Title: Changing Priorities

Author: Ice Cube

Rating: T

Spoilers: 4x01 Friends and Enemies, quote from 3x05 Signals and Codes

Disclaimer: Right, if I owned them anywhere outside of my dreams, the characters that are forthwith mentioned in this story would be making me a lot of money and very happy…so no, they aren't mine, and I'm just out of school with no money, so if you're going to sue, feel free, you won't get anything.

Characters: Michael, mentions Fiona and the Westen family

Archives: Feel free; just let me know where so I can find it again.

Summary: Tag for Friends and Enemies. If you had asked Michael on the day he left home for boot camp, he would have told you he never wanted to go back to Miami. It was a driving factor in everything he did. Funny how things change.

Warnings: Written in the span of about an hour when the plot bunny bit hard – it's the first time I've written in the first person, so I'm not sure how it turned out.

I don't have my stories beta'd, I'm too impatient to wait for someone to proof it after I've written it, so I apologize for any mistakes, and if you email me to tell me that they're there, I'll fix them later.

Reviews are always a plus; it's great to know that people are reading my stories and that they evoke some strong reactions, but as I'm a horrible reviewer, I won't hold my breath for them. Constructive criticism will be taken under advisement. Flames, however, will be treated with the utmost respect they deserve…they will be ignored completely or poked fun at with friends.

That said, on with the tale…

"You know what, I am like Spencer. We both see the world a certain way and we both have skills to make it a better place. That's not a bad thing. I don't want to keep ducking this, so let me be straight with you. This job, what we just did, saving American lives, this is the type of work I was made for, Fi. It's what my old job gave me a chance to do every single day. So, no, getting back in isn't just a way to survive, to protect the people I love. It's what I want. And if you truly care about me, you should damn well want for me what I want for myself." ~ Signals and Codes 3x05

When I left Miami at seventeen, it was with fifty bucks in my pocket, the absolute conviction that I was never coming back, and a change of clothes in a ratty old backpack that my mother had bought for me when I was ten. She had been so proud of the purchase that despite the fact that it had gotten me beaten up for weeks – at school and at home – I had never asked for another one. I spent the majority of the ride from my house to the recruiter's office staring at the pack and thinking about what it represented. Andre's father was going on and on about how proud he was that I was going to serve my country, and how it was an honor to know a man like me. How he wished that his oldest son was coming with me. Here I was, a scared shitless kid off to places unknown and all I could think about was the look on my own family's faces. Each one was burned indelibly into my memory, and even now, two decades later, I can still call the images clearly into focus.

Fiona thinks that I've always been overly patriotic, always had a ridiculous sense of honor to my country and a need to serve some faceless alphabet soup agency. And maybe that has always been a part of me; I don't know. All I know is that when I was sitting in the back of that car, waiting to be issued uniforms and shipped off to who knows where, honor and service were the furthest things from my mind. I was such a bundle of barely concealed emotions that if I'd had a month to simply sit and catalogue them, I still don't know if I could have figured them all out.

I didn't enlist in the Army a week shy of my high school graduation for any reason other than it gave me a legitimate reason to run. To finally get out of my house and leave my dysfunctional family far behind. Someone had planted the bug in my head at a career day at school three years previous, and it had never left my mind. Every good grade, every sports practice and weight room session, every time I rolled with the punches at home and pissed off my father enough to make him want to get me out of the house – it was all part of my escape. If I could have, I would have taken Nate with me – but a kid barely into his teenaged years doesn't exactly fit in a duffel bag.

That, and it wouldn't have let me really leave it all behind. The day I left home, I was leaving behind the whole family; the way they made me feel; the path my life was headed down. I needed to get away from it all and I planned on never coming back. I was a coward – something that I've been working on making reparations for every day over the past twenty years. I couldn't take the looks that seemed to be permanently etched onto my family's faces. I had to get away from the absolute abhorrence in my father's eyes, the sad resignation and defeat in my mother's, and the betrayal and hatred that graced Nate's face.

It was Nate that hurt the worst. I'd spent years falling in front of my father's fists and belt to keep the kid out of the line of fire, and somewhere along the way he'd started to take that for granted. I'm the older brother, so clearly it was my job to take all of his licks and keep smiling. To get him out of every single jam he got himself into, and to make sure that he could keep on being the good son my mother thought he was. It didn't take him long after I told him Dad had signed the form for the kid to realize that his human shield was going to disappear. I don't think he's ever really forgiven me for that.

At the time, though, that didn't matter. I was free. For the first time in my life, I had no attachments, no reason to fear waking up in the morning, no one to fill me with guilt, hurt, or letdown just by being in the same room with me. I'd heard the stories about how boot camp broke you down to build you back up, and it sounded like the best idea in the world. Somewhere along the line, I'd realized just how much I hated the person my father had molded me into – a trouble maker, a fighter, a bully, and a downright juvenile delinquent. My motivations may have been different from his – I always, always had a reason for the trouble I caused – but it didn't change the fact that I was my father's son. The Army was my chance to change.

And change me it did. At some point, without even realizing, I left behind the scared kid I was and became the man that Fiona doesn't quite understand. I realized just how much I enjoyed working behind the scenes and below the radar to save American lives. It didn't take long for my superiors to realize that I had a natural aversion to taking orders that they couldn't seem to break me of, but that I was excellent at what they were training me to do. I breezed through Special Forces training, and made a name for myself as being innovative and determined.

Promotions weren't high on my list of priorities – which was good since I tended to bristle against my CO's, but I did what it took to get the job done and did it efficiently. I was sitting in a brig – busted down a rank and cooling my heels thanks to another pissed off commanding officer – on some base in the middle of some country when I was recruited into covert operations. I had a chance, they said through the bars of the cell next to mine, to do what I was doing now – only with fewer regulations, far less time for leave, and far more freedom to be my own boss. More excuses not to go back to Miami and fewer people to piss off by doing my own thing my own way? I never looked back.