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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: Not-So-Secret Identities (3/9)

December 28th, 2015 (02:36 pm)
determined

feeling: determined

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



The rest of the day is actually quite pleasant. Billy’s muse is being kind to him, and with Casey’s start, it’s easy to fill in the rest, and Billy write quite prolifically. He has it all done and filed by the end of the day, which is good since Michael seems to think they can be on a plane by week’s end.

“Just to be clear,” Billy says. “We’ll be out of town this weekend?”

“I booked us tickets for Friday,” Michael replies, sorting through the things on his desk. “I have to get it cleared with Higgins, but I think it should work.”

Billy sighs.

Michael looks up. “Now you have a problem with Italy?”

“Oh, no, not Italy,” Billy says. “It’s just that I may have made another date for this weekend.”

“Your only date is with American public,” Michael says.

Billy makes a face. “And to think, I was hoping to get lucky.”

Michael rolls his eyes. “I’m working late tonight,” he says. “Can you get a ride?”

At this, Billy all out groans. “Casey’s already left.”

Michael opens up a filing cabinet, sifting through it. “Casey wouldn’t give you a ride anyway.”

“He might,” Billy objects.

“I saw Martinez down in requisitions,” Michael says. “If you hurry--”

“Begging rides of the newbie,” Billy says dejected. “Hardly the story of a hero.”

“The hero would be at work, pulling an all nighter,” Michael points out, closing the drawer.

“Ah,” Billy says, getting to his feet. “Then you can be the hero tonight.”

Michael chuckles. “You better not be late tomorrow.”

Billy is at the door by now, and he turns back with a grin. “Who? Me?”

Michael shakes his head, giving a sigh of his own. “I appreciate it, you know.”

“My tardiness?” Billy asks.

“Your dependability,” Michael says. He pauses, rubbing at his forehead. “I still can’t shake this feeling--”

“I get it,” Billy says, gently now. “Just try to remember the big picture. You’re not fighting this thing alone.”

Michael nods. “I mean what I said, you know,” he says. “Don’t be late.”

Billy gives him a mocking salute. “You have my word.”

-o-

It’s a near thing when he gets to requisitions. He spots Rick from behind, and it’s a testament to the length of Billy’s stride that he’s able to catch up.

Rick gives him a curious look. “You need a ride? Really?”

“What?” Billy asks, shrugging. “You try carpooling with a man who has the biggest God complex in North America and see how that works out for you.”

“You could drive yourself,” Rick suggests.

“And then I would have to own a car,” Billy says.

“Yeah, why don’t you--”

Billy shakes his head. “It’s a minor miscommunication.”

“Like your deportation?”

Billy gives Martinez a small but knowing glare. “Let’s just say that the American government trusts me to do its dirty work, but apparently if you run a few stop signs, that’s a terrible thing.”

Rick’s brow furrows. “So all those times you drive us around?”

“Is perfectly safe,” Billy says. Then he shrugs. “Just maybe not entirely legal.”

“I’m not sure how this makes me feel better,” Rick admits.

“Ah, well,” Billy tells him, clapping him on the shoulder. “It’s not like any of us have been in stellar moods lately.”

“Yeah,” Rick says, moving toward the elevator. “I’ve been meaning to ask about that.”

Billy makes a small dismissive sound. “Just office politics.”

“No, I get that,” Rick says. “It’s a stressful line of work, what we do. Tensions should run high when things like national security are on the line.”

“And as much as I don’t like sitting idle, back to back missions does take its toll,” Billy adds.

“I know,” Rick says. “We’re all working overtime to make this happen. All of us except Casey.”

Billy doesn’t have a quick reply to that.

Martinez continues, shaking his head again. “I know you guys do things your own way -- Casey especially -- but that’s just not like him. I mean, it’s like he doesn’t care.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s entirely fair--”

“He’s not doing the work,” Rick says. “How are we supposed to, in good faith, go into the field when he’s only pulling a fraction of his weight?”

“He comes through when he needs to,” Billy reminds him. “That’s something you’ve learned since our first foray into Africa all those years ago.”

“Yeah, I know,” Rick says. “But this is different. Because if I’m going to eat scorpions, can’t he at least file the paperwork?”

It’s a valid point, and it’s not one that Billy can exactly refute.

Then again, Billy’s never needed the truth to win an argument.

No, it’s all a matter of persuasion. “He’s always been there,” Billy reiterates, more passionately this time. “Do you remember in Russia? When you were about to be put in jail and transferred to inhospitable authorities? Casey was the one who did everything he could to get you out. Casey -- all on his own -- refused to leave you behind. That’s what teamwork is all about. Trust.”

“Even when they’re hiding something?”

Billy tilts his head. “Especially then,” he says as they round the last corner to the elevator bank. “Besides, we’re spies. We’re always hiding something.

“So it doesn’t bother you,” Rick says. “The way Casey’s acting.”

“I just don’t assume it’s nearly as big of deal as you seem to think,” Billy says, pushing the button to the elevator. “It could just be personal business. Casey in one of his moods. I’ve simply come to accept that I’m not always going to have all the answers.”

“And that doesn’t bother you?” Rick asks as the doors part.

Billy steps forward. “If it does,” he says sagely. “Then I think we’re in the wrong line of work.”

-o-

Rick is a conscientious driver, which is not surprising. It’s not an unpleasant drive, though, even if it is a bit slow. Rick is decidedly better at chitchat than Michael, and for once it is nice to drive home without discussing missions or arguing about what to play on the radio.

Still, when Billy gets home, he can’t shake the feeling that he’s missing something. That there’s another shoe still to fall.

Michael is a paranoid mess; Rick is angsting like a kid scared that his parents are fighting. And Casey? He’s picked a hell of a time to start acting like a cold hearted bastard.

They all have reasons, and Billy can surmise all of them. But taken all together?

It’s becoming a bit unsettling.

Foreshadowing, he reminds himself.

This is all foreshadowing.

It sets the mood; mentally prepares people for what’s coming next, even if they can’t consciously predict it at all.

The problem is, of course, there’s no way to know exactly what is being foreshadowed.

If there was, it wouldn’t be much of a story.

Somehow, this time, that doesn’t make Billy feel much better.

-o-

Yet, the story still goes on.

Billy, after all, still has a job to do, even if he has to carpool with a rookie and put up with Casey’s bad mood. For about two days, Billy’s so buried in the paperwork to think about much else. By that time, he’s still got to memorize his alias and the full scale mission parameters.

Which is why he really doesn’t need Michael to go full on mad.

He storms into the office, tearing straight for his desk. “I’m going to kill him.”

Rick blinks, a little shocked at the sudden intrusion. “Um…”

Michael doesn’t stop, though. A stack of papers goes flying. “I’m going to kill him,” he says again, pulling his top drawer open with a clatter.

Billy lifts his eyebrows, unwilling to risk Michael’s anger just yet.

Michael slams the drawer shut, flipping through a file. “I’m going to kill him.

Rick looks pale at his desk.

Billy presses his lips together, sitting forward with a wince. “Kill who exactly?” he says gingerly.

“Casey,” Michael all but growls. He shakes his head. “The bastard only turned in a fraction of his paperwork.”

“Well, sure, but I did the rest,” Billy says.

“I know,” Michael says, throwing the file down. “That’s not the problem.”

“And the problem is?” Billy prods gently.

Michael runs a hand through his hair. “The problem is that the two things he did file? He screwed up. Everything was off -- times and dates and protocols. Everything was off.

“Well, we can fix it--” Rick starts.

“It’s already been partially processed,” Michael snaps. “But now it’s popping up on every internal auditing system the CIA has, flagging the entire damn mission. As of right now, we’re grounded.

That’s not the plot twist Billy’s been expecting.

Rick visibly gapes.

Michael nods, face twisted tight. “Until the Agency can figure out what’s what with our paperwork, none of us are going anywhere,” he says. He lashes out, kicking at his chair. “I’m going to kill him.

Rick lets out a breath. “Well, can’t he just explain--”

“Once the audit goes live, there’s nothing we can do,” Michael says, starting to pace.

Billy shakes his head. “There has to be some sort of explanation.”

“Oh, there’s an explanation,” Michael says. “And it involves me dragging his ass into this office and killing him.

Billy wets his lips, getting to his feet. “He’s in a briefing right now, isn’t he?”


“Yeah,” Michael says. “That has nothing to do with Italy.”

“Well, why don’t I head on down there,” Billy suggests as diplomatically as he can. “And I’ll get him back here, and we’ll start sorting the whole thing out, yeah?”

“You mean we’ll sort out--”

“How to kill him, yeah,” Billy says. “Or, you know, something slightly less violent.”

“Fine,” Michael grinds out with a vehement glare. “But I swear--

Billy waves his hand sympathetically, moving toward the death. “Death will reign!”

-o-

All joking aside, this is serious business. Billy’s not quite at the level of homicide like Michael, but he is more than a bit perturbed about busting his backside getting this paperwork done in time just to be foiled by more faulty files. More than that, he already cancelled his date this weekend.

Casey better have a good explanation.

Not that he’s had an explanation for any of it, but this might at least give Billy some leverage to get it out of him for once. Of course, it’s entirely possible that this isn’t an accident. Casey’s not careless by nature, which is why it’s so infuriating.

And why it’s so unlikely.

Whatever game is afoot, it’s possible that Billy has underestimated it. Casey can’t possibly think that all of this will amount to nothing. That Michael will grumble and look the other way for this.

And he knows Billy suspects something.

So why would he be so damn obvious?

They’re going to have to have a long chat, the two of them, once Billy finds him.

But that’s the rub, isn’t it?

Billy has to find him.

And it only takes him two seconds to peek into a highly classified briefing he has not been invited to to realize that Casey’s not there.

He’s also not in the other half dozen briefings going on throughout the building. He’s not in the gym, the break room or their favorite supply room. He’s not at the coffee cart, and he’s not in the library.

He’s not anywhere.

“Bloody hell,” Billy mutters, chewing on his lip. He picks up his phone and pulls up Casey’s number. “Michael’s not going to be pleased if you fouled up the paperwork and went AWOL.”

He’s about to dial, but then he reconsiders. If he calls, Casey may well answer and provide Billy with another story. Casey’s stories, however, are not like Billy’s. They’re to the point and sufficient, but they lack all finesse. More importantly, they’re far more fictional. Billy tells stories with a shred of truth.

Casey, though, has no sense of literary responsibility.

Billy sighs, cancelling the call. Instead, he pulls up the GPS app he’s jury rigged on his phone. He’s just got one mark on it right now.

The only one he needs.

There’s a small dot on the screen, and Billy pulls out to the greater metropolitan area to get his grounding. Then he zooms back in, drawing up the map feature to cross reference the location.

It’s an Arby’s, three miles from Langley. Nothing much special about it.

Except that’s where Casey is.

-o-

Billy considers checking in with Michael, but considering how little he has to tell the other man, he decides against it. Not only does Billy not feel prepared to answer the full range of questions Michael may have about Casey’s behavior and Billy’s insight into it, but he also does not want to face Michael wrath when he shows up empty handed.

No, it’s better if Billy goes and retrieves Casey.

Then he can Casey deal with Michael.

First things first, though. He has to get him.

Billy has worked with subtlety and stealth so far while tracking Casey, but by this time, it’s no holds barred for him. Casey has crossed a line now, wherein his behavior isn’t some minor inconvenience.

No, there is something going on here, and Billy’s tired of reading the footnotes when he wants to skip to the end.

He finds the Arby’s without too much trouble, and as much as he loves a good roast beef sandwich and curly fries, he doesn’t indulge. Instead, he stalks inside, moving seamlessly to the booth down the side with clear lines of sight and sits himself down.

Casey looks up, face barely registering surprise. “Aren’t you supposed to be doing paperwork?” he asks blandly, looking back down at the notebook in front of him.

Billy purses his lips and strives for self control. “I could say the same to you,” he says. “But wait, you did do your paperwork. Wrong.

Casey offers up a benign look.

“Mission’s been scrubbed while the whole damn thing’s under investigation,” Billy tells him. “You can only imagine how well Michael’s taking that news.”

Casey shrugs. “I’m sure it’s just minor irregularities,” he says. “Nothing that Agency won’t clear.”

“When it’s too late,” Billy says. “The window of opportunity will close -- Italy will be a bust.”

“It already was a bust,” Casey says, as if Billy should know that. He takes a noisy drink of his soda. “We’re not going to miss anything.”

“You can’t be so damn sure,” Billy says. “Beside, we’re a team. You’re supposed to work for us, not against us.”

“Hey,” Casey says. “I am always for the team.”

“Which is why you stabbed Michael in the back?” Billy asks. “Come on, those kind of mistakes -- they’re not your style.”

“I wasn’t exactly motivated,” Casey tries to explain.

Billy tuts, shaking his head insistently. “Then you wouldn’t have filed it at all,” he says. “No, you filed bad reports on purpose -- just enough to ground us without actually getting any of us in trouble. We planned this mission. We, as a team. You’re supposed to be in line with that.”

“Just because I’m not doesn’t necessarily make me wrong,” Casey points out.

“Come on, mate,” Billy cajoles in disappointment. “You know that’s not how it works. We were there for you, weren’t we? In Nigeria? And all the missions before that?”

Billy’s working hard to keep his cool. He does, after all, trust Casey. Despite all this, despite everything, Casey’s his teammate and Casey is his friend. That matters to Billy. Characters are the core of any story. If you don’t like the characters, then no matter what action you throw out there, it’s all for naught.

You have to invest in the characters from the start.

And Billy has. Billy has.

But Casey’s making it so damn hard.

“I have a greater responsibility,” he says. “We all do.”

It’s so simple and plaintive, and Billy suddenly feels the urge toward violence that might make Michael proud.

Beating Casey would be a distraction, however.

Assuming, of course, that he even could.

He’s pretty sure he couldn’t.

Instead, Billy forces himself to take a deep breath. He lets it out, trying to allay the tension building in between his shoulders. “Then why are you here?”

Casey makes a noncommittal face. “You already know about my secret fast food fetish.”

Billy nods at the notebook, which has a series of numbers written in it. “And that?”

Casey glances down. “I figured instead of going to the briefing, I should focus on actual work,” he says.

“This is hardly a secure location,” Billy points out.

“And it’s all in code,” Casey counters. He narrows his gaze. “How did you find me anywhere?”

“Like you said, I know about your secret fast food fetish,” Billy says.

“There are dozens of fast food restaurants within this radius of Langley,” he says dubiously.

It’s a good point, a very valid one. But if Casey’s not going to indulge Billy with the truth, then Billy’s certainly not going to give him anything either. “I know you,” he says instead, leaning forward. “Better than you think.”

Casey didn’t shy away. He almost smiles. “But not as well as you think.”

Billy forces himself to take another even breath. “You’re going to need a better explanation for Michael,” he says. “Needless to say, he’s not very pleased with you.”

Casey closes his notebook, gathering up his trash. “I’m not worried about Michael.”

“This time,” Billy says, getting to his feet while Casey takes his tray to the trash. “I think maybe you ought to be.”

-o-

Billy isn’t technically supposed to drive on American soil, but Michael gave him a spare key to his car a few years back. For as much as Michael liked control, one might suspect he preferred taking the wheel, but as it turned out, he could be more of a paranoid bastard from the passenger’s seat. Most people hate backseat drivers, but none of them had been in the car with Michael Dorset.

All that said, Michael had found it wearisome when Billy kept hotwiring it in cases of emergency, especially when Billy considered the need for a fresh doughnut an emergency. The spare key had just made sense.

Billy glances in his rearview mirror, where Casey’s car is right behind him.

At least something still makes sense about all this.

Because Billy is rapidly losing the plot as far as Casey is concerned. He’s starting to doubt his hands-off approach. Usually giving slack in the rope is a risk to the other person, but Billy fears he may be setting up to hang himself if he’s not careful.

He keeps a keen eye on the rearview mirror, watching to see Casey make every turn behind him.

All the while, Casey keeps an equally keen eye on him.

External conflict.

Bad for the soul, but damn good for the story.

“The emotional payoff just better be worth it,” Billy mutters to himself, giving Casey a glare. “Or you and I are going to have words, mate. Harsh words.”

-o-

Billy’s angry.

Michael is apoplectic.

It’s a cold rage, the kind Billy has seen only once before, back in North Africa when Carson Sims went up in a ball of fire and smoke. It’s a deadly, calculating ferocity that has seeped down deep past all the facades until the only true thing is anger.

It’s the kind of thing that turns Michael Dorset into a paranoid bastard into one of the scariest damn men Billy’s ever met.

Casey, though, is scared of no one.

Michael sits rigidly at his desk while Casey strolls easily to his own. He sits down, clicking his mouse as if nothing is the matter at all.

That just makes it worse.

Under normal circumstances, Casey could take out any of them at a moment’s notice, but the unadulterated rage in Michael’s eyes tells Billy this could be an even fight. Not that he suspects it will come to physical violence, but it probably doesn’t have to.

Michael doesn’t need to throw a punch for this to go from bad to worse.

There are several tense moments, and Billy fights the urge to take Martinez by the scruff of his neck and get them both the hell out. As it is, he’s too mesmerized to move, wondering who will take the first volley.

Casey has the grit, at least.

And Michael’s got the offensive on his mind.

“So?” he asks, sharp and cutting.

Casey barely glances at him. “So?”

Michael’s steely gaze is unyielding. “You’re not going to try to explain it to me?”

“Explain what?” Casey asks, shrugging. “We work for a bureaucratic agency; I’m not sure what you expect.”

“I expect,” Michael all but growls, “that you’ll do your job.”

“We don’t play by Higgins’ rules,” Casey says. “I’m not about to start.”

“What about my rules?” Michael says.

Casey has the audacity to raise his eyebrows. “I thought we were a team.”

Michael slams his hand on his desk so hard that Billy flinches. Rick nearly jumps out of his chair. “And that’s the point. We’re a team, and we do what teams do. And I don’t like all the rules the Agency makes that just slow down the process, but I recognize what team I joined, and I stick to it. Damn it, Casey, I stick to it because the mission matters.

Casey levels Michael with a cool, unrelenting look. “Italy is not the mission that matters.”

A flush of color rises in Michael’s cheeks, and Billy braces himself. “And who the hell are you to decide that?”

“Someone with half a brain who knows what the intel says,” Casey replies.

“So, what, then?” Michael asks. “This was active sabotage?”

“Oh, please,” Casey says. “If I wanted to sabotage you, I could do a whole lot more than haphazard paperwork.”

Michael shakes his head. “What the hell are you even talking about?” he asks. “I need you to have my back.”

“I do,” Casey says.

“Really?” Michael asks. “Because I sure as hell don’t see it.”

“Well, maybe you’re not looking very hard,” Casey says. “For someone who claims to be a mastermind, you sometimes miss the obvious.”

Michael’s face is beet red now, his jaw locked as he grinds his teeth together. The tension is drawn in his shoulders, holding his entire body so stiff that it looks like he could shatter.

Billy thinks he just might.

They all might, really.

It’s impossible to say why or how, but they’ve found themselves at a precipice that Billy can’t quite identify but can’t very well deny. Something has shifted, something has changed, and Billy recognizes a defining moment when he’s in one.

Antagonists are not always bad people, Billy knows. Sometimes they’re all good people who see different sides of the same issue. Sometimes they’re best mates who keep secrets for all the best reasons.

Then, Michael releases a breath. He wets his lips and inhales again. “Go.”

Casey frowns, studying his computer screen again. “Go where? I thought we were grounded.”

“Go,” Michael says again. “Go home.

This time Casey looks up.

Michael nods. “Go home,” he says. “Take the rest of the week. Maybe next week, too.”

“I don’t want a vacation--”

“And I don’t want to have Higgins kick you off my team,” Michael seethes. “So go home and take a week while I figure out what the hell I do want to do with you.”

It’s not a move Billy sees coming, but it is about the only one that makes sense. Casey’s unrepentant and Michael’s up against a wall. Something has got to give or they are surely going to break.

“You’re serious?” Casey asks.

“Does it sound like I’m joking?” Michael returns.

Casey presses his lips together, looking to Rick and then Billy. He works his jaw for a moment, as if to consider his options. “You know me, Michael,” he says.

“Yeah,” Michael agrees. “And you know me.”

There’s a lot left to say; a lot left to ask. There are questions no one has dared speak of and answers that no one seems willing to give. It’s a game they’re all playing with their cards so close to their vest, and they all must be telling themselves it’s worth it. That, in the end, things will work out.

They all trust that this story will make sense, that the resolution will be worth the conflict. That’s what they do, after all. They hope that lying and subterfuge and trickery will achieve the end they want. That it will make the world a better place and bring them closer together.

That’s what Billy’s been telling himself, anyway.

Pity is, though, Billy’s been wrong before.

And as he watches Casey gather his things and walk out without looking back, he fears he may be wrong again.


-o-

One of the most convenient parts of any book or movie is the perfectly leveraged scene break. It’s a matter of practicality most of the time, since no one would want to watch long moments of silence or read through awkward periods of nonsensical small talk. The scene break allows writers to get to the point and move on. Plus, when well employed, it can make for a hell of a good emotional impact.

Real life, however, does not have scene breaks.

Real life is full of uneasy silences and lingering transitions.

Billy sits uncomfortably in his desk chair, wiggling his toes in his shoes, wishing he could be anywhere but here. In Casey’s absence, no one knows what to say. Billy’s pile of nearly complete paperwork is a lost cause now, and Rick keeps glancing between Billy and Michael, as if hoping that one of them will break the silence.

Michael, unfortunately, is methodically sorting through his files, stone-faced as he refuses to look up. Billy is usually all for providing the necessary comic relief for the team, but somehow, he doesn’t think it’d be appreciated today.

Or tolerated.

He knows better than to push Michael’s buttons.

He just wish he knew something that might help.

There’s not much, though. Billy can’t salvage the mission. Nothing he can do will get them on a plane for Italy, and he has no viable explanation for Casey’s behavior to make it seem more palatable at the moment.

Billy trusts his team, but they are making it damn hard right now.

Chewing his lip for a moment, Billy glances again at Rick. He gathers a breath and nods to himself. “You know, Rick, I almost forgot,” he says. “There’s a briefing coming up.”

Rick blinks at him, a bit dumbfounded. He glances to Michael. “But, um--”

“Pays to be prepared, lad,” Billy reminds him with a knowing tilt of his head. He cocks his eyebrows just a little. “For the next one.”

This whole turn of events has caught Rick unawares, but he’s not stupid. He understands the insinuation, and he glances toward Michael, closing his mouth. Furrowing his brow, he nods at Billy. “Can’t hurt, can it?”

Billy forces a smile. “Certainly not,” he says, watching while Rick gets to his feet. “Take notes for me, yeah?”

Rick offers him a weary smile back as he heads out the door.

Billy watches him go, eyes on the door for several long seconds. He sighs again before finally looking at Michael.

This isn’t a conversation Billy necessarily wants to have, but it’s also one he can’t avoid.

From the look on Michael’s face when he finally meets Billy’s gaze, he knows it, too.

“I wasn’t wrong,” Michael starts.

“I know,” Billy says.

“He was out of line,” Michael continues.

“I know,” Billy agrees.

“And the son of a bitch didn’t even apologize,” Michael says.

Billy nods somberly. “I know.”

Michael blows out a breath of frustration. “I mean, I get it, okay?” he says. “I’m pushing Italy like it’s everything, but I’m not letting them in on why.”

“You don’t even know why,” Billy points out.

“But I know something,” Michael says. He shakes his head. “Maybe I should just tell them. It’s not like I think it’s them, not even Casey.”

“Of course it’s not Casey,” Billy says. “But still, it seems like a secret worth keeping.”

“You think?” Michael asks.

Billy gives the room a cautious look. “This whole mess, it’s probably not just Caesy.”

Michael’s lips flatten out.

“That much bureaucratic response?” Billy says. “Someone doesn’t want you to go to Italy.”

“I know,” Michael says. “I keep going over it in my head. Someone had to flag the paperwork early, made sure they put it in the wrong hands.”

“That’s why you’ve got to be careful,” Billy advises. He tips his head to Casey’s desk and then Rick’s. “For their sake.”

Michael considers this, although it’s clear he doesn’t like it. Michael’s great with secrets, and he’s lied to his team when necessary, but he knows the power of his team. He knows when the truth can unite them, and how opposition brings them into their own.

And an Agency mole?

That’s something, something big. It’s something they have to deal with before Italy becomes more than it already is.

That’s also why Billy can’t share the information, because he’s not sure what it means in relationship to Casey. Casey’s always had his secret, but the timing of this one is curious. It could be coincidence, but it seems unlikely.

While it is sometimes helpful to put all the secrets out in the open, Billy’s keenly aware that sometimes it doesn’t work out so well. Not all secrets are meant to be shared, and not all truth is beneficial. Sometimes the truth just creates more questions, and sometimes secrets are the safest version of the truth.

Because Billy knows it could be coincidence, and he doesn’t doubt there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything.

It could still destroy them, though.

Trust isn’t about telling the truth, after all.

Trust is about knowing the other person will tell the truth when it matters.

It’s not that time yet.

“You’re sure about this?” Michael asks.

Billy chuckles dryly. “I’m not sure about anything.”

Michael almost smiles back. “At least I know I’m in good company.”

“Seriously, mate,” Billy says. “This will work out.”

“Italy?” Michael ask.

“Italy, the team,” Billy agrees. “We can sort the intel. We can line up the paperwork. You’re overworked and tired -- no wonder you’re so stressed out.”

Michael makes a face. “I’m picking fights with Casey--”

“Who deserves it, by the way,” Billy says. “But maybe a week to cool off -- it’ll bring him around.”

“You sure?” Michael asks, clearly dubious.

“Pshaw,” Billy says, wearing a large grin again. “You trust me, right?”

“Do I have a choice in that?” Michael asks.

“Unfortunately, no,” Billy says. “So mind your p’s and q’s and figure out how to get us to Italy.”

“And you?” Michael prompts.

Billy inclines his head. “I’ll figure out the rest.”

-o-

Most of the time, Billy is more than glad to go home. After talking to Michael, they’ve both agreed that a long weekend for the team is probably in order. With Italy out of the question for the time being, they will be better served regrouping -- and Billy knows that when it comes to intense planning sessions, Michael actually works best alone. Therefore, Michael will put through the paperwork, and it’s up to Billy to convince Rick that his presence is not going to be needed.

That is the hard part, of course. Most spies tend to be married to the job, which is why so few have successful outside relationships. Even marriages within the CIA are prone to difficulties because of the inherent demands of living a lie.

This is true, to some extent, for Billy as well. He doesn’t often entertain the idea of lasting companionship, and he’s mostly made his peace with that. Still, he’s not Michael Dorset, who spends his nights with files and intelligence. Nor is he Casey Malick, living in some zen state of perfect equilibrium.

No, in this manner, Billy is far more like his newest teammate than he suspects his teammates realize. Young Rick has numerous hobbies, and he’s a dutiful son and an earnest boyfriend. While they are both more than willing to give up their free time in the name of duty, it’s not something they relish.

That said, Billy has little desire to go home tonight.

Mostly because he knows that walking away will be harder for Rick than it will be for him.

It’s not that Rick’s not a good spy -- because he is. He could be the best of all of them, not that they’re about to admit such a thing. It’s just that Rick is still impossibly hopeful. Rick believes in all things good and bad, and while he’s willing to get his hands dirty, his concept of right and wrong is simply uncompromised. Essentially, Rick’s still a good person, the kind that Billy’s always hoped still existed in the world.

This is all to Rick’s benefit, as far as Billy’s concerned.

But it is not necessarily to Billy’s.

Because someone will have to help make everything parse, and it’s not Michael or Casey. No, that’s Billy’s job.

Most of the time, he doesn’t mind it. He fancies himself as a good mentor for someone like wee Rick. He likes to have someone to impart his wisdom to, even if it is not always requested.

Most of the time.

Then, of course, there are times like this.

Rick is quiet in the driver’s seat; he hasn’t said as much as a word since pulling out of the parking lot at Langley. Billy’s tried to ride along in amicable silence, but there’s no point in letting this lapse.

“I appreciate the drive,” Billy says to break the silence. “I’m not sure Michael’s left the office all week.”

Rick nods but can’t quite manage a smile. “Not sure what he has to stay for tonight.”

“Oh, you know Michael,” Billy says. “The writing on the wall is always a suggestion to him, not a prophecy.”

Rick makes a small, noncommittal sound in his throat.

Billy suppresses a sigh, for all the good it does him. “Office politics is always a little different in a place like the CIA.”

“Poison pills might make this easier,” Rick observes wryly.

Billy manages a small chuckle. “That’s a bit dramatic, don’t you think?”

“Is it?” Rick says. “Because Casey’s trying for sabotage, and Michael’s becoming a dictator. And you keep telling me that it’s all perfectly normal.”

“I never said normal,” Billy clarifies.

Rick shoots him a deadly look.

Billy winces. “I simply meant that it’s not out of the realm of acceptable conduct.”

Rick’s eyebrows shoot up.

Billy feels his cheeks redden. “I mean, it’s nothing that can’t be reasonably explained.”

“Then how?” Rick demands. “How do you explain it? Because I sort of feel like I should report every weird bit of behavior straight to Higgins, just to be safe.”

At that, Billy’s stomach drops. “That seems extreme--”

“Extreme?” Rick says. “Have you not been in our office for the last few weeks?”

“It’s been strained, I’ll grant you that,” Billy concedes. “But that’s my point. The things we do, the line of work we’re in -- sometimes it’s going to be strained. Sometimes we’re not all going to see eye to eye.”

Rick looks at him again, both hands still on the wheel. “This is more than a difference of opinion,” he says. He turns his attention back to the street, where traffic is moving. “But you probably know that, don’t you?”

“I suspect it, perhaps,” Billy says. “But I know little more than you do.”

Rick snorts softly. “And you don’t think I need to know.”

“I think you need to have some faith.”

“In who?” Rick asks. “Michael? Casey?”

“Me,” Billy says, quite seriously.

Rick gives him a disbelieving look.

Billy sighs. “The truth doesn’t set you free, not like people think it does,” he says. “People don’t want the truth; they want resolution.”

Rick shakes his head stubbornly. “That’s not true.”

“It is true,” Billy says. “Because the truth is messy. The truth is that people do things we can’t always understand. The truth is that we can’t understand until we know the context. The truth can be twisted and used to make people do anything you want. Context is what makes the resolution matter.”

“This isn’t a damn story, Billy,” Rick says. “And I’m not the new kid you need to protect.”

“And did it occur to you,” Billy asks, “that maybe I’m trying to protect them just as much as I’m trying to protect you?”

Rick grinds his teeth together for a moment. “So they are hiding something?”

Billy gives him a long look. “Lad, we’re all hiding something.”

“I’m not hiding anything!” Rick objects.

“Not well, anyway,” Billy murmurs.

“You know what I mean,” Rick snaps.

“And you know what I mean,” Billy says, settling back into his seat and looking out at the traffic. “It’s just as well anyway. We can take the weekend, relax. Get our bearings. Come back to work on Monday feeling refreshed for the task at hand.”

“You’re just hoping I stop asking questions on Monday,” Rick says.

“Or maybe just that I’ll have better answers then,” Billy says.

Rick drives for several more seconds, navigating around a corner. “You really think it’s going to be okay?”

“I may not be certain of the means,” Billy says with a rueful quirk of his lips. “But I’ve never doubted the end.”

-o-

After Rick drops him off, Billy watches the younger man pull away with a small wave. He waits until Rick’s car turns around the corner before he starts in, digging his phone out of his pocket as he looks for his key card. Inside his flat, he drops his things on the disheveled table, scrounging up a bag of chips and a bottle of water before he settles on the couch.

He considers picking up some food for dinner, but he doesn’t want to use the time.

Michael wants this time to let things settle.

Rick is supposed to take this time to relax.

Casey should be able to calm down a bit.

Billy, though?

Billy’s got a lot to do if he’s going to find answers.

It doesn’t matter what he’s told Rick; it doesn’t matter what he’s told Michael or Casey. Sometimes, you are just in the right place at the right time, and the duty of the truth falls to you. Someone has to pull together the disparate pieces to create a coherent context.

This time, that person is him.

And it starts, as it turns out, with GPS tracking.

-o-

Billy has been tracking Casey for some time now, and he’s even taken it so far as to chart the major destinations on a hard copy map in his flat. It’s not thoroughly cross referenced or up to Michael Dorset standards, but it’s provided him with an apt picture of Casey’s generalized movements over the last few weeks.

Over that time, he’s vetted a few locations and come up with nothing especially interesting aside from Casey newfound penchant for fast food. But there’s still something to it, something to the destinations and the patterns -- something that technology will never be able to tell Billy.

No, there’s a reason that the ODS thinks of themselves as the last of the old school spooks. They know the value of doing things the old fashioned way -- legwork.

Unfortunately for Billy, literally speaking.

It’s not so much that Billy isn’t physically fit -- he does what he needs to do -- but he doesn’t like it. He’s not a runner like Michael, and he’s certainly not a masochist like Casey. He does a daily workout at the CIA gym and does what he needs to make sure he can outrun danger when the need arises.

Billy’s not picky in that regard. Being fit is all a part of survival, and he’s all about living to see the next day.

That said, it’s not like he’s inventing new exercise routines in his spare time or traipsing around the greater DC area hoping to hone his physical fitness. Given the choice, Billy would unwind with a good book and a bottle of scotch any day.

But if he does that, then he’s not going to be any closer to finishing this story. It’s an external motivation, perhaps, but stories are full of that sort of thing. It’s the conflict that creates the action, after all.

Billy can at least appreciate the literary value of that.

He puts on his sneakers, donning a pair of jeans and a t-shirt before slipping into a hooded jacket. It wouldn’t win him any awards for stealth, but it’s comfortable and casual enough to provide him with a little cover. The key to successful evasion, after all, is hiding in plain sight. It’s not about dark overcoats and thick glasses. It’s about blending in; becoming another person in the crowd.

Satisfied, he checks his phone for Casey’s latest movements. He replies to a text from Michael before dropping a quick note to Martinez, telling him to say hello to his mother on his behalf. Then Billy takes his wallet and his keys and heads out.

The GPS tracker is only telling part of the story.

Following Casey, Billy knows, should tell the rest.

-o-

Billy actually has to take public transportation, of all things, so by the time he catches up to Casey, they’re already leaving one of his many gyms. He tails Casey by foot from across the street, following a series of shortcuts and trackbacks until they make it to a McDonalds.

Inside, Billy is quite tempted to order himself something, but he knows it’s too much of a risk. Instead, he picks up a newspaper and nabs a seat, watching as Casey orders himself a coffee and a bacon ranch salad and two parfaits.

Billy has to discreetly shift positions, putting himself just outside of Casey’s field of vision but allowing himself full view of both exists. He can just see the corner of Casey’s table while he eats, enough to gauge the fact that he’s not doing anything noteworthy.

No, Casey’s just eating.

He may be the only man in America who actually orders health food at McDonalds.

And eats it.

Alone

It is a painfully long fifteen minute lunch, and Casey spends another 10 nursing his coffee.

Billy is about to give it up entirely when Casey finally gets up and heads toward the door. Hastily, Billy buries his head in the paper, only peeking out in time to see Casey turn down the street, fully intent on his next destination. Putting the paper down, Billy pulls out his phone. He waits several moments, watching Casey’s general movement before getting up and moving to pursue.

That’s when he sees the man linger by Casey’s table. He’s as big as Billy, but a little bulkier with darker hair and a richer complexion. He’s notably not holding anything, and when he sits down, he has no tray of food.

It’s possible that he’s waiting for someone at the counter or that he’s holding the table for a friend. Billy takes a moment to fold his paper, watching as the man drums his fingers on the table before picking up a discarded napkin. He glances at it before stuffing it in his pocket and moving out the opposite exit.

Billy frowns.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility -- this is a crowded restaurant with a high turnover of customers. People will come and go as they see fit, and there are a thousand reasons to behave in a similar manner. It’s probably coincidental that it’s Casey’s table.

And there’s no way to know that was even Casey’s napkin. Or that the man has any ulterior motive other than the desire to spit out his gum or blow his nose on the go.

Billy’s been spending too much time with Michael, that’s what it is.

In fact, he has half a mind to call this whole thing off before he lets it take over his head.

He chews his lip, looking at his phone. Casey’s GPS dot is moving down an alleyway not far from here.

Probably to home, the roundabout way.

This is probably a wild goose chase, a dead end.

Billy’s going to follow it, though.

Because he always read to the end of the story.

No matter what.