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Chaos fic: An Indirect Proof (AU, 2/9)

October 8th, 2012 (07:03 am)
cold

feeling: cold

A/N: Previous parts and notes can be found in the MASTER POST. Also, this has heavy references to the Pilot. With some dialogue lifted directly. You'll see why if you read it :)



SECTION ONE

PRESENT DAY – Langley, Virginia

Rick had spent his entire life training to be in the CIA.

True, official training had only begun when he’d been accepted to the Farm. While most of his classmates were recruited from their disparate backgrounds – military, linguistics, and the like – he’d been taken because he’d spent his life dedicating himself to the best of it all.

He could speak eight languages with appropriate fluency. There were another five or so he was passable with. And he had a working knowledge of as many more as he’d heard of. He’d also studied world history in depth, and could accurately recite the major armed conflicts starting from the Roman Empire onward. He had a keen understanding of world politics, and had volunteered for as many civic causes as he’d been able to.

Rick hadn’t just focused on his raw intellect, but he had also perfected the necessary practical skills. He was trained for endurance, a strong cross training regimen that he hadn’t wasted on school sports but dedicated, individualized training designed to maximize his stamina and speed. He had tried a wide range of fighting techniques and had been appropriately capable in all of them.

He was also adept with firearms and knew enough about science to help him understand nuclear physics, chemical warfare, and electronic systems. He hadn’t had many opportunities to see this knowledge put into action, but he was highly confident in his ability to adapt in the field when it was necessary.

And it would be necessary. Because Rick had spent his entire life training to be in the CIA.

He was strong; he was smart; he was ready to serve his country. In any capacity they needed.

Rick had some aspirations for grandeur, but he hadn’t expected a glorious posting right away. What he hadn’t expected, however, was to be a mole.

No one liked moles. No one trusted moles, just like no one trusted internal affairs departments or internal reviews. There was something unsettling about not trusting one of your own, and Rick had always figured that in the world of espionage, being able to trust the men and women who served with you was essential.

Perhaps that had been his idealism. Spies were spies. They spied on people around the world. Maybe they could spy on each other, too.

And if the head of clandestine operations wanted him to spy on his so-called teammates, maybe there was a reason. Rick had promised to serve his country in any way possible, no matter the call.

Even if it was to be a mole.

Rick had spent his entire life training to be in the CIA.

And there he was. The newest member of the Office of Disruptive Services.

Taking a breath, he stood outside the door, rally his strength, calmed his nerves, and prepared to go in.

-o-

“Get the door, would you.”

Rick startled, looking up. A small, diminutive man was coming down the hall, pushing an office chair right at him.

He was also talking to Rick.

“Oh,” Rick said, a little surprised. Too startled to think otherwise, he turned the knob, pushing the door open as the man squeezed past him, pushing the chair inside.

“Put the flask away, Carson,” the man ordered tersely. “New guy.”

Blankly, Rick followed, not sure what else to do. The man pushed the chair around to one of the four desks. A man seated in the desk closest to the door turned, giving Rick an unimpressed once over. “Man, they keep getting younger, don’t they?” he said. “How old are you anyway, kid?”

“Um, old enough,” Rick said.

The man didn’t seem to be paying any attention to him. Instead, he’d turned, peaking over toward the desk where the chair had been deposited. “You snagged one!” he said. “From where?”

“Plotkin,” the first man said, making his way around to the far desk.

Rick lifted his eyebrows, eyeing the chair uncertainly. “The chair is stolen?”

“Plotkin won’t miss it,” the man said, looking studiously at his computer. “Moron ate a bullet last week.”

Rick blinked, taking in the implications. “I’m sorry.”

The man closest to him sniggered a bit. The first man looked up blandly. “No, literally,” he said. “He ate a bullet. On a dare. It lodged in his intestinal tract and you’re the proud new owner of his Herman Miller. Let’s just hope you show a little more common sense or we’ll find a way to put you on disability before you even get those stars out of your eyes.”

Rick considered that, not sure what to make of it. A stolen chair, a man out on disability, a dare to eat a bullet – literally.

None of that made much sense.

These were spies. CIA agents. America’s best.

Only these two barely looked field worthy. Hell, one of them hardly looked sober and the other hardly looked human.

It didn’t make sense.

But what did make sense was that he had a desk. Moving closer to it, he gave it a once over. It was mostly stripped bare, but the scuffed top showed plentiful use. The floor around it was also scraped, the locks on the metal drawers all picked with signs of obvious tampering.

A desk. Not a great desk – in fact, Rick thought it almost looked lonely with its obvious disuse – but it was still a desk, and that was a start. If this was the start of his career with the CIA, then at least it could only get better from here.

The man in the desk near the door was sitting up straighter, eyeing Rick’s chair with certain curiosity. “You nabbed the supplies, too?”

The man at the computer smirked. “You might find some of those colored paperclips you like so much,” he said.

The man strained, looking with interest. But then his expression fell. “Eh, we should let the kid keep them,” he said. “He’ll probably need all the help he can get.”

Rick was ready to protest again, but he didn’t have time. The door opened a second time, and Rick wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or worried. He had to think there was something more to this team, someone to show some semblance of being a respectable spy.

Rick’s hopes, however, were quickly dashed. The man who walked in was dressed in another nondescript suit, carrying a computer monitor. He put it on Rick’s desk, giving him a banal once-over. “This the new guy?” he asked, sounding skeptical.

“Seems so,” the man near the door said. “Though I wish the Agency would stop recruiting out of junior high.”

“I’m fully trained,” Rick said, a bit defensive now.

The new man grunted just a bit, moving toward the other vacant desk and sitting down. “The computer is all yours,” he said. “It’s the one freebie you’ll get from me. Comes with Windows 97 installed.”

It took him a moment to realize what he’d said. Frowning, he worked not to reveal too much emotion even though it didn’t seem like much of a freebie at all. “You’re joking, right?”

The man leaned back, sighing just a bit. “What do FEMA and the Post Office have in common?”

It was an obvious question – so obvious that Rick looked for the ulterior meaning – when he came up with nothing, he shrugged. “They’re government run agencies.”

“As is the CIA,” the man said, leaning forward again, presumably to get back to work. “When was the last time you walked into the post office and shouted, my God, I’ve stepped into the future.”

It was dripping with sarcasm. It wasn’t untrue, but it was also a bit unkind, and the fact was, Rick respected the government. And he respected government run agencies. And he respected the post office. His uncle had been a mail carrier. Rain or shine, every day for fifty years, and it wasn’t cutting edge technology that matter, it was heart and integrity and—

Rick worked his jaw, looking at the three men again. The first one was leaned over at his computer, scowling as he clicked his mouse. His plain face showed no particular spark of interest or intelligence. The newest one, who’d brought him the computer, was setting about organizing something on his desk. The third one, the tallest and closest to the door, was watching him keenly.

Hardly what Rick had expected for the elite of the elite. The best America had to offer. People all around the country trusted these men to protect them from foreign threats.

These men, who looked tired, worn, cynical and dull.

It was possible that this was intentional; that it was some kind of spectacular cover that they had spent years perfecting, so honed that they maintained it even while in the office.

Or it was possible that they were just not good agents and that Director Higgins had had justification in appointing him to be a mole among these men.

The tallest one seemed to sigh. He hesitated for a moment before he shrugged reluctantly. “So what’s your name, kid?”

Feeling conspicuous, Rick picked lightly through the contents of the box on his chair. The odd assortment of office supplies didn’t seem overly useful, and the personal photos were actually a bit unnerving. “Ah, Rick,” he said. “Rick Martinez.”

The man across from him nodded. “Well, Rick,” he said. “I’m Carson Simms. The charming guy with the scowl on his face is Casey Malick.” He jerked his head toward the other man. “And that’s our fearless leader, Michael Dorset.”

Malick didn’t even look up. Dorset narrowed his gaze on him.

Simms rolled his eyes, leaning back in his chair. “You might as well get it over with,” he said.

Rick frowned, but Simms wasn’t talking to him.

Dorset worked his jaw, studying him. “You care to explain why you’re here?”

Rick gave him a blank look that was more genuine than not. “Director Higgins hired me.”

“Director Higgins has been cutting jobs every chance he gets,” Dorset continued. “We’re almost understaffed here, and yet, here you are. Seems a bit coincidental, don’t you think?”

So much for fitting in and getting a feel for the landscape. Two minutes in and Rick’s cover was already in jeopardy, and every second he stood there, staring stupidly, the less they seemed to trust him. Rick shrugged. “I can only assume that the Director’s plan is for me to absorb your working knowledge of the Agency.”

A deep frown creased Dorset’s face.

There was a reason Rick had been chosen for the CIA. There was a reason he was right for this job. Because he could do it. Starting here. Starting now. He shrugged. “And then replace you at half the pay.”

Dorset’s face darkened. Malick still didn’t look up. Across from him, Simms gave a breathy laugh. “Kid, be careful what you ask for,” he said. “Or you might just get it.”

Rick was about to ask for clarification when a phone went off. Then another. Then another. All three members of the ODS got up, almost in unison, grabbing coats wordlessly while moving toward the door.

Despite his best efforts, Rick couldn’t help but feel lost. “Something I should know?”

Malick brushed past him coolly. Dorset didn’t slow to look at him. Simms gave him a tired look. “Come on,” he said. “You’ll figure it out soon enough.”

As Rick followed his new teammates into the hall, he could only hope that were true.

-o-

In the field, they were fast and efficient. The ODS went about their job without much fanfare or discussion. Dorset drove; Simms navigated. Malick sat in the back next to him and looked menacing.

Rick held on and prayed that he didn’t get killed in the States on the first mission that might not be a mission that no one would tell him anything about.

He also prayed that they didn’t kill anyone – a legitimate concern as Dorset plowed through traffic, nearly running over a few pedestrians before pulling them to a halting stop with a curse.

“What?” Rick asked, straining to see what the change was.

Simms winced and Dorset shook his head. “We have to make contact.”

“With who?” Rick asked.

“Homeland security,” Malick told him, pulling an envelope out of his pocket. “See the fat white guy? If we don’t give him this, we’re screwed.”

Rick shook his head. “But—“

“But there’s a terrorist in the country and you want to ask questions!” Malick yelled.

Dorset squinted. “Come on, he’s moving.”

Simms looked back and shrugged. “Got to do it, kid,” he said. “Baptism by fire.”

Rick looked at his teammates. Looked at the paper. Remembered how proud he was to walk in the front doors this morning.

Resolved, he grabbed the papers, opened the door and ran.

-o-

One minute, Rick was a conquering hero, putting his life on line for the sake of the mission.

The next, he was a traitor.

“You’re understandably confused,” Dorset said, inclining his head just so.

Rick, still heaving for air, gaped a bit.

“You’ve been set up,” Dorset clarified. “Duped.”

Rick stared, mind racing and coming up with no kind of answer that made any of this make sense. “Why?”

Next to him, Malick showed a camera. “To get you to get into a car with a known Russian operative,” he said. “Pretty damning stuff.”

It was more than damning. It was basically a death sentence. His career, what he’d worked so hard for, mangled by a few lousy pictures on his first day in.

“But,” Rick said, still struggling for words. “Why?”

“You think we don’t know Higgins hired you to spy on us, Mr. Mole?” Malick asked gruffly.

Rick’s stomach twisted. He shook his head. “But—“

“But nothing,” Dorset said. “We don’t care about the reasons or the justifications. All that matters is that you came in thinking you’d be in control. You’re not.”

Simms was noticeably quiet, and Rick began to feel desperate. But there was nothing he could say. He was a mole. There was nothing he could do. They had him on film sharing documents with a Russian spy.

“Look, this is day one for you, right?” Dorset continued. “Here’s your first lesson. Trust isn’t earned in the Agency. It’s owned. And now we own you.”

Dorset said it coolly, putting the car back into gear. Next to him, Malick smirked with satisfaction, putting the camera away. In the passenger’s seat, Simms just sighed but didn’t look back at him.

Rick had spent his entire life training to be in the CIA.

And it had taken him only one day to possibly throw that lifetime away.

-o-

That night, Rick went home alone. His team had left him alone for the rest of the day, which Rick couldn’t decide if that was a blessing or a curse.

At home, he laid on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He thought about Dorset and Malick and Simms. He thought about Dorset’s calculating eyes, Malick’s snide cynicism. He thought about Simms’ gruff detachment. He wondered how these three men had made it as far as they had. They had a certain amount of talent, but where was the idealism? Where was the greater good? What was their purpose? Their overarching mission? These were rogue agents at best, and that sounded well and good but they were old school spooks without any of the old school standards for decency and valor and everything.

He wondered if maybe he’d done the right thing taking this job after all.

He couldn’t earn their trust, but maybe he didn’t need it.

Rick closed his eyes. Maybe he didn’t need it at all.

(Even if he wanted it.)

-o-

Rick showed up early and held his head high, for what that was worth.

Apparently, it wasn’t worth much.

The ODS was sitting at their table, each watching him with impassive faces. Rick stared back, glaring.

“No coffee?” Malick asked finally with an indifferent shrug. “You should have at least brought coffee. It would have gone a long way to winning us back.”

But Rick didn’t want to win them back at all. Instead, he glowered at them and sat down in his desk. Even if he had no right and no apparent power, he at least had his own desk. He took some solace in that.

“You of all people shouldn’t be a caffeine addict, Malick,” Simms said.

Malick leveled him with a look. “Like you’re one to talk.”

Simms rolled his eyes. “I’m just saying go easy on the kid. We all know what it’s like to be the new guy.”

“And we all know how we earned our way,” Dorset said. Then he looked at Rick. “Speaking of which, we have something for you to do.”

Rick gave him a look. “What? Selling more secrets? Maybe the Iranians this time, just to up the ante.”

Simms choked on a bitter laugh. “At least we haven’t taken his sense of humor yet.”

“Creative, but no,” Dorset said. Then his mouth twisted into a smile. “Nothing quite that bad.”

-o-

But as Rick sat in a briefing he hadn’t been invited to, putting his reputation and his career on the line with Higgins, it was bad enough.

His face was red, he stammered for a moment, but he did the job as best he could. Clear, concise, certain.

And wrong.

His second day. His second mission.

Failed.

-o-

After a lifetime of training, of succeeding, of getting ahead, walking out from his second day was something of a humiliation. His teammates were blackmailing him. The director was using him as a mole. He’d made a bold assertion and been wrong.

All his hard work, for this.

It was so sad it was actually almost funny.

So when Fay Carson asked him on a date, he figured what the hell. He might as well milk his short time as a spy for one perk in all this: a steak dinner and a beautiful woman.

At least then, it wouldn’t be a total wash.

-o-

He hadn’t meant to, but talking about the ODS had only made sense. “I don’t get them,” he said. “I mean, I can’t decide who I hate more – them or Higgins.”

She laughed wryly. “Why choose?” she said. “Hate equally.”

He snorted, picking up his drink. “I just keep thinking that there has to be some greater purpose.”

She raised her eyebrows. “For the ODS?” she said. She shook her head. “They’re good, but they can’t be trusted. They do things their way, and it’s probably only a matter of time until their way crosses the wrong lines.”

“Is that why Higgins is gunning for them?” Rick asked.

“Higgins is middle management,” she sad with a slight shrug. “The ODS gets the job done most of the time, but the minute they screw up, they’re more trouble than they’re worth to him. He’s hedging his bets. Because he knows that if the ODS goes down, they might be able to take him down, too.”

“So why not just disband them?” Rick asked. His face screwed up as he thought about them, Dorset and Malick and Simms. “How did those three men even get this far in the Agency?”

Something in her face wavered. “They’re not all they seem,” she said, a little more reserved now. “What you see is something they’ve spent years perfecting because the best covers are the ones you keep over your own heart. You’ve heard of office politics, anyway. Ours come with poison pills and guns.”

Rick considered that. Considered her. Considered everything.

Then he stopped thinking.

Because this was a beautiful woman talking about coupling up. And given the past two days, how much worse could it get?

-o-

Worse.

Dorset pulled him out, dragged him to the street. “If you trust Fay, you’re stupider than you look,” he said.

Rick followed dumbly, still trying to parse how Dorset had found him at all. “But – why?”

“She works for Higgins,” Dorset hissed. “You can’t trust her.”

“Oh,” Rick said sarcastically. “Like I can trust you?”

“Fine,” Dorset said, manhandling him into a car. “You can’t trust me, but you have to listen to me. And if you want to know how we’re going to save Aldridge, then I suggest you stop thinking with your downstairs brain and thank me for giving you one last chance to redeem yourself.”

One last chance. From the mouth of Michael Dorset, Rick suspected that didn’t mean much.

But still. It was better than nothing.

-o-

Sitting at his desk, after everyone had left, Rick tried to get some actual work done. Though his desk had ample space, he found himself lacking in concentration.

Namely because of his team. Even if they weren’t here, they were.

And the fact was, they always would be. Their empty chairs were mocking him, and Rick slumped lower onto his desk with a glare.

Rick hated the ODS. He hated everything about them. He hated their laid-back demeanors and their snide commentary. He hated the way Malick sat at the computer and the way Simms never seemed to do anything. He hated Dorset’s controlling behavior. He hated the positions they put him in and the things they made him do. He even hated the way their office smelled.

He hated their plotting and their indifference and the way they treated him like he was twelve. He hated that they didn’t trust him but used him anyway. He hated the way they didn’t socialize, how they worked in silence, how they seemed to hardly be a team despite working together day in and day out.

They were arrogant, closed off and oddly lazy. They were terse, unfriendly, and sketchy. They had no heart, no soul – none of the patriotic fervor or enthusiasm Rick had assumed was necessary for a job this important, this dangerous. They weren’t good people and Rick could only speculate that they might not be good spies, either.

He hated them.

But a mission.

An honest to God, real life mission.

This was what he had joined the CIA for.

Heroism. Doing the right things. Ignoring all costs.

Sitting at his desk, the clarity was there. This was the one place that he could think, where he felt like he might have a chance. The one thing that was his.

He couldn’t trust the ODS, but he couldn’t afford to disregard them entirely. This mission mattered. Not just to him, but to other people. To the world.

It could be his redemption.

Or his swan song.

Either way, Rick was going to find out.

-o-

For all that Rick had been through in the last week, as he flew over the Atlantic, he thought it might be worth it.

Malick was sleeping across the aisle. Simms was nursing a drink. Dorset was reading something.

Rick sighed and closed his eyes, and hoped it was worth it.

-o-

The ride across the desert was long and hot. No one seemed to want to speak, but Rick found that he couldn’t control his nerves.

“Aren’t you guys worried what Higgins will say?” he asked.

Dorset didn’t even look at him. Malick gave a small grunt.

Rick waited, his question lingering.

Finally Simms sighed. “Don’t worry about it, kid,” he said.

It was actually almost encouraging. Except Rick wasn’t feeling particularly better. “Why not?”

Simms smiled grimly. “Because Higgins is a pain in the ass, but he’s not stupid. He won’t fire us for getting the job done.”

That actually made some sense, especially given what Fay had said. Except: “And what if we don’t get it done?”

Simms shrugged.

Malick grunted at him. “It’s not like your career has been so stellar until this point,” he said. “Going out in a horrific crash and burn would be pretty fitting.”

“And at least you’ll know we’ll all be fired with you,” Dorset added.

Rick looked from one to the next. Finally, Simms just shrugged. “Lesson for the day, kid: the spy game will make us all heroes and traitors in equal turns,” he said. “Let’s just hope today’s not your day to fall on the bad side of that equation.”

It was a bit pessimistic, but it wasn’t without merit. One man’s hero was another man’s villain. Spies were often terrorists in foreign lands, but also the unsung heroes of their homes.

But riding along in horseback, with no backup, Rick had to wonder. Dorset was sullen and Malick was wearing pink sunscreen and Simms just looked exhausted. They didn’t seem like anyone’s heroes.

-o-

Dorset sent Malick to make first contact.

“He’s got the personality of a toadstool,” Simms griped. “You’re going to get us shot at. Again.”

Dorset shrugged, watching Malick ride down, note in hand. “He’s a human weapon,” he said.

Rick wrinkled his nose, watching as Malick gave the men the note. And then proceeded to be pulled off his horse and slammed into the side of the car. “Human weapon?”

“He’s picking his moment,” Dorset said.

“Because it’s not like we can make things easy,” Simms said.

It wasn’t the first time on this mission that Rick had felt skeptical. He had a feeling it wouldn’t be the last.

-o-

They got hauled into camp, held at gunpoint and forced to their knees.

Rick’s heart was pounding, throat constricted. He leaned close to Dorset. “Was this part of the plan?” he said.

Dorset shrugged. “If I say yes?”

“Then it’s a bad plan!” Rick hissed back.

“I suppose it’d be ironic for me to ask you to trust me,” Dorset replied.

“You think!”

-o-

If this was a plan, it wasn’t one that Rick particularly liked. These men weren’t happy and his teammates were being difficult and were woefully unprepared. They were going to get their limbs chopped off and possibly have their brains splattered before they even had a chance to check on the hostage they were trying to rescue.

And Dorset was going to let it happen. Simms and Malick looked wary, but didn’t move.

For all their talk, for all their effort going behind the director’s back, they were acting like rote amateurs. And Rick would know because he was a rote amateur.

Truth be told, he didn’t really care if they got taken hostage by an armed faction in Africa. But he would really rather that not be the end to his first auspicious week in the CIA.

So he took a breath, and did what he had to do.

-o-

He had to admit, his plan wasn’t much better than Dorset’s. After outing himself as a CIA agent, he proceeded to demonstrate his grit by eating a scorpion.

Dorset looked disgusted; Malick was horrified. Simms laughed, clapping his hands. “What to go, kid,” he said as he crunched the thing with his teeth and felt it scrape down his throat. “Way to go.”

-o-

Adrenaline was a funny thing. It could make him divulge his cover; it could make him eat a scorpion. It could even give him the insight to look at his teammates as possibly less than annoying pains in the ass.

Because there was something there. He saw them back at the camp; he saw them look over the hostages, do the head count, and care. They came for one man, but not one of them wanted to leave without every last person in that camp.

That
was why Rick had become a spy. To do the job that no one else would do, to do it because it was the right thing to do. And for the first time since he joined the ODS a week ago, he actually believed his teammates might believe the same.

They hid it well, of course. With indifference and cynicism and snark, but he was starting to wonder if it was there.

Around the campfire, Rick was feeling magnanimous. Granted, he was hyped up on adrenaline, but he wasn’t going to fight it. Not after his day.

Across from him, Simms eyed him, a little curious, mostly wary. “You ate a scorpion,” he said. “That was pretty stupid.”

Rick shrugged. “Not as stupid as you think.”

“So you often engage in eating poisonous creatures?” Malick asked. “I may have to reconsider your worth as an operative.”

Rick rolled his eyes. “No, I’m just saying that they’re not that poisonous,” he said. “I recognized the species. They’re actually a delicacy in some parts of the world.”

Malick looked vaguely disappointed.

Next to Rick, Dorset sighed. “You’re starting to make me rethink my policy on trust,” he said, almost begrudgingly.

Rick lifted his eyebrows. “Really?” he asked, feeling his spirits buoy.

“Eh, just a little,” Dorset said. “You could have let me lose my arm back there, but you didn’t. So I think you deserve a little something for that.”

Rick paused, waiting for more.

Dorset glared at Malick. “That was your cue.”

Malick glowered. “Do I have to?”

Dorset pursed his lips.

Malick sighed, digging in his pocket. “Fine,” he said, tossing something small toward Rick. “But I want it on the record that I don’t think he deserves these yet.”

Instinctively, Rick caught it and looked. “The pictures.”

“Consider it a thank you,” Dorset said. “But just know we don’t need pictures to own you.”

Simms laughed callously. “And can’t you just feel the love,” he muttered. He pulled out a flask. He looked at it for a moment, a little longingly. Then he glanced toward Rick. “Here,” he said, tossing it across the fire. “Something to get the taste of scorpion out of your mouth.”

Rick caught it, and he couldn’t help it if he beamed. He’d gotten the pictures. They didn’t trust him completely but they did trust him, and they’d had a civil conversation in which Rick didn’t want to throttle them.

And now Simms was sharing drinks.

This was good.

This was really good.

Standing, he nodded toward them. “You guys try to hide it, but you’re not as bad as you let on,” he said. “You have the best intentions. You’re bad for the sake of being good.”

Simms looked vaguely amused. Malick rolled his eyes.

Rick nodded, persisting. “For the last week, I hated you guys. I thought Higgins was right to want to have you fired,” he said, unscrewing the flask. “But now. Now I’m beginning to think you guys are the ones who are right.”

With that, he took a drink, long and hard. It was bitter and harsh and burned down his throat. “Wow,” he said, trying not to choke. “That’s some good—“

As consciousness left him, Rick felt himself falling and he realized maybe he’d spoken too soon.

-o-

When Rick came to, he had sand in his face and men with guns above him.

His words of praise were still on his tongue, thick in his throat, and the feeling of betrayal was stronger than ever as the darkness claimed him once again.

-o-

Then: a voice. Disembodied, echoing, loud.

“Kid. Are you awake yet?”

Rick startled.

“Seriously, we’re kind of on a tight schedule here, so if you could, you know, stop being unconscious. We didn’t drug you that much.”

Just like that, Rick was alert, on his feet and grabbing at his ear. He could feel it now – the pressure on his eardrum, tickling at his consciousness – but he could get his finger in far enough to get it out.

“I hope you’re not trying to get the damn thing out, are you? Because you’d have better luck escaping out of a heavily armed compound without getting blown to shreds.”

Rick’s jaw tightened and he recognized Simms’ voice. “What did you guys do to me?”

“Slipped something into your drink,” Simms replied.

“Yeah, I figured that,” Rick snapped. “But why?”

“Because Higgins is a bureaucratic son of a bitch who plays by the book,” Simms said. “He won’t budge for a half-French bastard, but for an agent in peril? He’ll send in the troops. Literally.”

Rick’s first instinct was to yell and sulk. But there was some validity to the idea. In fact, there was a lot of validity to it. They had more hostages than they could feasibly spring without backup and the only backup they’d get on an unsanctioned mission was one that involved extreme peril and a man trapped behind enemy lines.

All in all, it was a plan Rick might have endorsed – had he been consulted prior to being offered up as the sacrificial lamb.

“And you guys couldn’t have told me that?” Rick asked, feeling genuinely hurt. And stupid. Mostly stupid. Stupid for thinking these men could be trusted, that they could be good. That he could be one of them.

“Eh,” Simms said. “Less fuss this way.”

Frustrated, Rick was distracted by the sounds of aircraft approaching. He went to the door, looking up as a plane swooped low, drenching the encampment.

“It’s also very important you try and not get wet,” Dorset interjected over the line.

Rick looked at his wet arms, feeling the drops in his hair. “Why?” he asked. “What happens if you get wet?”

“You know that baptism by fire we talked about?” Simms asked. “Get ready, kiddo. Because here it comes.”

There was a flash of light and a zap and Rick’s body tensed, the electrical current stiffening his legs and his arms and his head and for the second time that night, everything went dark.

-o-

This time, when he came to, his limbs were stiff and his head ached. Before he could get his bearings, he was being hoisted to his feet. He wavered, worried he might fall, but a strong hand steadied him.

Rick blinked, focusing on Simms, right in front of him.

“Bit of a jolt there, huh?” he asked, a small smile quirking his lips.

Rick furrowed his brow. It almost sounded like Simms cared, and he was treating Rick with actual concern. Almost in contrast to the fact that he had been the one to drug Rick, ditch him, and then electrocute him.

Simms laughed, easing his grip just enough to let Rick stand on his own. “You think you’re ready to earn your paycheck?”

Rick blinked again, noticing now that Dorset and Malick were there, readying the hostages. Dorset came back toward them. “We don’t have a lot of time before the effects wear off,” he said, glancing at Rick. “You good?”

Rick nodded, his tongue still too big to use.

“Good,” Dorset said with surprisingly little condescension or fuss. “There are too many hostages to take together. You and Malick will take those who are able to walk; Simms and I will handle those in need of more medical attention. Can you do that?”

In actuality, that was a question worth considering. His ears were ringing, his entire head buzzing. His limbs felt strangely disconnected from his body and he was pretty sure that the effects of the sedative were still making him groggy.

But, the mission. Rescuing the hostages. Helping people. Doing the right thing.

Could Rick do that.

He nodded, resolute. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m good to go.”

Malick came up alongside, a few hostages in tow. “Then I suggest we move,” he said.

Dorset nodded and Simms patted Rick on the shoulder before they all got back to work.

-o-

It was tense. They were, after all, still in an enemy compound with mere minutes before bad guys started getting up and firing indiscriminately at them. They were also in the middle of a desert and while an evac was coming, the open sands would make them easy pickings if they didn’t move.

So they moved.

The ODS had seemed disjointed in the office, unprofessional and with questionable intentions, but their focus in the field was unparalleled. Dorset worked carefully, lifting injured hostages while Simms gently guided them out the door. Malick was still gruff, but he herded the hostages into a protective formation, leading them out of the camp with due attention both to the state of those in his protection as well as the stirring combatants in the camp.

In all, there was compassion and concern and skill.

Like the kind of spies Rick had imagined working with.

Like the kind of spies Rick wouldn’t mind working with.

Like the kind of spies Rick might aspire to be.

-o-

Until the gunfire started.

And Casey ran away.

There Rick was, with hostages in the desert, while angry, armed terrorists came after him.

And when Rick yelled for surrender, it felt like the biggest betrayal yet.

-o-

When Casey came back and incapacitated the terrorists, his eyes narrowed on Rick. “I heard your doubts,” he said. “Next time, you won’t live to repeat them.”

Rick stared at the downed men and thought that wouldn’t be a problem. Because this team would use him and abuse him, but he was starting to think that they’d never leave a mission – or him – to be compromised.

Even if they hated to admit it.

Which was okay. Rick sort of hated to admit it, too.

-o-

On the plane ride back, Rick thought. He thought about his team. That was what they were, after all. Higgins appointed him to be a mole, but somewhere between eating scorpions and running through the desert, these men had become his team. They were difficult and hard to understand; they were cold and probably dangerous. They manipulated and lied and broke rules.

And they’d been damn big heroes when it counted. They had used him – but for the greater good. They had defied orders – to get the job done when no one else would have.

Rick watched them. Casey genuinely disliked people, but he’d saved Rick’s life – and the lives of the hostages. Michael was cool and calculating, but he’d hatched the only plot that could have worked to salvage everything. Simms was tired and aloof, but he’d been there, every step of the way.

They worked together, somehow. They were a team of contradictions, the best and the worst Rick could even conceive. They knew each other, understood each other, functioned with a frighteningly unspoken bond that suggested years of honing and countless trial. Yet, there was something incomplete about them. Something not quite right. Even if the dissonance was noticeable, Rick couldn’t say what was missing.

But as he nodded off to sleep, he wondered if it was worth sticking around to find out.

-o-

When Higgins called him into the office, Rick wasn’t sure what he was going to say. Truthfully, he wasn’t sure if he was going to be fired. Higgins had been fairly clear in his directive and instead of following orders Rick had subverted them and trusted the very men he was supposed to help control.

It made him a bad mole.

He hoped it might make him a good spy. Even if for only one mission.

“They’re sullen, secretive and sometimes scary,” Rick said. “But they’re good spies. And I think that’s what matters.”

The look on Higgins face said enough: it wasn’t the right answer. It was exactly the wrong answer, and Rick had probably just signed his own damn pink slip.

Instead, the older man’s face pinched and he waved his hand in the air. “That will be all, Mr. Martinez.”

Rick stared. “I’m not fired?”

“No,” Higgins said, almost amused. “You are now permanently assigned to the ODS.”

It was a punishment, of course.

Rick had to wonder if it might be a blessing.

-o-

“Someone leaked the report of our mission to the White House,” Malick informed him tersely. “It highlighted your special contributions.”

Rick was almost too surprised to think. It wasn’t that Higgins wanted to keep him around; it was that he couldn’t fire him. Because someone had protected him.

Someone like three difficult, obtuse spies.

“Thank you,” Rick said finally.

“Don’t,” Malick snapped. “We didn’t leak it.”

Rick frowned. “Then who?”

Dorset sighed. “Beats us,” he said. “But it looks like we’re stuck with you.”

Simms smiled, a little grim. “And you’re stuck with us.”

Sitting down, he pulled his chair closer to his desk, and thought maybe that wasn’t so bad.

-o-

In the elevator, he ran into Fay. Then, he realized, Fay.

“You leaked the report,” he said.

She adjusted herself primly, pressing her lips together. “So?”

“So,” Rick said. “Thank you.”

She eyed him carefully. “It wasn’t just for you.”

Rick shook his head. “Then who?”

She tucked an errant hair behind her ear. “The ODS is good,” she said. “And despite my difficulties with Michael, I still want what’s best for them. They’re not controlling bastards just for the fun of it. Not most of the time, anyway.”

“Then why?”

She shrugged. “Spy work is dangerous,” she said. “You win some and you lose some. The ODS has won a lot.”

“And the ones they’ve lost?”

Her smile was sad as she looked at him. “Hurt more than most.”

She cared. About the ODS. About him.

She was a good person. Michael was right to protect; she was right to fight against it. If the ODS had taught Rick anything, it was to go against the rules and do what needed to be done.

“Do you want to couple up?” he blurted.

Her mouth twitched into a grin. “I thought you’d never ask.”

-o-

They skipped dinner and went straight home. Rick was unbuttoning her blouse, lowering her to the couch when the light went on.

Rick looked up. Right at Carson Simms.

Simms snickered. “You’ve got balls, kid,” he said. “Sleeping with the boss’ ex? Not even something a bastard like me might try.”

Across the room, another light went on and Malick was at his kitchen table, Dorset in his chair.

Fay sat up, adjusting herself and blushing. “Like you’d get very far,” she replied.

“Even you have standards, Fay,” Dorset said. He looked at Rick. “Though questionable ones.”

She smiled coldly. “I did marry you after all.”

Rick gaped, his shock giving way to frustration. “What are you guys doing here?”

“Got a lead on a mission,” Dorset said. “Drug runners in Cambodia. We need to go now, though, or we’ll miss our window of opportunity.”

The frustration was palpable but the carrot being dangled was tempting.

A mission.

Rick liked sex. He liked Fay.

But Rick had been training to be a spy all his life.

“What’s our cover?” he asked, a little cautious.

Fay sighed, but Michael smirked. “Organic coffee producers,” he said.

Malick inclined his head toward a bag on the table. “I took the liberty of packing for you,” he said. “But you’ll have to pack your own unmentionables. I make a habit of never going through another man’s underwear without explicit invitation.”

Rick frowned.

“Besides,” Carson said, patting him on the shoulder. “You’re forgetting we own you.”

“But I thought you gave me the pictures,” Rick said.

Fay rolled her eyes.

Dorset inclined his head. “You didn’t think we gave you our only copy, did you?” he said.

“But—“

“You can’t beat us, kid,” Simms said, almost in commiseration, almost in regret. “You might as well join us.”

That wasn’t exactly an overwhelming invitation. So Rick wasn’t sure what it said about him that, for once, it was actually enough.

SECTION TWO