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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: The Wisdom to Know the Difference (5/5)

November 29th, 2013 (06:34 am)
dirty

feeling: dirty

Notes in the Master Poster.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE



Michael essentially has nothing.

He has no real leads; no further instincts to follow. He’s been running around on a whim, and it’s gotten him nowhere. Usually that sort of thing works out for him, but he’s well trained enough to know that when it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean he’s out of options.

That just means he has to try harder.

The more things spiral out of control, the harder Michael has to hold on -- and hope like hell there’s still something to hold onto.

This means, he needs to go back to the beginning. He needs to start a structured search pattern; he needs to look for clues.

In short, he needs to do his job.

This rational approach is calming to him as he heads back on the main roads. He thinks he can still do this. He can still find Billy and everything will be fine.

Everything has to be fine.

Maybe it’s confidence. Maybe it’s optimism. Maybe it’s denial.

At this point, Michael doesn’t really care.

He just needs it to be true or he’s not entirely sure what he’ll do.

He’s crossing the road back toward the motel, mapping out his next plan of attack when he hears it. The yell is in Spanish, but Michael is good at distinguishing tones of authority. He picks out a few words of Spanish and frowns, turning back and jogging across the street toward the next alleyway.

There’s a cop car at the front of the alley, and Michael slows his pace, glancing nervously at the crowds as he approaches. There’s another round of orders given in Spanish when Michael hears the plaintive reply.

The words are slurred and hard to discern, but there are a few relevant facts Michael can’t miss out on. The words are in English.

With a Scottish accent.

All thoughts of being discreet go out the window, and Michael runs the rest of the way. He crashes breathlessly into the alley and sees the cop, hand on his gun, trying to forcibly haul someone to their feet.

The figure on the ground is struggling, long limbs flailing. He’s barefoot and not fully dressed, and Michael sees a glimpse of the pale face and knows.

“Hey!” Michael says, moving forward just in time to stop the cop from hauling back and hitting Billy. He grabs the man’s arm. “Stop!”

The man turns on him, producing his gun fast enough that Michael pulls back, hands in the air. “Stop,” Michael says again. He fumbles to remember his Spanish. “Un amigo. Soy amigo.” He nods toward Billy. “Por favor.”

The cop holds him at gunpoint, seething for a moment long. When he finally seems to decide that Michael is no threat, he lowers the weapon and eases his stance. “English?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Michael says. He glances toward Billy, who appears to at least have enough sense to stop moving. “Look, he’s my friend. He’s sick. I stepped out for breakfast, and he disappeared.”

At this, the cop puts his gun away with a snort. “He is loitering,” he says. “I was about to arrest him.”

Michael shakes his head. “He hasn’t broken any laws, has he?”

The cop raises his eyebrows. “With his appearance, I had to check for drugs.”

Michael’s heart skipped a beat. “He’s clean.”

The man grunts, giving Michael a pitying look. “Your friend needs help, Senor. Help your denial will not get him.”

Michael swallows; he has nothing to say.

The cop looks at Billy again, who is still curled up on the ground, blinking owlishly at their conversation. He rolls his eyes. “Get him help, Senor,” he says. “I am not certain that letting him go is any kindness.”

With that, the cop retreats, heading back to his car. Michael waits until he gets in and pulls away before he turns his attention to Billy.

Billy.

Curled up in the alleyway, Michael sees Billy in the sunlight for the first time since this began. And he suddenly understands why the cop suspected Billy was a drug addict.

Because he is.

God help them all, Billy is. He has the washed out complexion, the sunken features. He’s been running around the streets in his boxers and a t-shirt. His feet are dirty and his arms are bandaged. He’s too thin, and his eyes are wild.

His eyes go wide when he sees Michael. “Michael,” he says, half crawling toward Michael. “You came.”

“Yeah,” Michael says, feeling numb. He reaches down, helping Billy to his feet. “Of course I came.”

Billy looks like he actually might cry. He feels brittle under Michael’s touch, and he has to half support the Scot to keep him on his feet. “You actually came.”

Michael sighs. “Yeah, buddy,” he says. “You think you want to go back now?”

Billy smiles at him. “I just needed to get something,” he says.

“We can get it at the motel,” Michael says.

“Oh, good,” Billy says. “Because I swear to you, Michael, I just need a small hit. Not very much. Just a bit.”

Michael stomach sinks.

“Just enough to tide me over,” Billy continues, oblivious. “I was going to find it before you came back, but they’re looking for me.”

“No one else is looking for you,” Michael says, guiding Billy toward the end of the alley.

“But they are,” Billy says. “I think they bugged the room. We should do a full perimeter sweep.”

Michael sighs. “Let me worry about that,” he says, trying not to notice the looks they were eliciting.

“I suppose,” Billy agrees as they start across the street. He leans closer to Michael. “Just as long as we get enough for another hit.”

The cop is right. Billy needs help.

And so does Michael.

But there’s no help to be had.

-o-

Finding Billy is a relief, Michael knows.

Except Michael doesn’t feel very relieved. If anything, he just feels exhausted. He has to mostly carry Billy the rest of the way there, opting to go around to the side entrance to avoid any further disturbances. Billy talks the entire time, and the familiar cadence of his voice is almost comforting except for the fact that all Billy can talk about random conspiracy theories and a continued insistence that they find some drugs.

Michael mostly hums and nods absently, and he doesn’t think twice about anything until they’re safe inside the motel room. He deposits Billy on the bed and locks the deadbolt, running a hand through his hair as he turns back toward his teammate.

On the bed, Billy is watching him with hollowed out, hawkish eyes. He’s tense and jittery, and a stray muscle twitches in his jaw as he blinks a few times up at Michael with a hopeful smile. “So,” he says.

Michael blows out a breath. “So.”

All Michael wants to do is sit there and breathe. He wants to recover. He doesn’t want to think about how close they just came to disaster. How close he came to losing control -- to losing Billy.

Billy shifts, bouncing his knee anxiously. He scratches errantly at the back of his neck before he shrugs. “So about the drugs,” he says, so conversational that it’s scary. “I mean, we don’t need the good stuff, anything will do -- and just a little. Enough to take the edge off, I think--”

Michael stares at him, a little flabbergasted. “Billy, I’m not getting you any drugs.”

Billy’s smile freezes. A tremor passes over him and he swallows as he shakes his head. “But you said -- I mean, I heard you say--”

Michael groans and squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. “Billy, you’re on day six of withdrawal,” he explains, looking at the Scot plainly. “We’re almost over the worst of it. We can’t give in now.”

Michael is completely rational about it. He’s logical and sympathetic, but he’s also right.

Billy, however, looks absolutely crestfallen. His wide eyes are positively gleaming now, wet with unshed tears. His jaw trembles and his forehead creases. “But...” He takes a shuddering breath, blinking a few times as a tear falls. “I can’t do this. Michael, I can’t do this.”

It’s hard to watch, and Michael’s not a soft touch but seeing Billy this way is almost torture. “I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I’m trying to help you,” he says as gently as possible.

Billy takes another ragged breath, voice catching on a sob. “Help me?” he asks with total incredulity. “You’re going to kill me.”

“This is what you wanted,” Michael insists. “We just have to get through the worst of it. Okay. Just a little longer.”

“I can’t,” Billy says, his voice shattering now. Tears are running freely down his face and his breathing has quickened. He shakes his head. “I swear to God, Michael, I can’t.”

“Hey,” Michael says, sitting on the bed opposite of Billy. “You can. You made it this far, okay? You can, and I’ll help you get there.”

Billy’s face contorted. “Help me?” he asks, indignant now. “By locking me up here and watching me die?”

“You’re not dying,” Michael says. “Trust--”

Billy moves so quick that Michael barely has time to react. He’s on his feet, fisting his hands in Michael’s shirt. “What do you know of it?” he demands, almost hysterical now. “What do you know about anything? You weren’t there. You weren’t bloody there, and the months went by and you kept me there, and you sit back and you analyze and you assess but you don’t know a bloody thing!

“Billy,” Michael says, surprised. He leans back, but makes no attempt to dislodge Billy. “The mission--”

“The mission,” Billy seethes. “I lay down my life and my sanity and my health and everything for the good of the mission, and for what? To be locked in here against my will?”

“You wanted to--”

“I wanted to stay in England and work for MI6,” Billy snaps. “I wanted to find a place to belong, get a life. Instead I got the ODS, where I’m an acceptable pawn in a mission for a country that I can’t even call my own.”

Michael finds himself at a loss. “Billy--”

Billy’s face scrunches up in agony. He squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head. “I just need a hit,” he whines, begging now. He opens his eyes and stares at Michael intently. “Just one hit. Please. If you care about me at all, please.

Michael feels himself shatter, and he wants to make this better. He wishes he could make this go away. He wants to fix it, but he can’t.

“Billy,” he says, breath faltering. “I’m sorry--”

It’s not enough, though. It’s not even close to enough. There is no apology Michael can give that will ever do it justice. The words are hollow and pointless, and Michael knows it.

So does Billy.

This time, his face crumples as he dissolves into sobs. His fingers loosen from Michael’s shirt, and he sinks to his knees until he’s kneeling on the floor. His cries shake him as he weeps unabashedly at Michael’s feet.

It hurts to watch. It just hurts. Because Billy is broken and desperate, and there’s nothing Michael can do to fix it. Plus, it’s Michael’s fault. He doesn’t do powerless well, and this is as impotent as he’s ever been.

Right when it matters most.

This is no time for self-pity, though. This isn’t a moment to look at the bigger picture and get perspective. No, this is about Billy.

He can’t stop the pain; he can’t turn back the addiction.

But he can be there until it’s better.

Awkwardly, he gets off the bed, dropping to his knees next to Billy. The Scot doesn’t seem to notice him, but when Michael reaches out, Billy flinches. When Michael doesn’t retreat, fingers wrapped around Billy’s arm, the other man tenses and tries to pull away.

Michael doesn’t yield, though. Instead, he pulls Billy closer, and as he starts to wrestle, Michael merely envelops him in a hug.

Billy fights him, struggling in vain as he pushes at Michael’s grip. But it doesn’t take long for Billy’s will to break, and he goes pliant in Michael’s arm, head pressed against Michael’s chest as he continues to sob.

The sobs are wrenching, and Michael feels each one as though they are his own. At this point, they may as well be, his own grief is so raw. He doesn’t know how they got here; he doesn’t know how they’re going to get past this.

Michael doesn’t know anything at all.

Swallowing back his own tears, he shifts, drawing Billy closer and putting a steadying hand in his hair. The Scot sucks in a grating breath, before letting loose another sob again. He’s shaking, and Michael can feel the fine tremors in his body, the hammering of his heart against his chest. He doesn’t loosen his grip.

“It’s going to be okay,” he whispers while Billy cries. Billy doesn’t reply, but he doesn’t have to. Michael holds him and closes his eyes, breathing the words like a promise. When he feels his own cheeks wet with tears, he still doesn’t let go. Instead, he holds tighter because he can’t control anything, but he can control this much. “We’re going to be okay.”

-o-

When Billy’s cries taper off, Michael holds him awhile longer. He’s not sure how much time passes, but when he shifts his legs, he finds his feet are asleep. That makes him clumsy as he gets his footing, but he’s careful to cradle Billy gently, moving the sleeping man back toward his bed.

It takes some effort to get Billy up, but Michael takes his time and lays Billy on the pillows with the utmost attention to detail. He takes the time to fix the sheets, straightening them over Billy and smoothing them down. Billy snuffles in his sleep, face scrunching up with a small whine, but Michael lifts his hand, pressing it softly across Billy’s forehead until the other man shushes and slips back to sleep.

It’s not normal, and under any other circumstances, it’d seem entirely wrong. Michael isn’t known for his tenderness, as Fay would be the first to tell anyone. And he’s never been a father, but he imagines that this is what it’s like. The weight of responsibility, so heavy that it makes you want to handle with care.

It’s a hard thing, actually. Looking at another person and knowing he is the only thing keeping him afloat. Billy’s not himself -- he has none of his self control. Billy would never admit it, but that’s his most precious vice. More important that literature or bad poetry, more vital than scotch or pretty women -- his lies and his guises, his ability to control a situation to protect himself.

That’s gone now, but Michael has to believe they can get it back. They just have to hold out. And if Billy can’t keep it together, then Michael has to do it for him.

Exhausted, he stumbles back to his own bed. He lies down on his side, staring at Billy and watching his chest rise and fall. The momentary respite is needed, and Michael tries not to think how short it could be.

Mostly, Michael stops thinking altogether as he lies on his best and lets time pass with excruciating tedium.

That’s all that’s left. Maybe that’s all they ever had, but Michael could never admit it until now. Because this has taken Billy apart and left him bare. Michael feels just as raw and exposed. He realizes now, if Billy doesn’t make it through this, Michael’s not sure he will either.

Which is why he can’t fail. Why he won’t fail.

He holds his vigil and doesn’t waver.

It’s time to see this through until the very end.

-o-

That night, Michael doesn’t leave the room. He responds to minimal texts but turns the ringer off. It’s a little of a risk, he knows -- being non-communicative could set out warning bells and elicit a more aggressive response. The last thing he wants is Martinez pounding down the door or Fay calling Casey to confirm Michael’s whereabouts.

But it’s a risk he’s going to take, because the alternative is worse. He still hasn’t shaken how close he came this morning. The image of Billy, curled up on the street like a common junkie, will haunt him for a long time. There’s no way he’s stepping foot outside this room again until Billy can do it with him.

Michael feeds Billy; he makes him drink. They go to the bathroom, and Michael holds Billy while he cries and begs. He absorbed the blows from Billy’s feeble fists as he curses Michael, seethes at him. He thrashes on the bed and scratches at his skin until he bleeds. He moans and shakes, fingers fisting desperately in his hair while he raves about the people who are out to get them.

When Billy sleeps, Michael sits for indefinite stretches of time, waiting and hoping. He doesn’t get his computer out. He doesn’t do paperwork. He doesn’t check his phone. The instant Billy shifts, Michael is there to help him, no matter what he needs.

The hours pass.

Michael endures.

And so does Billy.

-o-

The night passes, excruciatingly slow. Michael holds his vigil. After a while, Billy can no longer be roused to eat and when Michael tries to take him to the bathroom, he doesn’t stir. The moaning has stopped -- the ranting and raving, too -- but the startling stillness that replaces them is hardly any consolation.

In the morning, Billy’s fever climbs. He sweats, soaking the sheets until Michael throws them all to the ground. He strips Billy of his shirt and keeps tepid washcloths on hand to cool his body. Billy doesn’t fight him; Billy doesn’t protest.

Billy doesn’t do anything at all.

Around midday, Billy’s breathing starts to sound labored. There’s a whine in his inhalations, and when Michael presses a finger into Billy’s pulse point, the rhythm is all off. It races one minute and then stutters the next.

At a loss, Michael opens Billy’s mouth and dribbles water inside. Most of it trickles back out, but Michael has to hope some of it is getting in. It’s hard to say, though, and when Billy’s sweating slows down in the late afternoon, Michael’s not certain that’s a good sign.

Still, Billy doesn’t wake. At this point, Billy’s deeply locked in the battle with his addiction; he’s fighting with all he has. His weakness over the last week has been unnerving, but Michael sees these desperate, gasping inhalations for what they are -- one last stand at reclaiming his mind and body. His last ditch effort to save his own life.

Michael’s always believed that would be enough. That if Billy kept at it, if Michael didn’t waver -- it would be enough.

But as the afternoon gives way to night and Billy’s breathing grates harshly in the room, Michael’s starting to wonder if this is a fight they can win after all.

-o-

Michael sits, perched on the edge of his seat. His body is thrumming with adrenaline, and he feels so exhausted that he’s jittery. He could sleep -- Billy’s so far gone that he’d never know the difference -- but he can’t look away now.

He won’t.

Billy’s labored breathing intensifies, and when Michael checks him, he can actually see his heartbeat throbbing at the exposed artery on his neck. He’s trembling now, and his skin is terrifyingly hot to the touch. The tremors aren’t quite convulsions, but Michael worries how close they’re coming.

He’s worried about a lot of things. About whether Billy’s brain is getting fried by the fever. About the chemical reactions in his brain, draining the rest of his body. About what Fay is telling Higgins, about what Casey and Rick suspect.

About Billy, fighting for his life and losing.

He’s been tempted to get help throughout this process, but it’s always been for his own benefit. It’s been his own weakness that almost made him cave. As the time passes and Billy’s body struggles against the addiction, Michael is forced to admit one last possibility of defeat.

After all, he’s not out of moves just yet. There’s nothing he can do in this motel room, but there is help available. If Billy’s dying, all it takes is a single call and Billy can be transferred to a hospital, receive the best medical help available. They can use drugs to control the effects of the addiction; they can put Billy in a carefully monitored rehab program that would promote success without the same health risks of going entirely cold turkey.

It would cost Billy his career, but Michael’s always kept it on the table. He just never thought he’d have to use it. He thought he could do this. After everything he’s failed on this mission, he thought he could do this. After all the ways he let Billy down, he thought he could give this one last victory to Billy.

Michael’s failed everything else, though. He’s not sure why he thought it was so different.

He realizes then, that he hasn’t changed. He’s still the same guy he was when this started, stubborn and blind, insistent to the point of danger. He makes his priorities and sticks to them, at all costs. Before, he kept Billy undercover and let him get addicted to cocaine. Now, he’s holding onto a vain promise of a success that may simply not be tangible.

Michael’s not God.

He’s just a guy with a plan that doesn’t always work out the way he wants it to.

And that’s all there is.

After a week, Michael’s control slips entirely. He’s as broken as Billy, and he has no defense of his own left. This has taken him apart as much as Billy, and Billy’s still fighting.

Michael doesn’t know if he still can.

The grief is suddenly overwhelming, and he sits forward, taking up Billy’s slack hand in his own. “Whatever happens,” he says, surprised to find his voice shaking. He swallows. “Whatever happens, just know you’re not alone. Not this time.”

On the bed, Billy doesn’t move. His chest rises and fall, breath coming out harshly through his parted lips. It’s hard to remember Billy’s smile or the sound of his voice. It’s just hard.

Michael squeezes Billy’s hand, feeling the sting of tears. He breathes heavily, his chest tight as he loses the fight with his emotions. “Not this time,” he whispers as he holds his grip. “Never again.”

-o-

In the dark, Michael isn’t always sure if he’s dreaming or awake. Billy keeps breathing, and Michael remembers.

He remembers the first time he met Billy, bright eyed and nervous, fresh from the UK.

He remembers Billy’s first mission, when he talked his way out of a firefight with a wink and a smile.

He remembers Billy’s grief when Carson died, holding the kid while he sobbed because it hurt so bad.

He remembers the last promise he gave Billy before he went undercover. “I’m going to be here on the other side,” he said. “You won’t be alone.”

It hadn’t been true enough, but it’s true now.

Michael has to believe that here, in the darkest hours of the night, that counts for something. Maybe not everything, but it counts for enough.

-o-

Morning is hardly a relief, and Michael is mostly surprised to draw back the curtain and see sunlight streaming in. His mind is sluggish from a lack of sleep, but he dimly realizes that he’s survived the night.

He looks back to Billy, still asleep on the bed. His breathing is still a little heavy, but it’s eased now, and when Michael presses a hand to Billy’s forehead, it’s clear the fever has broken.

At the touch, Billy stirs. It takes a moment while Billy blinks his eyes, and even then he seems to have trouble as he tries to get them to focus. But when his eyes land on Michael’s, there’s recognition.

“Billy?” Michael asks. “You okay?”

Billy frowns, smacking his dry lips together. He shifts and makes a face. “Bugger,” he mumbles. “I feel awful.”

Michael tenses. “What do you need?” he asks, bracing himself for the inevitable answer.

Billy laughs humorlessly. “I don’t suppose you can rustle up some steak and eggs?” he says. “It feels like I haven’t eaten in a week.”

The request is not what he was expecting. It’s so normal -- so beautifully, perfectly Billy -- the Michael almost wants to cry.

Billy looks concerned at the sight. He sits up, propping himself up weakly on his elbows. “Michael?” he asks, voice still hoarse. He wets his lips before looking genuinely perplexed. But he’s aware; he’s lucid. Better than all that, though, he’s sober. “What happened?”

Michael just grins. “We made it,” he says. He nods, the sense of satisfying victory washing over him with startling ferocity. “We actually made it.”

-o-

Billy is weak, but he eats almost all his breakfast and downs a glass of orange juice. When Michael helps him to the bathroom, his legs are weak and wobbly but he makes it there with nothing more than a helping hand. Showering is a bit too ambitious, but Billy meekly asks Michael to draw a bath, a request which Michael gladly obliges. He hesitates, not sure if he trusts Billy to step over the ledge and settle in of his own accord, but the Scotsman looks up at him sheepishly.

“I reckon it’s nothing you haven’t seen before,” he says with a small smile. “But if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to try this one on my own.”

Part of Michael wants to say yes immediately -- and be grateful for the change. It’s been harrowing, having Billy rely on him for everything. It’s been emotionally draining.

But part of Michael wants to refuse. He’s seen Billy through ups and downs he hadn’t counted on this week, and he realizes how scared he is that it’s not over yet. Billy’s coherent calm notwithstanding, it’s only been two days since Billy was a mess in the street, scrabbling for drugs anywhere he could look.

This all started because Michael didn’t keep himself in total control. As much as he’s relieved to have Billy competent again, he doesn’t know how to trust it. He doesn’t know how to trust Billy -- or himself.

He just doesn’t know.

Billy’s smile falls, and he looks down. “You can leave the door propped,” he says. “And at the first sign of trouble, I give you full permission to come back in.”

Michael swallows, nodding. “Yeah,” he says, trying to forge his own smile. “That sounds like a deal.”

This time, Billy doesn’t quite meet his eyes, smiling vaguely. There’s an awkward hesitation before Michael turns and leaves, pulling the door shut without latching it. He listens as Billy slowly undresses, and he hears the water slosh slightly as Billy presumably settles in.

After several uneventful minutes, Michael turns back toward the room. He could tidy up a bit -- pick up some things and try to get them organized again. He idly touches his phone, tucked neatly into his pocket, and considers making some calls. That’s what he should do.

The rush of emotions is sudden, and Michael has to squeeze his eyes shut to contain it. None of the normal tasks seem the same. None of the daily demands seem to matter like they used to. Everything has changed. Everything is fundamentally different. Just because Michael can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel can’t negate that fact.

Nothing can.

Billy’s a recovering cocaine addict, and Michael’s life will never be the same.

He forces hot breaths through his nose, grinding his teeth together as he waits for the emotions to pass.

They don’t, but after several more minutes Billy’s voice calls. “Michael? Do you think you could get me some fresh clothes?”

Michael swallows hard, blinking open his eyes. He takes a deep breath. “Yeah,” he says, moving toward Billy’s things. “No problem at all.”

-o-

Billy moves gingerly, but once he’s dressed, he purposefully circumvents the bed and sits down in one of the chairs, offering Michael a wan smile.

“Well,” Billy says, taking a breath and letting it out. “Long week, eh?”

Michael almost chokes on an incredulous snort. “You think?”

Billy smiles sheepishly. “I remember parts of it,” he said.

“Not much worth remembering,” Michael says vaguely.

Billy nods, looking away. Silence falls, and Michael scratches the back of his neck uncertainly.

“So you’re okay?” Michael asks finally, not sure what else to say.

Surprised, Billy looks up at him.

Michael shrugs. “I mean, relatively. Things got, um...intense there.”

Billy cringes. “No more paranoid ravings, if that’s what you mean.”

“And the cravings?” Michael asks.

There’s a pause, and something indiscernible flits across Billy’s expression before he smiles. “It’s only been a week,” he says. “I reckon I’ll always want it.”

Michael feels himself tense.

“But I’m not about to be running out of here behind your back again,” Billy says. His shoulders fall. “Michael, I’m sorry--”

“It wasn’t you,” Michael says shortly. “It was the drugs.”

“Sort of hard to separate the two, I think,” Billy says.

Michael shakes his head, adamant. “I was there for all of this,” he says. “I know what it was like. And look at you, you came through. Cold turkey, and you made it.”

Billy’s gaze deflects again. “Not without some help.”

“And you’re always going to have that help,” Michael says. He sighs. “Look, Billy, we both screwed up at the start of this thing. If I could go back and pull the plug on this mission earlier, I would. But you made the choice to beat it, even when you didn’t want to. And here you are on the other side.”

Billy makes a small face. “Doesn’t feel quite as dramatic as I thought it would,” he says. “I have to wonder if I’m even fit for duty.”

“Don’t,” Michael says. “We’re not going to go there.”

“We have to be practical--”

“You think we went through this entire thing to be practical?” Michael asks. “You’re clean, Billy. That’s what matters.”

“No thanks to my own doing,” Billy comments.

“Bull shit,” Michael says.

Billy flinches, looking up in surprise.

“Yeah, I had to get you through the hard parts, but this was your decision,” he says. “You could have kept it hidden. Maybe we wouldn’t have found out for a while. Hell, you could have cut out before we even raided the place and lived your life high and large off the books somewhere. The mission forced you to get addicted. But you made the choice to get clean.”

Billy’s expression wavers. “You sound awfully certain.”

Michael draws a breath, then nods. “Damn straight,” he says, feeling the resolve tighten in his chest. “If we survived this week, Billy, we can survive anything.”

Studying him, Billy appears pensive. But he finally nods. “Well, then,” he says. “Who am I to disagree?”

It’s not a resounding agreement, but after the week they’ve just had, it’s enough.

-o-

The rest of the day goes well.

Relatively.

It’s still inordinately awkward, and Michael catches himself hovering whenever Billy tries to move. It takes some self control not to dote on the other man, and he finds himself watching Billy carefully when he eats and drinks. Billy doesn’t fight him on it, though, and when he goes to the bathroom, he leaves the door cracked as what Michael can only assume is a courtesy.

Even so, they watch TV. Billy starts commenting on the commercials, and complaining about Michael’s taste in programming. He gets frustrated looking through the neat piles of his clothes, and bemoans Michael’s attempts to fold his underwear.

It’s a little surreal in its normalcy. After a week of hell, resuming life as normal just doesn’t seem possible, no matter how much he wants it.

There are still moments, though. When Billy’s gaze goes vacant, when he inhales sharply and his face creases with pain. When Billy eyes the door or fingers the healing needle tracks on his arm.

But then Billy quips and smiles; he defuses and deflects.

Michael has no choice but to hope.

-o-

Michael orders a big dinner, and even though they can’t finish, it’s the most either of them have eaten in days. Billy jokes lightly through dinner, and Michael finds himself criticizing Billy when he wipes his dirty fingers on the sheet -- just like old times.

It’s these hints of normal that make Michael feel increasingly optimistic. He’s pinned his hopes on getting through the week, and now that it’s at the end, he finds himself uncertain. Billy is much improved -- and all Michael’s research suggests that Billy’s clear of the worst of the withdrawal -- but moving forward is another issue entirely.

Billy’s still an addict. More than that, what they’ve experienced together isn’t exactly easy water under the bridge. He’s seen Billy at his absolute worst, and no matter what he says, that makes it hard to look the other man in the eye.

It doesn’t help that Billy can barely look at him, either. They’re both ashamed and embarrassed, and Michael wonders how one week changed so much.

But it’s not one week. It’s one week and five months before that.

It’s the nagging doubt that he doesn’t trust Billy -- any more than he trusts himself.

When the phone rings, he’s actually a bit relieved. Glancing at it, he makes a face.

“Important?” Billy asks.

“Martinez,” Michael reports with a sigh.

Billy lifts his eyebrows. “Surely he’s better company than I have been.”

Michael snorts. “He’d like to be, no doubt,” he says. He shrugs. “The kid’s been calling nonstop trying to check up.”

Billy’s face sobers. Now that Billy’s coherent, the reality of the outside world suddenly seems more pressing -- and more salient. A fact that Michael has noticed as much as Billy. While that’s good, it’s also something Michael’s not quite sure what to do with. The plan was always to just go on like nothing had happened.

Except everything had happened.

The phone dings again, this time with a text. “Look,” Michael says. “I should take this. Rick’s been anxious--”

Billy offers him a small smile. “Don’t hold back on my account,” he says. “At least, not anymore.”

“I can just give him a quick ring--” Michael starts.

“Michael,” Billy cuts him off. “Go. I may be the only member of your team who is a drug addict, but I’m not the only member of your team.”

“You’re not a drug addict--”

Billy gives him a baleful look. “Michael.”

“And Martinez--”

“Needs you,” Billy interjects. “Probably more than I do, at this point.”

Michael wants to fight. There’s a part of him -- a large part of him -- that just doesn’t want to give up control. He’s scared of what might happen.

Hell, he’s just scared.

Billy’s expression softens. “I promise not to do anything stupid.”

Michael takes a breath. “I’ll be right outside,” he says. “I’ll just be a minute--”

“I think after a week, I can spare that much.”

Michael hesitates, eyes on Billy. He has to look at him again, look at the clarity in his eyes, the color in his cheeks, the smile on his face. Billy says he can spare that much, and Michael wants to believe him.

It’s not a question of hope, really. It’s a cold assessment of the facts and the simple reality that Michael can’t stay here forever. Someday he has to leave the room.

Finally, he forces a smile. “Okay, then,” he says, getting to his feet. “I’ll really just be a minute.”

Billy doesn’t reply -- and he certainly doesn’t protest -- and Michael can’t help but look back one more time before he leaves the room, letting the door shut quietly behind him.

-o-

By the time the door clicks shut, Michael’s phone is buzzing again. Martinez is persistent at the very least, and Michael has to admit that a distraction feels kind of good.

“Yes, Martinez,” Michael says evenly when he answers.

There’s a pause. “Michael?” Rick asks, sounding confused.

“Were you expecting someone else?” Michael asks.

“No, I--” Rick starts and falters. “You haven’t been answering your phone. I even knocked on your door.”

“I have a life outside of you,” Michael reminds him.

“For over a day,” Rick says, sounding more than a little put out. “Is everything okay?”

“If something was wrong, don’t you think I’d tell you?” Michael asks. It’s a deflection and it’s not quite a lie even if it insinuates the opposite of the truth.

“I guess,” Rick says, but he sounds unconvinced. There’s a hesitation. “Billy...”

“Had a pretty rough week,” Michael finishes for him, hoping to cut off deeper inquiry. “About the worst case of the flu I’ve seen.”

There’s another pause. “But he’s okay?”

Michael sighs, leaning back against the wall and closing his eyes. That’s a question to consider, in all honesty. Is Billy okay? Is Michael okay? Is anything okay?

They’ve been through a lot this week -- they’ve been through hell.

But it’s over now, Michael realizes.

It’s not completely over, but it’s over. Billy’s clean; Michael can leave the room. Tomorrow, they’re going home.

It’s finally over.

Michael almost cries as he chuckles. “Yeah,” he replies. “We’re all going to be okay.”

-o-

Michael takes a moment to send Casey a text. It’s a reminder about their flight, but it’s really just a way to let him know that things really are okay, despite appearances to the contrary. He knows Casey suspects something, and he also knows this message will do enough to diffuse any tensions for the time being.

Then he calls in with his military contacts and the local authorities, and is relieved to hear that everything has gone according to schedule. All suspects have been arraigned and charged, and many have been deported to face charges in various Latin American countries.

Finally, with that squared away, he calls Fay.

“Michael,” she says, sounding positively relieved. “Where have you been?”

“Aw, worried?” he jokes.

She sighs, the concern quickly fading to annoyance. “Higgins has been on my back.”

“Well, tell him all is well,” he says.

“The results do speak for themselves,” Fay admits, sounding a little begrudging. She pauses. “This isn’t like you, though. Are you sure everything’s okay?”

“Well, let’s just say I’m ready to come home,” he says. “There’s nothing left for us here.”

Finally, Fay just laughs. “You dismantled an entire drug cartel,” she says. “You effectively stymied a major drug trafficking route. I don’t know how you do it.”

Michael knows, though. He knows the work and the effort. He knows the risks and the sacrifices. He knows.

Sometimes he’s not sure it’s worth it, but it is worth something.

After a week like this, he has to remember that.

He smiles sadly. “Trust me,” he says. “You really don’t want to know.”

-o-

Back inside, Billy is still sitting up in the chair where Michael left him, though he looks like he may be half asleep. He rouses when Michael comes closer, smiling tiredly. “‘fraid I’m a bit knackered,” he admits.

Michael shrugs, settling down in his chair. “You’re entitled to that.”

Billy’s smile fades. “Not sure I’m entitled to anything,” he murmurs.

“Don’t even,” Michael says.

Billy lets the topic drop. “And how is Rick?”

“Anxious,” Michael reports. “Don’t be surprised if he tries to hug you or something tomorrow.”

For a moment, Billy manages a look of vague bemusement. “I may just return it,” he comments. “I feel like I haven’t seen him or Casey in ages.”

“It’s only been a week,” Michael reminds him.

“And months before that!” Billy insists. “And besides, I hardly felt like myself...”

He trails off awkwardly, and the notion dangles.

“It’ll all come back when we get back Stateside,” Michael assures him. “You’ll see. Besides, aren’t you ready to get the hell out of here?”

“Indubitably,” Billy says. Then, with a troubled look, Billy looks away again. He chews his lip for a moment, then glances at Michael uncertainly. “It’s just...there’s no way we can keep this a secret.”

“Hey, what happens on the mission, stays in the mission,” Michael says, repeating the mantra that has been well worn with time. They’ve used it for many things, but none quite like this.

Billy looks at him plainly, a hint of grief on his face. “There are too many telltale signs,” he says. “The bloodwork from the physical alone...”

“I have a few favors to call in,” Michael says. “We’ll delay your physical long enough for your bloodwork to come up clean.”

“Even so, the track marks--”

“You shot up empty for your cover,” Michael concludes for him.

“If that had worked, I wouldn’t have got addicted in the first place,” Billy comments wryly.

Michael sighs in frustration. “The Agency doesn’t want to know. You get to be the golden boy on this one. Even Higgins wants a hero out of this, and if we’re ever going to get away with cutting corners, this is it.”

Billy looks like he wants to argue. Finally he takes a breath. “And the team?”

“What about them?” Michael asks, a little too flippant.

“What will we tell them? They surely have their suspicions.”

“I told them it was the flu,” Michael says.

“A week locked in a motel room with the flu?” Billy asks incredulously.

“Stranger things have happened,” Michael says.

“They’re not idiots,” Billy argues.

“No, but they both understand that some things are need to know,” Michael replies

“Even within the team?” Billy asks.

“Especially within the team,” Michael says with growing vigor. “Look, if they know, then they’re going to have to lie about it. Do you want that? Do you want to put Rick in that position?”

Billy looks away guiltily.

“Besides, what do you think Casey will do?” Michael asks. “They think they want to know, but they don’t. Casey understands that. Rick will respect it. You’ve earned a pass on this one, Billy.”

“I’ve earned nothing, Michael,” Billy says flatly. “I’m a drug addict.”

“You’re a spy,” Michael snaps. “You’re a stupid, noble spy who gave everything he had to the mission -- and I mean everything. If you want to hang yourself out to dry for doing what had to be done, then you’ll be doing it for yourself and no one else. This should make your career, Billy. Not take it from you.”

Billy swallows, wincing. “You believe that?”

“Damn straight,” Michael says. “You made choices undercover, so I get why it feels like you need to blame yourself. But you gave yourself up for the mission. You sacrificed yourself for the greater good. You’re a hero, plain and simple.”

Eyes full, Billy blinks rapidly, shaking his head. “How can you say that?” he asks, his voice breaking. “After this week...”

“How can I not?” Michael returns without missing a beat. “You fought this, and you won. Take that victory. Use it. Don’t let this be in vain.”

“It’s not over, though,” Billy says. “What about the next mission with drug runners? Or a deep cover opportunity?”

Michael refuses to flinch, no matter how much those prospects terrify him. “Then we’ll win those battles, too. You can do this, Billy. I know you can.”

Billy laughs raggedly, shaking his head. “No,” he says, before looking up at Michael. “But with your help, maybe...”

“Then consider it done,” Michael says.

Billy smiles ruefully. “I think I’d like that,” he ventures cautiously.

“Yeah,” Michael says with a chuckle. “Me, too.”

-o-

It’s not long before Billy goes to bed, hunkering down with a weary sigh beneath the covers. Michael hits the lights and puts the TV on mute as he kicks his legs out and settles in for one last night.

Billy snuffles for a few moments before finding a comfortable spot, and after several more moments, Michael hears his breathing even out.

Michael watches the TV until his vision starts to blur, and he finds his eyes getting heavy. He slumps lower until he gives up entirely and hits the power.

In the dark, he stares at the ceiling for a moment, watching shadows dance across it from the traffic outside. He can still hear Billy breathing, steady and reassuring, and Michael struggles with the question of letting go.

It’s inevitable, in a lot of ways. But it’s also a little terrifying. He knows the week he’s had, and he doesn’t know exactly what tomorrow will bring.

He wants to be hopeful, though. The idea of his team; the idea of home; the idea of things going back to the way they were. Maybe not completely, but close enough.

Then his eyes finally slip closed.

-o-

Michael wakes with a start.

His heart rate is elevated; his palms are sweaty. Something is wrong. Something--

He turns his head to the side, and his anxiety skyrockets. Billy’s bed is empty. The sheets have been hastily thrown into place, but the bed is still rumpled and undeniably vacant.

Billy.

He’s on his feet within seconds, almost running for the door. He’s moving so fast that he almost runs into the figure that steps from the bathroom.

Billy steps back. “Whoa,” he says. “I thought our flight was in the evening.”

Michael stares for a moment, dumbfounded. Billy is standing there like everything is fine. He’s freshly shaven and toweling off his hair. “You showered,” Michael finally concludes.

Billy smiles. “Good to see your powers of observation are still as sharp as ever,” he muses, starting around Michael toward the bed. He starts packing -- at least, that’s what Michael assumes Billy’s effort at stuffing his clothing into a travel bag are supposed to represent. He glances back, curious. “Everything all right?”

“Yeah,” Michael says, not even quite able to come up with anything more intelligent to add.

Billy sighs, sitting down heavily on his bed. “You thought I’d run.”

“What?” Michael asks. “No.”

Billy gives him a look.

Michael shifts uncomfortably. “Well, I was barely awake.”

“I can’t fault you,” Billy says. “I fear this week was harder on you than me.”

Michael refuses to think about it. “I didn’t do anything.”

“Aye,” Billy agrees. “And that may have been the hardest part of all.”

Pursing his lips, Michael frowns. “You’re making too big of deal out of this.”

“No,” Billy says with a sad smile. “I’m really not.”

“Yes,” Michael says. “You really are.”

“Michael,” Billy says plainly. “You woke up in a cold sweat because I wasn’t in the bed. How are you going to trust me in the field when you can’t even handle the idea of me getting up without your help?”

It’s not a comfortable realization, and Michael scowls. “You have to give me some time to adjust,” he says. “It’s been a long week.”

“Too long,” Billy says. He hesitates. “I’m thinking about going to Higgins right when we get back. Admitting everything. Given the results of the mission and the overall circumstances, I think he’d be supportive--”

Michael shakes his head. “Sure, he’d get you stuck in a support group with routine drug testing and a boring desk job as an analyst,” he says. “Not the field.”

Billy can’t meet his gaze anymore. “It may be for the best...”

“Hey,” Michael says, crossing the room and sitting down across from Billy. “We won. We fought like hell and we won. Let this be a victory for us, okay? Don’t let it be for nothing.”

Tentative, Billy looks up. “It’s going to be hard on both of us,” he says. “Not just me.”

“And you think I’m worried about that?”

“I think you should be,” Billy replies honestly.

“Well, I’m not,” Michael says. “At least no more than anything else.”

Billy huffs a laugh and nods his head. He sighs again. “I’m still sorry, Michael.”

Michael groans. “Enough with the apologies. You’ve tortured me enough.”

“Fine,” Billy says, looking somewhat bemused. “How about a thank you?”

Michael makes a face. “For what?”

“For staying with me, for starters,” Billy says. “And for God knows what else. Let’s just say it’s for everything.”

“Well, your thanks is accepted,” Michael says. “And thank you.”

Billy looks genuinely perplexed. “For becoming a drug addict?”

“For fighting,” he says. “I saw what you went through; I know what sacrifices you made. Thank you for pulling through.”

This time, Billy laughs outright. “It was the least I could do,” he says. “Quite literally.” He draws a breath, then presses his palms on his thighs. “Now, I have been exchanging texts with Rick.”

“I’ll bet he’s happy to hear from you,” Michael muses.

“Happy is not quite the word,” Billy says. “Ecstatic is more apt.”

Michael grunts with a chuckle. “So what does the kid have to say?”

“That he’ll be here in an hour to take us out for breakfast,” Billy reports.

“An hour?” Michael asks. “How are we going to get this place clean in an hour?”

“I reckon I can handle it,” Billy says. “That is, if you trust me to go to the dumpster.”

It’s actually not a joke, which is the hard part. And Michael can’t deny the twinge of trepidation in his gut. But still, he shrugs. Billy is awake and coherent; he’s functional; he’s Billy. “If you want,” he says.

Billy’s smile widens, and light sparks in his eyes for the first time in what seems like ages. It’s just been a week, though. And five months before that.

Long enough.

“Sure,” Michael says, getting to his feet. He hesitates. “If you’re not back--”

Billy just grins, standing as well. “I’m pretty sure you’d find me.”

“Hey,” Michael says, holding up his hands. “That’s my job.”

Billy nods, clapping Michael on the shoulder. “And thank God for that.”

-o-

Ultimately, Michael knows it’s still a job well done. Nothing has changed regarding the mission. In fact, if anything, after a week of letting the dust settle, it’s more apparent than ever just how successful they were tactically. Five months of work and resources entirely paid off, and it’s a huge boon for the Agency and it has earned Michael more than a few favors back at Langley.

Five months had seemed long.

The last week seems longer.

When he and Billy get packed up, Michael discreetly checks out and pays the fees for the damage before they wait for Casey and Rick to show up.

Rick shows up first. He’s early -- of course -- and when he sees Billy, his smile is so wide that it looks like it hurts.

“Hey!” the kid says. For a moment, he lingers awkwardly, looking like he wants to hug but finally offering his hand instead. “Long week?”

Billy returns the smile taking his hand before pulling Rick close and patting him on the back. “You have no idea, lad.”

There’s a grunt from behind them, and Casey appears. “I think I might,” he mutters.

Billy raises his eyebrows. “The lovely ladies didn’t work out?”

Casey glowers. “They got tired,” he says. “On Wednesday, they wanted to talk.

“Horrors, indeed,” Billy says.

Rick looks a little disgusted. “So what did you do with the rest of your time?”

Casey’s eyes twinkle. “That is need-to-know, Martinez.”

“And trust me,” Billy advises him, “you probably don’t want to know.”

Casey is actually smug. “And what did you do with your week off, rookie?”

Rick straightens, as if trying to disprove the title. “I saw a lot of the local culture,” he says. “Some of the ruins are actually pretty cool--”

“And I stopped listening after the word culture,” Casey says.

It’s Rick’s turn to glare. “Well, fine,” he says. “What about you, Billy? You didn’t really stay in bed all week, did you?”

For the first time, Billy falters and he glances toward Michael. It’s a tenuous moment, and there’s an implicit tension that begs to be resolved.

“He did, actually,” Michael interjects. “And I can vouch for that.”

“That’s a pretty bad flu,” Rick says uncertainly.

“You’re telling me,” Michael says. “I gave up my entire week to play nursemaid.”

“Better you than me,” Casey says. Then he hesitates, too, looking Billy over. “You sure you’re feeling back at 100 percent?”

Billy’s cheeks are slightly red, but he smiles. “Not quite,” he admits, meeting Michael’s gaze. “But I reckon it’s close enough for now.”

Michael smiles. It’s relief. It’s comfort.

Mostly, it’s over.

It’s been five of the hardest months for his team; one of the hardest weeks for him. Michael knows there are still things to come. There’s still fallout to deal with. This has changed Billy -- and it’s changed Michael. It’s going to change them all, whether they know it or not.

But they’re still standing. They’re still standing. And now, finally, they’re going home together.

It’s finally over.