?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos Fic: A Simple Thing 1/3

November 22nd, 2011 (09:01 am)
amused

feeling: amused

Title: A Simple Thing 1/3

Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: I wrote this for blackdog_lz for her awesomeness. However, it took me way too long to get this beta'ed and posted, so I'm not sure she remembers requesting it! But thanks to geminigrl11 for reading this over and to everyone around me for enduring my insanity over the last few months :) Forgive any silliness in the plot and my Spanish is really, really rusty.

Summary: Rick's down a hole, he’s hurt and alone, and the three people he trusts in this world to save him could be dead.

Part One
Part Two-A.
Part Two-B.
Epilogue.



-o-

“It’s simple,” Michael says, lounging at the table, glass of juice in his hand. “You and Billy will follow up with the asset; Casey and I will handle negotiations with the target. When we reconvene, we should have more than enough intel to pull off a sting.”

Rick nods. Michael does make it sound simple; but then, he always does. Rick’s not entirely sure how Michael manages to do that, how he manages to take a complicated plan to take down a cartel leader in Guatemala sound like a walk in the park.

And yet, Rick finds himself nodding along, believing him.

Next to him, Billy leans forward with a nod of his own for good measure. Billy's breakfast plate is eaten clean. “I love a nice simple mission every now and then,” he says, smiling with satisfaction. “Makes the rest of it all seem worthwhile.”

Casey snorts, dabbing his face with his napkin as he pushes his chair back and gets to his feet. “Simplicity is often only a facade,” he says. “A guise for those who are too weak minded to see the real intricacies of life.”

Michael smirks a little, getting to his feet next to Casey. “I use simple as a relative term,” he amends. “I still want you two to watch your back. Remember, we’ll have the car so if things get hot unexpectedly, you’ll have to improvise.”

“I flourish in improvisation,” Billy assures him.

Michael rolls his eyes. “We’ll meet up in a few hours.”

Rick nods, still processing the information.

Casey and Michael head toward the door.

Suddenly, Rick turns, looking at them and saying, “Should we call if something goes wrong?”

At the doorway, Casey and Michael turn in unison. Casey lifts an eyebrow at him and Michael just smiles. “Come on, Martinez,” he cajoles, “what could possibly go wrong?"

As he turns back to leave, Rick settles back into his chair, feeling vaguely mollified. Because it does sound simple. He thinks, this mission won't be so bad.

At least, that’s what he thinking when a loud explosion rips through the air, shaking the walls of the cafe and sending glass flying.

Rick ducks instinctively, hands covering his head, but when he looks up, Billy’s already moving toward the door, face intent.

Getting to his feet, Rick follows suit. Billy pauses abruptly at the doorway, and his face is suddenly ashen.

People in the cafe are screaming, crying. There’s someone yelling in Spanish about calling for help. But Billy seems fixated, unmoving, jaw tight and eyes unblinking.

“Billy, what--?” Rick starts to ask, edging his way in.

But then he sees. Sees the people running and coughing, blooding running down their faces. Sees the black smoke billowing into the air. Sees the smoking crater where they’d parked the car that morning, its hull blackened and burned out.

Sees all of it, sees Billy’s hand white-knuckled at the door frame. Because in everything Rick sees, there’s no sign of Michael or Casey.

Rick’s stomach drops. “Billy,” he says. “They can’t be--”

Billy looks like he might be sick.

Rick looks back out, hoping for a miracle.

Instead, the world rocks again and when the explosion erupts behind them, there’s no time to do anything except scream as the floor gives way and he descends into darkness.

-o-

When he wakes up, it takes Rick a minute to realize his eyes are open. As it is, he has to blink several times before his eyes adjust to anything and even then, he can barely make out the looming dark shapes around him in a haze of dust.

Then he remembers to breathe, a conscious inhale that ignites a wave of pain throughout his body. It throbs through his torso, extending out through his limbs, radiating hot and furious in his left leg and peaking in his head. It’s so intense that his world darkens again, threatening to give way back into oblivion.

He breathes again, though, and the world comes back into focus. The pain is still there -- thrumming vigorously against his consciousness -- but as Rick inhales again, he slowly regains control of the rest of his senses.

It takes effort, but as Rick focuses through the pain, he realizes he’s on his back. He’s not flat, though. There’s something sharp poking him, and the surface is uneven. Looking up, there’s still darkness, although somewhere there seems to be a flickering light and a crackling fuse.

These are altogether odd sensations, and Rick has to breathe a few more times before he realizes that the ceiling he should be staring at has shifted and there’s a gaping hole above him. Only the hole isn’t open to anything -- it’s laden with debris, boards and slabs of concrete.

Such revelations are slow in coming, and figuring out what they mean takes even longer. But as Rick adds it up -- the pain, his position on his back, and the unfortunate view of the destroyed ceiling -- memory jolts his consciousness and he sucks in a breath in surprise.

The explosion.

He can remember seeing the smoking crater where Michael and Casey’s car used to be. He remembers thinking there’s no way anyone survived.

Then, he remembers the second explosion.

Blinking, Rick tries to figure out the deeper implications. The second explosion was clearly targeted at the building with the cafe, but this isn’t the cafe anymore.

And that’s because the cafe must be upstairs.

The disheveled ceiling he’s looking at is the floor they ate breakfast on this morning. Which means...

Rick closes his eyes against the flare of pain.

Which means he’s fallen through the floor. The blast of the bomb must have so weakened the structure that it collapsed, sinking into the underground level.

Rick opens his eyes again, this time with trepidation. That explains why he hurts so much, and for a second he wonders if it’s worse than he thinks. But his entire body is tingling, and he takes a moment to gauge each one of his limbs before trying to lift his head.

It hurts, of course, but after the initial sight-dampening onslaught, the pain abates enough for him to consider his new vantage point. When he manages to keep his head up, he moves his arms experimentally, maneuvering them to push himself up even further.

When Rick gets into a seated position, nausea swells in his stomach and he has to close his eyes for a moment to control the urge to vomit. After a moment, he opens his eyes, swallowing thickly. From this position, he takes a few more breaths and reassesses his situation.

It’s still dark, although it’s easier for Rick to make out his surroundings now. It’s definitely a basement, and Rick can make out a few rows of shelving on the wall closest to him. However, most of the basement is littered with debris -- rubble ranging from small concrete pieces to chunks of wood. Just to his left, the debris gets larger, and Rick shudders as he sees the caved in concrete floor from above smashed not far from where he’s sitting.

With the obvious damage, there’s no clear path to escape. Rick knows there’s probably a staircase around here somewhere, but he also knows that the chances that it’s still standing and accessible are slim. Given the amount of destruction looming around him, he’s actually vaguely amazed he’s even still alive at all.

But, as he takes another breath and pain ratchets upward in his body, he is completely certain he is alive.

It’s a bittersweet reality because he can still see the car, still see the place where Michael and Casey should have been...

And just like that, Rick remembers the look on Billy’s face, the disbelief, the hurt, the denial--

Billy.

Rick turns his head, a little frantic. “Billy?” he asks, his voice echoing in the shadowed room. “Billy!”

His voice settles back in his ears with a lonely finality. For a moment, Rick wants to panic. Because he’s down a hole, he’s hurt and alone, and the three people he trusts in this world to save him could be dead.

Are probably dead.

Dead.

The sting of tears constricts his throat and he refuses to accept it. He hasn’t seen any bodies. He can’t be sure, he can’t be sure at all.

Struggling, Rick makes his way to his feet, teetering uneasily as his equilibrium shifts. “Billy!” he calls again, a bit desperately now, but he can’t accept defeat in this. Won’t.

Again, there’s only silence.

The haze settles around him, leaving him in eerie stillness.

He thinks about the prayers his mother taught him when he was young, but now that it matters, he can’t remember any of the words. Can’t remember much of anything. Just that he needs his team now -- needs them more than ever -- and they’re not here.

They may never be here.

Teeth clenched and stomach tight, he takes a lurching step away from the debris he landed on. He looks up, searching for a sign of life, for a sign of possible escape. A sign of anything.

“Billy!” he tries again.

Something shifts and Rick turns, frantic. There’s a fresh billow of dirt and dust a few steps away, and Rick can see a dribble of fresh debris still tumbling from the ceiling above.

That’s when he takes a moment to wonder just how precarious this structure is. It’s entirely possible, he realizes, that he’s survived the initial blast and subsequent fall, but could be crushed at any moment if the structure continues to degrade.

So really, his whole issue of impending survivor’s guilt may be a moot point.

He shudders visibly and closes his mind to the thought. It’s not survivor’s guilt because he doesn’t know they’re dead. They can’t be dead. They can’t be dead.

But Rick’s alone in a hole and he doesn’t see a way out and blood is trickling into his eye and they really could be dead.

The truth of it threatens to bring him to his knees. Opening his mouth, he breathes in as hard as he can to steel himself against the growing despair.

The tears sting with the blood and he’s about to give in and just cry when he sees something to his right.

It’s still hard to see in the dark, but the stark contrast of human skin against the bleak backdrop stands out.

It’s Billy, Rick realizes. It’s Billy.

-o-

Billy’s only a couple of yards away, but it feels like miles. Even when Rick limps across the distance and goes to his knees next to his teammate, he still feels like it’s an unbridgeable gap. Because Rick’s kneeling there amid the rubble, and Billy’s lying still with his eyes closed, half-buried in the debris.

He can still be dead, Rick thinks, staring down at him. He looks dead.

His skin is pale in the dimness, which starkly contrast with the blood stained down his face from a visible gash on his forehead. His face is also smudged with dirt, bruises and abrasions speckling his visage. There’s some blood coming from his nose, and his head is turned slightly to face Rick, clearly lolled to the side.

Billy is normally vibrant and exuberant; the stillness, therefore, is unsettling. But for as bad as Billy’s face looks, Rick knows that the worst of the damage is probably still below.

Like when Rick first awoke, Billy is in a mess of rubble. His body is laid out haphazardly, mostly on his back, but propped askew by pieces of wood and concrete. Even in the darkness, Rick can see patches of blood on Billy’s ripped clothes; more than that, he’s so covered with dust that it’s almost hard for Rick to remember that Billy’s attire was rumpled before they fell. At a glance, it’s impossible to tell if any of Billy's bones broken, but there’s already a slight rasping hitch to the Scot’s breathing that Rick doesn’t figure bodes well.

This is worrisome to Rick, but it’s not really the main problem in all of this. Because, yes, Billy probably has a concussion. Yes, Billy may have some broken ribs. Yes, Billy may even have internal bleeding Rick hasn’t even let himself consider yet.

And it’s also true that they’re trapped in a basement and that there may be no hope of rescue soon. More than that, there’s no guarantee that the structure is safe at all, that the entire thing won’t collapse and make their survival thus far a moot point.

The real problem is, though, isn’t any of that. The problem is that Billy’s lying, unconscious and bleeding, with a huge slab of concrete lying over Billy’s entire bottom half, pining the Scot from his waist to his feet.

-o-

For a second, all Rick can do is stare.

He sees the slab. He understands what it is. He even understands the implications.

He just doesn’t know what to do about it.

Because the slab is large -- clearly a piece of the sub-flooring from the main level -- and it’s angled slightly over the mismatched pile of debris. As it stretches into the air, the chunk is cracked, splitting slightly as it presses down on the miscellaneous objects below. That’s a sign of its inherent weakness, but it’s still wide and thick. Worse than that, one end seems to be anchored by a metal beam, which looks suspiciously like a support beam.

This is daunting.

The fact that it's on top of Billy is the critical problem. For a second, Rick thinks again that Billy must be dead. Because he’s pinned by a slab of concrete and he’s bleeding and he’s not moving--

But then, Rick remembers. Bleeding, in this case, is a good thin. A hint of life. A then there's another: a groan, cut off by a whimper.

Rick moves his eyes back to Billy’s face and stares, not sure what else to do. As he watches, Billy’s face scrunches up slightly, his shoulders tensing as he turns his head a little toward the ceiling.

“Billy?” Rick asks, scooting closer. Hesitantly, he lifts a hand, gently touching his fingers to Billy’s face. “Billy?”

Billy’s skin is clammy under his touch, and the older operative seems to flinch at the sound of Rick's voice.

Still shaky, Rick steels himself and calls again, “Hey, Billy, come on.”

It’s a request, which is really always the right tack with Billy. The Scot can be manipulative and defiant when he wants to be, but Rick’s been on the team long enough to know that he rarely turns down an honest plea.

Sure enough, Billy’s head turns back toward Rick, his eyes fluttering. It takes a moment as Billy blinks through blood, but after a long second, his eyes seem to settle on Rick.

Rick can’t help it; he grins.

Billy’s brow furrows for a moment and he swallows with obvious effort. He opens his mouth, taking a stuttering breath, before saying, “You look horrible.”

His voice is a little garbled, his accent unusually thick, but it’s still clear enough. Rick almost chokes on a laugh. “Like you’re one to talk.”

Billy quirks an eyebrow, almost shrugging one shoulder. “Then no need to state the obvious,” he says, and his voice is hoarse and weak but that doesn’t seem to slow him down. “I fear that you’re so preoccupied with me that you’re not really paying much attention to yourself. Besides, I told you how squeamish I am about blood.”

“Well, your nausea could also be due to your obvious concussion,” Rick points out.

“Eh, who needs Occam’s Razor at such a time as this,” Billy says.

Rick blinks at him for a second. “You do realize that we just fell through the floor, right?”

Billy’s expression hardly flickers, but he’s unusually serious despite his conversational prowess. He nods wearily. “Aye,” he says. “And it’s a less than pleasant memory.”

Rick takes it as a good sign that Billy can remember; better still, that he’s feeling well enough to talk so much. It’s comforting, both because it means Billy’s not quite dying -- not yet, anyway -- and because it gives Rick the anchor he needs to keep himself calm.

It’s enough for Rick to keep smiling. “So now that you’ve told me how I feel,” Rick says, “why don’t you tell me how you feel?"

Billy eyes him with a look akin to suspicion, but he doesn’t seem to follow through with it. Instead, he shrugs again. “Must have taken a wallop to the head,” he muses. “There’s still two of you to contend with.”

This isn’t exactly encouraging, but Rick still thinks it’s probably the least of their worries for the moment. Which is probably why Billy led with it.

Rick’s the new guy, but he’s not naive enough to let Billy’s attempt at distraction win. “And?” he presses.

“General aches and pains,” Billy reports, wincing slightly as he shifts. “Seems like a few broken ribs, if I had to guess, and some nasty bruising.”

Rick ghosts his hands over Billy’s torso while the Scot talks, feeling the spots as Billy reports them. He nods readily. “Yeah, we’ll have to see at the hospital if there’s anything more severe going on in there. It’s hard to see in this dark,” Rick says.

“A little internal bleeding isn’t so bad,” Billy says, taking an uneven breath and closing his eyes for a moment. “Certainly nothing I haven’t had the privilege of enduring before.”

Rick’s eyes flicker to the slab, at the lower portion of Billy’s body that he can’t see trapped beneath it.

When he looks back at Billy’s face, the Scot’s eyes are still closed and his face seems to be relaxing. With a spike of panic, Rick leans forward again, hand to Billy’s cheek. “Hey,” he calls. “No sleeping on the job.”

Billy blinks blearily up at him and even though his eyes are alert and focused, there’s still something off in them. “Quite the taskmaster,” he says, but his tone is bland, somehow -- devoid of life.

Rick forces a smile. “Someone has to make sure you do your work,” he says.

Billy manages a small smile back. “Mission’s over, lad,” he says.

Rick’s smile falls. He shakes his head.

Billy nods, more wearily now. “We have no way of hitting our mark now, and we both know it.”

Throat tight, Rick tries not to let his fear show. Not because he cares about the mission -- he can barely remember it at this point -- but because this fatalism is not like Billy. “We still have to get out, contact Langley,” he says. “Someone tried to kill us.”

Billy laughs bitterly at that, face tensing from the pain of it. “They may have succeeded just yet.”

Rick shakes his head again, adamantly now. “You’re fine,” he says. “You said so yourself.”

Billy’s laugh tapers off harshly and he looks at Rick, and Rick’s never seen the Scot look so haggard, so old. “I’m stuck under a slab of concrete in a basement that could collapse at any time,” he reports plainly. “You’re walking wounded with no means of extricating yourself from this situation. More than that, Michael and Casey are dead.”

There’s a finality in the words, a certainty that makes Rick’s body go cold.

Billy’s eyes don’t flicker, don’t look away. “So like I said, lad,” he reiterates. “The mission’s been over since the floor dropped out and even if we haven’t hit bottom just yet, we will soon enough.”

Rick can’t talk, can hardly even breathe.

Billy’s eyes drift back to the ceiling and he seems to deflate further. “We will soon enough.”

-o-

The room is still dark. There’s water dripping somewhere and Billy’s breathing hitches in the stillness.

This is the reality, Rick tells himself. This is the reality of his current predicament. The room is dark and the only two people here are Billy and himself and there’s no apparent way out. Billy’s trapped, Michael and Casey may be dead, and Rick’s stomach is in knots as he tries to make sense of what to do next.

Above, it's eerily silent. Somewhere, distantly, Rick thinks he can hear voices -- maybe emergency personnel -- but they're not close enough to make much difference and then they fade entirely. It's fairly clear to Rick that they're on their own for now.

Part of him wants to give up. It seems like a reasonable thing to do. Because this is looking more and more like a no-win situation, and if Billy’s eternal optimism has finally been shattered, then Rick’s pretty sure impending doom can’t be far behind. He could die here, in this basement. He could die trying to get out, trying to get Billy out. He could die just like Michael and Casey, just like Billy, and no one would know if he gave up or if he kept fighting until the end.

But if giving up is easier, then he knows it’s not the strategy to take. Because he remembers lots of impossible missions: being blackmailed by his own team, being interrogated by a Russian cop with a blown cover, laying in the back of a van bleeding to death.

His team saved him. Every time, they saved him. They pulled him out, against the odds, against better judgment -- against everything.

Billy sat by his side and told stories; Casey sang songs. Michael ran fifteen miles without stopping.

His team defies the impossible. Redefines the limits. If Michael and Casey are dead, if Billy is trapped, then it’s Rick’s turn.

It’s Rick’s turn.

Determined, Rick stiffens his posture. “We don’t know that,” he says, and his words are defiant, his voice strong.

Billy rolls his head back toward Rick with vague curiosity.

Rick shakes his head. “We don’t know they’re dead.”

Billy blinks, and there’s sadness there. Sadness and resignation. “You saw the car,” he says.

Rick nods readily, forcing himself to stay steady. “Right,” he agrees. “I saw the car. But I didn’t see them. I didn’t see any bodies. We don’t know they’re dead.”

For a long moment when Billy watches him with apparent uncertainty. Then something flickers and he swallows hard against visible emotion. There are tears glinting in his eyes and this time when he speaks, he sounds more broken than tired. “How can you be sure?”

It’s a simple question, but it hits Rick like a punch to the gut. His team has never shown them their weaknesses, they have never appeared less than strong. They’ve never doubted and never wavered and never turned to Rick for reassurance.

But that’s what Billy is doing now. That’s what’s at the heart of his question, and Rick is suddenly terrified to screw it up.

With a deep breath, Rick remains resolute. “Because I know this team,” he says. “I know you don’t give up. Not when there’s still hope.”

Billy’s smile is watery now. “I’m afraid I’m not seeing much in the way of hope at the moment,” he admits.

Rick nods tightly. “We’re still alive,” he says. “Someone tried to kill us and we’re still here, even when we probably shouldn’t be. So maybe Michael and Casey are, too. Maybe Michael and Casey are up there right now, looking for us. We’d be letting them down if we gave up.”

It’s an appeal entirely based on emotions, carried by a tenacity Rick can’t actually back up with any resembling fact.

But somehow, it’s enough.

Billy blinks, a lone tear slipping from his eye as he looks back at the ceiling with a breathless chuckle. For a moment, he just breathes before he seems to gather himself and look back at Rick. “Okay,” he says.

Rick is surprised. “Okay?”

Billy nods. “Okay,” he says. “So if we’re going to keep fighting, we’re going to need to find a way out of here.”

Rick shrugs a little. “Aren’t we skipping something?”

Billy lifts an eyebrow.

Rick nods toward Billy’s legs. “We can’t go anywhere until we get you out first.”

Billy follows Rick’s eyes, his expression grim. “Well,” he says, sighing. “If today’s the day to believe in the impossible, then I suppose we should have at it, eh?”

Even if Rick can’t let himself show it, suddenly, he’s really not so sure.

-o-

Now that Rick’s rallied Billy’s optimism, he feels too sheepish to acknowledge how precarious his own is. Because pep talks are all well and good, but now Rick’s staring at a slab of concrete and has to figure out some way to move it.

Preferably in a way that doesn’t hurt Billy further and that doesn’t bring the entire building down on top of them.

All in all, it’s far easier said than done.

“That’s not looking so good, is it?” Billy asks.

When Rick looks back at the Scot, Billy is watching him, not the concrete.

Rick purposefully bucks himself up, making a dismissive face. “No, it’s fine,” he says, carefully getting to his feet. His body is still sore and aching, but he doesn’t let himself acknowledge it. Moving carefully, he steps closer to the concrete. It’s just as large as he thinks it is, but he has no way of knowing how much give there is until he tries.

Glancing back at Billy, he tries to smile. “We’ll just see how heavy this is,” he says.

Billy smiles back, and Rick is inordinately grateful for the effort.

With a deep breath, Rick looks back at the concrete. Bending low, he gauges its angle. With the uneven debris underneath, there may actually be ample pockets, which might afford Rick a better place to grip. More than that, it might mean that Rick won’t have to lift very far to give Billy enough room to move.

Nodding his head, he says, “Okay, when I lift, I’m going to need you to move as best you can.” He turns his head back to Billy. “Can you do that?”

Billy’s face is pale and there’s still obvious pain, but Billy nods anyway.

“Okay,” Rick says, looking back at the concrete. “Okay,” he breathes again, this time to himself.

Kneeling low, he runs his hands experimentally under the concrete as best he can. Inching forward, he’s kneeling next to Billy’s torso, shifting his hands so they are right above where Billy’s abdomen disappears under the load. Bracing himself, Rick grits his teeth. “Okay,” he says. “On the count of three.”

Beneath him, Billy tenses.

“One,” Rick says, shifting his feet to secure himself more. “Two.”

Billy sucks in a breath and holds it tautly.

“Three,” Rick says, and he’s moving before he even finishes the word.

The weight is unexpectedly heavy, and Rick’s arms protest, but he pushes harder still. It’s hard to find leverage, but low to the ground, he hefts upward, grunting under the obvious strain. His body protests the movement, but he ignores the pull of muscles in his back, ignores everything as the cement shifts slightly.

Beneath him, Billy seems to scramble slightly. He slides backward, and Rick can hear the Scot’s hands grappling with the loose debris beneath them both. He moves one inch, then two while Rick’s entire body shakes in earnest.

As Billy scoots another inch, something in the rubble shifts and suddenly the weight is unbearable. It loads Rick down, ripping the concrete from his fingers and as it settles back with a crunching thud, Rick yelps in shock and pain.

Panting, it takes him a moment to realize what happened. The shifting of the concrete jarred another piece of debris loose -- a support rod, which is still standing but barely, is now partially collapsed onto the concrete slab, pinning it down with new weight.

Rick stares at that for a moment, trying to understand the full implications, when he looks back at Billy.

Billy’s face is pinched and even in the darkness, Rick can see the tears streaming down his face.

Eyes wide, Rick scrambles back to Billy’s shoulders and head. “Hey,” he says. “You okay?”

Billy takes a stuttering breath, clearly trying to pull back his emotions. Trembling, he nods. “Wasn’t fast enough,” he says, voice heavy even as his words are clipped.

Rick tries to understand.

Billy takes another breath, shuddering. “My legs,” he says, and there’s more than a hint of despair in his voice.

The pain in Billy’s face is an obvious distraction, but when Rick realizes what he’s saying. He looks down toward the concrete again, down at where Billy’s legs disappear.

It’s clear Billy moved some when Rick lifted the concrete -- the slab is lower and now Rick can see Billy’s hips. But this positive fact is offset by the obvious increase in pressure the slab is now exerting. It’s visibly pressing down into Billy’s upper thighs and from what Rick can tell, the weight has been flattened down on the rest of Billy’s still-trapped legs.

“I think that’s enough for now,” Billy says, and he’s obviously trying to buoy his voice, to keep things light despite, well, everything.

Rick looks back at Billy, who seems to collapse back onto the rubble.

“I think that’s enough,” Billy says, barely breathing the words now as he stares upward with a hopelessness he can’t hide.

And this time, Rick doesn’t have the energy or the fortitude to disagree.

-o-

Neither of them say it, but it’s pretty clear that Rick’s not going to be getting Billy out. Not alone, anyway. Any leverage he had is gone now that the beam has shifted, and given the pinched look of pain on Billy’s face, there’s not much chance he’d be able to maneuver his way out even if Rick managed to lift the slab.

No, this time, Billy is well and stuck, and Rick’s going to need backup if he’s going to get Billy out of here in one piece.

Normally, backup would be a given. Normally, Rick would know that Michael and Casey are coming.

Of course, normally, Rick hasn’t seen their car get blown to smithereens.

No matter what Rick has told Billy, it’s a chilling memory, and it just reinforced the fact that it’s up to Rick to get them out of here. Which sounds easy enough, but the more Rick considers their predicament, the less sure he is.

As it is, he’s been pacing off the confines of the room, looking for some kind of weakness, some kind of out. They’re fairly well confined, but he’s pretty sure he can see light coming through a spot in the ceiling, which gives him some kind of hope that it may lead to an opening on the ground level. Which, in theory, means someone could find them.

More than that, it could mean that Rick could get them out.

If Rick had rope or suddenly developed the ability to fly, that is.

“You’re thinking too hard,” Billy says.

Rick startles, glancing over at the Scot. Billy is obviously where Rick left him, and even across the room, it’s not hard to see that he looks worse than before. He’s paler, the blood more garish.

Swallowing hard, Rick forces a smile. “With you guys, I’m not sure I ever think hard enough,” he admits.

Billy returns the smile. “We just like to make you think that,” he says. “Keeps you on your toes.”

Rick snorts, looking back at the ceiling, wondering if there’s something to catch on up there, even if he finds some kind of rope to try lassoing up. “Are you ever going to stop treating me like the new guy?” he asks.

“Why do you think I was so excited about your arrival?” Billy asks.

Rick looks at him.

Billy shrugs. “I finally got to lose the dubious title and all that it entails.”

Rick actually laughs. “Somehow I doubt that.”

One eyebrow raised, Billy says, “Clearly you don’t know Michael and Casey very well yet, then,” he says. “Persistent bastards, they are.”

The words linger awkwardly, and Rick hears the amendment Billy doesn’t make. Persistent bastards, they were.

It’s a sobering thought, but then again, the entire situation is sobering. Rick can’t dwell on it -- he can’t. Because Billy’s right when he says the floor fell out of this mission and Rick doesn’t want to know what it’s like to hit bottom.

So he has to keep Billy’s spirits up. He has to keep his own spirits up. Even if he has to lie through his teeth, it’s what he has to do. Because if they’re still falling, then Rick has to fly, and he’ll keep believing that until he can’t anymore.

Nodding tightly, Rick looks back up at the ceiling. “I think if I can get up there, I might have a way out.”

It’s completely off the topic, but Billy doesn’t question him. Instead, he squints in the dark. “That sounds like a reasonable plan,” he agrees. “Except one small problem.”

Rick looks back at Billy.

Billy almost looks apologetic. “How are you going to get up there?”

Rick looks back up, noting the distance once again. He sighs. “I don’t know,” he admits. “But there’s got to be a way.”

“Ever the can-do spirit,” Billy says in support, and even if his voice is weaker than it should be, Rick still counts it as a win, still draws strength from it all the same. “If anyone can do it, I believe it is you.”

Billy says a lot of things he doesn’t mean, but Rick’s figured out that it doesn’t actually matter. Because Billy lies sometimes to make them all feel better, and right now, that’s something Rick needs. It means Billy’s trying. It means Billy’s still fighting.

And as long as Billy fights, Rick has to fight, too.

Looking up, he just wishes he knew how.

-o-

Rick’s so focused on the problem that he doesn’t see the solution until Billy points it out. Because while they’re hard up on rope, they’ve got ample access to wiring.

“No promises that some of it still isn’t active, though,” Billy reminds him as something of an afterthought while Rick scouts the options. “So you may want to touch with care.”

Rick stares at him. “We just fell through the floor. I think proceeding with care is a given,” he says plainly.

At that, Billy grins a little. Even though his face is dirty and bloody, he’s still genuinely amused. “Still able to retain your composure under duress,” he quips. “I knew I wasn’t wrong about you.”

Climbing higher on a piece of rubble, Rick eyes some of the cords hanging down with mild trepidation. Still, he glances back at Billy with perturbed look. “You’re going to tell me about your lack of confidence now?” he asks jokingly.

“I always had the utmost confidence,” Billy assures him. “I knew it from your file alone.”

Rick snorts, poking at a wire with one finger to see if it was live. It probably isn't the smartest thing he's ever done, but there are more pressing matters at the moment. “You didn’t do a very thorough job, if I remember,” he comments. “You called me Mick and thought I was from Mexico.”

Billy looks somewhat disappointed. “And after getting to know me better, you still think that’s true?”

Rick considers this as he gives an experimental yank. It’s hard to tell where the wires are caught and he knows there’s a risk of pulling the entire ceiling on top of them, but Rick’s not sure he has much choice.

But then he looks at Billy as slow realization comes over him. “You were testing me.”

Billy doesn’t even look guilt about it. “It’s easier to gauge a man’s mettle when they feel like they’ve got something to prove,” he says. “More so when they think they have the foothold of knowledge on you.”

Rick stares for a minute before laughing in disbelief, looking back at the wires. He tugs on another one, shaking his head. “You guys knew from the start then, huh?”

“That was never your fault, mate,” Billy says. “You sold your soul for a job, and I realize we made you feel quite guilty about that, but I can promise you, I’ve sold mine for less.”

The wire shifts, and some slack suddenly appears as a few small stones fall at him. Rick pauses, though, to look at Billy again. “Somehow I doubt that,” he says, because it’s hard to envision his team allowing for any kind of compromise.

Billy returns the look with a sad smile. “I was young, too, once,” he says. “And foolish. Probably wouldn’t have amounted to anything except a womanizing drunk if not for Michael and Casey. Those two blokes--” His voice cuts off and his expression turns grim. Swallowing, he seems to be in pain as he continues. “I owe them more than my life.”

The words are forced and underlined with pain.

Rick has to look back at the wires as he wills the emotions to stay at bay. Billy hasn’t reiterated the doubt, but it’s still eating away at him.

It’s still eating away at Rick, too.

Which is why Rick has to do this. He can’t guarantee that Casey and Michael are alive, but he has to ensure that Billy gets out of this in one piece. He has to.

With a steadying breath, Rick wets his lips. He pulls again on the slackening wire and this time finds success. It tumbles free, and Rick picks it up in triumph.

Clutching it like a lifeline, Rick turns around, holding it up proudly for Billy to see. “You can tell them that yourself, then,” he says. “When we get out of here.”

Billy’s eyes twinkle slightly, despite the obvious pain. “Might not have to,” he muses. “After this escapade, I may have a new hero.”

Rick just keeps grinning, not sure if he wants that to be true or not.

-o-

With the wire in hand, Rick hatches the rest of his plan pretty quickly.

Although, admittedly, it’s not much of a plan. The cord has the length he needs, but it’s not exactly easy to wield. Tying off a lasso on one end is much easier said than done, and even when he manages to pull it off, he’s doubtful that it’ll actually hold his weight.

That also assumes, of course, that he manages to fling the looped end up high enough to find purchase on something solid enough to anchor him at all.

Still, he doesn’t have much choice. Looking at the wire lasso, he takes a steadying breath.

On the ground next to him, Billy is watching him. The Scot has been mostly quiet, save a few colorful comments, so when he speaks, Rick’s slightly surprised. “Don’t second guess,” he says.

Rick startles and looks at him. It’s still a disconcerting sight. Billy’s head is turned toward him, but the rest of his body looks uncomfortably pressed under the rocks. Billy hasn’t complained about the pressure on his legs, and Rick’s not entirely sure if that’s good or bad. He certainly doesn’t wish pain on his teammate, but he’s beginning to worry if Billy has any feeling left in them at all. And if he doesn’t...

Well, that’s just more reason for Rick to hurry.

Especially since Billy’s strength is clearly waning. Though he’s still conscious, his eyelids have begun drooping, and Rick’s beginning to understand what Casey meant about Billy’s lack of sound being a sign of something bad.

Still, Billy somehow smiles, even though his skin is almost colorless under the blood.

For what it’s worth, Rick smiles back. “Sort of hard not to,” he admits.

Billy seems unsurprised by the admission. “In most cases, a little doubt is healthy,” he says.

“And in this case?” Rick asks.

“You have all the reason to doubt but nothing to gain,” Billy says. He shakes his head. “If you second guess, you’ll have nothing left to fight with.”

It’s true, and Rick knows it. All of Rick’s hopes hinge on this; all of Billy’s hopes hinge on this. It’s not just survival, it’s everything.

This is both Rick’s strength and his fear as he nods his head and gets to his feet. “It’ll work, then,” he declares.

Billy’s grin widens. “There’s my boy.”

Rick nods again, resolute. It’ll work.

Because if it doesn’t, then Rick doesn’t know what he’ll do.

-o-

Rick spends a minute scoping out the best options. It’s hard to see with the lack of light and the poor angle, but when Rick scales the pile of rubble on the far side of their space, the vantage point shows him an anchor point. It’s mostly debris up top -- and most of it looks too light to support his weight. But there’s a particularly large chunk of concrete with a ragged edge sticking up. It’s grounded by a fallen pillar, and it looks like it could work.

At any rate, it’s the best option Rick has.

Really, it’s the only option.

With a breath, he looks back at Billy. “Okay,” he says. “I’m going to throw this up and see if I can get it to land. Once I get it around something solid, I’m going to climb up and get some help.”

Billy’s watching him drowsily, but he nods his understanding. “I hope you’ve perfected your rodeo skills, then.”

Rick smirks. “And my rope climbing,” he says. “Always was the first person to the top in gym class.”

“Then this is a demonstration of physical prowess and intellectual ingenuity that I will watch most eagerly,” Billy says.

It’s a very Billy kind of thing to say, and Rick needs that boost so much that he doesn’t even let himself dwell on how weak Billy’s voice sounds. Instead, he turns his attention back to the task at hand, looking up and trying not to loose his courage.

Tense, he directs himself, turning his body toward the cement chunk he’s identified. He tests the wire again in his hand, getting a better feel of its weight and judging how hard he’ll have to fling it. Tossing the looped end in front of him, he gives himself some slack then works to get some momentum.

After a few seconds, he narrows his gaze and flicks his arms upward.

The wire sails through the air, but lands well short of the mark and hits the ground not far from Billy.

Rick smiles sheepishly.

Billy betrays no emotion. “A warm up toss,” he says reassuringly.

Rick takes a rallying breath, pulling the wire back under control. This time, he gains more momentum with the wire before flinging it upward once again.

This time it hits the ripped lip from the floor above them. A few piece of rock skitter with it as it fails to find purchase and falls back to the ground.

Rick glances toward Billy again, making sure the debris haven’t hit him, but then quickly pulls his wire lasso back and focuses. “I’ve almost got it,” he says, starting to twirl the loop in earnest once again.

This time, he lets it sail and it’s higher than his previous throws. It lands above the cement but with some careful maneuvering, Rick pulls it back. It slips from a fallen board and lands on the cement sticking up below and Rick grins, whooping into the darkness. “I got it!” he says.

Even pale and on the ground, Billy’s smile is vibrant. “I never doubted you.”

The intensity of the adrenaline throbbing through Rick’s veins is almost overwhelming. It takes effort to stay focused, but he keeps his eyes trained on the lasso and gives the wire a tentative pull. The lasso tightens, and Rick watches carefully as it catches. Heart pounding in his ears, Rick pulls again, testing to see if the knot he tied will hold.

The wire goes taut and Rick feels the resistance. More than that, he feels it holding. He tugs one more time and then lets himself look at Billy.

“I think I got it,” he says. “This should be quick from now. Once I get out, I’ll be back with help.”

Billy’s eyes are still trained on him, although Rick can’t help but notice how glazed they look. Still, Billy nods. “I shall await your return with baited breath,” he says.

Rick wants to say something more, wants to offer some further reassurance.

But there’s nothing more he can say. He’s offered all the hope he has and the only thing that’s left is to fulfill his promise and get Billy out of here. Rick doesn’t know what’s waiting for them when they finally get out of here, but he promises himself that he’ll see Billy through that much.

He will, or he’ll die here trying.

Finally, he settles for a nod, holding Billy’s gaze just a minute more before he moves closer to the place where the wire is dangling. When the wire is nearly vertical, he gives it one more tug. When nothing falls and the wire stays firm, Rick takes a deep breath and pulls himself off the ground.

His arms strain at the sudden weight, and he’s reminded of the myriad of aches and pains in his own body. He’s been ignoring them so far, but as he’s trying to pull his weight up, such a task is harder than ever. Still, he grits his teeth and puts one hand over the other, hoisting himself farther.

His feet are dangling freely now, but Rick doesn’t look back. Doesn’t second guess. It’s like Billy said. There’s nothing after this. No other alternatives.

This is his sole determination, and he counts that as a blessing right before there’s a loud crack and he’s free falling and everything goes dark.

-o-

It’s hazy.

Rick can hear his heart in his ears, echoing with a hollow thud-thud-thud that makes the pain in his head ratchet up a notch.

And it’s not just his head. It’s his chest and his back, his stomach and his legs. Everything hurts, and Rick considers letting the pain take him back into the darkness.

But there’s something else. Something he can’t quite make out.

A voice.

Someone is calling his name.

Billy, Rick remembers.

“Rick!” comes the call, clearer in his ears now. The voice is weak but the tone is still frantic. “Rick, laddy, I need you to talk to me!”

Billy doesn’t panic, but this sounds like panic, and that’s enough of a concern for Rick to open his eyes.

And then he remembers.

He’s flat on his back, staring upward. Even in the dim light, Rick can still see the hole in the ceiling, but now he can see the new beam laid across it from his failed attempt at escape.

“Come on, son,” Billy cajoles. “Look at me.”

Blankly, Rick obeys, rolling his head toward the sound of Billy’s voice. When he does, it’s easy to make eye contact with the Scot, who is also on his back, still half buried under the rubble. It takes effort for Rick to focus, though, and there is fresh pain throbbing through his neck and back, aching in his head.

He looks horrible, all things considered, but the relief on Billy’s face is noticeable. “Thank God,” he says. “I thought we warned you about the perils of sleeping on the job.”

Rick blinks, swallowing hard. He pushes himself up a little, tentative with pain. When he has more control over himself, he sits up completely, clenching his jaw as he tries to shake the cobwebs from his mind. “What happened?” He endures a wave of dizziness, swallowing back nausea.

“Wee bit of an incident with the supports up above,” Billy says, and no matter how casual it sounds, Rick notes the seriousness of it.

Squinting, he looks up again. “The beam shifted?”

Billy nods. “As best I can tell,” he says. “The entire thing seemed to sway for a bit. I dare say we’re lucky not to be pancaked entirely.”

This has always been a possibility, of course, and one that Rick’s always had in the back of his mind. The structural integrity of their space has always been in question, but Rick had been so focused on the possibility of escape that he hadn’t let the notion worry him too much.

At least, until he couldn’t help but worry about it.

Because it was Billy who said it -- that the floor dropped out and they maybe hadn’t hit bottom.

But Rick thinks maybe, this time, they have.

Because it’s likely that Michael and Casey are dead. It’s likely that any rescue attempts from civilian personnel will be long in coming. It’s likely that even when someone does find them, Billy will be dead already. It’s likely that Rick will be sitting here with a corpse and the memory of three friends emblazoned in his mind like a car bomb on a Guatemalan street.

The idea of it is almost too much. Throat tight, he blinks rapidly and inches closer to Billy. “Are you okay?” he asks.

Billy lips are still twisted into a faint smile. “Probably been better,” he says. “But definitely have been worse.”

Rick doesn’t know if that’s true or not, but he does know that Billy looks worse. Up close, the Scot is haggard. His skin is waxy now, bright eyes dulled from pain or shock, Rick’s not sure. His condition is clearly degrading -- and quickly -- which means there’s probably internal injuries Rick hasn’t fully accounted for.

Not that he can do anything about it. Not that he can do anything at all. He’s at the bottom of this hole with no ability to get himself out, and Billy’s trapped under a slab of concrete that Rick can’t move.

Rick can’t move. Rick can’t get out.

Rick can’t.

He can’t bring Michael and Casey back. He can’t buoy Billy’s spirits. He can’t save Billy’s life. He can’t even save his own.

He just can’t.

It’s a harsh realization, almost more than he can bear. For a second, he wants to rage. He wants to hit something and throw things. He wants to fight the universe just to let it know how pissed off he is, how unfair this is. Because his teammates don’t deserve this. He doesn’t deserve this. They’re better than this. This isn’t how it ends.

It isn’t.

Except it is.

Michael and Casey are dead. Billy’s dying. And Rick might as well not be far behind.

“Rick?” Billy asks, his voice tentative.

Rick sucks in a breath and tries to compose himself. But he meets Billy’s eyes and just can’t. Because he can see the brokenness in them. He can see the hope that Billy claims to not believe in but won’t let go of. He can see the reality of all of this, the reality Rick’s been fighting since the beginning.

And for the first time, Rick doesn’t fight it. Can’t fight it. The despair washes over him and even if the first sob is choked, the second that follows is too much to hold in. His body shakes with it, and he flinches when he feels Billy’s hand on his arm.

The next sob is harder still, and when Billy’s fingers tighten weakly around his forearm, Rick can’t hold it back any longer as he sobs into the dark, stillness all around.

-o-

Rick doesn’t know how much time has passed.

Really, it doesn’t matter.

When he finally pulls himself together, the situation is no different. They’re still trapped and without hope.

And yet, somehow Billy still smiles at him. “It’s going to be okay, you know,” he says. "Do head injuries always make you so emotional, lad?"

Rick can’t help it; he scoffs.

“Like you said, there’s still hope,” Billy continues.

Rick stares at him. “Michael and Casey are probably dead,” he says, and Billy flinches slightly at the words. “You’re trapped under a slab of concrete. I have no way of getting out.”

Billy steadies himself, even if his face looks pinched. “Aye,” he says. “These things may be true. But there is hope nonetheless.”

Rick shakes his head. “How?”

“This happened in a very public place,” Billy tells him. “Rescue efforts are undoubtedly underway.”

“But--”

“But nothing,” Billy says. “They’ll find you. They’ll get you out.”

“But you--”

“It’s not important,” Billy says, with a shake of his head.

Rick starts to protest.

Billy’s look stops him. “Just humor me,” he says. “Just for now.”

It almost hurts, but Rick says nothing.

“You’re the one in the team that can survive this,” Billy continues. “And not just this--” Billy nods to the room around them. “But the CIA. You’re good. You know how to work the system and still defy it. They’ll always trust you more than they trust us and you can use that for good. You can use that to fulfill our mission.”

This time, Rick can’t quite keep silent. “You’re wrong,” he says.

Billy looks sad. “No, son,” he says, and his voice is weaker now, his eyes heavier. Every breath seems to be an effort, one Billy almost can’t afford. “I’m afraid I’ve been right since the beginning. Your efforts have been noble -- truly -- but I have no qualms with this ending. Promise me you’ll get out of here alive, and I’ll have a perfect record of no qualms at all.”

Rick’s throat is too tight for words, and there’s nothing he can say. Nothing he can do except hold Billy’s gaze, hold it steady and firm, even as the Scot’s eyes drift shut and he slips into unconsciousness.

Still, Rick stares, his entire body trembling. He wants to break down again, but he doesn’t know how. Doesn’t know anything.

This is it, he thinks, with a cold, cruel certainty. This is the end of what he knows, the end of what he trusts. Two bombs took it all away, and Rick’s the only one left standing in the aftermath. The only one left standing at all.

Billy wants him to think about starting over, but really, Rick’s still figuring out how to handle this ending before he can do anything at all.

But it is over, he knows, and he closes his eyes against the dark. This time, it’s finally over.

NEXT