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Chaos fic: God Complex 3/13

June 7th, 2012 (06:59 am)
busy

feeling: busy

A/N: Sorry about the cliffhanger! This chapter is sort of plotty but again, somewhat necessarily. I apologize if I bore you! And promise there is more action to come.

For previous chapters, please see the MASTER POST .



PART THREE

-o-

Michael never passed out.

His consciousness zoned, narrowing to a point and he lost all control of his limbs. He could see the charred hallway, feel the well worn carpet against his cheek.

Rick was there, looking down at him. His lips were moving but the sound was too diffused to make sense of.

Michael blinked.

When he opened his eyes, he was half slung on Rick’s shoulders. His legs fumbled beneath him as they stumbled down the hall.

Michael blinked.

They were in a stairwell. Michael had his back pressed against a wall. Rick was holding him up with one hand, yelling into his phone. His face was pinched, eyes lined with worry.

Michael blinked.

Billy and Casey were there. Casey’s arms were up, at the ready. Billy was kneeling in front of him, looking intently in his eyes.

Billy’s mouth moved.

Michael cocked his head, confused.

Then the words caught up with him. I’m sorry. Billy was apologizing.

Before Michael could ask why, Billy pulled him up and this time when Michael blinked his eyes didn’t open again.

-o-

Until there was air.

It was arid and thick, hot in his lungs but enlivening all the same.

Eyes open, Michael squinted into the early dawn. Everything hurt – his head, his back, his chest – but he forced it aside.

This time, he was leaned against a wall, rough cement under him. There was a faint hint of smoke in the air, almost lost in the rank odor of trash.

He took another breath, felt it pulling in his chest. Ribs, he realized. Taking another breath, he winced. Bruised, not broken.

“Still bad enough for you to sit still, though,” Casey mused.

Michael turned his head just slightly.

Casey was there, fingering his scalp. When he sat back, his hands were bloody.

Michael shifted, made a face. “Someone put an explosive in my room,” he realized.

Rick snorted.

Billy squatted down and smiled. “That’s the nice way of saying that someone tried to kill you,” he said.

“Probably would have gotten the job done if not for Martinez’s quick thinking,” Casey said.

Michael glanced up. The younger operative looked pale, face smudged with soot but no worse for wear.

Rick’s expression was tight. “I heard the click,” he said. He shrugged. “No second guessing, right?”

Michael had to grin. “Right,” he said. He pushed up, trying to get unsteadily to his feet.

“You do remember the part where you were just nearly blown to pieces,” Casey said, hands hovering close to him but not pushing him back down.

Michael took a breath, felt himself steady. “Nearly being the operative word,” he said.

“I never pegged you to be one for semantics,” Billy mused.

“Just a pragmatist,” Michael countered, swallowing again as a small swell of nausea threatened his equilibrium.

“Pragmatically speaking, we may want to rethink our strategy just a little,” Casey suggested, his wry tone hiding what Michael knew was worry.

They were all worried. Billy was standing close to him, not quite touching but not even an arm’s length away. Casey was barely keeping the intensity in his eyes from looking distressed and Rick had pulled away, shoulders tense and face uncertain.

With reason, he supposed. The bomb, after all, hadn’t been part of the plan. In fact, it hadn’t even been a blip on Michael’s radar. He knew that he was being watched; he knew that his cover was tenuous and deep. After the man on Rick the stakes had been high but someone had actually broken into his room, set a device and tried to kill him.

His body twinged and he had to control another wince. Had almost killed him.

Still. He was in control. He was alive and in control. There were no other options.

His team was watching him, assessing him, worrying about him, waiting for him. They wouldn’t say it, but they depended on his leadership.

Wetting his lips, he forced a smile. “How bad was the damage?” he asked, skirting the topic entirely for now. He needed information. Without information, he couldn’t plan. Planning was critical.

Casey’s expression shifted just slightly; he understood. “Not too bad,” he said. “They evacuated the hotel but mostly as a precautionary measure. Mild fire damage to your floor but most of it was contained to your room.”

“Though if I were you, I would still demand compensation from the front desk,” Billy chimed in. “I’m afraid your suitcase of ever-boring clothing is probably charred to a crisp.” He paused, assessing Michael with a shrug. “Though that’s perhaps not such a crime.”

Michael smirked. “Do we know the nature of the explosive?”

“Military grade,” Rick said, still lingering behind the others. “The blast was controlled. Anything too crude and we probably wouldn’t be standing here having this conversation.”

Rick’s words were flat, and Michael let his gaze linger on the younger operative carefully. He was shaken.

“None of the guys we’ve been keeping tabs on showed any indication of this,” Casey said. “I mean, their criminal activity was typically criminal but I think we would have noticed someone planting a bomb in the hotel if it was one of them.”

Michael straightened a bit more, feeling his strength burgeoning. “So we don’t think it’s someone we’ve met,” he said.

“Probably not even someone local,” Billy said. “Best we can figure, it’s a little pre-visit get to know you from our soon to be partner, Jenkins.”

Michael considered this. Vaughan was nervous; he was pulling away from Jenkins. Jenkins had to know, had to be suspicious. The best way to control the situation would be to further isolate Vaughan by killing Michael. Or at least scaring the crap out of him.

It wasn’t a bad plan, Michael figured, but it had a few obvious flaws. First, Michael was alive. True, it had been Martinez who had saved him but clearly Jenkins had underestimated the people around Michael. Second, Michael didn’t scare. Not easily. Not at all. Not even with a few bruised ribs and a headache.

Resolved, Michael nodded. “At least we know where the real power in this relationship is,” he said. He attempted to straighten his shirt, ignoring the blast marks on it.

“It’s bound to spook Vaughan,” Casey pointed out.

“In case he was unaware that his partner was an actual megalomaniac with trust issues,” Billy added.

Michael shrugged. “At this point, it’ll just endear me to him more. If I can endure it, so can he, and he’ll trust me more than Jenkins.”

“So you’re planning on going ahead with this?” Rick asked.

Michael looked at him. “You have a better idea?”

Rick laughed humorlessly. “Jenkins is planting explosives,” he said. “He’s not playing around.”

“And neither are we,” Michael returned. “If he’s willing to do this to a potential business competitor, think about what he would do with people who can’t fight back? What lines would he be willing to cross? Taking this operation down is now more important than ever.”

“But our covers could be compromised,” Rick argued. “You said it yourself, he’s doing this to a business competitor?”

“He’s in up to his neck in criminal activity,” Billy reminded him gently. “It’s a bit at the point of no return. Killing a competitor is not unheard of in this line of business.”

“Maybe,” Rick conceded. “But what if he knows that there’s more going on here? If he suspects we’re not competitors—“

“He has no reason to think otherwise,” Michael said decisively.

Rick swallowed, protest still evident on his features.

“And even if he does, going ahead with the plan is still our best bet,” he continued.

Rick’s face broke.

Michael cut him off, shaking his head. “That’s why our plans have contingencies,” he said. “That’s why we’re in this together. Because when something goes wrong, we can pull each other out of harm’s way. Just like today. We can do this. Together. We just have to stick to the plan.”

Rick’s jaw worked, the tension battling in his dark eyes. On either side, Casey and Billy waited stiffly, waiting for an answer. Finally, Rick’s head bowed forward and he nodded.

Michael sucked in a breath, testing his lungs and holding back the pain. “Okay,” he said. “The plan it is.”

-o-

Half the battle when it came to executing missions for the CIA was sounding like he knew what he was talking about. Self confidence was a powerful asset – more powerful than most people gave it credit for. Michael had carried cover stories on little more than bravado, and his simple self assertion that no harm would befall him had saved his life more times than he should admit.

But there was still more to it than that. There were details and nitty gritty facts to contend with. So while they still had a plan – to keep cover, to meet with Vaughan and get the introduction to Jenkins – it did need to be tweaked. After all, Michael’s hotel room getting blown to shreds was something of a hiccup.

First things first: keeping up appearances. For that, he sent Rick to make a show of checking in with the front desk and making a scene. Whoever was after them clearly meant business so Michael assumed it was important to make a show to demonstrate that they were still very much in this game.

If he had been a little more up to snuff, he would have done it himself. But, as it was, his clothes were singed and there was dried blood in the hair above his ear. Looking that much worse for wear, staying hidden until he was cleaned up was probably smarter. A little ambiguity as to his fate couldn’t hurt their cause.

It was something of a trial to get back inside. The entire hotel had been sealed off for obvious reasons and local police were setting up something resembling an investigation. The problem was, of course, that Michael needed to get back into his room before said investigation really took off. While it was true that his clothes were probably a lost cause, the files were more important.

They were relatively safe; Michael had installed his own lock on the safe as an extra precaution. Besides, it seemed likely that the police would have bigger concerns than cracking the safe, though he suspected they would have interest in it eventually.

Given the fact that someone had gotten inside his hotel room at all suggested that security was more of an issue than he had previously thought, which made him more anxious than ever to secure his documents and formally reassess the plan.

Which meant he had to get back to his room.

Lurking outside, he noted that such a task was actually easier said than done.

Rick was gone and Casey had gone to stake out the front, playing the part of an angry and worried tourist. He’d tried to shoo Billy away, too, but the Scot had merely smirked at him.

“I think I’ll stay, thank you,” he said.

“We need to get eyes on who’s coming and going,” Michael said. “We’ve missed something here.”

“Exactly,” Billy said. “Which is why I know you’re planning some sort of foolhardy move to get back inside.”

Michael didn’t deny it. “And I’m fully capable of doing it on my own.”

Billy lifted his brows. “While I trust implicitly in your abilities, I believe you may be overestimating yourself at the moment.”

“I’m fine,” Michael said, curtly.

“Your argument might hold more weight if we hadn’t just dragged you out of a smoking hotel,” Billy pointed out.

Michael glared.

Billy shrugged. “Besides, obtaining reentrance to this fine establishment requires subterfuge and finesse,” he said, smiling devilishly. “Two of my specialties.”

“I thought your specialties were gluttony and the ability to annoy,” Michael quipped.

Billy was indignant. “Next time I get a call about pulling you out of a near death situation, I may just let it go to voicemail.”

Michael rolled his eyes. Then he sighed. “I assume you have a plan?”

Billy’s face brightened with a mischievous grin. “You’re not the only plotting fiend around here,” he said.

Michael knew it was true. He just didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

-o-

Like most of Billy’s improvised plans, this one started with a smile.

The hotel was well guarded at this point, sectioned off with exits blocked. Strategically, going through the front would be almost impossible. There were just too many people, all of whom were demanding answers and throwing a fit. The back exit to the alleyway was easily their best bet.

At least, that was Michael’s assessment.

Billy, on the other hand, had his own ideas.

The fact that it was a burly man wielding a machine gun at the back entrance didn’t even give Billy any pause. Instead, he walked right up, brazen and guileless, and smiled.

“While I normally never approach a stranger with a large gun unannounced, I find myself in need of some particular assistance,” Billy began. “Do you speak English?”

The man’s eyes narrowed for a long moment as he studied Billy. His eyes flicked to Michael, who was hovering just a step behind trying his best to look innocuous. Finally, the man nodded. “I do.”

Billy’s expression brightened. “Most excellent!” he said. “I know it’s proper to learn the language before visiting a new culture, but I admit, I just didn’t have the time for this trip. But I promise I’m not like those bloody Americans who think they can come in and do as they please, with everyone catering to their Puritanical expansionist ways.”

The man stared.

Billy gathered a breath. “Right. Well, I was wondering if we could perhaps gain admission to this fine establishment,” he said.

The man shook his head. “It is currently closed off for an investigation.”

“For the bomb,” Billy said earnestly, nodding emphatically. “Messy business, I’m sure, and it is such a reassuring pleasure to see the local security forces so hard at work to ascertain the cause and culprit.”

It was clear that the man wasn’t sure what to say to that. That was the real secret to Billy’s success as a charmer. It wasn’t just that he was handsome and could flirt with a rock, it was that he knew how to keep talking in such a way that people didn’t quite know what he was saying; they just knew they wanted to trust him. He sounded so damn pleasant all the time – earnest and friendly and buoyant – that by the time most people realized he was playing them, it was far too late to do anything about it.

This was effective on women and men alike, and seemed to work with people of all ages, races and linguistic backgrounds.

Billy shrugged, not missing a beat. “The thing is, my friend here is in desperate need of a change of clothes,” he said, nodding over his shoulder toward Michael.

Michael offered a pathetic smile as the man looked at him.

“Sorry,” he said flatly. “No exceptions.”

“Of course, of course,” Billy said quickly. “I mean, I understand it but the thing is—“ Billy leaned forward, voice dropping with the pretense of trust. “—he’s in a bit of a bind. Everything we have is in that hotel and if we don’t get him into his clothes then his wife is going to know that he was out all night. Again.”

The man blinked, face wavering.

“Fourteen years of marriage all out the window for a silly bomb,” Billy said, shaking his head.

“I’m sorry,” the man said, and this time there was a hint of real sympathy.

Billy nodded in commiseration. “And the thing is, it’s my fault,” he continued. “The man is loyal to a fault and I got myself into a wee bit of a scrape last night and the only person I could call was my good friend here.”

The man looked at Michael again, with more interest this time.

“Not only did it get him scuffed up, but now I’m afraid it’s going to entirely end his marriage,” Billy said, sighing dramatically.

The man hesitated. Then he lifted a hand scratching at his neck. That’s when Michael saw the wedding ring. Billy must have pinged on that from the start, smart bastard.

“You married?” Billy asked genuinely.

The man nodded readily. “Five years.”

Billy smiled. “Glorious years, I’m sure,” he said. “Fine, strapping man. A man in uniform no less! Women are fickle, though, aren’t they?”

At this, the man’s expression finally broke with a smile. He let out a breath and his shoulders relaxed. And Michael knew they had him.

The man’s lips turned up in a tight smile, and his eyes were suddenly soft. “They rarely understand the demands on a man’s attention,” he said.

Billy nodded with fresh vigor. “Exactly!” he said. “So it does seem a pity that my friend here will be forced to suffer added marital peril, all for the lack of access to his hotel room.”

This time the man hesitated in earnest. He looked down, and his lips were pursed when he looked at them again. “What floor is your room on?”

“Second,” Michael lied.

“The incident was on the fifth floor,” the man said. “So I can’t imagine you’d be in anyone’s way.”

Billy clapped the man’s shoulder. “Bless you, my good man,” he said, as the man sidled out of the way. “Bless you.”

-o-

It was a relief to be inside, but it was hardly the most difficult part of their task. Avoiding the forces on the ground level wasn’t too bad, and by sticking to a back staircase far from the explosion site they were able to sneak their way to the right floor.

Things got trickier from there. Pressed at the doorway of the deserted staircase, Michael assessed the situation. Security forces were trawling the floor, but not quite haphazardly. A few seemed to be guarding key checkpoints, probably in an attempt to contain access to the floor. The area around the blast was more closely guarded, with obvious investigative personnel both sifting away the debris while simultaneously collecting evidence. What appeared to be techs came and went, items in baggies.

Michael saw them cart away a tattered pair of his underwear and he frowned.

Slinking back, he looked at Billy. “Do you think you can get us in?” he asked.

Billy peeked down the hall, face twisted with a grimace. He shook his head. “That many people is going to require more than a charming smile and a few cajoling lies,” he said.

Michael sighed, although he had already known the answer.

Looking back out the hall, he studied the scene for a moment longer. Then, his eyes lingered on the maid’s closet across from them.

“I think I have an idea,” Michael said.

Billy scoffed. “How many disasters have we begun with those very words?”

Michael had to grin, shrugging one shoulder. “Then what’s one more time?”

Billy gestured grandly. “Then after you, o fearless leader.”

-o-

They waited until there was a gap in the movement, Michael going first then Billy following behind. It was a quick jaunt across the hall, and Michael could only count himself lucky that the lock on the maid’s closet was easy to pick.

Once they were both tucked inside he immediately went to work, gathering supplies. Cleaning products may have been nothing for most people but Michael saw ample opportunities.

Billy slid in beside him, rummaging around and pulling out a bucket. “I would have thought you’d be over explosions after last night,” he said.

Michael plucked the necessary items, collecting them quickly on the floor. “I don’t mind explosions,” he said. “As long as I’m the one in charge of them.”

Billy smirked, unscrewing a bottle of bleach. “Only Michael Dorset would think himself capable of controlling an explosion,” he said, shaking his head.

Michael started mixing the elements, making the rough guesstimates. “Everything can be controlled,” he said, pulling out another bucket to start the second half of the mixture.

Billy swirled the first bucket carefully. “So says the man who nearly got himself killed last night.”

“I’m fine,” Michael said, sitting back on his heels. “And I’ll be better once I get into my room and extract what I need.”

Billy rolled his eyes. “You know, you are fairly single-minded.”

“That’s what Fay used to say,” Michael said, examining his work. It was crude, but it’d get the job done. The result would be noisy and smoky, but hardly dangerous.

“Yes,” Billy said, “and that turned out so well.”

Michael stood up. “Then let’s hope this turns out better,” he said.

“I can’t disagree with that,” Billy said.

“Can you handle this?” Michael asked.

“Can I wait until you are in an ideal position on the opposite side of the floor and then create a diversion with these very crudely mixed chemicals to provide you a chance to get into the room unattended?” Billy asked.

Michael smiled.

“Of course, of course,” Billy muttered. “Though let it be known that I protest that my skills can be better employed than this.”

“Noted,” Michael said. “And ignored. Give me five minutes.”

Billy glowered. “And not a second more.”

And with that, Michael was off.

-o-

Michael moved quickly, darting through the hallways and hiding around the nooks as needed. He got as close as he dared, tucking himself out of sight just out of range but close enough to make a quick dash to the room when the opportunity presented itself.

He had told Billy five minutes; of course, he hadn’t exactly looked at his watch so it was all a rough approximation. But he knew Billy and Billy knew him. After years in the field together, being able to assess a situation without ongoing verbal contact was imperative.

So Michael hunkered down, closed his eyes and waited…

He mentally went over his plan of attack. He went over waiting for the room to clear out; went over what he would look for in the room. Safe, first. Clothing, second. Anything else, possibly third. Because he didn’t want to buy another toothbrush if he could help it; he just didn’t have the time.

But he would. He could. The details were negotiable. The key was to focus on the mission.

Getting the documents, getting out. Meeting up with Vaughan later, arranging a meeting with Jenkins. Infiltrating the organization to gain full access to the clients and suppliers, obtaining evidence of the illegal proceedings to formalize a takedown and shut the operation down from the top to bottom.

The mission. Michael’s mission. He could do this. He would do this.

Then there was a crack and a series of booms. Smoke filled the hall and men started yelling. The fire alarm sounded and footsteps echoed. It took a few minutes before the voices drifted; a few more seconds and Michael mentally envisioned the cleared hallway, ready for his next part of the plan.

Eyes open, Michael didn’t hesitate. He ducked out into the hallway, keeping his face down. With the smoke he had good cover, but he still didn’t need to risk excessive exposure in case someone happened to come that way while the new blast was being contained.

To this end, Michael had limited time. The fresh explosion would force at least a partial evacuation until things were contained and even so, limited personnel would undoubtedly remain on the floor to examine the new blast. Michael had to be fast and efficient.

Fortunately, Michael was good at being fast and efficient when the situation called for it. And this situation – with its clear assassination attempts and other high risks – certainly did seem to call for it.

As he approached his room, the debris got thicker, though Michael noted that Martinez was right. It had been a carefully controlled blast. While the door to his room was gone – splintered and spread across the hall – the damage seemed mostly isolated.

Still, as he stepped through the blackened doorframe the remnants of his suitcase, which had been neatly stowed by the door, were evident. He took care to avoid the biggest and most obvious pieces – he didn’t actually want to impede the investigation. If the authorities could link this back to Jenkins, it could only help bolster their case later when Jenkins and company would hopefully be in custody.

In the room, the damage was more pronounced. The wall around the door was buckled and the wall to the bathroom was scorched. The bathroom mirror was cracked and the carpeting had been burned through to the subflooring. The water damage was probably most notable, and Michael realized that even if his clothing hadn’t been blown to shreds, they would have been too wet to wear soon anyway.

The explosive had probably been placed as a charge on the door itself, with the trip wire connected to the locking mechanism on his door. This would be tricky to set up – trickier still to escape without blowing oneself up. Which meant a few things. First, whoever did this had been skilled. This meant that Sunday was not a likely candidate. Michael didn’t doubt the man’s ability to inflict pain and chaos – Michael had compiled the file on him, after all – but his actions rarely had finesse. Even the man following Martinez had lacked nuance. This pointed largely to Jenkins.

Second, whoever did this left by alternative means – probably out the window. If he had more time to investigate, Michael might be able to put together a trail and figure out how he’d been tracked and pegged so easily, especially since the culprit had avoided getting noticed by both Billy and Casey. This again suggested Jenkins’ work. Not the man himself, of course, but one of his better trained minions.

Which was a thought Michael hadn’t previous considered. The connection between Jenkins and Vaughan had always been solid enough that he had assumed their partnership to be the cornerstone of the entire operation. If Jenkins was recruiting other highly skilled workers to monitor Vaughan, then the partnership was not nearly as equal as Michael may have supposed.

This was why Vaughan was such an easy mark to exploit – he was quite literally the weakest link in the operation. This meant turning him against Jenkins and Sunday would be substantially easier than Michael had thought – but it also meant that leveraging him in regards to the other culprits would be a bit more difficult. Neither Sunday or Jenkins trusted Vaughan, which meant Michael had to be careful.

Michael had to amend his plan to account for this.

Which brought Michael back to his primary purpose. The plan. He had a plan to get his plan and then get out.

Quickly, he stepped over the wreckage, kneeling down next to the in-wall safe. It was scuffed with burn marks, but for once the hotel had not overestimated the quality of its products. It was intact, the locking mechanism still in place. Tucked as it was in the closet space, the local law enforcement hadn’t seemed to notice it yet.

Michael didn’t catch lucky breaks often, but when he did he wasn’t about to pass them up.

Quickly, he pulled out his key, undoing first his external lock before adeptly releasing the standard locking mechanism. Inside, the file was still there, not even marred.

Suddenly, he heard voices in the hall.

His time was up.

Quickly, he grabbed the file, tucking it under his arm. He darted into the hallway head down. As he passed a few other workers he nodded without looking and just kept walking. Cool, calm, and collected.

By the time the voices echoed after him, Michael was already gone.

-o-

When Michael got to his checkpoint with Rick, he was starting to feel the effects of his long night in earnest. Between drinking with Vaughan and nearly getting blown up he hadn’t had a lot of time to rest. The fact that his hotel room was now currently a crime scene certainly didn’t help matters. He may have the file back in his possession, but he also had no place to sleep.

A lack of sleep came with the job from time to time, and Michael was certainly capable of going longer than twenty-four hours without a little shut eye. But the fact was that he was no longer a young man, and he was physically fit but still wasn’t Casey Malick.

In short, he felt it when he didn’t sleep. Felt it and probably missed it more than he cared to admit.

Still, the job was the job and without a hotel room -and sensitive files in his possession- sleep was simply not going to happen.

Instead, Michael spent the interlude at a local convenience store, buying a few new pieces of clothing and other personal items before heading back to his rendezvous with Martinez.

When he got there Rick was already in place in the hotel lobby. This was a good sign – the hotel was open again, which could only help the plan stay together – though the increased security was still plainly visible. Guests on Michael’s floor had been rerouted to other rooms, but Michael was in no hurry to get a new room reassignment. He knew that once he was associated with the room in question, he’d not only have pressure from Sunday and Jenkins, but local law enforcement, too, and that was something he did not want to deal with.

But he was still all for keeping up appearances.

Adjusting his new shirt, he just wished he didn’t feel so painfully conspicuous about it.

For his part, Rick hardly looked bothered. The kid was still the new guy, but Michael had to give him credit: he was good under pressure.

“Anything new?” Michael asked, sauntering up as easily as he could. The local crowd seemed nonplussed by the extra security, but considering that this hotel was in the middle of a popular criminal neighborhood probably had something to do with that. Michael had scouted this hotel as a reason: its clientele were renowned, and not in good ways.

Rick shrugged, back to the wall. “They’re letting people back into rooms now,” he said.

Michael looked out; Billy was flirting with one of the people from his tour group. Casey was nowhere to be seen, which was probably a good thing considering all the things that had gone wrong lately.

Michael shrugged back. “Just in time for us to check out for the day,” he said

Rick nodded. Then, he hesitated.

“Something wrong?” Michael asked.

Rick hedged, then looked up at Michael. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“We’re expected,” Michael replied.

Rick’s expression didn’t waver. “You know what I mean.”

Michael heard the tone, understood it. Rick was nervous; scared. Michael kept himself still, face composed. “It’s all part of the plan,” he said neutrally but firmly.

Rick didn’t look away. “It’s getting complicated,” he said.

“It’s still important,” Michael countered.

“Of course it is,” Rick said. “But—“ He sighed. “Maybe we should pull out. Reassess. Reconnect with Vaughan when things aren’t so tenuous.”

Michael bowed his head and pursed his lips. He understood the impulse to play it safe. He fought against it every day of his life. Because everything he did was a careful balancing act – trying to weigh his job as a CIA agent with the wellbeing of his team. It wasn’t easy, leading the men who trusted him into the line of fire. But it was necessary.

This mission was necessary. Pulling out would reduce the chance of ever taking the operation down. This was unique timing, while Jenkins was still in the early stages of his development. Plus, with the doubt cast on Vaughan’s place in this, Michael suspected the man might not be around long enough to leverage in the future. Vaughan was there and the time to act was now.

That made the risks acceptable.

“It’s still part of the plan,” Michael said. “That hasn’t changed.”

“But you dying was never part of the plan,” Rick hissed, more than a hint of frustration in his voice.

Michael looked at him – looked at the intensity in his brown eyes – and felt his stomach twinge. Rick was still new at this; near-death was an accepted part of Michael’s job, but even after all these years it wasn’t necessarily easy. For someone with Rick’s level of experience coping after seeing a teammate nearly get killed was easier said than done.

“You’re right,” Michael conceded.

Rick looked surprised.

Michael kept himself steady. “But it is now,” he said. “It has to be. Because what we’re doing here is important. Dangerous, but important. We create plans to be flexible; we design situations with fail-safes to keep us protected even while we do what we have to.”

Rick’s jaw worked. “But if I hadn’t been there—“

“You were,” Michael said, emphatic now. “And that was no accident. It wasn’t even luck. That was part of the plan.”

Rick looked ready to protest, but instead his shoulders dropped. He took a few deep breaths and nodded.

Michael clapped him on the shoulder. “You ready to do this now?”

Rick lifted his head, shrugging half-heartedly. “As much as I can be.”

It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement but it was enough. At any rate, it had to be enough.

-o-

If Michael were a lesser man with a lesser team, going right back into the mission might have unnerved him. And not just for the reasons Rick said – though the risk of death was still ever pressing on his mind. Getting blown up did not strike him as an ideal way to go, although the fact that he would leave things undone bothered him more than the idea of not living in general.

No, the problem with going back into the field after such a close call was that he was having to delegate. As team leader, delegation was an innate part of his job. He formed plans and assigned tasks, giving each team member a critical role to complete in order to ensure an optimal outcome.

This didn’t generally give him pause – he had spent years with Casey and Billy, and Rick had more than proven himself – but his plans didn’t generally seem to be so close to falling apart. He had nearly died, as Rick seemed so set on reminding him, and Michael couldn’t afford to track down the culprit on his own. He couldn’t even invest any additional attention into making sure it didn’t happen again.

Instead, he had to go meet Vaughan, keep the plan in motion and trust that Casey and Billy would not only figure out who tried to kill him, but also how they managed to get the one up on them and to stop it from happening again. A tall order, to be sure, and while there was no duo he trusted more, the thought of not having those elements entirely within his immediate control made him a little twitchy.

Apparently, Michael wasn’t the only one.

The minute he got to the bar, Vaughan was easy enough to make out. He was sitting pale faced in the back room, staring intently at the door. When Michael came through, his expression was both relieved and horrified.

“You came,” Vaughan said, getting to his feet and fidgeting.

Michael smiled coldly and settled in a chair. A step behind him, Rick followed suit. “Of course I came,” Michael said. “A few fireworks shouldn’t stand in the way of good business.”

Vaughan sat down haltingly, face paling further. “When I heard, I feared the worst,” he admitted.

Michael let himself smirk. “Am I to assume then that your worry means you weren’t the one who sent someone to kill me?”

Vaughan blinked so guilelessly that Michael had to remind himself that Vaughan was not only a criminal, but practically a traitor to his country. “I wasn’t,” he said earnestly. “I wouldn’t.”

Michael didn’t doubt him. “But you think you know who did,” he concluded.

“Just…suspicions,” Vaughan said.

Michael gathered a long breath. “I’m beginning to think this is a bad idea.”

Vaughan shook his head, adamant. “No, it’s not.”

Michael nodded toward Rick. “I have things at stake here,” he said. “I have a business to run. If this is going to be more trouble than it’s worth—“

“It’s not,” Vaughan interjected, adamant now. “I mean. It doesn’t have to be.”

Michael settled back in his seat, glancing toward Rick. Rick inclined his head and shrugged lightly. Looking back at Vaughan, Michael pursed his lips. “How do you figure?”

Vaughan’s eyes lit up. “I’ve been thinking about this,” he said. “A lot, actually. And we can make a business plan to help both of us. If we work together on clients we can double our investments. And by pooling resources we can offer discounts to people who streamline their purchases.”

“It’s profitable,” Michael said. “And practical.”

Vaughan smiled.

“But you’re forgetting the fact that your so-called partners are putting tails on you and putting bombs in my hotel room,” he said. “What makes you think they’ll be okay with making a deal?”

Vaughan flinched. “We don’t know it was them.”

Michael gave him a withering look.

“You have enemies, too, I’m sure,” Vaughan pointed out.

Michael jerked his head toward Rick again. “And I’ve got my men watching out for that,” he said. “They only thing they can’t see coming is the threats they don’t know about. Which leaves just two possible culprits – your so-called friends.”

“I told you, they’re in this for the money,” Vaughan said.

“Exactly,” Michael countered. “So why won’t they just cut us out; keep the profits for themselves, leverage our hard work for their own success.”

“It can work—“

Michael sighed loudly, rolling his eyes. “I like you,” he said bluntly. “I think we could have a profitable partnership, but it can’t be a partnership at all until I know I can trust you.”

“I haven’t lied to you,” Vaughan insisted.

“But your partners are lying to you,” Michael said. “These two mystery men who send people to spy on you and men to kill me.”

“That’s why I need you,” Vaughan said. “Together we can become more powerful than they are.”

Michael shook his head. “It’s too much of a risk.”

He was pushing this – and hard. Vaughan was spooked and he was desperate. The entire thing clearly freaked him out and Michael knew it was a delicate game at this point. Vaughan might cut and run, cut his losses and go to ground. If he were smart that was what he’d do.

But Vaughan wasn’t too smart, which was how he’d gotten involved in this in the first place. He was only mildly opportunistic and the force of his convictions was less pressing than the power of his acquaintances.

The fact was he was friends with a traitor in the American military and married to a woman with ties to a militant guerilla. His personal life was tied up in his professional life and he was in too deep to back out now.

In short, Michael was hedging his bets on Vaughan not being smart. He was counting on Vaughan being stupidly desperate, opening up to Michael and letting him take the whole thing down. Granted, this would probably save Vaughan’s life while simultaneously ruining it.

Of course, that all hinged on what Vaughan said next.

There was hesitation, and for a moment Michael feared he’d planned this too closely on Vaughan’s response. Without Vaughan’s in, they had nothing.

Vaughan wet his lips, nervous.

Finally, he nodded. “I’ll take you to meet them,” he said.

Michael kept himself composed.

“Tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll pick you up and take you to the warehouse where we operate. You can see the thing for yourself. See how we run it, what we carry. All of it.”

The intelligence gain from such an introduction would be immeasurable. And yet it was only half of what Michael wanted. “I nearly blew up today,” he said. “I want to meet your partners.”

“They’ll be there,” Vaughan said. “One is flying in and we’re already doing a three-way meet. You can come and we’ll pitch it to them together.”

And there it was. Michael would have a positive ID on Vaughan’s partners, access to the key shipping destination, and ultimately a viable window into the operation. From there Michael just had to organize a meet to catch them in the act and then everything would fall according to plan.

The satisfaction was so overwhelming that Michael did all he could to keep his smile in check. Instead, he kept himself loose and cool. “Fine,” he said. “But I’m bringing my man here. And I’ll be armed.”

Vaughan nodded. “Of course,” he said. “That sounds good. Right? It sounds good.”

Michael nodded back but didn’t respond. Couldn’t respond, because it sounded more than good to him. It sounded like the pitch perfect plan coming together.

NEXT

Comments

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: June 7th, 2012 12:23 pm (UTC)
Pensive


**Billy squatted down and smiled. “That’s the nice way of saying that someone tried to kill you,” he said.**

Exactly! Love Billy gaining access to their hotel too! Yep, flirt with a rock is an apt description of our boy *G*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 10th, 2012 11:53 am (UTC)
billy guitar

This fic was sort of fun in that I got to write the guys going about the more "normal" aspects of the mission. I don't take the time to write their plotting and maneuvering very often!

Thanks :)

Posted by: Lena7142 (lena7142)
Posted at: June 7th, 2012 11:57 pm (UTC)
chaos

I love the scene with Billy charming their way into the hotel! Wonderful display of the charmer in action. :D

The plot thickens... I'm rather distressed that I have to wait until next week to find out what happens!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 10th, 2012 11:54 am (UTC)
billy art

Usually I'm so busy hurting Billy that I fail to let him actually do his thing. That's one advantage to a 90k fic :)

And now you only have to wait until tomorrow!

Thanks :)

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: June 8th, 2012 11:29 am (UTC)
Spies

I love the interaction between Michael and Billy, the innate trust and co-working.
Definitely another great update and I'm looking forward to reading more

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 10th, 2012 11:55 am (UTC)
chaos team moves

I love the unspoken rhythm these guys have in the show. They rarely have to say things out loud because they just know.

Thanks!

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