. K joined him at the door, sending more of that charge rushing through him, and the two pulled on it together. The door continue to not open.
Just then they heard the sound of blaster fire, followed by shouting from inside.
"Sounds like trouble," K said. He took his own blaster out of his pocket- J should have known he'd have it with him- and shot the lock. The lock shattered, the doorknob broke, and a crack appeared in the jamb, but the door stubbornly remained closed.
"Now what?" J asked. K pocketed his blaster and pointed at the roof.
"Now we find another way in."
"And how do we get to the roof?"
"We don't. You do. Get up there, let me in, and whatever you do, stay OUT of the line of fire."
It took J several seconds to realize what K meant- as a Karzaxxian, he had the ability to bend gravity around him as long as he could plant his feet on a solid surface. He could walk up the wall as easily as walking up the street, and enter the building from the roof.
"Right. On it."
That was the theory, anyway. He wasn't sure if human-modified Karzaxxians had the same ability- but there was one way to find out. He set one foot on the wall and, after a reluctant pause, lifted the other. The world seemed to shift around him, so that the wall suddenly became the ground, and K seemed to be standing sideways. He sighed in relief and took off running.
The emperor stared at the shards of glass falling from the shattered light fixtures. What had seemed like only one shot had taken out at least two dozen lights at once. Only one person he knew of had those kinds of capabilities. He sighed.
"So it begins," he said, to no one in particular.
On the roof, J found that the skylights had been blocked off by an energy field. When he touched it, it sent a painful current running through him and knocked him from his feet.
"No good," he said. "Hope K's got a plan b."
He rejoined K on the balcony and filled him in about the energy field. K frowned thoughtfully.
"A field that size requires a lot of energy to maintain," he said. "They'll have tapped into the building's generator to power it. Come on, let's try the basement."
He hopped over the side of the balcony and used the ivy on the walls to climb down. J dashed along to keep up.
X pounded on the door as hard as he could. The girl he'd been with had shoved him into the small coat room and locked him in before shouting "Sorry, nothing personal!" and running off. Now he could hear cries of fear and blaster noises coming from the main ballroom, and he had no way of getting there to help.
He was about to try blasting the door again when it flew open. K stood there, flanked by the Karzaxxian man he'd been shmoozing with all night. He re-holstered his blaster.
"What's going on?" he demanded.
"No idea," K said. "Ballroom was in lock-down but we blew the generator and dropped the shields. X, you're with me. You-" he nodded to the Karzaxxian. "-go find the other agents. Obviously our friends wanted us out of the way to have a party of their own."
"Last I saw L she was heading for the washroom," X said. The Karzaxxian nodded and took off in the direction of the washrooms, while X and K headed for the ballroom. "Uh, K?" he said. "Are you sure you should be trusting him?"
"I'd trust him with my life," K said, taking out his blaster and kicking open the ballroom doors in one fluid movement.
J skidded to a halt in front of the door to the ladies' washroom and pulled on it. Like every other door they'd had to deal with so far, it was jammed. He heard pounding on the other side and L shouting for him to open the damn door already.
"I'm working on it," he said. "Just give me a second."
He looked the door over, trying to decide if he could kick it down or not, when he heard a click and whirring sound. He dove out of the way just in time to avoid the debris as L blasted the door from its hinges.
"I've been in there for twenty minutes," she said. "I was getting impatient." She heard the sound of the blaster fire and looked down the hall. "What's going on?"
"Someone is attacking the ballroom. K and X are already in there."
"On my way." She shouldered past him, but he caught her before she could get far and held her back. She glared at him. "Look, I know it's scary, but that's my partner in there, and pain in the neck he may be-"
"Yeah, I know. My partner's in there too- L, it's me, J."
She stared in shock. "J? What are you-?"
"It's a long story. Maybe I'll tell it to you one day. But first, do you have a spare weapon I can use?"
"Sorry, didn't think I'd need more than one."
"Have to go hand to hand, then. And uh.. do me a favor and keep this under wraps, okay?"
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. Come on, let's go."
In the ballroom, there were about a dozen Karzaxxians in black masks and tunics fighting the security force assigned to the party. Most of the guests had fled as soon as the force field dropped, leaving only the guards, the agents, and the emperor and ambassador in the room. Though the ambassador was cowering behind a pair of guards, the emperor seemed unperturbed; in fact, he was sipping his punch while he watched the battle around him.
J was about to join the battle when he saw three of the enemy Karzaxxians approaching the emperor from behind. He ran toward him, intent on knocking him out of harm's way, and was caught in the side by a pair of blasts fired by the two flanking enemies. He was knocked from his feet and landed hard.
He got back to his feet almost immediately, stunned. Though the combined blasts had been strong enough to knock him down, they had been no more painful than getting hit with a paintball through padding from a distance. Annoying, but not particularly dangerous.
Before he could put together what that meant, the enemy Karzaxxian on point dropped from the wall landed in front of the emperor, her blaster outstretched to point to the center of the emperor's head.
"Well well well, Your Majesty," she said tauntingly. "So we meet again."
The entire battle stopped when the combatants realized the leader had the emperor at blasterpoint. Only K didn't stare in shock- he'd seen his Karzaxxian friend get knocked down and jump right back up not even phased, and realized that the blasters were on a sub-setting used for training. Even at such a close range, he knew the emperor was in no danger- and that was assuming the assailant had any intention of firing at all.
The two Karzaxxians stared each other down for what seemed like an eternity (in reality, approximately two and a half minutes) before the emperor finally sighed.
"Very well, Will, you've made your point," he said. "You may have your ship."
A cheer went up through the black-clad Karzaxxians, while the guards stared on, stunned. Will didn't move.
"I choose my own crew," she said.
"I will choose your security team."
"I get to decide on the chief."
"I want monthly reports on your explorations."
There was another decades-long silence. Will lowered her blaster.
"Your terms are acceptable," she said. The guards breathed a sigh of relief, then made an odd 'glurk!' sound when Will tugged off her mask and surged forward to hug the emperor. "I'll be fine, Daddy," she said, quietly enough that only J and the emperor's two personal guards heard. "You'll see."
"I know you will," he said, returning the hug, "as long as you don't engage the MIB again." He nodded at two of her men, currently encased in ice.
"That's one lesson I'm glad to have gotten beforehand," she said with a laugh.
J was still trying to figure out what exactly had happened when K appeared before him, a hand outstretched to help him to his feet. Once J had stood and brushed himself off, K led him off to a private corner.
"Listen, I-" he paused in whatever he'd been about to say and pointed at J's wrist. "Your watch is beeping."
J looked at his watch, confused, and realized it had been doing that for a good half hour now. A countdown on the face read out thirty seconds. Horror drained all the blood from his face as realization dawned that he now had less than half a minute to get well away before he had some very awkward explaining to do to K. He turned and ran to the nearest exit, ignoring K's calls behind him.
He made it out the door and onto the street before the first wave of nausea signifying the return to human form hit him. He got his sandal lace caught in the door on the way out, but he escaped by tugging on the lace until it broke. The sandal was left behind in the process, but he gave it up for lost and kept running. All that mattered was that K didn't find him.
K burst out the door to find the street completely empty, and no way of knowing which way his companion had gone.
He was about to go back inside when something caught his eye; it was a cobalt-blue Karzaxxian sandal with a busted lace. He picked it up, the gears already turning in his head. That could work.
Will came by to see J the next morning. She sat cross-legged on the foot of his bed while he sulked at the head, playing with one of his sandals dejectedly.
"I'm sorry I used you," she said after awhile. "Daddy promised me I could have a ship if I could prove myself, and when I saw you and K take down that nNdgo I knew I could never do that if I had to fight even one- let alone four- MIB's."
"Then why invite a fifth?"
"Well the other three were pretty easy to get rid of, but Agent K's reputation precedes him and I knew if we tried to get him outside on our own he'd blow the whole thing. So I figured maybe if his partner showed up, disguised as a Karzaxxian and in need of explaining that disguise in private, that might work. I hadn't counted on you not actually telling him, but it all worked out eventually."
"For you, anyway." J stared thoughtfully at his remaining sandal. "I have to tell K the truth," he said finally. "It's only fair. I can't just lie to him about this." He tossed the sandal to the side and flopped over onto his belly to stare over the edge of the bed at the floor. "He'll probably want to be assigned a new partner once he finds out."
Will chuckled and patted his shoulder comfortingly. "I wouldn't be so sure about that," she said. "Who knows. Maybe it'll all work out for you, too."
She laughed again and stood to leave. At the door, she paused. "Hang onto that sandal, okay? Maybe its mate will turn up somewhere."
Will was leaving J's room just as K walked up. She looked amused by something. He held up a cobalt-blue sandal he was carrying.
"Does this belong to you, Princess?" he asked.
She grinned. "Never seen it before in my life."
She walked away, humming contentedly to herself. K nodded to himself and pushed open J's door.
J was still staring at the floor when his door opened. He ignored the intrusion until something hit him in the head and landed below him. It was a cobalt-blue sandal with a busted lace. He looked up to stare in shock at K, leaning on the door frame with his arms crossed.
"You left that at the party last night, Slick," he said.
J jumped to his feet. "I- I- you knew?"
K snorted. He closed the door and moved over to join J inside the room.
"You think I don't know my own partner?"
"I can explain!" J said hurriedly. K looked at him expectantly, wondering how long it would take him to catch up. "I was just- I was- and I- I..."
He stopped. K nodded.
"You're getting there."
"So... if you knew it was me... why did you...?"
K stepped into his personal space and smiled- actually smiled. He slipped his arms around J's waist.
"You think I don't know my own partner?"
A/N: About the Karzaxxians. I keep Will and her crew around for plot devices if I ever need a conveniently placed alien- I never actually intended on them being significant to the story, but I think it worked out. It gave it a more episodic feel, and frankly this thing was pretty boring when all it was was J angsting about lying to K. It also gave me a convenient reason to have J in disguise- the reason I originally came up with was stupid and illogical, and since I have about six stories to get through that I probably never will before I could bring it up, it never would have made sense. So I quite like this version better.
But, yeah. I've got about six followups planned for this, but apart from the next one, 'The Fraternization Syndrome', I probably won't get round to any of them. I'll be lucky to get around to that one, since I need to come up with an alien plot for that one, too. But who knows? Maybe something will hit me. Or I'll find something in my archives to rip off. You know. Something. (I just really like some of the dialogue I've got planned for that one, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.)