?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: The Wisdom to Know the Difference (4/5)

November 29th, 2013 (06:31 am)
envious

feeling: envious

Notes in the Master Post.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE



-o-

At this point, everything’s a challenge. Billy alternates between total compliancy and outright resistance. He looks at Michael with distrust when he’s conscious enough to eat, and when he’s not--

Well, that’s even worse. Billy’s guises are nothing but a memory now, and the raw need in his eyes now is unlike anything Michael has seen there before. It’s startling and it’s terrifying, and as much as it makes Michael want to get the hell out, it anchors him all the same.

He has to get Billy through this.

For all their sakes.

-o-

By evening, Billy has barely eaten anything, and he lays whimpering on the bed. Michael can’t even afford to make calls, so he texts Fay and tells her that all is well; he’ll call when he can.

Rick texts at his usual time, asking how things are. Michael replies with a smiley face because that’s as much of a lie as he can stomach.

Billy wakes up crying. When Michael tries to comfort him, he thrashes and fights before asking for a fix. The minutes are hours, and the seconds weigh heavily with every beat of his heart.

It has to get better.

Because Michael’s scared to think how it could be worse.

-o-

That night, Michael hardly sleeps. He lays in the dimness, watching Billy breathe. Sometimes, when Billy’s asleep, he can almost fool himself into remembering how it used to be. He can still remember the night before Billy went undercover. They’d all been together, then. They’d had a good meal and good beer; they’d laughed and joked.

“You won’t even miss me,” Billy had protested.

“Come on,” Michael cajoled. “You won’t even miss us. I mean, drug dealers live the high life. Money and freedom. You’re not going to want to come home.”

“It’s a job, not a holiday,” Billy objected.

“Just wait until you come back,” Michael joked. “Then we’ll see how you feel.”

He hadn’t known then. None of them had. Michael hadn’t even had a clue.

He should have. He should have seen this coming. He should have stopped this.

The weight in his gut is nauseating and wrenching, almost unlike anything he’s felt before. Just almost, though. He felt it the day the warehouse went up in flames with Carson Simms still inside. He felt it the day he got home from work and Fay’s things were gone. He felt it when Martinez was bleeding out in South America and Michael had no choice but to run.

Except there’s no running now. There’s no loneliness. There’s no fire.

There’s just him and Billy, locked in a motel room, hoping for the best.

And starting to fear the worst.

-o-

Michael doesn’t just lose track of time; it actually has no meaning. Day turns into night; night passes to morning. Billy sleeps and wakes at odd intervals, and Michael does what he can. Billy doesn’t try to joke with him anymore. Billy doesn’t try to do anything. When he’s awake, he’s listless, and Michael has to actively make Billy eat and drink, and even then it’s mostly a lost cause.

In his sleep, Billy whimpers. He cries out and thrashes, sometimes curling up so small and clutching his pillow like it’s the only thing that can save him in the world. He mumbles and begs, and Michael stops listening to the words, moving a damp washcloth over Billy’s head, as if it is doing any good at all.

He starts to neglect his duties. The rest of his responsibilities stop making sense, and when he gets a call from Fay, he’s almost surprised.

“Hey,” she says, sounding concerned.

“Hey yourself,” Michael replies, too tired to think of anything else to say.

“You didn’t call,” she tells him.

Michael’s knee-jerk reaction is to remind her that they aren’t married anymore, but then he remembers he’s technically still on the clock. “Yeah,” he says, looking at his clock. He closes his eyes and rubs the bridge of his nose. “Got a little busy down here.”

“Doing what?” she asks. “I’ve been in contact with the local authorities. You stopped checking in with them.”

Michael sighs, getting to his feet and moving away from the bed. He’s not sure if Billy’s awake or asleep; he’s not sure it matters. Still, privacy is suddenly appealing. “It’s all under control, isn’t it?”

“Sure,” she says. “But...”

“But nothing,” Michael cuts her off, a little abrupt. “You’re always telling me about how I need to let go.”

“Sure, and you’re always telling me how you can’t,” she says.

She has a point there. Michael works his jaw. “Well, maybe I’m learning.”

There’s a pause, and Michael knows he’s doing a pretty bad job of convincing her otherwise. “Michael, is there something I need to know?”

Michael’s made it five days. He’s lied to Martinez; he’s kept Casey at bay. He’s omitted relevant details from all his reports and remote debriefings.

And it’s exhausting him.

Fay’s offer is tempting. She’s good with this kind of thing, he knows. She knows how to balance sympathy with following the rules. That’s never been Michael’s forte, but Fay’s a natural at it. She might be willing to go off the record with him. At the very least, she’d understand why he was doing it this way, and she might be able to help him.

And it would feel so good to share this burden with someone.

He turns, glancing back at Billy. The Scotsman is staring at the ceiling.

Michael squeezes his eyes shut again.

“Michael?” Fay asks again.

Michael grimaces. “Everything is fine,” he says, voice grating almost painfully in his throat. He opens his eyes and finds the last of his desperate resolve. “There’s absolutely nothing you need to worry about.”

The lie gets more outrageous every time he says it.

But he’s never needed it more than he does now. Not just as a way to deflect Fay’s inquiries; not just to protect Billy’s career.

But for himself.

“Michael,” Fay says again, her voice hinging in that way. She knows better, and she wants to help.

But this isn’t about him. As much as he sort of wishes it was at this point, this still can’t be about Michael. It’s about Billy, and Michael’s responsibility to Billy. Michael can’t take solace for himself at Billy’s expense.

“Everything is fine,” Michael says again, flatly now. “Trust me.”

Her silence is telling, and when she speaks, her voice is tempered. “After everything, you don’t have to lie to me, Michael.”

He laughs, short and bitter. “And I’m not sure you have the right to be offended if I do,” he counters.

She takes a breath and lets it out. “Well, just don’t miss your check-in again,” she says, more professionally now. Michael can still hear traces of disappointment in her voice. “I’m willing to look the other way, but Higgins won’t be for much longer. He’s not afraid to take aggressive measures to figure out if you’re hiding something.”

Michael resists the urge to snort. Fay’s right, but Michael got too many other things on his mind to worry about Higgins. He’s more focused on getting through the next few hours than dealing with his boss.

He can’t neglect it, though. And he’d be stupid to miss the concern in her warning. “Thanks, Fay,” he says.

She sounds annoyed when she speaks. “I know you’re lying about something,” she says. “But I also know that whether I like it or not, you usually lie about the important things. I just hope you have your priorities in order on this one.”

Michael looks over to Billy. His eyes have closed and he’s sleeping, limp and slack-jawed on the bed. “Me, too.”

-o-

Michael thinks he may be going insane.

The room is suffocating; the tension is unbearable. He listens to the sound of Billy breathing, and tries to let that be enough.

When it’s not, he falls back to routines. Automatic and practiced. He checks his phone; he replies to emails. He checks Billy’s temperature and then walks the length of the room three times before settling back down. Every hour he makes Billy drink. Then, after three hours, he decides it’s time to take Billy to the bathroom.

It’s awkward and probably humiliating, but they’re so far in this thing that Michael doesn’t let himself stop.

He throws back the sheets, patting Billy on the arm. “Come on, buddy,” he cajoles tiredly. “Bathroom break.”

Billy’s brow furrows and his eyes blink. Michael pulls him into a seated position and has the Scot’s legs over the side of the bed before Billy can even manage to make his mouth work.

“Wha?” he asks.

“Bathroom,” Michael repeats, positioning himself to pull Billy to his feet.

Billy sways and Michael steadies him, taking steps forward with Billy in tow.

“That’s it,” Michael coaches. “Almost there.”

Billy keeps pace, but he shakes his head. “Wait, where are we going?”

His accent is thick and the words are hard to distinguish.

“Bathroom,” Michael repeats again, with as much patience as he can muster.

Billy stiffens. “Wait,” he says, shaking his head. “Where are we?”

“The motel room,” Michael says, flicking the bathroom light on. It’s still a mess. He’s cleaned up the glass as best he can, but Michael is going to have to pay cash to avoid getting this put on the CIA’s tab. He doesn’t need to give Higgins any additional reasons to look into their time here.

Billy balks. “I don’t remember a motel room,” he says, voice tinged with distrust.

Michael mostly ignores him, turning him toward the toilet. “Well, it’ll come back to you.”

Billy’s been difficult and argumentative, but he’s been overwhelmingly compliant, so when Billy’s eyes flash and his posture goes rigid, Michael’s surprised. “You’ve done something to me,” he says in accusation. He’s standing just out of Michael’s grip, stance defiant even while he shakes.

“Billy, don’t be stupid,” Michael says, reaching out to guide Billy toward the seat.

Billy pulls away sharply. “I can’t trust you,” he hisses.

Michael closes his mouth into a flat line. “Buddy, I’ve been here five days.”

Billy’s face screws up. “Five days? You’ve kept me in here for five days?”

“You asked me to,” Michael explains with exasperation.

“I asked you to keep me caged up like an animal?” Billy asks, eyes narrowing.

“You asked me to help you,” Michael huffs. He reaches out. “So sit down--

This time, Billy recoils more sharply. “Don’t touch me--”

Michael sighs. “Billy, I don’t have the energy for this,” he says, and this time he clamps down on Billy’s wrist without hesitation. “So sit the hell down and--”

He doesn’t finish his sentence. There’s no time to. Because Billy’s entire body springs, an inhuman snarl from his lips. His movements are uncoordinated, but the long limbs still pack a wallop, and when one of them hits Michael across the cheek, he sees stars.

Billy’s still fighting, fists hitting indiscriminately, and when Michael swallows blood, he loses it.

He’s given up a lot to sit in this room with Billy. He’s done things no friend should ever have to do. He’s gone above and beyond the call of duty. He’s tired and he’s restless and Billy hit him--

The rest is instinct.

He’s no Casey Malick, but Michael knows how to fight. He can hold his own in most circumstances, and in this, his response is basically textbook.

He ducks, letting Billy’s momentum throw him off balance. When the Scot reels, Michael wraps his fingers into a fist, pulls back and throws the punch.

Under other conditions, Billy would have seen it coming.

With things as they are, though, Billy catches the punch square across the nose.

Just that fast, Billy crumples. His legs give out and he crashes to the floor, hitting the tile not far from the toilet. He scrambles, pulling back until he hits the edge of the bathtub, where he huddles down and draws his knees to his chest, glancing up at Michael mournfully.

The fight drains from Michael. Because curled up on the floor, Billy looks like a shadow of himself. He’s not field worthy; he’s in no position to fight. The blood leaking from his nose is minor -- there’s no significant injury -- but Billy’s been through enough.

He’s coming off a cocaine addiction, after all. An addiction that Michael didn’t see earlier and let happen on his watch.

He did this to Billy. Not just the blood from his nose, but everything.

Billy needs him now, more than ever, and Michael decked him.

As if he didn’t feel guilty enough.

Sighing, Michael kneels down. “Hey,” he says.

Billy whimpers, ducking his head away.

Michael reaches out gently. “Hey,” he tries again, settling a hand on Billy’s trembling shoulder. “Come on.”

Billy shudders.

“I’m sorry,” Michael says, because he wants Billy to understand. And he is sorry. He’s sorry about everything.

Michael is just so sorry.

Billy looks at him furtively, brow dark with obvious disdain. When Michael unfurls him, Billy doesn’t fight him, but the lack of trust in his eyes is telling enough.

Somehow Michael knows he’ll never be sorry enough.

-o-

This is the new reality. Billy’s weakness has given way to outright paranoia, and he recoils like a cornered rabbit every time he’s conscious. It’s increasingly less clear to Michael whether the man recognizes him or not, and Michael begins to crave for the times when Billy’s unconscious.

Billy’s nose swells but the bleeding stops, but the other man won’t let him close enough to clean up most of the blood from his face. It’s a battle that’s not really worth fighting -- not when getting Billy to eat and drink at all takes precedence -- but every time he looks at Billy, the smeared blood in his stubble is pretty hard to take.

Which is funny. Michael’s been locked with Billy in a motel room for the better part of a week, tending to his every and increasing need. He’s had to hold him up, haul him to the bathroom and feed him like a baby. And a little blood is what bothers him most.

It’s his fist, though. He can still feel Billy’s nose beneath his skin, and somehow blaming himself for a jarred nose is easier than accepting the rest.

The rest...

Billy is practically wasting away in front of Michael’s eyes. He’s even thinner, and his face is gaunt and pale. He’s shaky with dark smudges beneath his eyes. He looks sickly -- and Michael can’t remember the last time the other man cracked a smile. This isn’t Billy anymore.

He’s been clinging to the hope that when this is over, he’ll get his friend back. That when the drugs are finished with Billy, when the chemicals have ravaged his body and been starved away, that Billy will reemerge, tried but true.

It feels like a stupid, blind hope now. Michael is practically wiping Billy’s ass; he doesn’t know how to come back from this. Michael has planned countless missions; he’s made so many questionable choices. He’s walked into hell and walked right back out again. But this...

Billy might survive this.

And if he doesn’t, Michael’s not sure he will either.

-o-

After several mercifully quiet hours, Michael succumbs to the inevitable and rouses Billy to make him drink. He’s careful about it; not silent but not too loud, and he addresses Billy directly as he approached. “Okay, buddy,” he coaxes, unscrewing the cap to a bottle of water. “A few drinks now.”

Billy rouses, his eyes blinking wide and terrified. They lock on Michael, and he smiles.

“Dehydration would screw us both over,” Michael says with a shrug as he holds up the water. “You think you can do it?”

He asks the question mostly to be polite, and because it makes him feel better to at least try to include Billy on some of these decisions. Billy’s a smart man and a capable operative. Treating him like a needy toddler is hell on both of them.

That doesn’t mean it’s not necessary.

He approaches easily, moving the bottle toward Billy’s mouth. “There we go,” he says as he starts to tip it back.

Billy’s eyes narrow and his brow furrows. Then, he shakes his head. “What are you trying to do to me?” he hisses.

“It’s a drink,” Michael says. “Remember? We want to avoid the hospital?”

“Who said anything about a hospital?” Billy asks, inching backward and pressing into his pillow. “Is that a threat?”

Michael sighs, grinding his teeth together. “No,” he says. “I’m trying to help you.”

Billy jerks his head to the side. “Is it poison?” he asks. “Or are you just trying to drown me?”

Michael can’t help it at that point, and he rolls his eyes. “If I wanted you dead, I would have smothered you with a pillow two days ago.”

It’s the wrong thing to say, and Michael knows it. But he’s played nice for so long and his patience is thin and he’s kept himself locked in a room with a cocaine addict and the need to be sarcastic is about as basic to him as breathing.

Still, it’s not exactly unexpected when Billy’s eyes flash and he pulls back. He manages to get on his elbows, starting to kick the covers away as he seems to scramble to get off the bed. “Get away from me,” he says, voice starting to hitch.

“Billy,” Michael says. “Come on--”

“No,” Billy replies, more frantic now. His eyes dart around, as if he doesn’t quite remember where he is. “What are you doing to me?”

“Billy,” Michael says. “We’re in your motel room. You finished the mission. Remember?”

The confusion on Billy’s face is apparent -- he doesn’t remember.

Michael holds back a curse.

Billy shakes his head. “You’re lying,” he says. “I don’t know why but you’re lying.”

“I have no reason to lie--”

“And I have no reason to believe you!” Billy exclaims. He looks down at his arms and his breathing quickens. “What did you do to me?” He swallows, blinking rapidly. “Everything is wrong. Did you drug me?”

The question is delusional, but it cuts to the heart of this. Michael never put the needle in Billy’s arm, but at this point, it feels like he did. He blames himself, and Billy’s never admitted it, but he’d be within his rights to place some of the blame on Michael, too.

That’s not what he’s about to say, though. “Look, you’ve been through some bad things,” Michael explains vaguely. “But you’re going to be okay. We just need to drink a little bit, and then--”

Billy flails, though, lashing out and knocking the bottle of water from Michael’s hand. Michael yelps, trying to catch it and he’s picked it up off the bed when Billy flings himself forward again.

The contact isn’t nearly as strong as it should be, but it’s still jarring. Michael curses, trying to keep the water from spilling as he holds his balance.

“Billy,” he says, grunting as he reaches out and grabs the other man by the arms. “Stop.

It takes all his self control not to hit the other man, but the wild look on Billy’s face is a compelling reason to stop. Billy doesn’t know what he’s doing. Hell, with any luck, Billy won’t remember any of this. Michael is the one in control here. He has to be the responsible one.

Then, Billy opens his mouth and screams.

The sound is inarticulate and desperate, like the howl of a trapped animal. Michael tenses in automatic panic, bearing down his grip and pushing Billy back to the bed. “Shut up,” he hisses. “Shut up.

Billy screams again, kicking his legs and squirming.

Michael winces, too aware of the thin walls. “Billy, please,” he says, willing the other man to look at him, to understand, to stop…

“Help me!” Billy wails. And he opens his mouth again. “Help--”

Michael has no choice. He reaches down, placing a firm hand over Billy’s mouth. The Scot reacts immediately, thrashing with new intensity, and Michael has to put all his weight down to keep Billy from bucking him off. Even then, Billy’s breath is hot and frantic against his hand, and Michael feels Billy’s teeth--

He can’t get much more leverage, but he has to stop this. Billy’s going to draw attention to them, and while Billy may think that’s what he wants, Billy’s not in any position to make decisions. Now, that’s Michael’s authority now, and he has to respect Billy’s wishes.

Billy made a choice to do this on his own.

Michael will respect that.

At almost any cost.

“I’m sorry,” he mutters, shifting his hand so his thumb and forefinger were free to pinch Billy’s nose.

The shift is immediate. Billy’s attention shifts, and his eyes widen with absolute terror. His entire body goes rigid, hands pressing at Michael more fervently. But he’s weak and he’s sick, and Michael has the leverage and it’s not long until the fight slackens and Billy’s eyes start to go dim.

Then Michael takes his hand away.

Beneath him, Billy takes a ragged breath, and several moments pass while Billy simply breathes. Michael eases his grip but doesn’t change his position until Billy’s eyes clear enough to look at him again.

“I’m sorry,” Michael says. “But this is what you would want me to do. You’re going to have to trust me.”

There’s no trust in Billy’s eyes, though. Beneath the pain and the fever is doubt and confusion, all grounded in abject misery.

When several more seconds pass with no further attempts to call out, Michael lets go and gets off the bed. Stiffly, he reaches for the bottle. “We just need to drink.”

There is a heartbreaking anger in Billy’s eyes, made worse by the fact that this time Billy doesn’t resist. He lets Michael put the bottle to his lips, and when Michael tips it up, he swallows obediently.

“It’s going to get better,” Michael promises.

Because he’s sure as hell scared to think that it could still get worse.

-o-

That night, Billy is sick again, and Michael spends most of the time cleaning up after him. The Scot whimpers in pain, crying in his sleep until the early hours of the morning. The fever comes on suddenly, leaving Billy incoherent and limp, and when he sweats it off, he moans with an intensity that cuts Michael deep.

When the dawn breaks, Michael looks out the window and tries to remember what day it is. At this point, though, he’s just not sure it matters.

-o-

Michael doesn’t know what time it is until his phone starts buzzing. On the bed, Billy stirs, and Michael hurries to silence it. Billy snuffles in his sleep -- which has been long in coming -- and Michael glances down at his phone skeptically.

He can’t avoid these tasks. He knows that, and Fay’s call yesterday only puts more weight on it.

Still, he looks at Billy. Gently, he picks up the freshest washcloth he has nearby -- it’s still wet enough to count -- and he splays it across Billy’s forehead. His fever isn’t dangerously high, but the motion is still comforting, and it’s not long before the Scot has settled back to sleep -- and Michael has no desire to disrupt it. The night was long; this respite is the first quiet they’ve had in hours.

He’s left the room before to run errands back to his room or to make calls in the hallways. He’s even made a trip or two to the lobby, and everything has been fine. Granted, things hadn’t been as bad as they are now, but at this point, there’s not much more Billy can do.

Besides, it’s not like Michael’s going to be gone long. A few minutes, and he’ll be close enough to know if Billy leaves.

Right now, Billy needs sleep. And Michael needs to make these phone calls.

More than that, Michael needs some space.

Getting up, he pads quietly to the door. He lingers with his hand on the knob and looks back.

This is best for both of them.

With that, he ducks into the hallway.

-o-

It turns out, texting all his contacts for a day has left things in a state of marginal disrepair. He finds his local contact flush with concerns and questions, and he even has to field a few calls from the military commander just to tie up the loose ends. After arguing on the phone with a tech from Langley about why certain criminals really should be extradited for about twenty minutes, Michael is exhausted.

And strangely invigorated.

Being locked in a motel room has made him forget that he actually does like his job, even the mundane aspects. He never thought he’d be so grateful to cut through red tape.

Mostly, he’s just relieved for some snippet of real life. It reminds him what started all this -- and what he has to go back to.

Mostly, it’s a distraction, and after six days -- how the hell has it been six days? -- Michael is more than ready for a distraction.

Since the entire mission seems to be falling apart at the seams, Michael decides to take his time with the calls, and he starts to pace up and down the corridor as he patiently explains to an attache at the State Department why they are still better off keeping this entire thing on the down low. Sure, they could use some good publicity, but they still might be able to exploit the network if there’s some mystery surrounding where the captured members are.

Besides, the less attention they draw to this fiasco, the better it is for Billy. The last thing any of them need is to be lauded as heroes internally -- because Billy normally likes to tell stories, but Michael has a feeling none of them will be talking big about this one -- not for a long time.

When he runs out of hallway, Michael starts on the stairs, and when he ends up in the lobby drinking fresh coffee, it seems entirely reasonable. After he hangs up the phone, he pours himself another cup and sits on the couch and just breathes.

The air is fresher; the world is brighter. There are people; life is going on. It’s such a stark contrast to Billy’s drawn motel room that it’s almost startling. Michael had known it was bad, but he hadn’t fully grasped the toll it was starting to take on him. If he was going to be at his best for Billy, he needed to spend a little more time on himself.

He nurses a third cup of coffee, letting as much of the tension fall away as he can. This doesn’t change things, but it puts it all in perspective. Things with Billy are bad, but they’re going to get better. The world is waiting -- for both of them. Michael has got Billy this far -- they just have to make it a little longer. Another day.

They can manage that.

In the daylight, Michael is more sure of that than ever.

He calls Martinez and passes off a text to Casey, reminding them to be ready to go in another two days. There’s no reply from Casey, but Rick sends back a grateful text, punctuated by a smiley face.

Can’t wait. How’s Billy?

Michael smiles as he sends a reply. Getting there.

And for the first time all week, it doesn’t feel like a lie.

-o-

It’s probably a bit of overkill, but Michael takes the fourth cup to go. Really, he’s reluctant to leave because breathing fresh air and seeing other people is so damn refreshing. He even manages not to profile every person in and out of the door for the 15 minute respite.

Even so, Michael’s a man of discipline, and he knows he’s been away long enough. Billy’s probably still sleeping, but Michael wants to make sure to get back in time for a breakfast of crackers and water, which he picks up from the vending machine for a little variety.

He takes the stairs two at a time, walking briskly down the hall to Billy’s room. He pulls out his key and swipes it, taking a quick glance down the hall before going inside.

Easing in, he takes pains to be quiet. When he sees the bed is empty with the sheets thrown back, he puts down the water and crackers. “Hey, sleepyhead,” Michael calls to the bathroom. “You finally awake?”

There’s no answer.

It’s not exactly unexpected. Although Michael feels recharged, Billy’s still in severe cocaine withdrawal, so there’s no reason for him to be chipper.

With his fourth cup of coffee in hand, Michael is ready to deal with that.

“Billy,” he says again, moving back to the closed bathroom door. “If you hurry out, I’ll let you pick what we watch on TV.”

He waits a moment for a reply, but there’s nothing. But not just no verbal reply -- literally nothing.

Not a groan; not even a rustle.

Michael frowns, inching closer. “Billy?” he says again. “Just give me a sign you’re still alive in there?”

When there’s still no reply, Michael’s good humor almost fades entirely.

“Billy,” Michael says, his hand on the knob. “I’m going to come in...”

He barely finishes the threat when he turns the knob and opens the door. The light is on, and nothing has been touched. The toiletries are still lined up on the counter and the broken mirror is still a glaring mess in front of him. The toilet seat is open; the shower curtain is pulled back with the towels hanging neatly to dry on the rod.

But no Billy.

Frantic, Michael turns back out and looks again at the bed. He crosses the room in two steps, glancing over the side -- nothing.

In vain, he looks under the beds, turning around with his heart thumping in his chest. This isn’t happening; this can’t be happening.

Desperate, he goes to the window and finds it locked. He looks out and sees the drop -- not deadly but nothing Billy would be in any condition to scale at this point.

But where could he be? Michael wasn’t gone long -- and he was by the main entrance the entire time. Billy’s in no condition to go out; hell, he can barely walk to the bathroom without help. He had still been sleeping.

Michael’s mind goes through all the logical denials but he can’t escape the truth. The fact is, Billy’s his responsibility. Billy’s a drug addict. Billy’s barely lucid.

And now, Billy’s gone.

It’s all Michael’s fault.

-o-

For about thirty seconds, Michael despairs.

Then, Michael remembers that he’s a spy. More than that, he’s a good spy. The best there is. He’s faced impossible situations and overcome before. He can do it again.

He will.

Especially with stakes like this.

First, he quickly assesses the means of Billy’s departure. Their covers are solid at the hotel, and Michael’s gone to great pains to protect their extraction. Plus, with Billy literally not stepping outside since the mission went down, he’s unlikely to have attracted attention.

However, it is possible that someone has found him -- someone who is unhappy that Billy played a turncoat for five months.

Still, a look around quickly rules that out. The place isn’t exactly clean -- at least not by Michael’s standards -- but nothing is particularly out of order. Billy’s bed is a mess, but the sheets are thrown back, which suggests that Billy pushed them back of his own accord. There’s no sign of a struggle. While Michael doubts Billy could fend off an attacker for long, he knows the Scot would put up a fight -- if only because he’s been fighting Michael on and off for the past day now. Something would be out of order if Billy were taken by force.

More than that, there’s no forced entry. The windows are locked; the door shows no signs of tampering. Picking a hotel room lock is possible, but usually not without leaving some kind of sign on the locking mechanism.

Which means that Billy left by choice.

Choice isn’t quite the word Michael wants to use, not with Billy’s current state. He’s not exactly in control of his faculties. Granted, there’s never a way to predict when Billy will be lucid or not, but he’s been increasingly less coherent over the last few days. Even if he has a vague sense of where he is or why, the need for the drug has become an overpowering force in Billy’s psyche.

There are a few possible reasons for this, then. First, Billy could be confused. He might not know what’s happening. But if that were the case, Michael would expect to see more disarray in the room.

This leads Michael to consider the second option -- that Billy is purposefully trying to flee from Michael. Or whoever he assumes Michael to be. This is possible, Michael concedes, because Billy’s paranoia has skyrocketed in the last 24 hours. He’s been skittish and distrustful, and without a clear grasp on why he’s sick and in pain, his desire to blame the only person close to him makes sense.

This is a viable option, and Michael considers it.

But there’s still a third option: Billy wants a hit.

Michael doesn’t like this option. As painful as the second one is to consider, three is downright terrifying. Billy clearly intended to kick his addiction, and he was trusting Michael to make sure that happened. Over the last few days, Billy had begged and pleaded for a hit with a growing intensity that Michael could barely stomach.

Biologically speaking, the need for the drug is everything to Billy. It’s become his sole focus in life. And no matter what good intentions Billy had going in, the basic chemical need is overwhelming.

Ultimately, though, the reason isn’t as important as where. Because Michael knows Billy left. What he doesn’t know is how to get him back.

And he has to get him back. The last five days have been nothing short of hell, and Michael won’t lose Billy after all that. To death or drugs -- at this point, Michael’s not even sure which is worse.

He just knows he has to avoid both.

At all costs.

-o-

He starts at the bed. As he’s already noted, there is every indication that Billy shoved the sheets off of his own accord. As he moves toward the headboard, he steps in something wet and he looks down to see the water bottle, open and spilled on the floor. There are also some broken crackers and a mangled package, as if Billy tried to ravage them and failed.

So it’s possible Billy woke up, got hungry and found the selection wanting.

There is no other sign of disturbance in the room, and Michael finds Billy’s clothes untouched and his shoes still stowed by the wall where Michael lined them up nearly a week ago. Digging deeper, Michael finds Billy’s cell phone and his wallet intact right where Michael last saw them.

Under normal circumstances, this might indicate that Billy just went down the hall for a breath of fresh air. But given Billy’s current state of mind, Michael doesn’t think it’s a good sign. Billy’s lucidity has been hit and miss, and it’s pretty clear he didn’t plan this jaunt out of the room very well. He doesn’t even have his room key.

Michael’s stomach flips, but he keeps the uncertainty at bay. Being afraid won’t fix the problem, and right now the problem is all Michael should be focused on. With no further clues in the room, Michael opens the door and looks down the hall.

He’s familiar with the hall, and he knows the path to the main staircase and elevator banks well. However, he can rule those out as a possible exit point for Billy. There’s no way Billy used either one without Michael seeing him from his place in the lobby.

Turning the other way, Michael looks down to the far end. There’s a secondary exit there, which lets out into one of the side parking lots. Michael hasn’t gone out that way because he hasn’t had much need, but he scoped it out when he first chose this motel as a home base for the mission.

He moves briskly down the hall, looking for any sign of Billy. He stops in the nook where the ice machine is tucked away, but to no avail. None of the other rooms are open, and the hall is mercifully quiet.

At the door to the stairwell, Michael goes through and looks hopefully at the landing. It’s unfortunately empty. At the top railing, Michael looks down, searching for any sign of movement.

It’s still. Silent.

Frustrated, Michael starts down, moving swiftly until he reaches the bottom. He knows Billy likes to go up when he’s spooked, but up wouldn’t get him anywhere. If Billy’s trying to escape, he’d hit the ground running.

Still, this is all a crapshoot at this point. Michael is trying to follow a trail that doesn’t exist.

Until it does.

He sees the small cloth the instant he opens the door. It’s white and crumpled, still damp. Curious, Michael kneels down and feels it. It’s standard issue from the motel, but it looks just like the ones Michael has been keeping to cool Billy’s fever.

Like the one he left there before going out for his morning coffee run.

Coincidence -- possibly.

Sure as hell not likely.

Billy left it here, probably unintentionally. If Billy were in his right mind, he never would have left such an obvious clue to follow, but that’s the point. Billy’s not in his right mind. He’s in the throes of withdrawal.

Standing up, Michael holds the washcloth and looks across the parking lot to the surrounding city.

Billy’s a drug addict, and Michael has no idea where he’s going. He just knows if he doesn’t find Billy soon, withdrawal will be the least of his concerns.

-o-

Michael has no trail to follow, but he has years of friendship and finely tuned instincts to guide him. It’s no guarantee, of course, but at this point, he’ll take what he can get.

The main road isn’t far, which is Michael’s first point of exclusion. Billy likes shortcuts, and if he’s feeling threatened or unsure, he’ll stick to the shadows for sure. This is one of the Scot’s most basic self-defense mechanisms -- to hide.

Michael takes the alley instead, keeping himself running parallel to the main road, working steadily toward the left. In his mind, he mentally considers how far Billy might have gone. It hasn’t been that long, and Billy’s not exactly in prime condition, which would work in Michael’s favor.

Then again, Michael could be following the wrong trail entirely and instead of making up ground, he could be losing it by the second.

The alleys look the same, and Michael takes the time to check behind dumpsters. He even starts checking inside a few, but beyond a few rats and a homeless man, he comes up with nothing.

After ten minutes of steady searching, Michael stops, feeling his heart rate quicken. At the main road, he looks up and down, but life is going on as if nothing is unusual. Michael takes a left turn and heads down an adjacent system of side streets, listening for any familiar sound or a flash of Billy’s rundown figure.

Another ten minutes. He checks darkened doorways and parked cars. He looks up and down streets and scans the rooftops. He goes into a few abandoned storefronts, searching for any hint of the Scotsman.

Nothing.

Michael is sweating now, and when he pauses on a corner nearly half a mile from their motel, he’s faced with the sudden, horrifying realization that he may have lost Billy. Which means, he’s lost everything. Billy can’t defend himself like this, and if he doesn’t end up getting killed, he’s going to eventually try to find some drugs. If Billy gets arrested in this pursuit, then all that Michael’s tried to salvage is for nothing.

If Billy actually gets the drugs...

He doesn’t want to think about that.

He has to think he can find Billy. That it’s not too late.

But he needs to find Billy. Soon.

Hesitating, he gets out his phone. Two calls, and Casey and Rick would be here, no questions asked. Three people could cover a more comprehensive search pattern, and if they started soon enough, the odds of finding Billy before something bad happened would improve immensely.

But then he’d have to tell them the truth. He’d have to tell them about Billy’s cocaine addiction and endure all the necessary consequences. They’d work together to save Billy, but Michael knows everything would change after that.

Cursing under his breath, Michael puts his phone away. Billy’s not in his right mind anymore, but when he made the choice to do this alone, he knew what he was doing. He knew what he wanted. He knew the risks.

Michael has to respect that -- for as long as he possibly can.

“Come on, Billy,” he murmurs to the bustling street. “Help me help you.”

In the din, there is no reply and Michael is left standing alone.