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

December 28th, 2015 (02:54 pm)
anxious

feeling: anxious

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



-o-

This isn’t happening.

Billy stands, frozen in place, mind reeling.

This isn’t happening.

No, this is a dream. He’s really back in the United States, and he’s fallen asleep on his couch again with the tele on over an open bottle of scotch. He’ll wake up in the morning and stumble out of bed so Michael can pick him up. He’ll write reports and crack jokes with Martinez and poke fun at Casey.

He’s never even met Gregor.

This is just penance for his overly creative paperwork. There’s no way he’s really here, standing in a basement in Italy with a dead man who could have been his friend behind him and an asset who may be an enemy in front of him.

There’s just no way that Billy’s standing here, gun faltering in his hand, while someone tells him that Casey’s been the mole all along.

Casey.

He shakes his head, voice shaking. “No,” he says, voice tremulous and quiet. His arm hurts now from standing with the gun out, and his fingers are sweating. “That doesn’t even make sense.

The asset, though, smile benignly. “You had it right, you know,” he says. “In your reports.”

A chill shudders down Billy’s spine.

“You were a bit over the top in your delineation, but you weren’t all wrong,” he continues.

Billy’s breathing is stuttering now, and his vision is going white around the edges. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“So you didn’t write a colorful report about our meeting in Tokyo?” the asset asks with mocking innocence. “Wherein the asset is a double agent that turns into a triple agent, thereby broadening the scope of the operation threefold?”

Sweat breaks out on Billy’s brow. That’s not just a summation of his report, it’s damn near verbatim. He shakes his head again, almost in futility this time. “But…”

“How?” the asset prompts. “You’re asking questions I already answered for you.”

Billy’s feeling almost desperate now. “Those are…”

“Classified?” the asset asks, almost sympathetically. “That doesn’t mean as much as you think it does, especially when I have always had a man inside your team. I didn’t need to hack anything or send someone on a top secret mission. I just had Casey make photocopies.”

Billy’s mouth twitches, somewhere between rage and devastation. “You lying son of a bitch--”

I never lied to you, Billy,” the asset says easily. “I only helped you in that alley in Tokyo. Casey’s the one who’s lied to you. Every step of the way.”

“Shut up,” Billy says.

“He’s played you for a fool, the whole time,” the asset says.

“Shut up!

“Dragged you into this with the pretense of being your friend,” he says. “He used your belief in teamwork to destroy you.”

“Shut up!” Billy screams now, lunging forward with the gun out. He gets close enough to grab the asset, taking him by the collar and jamming the gun into his ribs.

The asset doesn’t even flinch. “Why haven’t you pulled the trigger?” he asks. “Because you’re not sure who the real enemy is anymore?”

He’s right.

God help Billy, he’s right.

This is turned around and backwards, and everything Billy thought he knew is turned on its head. He doesn’t know this man, but his story makes sense. The pieces fall into place, the revelations provide the clarity that Casey’s murky story has been lacking. That’s the line in the narrative that’s been missing; that’s the critical plot detail that makes everything else make sense.

It explains Nigeria and Italy. It explains Shanghai. Casey’s always been playing both sides of the fence. Casey’s always been the mole.

Just like that, the anger drains out of him, leaving him deflated. He should fight, he knows. He needs to fight, he knows, but he can’t. He’s stuck, standing transfixed in the wake of a plot twist he should have seen coming and doesn’t know how to parse.

Easily, the asset reaches up, plucking the gun away from Billy’s slackened grip. He pats Billy on the shoulder, leaning close to Billy’s ear. “The irony is you had it right from the start,” he says. “Your report, it was dead on. And your investigation into Casey, was entirely justified. You just didn’t let the story tell itself. You made the mistake of trying to create the story you wanted to hear, not the one that was actually happening.”

Casey’s been manipulating him all along, for whatever good he saw fit. Billy doesn’t know if that makes him a bad guy or a good guy in all of this, but he knows that it means he can’t trust him. It means that Anders and Kia have been shot, that Gregor is dead, and it’s all Casey’s fault.

“You were, however, wrong about one, small thing,” the asset says, almost consolingly. “The hero doesn’t win this one.”

Billy’s heart thuds painfully as his stomach goes cold. His mouth goes dry and he closes his eyes. “Then how does it end?” he croaks, voice almost gone now. For all he’d been so sure, for all he’d trusted, the absence leaves him crippled. His character motivations have been spent.

And lost.

All his will to move is gone. His desire to prevail has evaporated. He doesn’t know what story is being told anymore.

Honestly, he’s not sure he wants to find out.

The asset’s fingers tighten around his arm. “Funny,” he says. “But you’re about to find out.”

Billy’s eyes open, but it’s too late to act.

It’s too late to move.

It’s too late.

Because the asset has turned the gun on Billy.

And a gunshot echoes off the walls.

-o-

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang

But a whimper

It’s both, though. It ends with both.

The bang still resounds in Billy’s ears, even as he hears himself whimper feebly. The asset lets go, and Billy’s knees crumple. He hits the ground hard on his knees, looking down in shock. The red stain is spreading across his stomach, and he reaches up with numb hands, feeling the blood-soaked shirt.

He gasps, head spinning as his breathing staggers. He blinks, faltering badly, and the next thing he knows, Billy’s on the floor.

That’s when he feels the pain.

It lances like electricity, sparking from his gut all the way through his body. He convulses, half choking on the intensity of it. But no matter how he squirms, he can’t escape it. Not when the bullet is still buried deep in his gut.

That’s it, then.

He blinks up at the ceiling, flashes of hot and cold alternating through his body.

That’s how it ends.

He struggles to breathe, finding himself racked with tremors now. His fingers grip weakly at his stomach, but there’s nothing to be done for the blood.

It’s over.

Billy feels his consciousness start to dwindle, his vision fading.

It’s finally over.

He’s run out of reasons to fight; he’s run out of people to trust.

It’s just over.

But then Billy hears a voice and footsteps at his head. He can’t move, but the next time he blinks, he sees a familiar face above him.

The name forms on his lips, but he can’t bring himself to speak.

He doesn’t have to.

Casey’s face is void of emotion as he stares down at Billy. Cold, hard features betray nothing.

Nothing except Billy of course.

The asset comes into view and he holds out the gun to Casey.

The order is simple. “Finish it.”

Billy’s eyes burn with tears as the pain ratchets up a notch.

Casey takes the gun.

“It’s time to end this thing,” the asset says. “Once and for all.”

-o-

This is the moment, then. That critical point of no return where the action hinges. The culmination, the pinnacle, the climax.

Staring down the barrel of a gun.

He doesn’t see the gun, though. No, Billy looks past the barrel, straight into the eyes of the man he started this for. The man he called a friend. The man he trusted with his life.

Billy needs to see, just one last time. He needs to see what went wrong, what he never wanted to believe. He needs to see the truth, bald faced and terrible, just for the sake of closure.

The blood is pooling under him now -- he can feel it warm and tacky at the small of his back -- and the white hot pain has abated to bone chilling cold. His vision is gray and his awareness has narrowed badly. Every breath feels like a struggle, and he’s bleeding to death right there on the ground.

But Casey.

Casey stands, feet steady and stance wide. His aim is perfect, and the gun doesn’t even waver as he holds it perfectly steady, aimed straight at Billy’s head. When he meets Billy’s eyes, there’s no sign of regret, no hint of apology.

It’s nothing but cold, hard determination.

They’re not going to part as friends from this. No, they’re not even going to part as enemies. Casey looks at Billy like he doesn’t even know him.

After all this, strangers.

That hurts more than the rest.

“It was clever to bring him along,” the asset says. “I would have thought you’d kill him back in the United States, but he made a witting ploy to figure out how the factions would fall out. His usefulness, however, is spent.”

Casey releases the safety.

The asset sidles around, hovering at Casey’s shoulder. “I assume you took care of Chen, too,” he says. “That means there’s nothing hold us back now. We can finish this last loose end and then set our sights elsewhere.”

Billy’s eyes are burning, but he can’t bring himself to cry. Not for himself, not for Casey. Not for the team he’d lost, the team he’d never really had.

“Consolidating power should be easy now,” the asset continues. “We have all the leverage, and the only people who could stop us are gone now. By the time anyone else realizes what we’re capable of, we’ll have already done it.”

Funny how this is still a story about friendship and trust. How it makes heroes of unlikely people.

How it turns the best into villains.

How, sometimes, it’s just not enough in the end.

“Pull the trigger,” the asset coaxes. “And we’ll start the next chapter of this story.”

Casey tenses, just a little. It’s not quite hesitation, but it’s not exactly acquiescence. Something shifts, something nearly imperceptible.

Billy’s seen that look before. He’s seen it a thousand time.

It’s a certainty, born of fortitude.

There’s only one thing left to do, Billy remembers.

Exactly what they want.

Just not exactly what they expect.

And then, Casey pulls the trigger.

-o-

Turns out, they’re all right.

This is the end.

It’s also the beginning.

On the floor, Billy remembers how to breathe, blood still fueling the sluggish beat of his heart. Over Casey’s shoulder, the asset’s face goes blank, the small hole between his eyes visible before he slumps lifelessly to the ground.

Before Billy can comprehend this turn of events, Casey is on the ground, half scooping Billy up into his arms. The movement jars Billy, and he blacks out for a moment, but when Casey puts a firm hand over the leaking hole in his stomach, he’s torn painfully back to awareness.

“Casey,” he groans, tears slipping from his eyes. He struggles, but there’s no reprieve from the pain, and he squints up at Casey in desperation. “But…”

“Quiet,” Casey lectures him, pulling out his phone with his free hand. “We need to get you out of here.”

That is surprisingly reasonable, as far as suggestions go, but Billy’s not entirely in a reasonable mindset. If he’s going to die, then he needs to know why. “But,” he starts and stops with a grimace. “But you were the mole.”

Casey pauses, looking at him. “I thought you knew that.”

“I mean,” Billy says haltingly. “At the CIA. On the team. With the network. You played everyone.”

“Yeah,” Casey says. “Everyone.

Billy’s brow furrows. If he’s slow on the uptake, he thinks for once he’s entitled.

“I knew that bastard was trouble from the start,” Casey says. “I never trusted him for a second.”

“But you worked with him,” Billy says, his confusion growing.

“So I could figure out what he was doing,” Casey clarifies. “I didn’t know who else he was working with or how far his reach went. He only told me enough to know he was a problem, but I couldn’t break the rest of his network until I drew the core out. And if I didn’t destroy the core, it’d rebuild itself.”

Billy’s breathing is shortening now, the gasp wet and painful in his chest as the fire burns in his stomach. “But you could have told them. Gregor and Anders and Kia--”

“But I didn’t know Chen had turned,” Casey says. “There was only one way to stop the endgame: I had to get to the end. I had no idea that he’d hit the rest of the network so hard.” He glances back, regretful, at Gregor. “I meant to save lives.”

It makes sense again, and the last veil is lifted. It’s not just that pieces fit into place, but the fact is that this is a story he knows. Not the one he’d been expecting, but not one that surprises him.

He struggles, wetting his lips. “That’s why you didn’t want us in Italy,” he says. “Your cover.”

“Your protection,” Casey says heavily. “If I had known that he’d take out the network, I never would have brought you.”

Billy’s eyes drift off. “Michael and Rick…”

“Are here, I know,” Casey says. “I figured we might need the backup.”

It’s all slipping now, and Billy’s finding it hard to focus his eyes. He can’t feel his limbs now, the heavy numbness of shock setting in and settling down. “They’re…”

Casey jostles him, dragging him a little closer. “Are on their way,” Casey tells him. “It’s going to be a hell of a thing to explain to them, but we’re going to get you to a hospital. We’ll clean this up, and we’ll go home. We’ll go home, Billy. We’ll start over. I promise.”

That’s a nice thought. It settles warmly through his chest, and Billy feels himself relax. He’s smiling when he looks at Casey again. “You really are my hero.”

Casey’s face pinches in guilt. “Hero is a relative term.”

Billy sighs, because it’s okay now. Because all the bad things have happened, but they haven’t been for nothing. Gregor is dead, and Anders and Kia may be, too, but they beat the bad guy. The mole has been routed, and the forces of evil have been vanquished for another day. It’s a good ending, where the good guys win and teamwork saves the day.

Where friendship reigns supreme and trust is all that matters.

That’s what’s survived it all. Through the intrigue and the plot twists, through the blood and the climax, that’s what’s survived.

Friendship and trust.

The best endings aren’t happy.

The best endings are the ones that make you feel complete.

They let you turn the last page, close the book and not look back.

So it’s okay now.

It’s okay.

Billy’s eyes are heavy, but he holds Casey’s gaze just long enough. With his breathing tapering off and his heart slowing down, he can only smile up at Casey. “Exactly,” he says.

Then, as far as Billy’s concerned, it’s well and truly over.

-o-

A good story will end when all the pieces are in place and all the loose ends are tied up. A good story will bring a sense of closure and completion. And the best, of course, will leave you feeling satisfied and yet, still somehow wanting more.

That’s a story.

That’s not real life.

Real life doesn’t have neat endings, and closure is rarely as satisfying as you want it to be. Real life is messy and unpredictable with awkward silences and dangling loose ends. The pacing isn’t perfect, and characters don’t always fall into quaint little boxes that can be analyzed and dissected by years of literary scholars to come.

Maybe that’s why Billy so often prefers stories. They make endings seem easy when, in truth, they can be just as difficult as everything else.

Especially because endings are never endings at all. There’s no last page of the book in life.

It keeps going.

And going and going and...

-o-

Billy wakes up, startled and sudden. He’s badly disoriented, bright lights and stale air accosting him before he musters up enough self awareness to know that something is very, very wrong.

Wrong because he’s flat on his back and the room smells like bleach. The bright lights almost humming, and there’s something beeping at his side. He turns but finds it difficult, on account of the splitting pain that lances through his body.

His breath catches, and he stiffens in vain, holding himself very still very several long seconds as he tries to remember what happened.

Italy, the asset.

Gregor.

Casey.

His eyes widen, consciousness bearing down on him with a brutal clarity that reminds him, in painful detail, of the gutshot he’d taken at close range and how, by most accounts in his imagination, he really ought to be dead right now.

But Casey wouldn’t allow that.

Not Casey, his friend.

Not Casey, the traitor.

He forces out a breath in an attempt to clear his head.

If he’s been shot, then this is a…

He tilts his head again, making sense of the machines and monitors finally. There seems to be too many of them, and he wonders just how close he came to dying after all.

As it is, it’s a hell of a story.

Once he can make sense of it himself, that is.

It’s hard enough writing a story, but finding out you’re just a part in someone else’s? Billy has never had the need to identify more with J. Alfred Prufrock in his life.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” Casey’s voice says suddenly, cutting through the haze of Billy’s reverie, which he suspects is just as induced by pain as it is drugs.

He turns his head the other direction, and despite everything -- or perhaps because of it -- is not surprised to see Casey sitting in the chair by his bed, propped up with a newspaper in his lap.

Surprised, no. Still confused, yes. “So you’re not really a traitor three times over, effectively lying to every single contact you’ve had over the last 12 years?” Billy asks.

Casey inclines his head. “Okay, yes, it is that bad,” he says. “I was talking about you, though.

Billy glances down the length of his hospital bed. He’s already noted the inordinate number of machines, but now he sees just how many of said machines are actually attached to him. It’s a lot, and suddenly Billy is quite glad for the drugs.

“You lost a lot of blood, naturally,” Casey tells him. “But for a gutshot, you actually got kind of lucky.”

Billy makes a face, wrinkling his nose at the bulky bandage on his midsection. “I’m not sure a bullet in your gut is ever lucky.

“When it misses your intestines, it is,” Casey says. “You had some damage to your stomach and liver, but you didn’t lose any internal organs. It looks like you won’t be at risk for septic shock, at least. But hypovolemic shock was kind of a given.”

“Naturally,” Billy muses disdainfully, dragging the hospital blanket a little higher over his chest. He hesitates, looking at Casey again. “So you….?”

“Dragged your sorry ass to a hospital?” Casey asks. “Yes. Michael and Rick are cleaning up the rest of the mess back there.”

The rest of the mess is a fun little euphemism that does nothing to talk about the actual carnage and its wide reaching implications. The asset alone is something they have to talk about, not to mention his smuggling network that he was trying to build. Then there is Chen and Anders and Kia and Gregor.

Billy eyes Casey critically. “And that’s it?”

Casey shrugs. “What more do you think there is?”

For a second, Billy can only stare because surely, Casey must be joking.

He has to be.

When it is clear he is not, Billy scoffs, mouth falling open in dismay. “You’re not going to talk about the fact that you were working for the bad guy? Or that almost every one of your friends got killed? Or that we’re still technically AWOL from the CIA?”

Casey actually has the gall to roll his eyes. “You’re making it sound far more dramatic than it actually is.”

Tired and pained as he is, Billy still has the energy to be absolutely incredulous. “More dramatic? I think I’m downplaying it pretty nicely, actually,” he says. “Considering that you are, what, a triple agent?”

“I was never a double agent the way you’re thinking,” Casey says.

“Try telling that to Higgins,” Billy replies mulishly.

“I imagine I’ll have to,” Casey says. “But I never betrayed the CIA in the network. Breached its confidentiality, perhaps, but never betrayed it. And when I realized that the network was vulnerable, I did the only thing I could do -- get close to the source. But I always knew where my real loyalties were.”

“You’re telling me that you did this -- all of it -- for the CIA?” Billy asks.

Casey looks at him, almost disappointed now. “You really think so?”

Billy knits his brows together.

Casey sighs. “If I’ve learned anything from all of this, it’s that you can’t trust an agency. No spy department, no matter how well intentioned, will ever stay impervious. That’s just the nature of the game.”

“So who do you trust, then?” Billy asks.

Casey shrugs. “Your friends.”

Billy stares.

“You can’t tell me that’s actually a surprise to you,” Casey says.

Billy shakes his head with a weary chuckle. “No, I don’t suppose it is.”

“So, what, then?” Casey asks.

“It’s just that I knew the ending,” Billy says. “I knew it all along.”

“That’s crap,” Casey tells him.

Now that surprises Billy. “What?”

“You didn’t know the ending,” Casey argues.

“I think I did--”

“No, you didn’t--”

“You’re going to argue with me now? When your little friend put a bullet in my gut?”

“He wasn’t my friend--”

“Yet, still, there was a bullet in my gut.”

Casey sighs. “You’re missing the point.”

Billy gestures dramatically to the medical tableau around him. “Am I?”

“You don’t know the end,” Casey says, an edge in his voice. “Because you can’t.

“And how’s that?” Billy asks.

“Because,” Casey says, almost starting to smile. “The story’s not over yet.”

Billy opens his mouth to protest, to argue.

He opens it and shuts it, giving Casey a good, hard look. “You may have some literary sense in you yet,” he observes.

“Nah,” Casey says, settling back a little more comfortably in his chair. “Some stories are just worth being told, if you know what I mean.”

Billy smiles, even as the machines hum on in the background. “Yeah,” he agrees. “I think maybe I do.”

-o-

After his conversation with Casey, Billy is feeling pretty good.

Then, naturally, the drugs start to wear off.

And Billy feels a lot less good.

Apparently, even when the intestines are not involved, getting shot in the stomach is still a terribly unpleasant experience. The pain itself is debilitating, leaving Billy struggling to do even basic tasks. In other words, Billy can’t even sit up on his own, and he has a tendency to fall asleep within an hour of waking up. This is not only painful but disorienting, and Billy lives in a strange flux of unconsciousness and awareness, punctuated by meddling nurses and droll doctors who think that poking a man in the stomach is the best way to see if his stitches are healing.

In short, there’s a reason most books and movies gloss over hospital scenes. It’s not just that they’re boring; it’s that they’re uncomfortable and awkward since there is still a bloke that comes to change Billy’s catheter bag several times a day and he’s not wearing anything resembling underwear. It would be humiliating were Billy not so exhausted all the time.

Casey is there most of the time, an ever present but quiet force. They talk sometimes, mostly about unimportant things. They talk about the weather and crossword puzzles and whether or not someone has poached their office chairs in their absence.

That’s easier to talk about than the important things, like if Anders and Kia are still alive, like if Gregor is going to receive a proper burial, like if Michael and Rick will ever trust them again.

If the CIA will let them back home.

If the network is truly dismantled.

If a threat still exists that they need to deal with.

If things will ever go back to the way they were.

Billy’s got questions, certainly.

But he’s not ready for that story yet.

-o-

After several long days, Billy’s condition is upgraded and he is transferred out of the critical care ward. Some might see this as a good thing.

To Billy, however, it is simply more painful.

They start to wean him off the drugs even more, keeping him conscious longer. And it turns out the nurses, while pretty, are sadists, who now believe that he has to stand up on a regular basis and use the bathroom by himself.

Billy feels like he’s dying, which is more frustrating because it is an inevitable sign of recovery.

To make matters even more complicated, that’s when Michael finally decides to show up.

His team leader has been decidedly absent for the first few days of his recovery. Casey had explained it by suggesting that there was a lot of clean up work to get done, a point which is probably true.

That’s not the only point, though.

Fuzzy as Billy has been, he’s noticed Michael’s absence tellingly. It’s not in Michael’s nature to pass on bedside vigils. Not that Michael is sentimental, but he is a control freak. If he’s obsessive about missions, he’s even more so when it comes to his team. Anytime one of them is in the hospital, Michael likes to pretend like his time as a pre-med student actually still carries weight.

This is all to say, Michael would never be absent this long from Billy’s side without reason.

Billy suspects that reason is not going to be any more fun than the bullet the doctors extracted from his abdomen.

“You’re looking better,” Michael observes coolly.

Billy grimaces, trying to find a comfortable position as he’s propped up on the pillows. “Compared to what?” he asks. “I don’t recall you being around.”

It’s a bit passive aggressive, and Billy knows it. He’s certainly not mad at Michael in all of this.

To the contrary, despite Michael’s willingness to work with him in Italy, Billy knows that going off book without Michael has strained something between them, and he has no desire to let that linger.

Michael keeps his demeanor impassive. “I was a little busy,” he says. “That smuggling network I kept trying to get us to take care of apparently unraveled in my lap. It’s been a mess trying to filter out what needs to go to local law enforcement, and somehow, I’ve got spy agencies around the world chomping at the bit to know what happened.”

“Ah,” Billy says. “That.”

“Yeah,” Michael agrees. “That.”

Billy squirms, uncomfortable on every possible level. “It’s a good thing, right?” he asks hopefully. “Took down a lot more than a smuggling network.”

“The network, its partners, its affiliations,” Michael says. “And a host of classified intelligence from every country in the world.”

“I didn’t know the half of it until I got here myself,” Billy explains. “And even now, you probably know more than I do about it all.”

“Casey’s been...helpful,” Michael says carefully. “Says you didn’t know anything.”

“For once, it’s not an insult,” Billy quips.

Michael doesn’t laugh. “It was a stupid thing to do, you know.”

Billy sighs. “I didn’t have a lot of choices.”

“Casey’s explained it to me,” Michael says. “But it was still stupid.”

“I had to protect him,” Billy objects.

Michael shakes his head. “That’s not what I mean.”

Billy shakes his head, confused. “Then--”

“This network you took down,” Michael says. “It’s massive. The amount of guns they moved out of Italy is astounding, but that’s nothing compared to the intelligence they traded in. The guns? They were just a cover. If this hadn’t been stopped, it would have made every spy agency obsolete and shifted the basis of power in the world irrevocably.”

Billy swallows hard over this plain truth.

“And the man who shot you? The one Casey put in the morgue?” Michael asks. “He doesn’t even exist. His DNA, his fingerprints -- nothing. He scrubbed himself from every database in the world. But when we started to cross reference every major terrorist action, every military coup, every assassination, every major crime transaction, every agent who’s disappeared in the last six months -- he showed up in every single one.

At that, Billy blanches. He’d suspected it was bad, but he’d never quite allowed himself to imagine the scope of it.

No wonder Casey had been willing to do anything to stop this.

Even if it meant implicating himself.

“There’s enough to take Casey down for all it,” Michael says. “But the fact that he’s willing turned over everything to the CIA and its partners has kept him out of jail.”

“Casey’s a hero,” Billy blurts. “If Higgins can’t--”

Michael lifts a hand, waving him off. “Higgins sees it fine,” he says. “Casey’s too valuable as an asset to risk making him an enemy, but the ODS is going to have more oversight than ever before.”

“But we get to go back?” Billy asks. “We get to go back to the way things were?”

Michael lets out a heavy breath. “You get to go back,” he says. “But I doubt things will ever be the way they were.”

Billy’s throat constricts. “Michael, I’m--”

“It was stupid,” Michael says again, more emphatically than before. His eyes are burning. “You should have told me.

This isn’t about agency policy or playing by the rules. It’s not about double agents or triple agents or going off book.

This is about trust.

It’s always been about trust.

“Michael, please,” he says, softer now. “I was trying to give Casey the benefit of the doubt when this started. And then it got out of control so fast--”

But Michael is already shaking his head. “You should have told me.

Billy wets his lips. “I wanted to believe that everything was fine,” he explains. “I trusted Casey.”

“Yeah, and how did that turn out for you?”

Billy smiles sheepishly. “Point taken.”

Michael takes no joy in being right. “It’s not about you trusting Casey,” he says. “I’m glad you trust Casey. I want you to trust Casey. I just want you to remember that you can trust me, too. We’re a team, first and foremost. We always have been. You should have told me.”

“To be fair, I was trying to avoid adding additional stress to your load,” Billy says.

This time, Michael smirks. “And how did that work out for you?”

Billy laughs. “Point taken.”

Michael takes another breath and shakes his head. “I really can’t stay,” he says, getting up. “Still a lot of work to do.”

“Anything I can do to help?” Billy asks.

“For now, I think you’ve done enough,” Michael tells him.

“I can’t tell if that’s genuine thanks or annoyance.”

“Both,” Michael says. “Just feel better, okay?”

Billy offers a smile. “I will,” he says. “And Michael?”

Michael pauses at the door.

Billy shrugs, feeble. “Thank you. For everything.”

Michael nods. “That’s what teammates are for,” he says. “Right?”

Billy can only smile as Michael leaves the room.

That’s not what teammates are for.

That’s what friends are for.

And Billy’s not ever going to forget that again.

-o-

It is telling that Rick is the last one to visit him. It would be easy to be offended by this -- Billy has gone out of his way to be good to Rick, to take him under his wing and all -- but given how this mission has played out, Billy knows he hasn’t got much of a leg to stand on.

Rick is still relatively new to this. His idea of trust is a bit more simplistic. That’s not a judgment, to be sure. It’s merely a fact of life. He hasn’t had to grapple quite as much with the reality that your friends can lie to you and be telling the truth all at the same time.

No doubt, Casey and Billy’s sudden departure had been hard on Rick. He has high hopes that Rick will come to understand Billy’s choices in all this, but he suspects it won’t be as easy as Billy wants it to be.

By the time Rick visits, Billy is eating solid food again and sitting up in bed doesn’t make him want to cry anymore. He still can’t go to the bathroom by himself, though, so he’s a bit tentative all around.

Still, it’s impossible not to smile when he sees Rick in the doorway.

“Rick!” he says. “You’re here.”

Rick loiters uncharacteristically, standing awkwardly in the doorway before stepping inside a pace or two. “You’re looking good.”

Billy grins. “Better now that you’re here,” he says. “How goes the clean up?”

Rick ducks his eyes, reaching up and scratching the back of his neck. “It, uh, goes,” he offers feebly. “Still haven’t ID’d your asset from Tokyo. Everyone who worked with him knew him as someone different.”

“The best cover is to have nothing left to cover at all,” Billy says. “When you tell enough lies, you can forget your own truth. Makes it a bit convenient in our line of work.”

“And dangerous,” Rick says. “If you don’t know the truth behind the lies, then there’s no way to stay grounded. There’s no accountability. Nothing.”

Billy closes his mouth, smile fading. They’re not talking about the asset anymore. “Rick, about the mission--”

“Hey, I get it,” Rick says, holding up one hand. “You did what you had to do.”

Billy nods. “Yes, but that doesn’t make it any easier,” he says. “I owe you an apology.”

“Yeah,” Rick agrees. “You do.”

“I didn’t mean to lie--”

“You didn’t?” Rick asks pointedly.

Billy is duly chagrined. “I had no idea just how deep this thing was for Casey.”

“But you knew there was a thing,” Rick says. “You told me not to worry and then you went off on your own and tracked Casey on your own. You lied to me, Billy. You lied to me.”

“I don’t suppose my best intentions count in this one?” Billy hedges hopefully.

Rick is unmoved. Still standing in the doorway, he yields nothing. “You lied to me.”

“More like a creative version of the truth,” Billy ventures.

Rick stares him down, unrelenting. “A lie.

Billy sighs, recognizing his defeat in this. “We’re liars for a living, Martinez. What do you expect?”

At this, Rick steps forward intently. “We can’t lie to each other. It can’t work that way.”

“It only works that way,” Billy argues. “When you’re in the game long enough, you have to create versions of yourself to survive. And not just in the field, but back in the office, too. Because the people we were before this -- they’re gone now. Sometimes all we have left are the stories we tell.”

Ever defiant, Rick shakes his head. “But then how do we work together? How do I trust you if all you do is tell me stories?”

“Do you know how literary analysis works?” Billy asks.

Rick blinks, taken aback.

“When you look at a text, you look at what frames it,” Billy continues. “You look at the common themes and elements, and you seek other clues to understand what it is the author is trying to say.”

“This isn’t the time for an English lesson--”

“Because that is the point,” Billy says. “A story doesn’t write itself; characters don’t make themselves. And sure, stories reflect on important cultural or historical events, but they’re really about the author. Every story, at its heart, is a reflection of the person writing it. That’s what you have to figure out. That’s what matters.”

Rick stares at him, almost in disbelief. He works his jaw for a moment and finally shakes his head. “That’s your answer?” he asks. “Don’t trust the stories?”

“But trust the author,” Billy says. Then, he shrugs. “You might find that none of us is writing the story alone.”

“Life can’t be reduced to simple allegories,” Rick says defensively.

Billy brightens. “So you did pay attention in English class!”


“Of course I did,” Rick says. “But always felt that Hemingway was overrated and Fitzgerald was boring.”

“That’s because you need some quality English literature, the real stuff,” he says. “Dickens knew how to tell a story.”

“Dickens didn’t know how to end a story,” Rick counters.

“Naturally,” Billy says with a grin. “Because no one really wants an ending, and few of us are ready for them when they come along.”

“Wait, are we still talking about Dickens?” Rick asks, cocking his head.

“Damned if I know,” Billy says. “I’m due for my meds, so I’m a bit off right now.”

Rick stares again, and then he laughs and laughs again. “Next time you tell a story, do me a favor.”

“Anything,” Billy says earnestly.

“Make it a little less dangerous,” he says. “And try not to get yourself shot in the stomach.”

Billy’s smile widens so far it actually hurts. “I can only promise so much,” he says. “But I’d say that one’s worth a try.”

-o-

Making peace with Rick and Michael is more than a relief -- it is positively the best outcome he could hope for. He owes those men many things, and knowing he’ll have a chance to make up the last two weeks up to them means quite a bit to Billy. And he really hadn’t thought about it much, just how much his life at the CIA means to him. It’s not that he loves his crappy flat or carpooling with Michael. He doesn’t care much about filing paperwork in triplicate and sitting in briefings ad nauseum. But Rick and Michael, they’re his team. They’re his friends.

They’re his family.

But as he recovers in the hospital, it occurs to him that they may not be the only ones that matter to him. Closure is a powerful thing, and too many stories have gone unfinished in Billy’s life. He’d prefer to close this chapter gracefully.

Therein is the source of his regret. By all accounts, this mission has ended better than he could have hoped. He’s played double agent and survived all types of danger and peril. He’s gone rogue and taken down a massive conspiracy that threatened the world’s safety. He’s learned his best friend is, in fact, his best friend, and restored his relationship with his other best friends all while earning favor from his boss back home. He’s been the hero of a glorious spy saga and survived a bullet to the gut. Most of the time, Billy knows he has reason to be happy.

But.

But.

He can’t help but think about the things that were lost. He didn’t know any of the men or women who died in Shanghai, but he knew Gregor. He knew what they could have been, and he never had the chance to see what would come of that. Gregor was more than a good spy; he was a good friend, and it’s hard to accept that Gregor died in a stroke of bad luck and abject heroism. Gregor, no doubt, never saw it coming.

Right between the eyes.

Gregor was right, naturally.

That doesn’t really make it easier.

So Billy is more than pleasantly surprised when he gets two new visitors after two weeks his the hospital.

“Anders! Kia!”

Anders is leaning heavily against Kia, and his lanky frame seems even thinner than usual. His blonde hair is loose, bangs hanging low over his eyes, but it does little to hide just how pale he is.

That said, he’s upright and walking, which is a vast improvement from the last time Billy saw him.

He regards Billy curiously, and all weakness aside, he manages a smirk while he settles in the chair by Billy’s bed. “It’s Bradley for now,” he says, adjusting his position gingerly. “Apparently some idiot named Anders got himself shot while inadvertently working for the bad guys.”

Kia huffs slightly, rolling her eyes. “My only hope is that Bradley is less infuriating that Anders was,” she says. “Somehow I’m doubtful.”

Kia appears no worse for wear, and she’s the very picture of health. She is, however, hard to recognize with the smile on her face.

It’s all enough to make Billy grin in return. “You two are a sight for sore eyes.”

“Funny, because I’ve never seen you before in my life,” Anders says. “Kia says we’re on the same side, though.”

“It’s Elena now,” she corrects primly. “And you were there when we needed you. There when we didn’t even know we needed you.”

The plot twist they didn’t see coming.

That’s something of a revelation to Billy. That it’s not just his story or even Casey’s. That it’s everyone’s story, and he can play the villain or the hero in each.

“I’m not given to trust,” Kia continues. “But I’ve found myself without allies for the last three weeks. I am in no position to refuse a friend.”

Something warm swells in Billy’s chest, and he nods. “I wish I could have done more, but it wasn’t exactly an ideal situation.”

“To say the least,” Anders says.

“Casey made the right move,” Kia adds. “Having backup outside was smart.”

“Saved lives,” Anders says, nodding down at himself. “I’m used to lies, but I’m not so used to people going above and beyond. So thank you.”

“Yes,” Kia says with a long look at Anders. “Thank you.”

The end of something; the start of something. “Sounds like things worked out for the two of you, then,” he comments. “Though what’s with the talk of aliases? Surely your governments--”

“Are not as forgiving,” Kia supplies.

“I hadn’t exactly been the model spy for them before this,” Anders explains.

“There’s more than enough intel,” Billy starts.

“Exactly,” Kia says. “More than enough intel.”

“The network is down, but not destroyed,” Anders says.

“And even when the intel is disseminated to all the major spy networks around the world, there are going to be loose ends,” Kia says.

“Things that fall between the cracks,” Anders agrees.

“That’s a problem we helped created,” Kia says solemnly. “So I think it’s one we can help correct.”

Billy’s smile falters somewhat. “You can’t create another network,” he warns. “Those sorts of things will never work.”

“A network, no,” Anders says.

Kia inches closer to Anders, a hand on his shoulder. “A partnership, however…”

Anders glances up at her, reaching his hand to clasp hers.

It’s a small thing, and somehow the biggest thing. The two of them have lost so much and found everything in its wake. This is why people read stories and watch movies. This is why people want to get swept away. It’s that hope that everything will be okay.

That everything will be better.

“Anyway,” Anders says, getting haltingly to his feet. “We’d love to get to know you, but we actually can’t stay.”

“We could,” Kia says. “But someone insists on leaving AMA.”

Anders grunts, bracing himself against Kia as he makes it to his feet. “Casey’s working with contacts from every spy agency around the world,” he says. “Including ours.”

“I can handle them,” Kia says brusquely.

“Exactly!” Anders says. “I’m getting us out of here for their protection!”

It’s Kia’s turn to smirk.

“So,” Anders says, looking back to Billy. “If you ever need anything--”

“Anything at all,” Kia interjects.

“We owe you one,” Anders says.

Kia pulls Anders just slightly closer. “We owe you more than one.”

By this point, Billy is grinning again. “Be careful out there,” he advises. “And someday, when you’re in the States, I’d love to catch up. Hear a story or two about what you two are up to.”

Kia and Anders exchange a look. “We can’t promise anything,” Kia hedges.

Anders grins back at Billy. “Except that it’ll be one hell of a story.”

Billy watches them go, arms linked. They’ve come a long way, and Billy knows they have a long way left to go. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be safe. But it’ll be important; it’ll be worth it.

One hell of a story, Billy muses to himself. Where one ends, the next begins. That’s a little sad, still, and Billy will never stop thinking about Gregor.

But it’s a happy thing, too. Hopeful. No matter how many times you tell the story, each time is just as good as the last. Better.

One hell of a story.

-o-

In any other story, the ODS is always anxious to get home. There’s always another mission, after all, and usually the CIA doesn’t like leaving its operatives with questionable covers in vulnerable situations.

This isn’t most stories, though, and with all the red tape involved with this mission, Billy imagines that Higgins is more than content to let the intel come rolling in before the ODS makes a not so auspicious return back. Of course, that also gives him time to come up with appropriate austerity measures to keep them in check.

And usually, they’re more than happy to be done. Michael is always thinking about the next mission, and Casey never likes to be away from the calm and order of home more than he has to. Billy suspects Rick still gets homesick and wants to calls his mother, and Billy’s always had an appreciation for the satisfaction of a job well done.

This isn’t like that, though. Michael is in no rush to get them home, and Casey shows no signs of getting restless in a foreign country. Even Rick seems content to drag this one out, just a bit longer. It’s not like there’s not plenty to do. Dealing with the fallout and the overload of intel keeps them all busy enough, and Casey’s spent a lot of time sorting out what contacts he has left.

As for Billy, the doctors are pleased with his progress, but physical therapy is no easy task. He’s healing, though, bit by bit. He may never be the same, not with the scar on his stomach, but that’s not the way it works.

The story has to leave changes. If it doesn’t, it’s not a very good story.

That said, they all appreciate the little things together. Michael comes by and watches movies on TV with Billy, the stack of papers on his lap mostly unattended. Rick brings food and ample updates from back home, sharing the latest gossip and news. Casey brings him books and crosswords, and between the two of them, they can barely get three words. They spend more time bickering than anything else, which is exactly how it’s supposed to be.

See, this ending isn’t about the intel or the doctors. This ending is about the team. Remembering why it matters that they came here for each other.

Remembering why it matters that they’re going home together.

Everyone needs to find that one truth among the lies.

They’ve found it, the ODS. And they’re not letting go.

Still, all things do come to an end, sooner or later. When Billy’s papers are in order, it’s Casey who shows up to take him back to the motel.

“Michael and Rick are getting things tied up there,” Casey informs him as Billy stuffs away the last of the things he’s amassed into a bag. “We’ve got tickets for tonight.”

“Business class?” Billy asks hopefully.

“We technically betrayed the United States,” Casey reminds him. “Let’s just be grateful we’re not on the do-not-fly list.”

Billy sighs, sulking a bit as he zips it up. “We were really the heroes, you know.”

“It’s a fine line,” Casey says. “Heroes and villains are usually a matter of perspective.”

“That’s rubbish,” Billy replies. “We all know a hero when we’re looking at one.”

“It’s all in how you tell the story,” Casey says.

“Then we need to tell the United States government a way better story,” Billy mutters, throwing his back carefully over his shoulder. “Maybe get first class tickets for once.”

“And now you’re delusional,” Casey says.

“Well, can I at least have the aisle seat?” Billy asks.

“I believe I have the aisle seat,” Casey tells him. “Random chance.”

Billy draws his brows together. It’s been nearly a month of chaos, but this is the familiar tension Billy remembers. It feels good to be arguing about things that don’t matter, to be on opposite sides of issues without a right or wrong. It feels good to trust.

It feels good to be going home.

“I did trust you in all of this,” he says with a cloying soberness. He nods his head seriously. “I took a bullet on your behalf.”

“That’s a bit melodramatic--”

“I risked my whole career,” Billy says earnestly as ever. Casey’s not wrong, of course. Billy has a flair for the melodramatic -- but Billy’s not wrong, either. “My life!”

Casey’s face darkens, eyes starting to narrow. Skeptical, but not in disagreement. “This is a thing now, isn’t it?”

“You’re my hero,” Billy says emphatically with all the inflection he can muster. Because that’s as much a lie as it is the truth, and it’s the truth that started this.

The truth that ends it, too.

Casey groans. For all that he chides Billy on it, Casey is prone to melodrama, too. They’re the perfect odd couple, they are. Perfect.

“This is a thing,” Casey mutters, moving toward the door with a long suffering sigh. “So it begins!”

“Oh yeah,” Billy says, unable to keep a straight face as he follows Casey out of the hospital, out of Italy, all the way back home. “So it does.”

Because endings are good.

But Billy knows that beginnings are so much better.

Comments

Posted by: sarievenea (sarievenea)
Posted at: January 7th, 2016 03:25 am (UTC)
THANK YOU!

Hey gorgeous,

I NEVER comment on things anymore, but I wanted to tell you that I thoroughly enjoy your Chaos fic, even still, years after they cancelled it *sniff* and it has honestly been keeping me sane at work lately!! Thank you for still writing, I appreciate you!!!

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