No Lack of Subterfuge

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by templemarker

Notes: You have no idea how much I want to write Michael Westen, John Sheppard, and Brad Colbert playing poker and counting cards. With thanks to marcolette and oxoniensis.


“I fucking hate spies,” Brad said drily as Michael Westen walked into the bar.

Michael’s mouth quirked in that familiar inscrutable grin. “And yet, as I recall, you owe–what was the percentage again? twenty?–twenty percent of your survival rating in non-combat missions to, oh yes, that would be me.”

“It’s unlike you to gloat,” Brad said, pushing the sparkling water disguised as a mojito towards Michael. The clear class cut with bright green stood out against the dark finish of the wooden bar, and Brad’s pale skin did as well.

“You never appreciated modesty,” Michael said, taking a sip. “Or subtlety.”

“I only like subtlety in my technology,” Brad acknowledged, angling his body towards the door.

“Thanks for coming out here,” Michael said after a beat, flicking a careful finger against Brad’s hand.

Brad felt his smile turn down a little. “Like you said. Twenty percent.”

It was clear, when Brad had taken the call only twelve hours before, that Michael had called him as a last resort. They’d worked together on several missions with a higher clearance level than Brad was ever even allowed to think about, much less talk about with Nate; so he had mentioned something about going to see Poke’s new kid and shoot the shit for a couple of days. Brad hated fucking lying, but he owed Michael. And Michael didn’t like asking for favors even if they were owed; he never asked unless it was his last resort.

And now Michael was in Miami. Strangely, this was the only place Brad had seen him–of the many classified places they had never actually been–where Michael looked like he belonged. It was almost worth the suffocating humidity and oppressive heat just to see that.

“What’s the project?” Brad asked, rolling his beer between his hands.

Michael hesitated for half a second, barely visible, but Brad had spent sixteen days locked in a half-burned, wrecked barn with him, waiting for a target with intel vital to their mission, and all they’d had at that point was a deck of cards. He’d had some time to learn Michael’s tells, minor and few as they were.

“How much do you know about my burn?” Michael asked bluntly, eyes staring straight forward through the lenses of his expensive sunglasses. He’d left similar ones in a locker of the compound they trained at, before they left for Honduras. When he’d put them back on with his bandaged hand, something stronger had set in his shoulders; Brad saw it again now.

“Not enough to get me killed,” Brad said honestly. “Enough to know it wasn’t real.”

Michael nodded once, determined, and said, “There’s a building I need you to penetrate.”

“Shock and awe?” Brad asked, pulling the label off his bottle.

“No,” Michael said. “You look similar enough to the man that my–that Fiona sent on an impromptu trip to Guatemala yesterday. I need you to be him for an hour, and collect something important.”

Brad raised an eyebrow. That name hadn’t been on Michael Westen’s lips in some time. “How important?”

“Ankle holster and you-never-met-me important,” Michael said, sliding a card across the bar. Brad took it and flipped it over. There was a six-character alphanumeric security code, usually associated with biometrics, pass phrase recognition, and fingerprinting. Delightful.

“Are you sure you want me on this?” Brad said, leaning over, looking past Michael to Michael’s colleague, an older guy in an ugly printed shirt, who had sat down a few tables away. Brad thought he knew that guy from some file in some briefing, but he couldn’t place him. It was clear he was Michael’s, though, from the regular half-second glances at the pair of them even as he was charming the waitress out of her tip.

“I don’t have much of a choice,” Michael said, frustration plain in his voice. Plain to Brad, anyway.

“You know I have responsibilities now,” Brad said carefully.

Michael snorted. “You had responsibilities before. You just pretended they weren’t important because it made it easier for you to do things without asking his opinion.”

Brad glared, pocketing the card. He knew he’d do the job as soon as Michael had said his name over the phone. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, you fake-Irish motherfucker.”

Michael smiled again, this time with more humour and less self-aggrandizement. “Never let it be said I don’t choose like-minded associates,” he said, putting on the bullshit Irish accent he’d shown to Brad once before, over a little too much honesty and a lot too much whiskey.

“Uncle Sam chose the pair of us,” Brad reminded him, dropping his own sunglasses from the top of his head, looking down at Michael with a serious tone. “I have to be silent on this one, Michael. I still need to pull retirement down. Gotta keep the little CO in the style to which he is accustomed.”

This time, Michael actually grinned. “As I recall, the little CO is the CEO of a major Washington think-tank,” he mocked in that not-mocking way he had. “He could at least buy you a decently stylish watch.”

Brad glared. “My watch tells atomic time,” he said defensively. “And it gives me Laker scores.”

Michael pushed away from the bar. “Leave it in your rental,” he advised. “There will be clothes and ID waiting for you at the rendezvous, which Fi should have sent to your disposable phone by now. We have some tools to get around the system; memorize that code and light it up before you leave here.”

Michael took a step away, and his fingers twitched slightly against the pale tan of his suit cuff; he was a clearly little nervous bringing Brad into this. Brad stood straight, held out his hand. “We’ll get it done, Michael,” he said, and meant it. “Twenty percent.”

“You stopped owing me that after Senegal,” Michael said seriously, shaking Brad’s hand. “We’re even now.”

Brad watched him leave, turning the card over and over in his fingers, thinking about how he should call Nate but wouldn’t until this job was over and he was on a plane back to DC and his real, familiar life. He grabbed a matchbook from the glass jar near him, and set fire to the card, watching it burn in the remnants of Michael’s drink.

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