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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: Not-So-Secret Identities (2/9)

December 28th, 2015 (02:33 pm)
pissed off

feeling: pissed off

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




In Billy’s head, he goes through everything that could have possibly gone wrong.

Maybe Casey was made; maybe he had to take off hot. Maybe he got into an altercation; maybe he’s been injured and become disoriented. Maybe he saw an additional item that needed his attention. Maybe he’s doing extra scouting or following a stray lead.

Maybe he’s performing anonymous good deeds for the local neighborhood. A little way of giving back.

Maybe he’s been caught and killed and his body is in a dumpster.

There are times Billy really doesn’t like the creative spark in his mind. It makes reports fun.

It makes his own brand of paranoia especially devastating.

He’s envisioning his teammate, drowning in his own blood, spelling out his name with smeared red smudged on a dumpster wall when he hears it.

Voice.

Billy comes to a sudden stop, stilling his breathing. It takes him a minute to hear beyond the pounding in his ears, but then he makes out one voice, two.

One is unfamiliar, deep and accented.

The other--

Billy lets out a breath in utter relief.

It’s Casey.

His relief, however, is followed by uncertainty.

Because yes, Casey is alive and seemingly well, but he’s also hiding in a dark alley with….someone.

Billy inches closer, trying to get a hint of the conversation. Casey’s voice is fast and hushed.

Then, it’s quiet.

Perplexed, Billy leans closer, giving it another moment before Casey appears around the corner.

Billy blinks.

Casey narrows his eyes.

“You following me, Collins?” he asks tersely.

“Uh, in a manner of speaking,” Billy says. “Job’s offer. Michael’s got us on an earlier flight but you were out of range.”

Casey shrugs, glancing up at the surrounding buildings. “We knew that might happen.”

Billy wets his lips, waiting to see if Casey will elaborate.

“Well,” Casey says. “If we want to make that flight--”

He starts past Billy, but Billy stands still, scoffing.

Casey turns back. “What?”


“What?” Billy repeats with a short, incredulous chuckle. “You’re not going to tell me who you were talking to?”

Casey’s brow creased.

“Just now,” Billy says, pointing back down the alleyway. “I heard you.”

“Yeah,” Casey says. “Just wanted to tip off one of our local informants. Let him know there’s fresh blood in town and he needs to watch his back.”

It’s not a bad answer -- they’ve had contact with various parties over the past week -- but it’s too simple. “Just the one?” Billy asks. “What about the others?”


“I recognized one of the new buyers,” Casey says. “Had a connection with this guy.”

“You just happened to make that connection,” Billy presumes.

“It is our job,” Casey reminds him. He pauses, regarding Billy critically. “Why? What do you think was going on?”

It’s such a blunt question that Billy doesn’t know how to answer it. He has a million answers for it, and none of them make any more sense than the pragmatic answer Casey has provided him.

This isn’t a spy thriller, after all. Not everyone has an ulterior motive; there is not always danger lurking behind every corner. There’s paranoia, and then there’s fantasy.

Billy forces a smile. “Nothing,” he says, rubbing his hands together. “Just more than ready to get out of here. What do you say, eh? Shall we?”

Casey grunts, turning back to lead the way, offering no other answer.

That’s just as well, Billy decides as he follows.

No other answer would make sense anyway.

-o-

All’s well that ends well, that’s what Billy believes. It’s not that the ends justify the means, but a satisfactory outcome goes a long way in making everything else seem acceptable. The mission, no matter how slipshod it might have started, was a total success, and they get back stateside without missing a step. They’ll be in Paris by the end of the week, and Billy secures a renewed date for tomorrow night, when his body has adjusted for the time change again.

In all, it’s worked out about as well as they could have hoped.

The problem is, it’s not the end. Not really. Spy stories, they never have definitive endings in real life. There’s no cut to black before the credits roll. One piece of evidence leads to another; one string of intelligence begets more. One positive ID inevitable ends with others. Even if the bad guy is put away and off the streets, there’s always another.

And another and another.

In real life, endings and beginnings are hard to sort out.

And harder still to live.

-o-

Of course, there’s no rest for the weary. Nigeria is a done deal, but Paris is still on their to-do list, and Michael’s already anxious enough having delayed it once. It’s all well and good, as far as Billy is concerned. Paris is at least an apt destination for a spy fantasy, even if he’ll be stuck playing backup while Michael and Rick wine and dine the latest asset.

He is a bit disappointed, however, that he doesn’t have time to add his usual embellishments to his mission report on Nigeria. In fact, it is a decidedly factual report, and he feels sheepish turning it in as it lacks his customary panache.

“It’s fine,” Michael tells him, not for the first time. “Your reports aren’t supposed to be novels anyway.”

“But they’re so much more fun that way,” Billy complains.

“I still can’t get my mind around the fact that no one cares,” Rick says. “I mean, your reports are ridiculous.”

“All reports are ridiculous,” Michael says. “Billy’s are just ridiculous in their own, unique ridiculous way.”

“They’re brilliant, that’s what they are,” Billy says.

“They’re fake,” Rick contends.

“Which is the point, isn’t it?” Billy says. “Look, what does America pay us to do? Tell the truth? Be honest men?”

Rick raises his eyebrows.

Billy scoffs. “No, they hire us to tell the lies and keep the secrets that make the world a better place,” he says. He sits back primly. “My reports are an asset to the American people.”

Rick doesn’t look convinced.

Michael rolls his eyes.

“You know, Billy has a point,” Casey chimes in.

Everyone stops at that, looking at Casey in surprise. No one moreso than Billy himself.

Casey frumps. “There is a lot of paperwork on this last one,” he says. “I’m not active on this one. Maybe I should stay behind; sort it out.”

Michael, who has been playing a bored sort of bemusement until this point, turns somewhat cold. “You want to stay behind?”

“I don’t want to stay behind,” Casey says. “I’m suggesting that it may be a smart allocation of our time.”

“You dragged us all to Nigeria,” Michael clarifies. “And you’re balking at Paris? Paris?

Casey looks annoyed now. “Nigeria was a total success,” he returns. “And I’m not balking. I’m talking about the job--”

“The job is for the team,” Michael says. “What if things go south?”

Casey folds his arms over his chest. “Even you three can handle Paris without me.”

Michael shakes his head. “No way,” he says. “We went with you to Nigeria. You’re coming with us to Paris.”

“Okay, okay,” Casey relents. “It was just an idea.”

“Yeah, well,” Michael says, getting back to his work. “I’ve had about enough of your ideas lately.”

Billy looks from Michael to Casey before exchanging a long look with Rick. Tensions run high with what they do; sometimes a little too high. Considering how much time they spend together, friction is inevitable, especially with two men as strong willed and independently minded as Casey and Michael.

They’re a team, though.

They always come together in the end.

Billy leans forward over his report again.

Always.

-o-

It’s Rick who stops him, on the way to the loo, no less.

“Hey, is everything okay?”

Billy gives a look around. “Bit of a hurry, actually,” he says. “Drank one cup of coffee too many, I’m afraid.”

Rick makes a face, shaking his head. “No, I mean, with Michael. And Casey,” he says. “Is everything okay.

The strained team dynamic is impossible to miss, although Billy sometimes forget that Rick hasn’t weathered quite as many storms with them. He wasn’t there, after all. Not when Carson Simms was presumed KIA and the ODS discovered that the none of them were loners anymore.

Billy gathers a breath, and tries his best to be reassuring. “Two missions, back to back -- it’s never an easy thing.”

“No, this is different,” Rick says. “I mean, something’s different. Isn’t it?”

“Just a different chapter, is all,” Billy says.

Rick doesn’t look convinced.

“It’s a story, lad,” Billy continues, more to the point. “And there are twists and turns and intrigue, because that’s the point. The thing you have to remember -- the thing that matters -- is that we know the ending.”

“Which is?” Rick prompts.

Billy claps him on the shoulder. “We win,” he says. “As a team, we win.”

Rick swallows, uncertain. “And if we don’t?”

Billy concedes that, shrugging somewhat. “Well, then I guess we lose,” he says. Then he holds up a finger. “But also as a team.”

“You make that sounds so easy,” Rick says.

“Stories aren’t about plot points, not really,” Billy tells him. “It’s about character.”

Rick nods, but still looks uneasy. “You sure about that?”

Billy grins. “Son,” he says. “I’d stake my life on it.”

-o-

Billy would stake his life on it, but he also has to stake his time, energy, and personal fulfillment on it as well. Not to mention his access to normal meals, a comfortable bed and his guitar.

Which is to say, Michael does two weeks worth of planning in about five days, which is a tough thing to do, even for Michael. To get it done, Michael doesn’t eat or sleep and he apparently expects the team to do the same.

Now, Billy’s all in -- all for one, and one for all -- but it’s a bit ridiculous. Casey grows downright surly, and Rick somehow looks even younger with scrubby facial hair and sleep-deprived eyes.

The night before, when Michael finally lets the others go, Billy spins in his chair in abject frustration.

“I said you could leave,” Michael tells him, not looking up from his papers.

“And you forget, I rode with you,” Billy says dejectedly.

“You could have gotten a ride with someone else,” Michael suggests.

“Casey refuses to let me ride in his car,” Billy replies. “And I think Rick has plans with the lovely deputy director--”

“Someone else, then,” Michael says. “What about your friend from down in, what was it?”

Billy smirks. “Tempting, but if I go home with her, I’ll never make it back in time in the morning.”

Michael almost smiles, still hard at work.

Billy waits a beat before sitting forward intently. “Rick can tell, you know.”

Michael doesn’t say anything.

“He thinks it’s tension between you and Casey,” he says. “But he knows something is off.”

“It might be nothing,” Michael says.

“What makes you so spooked about Paris?” Billy presses.

Michael looks at him, hesitating for a moment. “I’m not,” he says. “I just -- I feel like something’s close. Something I should be able to see, and I can’t. There’s a variable I’m missing, and I’ll be damned if I can even come close to figuring out what it is.”

“Like you said,” Billy says diplomatically. “It could be nothing.”

“Or it could be everything,” Michael says. “And I don’t want to find out the hard way.”

Billy sighs. “That’s not how these things usually go,” he reminds Michael. “The reality is always more mundane than the stories.”

“Not always,” Michael says. “One of these times, one of your reports is going to be more true than you want it to be.”

Billy chuckles a little. “Well, whatever it is, at least we don’t have to face it alone. The four of us, we’re good together, yeah?”

Michael inclines his head. “The best I know.”

“That counts for something,” Billy says. “A lot of something.”

“But is it enough?” Michael asks.

“I’d never doubt it,” Billy tells him. “Not for a second.”

-o-

Not for a second.

Not for a mission.

Paris, all in all, is a good mission. By the book, in fact. Billy’s going to need to add quite a bit of embellishment to the file on this one, just to keep it up to his high standards. It’s not so hard, though. Paris is a fine backdrop for all things, and the ancient streets makes it easy to weave a spy tale of deception and intrigue. He’s thinking about Michael’s mole for this one, someone so close in a city where everyone seems suspicious.

Sometimes it’s the people you trust, after all.

They’re the ones that can hurt you the most.

Billy grins to himself and tips one last drink back at the motel bar before packing up for his flight.

Paris is a good mission, indeed.

-o-

“Two for two,” Rick says, more than a hint of pride in his voice. They’ve just cleared security, but that’s never enough for the ODS. “I think we’re on a roll.”

Never say that,” Michael says, dumping out his things and starting to scan them piece by piece.

Rick is scanning his toothbrush. “Why?”

“You’ll jinx it, moron,” Casey says. “Things can’t go well for too long. It’s against the laws of nature.”

“And runs contrary to the very nature of a good story,” Billy says, shaking out his underwear, trying to remember if this pair is clean or dirty.

Rick rolls his eyes. “I’m just saying,” he contends, picking up his aftershave lotion. “It’s a job well done.”

“The job is never done,” Michael reminds him pointedly. “One mission leads to the next.”

“Besides, that’d get rather boring, wouldn’t it?” Billy asks. “Total closure?”

“Whatever,” Casey says, repacking his things. “I’m clean, and I have tomorrow off. Don’t look for me.”

“What are you up to?” Michael asks, brow just slightly furrowed.

“That’s why it’s a day off,” Casey says. “So I don’t have to tell you. You should try it sometime.”

“What about your paperwork?” Michael asks. “We’re still behind from Nigeria.”

“Nigeria is filed,” Casey says. “And Paris will be by the end of the week.”

“I may have a tip on the next mission,” Michael says as a warning. “Maybe next week.”

Casey shakes his head, heading out the door.

Michael glares.

Rick turns wide eyes to Billy.

Billy smiles. “See?” he says. “And it all starts all over again.”

-o-

Casey takes his day; Michael buries himself in the next lead. Rick, somehow, is pulled into another training seminar.

That leaves Billy.

And his paperwork.

Quite honestly, it’s his best work yet. Billy outdoes himself with the plot twists, adding in a romantic subplot to tug at the heartstrings just a bit more.

With Michael in meetings and Rick in training, Billy takes it upon himself to move the paperwork down to the office himself, scooping up Casey’s delayed version of Nigeria for good measure. The more he has to hand off to the girls down there, the longer he can linger.

And Billy would very much like a date this weekend.

He’s fairly content with himself, whistling on his way down as he flips the pages one last time. He’s a sucker for his own work, he has to admit. It may be vain, but he simply can’t help himself.

He flips too far, though, and ends up in the middle of Casey’s stark report on Nigeria. Plain, simple sentences. Bland, boring facts.

Observed meet. Identified six additional targets.

Billy furrows his brow in dismay.

“That’s utter rubbish, mate,” he murmurs to himself. “You can’t reduce five pages of dialogue to a single paragraph! If you can even call it that.”

He reads on in sadistic fascination. Casey’s delineation is painfully clinical. Sure, the facts are there--

Billy stops.

Not reading.

No, he keeps reading.

But he stops, dead in his tracks, in the middle of the Agency’s hallway.

The facts are there, this is true.

But they’re wrong.

The facts are wrong.

And it’s not just a date this time.

No, it’s locations.

Entire segments of time are unaccounted for.

With fresh concern, Billy flips the page, reading faster. He mentally cross references everything before it abruptly ends.

There’s no mention of the foray in the alley.

Not even a side note.

Billy flips back through the pages, wondering if he’s missed something. If he’s overlooked something. Maybe Casey is just being to the point. He hates waste, so maybe he sees the alleyway incident as incidental to their mission. Unimportant.

Or.

Billy considers.

Or maybe Casey’s onto the same game as Michael. Maybe he suspects an internal mole and is trying to protect his asset. That would explain the omission and the secrecy. If he’s worried about someone double checking his work, then the best way to protect someone is to void the paper trail before it starts.

That’s certainly plausible, except for one thing.

Casey hasn’t simply omitted a detail.

He’s been wrong about others. Inaccuracy and deceit are the best ways to stop someone from following you.

Or the best way to prevent someone from starting to follow you in the first place.

It’s a fine line, Billy remembers. Between being a hero.

And a traitor.

Now Billy just has to ask himself: which one is Casey?


-o-

It’s rubbish, of course.

By the time he files the documents, Billy has talked himself out of the melodramatic conclusions.

After all, this isn’t a spy novel.

This is real life, and Casey is his friend. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the most logical one.

At any rate, Casey is his friend. And there’s no doubt that they lie to each other all the time. But there is no penalty for asking for the truth between teammates. Because the lies they tell each other -- they matter. They’re for safety; they’re for protection; they’re for the greater good.

They’re for laughs; they’re for jokes.

They can always be explained.

Billy takes comfort in this.

They will be explained.

-o-

It’s a bit of a risk, but Billy’s okay with that. What’s the worst that could happen? Showing up at Casey’s flat unannounced is outside the norm, but they’re teammates, they’re friends.

Casey answers the door with a shotgun in his hand.

Billy raises his eyebrows. “Expecting someone else?”

“I was expecting no one,” he says. “You’re lucky I installed surveillance equipment at the front of the building.”

“Isn’t that illegal?” Billy asks.

Casey cocks his head. “Would you rather me shoot you?”

Billy nods. “Fair enough,” he says, rocking on his feet. “Can I come in?”

Casey looks more than a bit annoyed.

Billy holds up the case of beer he picked up at the corner store. “I come bearing gifts.”

“Cheap beer?” Casey asks. “You think that will gain you access?”

“No,” Billy says. “The beer’s for me. I know how you don’t like to share.”


“I share fine,” Casey snaps.

“Then will I be getting that invitation to come inside?”


Casey scowls for a long, terse moment before he steps back from the door.

Billy grins and steps inside.

At least things are off to a good start.

-o-

Casey is not exactly a pleasant host, but since Billy is in fact still alive and not being incapacitated, he figures this much is a win. After putting the beer on the counter, Billy turns back around. Hands in his pockets, Billy tries to be nonchalant, though there’s not really much point.

“You have thirty seconds to tell me why you’re here,” Casey says bluntly, closing the door firmly behind Billy.

“A whole thirty, eh?” Billy says. “You’re getting soft, mate.”

“Twenty,” Casey growls.

“Well, I don’t have anything to say,” Billy says, rocking forward on his toes a little. He lets his gaze settle on Casey. “I came here to see if you had something you wanted to talk about.”

Casey’s not stupid, and his eyes narrow. He wants to be annoyed, this much is clear, but he senses that there’s more to Billy’s presence than that. “Meaning?”

Billy shrugs. “You’ve always struck me as someone who values accuracy.”

“You’re out of time, Collins,” Casey mutters tersely.

“Maybe,” Billy says. “But I did get my paperwork in on time.”

“So?” Casey asks. “So did I.”


“Yeah, I saw that,” Billy says. He hesitates for a moment, hoping Casey will fill in the blanks. When he is nowhere near that lucky, Billy hedges onward. “Read yours, in fact. Just as a reference.”

Casey is diffident. “Your time to waste, not mine.”

“Indeed,” Billy says. “So maybe it was just an oversight then?”

Casey’s face screws up. “What’s an oversight?”

“The dates you got wrong,” Billy says. “The times that were off. The meeting in the alleyway you didn’t record at all.”

Something shifts in Casey’s expression, a small change. The emotion drains from his features, leaving a stony facade in their wake.

“One mistake, I didn’t think much,” Billy says. “But that many? In that amount of time? You’re not even trying.”

“No one reads those reports,” Casey says. “And if they do, those are the details that don’t matter.”

“So you did it on purpose?” Billy asks.

Casey knits his brows. “You make up stories in yours,” he says. “I play with the details. How is it any different?”

“You know, I’d almost believe that,” Billy says. “A little good fun at the expense of the suits. But I saw you, Casey. I saw you in Nigeria.”

“And I explained it,” Casey says. “I was protecting an asset.”

“Not in the alley,” Billy says. “The fast food restaurant.”

Casey wrinkles his nose. “You saw me in the fast food restaurant?”

“Yes, I did,” Billy says.

“Well,” Casey says with a sigh. “Well, that does change things.”

“I’m not accusing you of anything,” Billy tries to clarify.

Casey waves his hand. “No, you’re right,” he says. “I need to come clean. You should report this in fact. Straight to Higgins. I can’t hide it anymore: I eat fast food.”

Billy sighs, exasperated. “That’s rubbish and you know it.”

“It’s fast food!” Casey says. “You come in here, all uptight and worried about a few missed details on a report and fast food.

“But I know you,” Billy objects. “You always complain when I drag you to those places.”


“You don’t know everything about me, Collins,” Casey growls.

“I know enough, though,” Billy says. “And you’re acting strange.”

“I always act strange,” Casey says. “Frankly, I’m offended that it took you this long to notice.”

Billy purses his lips. “Michael’s worried about a mole.”

“Michael’s always worried about a mole,” Casey replies.

“And he has a tendency to be right,” Billy argues.

“So, what? I’m the mole? Eating fast food?”

“I just can’t shake the feeling that something’s off,” Billy says. “And I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“Maybe there is something,” Casey finally concedes. “But I promise you: the reports, my choice in food -- none of that matters.”

“So you’re telling me that nothing is going on,” Billy says, eyes fixed on Casey. “That there’s nothing I need to know about.”

“Trust me,” Casey says, not even flinching. “There’s nothing going on with me that you need to be worried about in the least.”

Casey doesn’t look away; he doesn’t move. The earnestness in his eyes is damn convincing, and his posture is leaned in. The lines on his face have softened, and it’s such a perfectly schooled response that a shiver runs down Billy’s back.

Because he wants to believe Casey.

He really does.

But Casey’s never tried so hard to make Billy believe anything.

Which can only mean that there’s a lie in there somewhere.

And it’s up to Billy to find it.

“Alright,” Billy says, putting his hands up. “If you say it’s nothing--”

“It is nothing,” Casey says. He hesitates. “Since you’re here, if you want to stay for a drink--”

Billy glances at the beer. “Maybe next time,” he says, nodding toward the six pack. “Keep it on ice for me, yeah?”

“Sure,” Casey says as Billy shows himself to the door. “For next time.”

-o-

Billy had come for answers, but he really should have known better. There are rarely absolutes in life, and the spy game is even more murky. That’s the biggest cop out in all spy thrillers; there’s such a clear right and wrong most of the time that even when someone dabbles in shades of gray, it’s all black and white by the time the credits roll.

Despite Casey’s assurances, Billy is hardly assured. Feeling anxious, he stops at the closest pub and orders himself a drink to ponder it over.

Casey’s reaction is not unreasonable, he decides shortly. It’s not something any of them would like, being accused in a roundabout way of something like that. Because yes, they lie and they lie to each other, but they don’t doubt. Absolute trust is essential between them; it’s the only way their team works.

It’s not Billy’s intent to question that, but there’s no good way to ask these sorts of questions without implying something. Whether it’s negligence or overt obstruction, the mere question asserts that Casey’s hiding something -- something Billy thinks he needs to know.

Therein lies the rub, though. Billy does need to know. He’s not sure why, but he’s a damn spy, and the idea of not knowing is pretty much impossible to live with. Because the fact is, he wants to trust Casey, and he does doubt him.

The shadow of a doubt -- it’s permissive in a court of law, but among spies? A shadow of a doubt is all they need to start anything.

Billy orders another drink, taking a long sip while he plays with his napkin.

Casey’s lying to him about something, if only because he tried so hard to tell the truth. Casey’s never cared about things like that, but he cared back in his flat. He cared what Billy thought.

There are still a thousand reasonable explanations, however. Maybe Casey’s slipping and he doesn’t want to admit it. Maybe Casey is working a covert mission under direct orders from Higgins. Maybe he knows about the mole and is trying to protect himself and the rest of them.

With these considerations, Billy thinks about calling Michael. No doubt, their fearless leader would have plentiful explanations, and he’d probably make sussing out the answers his utmost priority.

Which is precisely why Billy can’t call him.

It won’t do Michael any good to have more fuel to stoke his paranoid flame. And it will only harm the cohesion of the team if the doubt takes hold in that manner. Telling Michael is cementing that this isn’t just an anomaly but a problem.

And Billy not ready for that.

Yet.

He chews his lip, folding the napkin absently.

Calling Rick is, of course, another option. It wouldn’t be hard to talk Rick into keeping a side investigation off the books. In fact, there’s a good chance that Rick would take right to it with a vigor. But the problem with wee Rick is that he’d take it very, very seriously. If Billy talks him into doubting Casey, the lad would never stop.

The team would have a hard time recovering.

No, the person Billy would normally turn to is Casey, because Casey Malick is the perfect partner in crime for these sorts of things. He has Michael’s paranoia and Rick’s unqualified commitment. But he also has Billy’s appreciation for cutting corners when it’s appropriate and necessary.

No matter what Casey says, Billy knows Casey.

He knows there’s a reasonable explanation, and they’ll both be better off when Billy finds it. He can’t ask Rick and he can’t ask Michael, so he’ll just have let Casey help him.

Billy swallows the last of his drink, mind made up.

Whether the bastard knows he’s helping or not.

-o-

One might think Billy would feel guilty, spying on one of his best mates.

But that wouldn’t take into account the nature of Billy’s mates.

Spies? They spy on each other all the time. Billy finds bugs in his flat several times a year, and he reckons it’s a toss up as to whether it’s Michael or Casey. Poor Michael, Billy knows, probably doesn’t even have the willpower to stop himself.

In fact, Billy once found a GPS tracker in his shoe and a video hidden in his guitar case. He knows for a fact that Michael goes through his things at the office on a regular basis, and he is fairly certain that Casey has tried to poison him -- slightly -- on several occasions.

Rick is a slow learner in this, which is why Billy did his best not to see the bug Martinez planted on his microwave, just for the sheer sake of making the lad feel like he was making progress.

Between them, it’s all fair game, though honestly, Billy doesn’t have the same tenacity for it as the others do. Sure, he’ll plant the odd bug here or there, but monitoring such equipment? Is a royal pain in the backside. Billy has better things to do with his time.

That isn’t to say, however, that he’s any less skilled at it.

He’s not.

Not in the least.

Between the four of him, he has the smoothest touch, and he’s their go-to man whenever precision is in question.

That said, he doesn’t have much desire to bug Casey’s apartment. Going through his desk is easy enough, which just leaves Casey himself.

He doesn’t need to hear everything Casey is doing -- that would be overkill.

He just needs to know where the other man is going. Where he’s spending his time will be indicative enough of what Billy wants to know. It should clear him of suspicion and suggest what other things might be distracting Casey. None of it would be admissible anywhere, but this isn’t really an investigation.

This is just intrigue among friends.

That’s what Billy tells himself, anyway, as he easily slips a GPS tracker into the sole of Casey’s shoe during their lunchtime gym visit.

The best spies don’t spy together.

They spy on each other.

And Billy believes he has no better friend in the world than Casey Malick.

-o-

Fortunately, Billy has plenty of time to spare these days.

Sure, Michael’s going on and on about a follow up to Paris in Italy, and yes, Rick is up in arms about being dragged through another series of training regimens, and while technically Billy volunteered to scan the newest intel out of the Mediterranean, it’s not like it’s particularly challenging work. He just flags anything that has to do with guns, drugs or terrorists and sends it on to Michael. Since that includes nearly every bit of intelligence, Billy’s job is easy.

Michael’s on the other hand…

Well, that’s why Michael is Michael.

Billy would feel guilty except he knows how much Michael secretly loves it.

Even better, Michael is still so pissed off at Casey for dragging them to Nigeria -- on principle, mind you, principle alone -- that he sends Casey to every possible briefing about everything even remotely connected to their current mission.

This means that Billy has a lot of time alone in the office.

That’s plenty of time to go through Casey’s desk, to break Casey’s password and check his emails and to run through Casey’s day planner, just to be safe. He even checks the history on Casey’s desk phone, double checks every report on his desk and discovers two hidden drawers filled with lollipops and bullets.

Not together, at least.

Billy skims a little off the top of both. The bullets, because honestly it scares him a little to think anyone needs that much firepower, and the lollipops because Billy has a sweet tooth that won’t quit.

For all of this, Billy comes up with relatively little. There is nothing surprising anywhere, and even the mistakes on Casey’s reports seem to have vanished. Granted, it’s possible that Billy tipped him off, making him more diligent in his work, but it’s also equally possible that the lapse was just that -- a lapse.

Everything else, though, is perfectly normal. Casey has an impeccable inbox, which is cleaned out and organized. There are a few strange emails in the spam filter, but nothing that seems out of ordinary. His desk has a few more papers than normal, but considering the number of briefings Michael is sending him to, that’s probably to be expected. And his call history isn’t especially noteworthy, save for repeated orders from a Chinese place Billy has never heard of.

But then, he does see Casey bring in the leftovers of kung pow chicken on a regular basis, so the human weapon may be picking up a penchant for cheap, easy food after all.

In short, there’s a reasonable explanation for everything.

It still bothers him, though.

Why there needs to be an explanation at all.

-o-

“You’re making too big of deal out of this,” Casey says with a sigh of exasperation.

Michael glares at him. “I’m not.”

“We did just get back from Paris,” Rick points out.

Michael turns his deadly glare toward him. “And we always knew there’d be more to do.”

“You think we can take them down?” Billy asks. “Already?”

“No,” Michael admits, clearing his throat just a bit. “But the intelligence--”

“We would just be wasting time and resources on intelligence that other people can gather,” Casey says for him.

Michael narrows his eyes. “That’s what I told you about Nigeria.”

Casey doesn’t flinch. “Nigeria was a much more important network,” he says. “What you’re tracking here in Italy -- they’ve been established low tier middle men for decades. Decades. They’re not going anywhere, so we shouldn’t be either.”

“That’s why they’re the perfect entry point,” Michael says. “If we can infiltrate them, we can get a line on some of the major players in the region.”

“Or,” Casey says. “We could go after the major players ourselves.”

“A straight on assault?” Michael asks. “Too risky.”

“And this is too pointless!” Casey objects. “Because getting in is easy, but do you really think the major players are going to waste their time with these guys?”

Michael’s face is set like stone. “The intelligence says they will.”

Casey takes a measured breath. “And do we always believe the intelligence?”

Sitting back, Michael crosses his arms over his chest. “When I’ve gathered it all, yes.”

Rick is watching between them wide-eyed.

Billy chuffs slightly, trying to ease the tension. “Well, let’s focus on what we do know then, eh?” he asks. “I mean, as far as the story goes, we know there’s something big coming.”

Michael looks at him, jaw working hard. “Something big,” he says. “The chatter’s gone up.”

“But we can’t know for sure that’s where it’s localized,” Casey argues.

“But that’s also why we work as a team,” Billy says. “Not just us, even. The Agency. We’ve got a whole network on our side. We pursue our lead--”

“--and the others will pursue theirs,” Rick says with a nod.

Michael holds up his hand, as though they’ve found the most important, self-evident truth. “Exactly.”

“It sounds reasonable,” Billy says, eyes on Casey again.

Casey’s expression flickers, and he holds himself very still. “What if it’s the wrong lead?”

“Only one way to find out,” Michael says.

“And we have to follow up until we know,” Rick says.

Billy smiles at his friend in commiseration. “That’s our story to tell, I’m afraid,” he says. “Not always the one we want or expect.”

“And if it’s the wrong thing in the end?” Casey asks sharply.

“Well, that’s why they call it the conflict,” Billy says. He makes a face. “Keeps life interesting.”

-o-

For all that the GPS tracker is clever, it isn’t overly informative. Casey, for all his secrecy, maintains a relatively small radius. True, he varies his schedule, taking different routes and choosing distinct destinations, but after observing the pattern for two weeks, it’s fairly clear to Billy that Casey’s life does not contain anything too unexpected.

Mostly, Casey prefers his own company in his own house. He frequents bars on a regular basis -- but never the same bar at the same time -- and he must belong to half a dozen gyms in the general vicinities of his home. The routes Casey chooses are roundabout, to be sure, but there’s no indication that Casey is loitering or stopping more than is necessarily. His circuitous choices are basic spy 101, and if anything, Billy would have expected more.

The only thing that does surprise Billy is the number of stops at fast food restaurants.

Granted, it shouldn’t seem so unusual. But for a man who grow his own vegetables on the roof of his flat and visits the farmer’s market as often as he can, it does seem strange.

To be safe, Billy visits each restaurant -- and then he visits every fast food restaurant he can think of that might be another one of Casey’s future stops. There’s nothing noteworthy about any of them, and they certainly don’t seem suspicious in their own right. There’s nothing in any of them but a lot of cheap food and hungry people with absolutely no regard to their own personal well being.

To that end, Billy fits right in.

All in all, this extra work has gained him very little.

Except, perhaps, five extra pounds.

-o-

If his efforts to follow Casey are coming to nothing, Michael’s earnest attempt to get them to Italy after Paris are coming together faster than Billy anticipates. It’s hardly three weeks later when Michael is putting together a pitch to Higgins to take them back, and he’s running them all ragged to get it done.

This is disconcerting, of course, because Billy has to work.

If the paperwork after a mission is time-consuming, the documentation needed to obtain approval is mind-boggling. Honestly, it’s a dangerous thing being thrown in the field with little or no prep time, but at least the danger is a trade off for the agonizing detail of filing every requisition form invented by the American government since the 1950s.

It’s miserable, that’s what it is. There’s a reason spy tales always leave this part out -- it’s excruciating. And makes for a damn poor story.

Unfortunately, while Billy can write whatever story he wants in his reports, he still have to live the one written for him.

“So I just found out,” Michael says, walking back into the office with a glare. “That one of you isn’t filing his paperwork.”

Rick looks up, blinking. “Wait,” he says. “That’s an option.”

“Not for you, it’s not,” Michael says, sitting down in his chair with a sigh. “Which means--”

He turns to Billy.

Billy scoffs. “I’ve been working my fingers to the bone here,” he says. “And frankly, I resent the implication.”

“You’re not exactly known for your timeliness,” Michael points out. “Unless you’d like me to bring up how you’ve been late every day we’ve carpooled for the last eight years.

“Fashionably late,” Billy corrects. “But never actually late.”

“I do know you hate to more work than is actually necessary,” Rick says.

“And what did I ever do to you?” Billy asks. “Besides, going up to visit the lovely ladies in receiving is no work at all. Seriously. It’s not me.”

He has a good point, and more than that, he is actually telling the truth. Billy had been on point with all his work lately.

Which means.

He looks to Casey.

So does Michael and Rick.

Casey doesn’t look away from his computer. “What?”

“You’re the one?” Michael asks, actually sounding surprised. “You’re the one blowing me off?”

Casey shrugs diffidently. “I’m the one refusing to waste my time.”

“It’s paperwork, Malick,” Michael says curtly. “Part of the game, which you know just as well as I do.”

“I know it’s paperwork,” Casey says. “But it’s paperwork for a mission we don’t need to go on.”

It’s the wrong thing to say. Billy braces himself, stealing a glance at Michael’s face, which has gone pinched and white. “I’ve already explained--”

“It’s a paranoid gambit,” Casey says finally leveling a look at Michael. “We have other things we could be doing.”

“What, like going back to Nigeria?” Michael asks, folding his arms stiffly across his chest.

“Nigeria was a good mission,” Casey says coldly.

“And Italy’s a good mission,” Michael returns.

Casey’s eyes glint.

Michael’s posture stiffens.

“And we’re all on the same team,” Billy interjects. “Remember that? How we work together--

Michael sighs in exasperation. “Well, I’m trying--”

“And so am I!” Casey objects.

Rick looks somewhat stricken.

Billy clears his throat. “It’s always up in the air, which missions will be worth it and which ones won’t,” he says. “We owe it to each other to follow through, though. That’s what trust is all about, eh?”

Casey huffs, shaking his head. “I never said I wouldn’t go,” he mutters. “I just don’t see why I should do the paperwork.”

Michael looks ready to fight, so Billy shakes his head. “Then I will,” he says.

Michael raises his eyebrows. Rick tilts his head and Casey steals a sideways look at him.

“In the name of team unity, of course,” Billy assures them. “Anyway, my creative writing skills could use a little work.”

“A little?” Michael asks.

“My files are brilliant,” Billy tells him with feigned sternness.

“And the lovely ladies in filing?” Rick asks with a knowing twist of his lips.

“Well,” Billy says, starting to grin. “They’re brilliant, too.”

-o-

Despite Billy’s successful attempts to ease the tension on the team, it’s more than a bit of a relief when Michael heads off to a briefing with Rick in tow.

It’s just as well, Billy supposes. He does have an inordinate amount of paperwork to do now. Which wouldn’t be so bad except Casey is sitting in the desk next to him -- doing nothing.

For several minutes, Billy casts sidelong glances toward his teammate, shuffling his papers unduly loud. When he doesn’t receive as much as a glance, Billy starts to drum his pen on the desk absently, all but staring at Casey.

Casey refuses to indulge him with a look. He does, however, reply. “If you don’t stop doing that now, I’m going to come over and break your fingers and stop it for you.”

The violence is disproportionate but Billy is undaunted. “Just wondering, is all,” he says.

“Don’t strain yourself,” Casey says.

“You claim this paperwork is pointless,” Billy says.

“It is pointless,” Casey interjects.

“But you’re sitting over there, playing solitaire,” Billy points out. “You hate solitaire.”

Casey’s brow darkens. “I hate that the latest Agency upgrades got rid of minesweeper, but that’s not the point.”

“That is a travesty, to be sure, which is why I can’t fathom why you think paperwork is such an unforgivable sin,” Billy presses. “And we certainly don’t need to string Michael along any more than he already is. The man is wound as tight as a drum, and you keep hitting him to see what kind of sound you’ll get.”

Casey sits back at that, looking at Billy curiously. “Your point?”

“My point is that Italy is not some flight of fancy -- you know that,” he says. “Michael’s asked you to do far more ridiculous things, and you’ve complied with far less fuss.”

Casey’s face tightens just slightly. “I’m not trying to frustrate Michael.”

“Then have you developed a sudden resistance to the Mediterranean?”

“It’s Italy, okay,” Casey says, sounding somewhat exasperated.

“Then what?” Billy pushes. “Because I’ll play this game for team unity, but between you and Michael, I’m not sure what’s actually going to keep this team together.”

“This team is fine,” Casey says, a little sharper than Billy expects. “I just know what my skill set is. I know what my priorities are. There’s nothing in Italy that is worth my time.”

“Except your team,” Billy reminds him.

Casey holds himself steady, hesitating for a moment. “No one swore an oath to this team,” he says.

“And the last seven years in the field?” Billy asks.

“Speak for themselves,” Casey tells him.

Billy sighs, shaking his head. “I was kicked out of one country, you know,” he says. “And I gave everything to that country -- my very soul. It’d be easy to sell my services to the higher bidder, but I’m no more interested in that than I am bleeding red, white and blue. The team, though. That’s the heart of it; that’s the story that matters.”

“You know, your story metaphor isn’t bad,” Casey says.


Billy puffs up with pride for a moment.

“But it is limited,” Casey continues. “You assume we’re all in the same story, that we all start and end at the same points.”

“And we don’t?” Billy asks.

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell,” Casey says. “We don’t know the ending yet, do we?”

“No,” Billy agrees with a slow nod. “I don’t suppose we do.”

They sit for a moment, silence between them. Finally, Casey collects a breath. “I started the paperwork,” he says. He opens his desk drawer, pulling out the file. He tosses it to Billy. “For what it’s worth.”

Billy catches it with a smile. “It’s worth more than you know.”

Casey rolls his eyes. “You’re too sentimental, Collins,” he mutters, starting his game of solitaire on the computer again.

“It’s true, I’m afraid,” Billy concedes, opening it up to the front page. “You wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Casey grunts.

Billy grins as he gets back to work.

-o-