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Chaos fic: The Wisdom to Know the Difference (3/5)

November 29th, 2013 (06:28 am)

feeling: amused

Notes in the Master Post.


The day doesn’t get much better. Billy is unsociable while eating, and even though he takes bites to spite Michael, he still peters out after the first piece of toast. He drinks half his water and Michael has to threaten him to take a shower. When the Scot gets out, Michael hopes the other man might be refreshed, but the opposite is true.

If anything, being more awake has made Billy even more of a pain, and he all but growls at Michael as he settles back down on the bed. Michael tries to start up a conversation, but all attempts are greeted with frustration and anger until Michael’s feeling angry and frustrated himself.

Still, Michael persists. He tries to turn on the TV but Billy complains about every channel. When Michael offers to play cards, Billy says there’s no point. “I’m already down on my luck, so you want to kick me while I’m down?”

Michael says nothing, but it’s getting harder. It’s getting very hard, and when Michael asks to check the wounds on Billy’s arms, the Scot almost screams at him. “Just bugger off!” he exclaims. “I’m a bloody grown man, not some invalid! And I’m certainly not your pet project. Not now.”

This time, MIchael can’t help himself. “You’re a grown man addicted to cocaine,” he snaps. “I didn’t put the damn needle in your arm, but I’m sure as hell not going to let you start it up again. So shut up and hold your arms out so I can keep you from making this any worse.”

Billy’s eyes burn brightly, and for a second, Michael thinks he’s going to lash out -- fight back. Michael is bracing for a blow, when Billy’s face crumbles.

His entire body sags, and he looks down, the fight draining from his body. His defiance is gone, and left in its wake is the sad, empty shell of a man Michael once knew.

“Billy,” he says, sighing. “I--”

“You’re right,” Billy says, still not looking up. He turns his arms out, leaving them limp in front of him. “Do what you need to do.”

Michael’s mouth is open, but no words come out. What can he say? What can he do?

Finally, he just gives up and undoes the gauze. Billy doesn’t make a move, and Michael doesn’t bother trying to start up conversation again. He’s pleased to see that everything is healing with no sign of infection. The worst of the scratches have started to scab, and the injection wounds are already starting to fade.

There’s no need to wrap them again, but Michael still does it -- as much for himself as Billy.

“You know,” Michael says when he’s done. “I could pull up youtube -- and you could show me some of that annoying bagpipe music you keep trying to make me listen to.”

Billy shrugs one shoulder.

“Come on,” Michael cajoles. “What about one of those silly viral videos? You’ve always got fifty at the office you want me to watch.”

Billy doesn’t even bother to shrug this time. Instead, he lays down, facing away from Michael. “Reckon I’ll just sleep,” he murmurs.

Sleep is not a bad plan, but Michael doesn’t fail to notice how Billy doesn’t close his eyes. He chews his lip for a moment. “You want the light off?” he asks.

“Whatever you want,” Billy says, and his voice is flat.

Michael sighs, his own chest tight. “Billy...”

He wants to say something. He wants to make it better.

But there’s nothing to say. And there’s nothing he can do to make it better.

Except wait it out.

Sighing again, Michael settles back. “Okay,” he says finally, watching as Billy stares at the wall. “If you need anything, I’ll be right here.”


Michael makes that promise, and he doesn’t deter from it. The hours are long and tedious, but Michael stays the course.

On the bed, Billy sleeps some, but not as much as the day before. It’s hard to tell sometimes, and when Michael glances at the other man, his eyes seem to be open and closed intermittently, with no clear pattern emerging. It’s a little bothersome, but Michael doesn’t say anything. This is hard enough on both of them as it is.

When it’s time to eat, Billy obeys wordlessly, taking small bites until Michael takes pity on him and offers to throw the rest away. He goes to the bathroom when prompted, but when Michael asks a question that requires a response, the best Billy manages is a shrug or a tilt of the head.

Other than that, Billy just stares. He stares at the ceiling; he stares at the wall. It’s almost eerie -- Billy’s total stillness -- unlike anything Michael has seen from the Scotsman. He’s seen Billy when he’s too drunk to stand up straight; he’s been with Billy when he’s only semiconscious from an injury. He’s dealt with Billy on morphine, suffering from sleep deprivation and several times when he was delirious with a fever.

He’s endured years of the Scot’s overzealous bad poetry; he’s suffered through the man’s purposefully off key singing to modern groups Michael can’t even stand in the car. He’s seen Billy take on a cover, charm women (and a few men), and finish a mission with a flourish.

He’s seen Billy when he’s irritable and worried. He’s been with Billy when his blood sugar is too low and he starts getting nonsensical.

After Carson vanished in North Africa, he even saw Billy lose it completely, saw him crying and hysterical, a quivering mess in Michael’s arms until the grief turned to numbness and they all walked away.

But he’s never seen Billy like this.

Listless. Depressed. Not even a shadow of himself. It’s as if the drugs leaving his system are taking the best parts of Billy with it, leaving an empty, vacant wreck in their devastating wake.

Still, it could be worse, Michael reminds himself. This is expected. This is part of what happens. This will pass and Billy will be okay. The scars on his arms will heal, and the small needle tracks will look like faded bug bites. They’ll go back to Langley; they’ll carpool to work and laugh and joke about the mission from hell.

They’ll be okay.

Yet the hours drag on.


That night, when Michael is changing the bandages, Billy sighs. Michael glances at him, but doesn’t say anything while he slathers on more antiseptic and fiddles with fresh bandages.

“I liked it, you know,” Billy says after a moment.

Michael is surprised to hear him speak.

Billy’s not looking at him. His eyes are trained on the needle marks. “God help me, I loved it,” he says. “By the end, there was nothing I wanted more, no part of my job that I looked forward to more. I kept my cover and I did all the work I was supposed to do, but all I wanted -- all I could think about -- was the next hit.”

Michael swallows and diverts his eyes.

Billy gives a short, bitter laugh. “I told myself it was for the greater good, but that was a lie,” he says. “By the end, I took the drugs on my own. I pilfered samples; I took out loans from my cut of the profits to buy more.”

Michael’s heart clenches, and he feels sick.

“I was nothing more than a junkie,” he says. “Those bastards had me right where they wanted me. They could have asked me for anything, and I would have done it without question.”

“It was part of your cover,” Michael says. “You kept it together for the mission. You did your part perfectly.”

Billy stiffens. “You don’t know that,” he says, the words heavy and laden with grief. “Do you know what I did when you gave me the signal that it was coming to an end? I made sure to take one last hit. While you were gearing up for a tactical maneuver, I was getting high alone in my room.”

It’s a hard admission, and there’s a hint of malice in Billy’s voice that is hard to separate from the total self-loathing. In reality, the revelations are appalling. The idea of it...is difficult to stomach.

But Michael reminds himself that this is the drug, not Billy. He reminds himself that there is only so much self control one person can have, and after several months of recreational use, Billy didn’t have a chance.

Michael finishes the bandages and drops his hands. He takes a breath, and looks at Billy.

This time, the Scotsman is looking at him. His bloodshot eyes are wide and intense. He’s baiting Michael; he’s inviting condemnation and rejection. Because that’s what Billy thinks he deserves.

If it were anyone else, Michael might be inclined to grant it.

But this is Billy.

Addicted and twisted, but still Billy.

“Some things are collateral damage,” Michael say evenly. “This is no different.”

“This isn’t someone getting caught in the crossfire,” Billy says. “This isn’t a bust gone wrong. This isn’t an asset turning on us. This is me, making a choice. This is me, becoming the very thing we try to stop.” His voice wavers precariously, and he bites back what seems to be a sob. “You should have arrested me with the lot of them. Thrown me into a prison and never looked back for me.”

Guilt tears through Michael and his jaw twitches and his face hardens. “No,” he says sharply. “If you were nothing more than an addict, you wouldn’t have locked yourself into your room to get clean.”

Billy’s eyes burn with tears. “I just couldn’t face you,” he says. “Michael--”

Michael shakes his head. He’s heard enough. He can’t do this. He won’t. “You did what you had to do undercover,” he says. “Now that you’re out, we’ll do what we need to do to make you better.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” Billy asks. “I’ll always be an addict--”

“So we won’t send you undercover with another cartel, okay?” Michael snaps. “And I’ll keep driving you to work and calling you on weekends, and you won’t touch the stuff again, okay? I promise, Billy. We’re going to be okay.”

The intensity of his own words surprise him, and Billy’s countenance wavers. With a shaky breath, the Scotsman avoids tears, but his gaze drops down as he nods. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Michael says, putting the first aid kit away definitely. There’s an awkward silence. Michael nods again. “Okay. Now. What do you say to dinner?”

Billy doesn’t look at him.

“Okay,” Michael says. “Dinner it is.”


The rest of the night is quieter than the day. Billy sits up, mostly because Michael hasn’t given him permission to lay down. Michael turns on the TV in the evening and puts on a mindless comedy he doesn’t know the name of, letting the canned laugh track fill the room.

If Billy watches, he doesn’t laugh, and Michael fields a few texts until the uncomfortable silence is just too much. He makes a show of getting ready for bed, choosing not to comment on Billy’s complete lack of interest in making his own preparation. Instead, when Michael is in his sleep clothes and has the sheets of his bed pulled down, Billy has already laid down, curled up and facing the wall.

Hesitating, Michael wants to say something. He wants to offer some reassurance, some break in the tension.

But what? There’s nothing to say -- at least, nothing that rings with any truth.

Sighing, he turns off the light and settles down, trying to calm his working brain. Several moments pass -- maybe minutes -- and Michael feels himself starting to get sleepy when Billy’s voice breaks the stillness.

“You don’t have to do this,” he says.

Michael doesn’t know what to say.

“I know you blame yourself,” Billy continues in the blackness. “But I did this. You’ve done more than anyone would expect. I wouldn’t blame you for walking out. No one would.”

It’s possible that Billy’s right about that. Michael blames himself, but Billy’s the one who put the needle in his arm -- again and again and again. Michael’s done Billy a world of favors just by not reporting him straight out.

But Michael knows what happened the last time he wasn’t here. He knows what happened when Billy was alone for five months undercover.

He’s still struggling to believe that that first mistake was excusable. Walking away on Billy now -- wouldn’t even be close.

“I’m staying, Billy,” he says. “Until the end.”

To this, Billy makes no further reply. The silence extends and deepens until sleep finally comes.


Michael is still asleep when he hears a sound. He startles, coming to full alertness, reaching for the gun he has tucked under his pillow. He’s on his feet, gun up and ready, when he hears the sound again. It’s muffled but not far, something guttural and--


The sound is grating, and Michael winces both in disgust and sympathy. Because the smell of vomit is suddenly easy to detect, and the drawn out sound of human pain is almost more than he wants to hear.

As bad as it is for him, though, he knows it’s worse for Billy. The retching doesn’t stop, and Michael can hear Billy straining, taking a gasping breath before it starts up again.

After several long moments, the sounds fade until all that’s left is Billy’s labored, wet breaths.

Awkwardly, Michael puts his gun away, walking carefully toward the bathroom. The door is ajar, the light spilling out into the rest of the room. Michael waits a moment longer before knocking. “Billy?”

There’s no response.

“Billy, I’m coming in,” Michael says, slowly pushing the door open.

He’s not sure what he’s expecting to see -- he knows Billy is sick, after all -- but somehow the image is still hard to take. Billy is almost limp against the toilet, his arms splayed across the lid and his head resting heavily there. He’s slumped a bit, legs curled uncomfortably in front of him across the off-white tile. His hair is soaked with sweat, and he’s clearly shaking, fine tremors wracking his too-thin frame. He doesn’t even try to look up as Michael stands there.

It’s surreal. It strikes Michael, like a punch in the gut, that Michael has come across scenes like this before. In his time, he’s seen the worst in humanity. He’s paid off junkies for information and he’s pulled assets up off the bathroom floor to keep them in the game. He’s always done so with detachment and vague disappointment, because he’s always been better than that.

But this is Billy.

Pathetic and broken, this is Billy. Just like the victims he tries to save; just like the junkies he turns for their valuable lifeline to drug dealers.

Suddenly, Michael’s the one who’s nauseous. He wants to leave, wants to walk out and not come back. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. This isn’t right.

But this is how it is.

It takes all of Michael’s self control to bend down and take Billy by the arm. The Scot is pliant, and when Michael drags him to his feet, his shaky legs support him even as Michael laces an arm under Billy’s shoulders. Deftly, he flushes the toilet and walks Billy back into the room.

The Scot staggers alongside him, his head bowed. At the bed, Michael lowers him down and Billy lies listlessly on his side. Even in the dim rays of the morning sun, Michael can see that his face is ashen and his eyes are wet with tears.

Uncertain, Michael loiters. Part of him wants to offer comfort, but he’s not sure what comfort to offer that won’t seem condescending and overwrought. He hesitates long enough, and Billy’s eyes close, leaving Michael alone with the lingering questions and ever-pressing doubts.


Michael doesn’t go back to sleep, and he steps out to make a few calls before showering and getting dressed for the day. When he comes out, hair still damp, he finds Billy curled up even tighter on the bed. His eyes are open and his face is taut, as if in pain.

“Billy?” he asks, crossing the room in two steps flat. He goes to his knees next to the bed. “Billy?”

Billy hardly looks at him, his eyes clouded and his teeth chattering. He moans a little, a soft, inarticulate noise that is more an expression of misery than actual communication.

“Hey,” Michael says, softer now as he reaches a tentative hand to Billy’s brow. It’s still soaked with sweat and one touch confirms why. Billy’s burning up, and Michael realizes that with the intensity, Billy is probably not entirely lucid.

Michael falters. He’s good under pressure, but for all that he touts his time in pre-med, he knows very little about playing doctor. In fact, he’s not even a very good nursemaid.

The truth is, he’s beyond his pay grade and he’s less and less sure this is even the right course of action. Withdrawal isn’t just uncomfortable or difficult; it can have profound impacts on the body. If not handled correctly, it can cause injury.

In short, Billy could die.

And Michael’s not even sure whose reputation he’s trying to protect -- his or Billy’s.

The self-doubt is gripping, but Michael is entirely self aware and in full possession of his faculties. A fever and chills are not uncommon or even severe withdrawal symptoms. As long as the fever doesn’t get too high and Michael can keep Billy hydrated, this is an acceptable turn of events.

Billy’s the one who wanted to do this alone. He tried to keep Michael at bay.

It’s not time to get help. With any luck, it never will be.

Michael tries not to think about how bad their luck has been so far.


There’s no reason to waste time on idle fears, though. Not when there are things to do. Michael’s not great with sitting and waiting, but he’s pretty damn good when there are tasks to be done, no matter how menial they may seem.

Michael makes a quick run to his room and raids his own first aid kit, which is better stocked than Billy’s. He stops off at the vending machine to buy some crackers and water for something resembling breakfast, and then gets back to Billy’s side.

The Scot hasn’t stirred, and he only moans faintly when Michael presses the thermometer into Billy’s ear. After a moment, it beeps, and Michael reads the screen. 102.9 -- that’s a bit high but certainly nothing life threatening. They can cope with 102.9.

Cope being an active verb. Michael isn’t about to give Billy Tylenol while he’s in detox -- at least not without extensive research on the subject -- but he knows there are other options to try to control the fever. He starts by sorting through the towels, and makes a mental note to call down for fresh ones to be delivered later today.

Still, he finds a few washcloths that are used but not dirty and he runs tepid water over one, ringing it out before going back to Billy’s side.

On the bed, Billy hasn’t moved, and he whimpers faintly when Michael carefully arranges the washcloth.

When that’s done, he checks their supplies and rearranges what they have on stock. He sorts the gauze and the antiseptic, and makes a call to request several items from the front desk. Then, he puts a fresh thing of water by Billy’s bed and settles back to eat his crackers and drink a bottle of water of his own.

He’s ready. Whatever the day will bring, Michael is as ready as he can be.


When Billy rouses several hours later, Michael is optimistic. He doesn’t want to admit it (not that there’s anyone to admit it to), but he’s getting sort of bored doing nothing. Cocaine withdrawal is a fairly serious issue, and Michael feels as though it shouldn’t involve so much painstaking nothingness.

But when Billy’s eyes flutter, his face flushes and he curls in sharply with a cry. He makes an inarticulate sound of pain, and Michael barely manages to snag a trashcan in time to roll Billy over the side of the bed to vomit.

It’s not clear how coherent Billy is, and Michael is poorly situated as he tries to keep the Scotsman from face planting into his own bile. Trying to get him to hit the trash can is even more of a trial and while Billy’s body shakes and convulses, Michael’s own muscles burn with the strain of holding him up.

When it’s done, Billy is sagging and spent in his arms. He’s wheezing, and when Michael finally shifts him back onto the bed, his eyes are open and wet, his face twisted in agony. “Hurts,” he moans.

Michael frowns, smoothing a hand across Billy’s brow. “I know,” he says. “I’m sorry about that.”

Billy’s eyes screw shut and he tips his head back as he half-chokes on a sob. “It just hurts so much,” he says, his voice thin and brittle. “Please. Hurts.

At this point, Michael’s question regarding coherency has mostly been answered. There’s no way Billy would admit to this much weakness if he were in full control of his faculties.

Of course, Billy’s never been a cocaine addict before, so Michael’s point of reference is entirely skewed.

Still, he feels fairly confident that Billy won’t understand any explanation as to why it hurts or what they need to do to get through it. At this point, Billy just needs comfort.

Michael’s not devoid of compassion, but his ability to relate to the pain of others has never been his strong suit. Fay complained all the time about how insensitive he was. It’s not that he can’t recognize the pain other people experience; it’s just that he rarely sees reason to offer them comfort since it is nothing he can control and usually mostly their own doing.

Billy’s body is shaking a chemical dependency. Billy’s the one who injected himself with the drug, not Michael. In that sense, this wretched state is Billy’s own doing.

But Michael should have stopped it. Months ago. He should have stopped it before it started. This was his mission, and this is a variable he failed to control or foresee.

This is his fault, he reminds himself starkly.

Billy, curled up and in pain, is his fault. At this point, Michael can’t stop the suffering, but he can offer comfort.

That’s all he can do.

Swallowing, he reaches out again, squeezing Billy’s shoulder. “I know, buddy,” he says. “But you just have to keep fighting it, okay? You’re going to get through this, even if you don’t think you will.”

Billy whines pitifully again, head tossing as he thrashes a little.

Michael’s heart thuds woodenly against his chest. “I’m going to get you through this.”

That’s the promise he made at the start.

It’s never been more important than it is now.


Billy’s temperature stays steady, even as Michael rotates the washcloths every hour or so. Almost like clockwork, Billy rouses every two hours, and Michael is ready now, one hand bracing Billy, the other lifting the can for him to throw up into.

When he’s done, Michael sits him up before he drifts back to sleep, cajoling him into drinking some water, though more of it dribbles down his chin than makes it into his mouth. His eyes are already shut when Michael finally gives up, letting Billy slump back to the mattress with a groan.

Around midday, Michael braves a trip to the bathroom with Billy, mostly dragging the Scotsman who cries in pain the entire time. His legs give out when they get there, and he’s begging for a reprieve when Michael finally just works down the elastic and puts Billy on the toilet himself.

It’s messy and unglamorous, and Michael’s face is pinched while he lugs the other man back to the bed. He half drops Billy to the sheets, and as he’s maneuvering the other man’s legs onto the mattress, he’s surprised to find Billy looking at him.

“I’m sorry,” he says, sounding more miserable than before. “I’m so, so sorry.”

Michael works his jaw, pressing his lips together as he arranges Billy’s pillows and settles him back.

Billy’s face contorts and tears leak from his eyes. “You shouldn’t have to--” he starts, breath hitching. “Michael, you don’t have to do this.”

“We’re a team,” Michael says, as if that should explain everything. It’s a common catch-all for the ODS, but it feels strained now.

Billy inhales sharply, grinding his teeth together so hard that Michael can hear the enamel grating. “Michael, I’m sorry,” he almost sobs. “I’m sorry. I was too weak. I’m too weak. I’m sorry.

Any frustration or animosity is hard to hold, and Michael’s heart threatens to break. This shouldn’t be happening. This shouldn’t be Billy.

It shouldn’t be.

But it is.

God help him, this is how it is.

Sighing, he pats Billy’s arm one more time. “I know,” he says.

It’s not clear if Billy hears him as he cries out again, curling over on his side as he whimpers before his face eases slightly and he slips back toward an inevitable sleep.

Billy’s not the only one who’s sorry.


The day is painful and long. Michael feels restless. He wants to get out of the room so badly -- and every time he considers sneaking out for just a little bit, he looks at Billy and feels guilty. Billy’s doesn’t have the luxury of going. For five months, while Michael exchanged snarky texts with Martinez and had deep late night phone conversations with Fay, Billy was undercover, living life as a drug dealer.

Getting addicted to cocaine.

Michael had no choice but to leave Billy then. He can’t do it now.

So Michael stays.

He endures the moments, almost like a penance.

Sometimes he wishes it was, that he could do his term and earn his absolution. That it could be that easy.

This is a lot of things, but easy isn’t one of them.


In the late afternoon, he has no choice but to step outside to make phone calls. He finalizes a few things over the phone -- confirming that the last of the suspects had been properly filed through the local courts and charged -- before texting Martinez for the fifteenth time. When his phone buzzes with a call, he groans, but when he looks at the number it’s not Martinez.

Curious, he answers. “Casey?”

“Something’s wrong,” Casey announces.

Michael smirks a little, despite the weight of the accusation. Only Casey would be so blunt, though it would be naive to expect him not to notice.

That didn’t mean Michael was giving up his cards just yet, though.

“What you do in your personal time is your problem, Malick,” he says. “Just get it straightened out by the time our flight takes off next week.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it,” Casey replies tersely.

“I’ve been kind of busy,” Michael says, doing his best to sound exasperated. “So I don’t--”

“Billy,” Casey interjects gruffly. “What’s wrong with Billy?”

“Collins?” Michael asks. “He’s been generally slothful. I think he’s making up for five months in one week.”

“So you’ve checked on him?” Casey asks.

“Saw him just this morning,” Michael says.

“And he’s fine,” Casey confirms.

“As fine as Billy ever is,” Michael offers cryptically. “I mean, Collins is only marginally competent in his personal life back home. What do you expect after a mission like this?”

“I expect random messages and invitations to get drinks,” Casey says. “I expect stories I don’t want to hear about events that probably didn’t happen while he manages to get someone else to pay for the drinks he manages to consume mostly by himself.”

“So?” Michael asks.

“So,” Casey continues. “He hasn’t called. He hasn’t texted. Not once.”

“You’re getting as bad as Martinez,” Michael deflects. “Clingy.”

“Now you’re avoiding the point, and I may have to be actually concerned,” Casey says. “What aren’t you telling me?”

It’s tempting. Of all of them, Casey’s always been the one who’s had the easiest time with the truth. Michael can count the number of actual lies he’s told Malick on one hand.

And really, Casey could be perfect for this kind of thing. He knows more about the human body than Michael does, and his skills as a medic are actually not bad. And he has a soft spot for Billy.

Which is why Michael can’t risk it. The dynamic between Casey and Billy is too particular. This could bring them together -- or it could tear them apart.

“If I could tell you, don’t you think I would by now?” Michael asks coyly.

“Michael, I don’t like being lied to,” Casey replies.

“You’re just going to have to trust me on this one,” Michael says, closing his eyes for a moment and hoping for a reprieve.

There’s a strained silence. “You promise me that everything is alright?”

Michael chokes back a bitter laugh. “I promise you it will be.”

The next silence is careful and measured. “Fine,” Casey says. “But if something happens--”

“You’ll be the first person I call,” Michael promises.

Even as he hopes it never comes to that.


Going back inside gets harder each time Michael does it. The room is dim and seems to suck the life right out of him. He hasn’t done much of anything in the last few days to warrant exhaustion, but being inside makes him feel instantly undone.

Plus, it smells stale and a little stank. Michael’s done what he can to keep the place in order, but the smell of vomit is hard to mask.

And all that is without even looking at Billy.

Still, being in the CIA is about doing the dirty work, even when it’s not exactly sanctioned.

Michael’s pretty sure that helping a colleague detox from a cocaine addiction in a seedy motel room is about as off the books as it gets.

He’s quiet, but he hasn’t had to be silent because Billy’s slept heavily for most of the day. So Michael is surprised to see Billy stir, blinking drowsy eyes up at him. The Scot makes no effort to get up, but he smiles faintly. “Thought I’d been imagining you were here,” he murmurs.

Michael snorts, unexpectedly amused. “That’d be one hell of a hallucination.”

“Aye, normally I prefer dreams of tall and beautiful women,” Billy muses.

Michael settles in the chair. “Well, give it time, buddy,” he says. “You’ll be back in the game in no time.”

Billy’s smile turns sad. “Not sure cocaine addict will add to my instant charm.”

“After this week, it’s not going to be a problem,” Michael says without missing a beat.

This time, Billy’s smile fades altogether. He swallows, his eyes turning downward. “It’s all going to be different after this,” he says softly, his voice haunted. “I’ve gone and buggered everything up.” He laughs hoarsely. “You’d think that getting deported would be the worst I could do to myself, but I’ve managed to outdo myself in spectacular fashion.”

The self-loathing is uncomfortable to hear, and Michael shifts guiltily in his seat. “Billy--”

Billy shakes his head, looking up again. “I don’t deserve your pity, Michael,” he says. He laughs. “God help me, I don’t deserve anything but to rot in this horrid room--”

Michael wants to scream and rail -- at the universe, at Billy, at this whole damned mission -- but now’s not the time for that. Instead, he curls his toes tight inside his shoes and sits forward. “Billy,” he says again, with more force this time. “What we do -- there is no rulebook,” he says. “There is no clear cut right or wrong. All the lines are blurry, and everything is in shades of gray.”

Billy holds his gaze. “You never would have let this happen to yourself,” he says. “And neither would Casey or Rick.”

Michael holds back his emotions and doesn’t waver as he commands Billy’s attention. “We don’t know that,” he says. “But what I do know is that none of us could have held this cover better than you. You made this mission. You saved countless lives. You did what you had to do.”

Finally, Billy tears his gaze away with a shuddering gasp. “You make it sound so noble,” he says. He takes a breath and lets it out. “Not like this.”

“Yeah, well,” Michael says. “I thought you gave up your James Bond delusions when you got to America.”

Billy flashes him the ghost of a smile. “You can take the spy out of MI6--”

“But you can’t take MI6 out of the spy,” Michael finishes. He sighs. “You up for some food?”

Billy chuckles. “I’d rather tear out my intestines and eat them, in all honesty.”

“Well, I was thinking of something less human,” Michael says.

Billy makes a face.

“Toast again?”

Billy closes his eyes and whimpers.

Michael sighs, rubbing his hands on his thighs. “Toast again.”


Michael doesn’t make the mistake of ordering much, but Billy doesn’t even do much with the dry toast and water. Michael wants to say something, but Billy’s making such an effort to sit up and talk to him that Michael doesn’t have the heart to push it. Especially since it’s clearly work.

Billy’s face is hollowed out and his eyes are too glassy. When he speaks, his accent is thicker and his wit is muted.

But God help them both, Billy tries. He makes stupid jokes and offhand quips. He does everything he can to make the night enjoyable.

Which is why it’s the hardest night yet. Sitting there, trying not to watch as Billy gives everything he has to simply talk -- it’s nothing short of torture. By nine that evening, Billy is dozing, mouth open and head propped up on the pillows. He’d been telling a story and then he’d just stopped.

Michael chews his lip and contemplates rousing Billy to get him in a more comfortable position. The TV is still on, which provides some background noise at least, but nothing can distract Michael from the glaring fact that Billy’s not doing well.

Sure, on some level, this has been the best night yet. In a lot of ways, considering the horror stories Michael’s read about, this is the best case scenario.

Yet, the entire thing is just wrong. Billy’s too tired; Billy’s too weak. Billy can barely keep himself awake, much less keep his guises in place. This is what withdrawal does; it is the body’s way of coping with what it isn’t getting. It strips the body of its defenses, throwing more and more at the desperate, insatiable need. The body will deconstruct itself, and Michael likes to think that when it’s over, Billy will be Billy.

But Michael has to face the fact that that might not be true. He’ll be Billy, broken into a thousand pieces. Billy, in need of being put back together. Billy, who may never be whole again.

This is Billy. Without the guises, without the self-defense mechanisms. This is Billy, at his core. At his most vulnerable.

And Michael doesn’t even recognize him. His teammate, his colleague, his best damn friend -- and he’s like a stranger.

Michael is doing this for Billy, but now he’s not even sure there’ll be anything left of Billy when this is over.

Mostly, Michael’s just not sure of anything except for the fact that this is his fault. If he can’t fix Billy, then Michael will never put a man in the field again. This won’t just end Billy’s career, it’ll end Michael’s too.

That realization is startling, and it makes Michael want to run. He wants to extricate himself as his survival instincts kick in.

He knows there’s no point, though. Because Michael doesn’t quit. He’s going to see this through.

Even if the worst should come to pass.


That night, Michael sleeps in the chair, legs up on the table with the TV on mute in the background. Calling it sleep is probably generous, but there seem to be prolonged periods of semi-consciousness, so Michael will take what he can get. Besides, he prefers the imagined dreams induced by infomercials rather than the endless circles his brain’s been working the last few months with this case.

Still, when morning comes, he’s ready to go. He feels restless as he gets ready, and he aches to go for a jog. He glances at Billy, still passed out where he dozed off the night before, and thinks he could risk it. Billy might not even notice the difference.

It’s appealing. It’s really appealing. Michael is good with routine, and he’s even pretty good with monotony, but sitting in Billy’s room is downright suffocating. It’s been almost four days -- and with the months of playing backup stacking up before that, Michael is at risk for a little psychological malaise all his own.

He looks at Billy again, though, and he can’t do it. The last time he let Billy out of his sight for any extended period of time, he got addicted to cocaine. Michael’s a control freak under the best of circumstances. When things like this happen, he’s in full-on God complex mode until it gets better.

It has to get better. This is the fourth day. Withdrawal will vary, but Michael is counting on a week. That means they’re halfway through this.

Almost there, Michael tells himself.

For what it’s worth, he almost believes himself.


Michael makes his morning phone calls in the hallway, and even ventures down to the lobby for a cup of coffee and a newspaper. The caffeine does him wonders, and when he gets back to Billy’s room, he finds the Scot still asleep.

The small trip down to the lobby has revitalized him a bit, and Michael settles down and starts in on the paper with a gusto, even if his Spanish isn’t that great. It’s something new; it’s something different. It’s a sign that life is still going on, and that they still have a chance to rejoin the rest of the world.

By the time Billy wakes up in the mid-morning, Michael is feeling downright chipper. At least, comparatively. At this point he’ll settle for not unendingly depressed.

Billy’s groggy when he wakes up, and when he sits up, he seems disoriented. Michael has a banana and bottle of water waiting, and the Scot takes a few lackluster bites before tapering off, looking more than a little nauseous.

“Come on,” Michael cajoles, getting to his feet and opening the drawer where he’s packed Billy’s clothes. “Let’s get you a shower.”

Billy tries to focus his eyes, shaking his head slightly. “I’m not sure I’m feeling so well--”

“Yeah, I know,” Michael says, picking a fresh pair of boxers and a t-shirt. “Which is probably why you need to get up and take a shower. Despite the fact that you live like a slob most of the time, a little cleanliness goes a long way.”

Billy gives him a pained look. “I’m not trying to be difficult--”

Michael sighs. “I know,” he says. He walks back to the bed and throws back Billy’s sheet. “And I’m not trying to be mean. You need to do this. I need you to do this. Have you smelled yourself?”

The joke is small, but it elicits a smile from Billy. It also gains his acquiescence.

“All right,” Billy murmurs, getting up slowly. He wobbles as he gets to his feet, and Michael finds himself hovering as the Scotsman tries to keep himself steady. Even then, Billy’s posture is strained, his back curved as he seems to guard his stomach. He audibly swallows and takes a railing breath. Even with effort, he can’t quite pull himself entirely upright, but he starts a shuffle step toward the bathroom.

Michael follows, turning on the light and neatly stacking Billy’s fresh clothes on the vanity. He puts one of the cleaner towels close to the shower and steps out of the way.

At the door, Billy almost staggers to a stop, leaning heavily against the doorframe. He meets Michael’s eyes briefly with the faintest hint of a smile. “I appreciate the assistance,” he says. “But I think I’ve got it from here.”

“Yeah, of course,” Michael says with an awkward shrug. He gestures to the room. “I’ll be right out here if you need anything.”

The look on Billy’s face is almost a smirk. “If I can’t handle a shower, then things are worse than we fear.”

Michael chuckles. “Halfway there, buddy,” he says.

“Indeed,” Billy repeats, as if he’s trying to believe it. “Halfway there.”


Michael loiters by the door while Billy turns the water on. He waits until the water flow changes, a clear sign that Billy is in fact inside. For a few more moments, Michael listens, taking solace in the steady thrumming. He’s still standing there several minutes later when the water finally turns off and Michael hears the shower curtain being pulled away.

It wasn’t a long shower -- it’s questionable just how much cleaning Billy actually got done -- but it was a shower.

Satisfied, Michael heads back to his chair. His coffee is cold, but he drinks it anyway, flipping over to another page of the paper and settling in his seat.

Maybe today would be okay. Maybe when Martinez texted for an update, Michael wouldn’t have to lie too much. Maybe when he called Langley to say how things were going, he could almost tell most of the truth.


But then there was a yelp and a clatter from the bathroom, and the whole damn thing fell apart.


He’s to the bathroom in two seconds flat, and his gun is in his hand out of instinct. The second he opens the door, though, he realizes there’s no external threat.

There’s just Billy.

And one hell of a mess.

The mirror is shattered, pieces scattered all over the counter and spilling onto the floor. The fluorescent lights catch the pieces, reflecting brilliantly, momentarily distracting Michael from the actual problem.


The Scot is on the floor, pressed against the edge of the tub. His hair is still damp but he’s got on the shirt and boxers Michael laid out. That’s the good news.

The bad news--

Hell, Michael doesn’t even know where to begin.

There are streaks of red on the floor, and Billy’s legs are scratched up by the shards of glass. It doesn’t help that he’s still kicking and flailing, fighting against some unseen force with all his might. Though Billy’s weak, the thrashing brings his tender skin against the glass, painting even more red across the tile floor.

And that’s not even the worst of it. Billy’s clawing at his skin. The bandages were gone yesterday, but now Billy’s fingers grate along the scabs, raking away fresh, wet skin in the process. The fresh gouges spill blood, mingling with the droplets from the recent shower. It’s a macabre, disturbing image.

Then there’s the keening.

It’s almost animalistic, guttural and frantic. It’s a whine and a growl all at once, and as Billy’s thrashes again, the sound pitches into an all out yowl. Billy’s face is contorted in pain -- physical, mental, emotional agony.

For a moment, Michael can only stand there.

Then, Billy looks up and his eyes lock with Michael’s. They’re wild, and it’s clear that Billy’s not quite all there, but the intensity of it...

The need and the desperation.

“Make it stop,” Billy says, all but begging now. “Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop!

The words hitch upward into a hysterical scream. Billy screws his eyes shut and effectively tries to rip through his shirt to clawing at his chest.

“They’re all over me,” Billy sobs. “Make it stop.”

There are fresh blood tracks on Billy’s neck now, and Michael’s heart lurches. Billy’s trying to rip his skin off, and at this point, he’s being pretty successful.

“Stop, stop, stop,” Billy groans. “Make it stop!”

This time, Michael heeds the plea. He rushes forward, his shoes crunching the shards beneath his feet. There’s no clean spot on the floor, but Billy’s frantic enough that Michael goes to his knees anyway, reaching out and grabbing Billy by the arms.

At the touch, Billy squeals, squirming desperately. He lashes out, long limbs flailing and Michael is almost decked with a bloody wrist.

Still, Michael’s the one in control here, and he reminds himself of that as he grasps Billy’s flailing wrists and folds them toward his chest. The Scot fights him hard, bucking his body against the constraining touch, and Michael falls onto his bottom, feeling the glass poke through the fabric, but he doesn’t let go.

“Damn it, Billy,” he growls. “I’m trying to help you.”

He doesn’t think Billy can hear him, but Billy’s kicking stops and his head turns up. His eyes are bloodshot and bright, but they lock onto Michael’s with something like hope.


Michael lets out a breath. “Yeah, buddy.”

Billy’s face scrunches up again. “Michael, thank God.”

Michael feels himself relax, letting his grip loosen. “I could say the same.”

Billy’s countenance wavers. He shakes his head. “It hurts,” he says, biting back a sob. “I don’t want it to hurt.”

“I know,” Michael soothes. “You just have to get through it, though--”

Billy nods, wetting his lips. “I know,” he says. “I just need a hit.”

Michael’s stomach flips, and his arms go cold.

Swallowing convulsively, fresh tears leak from Billy’s eyes. “Just one hit, Michael,” he says. “Just to get through the worst of this. They’re all over me now, and they can go away. It can be okay. I know it can be. Just a little bit. One last time. Please, Michael. Please.

Michael’s numb. The request is so simple and so plaintive -- and so wrong. Billy’s the one who locked himself in a room to detox; Billy’s the one who wanted to do this on his own.

And now he’s begging for drugs.

A hit.

Trying to bargain for it.

Michael’s stomach turns.

“No one has to know,” Billy says, as if it’s entirely reasonable. “The last time. The last time.”

Empty promises. Empty everything.

is what Billy has been reduced to.

Michael’s known for four days that Billy’s a cocaine addict, but he hasn’t known it like this.

Billy spasms, his body tensing as his breathing quickens. “I can’t do this,” he says, his voice breaking. “I need a hit because I can’t do this anymore. Please.

Michael shakes his head. “Billy, you know we can’t--”

“We can,” Billy insists. “We can do anything. Off the books. You can do that. We can do that.”

“Billy, we can’t--

Billy’s breath catches on a sob, and he spasms again. “I’m going to die without it,” he says. “Is that what you want? You want me to die?”

Michael tries to deny it, but Billy’s not listening. He’s fighting against him, pushing up against Michael’s touch, trying to pull his arms free. His entire body twists, and Michael almost loses his balance. Billy is thrashing again, and Michael has to reposition his footing, tightening his grip to bruising as he bears down to keep Billy immobile on the floor.

Billy still flails, squirming uselessly until his energy breaks and he just cries.

The sobs are gulping and heavy, but when the tension drains from Billy’s offensive posture, Michael still doesn’t let go. He can’t let go. He holds Billy, pressed against the glass, immobile and sobbing, because this is all he can do.

This is all that’s left.

Suddenly halfway there isn’t nearly close enough.


Normally, Michael has a keen, innate sense of time. But that’s gone now -- along with just about everything else. It could be minutes -- it could be hours -- before Billy’s wretched cries taper off and he’s just shaking and sniveling in Michael’s grasp.

Billy’s not quite limp, but he is pliant when Michael finally hoists him to his feet, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. Grimacing, Michael hastily clears away most of the bigger chunks of glass as he guides Billy, step by step, into the main room.

The Scot says nothing as Michael deposits him on the bed, sitting him upright. He is almost afraid to let go of Billy at all, but he has no choice in order to retrieve the first aid kit.

Billy hasn’t moved when he gets back, and the other man doesn’t seem to be even aware of what’s happening when Michael opens it up and settles himself down in front of him. He has to fish around in his own toiletries to find a pair of tweezers, which he uses to start plucking the bits of glass he finds embedded into Billy’s skin.

It’s messy work. Billy nearly scratched the skin on his arms clean off, and he’d been oblivious to the glass. It takes at least an hour to pluck and clean the debris from Billy’s arms and hands and longer still to slather the area with antiseptics and wrap it with gauze.

Through it all, Billy is unflinching. His eyes are open, but dull and far off, and it’s creepy -- and it’s also a relief. He moves cautiously to Billy’s legs, finding more cuts and bits of glass, and he has to spend more time still on the soles of Billy’s feet. He considers whether or not he needs to check Billy’s backside -- it’d probably pay to be safe -- but Michael thinks they’ve both suffered enough indignities for one day.

He just can’t do it.

Sitting back, he looks at Billy, and he can’t do it.

He can’t do any of this. He doesn’t know how to do this. Michael’s used to being in control, to making something work, but this--

This is beyond him.

He’s never doubted his ability to get his team through a mission.

He does now, though.

Sitting back on his heels, looking at Billy’s gaunt form, Michael doubts everything.

The sense of helplessness is paralyzing, and Michael feels the sudden need to leave mount once again. This is wrong, he thinks. It’s not right to see Billy like this. It’s not even Billy. There was a reason Billy tried to hide this from him, and maybe Michael should have respected those wishes.

Of course, Billy probably would have ended up killing himself or buying cocaine.

Billy needs Michael. He’s needed Michael all along, and Michael failed him then. He can’t now.

This is his mission.

His responsibility.

Sighing, he takes Billy by the shoulders and lays him down. “Might as well get some sleep now,” he says, even as Billy’s eyes look blankly past him and fine tremors shake his body. “It looks like we’re going to be here for awhile.”


It doesn’t get better.

Billy sleeps intermittently, but he’s pulled from unconsciousness violently. Sometimes he wakes retching, and Michael has to scramble to bring the trash can to his mouth. Other times, he wakes screaming, and Michael winces while he shushes Billy frantically, looking uneasily at the thin motel room walls.

Still other times, Billy wakes up ranting and raving, talking about ants crawling on his skin or spiders in his mouth. He talks about poison in his drink and people lurking outside the door. Michael gives up with logic, and promises Billy he’ll take care of it until the Scotsman settles down.

And there are even times when Billy wakes up sobbing, broken, desperate sobs, so thick and fast that he can hardly breathe. Michael can do nothing but hold him, pressing Billy’s face into his shoulder and running a hand through his hair, promising it’ll be over soon, it’ll be alright.

Michael’s lied about many things in his life.

He’s worried that’s the biggest lie yet.