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ONE: October 23, 2010
(7 weeks later)

Damien stared at the contents of his fridge and decided to trash all the remaining food with extreme prejudice. He was going to be away for at least a month on this next assignment, and he still had three-week-old Chinese takeout from Lola and Leïto's last night with him. Most of the containers could go out with the trash, but he would need to wash that casserole dish.

After a short, disgusting interval, he dumped the last of the dishes in the sink and turned on the tap. Soapy water was hell on his calluses – which is why he had a dishwasher in the first place – but if he was going to spend the next few weeks washing dishes in a mob kitchen, he needed his hands to look right. As the sink began to fill, he leaned over and hit the button on his answering machine – two new messages.

Beep. “Salut, Damien! You haven't called in a while, so I assume you're researching one of your fishing expeditions again. Don't forget to call before you go under this time, or I'll break all of your toes when I'm in town.”

Damien winced. It was his mother. Irène had an uncanny talent for calling just before he went under, but he always forgot to call unless she did, and someday she was actually going to follow up on that threat to break his toes. He glanced at the clock, turning off the tap before the sink overflowed. Too late to call back now; he'd have to call in the morning, before his insertion at the restaurant.

On the machine, Irène continued, sounding amused. She probably knew exactly what he was thinking. “I know my stories about the garden bore you, but my next krav maga class started and the new kids are too funny. One of them knocked himself out on the first day, it was priceless. Give me a call when you surface for air and I'll tell you all about it. À bientôt!

He grinned, and picked up the sponge. As a former student, he had strong sympathy for her latest victims, but they did seem younger and stupider each year. When he was his mother's age, he'd probably be just as ruthless to them. In the meantime, he'd just enjoy her stories.

Beep. “Damien, it's Leïto.”

Startled, he nearly dropped the dish he was washing.

“I got the phones in our building working again, if you need to get in touch. Lola wants to know when you're coming to visit, and I wouldn't keep her waiting too long.”

Damien checked the time again, drying his hands. Leïto was probably awake. He hadn't slept much during Lola's rehab – or ever, he said – and they'd spent many late nights in companionable silence, Leïto reading his way through Damien's collection of books and Damien paging through surveillance reports. Sometimes, they had played chess: Leïto had a talent for viciously clever counterattacks but favored his knights, and Damien's patient strategy usually won.

He checked the number on his caller ID, and dialed.

Allô?” a cheerful female voice answered.

“Lola?” he ventured, “It's Damien.”

“Damien!” she said, clearly delighted. It was good to hear her so happy. “Are you coming to visit us yet?” Her blunt approach was admirable, if somewhat disconcerting, he thought fondly, remembering her goodbye kiss.

“Not yet,” he said, leaning back against the counter. “I've got a mission starting tomorrow, and I'm not sure how long it will take. It's dangerous to call people while I'm working, so I wanted to speak to Leïto before I went.”

“You forgot what night it is, didn't you?”

Quoi?”

“It's the full moon, genius,” she teased. “Didn't he go out running last month when he was staying with you?”

“I'd forgotten,” he admitted, ducking his head to look out the window at the sky. The moon was nowhere to be seen, but there was a silvery light limning the edges of the buildings and glowing softly on the roof tiles. “Do you know when he'll be back?” Leïto had returned in the early morning last time, windblown and peaceful, like he'd been meditating instead of throwing himself over precipices.

“Sorry, no. Not before tomorrow, probably.”

“Ah. I'll have to try again in the morning,” he said. “And you? Any plans for the full moon?”

“Actually, yes,” she said. “I rescued a journalist who wandered into K-2's turf a few days ago, poor boy, and he's taking me to dinner to thank me.”

“Oh?” he said. "I'm already forgotten, I see.”

“A girl can't wait forever,” she said breezily. “Anyway, I picked up the phone, didn't I? Even though you've made me late.”

“Go, go!” he said, laughing. “Who am I to stand in the way of young love?”

“Young something, anyway. I think it's mostly lust and a little fondness at this point,” she said bluntly. “His survival skills need work. I'll let you know how it goes. Ciao!”

“Bye,” he said, his words chasing the dial tone. Grinning, he replaced the phone on the hook, and started scrubbing down the counter.


In the morning, he called his mother and she told him about her students and her roses. He outlined his upcoming job in vague terms for her – as a former commando, he knew she would read between most of the lines – and she wished him good hunting.

He called Leïto's number once more, but it rang and rang with no answer. Damien smiled wryly as he hung up, picturing Leïto out in the district, running across rooftops in the sunlight and forgetting that he didn't own an answering machine.

 

TWO: July 14, 2011
(ten months later)

The ride home after his debriefing was unusually silent, but that wasn't surprising. The mission hadn't ended well. Most of the prostitution ring had gone down quietly, drunk during Bastille Day celebrations, but a sniper had killed four men from an upstairs window before Damien could neutralize her.

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and the cut across his upper thigh twinged sharply – a souvenir from the shooter. Exhaustion had slowed his reaction time, and her attempt at castration had nearly severed his femoral artery instead.

It wasn't the first mistake he'd made on this assignment. He'd nearly blown his cover a few days earlier, confusing his cover story with the one from the Moreau job. Damien managed to pass it off as a joke, but Amaury had watched him too closely after that. After seven undercover jobs in ten months, everything was beginning to blur dangerously.

That, he knew, was the whole point.

At first, he'd thought the workload was an odd sort of compliment, the price of a job done too well. After the third mission with barely any time to research and an impossibly short deadline, he began to suspect something was wrong. The colonel knew Damien needed to take his time on undercover assignments, but he refused to hear arguments anymore. Damien's unprecedented request for leave had been denied – an irony that he couldn't enjoy – and he predicted that the transfer papers he'd filed would be quietly lost. He had no proof, no evidence, and – since the colonel commanded the Gendarmerie for the entire Île-de-France region – no chance of appeal. The whole thing felt unreal, like someone else's nightmare.

In the distance, Damien could see the untouched wall of B13, and he turned away. On Bastille Day of all days, he couldn't.... Parliament had delayed destruction of the wall for so long that the media had already forgotten about it, and he'd been kept too busy to protest.

And now, they were trying to kill him with his own duty.

The van pulled up to his apartment and he climbed out carefully, waving off the driver. An explosion down the street made him jump, his sidearm halfway out of its holster before he recognized the sound as fireworks.

Upstairs, he swallowed a painkiller at the kitchen sink without bothering to turn on the lights, and washed it down with a glass of lukewarm water. His answering machine blinked at him in the darkness – eleven new messages. He hit the button.

Telemarketer, telemarketer, salesperson – all deleted. A worried message from Irène – he skipped ahead. Another solicitor. His landlady, giving notice of a rent increase. Another telemarketer.

The eighth caller was familiar, but unwelcome: Walter Gassman. “Bonjour, Captain Tomaso. My offer is still open, should you grow tired of police work. I understand your workload is a bit overwhelming right now. An operative of your capabilities deserves more recognition for his work, and I promise you will receive nothing but the best in my division. Stop by my office next time you come to headquarters. First floor, room 117. I look forward to speaking with you.”

Damien clenched his jaw against a surge of rage. This wasn't Gassman's first attempt to recruit Damien for DISS, but it was the first time he'd mentioned Damien's situation. That he knew and did nothing....

Damien pressed delete hard enough to make the plastic crack.

Filling a second glass of water, he lowered himself gingerly onto a stool as two more telemarketers pitched their products. All the coffee he'd downed during his debrief was wearing off, and he felt like a puppet with cut strings. Even the burst of angry adrenaline from Gassman's message was already fading. God, he was tired.

The eleventh message started with a silence long enough to make Damien look up.

“Not home again, quel surprise. The government needs its best pitbull, no doubt.” The voice was slurred and bitter; it was Leïto, Damien realized with a shock. He sounded drunk.

“You never came to visit, did you? Lola was disappointed. I'd visit you, but they revoked my travel papers today, and I can't leave the district because that fucking wall is still standing. No one kept their promises, did they? I hope you're happy together, you and your fucking values and your whore government. Just remember to watch yourself, Damien, because their idea of fraternite is to put an arm around your shoulders when they stab you in the back.” Click.

The message was a couple of weeks old. Damien lingered for nearly half an hour, cradling the phone in his hands and replaying the message over and over before he could summon the strength to call. He wasn't sure what he could say, but he had to try. Leïto was right to be angry, but for Leïto to think Damien had betrayed him, like that commissaire who had surrendered Lola... It was unacceptable.

He dialed.

The number had been disconnected.

He sat in the dark for a long time after that, breathing raggedly against the tightness in his chest and flinching at the distant sound of fireworks.

 

THREE: March 20, 2012
(eight months later)

Damien emerged from the Métro and took a deep breath of the crisp early spring air. The train from Bièvres was always packed, the cars filling up with commuters and freshly-arrived tourists from Orly; the familiar quiet of his neighborhood was welcome.

Four months ago, when he'd transferred to RAID, he couldn't bear the press of people on the train; now, Dr. Trouss said his hypervigilance was coming along nicely, and she had started in on what she liked to call his 'entrenched compartmentalization.' He still woke too easily at the clatter of trash cans or the thump of his neighbors' children racing down the stairs, but at least he didn't have to cadge rides back to the city after training exercises anymore. Which was good, because half of the men looked at him like he was going to start frothing at the mouth, and the other half had a tendency to follow him around like puppies.

He knew how to handle the first type – they would test him until he proved himself, and so most would come around after the upcoming mission – but the hero-worship was completely unexpected, and not entirely welcome. The news that he was somewhat legendary for all those missions he had pulled off was just about the only good thing to come out of the last year, and it wasn't even that good.

His thoughts took him up the stairs, through the jangling ritual of searching for his keys, and over the threshold. Grateful to be home, he took another deep breath – and froze.

The hypervigilance might have faded, but certain things still set him off. For instance: his apartment currently smelled like burnt toast, even though he hadn't been home in nearly nine days. Damien didn't even like toast.

He jerked out his sidearm, lowered his bag to the floor, and crept silently up to the kitchen doorway. A quick look gave him nothing – no lights on, no movement, no sounds – and he slid around the frame, crouched low. The smell of toast was stronger now, and definitely not his imagination.

Moving quickly, he cleared the rest of his apartment. No one was there, and nothing was stolen or broken except for a single window latch, which showed signs of being pried open.

Plus – and this was truly bizarre – all of his dishes had been washed.

Confused and still jumping at shadows, he opened the cabinet to get a glass for water. There, carefully folded and slid inside his favorite (and now clean) coffee mug, he found the note.

It read:
Damien,
I wanted to talk in person, but I can't stay much longer. I guess you're working again. I have a favor to ask: Lola has moved into the city, and leaving the banlieue is difficult for me, and often impossible at short notice. If you could keep an eye on her, that would be good.
Leïto
PS – nice pictures on the wall. I hope they aren't relatives, because they're all ugly.

Damien laughed despite himself. He was so used to his wall of surveillance photos, he'd never thought what it would look like to someone else. He imagined Leïto hiding in Damien's apartment to await his return, sitting at his kitchen table, using his toaster and washing his dishes, rolling his eyes at the pictures on the wall.

He read the note again, carefully smoothing out the creases. There was a phone number and address on the back for an apartment in the 10th arrondisement – Lola's new place, presumably.

Leïto wouldn't have asked him to look out for Lola if he didn't still trust Damien; it was more than he had expected, and the knowledge eased something knotted tight inside him. He couldn't begin to hope that Leïto had gotten over his anger completely, but Lola was possible. He could see Lola again.

That night, he can smell Leïto on his pillow, and it feels like forgiveness.


At the address Leïto gave, Lola answered the door herself and stood blocking the opening. After a long silent look, she said, “Damien. Leïto said you might show up.”

Damien shifted his weight to keep himself from automatically falling into parade rest under her scrutiny, and held out the bottle of wine. “I thought I'd bring a housewarming gift,” he said. She examined the bottle, but didn't take it from him, so pointedly that he felt compelled to fill the silence in a way he never had before. “It's from a drug bust we did last year; we're supposed to keep the stuff for future operations, but the evidence guys owed me a favor. They said it was good.”

“So you're still a cop,” she said, looking up.

“Of course.”

“I remember, you said you were going undercover that time you called,” she said. Damien couldn't read her at all, though he remembered how mobile her face could be – the same quicksilver smile as her brother, same alert gaze, same ability to see right through him. Now, she had the same poker face Leïto had worn on that first drive to B13, before they knew each other. It hurt in a way he hadn't expected.

“Yeah. They kept me pretty busy that year.”

“Too busy to call. Or visit.”

“Nearly worked me to death,” he agreed, trying for an apologetic smile. A bad joke, and one that wasn't really a joke at all. Damien made himself meet her eyes, which had lit up with fury. His heart sank.

“Ah,” she said, “It was like that, was it?” She pulled the door the rest of the way open.

Oh. She was angry for him, not at him. He took a half-step forward.

Lola met him halfway, taking the wine from his hand. “Alain is making dinner, would you like to join us?” she said, the anger bleeding out of her voice. “Don't worry, he's much less likely to burn it than I would be.”

Damien had no control over the grin that spread across his face. “With pleasure,” he said, and stepped inside.


Alain turned out to be the same lost journalist that Lola had rescued almost a year and a half ago. A tall, friendly man with bright red hair, he'd accepted Damien as an unexpected dinner guest with no more than a raised eyebrow at Lola. Dinner went just as easily, the conversation carefully kept away from B13 and the upcoming presidential elections. Damien shared a few of the lighter stories from his time with the criminal underclass, Lola complained about the boredom of her cashier job, and Alain accused them both of being adrenaline junkies.

Lola's revenge for that remark was to leave Alain with the dishes while she pulled Damien out on the balcony to watch her smoke. They had a decent vantage of the nearby park, and he could see a woman in an enormous fur coat walking her dog. The coat and the dog matched disturbingly well, and he idly kept an eye on the woman until she turned the corner and disappeared from view.

“So, Damien,” said Lola, her cigarette dangling between two slender fingers, “Just how many missions does it take to keep you too busy to use a phone?”

“Too many.”

She wasn't going to let him get away with that, unfortunately. Damien reflected wryly that the trait ran in the family.

“Eight.”

Lola's eyebrows arched, but she didn't seem surprised. She was figuring it out much faster than Damien had.

“Eight undercover assignments is a lot for one year, isn't it?” she said. “Leïto always teased you about taking so much time to plan everything, when I got out of the hospital.” He hid a flinch at Leïto's name; she must have seen something in his face anyway, because she pressed her lips together, angry again. “Why did they stop?”

He turned back to the park. “I transferred,” he said, glossing over the bureaucratic nightmare that had kept him trapped for so long. “Four months ago. Things are better now. My new captain is a good man. He saved my life once.” And my career, Damien added silently.

The mission after Leïto.... after Bastille Day had been difficult. To infiltrate Sabokov's inner circle within the time frame that the colonel demanded, he had to be a heroin user, and that kind of addiction was not something he could fake with a wig and acting skills. He had planned for the aftermath, of course: reinforced the locks on his bathroom door, taken a week of sick leave, stocked all the supplies he would need for detox. Damien knew he had to keep it private or the colonel would use it to disgrace him, and he still more than anything wanted to be a cop.

But then the extraction went to shit. GIGN and RAID had been called in to handle the final assault, with Damien responsible for making sure Sabokov didn't escape, but some rookie in Antigang made noise too early and two of the RAID officers were taken hostage. The negotiations had gone on for hours before Damien could make his move. Everyone got what they deserved – a quick ride to prison for Sabokov and a brief session with the medics for Arbot's men – but he was jonesing so bad by the end that it was a miracle the medics hadn't hauled him off to the hospital, and another miracle that he made it home and locked himself in.

As it turned out, he'd slightly underestimated the agony involved in detox. By the time Captain Arbot stopped by his apartment, wanting to thank him for rescuing his two officers, Damien had broken halfway through the bathroom door.

The captain – a former RAID operative himself – had neatly subdued him and cuffed him to the sink, removed all potential lock-picks from the room, and sat with him until Damien stopped cursing and vomiting and remembered that he was speaking to a respected officer.

All Arbot said was, “Were you ordered to do this to yourself?”

“It was the only way in,” Damien said, sequences of surveillance photos playing out before his eyes – the fear locked down in the eyes of every person in Sabokov's neighborhood; the bodies from his cut-rate arms business and even more cut-rate heroin; the emaciated brunette in the alleyway who'd looked, for one heart-stopping moment, like Lola. The work of a man who thought he was above justice. “And I didn't have much time.” He met Arbot's eyes and said, “I'm sorry your men were hurt, it never should have happened while I was there.”

Arbot stared down at him for a moment, pinning Damien with an unreadable look. “I've heard many rumors about you – the fabled undercover gendarme, who answers to no one but the legion colonel, who can take out an entire building by himself, who brought down a minister single-handed,” he said, leaning forward and clasping his hands between his knees. “The only thing anyone can agree on is that you're crazy, but I didn't believe it until now.”

When Arbot left without discussing it further, Damien was sure his career was over – but there were no reprimands when he returned, not even whispers. Two weeks later, he was attached to Arbot's RAID unit as their undercover specialist, and the suicidal mission schedule stopped.

Damien still wasn't quite sure why Arbot had taken on someone he thought was an insane drug addict, but he was going to do his best to live up to that trust.

Lola traced a finger over his arm, jolting him out of his thoughts. His sleeves were rolled up despite the cool air, and she paused on the soft skin of his inner elbow, over the fading track marks from last fall.

He tensed. Far too perceptive, these siblings, with too many scars of their own.

Now Lola was the one who wouldn't meet his eyes.

“I'm glad you're okay,” she said finally, pulling back and grinding out the stub of her cigarette. She smiled crookedly up at him. “Come, let's take pity on Alain and show him where I hid dessert.”


After dessert, and coffee, and the last of the wine, Lola showed him to the door, where she blocked the exit again and looked at him intently. If she had always been this tenacious, no wonder Leïto had learned how to climb sheer walls.

“You should call him,” she said.

There was no question who 'he' was. “I don't think he wants to talk to me,” Damien said honestly.

“My brother is the best, but he can be a moron sometimes.” She pressed a slip of paper into his hand, kissed his cheek, and let him out into the night.

Damien carried the note in his pocket for the entirety of his next assignment. He never called, but he got in the habit of taking the paper out and looking at the numbers when the cravings hit – a touchstone to keep him grounded.

 

FOUR: July 6, 2012
(3 months later)

Damien ran a hand over his head and tossed down his pen in frustration. Roth was getting the guns from somewhere, but he was damned if he knew from where. They weren't common either – VSS sniper rifles? Not exactly lying around his mother's living room.

Most people would say the whole point of going undercover was to figure out such mysteries, but going in without a clue more often led to a dead end - literally. Damien had to have an angle to work on, and he couldn't plan an escape route unless he knew who might be walking through the doors. Damien hated improv, unlike... certain people.

He needed to take a break. He cracked his neck, and looked around for distractions.

Out in the bullpen, Michel and Toussaint looked like they were fighting about the new president over coffee again - Michel thought he was their savior and Toussaint thought he was incompetent, so they naturally argued. Damien, who had voted by early ballot for the winner before going under in April, was not taking sides. He only caught a fragment of the conversation as they strode past -- "He looks like a puppy - one that doesn't know any good tricks!" -- and stifled a laugh.

Arbot was in his office, talking to the air - he must be on speakerphone again. Damien watched him gesture in exasperation for a moment, smiling fondly. A new administration, a new battle for the budget, he guessed. RAID's record spoke for itself, in Damien's opinion, but politicians sometimes needed to be smacked over the head with it first. He had no doubt Arbot would use all necessary force, and emerge triumphant.

Sparring, his favorite distraction, was right out for the moment. He flexed his wrist carefully, testing the limits of his healing tendons. Personally, he thought the Marren mission had been rather short and easy, and the glass shards hadn't actually severed anything, but Arbot still insisted that Damien complete his physical therapy before fighting again. None of the others were willing to sneak a session after that edict, and it was becoming unbearably tedious.

His right wrist was fine - he could practice his one-handed marksmanship, he supposed, but he wasn't really in the mood.

The enforced time off had at least prompted him to move into a new apartment. His rent had gone up again and he could only afford so much, even with hazard pay. Lola and Alain had shown up to help without him saying a word - he suspected someone at work had ratted him out. Possibly Dr. Girard, who had stopped talking to Damien in PT sessions except to swear at him in exasperation.

For their part, Lola had claimed his place needed a woman's touch – then proceeded to detail all the places he should put bars on the windows to prevent burglary, and where he could hide backup weapons in the event of incursion. She was terrifyingly thorough – he would have to remember that trick with the knife and the vase.

Meanwhile, Alain quietly set him up with a new answering machine that could be accessed remotely, since, he'd joked, Damien was always working anyway, and they wanted to be sure they could reach him. Lola – who had been leaning precariously out the windows to examine the brickwork at the time – kept telling him to just give in and get a cell phone because he might need one someday, but Damien hated carrying things in his pockets.

Shaking his head at the memory, he picked up the phone, dialed his number, and fought his way through the voicemail menu until it coughed up his messages - just four, today.

Beep. "Bonjour, Captain Tomaso. This is Officer Brunel from the B13 station. We spoke once before about Taha Ben Mahmoud's former gang, and I was hoping to benefit from your expertise again. Frankly, we're at a bit of a loss here. The organization has almost completely disintegrated under K2, especially with the new competition from the five families, but there's been a great deal of activity around their compound recently. If you have any insights, or, uh, any sources that might be of use, I'd appreciate your input. Merci."

He absently deleted the second message, a telemarketer, wondering what K2 might be doing. The man was smart enough to survive, but not as crafty or ruthless as Taha, which was why his power had declined. What was he up to now?

Beep. "Bonjour, Damien! If you've forgotten the remote code again, Alain says it's 2697. I say you spend too much time at work."

Damien rolled his eyes. He had a good memory for numbers, but Lola couldn't be convinced of it. He'd stopped arguing with her about it, because she always pointed out that he hadn't called Leïto yet. She had a genius for fighting dirty.

“I got an interesting job offer today from a self-defense studio over in Montmartre. They somehow heard I had an 'unique perspective' and asked if I would assist with one of their classes on a trial basis. Don't think I don't know who recommended me, Tomaso.”

He smirked. Technically, he'd had nothing to do with it – but he may have mentioned Lola's wasted talent to his mother, who had possibly made a few calls.

Plausible deniability was everything.

“You're invited for dinner next weekend, assuming you're not fighting criminals with that wrist of yours. I'll call back to check on the details - unless you want to shock me by calling first. Ciao!”

He saved the message, grinning, and moved on to the next.

"I saw something interesting through a skylight today," a familiar voice said.

Leïto. The smile dropped off his face and he sat up straighter, almost by reflex.

"I think K2 figured out the code for Taha's vault. It only took him two years." Damien could practically taste the sarcasm. "Taha had a stash of unusual weapons in there - valuable stuff, mostly Russian and Iranian. K2's not using them in the banlieue, so he's probably selling them somewhere else. I don't really care as long as they're out of my neighborhood, but I thought you might."

There was a long, rustling pause.

“Good luck.” Click.

He chewed on his lip, his brain already going into overdrive. The connection to Roth was obvious, if almost too lucky - but Leïto had a way of defying the odds. Damien would have to go under with Roth's group, with enough of a disguise to avoid being recognized by any of K2's men; maybe tailor his background to be some kind of weapons expert. Damien pulled out a clean layout of Roth's offices, shoved the rest of the papers carelessly to one side, and started annotating escape routes, backup plans and ambushes unrolling behind his eyes like crisply furled maps.

In a small corner of his mind, he thought: maybe he could call, after, if it went well. Maybe he would.

He went to work.

 

FIVE: December 5, 2012
(five months later)

Damien stumbled out of the van in front of his apartment, a rare display of clumsiness that earned a chorus of hoots from the other passengers. He waved them off with a carefully chosen finger, and the van accelerated away at a pace more appropriate for a high speed pursuit than a late-night drunken carpool.

It had been a long and complicated run: Roth's arms business had turned out to be a sprawling monster, with weapons being sold in most of the banlieues and a nasty under-the-table deal with several army munitions officers as a bonus. The final takedown had turned into something of a seige at Roth's headquarters – at least, until all of the guns that Damien had carefully sabotaged started to fail, and he manually cleared a path for backup. Gunmen were so easy to take out once their weapons jammed. Even K2 had been arrested, fleeing on a train to Lille with a suitcase full of nothing but Euros, a Beretta connected to several unsolved murders, and a toothbrush.

The celebration afterwards had been fairly epic, even by law enforcement standards. It had been a good party, Damien thought, if somewhat blighted by post-mission culture shock for him personally. He'd caught himself evaluating his coworkers as if they were marks: weaknesses, interests, power dynamics. Most of them were already familiar, but enough had changed in five months to trigger the instinct to blend in. It was a basic survival skill when undercover, and a betrayal of self in his real life. No one had noticed – he was the best for a reason – but every time he had to stop himself, he'd felt a little more hollow.

He'd gotten into an argument just to prove that he could, fighting about the banlieue walls with Francois, who had just transferred out of RAID to Narcotics. It had been unfair of him. Francois was a good kid, but his idealism was as blind as Damien's had been once – and Damien had almost blown up two million people because of it.

He reached for the handle of his building door, and cursed under his breath. The damn security lock. His landlady had installed it just before he went under, and he'd completely forgotten the combination in the meantime. Never managed to memorize it in the first place, to be honest, just carried around a note with the number like he'd never read the statistics on Parisian burglaries.

Maybe Lola had a point that he spent too much time at work.
Damien sighed, and dug the code out of his wallet, tucked next to the scrap of paper with Leïto's number on it. He brushed a thumb over the familiar numbers in passing – smudged by repeated handling, the paper already worn soft.

He would call him. He would.

Upstairs, he tossed his keys and holster on the hall table, and wandered through the apartment. Looked like all his plants had survived, this time – Lola had promised to come water them once in a while, which was the only reason he'd bought any for the new apartment. He would never have his mother's green thumb, but he respected a plant that could survive for weeks without water.

In the kitchen, he opened a cabinet and contemplated his selection of canned goods. He didn't bother looking in the refrigerator, which he knew was completely empty.

He tried not to look at the phone, which lay on the counter below.

The blinking message counter finally drew his attention – he'd cleared out his voicemail earlier, waiting for the medics to clear him, but he had two new messages since then. Curious, he hit the button.

A husky, feminine voice began: “Allô? Honestly, Damien, are you ever home? You better not be screening your calls, or I'll be terribly offended.”

Now there was a voice he hadn't heard in a while. He shook his head in fond disbelief. Sonya was the only one of his school friends who still kept in touch, and her tenacity in tracking him down with every move and assignment would put many a detective to shame.

It probably helped that she knew his mother's phone number.

“Anyway, I'll be shooting a project in Paris in the spring, and you know how I hate staying in hotels. Send me your address in time, and I'll surprise you. À bientôt.”

Damien grinned. Her 'surprise' last time had involved very little advance warning, and even less clothing. He rather hoped the latter part stayed the same, although she had clearly learned her lesson about the former. Sonya was always a fun companion: not even remotely serious about him, and her own life as an actress so nomadic that she never resented him when he had to bail on her, just teased him until he made it up to her the next time. It would be nice to see her again. He saved the message, and skipped on.

Félicitations, Damien.”

Damien froze. It was Leïto.

“I heard about K2, and the rest of them. I wasn't sure you'd listened. You were never very good at it, before.”

Damien's heart kicked into high gear. That jab had sounded almost fond. He hadn't heard that tone of voice from Leïto in a very long time.

“Now that you're all done, I wouldn't want you to get bored. You might be interested in some fruit being trucked out of B13. Not very healthy stuff, packed full of heroin like that.”

Damien caught his breath. Had to be Woo's organization – he was the biggest heroin dealer in the city, but they'd never been able to pin anything on him. DCPJ had been trying to get a man into Woo's organization for years with no luck, and Woo had dozens of properties around the city that could be processing the drugs, if you included his nightclubs and the restaurant chain. But if they knew where the drugs were coming from, they could figure out where they were going, and time a raid for the distribution, catch all the big fish at once.

On the machine, Leïto continued: “The shipments go out once a week through the southwest gate, different fruit depending on the season. They have some sort of arrangement with the guards. I don't know any more than that.”

A pause stretched out, long enough for Damien to hear Leïto breathing. “Let me know how it goes, supercop. You have my number now.” Click.

 

+ONE: April 2, 2013
(four months later)

On the drive to police headquarters, Damien was furious, too hurt and betrayed to plan effectively. The frame-up was bad enough, but he'd recognized one of the men who raided his apartment: even though Francois had kept his helmet on and stayed silent, the coward, Damien recognized the way he moved.

The rage was blinding, and it wasn't until they wrestled him into prison clothes that he calmed down enough to think. The act itself was humiliating, but somehow the strange texture and drape of the cloth made him feel like he'd put on one of his disguises, or his uniform, and he fell into the cool, familiar rationality of his mission headspace.

He had to escape. To frame a cop of his reputation, whoever was behind this had enough political power that they were beyond his ability to fight through proper channels, even if there was time for it. The press was too slow as well, though Alain would try his best, and no doubt throw himself into harm's way – his survival skills had never improved to Lola's satisfaction.

Clearly, he also couldn't count on his comrades to get him free of this mess. The men in the unit were all skilled enough to mount a rescue, and he knew half of them hero-worshiped him – but he had thought Francois was one of the latter, which showed what he knew. He didn't have the luxury of playing a guessing-game. Damien trusted Captain Arbot with his life, but Arbot was an old man, with bad knees and grandchildren. Damien needed a one-man army.

If he was being honest with himself, there had only ever been one person to call. Damien just hoped Leïto really had forgiven him, because this was going to be one hell of a favor.

He procured a phone, and dialed a familiar number.

“Leïto? It's Damien. I'm in the shit, I need your help....”