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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: Not-So-Secret Identities (8/9)

December 28th, 2015 (02:51 pm)
frustrated

feeling: frustrated

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



-o-

Gun pulled, Billy runs.

The street is mostly cleared by now, but he’s counting on the gunfight being so self-occupying that his approach won’t be noted until it’s too late. It’s a bold move, meant to tip the scales in Casey’s favor, because Billy’s not about to sit idle while another gunfight goes down.

No, Billy’s been there and done that, and he got lucky once. Casey got lucky once, and Billy’s invested now. This is as much his team as it is Casey’s, and his future hinges on the success of this mission just as the rest of them.

Granted, he promised Casey he’d cut and run if things went south. And true, he still didn’t actually know who was firing at who, making this heroic charge somewhat questionable. But that’s the thing in situations like this. There’s no time to think or second guess. You don’t really get pages of self-reflection to decide what you’re going to do when things get difficult.

No, the climax in real life is instantaneous. It’s a split second when you realize exactly who you are and what you’re made of.

And Billy?

Well, he’s a spy.

More than that, he’s Casey’s friend.

Nothing else matters.

Billy curses, ducking low as a wayward bullet flies toward him. So, a few other things matter. Like not getting shot.

He skids on the ground, scrambling faster as two more bullets ding off the pavement behind him. He flattens himself on the ground behind a parked car. So much for a stealthy approach.

The shots are coming from the other side of the stoop, but not inside.

That doesn’t make sense, though.

If the attacker is outside, then…

Billy pops his head up over the car, getting a visual of Casey and Gregor not far away. Kia is still trapped on the other side of the stoop.

That leaves--

Another shot, shattering the mirror above his head. He curses again, running for new cover.

Chen.

That leaves Chen.

Chen’s firing at them.

Chen’s the mole.

Chen.

Damn it, for once in his life, Billy really hates being right.

-o-

Now that he knows where the bullets are coming from, Billy’s keenly aware that he is rapidly running out of wiggle room. He’s more than a little relieved when he crashes to the ground, nearly taking out Gregor and Casey on the ground behind the still-partially erect bus stop.

Heart pounding, Billy looks up at them both.

Casey looks more than a little pissed off.

Gregor helps him sit up a little. “This is your idea of backup?”

“No, this is his idea of committing suicide,” Casey grumbles.

Billy winces apologetically. “In my defense, it was a lot more heroic in my head.”

“I appreciate the gesture, if it helps,” Gregor tells him.

Casey glowers. “I don’t.”

“Oh, please,” Billy says. “Should I remind you that this is your plan that Chen is predictably blowing holes into?”

Gregor nods at Casey. “He has a point.”

“Well, good for him,” Casey snaps. “He can have a point, but what we really need is a plan.”

Billy cranes his neck, looking up as two new cracks appear in the bus stop above them. “I’m thinking, I don’t know, retreat?”

“Funny, I was think offensive,” Casey says.

“You are both missing the point now, I think,” Gregor says.

“And how do you figure that?” Casey asks tersely.

“The team,” Gregor says. “We have to start with the team.”

Billy looks at Casey.

Casey looks at Billy.

They don’t need to say anything, not anymore.

Because when their priorities are in order, they know exactly what to do.

-o-

“Okay,” Casey says, hunkering down somewhat even while gunfire echoes behind them. “It’s four one, so we have the advantage.”

“But Chen has the better position,” Gregor says.

“And he knows what we want,” Billy says.

Casey shakes his head. “He thinks he knows what we want,” he says. “He thinks we’ll go for the door, so that’s what he’s protecting.”

“So we don’t go for the door,” Billy continues for him.

Gregor, for all that this had been his idea, appears perplexed. “So what do we go for?”

Casey glances back to the other side of the stoop. “Our team,” he says. He looks back to Gregor and Billy. “You ready?”

Billy wets his lips, adjusting his grip on the gun. “I’m ready.”

They turn their eyes to Gregor.

Gregor sighs, somewhat melodramatically as he checks his clip. “Why not?” he says. “I’m ready.”

Casey tenses, perching himself on the balls of his feet. “Then go.

-o-

It’s a relatively easy order, and in theory, it’s not that hard of a task. The bus stop is no more than 10 feet away from the stoop, and it will take a mere matter of seconds to cross it.

However, when there is a super spy, murderer and triple agent shooting at you, it becomes a bit more difficult.

It’s not a task that requires skill, ultimately.

No, this is a task that requires trust.

Billy has to trust that when he steps out from behind his cover, that he’ll have the backup he needs. That Casey will take the shots and give him the time and space necessary to get to the other side.

When he finally comes to a halt behind the stoop, he’s breathless and terrified. Trust is all well and good. It can make you do impossible things, but it can’t make said impossible things less frightening.

Worse, the moment he gets there, there’s a gun in his face and he’s being tackled to the ground.

“Wait, wait, Kia!” Gregor says. “He’s with us, he’s with us!”

Kia, who is straddling him and holding a gun to his head, casts Gregor a sideways look. “Why should I believe you?”

“Because we’re a team,” Gregor reminds her.

She jerks her head toward the stoop. “So was Chen,” she hisses. “And look how that turned out.”

Gregor wisely doesn’t dispute that. “Chen’s trying to kill us, too,” he says instead.

Kia doesn’t look like she believes it, as evidenced by the way she presses the gun a little harder against Billy’s head.

“And besides,” Gregor says. “If he’s a mole, then he’s the worst damn triple agent I’ve ever seen.”

“Hey!” Billy objects.

Gregor shrugs, not nearly apologetic enough.

Still angry, Kia eases back, letting Billy up. She noticeably does not relinquish her death grip on her gun. “Not that it matters,” she says. “There’s no way we can finish this now.”

Billy sits himself up gingerly, mindful to keep his head low. “With the plan you had before, no,” he says. “But if you’ve got a team you can trust, then you’d be surprised what you can do.”

Kia breathes heavily. “Our trust seems to have been shot to shreds.”

Billy inclines his head. “Not quite,” he says. “Now, do you mind?”

Kia frowns.

“Casey needs some cover fire,” Billy explains.

Kia looks to Gregor.

Gregor nods. “We can’t force you to stay,” he says. “But I’m still in this, for what it’s worth.

Sighing, Kia looks disdainfully at Billy again. “Fine,” she mutters, moving into position. “But Casey better have a good plan.”

Billy lines up alongside her. “Yes,” he agrees, poised to take a shot at Chen’s hideout. “He really better.”

-o-

Casey arrives with no fanfare and a lot of bullets. He’s no worse for wear, though, and he’s all business when he arrives.

“So, first things first,” he says.

“Now, we get inside?” Gregor asks.

“We take out Chen?” Kia almost demands.

“I still suppose running is out,” Billy surmises.

Casey tilts his head. “We’re still a man down,” he says.

Gregor knits his brows.

Kia just shakes her head. “Anders is down.”

“But not necessarily dead,” Casey says.

“But with the blood he’s lost--” Gregor starts.

“It means we may be short on time,” Casey says. “We can’t leave a man behind.”

Kia’s face is set, and she purses her lips. “You’d risk everything on a man who may or may not be alive?”

Casey doesn’t even hesitate. “I’d risk everything for my team,” he tells them. “Anyone who has a problem with that can leave now.”

Billy’s not going anywhere, and Gregor sighs his acquiescence. Kia scrutinizes them each once more before she nods. “Fine,” she says. “I’ll go.”

“You don’t have to--” Casey starts.

“Anders is a pain in the ass and not my type of spy,” she says. “But I didn’t come so far with any of you to leave him behind. Lay down the cover fire. I’ll go.”

That’s what it is, in the end. That’s what makes them different. The network they worked for before amassed knowledge and power, but it was easily splintered because it wasn’t based on trust.

This new team, uncertain and outmatched though it may be, has the trust that could make all the difference in the world. It’s never been the case that the ODS has the best spies in America. No, the ODS is just the best team because they trust each other, implicitly.

That’s the difference.

That’s what counts.

Casey nods. “Okay,” he says steadily. “Go bring your partner back.”

-o-

Three lines of cover fire should be more than enough, but it’s not an easy extraction. Anders is between them, essentially in no man’s land, only worse. The stretch between Chen and them is small -- a mere matter of feet -- which means that Chen doesn’t even need a good shot to get lucky.

Casey ducks out along the side of the stoop while Gregor goes high. Billy holds steady in the middle, trying to spread out their angles as best they can to give Kia the time she needs to retrieve Anders.

To her credit, she’s fast, but Anders is dead weight and she can’t go to full height to increase her speed. Instead, she’s saddled with a man who weighs just as much as she does, and she has to mostly walk in a squat while gunfire rattles over her head.

Billy doesn’t envy her, to be sure.

Not that he is in a particularly enviable position himself at the moment. This whole situation has gone from bad to worse since Billy first read the falsified reports back at Langley. Two weeks later, and here he is. Probably going to die as a traitor to multiple countries. They’ll bicker over who is forced to deal with his remains.

There’s no time for that, though. He steadies his aim, offering a fresh volley of cover as Kia makes her way back with Anders in tow. She’s almost there when she yelps, faltering as she drops Anders and she reaches for her arm.

It’s instinct that makes Billy fall out of position. Instinct that tells him that he has to help Kia and Anders or they’ll both be dead for sure. Instinct that lets him trust that Casey and Gregor will pick up the slack and buy them enough time to get back to cover.

Moving quickly, Billy drags Kia by one arm, half flinging her toward the cover of the stoop. He scoops lower to pick up Anders by the armpits, hauling him back the last several feet before collapsing with the man’s dead weight on top of him.

Kia is spitting a curse as Billy tries to sit up, taking care to lay Anders down, gently this time, on the pavement. The blonde man hasn’t moved, and it’s no easy thing to feel for a pulse when his own heart is pounding like a jackhammer.

Hesitating, Kia holds her arm tightly, blood seeping through her fingers. “Is he?”

Billy lays a hand on his chest, feeling the weak thump of the other man’s heart. “Alive,” he reports, shrugging out of his jacket. “But already in shock.”

He rips Anders’ shirtfront open, bracing himself as he tries to identify the wound. Bright blood is gurgling up from a raised wound in Anders’ lower chest, coating all the way down Anders’ right side.

Billy’s no doctor, so he has no way of knowing what’s been hit, but he knows that the flow of blood means he won’t make it much longer.

Flinchingly, he balls up his jacket, pressing it as hard as he dares against the wound as Casey and Gregor fall back.

“We have to get him out of here,” Billy says grimly.

Casey doesn’t look surprised. Instead, he looks at Kia. “Can you get him to a hospital?”

Kia’s face screws up in confusion. “We couldn’t take this place with five operatives,” she says. “What makes you think you can do it with three?”

“Anders is bleeding out,” Casey says. “And you’re winged. You’d only slow us down.”

“I’m fine,” she growls.

“And Anders?” Casey asks. “Did you take a bullet for him just so he could bleed out in front of you?”

She glances toward Anders, and her professional, trained expression falters.

Casey reaches out, taking her by the shoulder. “We can do this,” he says. “Do you trust us?”

Casey has asked a lot of Kia, but nothing more than this. Casey and Billy, they have years to fall back on. Kia, Anders and Gregor, though? They’re new at this.

There’s no way to know for sure if this will cement them forever or force them apart.

But Kia’s bleeding, and the blood on her hands is as much Anders’ as it is her own. No one would ever doubt that Kia’s willing to die for a cause, but Billy suspects this is the first time in her life that she’s willing to not die for something greater.

She breathes heavily, but nods at Casey. “Finish this,” she says. She looks to Anders. “For all of those who can’t.”

Casey nods back. “You have my word.”

With that, Kia moves toward Anders, nudging Billy out of the way. She pulls off her scarf, which she had used to help disguise herself in the morning traffic, and, with Billy’s help, wraps it around Anders’ chest until there is a makeshift pressure wound. Satisfied, she levers Anders up, pulling him over her shoulders with a grunt.

She pauses, holding onto Anders’ wrist to stabilize his body over her shoulder as she looks at Casey. “You’ll tell me how it ends?”

The smile on Casey’s face is grim, punctuated by the sound of gunfire chipping away the brick over their heads. “Endings are overrated.”

“Perhaps,” she says. “But also inevitable, yes?”

Casey grunts. “So it would seem.”

-o-

Kia’s exit is easy enough, but Billy lays down a line of cover fire, just to be safe. He glances back, watching as she ducks around a side street with Anders, and he spares himself a moment to hope for the best.

It’s funny how much he actually cares, considering how little he actually knows them. In two weeks, he’s only held one conversation with Kia, and it had involved her trying to kill him.

Funny how that seems to be a recurring theme these days. Apparently, super spies can’t make friends the old fashioned way. You have to say hello by putting a gun to someone’s head.

All the more reason Billy is content to be a run-of-the-mill spy.

That said, it’s nice to think there are people like Casey, Gregor, Kia and Anders. Agents of good, striving toward the betterment of mankind.

Working to stop the likes of Chen.

Speaking of which, the most recent hail of gunfire shifts, lower and closer, and Billy pulls back a little farther.

Casey is changing the clip on his gun, shaking his head. “This standoff is taking too long.”

“Surely he has backup,” Gregor says. “Shouldn’t there be reinforcements coming from inside?”

“Not to mention law enforcement,” Billy notes, nodding to the abandoned street. The storefront windows are all darkened and vacant. There’s no sign of life. “Police response can’t be that slow.”

Casey finishes loading it, checking it once more to make sure the safety is off again. “It’s not,” he says. “But think about it, there are moles all over this city and within the organization. All it takes is one high ranking official to shut down response time to something like this, blame it on a series of flukes before they spin the real story for tomorrow’s news cycle.”

“But why leave Chen on his own out here?” Gregor asks, flinching as another round of bullets shatters a window above them.

Pausing, Casey takes the time to fire off a new round of shots before settling back to look at them. “Either they think Chen is very good at what he does or--”

Gunfire cuts them off.

Billy glares in annoyance, pulling up to fire at Chen’s renegotiated location. He’s behind a car now, making him easier to see and rapidly putting them closer into a direct line of fire. Back down, he checks his ammunition. “Or what?” he prompts.

Chen fires again, pulling them further back until Gregor’s back is against the wall.

“Or they don’t intend for Chen to stop us at all,” Casey says.

“You mean they want Chen to go down?” Gregor asks incredulously.

“I’m guessing that’s just an added bonus,” Casey says.

“They just want us inside,” Billy realizes, looking up toward the still open front door.

Gregor’s brow darkens, and he pops up to fire off a few more rounds. They hit the car harmlessly, but it seems like Gregor needs it more as an emotional outlet than an actual act of defiance. “So what do we do then?”

That’s the question. For all the variables at play -- from Chen’s deception to the obvious trap they’re being invited into -- the ultimate decision is actually very simple. It’s not about who’s inside or what they want.

It’s just about what they do next.

It’s the same question Billy’s been asking himself from the start of this mess.

Do you follow the trail where it leads, no matter where it ends?

Or do you back out now?

One might think it’s a question of safety or logic.

But Billy knows better.

That’s why he followed Casey into that alley. That’s why he followed him all the way to Shanghai and Rome. It’s why Michael and Rick took Billy at his word this morning.

It’s a question of necessity.

Casey looks from Gregor to Billy, holding his gaze. “There’s only one thing to do,” he says, more certain than ever. “Exactly what they want.”

-o-

The fact is, whether Billy wants to admit it or not, he’ll follow Casey anywhere by this point. On covert double missions, into a life as a fugitive and cast out from all that is familiar, to the gates of hell itself: Billy will go, without question (though possibly with comment).

But never with regret.

The problem is that this time? Casey’s not asking him to follow.

“No,” Billy says, shaking his head insistently. “No way.”

“It’s the best option,” Casey replies over the sound of gunfire above their heads.

“The best option is not to leave you behind,” Billy shoots back.

Gregor pulls out of position, laying down a line of return fire.

“You don’t have to do it, you know,” Casey says. “It’s not too late, if you want to back out.”

Most of the time, Billy would peg this as a snide offer. A sarcastic barb.

But that’s not what it is.

Not this time.

Billy works his jaw, shaking his head.

“I dragged you into this,” Casey tells him. “You’re right, you could still run. Make a life for yourself. It’s the smart thing to do.”

“The smart thing to do would have been to report your ass to Higgins the minute I saw those reports,” Billy says.

“I won’t hold it against you,” Casey says. “If you go now.”

Billy draws a breath, finding it oddly settling. “I think the end to this thing has been written since the day we met,” he says.

Casey makes a face. “I hate you when we first met.”

“Aye, and I thought you were mad,” Billy says. “But we were a team, from that first mission in the field. We were a team. And I think I always knew how it would end.”

“So you’ll do it?” Casey asks. “You’ll go in?”

“I can’t leave you,” Billy says. We take down Chen together.

Gregor is reloading his gun. “Either way it needs to be soon,” he says. “We’re going to shoot ourselves out of bullets soon.”

“I’ll handle Chen,” he says. “You two will go in that front door and see what we’re up against. But recon only.”

“So you want us to go in and hide,” Billy clarifies.

“I want you to see what we’re up against,” Casey says.

Gunfire hits the pavement not far in front of them. Gregor curses. “I think it’s safe to say it won’t be a warm welcome.”

Casey pulls closer until he’s almost nose to nose with Billy. “Do you trust me?”

There it is again.

That
question.

In the midst of a gun battle, fighting for their lives.

Billy’s heart breaks, more than he intends it to. He can argue, he can fight, he can bother, but that’s a question he can’t deny. “That’s not fair,” he protests.

Casey doesn’t relinquish his emotional high ground. “It is fair.”

Billy’s eyes are burning, heart hammering to the staccato sounds of Gregor’s gunfire. “No, it’s not!”

“Maybe not, then,” Casey says. “But it’s the only question that matters.”

“No, it’s psychological manipulation,” Billy pouts.

“Successful psychological manipulation,” Casey agrees.

Billy breathes heavily, seething on his next exhale. “I hate you,” he says. “I hate you.”

“Fine,” Casey returns. “But do you trust me?”

Billy is glowering now. “You know that I do.”

Casey checks for more ammunition in his jacket. “Then this conversation is pointless.”

Coming back down between them, Gregor is breathing heavily. “I’m so glad you two are sharing a pointless conversation while I endeavor to save all of our lives,” he says. “But maybe if you two are done now?”

“Fine, fine,” Billy says, repositioning himself so that his squat has him ready to run. “You lay down the cover?”

Casey starts to grin. “And you two run like hell.”

Billy huffs, primed on his feet next to Gregor. “Some hero you’ve turned out to be.”

“Just give it time,” Casey says, lifting his eyebrows invitingly. “This thing isn’t over yet.”

-o-

It’s not a long distance to cross, but it doesn’t have to be. Chen has shifted his position so he has a clear line of sight of the door, making any movement in the open an easy target. The only way such a maneuver would be feasible is with the right backup.

In short, it’s only feasible with Casey.

Gregor’s tense, ready to move, but Billy shakes his head. “Give it minute--”

Casey primes his gun, then gets to his feet.

“Just another tick--” Billy murmurs, fingers restraining on Gregor’s shirt.

Then, Casey moves.

It always surprises people, how someone like Casey can move like he does. By all appearances, Casey is slight, and he looks like he belongs pushing papers behind a desk. That’s part of the point, of course, and Casey has always used his appearance as part of the element of surprise.

There’s none of that for Chen here.

No, this Casey isn’t trying to pull a fast one or sneak around the defenses.

Casey is charging Chen head on.

It’s a tactic made of grit, accuracy and total commitment. Whether Casey thinks he’s invincible or simply doesn’t care if he does, Billy doesn’t know for sure.

He just knows it’s going to work.

“Go!” he yells, pushing Gregor forward. The man moves, darting as quick as he can out from their hiding spot, Billy right behind him. The flurry of gunshots behind them is daunting, but Billy doesn’t dare turn around. He doesn’t need to.

Because he trusts Casey.

Casey is going to do his part.

And God help him, Billy’s going to do his.

With longer legs, Billy makes up time on the stairs, pulling beside Gregor and reaching the door first. He pauses, just long enough to see bullets shatter windows above their heads. He grabs Gregor, half throwing him inside. He barely catches sight of Casey, storming Chen’s stronghold as he crosses the threshold himself.

Inside, he tumbles to the floor, half skidding across the landing. He crashes into Gregor, and they are a mess of limbs as they try to disentangle themselves and get shakily to their feet.

The entrance isn’t what Billy might have expected.

Mostly because it is very unimpressive.

On this level, the building looks just as barren as the exterior. There are shelves along the wall, but they are empty and the counter is covered with dust. The only sign of movement is from the security camera, which flashes a little red light in the gloom.

There’s no one here, though. No welcoming committee. Nothing.

Billy swallows hard, edging closer to Gregor out of instinct. “Out of the frying pan, I suppose.”

Gregor moves closer to him, too, pulling his gun up and at the ready once more. “And into the fire.”

-o-

He’s never worked with Gregor before, not really anyway, but they fall into an easy rhythm. They stand at each other’s back, sweeping the room cautiously, each equally suspecting that this trap will spring on them sooner as opposed to later.

“Well, this is unsettling,” Billy muses, hoping to ease the tension.

Gregor snorts. “Would you prefer more gunfire?”

“Honestly?” Billy asks as they check behind the counter. “It might be a little less creepy.”

“And a lot more deadly,” Gregor returns as he clears the space behind a vacant display case.

Billy comes up beside him, and they move together toward one of the doors behind the counter. “At least it wouldn’t draw it out,” he quips. “A shot between the eyes, you don’t have time to worry.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Gregor says. He nods toward the door. “On three?”

Billy nods back. “One, two--”

Gregor’s hand is on the handle.

“Three!”

Gregor opens the door, giving Billy the space he needs to go through with his gun up. Gregor falls into place beside him, going low.

Then, Billy sees movement, fast, out of the corner of his eye. On instinct, he shoots.

There’s a squeak as a large rat scurries back through a hole in the wall.

Gregor stands up, smirking. “I see what you mean,” he says. “A shot between the eyes is so much better than being attacked by a rat.”

Billy glares at him. “Oh, shut up,” he says. “This room is clear.”

“Are you sure?” Gregor asks. “Do you want to follow the rat?”

“You know all that talk about teamwork?” Billy asks.

“Sure,” Gregor replies.

Billy turns to leave. “None of it applies to you.”

-o-

The main room is clear, and so are both office spaces and the adjoining bathroom. The stairs in the back lead both directions, leaving them at the proverbial T in the road.

“Private business, my guess is upstairs,” Billy says. “Possibly living quarters, too.”

“But the goods are downstairs,” Gregor says. “We’ve tracked all shipping and receiving.”

Billy hesitates, looking up and down again. He shakes his head. “No sign of any guards,” he says. “That’s weird. Right?”

“Very weird,” Gregor agrees. “I think Casey must be right. This is a trap.”

“Which means either direction is probably rigged,” Billy says. He glances back, but there’s still no sign of Casey. He looks at Gregor again. “What do you think?”

“I think we split up, one of us goes down, the other goes up,” Gregor says. “Just to the top landing. We check it out and meet back here to wait for Casey.”

Despite their current situation, Billy has to smile. Just a little. “Well, what do you know?”

Gregor wrinkles his nose. “About?”

“You,” Billy says. “Me! It’s teamwork!”

“Ah,” Gregor says. “I am a quick study, I’ve been told. Besides, I have learned from the best, I think.”

“And compliments!” Billy says.

“I was talking about Casey,” Gregor says.

“And where do you think Casey learned all he knows on the subject?”

Gregor rolls his eyes. “Are you ready to do this or would you rather wait for your ego to catch up with you? It is so large, it may have had trouble getting through the door.”

“Your insults only mean that I’m right,” Billy says smugly.

“Clearly, you are not the modest one on the team,” Gregor comments.

It’s Billy’s turn to smirk. “I’ve had a long two weeks. I think I’m entitled,” he says. Then he nods to the staircase. “Which way do you prefer?”

Gregor shrugs. “You take up,” he says. “There are probably fewer rats that way.”

Billy chuffs. “Just be careful,” he says. “This is recon work only.”

“Hey, you don’t have to tell me,” Gregor says. “You watch yourself, too. And not just from the rats.”

Billy flashes him a grin. “See? You do care.”

“I’d just hate to lose the only partner I’ve ever had,” Gregor says.

“You know,” Billy says. "You’re really not so bad.”

Gregor’s face actually brightens. “Yeah?”

“Except for the part where you wanted to kill me,” Billy says.

“Oh, come now,” Gregor says. “Surely I’ve made it up to you by now?”

“We’re working on it,” Billy allows cautiously.

“Well, you let me know, all right?”

Billy nods. “Ask me again when this is over.”

Gregor tips his head, moving toward the top of the stairs going down. “You can count on that.”

Billy is in position, ready to move up. “You know I will.”

-o-

Humor in peril is a common trope, and Billy is guilty of it more than he should be. It’s not his fault, he might contend, because someone has to do something with the tension. If you actually lived like James Bond, you’d go stark raving mad before too long. That kind of pressure can make you forget what it means to be human.

And Billy knows how hard it is to cry over this job.

Laughter is easier.

Laughter is better.

If you can laugh with someone in the face of danger, you can cry together when it’s over. Laughter is a part of what keeps a team together.

If that’s not appropriate, then Billy doesn’t know what is.

This is also why Billy has never fancied working alone. He needs someone around to laugh at his jokes or he just starts taking himself too seriously.

Now, for example.

Climbing up the stairs is easy enough, but it’s impossible not to notice how vulnerable he is in this exercise. The staircase is partially exposed, giving anyone at the top better visibility of someone at the bottom. At this point, there’s no question that this is a trap, but Billy just doesn’t know what kind of recoil it has or what the trigger could be.

It’s not even clear what the bait really is.

Billy slows down, keeping his pace slow and steady as he makes his way up. At the turn, there top half of the stairwell is empty, and Billy has a clear line of vision all the way up to the empty landing on the second floor.

It’s so damn easy that Billy almost wants to turn back.

He glances behind him.

He made a promise to Gregor -- and to Casey. And to Michael and Rick for that matter.

Billy has to see this through.

Gun still up, Billy makes his way step by step to the next landing. There, he pauses, sweeping with a visual arc as the staircase leads up to the roof access. He’ll clear that later, if he gets the time, but there’s a low probability that that’s where the action is.

No, Billy has to check door number one.

It’s moments like these that Billy hates being a spy. Always so damn noble, always so damn thorough. All talk aside, Billy doesn’t really want to be a hero. Heroes are prone to dying, after all. And Billy can talk about grand gestures and noble efforts, but none of that means anything if he’s dead.

He’s come this far, though.

This ends, one way or another.

Billy puts his hand on the door and takes a breath.

This ends.

-o-

On the other side, Billy sweeps the hallway frantically, looking up and down as fast as he can, finger sweating on the trigger of his gun. The hallway is dark and dank.

And silent.

This time, there’s no movement, not even a rat.

If this is the trap, it hasn’t been sprung yet.

Billy about to make his way down, just to be safe but that’s when he hears the gunshot.

Distant, but close enough.

Inside the building.

Down a few floors.

Billy’s heart stutters and his stomach clenches.

Gregor.

And Billy can’t run fast enough.

-o-

He takes the stairs two at a time. He almost slips on the landing, landing hard on his backside, but he scrambles to his feet and just keeps going. His heart is pounding now, louder than before, and the blood is rushing at a frenetic pace in his ears.

But when he gets to the landing above the bottom section of stairs to the basement, his knees almost give out. It’s like a sucker punch, stealing his breath and he has to brace himself on the railing.

Because there, at the bottom of the stairs, is Gregor.

He’s flat on his back, arms sprawled at his sides. His gun is still gripped loosely in one hand, his feet sticking through the open door.

Billy feels like he might be sick.

This is the trap, then.

And Gregor.

Gregor’s could very well be the bait.

He should wait for Casey; he should back up, think this through.

But he can’t.

Not when Gregor is…

Not with Gregor…

Not,
because Gregor is his partner.

Treading softly now, Billy makes his way all the way down. He moves gingerly across the cement floor, stepping clear of the puddle of blood as he goes to check for a pulse.

He stops, though.

He doesn’t have to check.

Because Gregor’s eyes are open and staring.

A bullet hole right between them.

-o-

A shot between the eyes.

Billy’s going to be sick.

So much better than being attacked by a rat.

Billy’s really, really going to be sick.

It’s not just the foreshadowing, either. It’s not the horrible irony of it all. It’s not that he should have seen this coming, that this was inevitable.

It’s that it’s Gregor.

From enemy to teammate, it’s Gregor. It’s a damn cruel narrative trick, to make the audience care enough about a new character so their death has impact.

So it steals your breath and leaves you reeling.

So you care.

Billy stomach turns violently, and he falls to his knees, soaking his knees in the blood spreading out from Gregor’s head. The only makes things worse, and Billy tastes bile rising in the back of his throat.

With difficulty, he retains a shred of self awareness and realizes that this doorway is not an easy pass. No, this is the doorway he can’t go through, and with Gregor’s legs still propping it open, Billy is leaving himself unnecessarily vulnerable.

More than that, the smell of the blood is going to make him vomit for sure, and whatever is on the other side of that door, Billy’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to attract that much attention to himself.

Still, his legs hardly support him, and he stumbles to the wall, dropping his head against it. He forces hot breaths through his nose, doing his best to reign his emotions back in. It’s damn near impossible, though, with Gregor’s sightless eyes still staring at the ceiling.

Ask me again when this is over.

Billy squeezes his eyes shut.

I’d hate to lose the only partner I’ve ever had.

Only partner.

Last partner.

His throat constrict painfully and his cheeks are wet. Where the hell is Casey anyway? He should have taken care of Chen ages ago, before…

Before…

He cracks his eyes, looking back at Gregor.

This isn’t the end he wanted.

But then, this might not be the end at all.

There’s one last door.

Shakily, Billy gets to his feet, feeling his way cautiously toward the door with one hand still on the wall. He gets closer enough, avoiding the sight of Gregor’s dead eyes, hesitating at the door frame.

One. Last. Start.

“Come on, Billy,” a voice cajoles from the inside, so loud and so casual that Billy startles badly. “I know you’re out there.”

Billy keeps himself as still as possible, eyes darting around the landing, desperately looking for any sign of a surveillance system that he’s missed. There’s nothing, though. Blank, bleak walls. A floor stained with blood.

“You’ve kept this interesting, I’ll give you that,” the voice continues, almost conversationally, as if he’s chatting with Billy over a cup of tea. “But it’s time to finish this, don’t you think?”

Billy’s heart thuds painfully in his chest as he considers his options. He considers making a run for it, up the stairs and straight out the front door. Maybe Casey’s still there; hell, maybe Casey needs his help with Chen. Maybe he could meet up with Rick and Michael, go check on Anders and Kia.

His eyes drift inevitably to Gregor. Gregor deserves more than that. True, Gregor of all people would understand if Billy cut and run, but Billy can’t bring himself to do it. He could charge in, of course. Go in with guns blazing and just hope for the best. It’s a little like suicide, Billy supposes, but at this point, the same might be true of every option.

But if Billy’s going to die, it’s not going to be in vain. He’s not going to die without knowing why. Without knowing how.

Without knowing who.

No, there’s only one thing for him to do, just like Casey said.

He’s going to walk through the door.

And do exactly what is asked of him.

“Come on now,” the voice cajoles, smooth like silk. “We’ve let this drag on long enough.”

Billy steels himself, tightening his grip on his gun. Carefully, he steps over Gregor’s body, nudging the door open a little more so he can slip through.

And come out on the other side.

-o-

It’s hardly the setting for the apocalypse, as Billy has come to think of this unfortunate spy saga he’s got himself wrapped up in. In fact, the basement is hardly the setting for anything. It’s a dark, scrubby area with high ceilings and no windows. There are fluorescent lights that look like they’re from the 70s, some of which are flickering with age.

Whereas the rest of the structure seems vacant, the walls are lined with crates here. Their labels suggest various produce but Billy has every reason to be skeptical. The garage door in the back is bolted shut, and there are skid marks and oil stains running across the cracked concrete. There is a well worn delivery truck parked nearby next to a pristine sedan.

This is exactly what one might expect for a shipping and receiving garage, be it illegal or not. What is surprising, however, is that, like the rest of the property, it is mostly vacant.

Mostly.

Except for the one, lone figure standing expectantly on the other side of the door.

He’s not an imposing figure, but he’s also not quite as slight as Casey. He’s dark haired with an olive complexion, and he’s wearing a clean cut but not overtly flashy suit. His black shoes are polished until they gleam, and the lights glint off the gel in his hair. He has Asian features, and he stands with a smile on his face, hands in his pockets as though he hasn’t got a care in the world.

That’s when Billy recognizes him.

It’s one of his assets.

No, it’s the asset.

From the alley in Tokyo.

He’s the one that gave him the intel, the one that sent them to Paris and Italy. He’s the one who started this.

He’s the beginning.

Billy is shaking now, visibly trembling even as he struggles to keep his gun steady.

He’s the ending.

It’s all Billy can do now to hold his ground. “Who are you?” he asks, as steadily as he can. He recognizes the asset from Tokyo, but he’d never met him before that day. All previous correspondence had been electronic and using aliases, for all obvious reasons. Billy’s not even sure how exactly he came by this particular asset. It’d been the connection of a connection, inherited from different handlers at different spy agencies. At the time, it had seemed like a fortuitous coincidence.

Now? Not so much.

The asset’s smile is unnervingly warm. “You could think of me as a friend.”

Billy’s jaw tightens, and he shakes his head. “Who are you?” he asks again, the edge rising in his voice.

The asset feigns hurt. “At least an ally, then? We have shared intel, after all.”

Billy takes a step forward, jabbing his gun forward. “Tell me who you are.

“Names are not important,” the asset says indifferently. “It’s not a question of who I am, but more a question of what I can do.”

Billy is shaking his head again, struggling to keep the emotions from choking him entirely. “You used me,” he says. “You fed me the intel you wanted me to know. You’re the one who set us on the trail to Italy.”

“Well, yes,” the asset says, as though that much should have been obvious. He rocks back on his heels, nonchalantly, hands still tucked in his pockets.

Obvious in hindsight only. “Why?” Billy asks, voice starting to crack despite his efforts.

“If it’s any consolation, it never had anything to do with you,” the asset tells him. He takes out one hand, scratching at his nose. “I’m frankly a little surprised you’re here now. Plot twist, am I right?”

Billy can’t find the humor, though. He can’t even pretend. “Why?

The asset lets out a long suffering sigh. “I thought you’d have a better sense of humor about this,” he laments.

Billy inches forward again. “Why!?”

With a melodramatic sigh, the asset puts both hands back in his pockets, looking truly disappointed. “I needed Casey here.”

“You can’t turn Casey,” Billy says without thinking.

The asset looks somewhat vexed. “Who says I want to?”

“You can’t kill him either,” Billy adds, speaking with a confidence he’s not sure is warranted. After all, Casey should be here by now.

“Oh,” the asset says. “Oh, you misunderstand me.”

Billy shakes his head again, wetting his lips.

The asset takes an easy step forward, both hands out of his pockets now, moving easily even while Billy flinches badly. “See, I don’t want to turn Casey because I don’t have to,” he explains with another step.

They’re no more than a few meters from each other now, but Billy can’t find it in him to pull the trigger. There’s a reason this sort of thing happens in books and movies; there’s a reason heroes don’t pull the trigger, a reason bad guys take the time to monologue. Everyone wants to know the ending.

Everyone.

“No, no, no,” the asset continues, locking eyes with Billy now and refusing to look away. He almost, the dark gleam in his eyes turning sinister. “Not when Casey has been working for me all along.”