The Partner Syndrome

Summary: Frat regs prevent fraternization between partners. L and X are squabbling even more than usual. Zed's solution? Reassignment. Picks up right where Cinderella Syndrome left off.

Pairings: J/K, shades of L/X ust. Maybe. Haven't decided yet.

Disclaimer: MIB is the property of Lowell Cunningham and some other people. This is a fanmade production and no profit is intended. Please support the official release.

A/N: This is the Fraternization story I mentioned, but since it became more about partners and less about fraternization, I changed the title.

(Note: Added a new poll to my profile, if anyone is interested.)

(o/o/o)

They had to be on duty in about twenty minutes and J hadn't even finished dressing yet, so K settled for a long, lingering kiss and reassured him that they would talk later, once they were off-duty. J sat down on the edge of his bed in a daze.

"I can tell right now it is going to be a looong day."

(o/o/o)

It was a long day.

It wasn't even all that exciting, either- if they'd had some big mission to handle, maybe it would have passed more quickly, but as it was it seemed to drag on forever with little calls like aliens going outside their areas and a crash-landing that needed cleaning up and one rather alarming case of a Tanandirian with a bad cold sneezing fire.

But finally, it was time to punch out, and J found himself suddenly nervous and wishing for a few more hours as K led him up to his room.

"Have a seat," he said, gesturing to his couch (his quarters were bigger and nicer than J's, which J supposed came with the territory of being the finest of MIB's finest).

J sat, looking everywhere but his partner. K loosened his tie and draped his jacket over the back of a chair and sat down as well, leaving a little space between them, and watched him.

"Slick- J- you... do want this, right?"

"Of course I do!"

J looked up in shock to find K scrutinizing him closely. There was a certain softness to his gaze that J had never seen before, and a nervous glint that had never been there. His infamous control was wavering- he had no more a handle on the situation than J did. J realized that for the first time in years, K was actually flying completely blind- just running in and hoping that it would all work out. He decided to take a little initiative and scooted closer, so that their knees were touching. He reached out and covered K's hand with his own.

"K... I want this- I want you- and I have for... for a long time. But... thing is, I have no idea where to begin."

K looked at their joined hands and gave a tiny smile.

"We begin at the beginning, Slick." He picked up J's hand and pressed a gentle kiss to the palm. He found himself tackled then, and J looming over him with a smile on his face. He reached up and pulled him down for an intense kiss that lingered on their lips even after J left his mouth and kissed a line along his jaw. "...and we keep going till we get to the end, and stop," he added. J pulled back to look down at him.

"And where will that be?" he asked.

K smirked, and flipped them over so he was pressing J into the couch (MIB training certainly had its uses).

"Let you know if we ever find it," he said, leaning in for more kisses.

They didn't talk much more after that.

(o/o/o)

J was snoring in his ear.

He was also sprawled out on top of him, and K's arm, holding the worst of the weight, had gone numb. K yawned (he got a mouth full of hair) and stretched out his other arm, taking stock of the situation.

All right, so J had admitted to having feelings for K, and agreed to try a relationship. That was good, but the situation had gotten away from them and K hadn't had a chance to fill him in on the consequences of that decision.

He was probably going to be a bit upset by what K had to do now.

Well, nothing to it.

He pulled his arm out from under J and shook him till he woke. J groaned and rolled over to bury his face in the pillow.

"Fi' mrrr minuss," he grumbled. K shook him again.

"Come on, Ace, time to get up," he said. "We have a meeting with Zed."

"Wha' frr?" He rolled back over and stared sleepily up at K. K looked at him for a moment before deciding there was no reason he shouldn't give J a few good morning kisses before breaking the bad news, and proceeded to do just that. J made an oddly endearing sleepy sound of delight and happily returned the attention. "Now that's a wake-up call," he said, when K finally pulled away. He finally noticed the pained look on K's face. "K? What's the matter? Did I do something wrong? ...why do we have to see Zed?"

"MIB regulations," K explained dully. "Fraternization between partners is not allowed."

(o/o/o)

"I'm still not seeing why we have to tell Zed," J said irritably, following K into the lift.

"He'll find out sooner or later. Better if we go ahead and tell him."

"He's just gonna split us up- one way or the other. And I don't want that."

"Sorry Slick. Meant to tell you last night, but the situation... got away from me."

"You mean we fraternized the night away and I never knew it was wrong."

"Would you have decided differently? If you knew?"

Ah. That explained why he'd been so nervous before- the knowledge that either result could end in losing his partner couldn't have made things easy. J took his hands reassuringly.

"Wouldn't have changed a thing, partner. Except maybe waking up a bit early so we could enjoy a last hoorah before Zed ships me off to some faraway branch and I never get to see you again, that is."

(o/o/o)

Zed sipped his morning coffee with a lack of enthusiasm that would have sent the Worms into tears of despair. K had asked to speak with him, sounding somewhat more somber than usual over the commlink, and he could already hear X and L bickering down below. Clearly it was going to be one of those days.

He looked up when K and J entered. J looked guilty, which was never a good sign but was at least fairly normal. However, K also looked guilty, which really wasn't a good sign. He set his coffee down and adopted his 'understanding boss' face, hoping the mess wouldn't be too hard to clean up.

"Well boys," he said. "What can I do for you?"

"Know those fraternization regulations?" K asked, getting straight to the point. Zed got a bad feeling about where the conversation was heading.

"The ones that forbid fraternization between partners?"

"Yes."

"Heard of them. Well?"

"Agent J and I..." K glanced at J, who suddenly became very interested in his hands. "...fraternized."

Zed was glad he'd set his coffee down, because he knew he'd have dropped it if he didn't (and then the Worms would be in his office in seconds flat, crying over the waste, and he really couldn't deal with them right now). Sure, Zed had suspected that J was nursing an attraction to his partner- the kid wore his heart on his sleeve, and was an open book to anyone who paid attention- and he'd had an inkling that those affections weren't one-sided, but he'd never thought anything would come of it. If nothing else, K held MIB regulations practically sacred and would never break them unless absolutely necessary.

On the other hand, it wouldn't be the first time K had let his heart get the best of his head. Zed still remembered him moping around after the whole Lauranna incident (not that most agents could tell the difference between K moping and K in any other mood, but Zed had known the guy for way too long to be fooled), and he also knew that K occasionally used MIB resources to spy on his old girlfriend, too. The guy was way more sentimental than he let on, so it wasn't totally out of character for him to fall for his partner and decide the kid was worth breaking regs over. At least he'd had the decency to come clean right away, instead of waiting around until their relationship put the Earth in danger, like B and G during that whole Edosian incident. He still had nightmares about that one.

Zed realized he had been silent for too long and adopted his 'stern boss' look. He was about to speak when his door burst open and a frantic X entered, followed by a miffed-looking L, who was whacking him repeatedly with a clipboard. He sighed. This day just kept getting better.

"Agent L," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation. "May I ask why you are assaulting your partner?"

"Because he's a jerk!"

"I'm a jerk? You're the one who grabbed my ear!"

"I was trying to get your attention!"

"There are better ways! Where I come from that's called sexual harassment!"

"Trust me, I have no interest in sexually harassing you." She looked a little disturbed by the thought, actually. She turned to Zed, still whacking X when he didn't duck fast enough. "Zed, I need a new partner. I know you said-"

"Fine, you've got one." Zed couldn't take much more of this. "L, you're partners with K now. X, you're with Junior here."

L froze mid-swing. X froze mid-duck. They stared at Zed.

"Really?" X said. "It's that easy? Should have let you assault me years ago."

"Let me-" L looked ready to start assaulting him again, then dropped her clipboard in shock as her brain caught up with her. "Wait a minute, no way it's that easy. I've been asking you for a reassign since day one and you'd never split up your best team just because of this. What's going on?"

There was a pause. Zed looked to K to explain.

"Broke fraternization regs," K said. J looked like he wanted the floor to open up and swallow him whole. "Can't continue as partners."

X wrinkled his nose. "You guys fraternized? Gross."

(o/o/o)

Zed threw them out of his office after that, muttering about needing a vacation. They made their way down to the garage so that each pair could head out on their morning patrol (well, late afternoon patrol, by Earth time). It was a slightly awkward lift-ride.

"By the way, L, you owe me lunch now," X said smugly. L huffed.

"Fine, fine, we'll settle up later." She glared at J. "You guys couldn't have kept your pants on for another week?"

"I am so sorry to have inconvenienced you," J said flatly. "Wait, you had a bet on if K and I would fraternize?"

"Not if- when. Another week and I would have been out ten of your Earth monies."

L rolled her eyes, but didn't bother to correct him. The lift stopped at the garage and they exited.

"I don't get it," J said. "Why can't I be partners with K while... well, being partners with K?"

"Easy, Beady-eyes," X said. "Partners who spend too much time with each other start to drive each other crazy. Spend all day working together, then go home together at the end of the night? It's just asking for a psychotic episode."

"Also," K interrupted, "it puts innocents in danger. Partners who start to put each other's safety ahead of the planet's are a liability. I couldn't live with myself if I knew that I had endangered the Earth just because saving it meant putting you in danger."

"Well I... I guess that makes sense. But it's still not fair! We're the best team on the planet- surely that's gotta count for something!"

"We're still assigned to the same branch, aren't we?"

They had made to the LTD and now halted. L settled into the passenger's seat, obviously glad to be rid of X, while X headed off to his- and formerly L's- SUV, but J was reluctant to follow.

"Feelings don't go away just because there's no relationship, Slick," K said. "Something would have had to give sooner or later anyway."

"Yeah, I know." He looked wistfully at what had until that morning been his seat. "Just wish there was some way-"

K grabbed his tie and pulled him down for a quick kiss.

"We'll make it work," he said. "There's always a way."

X had pulled the SUV up along side and was now laying on the horn.

"Come on, Small-skull," he said. "Let's get a move on, we haven't got all day."

"See you tonight, Ace," K said. He slid neatly into the LTD's driver's seat while J climbed into the passenger's side of the SUV. He hadn't even buckled his seat-belt properly before X had taken off.

(o/o/o)

"All right, X," J said after driving in silence for a bit, "If we gonna be partners, we gonna have ground rules."

"Such as?"

"Such as this name calling business. I don't know how L let you put up with it, but my name ain't Little-ears or Beady-eyes or Small-skull or any other name you can come up with. The name is J- use it."

"K doesn't use it."

"Yeah well, K is... special."

"So I saw. How 'bout this for a ground rule: don't-" he flapped his hand a little, looking for the right word, "-fraternize when I'm around. It's gross. And humans are gross enough as it is."

"Agreed," he said reluctantly. He pointed to a house they were nearing. "Pull over here. We got a nine-one-one from the residents about a break-in last night."

(o/o/o)

L stretched out in the seat and smiled at K. "You have no idea how good it is to be away from X," she said. "Honestly, I don't know how I haven't killed him yet."

At a glare from K, she had the decency to look apologetic.

"I'm... sorry you had to lose J in the process."

They drove in silence for awhile. L wondered if this was normal behavior for K, or if he was still smarting from the reassign.

"I wonder how J and X are getting along," she said idly, hoping to break the stony silence. K didn't respond, so she pushed on. "I bet X is picking out J's new nick-name right now." It wouldn't be Little Ears; he seemed to have reserved that one just for L, probably because he knew it annoyed her more than most. "Which do you think he'll decide on, Small-skull or Beady-eyes?"

K gave her another irritated look. "Is this important, Agent L?"

"Just making small talk." She leaned on window and stared out at the passing street. J had often complained, in the early days, about K's silence in the LTD, but she'd rarely paid him any attention. Still, it was better than squabbling with X. And J had cracked K's granite-like exterior, so how hard could it be?

They pulled up beside a restaurant owned by a Hileran couple; the wife had called in about a disturbance last night and K and L had been sent to check it out.

(o/o/o)

"Waste of time," X said grumpily as they left their third break-in that day.

"Maybe not," J said. He flipped on the commlink on the dash and K and L's faces filled the screen.

"What's on your mind, Slick?" K asked, granting the comm a fleeting glance before returning his attention to the road.

"Those disturbances you guys've been checking out all day," he said. "Any patterns with them?"

"Hmm, let's see." L pulled up the records they'd taken. "Yes, now that you mention it. Every one of them was the same- the perp picked the lock, but didn't actually take anything. And no one was hurt."

"That's what I thought," J said. "Same with the places we hit up- no one hurt, nothing missing. Just a simple breaking and entering." He was thoughtful for a few minutes. "I handled a similar case a few years ago with the NYPD," he said finally. "Almost identical, in fact. It eventually got dismissed as a prank and the people were told to take it as a warning to get better security."

"Think they could be related?" K asked.

"It's possible." He frowned. "But all the houses that were hit up this time were alien- I don't know if there were any aliens among the ones from before."

K nodded, and pulled up a link to HQ. The twins appeared on the screen, gurgling their query.

"Bob, I need you to access the NYPD's records for a case from a few years ago."

"Around '95- no, '94," J put in. "It was around Thanksgiving, maybe a little before."

K passed on the relevant information. "And find out if there were any similar incidents that MIB handled at the time, too. And check to see if the NYPD is handling any cases like this now."

The twins gurgled in response and got to work. K turned back to the main comm-link.

"It may take some time before the twins can get all of the files," he said. "We'll continue checking out the other nine-one-one's in the meantime."

"On it."

He shut off the commlink, and looked over to find X glaring at him out the corner of his eye.

"What?"

"You do realize that I'm your partner now, right? Not K?"

"What's the big deal? When K and I were partners, we coordinated with you and L all the time."

"Yes- you both coordinated with both of us. But that was not even remotely the same."

He pulled up to their next call and they got out. J stopped him before they walked up to the house.

"You're right," he said, "and I'm sorry. But K and I were partners for five years- it's gonna take awhile to adjust to working with you instead."

X gave him a flat look. "Fine. But in future, run stuff by me before you call up anyone else."

(o/o/o)

By the time they returned to HQ a few hours later, the twins had finished gathering the requested files and cross-referencing them. The four agents looked up at the images being flashed on the screen.

"You know I'm kinda hoping the cases are linked," J said idly. "Be nice to close a case I couldn't solve eight years ago."

"You might get your wish," K replied. He pointed to the screen. "Notice anything?"

The twins had overlain the locations of the locations from the first string of break-ins with the ones from the previous night. Except for a handful, all of the locations were the same. J's eyebrows got acquainted with his hairline.

"Looks like they are connected. What do you think? Were they after something that wasn't there?"

"Could be. Bob-"

Behind him, L crossed her arms in annoyance and listened as the two discussed the case. As an aside to X, she said, "Do you think they got the memo about not being partners anymore?"

X snorted. "I don't think they care. Hey, you still owe me lunch, right? Let's go, I'm starving. We'll be back before they even notice we're gone."

He strolled off in the direction of the exit, trusting that L would follow him like always, if nothing else than to keep him out of trouble. She hesitated a moment, then did just that.

(o/o/o)

Some time later, Zed came up to find J and K poring over the files alone, their partners nowhere in site. He sighed and adopted his 'deceptively indulgent boss' face.

"Boys... do you mind telling me where your partners are?"

At the question, J looked around, and was startled to see no L or X with them.

"They must have wandered off," he said. He didn't look too concerned. "Look, Zed, there must be something you can do. Clearly this whole reassign thing isn't going to work out- isn't there any way I can have K back as my partner?"

"Sure," Zed said, "if you agree to stop fraternizing with him."

"Not gonna happen, Chief," K said, without even bothering to look up. He took out his commlink and dialed L; a moment later she appeared on the screen. She looked to be in a Chinese restaurant and X appeared beside her a moment later. "L, you know you shouldn't leave without telling your partners where you're going. What if we'd gotten a call?"

"You probably would have gone off to answer it with J and forgotten all about me," L said. X half-turned to her.

"What did I tell you?" he said. "Took them almost an hour to notice we'd gone."

"Just get back to HQ. We've picked up a lead."

L waved for the check, while X took the commlink.

"We're just down the street," he said. "We'll be back in five."

(o/o/o)

L buckled her seat-belt as K pulled the LTD out of the garage.

"So what exactly are we dealing with?" she asked. K shot her a cross look.

"If you'd stayed put instead of going off to have lunch you'd already know," he said. "We had the Twins do a scan of the buildings that were broke into. Looks like there's something in them that's out of this world."

"So... the perps weren't breaking in to take something out, but to put something in."

"Right in one."

He pulled the LTD up beside a house they'd already visited once that day. The residents had left for the day, and the street was mostly empty, save for a teenage boy pushing a lawn mower in the next yard. He parked his mower when they began approaching the house and hopped the fence to join them.

"The Ross's aren't home," he said. "Is there anything I can help you with?"

"Exterminators, Division 6," K said; he and L flashed their badges. "The Ross's already know we're coming. I'm sure they'd appreciate your concern."

The boy looked skeptical and peered a little closer at them. "You don't look like exterminators I've ever seen," he said. "Where's your bug-spray doo-dads? How are you gonna exterminate without them?"

"We're just here to judge how serious the infestation is," K explained. He gave L a look, and she nodded and put an arm around the boy's shoulders, leading him away and explaining their presence in low, soothing tones while digging for her shades and neuralyzer. He looked a little dazed at being in such close proximity to a beautiful woman, and K entered the house secure in the knowledge that L had the situation under control.

The interior of the house was much the same as it had been that morning. It was a fairly normal suburban family home; photos, trophies, and certificates signifying the growth and accomplishments of the three children adorned the wall, drawings and exceptional test scores adorned the fridge, and a doggie bed and bowl adorned one corner of the living room. The breakfast dishes had been washed and stacked neatly to dry, the living room had been straightened after the children set off for school, and the laundry had been folded and sorted and sat neatly out of the way to await being claimed by the various owners. It was a house well-kept, but with a comfortable, lived-in quality that he always liked to see in alien homes, as it suggested the residents were adapting happily to living on Earth.

On a more professional note, it also made it easier for him to see if anything was out of place.

He found nothing of note in the rooms on the ground floor, though he wasn't really expecting to. The residents tried to keep these most frequented rooms tidy in case of visitors and would have spotted something out of place when straightening the house before leaving for work. The bedrooms in the upstairs were less tidy and more lived-in, particularly those belonging to the children, but he also found nothing of note there. He was just about to make his way down to the basement when L entered, pocketing her neuralyzer.

"Kid's been taken care of," she said.

"Took you long enough."

"Yes, well... it was hard getting him to look up so I could neuralyze him."

K glanced out the window. He could see that the boy had returned to his work, pushing the mower with a dazed, glassy-eyed look on his face. He frowned.

"Does that seem weird to you?"

"A teenage boy noticing what's going on around him? It happens occasionally."

"I meant the lawn. The grass was already cut when we were here this morning."

"So why would he cut it again?"

"Question of the day. Why don't you go out and ask him? I'm going to look around the basement and see what I can turn up."

L resisted the urge to pull a face at him once his back was turned and headed back outside. Dealing with teenagers wasn't her favorite aspect of the job, but neither K nor X were really able to, so the job alway seemed to get delegated to her. At least K recognized that it wasn't his area. She still had nightmares about the one and only time she'd left X to deal with them, a group of teens at a concert the Kalddorfs had once crashed.

Once she got outside, she found that the boy had disappeared. His lawn mower sat in the middle of the yard, but he was nowhere in sight. She wondered if he'd stepped inside to use the restroom or get a drink of water or something, and stepped over the fence to his yard to find out.

"Hey, pretty lady," said a voice behind her, and a pair of surprisingly strong arms wrapped around her, pinning her arms to her side.

(o/o/o)

K had found something in the basement, a dusty silver device, an oblong spheroid in shape, about the size of his fist, buried among the rest of the junk the Ross's kept stored down there. He had just pocketed the device when he heard a crash outside; he ran up the stairs and out the door to find L standing over the unconscious form of the kid, looking rather miffed.

"He attacked me!" she said, in response to his questioning look, and added, "he's also a lot stronger than he looks."

She took out her scanner and began looking him over. At the base of the skull she found something that didn't belong, a small, tick-like animal clinging to his neck, hidden by his hair. K used a pair of tweezers and carefully removed it, dropping it into a tube.

"Mind control?" she asked, and K nodded. "Think he's okay now?"

"One way to find out." He shook the boy awake. "Son, are you all right?"

The boy held his head and moaned woozily. He looked at K and then L, and shook his head. "I'm not sure. What happened?"

"You got heat stroke from being in the sun too long," K said. He helped the boy to his feet and led him to his house. "Next time you mow the lawn, be sure and drink plenty of water while you do."

The boy let himself be led inside and over to his couch. "Yeah... sure... but why do I feel like I just got thrown into a building?"

K and L exchanged glances and donned their sunglasses. K pulled out his neuralyzer.

"That's what happens when you get sunstroke. Now be a good boy and get some rest."

(o/o/o)

Ten minutes later, the LTD pulled up alongside the SUV outside a tiny, out of the way diner in Queens. The Twins had pinpointed the diner as the center-most of the places broken into, and K felt that was sufficient cause to check it out.

When an explosion blew out the windows and sent smoke and patrons pouring out into the street, well, that just strengthened their suspicions. K called for a clean-up crew to wrangle the two-or-so dozen civilians, and the four agents made their way into the diner, pulling on gas-masks as they did.

"Spread out," K ordered. "See if you can find the source of the explosion."

They searched in silence for several minutes. The blast had destroyed the inside of the diner; tables, chairs, and debris that had once been tables and chairs littered the entire room, making movement difficult. The kitchen was no better, and with the addition of grease and torn electrical wires a second, much worse explosion was probably not far behind.

In the main dining room, X lifted a the remains of the diner's juke-box and frowned.

"Hey, Little Ears!" he called. "Need you over here."

A young woman had been buried under the debris. She lay unconscious, her breathing ragged. L got to work scanning her while X cleared the remainder of the wreckage around her.

In the storage room, among seasonal decorations, old and broken gadgets, and cleaning supplies, J found a dusty silver device not unlike the one K had found at the Ross's. He showed it to K, but before K could really respond, the sound of a scuffle interrupted them. They ran back into the dining room to find L and X fighting the woman they'd dug from the rubble.

Despite being injured moments before, she was already on her feet and had managed to get L into a headlock. L aimed a backwards kick at her kneecap and bit down, hard, on the arm holding her; the woman let go of her just as X brought a battered tray crashing down on her head. She hit the ground with a moan, and lay still.

L didn't bother with the scanner this time; she flipped the woman over and pulled her hair out of the way to reveal another of the tick-like bugs clamped onto her neck.

"Another one?" K asked. "Looks like someone doesn't want us getting too close to their plans." He put the tick-thing in with its brethren and pocketed them both. He hoisted the unconscious woman onto his shoulder. "Come on, nothing else to see here."

They made it outside and handed the woman over to the med team, then donned their shades (the clean-up crew all took their cues and did the same). K held up the neuralyzer.

"Just a gas-leak, folks," he said. A much bigger explosion rocked behind them, reducing the diner to a pile of rubble. The clean-up crew immediately got to work on putting out the resulting fire before it could spread; K didn't even flinch. "Let this be a lesson to you all about the importance of maintaining your gas and electrical systems. Don't let this happen to you."

(o/o/o)

When they made it back to HQ, they handed over the devices and the tick-things and were told to take five while Zeeltor ran some tests. J grabbed a cup of coffee and flopped into a chair in the kitchenette, and was almost immediately joined by L. She scrutinized him rather intently, while he sipped his coffee uncomfortably.

"Is there something I can do for you, L?"

"Just trying to figure it out."

"Figure what out?"

"What exactly it is about you that makes you so special."

He gave her a rather confused look over the rim of his coffee mug. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about K. It's like working with a robot. How did you put up with it for five hours, let alone five years?"

"Well for starters, it helps that I've been stupidly smitten with the guy for almost four of those years," J said with a shrug. "But that's not all. K and I worked well together because our personalities balanced each other out. You just have to find that balance for yourself."

"Yeah, that'll be easy." She toyed idly with her empty mug. "Oh well. At least K is an improvement on X."

(o/o/o)

In the lab, K and X stood by, idly watching Zeeltor as he analyzed the silver devices they'd brought him.

"Sooo..." X said after awhile. "You and J, huh?"

"Uh-huh."

"Right." He was silent for a few minutes. "He listens to you, right?"

"Sometimes."

There was more silence. "How do you get him to do that?"

"He and I have been partners for five years, and attracted to each other for three." K paused, and gave X a sidelong look. "I wouldn't recommend trying that one, or I'd be forced to tear off your ears and feed them to you."

X laughed nervously. "Hey, relax, I'm no home-wrecker even if J was my type. I just want to know how to make this partner thing work."

"You'll have to figure that one out for yourself. In the meantime, try not to rile him up the way you do L."

"Eh, no worries. When L is mad it's funny. With J it's just sad."

K gave him a sidelong look that gave the impression he knew something X didn't. X had seen him give that look to J plenty of times. It was actually kind of infuriating- he wondered how J had put up with the guy long enough to fall for him.

On the other side of the lab, Zeeltor made a rather delighted sound.

"Got the answers right here," he said, cheerful as ever. "It's an Aedahalian tick. A very remarkable creature- they latch onto the brain-stem of their host, and feed on their spinal fluids. The also inject a serum into the bloodstream that gives the host increased strength and stamina, making them more useful to the ticks. They even make the hosts susceptible to a low level of hypnosis, so the ticks can use them to find new hosts or to protect their young. When the host dies, the tick just jumps off and finds a new one."

X frowned. "Do you think they're the ones planting these weird do-dads all over the place?"

"Oh my goodness, no!" Zeeltor said. "The Aedahalian ticks aren't particularly advanced, technologically speaking. They have enough intelligence to communicate with each other and coordinate their movements, but nothing like the intelligence needed to cross the numerous galaxies necessary to reach Earth. No, I rather suspect that the ticks were placed here by the same people who placed these do-dads here."

"Any idea who that might be?" K asked. He picked up the device they'd found in the diner and looked at it curiously. The top half had split four ways and sat open, but the inside was hollow except for a series of wires along the walls.

"Well, for starters, these two devices aren't the same. They're similar, but that one you have there is a containment device, and this one appears to be an incubator." He set that one down and held up an x-ray scanner. "There's an egg inside, and it looks like the baby is almost big enough to hatch! I'm testing the species inside it right now. I'll know what it is in a minute."

"Probably something gross." X picked up the incubator and inspected it from every angle. There was a slot near the thinnest bit. He pointed. "What do you suppose that is?"

"It looks to be a cryo-chamber," Zeeltor said. "I'm not sure what was in it, though. Whatever was would have had to be awfully small."

K stared at the cryo-chamber, then looked at the ticks. He pointed. "Think it could have been that?"

"That's entirely possible, Agent K!" Zeeltor said. "The size of the chamber is just the size needed to keep an Aedehalian tick in stasis until the incubator decided to let it out." His machine beeped. "Ah! Now let's see who our mystery baby is!"

(o/o/o)

J and L were approaching the lab when the door slammed open and K and X dashed out.

"Whoah, hold up!" J said. "Where's the fire?"

"Fill you in on the way," K said. "Come on, Slick, time to roll."

He halted, realizing what he'd just said. The four looked at each other rather awkwardly.

"Sorry, habit. L? J, X will fill you in on the way. Let's go; we're wasting time."

(o/o/o)

This time X didn't even give J a chance to close the door before he was tearing out of the garage. J glared.

"You wanna try filling me in here?"

"You know those silver do-dads K found?"

"Yeah."

"Turns out they're incubators. You know those ticks K found?"

"Yeah?"

"The incubators release them when the eggs get ready to hatch, and they latch onto a host so that they can protect the newborns until they're big enough to defend themselves."

"Not good."

"No kidding. You know those eggs I just told you about?"

"...yeah?"

"They're Vynnendri eggs."

J gulped. "Why do I get the distinct impression I don't want to know what a Vynnendri is?"

(o/o/o)

"The Vynnendri are an omnivorous race," K explained. "They lay their eggs on a planet and leave them there. Twenty-seven cycles- or around eight Earth years- later, the eggs hatch and the newborn Vynnendri are hungry- very hungry. They'll eat anything the planet has to offer, and if the planet has enough, then in a few weeks the Vynnendri are at full maturity, and the adults come to pick them up."

"And what happens when the adults get here?"

"Best case scenario?" K shifted the car into hyperdrive. "The babies have already eaten everything in sight."

"That's the best case scenario?"

"Yes. You really don't want to be on a planet that the Vynnendri decide to colonize."

"The plan?"

"We stop those eggs from hatching. They hatch in waves, and each wave signals the next when it's finished. The last wave signals the mothership. If we can deactivate the incubators for the first wave, the rest will remain in stasis and the Vynnedri will never be the wiser."

(o/o/o)

X 'oomphed' as he was tackled by a rather heavy-set man of middle-age. J fired the cricket, but the man rolled away at the last second and X got hit with the full force of the blast. He lay on the ground in a daze while J continued firing at the man, to no avail.

X sat up, clutching his chest in pain. "You have to hit him on the head!" he wheezed. "He's got a tick on him; they make him resistant to most injury."

"Headshot. Right." J looked around for something to use, and found a shovel in the man's garden. He grabbed it.

"X, catch!"

"What?" X looked up, confused, just in time to catch the shovel J had tossed him... with his face. He fell back onto the ground with a groan.

"Whoops, sorry." He fired off another shot at the man, who was now taking an interest in X's prone form. "Hey ugly! Over here!"

The man turned with an angry growl and approached J. He was about to tackle him when there was a loud 'b-dooooiiiiing~!' and the man crumpled to the ground, unconscious. X stood behind him with the shovel in his hands and half his face hanging off.

"Next time," he said angrily, "get my attention before you throw the shovel!"

(o/o/o)

It was a dripping wet and extremely grumpy L that slid into the LTD's passenger seat, shooting a glare at K as she did as though daring him to object to getting water on the upholstery. The commlink blinked, and X and J appeared on the screen.

"Whoah, Little Ears, what happened to you?" X said. "You look worse than usual."

"And you're missing half your face."

"Yeah, well, that's because someone threw a shovel at me. Not to name any names," he added, glaring rather pointedly at J.

"Correction," J said. "I threw a shovel to you. You the one that don't know how to catch."

"You say catch, then you throw. That's how it works. Even she gets that."

"Are we seriously gonna have this argument again? And dude, put your face back on. You gonna scare people like that."

X muttered grumpily and dug his spare mask out of the glove-box. J turned back to the commlink.

"Got another egg," he said. "That makes four for us."

"And we've got three," K said. "Brings us up to eight, counting the one back at the lab."

"How many does that leave us with?"

"For the first wave, about seven. But there are around seventy in all, and we have to get those ticks off the hosts before they're permanently damaged."

J's head acquainted itself with the dashboard. X finished putting on his face and gave them a fanged grin.

"Better get a move on, then," he said. "By the way, Little Ears, you should probably fix your hair or something. You look awful."

He shut off the commlink before she could respond. She huffed.

"I'm going to kill him one of these days." She directed her glare at K. "And as for you... next time you throw someone into a pool, make sure I'm not standing behind them!"

(o/o/o)

"She gonna kill you one of these days," J said conversationally. X shrugged.

"She hasn't yet. Got that incubator pod deactivated yet?"

J hit a few more buttons. "Yep. No Vynnendri popping out of this egg. Hey, how do we know so much about the Vynnendri anyway?"

"We've had experiences with them in other galaxies. They're one of the worst races in the known universe. Whole species have gone extinct because of them. You can't reason with them, because they consider themselves as far above you as you are above those fruit flies Zeeltor has in the lab. As far as they're concerned, we're just lunch, and if we don't stop them, Earth is going to be the next course." He pulled up alongside a pawn shop, their next stop. "And I am not going back to my planet and telling them that I let Earth get eaten by Vynnendri."

(o/o/o)

There were only two incubator pods left from the first wave, and then they could relax a little. The rest of the eggs still had to be gathered, and the tick-slave babysitters dealt with, but once the first-wave pods were deactivated, they wouldn't have a clutch of hungry infant Vynnendri to deal with on top of that.

A Jedavian called Archie was seated on the stoop of their next stop, a worn-down apartment building. He rose when K and L approached.

"Something I can do for you guys?" he asked nervously.

K nodded. "We may have a lead on last night's break-in," he said. "Just need to have another look around."

"Oh, that." Archie tugged nervously at the collar of his human suit. "Turns out it was one of my tennants, he left his key at home and had to pick the lock to get in. Sorry to have bothered you guys for nothing."

K and L exchanged looks. Highly suspicious.

"All the same, I'd feel better about this is we could have a look. Or would you like to be brought down to HQ to answer a few questions about obstructing justice?"

Archie sighed and moved aside.

"Now that you mention it," he said, "I did find something weird in the basement after you left. Come on, I'll show you."

He led them down to the basement, chatting idly as he did. They passed two of Archie's tenants on the way, a young couple too lost in each other to notice the two black-suited agents. Archie stepped to one side to allow the couple to pass, and as they did, he grabbed K and shoved him into L, sending both of them toppling down the steps.

K was back on his feet in a second. He took off up the stairs after Archie, taking out his blaster as he did. At the top of the stairs, the young couple were staring in shock.

"Archie," K said. "Which way?"

"Uh... that way," the young man said nervously, pointing down the hall to Archie's rooms. K nodded his thanks and took off after him.

In Archie's rooms, he found the Jedavian fiddling with a silver incubator pod. He grabbed his arm, but the synthetic skin shredded and K found himself facing a half-dozen tentacles, which wrapped around him and began tightening. Archie's other arm shredded, adding another half dozen tentacles to the mass surrounding K.

Jedavians are naturally strong already, and under the tick's control, Archie was far stronger than normal. K knew any second now his bones would start to give under the pressure. He had to think fast- and where was L? Hadn't she been with him coming up the stairs? Come to think of it, she hadn't. He cursed his carelessness. He was so used to always knowing where J was that he'd forgotten to pay attention to L.

He struggled against Archie's tentacles and managed to get one of his arms free; he pulled his icer from his side pocket and iced one of the tentacles holding him. Archie squealed and loosened his grip in shock, dropping K to the floor. K rolled out of the way and dropped to a crouch near the door, his eyes sweeping the room for a solution while Archie shook the ice from his tentacles.

He spotted his answer above him, or rather, above his assailant.

"Sorry, Archie," he said quietly, and fired.

The light fixture severed almost completely from the ceiling and hung on by just a few wires, sort of like a loose tooth hesitant to come out, before giving a final snap of protest and falling from the ceiling with a crash, landing hard on Archie's head. The Jedavian wobbled for a moment before collapsing to the floor with a second crash.

"You're going to have one killer headache tomorrow, Archie," K said. He rolled Archie over and pulled off the tick clinging to his skull, then picked up the incubator pod and deactivated it. "But at least you won't have your bodily fluids being drained out."

He found L hobbling up the basement stairs as he exited Archie's rooms, calling for a cleanup crew. She was paler than usual, and her ankle was swollen and purple. He rushed over to grab her and helped her hobble to the nearest chair.

"It's fine, it's just twisted," she protested, when he pulled off her shoe and sock to get a look. "I just need to get some ice on it."

Actually, she looked like she needed to get some pain meds and lie down for awhile, but they didn't really have time for that anyway. They would do some quick first aid, then rendezvous with J and X with the last pod. Then he could send her back to HQ while they took care of the rest of the pods. In the meantime, she'd mentioned getting it on ice?

She yelped when he shot her swollen ankle with the icer, kicking her foot up in shock and catching him hard in the nose. It hurt like a bitch, but a quick assessment told him it was simply bruised. He helped her to her feet, waving off her apologies, and helped her hobbled out to the LTD.

He would be so glad when this mission was over.

(o/o/o)

X plucked the tick from the latest tick-slave and crushed it in his fist; he got tick-guts all over the gloves for his human suit but his own hands were still squeaky clean under them. There were perks to wearing such horrible anatomy in the field, he supposed.

"Now where's that last pod?" he asked. He followed J into the self-storage lot, but something about the long rows of storage sheds told him this was going to be difficult.

"Gotta split up," J said. "You take this side, I'll take the other."

They did so, picking the locks with alien lock-picks of the various self-storage buildings and passing their scanners over the junk contained within in search of the final incubator pod. In the last unit, J managed to find the pod buried in an old couch, caught in between the two cushions. He flipped out his commlink.

"X, I've got the last pod," he said.

"Bout time," X replied. "Got it deactivated yet?"

"About to do that now."

He pulled the pod from the cushions and pocketed his commlink. There were a series of buttons, almost invisible to the naked eye, on the pods. Pushing the right sequence of buttons would deactivate the pod's life-support functions, effectively killing the egg contained within, which was unable to live within the Earth's atmosphere.

"Let's see," J said thoughtfully. "What was that code again? Oh yeah."

He had barely pushed the first button in the sequence before the pod rumbled and fell from his hand, vibrating wildly. As he looked on, glowing lines began to appear around it, creating a rectangular checkerboard pattern that covered the entire pod. The pod continued to vibrate, and each rectangle began to fall off, starting with those on the bottom. When the last one had fallen away, what remained was a small gray cocoon of sorts, pulsing and quivering on the floor of the storage unit.

Before he had even processed this, cracks appeared on the cocoon, and a mouth appeared, chomping on the cocoon until it was completely gone, and in its place was a... thing.

J's first thought was 'spider', and it certainly was a fair comparison. The creature- presumably a Vynnendri- had lots of long, spindly legs; J counted about six on either side, and another six on its back and a dozen more random, unpaired limbs scattered at various points of its oblong body. An iridescent film, almost invisible, spread between each trio of limbs on its back.

Its face was no less confusing; it had a long thin neck that ended in a round, slightly fuzzy head. It seemed to have as many eyes as it did limbs. There were two pairs of what he assumed were the 'main' eyes, long thin shapes that ran around the curve of its face, and to the outside of those was a semicircle of tiny, beady eyes. Within each semicircle was an antennae, just as long and spindly as its limbs, but tapering out near the end. These antennae were waving around wildly. Below the eyes was the mouth, which stretched from one side of its head to the other; when it opened, he saw rows and rows of sharp, fine teeth.

It was also really small. Not much bigger than the cocoon it had just eaten its way out of- about the size of a hamster maybe. J wondered what the big deal was. They could handle a bunch of these things, surely?

"Don't just stand there!" X shouted behind him. "Shoot it!"

He fired off a shot with his blaster, snapped J out of his daze. The Vynnendri managed to get all of its lower limbs under its body and scrambled out of the way. X continued to blast it, but it continued to dodge. It didn't seem to have mastered complete control of its many legs, but this gave it the advantage, as its movements were erratic, making it even harder to lock onto. It finally managed to scuttle out the open door and spread the limbs on its back (J realized that they were actually wings) wide, vibrating them as it ran before finally lifting into the air and vanishing quickly from sight.

(o/o/o)

"So, K!" J said over the commlink, using his best 'I screwed up, please don't be angry' voice. "You know how we're supposed to not let the Vynnendri hatch?"

K sighed. He really should have seen this coming.

(o/o/o)

"Not only did you let it hatch," X yelled, "you let it get away!"

"You're the one that couldn't hit the broad side of a space barn!" J yelled back. He pinched the bridge of his nose and took a few deep breaths. "Okay. Yelling and passing blame are not going to make the Vynnendri any less hatched. We can argue all we want to later- right now let's just figure out where this thing is, and take it out."

"Agreed," X said crossly. He pulled out a scanner and waved it around until it started beeping. He pointed. "That way."

They soon learned that they didn't really need the scanner- the Vynnendri had eaten a trail through the storage lot, down the road, and into a park. Finding it was simply a matter of following the line of destruction.

In the park, the line of destruction was joined by the screams of civilians who had come to the park to enjoy the nice day. They two took off in the direction the screams were coming from, pushing through a crowd of fleeing civilians as they did.

"Dude," one kid said as he ran by, "there's a monster over there! You don't wanna go that way, trust me."

"I don't believe in monsters," X said, pulling out his neuralyzer as he did. "I'll handle these guys," he said. "Think you can handle the Vynnendri on your own?"

"Duh." He pulled on his shades just in case, and took off after the Vynnendri while X wrangled the civilians. He'd rather handle aliens than civilians any day.

On the other side of the hill, he could see why everyone had freaked out so much. The Vynnendri had gotten bigger from its eating rampage and was now the size of a small car, and he could see thick armored plating beginning to grow in onto its back and head, and along the base of its spindly limbs. The longer, unpaired limbs on its back waved around, some of them grasping various things it had grabbed, while the four forward-most limbs grabbed things and stuck them into its maw as quickly as possible.

"Looks like baby had a growth spurt," he said. He aimed the cricket and fired, but the shot bounced harmlessly off of the armored plating. "Oh you have got to be kidding me."

He tried a few more shots, and managed to catch one of the legs at the point that it left the armor; the spot blackened and twitched and the Vynnnedri dropped its current snack with a squeaky chirp of pain.

"Now that's more like it."

He fired a few more shots at the unprotected limbs; finally prompting the Vynnendri to interrupt its meal. It turned to face him, its teeth bared in a snarl. It let go of the various things grasped in its upper limbs and curled them into its armor so that only its legs were unprotected, and scuttled forward menacingly until it loomed over J.

"Oh, man," he said. The feelers brushed against him; he shuddered and backed away.

"Hey, ugly!" he heard X call behind him. "J, move!"

He heard the blaster fire and leaped out of the way, but apparently he'd leaped in the wrong direction, because just as he did he felt the blast catch him in the back, knocking him to the ground, where he rolled until he came to rest at the Vynnendri's feet. Two of its upper limbs unrolled and poked and prodded at him, and he could hear X shouting what he guessed were Jeedangian expletives, but everything seemed far away and he was so tired. He decided to take a quick nap- just close his eyes for a few seconds, and he'd be okay again.

Blackness consumed him after that.

(o/o/o)

Ondri poked curiously at the thing that had been bothering him. It was warm, and breathing, and alive, and it smelled tasty. He would dearly love to eat it, but another of the warm living things was shouting things at him and firing at him with the shiny thing that made his legs hurt, and he knew it wouldn't give him a chance. He unrolled two more of his grasping legs and picked up the tasty thing. He would take it away and eat it once there were no more of the living things hurting him.

Ondri unfolded his flying legs and lifted into the air, away from the living thing, which shouted and waved the shiny thing and tried to hit him with it, but it wouldn't reach and apparently the living thing didn't have flying legs, so it couldn't follow him.

In the air, Ondri could see everything for miles. His long-sight eyes could see all the way to the edge of the horizon, and his short-sight eyes could make out details in all the tasty things below. He was going to enjoy eating them, but later.

His legs hurt, and he was starting to feel dizzy. Maybe the shiny thing had done more damage than he'd realized. He decided to find a nest and sleep till he felt better. Then he could go eat more tasty things, and maybe not have to deal with the shiny things the living things used.

He found a nice nest high above the tasty things. It was colorful and covered in markings, and smelled faintly of water. He settled on top of it and curled his walking legs under him comfortably, setting his new toy beside him so he could eat it when he woke up, and drifted off into a deep slumber.

(o/o/o)

X kept firing shots at the Vynnendri until it was out of sight, J grasped firmly on its back. He holstered his blaster and buried his face in his hands. K was not going to like this.

(o/o/o)

He met up with them at HQ about ten minutes later. He pulled the SUV up just as K was helping L out of the LTD. K was looking rather battered, with a bruise coming in on his nose and several more on his neck and hands, but L looked far worse. Her ankle was encased in ice, and she looked even paler than usual.

"Little Ears?" He rushed to her side, elbowing K out of the way so he could look her over. "What happened?"

"It's fine," she reassured him. "Just a sprain. I'll be fine."

"You don't look fine. In fact you're looking a little green- really doesn't suit you, by the way."

She opened her mouth to say something, probably about how she was fine, really, but all she managed was a grunt as a fresh wave of pain shot through her. She wobbled, and he looped an arm around her waist and threw her arm around his shoulder so he could help her limp inside.

"Can't you take care of yourself for five minutes?" he asked.

Behind them, K looked around and didn't seem to find what he was looking for. He followed X and L to the lab, a frown set firmly in place.

"I fell down some stairs," L explained to Zeeltor a few minutes later, as he scanned her ankle. "It's just a sprain."

K cleared his throat. "X," he said, "Where's J?"

X's ears stiffened, pointing straight up in horror.

"Oh. Right." He gulped. "About that..."

(o/o/o)

In a tree outside MIB HQ, a bird who had been chirping happily to herself about beetles and worms and other tasty creepy-crawlies suddenly stopped and shuddered as though a blizzard had just hit. She looked around, expecting to see a predator stalking around the tree she was sitting in, but there was nothing. It was a still, beautiful day.

So why in the world did it feel like she was sitting at ground zero and a bomb was about to go off any minute now?

She ruffled her feathers and flew away, unwilling to be anywhere near when whatever danger she was sensing went off.

(o/o/o)

"-and so he zigged when I thought he was going to zag," X finished explaining.

L watched K while X spoke. She'd been working with him for a long time and had seen him cross before, of course, and miffed, and annoyed, and even mad. But in all the years she'd known him, she'd never seen him truly angry.

But even as she looked on, and X quaked in very justified fear, the cold fury in K's eyes vanished, to be replaced by... nothing. No emotion whatsoever. He took a deep breath.

"Uhh... K?" L asked.

"He'll be fine," K said. "We have to find a way to stop that Vynnendri before it destroys half the city and gets even bigger."

"But- shouldn't we...?"

"Agent J will be fine," he said again. "Right now we have bigger problems."

He turned and walked out. L and X exchanged startled looks.

"That can't be healthy," L said. She made to stand, and her arms shot out to steady herself on X when her bad ankle nearly fell out from under her.

"Neither can that," X said. "Sorry, but you're sitting this one out. You're a liability like this. Just be a good little human and let the nice doctor fix you up."

He sat her back on the table and followed K out with a wave before she could protest.

(o/o/o)

"So what's the plan, K?" X asked, being sure to stay a few feet away in case K decided to shoot his face off or something. "Can't take out a fully armored Vynnendri with regular blasters."

K ignored him in favor of waylaying Agent I, returning from a coffee break.

"Head down to the weapons locker and bring up a pair of Lycullian atomizers and a Norean pulse cannon," he ordered. "And make it fast."

"Right, sir," Agent I said. "Be right back."

The agent scuttled off, and K turned to the twins.

"See if you can find out where the Vynnendri is holing up."

They gurgled a response and got to work. K finally turned to X.

"As soon as I gets back with those blasters and the twins get a lock on our friend, we'll be able to take it out before anyone gets hurt."

"Right," X said nervously. "And what about J? I feel kinda responsible..."

He trailed off at the glare K sent his way. Just then, Agent I returned with the requested weaponry.

"The weapons you ordered, sir," Agent I said. "Uh, sir? Aren't those supposed to be only used in case of invasion?"

K strapped the pulse cannon onto his back and tossed the two atomizers to X, who caught them, stunned.

"We don't take out that Vynnendri, we will have an invasion on our hands."

He left without a glance to X; X assumed he was supposed to follow. He flashed a reassuring look to Agent I and followed, running to keep up with K's long strides.

(o/o/o)

When J woke, he felt like he was in a furnace. He sat up groggily, the muscles in his back screaming in protest, and looked around. He was on top of a water tower, tucked between a few of the Vynnendri's legs while it slept. He wriggled out of its grasp carefully; he froze when it shifted its legs, but it continued to sleep. He breathed a sigh of relief and freed himself from its embrace.

"Sorry, pal," he said. "I'm taken... and anyway, you're not my type. Too many legs."

He looked around till he spotted the ladder leading down the side of the tower. He beamed and thanked his lucky stars that the thing had picked something with a ladder to sleep on and began climbing down.

Once on the ground, he pulled out his commlink, but all he got was a blast of static.

"Must have been damaged when our bouncing baby boy up there grabbed me," he mused.

He checked the rest of his gadgets. Only his neuralyzer was undamaged (he actually suspected those were indesructable), and there wasn't much he could do with that. His Cricket was missing, presumably dropped when X shot him. He looked around, assessing his location. At least he was still in the city; if all else failed, he could get a cab home, though that would leave the Vynnendri unguarded.

On top of the water tower, he heard the Vynnendri stir. Seconds later, it lifted into the air and dropped back down to the ground. J hid behind one of the tower's legs and held his breath, hoping it wouldn't spot him. When it scuttled down the road in the opposite direction, he let the breath out slowly and took off after it, careful to stay out of side.

"Looks like I'm tailing you until I think of how to stop you," he said quietly. "Or until I get hold of MIB and tell them where you are."

(o/o/o)

X shifted nervously in the LTD, not entirely convinced that K wasn't going to shoot his face off and then use his body as bait for the Vynnendri. Bob gurgled at him over the commlink, transmitting the Vynnendri's trail and a GPS map to get them there.

"Thanks, Bob," he said. He pushed the red button and the LTD shifted into its faster, rocket-powered form. He gave X a sidelong glance. "I'm not angry," he said.

"You really expect me to believe that?" X considered unbuckling in case he had to make a break for it, but decided against it. At this speed, he'd never survive anyway. "I may have just gotten J eaten, you can't tell me you're not mad."

"I'm not mad," he said again. "And J hasn't been eaten."

"Sorry to disappoint, but, uh, Vynnendri aren't exactly known for not eating the things they grab."

"Do you have any idea how many times J should have been killed over the past five years? I'm not worried because I trust J to be fine."

X gave him a skeptical look. "Sure, keep telling yourself that if it helps." He then added, under his breath, "Denial is just a river in Brazil."

"Egypt," K corrected, and pulled the LTD to a park. "And there's our friend."

They got out of the car, staring.

"Whoah," X said. "Looks like baby had another growth spurt."

The Vynnendri was now approximately the size of a large truck. X wasn't sure how they were going to take it out, but at least it hadn't noticed them yet, as it was currently munching on a rosebush it had pulled up.

"How do we-?"

"Soft underbelly." K unstrapped the pulse cannon from his back and took aim. "Timber."

The blast caught the Vynnendri at the base of the throat, and sent it wobbling backward. It turned its head, focusing all of its eyes on them.

"Managed to get its attention, anyway," X said. He pointed his atomizers and opened fire. It roared in pain and its upper legs shot out, grabbing them and lifting them into the air. "Now how do we beat it?"

(o/o/o)

J caught up to the Vynnendri just as it was lifting K and X to its mouth. He grabbed a rock off the ground and threw it, catching it between its antennae. It looked over at him, gave a vaguely threatening roar, and turned back to its two new toys.

"Hey ugly!" He called. "Don't ignore me! Thought you wanted me for you next meal! Well I'm here, what are you gonna do about it?" He threw another rock, this one managing to hit it in the eye.

The Vynnendri hissed and lifted X and K up above it, lowering its head to growl at J. Another of its limbs reached out to grab him, but he jumped out of the way and it only managed to grab empty air. It hissed again, angry, and reached for him with several of its limbs at once. J lept and dodged, but he knew it was only a matter of time before one of those limbs caught him, and he had to figure out how to get it to let K and X go too.

He got closer to its head and grabbed its antennae, swinging around and kicking it solidly in one if its larger eye pairs. It roared and shook its head, sending J flying into the air. It ignored him as he came down, opting to rub at its injured eyes instead; he landed a few feet away with a thud and an oof.

(o/o/o)

"That's going to leave a mark," X said. K grunted and the two continued to struggle in the Vynnendri's grasp, finally managing to loosen it enough to escape. They dropped to the ground and ran over to J, who was already getting to his feet.

"You all right there, Slick?"

J laughed. "Course I am. Don't tell me you were worried?"

"Nah. I knew you'd be fine."

"So how do we beat that thing?" J asked.

"Well we already tried the soft underbelly thing," X said. "Thick skin, hard shell, and legs everywhere you look. Is it even possible to beat it?"

"Anything is possible to beat," K said. "We just have to find its weak point."

"And that would be... where, exactly?"

Neither agent answered; they both instead looked the Vynnendri over critically. Whatever weakness they saw, they seemed to spot it at the same time, because they exchanged a look and a nod before J took off at a run, grabbing the Vynnendri's flailing limbs and doing a complex series of near-inhuman maneuvers until he was on the Vynnendri's back.

K grabbed to two atomizers from X and threw them both. "Slick, catch!" he called. J spun and plucked them out of the air, and had them aimed at the back of the Vynnendri's neck before X could even blink. K aimed his pulse cannon at the front of its throat, and the two opened fire simultaneously.

The Vynnendri screamed in pain, its many limbs flailing, but within only a few seconds the blasters had done their job, and the creature disintegrated, sending limbs and armored plates flying in all directions.

J tumbled to the ground, tucking and rolling so that he landed harmlessly in front of them. X stared.

"We... we actually won?"

"Its throat was a weak point," K explained. "Had to be, so that it could expand to swallow whatever it forced down its gullet. That's why there were gaps in its armor on the back of the throat."

"That makes no sense," X protested. J shrugged, while K called in a clean-up crew for the area.

"Come on, you two," he said. "Let's get back to base. Gotta check on L."

As they walked back to the LTD, K reached out a hand to catch J's, giving it a quick squeeze before returning to his pocket.

"Glad you're safe, Slick," he said quietly.

(o/o/o)

L was fine when they returned to HQ. Whatever Zeeltor had done to fix her ankle (she refused to talk about it) had worked wonders, and she was only slightly limping as they entered Zed's office for debriefing.

The debriefing was fairly straightforward, but before Zed could dismiss them, L interrupted.

"Chief, I want X back as my partner."

Silence descended. J stared in shock, and Zed attempted his 'perplexed boss' face only to have it fall away in favor of actual perplexity, but neither of them had anything on how surprised X looked. Only K seemed unbothered- in fact, he almost looked like he'd been expecting this.

"But L," J said, finally, breaking the silence. "You hate X. Just this morning you were in here begging to be rid of him."

"I don't hate X. And while he might be a self-centered, thrill-seeking, obnoxious jerk, at least he's never left me alone with an injury."

"He left you?" X turned a glare on K. "You left her?!"

"And, at least I can work with X. Usually." She adopted a pleading look. "Can I please have my partner back?"

Zed sighed. "L, if I put you and X back together, that puts J and K without partners."

There was another long silence. Zed found himself on the receiving end of four rather pointed glares. Finally he sighed and threw up his hands in defeat.

"Fine, fine, you're all back with your old partners." He adopted his 'grumpy boss' look. "But I expect you to follow some rules," he continued. "No fraternization while you're on duty. Ever. If anyone asks, we're experimenting to see if the regulations can be changed permanently. And if I ever, ever find out you're letting your relationship interfere with your ability to do your jobs, you'll be split up, permanently this time. Don't make me regret this." He slumped down into his chair. "You're all dismissed. I have to contact legal about the new experimental frat regs."

(o/o/o)

X tugged off his human mask and breathed deeply, reveling in the feeling of having his ears free and his senses fully restored to him. He looked at L.

"So did you mean that?" he asked. "About not hating me?"

"Of course I don't hate you," she said. "Besides, we really do work well together."

"That's good." He flashed her a cocky grin. "Because you know that after that, Zed isn't going to let you keep pestering him to repartner you."

"I know." She sighed and leaned on the railing to watch the various agents and aliens milling about below. "Maybe we'll make it work."

"Maybe." X leaned on the railing beside her, and nudged her. When she glanced at him, he smiled. "I don't hate you either, Little Ears."

(o/o/o)

"So no fraternizing on duty, huh," J said. They were in the locker room, changing from their battle-damaged black suits into fresh, clean ones.

"Uh-huh." K pushed him up against the wall as casually as if he were strolling through the park and loosened his tie for him. J swallowed.

"And uh..." His breath hitched as K started pressing gentle kisses to his jaw and neck. "What... exactly do you call this?"

"Fraternizing." He continued his attentions, tugging J's jacket off and draping it over a nearby locker.

"Right, that's what I thought. And, uh..." K gave him a 'go on' look, and got to work on J's buttons, leaving his shirt to hang open while K undid his belt as well. "Couldn't we get in trouble for this?"

"No on duty right now," K explained.

"Oh. Well in that case-" He looped his thumbs through K's belt loops and pulled him flush against him. "Carry on, oh partner mine."

(o/o/o)

A/N: Oh my gosh I can't believe I finished. I started this beast over two weeks ago and I've been working on it since then. Why is it so long? It wasn't supposed to be that long. Anyway! I've got loads of ideas for more to follow, and if you're lucky I might be able to crank out one more, but don't hold your breath.