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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: Not-So-Secret Identities (1/9)

December 28th, 2015 (02:28 pm)
irritated

feeling: irritated

Title: Not-So-Secret Identities

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: A fill for my secret identity revealed square on hc_bingo. Very, very unbeta’ed.

Summary: It’s a shame, really. To realize your best friend has a secret identity. That’s not a secret at all.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE
PART SIX
PART SEVEN
PART EIGHT
PART NINE



-o-

As a spy, Billy’s come to take deception and intrigue as part of the game. It is, after all, inherent to the job description. One does not become a spy to live an honest and upright life. He operates under the basic belief that not all lies are created equal but that all people create equal lies. Which is to say, Billy trusts no one and everyone the same amount: very little.

There are exactly three exceptions to that rule: Michael Dorset, Rick Martinez and Casey Malick.

These men may lie to him, with the exception of Rick, who tries and fails, bless his soul, but they don’t lie to him. Not in a way that matters, not in a way that makes trust an impossibility. These are the men he trusts with his life.

Three people may not seem like a lot to most people, but it is sufficient for Billy. In all honesty, three is quite a lot, as far as Billy is concerned.

It’s a hell of a lot more than two, at any rate.

That’s what Billy learns the hard way.

-o-

It starts with paperwork.

Contrary to popular belief, paperwork is part and parcel of life as a spy. This is why, Billy believes, some operatives prefer to work deep, prolonged cover. There’s no room for paperwork when operating under a long term alias, which means you get to forego the copious forms and surveys.

Not that someone isn’t doing that paperwork, and Billy sort of feels like it may be him. Because there’s always a fresh stack waiting for him, and for an agency that likes secrecy, they also like exact records. In triplicate.

Some of it is computerized, although Billy is a poor typist. His handwriting is also atrocious, so it’s kind of a no-win situation. For a while, he tried writing with such horrible grammar and spelling in hopes that no one would ask him to keep doing said paperwork, but apparently America’s great house of spies was fully capable of discerning poor penmanship.

Thus assailed, Billy has accepted the paperwork and used it as a conduit for his creative writing skills.

He is currently writing a detailed report about an asset in Tokyo when Michael scoots back his chair. “Well, Higgins is expecting us,” he says, getting to his feet.

In the nearby desk, Casey snorts in disapproval. “The Nigeria situation?” he asks.

“I thought we were on the European angle,” Rick says. “Didn’t the Africa connection get passed off to a team on the ground?”

“It did,” Michael says, shuffling his papers. “But since it was still our asset who brought the latest information, Higgins wants at least some of us there.”

“Well, I have training again,” Rick says. “All afternoon.”

“And I’m woefully behind on this report,” Billy says with a nod to his paperwork. “It’s just getting to the good part.”

Michael appears amused. “How are you managing to make an exchange in an alley with absolutely no incident exciting this time?”

“It’s all in the context,” Billy says. “You have to paint the picture. Describe the scene in its more visceral sense. This is a psychological thriller, documenting the numerous negative outcomes.”

“Tell me there are ninjas,” Michael says with a smirk.

Rick raises an eyebrow. “Aren’t reports supposed to be factual?”

“The possibility is always factual,” Billy defends himself.

“Ninjas are highly overrated,” Casey says. “The training is too narrow.”

“Say that when they sneak up on you in a dark alley,” Billy says.

Michael chuckles. “I think I can probably handle the meeting by myself,” he says. “If you three want to work.”

“No, I’m in,” Casey says, scooting his chair back as well.

Billy cranes his head with an arched eyebrow. “Casey Malick is volunteering to attend a meeting?”

Casey scowls at him. “Better than sitting here, listening to you make up stories about over zealous ninjas.”

“It will be a masterpiece,” Billy objects.

“I really can handle it,” Michael offers.

“Please,” Casey says, moving toward the door. “You’d be doing me a favor.”

Rick grins, getting back to his work. Billy glares after Casey.

“And to think,” Billy calls. “You were going to be the hero!”

Casey pauses at the door. “Hero is a relative term,” he says. “I would think you know that by now.”

-o-

Billy is about to implement a wonderful narrative wherein the asset is actually a double agent that Billy turns back into a triple agent to broaden the scope of the operation threefold when Rick makes a dramatic sigh and pushes his chair back.

“I probably should go,” Rick says morosely.

Billy raises his eyebrows, but says nothing.

Rick lingers, as though he’s hoping Billy will talk him out of leaving. “I keep thinking they’ll stop making me do these sessions,” he says. “I have been here for nearly two years. I’m not the new guy.”

“You’re newer than us,” Billy comments, scribbling a few extra adjectives for good measure.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Rick asks.

“Well, they do request one person per department,” Billy muses. He smiles at Rick. “And since you have the least field experience, it’s the least we can do. You know, for your skills.”

Rick’s jaw drops. “You mean I don’t have to go to all of these?”

“Of course you do!” Billy objects.

“Only because you don’t want to!”

Billy rolls his eyes. “It’s for your own benefit,” he says with a long suffering sigh. “We’re doing you a favor.”

“And the fact that none of you have to sit through training -- that’s just a coincidence?” Rick asks.

Billy does his best not to smile. “A happy coincidence, yes,” he says. “A few secrets between friends isn’t so bad, mate. As long as you trust that we have your best interests at heart.”

Rick scowls darkly, gathering his things. “I trust you less every day,” he mutters. “And next time, someone else is going to training!”

Billy waves a hand lazily at him. “Good luck with that!”

Glowering now, Rick slams the door shut behind him.

Billy just grins, leaning over his paper again. “Oh, lad,” he chuckles to himself. “Trusting us to betray you is still trust all the same.”

-o-

Billy is inherently a social creature, but he is certain to appreciate time alone. He is well occupied with his report, at any rate, and he has crafted a wonderful climax with a CIA insider on the take, just to bring things to a spectacular, if somewhat overstated, close.

That’s when he realizes, however, that he needs to include the actual case details.

True, it’s a relatively minor thing to the narrative -- names, times and dates are incidental to the storytelling -- but considering that those details are the only ones that the CIA will actually want accurately delineated for posterity, he knows it is somewhat important.

He searches through the stacks on his desk, but that is mostly a lost cause. His desk is a wasteland, and while he does find two half finished crossword puzzles and the number of a particularly charming IT worker, he cannot locate his original documentation anywhere.

“Bugger,” Billy mutters to himself, shoveling aside a batch of requisition forms he never filed before simply stealing the required items from the supply closet instead. “Where is that bloody thing…”

Five minutes later, he has emptied out three of his desk drawers before realizing that the others are locked and he doesn’t have a key. Not that he needs a key, but picking the lock on his own desk is a level of disorganization he would never live down. Besides, he’s fairly certain there is nothing worth saving in those drawers anyway, except possibly an old cell phone, a box of breath mints and one blue sock.

He rather likes the sock, but the other got thrown in a river outside of Prague.

Chewing his lip, he sits up and glances around the office. It’ll be several more hours before anyone is back. He could wait and find some other way to pass the time.

But contrary to popular belief, Billy does have some initiative.

He wants to file this reports -- on time.

Not for Higgins, though.

No, there is a very attractive brunette in the office, but she takes off early on Wednesdays. Which means, if Billy wants to flirt his way to a date this weekend, he has to finish his report and file it within the hour.

He wiggles his toes and drums his fingers on his desk. After a moment of indecision, he gets up, crossing the distance between his desk and Casey’s in three easy strides.

Casey isn’t quite as painstakingly organized as Michael, who has multiple copies of everything, cross references and filed in different places, but he is meticulous in his own right. He’s also minimalistic, which means he keeps only what he has to and shreds the rest.

(Truth be told, Casey would probably prefer incineration, but in-house security was not thrilled when they started routinely lighting fires. It was a tossup, of course, whether they hated the fact that the ODS set off the sprinklers or consequently disabled the sprinklers more.)

More to the point, however, information would be easy to find on Casey’s desk, and since this is still an active case file, he wouldn’t have destroyed it just yet. Which meant all Billy has to do is open the drawer--

And voila.

There are eight files there, ordered by date. Billy sifts through them until he finds the one he needs.

Grinning with pride, he opens it. “Casey Malick,” he says. “You are my hero after all.”

-o-

Billy is about to write the dramatic finale, wherein the top agent successfully detects a quadruple cross and takes down three competing spy agencies, when he realizes something’s wrong.

And, contrary to what one might expect, it’s not the impractical logistics of that many layers of deception in an uneventful alleyway meeting.

No, it’s simpler than that.

It’s the date on Casey’s file.

He tilts his head and tries to think.

That date doesn’t seem right.

Granted, Billy is disorganized, lackadaisical and generally incapable of being on time, but he’s not stupid.

He knows dates.

And this date isn’t when they were finished a case.

No, this date is the following night, when Billy was getting drunk in a pub down the street from his motel. He remembers because the beer had been cheap and the clientele had been questionable, but the jukebox had had the best variety of Oasis songs he’d ever heard.

Perplexed, Billy double checks the date, then flips through to the front of the file to cross reference it there. It’s incorrect in both places, so Billy opens up the calendar on his desk and flips back, confirming the dates of their flights.

For good measure, he pulls up the history on his phone, checking the number of the asset in the alley.

Sitting back, Billy chews the lid of his pen.

The date is wrong.

The date on Casey’s report is wrong.

Casey Malick is wrong.

-o-

For a moment, Billy is duly stunned.

Then, he quickly reminds himself that such details are tedious. Casey has had a long and storied career at the agency. He’s entitled to get a few details wrong every now and then. Hell, for all Billy knows, Casey made the mistake on purpose, just to grease the internal checks and balances of the system. Maybe it’s part of an elaborate trick, Casey’s odd way of entertaining himself since the agency no longer lets him grapple in the breakroom.

This thought mollifies him significantly, and he carefully corrects the date on Casey’s file before including it in his own. He returns the report exactly where he found it and double checks his work with a contented grin.

“There we are,” Billy says to himself. He glances at his watch. “Just in time.”

-o-

Billy’s report may not be on the mark, but his impeccable charm most certainly is. He files his report and nabs a date for the weekend, which is about the best ending to the story Billy can fathom. The hero, after all, should always get the girl.

Or any girl, for that matter. Billy doesn’t always believe in being picky. He’s not even entirely convinced it has to be a girl, but that’s really neither here nor there.

The point is, the hero comes out on top. Proverbial sunsets and all.

Until, of course, Billy shows up back in the office.

Overall, he likes the ODS office. It’s a bit drab, but that’s part of its charm. Billy’s learned that possessions are overrated anyway, considering that many of his things are still actually stashed in a half-abandoned London flat that he rents out to his former flames, new international acquaintances and several trusted old friends.

No, the office is akin to home for Billy, edging out his rented motel room flat by sheer virtue of the fact that he doesn’t have to pay for this one. And janitorial service is not the same as maid service, but as long as someone picks up after him, then all is generally well with the world.

Besides, this is where he spends most of his time. This is where the greatest international plots of intrigue are planned. This is where his team is.

No one might think of an office as home, but no one could begrudge him a team as a family. It’s a bloody storytelling trope, after all.

And that’s why Billy likes the office.

That’s where Michael once crafted a plan to infiltrate the IT department in order to send out a server wide birthday greeting -- to Higgins’ cat. That’s where Rick sat on a crate for about two weeks before he realized that his old chair was stashed in a closet down the hall. That’s where Casey once subdued Blanke and tied him to a desk.

Billy can’t remember the reason why.

In all honesty, he’s not sure it matters.

It had been a good time.

So he has no reason to suspect that anything is amiss until he walks in and sees that look on Michael’s face.

Michael has many looks, each less appealing than the last. Michael is often paranoid. Sometimes he is acutely paranoid. Other times, even, he is violently paranoid.

Today, however, he is viciously paranoid. Jaw set and eyes cold, he glares daggers at Billy the second he walks through the door.

Billy holds up his hands. “Whatever it is,” he says, meandering to his desk. “I didn’t do it.”

“You always do something,” Casey says, sounding bored as he clicks at something on his computer. “It’s just debatable as to whether or not you do things that are problematic or not.”

“Problematic?” Billy asks, sitting down in his chair and swiveling. “I keep things interesting.”

“You write bad poetry, leave trash everywhere and flirt pointlessly with everything that moves,” Michael says dourly. “But it’s not you this time.”

Billy raises his eyebrows in surprise. “Rick? But the lad’s been in training--”

“Casey,” Michael says, loading several more files into his briefcase.

Billy shuts his mouth, turning a curious eye toward Casey. “Agent Malick?”

Casey rolls his eyes in exasperation. “Michael is being dramatic.”

“Oh, I don’t think I am,” he says. “You basically volunteered us for a mission.”

“You do that all the time,” Casey protests.

“Tomorrow,” Michael says.

“Again, I’m not seeing--”

“In Nigeria,” Michael concludes with a calculating and definitive stare.

Billy winces. “I thought we were only supposed to consult on Nigeria,” he recalls. “Being our asset that provided the initial paper trail.”

“Right,” Michael says. “The tip we fielded was critical to a different operation already in progress.”

“But it’s still our intel,” Casey says. “You act like you never feel compelled to follow your own intel.”

“We have half a dozen other active leads we could be following,” Michael says. “Not to mention the fact that we’re supposed to be in Paris next week.”

“Nigeria will be short,” Casey says with a shrug.

Michael looks to Billy. “See,” he says. “This time it’s not you.”

Billy is amused. They are like family, so needling each other is all part of the game. And it is so, so fun to get under Michael’s skin.


Moreover, it’s even more fun to pin Casey as the bad guy.

He smirks. “Well, I’m sure Casey didn’t mean for it to happen,” he says with feigned conciliation. “Maybe Nigeria is Higgins’ way of getting even with us.”

Casey glances at him with a frown. “For what?”

Billy shrugs. “The birthday email?”

Michael shakes his head to interject. “He practically volunteered,” he says. “One minute, I was saying that we had enough for a mission to Paris, and the next? Casey was saying we could get more. In Nigeria.”

“We can get more,” Casey says. “And Nigeria is the place to do it.”

“Which is why I fully support a team on the ground in Nigeria,” Michael argues. “Our lead is in Paris.”

“That’s too narrow,” Casey says. “We need a bigger picture.”

Billy watches the back and forth like a verbal game of tennis.

“The operation already has other, established and trusted assets in the area,” Michael says. “None of which know us.”

“Oh, like that’s a problem,” Casey says.

“It’s not a problem,” Michael says. “It’s just unnecessary.”

“I thought you were a control freak,” Casey replies.

“And I thought you preferred to keep your head down when missions send us to Nigeria.”

Casey huffs, but closes his mouth and says nothing.

Michael huffs and continues packing his bag.

Billy waits a moment before daring to venture a reply. “Well, what,” he says. “It can’t be so bad. We go, we talk to a few people, and then, we’re back on a plane before the week’s out.”

“It’s at least a week,” Michael corrects him. “Casey said that since we were already making the trip, we might as well stick around to ID as many of the arms dealers as we can.”

Suddenly dismayed, Billy frowned. “A week?”

“Yeah,” Michael says. “We’ll have to push back Paris if we’re not careful.”

Billy shakes his head. “Paris is fine,” he says. “But I have a date this weekend!”

Michael shrugs in an entirely unsympathetic manner. “You can thank Casey.”

“No, your prospective date can thank me,” Casey says. “I’m saving her from the most questionable evening of her life.”

Billy scowls. “And here I was ready to defend you.”

“Like I need your defense,” Casey says.

“You need his backup,” Michael points out. “And mine. And Rick’s. We’ll have to pull him out of training to get him ready in time.”

“At least there will be one positive to come from this,” Billy says.

Michael snorts, making his way to the door. “I’ll stop by logistics and see if I can get our IDs together,” he says. “Someone should double check our tickets to Nigeria. I’d hate to think we might end up in the wrong place.”

With a sarcastic tilt of his head, Michael is out the door.

Billy rocks back in his chair, tsking his tongue at Casey. “And here I thought I knew you.”

“You know nothing about me,” Casey returns.

“To the contrary,” Billy says. “I know more than you think.”

“And not nearly as much as you think,” Casey says.

“There must be something pretty special in Nigeria,” Billy observes thoughtfully.

Casey shakes his head. “It’s just a mission, Collins. My mission,” he says. “Nothing more than that.”

-o-

The mission.

That’s the problem with spies, Billy included. They’re always so damn self-important. Saving the world makes them think they actually matter.

That’s why they’re the heroes, at least.

That’s Billy’s story, anyway, the one he spins for the date he has to put off. “I promise,” he says when he stops by her office the next morning before meeting his team for a final -- and first -- briefing on the mission. “I’ll make it up to you.”

“And how can I trust you?” she asks, skeptical.

He winks at her. “Because I’m one of the good guys.”

-o-

For all of Billy’s optimism, he’s not especially keen to hop on a plane to travel to Nigeria. It’s not just the arid climate or the vicious bits of violence.

“It’s coach seating and a motel room with air conditioning,” Billy whines as they wait in the terminal at Dulles. “Hardly the proper setting for a spy thriller.”

“This isn’t a thriller, though,” Michael says. “In fact, I’m not even sure what this is.”

“Fact finding, right?” Rick says. “I mean, intel is an important part of the job.”

“Exactly,” Casey says. “Half the battle is always intelligence.”

Michael arches his eyebrows. “Coming from you?” he asks. “That’s laughable.”

“Hey,” Casey says. “I don’t use violence as a first resort. I find it offputting to waste unnecessary energy on unnecessary things.”

“Casey Malick,” Billy agrees sagely. “You’re all pragmatism.”

Michael grunts. “If he was pragmatic, we’d still be at Langley prepping for Paris.”

“Yeah, I was really looking forward to Paris,” Rick says. “Is that still going to happen?”

“Paris is fine,” Casey says. “Honestly. This is the job. I don’t know why you’re all acting like this is so unusual.”

“You volunteered,” Michael points out. “To go to a briefing; to participate willingly in the briefing. To go on a mission.

Rick nods. “It has been a little strange,” he agrees. “Every time I have a mission in mind, you shoot it down.”

“You wanted to spend a month in a cellar in the Ukraine,” Casey says. “Your opinion isn’t exactly valid.”

Rick’s cheeks redden.

Billy shakes his head. “We all have to work outside our archetypes from time to time,” he says amicably. “No one can be reduced to a common caricature.”

“You’re defending him?” Michael says. “Really?”

Billy grins. “I like to think I’m there for each of you,” he says. He shrugs. “And what can I say? I like going off-book sometimes.”

With a sigh, Michael settles back disagreeably. “Then you two are made for each other,” he mutters. “Next time, you two go off book and I’ll take the kid to Paris.”

“I’m not so sure--” Rick starts.

Michael glares at him. “You really want to be stuck with them?”

Rick reddens some more.

Billy chuckles. “I can honestly say there are no men I’d rather work with,” he says. “Paris, Nigeria, you name it: I have the best team in the world.”

“Now you’re just being annoying,” Casey huffs.

Michael nods. “I have to agree with Malick on this one.”

Rick shrugs apologetically.

Billy tsks his tongue. “Always glad to bring team unity,” he says. “Even at great personal cost.”

-o-

It’s not a particularly pleasant flight, but Billy does what he can to make the most of it. Part of the time, he watches the in-flight movie, and he strikes up a nice little chat with the woman across the aisle. She is quite fascinated by him and laughs a lot, and she seems to sit at rapt attention as Billy regales her with tales from his cover story.

When they land, Billy bids her farewell and gathers his things.

Michael is pulling his carry-on behind him, coming up next to Billy in the aisle. “You’re awfully friendly.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Billy replies, trying to dislodge his bag from the overhead bin.

“A cover story is supposed to help you not stick out,” he points out.

“Sometimes the best way to blend in is to make yourself the center of attention,” Billy says, shouldering his bag. “Besides, since when did you start sounding like Casey?”

Michael makes a face. “Don’t bring him up,” he says.

“You really are still bitter about this, aren’t you?” Billy asks.

“We’re not prepared for this one,” Michael says. “Not like I want.”

“Well, you do have ridiculously high standards,” Billy says, making his way up the aisle behind the line of people.

Michael keeps step. “For a reason,” he says. “You and Casey are going to ruin this job for me someday. I never thought it’d come to a point when Rick was my most reliable ally.”

Billy inclines his head, inching his way along. “You do know you manage to insult all three of us in one snide comment.”

“Just be careful, okay?” Michael says. “It feels like I’m missing something here. Something big.”

Billy swats a hand through the air. “Don’t be paranoid.”

“Well,” Michael says. “It is sort of in the job description.”

“Details, details,” Billy intones. “Everything will be fine. You’ll see. Fine.

-o-

Billy, as it turns out, is right.

True, Michael is grumpy, and Casey is annoyingly indifferent to the trouble he’s caused in bringing them here, but Rick is quite helpful, and they get surveillance set up in various locations throughout the city, and Billy even gets lucky enough to plant a bug on a suitcase, which gives them a virtual treasure trove of intelligence that they hadn’t necessarily counted on.

They didn’t know much coming into this mission, but within 48 hours, they have a strong sense of the operation, including its budget, its reach and its major players. With two dozen positive IDs and four confirmed warehouse locations, the ODS has created an accurate and in depth profile of one of the largest up and coming smuggling rings in all of southern Africa.

It’s so good, in fact, that Michael can’t even stay mad.

“In a few more days, we won’t even need to take these guys down,” he says, going over the notes again in their motel room. “With this intelligence, we can track these guys for months -- maybe more.”

“And see who they work with,” Rick agrees. “I mean, if we can start getting ties to terrorist networks--”

“Higgins is going to love us,” Billy chirps.

“I got to admit it,” Michael says with a sigh. “I thought this thing would go poorly--”

Billy gives him a knowing look. “You thought we were entering the bloody apocalypse.”

Michael refuses to smile. “But maybe this wasn’t the worst decision in the world,” he says, looking to Casey. “Sorry for giving you such a hard time.”

Casey huffs. “You should be,” he says, reaching for his suit jacket. “You should never doubt it by now: you can trust me.”

“That’s what I kept telling everyone!” Billy says.

Casey adjusts his collar, starting toward the door.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Michael calls after him. “Where are you going? We don’t have any operations planned until morning.”

“Food,” Casey says. “It’s dinner time.”

“I was going to order something up,” Rick offers.

“Or the place around the corner has good carry out,” Billy offers. “And I’ve already got enough punches for a free appetizer.”

“And we need to lay low,” Michael says. “We’ve been lucky, sure, but we can’t risk blowing our cover. Especially not now.”

Casey gives them each a nonplussed look. “Do you really think they’re going to make me?”

“Protocol, Malick,” Michael says. “There’s a sale going on tonight, and if they spot you again, it could spook them.”

“Or they could just assume I’m a regular person staying at a motel, going to dinner,” Casey suggests.

Rick glances toward Billy with a flash of anxiety.

Billy shifts his posture, leaning forward in case he needs to offer a verbal intervention.

“It’s an unnecessary risk,” Michael continues evenly. “We should sit tight, order in--”

“No,” Casey says. “You should trust me. Remember?”

Michael’s face is pinched, but he doesn’t disagree.

Moreover, Casey doesn’t wait for further objections.

When the door closes behind them, Michael sits very still for a moment. Then he nods to Rick. “Go around the corner,” he says. “Pick something up.”

“But--” Rick starts.

Michael gives him a look that allays every words.

Rick nods, getting his own jacket before going to the door. When it shuts softly behind him, Billy chews his lip for a moment.

“Is there something you’re not telling me?” he asks.

Michael doesn’t look at him. “Why would you think that?”

“Because you’ve been on Casey from the beginning in this one,” Billy replies. “I know this isn’t the mission you wanted or how you like doing them, but Casey’s not wrong. And you know you can trust him.”

Michael sighs, turning his gaze to Billy. “Of course I trust him,” he says. “But there’s something off in this one. That’s why I didn’t want to touch Nigeria with a ten-foot pole.”

“But it’s gone perfectly,” Billy says.

“Exactly,” Michael says. “The Agency has been following this group for two years. I was at that last briefing. There was nothing on these guys. And suddenly, when we get here, it all falls into our lap.”

“Coincidence?” Billy suggests. “Luck?”

Michael purses his lips.

Billy winces, nodding his assent. “You think there are outside forces.”

“Or worse, inside forces,” Michael says.

Billy is surprised at this. “You suspect a mole?”

“Maybe?” Michael says. “Or it could just be high level bureaucracy that we don’t have insight to. Whatever it is, we’re still missing something.”

“So it’s not that you don’t trust Casey--”

Michael nods. “I just don’t trust anyone else.”

Billy gathers a breath and lets it out as he processes this. It’s not uncommon. Spy games are a thing, after all, and the movies may make it all seem so much more exciting, but Billy’s run across more than a few operatives playing both sides of the field. It’s a consequence of the business, as far as he can figure. If you pay a man to lie, you can hardly be surprised when he does it well and often.

Billy doesn’t even find it especially offensive. He doesn’t take things personally when it comes to spy-on-spy action. The way he figures, it can be done with a degree of sport and mutual respect.

And it helps when he can nail the bastard first.

“You told this to the others?” Billy asks finally.

Michael shakes his head. “Haven’t even mentioned anything to Higgins.”

“It could just be your paranoia,” Billy cautions.

“Maybe,” Michael agrees, sounding wholly unconvinced. “But I don’t like any unplanned elements right now.”

Billy sighs again. “You want me to go after him?”

Michael looks at him.

Billy groans, reaching for his own suit jacket. “Oh, fine,” he mutters. “I’ll go after him.”

-o-

It’s actually not an easy thing, trailing someone. It’s one thing when they’re untrained and you start at the same time. It’s entirely another when you’re five minutes behind and it’s bloody Casey Malick.

Casey is not, after all, people friendly. He doesn’t like to reveal anything about himself, and in the nearly eight years they’ve worked together, Billy has nary been granted a single invitation to Casey’s home. The first time he found his way there uninvited, he was very nearly eviscerated.

All that said, it’s not easy.

But it’s certainly not impossible.

Not for Billy.

It’s not just that Billy’s good at this sort of thing -- because, frankly, he is. It’s that he knows Casey. Eight years later, Casey is loathe to admit it, but Billy has amassed enough working knowledge to create an accurate profile of the man.

Therefore, it’s not all that hard to start determining Casey’s most probable route. He picks the direction that leads away from town -- this means fewer places to eat, but Casey hates a crowd -- and he winds his way through several alleys on account of Casey’s innate paranoia. He stops at the first Indian restaurant he spies -- Casey has a soft spot for chicken marsala -- but is only mildly disappointed that he’s not there.

If Casey wants to get out, he’s not going to settle for something this convenient. No, Casey wants to make a point with his extracurriculars. That way, they’re his.

He doesn’t bother with the Chinese place or the pizzeria, but he does check out a few local places that are also both absent one human weapon. Billy checks his watch, his own stomach grumbling. Martinez would be back with lunch by now, and Billy’s still tracking down a teammate on a whim.

He picks up his pace, narrowing his focus. He looks for weak security spots, and crosses the street to avoid the vacant windows on the upper stories -- snipers, Casey would always think of snipers -- and he cuts through a side street before ending up on a busier pedestrian street on the outskirts of town. It’s busier than Casey prefers, but it’s mostly locals, and a blue collar population, if Billy has to guess. He checks the pub and another take-out joint, before looking at his watch again.

It’s been nearly twenty minutes, and there’s no sign of Casey. Billy’s hungry, and this is probably a fool’s errand. Billy knows Casey, sure, but sometimes Casey doesn’t want to be found. Sometimes there’s a right turn instead of a left, and there’s no way for Billy to know which way to go until it’s already said and done.

The good news is that there’s no sign of any other suspicious activity. Billy’s good at picking up on spies, security forces and private guns, but there’s nothing to indicate anything like that in the area. In this case, Michael’s paranoia is probably getting the best of him -- and the best of the takeout, as well.

Thus decided, Billy starts to turn back. Instead of taking the same winding route, however, he walks the main drag, choosing a faster and direct path. He’s halfway back when he sees the fast food place. The line is out the door, and Billy can feel his arteries clogging from the stiff odor of grease alone.

Inexplicably, his stomach rumbles.

He glances at his watch again.

“One side of fries won’t hurt,” he mutters to himself.

He might as well get something for his trouble.

Michael will probably be annoyed to know he stopped, but Michael’s annoyed at everything. And, to be honest, Billy’s a little annoyed right now himself.

He jogs across the street, and with a few polite maneuvers, leverages himself inside toward the front of the line. It’s lunch hour on a popular street, so the place is crowded, and Billy is digging through his wallet for local currency when he sees what he’s looking for through the crowd.

It’s not a side of fries, though.

It’s not even a Big Mac.

No, there, in a booth by the bathrooms, is Casey Malick.

-o-

Billy is so gobsmacked by this turn of events that he stands there for a moment, doing nothing. Someone bumps past him in line, and Casey looks up absently. It’s a mere matter of instinct that has Billy turning back toward the crowd to blend in. He considers it an occupational hazard; spies like to act sneaky. He has no actual reason to hide from Casey.

Except.

Billy orders his fries and pays quickly, pulling off to the side to wait for his order to come through. He picks a spot in the crowd, just close enough to see Casey around the corner without giving the other man a good vantage point of his own position.

It is just odd enough to justify such actions. Casey is, after all, in a McDonalds. Casey considers himself a human weapon, and he’s quite careful about what he puts in said weapon. Not to say that Casey doesn’t indulge in decadence from time to time -- he knows all the best restaurants in Paris -- but McDonalds isn’t exactly Casey’s idea of indulgence.

No, Casey’s an all or nothing sort, and fast food falls decidedly on the nothing end of the spectrum. It probably has to do with the utter lack of nutritional value of a Big Mac or the absurd amount of chemicals found in a typical French fry -- but the point is, Casey doesn’t stop at a fast food restaurant unless under duress.

But there is no apparent duress.

Casey eats by himself, wiping his greasy fingers on a napkin before taking a sip from his soda cup.

Casey’s drinking soda.

Billy almost balks.

The whole situation is nearly impossible. While Casey would skip out on a team lunch just because, there’s no way he’d do it for McDonalds. Not with several other more suitable restaurants in the area. Sure, it is possible that Casey found those to be lacking. Maybe the security was questionable. Maybe he had a tip about local produce to avoid.

Or maybe Casey simply has a hidden quirk. Maybe he’s discovered that he does, in fact, adore fast food and felt too foolish about his years of bad-mouthing such establishments to admit to it now. Maybe Billy has stumbled on Casey’s greatest secret: he’s a fast food junkie.

Those are the most likely explanations.

Billy’s no Michael Dorset. He doesn’t have to see conspiracy lurking behind every corner. The facts in this case are simple. He’s found Casey; Casey is safe and alone. Billy gives a quick glance around and sees no one else suspicious. Which means this is probably what it is.

Casey stopped for fast food, just like Billy.

Nothing more; nothing less.

Billy thanks the girl behind the counter for his fries, snacking on one as he sneaks his way out the back door. He stops long enough, however, to snap a picture of Casey -- just in case.

Billy smirks.

In case he needs blackmail material.

Casey eating fast food?

Might be very helpful for him in the long run.

-o-

He makes it back to the motel room in good time. He’s long finished his French fries, and he’s quite pleased to see that Rick has brought an excellent selection of food to finish off his lunch. He’s so ravenous, in fact, that he almost forgets why he left at all.

“Everything okay, Collins?” Michael asks, giving him a keen eye over an open takeout container.

Billy smacks his lips noisily. “Oi, of course,” he says, getting another mouthful ready. “Business as usual. I swear, for a team of spies, we really are some of the most boring gents I know.”

“Boring is good though, right?” Rick asks. “I mean, we want boring.”

“Aye,” Billy says with a twinkle in his eye. “Boring keeps you alive.”

“Only you could find amassing information on an arms ring boring,” Michael says.

“Well, they’re middle men!” Billy objects. “So many meetings and paperwork--”

“Sounds like our jobs sometimes,” Rick says.

“Exactly,” Billy says with an enthusiastic nod. “It is perhaps the greatest fallacy about our lot. That’s it’s all James Bond, mystery and intrigue.”

“You prefer to get shot at?” Michael asks.

Billy swallows another bite. “Only in the stories,” he says with a wink.

-o-

When Casey comes back, Billy clears his throat. “Good lunch?”

Casey shrugs, getting himself settled back to work. “I guess.”

“Delectable local cuisine?” Billy pushes.

“Acceptable,” is Casey’s short reply.

“Is that what you’d call it?” Billy asks knowingly.

“Yes,” Casey replies starkly.

Billy shifts, wiggling his eyebrows. “If you say so.”

Casey sighs and glares at Billy. “If you don’t stop acting weird, I’m going to have to kill you myself.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Billy chuckles. “If you say so.”

-o-

Boring is a relative term. It’s not as if they are not without plenty to do. No, there is actually quite a lot of them to do. It’s just that none of is particularly invigorating.

They place bugs; they track people. They take pictures and scout locations. Michael makes a map and compiles a comprehensive list of all known associates. Even the sale goes off without a hitch, and they are able to expand positive identification to other well known terrorists in the area.

“Okay, we got it,” Michael declares over comms.

“Copy that,” Billy murmurs from his observation checkpoint.

“Clear here, too,” Rick’s voice resounds.

“I can have us packed and ready in an hour,” Michael says. “Get us on an earlier flight--”

“Out of Nigeria?” Rick asks.

“Oh, thank God,” Billy says.

“I figured you might like that,” Michael replies. “Should give us a little extra time to debrief before we have to head out to Paris.”

“Back to back, then,” Rick sighs.

“Be nice if we didn’t have to go home first,” Michael says. “Either of you heard from Casey?”

Billy glances around in surprise. “We’ve been out of visual for thirty minutes.”

“He did check in, didn’t he?” Rick asks.

“Fifteen minutes ago,” Michael clarifies. “Casey?”

There is silence over the comms.

“Malick?” Michael asks again, a little more forceful this time.

Billy’s on his feet, making his way around the building. “He’s on the far side,” he says. “Could be interference from the building.”

“They did bring in some high tech stuff,” Rick says. “Dampening signals in the area is possible.”

Michael sighs audibly over the line. “Check on him, Billy,” he orders. “If we want to make that flight--”

“On it,” Billy says. “And you two make sure we’re ready to make that flight.”

“You bring Casey,” Michael says. “And I’ve got the rest.”

-o-

Billy is often accused of being neglectful, lazy and sometimes slothful, but he begs to differ. It’s not that he doesn’t like to work hard; it’s just that he knows what it is important. Situations where his life is in peril, he works quite hard. When his friends are in danger, he works even harder.

When he has the chance to get out of Africa and back to the relative comfort of the United States?

Then he is very productive indeed.

He doesn’t run, though he’d like to. Instead, he sticks to a brisk pace in order to keep his cover on the street. It’s midday, at least, so it’s busy enough to avoid attention, but he knows when he gets to the backside, he’ll have to work more in stealth.

The back of the building is a network of alleys that lead from one building to the next. The smell is rank and trash sits piled high on either side. He sees a few stray dogs, and he pulls closer to the edge of the building with a careful glance up.

The windows are dark, and the fire escapes are in various stages of disrepair. There’s no sign of anyone, which is something of good news. Although they’ve accounted for most of the men at the meeting, they can’t confirm where they are now, and Billy would rather not explain why he’s lurking in putrid alleyways to trigger-happy gun runners.

On the other hand, he is looking for Casey, so seeing no one is actually a bit counterproductive.

It’s not hard to find Casey’s post -- good position, good vantage point, good protection -- but there’s no sign of the other man. Billy pauses, giving a studious look in all directions, and then sighs.

“Am I really going to have to chase you all over Nigeria?” he mutters to himself. “Again?

There is, quite obviously, no reply. The comms are quiet back here, so that much of the theory is true. There’s also no sign of a struggle, and no indication that Casey shouldn’t be exactly where he said he’d be.

Billy looks around, chewing his lip. It’s possible that Casey has made it into the clear just as Billy was getting into the dead zone. It’s possible they’ve just missed each other on comms, and Billy will be wandering the streets for no reason at all.

Possible.

Probably even likely.

But Michael told him to find Casey.

And Casey is Billy’s friend.

“Bugger,” Billy says, a bit more vehemently now as he continues through the network of alleys. “You better realize how much I care about you.”

-o-