?

Log in

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

Chaos fic: An Indirect Proof (AU, 3/9)

October 11th, 2012 (06:37 am)
gloomy

feeling: gloomy

A/N: Notes in the MASTER POST.




SECTION TWO

Rick became a member of the ODS.

He went on missions; he sat in on briefings. He did intelligence analysis; he filed reports. He sat at his desk, talked to his teammates, did what he had to do.

And yet, Rick hadn’t quite become a member of the ODS. The title was there, and he sat with them in an office, but he wasn’t one of them. He started conversations and Dorset kept reading, Malick didn’t look up from his computer and Simms just looked bored. He made suggestions that they only half entertained before sending him on foolish errands around the Agency that Rick wasted half the day on before he realized their pointlessness.

They ate lunch together, but no one talked about anything. Rick brought cookies one day and instead of eating them, they sent them down to the lab for analysis.

“I never accept baked goods from strangers,” Malick explained.

“But I’m on the team!”

“It’s a technicality,” Dorset said. “Besides, oatmeal raisin? Really?”

“It’s my mother’s recipe,” he said.

“You could consider it a compliment,” Simms suggested. “We think you’re smart enough to bake with simple poisons.”

“But I’m on the team,” Rick said. “Isn’t that what teammates do? Talk and share?”

“That sounds like a slumber party,” Dorset said.

“It sounds like torture,” Malick interjected.

“Your name may be on that desk,” Simms said. “But that doesn’t mean you’re one of us yet, kid.”

-o-

Rick persisted. He worked harder, performed better. He watched his teammates, looking for subtle shifts, unconscious tells.

All he learned was that his team took their anonymity seriously.

So he tried a new approach. If they didn’t think he fit in, he’d make himself at home until they believed him. He brought a box of things and set them up, displaying his little league baseball, his prayer card, and the other trinkets he liked best from home.

As he organized, he noticed they were staring at him. “What?” he asked.

“Personal effects?” Simms asked. “Really?”

Rick shrugged. “Why not?”

“Because it exposes you to potential compromise,” Dorset said.

“The only three with access to this office consistently are you three,” Rick reminded them.

Malick’s eyes narrowed. Simms chuffed.

Dorset said, “Exactly.”

“If I can’t trust you, who can I trust?” Rick asked in exasperation.

“Finally,” Malick said. “You’re starting to ask the right questions.”

-o-

They could say what they wanted. Rick still set up his things, arranging them just so. But no matter where they put them, things just looked out of place. The baseball didn’t fit; the prayer card wouldn’t stand up. The photos were too conspicuous.

He tried not to think about the irony. How his things didn’t fit this desk.

How he might not fit this job.

-o-

The field was easier. Overseas, they worked with skill and precision. Rick offered to go down the hole, but Malick brushed right past him.

“I said I’ll go,” Rick repeated, more vigorously now.

Michael eyed him as Casey unraveled the rope.

“New guy doesn’t call the shots,” Simms told him. “Malick’s the self-important bastard with a invincibility complex. He goes down. You stay up here and show us how well you can twiddle your thumbs, okay?”

-o-

It wasn’t okay. Not that Rick had any say in it. When the tank came to life, Malick didn’t hesitate, jamming his gun in the barrel, already scaling it in fighting stance when the pirates came out with their hands up.

Mission accomplished.

And they all went home alive.

-o-

Rick spent the next few days in training. When he finally caught the guys in the office, he asked them about La Roche.

“Bastard’s getting away,” Dorset said.

“What?” Rick asked.

Malick glared. “Apparently he has a deal that the DOJ can’t undo,” he said.

“So that’s it?” Rick pushed, a little shocked.

Dorset shrugged. “That’s it.”

Rick waited, expecting some inevitable solution to be forthcoming. “We’re not going to do anything? We went into Africa, no questions asked.”

Dorset looked at Malick. Malick looked at Simms.

Simms sighed. “There were a lot of questions asked,” he said. “We just didn’t ask them from you.”

Rick furrowed his brow. “So, what, this isn’t important?” he said. “He’s selling weapons. That kill people. Innocent people.”

“Risk assessment,” Dorset interjected. “We break the rules when we can be sure we all come home alive.”

“But risk is part of the job,” Rick argued. “We put our lives on the line so other people don’t have to.”

“Noble,” Malick said. “And stupid. There are risks worth taking; then there’s suicide. We practice the former and avoid the latter.”

Rick gaped.

Simms gave him a commiserating smile. “It’s called staying alive, kid,” he said. “If you die with your ideals, that’s well and good. But you’re still dead.”

“We want La Roche to go down,” Dorset said.

“We just don’t intend to stake our lives or our careers on it,” Malick finished.

It was calm; it was logical. Which was why it didn’t make any sense at all. In the short time Rick had known the ODS, they hadn’t exactly been slow to act or reticent in their approach. They were reckless and fearless and not the kind of men to sit in an office when they could be doing something that mattered.

“La Roche has a larger network than you can imagine,” Simms said. “If we poke that hornet’s nest without DOJ backup, we’re screwed. Or we’re dead.”

“And we’re opting for neither,” Dorset said.

Rick stared.

That was that.

La Roche would get away. The weapons would be delivered. The ODS had done everything right, and somehow it felt incredibly wrong.

-o-

“You know,” Adele said on the way out. She smiled at him in that way, that suggestive way that made him think she might want something. But his instincts on these things weren’t as good as he thought, so he smiled and listened. “I’m kind of surprised the ODS dropped this whole La Roche thing.”

Rick’s shoulders slumped glumly. “We had no jurisdiction.”

“I know,” she said. “The CIA doesn’t operate in US borders. It’s kind of an annoying little sticking point, isn’t it?”

“I keep thinking there had to be a way…” he said. “Honestly, I’m a little disappointed.”

“I know, right?” she asked. “I mean, the ODS goes against so many orders but follows this one?”

“I can’t trust them with a lot of things, but I always thought I could trust them to do the right thing,” Rick admitted.

She reached out, squeezing his arm just slightly. “They’re just people,” she said. “Playing it safe. And you know, if you need someone to trust, there’s always me.”

Rick couldn’t help but brighten. “You mean that?”

She shrugged. “Sure,” she said. “If you ever feel like they’re not doing what they should do – or doing too much, for that matter – just let me know. And I’ll do what I can to help you out.”

He stared at her, daring to hope. “You’d do that for me?”

A smile played on her lips. “For Rocket Rick?” she asked suggestively. “Anything.”

-o-

When his team went home, Rick stayed late. He thought about packing his belongings, taking the entire box back home, but decided against it. His teammates were probably right – maybe it would open it up to compromise – but he always wondered if that was the point. The value.

So Rick rearranged the things, put the picture of his mother next to his computer, positioning the baseball from his peewee glory days on the other end. He lined up the trinkets, one by one, wiping off the surface of his desk as he went.

The desk was as old as everything else he’d been given, worn and used. The surface was scuffed, errant blue pen stains and inexplicable dings. Part of the surface was chipped – some by accident, some from what appeared to be purposeful carving. The pattern had no purpose as far as Rick could tell, but it was intricate – someone had spent some time with it.

He took the other things – the picture of Plotkin’s dog and the other effects – and opened up one of the unused drawers. He’d arranged the top two with the various office supplies and used one of the bottom ones for filing, but there was still space he hadn’t filled. He shoveled the other man’s possessions inside, lingering when he saw the newspaper.

Pulling it out, he looked at it curiously, thinking at first maybe it was from a mission file that he’d just misplaced. But the paper was old – yellowed and curled. It crinkled, brittle, as he unfolded, to look at the date, which was over three years ago.

Frowning, Rick flipped through it, turning it back to where the creases had been forged. The comics – and the crossword.

The crossword was half done, scrawled answer in blocky handwriting in blue pen. The slant suggested someone left handed, and the slight flourish was indicative of a more artistic type.

He had Plotkin’s chair and effects, and clearly he had someone’s desk. Someone who was left handed and liked crosswords. And probably someone who vandalized CIA property without much thought.

That didn’t tell Rick much, though, which was probably more apt than he wanted to admit. Apparently working with the ODS was a mysterious legacy, one of secrets and shadows, of anonymity and depersonalization. No one wanted to compromise themselves; no one wanted to take a risk that might cost too much.

So Rick was left with an abused desk, a picture of someone else’s dog and an old crossword puzzle.

And three teammates he might never figure out.

-o-

They went to talk to an asset.

Rather, his teammates talked to an asset.

Rick got chased by a dog.

“You knew that would happen, didn’t you?” Rick asked in accusation, sulking as he tried to calm his breath and ignore the flush in his cheeks.

“And you responded so predictably,” Casey said with some satisfaction.

Rick scowled. “I thought we were teammates.”

“When wild dogs are involved, all bets are off the table,” Simms said.

“Besides,” Michael said. “Trust is one thing. Going the extra mile for someone is another. You still have a ways to go.”

And Rick glowered the whole way home.

-o-

The asset had been unsavory, but the intel looked promising. Michael managed to convince Fay into getting them a mission.

To Russia.

When Simms found out, he wasn’t happy.

“Russia, man? Really?” he asked. “Of all the places to stick our necks out, that’s pretty low on my list.”

“The lead is solid,” Michael insisted.

“We need a good test of our skills anyway,” Malic said, shrugging.

“But it’s Russia,” Simms said. “Besides the fact that it’s like sub-zero there all the time, they’re not exactly your most friendly patrons when traveling.”

“We’re looking at stolen plutonium,” Michael said. “We have a verified lead. There are risks but I think the overall benefit is too palpable.”

“You’re asking to get eaten by wolves,” Simms argued.

Dorset shrugged. “We’re spies,” he said. “There’s going to be some risk. Don’t like that, don’t come. Until then, start getting ready. We fly out in two days.”

With that Dorset left, Malick not far behind. Simms sighed.

Rick studied him for a moment. He looked tired, though that was pretty typical. In Rick’s short time at the Agency, Simms had rarely looked anything but. “Eaten by wolves?” he asked.

Simms looked at him, laughing bitterly. “I forget how young you are,” he muttered.

“I don’t get it.”

“Of course you don’t,” Simms muttered. Then he sighed. “Come on, then.”

-o-

When they stood in front of the memorial wall, Rick wasn’t sure what to think.

Simms collected a breath and let it out. “This place is depressing as hell, but you should really understand it.”

“These stars represents operatives who were lost in the line of duty,” Rick said.

“That’s right,” Simms said. “And one of these stars is for some poor schmuck who was flying surveillance over Russia in the Cold War. He got shot down and captured. The Russians pinned him as CIA right away, but the Agency wasn’t about to admit that. They disavowed him. And you know what the bastards told the family?”

Rick blinked.

“Eaten by wolves,” Simms said. “They told them that their kid was eaten by wolves when really he just wasted away in some damn gulag. His own government did nothing for him. Russia’s no place for spies. At least not ones that want to survive. So I’m all for the greater good, kid, but in Russia? It’s every damn man for himself as far as I’m concerned because I don’t want to be the next unlucky son of a bitch memorialized as a star instead of getting to live out my life.”

With that, Simms left, leaving Rick looking at the wall.

Eaten by wolves.

Every man for himself.

As if this mission didn’t make him nervous enough.

-o-

At his desk, Rick studied his cover. He studied his mission. If it was every man for himself then Rick was going to be prepared.

He settled in, the desk warm and comfortable as he worked.

He was going to be ready.

-o-

Ready or not, Rick couldn’t control everything. His cover was perfect; his delivery was flawless. One screwed up phone number, though, and it was all on the line.

He was sitting in a Russian police station, his cover ready to fall apart. If the police officer made one phone call, government officials would descend and that would be that.

Disavowed.

Eaten by wolves.

Rick was reconciling himself to this fact; trying to understand the idea of life in a Russian prison. Tried to think about ways to escape, ways to defend himself, to get out.

Ways to hold his head high as he faced a life of hard labor, alone and cold and abandoned.

So when Malick showed up, Rick was genuinely surprised.

“You came back,” he said, knowing he should be grateful but too confused to know how to express it.

Malick sneered. “The one thing I hate more than green rookies is Russians,” he said curtly. “Besides, it reflects poorly on the team if we leave one of our own behind.”

Rick nodded, brow furrowed. “Thanks for clarifying that,” he said. “I’d hate to think that you cared.”

“I came, didn’t I?” Malick snapped.

Between Malick and the proverbial wolves, Rick was suddenly unsure which one was actually better.

-o-

When Dorset and Simms went back in, Rick began to think they’d never come out.

Malick didn’t say anything, but his jaw went stiff. He thought it, too.

“I’m going back in,” Rick decided.

Malick raised an eyebrow.

Rick shrugged. “You did it for me.”

Eyes narrowed, Malick nodded. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll stall the bus. Just try to hurry, okay? We only have so many damn miracles left on this mission.”

-o-

When they got back, Rick settled into his chair, looked out over his desk. It was familiar, comfortable.

He glanced at his teammates. “I want to say thanks,” he said.

They all looked at him. Malick arched an eyebrow. “We want you to shut up,” he said.

“Seriously,” Rick said. “I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

Malick looked profoundly disquieted. Dorset exchanged a look with Simms.

“Sometimes I wonder if I belong here at all,” Rick admitted. “I mean, this isn’t even my chair. And this desk belonged to someone else, too, didn’t it? Did he eat a proverbial bullet, too?”

It was a joke, but none of them laughed. Dorset paled and Malick’s face went blank. Simms face was taut but he said, “Something like that.”

Rick swallowed uncomfortably. “Well, still,” he continued awkwardly. “Maybe we could go get drinks. Celebrate the end of the mission.”

Dorset was on his feet. He shook his head. “We had a long flight,” he said.

Malick wasn’t far behind. “I have a feeling your drinking habits would be too pitiful to watch.”

Even Simms got to his feet. “You’re still here, kid,” he said. “Don’t go looking for more.”

They left, leaving Rick alone at his desk. It was weird, to be rescued. Just to be abandoned all over again.

He rocked back, fingering the nicks and grooves on his desk surface. He was still here. He tried to find comfort in that.

Comfort in anything at all.

-o-

On his way out, Rick walked around toward the memorial wall, just like he did every night. He paused, slinking back, because his team was there. Every last one. Standing. Staring.

Malick shook his head and left without a sound. Dorset sighed, patting Simms on the shoulder before leaving, too. Simms lingered longest, looking at the stars, looking long and hard before he walked on.

When they were gone, Rick rounded the corner and lingered, taking them in again. Each star was the same; none of them had any real meaning to Rick.

He could only wonder what meaning they had to his teammates.

He could only wonder if he’d ever figure it out.

-o-

Rick talked the UN Ambassador from North Korea off the ledge when his career was going down in flames.

In the aftermath, when Rick realized the promise he’d just made and all its implications, Rick felt like maybe he had joined the man up there.

Still, the man was willing to risk his life for his wife. With Higgins ultimatum, Rick had to wonder what he was willing to risk his for.

He had a sneaking suspicion he was about to find out.

-o-

His team was not thrilled at the prospect of a mission in North Korea.

“First, Russia, now North Korea,” Simms said. “Do you actually have a death wish? Do you want to go captured, disavowed, tortured and ultimately killed?”

Rick shrugged, sheepish.

Dorset rolled his eyes. “I’ll admit, this one isn’t my first choice either,” he said. “But I think we’ve got a pretty decent strategy.”

“North Korea isn’t as bad as they make it out to be,” Malick offered. “I mean, sure they’ll execute you and tell the world that you’ve gone on an extended vacation in the South China Sea, but first they have to catch you. And in a state filled with totalitarian lackeys, that’s much easier said than done.”

“We have the passport for Mrs. Song,” Rick said. “It shouldn’t be too hard to mix it in with ours when we arrive, so she can easily fly out with us as an American citizen.”

“Right,” Carson said skeptically. “You’re just leaving out the part where we get killed because we don’t have any viable reason to get into that backwater hellhole.”

“We’re working on that,” Dorset said.

Simms scoffed. “I still can’t believe we’re actually thinking about this.”

“I know,” Dorset said. “And I’m not throwing us out there lightly. But we’re spies. I don’t like the risks that go with that, but they’re part of our job. They always have been, and we’re all still here because we’ve decided that the risk is worth it.”

Simms’ face was tight, jaw working. He pursed his lips, eyes locked with Michael. To the side, Malick was equally tense, and the three of them seemed to be sharing a moment Rick couldn’t quite pinpoint.

He didn’t know how long these three had been working together; he didn’t know what kind of missions they’d been on. But he could tell, just from watching, that they had a history. And one that had its ups and downs.

Maybe more downs than ups, if the tension in the room was any indication.

Finally, Simms sighed. “Fine,” he said. “But I think this is a mistake.”

Michael smiled wryly. “Well, at least we know this won’t be the first mistake we’ve ever made.”

As if that was somehow supposed to make Rick feel better.

-o-

For all the angst, the mission went surprisingly well.

Until Mrs. Song wanted to smuggle her sister and her family out as well.

Rick expected Michael to say no, to put the kibosh on and just leave.

But when he laid out a plan to smuggle them all, to make a run for the Chinese border on a little used crossing, Rick was shocked.

Carson just laughed. “We’re going from stupid to downright insane,” he said.

Dorset didn’t deny it. “We’ve done this sort of thing before,” he said.

Simms cocked his head. “Years, Michael,” he said. “It’s been years. And we all know how that turned out.”

Rick frowned, not understanding the reference. Before he could ask, Casey interjected. “The whole point of mistakes is that we learn from that. We can’t coddle ourselves forever. This is an acceptable risk. If we can’t do this, then maybe we should let Higgins have our badges and get the hell out of the spy game.”

Simms threw up his hands. “Gee, who am I to argue with genius like this!” he exclaimed.

“Carson—“ Michael said.

Simms shook his head. “We’re not going there, Michael,” he said, the humor gone, his eyes deadly serious. “Let’s just get this mission done with and go home.”

It was agreement, terse as it was. And Rick wasn’t sure what bothered him more: smuggling people out of North Korea or the mysterious past of his teammates that seemed to be more pressing than ever.

If he tackled the first, he thought maybe he could deal with the latter.

When they were safe on American soil.

-o-

As they scoped out the border crossing, Rick thought. About Mrs. Song being willing to die for her husband. About Mr. Song being willing to die for his wife. That kind of sacrifice – the lengths people went for people they cared about.

“It makes me think,” Rick said, blowing into his hands in the cold night. “If there’s someone I would die for.”

Simms shifted, hiking his collar up higher. Casey gave him a discerning look.

Rick shrugged. “Julie Reins.”

“Who?” Simms asked with a scowl.

“Julie Reins,” Rick repeated, smiling now. “I dated her in high school. Her dad was a bit of a racist but she was…amazing. I’d have traded my life for hers in an instant. No questions asked.”

In the night, there was stillness. Rick looked at Simms, who diverted his gaze. He looked at Malick.

“What about you guys?” Rick prompted. “Anyone you’d give your life for?”

Simms almost flinched. Casey’s face went hard.

“We don’t do sentimentality,” Malick finally retorted. “Let’s just focus on the mission.”

With that, he stalked off toward Michael. Simms seemed to be thinking. He looked at Rick. “You can say things like that and it’s all well and good,” he said. “But things are different in the moment. When there’s a gun to your head, when someone’s going to pull the trigger – your ideals don’t mean crap, kid. None of your good intentions will ever matter. When you’re drowning – actually, literally drowning, with the water over your head and lungs bursting for air – you always save yourself. Always.”

It was so stark, so plain, that Rick didn’t even know what to say. He just watched as Simms retreated down the road.

And Rick felt more alone than ever.

-o-

Afterward, when the Songs were reunited, Rick looked up Julie Reins. She was married and had dogs and two kids. She looked different, older and aged, and Rick had to wonder if she was the girl he remembered. If she’d still be worth a bullet.

He tapped his fingers on his desk, feeling the familiar grooves, unconsciously fingering the doodled engravings as he chewed his lip. It felt good to be back, to be sitting here, and with another successful mission, Rick had proven himself – to Higgins, to his teammates.

Looking up, he glanced at said teammates. Simms was bent over at his desk, scratching something onto a piece of paper. Michael was reading while Casey clicked at his computer.

Rick had to wonder if he’d die for them. If they’d die for him. They’d come back for him in Russia. They followed him into North Korea.

But their reticence was palpable. And Simms’ words haunted him.

You always save yourself. Always.

Rick could only hope that he’d never find out.

-o-

In truth, it was a tenuous thing, Rick’s job at the Agency. He was part of the ODS, although they still treated him like some gullible rookie. Which, to be fair, maybe he was, but they didn’t have to treat him that way all the time. And Higgins was still after him about unsanctioned missions – not to spy on his teammates necessarily, but to just be aware.

And Rick was aware. It was hard not to be aware when his team had this odd habit of carting him off at a moment’s notice to obscure destinations around the world, chasing trails of missions that Rick hadn’t even been properly briefed for.

Rick still couldn’t figure it out, which missions they deemed acceptable and which ones they didn’t. There seemed to be a method to their madness, and even though they ran around like rogue spies most of the time, they show strange displays of restraint, backing out when the crime lord got too big or when the situation required too many people to be split up and isolated.

So he hadn’t really been surprised when they showed up to take him to South America. And he’d been even less surprised when he found out that the mission involved catching criminals with little violent intervention.

Really with everything in place, Rick had to think, what could possibly go wrong?

-o-

A mole.

Someone had slipped a few state secrets out with the garbage, and now the entire CIA was on lockdown. Proper procedure was all well and good until Rick realized that they couldn’t get back down to South America.

Which was how he ended up breaking into a secure room, rooting through his fellow operatives’ possessions, trying to identify the guilty party.

At least it explained why his teammates were obsessed with keeping their desks neutral; his team was frighteningly adept at sorting through someone’s life from a few knickknacks alone.

“No wonder Margaret always makes me sneeze,” Carson moped. “Cats. Everywhere cats. She’s literally a crazy cat lady, and I’m supposed to be grateful she’s on our side.”

“Focus,” Michael said. “Unless she needs to up her investment in kitty litter, I think we’re okay.”

Rick moved through the desks, trying to note the differences. Pictures of kids and families, of vacations and exotic destinations.

And then—

Rick cocked his head, reaching out to pick up a frame.

“How much do you figure these guys make?” he asked.

Dorset shrugged. “You thinking of transferring?” he asked. “These schmucks don’t make any more than we do.”

“And they don’t get the free airline miles,” Malick added.

“So how does one of them suddenly afford a boat like that?” he asked, turning the frame around.

His team paused, inching closer curiously. “Corwin,” Michael said. “That would be unexpected.”

“But the evidence supports it,” Malick said. “The man has carried his own lunch in for years and I know for a fact he wears subpar clothing. He has no money to spare.”

Carson sighed. “Poor bastard,” he said. “Can’t blame him for wanting what’s his.”

“But we can blame him for stalling our mission,” Michael said. He looked at Rick, nodding in approval. “Good work, Martinez.”

Rick was too shocked to reply. There was no condescension. No derision.

It was an actual compliment.

“Should we go dig out our friendly mole?” Malick asked.

Carson looked perturbed. “You don’t have to sound so eager about it.”

“Traitors are laborious,” Malick replied. “Especially if the only reason you sold out is for a boat.”

“It could be more than that,” Simms said.

“It doesn’t matter what it is,” Michael said. “What matters is getting this lockdown lifted so we can get back down to South America while there’s still a mission left to salvage.”

They moved to the door, and Rick hesitated.

Michael turned back to look at him. “You coming?” he asked.

Rick blinked. He put the picture down. “Yeah,” he said, and hurried to catch up.

-o-

It was surprisingly easy.

And unsettlingly simple.

Corwin sold out. Took unimportant secrets and sold them to the highest bidder. Not for some greater good, not to protect anyone or anything. But for himself. Because after a long career, he didn’t feel like he’d gotten enough out of it.

Afterward, Michael and Casey escorted him away. Carson stayed with Rick and sighed.

“Crazy, huh?” Rick asked. “I can’t even imagine doing that. Selling out.”

Carson eyed him. “You too good to be tempted?”

Rick nodded readily. “Frankly, yes,” he said. “I believe I signed away my rights when I joined the CIA. I agreed to put myself last for the good of the country.”

Carson lifted his eyebrows. “That’s pretty noble, kid.”

“Well, isn’t that why you do it?” Rick asked.

With a bitter laugh, Carson got to his feet. “Honestly,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t even know anymore.”

Rick was surprised. “You don’t mean that.”

“Wait a few years,” Carson advised. “See what this job does to you.” He inclined his head, weary face more tired than normal. “Then we’ll talk.”

-o-

Rick didn’t think at the time that maybe he didn’t have a few years.

But when he was lying in the back of a van, tourniquet pinched tight over his bloody pants, it struck him that maybe he should have.

It hurt – it hurt – and every breath was stunted and painful, sending fresh pain jackknifing through his body as he trembled to keep himself awake.

In the front, Michael was driving, Casey’s white knuckles visible to Rick on the center counsel from where he lay. Carson was next to him, checking the tourniquet, his sleeves rolled up and his bloodstained hands stark in the moonlight.

Someone waved a lollipop at him, and Rick’s stomach turned. He grimaced. “I don’t like candy,” he moaned, heart pounding. The simple act of talking made the agony intensify.

“Doesn’t matter,” Carson said. “A few licks and you’ll love everything.”

Rick squinted, wondering if the blood loss was bad enough that he was actually delusional or if his team just made less sense than usual.

“It’s morphine,” Casey explained from the front. “We only have the one, though. So suck slowly.”

Rick was thinking about protesting, but then the van hit a bump and his vision dimmed and he didn’t protest when Carson shoved the lollipop in his mouth.

-o-

Carson was right.

“This stuff is amazing,” Rick said. He laughed. “You guys are amazing. I mean, you put morphine in a lollipop. Who does that?”

“We believe in being prepared,” Michael explained.

“You’re not just prepared,” Rick said. “You’re brilliant. I mean, you all pick and choose your missions and you’re impossible to actually like or trust or whatever, but damn. You’re spies, you know that? I’ve worked with you for months now and I know more about the person who owned my desk than I know you.”

His voice trailed off and for a moment, he zoned. He thought about his desk, about the grooves and the crossword and the left-handed block print. He snorted, half choking on the lollipop.

He remembered how to move and lifted his hand, taking it out. “Did I mention that this stuff is amazing?”

Carson rolled his eyes. “Once or twice, kiddo.”

Rick held it out, watching as his hand waved precariously. “Seriously,” he said. “You want a lick?”

He tried to reach out, fumbling as he almost fell off the bench seat. Carson scrambled to catch him and the lollipop wavered precariously close to Michael’s ear. Michael batted it away, glancing back as the van veered just for a moment before righting itself.

Carson eased him back and Rick put the lollipop back in his mouth, ready to relax again when Casey shouted, “Michael, look out!”

But it was too late.

The haze thickened and Rick’s vision dimmed and it was too late.

-o-

Rick came back to the sound of voices.

“You’re going to have to try to get it out.” That was Michael’s proclamation, as straightforward as ever.

“I can’t,” came Casey’s reply, but it was desperate and worried. Not self-assured and cocky; not aloof and indifferent. Like Casey cared. “The bullet is in there deep. He’d bleed out before I got very far.”

That sounded less than ideal. Even for the ODS. Especially for the ODS. Rick wasn’t sure anymore.

“How far is it to the next town?” Michael asked.

“Fifteen miles.”

There was a pause. “I’ll go.”

“By foot? You’ll never make it.”

Doubt. Skepticism. Rick knew how Casey felt. All of Michael’s plans tended to make Rick feel as though he were going insane by the mere fact that he was too sane to buy into the craziness.

“Some of us spend our workouts doing more than jiujitsu,” Michael replied. “I have the stamina.”

“But the doctor may not even be there,” Casey protested.

Doctor, Rick mused. Why did they need a doctor? Rick should remember…

“You want me to stay here so he can die?” Michael returned harshly.

Dying. The ODS didn’t like dying. Rick actually agreed with them on that point.

“It’s just a long shot,” came Casey’s muted reply.

“It’s the only shot,” Michael said, just as quietly.

A shot. It seemed ironic, but Rick couldn’t remember…couldn’t think…

“Just,” Casey cut off, the word hinging awkwardly, “don’t stop.”

“Just keep him alive,” Michael replied without hesitating.

Alive. Because he’d been shot, Rick remembered. He was shot in the leg and they were in a van in Bolivia and it hurt and his team was worried—

Michael was worried, Casey was scared and Carson was…

Carson was tightening the tourniquet.

The pain flared and Rick sucked in a desperate breath, his whole body trembling. His team had got him out of Russia; they’d sneaked out of North Korea. Sometimes Rick believed they could do the impossible.

But the fear in their voices; the doubt. Maybe not the impossible. Maybe that was why they said no to some missions and yes to others. They couldn’t do the impossible, just the improbable. There was a difference; one Rick was starting to learn the hard way.

Something tightened around his leg and he gasped, body tensing before Rick had no choice but to let go.

-o-

Rick’s eyes were awake for several minutes before he even realized he was conscious.

“You back with us, kiddo?” Carson asked.

Rick blinked and looked up. Carson was next to him. The interior of the car was dim, but the exhaustion on his face was evident.

And weird.

Though, really, everything was weird.

Things seemed to be half floating, with disconcerting halos of light. When Rick breathed, he could feel his lungs expanding and each contraction felt more frantic than the one before.

He sort of felt like he was dying.

Then again, maybe he was dying, which would explain a lot.

He tried to move, and regretted it, face scrunching with pain. As his vision cleared, Carson shoved the lollipop back in Rick’s mouth.

Rick took an involuntary suck and sighed. He could remember now, the mission and the gunshot and the van. He could remember Michael’s uncertainty and Casey’s fear and more.
When his eyes opened again, Rick smiled blearily. “I’ve been shot,” he announced.

“That you have,” Carson agreed.

“So glad that your stellar mental reasoning skills haven’t been compromised,” Casey grunted from the front.

Rick just kept smiling because he was used to their lies, and for the first time he could see they weren’t lying to him on his account, but theirs. This was why they’d come back for him in Russia. This was why they didn’t tell him things – they were protecting themselves.

The best the CIA had to offer and they were their own brand of cowards.

And Rick felt inexplicably proud. Because he was one of them. Not cowards but heroes because maybe real heroes were cowards who did what needed to be done no matter how they felt.

“It’s funny,” Rick slurred. “This isn’t such a bad way to die.”

“Dying would be stupid,” Casey snapped. “Don’t.”

“No, if this is it – if this is really it – I’m okay with it,” Rick continued, looking up at Carson earnestly. Because he always knew this job was dangerous, but to die serving his country, to die with his teammates there…it wasn’t so bad. It had meaning and purpose.

Carson looked back, face pinched, and the shadows highlighting the deep grooves on his face. His jaw worked. “Casey’s right,” he said. “Dying would be stupid.”

The ODS was stupid.

Rick cocked his head, giggling. “You care.”

Carson just gave him a quizzical look.

Rick giggled again. “You all care,” he said. “You don’t want me to die.”

“There’d be too much paperwork,” Casey said sharply.

But Rick shook his head. “I don’t get you guys at all,” he continued, because what the hell? It wasn’t like he had anything to lose. “You torture me, try to get me fired. You barely tolerate me and never tell me anything. And then you’re all scared.”

Casey was noticeably quiet from the front, and Rick vaguely wondered if perhaps Casey had floated away into the ever-present, now-purple mist. It seemed perhaps unlikely, but given that Rick was seeing purple mist and that his team was truly concerned about him, the odds were increasing….

Rick stopped that train of thought when he realized he had no idea what he was thinking about at all. Instead he took another suck and breathed out, limbs going loose against the seat, even as Carson held fast to the tourniquet. Rick blinked, eyes struggling to focus.

Carson was watching him, posture guarded, eyes guilty. “You’d be stupid not to be scared,” he said. “But you’d be stupid to die, too. Aim for the middle and things should turn out okay.” He paused, shrugging. “Or at least not too horribly.”

Rick didn’t understand but he did, and he rolled the lollipop on his tongue, trying to remember. His mother and his family. His apartment and his car. His desk back at Langley, the scratch marks and the crossword.

These were disparate pieces, but suddenly they all made sense. Everything made sense. His team hated him because they didn’t know how to like him, and they were mean so that being nice wouldn’t hurt.

And the purple mist was descending and Rick could only breathe, one breath after another as he slipped away.

He aimed for the middle.

And worried it might not be enough.

-o-

In the dark, Rick couldn’t feel the pain. The pain was the mist and it surrounded him and he breathed it in, but it wasn’t his. Nothing was his. This body, this team, this life. He didn’t belong here, not in this van with a bullet in his leg; not in this team of crusty misfits; not in that desk that belonged to someone else.

Maybe leaving would be better. Maybe it would be the thing that made the most sense.

But Carson’s grip was steady and Casey’s voice wavered in song. Michael came back running and Rick heard them talk.

“We never should have taken him here.”

“He’s a CIA operative; the risks are part of the job.”

“He’s nothing but a damn kid.

“You’ve read his file; he’s one of the best.”

“All the more reason he shouldn’t be dying in some backwater hellhole.”

“He’s not dying.”

“Are you so sure about that?”

“I have to think—“

“Because optimism has worked so well for us in the past. I’ve done this before, Michael. I’ve done it and I won’t do it again. Not again.”

“Well I don’t know what to tell you, Malick. Because we’re here. He’s here, and he needs us.”

“You guys are both missing the point. Sometimes bad things just happen.”

“I can’t accept that.”

“I won’t accept that.”

“You may have to.”

Michael stopped running. Casey stopped singing.

And Carson let go.

-o-

When Rick woke up in a hospital, he was surprised. Everything hurt vaguely, an ache in his leg and a thick cottony taste in his mouth. Moving was a precarious thing, but he was alive.

And that surprised him a lot.

He was more surprised to see his teammates. Michael was half sprawled in a chair, his head propped up on his hand, a day’s worth of stubble on his face. Casey leaned against the wall, standing with his eyes closed, showing no signs of movement. And Carson was in the other chair, legs stretched out and placed on Rick’s bed, his head tipped back and his mouth open while he snored.

Rick was alive.

His team was here.

Maybe getting shot wasn’t so bad after all.

-o-

They gave him an award. Rick accepted it, blushed for the picture, and hobbled around while people he barely knew offered him congratulations.

In the back of the room, the ODS stood. Clapping and smirking.

That meant more than the rest.

-o-

Back in the office, Rick propped his leg up and winced. Sitting here, back at his desk, suddenly the questions were too much. “Maybe it’s not so hard to understand Corwin,” he said thoughtfully. “We do this job, we risk our lives, and we get paid almost nothing and never get praised.” He looked up at his team. “How do you stay sane?”

“People don’t become spies for the attaboys,” Michael said.

“And you should never rely on it for emotional satisfaction,” Casey added.

Michael rolled his eyes, getting to his feet. “If it’s a question of sanity, then you’re thinking about it all wrong,” he said. “You find the one thing that makes sense and you hold to that, no matter what. Then even when everything else goes off course, at least there’s still that guiding you home.”

Casey grunted and followed Michael toward the door. “Sentimentality is exhausting. Survival is critical,” he said, eyeing Rick carefully. “A lesson I think you know by now.”

Carson was conspicuously silent as he got up and joined the others.

Rick sighed, collecting another breath. “I never had the chance to say thank you.”

They hesitated, coats half on.

Rick swallowed and continued. “For saving my life,” he said.

Casey’s face softened just a little.

Michael’s mouth quirked into a small smile. “The bet way to stay sane?” he asked. “Remember your team. We all go in; we all go out.”

Carson snorted. “If only it were that simple,” he muttered.

“This time it was,” Michael said. He shrugged. “You coming, kid?”

Rick looked at them, then looked back at his desk. “No,” he said. “I’m just going to finish up this paperwork.”

“Suit yourself,” Casey said. “Just remember we don’t get paid overtime.”

“Harsh but true,” Michael said. “See you in the morning.”

With that, they left, Carson ducking out first, followed by Casey and Michael. For a moment, Rick watched the door where they’d left, and thought about what they’d said.

We all go in; we all go out.

Brothers in arms, an ideal that wasn’t foreign to Rick. But he knew it now, felt it. Lived it.

If only it were that simple.

Because nothing was ever simple with the ODS. They were complicated and contradictory and confusing…

And they were still his team.

That meant something now. Rick tapped his fingers on his desk. He didn’t quite fit in, but he still belonged. And that was starting to mean everything.

SECTION THREE A

Comments

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: October 14th, 2012 09:49 am (UTC)
Team

I absolutely love how you altered the team's interactions. That there is so much more paranoia and distrust between them. (The cooky scene was simply hilarious :))

It really highlights Billy's importance to to the team.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 15th, 2012 02:46 am (UTC)
billy knows

The idea of looking at Billy's place on the team by looking at how the team is without him was a huge part of this fic -- so I'm glad it's palpable :)

Thanks!

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 17th, 2012 03:53 pm (UTC)
Loving this progression

I love how you are going episode by episode with this new angle on the show. I ESPECIALLY LOVE Rick's piece by piece discovery of Billy, the signs on the desk, how Rick deduces certain things by what he finds in, on and around the desk. It's like he's also investigating a case on his own, unraveling the mystery of the desk's owner.

I also love the hint to Carson's "philosophy" and how it plays into his attitude, his disillusionment. Wonderful progression!

Fave parts:

The crossword was half done, scrawled answer in blocky handwriting in blue pen. The slant suggested someone left handed, and the slight flourish was indicative of a more artistic type.

He had Plotkin’s chair and effects, and clearly he had someone’s desk. Someone who was left handed and liked crosswords. And probably someone who vandalized CIA property without much thought.

--sigh! It makes sense that Billy would leave so much of himself on the desk and Rick's discoveries almost like an archaeological dig.

“Eaten by wolves,” Simms said. “They told them that their kid was eaten by wolves when really he just wasted away in some damn gulag. His own government did nothing for him. Russia’s no place for spies. At least not ones that want to survive. So I’m all for the greater good, kid, but in Russia? It’s every damn man for himself as far as I’m concerned because I don’t want to be the next unlucky son of a bitch memorialized as a star instead of getting to live out my life.”

--Such a hardened and cynical take compared to Billy. It reveals so much about Carson.

But their reticence was palpable. And Simms’ words haunted him.

You always save yourself. Always.

Rick could only hope that he’d never find out.

--SO telling! LOVED it. You really make me feel Billy's loss in these "revamped" episodes. I miss him terribly! I miss his cheery view on the spy craft. his own patriotic view of the work!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 20th, 2012 03:19 am (UTC)
Re: Loving this progression
billy watches

When I got this idea, I never quite intended to go into this much detail with each ep but as I started writing, it just sort of evolved that way. But it seemed to work -- and really, it seemed necessary for Rick's journey.

Thanks :)

4 Read Comments