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Chaos fic: The Wisdom to Know the Difference (2/5)

November 29th, 2013 (06:26 am)

feeling: pensive

Notes in the Master Post.


This time, Michael knocks once before simply letting himself in. He hears the toilet flush, and inches forward, finding the bathroom door partially ajar. He hesitates, in case Billy needs some privacy, but Billy is half curled on the floor, draped across the open toilet lid.

Michael doesn’t say anything for a long moment, and Billy moans. “I told you to leave,” he says, the words heavy and miserable.

Sighing, Michael shrugs. “Fortunately you’re not the one in charge.”

This time, Billy lifts his head enough to look up at Michael. His face is pale and sallow, dark circles more prominent under his eyes and the dark stubble stark on his face. He looks terrible, exhausted and broken. Almost defeated. “This isn’t your fight, Michael,” he says. “I don’t want you--”

He breaks off, convulsing. It starts as a choke and then he shudders, heaving over the toilet again. It takes all of Michael’s willpower not to walk away again as the stench of vomit fills the air. Billy pauses, but the vomiting starts again until Billy is left breathless and heaving over the toilet, entirely spent.

It’d be easy to leave him there.

Michael doesn’t do easy. He does what needs to be done.

With resolve, he steps forward, gently pulling on Billy’s arm. The Scot looks up in surprise, eyes wet. “Come on,” Michael says. “We’ve got a long go ahead of us, and you need to rest someplace other than the floor.”

Billy’s forehead screws up, and he shakes his head. “I can’t let you see me like this,” he says. “Please.”

Michael shakes his head. “I sent you undercover,” he says. “I’m getting you back out -- all the way out.”

“Michael--” Billy says, almost pleading as his voice breaks.

Michael doesn’t waver, though. Instead he looks Billy straight in the eyes. “You did what you had to do undercover,” he says. “Now I’m going to do what I need to do -- no matter what you think about it.”

Billy still looks embarrassed, but it’s a fight he can’t win, and Billy hardly has the strength to fight him. This time, when Michael lifts him up, Billy obeys. His footing is unstable, but Michael balances him until they’re both steady, and then they walk back toward the bedroom.

It takes work to get Billy settled back on the bed, but the Scot seems to melt into the pillows. He breathes deeply, eyes already drifting closed. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “I never meant -- I never wanted--”

Michael sighs and settles back into the chair. “Me neither, buddy,” he says. “But we’ll get through it, okay? Together.”

Billy just closes his eyes and goes to sleep.


After the initial shock, Michael decides to approach the issue of Billy’s cocaine addiction like everything else in his life. Simple and methodical. While Billy is sleeping, he excuses himself to go get his laptop, and he powers up and settles in.

Billy is still dozing when Michael steps outside, making a few fleeting phone calls to the local authorities and the Agency, covering his bases. He responds to a string of text messages from Rick, who seems quite anxious to come visit Billy for himself.

That’s an interesting proposition, and in some ways, Michael considers it. Rick would want to know -- in many ways, Rick might be better equipped for the patience and sympathy Michael is pretty sure this process is going to require. But calling Martinez over wouldn’t be for Billy; it’d be for Michael. Billy’s gone to great lengths to hide this thing, and Michael won’t soon forget the frantic mess he’d found on the shower floor a few hours ago. Billy can hardly look him in the eye as it is, there’s no reason to subject him to Martinez’s pity, no matter how well intentioned it is.

And bringing in Casey would be even worse. Michael’s not entirely sure how Malick would respond, but there’s a good possibility that it wouldn’t be good. Casey doesn’t cope well with weakness, and there’s no question, Billy’s pretty weak right now. Michael doesn’t want to take the chance of Casey thinking less of Billy. That kind of break of trust between Casey and Billy might never be repaired.

No, this is Michael’s job. This is Michael’s burden. This is his mission, and he will do it -- alone.

At least, as long as he can.

When he settles back into the room, Billy’s still sound asleep, mouth open as he’s curled up on his side. Although Michael has some work he could do, he finds himself bringing up a secure browser and looking up the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.

It’s not pretty. Chills and nausea; aches and paranoia. Withdrawal is cruel and indiscriminate. It doesn’t care about good intentions or missions gone wrong. It’s about a chemical dependency that completely alters the way the body responds to the world around it. When the body is deprived of that chemical, it nearly turns on itself to get what it wants.

The literature is pretty clear that there’s no way Billy could do this alone -- not without locking himself in and tying himself down, and even then, he’d probably end up too incoherent to keep himself fed and watered. In fact, as Michael reads several accounts, he’s beginning to wonder if Billy’s going to need further medical intervention in order to make it through.

Michael’s never been a fan of getting outside help, but he’s done it when necessary. He’d do it this time, too.

Except the second a doctor sees Billy, Michael can’t keep this a secret any longer. Billy’s addiction will become part of the mission. It will be documented and considered. Billy would most likely be stripped of his field status.

Michael won’t let Billy die for this, but he won’t risk Billy’s career unless he has to.

Chewing his lip, he looks at Billy, who snuffles in his sleep and flops over onto his back before lapsing back into stillness. Besides, it may not get that bad. Withdrawal varies from person to person, and it depends on the extent of the addiction. Billy’s only been on drugs for a few months, and even with that, he trusts Billy enough to know that he wouldn’t have pushed it at the start. Even when the addiction took over, Billy would have fought it.

So maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe they’ll get lucky. Maybe they’ll spend a few days locked in a hotel room and come out no worse for wear on the other side.


Michael looks back at his computer screen, looking at the percentages of people who relapse, the ones who never kick the habit. The ones who are destroyed by the drug, who never come back.

He closes the laptop.

That’s not Billy.

Michael won’t let that be Billy.


The hours pass, and Michael has a plan. He makes a run to the vending machines and buys as much water and snacks as he can afford. The selection isn’t great, but the pretzels and granola bars are better than nothing. He opens up the room service menu and marks a few items for future reference. There’s a good chance Billy won’t be hungry for much, but one of Michael’s primary concerns will be to keep him hydrated and fed.

He also takes time to clean up a bit. It’s impossible to tell what’s actually clean and what’s not, but he mops up the water in the bathroom and hangs the towels to dry. He folds Billy’s clothes and puts them into the drawers nearly, leaving the suitcase available for the dirty items as Billy goes through them over the next couple of days.

Then, he takes the time to reassemble the coffee maker and is pleased to find at least one cup that hasn’t been crushed beyond recognition. He primly makes the second bed and rearranges the furniture to promote movement in the room. He picks up any trash and puts it neatly in the bins and then takes the time to make sure that the “no service” sign is on the door.

He stands back, looking over the room. The clutter is picked up and his selection of food has been neatly organized on the dresser. He’s contemplating ordering up more towels, when Billy stirs on the bed.

There’s no way in which this isn’t awkward, so Michael doesn’t try to busy himself. Instead, he watches, giving Billy a tepid grin as the Scot rolls over and finally looks at Michael.

Billy swallows, his brow creasing. It’s clear from his face that he half-hoped Michael wouldn’t be here. “Usually when I wake up with someone uninvited in my bedroom, they are a bit more attractive,” he quips.

The quip is so unexpected that Michael’s laugh is almost choked off. He recovers quickly, letting the tension drain out of his shoulders as he smirks. “You should be flattered,” he says. “I could do much better.”

Billy hums a little as he works to prop himself up in bed. “In my present state, I would have to agree.”

Michael sobers a little. “How are you feeling?”

Billy sighs. “Right now, more humiliated than actually awful,” he says. “Though I have this nagging hunger…

“I bought some snacks,” Michael says, nodding toward the dresser.

Billy glances that direction, looking meek. “Ah,” he says. “Not sure that’s the hunger I was talking about.”

“I know,” Michael replies hastily. “But we’ve got a long road ahead of us, so you need to keep up your strength.”

Billy makes a face. “Honestly, I’m not sure my stomach is up for it.”

Michael scoffs, walking over and picking up a bag of chips and snagging a bottle of water. “Your stomach isn’t too trustworthy right now,” he says. “In fact, nothing your body tells you is very trustworthy right now.”

He says it lightly, but Billy’s gaze diverts.

“Hey,” Michael says. “It’s your body I’m talking about, not you. This is a physical dependency. That’s all. We just have to keep you functioning enough to fight it off. You’re stronger than it.”

Billy smiles miserably. “Normally, I’d be all for the positive energy,” he says. “But this time...”

Michael sighs. “That’s why you’re not doing this alone,” he says. “I’m still your point man, okay? I know what I’m doing.”

Billy eyes him, almost daring to be hopeful. “Why are you doing this?”

Michael wrinkled his brow. “Why wouldn’t I do this?”

“Michael,” Billy says. “I screwed up. I know that. I don’t expect you -- I mean, you don’t--” He breaks off, clearly at a loss for words.

Rolling his eyes, Michael drops the food and water in Billy’s lap. “Yeah,” he says. “I do. Because you know what? I screwed up, too. But that’s what we’re going to make right, okay?”

He says it like he believes it -- and he realizes now, he does believe it. Sure, drug addiction is a new one for him, but it’s not like Michael hasn’t faced unexpected trials in the field. It’s not even like he hasn’t faced potentially life threatening decisions for his teammates. This is what Michael does. This is why he’s the best at what he does.

He can do this. Drug addiction is chemical dependency. No matter what the body throws at that loss, it will filter out and Billy will be fine on the other side.

They’ll be fine.

“Now,” Michael says, moving purposefully back to his chair. “Open your chips and drink your water. We’re going to be here for a while.”

Billy hesitates a moment more, eyeing the food on his lap with general disinterest. But finally, he lifts the bag, pulling it open and taking out a chip. He sighs, then takes a nimble bite before forcing a smile at Michael.

“See,” Michael says. “That’s not so bad.”

Billy almost looks like he believes him.


The rest of the day is actually pretty uneventful. They talk for awhile while Michael goes over some paperwork, and Billy actually has some pretty good insights to share about the mission. It’s clear that Billy went well beyond mission parameter when he fully immersed himself into his cover, which has yielded unprecedented intelligence gains. Billy knows more about the suspects and their personal history than Michael could have imagined.

Of course, he also picked up a drug habit, so Michael’s reluctant to call it a total win.

Even so, things seem to be going okay. Billy’s clearly shaky, but he hasn’t had a lapse in coherency since Michael showed up. He doesn’t eat much, but he sips his water frequently under Michael’s watchful eye. He still looks pretty bad, but when he smiles and tells stories, Michael thinks this might not be so bad after all.

After the paperwork, Billy looks edgy, so Michael dims the lights and says he’ll be out in the hall. Billy nods and swallows, trying to offer a smile to Michael as he exits the room.

In the hall, Michael stays close and makes another set of calls. To Langley, to the local authorities -- and then more texts from Rick. He’s about to assure Rick for the fifteenth time that everything is fine when the kid finally calls him.

“Hey,” Rick says, stopping awkwardly. “Um.”

“What, Martinez?” Michael asks in exasperation.

“You answered really quick again,” Rick says.

Michael turns his eyes to the ceiling and shakes his head. Rick’s turned out to be a decent spy, but sometimes the kid makes him wonder how. “You act like that’s still a surprise.”

“Well, it’s sort of creepy--”


“Right,” Rick says. “I was just wondering--”

“No, I don’t think you should bother Billy,” Michael cuts him off.

Rick sounds absolutely crestfallen. “He still isn’t answering his phone, and it’s going straight to voicemail.”

That’s only because Michael got tired of hearing it ring after the first two hours. “I told you, Billy’s sick,” he says.

“Which is why I think he shouldn’t be alone.”

Damn the kid and his noble intentions.

Michael sighs. “I’m in the same hotel if he needs something,” he says. “Billy’s a grown man; he can handle this.”

Saying it almost hurts, because Michael knows it’s not actually true this time. Billy can’t handle this alone, which is all the more reason to keep Rick and Casey away.

“But I’m actually pretty good at the nursemaid thing,” Rick offers. “I don’t mind.”

Of course he doesn’t.

Michael runs a hand through his hair. He can’t blame the kid -- this is why the ODS is so special; this is why they can complete cases when no one else can. Not their skill or experience, but because they care about each other. Their greatest asset.

Michael’s risked that too much already in this mission.

“There are some things a man has to do alone,” he says finally. “Just give Billy the week.”

Rick sighs. “If he needs something--”

“You will be the first person I call,” Michael promises, hoping that it doesn’t come to that.

When Rick hangs up, Michael looks back at Billy’s door. If Billy can’t get through this, it’s not just Billy’s life and career that’s at stake. It’s all of them. Because if their special bond is their greatest asset, it’s also their greatest weakness. If they lost Billy -- if any of them were taken out of play -- Michael doesn’t know how they’d make it.

He’s resolved never to find out.


Back inside, he’s pleased to find Billy’s sleeping again. He doesn’t want to make a point of watching the other man -- this entire situation is awkward enough as it is. Instead, he pulls out the latest bestseller he picked up last week and opens up to the page he left off on.

Before he starts, though, his gaze does linger, if only for a moment. It’s a funny thing, having Billy back. He’d been looking forward to it in his own way, and now here they were.

Things rarely work out the way Michael thinks they will. They don’t even work out the way he intends them to. That’s cost him a lot over the years -- Carson’s captivity, his marriage and more -- but he has to think it won’t cost him Billy.

It can’t. Billy’s right here. It’s going to be okay.

Sighing, Michael looks back at the page and starts to read.


By the time Billy wakes up, Michael is almost done with his book. He’s reaching the climax, where the brilliant spy hero has wooed the girl and is stopping general mayhem by besting all the bad guys, when he notices that Billy is looking at him.

“Hey,” he says, grinning a little. “How long have you been up?”

“Long enough to see that you’re just getting to the good stuff,” he says. “Sex or explosions?”

Michael makes a face, closing his book with a shrug. “A little of both,” he admits. “But I’m more intrigued by the complete lack of tactical insight displayed by the hero. He’s a terrible spy.”

Billy chuckles, sitting himself up and leaning against the headboard. “Normally I might join your critique, but I can’t imagine I have much of a leg to stand on right now.”

Michael scoffs, putting the book down. “If you ever do something stupid enough to immortalize you in a best seller, then we’ll really have a problem.”

Billy lifts his eyebrows. “So this snafu?”

“Would make for a pretty crappy bestseller,” Michael says.

Laughing again, Billy’s face brightens. “Aye, no arguments on that one,” he says. “I usually like to wax poetic about missions -- you know, find the inalienable silver lining, but this is one that I think I’d rather just forget.”

“And we will,” Michael says. “Which brings us to the next point.”

“Curling up in a ball and dying?” Billy asks.

“Close,” Michael says. “Dinner.”

Billy looks positively disappointed.

“You are going to eat,” Michael insists. “Doesn’t have to be much, but you’re going to need your strength.”

“Really, that’s the opposite of curling up in a ball and dying,” Billy says, sulking.

“That’s the point,” Michael tells him wryly.

Billy sighs. “Fine,” he agrees, shoulders slouching as he crosses his arms over his chest. “But only if you’re buying.”

“Better still,” Michael says, reaching for the phone. “We’ll charge the Agency.”

A smile lights on Billy’s face again. “Ah, yes,” he says. “The only bastards stingier than you.”

“I knew there had to be some redeeming quality to them,” Michael jokes.

“Then you may as well order something good for yourself,” Billy says. “No sense in letting the opportunity go totally to waste.”


Michael orders a simple dinner, but it still proves to be too much for Billy. Still, the Scot sits up and he eats. Even more so, Billy’s awake and alert. He’s laughing and joking. Sure, there are moments when Billy shudders, and Michael can’t help but notice the other man’s grimaces, no matter how much he tries to hide them. But he holds his dinner down, and Michael counts it all as a win.

As the night wears on, they turn on the TV and watch a few boring procedurals. It’s almost 11 when Billy’s starting to drift off again, and Michael stops his commentary on the idiocy of cops on TV and lets the TV provide a gentle background as Billy falls asleep again.

After that, Michael makes a few last calls and is sure to text Rick that all is well. He finishes off a snack, drinks a little water and then gets ready for bed himself. It’s been a long day; tomorrow will probably be another long day, but they can do this. It’s just another variable; just another wrench in the works. Michael can handle this. He will.

No matter what tomorrow brings.


Michael doesn’t realize how tired he is until he wakes up with his phone vibrating. He groans, squinting as he opens his eyes and flops over, groping for the phone on the bedside table. He’s groggy, which is unusual, and he feels strangely out of place. His fingers work on autopilot, and he’s reading a text from Martinez before he remembers.

He’s in Billy’s room.

Billy’s addicted to cocaine.

And Rick asks, “Have u seen Billy?”

Michael sighs, rolling on his back again, letting the phone fall on the bed next to him. Martinez needs more babysitting than Billy does on this mission, and Billy’s--

Michael glances to the side. Billy is still asleep, curled up on his side, facing away from Michael. In the sunlight streaming through the curtains, it is easy to see the rapid rise and fall of Billy’s breathing.

Then Michael looks at the clock, and his eyes widen. It’s after 9.

Michael never sleeps until 9. And Billy...

Hell, Billy’s been asleep for almost 10 hours. Sleepiness is part of withdrawal, and actually, if Billy’s going to be symptomatic, sleep is probably one of the better ways to go about it.

Still, it’s a little surprising.

And the fact that he slept this long means he’s more stressed out than he thought. Fully awake, Michael picks up his phone again and shoots off a text to Rick. He sends one to Casey too, just for good measure. The other man isn’t texting obsessively, but he’ll still be concerned in his own way. Even if that means hooking up with multiple attractive partners -- possibly at the same time.

They all handle this stuff their own way. Casey uses his body; he acts. Rick uses his emotions; he worries. Michael uses his head; he plans.

Michael plans.

When he’s done with the obligatory texts -- and answering three more from Rick -- Michael sets about his morning routine as best he can. He showers and gets dressed, ordering a bit of room service afterward. When it arrives, it’s pushing 10:30, but Billy shows no signs of waking. Michael is inclined to let the other man sleep, but he also knows how little Billy ate and drank yesterday. He’s going to need to stay hydrated.

A little reluctant, he goes over to Billy. “Hey,” he says, not too loud but definitely above a whisper. “Rise and shine, sleepyhead.”

It’s a stupid thing to say, and Michael feels stupid saying it. He has virtually no experience with children, and Billy is not a child. He’s a grown man in withdrawal, but sleepyhead is the only thing Michael can force out of his mouth.

He’s not sure if he’s relieved or worried when it doesn’t elicit a response.

He reaches down, hesitating slightly before touching Billy’s shoulder. “Billy.”

He expects the other man to jolt -- skittish behavior is pretty symptomatic of withdrawal -- but Billy doesn’t even twitch.

Frowning, Michael squeezes the shoulder slightly. “Billy,” he tries again.

This time, Billy’s face scrunches and he moans a little, curling in tighter on himself.

“Billy,” Michael says again, feeling a little frustrated now as he shakes again. “Time to wake up.”

Billy mumbles something this time, scowling like a sleepy toddler as he visibly tries to shrink away.

Michael sighs. “Come on, Collins,” he snaps. “Up and at ‘em.”

With this, Billy’s eyes open and he looks confused for a moment before he turns his head and looks up. He recognizes Michael -- and promptly lays his head back down.

“That’s not up and at ‘em,” Michael points out.

Billy purposefully closes his eyes. “So?”

“So,” Michael says, trying to keep his exasperation in check. “It’s pushing 11. You haven’t eaten in 12 hours.”

Billy refuses to open his eyes again. “Still not seeing your point.”

“My point,” Michael says, flinging the covers back against Billy’s will. “Is that you need to eat. You need to shower. You need to drink.

Billy makes a yelp of protest, flopping on his back to fix Michael with a glare. “I don’t need to do bloody anything,” he snarls.

Michael is almost taken aback. He presses his lips together. “Yes, you do,” he says flatly, reminding himself that hostility and irritability were to be expected. “I’m not going to let you die. Not on my watch.”

Billy snorts vindictively. “No, but you’ll let me become a cocaine addict,” he says. “Good job on that.”

It’s a bit like being suckerpunched -- it hurts like hell and Michael didn’t see it coming. He grits his teeth. “A problem I am going to remedy.”

Billy huffs, flopping back on his side. “I don’t know why you even care.”

“Because,” Michael says, going over and flinging open the curtain. Billy winces, but Michael pulls his pillows out and picks up the room service tray and lays it heavily next to Billy. “I’m your friend. And I know you’ll thank me for this someday.”

Billy props himself up on his elbows, looking at Michael with malice now. “Thank you?” Billy asks. “For, what, leaving me to rot with a drug cartel? Or torturing me in the aftermath?”

Michael’s chest is tight. “The latter,” he says sharply. “Though I will remind you that this doesn’t even come close to torture. Trust me, I’d know.”

“Oh, and I’m supposed to feel sorry for you now?” Billy asks.

“No,” Michael says. “You’re supposed to sit up and eat before I show you what types of torture I really know.”

Billy looks pissed off -- for a second, Michael thinks the other man might refuse him or worse -- but Michael is unyielding, and he just hopes Billy can’t hear his pounding heart. Because Michael’s not sure if he’s bluffing. He’s not sure of anything except the pressing need to help Billy.

Even when Billy doesn’t want to help himself this morning.

That’s how this works; that’s why Michael had to stay. This is what he has to do.

Even if he has no idea what he’s doing.

Finally, Billy pushes himself up, leaning back against the headboard sullenly. He glances at the toast and water. “No coffee?”

“We’re going stimulant-free,” Michael says.

“Whatever,” he mutters, reaching over and taking the toast. “Can’t expect you to take pity on me, I guess.”

Michael doesn’t reply -- he doesn’t even know how to reply -- but sits back and starts in on his own breakfast, watching Billy cautiously.

This could still be worse, he knows.

He’s just beginning to worry he may find out.