Title: Loud and Clear

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: I wrote this one a while ago. Nothing much to say about it. If you read my work, you probably know what to expect. Thanks, as usual, to the most brilliant lena7142 for the beta and just generally making my life better.

Summary: The important messages aren't conveyed in words. The important messages aren't spoken at all. They're the ones you just know, more than anything else. The ones that hold everything else together even when it should all fall apart.

-o-

Billy smiles. "Was starting to think you wouldn't come," he says, and he's joking, but he's not.

The man smiles in return. They haven't met before, but Billy recognizes the man from the photos in the file, and the warm crinkle around the eyes should be reassuring as he approaches. His hands are in his pockets and he doesn't offer one to Billy. "Anything for an old friend," he says. "How is Michael anyway?"

Billy inclines his head, cautious. "Paranoid as ever," he says.

"Some things will never change," he replies, nodding his head congenially.

"Indeed," Billy agrees easily. "And I suppose some things never should."

-o-

Michael checks his watch. It's only been ten minutes. It takes Billy ten minutes to pour a cup of coffee sometimes. Ten minutes in the field, chatting up an asset – means nothing.

It means nothing.

Michael looks at his watch again, taps his finger against the steering wheel. He has reason to be impatient. The timeline on this mission is tight; they're stretched thin. Casey's scoping out a warehouse for the meet and Rick's undercover with a ring of low level gun runners. Michael had to check in with Langley to set up enough of an arms shipment to keep up the ruse and Billy had volunteered to meet the asset.

Michael knows this asset: Olabode, a Nigerian national. Has known him for years. Met him when Michael was young and stupid in the Agency, when his asset was bold and idealistic as a rebel. Trust doesn't come easily, but the enemy of an enemy could be useful.

It had been a hard relationship, and assets during upheaval are tenuous things. Michael had walked away with his cover intact and his asset's life preserved.

Now, years later, Michael's sent Billy in his place and Billy's ten minutes late.

Michael's jaw works and he doesn't let himself look at his watch again. He checks the mirrors, scans the windshield. There's no sign of Billy. No sign of Olabode.

No sign.

Michael's fingers twitch, his knee jittering. Casey's securing the warehouse; Rick's position is stable. Fay has all the guns ready, transferred from a Marine base nearby. All they need is a few names from Olabode. Enough to get them in the door.

In this, Michael is unsentimental. He doesn't trust Olabode, but he knows the dynamic of their relationship. Understands need, supply, demand. Mutually beneficial sides of the same coin. What happened in the past, was in the past.

Spies didn't work to save the past. Revolutionaries didn't work to change the past. The future is theirs.

The next ten minutes.

Or the last.

Michael gives in, looks at his watch again. It changes.

And Michael swears.

-o-

The warehouse is fifteen minutes away. Michael speeds, taking corners too quickly and leaving tire tracks on the pavement. He wedges the phone between his ear and his shoulder, keeping both hands on the wheel while he drives. "It might be nothing," he tells Casey.

Casey's reply is sober: "Or it might be everything."

Michael's grateful he doesn't have to explain. "How soon can you meet me there?"

"Half hour," Casey replies. "Faster if I find an alternative means of transportation."

Michael likes to keep their intrusions to a minimum unless otherwise necessary.

His stomach is cold when he says, "Faster. Make it faster."

-o-

Billy keeps his eyes open but his posture lax. "You have the message then?" he asks. He sounds like he doesn't care; he sounds like he has no doubts.

Billy's a good liar, though.

Olabode's smile widens, eyes darkening. "Of course," he says. "There are many things I would like to tell Michael."

Billy gives him a lightly withering look. "I'm afraid I only have enough time for one," he says.

"Very well," Olabode says. "The important one."

-o-

Michael remembers the mission. Remembers the plan. They were supposed to help supply a rebel faction with enough ammunition to make a legitimate power play. Not that the US was directly interested in toppling the tenuous control in the district, but the people in power had hostages. American hostages.

Joining forces with an opposing faction had made sense.

Then things had gotten worse, the situation had declined. The Marines came in, did the job anyway. The CIA scrapped the mission and Michael was recalled back Stateside. He didn't get to see Olabode in person, but he sent a message of his regards. Just said, things changed and it's nothing personal. He could keep the money and the guns, for whatever that was worth.

No sense burning bridges, he'd thought.

But sometimes they burned anyway.

-o-

Billy sees the movement. But as he's disarming the man of his gun, he misses the blade as it slides deep into his gut. At first, there's no pain, just pressure and shock as the man pulls him close to finish the job, hot breath on his neck.

"Tell Michael things change," he says, the words thick but clear, every one enunciated and perfected. "Though this time, it's entirely personal, I'm afraid. Still, he can have your body."

The blade is pulled free and hot blood wells, slipping down Billy's stomach as his breath catches and he gapes uselessly. The Olabode pulls away, still smiling, one hand gripping Billy so tight that he's sure there will be bruising.

"For whatever that is worth," he finishes and he lets Billy go.

And Billy's body goes weak, knees giving way. He hits his knees hard, the jolt bringing fresh pain. It burns up toward his head and his vision tunnels out. He looks down, sees the bloody spot on his stomach, covering his hands.

He blinks.

Then his body goes lax as he collapses the rest of the way to the floor.

-o-

Michael barely takes the time to put the car in park. He's checking his gun while he runs, pausing just long enough to keep himself from making a blind entrance into a potential hostile location.

With a steadying breath, he darts in, sweeping the place visually.

It's still, silent.

But not quite.

The sound is faint, but the rasping is audible. Michael hesitates, and considers.

Then he understands.

"Billy!"

-o-

Over the years, Michael's followed the history. He's tracked Olabode, charted his progress through the ranks. His former asset has been involved with several marginal terrorist activities, but he's a good man. Good men who lose too much sometimes do desperate things. Good men who have something to believe in often do stupid things.

This wasn't Michael's fault, though. He'd only offered the man guns and money, not a solution.

They'd understood each other.

He'd thought they'd understood.

-o-

It's not hard to find Billy. The Scot is breathing noisily and when Michael rounds the stack of boxes, Billy is the only thing to see.

He's on his side, long legs askew. One hand is outstretched and limp, the other clutching unconsciously at the bright red stain on his stomach. His eyes are closed.

And Michael doesn't understand at all.

-o-

The hands are rough, prodding at his face. He hits his back and pain flares. Billy groans.

"Come on," Michael coaxes. "Come on."

Billy's eyelids flutter. He swallows and tries to speak, but he coughs instead. He chokes for a moment, tasting acid in his throat. His eyes water and his vision tunnels as everything starts to go numb.

Michael is watching him, face barely containing the worry. "Hang on, Billy," he says. "Just hang on."

Billy hears the order but it doesn't seem relevant. It's not why he's here.

The asset.

The message.

He sucks in again, finds his breath. "He left a…a message," Billy says, the words stuttered and choked as he starts to tremble.

Michael doesn't look away, even as his hands press down hard on Billy's stomach. Billy flinches, but he can't feel it, can't feel anything.

"Things change," Billy murmurs, because it seems important. The world is going gray and everything is heavy. "Personal…or not."

Michael's jaw locks and Billy feels himself fading. His ears ring and breathing becomes superfluous.

Still, he has to say it.

Eyes locked on Michael's, he has to say it. If it's the last thing. "It's worth…everything."

And Billy has no regrets when he closes his eyes.

-o-

Billy goes limp, face gray and long fingers lax. He's dying, Michael knows.

He's dying and still doing his job, delivering one last message.

The message isn't the words, though. It's written in Billy's blood, splayed out on a dirty floor for Michael to see.

This is the cost of failed trust. This is the price of half finished promises. This is what it's worth.

This.

And Michael hears the message.

Michael understands.

-o-

When Casey arrives, Michael's pressing down so hard that his arms ache. The blood is squeezing through his fingers, though. Billy's long gone still, face ashen, and Michael can't tell if he's breathing.

Casey's all business, though; finds Billy's pulse and radios for medical assistance.

He moves without ceasing, calm, steady movements that hold a barely controlled anger.

As Billy is loaded into a chopper to the nearest Marine base, Casey says, "He'll pay. The son of a bitch will pay."

Michael's hands are caked with Billy's blood, and he wonders if there's any price high enough to cover this.

-o-

Casey goes to the hospital and calls Rick on his way. Michael promises to meet them there.

Finding Olabode isn't as hard as it should be. But then, he suspects Olabode wants to be found.

Michael rounds on him and pulls his gun without preamble, holding it in his bloodstained fingers.

"So you got my message," Olabode comments wryly.

"And I have one of my own," Michael replies.

"Delivered with bullets?" Olabode asks.

"It would be fitting," he says. "Since you like to communicate in blood."

"Justice is often raw and bloody," Olabode says.

"Billy didn't do anything to you," Michael says, aim wavering just slightly.

"I had no other way of making you listen," he says.

Michael cocks the gun, makes himself refrain from pulling the trigger. "A simple hello would do the trick."

"We were friends once," Olabode says. "We were going to change things."

"You were my asset," Michael says. "I had one mission, you had another. Our paths crossed. It was fortuitous while it lasted. Nothing more."

Olabode shakes his head. "I needed you."

"And I did what I could."

"You lied."

"You misunderstood."

"Your messagewas unclear."

Michael inclines his head. "This time let me be perfectly clear, then," he says. He steps closer, gun in hand, unflinching. "We were never partners. We were never friends. I'm not friends with people who kill to make a point. I'm not even associated with them."

Olabode stiffens, bracing himself.

Michael moves closer until the gun is pointed right between his eyes. Point blank range; Michael can't miss. "So go," he says, dropping his voice so low that he almost couldn't hear it. "And if I ever see you again – personally or professionally – you'll be dead before you remember my name."

And Michael lifts the gun, puts the safety in place. He steps back, eyes unyielding.

Olabode takes a breath, unsteady. He swallows convulsively and blinks.

Michael doesn't look away. "Understood?"

Olabode flinches, but he nods. "Understood."

-o-

At the hospital, Michael waits. Casey can sit still and Rick paces. Michael sits in a chair and holds his head in his hands and waits.

He remembers the promises he'd told Olabode, the plans for the mission that had never happened. He remembers thinking that all was well that ended well.

He remembers sending Billy in. Remembers waiting ten minutes. Remembers all of Billy's blood.

A message of betrayal and pain. A message of failure.

He wonders if letting Olabode go is the right thing.

He wonders if not delivering the message in person the first time could have prevented this.

Mostly, Michael waits.

-o-

It's dark and foggy, which should be disconcerting. But Billy's been a spy long enough that nothing is actually very disconcerting.

Instead, he lets himself float, trusting he'll find his way out soon enough.

If he doesn't, that's really no concern of his.

He's not alone, though. In the dark, he hears Casey: "I don't care if you've got a stethoscope, I want to see a medical license or you're not going near him."

And Rick's there, too: "I don't understand. He can't die. He can't."

Above all else, though, Michael: "You won't die, Billy. You just won't."

Mostly Michael.

-o-

The doctors tell them Billy's going to be okay. The knife did damage to his intestines, so the surgery was messy, but they got it fixed. With fast treatment, the infection seems to be minimal. After a day, he's even breathing on his own, and he's getting better.

They all hover, sitting close to Billy and fussing without trying. They worry over the blankets and the machines, bickering about where to sleep and who needs to shower the most. Fay has fresh intel from Langley, and Michael fields it as best he can, but he's not really listening.

He's still waiting, after all.

It's another three days before Billy's awake. There are a few near misses, but it's not until he quotes Shakespeare that Michael dares to believe the doctor's prognosis.

Billy doesn't remember a lot, but Michael thinks that's okay. Casey's too preoccupied with forcing the Scot to stay in bed to worry about revenge and Rick can't be convinced to go finish the op.

This should matter, but somehow, this time, it doesn't.

Because sitting there, Michael understands things he didn't before. Billy laughs and Casey rolls his eyes. Rick squirms and Michael sees it all.

This is everything, he knows. This is what matters. The important messages aren't conveyed in words. The important messages aren't spoken at all. They're the ones you just know, more than anything else. The ones that hold everything else together even when it should all fall apart.

They're messages of friendship and trust. Brothers.

And that's something Michael will always understand.