Title: Power Game

Warnings: Naughty words and black, bleeding angst

Disclaimer: Not mine, not making money

Notes: I wrote this fic before even had a Burn Notice section, posted it around LJ (where some of you may have read it), but I figured I'd put it up here now, too... This's just a little Michael-centric tale that could fit in anywhere in the series, no big spoilers. Enjoy!

Most spies, when they first get into the business, really are in to see the world and have an adventure. That's because they're people whose skill sets won't help them in an office cubicle, and they're usually wanting to get the hell away from someplace, someone, or both.

Michael knows he fits the profile, always has. That's why it's tough to take being stuck here in someplace- Miami- with someone- his mother. And she's currently giving him her most pathetic pleading face over tea and a plateful of cookies.

"No," he says flatly, heading off whatever she's got a mind to ask him.

Her expression immediately shifts to wide-eyed innocence. "I haven't said anything! And eat a cookie, you're looking thin. Pale, too- have you slept?"

"Not really. I don't like oatmeal raisin. And I can hear you thinking!" He starts to yell as his frustration comes through, and he has to remind himself that if he can interrogate war lords and religious fanatics, he can certainly manage to rein in his temper for this current conversation.

"There's no need to take that tone," his mother informs him primly, and then it's back to the pleading face- and now with a touch of hurt. "Oh, Michael! It's just that Irene Stepinski called, and-"

Irene Stepinski. Michael whirls through the lists of names and faces in his memory until he recalls the petite, flighty woman who used to live around the corner.

"-crying, and I could barely understand her. She said that her son-"

Right. Daniel Stepinski- Danny. Michael remembers a runny-nosed kid with the tricycle, but he must be a grown man by now...

"-on patrol and killed in Iraq-"


"He was in Baghdad," Michael says more than asks. These days, if you're going to get killed in the Middle East, that's the likely setting.

His mother sniffles a bit and nods. "It wasn't his first time... over there. He joined the army right after high school-" She stops abruptly, but he still hears the just like you did, which goes with the it could have been you.

His entire adult life, it's been one close call after another- and no matter how dumb she plays, or how much he doesn't talk about it, there it is. There isn't much he can say, of course, but he's beginning to see where this conversation is headed.

"When's the funeral?" He asks resignedly.

"The day after tomorrow." His mother peaks over her teacup to meet his eyes. "I just don't want to go alone, Michael... I couldn't bear it."

The only time spies have funerals is if they really need to make a show of someone being dead, or if they're faking. Michael's been to half a dozen show funerals- including his own, once. He hates the real thing.

"The family's distraught," his mother continues. "He was so young, and- Oh!" She puts a hand over her mouth with dramatic flourish.

"Right." Michael sighs and gives her an accusing stare. "So you called me over here, served tea and cookies, and decided you could guilt me into coming along?"

"You really don't like oatmeal raisin?" She asks, tone going for meekness.

He resists the urge to laugh- barely. "No. What time is this thing?"

"Eleven. Saint Anne's Church." She stands to clear the table. "You'll come?"

"I'll pick you up at ten-thirty, and afterwards you're not going to call me to do your little favors for at least a week." No way he's doing this without something in return.

His mom tries to pull the hurt look again, decides against it, and smiles. "Thank you, Michael."

So spies see the word, have an adventure, get the hell out of whatever drove them to it. But they don't ever become heroes, and the ones who get in thinking they're going to be like James Bond usually get out just as quickly. At the end of the day there's never going to be any recognition for what they do.

Anyone who wants a public clap on the back should be a soldier- G.I. Joe, real American hero. Women like the uniform, too, especially if it's got lots of medals.

Too bad a silver star's not bulletproof.

Michael's in his best black suit, watching six army rangers fold up the flag that was used to cover the casket of Corporal Daniel Stepinski, and all he can think is how it's a good thing he never wanted to be a hero.

Death is so commonplace to him that he can't even behave like a normal person. He isn't crying, or praying, or clinging to anyone for comfort. And he's damned glad his mother isn't grabbing him and sobbing on his shirt either- she's got Fiona for that.

He doesn't know how Fi ended up coming along, but if it keeps him from becoming the human Kleenex, he's okay with it. Gives him an eyeful of tight, lacy black dress to look at, too. Shit, though, he shouldn't be thinking that when there's a priest saying words over a six-foot deep hole in the earth...

Leave it to Fiona to make mourning look sexy.

Well. It still gives his mom someone other than him to lean on. But that means he's going to owe her. Or maybe not. Fi's gotten funny about that lately, and anyway she has this thing- an old world thing- about reverence for the dead, so it's possible she may not be minding this.

He is. Oh, hell, he is. The Stepinski clan's all crying- borderline hysterical- and Michael feels bad for the poor lieutenant who's got to hand over the folded up flag with nothing else to offer that will make it any easier.

Soldiers may end up heroes, but spies are the ones with the power. Michael knows- he knows, damn it- the names of every radical cleric, arms-dealing sheik, corrupt government minister, and wannabe warlord in the entire clusterfuck. Knows the ones he took care of, and the ones they hadn't gotten to.

Which means he knows- or could have found out- exactly who should have been killed to keep this dumb kid from wandering in front of a bullet.

"Michael, you couldn't have stopped it," Fiona whispers, shifting towards him so the words itch and tickle against his neck.

"Yeah, maybe." He almost shrugs her off, but resists the movement. Sure, one soldier is expendable, and protecting the little guy was never the business, but every now and then it happened anyhow-call it an added bonus.

At least he'd have had a chance. The way he is now, all he can do is stand here and not even be remotely comforting.

The bugler begins to play Taps, and the soldiers all come to attention. Michael, out of habit that's more than a decade old, straightens himself and braces his arms at his sides. Beside him, he can feel Fiona's slight laughter.

"You don't need to do that," she tells him softly.

He doesn't answer at first, listening to the other bugler, far away and out of sight, play the echoing Silver Taps. Finally, he lets out a breath and looks her in the eye. "Yeah. I do."

He's stuck here in someplace- Miami, this funeral- with someone- his mother, Fi- and he has to face it when the drill squad fires off three rounds in quick succession. It's the last salute to the hero, the stupidly dead hero.

He's never felt so powerless.

And, really, that's the part that's toughest to take.