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At Play

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Jean stuck his head inside the station break room just as Luc was laying out his lunch. “The Captain is sparring with Leïto!” he said breathlessly, and ducked back into the hallway.

Without hesitation, Luc abandoned his food and darted after him. He turned right, but whipped back around when Jean called out, “Not in the gym, outside!” as he joined the steady stream of officers heading for the front door.

Following, Luc spared a sympathetic look for Sergeant Blanchet as he passed him at the duty desk. The Captain hadn't done a sparring demonstration in months, and Luc had never seen him fight Leïto.

Everyone knew who Leïto was. They called him a 'community leader' these days when they were training the new transfers, but only because there wasn't a good word for 'that former convict who used to go around blowing up the wall and saved the president's life that one time'.

B13 had a lot of 'community leaders' like that, to be honest, but everyone also knew that Leïto was friends with the great Damien Tomaso. Leïto came in all the time to talk about the neighborhood with the Captain. Technically, Damien didn't run the police in B13, but he came in often, more now that the rest of the reconstruction was on track. The Captain was very serious about the de-escalation and nonviolence training he did – and pretty much everything else, as far as Luc could tell.

Mostly Leïto dropped by with information and ideas for improvements, but once he'd come in to report an incident of police brutality by one of the older officers. Luc had thought Leïto was going to punch the Captain, but he didn't. And of course, they still told stories about the time early on when a splinter group from Little Montana's gang had put the station under siege, and Leïto had shown up on the roof with ammunition and supplies. They were legends, both of them, and now they were going to spar and Luc was going to get to watch.

The crowd was trickling across the street to the local playground. Luc had been skeptical about it when it was first built – everyone remembered what happened to the last police station in B13, and that was no place for children to be nearby – but after awhile he came to appreciate it. Coming back after an ugly shift on the streets and seeing what you were fighting to helped. Some days, it helped a lot.

The playground had the usual mix of objects – a freestanding swing set, a sandpit, and a central structure built out of colorful plastic. There was a climbing tower on one end with stair-steps up to a top lookout and a set of monkey bars branching off the lower level. From the middle level, a bridge connected to a shorter tower that had slides and poles and ladders coming off in all directions. Leïto and Damien were standing in the open space in front of the playscape, and the crowd was pushing up to the edge of the gravel basin, marking the boundary clearly.

As Luc edged through the crowd for a better view, he heard the Captain say, "The playground?"

Leïto said, "You pick the rules, I pick the space. Real fights don't happen on mats."

"That's why we practice on them until we can be safe."

"Are you saying you're out of practice? Too much time at a desk?"

The Captain didn't deny it, just said, "When you break an ankle on this gravel, I'm not helping you to the hospital so Lola can yell at me for something that's your fault."

"Okay. Deal." Leïto grinned and offered a fist. The Captain rolled his eyes – Luc had never seen him act this informally! – but actually deigned to bump it with his own. He stepped back and they both went still for a long moment – and then, without any count or signal, went for each other at the same time.

The first exchange of blows was almost too fast to see, but it ended with the Captain landing a powerful kick to the center of Leïto's chest that sent him flying backward. Leïto turned the tumble into a controlled backward roll and came back up onto his feet with eerie grace, bouncing on his toes.

Then he smirked at the Captain, turned, and sprinted for the playset.

The Captain cursed and ran after him.

They didn't bother with the stairs. Leïto swarmed up the side of the tower, bouncing effortlessly off opposing pieces of colorful plastic and slinging himself over the top. Damien was slower, lagging behind him, but he paused and kicked through the rails at Leïto's ankles as he climbed past. Leïto danced away, laughing, leapt down two levels at once, and bolted for the other end of the bridge.

Only he didn't stop – he ricocheted off the entrance to a slide, grabbed onto a railing, and flung himself into empty space. Damien, two steps behind, stuttered for a moment, and then threw himself after.

Leïto landed in a crouch, his palms flat on the ground. Luc tensed, wondering if the Captain was going to hit Leïto when he landed – but then Leïto tipped himself sideways, curling up into a one-handed stand and kicked out. His foot slammed into Damien's hip just as he touched down. Luc could see that Leïto hadn't even looked before he kicked.

Damien teetered off balance, slipped, and just managed to tuck his shoulder as he slammed into the gravel at full speed. Leïto waited just long enough for him to look up, grinned in an obvious taunt, and ran for the playset again.

This time, Damien didn't race to follow.

Leïto noticed right away that he wasn't being followed and ducked around to the near side of the tower, where Damien couldn't see him but Luc and the others could. Luc found it difficult to look away from the easy way Leïto climbed around on the smooth plastic at first, but he quickly became curious about the Captain's plan and looked back at him.

The Captain was staring right at him.

Before Luc could do more than flush in instinctive embarrassment for staring, the Captain had already looked away – and Luc realized he hadn't been watching Luc at all. He was watching the crowd for some reason, his eyes flicking along the rows of faces and then up....

Luc huffed in realization. The Captain was watching them watch Leïto.

As soon as he figured it out, the Captain was moving again, crunching loudly through the gravel until he stood underneath the monkeybars where they branched off from the back of the tower that Leïto was hiding behind. Then he deliberately turned towards the bridge, leaving his back exposed to Leïto's current position, tucked around the side of the tower. Oh, that was clever.

Leïto took the bait. He must have been watching the Captain through the joins of the plastic walls, because he swung around the corner of the tower and down, catching the edge of the monkeybars and kicking both feet at Damien's back. Only by the time he got there, the Captain was already moving, dodging sideways, grabbing Leïto around the thighs and ripping him off the bars. Leïto slammed into the gravel with a pained grunt that Luc could hear even over the cheers of the crowd.

Damien crowded in. Leïto tried to block him into a triangle choke but the Captain was too fast, batting his legs out of the way and pinning him down with the whole weight of his body. Leïto struggled for a bit, but eventually flopped back to the gravel with a dramatic sigh.

"Fine, you're not out of practice."

"Thank you," the Captain said, still pinning Leïto. "Does that mean you surrender?"

"My word on it, you paranoid bastard."

The Captain stood, offering his hand to Leïto. "Paranoid? I'm just remembering what you did last time."

Leïto grinned, grabbing his hand and letting Damien pull him to his feet. "I guess old pigs can learn new tricks. Like fishing."

To Luc's surprise, the Captain burst out laughing. Luc had never seen him do that before. It made him look ten years younger. He clapped his hand on Leïto's shoulder, their hands still clasped between them. He said something else, his voice too low for Luc to hear over the sound of the crowd hurrying back to work. Leïto laughed this time, slinging his arm around Damien's shoulders and shaking him, their heads bent together. They looked like....

Luc flushed, turned on his heel, and followed the crowd back to the station. It wasn't any of his business. Really, really not. Even if it did make all those stories about Leïto rescuing the Captain from police headquarters during the Harriburton affair suddenly more believable, or the story about the siege, or that standoff with Torreton's people a few months ago.

He shook his head to clear the images out, and pushed back into the station. It was totally fine and none of his business who his Captain was sleeping with. If he even was sleeping with Leïto. Luc couldn't possibly be sure of that.

In any case, his lunch was getting cold, and he barely had any time left on his break to finish it.

The fight had been worth it, though. He could probably get half a dozen lunches out of telling that story to his less fortunate colleagues. He chuckled under his breath, weaving his way through the station back to the kitchen, and started making a list.