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Chaos fic: A Simple Thing 2b/3

November 22nd, 2011 (09:12 am)
irate

feeling: irate

Post split to make LJ happy.

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



-o-

Hope is a fragile thing.

Michael has always known this, but he’s never known it like he does right now. Because Rick’s sitting at the bottom of the basement looking up and Michael’s standing on a floor that could give way at any moment. He supposes it’s some kind of luck that the firemen are on the other side of the wreckage or he’d probably have to worry about getting arrest, but for now, the reality is he’s more concerned with not collapsing the floor and smashing his teammates to really fret too much about much else.

“Are you okay?” Michael calls, when he finally remembers how to speak.

Even at a distance, Michael can see Rick flinch, as if he’s surprised to hear Michael’s voice.

“Rick?” Michael tries again.

This time, Rick blinks, shaking himself slightly. “You’re -- alive,” he says, and even if it’s hard to hear him with the distance between, the meaning is still crystal clear.

Michael almost wants to cry, the relief is that strong as the adrenaline continues to surge through his system. Instead, he smiles, shaking his head. “It’s not the first assassination attempt I’ve survived,” he reports, and it’s funny, but it’s also true. “How’s Billy?”

Rick’s face pales further, and it’s clear that the question hits a very raw nerve. “He’s--” Rick starts, but his voice cuts off, caught in his throat. He looks down, just for a moment, and that’s when Michael sees his last teammate. “--not good.”

With Rick, the pale skin on his face and the whites of his frightened eyes had been a giveaway.

But Billy’s face is obscured by blood and his eyes are closed, which is partly why Michael hasn’t seen him until now.

The other part of that, however, is that only half of Billy is visible. The rest of him is lost under a slab of concrete.

Rick looks back at him, and the hope in his eyes is stronger now. So much so that Michael can’t let himself show -- not even a little -- just how badly his own is rattled.

-o-

It doesn’t take long to get organized. His team is skilled at improvisation, at making something happen out of nothing. So it’s no surprise that Michael doesn’t have to call for Casey; the other operative merely shows up, and after a quick glance down at their fallen teammates, he’s already working wordlessly with Michael to come up with their rescue strategy.

When Michael speaks, he keeps his voice low. Martinez looks on edge, and Michael doesn’t want to risk setting the younger operative off, especially since things are more dire than any of them will admit to. “We need a way down,” he says, looking at Casey.

Casey is testing the ground, clearly already thinking the same thing. “I don’t suppose you packed rope this morning,” he says grimly.

Michael’s smile is rueful. “It was in the trunk of the car.”

Casey laughs bitterly. “I’d jump down--”

“And we’d have no way of getting any of you back up,” Michael says. He glances down. Rick is still watching them, still standing almost in disbelief; Billy hasn’t moved. “And there’s not exactly a lot of space. You’d probably land on Billy.”

Casey steps over another incline in the rubble, better gauging his position. “I’m not sure we have enough layers to make a rope,” he mutters.

“There’s no time,” Michael says. He’s still trying to keep his voice down, but it’s not enough.

From below, Martinez calls out. “I can throw you a wire!”

Michael and Casey both stop, and Michael looks down the hole again with a frown. “It could still be active.”

“It’s not,” Rick says, and then he holds it up for them to see. “We already tried it, but I couldn’t secure it up top. With one of you providing counterweight, though--”

Casey looks at Michael.

Michael looks at Rick. “Then it might just work,” he concludes.

-o-

Getting the wire seems to be harder than it should be, although Michael knows that the three attempts are mostly because Rick is hurting and he’s tired, so it’s hard to hold it against the kid. But Michael’s not so much as inclined to blame Martinez as he is the universe at large, for putting up one obstacle after another on this official mission from hell.

Or to hell; Michael supposes the jury’s still out on that one.

Still, once the wire is in his hands, Michael is all business. First, he gauges its strength. It’s not designed for lifting -- that much is obvious -- but it should do the trick. It’d have to do the trick -- there isn’t much alternative. Yet, though it provides a means up and down, Michael can see already why it failed to support Rick on the trip up. It doesn’t bend well; more than that, there’s nothing solid that’s close enough to tie off.

“One of us will have to stay up top,” Michael says, looking to Casey. “It’s the only way to ensure we don’t all get trapped.”

“We’re going to need some serious leverage to get that concrete of Billy,” Casey reminds him.

Michael glances back down grimly for a second. “I can lift; Rick can pull,” he says.

Casey lifts an eyebrow. “And I sit here and look pretty?”

“We need a strong arm on the counterweight,” Michael says, and it’s the truth as much as it is a bald-faced lie.

The look on Casey’s face shows that he knows as much. “I have extensive rappelling skills,” he says. “And my core strength--”

“Is why you’re up top,” Michael interrupts to conclude, more sharply this time. He holds Casey’s eyes in the haze and wills him to understand.

Because Casey is the natural choice to go down. He’s got the experience and the fortitude and that’s just the kind of thing Casey would do on a normal mission.

But this isn’t a normal mission. This is Billy and Rick stuck down a hole with an entire building still threatening to come down on all of them. Michael can’t sit and watch as his entire team is in peril; he has to act. This is his job, and so he needs to do this.

It’s not easy for Casey to accept, though, and for a moment, Michael worries that Casey will challenge him on this. Michael isn’t sure he likes his odds in a fistfight, and he knows he can’t afford for either of them to be more hurt than they already are, so Casey has to understand.

More than that, Casey has to accept it. For the team; for Michael.

A tense moment passes. Michael doesn’t waver, Casey doesn’t blink.

Finally, Casey’s posture slackens and he pulls on the wire hard, jarring it from Michael’s hands. “Fine,” he says, jaw tight. “But you’re going to need to push up from your feet if you’re going to have any hope in hell of getting that thing off him.”

It’s gruff and demeaning, but it’s still total acquiescence, so Michael knows to count it as a blessing. Gratefully, he smiles. “Thanks for the advice,” he says.

Casey just glowers as he wraps the wire around a slab and twists the end around his hand. “You better get going,” he says as the building shimmies uncertainly. “Before it’s too late.”

Moving into position, Michael knows that that much is definitely true.

-o-

The descent takes too long. It’s funny to Michael, as he shimmies down the wire that Casey is holding securely, that he has to inch his way down, one hand under the next, when he knows that Rick and Billy made this fall far faster.

When he finally hits the ground, it’s hard to say who is more relieved, Rick or himself.

It’s darker down here, and the whites of Rick’s eyes are still like a beacon to Michael, even if now they’re face to face. The kid looks worse up close. He’s bleeding from a gash in his head, and from the rabbit-eyed expression, Michael is pretty sure they’re looking at a concussion in the very least.

It’s also clear now that they’re on the same level that Rick is listing heavily to one side. There’s a patch of darkness that glistens in the haze, and Rick’s hands are bloody.

“Thank God,” Rick breathes, and for a second, Michael thinks he’ll fall over. He doesn’t, but it seems to be a near thing as the kid smiles a bit drunkenly. “I was beginning to think the worst.”

Rick doesn’t elaborate, but Michael’s pretty sure he doesn’t have to. He could be referring to dying in the basement alone, but if Michael knows anything about his team, it’s that they worry more about each other than themselves. Hours alone in the aftermath of an explosion would, therefore, be more about worry that the only reason the others haven’t checked in is because they can’t.

Michael knows this because it’s how he spent his morning. It’s also why he understands the nearly overwhelming relief in Martinez’s bruised features. Not just at rescue -- although Michael’s pretty sure that’s a damn relieving thing -- but at knowing that they’re still a team -- the four of them, a family.

“I know the feeling,” Michael quips back as honestly as he can. “So are you ready to get out of here?”

Rick actually laughs at that. “More than you know,” he says.

Somehow, Michael doubts that.

-o-

Getting down is one thing; getting out is another.

Because while Martinez looks beaten to hell, Michael is pretty sure that he could climb. Even if he couldn’t, Michael trusts Casey’s strength to pull the kid out. Michael knows that he has enough adrenaline left in his system to pull himself out, but really, none of that is the problem.

The problem is Billy.

When Michael goes to his knees next to the Scot, Rick joins him, fidgeting uneasily. “He’s been out for nearly a half hour,” he reports. “I can’t tell exactly what’s wrong--”

Michael’s already doing his own assessment. Fingering the gash on Billy’s head reveals it to be deep but there’s no sign of bone, which is a point in Billy’s favor. Running his hands down Billy’s torso, a few ribs move far more than they should, which explains the strained pull of Billy’s breathing. But since there’s no severe rasping just yet, Michael thinks they’ve probably avoid any puncture of the lungs, which is a relief, to say the least.

It takes some work to finagle Billy’s shirt up, and the dark bruising that is spread across the planes of his stomach are worrisome. But the flesh is still mostly tender, though hardening slightly in the upper right quadrant. This is indicative of some kind of internal bleed, but it’s small and isolated for the time being, which means they have a little time before it becomes a far more serious problem.

None of this is good news necessarily, but it’s also not quite dire -- at least not yet. But Michael’s still not contending with the real problem at hand -- the massive slab of concrete over Billy’s legs.

Up close, it looks even more daunting. It’s thicker than Michael might have thought, and when he looks at it, it’s pressed down firmly on Billy’s upper thighs. The pinched off appearance is troublesome -- it looks like it could be completely impeding the circulation to anything below that point. Michael does the mental math. If Billy’s been stuck with this concrete on his legs the entire time, then they may already be too late to save his legs.

Of course, if they don’t get Billy out, they may not be able to save Billy’s life, so really, it’s a moot point.

“I tried to move it,” Rick explains. “We got him out a couple of inches, but then the entire thing shifted again. Even if I could move it again, Billy didn’t have the strength to pull himself out.”

This makes sense, unfortunate as it is. Extrication of this kind is really more of a team effort, and the fact that Rick and Billy tried at all is a testament to their tenacity. Still, it’s going to be interesting to try it with the two of them, and Michael’s suddenly wondering if he made the wrong decision to come down instead of Casey.

“S’not his fault,” a thick voice says suddenly.

Surprised, Michael looks up. Billy is looking at him, eyes half-lidded. Although his gaze is focused, it’s duller than it should be.

“Rick here’s been quite the hero in the making,” Billy continues, words slurring noticeably but Michael still has to smile at how clear the sentiment is.

Next to him, Rick’s nerves have picked up again. He leans forward, a jerky hand on Billy’s shoulder. “We’ll get you out now,” he promises.

It’s a brazen promise, one Michael wouldn’t hesitate to give, even if he’s not sure how the hell he’s going to fulfill it.

Which really shouldn’t be a surprise. Half of Michael’s job as leader of the ODS is to pull proverbial rabbits out of proverbial hats. Billy calls it paranoia; Fay cited it as grounds for divorce; Michael likes to think it’s careful forethought.

Really, though, it’s part luck, part ingenuity, and now isn’t the time for him to question his methods. Now is the time to trust in his track record and hope like hell he can pull one more out for his team.

Billy smiles, somewhat dreamily. “No need to leap buildings in a single bound when you can just move them, yeah?” he asks, accent thick and hard to discern.

Michael leans in this time, meeting Billy’s gaze again. “Are you calling me a superhero?”

Billy’s smile quirks his lips further. “Suppose that makes me your Lois Lane,” he says. “Young Rick can be Jimmy.”

“And Casey?” Michael asks.

“I fancy him a Batman,” Billy says. “Can’t fly, but doesn’t need to.”

“That’s the wrong comic book,” Rick admonishes gently.

Billy manages to shrug one shoulder. “I’ll rethink it then,” he says.

Michael pats Billy’s arm. “Things will be clearer once we get this off you,” he says.

Rick nods readily, and it’s clear to Michael that Rick believes in Michael’s blatantly strained promises more than Billy does.

Still, Billy keeps his smile, taking a few deep breaths. “Then, let’s get on with it, shall we?” he asks.

Michael squeezes his arm one more time. “I thought you’d never ask.”

-o-

Like most things with this mission, the next part is easier said than done.

Michael eyes the concrete, looking for the best spot to leverage it upward. He knows he needs to keep it centralized in order to make a sufficient gap to pull Billy out, and it seems like the only option is to pick the area where Billy’s legs make a small opening.

Of course, this means he has to maneuver himself over top of Billy, which makes him somewhat nervous, but he also knows that the risks of hurting Billy can’t outweigh the obvious need to extricate him from the site.

Once in position, Michael looks back at Rick. “You’ll need to pull him out -- quickly,” he says. Then he looks apologetically at Billy. “This may hurt.”

Billy blinks lazily. “You say that like it’s something new,” he says.

Rick looks a bit pale at that.

Billy glances at him with a smile. “Reminds me I’ve still got some fight left, though,” he says reassuringly. “So no holding back, laddie.”

Rick nods convulsively before looking back at Michael. “Okay,” he says.

Michael nods back then looks back at the slab. “Okay,” he says to himself, and bends over and starts to lift.

-o-

It’s a literal weight in Michael’s hands, one so heavy that it actually terrifies him. But it’s the same weight he’s been carrying all along. He holds his team in his hands. Their lives, their well being: his concern, his primary purpose.

Most of the time, he takes it for granted. It seems like second nature. But other times, when lives are actually on the line, Michael has to strain so hard that he wonders if he can still do it, if he can hold out long enough to save them, to save everything.

His fingers ache, his body protests. The strain is almost unbearable, but Michael refuses to give in. He can’t. He won’t.

His attention dims to that single point, that single refusal, and he holds and holds and holds until he hears Rick say, “I’ve got him!”

Then Michael lets go, lets it all drop, and when he collapses back against the rubble of this mission, he just hopes it’s enough.

-o-

Reality comes back sharply into focus, and Michael grounds himself in the here and now. Because this isn’t just some abstract idea of what his job is like; this is a concrete mission, and Casey’s standing at the top of the hole with a wire, waiting to pull them all out.

Michael’s done a lot, but he’s not done yet.

Catching his breath, Michael regains his footing and turns back toward Rick and Billy. They’re farther away now, about five feet, and Rick’s half cradling Billy as he tries to gain some semblance of composure.

Hurried, Michael comes over, gently helping move Billy from off of Rick and laying him as best he can on the floor. “See?” he says. “No problem at all.”

Billy halfway smiles, his eyelids fluttering. “My superhero, indeed,” he says, voice no more than a breath before the last of the color drains from his face and his body goes entirely limp.

Rick fidgets. “Adrenaline crash?” he asks.

Michael knows it's possible, but something isn’t right. Something doesn’t feel right. And enough has gone wrong on this mission to take such a doubt seriously.

He looks down toward Billy’s legs. They’re in one piece, which is something, but Michael knows that might not mean much of the circulation has been too severely impaired. The sudden renewed burst of blood might have robbed Billy of his consciousness, and Michael sort of wants to make sure.

He moves down, intent on taking the pulse in Billy’s foot, when he sees the blood.

It’s already staining the full length of Billy’s pant leg, stemming from a jagged rip in the material that extends from his ankle to his knee. Upon closer inspection, it’s clear that the tear is more than superficial, and Michael can see muscle and bone through the copious bleeding.

It’s something he hasn’t considered; that saving Billy’s life might threaten it. Because the gash is deadly, no doubt, and the only thing keeping Billy from bleeding out was the heavy pressure provided by the slab of concrete.

Without it, Billy’s bleeding like a stuck pig, and Michael’s entire rescue plan suddenly hinges on time once again.

Rick moves closer and nearly stops breathing, a soft epithet whispered into the air.

“What is it?” Casey calls from above. “Shouldn’t we be moving?”

They should be moving, that much is true, but not for the first time today, Michael has to wonder if going forward is really where he wants to go.

But mostly, he knows he has no choice.

-o-

Ultimately, Michael acts quickly. That’s just what he does; that’s why he’s the de facto leader of the ODS. This is why his career at the agency has flourished. Because he responds to pressure. He uses it and makes the tough choices.

Even when he’s scared.

Especially when he’s scared.

It’s a tossup for him to decide if he should bandage Billy’s leg here or not. He settles for a fast job, ordering Rick to tie a tourniquet with Michael’s shirt as best he can while Michael readies Billy for transport.

This much, however, is not exactly easy. The Scot is deeply unconscious now, and his limbs flop as Michael tries to hoist him up to snake the wire around his torso. His fingers are shaking as he ties the knot -- almost trembling too hard to test it -- but when he’s satisfied it will hold, he looks up to Casey with a nod. “Okay, I think we’re good,” he calls.

Good is something of an exaggeration, but it gets the point across. Casey’s not down there to gauge the full extent of Billy’s injuries, but there’s no question that he understands the severity given the pinched expression on his face.

Still, he disappears from view, and Billy’s body lurches off the floor.

At first, it’s just Billy’s head and shoulders, the wire tied off under his armpits. Then there’s another strong jerk and Billy’s airborne, long limbs dangling loosely behind him as his head falls back with his face upturned toward the salvation of the ground above.

All Michael can do is watch, Rick close to his side. They watch each agonizing inch, and Michael is tense, ready to move in case the wire gives way.

It doesn’t, although it swings precariously as Casey hefts. Billy shows no signs of waking, and as he reaches the top, blood is already dripping despite Rick's makeshift tourniquet.

Then Billy disappears, body scraping over the debris, sending loose rocks and dirt down on them. Michael barely flinches, just lifts one hand to cover his eyes so he can watch as Billy’s body clears the edge of the hold and waits for some news from Casey.

It only takes a second, but it’s still a long second. Then the wire comes back down, and Casey’s face appears, pale and serious above them. “Make it quick,” he says. “At the rate Billy’s bleeding, we don’t have much time.”

Michael knows better than to doubt him -- even a little. Instead, he slaps Rick on the shoulder. “You ready?” he asks.

It’s such a casual question, but it carries more weight now. When Rick looks at him, there’s hesitation.

Hesitation Michael understands. He’s had his share of doubts and setbacks on this mission, but ultimately, this is what he’s good at. This is all he has.

Forcing a smile, Michael nods. “You just need to climb out,” he says. “Then we’re home free.”

There will be a lot more than that, but that’s the point worth remembering. Because Michael’s counted his team as lost more than once today, and so he’s not about to start betting the odds right now.

“It’s simple,” Michael promises. “You’ll see.”

And Michael isn’t sure why, but Rick believes him. This is perhaps the hardest thing to make sense of sometimes -- not that he has to plan for the impossible or circumvent the unlikely on every mission, but that his team always follows him. Almost without complaint. Almost without question.

He hasn’t let them down yet.

He hopes today isn’t the start of that.

As it is, Rick nods and, without a word, turns to the wire. He braces himself, face taut as he grabs on and starts to pull himself up, one hand over the other. It seems slow, but Rick is steady and Casey pulls slightly with each passing second. Together, they work until Rick is safely at the top and the wire comes back down again.

This time, Casey disappears from view. Rick holds the wire and watches Michael expectantly.

It’s his turn, of course. His turn.

Michael has to look around, one last time. He looks at this hole, looks at this mess. They’ve come close today -- too close -- and Michael knows it’s not over yet. More than that, he knows it may never be over. Not until it’s over the hard way.

But that’s not today, and Michael trusts that.

In the end, it really is simple. His team is alive, and that’s what matters.

That’s what matters.

So Michael takes the wire and hoists himself up, out of the hole and toward the safety above. He doesn’t know what’s coming next -- he may never know -- but he has to trust himself and his team enough to face it all the same.

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