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Chaos fic: An Indirect Proof (AU, 5/9)

October 18th, 2012 (08:02 am)
calm

feeling: calm

A/N: Previous parts in the MASTER POST.




SECTION FOUR

-o-

Rick had been duped, led on and mocked. He’d been nearly thrown into a Russian prison and shot in the leg in Bolivia. In his first year at the Agency, he’d learned a lot, found a place.

But he was still the new guy. Michael still kept him out of the loop and Casey barely took the time to acknowledge his presence in the field. Carson seemed to humor him when necessary, and Rick still didn’t know anything personal about any of them. Rick was still a trusted member of the team, but he never got to do the dangerous jobs, and they’d never let him work solo.

After a year, he was still the new guy. Rick had hoped that things would transition naturally, but he had discovered that the ODS was set in their ways. They’d deemed Rick the kid and while they no longer blackmailed him into submission, they didn’t seem to treat him quite as an equal.

Their concern would almost be sweet, except this was the CIA. Rick was a spy, and a spy who was coddled wasn’t much of a spy at all.

And Rick was a spy. Spies went on missions; they found intelligence. They did the impossible. They lied, they went undercover, they defied the odds. They recruited assets.

If his team wouldn’t trust him alone in the field, he’d have to prove himself any way he could and finding an asset all his own would be the perfect place to start.

It was a good lead. The man lived in Bangkok, had connections to various illegal enterprises throughout the region. He had been reticent, but progressively more helpful and interested in working out a long term partnership.

The intel would be a boon; Rick could help form missions, direct US policy, save lives.

Or at least get his team to stop treating him like a tagalong kid brother.

He made his pitch to Higgins, who looked mostly unimpressed. Then he glanced over. “What do you think?” the director asked. “Is he ready?”

Rick followed his gaze to where his teammates were seated. They were the picture of indifference, legs crossed and arms folded, armed with books and magazines and bored stares.

“We’ve been screwed by these people before,” Michael said, shrugging.

“It’s like a baby bird leaving the nest too early,” Casey remarked coolly. “I hardly think it’s worth the effort just to watch him go splat.”

Carson sighed. “At some point, we all have to make our own mistakes.”

Rick frowned, but he wasn’t surprised.

“Your confidence is inspiring,” Higgins mused. Then he looked at Rick. “The fact that they’re so lukewarm bodes in your favor.” He handed the file back to Rick. “But please, try not to go splat.”

Rick took the file back, a small smile on his lips. His team could talk him down, act like they didn’t care. He knew them well enough to know it wasn’t a lack of trust or belief; it was their way of protecting him. Or controlling him.

Which was the same thing.

And that was fine. Because this would be the mission Rick would prove himself – once and for all.

-o-

Alone in an alley in Bangkok, Rick was ready. He had the money, he had his computer; he was ready.

Ready to make the meet; ready to get the intel. Ready to prove to his team he could do it. He could be a spy – and a good spy at that.

When his asset rode up, Rick was so hyped up on adrenaline that he could hardly hold onto the case, he was sweating so bad. When the asset offered him the intelligence, he prayed the man couldn’t see how bad he was shaking.

He didn’t. Or, if he did, it didn’t matter. Because Rick had planned for everything, and had his computer ready to check the intelligence. He had the money locked with a code, and the asset waited anxiously while Rick loaded the file.

Jaw clenched, he had to force himself to breathe. This was it; make it or break it. If there was junk on the file, then he’d have nothing to show for his work. He’d have proven them right; he’d have gone splat just like Higgins told him not to. They would never stop seeing him as the new guy; he’d always be the kid.

Then the disc loaded, and the intel came up. Documents and photos; notes from foreign spy agencies.

It was good.

Rick had to keep his emotions in check, but the relief was so palpable, he almost wanted to cry.

The intel was good.

“Okay,” Rick said, smiling now. “The pass code to the money is 2445. And I’m sure we’ll be in contact.”

The asset was still a bit sulky, but he nodded. Everything was going well – not quite perfect, but good enough. This was going to work.

Until a van came around the corner.

And nothing was good anymore.

-o-

The asset reacted badly. Indignant, he lashed out. “You tricked me!” he yelled, throwing a fist toward Rick and following up with a shot from the briefcase.

Rick yelped. “No, I—“

But then he was caught in the temple, stumbling back and falling hard on his backside as he saw stars.

There was a scuffle and a honking, and then the revving engine of a motorcycle.

On the ground, Rick blinked, trying to clear his vision, trying to see who it was that had found him.

Still straining to see, things were blurry around the edges, but it wasn’t hard to recognize the three figures in the nondescript white van.

Michael gave him a wan smile in the driver’s seat. “Huh,” he said. “An alleyway? Really? You’ve been watching too many spy movies.”

“Bad spy movies, at that,” Casey chimed in from behind.

“Least he’s going to have a stellar bruise for his trouble,” Carson said. “If he’s a wannabe action hero, he may as well look the part, right?”

Rick’s fingers clenched into fists and he let his head drop back against the pavement. He’d planned for everything – for betrayal, for cold feet, for confusion – but he hadn’t planned for this.

His team, swooping in. To save him or screw him. Maybe both.

Maybe, after all this time, Rick would have to accept that they were really the same thing.

-o-

By the time Rick managed to get back on his feet, he wasn’t sure what emotion was more pressing: outrage or embarrassment.

Because his teammates had just fouled up his first solo meet; thanks to their intrusion, it was likely his asset would never talk to him again, making all of Rick’s hard work for naught. More than that, they had barged in like parents checking on a delinquent teenager, and Rick felt the flush in his cheeks, suddenly grateful for the swelling bruise blossoming there.

He wanted to rage; he wanted to stamp his foot and pout. He settled for a livid, “What are you guys doing here!”

Michael smirked at him, bending over. At first Rick thought he was offering a hand to pull him up, but he snagged Rick’s bag instead, plucking out the laptop. “Just seeing how you’re doing,” he said.

The van door opened and Casey was poised in back, eating some local cuisine. “I’m just here for the food.”

From the passenger’s seat, Carson’s expression was unreadable under a pair of large, dark sunglasses. “You really think there’s such a thing as solo missions in the ODS?” he asked. “You’re greener than I thought.”

Rick sulked more than before, picking himself up off the ground and wiping his pants in vain. “I was fine,” he said, too aware of how petulant he sounded.

“Uh huh,” Michael said, setting up the laptop on a nearby crate. “Then why did the asset put you on your ass?”

Rick flung his arms wide in indignation. “Because you came in and spooked him!”

“We could have been anyone,” Carson said. “It’s not our fault that your asset was so jumpy.”

“Or that you would be unable to dodge such an obvious blow,” Casey said, looking critically at the meat he was eating. “Needs more turmeric.”

Rick’s scowl deepened. “This was my mission, though,” he said. “You can’t keep treating me like the new guy.”

“You are the new guy,” Michael said, opening the file.

“Not like that,” Rick argued. “This asset is good. This asset is mine.

“This asset is a bust,” Michael concluded.

Rick frowned. “What?”

Michael nodded at the screen. “Your asset played you.”

Rick moved closer. “There’s loads of intel on there,” he said. “I checked it myself.”

“Loads of intel,” Michael agreed. “All at least two years old.”

Rick’s stomach dropped. “But—“

Michael pointed at a file. “I mean, this is about Bill Jeter,” he said.

Carson made a noise. “That guy’s been gone for two years at least.”

Rick’s eyes went wide. “Killed in action?”

“No, tripped in his bathtub,” Michael said. “And this is talking about his capture like it’s still news.”

“But…,” Rick said, trying to muster his thoughts. “There are other things…”

Michael shook his head. “Old news,” he said. “All of it. How much did you pay the asset?”

Rick felt numb. “10k.”

“That’s not so bad, then,” Michael said.

Rick looked at him. “Higgins won’t be mad?”

“Oh, Higgins will be mad,” Michael confirmed. “And you did just waste 10k of American taxpayer money during the worst recession in a century.”

Rick stared. “Then how is that not so bad?”

Michael shrugged. “We did get a trip to Bangkok out of it.”

Casey finished his last bite. “And I never pass up a trip to Bangkok.”

Gaping, Rick watched as Michael got back into the car.

The engine going, Michael looked at him, Carson and Casey eyeing him too. “You coming?”

Rick wanted to say no. Rick wanted to sit in the alley and sulk. Rick wanted to kick the walls, punch them until his fists were bloody.

But he couldn’t. Because his asset had left him with nothing. He’d wasted the money. He’d blown the mission.

His team had been right. Rick was a baby bird and he hadn’t quite gone splat, but here he was, being hauled back into the nest with nothing but a squawk. But the more he protested, the more he sounded like the new guy he didn’t want to be.

Sighing, he tried to square his shoulders, keeping his head up even as his cheeks flushed red and he climbed into the van.

-o-

Higgins was mercifully silent about the ordeal. He sighed and shook his head, and told Martinez that was all.

Rick wasn’t sure what that meant, but he was fairly certain he didn’t want to ask for clarification for fear that it might lead to a far worse outcome.

Higgins’ unspoken reprieve didn’t spare him from his teammates.

“Hey,” Casey said when he came in one morning. “Where’s the coffee?”

Rick stared at him. “In the coffee pot.”

“Smart ass,” Casey said. “I mean, why didn’t you bring me coffee.”

“Because I’m not your personal attendant,” Rick countered, slouching over to his desk and sitting down heavily.

“Well, you may as well be,” Casey said. “It’s not like after your performance overseas you’re ready for solo spywork.”

Rick gritted his teeth and started his computer.

“That’s uncalled for,” Michael interjected. “Real spies get coffee all the time.”

Rick glared at them. “I’m not getting you coffee.”

Simms tipped his head up, lifting his sunglasses. “Best job in the house, kid,” he said. “Good exercise and no one’s shooting at you.”

“Oh, and none of you have ever screwed up?” Rick shot back.

Casey shrugged. “I haven’t.”

“Our failures are different,” Michael said.

“How?”

“Well, after you’ve completed your first solo mission, you’ll understand,” Michael said.

Rick’s jaw locked.

“So are we getting the coffee or what?” Simms asked.

Rick took a breath; then another. He sought patience, wisdom. Because the problem was, they weren’t wrong.

Rick was the new guy. The new guy got the coffee. The new guy endured the humiliation.

And Rick might always be the new guy at this rate.

-o-

It was Fay who found him in the break room. “Hey,” she said. “I need you to get the ODS and bring them to Higgins office, ASAP.”

Rick frowned, suddenly fearing the worst. “Why?”

Fay’s dark eyes were serious. “Just trust me.”

“Does this have to do with the asset in Bangkok?” Rick asked.

She nodded.

“Look, it wasn’t that big of deal,” he said. “We don’t need the rest of the team—“

“No, really,” she said. “Bring them to Higgins office. Now.”

There was something in her tone, something just a bit desperate, immediate. Rick swallowed hard. “Okay,” he said.

She nodded curtly, moving swiftly out.

Rick watched her go. He looked at the coffee. Whatever Fay had to say, he thought it couldn’t get much worse than this.

-o-

The team wasn’t happy. Rick couldn’t blame them; he wasn’t happy either. In Higgins’ office, he tried to look relaxed, but found he couldn’t stop fidgeting. Fay took control quickly, though, starting the TV screen.

“We’ve been going through the intel from Rick’s asset,” she started.

“Rick’s bad asset,” Michael amended.

“That cost us our yearly bonus,” Carson muttered.

“Speak for yourself,” Casey said.

Higgins cleared his throat. “I take it you found something, Ms. Carson?”

“Yes,” she said.

Rick’s eyes widened hopefully. “So it wasn’t all bogus?”

“Oh, it was all bogus, all right,” she said. “All of it was at least two years – most of it older than that.”

Rick’s shoulders slumped.

“So what’s the big deal then?” Michael pressed.

“This,” Fay said, bringing up an image. “This is a picture from a British satellite.”

The team edged just slightly closer. Michael shrugged. “Who are we looking at?”

“Alan Fredericks, an American contractor who was kidnapped three years ago,” Fay explained.

“So?” Casey prompted.

“Wasn’t he rescued?” Michael asked.

“He was,” Fay said. “But that’s not why the photo is important.”

She hit a few buttons and the image got larger, focusing on the figure behind Fredericks. The black and white image was grainy, and it was hard to make out. The figure was tall and lanky, clothes hanging off a clearly too-thin frame. The brown hair was overgrown and spiky, the face thick was stubble.

Rick squinted, trying to identify the figure. He looked familiar somehow, though Rick couldn’t place him.

Next to him, Michael was on his feet, Casey only a step behind. Carson was frozen, unmoving, unblinking.

There was a sudden electricity in the air; unspoken but palpable. It almost hummed, drawing everyone’s attention back to the screen.

Rick shook his head finally, needing to understand. “What?” he asked.

No one looked at him. Not even Higgins.

“Son of a bitch,” Michael breathed, transfixed.

Rick looked from his teammates and back to the image, saw the tired eyes and sunken cheeks. There was something there, something Rick should be able to place…but couldn’t. “What?” he asked, a little more desperate now.

“That’s him,” Casey said, the statement so simple, so human, that Rick thought he might have imagined it.

Fay nodded. “We think so, too,” she confirmed, looking back at the ODS, eyes filled with something bright.

But hope in what? A grainy satellite image in a package of useless intel? The blurred image of a man Rick kept thinking he should know?

Carson hadn’t even moved and Casey’s face was blank. Michael was so stiff he was practically trembling. They weren’t paranoid spies for the moment; they weren’t even bastards. They looked truly surprised – no, dumbstruck, shell shocked, disbelieving, guilty—

Hopeful.

Just when Rick had thought he’d seen everything from these guys, hopeful.

And yet, Rick still didn’t know why. All the pieces were there, Rick’s failed intel, the ODS speechless, the image of a man…

“We think it’s who?” Rick prompted, feeling completely at a loss.

Michael’s breath caught and he swallowed audibly. “Billy Collins,” he said, the name sounded almost foreign on his tongue. “The fourth member of the ODS.”

-o-

Billy Collins.

The fourth member of the ODS.

Rick had seen his picture in the file Adele had pulled. Which meant this was the man whose desk Rick was sitting in. The man with ticket stubs and bad poetry, and paperclips stapled underneath.

Billy Collins.

“Wait,” Rick said, tearing his eyes from the picture and looking at his team. “You mean, he’s been missing in action all this time?”

“Technically,” Michael confirmed, a little shaky. When he looked at Rick, his face was pale. “He was assumed killed three years ago after a mission in North Africa.”

For a moment, Rick could only blink.

Michael moved closer to the image. “We never found the body.”

Casey moved in next to him. “That’s because there was no body to find,” he said grimly. He shook his head. “The sons of bitches must have taken him instead.”

Rick shook his head, still a step behind the rest. “Who?”

“Ernesto Salazar,” Carson said, still lagging behind the rest. When Rick looked back, Carson’s expression was stony and he hadn’t moved. Then he grimaced, almost looking nauseated. “A real gem, that one. Up to his eyeballs in counterfeiting, and he has enough money – fake or otherwise – to buy whatever the hell he wants.”

“Including a CIA operative,” Michael said.

From the desk, Higgins took a measured breath. “Have we confirmed that this is Operative Collins?”

Fay nodded. “Facial recognition is a match.”

“It’s him,” Michael said. “I mean, he looks like he’s been kept off his game, but it’s him.”

Rick looked at the screen again, trying to make the image of the bedraggled man match the photo he’d seen in the file. The light in his eyes was gone, the smile lost in the weariness of his face.

“Do we have any more current information that might confirm Operative Collins’ location or condition?” Higgins asked.

“No,” Fay said. “But this photo is only two years old.”

“Which is a year after any of us saw him alive,” Michael said. He turned to Higgins. “Salazar’s keeping him alive for a reason. The son of a bitch still has him.”

Higgins’ worked his jaw, pursing his lips. He inclined his head. “Clearly, this is a pressing matter,” he said. “We’ll need to first find out if we can locate Mr. Salazar—“

He didn’t say more; he didn’t have to. Michael was already moving, Casey a step behind. “We’re on it,” Michael confirmed.

“No matter what dark hole Salazar has chosen to hide in, we’ll find him,” Casey agreed.

Rick watched them go, blinking as he looked at Simms. Carson didn’t look back; his eyes were still focused on the screen.

At the desk, Higgins sighed, rubbing a tired hand over his head. “So apparently your first solo mission wasn’t such a waste after all,” he said.

Rick swallowed hard, looking back at the screen. Back at Billy Collins. Back at the man who’d sat in his desk.

The man whose void Rick was trying to fill.

Trying and failing.

His desk buddy, his ghost of a friend.

In a grainy photo that cost Rick 10k – and maybe a whole lot more – suddenly he wasn’t such a ghost anymore.

-o-

In some ways, the Agency was just like a middle school – people gossiped and poked into each other’s business – they just did it with more sophisticated measures and much broader implications. Here, it wasn’t just if you slept with the captain of the football team, but if you compromised state secrets while playing tackle between the sheets.

So it wasn’t really a surprise when the name Billy Collins was being whispered throughout the halls by the time Rick made his way back to the office. The tones were hushed, excited, eager.

And why not, Rick figured. An operative, presumed dead, still being alive? It was a big deal. They could all relate; it could be any of them. They all risked their lives for their country…so it only made sense that they shared a camaraderie with someone who had actually given it.

But it wasn’t just that. It wasn’t just the whispers or the hushed tones. It was the look. When Rick walked by, they watched him. Diverted their eyes. Got very quiet.

At first, he thought maybe because it had been his intel. He’d been the one who’d actually found evidence of Billy Collins’ survival. He had everything to do with this revelation.

When he got back to his desk, however. When he sat down, when he looked at the familiar gouges, he realized that wasn’t it at all. It wasn’t that Billy had sat in Rick’s desk – it was that Rick was sitting in Billy’s. People weren’t watching him because he might be the hero who brought Billy home.

People were watching him because he was the one who was trying to replace him.

Maybe they’d seen it all along, even if they’d never spoken it. But now that Billy Collins was alive, the discrepancy was glaring.

And the reality was pointed.

Rick wasn’t the hero who might have found a missing operative.

He was the dunce who may have just found the man who belonged here more than Rick ever would.

Irony: it was a bitch.

-o-

Most days, the ODS seemed to laze around, only appearing half-committed to whatever their daily task. They were better on missions, but the daily drudgery made them seem borderline incompetent.

Not now. Everything had changed. Like a switch had been flicked, the ODS was in overdrive. There were so many tasks, Rick could hardly keep them all straight, and he was buried in paperwork before he found a chance to finally ask the obvious.

“So what happened anyway?” he asked, pausing over the intelligence file he’d been asked to go over.

Casey didn’t pause in his work. Carson stubbornly didn’t look up.

“It was like we said in Higgins’ office,” Michael supplied. “He was presumed dead after a mission in North Africa.”

“Yeah, but how?” Rick said. “You guys don’t strike me like the types to just leave a teammate behind without a damn good reason.”

Casey stiffened and Carson seemed to shudder.

“We aren’t,” Michael replied, somewhat terse. “But the last time we saw Billy, he wasn’t moving.”

Rick shrugged. “That doesn’t mean—“

“And then the entire warehouse blew up,” Michael concluded, letting the force of the words settle for a moment. “Debris was scattered almost a mile. By the time we were able to get back inside, there was nothing left but ash.”

It was a sober pronouncement, one Michael clearly took no joy in.

Feeling inexplicably guilty, Rick hemmed himself in. He looked down at the file – a counterfeiting operation in Namibia – then back at Michael. “So if that’s the last you saw him, how did he end up in Salazar’s custody?”

At that, Michael sighed. He took off his glasses, rubbing a hand over his face. When he looked at Rick again, the smugness was gone. In its place was simple exhaustion. “I don’t know,” he said. “Best guess is that Billy was alive when he went down and Salazar found him before we could get to him. Then Salazar probably took him out another direction before the entire thing went up.”

“But why didn’t you check him?” Rick pressed.

“Because the entire place was already burning, Martinez,” Michael snapped. “Have you ever been in a burning building?”

“Well, no—“

“Have you ever tried to see through the smoke and climb over burning debris?”

“No, I—“

“Then you don’t know,” Michael said, gaze hard now. “If we could have gone back for him, we would have. You can believe that.”

Casey was looking at him now, too, unyielding, but Carson didn’t look up, staring hard at his desk.

“And that’s what we’re doing,” Michael continued. “We’re going back for him. And we will get him out. And if that’s a problem—“

Rick shook his head readily. “No,” he said. “That’s not a problem.”

Chewing his lip, he looked at his desk, trying to convince himself of that once and for all.

-o-

Rick had bought a grainy photo. He’d found proof of life.

That, however, didn’t come close to creating a rescue mission.

No, that process was much more involved, and the ODS took to it without commentary or hesitation. Michael was more focused than Rick had ever seen him – and that was saying something. The man was unyielding. He didn’t stop to eat or sleep; Rick wasn’t even sure he saw the man go to the bathroom. He laid out papers all over the bullpen, lining them up, matching things and marking off points on a map.

Casey followed his lead without being asked. He supplemented research, bringing in new files on criminals and countries, earmarking necessary passages and crossreferencing things where he could. He was unusually helpful, though even less talkative than usual. And yet, there was a certain bounce to his step; a newfound purpose that Rick could only vaguely remember from his hazy time under the doctor’s care in Bolivia.

Carson was the exception, as Carson usually was. He did whatever was asked, face pale and pinched as he worked. He was unusually awake, eyes bloodshot as he left his sunglasses behind. Rick could smell the whiffs of heavier alcohol when Simms came to work in the morning, but if this worried Michael, there was never any comment made.

The ODS didn’t need comments; they didn’t need words. They worked together, seamlessly in tandem. They knew each other, predicted each other’s movements, complemented each other perfectly. They were efficient; they were good.

This Rick realized. This was the team they were meant to be. This was everything Rick knew they were capable of: determined, defiant, dedicated. Damn near flawless.

Because of Billy Collins.

Rick had fumbled for the better part of the year, and with one blurry snapshot, Billy Collins had done with Rick hadn’t. What Rick couldn’t.

The truth was, Rick wasn’t sure if he wanted to thank Billy – or if he wanted to burn the picture and everything it represented. Rick had started this mission to prove himself, to show that he mattered.

And here he was, proving just the opposite. Because suddenly, Rick didn’t matter at all.

-o-

They barely had time to stop and lay out what they knew. Michael had always been adept at bringing plans together, but his level of focus now was unprecedented.

“Okay,” he said, standing in front of the map. “Salazar’s been busy the last three years, and he’s got a lot of branches set up with various lieutenants around the world.”

“Lackeys,” Casey muttered.

“And not self sufficient enough to be a problem,” he said. “And not really our main concern.”

Carson frowned, scratching the back of his neck. “How do we even know where he’s keeping Billy?” he said. “You said it yourself, he’s got his fingers all over the world. Billy could be in any of those places.”

“Salazar’s smart,” Michael said. “He’s also an egotistical maniac. He doesn’t take chances with safety, or he’d have gone belly up by now. He’s keeping Billy around for a reason, and he’s not going to be stupid enough to risk one of his men in charge of what is surely one of his most valuable assets.”

“A CIA operative for a rainy day,” Casey said. “How quaint.”

And dangerous. If Salazar was keeping Billy as collateral, then he wouldn’t be afraid to try to cash it in. If he thought it was for naught…

Rick swallowed, jaw tight. It wasn’t worth thinking about.

Michael nodded. “Which means if we want to find Billy…”

Simms’ work his jaw, expression. “We find Salazar.”

There was a silence, thick and tense, and none of the others seemed keen to break it.

Cautiously, Rick said, “So have we got a lead?”

Michael shifted on his feet, looking at the map. “Better than that,” he said. “We’ve got a concrete location.”

“Panama,” Casey said, face twisted with disgust.

“A free trade zone,” Rick realized.

“Exactly,” Michael said.

Rick shook his head. “We should still be able to get him, right?”

“We would except for this,” Michael said, pulling a file and putting it to the top of the pile.

Rick leaned forward, studying it. “The treasury department?”

“I thought those Secret Service nobodies didn’t bother doing real work,” Casey said with a huff.

“I can’t tell how much they’re doing on this one, either,” Michael said. “Apparently they picked up the case against Salazar about a year ago, and it’s still active.”

“And we can’t cross jurisdictional lines, can we?” Rick said.

“Legally, no,” Michael said.

Rick pressed his lips together, almost afraid to ask. “But off the record?”

“Easy, Martinez,” Michael said. “I know how much you love unsanctioned missions, but we’re not out of options just yet on this one.”

Rick’s nose scrunched up. “What options do we have?”

“Never overlook the obvious,” Casey advised.

Rick was still at a loss.

Michael smirked. “We ask,” he said.

Rick blinked, waiting for more. “That’s it?”

Michael shrugged. “We ask nicely?”

“You guys have never asked nicely for anything as long as I’ve known you.”

Carson made a face, but still didn’t look up.

Casey inclined his head. “Should we remind you that you haven’t known us very long?”

“Trust me, Martinez,” Michael said, patting Rick on the arm. “There are still a few things you can learn from us.”

A week ago, Rick would have doubted that. But now, seeing them in action, seeing them with purpose, he was willing to believe it.

He just didn’t know if he’d still have a place on the team long enough to find out.

-o-

When Michael left to go to the treasury, Rick hunkered down to do paperwork. But Michael lingered at his desk. “You coming?”

Rick looked up, surprised. “Coming where?”

“To the treasury with me,” Michael said, as if it were obvious.

Perplexed, Rick tilted his head. “You want me to come with you?”

Mentally, Rick went through the possible outcomes, wondering if there was dirty work waiting for him with such a trip; possibly humiliation. If someone had to be fed to the wolves…

Michael scoffed. “Just thought you might like to come,” he said. “If you’re not interested—“

He meant it. At least, he seemed to. It was possible that Michael was lying to him, still setting him up, but somehow, Rick didn’t think so. Something had changed when Billy Collins was shown to be alive – something hard to define, but something impossible to ignore. His team was suddenly alive, too. Fully functioning.

And inclusive. Rick suddenly wasn’t the tagalong little brother; he was wanted, included. Valued.

It was a bittersweet thing. To think he’d gotten everything he worked for this year just in time to bring back the man who really belonged here.

Yet, he couldn’t say no. Not now. Not for his team.

Not for Billy Collins.

“No, no,” Rick said, pushing to his feet. “I’m coming.”

Michael regarded him, nodding with something that looked like pride. “Let’s go.”

Rick hurried to catching up, his steps falling in tandem as they walked out together.

-o-

Michael had a plan.

Normally, Rick was the last to figure that out, but this time, he understood it the minute Michael pulled out the robot as a peace offering. They had come to ask politely, but Michael had never expected an answer. Which was why he brought a monitoring device to hack their system and get the answer for them.

It was the stupidest thing Rick had ever heard. When they got caught – and they would get caught – the Secret Service could arrest them.

So it was stupid. A stunt that would ruin them with its outrageous, audacious, blatant stupidity.

Yet, back at Langley, watching the intel pour in, Rick had to admit that it might have been the smartest one, too.

-o-

With unwitting help from the treasury, getting a positive lock on Salazar’s newest base of operations was easy. From there, they just had to concoct a plan to get a meeting with Salazar and set up operations to both gather enough evidence to take Salazar into custody and execute a comprehensive rescue operation.

The details were risky, and the ODS would have to cash in a few favors, but no one hesitated. They’d go in, expose a weakness in Salazar’s current ink supplier, offer their services as a replacement, and then close a deal that hooked Salazar and got enough evidence for prosecution.

Then they could break in, dismantle the operation, rescue Billy and arrest Salazar.

It sounded easy.

Go in, get Salazar, get Billy, get out.

Rick was discovering there was a lot he didn’t know about the ODS, but one thing he knew without a doubt was that nothing was ever easy.

The other thing he knew was - that had never stopped them before.

And it wouldn’t stop them now.

-o-

Identifying Salazar’s compound was only the start. From there, they needed to develop full covers and secure private travel. Plus, they needed to obtain high grade counterfeit ink, which required more than a few favors, all while prepping the paperwork to fly to Central America.

Each day, Rick felt his nerves mounting. They’d undertaken some pretty crazy missions before, but this one felt different.

This one was different.

Gone was the ODS’ nonchalance. There was no more indifference or lackadaisical dispositions. Rick was no longer the first one there or the last to leave. Michael never seemed to leave, always hunched over and working at his desk. Carson didn’t appear to be sleeping, face increasingly haggard and movements sluggish as he took to drinking entire pots of coffee just to stay alert.

Casey showed no signs of strain, and he spent every spare moment training. In the gym, doing cardio, lifting weights. Calisthenics, stretching, massage: everything.

At lunch, he even ate with newfound purpose. Devouring high protein meals with whole grain carbs, drinking particular amounts of water with no pausing for conversation.

“You nervous?” Rick asked.

Casey paused, almost surprised. “Are you speaking to me?”

Rick shrugged. “Yeah.”

Casey stared at him. “I don’t get nervous.”

“Then why are you acting so intense?”

This time, Casey blinked. “Because,” he said. “This is a mission with no margin for error. Success is the only acceptable outcome.”

“But isn’t that the way it is for every mission?”

Casey lifted his eyebrows. “We’re going in to rescue a fellow operative who has been imprisoned for three years,” he said. “An operative that our shortsightedness wrote off for dead. This isn’t national security. This isn’t international affairs. This is one of our own. Literally. I know you’re new to this, but I don’t think you’re that new.”

It was as much as Rick had ever heard Casey say. And it wasn’t that there was emotion – it was devoid of fear and anger and guilt – but it was focused. Utterly intent. Casey had always been impressive. Now, Rick realized, he was damn near perfect. As close to infallible as any human could be.

Rick smiled wryly. “Billy Collins must be worth a lot,” he said.

Casey snorted. “Don’t be sentimental,” he said.

Rick shrugged. “He was your teammate.”

“He is my teammate,” Casey said harshly, pushing his chair back with a scrape and standing. “Which is why I won’t sit here and indulge your touching heart to heart. If we’re going to bring him back, we don’t have a moment to lose. Now, if you’ll excuse me—“

With that, Casey left.

Still sitting, Rick started after him. It wasn’t unexpected, he supposed. Brothers in arms, leave no man behind. The ODS had left a man behind, and as little as Rick knew about them, he knew that wasn’t in their nature. There would be guilt, even if Casey didn’t show it, and there would be fear and hope and everything.

Rick could understand that. He could even respect it. But the niggling of doubt was growing now, making a yawning hole in his stomach so deep he could fall in. Casey said it, after all. And Casey didn’t have time for lies or platitudes; just the truth.

He is my teammate.

Rick just wasn’t sure what that made him.

-o-

The ODS was officially on Billy’s case, but the rest of the Agency seemed to be apprised to every development. The chatter was bad enough; the wayward looks were marginally tolerable. The gushing, however—

“Billy Collins!” Blanke exclaimed, positively invigorated.

Rick nodded meekly, not pausing as he walked down the hall.

Blanke kept pace. “I just can’t believe it,” he said. “I mean, I guess I can. If anyone can survive, it’s him.

At that, Rick pulled up and looked at Blanke squarely. “What was he like anyway?”

Blanke stopped with him, eyes wide. “Billy Collins?”

Rick nodded.

“Oh, well,” Blanke continued. “The man was a legend. There wasn’t anyone he couldn’t charm – man, woman or person with power. How do you think a former MI6 agent managed to get a job at the CIA?”

Rick blinked. “Wait, he was MI6?”

“Oh, sure!” Blanke said. “You meant you didn’t know?”

Rick didn’t know. Rick didn’t know anything. He’d spent this entire week reading files, putting together a cover, prepping to travel to rescue a man he knew nothing about. Michael didn’t have time to answer questions; Casey refused to acknowledge them. Carson looked half dead most days, and Rick didn’t have the heart to bother him. The rest of Billy’s file was still off limits to him, so even though he had a name and face, his desk buddy had been more elusive than ever.

“Well, my goodness,” Blanke said. “Billy Collins was a hotshot for the Brits until something happened—“

“Something?”

Blanke shrugged. “No one knows except the Director himself and Michael. But it was enough to get him kicked out of the country – can’t step a foot back there.”

“And we took him on?” Rick prompted.

“We did,” Blanke said, with a proud nod. “And let me tell you, it was no mistake. Billy Collins was an amazing operative. Smart, funny – and handsome, too.” Blanke cut off, shaking his head with a far off look of contentment. “We’ll all be glad to have him back. The entire Agency was better off for his presence.”

Considering what Rick had seen the last week – from the lowly techs to the director himself – Rick didn’t doubt that.

Blanke sighed. “The ODS was unstoppable back then,” he said. “There was nothing they couldn’t do. With Billy Collins, they didn’t just do the impossible. They made it look easy.”

Rick couldn’t help it – his shoulders slumped.

Blanke patted him on the shoulder. “Oh, don’t worry,” he said. “You can hang out with me and the others! I try not to look at it as not having a department, but that I’m a free agent. No department rules to tie me down. I can go where I’m needed – and I’d be happy to show you the ropes.”

Rick nodded feebly. “Yeah,” he said. “Sure.”

Suddenly, Michael rounded the corner. He saw Rick, then he saw Blanke. “Don’t you have a supply closet to hide in?” he asked.

Blanke came to alert, nodding. “Just talking to Rick here.”

“Talking? From the look of it, you’re tormenting him,” Michael said. “That’s our job.” He stopped, looking Rick in the eye. “You coming?”

It was a funny offer, temporary in its reprieve. Michael was inviting him to come, to be part of the team…but for how long?

Following after Michael, Rick wondered if buying the intel in Bangkok was the worst mistake he’d ever made.

-o-

Sometime in the midday, Rick found himself alone. Michael was in a meeting with Higgins; Casey was off training. Carson had slunk off to who-knew-where, and Rick was alone with a stack of files.

And his desk.

Over the months, he’d found comfort in his desk. He’d found solace in its familiarity. He’d memorized the marks and scuffs, sorted through the fake bottom and organized the odd collection of disparate mementos.

Only it wasn’t his desk. It wasn’t even his ghost buddy’s desk. It was Billy Collins’ desk.

They were his scuff marks. They were his gouges. The fake bottom, the ticket stubs, the poetry: they were his.

Just like this was Billy Collins’ team.

He’d been missing, presumed dead for three years, and it was all still his. People talked about Billy Collins with awe, reverence, hope. The ODS changed immediately, turned from bitter, jaded and distant to passionate, determined and vigorous.

It seemed petty, to resent a man who had suffered in the line of duty. Rick couldn’t begrudge the man a long overdue rescue mission. He couldn’t even deny the ODS the chance to make right a mistake that had clearly broken them all.

But this was more than that. This wasn’t just a rescue mission; this was. Billy Collins. The man who made everything make sense. The man who belonged. In the Agency, at this desk, in this team.

The man Rick would never be.

And for the first time since Rick had first sat down and ran his fingers over the marred surface of his desk, he hated Billy Collins.

-o-

Rick hated Billy Collins, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to do everything in his power to bring him home. Rick had resolved himself to this from the beginning; this was the job he’d signed up to do. No matter the cost.

If it cost him his life, so be it. If it cost him his career, that was okay. If it cost him his place in the Agency, then Rick had to accept that.

He’d just never thought this.

“I’m afraid the treasury will issue arrest warrants if any of you interfere with their investigation of Salazar,” Higgins explained. Their chartered plane was fueled and ready to go, and Rick was already halfway up the stairs even as Michael stood, face to face with Higgins on the tarmac. “If you go on this mission, I can’t protect you.”

The implicit ultimatum was clear. They could save Billy Collins…or their careers.

For Rick, there was hesitation. The irony was not lost on him – risking his career for the man who would take away all he’d worked for – it was something, to say the least.

But for once, Michael didn’t think. Casey didn’t grunt. Carson didn’t flinch.

His team was going.

And Rick would go, too. As long as it was still his team, he’d follow them anywhere.

“Thanks for the heads up,” Michael said, smiling just a little.

Higgins shook his head, not quite disgusted, but tired. There was no right answer here, and for the first time since joining the Agency, Rick knew how he felt.

In the end, everyone would do what they had to do. Higgins would play the heavy; the ODS would go to Panama; and Rick would follow.

God help him, Rick would follow them to Panama, to Salazar, to the mission that could cost him everything.

To Billy Collins.

-o-

In the air, no one dared to speak. Casey seemed to hunker down, eyes closed but not sleeping, in what Rick could only assume was some type of meditation. Michael sat with his files in his lap, reading and reading, thick-rimmed glasses low on his nose. Carson splayed himself in a seat across the aisle from Rick, sipping a beer from the in-flight supply.

Rick sat, trying to get comfortable. For a while, he tried to sleep, but when the whispers of bad poetry invaded his subconscious, he didn’t figure it was worth it. After that, he watched the land pass below, the rise and fall of cities and countryside and then the open waters of the Gulf.

Rick wasn’t skittish, and he wasn’t superstitious, but nothing about this mission sat well with him. Jaw tight, he looked at his teammates again, one to the next to the next—

And found Carson watching him.

Rick flushed a little, offering a small smile.

“You look grim, kid,” Carson mused.

Rick shrugged. “Sort of a high stakes mission.”

“You mean the part where we’re going to get arrested if we do something wrong?”

“Or the part where we’re rescuing a CIA operative who’s been held for three years,” Rick said. “We don’t even know what condition he’ll be in.”

And that was part of it, no matter how much Rick didn’t want to admit it. He would do anything for his team, but the fact was, no one deserved to be forgotten. No one deserved to be a memory, a legend, a ghost in a desk.

The photo hadn’t been overly clear, but the experts had agreed that Billy had been treated somewhat humanely – as far as someone who was incarcerated illegally could be, Rick supposed. Which was to say he was being fed and probably was allowed to go the bathroom and probably shower from time to time. There hadn’t been evidence of extensive abuse, but that didn’t say much.

He could have been tortured, on and off. And not all types of torture had the same physical hallmarks. The picture had been too grainy to make out his psychological state – there hadn’t even been a good look at his eyes to see if there was awareness and, if so, how much.

He could have been fed the same slop, kept in a small, isolated cell. He could have been deprived of interaction and stimulus. He could be a far cry from the legend so many people bragged about in the halls of Langley.

It made Rick’s resentment so very wrong. Because Rick had the man’s desk, his team, and Billy Collins was a prisoner. For all Rick knew, Billy Collins could be dead.

Carson sighed, taking another drink. “Billy’s the kind of guy who defies the odds,” he said. “I was the last one to see him, you know.”

This made Rick sit up straighter, turning and looking at Carson in earnest.

The older operative was looking at the ceiling, a distant look in his eyes. “Last time I saw him, he was pale, bleeding and unmoving in a burning building. I thought there was no way in hell he could be alive.”

“So you left him?” Rick asked.

Carson glanced at him, rueful. “I didn’t have a choice.”

“So you really didn’t think--?”

Bitterly, Carson laughed. “Kid, I left my teammate to die,” he said. “I left Billy Collins. I know that doesn’t a hell of a lot to you, but it was the hardest damn thing I ever did. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t regret it…”

To that, Rick had no reply. What could he say? What comfort could he offer? Spies made decision in the field – life or death decisions. They put their trust in their teammates above all else. One thing the ODS had shown Rick more than the rest, was that the lives of the people around you came first. It was why Michael had run fifteen miles in Bolivia. It was why Casey had threatened to kill people in Russia.

It was why Rick was still here, looking for a man he didn’t know who threatened to take everything away from him. Because you gave everything for your team.

For Carson and the others to walk away was one thing.

For them to be wrong…

Suddenly a lot of things made sense. The quiet, the reservation. It wasn’t that they didn’t trust Rick – it was that they didn’t trust themselves. They’d lost one teammate, the thought of losing another was likely more than they knew how to deal with.

Looking Carson, Rick’s stomach twisted with guilt. As hard as this was for him, it was harder for his team.

“We’re going to find him,” Rick said, with sudden certainty.

Carson looked at him, his expression inscrutable. “Yeah,” he said, wistful. “I know.”

“So, there,” Rick said. “You’ll get to make it right.”

Carson nodded, downing the last bit of his drink. “I suppose I will,” he said. He lifted his eyebrows. “The redemption of Carson Simms.” He shook his head. “I’m going to need another drink.”

With that, he got up, and Rick watched him leave. His eyes lingered for a moment, looking at Michael and Casey again in turn.

They’d all get their shot at redemption – no matter what the cost.

-o-

On the ground, the ODS didn’t waste any time. Michael had arranged for a transport to take them to the motel, where they checked in under their aliases. Once inside, they set about, securing the room and sweeping it for potential compromise. Rick took to setting up their equipment, and by the time he was done, Michael had a map spread out on the table, files in hand.

“With a little help from counterfeiting, we have enough ink to make a sales pitch to Salazar,” he said. He glanced at Rick. “I’m going to have you spearheading this part of the operation. None of us had much direct contact with Salazar back in North Africa, but I’d rather not take any chances that he ID’s us.”

Rick nodded. “I’m ready for it,” he said.

“Good,” Michael replied. “We need him to buy so we can have enough evidence to arrest him. We can’t have a circumstantial case. We need the charges against Salazar to stick.”

“Yeah, or we’re going to get arrested,” Casey interjected snidely.

Carson grunted. “We’re probably going to get arrested anyway.”

“Not if we have a clear case and the plates of Salazar’s operation,” Michael said. “So this meeting is to secure the evidence.”

“I thought you guys already had enough on Salazar,” Rick said. “You were after him in North Africa.”

Michael’s face paled, just for a moment. “We lost all of it in the explosion. Billy had the important things with him.”

And Billy had gone missing – taking the case with Salazar with him.

“And the plates?” Rick asked.

Michael didn’t hesitate. “Our remote scouting suggests that Salazar only has one property on the island – a large compound,” he explained. “He has his house and his factory there.”

“Convenient way to avoid outside exposure,” Casey remarked.

“And a convenient way for us to complete the second and third parts of our mission,” Michael said. “We’ll be heading to the compound anyway to look for Billy—“

“So we’ll get the plates at the same time,” Rick realized. Then he paused. “But if we take down Salazar’s operation, won’t he cut town?”

“Of course he will,” Michael said. “Which is why we’ll have every airport on alert to catch him when he tries to leave the country.”

“If the idiots over in the Secret Service get to make an arrest, they might even feel nice enough to not press charges,” Casey said.

“And if they don’t, we’ll still have the plates,” Michael concluded.

Rick had to admit, it was well thought out. It wasn’t perfect, but this was the ODS – nothing was perfect. It wouldn’t be easy, but it could work. They could arrest Salazar, stop his operation, rescue Billy Collins and salvage their careers.

Or it could go horribly wrong.

Either way.

The fact that that hardly gave Rick pause probably meant something. He was really starting to fit in.

Just in time to not fit at all.

Rick nodded, resolute. “Okay,” he said. “I’m ready.”

Michael held his gaze and nodded back. “Good,” he said. “We’ll get this going first thing tomorrow. We found a local watering hole that Salazar frequents, and we’re only going to have one shot.”

“That’s all we need,” Rick affirmed.

Michael’s lips quirked into a smile. “Then let’s get some rest.”

Casey nodded, already settled down on a bed. Carson, however, meandered toward the mini bar.

Michael gave him a quizzical look. “You sure that’s a good idea?”

Opening the fridge, Carson pulled out a bottle of something clearly alcoholic. “Man, you’re asking me to put it all on the line tomorrow,” he said. “We’re going to get Billy. If there’s ever been a time for a drink…”

Michael’s eyes narrowed. It was a curious gesture. As far as Rick could tell, Carson had been a functional drunk for as long as he’d been assigned to the ODS. Neither Michael or Casey had said anything about it. But this, like so much else in the ODS, was shifting.

“We just don’t have room for error,” Michael said.

With a snort, Carson laid himself out on a bed, knocking his head back to take a long swig. “You really think you have to tell me that?” he asked.

Michael had no reply. Instead, he looked back at Rick. “Get some sleep,” he said, the order quiet.

Rick nodded. “I think I’ll just shower tonight.”

“Sounds good,” Michael said.

Rick lingered for a moment, watching Michael who was still watching Simms. Simms closed his eyes, taking another drink, and for a moment, it was entirely too much. There was something wrong but Rick couldn’t place it.

He shook himself and continued to the bathroom. It was just nerves, he told himself. They were all nervous, and with good reason.

But they could do this. Michael and Casey and Carson and Rick. They could do this.

More than that, they would.

Rick promised himself that.

-o-

In the car, going to see Salazar, Rick was nervous. He couldn’t stop fidgeting, thinking of how everything could go horribly wrong.

But when he was there, when he was face to face with the man who had hurt the ODS more than anyone else, suddenly he was nervous. He wasn’t afraid.

He was certain.

Sometimes when a baby bird left the nest, it was too soon and he went splat.

Sometimes when a baby bird left the nest, it flew.

Rick didn’t just fly – he soared.

His lies were perfect; his delivery was flawless. Salazar believed him, hook, line and sinker.

He took the ink; he said he’d be in contact.

They had their case.

And now there was no turning back.

-o-

They regrouped at the hotel. The focus and determination had given way to anticipation. The tension between them was taut; unyielding. Rick didn’t dare speak or move without being told for fear of shattering it.

Michael checked and rechecked. Casey stretched, each muscle one at a time. Carson drank and drank until they ran out of alcohol.

Finally, Michael stood, hands at his sides and nodding. “Are we ready?” he asked.

Casey looked at him, Carson threw his empty can on the floor.

Rick stood tall, met Michael’s gaze. “Let’s go get Billy Collins.”

Michael smiled. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

-o-

The approach was the hardest part. Salazar’s compound was out in the middle of nowhere, and there were no major access roads. If they crossed paths with one of Salazar’s cars on the way out, they’d have virtually no means of hiding who they were, especially since Rick had made contact with Salazar just hours before.

They were armed, of course, but using deadly force would only compound their problems back home. It was a last resort, and the fact was, all of it was a risk they had to take. If Rick was squeamish about that, he was in too far now to back out.

A few miles out, they ditched the car, hiding it in a grove of trees as best they could. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

At this point, they had to take anything.

-o-

The next leg was on foot, and they moved fast. A year together, and their movements were mostly honed. They moved fluidly, easing their way closer, two me on guard, two traversing the distance. The sun was high in the sky by the time they reached the fence, and with a few snips, they were in.

-o-

Inside, Rick felt his heart pick up its pace. He followed, keeping low to the ground and staying the shadows as best he could. Michael led them in a circuitous route, pressing along buildings and using natural barriers to hide themselves as best they could. There was security, but from what intelligence they’d gained, it wasn’t too high tech. This far out, Salazar was counting on the fact that no one would dare make an assault because they’d surely be killed trying to leave.

Salazar didn’t know the ODS.

Sometimes, Rick wondered if he knew them either.

But there wasn’t time to think about that. There wasn’t time to think about anything.

They made it in the inner courtyards, away from the palatial home where they all silently agreed, was no place for a CIA captive. Instead, they were starting their search in the industrial portion of the compound, where warehouses and garages dotted the landscape.

Moving forward, Michael pulled them back abruptly, and as Rick pressed his back to a truck, he realized why.

Voices. Footsteps.

Feeling shaky, Rick peeked behind him, barely catching a sight of the guards as they mad their way back toward the house. At the end of the truck, Casey had a better vantage point, and he moved forward, ducked low.

“Two guards, no visual contact,” he reported.

Simms came up behind him, face contorted. “Sons of bitches had a plate,” he said.

“Mess hall?” Rick suggested.

“One plate?” Casey queried.

Michael shook his head. “It’s a secure building; one plate for one hostage,” he said. “I’m betting he’s in there.”

Lifting up, Rick strained to look. It was a nondescript building, smaller than the others but still large. It was hard to imagine it as a prison; it was equally hard to imagine it as a home.

To think, Billy Collins might be in there. Smiling; writing bad poetry. Was he still waiting for rescue? Had he given up hope?

Three years.

He does flinch or flee
because he knows, that after all,
there’s worse fates than to be
A star engraved upon a wall.

Rick gritted his teeth. There were worse fates, but there were better ones, too.

“Okay, then,” Rick said. “What are we waiting for?”

Michael tilted his head. “Absolutely nothing,” he said. “Come on, then.”

And they were off.

-o-

The last distance was short. Rick didn’t even tire crossing it. But as he waited at the door, lingering as Michael picked the lock, he felt as though he’d spent his entire year at Langley getting to this point, his entire life.

And then, Michael opened the door.

SECTION FIVE A

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 18th, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
Sigh!

I LOVED THIS! Are you getting tired of hearing that? But it's true! As you build up the tension to them finding Billy, there's his WONDERFUL emotional build up that is also SO palpable and urgent. I wanted them to find him because I know that Billy is in essence the soul and spirit of the ODS, more importantly, he's their conscience, the epitome of knowing what the ODS needs and providing it. He's their healing salve to all of their pain and loss. You do such a great job of showing that through the others. Hee, in a different way, the silence of Billy's absence has so much impact!

Fave Parts:

Billy Collins.

The fourth member of the ODS.

Rick had seen his picture in the file Adele had pulled. Which meant this was the man whose desk Rick was sitting in. The man with ticket stubs and bad poetry, and paperclips stapled underneath.

Billy Collins.

“Wait,” Rick said, tearing his eyes from the picture and looking at his team. “You mean, he’s been missing in action all this time?”

“Technically,” Michael confirmed, a little shaky. When he looked at Rick, his face was pale. “He was assumed killed three years ago after a mission in North Africa.”

For a moment, Rick could only blink.

Michael moved closer to the image. “We never found the body.”

Casey moved in next to him. “That’s because there was no body to find,” he said grimly. He shook his head. “The sons of bitches must have taken him instead.”

Rick shook his head, still a step behind the rest. “Who?”

“Ernesto Salazar,” Carson said, still lagging behind the rest. When Rick looked back, Carson’s expression was stony and he hadn’t moved. Then he grimaced, almost looking nauseated. “A real gem, that one. Up to his eyeballs in counterfeiting, and he has enough money – fake or otherwise – to buy whatever the hell he wants.”

“Including a CIA operative,” Michael said.

--I think I like this discovery even better with Billy than when it was Carson on the show. The emotions, shock, surprise, hope, guilt, all make perfect sense because it is Billy.


Maybe they’d seen it all along, even if they’d never spoken it. But now that Billy Collins was alive, the discrepancy was glaring.

And the reality was pointed.

Rick wasn’t the hero who might have found a missing operative.

He was the dunce who may have just found the man who belonged here more than Rick ever would.

Irony: it was a bitch.

--This made my heart ache for Rick even though Billy would never treat him that way.


Something had changed when Billy Collins was shown to be alive – something hard to define, but something impossible to ignore. His team was suddenly alive, too. Fully functioning.

And inclusive. Rick suddenly wasn’t the tagalong little brother; he was wanted, included. Valued.

It was a bittersweet thing. To think he’d gotten everything he worked for this year just in time to bring back the man who really belonged here.

-- I SO LOVE the implication and again, there's this "spirit" of Billy there, rediscovered, his influence again all there for everyone including and maybe especially for Rick. Sigh!

It was as much as Rick had ever heard Casey say. And it wasn’t that there was emotion – it was devoid of fear and anger and guilt – but it was focused. Utterly intent. Casey had always been impressive. Now, Rick realized, he was damn near perfect. As close to infallible as any human could be.

Rick smiled wryly. “Billy Collins must be worth a lot,” he said.

Casey snorted. “Don’t be sentimental,” he said.

Rick shrugged. “He was your teammate.”

“He is my teammate,” Casey said harshly, pushing his chair back with a scrape and standing. “Which is why I won’t sit here and indulge your touching heart to heart. If we’re going to bring him back, we don’t have a moment to lose. Now, if you’ll excuse me—“

--This made me cry!

To think, Billy Collins might be in there. Smiling; writing bad poetry. Was he still waiting for rescue? Had he given up hope?

--THUD! Not our Billy!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 21st, 2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Sigh!
billy content

Heh, my ego never gets tired of hearing that you love it :) So thank you for saying it -- and for being so specific! It makes my day!

Thanks!

Posted by: fabi (tearful_eye)
Posted at: October 19th, 2012 04:09 pm (UTC)

SDFGHK OMG this is awesome. billy ... i'm so excited and nervous about their reunion. and everything. gah, i can't wait for more!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 21st, 2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
billy content

Yeah, the next part will definitely have some more action going on :)

Thanks!

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