Title: Pick Your Poison
Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.
A/N: Honestly I don't remember why I wrote this. But penless beta'ed it for me, so here it is!
Summary: There's a new girl at the coffee shop.
On Monday, there's a new girl at the coffee shop by Billy's motel. She's young and pretty with dark hair and dark eyes. She looks a mite Russian if Billy has to guess and her cleavage is just buoyant enough to be distracting.
"What can I do for you, sir?"
Billy raises his eyebrows. "My powers of observation may be working overtime," he says, "but you are not the loyal Clive."
"I'm just filling in," she says, inclining her head.
Billy doesn't look at her chest. "I can see that."
She smiles. "It's a pretty amazing story," she tells him eagerly, leaning on the counter and looking up just so. "He won a cruise."
"Lucky man," he says, thinking Clive's not the only one. "I'll take a latte. Extra sugar."
"A sweet tooth, then," she says coyly.
He manages a blush. "We all have our vices."
She looks like she knows what he means. "To go?"
"That would be lovely."
And it is lovely until Billy gets to work and Michael puts the file on his desk.
"The Ukrainian arms dealers from last year," Michael says, and Billy remember. It had been one of their more colorful operations. They'd nabbed one of the leaders but lost the group. Until now.
"We've got a lead?" Billy asks.
"They're shipping out to Syria," Casey adds. "Because there's not enough death in that country."
"Looks like they may be expanding, too," Rick says. "Signs point to possible biological warfare."
Billy grimaces as he opens the file. "I should have ordered another coffee," he mutters and gets to work.
On Tuesday, Billy's stomach is queasy. At first he thinks it's last night's dinner of questionably old cold pizza, but then he thinks maybe it's the case. Arms dealers are always nasty, and this group is particularly vengeful. Billy can still remember the pictures in the file, the people who had got in their way, blown to shreds or shot to smithereens.
As arms dealers, Billy reckoned they liked to play a bit with the merchandise. Or maybe their shows of force were walking advertisements.
Either way, Billy's not feeling the greatest when he walks in to see the girl behind the counter. She smiles at him broadly and he musters up the best he can, but she still seems to know.
"Feeling under the weather?" she asks, genuinely concerned.
"Just a tick," he concedes. "Nothing my morning brew won't fix."
She tweaks her eyebrows. "I think I know just the thing," she says.
"A recommendation?" Billy asks.
She grins. "My special recipe," she says, secretive. When she hands it over, she leans close. "Don't tell now."
"Not a soul," he promises.
His stomach is no better at work, but his mood is much improved as he sorts out the details regarding people who facilitate mass murder.
Fun times, he thinks wryly, downing the last of the special mixture and wishing he had something more to get him through the day.
On Wednesday, Billy really wants to stay in bed. He might, really. He has sick days for this reason, and Billy's committed to his job, but he's been known to take a sick day when the caseload is light and his bed is particularly comfortable.
Today, he legitimately wants to stay in bed. Everything aches vaguely and his stomach is worse. When he sits up, he feels lightheaded but he grits his teeth and forces himself on. Because they have a mission to attend to, and their opening with these arms dealers is not something they can sacrifice for a touch of the flu.
But with his morning caffeine, he thinks he can make it through.
Her smile is wide, eyes dancing. "Pick your poison," she cajoles.
At work, Billy can't remember what he ordered. He just knows it's gone as he starts putting together his cover and working through the mission details.
Pick your poison, indeed.
On Thursday, they fly out. Their flight is early, and the coffee shop isn't open but he pines for it when he drives by.
On the plane, Billy tries to keep himself focused. He thinks over the mission, rehashing the details in his mind. There's little room for error in this. They have an asset affiliated with the buyers, and they have to establish contact and set up surveillance. They should be able to monitor the meet remotely and as the dealers leave, they can follow them back and intercept them at whatever base they return to.
This will yield more arrests and a location, not to mention a likely wealth of additional weaponry. It's tricky, trusting an asset, but they've all had to much interaction with this group.
This is the only way.
Billy grimaces, swallowing hard. The movement makes his throat hurt and his shoulders twinge. He tries to breathe deep but it drags on his lungs.
He can't wait until this mission is over.
Closing his eyes, he tries to settle back.
He really can't wait.
On Friday, they establish contact. The asset is ready and very helpful.
"It's almost too easy, isn't it?" Billy asks.
Michael shrugs. "We're due for some good luck."
"Besides, with what we're paying him, he ought to be helpful," Casey snipes.
"There's nothing to indicate any kind of problem," Rick points out.
Billy nods, and tells himself that the problem is his body, not the mission.
Coughing and holding back a shiver, he knows it's no small problem even if it's one he has to handle on his own.
On Saturday, the mission comes to a head. Things get started early and they don't stop. It goes well, until the dealers somehow start a firefight. A few people end up dead, and the ODS has to intervene, hauling the remaining dealer into custody.
"You're in a lot of trouble," Michael explains, trying to convince the kid to tell them where the headquarters are.
The man snorts. "I can handle trouble," he said. His eyes flicker to Billy, who's half propped up on the wall, trying not to show how exhausted he is. "Can you?"
Billy is sure he has a brilliant reply, but he's too busy coughing and almost passing out to bother.
He finds himself on his back with Rick sitting over him. "Billy?" he asks.
Billy tries to smile. "Just a bit of a flu bug," he says.
Rick's hand touches his forehead. "You do have a fever," he says.
"Tis nothing," Billy murmurs. "Just focus on the mission. The rest will take care of itself."
One way or another, Billy thinks.
On Sunday, Billy can't breathe. He wakes up wheezing, flailing for air. He'd gone to bed early with some Tylenol, hoping to be fit to travel, but right now he's not fit for anything.
Right now, he can't breathe.
Billy is prone to exaggeration, but this hardly seems it. His lungs constrict and his fingers tingle, He falls out of the bed and when Michael grabs his arms, Billy looks up but can hardly see him.
And Casey is there on one side and Rick is calling for help and Billy can't see but his oxygen starved mind can think.
One smarmy arms dealer, the rest conveniently dead.
No trail to follow, no lead to follow up on.
An all-too-willing asset.
"I can handle trouble. Can you?"
Images in a mission report of mangled corpses and lost limbs. A mission that got personal once.
Billy's throat seizes and he reaches out, grabbing the first thing he finds. It's Michael and he pulls the man close. "There's a new girl - at the coffee shop," he says in stunted gasps.
"I hardly think this is the time to think about flirting," Casey interjects from nearby.
Billy shakes his head, because they need to understand. "There's a new girl," he wheezes, his entire body tenses as oxygen becomes scarce. "At the coffee shop."
Michael is frowning and shaking his head. Casey's grip tightens and Rick is yelling. Billy can't breathe and he can't feel and now he can hardly think. Everything starts to go dim and his body goes loose, limbs useless and head lolling to the side.
"Pick your poison," he murmurs, before everything goes dark.
Billy thinks that the afterlife may be a coffee shop. He thinks people come and go, but most people who order don't even know what they're getting. The barista controls everything, even when the customers don't realize it.
Billy asks for one thing; he gets another.
It's not always what he wants. It's not even what he needs.
But mostly, it's something he can live with.
Pick your poison. Arms dealers from the Ukraine. A rogue mission for the CIA. Getting kicked out of his homeland.
Billy doesn't order any of these things, but he's swallowed it all down and made the best of it.
Until it kills him.
One way or another.
Billy wakes up.
There's a deep, hazy pain. His throat aches and his stomach feels like it's shrunk. His mouth is dry and his nose is sore, and when he turns his head, Casey is staring at him.
"You're an idiot," he says.
Billy frowns. "So this is hell, then," he murmurs.
"You're not so lucky," Casey tells him flatly. "You nearly got killed because you flirt too much."
Billy's mind is still too hazy to make sense of this.
"Not exactly," Rick amends. "But your barista was hired by the Ukranians to poison you."
Billy turns his head. He'd worked this out before, of course, but the plainness of it is still something to be reckoned with. "Probably a relative of theirs," he muses.
"Sister of the man we arrested last time," Michael confirms.
"So this entire thing was revenge," Billy realizes.
"Seems that way," Michael agrees.
"They paid the asset to set up a false meet," Rick says.
"The good news is that we got the barista trying to fly back out of the country," Michael says.
"She's not saying much, but we're optimistic," Casey says.
Scrunching his face, Billy's still got a few disparate details to parse. "Why go through the bother of poisoning me if the entire thing was a set up?" he asks. "And if it was a set up, why was it so easy?"
"After you went down, we put it together that it probably wasn't a coincidence," Michael says. He glances at Casey. "And you know how...persuasive we can be."
"He said the antidote was in a warehouse," Rick says. "One that was rigged to explode."
"One that we disarmed carefully before deconstructing the bomb and collecting even more intel on these miserable people," Casey says.
Billy laughs a little, putting it together with a certain measure of awe. "So how am I still alive?"
"We were lucky that they're still new with biological warfare," Michael says with a shrug. "It wasn't a very creative compound."
"Even this pathetic excuse for a hospital had some antidote on hand," Casey says.
"Still," Rick adds. "It was sort of close."
Billy can imagine. He can still remember the pull of his lungs, the fading of the world. He'd been dying.
"But you're fine," Michael assures him.
"Oh, I know," Billy tells him.
"Then what's wrong?" Casey asks.
Billy shrugs half heartedly. "It's just a pity," he says.
"That you almost had to die to salvage the mission?" Casey prompts.
Billy blinks earnestly. "No, the barista," he says. "She made the best latte I'd ever had."
On Monday, Billy's back in the United States. He's also back to work, much to his chagrin, since apparently nearly dying in the name of duty still doesn't warrant extra time off.
Still, he trudges into the coffee house and grins when he sees Clive behind the counter.
"Hey!" Clive greets him. "Long time no see!"
"Indeed," Billy says. "Did you have a nice trip?"
"Yeah," Clive says. "Crazy coincidence, winning a cruise like that. I don't even remember entering. But hey! I'm not complaining."
Billy smirks a bit. "No, I imagine not."
"So the usual?" Clive asks.
Billy just grins. "The usual, it is."