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Chaos fic: An Indirect Proof (AU, 4a/9)

October 15th, 2012 (06:21 am)

A/N: Previous parts in the MASTER POST.




SECTION THREE

After that, things were good. Rick started to enjoy his job. He liked coming to work. He began to understand his teammates’ understated and perplexing sense of humor. When they poisoned one of the other translators, Rick figured it couldn’t be so bad. When they shoved him into a briefing to secure them a mission in Paris, he figured what the hell. A little French couldn’t hurt anyone.

He put up with their antics, tolerated their orders, and sat on a cramped flight to France with them thinking that it was okay because things were different. They had saved his life; he was one of them.

Then, things weren’t different at all.

“Wait, so you all get to go to dinner and I have to stay here?” Rick asked. His stomach panged – the airline food had been damn near inedible and he was starving.

“You have to pay your dues, kid,” Simms said.

“I took a bullet in my leg!” Rick protested. “Isn’t that enough?”

“Hardly,” Casey said derisively. “We saved your life. That means you owe us. By staying here while we enjoy a succulent meal.”

“At least this way you won’t gain any weight,” Michael said. “Fay always says this is less the city of lights and more the city of an extra fifteen pounds.”

Simms groaned. Casey shook his head. Michael shrugged.

And Rick stayed in alone.

-o-

It wasn’t that his team didn’t like him, it was that they still didn’t know how what to do with him, Rick decided. They didn’t want him to die, but they didn’t seem convinced that he had a viable place on the team beyond sitting in a motel room running translations. They allowed him to come along, but Rick got the distinct impression that he was being treated like the tag-along little brother that mommy forced the older boys to humor.

Rick could train; he could obey. He could assert himself; he could plot. None of it mattered.

He was still Rick, the new guy. Rick, the kid. Rick, the guy in the desk they couldn’t get rid of but who wasn’t supposed to die.

Rick.

To be fair, he didn’t always know what he was doing. When the French stormed the motel room, he’d been woefully taken off guard, and he’d been more or less ineffectual except for offering a few translations during a firefight. But given that the suspect hadn’t responded and had ended up dead, Rick supposed that didn’t mean much.

Still, as they searched the suspect’s apartment for a clue, it was Rick who considered the guitar. It was propped up neatly in the corner and when Rick shook it, he could hear the suspicious shifting.

“Hey guys,” he said, moving back toward the living room where the French correspondent was sulking. “I think I found something.”

“I didn’t know you played,” Michael mused, nodding at the guitar.

“I don’t,” Rick said. “But these guys wouldn’t either. They use things like guitars to hide things.” He paused, flipping it over. “If we can just find a way to pry it open…”

Casey reached out. “May I?”

Rick handed it over. “I think if we get a knife into that seam—“

Casey lifted the guitar, studying it for a second before smashing it on the table, leaving it in pieces with the small notebook spilling out.

“Well that’s one way of doing it,” Rick said.

“Fast and efficient,” Casey said. “Never waste time.”

Rick felt his cheeks flush.

“Don’t worry, kid,” Simms said, slapping him on the back. “You’ll figure it out someday.”

Rick just wanted to know when.

-o-

When they tracked their man to an apartment complex, Rick was ready for action. But when the lights went out, his orders were simple: “Stay here and coordinate with the French.”

“But the French are doing nothing!” Rick protested.

Michael shrugged, halfway up the stairs. “Then no problem.”

Rick’s heart was pounding, his frustrating mounting. “But—“

“Those are your orders, Martinez,” Michael snapped, disappearing up the stairs.

On the ground floor, Rick’s shoulders slumped. Luc looked at him, apologetic. “Now you see why you Americans have such a bad reputation,” he said. “So conceited.”

Rick glowered but couldn’t disagree.

-o-

The team came back, bedraggled and worse for wear. Michael had a black eye and Carson had a sprained ankle and Casey just looked pissed off when they shoved the suspect at Luc.

“Impressive,” Luc said. “You are by far the most intelligent, good looking and brave operatives your country has to offer.”

Rick paused his sulking long enough to make a face.

Luc grinned. “Spread those compliments amongst yourselves,” he said, then glanced at Rick. “Except you. You get no credit for standing there ineffectually.”

With that, Luc turned, smirking.

Rick glared after him. Then he glared at his teammates. “I could have helped,” he said.

“Being a spy isn’t just about the adventures, Martinez,” Michael said.

“You all got to go,” Rick pouted.

“We have experience,” Casey said.

“Well, to get experience you have to let me finish missions!”

Carson slapped him on the shoulder. “We all pay our dues,” he said. “One way or another.”

“Besides,” Michael said. “We’ll let you make the call to Higgins.”

Rick furrowed his brow. “He’s not going to be happy we went against French authority.”

“I know,” Michael said. “You sat here safely while we chased a terrorist. This is the least you can do.”

Rick gaped, but Carson and Casey just stared at him in total agreement.

Because apparently the ODS was the best the Agency had to offer.

They were also the most infuriating, difficult and incomprehensible.

Sighing, Rick snatched the phone from Michael. “Next time, I vote to go after the terrorist, too.”

Michael chuckled. “Sure,” he said. “Next time.”

-o-

Back in the States, it felt good to sit down at his desk. He was running his fingers over the familiar top when Michael promptly walked up to him and ran a device over him.

“What are you doing?” Rick asked.

“Checking for bugs,” Michael replied.

“We already went through the CIA scanner,” Rick protested, glaring as Michael started moving the thing over his head as if he could be harboring a bug in his hair.

“That piece of ineffectual crap?” Casey asked. “We always run our own sweeps. Especially after a tussle with foreign agents.”’

“Luc wouldn’t bug us.”

Carson scoffed. “Spies can be awesome and friendly, but they’re still spies,” he said. “You can’t trust them, no matter how good they are at chitchat.”

“Besides,” Casey said. “We bugged him. So I’d expect no less.”

Michael didn’t move. “Cell phone, Martinez,” he ordered. “Then we’ll go through the bag.”

Reluctant, Rick pulled out his cell phone, offering it up. Michael plucked it from his grasp, scanning readily as the machine beeped. “We have a winner,” he said.

Rick frowned. “What?”

“Your phone,” Michael said, holding it out. “It’s been tapped.”

Rick looked at the phone forlornly. “It’s brand new.”

Michael shrugged. “That’s the breaks.”

“Consider it another part of the initiation process,” Carson said. “Another rite of passage to check off your list.”

Rick dropped the phone into the cup of stale coffee on his desk. Another rite of passage. The problem was, he’d passed through more rites than he could count and he was still no closer to being one of them, to belonging.

They took him along, protected him, but didn’t let him in. He was on the team, but he wasn’t part of the team. He was the new guy. Always the new guy. If a ruined cell phone could change that, Rick would be all for it. Hell, he’d taken a bullet for the cause.

But it didn’t matter.

Watching his teammates shift through the luggage, it didn’t seem like it might ever matter.

-o-

That night, Rick stayed late. Adele’s fluctuating interest had slowed him down, and he still wanted to finish the paperwork on the mission before the formal debriefing tomorrow.

Still, it was hard to focus. Even with the quiet and solitude, Rick found himself distracted. He traced the grooves on his desk with his pen, trying to look for a pattern in the odd design even while the blank spaces glared at him.

Frowning, he glanced around for a drink, seeing the old coffee and his ruined phone. He couldn’t believe he’d been bugged.

But maybe that was the problem.

He should believe it. Better still, he should think about it in advance. He never would have thought twice about his phone. If he wanted his team to trust him like a capable agent, he had to start being a capable agent.

Rick made a face, thoughtful. He’d checked his luggage and it’d been clean, but if Luc had bugged him, what else could be bugged? Hell, it was entirely possible that his team had bugged him.

He cocked his head. It was more than possible, it was downright probable. How else would they somehow know about the private conversations he had with his mother?

Determined, Rick bent over, looking underneath. The desk was even dingier underneath, deep scuff marks against the sides from where someone with long legs had tried to stretch out and missed a little. He ran his fingers under the edge, but there was nothing out of the ordinary except an odd string of paperclips mounted with staples underneath.

Perplexed, Rick moved to the drawers. The top drawer had a box of antiquated staples lodged in the back and a set of drawer keys that had no apparent match. The next drawer was equally unimpressive, with a magnet for a local Indian restaurant Rick had never heard of. The one beneath that had the effects from Plotkin’s desk and the crossword puzzle.

Rick ran his fingers along the back and then noticed the small corner of paper wedged in the back. He pulled at it, but found it stuck. Upon closer inspection, it wasn’t just lodged in the groove, it seemed to be stuck someplace else.

Someplace underneath.

Frowning, Rick tugged, and the paper moved a little, more becoming visible. Then Rick realized it wasn’t a scrap, it was a corner. The rest of the paper was still in there.

But how? He pulled all the supplies out and the bottom was clean and smooth – cleaner than the other drawers in fact.

So clean that it didn’t seem to fit at all. The color was just slightly off, a muted light gray instead of the worn dark of the rest of the desk.

Rick tried to pick at the metal with his fingers, but even when he did get his nails underneath, it was too heavy to lift. He tried a paperclip next, which confirmed that it was a false bottom, but it still wasn’t enough to lift it free.

The scissors were equally unsuccessful and Rick sat back, huffing with frustration. There was something clearly in his desk, but he didn’t know how to get it out. He could ask his team, but then he’d be asking his team, which was really not what he wanted to do. Either they were responsible for it or they’d take over and never let Rick in on what was going on.

No, this was Rick’s desk. It was his mystery. So he had to solve it himself.

He kept working with the scissors but only succeeded in scratching the back panel badly. Frustrated, he threw the scissors down. The metal wasn’t moving. He needed to lift straight up – and prying just put pressure on the wrong points and made his task impossible.

Rick stopped, blinking. He had to pull straight up.

Hurried, he opened the other drawer, grabbing the magnet. When he picked it up, it was heavier than he expected. He gave it a quick look, easily identifying the higher power magnet slapped on behind the cheap takeout advertisement.

Heart pounding, Rick went back to the drawer with the false bottom. Working his jaw, he hesitated, wondering if it could be that easy. Wondering what he’d find. Wondering if this was anything at all.

Wondering if he might finally get some answers. Rick wasn’t picky at this point. He take anything.

He lowered the magnet down in the middle. He went slow, and he didn’t even have to touch before the metal twitched and went up.

Carefully, Rick lifted, pulling the metal panel free and exposing the space beneath.

Feeling victorious, Rick let himself grin.

One step down.

-o-

A lot left to go.

With the metal gone, Rick was faced with a cluttered mess. Whoever had stripped the desk clean had apparently neglected this part, which seemed weird to Rick. No one left this much stuff in a desk willingly. Whoever had left it behind had most certainly left in a hurry.

Or forgotten about all together.

It was a strange collection of things. There was a page torn from a magazine – titled The Ancient Beauty of the Scottish Highlands – folded and wrinkled on the top. Below it, there a calendar page dated over three years ago. There was a strange assortment of what appeared to be home made confetti that looked suspiciously liked finely cut mission reports. There was one paper airplane, a ticket stub to Munich and several scribbled hand-written pages.

Pausing, Rick picked up the pages. Immediately, he recognized the handwriting. The blocky, left-handed slant was unmistakable, a perfect match for the half finished crossword he’d already found. Which meant this was all from the same person – probably someone who had sat here for a while. Years, if the varying dates on the stubs and articles were any indication.

At first he thought the pages were notes, maybe a list. But when he looked closer, he cocked his head.

Poetry.

Someone had created a fake bottom for poetry.

His mission report forgotten, Rick couldn’t help but start reading.

-o-

Rick was no connoisseur of poetry, but he had to admit, what he was reading wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. Which was probably a good thing, since Rick had never really understood the Bard.

In all, it was pretty perplexing. At first, Rick thought maybe it was a code. Maybe there was a key and it needed to be deciphered. But as he reread it, he began to wonder if it was really just what it seemed to be: melodramatic, poorly written poetry.

The silent horn, it blows;
a clarion call to unseen war.
The shadowed soldier knows
it’s time to head for distant shore.
He hides his name and face;
they wait for him, should he return,
but in some distant place
they’re truths no one may ever learn.
His purpose he conceals,
a smile and nod his one disguise.
He holds to his ideals
in spite of all the acts and lies.
He gladly risks his life,
for countrymen that aren’t his own -
for in this constant strife,
no better mates he’s ever known.
He doesn’t flinch or flee
because he knows, that after all,
there’s worse fates than to be
A star engraved upon a wall.

Frustrated, Rick rubbed his finger between his eyes. All that time, all that energy, and for poetry.

Sighing, Rick put the papers down and glanced up. It was late – too late. And he hadn’t even finished his paperwork.

He glanced at the stack he’d uncovered, then back at his unfinished report. With a sigh, he put the items back in the drawer, carefully replacing the drop bottom. He wasn’t sure who it belonged to, but until he knew more, he figured he could keep this as his secret.

Given how many his teammates had, Rick figured it was about time for one of his own.

-o-

After the first few months Rick’s been on the job, apprehending a Russian arms dealer in hiding really wouldn’t seem all that unusual. But considering that this is Blanke’s mission and it involves Casey being stuffed into a car sear for hours on end, Rick probably should have expected disaster.

It wasn’t just that Blanke had the intel wrong, that it wasn’t the arms dealer looking to get out, but rather that he was arranging transportation for his daughters. It wasn’t even that the compound was well fortified even beyond their expectations or that they had to sit around and feel sorry for a man who had facilitated the death of countless people around the world.

It was the fact that they were relying on two headstrong young women to make their plan work. All it would take was a little charm, but that was easier said than done. Blanke was charming but only in an avuncular sort of way. Any pass he might make would be immediately construed as assault and they’d probably all end up dead.

Simms didn’t have the patience to woo and Michael appeared quite happy to delegate that task. Try as Rick might, he was fumbling like a fish out of water. He’d trained languages, self defense, world politics – everything. Which meant that he hadn’t exactly spent a lot of time dating.

And it showed.

The younger daughter laughed at him. The older almost called security on him. It was only when Rick blurted the truth, that they were there to arrest her father, that she actually listened to him at all.

It was messy; it was a near thing. But somehow, it worked.

-o-

Back home, Rick felt exhausted.

Michael nodded at him. “You pulled through, kid.”

Rick scoffed. “I’m not a charmer,” he said. “You shouldn’t put me in that situation again.”

“You’re young and attractive,” Michael said. “Better than the rest of us anyway.”

“But I’m the kind of guy whose fiancée cheats on him,” he said.

“It happens,” Simms consoled nonchalantly.

“With my brother,” Rick clarified.

Michael made a face. “Ouch,” he said. “Point taken. But really, I’m not sure who else could have done better. Casey hurts people. I lead.”

“What about Simms?” Rick asked.

Simms rolled his eyes. “I’m too old for that nonsense,” he said.

“But I’m the translator,” Rick protested. “What do you do?”

“He makes sure we have enough common sense to come home alive,” Michael said. “Which is a way bigger job than translating. So you’ll just have to pull double duty.”

Rick gaped a bit.

Casey shrugged. “Consider it a compliment.”

“Is it?” Rick asked.

Casey shook his head. “No, but you can consider it one and I won’t think too much less of you.”

Rick grunted and hunched over his desk, sulking as he got back to work.

-o-

It bothered him. When he worked late, he looked over the room, at the three other desks, then his own. Four desks.

There were four desks in the office. For four members of the ODS.

Yet there was no talk of the operative who had preceded him. There wasn’t even a hint of a mention. This mission had made it clear that the ODS was missing something, and now that Rick was aware of that it seemed glaring. Rick was trying to fit into a round hole like a square peg.

And it wasn’t working.

Curious, he opened the drawer. Putting the magnet in place, he lifted, and looked at the stash again. It was more organized now – Rick had sorted the small effects and put them in some kind of order – and it wasn’t hard to pick up the stack of poetry.

He gladly risks his life,
for countrymen that aren’t his own -
for in this constant strife,
no better mates he’s ever known.

Rick didn’t totally get that, but he got what mattered most. Risking his life for his teammates – that was the essence of what made a team work. It was what made a team good.

But the last – no better mates he’s ever known – Rick wished he could understand. Because the ODS seemed like that kind of team. Seemed like they could be. But they didn’t let him in. They didn’t let him be one of them. And everything they did was slightly off as a result.

No better mates. But that was British. So maybe it wasn’t even a CIA agent at all. But then how did it end up in a desk in Langley? Was that why the poet was fighting for countrymen that aren’t his own?

Four desks and one missing piece.

Or maybe it was nothing. Coincidence. His team had stolen the chair, they could have stolen the desk. The dated material was over three years old, and Rick knew for a fact how much could happen in three years. This poetry could belong to anyone.

Though, what it lacked in style it made up for in passion. The block handwriting was intense, scrawled with definitive intention. It had its angst, but it was also a celebration. The man had found purpose, not just in his poetry, but in his job. That was what Rick wanted – or thought he wanted. That was why he’d joined the CIA in the first place. To make a difference, to serve his country, to do the right thing.

That much resonated. Moreover, whoever had written it wasn’t a great poet, but he’d had one hell of a team. Rick could have the passion and the ideals and the courage, and he could even have the team, but he would never be part of them the way the poet was.

His team would never let him.

All this and to think, Rick was actually jealous of bad poetry.

Sighing, he put it back in the drawer, lingered at his desk. He’d thought he’d found answers, but there was nothing there but more questions.

Too many questions and never enough answers.

-o-

Setting up Blanke with his own office was one thing; being called down there on a semi consistent basis almost made Rick regret it.

Until he realized that Blanke wasn’t just annoying and oblivious. He was actually a veritable fount of information.

And Rick had questions. Lots and lots of questions.

“So you’ve known the ODS for a while?” Rick asked one day.

“Oh, years!” Blanke said, enthusiastic. “I’ve been at this Agency as long as Michael.” He leaned forward, beaming. “We were in the same class at the Farm. He got recruited pretty quick to the ODS but I spent my time diversifying my career.”

If diversifying meant walking circles around the Agency, then maybe Blanke had a point. But that was neither here nor there. Rick kept his focus. “So have they always been like this?”

Blanke looked at him. “You mean, the best?”

“Well, yeah,” Rick said. “But, I don’t know. They seem like they’re barely pulling it together sometimes.”

“Ah,” Blanke said. Then his expression fell, brow furrowing thoughtfully. “Well, they’ve had their struggles and some of those have changed them more than others.”

“Like what?” Rick prompted.

“Oh, I couldn’t go into it,” Blanke said. “So much of that stuff is just hearsay and rumor. And the rest…well, they’ve gotten through it with so much integrity that it seems silly to belabor the point.”

Of all the times for the man to start learning discretion. “So there is a reason why they are the way they are?”

“I couldn’t even begin to tell you,” Blanke said. “Most of it is classified anyway. Top secret, if you know what I mean. Plus, Michael has threatened me within an inch of my life if I tell anyone. Especially you.”

Rick made a face. “Wait, why would they warn you not to tell me?”

“Michael Dorset is a paranoid bastard,” Blanke said, eyebrows raised. “Haven’t you noticed?”

It was probably no surprise to anyone that Rick had.

-o-

Sofia Voukalof was difficult. She was opinionated and proud and independent. She valued her ideals and was willing to die for what she believed in.

In a lot of ways, she was just like the ODS.

Which was why she was so difficult to work with.

The mission was up and down, with body doubles and subterfuge, and Rick thought more than once that the whole thing was going to blow up in their faces. Possibly literally.

But Sofia cast her vote and became the next president of her country.

That was how it should be, he thought. People doing the right thing and getting rewarded for it. Justice and freedom prevailing.

It made him feel good.

But at home, he still sat at his desk and watched his teammates work in silence. They could help change the world, it seemed, but Rick wondered if they would ever change themselves.

-o-

After the adrenaline faded and they filed their mission reports, life went back to normal. Michael read best sellers. Carson doodled. Casey clicked at his computer.

Rick sat at his desk, wondering how this was the same team he always saw in action. Reclined in his chair and reading, Michael didn’t elicit the same intensity and trust as he did in the field, the kind he used to convince Sofia to trust them and leave her well established entourage behind. Hunched over, reading email, Casey looked more like an office lackey than a human weapon. As for Carson, with his sloppy appearance and tired features, he looked like he was probably sleeping with his eyes open.

Then he snored.

Rick frowned. This couldn’t be how it always had been. He’d seen them in action, he knew what they could do. But it was like someone had sucked the soul right out of them and left them like this.

Tepid, anal, paranoid and boring.

Not to mention reclusive.

Fidgeting in his seat, Rick felt his nerves fray, and an errant line of poetry slipped into his head.

He doesn’t flinch or flee
because he knows, that after all,
there’s worse fates than to be
A star engraved upon a wall.

He looked at Michael, at Casey, at Carson again. They were alive; they were field worthy. They got missions done – remarkable missions, even. Still, Rick wondered if they’d already lost the thing that made them great – whatever that was.

Shifting again, Rick leaned his elbows against his desk and started to plan.

-o-

The ODS was secretive, and few people seemed to know much about them other than their antics and their reclusiveness. Men who served in the ODS apparently weren’t big on friends.

Fortunately, Rick didn’t need a friend. Not when he had an ex-wife to consult.

When he knocked, he wasn’t sure what quite to expect. He and Fay were on speaking terms, but their relationship had been awkwardly professional ever since their truncated fling. Rick had effectively ditched her to run off with her paranoid ex, so he was pretty certain that all offers to couple up were off the table.

But the mission with Sofia had meant something to Fay, and she’d been genuinely excited when they came home and Sofia became president. He could only hope that that goodwill would be extended to him still.

Cautious, he poked his head inside.

For a second, she eyed him. Then, she smiled. “Come on in,” she said. “I was just finishing up the last of the paperwork on your mission before we file it as a total success.”

Rick eased in, sitting down with a grin. “We didn’t do the hard work,” he said. “Sofia won that election. We just made sure she stayed alive long enough for it.”

“Well, in a place like that, such things are easier said than done,” she said. She paused. “It was really good work, you know. Things like that, they make a difference.”

“I know,” Rick said.

She studied him. “So why are you here anyway? It better not be an errand for Michael,” she said, shaking her head. “He can come and do his own dirty work. Sending you doesn’t help.”

Rick laughed, though he couldn’t blame her. “No,” he said. “Michael didn’t send me.”

She looked surprised.

He shrugged. “But I did sort of want to talk about Michael.”

At that, she groaned. “And that’s not an awkward thing,” she said. “Generally ex-husbands are off topic for colleagues.”

“I don’t want to ask you about him as your husband,” he said readily. “Just – as a team. I mean, the ODS.”

She lifted her eyebrows.

Rick sighed, trying to stop his fumbling. “I’ve been with the ODS for a while now,” he said. “And I don’t know. I can’t figure them out.”

She snorted. “Welcome to the club,” she said. “I was married to Michael and I still can’t figure them out half the time.”

“It’s just, like, I know I’m part of the team,” he said. “I know they trust me to get the job done, but they don’t totally trust me with everything. They’re always holding back.”

“They’re a secretive bunch,” Fay admitted. “That was always part of the problem. He told them more than he told me. They were their own little circle of trust.”

“But that’s the thing,” Rick said. “I’m not quite in the circle either. Or maybe I’m inside it and they’re around me, so I never know completely what’s going on.”

“Well, they take time,” she said. “It’s been just the three of them for three years now.”

“So there was a fourth member?” Rick pressed. “Before me?”

Fay’s eyes skittered away and her jaw worked for a moment. “Yeah,” she said, trying to sound casual.

“Did they leave?”

Gathering a breath, Fay made a face. “It’s a long story,” she said.

“Well, I’m all ears,” he said.

Her smile turned a little sad. “I don’t think it’s really my story to tell,” she said.

“Wait, so you’re keeping secrets, too, now?” he asked.

“Hey, I told you on day one,” she said. “We all keep secrets in here. There can’t be any recrimination for that.”

Rick was starting to feel desperate. “I just can’t figure them out,” he said. “Are they as good as they seem? What are they holding back? Why won’t they trust me?”

She sighed and was quiet for a long moment. “The ODS is… complicated,” she said. “They are the best, but they’re not as good as they once were. A lot has changed, most of it not for the better.”

“That’s it?” Rick asked. “That’s all you can tell me?”

Her expression softened. “I can also tell you that they accept you more than you think,” she said.

Rick was dubious.

“If they didn’t want you here, you wouldn’t still be here,” she said. “But they’re better with you. They won’t admit it, but they need you.”

Back in the office, none of them looked up when he entered. He settled back in his desk, watching them. They didn’t look like they needed him.

But they certainly needed something.

-o-

When an operative was compromised in China, Casey organized the mission and had the ODS flying out before Rick even had a chance to ask why.

Then he met Linda.

Casey glared at her. “I see you’re still stupid enough to sleep with your operatives.”

She didn’t back down but smirked at him instead. “What, you thought you were the only one?” she asked coyly. Then she looked at the rest of the ODS. “But you should know me well enough that I’m not into groups.”

“We’re here to bring you home,” Michael interjected.

“That’s nice,” Linda replied. “But I’m here to stay.”

Really, Rick should have expected that. Only the ODS could have a rescue operation turn into something else on a dime.

A rescue operation in a dangerous country with a compromised asset.

Only the ODS.

-o-

If Rick should have expected that their little in and out mission would turn into an all out affair, he never could have expected that Casey and Linda used to be…

“You banged her?” Carson asked bluntly, back on the street.

Casey shook his head, rolling his eyes. “Everyone has needs.”

“She didn’t seem like a one night stand,” Carson said.

“We were stationed together for two years,” Casey said. “It was convenient. She was creative and willing and had a pleasant proclivity to work with her clothes off that suited me. Then, we weren’t stationed together. It became inconvenient.”

Rick tried to wrap his mind around some of that, but then got an unsettling mental image of Casey without his clothes on and all other rational thought ceased.

“Well, you know,” Carson said, leaning close. “Now that you’re back together again for this mission, it might be convenient…”

“Then by all means, go for it,” Casey said. “But I will warn you, she has a nasty right hook and she’s not afraid to use it.”

With that, he stalked in front of him. Carson grinned, Michael made a face.

Rick just considered being sick.

-o-

It was a weird thing, seeing his team interact with others. Not just assets or people in their protection. But actual people that they had presumably once cared about. Sure, there was Fay, but given her ready frustration with Michael she seemed to be the exception that proved the rule.

And the rule, to this point, had been that the ODS was an insular, exclusive group. They didn’t have friends; they didn’t have families. They didn’t even discuss their personal lives with each other. Everything was a need-to-know. Especially details of who they were, what they liked, and who they loved.

But Linda.,

True, Casey tried to hide it. He was gruffer than usual, his manner basically unprofessionally cold. He chided Linda about everything, and showed no compassion to her, her situation or her dead asset-turned-lover. If this was Casey’s way of hiding his latent jealousy, it was pretty damn effective.

Yet, Linda knew him. The shopkeeper knew them. There was familiarity and affection, even if Casey staunchly refused to return it.

It was clear, though, that Casey hadn’t always been that way. There had been a time when he’d cared about people, when he’d opened himself up. He’d called his relationship with Linda convenient, but Rick was pretty sure it had been anything but.

It made Rick wonder when the human weapon had started to become less human and more weapon – and how long it would be until there was nothing sentimental left at all.

-o-

Linda called it the two percent. She came by, gloating, calling Casey out on the feelings he wasn’t showing.

“You said it yourself,” she said, smirking. “I took two percent off your game. Two percent? For you? That’s saying a lot.”

Rocking back in his chair, Rick propped his feet up on his desk and grinned. It was a thought. Casey, functioning at less than 100 percent.

Casey lifted his eyebrows indifferently. “That’s why I ended it.”

Linda inclined her head. “So the reason you saved my life back there?”

“Part of the mission imperative,” Casey replied.

Carson snorted.

Michael rolled his eyes. “Is that what we’re calling it now?”

Casey looked indignant. “What? You mean you think I managed to take down a dirty police cell mostly on my own after being handcuffed and simultaneously protecting another imprisoned operative while functioning at somewhere less then 100 percent?” he asked. “Honestly, I don’t know if I should be flattered or offended.”

“Just admit it,” Carson joked. “You have a heart.”

“I can attest to it,” Linda said. “A very virile one.”

Rick’s smile faded, the negative imagery coming back.

Casey sighed. “If you’re all done making jokes, now…”

“No jokes, Casey,” Linda said. “I just came by to say I love you, too.”

Michael looked amused and Carson was all but laughing. Rick felt his own heart skip a beat as he watched for Casey’s reaction.

There should have been humor. Maybe embarrassment. There should have been something.

Instead, Casey looked at her, eyes unwavering, face composed. “I made a mistake back then,” he said. “I gave you two percent. It’s not one I intend to repeat.”

Linda’s smile fell just a little and she worked her jaw. She nodded, holding his gaze. “I know,” she said, simple and soft. Then she leaned over, giving him a small kiss on the cheek. “It’s your loss.”

When she walked out, Carson snickered, and Casey got back to work. Michael shook his head, but Rick watched her go. She didn’t look back. Casey didn’t watch her.

He began to wonder if it wasn’t just Casey’s loss. If it wasn’t even just Linda’s. If maybe it was all of theirs.

-o-

Alone in the office, Rick couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Two percent.

What did Casey do with that two percent? Did he smile? Did he joke? Did he talk about himself?

Linda had gotten that two percent, but what had he given the ODS so that they trusted him like they did? What percent had they all given once – and how much were they keeping back now?

Because they wanted to pretend that they were at 100 percent. Hell, they trained and they planned and they executed with a frightening attention to detail and precision. But they were missing something.

And whatever it was, was a whole lot more than two percent.

Most of the time, they could compensate. When one faltered, another could fill the void. They were entirely functional, but Rick had to wonder what they could be if they were operating at peak efficiency.

These revelations regarding Linda only served to justify Rick’s growing suspicions that there was something in the ODS’ history that he didn’t know; something that he probably needed to know. Fay’s insights had been vague but hardly had swayed him from that, and he was more determined than ever to figure it out.

After all, this was his team. He put his life on the line for these men. The least he could do was actually know them. He still knew more about his phantom desk buddy than he did the three men who actually shared an office with him.

Fay had been his first idea. Agency files were annoyingly sealed regarding personnel matters, and he hadn’t wanted to bother Adele with it just yet. Their relationship was still to tentative to start asking for professional favors, as far as he was concerned. Blanke was only moderately helpful, but then he’d actually have to talk to Blanke, which would likely result in a half day listening to Blanke’s colorful rendition of American history.

But what else was there? He was inclined to think his desk buddy had something to do with it, but he had nothing but circumstantial evidence. The dates would work with the amount of time the current team had been together, but that was stretching it pretty thin.

Sighing, he opened the drawer, pulling up the fake bottom once again. He flipped through the tickets and souvenirs, but they yielded few new insights. Frustrated, he picked up the poetry again and started flipping through.

He’d read the pieces a lot now – more than he probably should have. Literature had never been his forte in school, and he was regretting it now. It was all still strangely British, which made him doubt his entire train of thought. Maybe it was a coincidence. Some strange twist of fate. Maybe the ODS had smuggled the damn thing overseas. In all honesty, that wouldn’t surprise him.

Then, one of the poems made him stop.

Brave companions
lead the charge;
three warriors
of certain heart

Brave companions
led by one
who make plans as
he would fine art

Brave companions
one of which
has cleverness always
to impart

Brave companions
last of whom
can easily take
a man apart

Brave companions
lead the charge;
never flinching
from their part

Brave companions
for their cause
give mind and body
soul and heart.

At first, it would be easy to write the poem off as the same melodramatic fluff that happened to fit in verse form. But then Rick really read it. Brave companions was generic enough, but three warriors resonated. One who planned, one with cleverness, one who could take a man apart.

Michael, Casey, Carson.

Three companions. Never flinching. Giving mind and body – heart and soul.

Whoever had written this had known the ODS. More than that, he had been the fourth member of the ODS.

It probably shouldn’t have been much of a revelation, but the part that bothered Rick the most was that people didn’t leave the ODS. That was never explicitly stated, of course, but the implications were clear. Once Rick had been fully initiated into the group, the notion of ever leaving had been quickly forgotten about. As experienced operatives, Rick didn’t doubt that Michael, Casey and Carson had other options – options Higgins would probably happily grant.

But they would never go. Just like Rick would never go. What they did was too important, too singular—

So what had happened to this guy? Where had he gone? Had he betrayed his team? Was that why they didn’t trust Rick anymore? Was he living in the shadow of someone who had wronged them?

That would explain the reticence, maybe.

But the poetry didn’t sound like the words of a traitor. This guy spoke of nobility and of companionship; he believed this stuff.

Which made Rick wonder how he’d ever fit in with the ODS at all. They were cold and cynical; he was optimistic and buoyant.

Three warriors of certain heart.

Rick had to think it had been true one – just like he had to believe it could be true again.

He just had to figure out how.

SECTION THREE B

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 17th, 2012 04:06 pm (UTC)
AH, the english major in me LOVES THIS!

AH, Billy's poetry, his odes! This english major just LOVES all that.

Rick's discovery of Billy's secrets and revelations about himself, how he viewed the work, how he viewed his team, it's just all BEAUTIFUL puzzle pieces into the man they all mourn unbeknownst to Rick. I believe Rick's fascination and wanting to learn more about the owner of the desk.

Fave parts:


“I don’t,” Rick said. “But these guys wouldn’t either.
They use things like guitars to hide things.” He paused, flipping it over. “If we can just find a way to pry it open…”

-- I LOVE that you have Rick discovering the guitar!


Carson slapped him on the shoulder. “We all pay our dues,” he said. “One way or another.”

--Another clue to Carson's disillusionment and that there is something driving that disillusionment.

With the metal gone, Rick was faced with a cluttered mess. Whoever had stripped the desk clean had apparently neglected this part, which seemed weird to Rick. No one left this much stuff in a desk willingly. Whoever had left it behind had most certainly left in a hurry.

Or forgotten about all together.

It was a strange collection of things. There was a page torn from a magazine – titled The Ancient Beauty of the Scottish Highlands – folded and wrinkled on the top. Below it, there a calendar page dated over three years ago. There was a strange assortment of what appeared to be home made confetti that looked suspiciously liked finely cut mission reports. There was one paper airplane, a ticket stub to Munich and several scribbled hand-written pages.

Pausing, Rick picked up the pages. Immediately, he recognized the handwriting. The blocky, left-handed slant was unmistakable, a perfect match for the half finished crossword he’d already found. Which meant this was all from the same person – probably someone who had sat here for a while. Years, if the varying dates on the stubs and articles were any indication.

At first he thought the pages were notes, maybe a list. But when he looked closer, he cocked his head.

Poetry.

Someone had created a fake bottom for poetry.

His mission report forgotten, Rick couldn’t help but start reading.

- LOVED LOVED LOVED THIS! I so miss Billy! The "clues" that Rick is discovering is making me feel Billy's absence SO KEENLY!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 20th, 2012 03:18 am (UTC)
Re: AH, the english major in me LOVES THIS!
billy guitar

If Billy was going to leave anything behind, it had to be poetry :) I should credit Lena for writing Billy's poems for me :)

Thanks!

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