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Chaos fic: God Complex 4/13

June 11th, 2012 (06:31 am)
hopeful

feeling: hopeful

A/N: Continued thanks for the feedback! I’m glad some of you are sticking with it. Things are going to start picking up now, for better and worse :)

All notes are still in the MASTER POST .



PART FOUR

-o-

Back at the hotel, Michael was not pleased to find that he was the only one who thought that this plan was going well.

“But it is going well,” Michael explained – again. Ever since they’d met up in the safe room, his well-meaning teammates had lobbed criticism and doubts his way. Normally he liked and encouraged their feedback; today it just seemed frustrating.

“I try not to get hung up on the details,” Casey said. He was on the bed, stretching. “But if getting blown up with people trying to kill us on both sides is well, then we need to start reevaluating our standards.”

“Vaughan’s ready to bite,” Michael reminded them. “In fact, he’s just about ready to hand the whole thing over to us. I think we could tell him we were CIA and he’d still be willing to help us.”

“But that just means he’s precarious,” Rick said. “He’s a lot less stable in the business chain than we thought.”

“That makes him a prime candidate,” Michael said.

“The volatility certainly does go both ways,” Billy agreed. He was sitting on the other bed, slouched. He looked tired, deep circles under his eyes. “But that’s really not the point now, is it, eh? I mean, shouldn’t we be more concerned with the fact that our little secret infiltration is not so secret?”

Michael made a face and sighed. “Do you know who it was that set the bomb yet?”

“All signs point to Jenkins,” Casey reported.

“Or one of his very well trained lackeys, at any rate,” Billy said, shaking his head. “All intelligence still says that the man hasn’t arrived yet. He isn’t due in until tonight.”

This made Michael frown. “You haven’t narrowed down who it might have been locally?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Casey said. “We’re on a major crossroads of terrorist activity. We’ve got operatives from every major terrorist network running through here, more than a few of which could have ties to Jenkins with the appropriate background to pull off this kind of hit.”

“In essence, we’re looking for a needle in a haystack,” Billy commiserated. “A very explosive and deadly haystack at that. If we cross the wrong piece of straw we may all meet a less than wholesome end.”

Rick swallowed. His face was tight and Michael knew he wasn’t going to like what the kid said before he even opened his mouth. “If Jenkins has other people in place here we don’t know about then we’re even more vulnerable than we thought,” he said, eyes darting uncertainly from Michael to the others. “He might already be on to Vaughan, even if he’s not on to us.”

Michael sighed. “I’m aware of all this,” he said. “But I’m not sure I see a better way. This just reinforces the point that Jenkins needs to go down, now more than ever. Turning Vaughan as a witness afterward will just help us nail his ass to the wall. We need to stick with the cover, initiate the meet. The longer we’re at this, the more of the network we can take down.”

“Unless they kill us first,” Casey said.

Michael glared.

Casey shrugged back.

“We can plan for the risks,” Michael said. “Both Rick and I will be wired for the meet. You two can follow behind, park at a remote location, close enough to make a move if you need but far enough to set up with the laptop and track the activity. If it goes south, we cut and run.”

They did not look particularly heartened.

Billy sighed, dropping his head into his hands and rubbing his forehead. Casey pursed his lips. Rick’s shoulders drooped and he bounced his knee.

Michael sighed again. “Okay,” he said in exasperation. “Throw your best stones.”

“Vaughan’s reliable to us but unreliable with Jenkins and Sunday,” Rick said. “If they’re both after him, then he’s already out of the loop. The entire thing could be a trap.”

“We are facing a network we don’t even know about,” Casey said. “We can’t defeat an enemy we haven’t fully gauged.”

Michael turned his eyes to Billy.

The Scot looked up wearily. “We’ve already defied death twice on this mission,” he said. “I hate to think that the third time may be the charm.”

Michael took a breath, eyeing them each again carefully. They were nervous, and rightfully so. All their comments had merit. A lot of merit.

But they’d done more with less. His team was good; his plans were solid. They could do this. Ultimately, they had to do this.

Wetting his lips, he straightened. “Vaughan is our in. If they betray him, we can still use him to get in. As long as we’re prepared for that possibility, we should be able to avoid any problems,” Michael said. He shrugged. “At least, any problems we can’t get out of.”

Rick looked away.

Michael kept himself steady. “And we’ll never figure out just who we’re up against until we spend more time in the field,” he said, eyes on Casey. “If we back out now, we’ll let them all get away. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to let people who try to kill us get away with it.”

Casey’s jaw worked but he didn’t protest.

Michael looked at Billy. “We’ve defied worse odds,” he said.

Billy smiled, tiredly, and he looked older than normal, older than he should. It reminded Michael that his team was human. That he was asking a lot of them – more than anyone had a right to.

But it was Billy who nodded. “Well, then,” he said with something of resignation and something more of acceptance. “I think I’ll save the rest of my stones for the enemy. Seems like we may need them.”

Rick and Casey were watching him now, their silence support enough.

Michael had to grin. They could do this. They would do this.

No matter what.

-o-

That night, Michael stayed in the safe room. It was a security risk, possibly compromising himself and their safe room, but it was a necessary risk in Michael’s mind. He still wanted to maintain a presence in the hotel for his cover but he also wanted to avoid the hotel desk and any security. Talking to them wouldn’t blow his cover but it would hinder his ability to move freely, and he wanted to keep his profile as low as possible when it came to the authorities.

He did his nightly routine methodically. He checked his room, secured the exits and ensured that there was no sign of trouble. Before sitting down to go over his plan he used his secure phone to call back for his scheduled check.

Fay sounded less than thrilled. “We’re getting a lot of chatter,” she said. “And I’m going to assume that you didn’t set the blast at your hotel.”

“I didn’t set it,” Michael assured her. “Though it may have been set for me.”

“This is getting too dangerous, Michael,” Fay said, sounding exasperated.

“This is the job,” he reminded her.

“Don’t tell me about the job,” she said with an incredulous snort. “I was married to you, remember? The job is one of the reasons we’re not together anymore.”

“Right,” Michael said, nodding. “We never did work through the fact that I had to put national security over our dinner plans.”

“No,” Fay countered bitingly. “We never worked out the fact that you were never happy unless you controlled everything, including the mission, our marriage, and my personal life.”

“That’s what I said,” Michael said.

Fay sighed. There was a long pause and he could almost see her, shoulders tense as she breathed. When she spoke again her tone was quieter, more resolved. “We’ve gotten some new intel regarding Sunday,” she said. “There’s been increased movement by his known associates in and out of the city, and there’s been at least three minor incidences reported that can be tied to his organization. He’s getting more brazen.”

“He’s planning something,” Michael concluded, head tilted thoughtfully. “That makes sense. Do we know what?”

“No,” Fay said. “We don’t even know for sure where he’s located or how Jenkins is managing to get a hold of enough to keep these guys afloat without anyone noticing on his base.”

“Well, we should know soon enough,” Michael said. “As a potential business partner, I’ll have a right to ask those kinds of questions.”

“Unless it’s a trap,” she said.

It was his turn to sigh, reaching his free hand up to rub his forehead. “Not you, too,” he muttered.

“So your team doesn’t just follow you blindly,” she retorted, almost smug.

“No, but they still follow,” he shot back.

“Well, maybe they shouldn’t,” she said flatly.

“You really want to do this now? When I’m on the mission?”

“I just want to know that you understand the risks,” she said. “This entire mission could blow up on you at any second.”

Michael smiled, feeling the dull ache flare up in his ribs. “Trust me, I know.”

“You don’t really know,” Fay said. “You know it’s a possibility, but you think it’s some abstract variable you can control.”

“I wasn’t a good husband. I may not even be a good friend, but I’m good at this,” Michael said, keeping his voice steady and even. “I’m good at this.”

Fay sighed, long and heavy. “I know,” she said finally. “I just hope you’re good enough.”

Later, when his papers are filed in the new safe and he’s lying under his covers, staring at the ceiling, Michael has to believe he is.

-o-

Vaughan was nervous. He kept bouncing his knees and chewing his nails as he alternated his sweaty hands on the wheel.

Michael watched him from the passenger’s seat. He sat still, purposefully so, gauging the other man with a growing trepidation of his own.

In the backseat, Rick looked equally nervous, but he hid it better. His face was just slightly pale, eyes a little wider than normal, but his face was composed. The kid was learning, at any rate. That was something.

Something was better than nothing, Michael knew, but it still didn’t seem like enough. His teammates’ doubts were still fresh in his mind and walking into the proverbial lion’s den would have been easier if their guide didn’t look like he was sweating bullets.

Michael forced a smile. “You look nervous,” he observed.

“What?” Vaughan asked, eyes darting to Michael as he startled in surprise.

Michael kept smiling. “You are nervous.”

Vaughan let out a shaky breath, using one hand to wipe his face as he looked back out at the road. “I served three tours in Iraq,” he said with a strained laugh. “But at least then I knew I had the entire damn United States military to back me up.”

Michael settled back and tried to look confident. “You don’t need the military,” he said.

In the back, Rick made a small sound in the back of his throat. Michael ignored it.

“You can be in control of your own destiny,” Michael continued. “You just have to keep yourself focused.”

Vaughan took a breath, then another. Glancing toward Michael, he smiled. “I make a horrible gun runner, don’t I?”

It was true. And in the back of Michael’s mind, he wanted to tell Vaughan to cut and run, to just get out. He could take his wife and leave the country, make a new life, a better life. Hell, he could even turn into a government witness, trade his testimony regarding Jenkins and Sunday to take the others down.

But Jenkins and Sunday would get away. The network would be scattered but not broken. Vaughan as a witness without solid evidence of people in the act would be a consolation prize, and a poor one at that.

Instead, Michael reached over, patting the man on the shoulder. “Half the battle is pretending like you believe in yourself,” he said. “And the rest will fall right into place.”

-o-

Vaughan drove them to a warehouse, located well outside the city limits. It wasn’t quite in the tribal regions, but it was remote. That made sense; it was close enough to the city for shipments while also being within an acceptable distance to Sunday’s probable domain.

It was surrounded by a fence, a pair of armed guards at the gate. They nodded at Vaughan, letting him through. When they parked, Vaughan paused just long enough to take a few breaths before leading them inside.

The interior of the building was open and spacious. There were boxes lined up – the same ones they’d seen in the surveillance photos. That was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was how many there were.

The building was almost full. Armed men moved about, unpacking and shifting, taking inventory and prepping.

This was no small scale operation. This didn’t even look like sectarian violence. Having this much supply on hand was abundantly dangerous and for the first time since this mission started, Michael thought fleetingly that he might be in over his head. Because this was enough to equip a whole damn army.

Next to him, Rick was taking the revelation with about as much grace as Michael could expect. The kid was good, and if his eyes were a little wide, his face was dutifully composed with sheer determination.

For his part, Michael kept his stride in lockstep with Vaughan as he led them through the activity. They got to a series of small offices in the back and strode easily through one of the doors.

There were two men inside, one seated behind the desk and the other lounging on a chair. When they entered, the one in the chair looked up with disinterest but the one behind the desk stood up grandly and extended his hand to Vaughan with a smile on his face. “Wendell!” he said.

There was no introduction, but Michael didn’t need one. He recognized both men from the intelligence photos. Jenkins was more impressive in real life than his file gave him credit for. He was a tall, strapping man who looked older, but not aged, than his years.

Vaughan took it, smiling weakly in return. “Jenkins,” he said. He nodded curtly to the other man. “Sunday.”

Sunday offered a wincing smile. “How is your wife?” he asked.

“Telling me we should get the hell out of Nigeria still,” Vaughan said.

Sunday smirked. “Women never understand the nuance of business,” he said.

“Speaking of business,” Vaughan transitioned with obvious effort. He stepped back, glancing toward Michael and Rick. “These are the men I told you about. Thomas Vance and Luis Rodriguez.”

Sunday looked at his hands with a fleeting glance but Jenkins made his way around the desk, extending his hand to Michael this time. “It’s a pleasure,” he said as Michael grasped his hand. The handshake was firm as Jenkins continued, offering a nod to Rick. “Vaughan hasn’t had a lot of time to tell us the details, but he says you’re a brother in arms.”

Charming Vaughan had been too easy; this was where Michael’s skills as an undercover operative needed to shine. Billy was the charmer of the group but Michael had his own finesse when he needed it. To make this work he would need it now.

He grinned widely. “In more ways than one, it seems,” he said.

Jenkins nodded, standing almost at attention. “You’ve picked drugs, though,” he said with surprising ease. “Not that I didn’t consider it, but procurement seemed more problematic that way.”

Michael kept his look curious but guarded. “I have wondered about your methods,” he said. “I’d love to hear more about your operation.”

“In good time,” Jenkins said. “You’ve only just gotten here. It’s not necessarily polite to talk business before we get to know each other.”

“I brought him here for business,” Vaughan interjected. He was standing by the wall, looking somewhat uneasy.

Jenkins didn’t seem to notice. He waved a hand. “You don’t want to share a friend?” he asked. “You two seem to have gotten along so well, I would think you’d have room for a few more.”

Michael watched him carefully, watched the confidence of his movements, the casual inflection of his voice. He listened for malice but found none. There was no hint of distrust or undue suspicion. He seemed genuine.

Which made no sense. Not only was this man a hardened criminal and a traitor to his country, but he was also very possibly the man who had tried to kill him in a preemptive strike. Michael had expected him to keep his cool but most people had a tell, some sort of sign of discomfort.

With Jenkins, there was nothing. If Michael didn’t know better, he’d think him to be a fine, upstanding citizen.

He wasn’t, though.

Michael took a breath and kept his smile firm. “Always room for one more, if everything aligns,” he said, guarded but friendly. He gestured to Rick. “My friend Luis and I are in town trying to set up a new network. We ran into Vaughan while getting a lay of the land.”

“It’s a bit more violent than I’d prefer, really,” Jenkins said. “But it has a certain charm.”

From the seat, Sunday looked up again, his dark eyes gleaming. “How is your stay?”

Where Vaughan was needy and Jenkins was friendly, Sunday was outright sinister. Michael kept his composure. “Explosive,” he said.

Jenkins didn’t flinch, Vaughan stiffened. Sunday’s smile widened. “This country is not for the weak of heart,” he said.

His tone was knowing, almost threatening.

Michael didn’t let it show.

Instead, he shrugged. “I can’t complain,” he said. “My business isn’t for the weak of heart.”

Jenkins nodded in approval. “Good man,” he said. “It’s necessary to have a firm grasp on risk analysis in order to do this job. You have to understand the variable involved in order to properly control them for the best possible outcome.”

It was a clinical and confident profession and it was one Michael saw the irony in. “Control is vital,” he agreed, keeping his gaze firm at Jenkins. “You have to be the one in charge, even with the risks and the dangers.”

He straightened himself, leaning imperceptibly forward. Michael knew he wasn’t an impressive looking man but he knew how to intimidate, and he knew how to do it well.

“That’s how I’ve operated my life and my business,” Jenkins said, not backing down.

It was something to see. Someone with such blind confidence that even when he was probably bluffing, when he was most certainly lying, his total belief carried weight that his words lacked. It wasn’t that he had control inherently, but he commanded it with his conviction.

Michael wanted to be impressed. He felt his own control waver.

Rick stepped forward, a little cautious but still certain. “As the potential head of Nigerian operations, I have to insist we talk about whether or not this will actually work,” he said. “Mr. Vaughan’s idea sounds pretty good in theory, but I’m curious about the practical application.”

Jenkins shifted his attention, nodding politely. “Curious with reason,” he said. “I’m quite curious myself. Vaughan’s idea was unexpected.”

Vaughan seemed to tighten his jaw.

Jenkins smiled. “But welcome,” he said. He looked to Michael. “Part of control is knowing the right things to delegate and finding the right people to enact plans. Vaughan is a trusted associate. I value his opinion.”

There was no hint of doubt.

Sunday looked up lazily. “Perhaps we can cut to the chase,” he said. “I grow weary of small talk.”

Jenkins sighed a bit, shaking his head. “I’m afraid I may have to indulge Mr. Sunday’s inclinations,” he said. “If only because we have a rather large deal we’re trying to negotiate.”

“That was what I was thinking,” Vaughan said, stepping forward with clear nervousness. “We know our buyer. If we can get him on the line for ammo and drugs, we can increase our profits.”

Jenkins’ eyes narrowed in thought. “It’s easy enough to pitch it that way,” he said. He looked to Michael. “But there are logistical issues. Have you even established your means of transportation?”

“It’s not be tested, but it’s in the works,” he said. “But if we can piggyback on your supply line, then it’d be even easier.”

“And riskier,” Sunday said, looking intent now. “Why should we help you profit from our hard work?”

“Because you’ll profit, too,” Michael said. He glanced to Rick.

Rick stepped forward easily. “We’re willing to start with a 70/30 split of all profits at the start but will negotiate future contracts based on the level of demand and who brokers the client,” he explained.

Jenkins nodded but Sunday was not impressed. “We do not even know if your product is worth purchasing.”

Rick looked to Michael, who nodded. The kid reached into his pocket, pulling out a pair of packets. He tossed one to Sunday and the next to Jenkins. “This is just a sample,” he said.

Michael didn’t let himself miss a beat. “If the talks go well tomorrow, we’ll take you on a tour of our facilities and show you what we’re capable of.”

“We don’t need this,” Sunday said with a huff. “It’s unnecessary—“

“It’s smart,” Vaughan shot back.

“That is because you are a weak man who befriends any man with white skin and a military uniform,” Sunday said with surprising vitriol. “My sister has always had horrible taste.”

Jenkins looked hard at them both. “Profit is about risk,” he said. “These are new elements, which makes them both appealing and uncertain. We can work these caveats out and make an informed decision, but first we need to see if our market will support this kind of conglomeration.”

It was a surprisingly measured response. It was reasonable and thoughtful. It was smart. Hell, it was what Michael would do if he were a gunrunner entertaining a partnership with a drug dealer.

And it was civilized. Michael liked the man. Which was probably more unnerving than anything else, and that included nearly getting blown up.

Still. This was Michael’s mission. This was his mission and he was in control. Until he gave up control, this was his.

“I agree,” Michael said, keeping himself unyielding. “If you’re interested, I suggest we go on the meeting tomorrow and lay the groundwork. If things look good, we proceed with care. If things don’t, we’ll part ways as friends.”

Jenkins smiled heartily. “My thoughts exactly.”

“It’s not a good idea—“ Sunday said.

“That’s not your decision,” Jenkins shot back coolly.

Sunday slumped, sulking. Vaughan seemed to breathe easier. Rick seemed to relax as well, but Michael couldn’t let himself.

Because Jenkins was making this his decision, which was the biggest problem Michael had faced yet. This wasn’t Jenkins’ decision; it was Michael’s decision. It had to be.

It was then that he understood the implicit power struggle that they weren’t talking about. Jenkins was watching him as carefully as Michael was watching back.

Mindful, Michael didn’t flicker. Instead, he tilted his head, grinning widely. “And a good decision it is,” he said, not relinquishing control but not fighting it either.

Because control was a precarious mix of perception and reality. He was used to letting people think they had power while holding it all himself. That was what he was doing here, even as Jenkins tried to do it right back. This was what made Jenkins a good criminal.

It would also what would be his downfall. Because the people who fell hardest were the ones who believed they were in control of their own destiny.

Michael knew that. And for once, he didn’t think about the irony at all.

-o-

Rick didn’t wait for the door to close in the safe room before he exploded.

“This is a very, very bad idea,” he said, voice hitching in that way of his, that way that said he knew better, that way that tried to speak common sense.

Casey and Billy were already there, on the bed and on the chair respectively. They looked far too much like they might actually agree with Martinez.

Michael ignored them, walking over to the other bed and sitting down with a sigh. “It’s a very good idea,” he countered. “That went exactly the way it was supposed to.”

“I know,” Rick said, arms flailing. “Which is why I know it’s all very, very bad!”

Michael frowned.

Billy pursed his lips. In the dim lamplight he still looked pale, his stubble stark against his skin. “I think your logic is a wee bit muddled there, lad,” he said with more weariness than humor.

Rick shook his head, adamant. “I was there,” he said. “I saw them. They don’t trust Vaughan; he’s hardly a player in this. They could cut him out and let us go with him.”

“But we’re useful,” Michael replied.

“The kid has a point, though,” Casey said with a shrug.

Rick nodded readily, gesturing with satisfaction to Casey.

Michael glowered.

Casey quirked his eyebrows tiredly. “There’s just cause to be suspicious, is all I’m saying.”

“In Michael’s defense, they are criminals,” Billy said, sounding nothing short of exhausted. “Suspicion is part of the job description.”

“See,” Michael said, feeling vaguely smug.

Rick shook his head, laughing with borderline hysteria. “That’s the problem, though,” he said. “We’ve got one who trusts us with his life and is most likely to lose it. We have another who wants to kill us and doesn’t seem to care if we know that. And then we have a third, who is acting like a complete professional even when we’re veritable strangers who want to sell drugs with his guns!”

“Sounds like a criminal soap opera,” Billy commented wryly. “More violence and less sex. Not my kind of show, I’m afraid.”

Michael eyed the Scot, noting again his pallor and the small beads of sweat along his hairline. “You sure you’re okay?”

Billy scoffed, laughing roughly as he ran a hand through his hair. “A mission in Nigeria tracking down American terrorists wearing a uniform,” he said. “Never better.”

“One of the little old ladies from Italy has taken a particular interest to him,” Casey explained. “He’s been fending off criminals and overzealous widows. You can’t blame him for being tired.”

“You’re just jealous that they fancy me,” Billy returned. “And that Giuliana is quite generous in her affections.”

Casey scowled.

Michael frowned but didn’t have time to dwell on it. Not with Rick pacing and seemed about ready to throw a tantrum.

The kid shook his head vehemently. “It is a terrorist soap opera,” he said. “And we’re acting like we’re part of it with absolutely no regard to the fact that the pieces at play here are ones we don’t know enough about to actually control.”

Michael sighed, giving Rick a banal look. “None of this is outside the plan.”

“Which is the problem!” Rick exclaimed. “In my time with the ODS, all missions go outside the plan. If something goes by the plan, then something is horribly wrong!”

“Again, the kid has a point,” Casey said. “There was something off with Jenkins. Was he as collected in person as he was in the audio?”

Michael shrugged but Rick interjected, “More. He knows something. More than he’s letting on.”

“There’s no way he knows we’re CIA,” Michael insisted. “So whatever advantage he thinks he has is really an advantage we have over him.”

“Unless he kills us,” Rick blurted.

Billy made a face.

Casey chuckled.

Michael worked very hard not to roll his eyes. “We have contingencies for that,” he said. “This job is about risks.”

“Risks that make sense,” Rick argued. “You saw their facility. You saw the amount of ammunition they’re moving. We’re four guys trying to take down an army. I think we’re a bit over our heads.”

“We have Casey,” Michael said.

“As much as I appreciate the vote of confidence,” Casey said, “I might have to agree that we’re over-extending ourselves a bit.”

“We’re fine,” Michael said, more emphatically this time. “We go in, build the partnership. Once we close the deal we can call in reinforcements for the delivery and take them all out. Vaughan will turn as a witness and putting the rest away will be no problem. If we’re lucky, Jenkins or Sunday will roll over on some of their clients and contemporaries and we’re looking at an intelligence boon.”

Rick looked like he wanted to protest. But that was the thing about being in control; eventually, other people ran out of things to protest about.

Instead, the kid’s face fell, his shoulders slumping as he sank to the chair opposite Billy. “It could be a trap.”

“It could be,” Michael agreed. “But we still don’t know who’s onto us.” He looked to Casey and Billy. “Any sense of who was behind the bomb?”

Billy looked to Casey, who shrugged. Face drawn, Billy sighed. “There’s been a great deal of chatter about all that,” he said, and his voice sounded off, strained and tired. “But no one seems to know quite who. Which is unusual since these are the types who tend to claim their crimes and the crimes of others when room for envy is available.”

“Which means I don’t think it was Sunday,” Casey concluded. “If Sunday organized this, then the job would be local and the person behind it would be talked about almost as much as the corpse they recovered from the alley.”

Michael weighed this. He had suspected this all along, but Jenkins behavior had showed no obvious signs that this was the case. Such subterfuge was more than good; it was downright impressive.

It also meant that Michael couldn’t be sure. He had some good guesses on all this, but if he couldn’t read Jenkins then he couldn’t presume to understand why the man had tried to kill him – assuming, of course, that Jenkins had tried to kill him at all.

Of course, there was a point to be made for the fact that it probably didn’t matter. The attempt was unsuccessful and Michael was more clearly aware of the stakes. He would be extra vigilant during the meeting tomorrow in order to look for any sign of something going wrong. If that happened, they’d pull out.

Easy. Simple.

It would work.

“Oh, my,” Billy said. “I know that look. Even in a relatively sleep deprived state, I know that look.”

Michael’s brow furrowed. “What look?”

“That look of pure, unadulterated thought,” Billy continued knowingly. “Your fevered brain is pitching around the intelligence, sifting through it to come to the best possible conclusion.”

“You mean he’s trying to find a way to face the fact that this mission is out of control,” Rick said.

Casey snorted. “And you all say I’m the negative one.”

This time, Michael did roll his eyes. “I admit, there are unknowns,” he conceded. “But we know enough to proceed.”

“We don’t know who the client is,” Rick said. “We don’t know who tried to kill us. We don’t know why they tried to kill us. But we’re just going to walk in there, let ourselves be surrounded by an army of militants and hope for the best?” He gaped. “And that’s enough?”

“We’ve gone on less,” Michael said.

“This is true,” Billy said, though he looked a bit regretful.

Casey shook his head. “We also should consider the fact that the local population is getting twitchy.”

Michael cocked his head. “Twitchy how?”

“They know something’s up,” Casey said.

“Lots of chatter,” Billy agreed. “And they’re not being overly discreet. I know I’m a friendly sort of tourist but I would think they’d be a bit less prone to letting hapless civilians overhear their plans for mayhem and destruction.”

“It’s the nervous anticipation of a coming conflict,” Casey said. “Animals are smart; they run away. People are stupid. They sit around and gawk before they all get massacred.”

Rick’s face twisted up at the image.

“But the point is,” Casey continued, “it’s a ominous sign.”

“Indeed,” Billy said. “When terrorists – tried and true criminals with blood on their hands – start to get nervous, then we are certain that there’s actually something legitimate to be afraid of.”

Rick wet his lip. “It’s getting hot,” he muttered.

“Hot,” Billy said with a snort. “It’s tantamount to a bath fueled by the fires of hell itself.”

“Hyperbole aside,” Casey said, “we may want to consider some alternative.”

Out of habit, Michael’s eyes narrowed. “Such as?” he asked, even though he wasn’t sure he actually wanted to know.

Casey didn’t back down. He held his eye contact steady. “Such as contacting the military and requesting to put a team on standby in case things go south a little sooner than we intend.”

Michael shook his head. “They’ll want control.”

“You say that like we have control,” Casey snapped back.

Michael’s stomach twisted and he resisted the urge to snap back. Casey’s gaze was penetrating. Rick’s was equally determined and Billy’s was unyielding, if tired.

Jaw working, Michael bucked himself up. “This is our mission,” he said, slow and careful. “It’s complicated and it’s dangerous, but if we bring in any outside control we’re going to forfeit our ability to manipulate the outcome. This is not the time to muddy the waters. Not if we want to get out of this alive.”

Casey sighed. Billy’s head dropped.

Rick shook his head. “And you’re sure about that?”

Certainty was a fledgling thing in the spy world. Michael’s life was one of lies and deceit; certainty was a rare commodity, hard to find and harder still to retain. It was not so much an issue of unassailable truth, but qualified belief.

Michael didn’t waver but looked steadily at Rick. “As sure as I am about anything,” he said, the words as much a promise as a proclamation.

Billy looked up again warily. Casey pursed his lips but didn’t speak. Rick finally blinked, nodding again. They had their doubts – Michael could see that much – but they trusted him. Against all logic, his team trusted him.

That was a variable Michael couldn’t control but couldn’t function without.

He just hoped that it was enough. More than that, he hoped he didn’t let it down.

-o-

Michael was up before his phone alerted him. Methodically, he showered and shaved, getting dressed in slow, even movements. He ate the granola bar he’d bought yesterday and drank two cups of coffee. At precisely 8 AM, he left his room and headed out.

Martinez was ready for him when he stopped by his room. Together, they took the elevator to the lobby. Rick had a briefcase with paper work and samples in hand. Michael fixed his collar, kept his head high, and didn’t bother with small talk.

On their way out, they saw Casey and Billy, arguing with someone from their tour group. It looked innocent but Michael could see the keys to a rental car in Billy’s pocket. Casey looked at him and blinked once.

They were ready.

They were all ready.

At least, that was what Michael had to believe as he and Rick stepped out into the sunlight and the next phase of the mission began.

-o-

Jenkins was with Vaughan this time, and the conversation on the way out was amiable. Michael watched them carefully – saw Vaughan’s fingers tight and sweaty on the wheel, saw Jenkins sitting with total calm in the passenger’s seat – and tried to predict what it meant. Jenkins was holding something back, but any smart leader would do that. The problem was, Michael wasn’t sure what.

Rick sat next to Michael. He was more jittery than normal, but he played the role of businessman with a flair that probably should have made Michael proud.

Really, it was perfect.

Jenkins smiled at him from the front seat. “I have a good feeling about today,” he said, proud and certain.

Michael studied him, looking for irony or condescension, overconfidence or malice. There was nothing. He was perfect.

This was unsettling, except it couldn’t be. Michael couldn’t let it. This was his mission. This was his mission to make or break. His.

“Yeah,” he agreed, smiling back without hesitation. “Me, too.”

-o-

The meet was at Sunday’s compound. It was a remote location, as expected, and Michael tried not to feel conspicuous while he adjusted his suit jacket, where the bug was attached as a button. They were miles from civilization, and he and Rick were vastly outnumbered by Sunday’s men, but they weren’t alone.

They really were outnumbered, though. As they piled out of the car, the area looked as well armed and guarded as most army bases Michael had been to over the course of his career. Jenkins led the way this time, Vaughan hanging nervously right at his tail. As they followed, Rick pressed close, clearly uneasy.

“Quite an operation you have here,” Rick commented.

Vaughan twitched and Jenkins just looked back with a courteous nod. “I am impressed with how well it’s been developed while I’m remote,” he said.

“It’s a sign of leadership,” Michael told him, looking carefully at the men. They were better organized than he might have expected. Their dress was mismatched but their weaponry looked standardized and properly handled. There seemed to be methodical patrols of the perimeter and apt security checkpoints. “The ability of a plan to function even in absentia.”

“I quite agree,” Jenkins said.

“It’s taken a while to get them trained,” Vaughan interjected, a little awkwardly. He was trying to stay relevant – and failing.

“Never an easy thing,” Michael commiserated even as he started counting the building – all fortified and camouflaged, this place would be hard to see on satellite – and making mental note of the vehicles – an ample fleet, also fortified, both for speed and protection. “Though I have to say, I’m a bit surprised. I know in the arms business, appearances count, but you look ready to go to war here.”

The minute he said it, it felt wrong. There was something about this, something he was missing. He knew the stakes were high – he had known it all along. That was why the mission had gotten the green light – this was a budding terrorist operation. They wanted to take it to the big leagues.

But this was more than suicide bombs and wiping out an enemy sect. This was actually an army. This was actually a war.

The certainty of that revelation was settling over him when Jenkins tilted his head. He didn’t look back, kept walking as they neared the closest building. “Looks can be deceiving,” he said. “The United States military invests countless amounts of money and manpower to maintain a presence overseas. We have bases in countries all around the world – wherever we are permitted. We arm them and fortify them, but we’re not at war in most of those places. Even when we fire weapons and send drones, we aren’t at war. It’s about presence and self-defense. It’s about looking the part and expecting the world to believe you.”

Vaughan swallowed. Rick’s steps shadowed Michael’s own.

Michael didn’t slow. One of the guards opened the door and Jenkins walked in, Vaughan not far behind. Michael waited for Rick to go in first and brought up the rear. The guard let the door swing shut behind him.

The building was smaller than the rest, clearly used for administrative purposes. It was sparse with cement floors and thick block walls. The windows were barred and the desk barren.

There was no one there. No client. No paperwork. Nothing.

Michael blinked.

Vaughan was shaking his head. Rick was frowning.

Jenkins turned, hands primly behind his back as he smiled politely. “And sometimes, things are exactly what they seem,” he said, voice warm and friendly as he pulled his gun and aimed it steadily at Michael’s head.

-o-

Getting nearly killed wasn’t typically a daily occurrence for Michael, but he did think of it as a bi-monthly event.

His heart skipped a beat out of the natural human inclination toward fight or flight when mortal peril was introduced into the equation, but really, he just found the entire thing annoying.

First, because Michael had fewer outs for this sort of thing. Billy could talk his way out of a would-be assassination; Casey could just clobber someone and be done with it. Rick would have a bit more trouble, but he still had the earnest puppy dog eyes to make people think twice. Michael was just some average, middle aged guy who most people found forgettable and therefore expendable.

Second, because this was not part of the plan. Michael didn’t often plan on being killed but it still never really sat well with him to think just how far off track his original notion may or may not have been.

Third, it further solidified his suspicions about the lack of inherent integrity in humanity. Fay had divorced him for being paranoid and controlling, which was all fine and good, except that he was right.

Standing there in Sunday’s compound with a gun on him, Michael was right. He had to be paranoid and this was why.

Jenkins was completely composed, the pistol level and unflinching. To Michael’s side, Rick was frozen, fingers gripping the briefcase in his hand so tight that his knuckles were white. Sunday was on Jenkins’ side, gun not pulled but smirking. On the far side of Rick, Vaughan was standing ramrod straight and whitewashed; he looked like he might actually pass out.

For his part, Michael sighed.

Jenkins looked vaguely surprised. “No denial? No begging?”

Vaughan shook his head. “What the hell is going on here?”

“There’s no client, is there,” Michael presumed.

Jenkins was nonplussed. “There’s a client,” he said. “I just moved our meet back to tomorrow. I have other business to attend to today.”

Vaughan gaped. “What do you mean, other business?” he asked, his voice hinging with desperation. “We’re supposed to close a deal, make this partnership work.”

Michael cast a sideways glance at Vaughan. “He played you,” he said. He looked back at Jenkins. “And me.”

Vaughan laughed, incredulous. “But we can make so much money!”

“And he can make just as much if he cuts you out of the operation altogether,” Michael said, reading the nuance in Jenkins’ calm features.

“It’s not just the money,” Jenkins said, almost by way of assurance. “This entire operation is about more than money, not that you ever particularly realized that.”

Michael inclined his head just slightly, seeing the flash of passion in Jenkins’ easy eyes. That was something he’d missed, or misread anyway. Jenkins was a true believer. He had no fear because he believed what he was doing was right. He was a soldier, through and through, and that was why he’d never come across as a criminal. He was a soldier, trained and confident and totally dedicated to his cause.

He was just a soldier for the other side.

The revelation provided sudden clarity. This was why Vaughan was on the outside. Because Jenkins hadn’t wanted a business partner, he’d wanted a compatriot. When Vaughan had proven his loyalties elsewhere, Jenkins had deemed him a liability. Vaughan’s insistence on bringing Michael onboard had only proven the point, that Vaughan was a bad match.

The fact that Jenkins hadn’t just offed Vaughan but dragged Michael and Rick into meant he was thorough. He didn’t want any loose ends. He also wanted to prove a point, to show Vaughan what this was all about.

In some ways, this was good news. The intelligence gain was more than Michael might have hoped. After all, now they could identify Jenkins as a proponent of terrorism and officially label him as a traitor and enemy with active plans against the United States.

The bad news, of course, was that Michael hadn’t planned on a man hoping to eradicate his own country.

And the fact that he may not live to tell the tale was something of a bother, but there was solace in the fact that he was bugged so the intel was still secure.

Not that Michael planned on dying. Dying simply wasn’t in the plan.

“You’re a man with a cause,” Michael said.

Vaughan’s face screwed up. “A cause? What cause?”

“The cause of your people,” Sunday interjected, words dripping with venom.

Vaughan shook his head. “I’m supplying you with guns, what more do you want?”

“They want justice,” Jenkins said. “They want their plight to be acted upon. Around the world, nations condemn violence and send well wishes. But no one acts. No one actively strives to return the power to those who deserve it.”

Rick seemed to tremble next to him, just for a moment. Michael took a steadying breath.

Vaughan, however, was having no such luck. He flung his hands out. “What are you talking about?”

Jenkins’ eyes narrowed. “I’m talking about the precarious balance of power in the world,” he said. “Nations like ours, with resources and money and technology, police the world as though it is our right. We have infinite wealth and yet all we spread is vitriol and violence.”

Vaughan’s breath seemed to catch in his throat. “You’re insane,” he said. “You’re really insane. I mean, I knew you were a low down son of a bitch but I thought you were just selfish.”

“I’m not the one who’s selfish,” Jenkins said. “I don’t want money or power for myself. I want to give these people what they really need. The means and capacity to defend themselves.”

Michael smirked. “That’s a nice spin,” he said. “What you want to do is create an army to kill Americans, most likely the people who have fought and died by your side.”

Jenkins looked back at Michael, smiling in bemusement now. “Says the drug dealer who wants to infect the minds and souls of innocent people.”

So Michael wasn’t here just to prove a point. Jenkins wanted to eradicate him as well, on principle alone.

Vaughan shook his head again, more adamantly now. “We’re just trying to make money!” he said. “That’s what this is about!”

“If that’s what this is about, then I wouldn’t be holding this gun,” Jenkins said, far too rationally for the situation. His finger was still on the trigger, aim steady, but eyes slowly sparking to a fire.

He would fire. And soon.

Michael cleared his throat, trying to regain control of the situation. Casey and Billy would be on their way, Michael was sure of that. When this thing went off script, they would have packed up and been on the road, close enough to strike in case things got worse.

Things were going to get worse, Michael had a feeling. Unless he could get it together.

“You want an army,” he said, louder now, refusing to back down. “And you’ve clearly gone to great pains to arm them. Are they trained?”

Jenkins regarded him cautiously.

Sunday sneered. “We have trained ourselves for years.”

“Which hasn’t exactly got you anywhere,” Michael pointed out. “No, that’s why Jenkins is here, isn’t it? To help with training? To organize an army that is capable of tactical strikes against an enemy he knows very well.”

Sunday didn’t really like that answer, but Jenkins nodded.

“Vaughan’s has experience in this,” he continued. “More than that, he has ties and access, something you don’t have.”

Jenkins didn’t say anything, didn’t take his eyes off Michael.

Michael didn’t let himself show fear, not even as the gun didn’t waver from his chest. “I also have that kind of experience.”

Jenkins shook his head. “I don’t trust drug dealers as a general rule,” he said.

“But you can trust my money,” Michael said. “Vaughan’s right. The profit margin is impressive.”

“You’re buying people’s souls,” Jenkins countered.

“So we don’t sell to your allies,” Michael said. “We sell to your enemies but use the same supply routes to streamline costs and still turn the profit. And you can use the infusion to further prepare your men for whatever missions you deem fit.”

It was a good plan, actually. He’d pulled it out of his ass, of course, but Michael could produce good results under pressure. It was one of the reasons why he flourished in the CIA.

But Jenkins shook his head. “You’re not trustworthy.”

“Trust is bought,” Michael said. “And we all have our price? Don’t we, Vaughan?”

He looked at Vaughan, forcing the man to meet his eyes, hoping he understood. Not for the mission, at this point. The mission was in a precarious state of flux, and Michael would deal with that – he would – but right now he had to keep the man alive. And the only chance in hell he had to do that was to make him play along.

That was the problem with assets, especially those who didn’t know they were being used. They didn’t pick up on hints, not when they thought they were being betrayed, not when they thought things were spiraling rapidly out of control.

Vaughan’s face was pale and he was sweating. He just stared, posture rigid and jaw set so hard that it looked like it might actually hurt. He said nothing; Michael doubted he could speak at all.

Jenkins shook his head. “You assume I want to pay a price,” he said.

That was the assumption and Michael knew it was a bad one. But he could play this. He had to play this. He had to adapt the plan, had to work it so things still came out right. This was his mission; he was in control. He could do this.

He would do this.

He smiled, hands out in easy placation. “You have to remember the big picture,” he said. “Every successful military conquest has come at a price. They don’t write about that in history books, but you and I know better. Drugs in the hands of drug addicts is inevitable. You can finance your success of their stupidity, and I can help you. I can give you the power you need to enact change. Trust me.”

It was an audacious thing to say. To ask a criminal to trust him. To ask a traitor to trust him. To ask the man holding a gun on him to trust him.

But Michael had to be bold if this was going to work. This plan was all or nothing at this point.

All or nothing.

Jenkins looked at him, regarded him carefully. His aim dropped, nodding slowly. “You think we can make this work,” he said, almost curious.

Michael felt himself breathe but he couldn’t make the pressure in his chest unfurl. He heard Jenkins’ words but there was still something. Something off.

Rick didn’t move next to him. Vaughan was standing, white as a ghost. He shook his head, mouth open.

Michael turned to shake his head, to shut him up.

Jenkins smiled.

Michael blinked and knew what he’d missed.

From Jenkins point of view, there was one way to make this work.

All or nothing.

Michael closed his eyes as the gunshot split the room.

All.

Or nothing.

NEXT

Comments

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: June 11th, 2012 12:39 pm (UTC)
Pensive


You'd better post more of this SOON!!!

I think Billy needs to lie down and get some rest. My lap is free and comfortable ;)

**If something goes by the plan, then something is horribly wrong!**

True, so will the events of the cliffhanger actually reassure Rick? I doubt it!

**but really, he just found the entire thing annoying**

LOL. Michael... Only he would react this way.

Ooo, very interesting developments with the bad guys!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 12th, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
billy thinks

If nothing goes wrong in my life, I'll post more on Thursday (well, my Thursday!).

And poor Billy. He may have to take you up on that as this story goes on. He doesn't have an easy road ahead of him, I'm afraid.

Glad you're liking it so far! Thanks!

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: June 11th, 2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
Team

Very nasty cliffhanger :)
I love the twist in the plot and Michael's whole thought process.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 12th, 2012 07:54 pm (UTC)
billy likes

Heh, it was kind of mean, wasn't it?

I'm glad you're sticking with it! Thanks!

Posted by: Lena7142 (lena7142)
Posted at: June 11th, 2012 11:33 pm (UTC)
chaos

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA- *breathes* -AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! *flails arms*

I love you for writing this and hate you for making me wait three whole days to find out what happens next!

----

“Which is the problem!” Rick exclaimed. “In my time with the ODS, all missions go outside the plan. If something goes by the plan, then something is horribly wrong!”

^ WIN ^

----

Poor Billy ain't looking so good...

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 12th, 2012 07:55 pm (UTC)
billy

Is it wrong that I take some pleasure in making you flail?

And things are going to get a lot worse for all the guys in this fic. I really didn't give them any breaks.

Thanks!

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