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Chaos fic: Love Is An Open Door (1/2)

December 19th, 2016 (12:10 pm)

feeling: pessimistic

Title: Love Is An Open Door

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: I have missed these boys! So I’m quite glad that sophie_deangirl requested some Billy for Christmas. I’m only too happy to oblige! I hope that this Christmas is a much needed respite, and that you have a fabulous New Year. Unbeta’ed! Fills my hc_bingo square, isolation. Serious apologies to all things Frozen for the oddly borrowed title I used. I posted about 20 fics in December. My titling abilities are worn out.

Summary: Billy’s trapped, well and good. And he has no idea why.


For Billy, it’s not so much the fact that he’s been captured. As a spy over the years, he’s spent his share of time in various stages of imprisonment. From being detained by security guards to being held in a high security Russian gulag, honestly, Billy’s done it all. He doesn’t much like getting captured, but he doesn’t take it personally, and it certainly isn’t prone to panic. After all, he has the utmost confidence in his ability to talk his way out of things, and most of the time, all he has to do is wait. If a lack of evidence doesn’t free him, the ODS most certainly will.

And if he’s telling the truth, he doesn’t even have problem with the lack of accommodations. Sure, Billy’s the type who knows how to enjoy the finer things in life, but he lives in a rundown motel room that is perpetually covered his own rubbish. A comfortable bed is nice, and he does pine for his books and guitar, but the creature comforts are things he is surprisingly fine at living without. Some might call this maturity. Billy is more inclined to think being kicked out of his own country has made him excessively malleable about the definition of acceptable.

To that end, it’s not even the torture, if you want to call it that. Governments and legal committees get sort of picky about that sort of thing, but being beaten in a dark room by any other name is just as painful. Billy’s not one with a penchant for pain. He lacks Casey’s discipline and Michael’s attention to detail and Rick’s naivete, but he’s suffered worse before. He’s quite confident he’ll suffer worse again.

He doesn’t blame anyone for this, not his team, not the CIA, not his asset, not even himself. It’s rarely a single factor that leads to these sorts of things, and he’s been in the game long enough to understand the reality of plain bad luck. There will be time for blame later, there will be time to disseminate the mistakes and the oversights and make conclusions to better prepare for the next time.

Because Billy believes there will be a next time. You might call it blind optimism; Billy likens it to the necessity of hope. He appreciates the irony of his unequivocal belief that he’ll get out of here -- or die trying.

So it’s none of those things, in the end, that bother him about his current predicament. Not the pain, not the discomfort, not the guilt, not the anger. The thing that threatens his sanity, threatens his composure, threatens his hope is the isolation.

Because Billy can survive anything.

Except being alone.


At first, he rationalizes his situation. Maybe he’s not truly alone. This is a prison, after all. He got a good look at it while the guards dragged him down from the interrogation chamber. They had unceremoniously locked him in a cell, which meant there was someone, somewhere holding the keys that would let him out of there.

It is troubling, however, that they hadn’t asked him a single question. They hadn’t demanded his name or who he worked for. They hadn’t asked what he wanted or what he was doing. They hadn’t even leveled an accusation at him, much less a charge that validated his presence. One second he’d been talking to his asset on the street corner in Baghdad.

The next he’d been thrown into the back of the van and taken...here.

Billy walks the small confines of his cell. It’s not an official prison, but since this is Iraq, that distinction probably doesn’t mean a lot. Still, if he’d been taken by the government, there would have been a more formal process. He would have at least been processed with more than a pair of fists in his gut.

That means he’s been taken by less official sources. While this conclusion is the only logical one, there’s nothing logical about it. Granted, he knows he’s made some enemies, but who would be so brash as to abduct him off the street? Without asking any questions? If this is a kidnapping, they would want to identify him first, get information about who to contact.

Now, if this is related to his asset, it could be related to the mission. But if he’d run afoul of their mark -- terrorists, always terrorists anymore -- then wouldn’t they have also pursued more information? Or, at the very least, put a bullet in his head to end this mess?

The walls are solid and thick, and the door is well secured. It might be possible to jimmy the hinges free, but that would assume he had any tools to work with. The room doesn’t have so much as a bed, just a small stone slab that is cut out of one wall. There is also an open drain in the floor and a small, dim light bulb protected by a metal guard.

This is the kind of prison you didn’t talk about, the kind you used on your worst enemies. It might be flattering that they thought so highly of Billy to put him here, except he doesn’t know who they are. The guards had been Iraqis, but beyond that distinction, Billy is at a loss. As best he can tell, there is no surveillance in the room, and the small slot in the door is just large enough to pas his hand through, nothing more. Besides that, it’s locked.

Billy’s trapped, well and good.

And he has no idea why.


The first thing Billy does is wonder how long this will last. He’s not actually the most patient of men, which is interesting since he’s partnered with some of the most patient people in the whole world. It’s not that Billy’s incapable of waiting; it’s just that he hates it.

As best he can figure, he’s been in this cell for three hours.

It feels like three years.

Isolation does that to Billy.

He paces and frets, looking for any sign of weakness in the room because the idea of being stuck in here, alone, is undesirable. Of course, he’s nervous about the state of the mission, and he’s worried about his asset. He’s worried about his team and whether there’s been blowback on them. What if they’ve been captured, too? What if they’re in cells right next door?

This shouldn’t be a reassuring thought, Billy chides himself.

Still, he scoots closer to the wall and leans his head against it.

It makes him feel a little better.


Some might think that Billy’s being practical when he finally tends to his own wounds. The reality of it is, though, that he’s just bored. For as truly horrifying as the situation seems, there’s excessively little to do when locked in an isolation cell with no apparent contact from the outside world. In actual prison, and yes, Billy’s been there, too, they at least give you books or paper or maybe even TV access and prison yard exercise.


This is how prison was intended to be. Dark, cold, uncomfortable and dreary.

There’s scarcely enough light to see his wounds, and there’s no way to actually clean them, but Billy does his best. Overall, there’s not much to treat since bruises are painful but require little intervention. He’s sure that he’d give a doctor pause, given the vividly coloring on his abdomen, but everything still seems soft enough to suggest that there isn’t any massive internal bleeding.

It also suggests that he’s probably a little out of shape, but that’s neither here nor there.

There’s a gash on his leg, which is caked over with drying blood. It’s on his calf, and the best he can tell is that his captors dragged him haphazardly over something sharp and probably didn’t even notice the fact that he was bleeding. It’s painful but not overly deep, and Billy looks inside of it and hopes that the dirt and grime won’t be a problem.

His left wrist feels sprained, but not broken. It hurts like hell to move, but he can, in fact, move it, and none of the bone seem to be out of place. Of course, Billy’s not exactly a doctor, so it’s hard to be sure. Still, he likes to think that he knows where his bones are supposed to be.

Which is why he’s sure that his pinky finger on his other hand is quite assuredly not in the right position. It’s crumpled over and stiff, and moving it doesn’t just hurt, it nearly makes him pass out and cry. Not in that order, necessarily. He hopes, somewhere in his optimistic heart of hearts, that he’ll be rescued before that becomes a problem.

The most telling wound is the open gash on the back of his head. He can’t see this one, of course, but he can feel it. The edges are raised, and it still feels sticky when he puts his fingers inside. The entire back of his head is matted with dry blood, and it’s made the back of his shirt collar stiff. He’s quite confident that it looks grotesque, and the pounding headache it’s left him with is suggestive of a concussion.

Beyond that, black eyes, split lips, broken nose, cracked ribs -- it’s all pretty much run of the mill when you find yourself thrown in an illegal prison against your will. The fact that his captors took the effort to put him here is marginally reassuring. They could have easily killed him, and while a concussion, bruising and a few broken fingers are not fun, they’re a far cry from a bullet in the back of the skull.

In short, he’ll take the dingy prison over a shallow grave any day.

Of course, he he had his druthers, he’d pick neither.

But the universe long since gave up on what Billy wants.


As much as it seems like he should be doing something, Billy’s moderately realistic in the face of opposition. Sure, he waxes poetic about the nature of the job, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty, that’s really Michael’s domain. He knows without a doubt that Casey would be fighting the walls -- literally! Michael would be plotting his escape in a wild and involved escapade. Rick would be likely steeling himself for torture, mentally giving himself every pep talk he can possibly imagine.

Billy, on other hand, has no desire to bruise himself further, and intricate planning sounds exhausting. Rick’s well trod aspirations to live and die for his country seem a bit cliche to Billy by now, so he makes himself as comfortable as possible on the stone ledge and tries to rest.

For as tired as he is, he’s not actually able to sleep, and while he has a whole host of mental techniques given to him by MI6 and the CIA to keep his mind sharp in such an event, he hardly sees the point. No, Billy’s not one for discipline. He favors creativity.

There’s no much room for that in a small, stone cell, but Billy’s not quite that pathetic. He closes his eyes and muses on exactly what he’s going to say to the first person who opens up that door.

Part of him would like to put on a show of confidence. That’s tempting, as a spy, because spies are proud bastards. They want you to think that because they’re invested in national security that nothing scares them.

Spies are also rather hard headed on that account. If you act like you’re not afraid, then you’ve completely given yourself up. After all, spies never go undercover as spies. They go undercover as businessmen, diplomats, security personnel, scientists. All people who would not take being locked in a secret prison after a street abduction well.

To that point, Billy needs to act justifiably terrified. His cover for this mission had been quick and simple; he’d been given papers to pass as a construction foreman looking to take a building contract in Baghdad. His credentials would be backed up by the CIA, which is the good news, but there’s a lot more to a convincing cover than that.

It’s in the details; the nuance.

Billy goes over the file in his head. Jacob Sellers. He’s worked at Dobson Construction for ten years, mostly serving in their London office. Three years ago, he took a promotion and started traveling, serving as a scout for potential bids throughout the Middle East. He knows his address, his phone number and the name of his parents back in Britain.

This will pass when checking into a hotel or passing a security checkpoint, but whoever opens that door next is going to be looking for more. Billy may not be as smart as Michael, as strong as Casey or as conscientious as Rick.

But he’s far more creative than the three of them put together.

Jacob Sellers, therefore, is the type of man who drowns himself in his work. This is not necessarily a lifelong habit, but it’s one he developed after his divorce. His wife’s name had been Katie, and she’d been tall with curly hair. She’d worked for the company, too, and Jacob had been looking forward to starting a family.

Katie, however, had been looking forward to sleeping with the man three cubes down. When Jacob had found out, he’d been more hurt than angry, and instead of dealing with the details of the divorce, he settled quickly and took a promotion that ensured lots and lots of traveling. He prefers staying in hotels, surrounded by people who don’t speak his language. That way he doesn’t have to think about his London flat, where Katie is sleeping with Ron.

He decides that this trip to Baghdad had been particularly upsetting. He’d just learned that Katie was pregnant with Ron’s child. They were remaking Jacob’s office into a nursery.

“Hell of a day,” Billy will say to the person who questions him. “To find out your ex-wife is literally replacing you in the dream version of your life and then get abducted off the street for no reason at all. If you’re looking for ransom, Katie won’t pay, and my parents are in a retirement community. You can ask the company, maybe, but those bastards didn’t even give me a pay raise when I took this job. They said the traveling would be the only perk I needed.”

He imagines his snort of righteous indignation, tinged with a hint of abject despair.

“Please, I don’t have anything you want, and the thing I hate most is that there’s no one left to miss me if I’m gone. I don’t want to die anonymous.”

It’s a bit over the top, maybe. Too on the nose, perhaps. But Billy knows he can sell it with the right emotional overtures. People think being the charmer is all about picking up women, but it’s much, much more than that. It’s about knowing how to read people, about knowing how to lie so effectively that you can force people into the emotions you want from them. When push come to shove, Michael’s too calculated, Casey’s too impatient and Rick’s too earnest.

No, this is Billy’s forte. This is Billy’s asset.

His captors will be hard pressed not to believe him. Chances are, he tells himself with increasing assurity, he can talk himself out of this before the team even has a chance to fully track down his whereabouts.

This thought makes him smile, just a little.

All he needs now is for someone to open the door.


No one opens the door.

They left Billy with his watch, which makes monitoring the passage of time relatively easy. It does nothing, however, for living it.

He tries to keep his mind occupied, studying the four walls and every inch of the ceiling. There are cracks in the stone, but they are all clearly superficial, and the rusted metal around the light figure looks like it’s been there for years. There’s working electricity in the facility, which is something to consider, but the stripped down construction style yields few other clues. It seems that the process of making off the book holding cells is very similar no matter what era you live in.

While the electricity is moderately telling, there’s no other sounds to speak of. There’s no hint of running water, and no indication that there is heat or cooling in any part of the building near him. Moreover, there are no sounds of any sort, which means either they have invested in the best sound proofing known to man or there simply isn’t anyone else here.

It doesn’t make much sense to have a prison with one prisoner. Such a tactic is hardly cost effective. Granted, there could be people held at a distance, and they could be sleeping or quiet, just like Billy, but to that end, there are also no indication of any guards. No one walks by; no one seems to be monitoring him.

It’s silence; it’s stillness.

It’s nothing.

The only thing Billy hears is the sound of his own heart, pounding in his empty chest, as the second tick on.


It’s been hours, and Billy is half asleep when there’s finally a sound at the door. He’s awake immediately, on his feet. He wants to be ready, though he’s careful not to poise himself too combatively. If he sees an opening, he’ll take it, to be sure, but he’s not Billy Collins. He’s Jacob Sellers, and he’s more scared than angry, and if he’s going to sell that story, he needs to look the part.

Standing tense, Billy tries to remember how to breathe. He’s trembling, and it’d be nice to pretend that’s all part of the act, but even Billy has a hard time lying to himself.

There’s movement outside, and jangling -- keys. Which means the prison is old-school. There are no electronic locks on the exterior of his cell, which has its pros and cons. The guard is slow about it -- Billy wonders if this is because he’s got his hands full or maybe he’s just a little out of practice if Billy is indeed the only prisoner in the area.

He’ll find out soon enough, and he wets his lips, standing at the ready.

The lock slips into to place, but the door doesn’t open.

Instead, a small panel on the bottom portion of the door starts to crack open. There’s a hesitation before it falls open, and Billy’s too dumbfounded to know what to do.

Before he can think to speak or move, a bottle of water is slipped through haphazardly. It falls to the ground, tipping to his side and rolling away from the door. It’s followed by a small paper bag, which lands with a plop on the stone. Billy is still processing this development when he realizes that the flap is being lifted back into place.

“No,” Billy says, half yelling the word. He surges forward. “No, please, let me out--”

The lock is jostled as it is locked back into place on the other side. Desperate, Billy pounds against the door.

“No!” he’s almost screaming now. “Let me out of here! Please!”

His only response is the sound of retreating footsteps.

In the silence that follows, he takes a staggering breath, turning his back toward the door and slumping against it, letting himself slip to the ground.

He’s not sure who he’s trying to convince now when he drops his head to his knees and feels hot tears squeeze out of his eyes.

Billy’s not sure of anything.


As disheartening as the lack of interaction had been, Billy reminds himself that it’s still day one. If they do suspect him of anything, keeping him in isolation is undoubtedly a mind control tactic. They want to break him.

The good news, of course, is that they also want to keep him alive, as evidenced by the food drop.

The water is sealed and clear, and while Billy has reason to question its safety, he decides the risk is nominal. If they wanted to kill him, poison would be excessively inefficient. If it’s a drug, then what the hell. Billy could do with being high right about now.

The food is less suspect because it’s woefully inadequate. It’s literally a few slices of bread and an apple.

“No protein?” Billy mumbles to no one in particular as he pokes through the bag. “That hardly seems fair.”

That’s ironic, of course. None of this is fair.

He wishes that were some sort of consolation as he eats his dinner in silence.


It’s inevitable, of course. He’s going to try to escape. He’s not as clever as Michael, and he’s not as forceful as Casey, and he’s not as determined as Rick, but Billy’s no slouch. He projects an attitude of ambivalence and slothfulness, but it cannot be understated that Billy’s a spy. To survive at two agencies, you have to be a little good at what you do.

Besides, Billy takes some pride in being the best with a lockpick of the ODS.

Not that he has a lockpick anymore. They took that along with his identification. It really is a wonder they left the watch.

All the same, he’s pretty sure the lockpick wouldn’t have helped in this situation. The lock is on the outside, and there is nothing to leverage from his position. He examines the door, studying the hinges and the small slot on the bottom. The hinges could be broken, but only with enough force, and there’s simply nothing here to exact enough pressure to make them budge.

The slot at the bottom is a bit more interesting. It is, quite obviously, the main weak point in the whole room. He has some confidence that he might be able to jimmy it open, even though all the locking mechanisms are on the exterior.

As promising as that sounds, Billy’s also aware that it’s pointless. The slot is barely big enough for a rolled up newspaper. Upon reflection, it’s a miracle the water bottle fit. While he could probably get a hand through the door, nothing else would fit, and blindly grabbing doesn’t seem like a great way to do anything except get your hand cut off at the wrist.

No, escape in this manner is not probably Billy’s best bet. His best bet of escape is when the guards open the door.

Which means he needs a weapon.

People talk a lot about mattresses and box springs, but Billy hasn’t got anything for that. The water bottle is made from excessively cheap plastic. While it is easy to rip, he would have to collect a massive amount of it before he had enough to even attempt forging a weapon. Such a weapon would be unwieldy and strange, but Billy’s not ruling it out entirely.

Still, he wants something more immediately.

Sighing, he looks up.

The dim light radiates dull light.

Billy chews his lip, looking at the metal cage once again.

“What the hell,” he mutters to no one. “It’s worth a try.”


He’s cautious when he balances on the ledge, stretching himself as far as he can to grab the metal casing. It’s a mildly precarious position, his ribs protest the movement vehemently. With his sprained wrist, he doesn’t have much to balance with, and he doubts anyone would know if he fell and killed himself.

That said, he’s also mindful of the fact that any overt attempts to escape would hinder his actual escape and his cover. Prudence is needed.

Which is rich, of course. Billy’s a lot of things, but prudent isn’t particularly among them.

The metal is still strong, even for its rusted edges. When Billy pries at it, it barely moves. This is unsatisfying, so he pulls harder, pushes harder, until he jars his wrist and falls off the ledge. He catches himself, even if barely, and he turns a glare back up at the light.

Climbing back on the ledge, he approaches it with new determination. He focuses on the place where it connects to the stone, looking for any sign of weakness. Using his good hand, he picks at the stone, chipping away several tiny piece of dusty and scraping away the top layer of rust with his fingernails.

The cage is just deep enough that his fingers can barely touch the light inside. He’s close, but not close enough, and he just needs a little more leverage, a little more strength, a little more anything.

To be sure, it’s not easy work. The position is hard enough to maintain, and the movement leaves him sweaty and pained. He allows himself to go on like this for the better part of an hour, until his back is sore and his arms are almost too heavy to lift anymore.

Slumping back to the ledge in a sitting position, he looks up at the light. It’s still shining dully, the metal cage hardly moved for all his efforts.

“This is why it never pays to try to hard,” he says to himself, wincing as he tucks his bloodied fingers against his shirt. “All that work and nothing to show for it.”


The lack of progress is disappointing, but it’s probably not surprising. Billy can try to reason that away, but it doesn’t change the discouraging fact that he’s still imprisoned, he’s still injured.

He’s still alone.

When there’s nothing else to do, Billy finally sleeps.

He says one prayer, that he’ll be rescued soon.

And another, that there will be no dreams.

At least one of those, he thinks, might come true.


He wakes in the morning, feeling so stiff he can hardly move. He’s not as young as he used to be, and while there may have been a time in his career when sleeping on a stone slab would be just fine, those days are long since past.

It’s inconsequential, though. The door stays closed; the light hums overhead. Nothing has changed.

Resigned, he tells himself he just has to wait. Billy’s good at waiting. He’s waiting for the right house to come along before he moves out of the hotel. He’s waiting for the right girl before he finally puts his memories of Olivia away. He’s waiting for that pardon from London before he can go home again.

All things considered, he’s waited for less improbable things. The guards will come; his team will find him; this will be over soon.

He appreciates, tucked against the cold, stone wall, that soon is a relative sort of word.


He is fully intent on moping during his second day of incarceration, but the thought of that is interminable in application. After an hour, he needs to get up, move around, talk.

This is something they teach you when you become a spy; how to keep your mind occupied in the worst of situations. True, they intend this as a defense against breaking -- all those state secrets they’re concerned about -- but it’s also a great way to stave off the inevitable boredom.

He knows Michael mentally goes over mission dockets. Casey prefers meditation and fighting techniques. Knowing Rick, he’ll probably go over baseball statistics.

Billy, though.

Billy reverts to what he loves most: literature.

He starts with Shakespeare, because it is the most accessible in his mind. The four stone walls aren’t much of a stage, but he actually enjoys the unique acoustics when he gets into the more dramatic soliloquies. Hamlet is a particular favorite, but he can play the lovelorn hero in Romeo and Juliet as well. The epic kings are quite fitting for the life of a spy, and he does have a softness for Lear.

When he tires of that, he remembers what he can of poetry, and his retelling of the Iliad is, if he says so himself, especially moving.

Every time he finishes a stanza, he bows his head and waits for applause that will never come.


He’s halfway through the British canon, when there’s noise outside.

This time, Billy rushes forward. “Please,” he says, before the thing is even open. “Please, let me out of here.”

It’s an act, of course. Billy’s not actually this desperate, but the little things count when you’re building a cover.

“Tell me who you are, why I’m here,” he begs. “Please.”

The flap falls open with a small thunk, and Billy restrains himself from diving at the opening.

“Let me call my company,” he begs. “My parents. Please.”

Another bottle of water is dumped through, a paper bag after it.

“I don’t have much, but we can get money,” he offers, letting his voice hitch. “Please--”

The slot is being closed again, and Billy slams his hands against the door.

“You can’t just leave me here,” he says. “You can’t, you have to--”

The slot is locked; Billy’s feels the click of the mechanism with a startling finality.

“Or maybe you can,” he mutters, falling back and resting against the wall. He closes his eyes, dropping his head back so he can hear the retreating footfalls.

He’s still listening, even when the footfalls have faded into silence.


Part of him doesn’t want to eat, out of spite.

The rest of him, however, is very hungry, and he can’t imagine his captors will be particularly impressed with a hunger strike. That kind of tactic needs a wider audience to work, and right now, Billy’s only performing for himself.

Needless to say, he eats the food.

Food is a loose term. This time, it’s actually a pile of cold, dry rice in a sandwich baggy. There are black beans in it at least, so he can’t fault them on neglecting his protein.

He can, and will, fault them for everything else.

“Bastards couldn’t even give me a spoon,” he says crossly, picking up a handful of the rice and stuffing it in his mouth. When he tastes it, he makes a face. “Or seasoning. Bloody hell, have you heard of salt?”

He yells it at the door, as if hoping for some sort of reply.

No reply comes, so he finishes his meal.


The afternoon is as uneventful as the morning, so he breaks out into song. He decides that Jacob Sellers played in a band with his mates back at university, but he gave it up for his wife. His guitar is one of the only items he actually made a point to take from their flat.

Billy’s musical interests are diverse, but Jacob has a penchant for rock. He prefers the Beatles, he decides, because who doesn’t? He also fancies Oasis, and his rendition of Wonderwall is especially good.

He sings it all, at the top of his lungs, bloody fingers moving along invisible frets.


There’s an evening meal, which includes a piece of fruit this time. He throws his trash in a pile in the corner of the room, deciding there’s no point in being tidy.

There’s no point in being anything at all.


Billy waits a week like this, taking the morning meal and the evening meal without much fuss or complaint. He tries to talk to the guard, naturally, but it does no good. There’s nothing else to define his day, and Billy does what he can to pass the time.

His wounds start to heal, and he creates patterns for himself. Exercise in the morning, creative endeavors in the afternoon. In the evenings, he has to organize the growing pile of trash. He lines up the bottles along the wall, two a day, and flattens out the paper bags and stacks them near his bed.

Billy hates to clean, this is true.

He hates being alone even more.


It’s a mind game, Billy’s sure of it. They’re softening him up, making him ready and willing to break. When they open that door, they want him to be so relieved that he tells them anything they want to hear.

Whoever they are.

Billy still can’t suss that out, and they really aren’t giving him much to work with. In his head, he makes a short list of the people and groups capable of this and cross references it with a list of people who would be motivated to go through all this trouble. This could be personal; this could be coincidental. They could be after Billy Collins, or Jacob Sellers could be an unfortunate victim of chance.

He has his theories, but they change every day.

Every time that slot opens.

And closes again.

They will open the door, though. His captors, his team, someone.

That door is going to open.

Billy’s sure of that.


After another week, he’s less sure.

Undying hope; eternal optimism.

Everything has its limits.


Billy reasons, sometimes. He talks to the door, explaining why keeping him in here is a futile exercise. He concludes, very logically -- Michael would be so proud -- that he’s only an asset if he’s used, and no matter what the people on the other side believe, the door needs to be opened before he’s worth anything to them at al.

Other times, Billy bargains. He offers deals. They’re all in character, of course. He talks about his family heirlooms, and how they could be sold for a profit, maybe enough to make it worthwhile. He says the company has an insurance policy on him; he promises to drain his bank accounts and his retirement savings.

When that gets him nowhere, he rages. He rages against the door, slamming himself against it relentlessly. He doesn’t care about his sprained wrist or his bruised ribs. He doesn’t care about anything except the immovable force that’s keeping him here for no reason whatsoever.

After he’s tired out, he curls up on the bed and tries to sleep, staring at the door, afraid to close his eyes, afraid he’ll miss it. He dreams sometimes that it opens, that it’s standing wide open, just waiting for him to walk through.

When he opens his eyes, it’s still closed, locked and silent.

This is no time for despair, he tells himself. Someone will come, someone will come.

It’d be more convincing if Billy didn’t lie for a living.


He runs out of poems; he starts to improvise the Shakespeare plays he can’t remember. He sings every song he knows until his voice cracks.

“This is the way the world ends,” he murmurs to himself, parched for water that hasn’t come yet. “Not with a bang.”

He closes his eyes and lets the poem finish itself.


He keeps track of the guard, who comes like clockwork. 9 AM and 5 PM, almost exactly. He can hear the guard, when he’s listening closely, for about 30 seconds down the hall. It takes about 15 seconds to open the slot, 20 if the man fumbles the keys. Closing it is faster -- 8 seconds, usually -- and Billy can hear him when he puts the keys back in his pocket.

It’s a man, he decides, based on the sound of his footsteps. And sometimes, when he’s sitting close, he sees a glimpse of his hands. Once, when trying to shove an apple through the slot, his fingers actually came through, thick and covered in calluses.

They are gone before Billy has a chance to grab them.

He wonders who the guard is. He can tell from the sound of his footsteps that it’s the same person, day after day. He wonders if the man has a family. He wonders if he’s a hardened criminal. He wonders who he works for, if he knows why Billy’s here. He wonders if he likes plays and music. Books, maybe. Billy would ask him, but he never answers.

He never stays.

If the slot didn’t open, Billy wouldn’t even be sure if he’s still alive. Even so, he wonders sometimes, if this is some kind of hell. Not damnation and pain, just the hope that a door might open.

Even when it never does.


Billy has to keep himself busy.

He has to.

Or he’s going to lose his mind.

“Like you haven’t already,” he chuckles to himself.

He snorts. “Not quite.”

His eyes narrow. “Close enough.”

“Not yet,” he promises with a nod. “Not yet.”


He starts with the bottles. After three weeks in this cell, he’s amassed a number of them. He tries to get the guard to take them, but his pleas are unanswered. As much as Billy wants contact with anyone, the bottles are a problem. They’re threatening to take over his cell. He wonders if this is some kind of specific torture technique; insanity by rubbish.

Fortunately, Billy’s kept adept in that arena.

And he does have a creative mind.

He makes towers first, stacking them in different ways to form new structures. When he finds they fall over a bit too easily, he finds alternative means to weight them down. It’s not the most sanitary choice, but Billy’s been pissing down an open drain, so really, it doesn’t bother him as much as it should.

The paper bags are another issue, and he flattens them out and keeps them cleaning. Using the plastic baggies, he makes stripes for binding, and he’s quite pleased when he puts together his first book.

It actually looks kind of quaint, if only he had something to write with.

Chewing his lip, he looks around the bleak cell that’s become his home.

If only.


Briefly, he considers the idea of using his own blood, but that seems a little overly dramatic, even for him. Besides, he wants to keep a diary, not bleed himself dry. Given how little he has to do around he, he’s a little worried that using blood as ink would be more trouble than it’s worth.

At any rate, he doubts Jacob Sellers would do such a thing. Jacob’s even more squeamish than he is.

He manages to construct a pencil out of rolled up coils of plastic bottle. It’s not an easy task ripping the material, but it’s not like Billy has anything else to do with his time.

Or his plastic bottles.

Once he’s fashioned a makeshift device, he still needs to find an ink. He entertains the notion of creating stone dust by creating friction with the wall, but that’s an awful lot of work for something that’s probably not going to work anyway. Since he’s already ruled blood out, he considers other bodily fluids, but the smell wouldn’t be worth it. He tries to use rust from the metal cage around the light fixture, but it’s too difficult to grind it into a fine enough powder to mix with water and create an ink.

He’s going to the bathroom when he has the revelation.

Leaning down, he looks at the drain. It’s wide enough, as it would have to be, and Billy knows it goes straight down a ways. One day, he dropped a bottle down there to see what would happen, and he’s never seen it since.

Now, to be sure, this is not the most sanitary part of his cell, but he has been fairly careful, and Billy’s got decent aim. He’s better with knives and guns, but aim is aim. Still, along the sides, moisture has collected over the years, and given how rarely the area is apparently cleaned, there is a film growing on the sides.

The presence of mold is not particularly thrilling, but it’s also not overly bothersome in the grander scheme of things. To be perfectly honestly, Billy’s seen worse in his own drain pipe back in his flat when he can’t quite bribe the cleaning lady to take care of his room. Besides, if it’s making him sick, it’s making him sick. Moving it around won’t make things better or worse, as far as Billy can figure.

Carefully, he runs the tip of the plastic pen along the side of his drain, collecting enough to be visible. Then, he picks up his makeshift book and tries to adjust his grip so he can write.

Dear Diary

He scrawls the words, trying to figure out the best angle to write with. The ink isn’t perfect, and it smears a little, but the words are still visible.

Grinning to himself, he reloads his pen and starts to write.


The diary may be private, but Billy’s still smart enough to think it will always stay that way. He can’t be completely honest in his entries, because when that door opens, it may be taken into account. There’s no way he’s going to blow his cover with a moldy pen on the back of used paper bags. That’s just bad form.

Still, he takes some satisfaction in the whole exercise. It feels like an accomplishment of utter self determination. He feels downright smug as he writes in his journal, smirking at the closed door.

Just in case it opens.


The slot opens.

The slot closes.

Billy keeps time in his journal now, marking the days of his captivity. Day 21. Day 25. Day 28.

A month is a long time, but Billy knows how to play the long game when he has to.


He names the diary George.

This is not the most creative name, but he likes it. For some reason, it seems fitting. Talking to George is more satisfying than it probably should be, but he likes to think that George has a dry sense of humor and is impeccable at keeping secrets. He also imagines that George would love going out and getting drunk sometime, but they’ll have to wait and see on that one.

Sometimes, he wants to offer the guard a chance to meet George. A few times, he almost stuffs the pages out the open slot. He’s aware, however, that there’s a chance the poor sod doesn’t speak English.

Not to mention the fact that he’s keeping Billy isolated and imprisoned against his will.

All in all, he’s better off with George.


Billy tries to stay up with things, he really does. But there’s only so much you can do when trapped in a small cell and fed two meager meals a day. He’s losing weight and muscle mass, and his beard must have grown in pretty well by now.

I’m afraid I’m losing my looks, George. If I lose those, what will I have left?

Not much, Billy’s afraid.

Maybe not enough.


Sometimes, he plots like Michael, looking for weaknesses he can exploit. He thinks about the timing of the guard’s rotation, thinks about the best angle of attack and the swiftest way to escape.

Sometimes, he connives like Casey, thinking about the necessary force to grab the guard’s hand to slam him into the door and into unconsciousness. He contemplates the necessary way he’d have to contort his body to unlock the door from the inside.

Sometimes, he even preens like Martinez, who would never call it that. But he thinks of the nobility of it all, what it means to suffer for a greater good. He thinks of a commendation when he gets home.

A star on the wall if he doesn’t.

Sometimes, though, he’s nothing more than Jacob Sellers, a lonely, lost man who cries himself to sleep in the cold stillness of his cell.


Dear George,

It’s been five weeks now, and the door hasn’t opened. I still think about going home, but then I can barely remember what home is like beyond these walls. Sometimes I think the door must be open, if I can just figure out how to find the handle. I’m still looking, George. I’m still looking.


Billy likes talking to George. In fact, George may be the best friend he’s ever had. He doesn’t drag him on impossible missions, like Michael. He doesn’t force him into extreme physical conditions like Casey. And for the love of God, George doesn’t force him to endure long musings about his love life like Rick.

(George also takes his advice, which is more than he can say for the other three.)

George will never sleep with his girl; George will never leave him stranded when he’s drunk in a bar. George is bloody awesome, that’s what George is.

George listens to everything; George empathizes. George knows how to make the world make sense, and God help him, that’s what Billy needs.

Day after day, the door doesn’t open, and George understands.

George knows.

Thank God for George.


Except when George is a bastard.

Billy props him up against the door, just to see what he’ll do.

George is waiting, though.

“What for?” Billy demands. “What could you possibly be waiting for?”

George doesn’t answer.

No one ever does.


Billy forces himself to keep going, to keep eating, to keep doing his exercises. He paces the floor, doing lunges and squats while he tells himself who he is, and who he works for.

That takes all of five minutes.

After that, he thinks about Jacob.

He decides, for no particular reason, that Jacob fancied himself a thespian before he started at university. He probably would have pursued it, too, living happily as a struggling stage actor, except his girlfriend wanted a bigger ring, and Jacob took the office job.

Jacob didn’t regret this, not at first, because Jacob is a relatively easy man. In truth, he never saw the divorce coming. He’d thought everything was fine until she served him the papers. She’d told him then, right to his face, that he lacked imagination.

This, even more than the affair, is what still bothers Jacob. Because Jacob Sellers, he has imagination. Jacob Sellers is a creative genius.

He just sold out for all the wrong reasons.

It’s not too late for Jacob, though.

“You just have to open the door,” he says, watching it hopefully.

Closed doors; closed opportunities; closed lives.

“For the love of all that is good and holy,” he pleads. “Open the door.”


The door never opens, but the slot still does. It defines Billy’s day, if he’s honest. When George is not cooperating, and when Jacob is curled up in a corner crying, Billy imagines what the guard is like when he’s not shoving table scraps through a hole in a door.

While it’s entirely possible that the man is a maniac who is torturing Billy for his own personal satisfaction, that seems a bit too reductive and far too easy. If the chap out there is going to torture Billy in this manner, he sure as hell is going to have an interesting reason for doing it.

Besides, Billy reasons, what’s the man going to do about it? Open the door?

The irony of the joke actually makes Billy laugh out loud. Goodness, he is a funny one.

The guard, on the other hand, is a bit lacking in his sense of humor, as best Billy can deduce. He’s not in this for the pleasure. No, to be sure, this chap is a company man, just like Billy is. He knows what it takes to earn a paycheck, and in a place like Baghdad, that’s not always an easy thing.

There was a time, Billy decides, that the guard had a happier life. There was a time when he worked as a teacher, when his family was young and new. The war had wiped that out, and the only way to pay for protection and sanctuary in a time like this is to make some compromises.

Now, that doesn’t mean all the evil things one might think it does. No, this man doesn’t even know who his boss actually is. He doesn’t know the things he does or why he does them. He doesn’t know why he’s been hired to guard a prison with one prisoner, feeding him twice a day, without fail.

In the grander scheme of things, it seems bad, yes, but this man -- he’s seen worse. He saw horrible things in the war, and he still sees them. But they happen to other people, not to him. Other families bury their children; other husbands bury their wives. Others have had to relocated, leave everything behind and start over someplace new.

Doing what he does, keeps his children fed and happy. They can grow up in their home, among their own people. His wife is happy, and his daughter is beautiful. His boy is growing up to look just like him.

That’s why he can’t look at Billy. That’s why he can’t talk to him. Because then he’s not sure he could keep making that compromise, even when he knows he has to -- for their sake.

It’s not easy for him, though. He doesn’t sleep well at night, when the other guard comes in to relieve him (the night guard, Billy decides, is the only logical explanation, unless they literally just lock up and leave him here all night, every night, hoping for the best). But he watches his children sleep, holds his wife close, and figures it’s good enough.

Sometimes, when Billy thinks of it like that, he doesn’t mind being a pawn for him. It’s reassuring to think his life may still serve some greater good, even while he wastes away to nothing.

They could be friends, Billy knows. In another life. They’d talk about football -- real football, not the kind Americans play with their helmets and pads -- and they’d talk about the fickle nature of nationalism and how it’s more expendable than one wants to believe. They’d talk about literature, and the books people should read before history repeats itself again. The guard, he favors beer, but Billy likes scotch. When they toast, though, it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s human, in the end. Everyone’s just doing the best they can.

That’s another life, beyond Jacob Sellers, Billy Collins and all the rest.

Unfortunately, Billy knows this life is the only one he has.

Four, cold cell walls.

And a door that never opens.


After a month and a half, Billy decides that the life of Jacob Sellers is best told as a stage performance. Of course, it’s a little hard to make the appropriate setting for Jacob’s earlier years, but the set dressing for his endless time in a prison is very easy. Billy goes through great pains to reenact Jacob’s early days, spending far more time than he should on Jacob’s boyish mischief and his tumultuous teenage years. The second act, where he meets his ex-wife and falls in love, is poignant and bittersweet, and Billy is pleased with his subtle performance.

The grand climax, where he is abducted off the street, is shockingly violent and devoid of greater meaning. This allows a stark contrast to the solitude that follows, wherein Jacob has to discover who he is when faced with no other audience. Jacob’s grief and desperation give way to hope, and the audience is moved to tears when Jacob realizes that the door’s been open the entire time.

All he has to do is walk through.

(It’s open to debate, of course, what that really means. Some critics, Billy knows, will be literal and see the conclusion as reductive. Others, with a bit more nuance, will interpret the ending as metaphorical, arguing convincingly like Jacob died in prison. They’ll all miss the point, though. Jacob Sellers’ life is a tragedy that no one will ever truly understand. Watch the play and you’ll feel it. You’ll know it.)

The crowd cheers, and it sells out every night. Billy smiles grandly at them as he takes a bow.

They call for an encore.

But Billy’s got nothing left to give.


The guard, Billy decides his name is Bob.

This is not likely, and Billy knows that. Part of him doesn’t care. Part of him is just amused by the notion.

“Look, Bob,” Billy says when the slot opens with breakfast. “I had this idea about a book club.”

The bottle of water tumbles to the ground.

“Granted, the language barrier might make it pretty hard, but you wouldn’t even have to open the door,” Billy suggests, because he’s thought about it.

The paper bag crinkles its way through.

“You could pick one month, and I could pick the next,” Billy says. “It might be interesting, getting to know each other a little better.”

The slot closes, the lock sliding back into place.

“Or, you know, you could pick all the months,” Billy says with a shrug. “I’m flexible.”

The footsteps fade away down the hall.

Billy sighs, looking at the door longingly. “Well,” he calls after the silence. “Think on it!”


It’s been nearly two months, according to George, and Billy entertains the notion that maybe he was wrong.

Now, Billy’s been wrong about a lot of things. He’s not so egotistical as to pretend otherwise. But this is a little different.

This is about his future.

Or lack thereof.

Keeping him here, in isolation, if it is a part of a broader scheme, Billy can’t fathom what it is. At the very least, whatever it may be, it doesn’t involve his active participation at all. He has to accept the possibility that, for whatever reason, they want him in this cell. And they don’t care what happens to him while he’s in here.

It’s a bit of a mind bender, really. Why someone would want to lock someone up with no interaction whatsoever. It’s a lot of work to go through to keep him here, and what is the possible gain? Is it revenge? Is it some twisted form of justice? Is he being used as leverage with an outside party?

Does anyone actually care if he lives or dies?

If he stays sane?

Or goes crazy?

But Billy’s starting to think that door is never going to open again.


In some ways, his conclusion that isolation is his lifelong sentence changes nothing. The daily routine doesn’t change; his entire existence is just as it was the day before.

In other ways, though, it changes everything.

“Hope,” he says to George one night. “It can save a man or kill him.”

He wonders, more than he should, if the two might actually be the same.


“You know, I thought you were crazy, letting me onto your team,” Billy says. “I mean, no one else in the CIA would touch me. I thought for sure I’d be stuck in the bowels, running analysis for the rest of my miserable life.”

He winces at that, settling himself more comfortably on his slab of cement.

“But there you were, Michael Dorset,” he says, shaking his head. “Offering me a position with the ODS.”

He sighs, remembering it fondly.

“Sure, I know part of it was to get back at Higgins -- you think I don’t know that, but I do -- but I have to think you had a bigger picture in mind,” he says. “This is, after all, you. You’re not the type to take in strays on a whim.”

He shakes his head.

“I never thought it’d work myself, but I was more than game enough to try,” he says. “I thought it’d be better than living alone, working alone.”

He smiles, a little sad now.

“It’s a pity, then,” he says, closing his eyes. “I guess I was right.”


As he eats his breakfast, he snorts at Casey.

“You, you bastard,” he quips, mouth full of cheese. It’s not quite moldy today, which is a bonus. “I sincerely thought you were going to kill me.”

He swallows.

“For an entire year!”

He washes it all down with a swig of lukewarm water.

“You told me once, that you worked alone by choice, on a team out of necessity,” Billy tells him. “You told me that you believed that, but no one had ever made you question that belief like I did. I was too loud, too needy, too outgoing. You always wanted me to just leave you alone.”

He tears off another piece of cheese and stares at it ruefully.

“Funny,” he says. “I finally gave you what you wanted.”


While he exercises, he keeps pace with Rick. “I told you, the first day I met you,” he says with a nod of his head.

He jogs in place, the soles of his shoes thin on the stone.

“That you had a heart for this,” he says, panting a little. “Hero’s work.”

He increases his pace, feeling his heart strain against his chest.

“I used to believe it, once,” he says. “You made me want to believe it again, too.”

He falls short, dropping his hands to his knees as he catches his breath.

“You’re not here anymore, though,” he says with a heavy exhale.

Wiping his hand across his face, he stands up again.

“I hope you never have to learn it, not the way I did,” he murmurs, looking at four walls and locked door. “Never like this.”


He talks to them, his team. He talks until his throat is raw, and his lips are cracked. He talks until it hurts too much to never hear them reply.

He talks to Carson after that. He asks him if this is what it was like for him, to feel so alone that nothing else matters. He asks if it ever goes away, even when you’re free. He wants to know if there are prisons you can never break out of, even when all the doors are wide, wide open.

When he gets desperate enough, he talks to Olivia, and asks her if she’d come back for him now, after all this. He wants to know if her need for space was really about her, or if she’d seen this in him all along. She’d always been the largest door, slammed right in his face.

Until now.

He breaks on a sob.

Until now.