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Chaos fic: An Indirect Proof (AU, 6a/9)

October 22nd, 2012 (07:55 am)
anxious

feeling: anxious

A/N: Previous parts in the MASTER POST. Post split for LJ.




SECTION FIVE


Inside, the room wasn’t what Rick had been expecting. It wasn’t exactly better – though it didn’t look like a prison cell like Rick might have thought it would. But there was something oddly disconcerting about it, nonetheless.

The interior was dim. The floor was bare cement, and dirty at that. There was light from high windows, though none of them seemed to be open and the entire area smelled musty. On one end, there were some crates and what appeared to be an open bathroom, complete with a rusty sink and a dilapidated toilet. The shower was nothing but a spicket over a drain, and there was one table that seemed to be leaning precariously to one side.

Rick took this in, and made a mental note of its general functionality but certain lack of, well, anything else. It was good enough for an outhouse, maybe. A place for day laborers to wash off at the end of a long day. Maybe an emergency changing place in case something got hairy on the manufacturing floor.

Then Rick saw the bed.

It looked out of place, shoved unceremoniously against the wall in the middle of the room. The temperature was uncomfortably balmy, and with the windows closed, it was stifling. Rick’s nose detected a hint of human body odor, and his stomach turned slightly, but he couldn’t turn back now.

Literally.

Casey was standing guard, right behind him with his hands up at the ready. Michael had rushed forward ahead of them all. Carson stood in front of Rick, utterly still and stiff as he stared, seemingly frozen and unable to move.

Peeking around him, Rick saw the flaking metal frame of the so-called bed first, then the tattered blanket and dirty white sheets, hastily shoved under the mattress, making it lumpy and off kilter. There was a figure on there, but it was turned away from them and curled up, the lanky figure clearly too long for the small twin frame. From what Rick could see, the figure wearing a nondescript shirt and ill-fitted pants. His feet were bare, shoulders bony through the thin material.

Michael stopped short, mouth open.

No one moved; no one blinked.

All the searching; all the wondering; everything.

Finally, Michael said, “Billy.”

And the figure moved, slow, stiff movements, craning his head and looking back. The dark hair was shaggy, in disheveled tuffs, a poorly kept beard somewhat shaggy on the pale features. The blue eyes were dull and tired, set deep in the aged face, which regarded the ODS with persistent indifference.

Then, something shifted. The eyes narrowed and focused, and the man sucked in, the breath catching in his throat as realization dawned.

“Either I’m hallucinating,” the man said, voice scratchy with disuse and ragged with exhaustion, “or I do believe my rescue has finally arrived.”

-o-

Just like that, the tension split and the anticipation gave way. Suddenly, there was relief, so palpable that Rick could feel it throbbing through him with his pulsing heart beat.

Michael recovered first, stepping forward and grinning. “Sorry we’re late,” he said.

Billy sat up awkwardly on the bed, swinging his legs over the side. “I know how you all are,” he said, the Scottish accent so thick that he was almost hard to understand. “You enjoy your bloody entrances.”

Michael shrugged, moving around to the far side of the bed where Rick could see now that Billy was handcuffed. It was a long chain – enough to roll over, maybe even to stand – but no more than that. “This is a bit much, even for us,” Michael admitted.

Casey skirted by Rick, making short work of the distance. “In our defense, you did a very convincing impression of being dead,” he said. “Otherwise we would have come sooner.”

Michael unclenched something, and the handcuffed popped open, falling away from Billy’s skinny wrist. The Scotsman looked down at it, a little shocked. When he looked up again, his eyes were wet, the gratitude plain on his features. “I can’t say I blame you,” he said. “For a while, I thought I was dead, too. The rest of the time, I mostly just wished it.”

Michael clapped him firmly on the shoulder, holding for a moment as he looked Billy fully in the eyes. “It’s been too long.”

Billy chuckled, a throaty sound. “I imagine it’s been longer for me, mate,” he quipped.

Michael nodded. “That it has,” he agreed.

Shakily, Billy got to his feet, Michael lingering right by his side. He teetered for a moment but Casey caught him, shaking his hand and pulling him close in the approximation of a hug. Billy returned the gesture, beaming.

“Affection from Casey Malick,” he mused. “Now I’m not sure I’ve been rescued; I think rather I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

Casey smirked, pulling away. “Nice to see that three years of captivity haven’t improved your sense of humor.”

Billy inclined his head. “They’ve tried to break me, but my Scottish disposition is too stubborn,” he said. “Though I dare say all my efforts to be amusing are lost on this lot. Their sense of humor is a notch below yours, and don’t even get me started on their lack of literary depth.”

“Only you could criticize how little they’ve read when they’ve been keeping you in squalor for three years,” Michael said.

Billy shrugged. “A little incarceration is no excuse to let myself to go to waste,” he said. Then he made a face. “But I would admit I could use a real shower sometime.”

Michael nodded toward the door. “We can take care of that once we get out of here.” He glanced to Rick and Carson. “You two are in charge of getting Billy back to the drop point, while Casey and I—“

Billy’s eyes turned to them, flitting past Rick and settling on Carson. His face brightened. “Carson,” he said, interrupting Michael’s plans. “You old blighter, you are still here.”

Next to Rick, Carson took a staggering breath, his face creasing in apprehension before he laughed lightly. “Can’t get rid of me that easily,” he said.

Billy crossed the distance, enveloping the man in a hug. Rick could see Carson’s body tense, his arms awkward before he returned it, patting Billy on the back.

Pulling away, Billy was grinning even wider than before. “It’s been bloody lonely without your antics,” he said.

Carson looked pained for a moment, but then he shrugged as cavalier as he could. “I could say the same,” he said. “Office just ain’t the same without you running your trap.”

Billy flushed, and then he turned, eyes settling on Rick. He gave Rick a once over and then nodded in approval. “Stout, brave-hearted, ever-noble,” he assessed. He glanced toward the rest of the ODS. “My replacement?”

Rick found himself stuttering. Up close, Billy Collins wasn’t exactly what Rick had been expecting. He looked vaguely similar to the man he’d seen in the photo, though he’d lost weight and was clearly out of shape. He’d been fed and allowed to bathe, but neither had been a priority for his captors. There were no obvious signs of overt abuse, just a bedraggled appearance and a slouch to his shoulders.

And Rick had to wonder how anyone who had been imprisoned for three years was this upbeat, this forgiving. There was no blame, no condemnation. Just relief. And gratitude.

When he tried to think about this man in his prime, as an asset fully trained and fed, it was daunting. Maybe Billy Collins was every bit the legend the rumor mill at the CIA made him out to be.

Rick just knew he couldn’t even come close. No wonder he’d never fit in with the ODS. He’d been replacing Billy Collins. Even hungry and dirty and lonely, the man exuded everything a good agent should be.

Feebly, Rick tried to smile. “Rick Martinez,” he supplied awkwardly.

Billy looked back him. “A Mexicano, then,” he said. “Bueno! I always said our little team could use some more flair.”

“Puerto Rican, actually,” Rick said.

“Ah, I stand corrected,” Billy said. He leaned forward. “I do hope they haven’t been too rough on you. The ODS is hell for rookies.”

Rick grunted. “Tell me about it.”

“Oh, I can,” Billy commiserated. “And I will. But I do believe someone said something of a rescue to be had.”

Michael stepped closer, moving himself back into the conversation. “You bet,” he said. “Carson and Rick here are going to take you back to the car,” he said. He nodded toward the exit. “We’re parked a few miles down the road, it’ll be a haul, but I think you’ll be fine—“

Billy shook his head, suddenly quite serious. “What about Salazar?” he said. “If you’ve found me, then you’ve got a lead on him, too.”

Casey stepped up next to Michael. “Leave that bastard to us,” he said.

“Whatever charges you think you have, you’re going to need to nab his operation, too,” Billy said. “You’ll never get inside the private house, and if you don’t take his printing plates with you, he’ll be able to start up again in no time.”

“We’re ahead of you on this one,” Michael said. “We’re going to take the plates today, and then file charges against Salazar. When he tries to flee the country, he’ll be arrested by airport authorities, making our jobs a whole lot easier.”

Billy nodded. “I’ve almost forgotten how thorough a plan by Michael Dorset can be,” he said. “Good to know you’re still a paranoid bastard.”

“And we’re wasting time,” Casey interjected. “As nice as this reunion is, I’d like to make sure we get out of here.”

“Casey’s right,” Michael said. “Billy, go with Carson and Rick—“

Billy shook his head. “I’m not leaving now.”

Michael’s expression flickered. “We really don’t have time to argue—“

“Then don’t,” Billy said. “I’m going with you.”

Michael sighed. “You’re in no condition—“

“Rubbish,” Billy said. “I’m not in any condition to make a hike in the afternoon sun either, but I’m still good for that.”

Michael swallowed. “Let us get you out of here,” he said, a little emphatic now.

Billy held his gaze. “And let me take down the bastards who kept me here,” he said, eyes intense. “Besides, who here actually knows where the plates are?”

Michael couldn’t reply; none of them could. Rick had read the file; they had good intelligence. They could make a good guess. But they couldn’t be sure.

“Right,” Billy said. “So score one for the long-repressed captive. I’m ready for my vindication.”

Michael sighed, and Rick felt himself tense. “Billy,” Michael said.

Billy didn’t back down. “Let me put this experience to good use,” he said, a hint of pleading in his voice now. “I don’t want to think I spent three years curled up and useless for no gain whatsoever. This is still my mission to complete as much as it is yours. Let’s do it – together.”

Rick’s throat felt tight, and he could hear the poetry in his head, Billy’s Scottish accent bringing it to life.

Brave companions
lead the charge;
three warriors
of certain heart

It had been bad poetry, but the truest intentions. This was Billy Collins.

And Michael had no choice but to nod in acquiescence. “Fine,” he said. “But I’m still the one in charge here.”

Billy’s mouth turned up into a grin again, a mischievous light flashing in his eyes. “Of course,” he said. He gestured to the door. “Then after you, my fearless leader.”

-o-

Things were going really well, which was why Rick was getting increasingly uncertain about this mission. It wasn’t just that they had no real cover on an enemy compound. It wasn’t even that he’d just found the one person who could really usurp his position. It was that the mission was going well. Almost flawlessly.

Missions didn’t go well for the ODS, and they certainly never went flawlessly. Rick was fairly certain that this was a sure sign of impending disaster.

Unfortunately, no one else seemed to share his trepidation. Now that they’d found Billy, his team was acting cool, calm and confident, moving without questioning anything and facing danger like they were damn near invincible. The reticence, the cynicism – it was all gone. This was the ODS.

And Rick had never felt more apart from them.

Yet, he’d never been so helpless to follow them by their sheer aura alone. They were so damn charismatic that they could have talked Rick into anything.

And they did.

“Okay,” Michael said, looking out across the grounds. “Tell me what I’m looking at.”

Billy sidled in close beside Michael, not missing a beat. He listed a little bit, and he seemed to be panting already, but he squinted out across the sun-lit compound with a nod. “There,” he said, pointing to a larger building a ways away. “That’s the main processing center where most of the bills are finished and stored for shipment.”

“So we’ll need to raid that,” Michael concluded.

“More like we need to blow it up,” Billy said.

Michael turned, a little surprised. “You’ve never been one for fireworks.”

Billy smirked. “Three years can change a man.”

“Clearly for the better,” Casey remarked dryly. He was pressed on the opposite side of the door, Carson lingering behind him while Rick stood conspicuously on his toes to try to get a better view around Billy’s height. “It’s been far too long since I’ve staged a good explosion.”

“Just make sure it gets the job done,” Billy said. “We need less smoke, more flame in this one. The money should go up quickly, but if you want to drain Salazar’s inventory that’s the building to go after.”

Michael nodded. “Sounds easy enough.”

“That part, perhaps,” Billy conceded. “But the plates are already packed away, I’d wager. You’ll need to hit the office to nab those, too.”

“And where’s the office?” Michael asked.

Billy strained a bit to see but pointed to another building, farther out than the first and smaller. “Over there.”

“I don’t mean to sound pessimistic,” Carson interjected. “But how do we know the plates are even there?”

Billy turned. “I admit, there is some conjecture involved,” he said. “But Salazar is quite fond of his routines, and he has a major shipment going out from that warehouse. He’s meticulous, though. He never keeps the plates with the money when production is not underway. Too big of a risk. If he’s got buyer’s coming, then the plates are stored in that building.”

Rick had to admit, that made sense. The money was his product, but the plates were critical to his success. They were the golden goose, as it were.

“So we hit the office after we burn the money,” Rick concluded.

Billy looked at him, grinning. “Simple and direct,” he said. “I like it. Clearly they picked well when they recruited someone to fill my shoes.”

Rick felt himself blushing a little, but then he realized his error in thinking. He met Billy’s gaze, and the Scottish man seemed to be waiting for him to complete his thought process. “But once the money’s on fire, we’ll have every person on the compound alerted.” He paused, thinking. “So we go after the plates first?”

“Close,” Billy said, his grin returning. “But I think the safest route is to split up. One team goes after the money; the other gets the plates. We all leave together, the mission a total success.”

It sounded reasonable, but Michael was already shaking his head, Casey’s face pulled taut. “No,” Michael said flatly. “We’re not separating.”

“Because I’d like to think we’ve learned from our mistakes,” Casey added.

Rick realized their concerns. His understanding of the mission to North Africa was still scant at best, but they’d been separated then. They’d gotten split up and they’d ended up leaving Billy behind. Maybe if they’d all been together, they could have got to Billy in time. Maybe…

Billy sighed, rolling his eyes. “This is different.”

“Is it?” Michael asked. “A surefire plan to takedown Salazar that involves us splitting into two groups. Oh, and fire. And explosions. Sounds really different.”

Billy set his jaw firmly, eyes serious. “What happened in North Africa—“

“Was a mistake that none of us want to relive,” Michael concluded, the tension ratcheting up again. Casey was willfully silent, Carson stiff. Rick shifted awkwardly, feeling hopelessly out of place.

Wetting his lips, Billy’s gaze was unwavering. “You said it – a mistake,” he said. “I don’t remember much about what happened, but it was as much my fault as it was yours. I didn’t see Salazar’s men, but they saw me. They took me down – nothing with the fire or the explosions. I let them get the drop on me.”

“But Carson saw you on the ground,” Michael interjected roughly, his voice thick with emotion. Nearby, Carson flinched visibly, eyes on the ground. “He couldn’t get to you on his own, and if we’d all been there—“

“Then you all would have made the same bloody choice,” Billy said. “Sometimes we just have bad luck.”

Rick’s chest felt tight. If his instincts shouted to hate Billy Collins for the threat he was to his career, the reality was that Billy Collins was impossible to hate. Three years of captivity, and he was the one offering absolution and pushing to finish the mission. It was stupid and probably foolhardy, but it was also inspiring.

Michael took a deep breath in and held it. “We can also leave and come back,” he said.

Billy didn’t waver. “Once they know I’m gone, you know all our chances will be gone too,” he said. “This is it, mate. I told you, I want these three years to mean something.”

“You’re not even field worthy,” Michael reminded him.

“So I’ll just tagalong,” Billy cajoled. “Come on, me and Simms for old time’s sake. I’ll even let you and Casey take part with explosions.”

Michael hesitated, but Rick could see that he was caving. Next to him, Casey was looking equally swayed. Carson still hadn’t looked up, face stony as he stared at the ground.

“The mission,” Billy reminded him. “That’s what this has always been about.”

Michael shook his head. “The mission is only part of it,” he said. “This time, we all come home.” He looked over to Rick. “Martinez, you go with Carson and Billy to get the plates. I want you on lookout the entire time. If anything so much as twitches, you get them out – and don’t look back.”

“I thought we said together,” Billy said by way of protest.

Michael looked at him, unyielding. “I left you behind once,” he said. “Let me have this one.”

Billy bowed his head. “Fair enough,” he said. Then he gathered a breath and looked outside again. “So, what do you say, gents? Shall we take down Salazar once and for all?”

Michael looked nervous; Casey looked ready to kill something. Carson’s lips were pressed together, his shoulders taut.

But Rick couldn’t help it if his own nerves melted, if his fortitude buoyed. It was true that this was going too well. But this wasn’t the ODS as he’d known it. This was hardly the same team at all. With Billy, the dynamic was different – it was better. Rick had no choice but to believe. If disaster was impending, Rick was ready to face it, because of this team. Because of the ODS. They weren’t invincible, he knew, but this was as close as they’d ever get.

Resolute, Rick looked up, met Billy’s gaze and found himself smiling. “Well, I say let’s go.”

-o-

Michael and Casey gave them the head start. Going after the plates, they had more ground to cover, and their job would be more time consuming. Michael and Casey needed to light a few matches and be done but Billy had predicted that the plates would be in a secure vault, which would add some time to their job.

Besides, Michael had conceded, it would give them the chance to lay down any cover fire if needed while Billy led Carson and Rick to the office.

This probably should have been reassuring, which probably should have been disconcerting. Spies only needed reassurance when things were bad, which was really ample reason for Rick to have hesitations about this mission.

But he couldn’t. Not anymore.

Still, confidence wasn’t stupidity, and Rick kept himself poised and on guard. Michael had implicitly trusted him to keep Billy safe and Rick wasn’t about to shirk that duty.

Fortunately, luck seemed to be on their side for once. The distance was easily scaled and there was no sign of anyone. They’d timed their rescue over the lunch hour, and it was clearly paying off. Although, Rick had to think, it wouldn’t be long before workers started filtering back.

Which meant they needed to hurry.

Billy led, and though his jog was a decent clip, he did seem winded by the effort. As they approached, he pulled up slowly, face visibly pale and sweating. Clearly, criminals didn’t believe in affording their captives a recreational period on a regular basis. Billy was good at talking things up, but Rick realized now that maybe his words of confidence were partially just a front.

Still, it was too late to turn back now, and as they came to the door, Billy tested it, finding it locked. He glanced back, eyes locking with Carson. “I trust you still come prepared.”

Carson sighed. “Three years and you haven’t changed a bit,” he muttered.

Still panting, Billy grinned. “I could say the same for you.”

Carson snorted, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a lockpick. “And you’d be a liar.”

Billy took the pick and shrugged. “Like you said, three years and I haven’t changed,” he said, then he winked at Rick. “For better or for worse.”

-o-

Inside, Rick was trembling. Carson and Billy made a beeline for the desk and the filing cabinets, and he hesitated near the doorway, looking out across the lawn. Across the distance, he could see the shed where they’d found Billy, door closed and interior dark. Then he caught sight of Michael and Casey, two dark figures darting across the lawn toward the other building.

He flicked his eyes toward the rest of the compound and found it eerily silent. There was no one coming – yet. Because they had no reason to think anything was amiss.

Rick glanced nervously back at Carson and Billy. If this worked out, they would be long gone before anyone could stop them.

Restless, he tried to keep himself still, splitting his attention as best he could between the yard and his teammates.

Or his teammate and his replacement.

Or his teammate and the person he’d replaced.

Or his teammate and…Billy. Whatever Billy was to him, he wasn’t sure. Desk buddy, ghost friend, the baggage he couldn’t shake.

And more. He had every reason to resent the man and no ability to do so. Rick knew that the aftermath from this mission would be messy, but that didn’t change how much he wanted to succeed. For his team – all of them, and even he had to concede, Billy Collins was as much a part of that team as the rest of them. Maybe more so.

Which was why he wanted to get this over with – and soon.

There was a small curse, and Rick looked back at Carson and Billy. The Scot had pushed the filing cabinet away, revealing a wall safe behind it. Carson was standing over him, rubbing a hand over his face. “That’s not exactly an easy thing to crack,” Carson said.


Billy leaned forward, seeming to squint. “Aye,” he agreed. “And I’m afraid my skills may be more than a bit rusty.”

Carson shook his head. “We should cut and run,” he said. “I mean, we won’t get Salazar, but we’ll all be together—“

Rick felt his gut twist. “If we don’t get Salazar, then we’re probably going to be arrested.”

Billy looked up, surprised. “Let me guess,” he said. “This little rescue operation is somewhat less than sanctioned.”

Rick winced. He hadn’t thought about the implications of that, about telling Billy that the Agency had been willing to wait to get him, to let him waste away a few more months in the name of interagency cooperation. “The treasury is building a case against Salazar,” he said, apologetic. “We may have pissed them off when we…borrowed their intelligence.”

Billy’s lips quirked into a knowing smile. “The ODS? Not playing well with others?” he asked, cagey. “Color me shocked.”

“We can run from the Secret Service,” Carson said, shaking his head. “If we piss around here, Salazar will have five hostages – or worse.”

“Trust me, I’m quite ready to be done with bondage,” Billy said. “But Salazar beat us once. He won’t do it again.”

Carson sighed, clearly frustrated. “It’s a high tech safe, man,” he said, gesturing helplessly. “Even if you could still crack that thing, we don’t have time.

“So let’s not crack it,” Billy said, pushing to his feet. He went to Rick, holding out his hand, nodding to Rick’s gun. “May I?”

Rick frowned, confused. “Um, I don’t know—“

“Oh, come on, laddie,” Billy cajoled. “I’m not so worried about my place on the team as to plug you full of holes.”

Rick knew he probably shouldn’t. He knew he was probably breaking more protocols than he could really care to remember. Billy Collins was far from field worthy, and he was probably in need of some medical attention in order to regain his strength.

And yet, Rick believed him.

In the end, that was all it came down to.

He handed the gun over.

Carson groaned.

Billy grinned at Rick. “Besides,” he said. “Shooting people isn’t my style.”

Rick cocked his head, still not sure where this was going.

Billy moved back toward the safe, moving past Simms and narrowing his sights. “Inanimate pieces of metal, on the other,” he said casually. He glanced back. “I suggest everyone take cover.”

Rick barely had time to duck behind the desk when Billy fired. One, two, three, four. Carson hissed a curse and kneeled down next to Billy. The retort seemed to be deafening, and when it was over, Rick found his heart pounding as he got back up and gaped.

Billy was still grinning, staring at the safe.

The now open safe.

“I usually like finesse,” Billy admitted. “But I have to admit, that was rather cathartic.”

Rick blinked. “But—“

“If you can’t pick the safe, you blow the damn thing off its hinges,” Carson interjected knowingly. He shook his head. “You do realize that you’ve probably alerted them that we’re here.”

“Ah, well,” Billy said. “They were going to find out sooner or later.”

As if on cue, there was a dramatic bang and a resounding series of explosions. Rick flinched, despite himself.

Billy turned to Rick, holding out his gun. “There you go,” he said. “Down a few bullets, but no harm, no foul.”

Rick took the gun, still a bit dumbfounded.

Billy leaned forward, pulling off the partially demolished door. Inside, the plates were there. He picked them up, holding them up proudly. “And now we have what we need,” he said. “Shall we?”

-o-

Rick had moved back to the door, glancing out to sweep the yard. In one direction, he could see Casey and Michael moving forward. They made it back to Billy’s shed when the gunfire started.

Rick swore. “We’ve got company,” he said.

Billy came up beside him, cursing lightly. “They’re going to be pinned down.”

Rick craned his head, looking the other way. More men were coming, but they seemed to be moving toward the fire. “I don’t think they know we’ve broken in here yet,” he said.

“So we still have the critical element of surprise,” Billy agreed. He nodded in approval. “I think we can work with that.”

“If we circle around back,” Rick said, pointing behind the buildings near the fire, “we’ll be able to provide cover fire. Even the odds.”

“That sounds like a fine plan,” he said. “I don’t suppose anyone has any extra guns, eh?”

Rick frowned, looking around. Then he smiled. “We’re in a criminal compound,” he said, getting to his feet. He opened the closet, poking through it. Closing it, he went to a cabinet. Opening it, he grinned. “I think extra guns might be plentiful.”

Carson shook his head. “Since things aren’t already bad enough,” he muttered. “Let’s just throw some more fire power into the mix.”

Billy stood up, crossing the distance and pulling out a shotgun. “Oh, come now, Carson,” he said. He pulled out a pistol and threw it to Simms. “I know how much you love things that go bang.”

Carson caught it. “Some things have changed, kiddo.”

Billy inclined his head. “Surely, not so much.”

Reaching over to grab some ammunition, Carson shook his head, grim faced. “Maybe more than you think.”

Rick scooted between them, picking up some fresh ammunition for his own gun. “We’re going to have to hurry,” he said. “This is going to get hairy.”

Billy slapped Rick on the shoulder. “The best missions always do.”

Rick didn’t disagree, but as they moved back toward the door, he had to wonder if the worst missions always did, too.

There was no time to worry about that, though. Because Billy threw open the door, and it was time to go.

-o-

Outside, chaos was starting to erupt.

This didn’t surprise Rick. For some reason, it didn’t even make him as nervous as it probably should have. But at this point in his career with the CIA, a little unexpected gunplay was, well, expected. As far as he was concerned, they still had the upper hand.

Yes, they were outgunned and outmanned. Yes, they had a frantic exit to make and a long haul to run before they were safe. Yes, there was probably a good chance someone was going to get hurt – or worse.

But this was the ODS.

Not just the fragmented team Rick had gotten to know over the last year, but the real thing. All the pieces were in place. They weren’t invincible, but as far as Rick was concerned, they might as well have been.

That was no reason to slack off, however. If anything, it was the incentive Rick needed to perform better. To be flawless.

With that determination, Rick led the way, snaking along to the back of the building and pressing to the corner. From there, he peeked out, gauging the flow of incoming men. Their attention seemed to split, which was an advantage they’d need. Over half were focused on the fire – trying in vain to put it out or control it. The rest, however, were circling toward the stronghold Michael and Casey had seemed to have established in Billy’s shed.

Behind him, Billy sidled in close, Carson lagging behind.

“Looks like they’ve got good cover for now,” Rick reported.

“The walls are thick,” Billy confirmed. “I’m sure it would have saved them a bundle on heating and cooling, had they been inclined to bother heating or cooling the place in the appropriate season.”

It was a joke, Rick knew, but there was a darkness to it. It wasn’t torture, sure, but Rick could still remember the crude bathroom and the chained bed. If Rick thought his year had been rough, Billy’s had been so much worse.

Yet he was moving on his own, plotting and planning and joking. Like he’d never left.

As if Rick needed more incentive to get the man out.

Carson pulled up the rear, breathing hard. “This is a very bad idea,” he said, voice huffing. “Have I told you guys that?”

“I see that Casey’s undying pessimism has got the better of you,” Billy quipped. “I admit, that was one of my greatest fears in my absence.”

“Yeah?” Carson asked. “And what was the other?”

“That Fay would be talked into reproducing with Michael,” Billy said. “Granted, the children would be adorable, but I’m not sure Michael’s sanity could survive it.”

“Well, that’s no problem,” Carson said. “She got wise and ditched his ass.”

Billy turned back, genuinely shocked. “Well, then it’s worse than I imagined,” he said. “It’s a good thing I’m back to keep you blokes from entirely self-imploding.”

Rick pursed his lips, looking back across the lawn. He still saw flashes of movement from inside the shed, even though it was measured now, clearly to conserve ammunition. “Maybe we should worry about getting out of this alive first.”

Billy looked back. “Right you are, lad,” he said, making a small face when gunfire shattered a high window on the shed. “These men look the part and they carry the appropriate weaponry, but they’re poorly trained for combat. A little well exerted pressure and I imagine we can make them scattered until someone who actually knows what they’re doing shows up.”

“So you think we can take them?” Rick asked, too aware of the new flank of guards that had arrived, guns in hand even as more men had brought a hose to bear on the wild flames.

“I think we can cause confusion and chaos,” he said. He gave Rick a knowing look. “Which is all the ODS has ever needed to get the job done.”

Rick nodded. “Okay,” he said. He glanced back toward the surrounding men. The ping of gunfire was rising, growing steady and frequent, though still not close to their location. “We’ll focus our fire on the major contingents—“

“And don’t be afraid to aim wide,” Billy said. “Hit some metal; make debris fly. The illusion of peril is often just as pressing as the real thing.”

“We just need enough of an opening for Michael and Casey to get out,” Rick said.

“That’s all well and good,” Carson said. “But we still have to manage to get off the grounds without getting our asses shot off.”

“We’ll take a car,” Rick said, the idea seeming suddenly obvious. “I mean, there’s enough of them and if someone knows how to hotwire one—“

Billy scoffed. “You mean they’ve neglected to show you how to hotwire a car?” he asked indignantly. “You have my apologies; that is a lapse I fully intend to rectify.”

“The team bonding is nice, you two,” Carson snipped. “But maybe we should get to work?”

Rick refocused, noticing the men getting closer as the firefight intensified. The smoke was wafting their way, and it burned a little in his lung, even though he refused to cough.

“Right,” Billy said, face getting serious again, his own face now glistening with sweat – from the exertion or from the heat of flames on the property, Rick wasn’t sure.

Rick gritted his teeth, taking a deep breath despite it all and lifting his gun. “Okay,” he said. He looked at Billy, wondering briefly if this was the smartest thing Rick had let himself be talked into. Something exploded in the building and more men were yelling, even as the gunfire ratcheted up another notch in a chaotic display of power. “You sure about this?”

Billy just grinned, seemingly oblivious to it all. “I’ve waited three years for this.”

Rick nodded, letting that sink in. Three years. Rick wasn’t going to make him wait any longer.

Especially when he’d waited all year to feel like this himself.

He took another breath, and then another. He moistened his lips, steeled himself, lifted his gun and fired.

-o-

There was no time to think.

Billy took the lead instinctively, aiming at the most exposed group of men and quickly picking off a few before they had a chance to react. Rick followed up, taking aim at the next pocket, scoring a few hits before they scrambled back into a defensive position.

There were several moments of chaos while Salazar’s men tried to regroup, and with an increased flurry of gunfire from Michael and Casey’s stronghold, Rick realized that they were able to draw better battle lines.

And suddenly the odds had shifted, dramatically in their favor. Salazar’s men were pinned down and scattered, awkwardly positioned without a clear line of fire. This was progress, Rick supposed, but he quickly saw that it would rapidly develop into a stalemate, the likes of which the ODS probably wouldn’t win. They didn’t need to hold ground; they needed to get the hell out of dodge.

As if reading his thoughts, Billy leaned close. “You think we ought to try to shift the odds a bit, yeah?”

Rick glanced up. “Yeah, but how?” he asked, looking back across the field. They’d succeeded in giving Michael and Casey more time to position themselves, but without a clear exit it was still less than ideal.

“Come on, son,” Billy cajoled. “You’re a right proper spy. Surely you have some idea.”

Rick’s brow furrowed as he studied the landscape again. He saw the burning building, the men with the water. Armed men holed up. Casey and Michael’s hideout.

“All we’ve done is give away our location,” Carson said, breathing heavily behind them. “It’s like waving a damn red cape at a pissed off bull.”

Maybe Simms was right. Maybe this had been a mistake. Maybe.

“Don’t despair,” Billy said. “Just think—

Think about what? About how they were probably going to die? About how even if they survived, they’d probably be arrested? About how even if he wasn’t arrested, that Billy Collins was going to take his job?

Carson leaned around him, firing off a few shots before pulling back. Rick swallowed, feeling the smoke start to burn the back of his throat.

About the fire. The armed men. Entrenched battle lines.

Rick blinked. “We have to move,” he said.

Billy lifted his eyebrows; Carson made a face.

“We’ve got no one at our backs,” he realized. “So we still have room to maneuver.”

“But if we run out, we’re sitting ducks,” Carson said.

“Not if we lay down cover fire,” Rick said. He squinted, looking out across the lawn again. The men were still in position, poking their heads up, still splitting their fire. He nodded toward one of the other buildings. “There.”

Billy followed his gaze. “That’s a maintenance garage.”

“Secure?” Rick asked.

“Reasonably.”

Rick cocked his head. “Maintenance garage,” he said, ignoring the sound of gunfire pinging nearby. “Like, for cars?”

“Among other things,” Billy said.

“We don’t need tools,” Carson griped.

“No,” Rick agreed, mind working slowly. “But we could use a car.”

Billy’s face lit up, face widening with a grin. “Indeed we could,” he said.

Rick nodded, the idea of it solidifying. “Great,” he said. “So. Two of us can stay here, lay down cover fire while the third makes a run for the garage. And once we’re there, we can get a car and come back and pick up the rest.”

“It’s suicide,” Simms said.

“It’s genius,” Billy said. “And I volunteer to make the run.”

Rick shook his head. “No, I’ll go.”

Billy gave him a look. “But I’m the driver of this makeshift outfit.”

“No, you’re the guy who’s been missing three years,” Rick reminded him.

“And you’d deny me the driver’s wheel now?” Billy asked.

“That’s not fair!”

Simms fired off a few shots, pulling back with a huff. “You two are fighting like a pair of girls,” he said. “If we don’t do something now, it’s kind of a moot point.”

Rick’s chest felt tight. There were decisions, too many decisions. Life and death and more.

All this time, he’d thought things were an either/or. Either he was on the team, or Billy was. Either he made the run, or Billy did.

What if it was both.

“We’ll do it together,” Rick concluded.

Billy looked pleasantly surprised. “Teamwork,” he said. “A concept I’ve sorely missed.”

“Oh, come on,” Carson said, exasperated. “And what I am supposed to do?”

Rick looked at him. “Just give us a little cover.”

“Right,” Simms said. “No problem. I’ll just distract the armed and angry men while you two run across the lawn unprotected. No problem at all.”

“You sure?” Rick asked earnestly.

“Man, I just want to get the hell out of here,” Carson said.

“We will,” Rick promised.

Carson shook his head. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, kid,” he said.

Rick didn’t flinch, didn’t look away. “I won’t,” he said. “You just need to distract them.”

For a moment, the protest was evident on Carson’s face. “We need to get out.

“We will,” Rick assured him. Next to him, Billy’s stance was solid, gaze unwavering. Rick nodded again, entirely certain. “We will.”

-o-

Rick took the lead, but Billy wasn’t far behind. They hadn’t rehearsed or spent much time discussing it, but they still moved together seamlessly.

Running out was something of a leap of faith, but he trusted the men at his back. The cover fire was impeccable, and when he reached the first piece of cover halfway there, he went down hard, breathing in short, even gasps. He only took a second to compose himself, then turned, gun up, laying down a fresh string of cover fire of his own.

The retort of gunfire greeted him, bullets dinging the side of the shed he’d taken refuge next to. He didn’t really have a chance to look – he was too busy aiming at Salazar’s men to divert his attention – but he still saw Billy moving out of the corner of his eye. His gait was just slightly off, but when he pulled up next to Rick, he looked up, face glistening with sweat, blue eyes bright. Grinning.

“You do remember that we’re being fired at, right?” Rick hissed.

Billy lifted his eyebrows mischievously. “Indeed we are,” he said. “Gets the blood pumping, good and proper.”

Rick was incredulous.

“What?” Billy asked innocently. “I’ve been chained to a bloody bed for three years and allowed to walk around the yard once a day, no more, no less. It’s not so much that it’s been uncomfortable and trying, but that it’s been boring.

Rick made a face. “I’m sorry that you’ve found being hostage so dull.”

“It’s not your fault, I suppose, but I appreciate the sentiment,” he said. “Honestly, I’m going to have to embellish so much to make this a tale worth telling around the CIA break room.”

“Well, I think this shootout might help,” Rick said, wincing as a bullet splintered the wall particularly close to his head.

“Right you are,” Billy agreed enthusiastically. “Now shall we go on?”

Rick frowned. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Billy scoffed. “Are any of the missions the ODS chooses actually a good idea?”

Rick considered that.

“My point exactly.”

Rick rolled his eyes. “Just don’t get shot!”

Billy gave him a mock salute. “I will do my best.”

-o-

Moving to the halfway point had been relatively easy. Sure, there were armed men who wanted to kill him, but he’d had the element of surprise.

Making his way the rest of the distance to the garage, however, lacked said surprise, and the hail of gunfire was more than somewhat disconcerting.

Still, out in the open like he was, he didn’t have a lot of options but to run like hell and hope his team had his back.

The gunfire built, and Rick recognized the patter of friendly fire nearby. There was a reprieve, and Rick ground his teeth together, sprinting as fast as his tired legs could carry him, focusing on closing the distance one step at a time.

One step—

More shots were fired, closer now.

One step—

The ground kicked up not far from him, and Rick felt his heart skip a beat.

One step—

He was almost there, so close, so close, so—

The door was mercifully propped open, and he crossed the final distance with a leap that sent him sprawling. The air whistled by his ears, but he could still hear the pops of bullets behind him.

He didn’t have time to brace himself and he hit the ground hard, curling up and squeezing his eyes shut. For a moment, he laid like that curled up protectively while he focused on breathing.

In and out.

In and out.

He was alive.

He was alive.

There was a scuffling at his back and someone nearly tripped over him. There was an oof and a stumble.

Craning his neck, Rick looked up.

Right as Billy looked down. “Napping on the job?” the Scot asked. “The CIA has gotten quite lax in its training strategies.”

“They were firing at me,” Rick said.

“Aye,” Billy agreed. “Perhaps you would like to do something about that?”

Rick pushed himself up, making a face. “I was getting there.”

Billy eyed him. “I can see that,” he said. “You were doing a spectacular job of inspecting the floor.”

“You know, you’re not helping,” Rick told him crossly.

Billy blinked at him earnestly. “I was incarcerated against my will for three years. Missing. Presumed dead.”

“You’re going to play that card? Already?”

“Have I mentioned that my diet consisted mostly of beans and tortilla?”

“So you really are going to play that card,” Rick said.

“It wasn’t very thrilling for my palate,” Billy said. “But I was quite regular.”

Rick rolled his eyes.

-o-

Billy liked to talk.

A lot.

In the short time Rick had known him, Billy had said more to him than the ODS combined in the past year. It was a little encouraging, all things considered.

It was also a bit distracting.

“And really, once you master a skill, it’s something that should be with you the rest of your career,” Billy was explaining, bent over while he rustled for wires inside the largest vehicle they could find. “I mean, take me for example, things are all a bit rusty, but I swear it feels just like yesterday that I was trying to piece together the remnants of a car outside Istanbul while angry gun runners were chasing us down.”

Rick shook his head. “What are you talking about?”

Billy looked up at him. “Gun smugglers,” he said. “They’re often an angry lot. I suppose their disposition makes them unusually suited for violent pursuits—“

“No,” Rick interjected. “I mean, what’s the point of this story!”

“Ah,” Billy said, glancing back at the wires he was twining together. “The point is that you should be learning these skills for yourself.”

“You mean skills that criminals know?” Rick asked.

Billy gave him a look. “Skills that might save your life,” he said, and suddenly the engine started purring. Billy grinned. He got to his feet, wiping his hands on his pants. “A little extra work on the weekend, and you’ll be well equipped for any situation.”

Rick couldn’t help it; he grinned, too. “But how do you practice hotwiring a car?”

Billy shrugged. “It’s not grand theft auto if you don’t actually take the car,” he said. “Now, hop in.”

Rick made his way to get in, then cocked his head. “Wait, what?”

Billy was already in the driver’s seat. “No time to mince the details, young Rick,” he said. “I believe we have a rescue to mount!”

Rick thought he should probably feel dubious about that. But as he climbed in and buckled up, he had to admit, he just felt ready.

-o-

He felt less ready when Billy pressed the gas peddle to the floor and broke through the garage door.

Spark sputtered and debris flew, and Rick found himself shrinking down, hands over his head while the truck bounced its way through the threshold.

“You know, we could have opened the door!” Rick yelled as Billy turned the wheel, skidding them across the grass in a spectacular fashion.

Billy’s eyes were bright, smile wide. “And where’s the fun in that?”

Rick had to brace himself as they veered again, wincing as they came up on an enemy stronghold. He expected gunfire, but the men scattered instead, yelling and cursing, faces pale. Rick knew how they felt. “I’m not so sure that having fun is our primary concern,” he said, fingers wrapping tightly around the door handle.

Billy turned sharp again, braking suddenly as he made a dramatic pitch toward another stronghold. “And why can’t it be both?”

This time, the men held their ground, gunfire dinging the car while Rick did his best not to puke. “Because you’re going to get us killed!”

Billy bared down, gaze focused as he gave the gas everything it had, sending the car straight at the men – and the full-sized car they had been using for cover. “Armored cars are wonderful, wonderful things,” he said, unflinching as they approached.

Rick glanced at Billy, then at the men and the car. Gunfire ricocheted off the front and Rick swallowed painfully. “They’re not moving.”

“Just keep it steady,” Billy said, quietly, engine roaring.

“Billy—“

“Trust,” Billy said, eerily calm even as the gunfire picked up, intensifying as they neared. “A year with the ODS ought to have taught you that much.”

Trust. It could be earned, but it was hard. Harder still to keep. In a year, he’d trusted Michael, Casey and Carson with his life.

In an hour, he could say the same for Billy Collins.

Trust.

He breathed in and steadied himself, bracing.

Billy didn’t waver, kept focused, kept going, kept going—

Until the men started to flee, one by one, but they were too close to turn away—

But Billy turned the wheel hard, and the truck rocked precariously, tipping uncertainly. Rick’s stomach turned and his head went light as he dipped with the car. When they righted, he was snapped back, head bouncing off the window, vision going bright for one long moment.

For that time, there was only movement and sound, distance and sporadic, bright lights assaulting him and gunfire mixing with yells.

Trust.

He had to trust a man he’d only met, a man who wrote bad poetry and cracked jokes and told stories and did his job better than he did.

Trust.

The truck bounced viciously, and Rick’s vision started to clear in time to see the grass and the sky and the—

Building.

Trust or not, Rick yelped, throwing up his hands. Not that it did any good. The truck bounding forward, careening into the walls and buckling it, brick and mortar crumbling in a magnificent deluge, the sound deafening him as he watched half in horror, half in amazement as the truck came to a hissing stop.

And then – stillness.

Rick blinked. He breathed.

He looked over and saw Casey and Michael standing, staring back.

And next to him, Billy clapped his hands together.

“What the hell was that?” Rick asked, his fear making his incredulity even sharper than normal.

“That,” Billy said, unbuckling his seatbelt, “is how you clear the field and mount a rescue.”

Rick gaped, heart still thudding in his chest. His breath caught in his throat and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to cry or laugh.

Or both.

Out his door, Billy had rounded to the front on foot, meeting up with Michael and Casey, who were looking at him curiously.

“What’d you do to Martinez?” Michael asked.

Billy shrugged. “He seems to be a bit green when it comes to high speed chases.”

“Well, we have tried to minimize the amount of time we spend driving into gunfire,” Michael said.

Billy scoffed. “You’ve been neglecting to teach him the basics, then!”

“We prefer to think of it as avoiding the development of suicidal tendencies,” Casey said. “Something I think we failed with you, quite clearly.”

“I’m alive, am I not?” Billy asked.

“You did just drive a car around, aiming at armed criminals, and then drove through a wall,” Michael pointed out.

“But it was therapeutic!”

Michael rolled his eyes and then squinted back up at Rick. “You okay up there, Martinez?” he asked.

Staring, Rick felt his head clear just enough. Trust. Teamwork.

He huffed, almost laughing, the uncertain fear giving way to a growing fortitude.

“Yeah,” he said, nodding slowly. “I think I am.”

SECTION FIVE B

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 23rd, 2012 05:24 pm (UTC)
MY FAVORITE chapter!

SO much LOVELY ACTION! And OH! So happy to see Billy back in action as well as if no time had passed, no recrimination, only determination to finish the mission, to make his three years not go to waste. Sigh, you know how to make me happy, heroic, non-judgmental, joyously positive Billy.

Gosh, there are SO MANY fave moments in this! Every time Billy does something even in his compromised condition, every time he jokes with Carson or the others or that he encourages Rick when no one else had for a year. You do an AMAZING job of bringing Billy back seamlessly and then guiding Rick without a single bit of disbelief that he could welcome Rick into the fold so easily without envy or recrimination. Once again, simply AMAZING and I SO LOVE IT.

Don't think that LJ would let me insert all of the fave moments and I don't know if I can pare it down to just a few gems, but here are a couple that made me faint dead away:

Fave Parts:

Billy flushed, and then he turned, eyes settling on Rick. He gave Rick a once over and then nodded in approval. “Stout, brave-hearted, ever-noble,” he assessed. He glanced toward the rest of the ODS. “My replacement?”

--*sigh

Billy didn’t back down. “Let me put this experience to good use,” he said, a hint of pleading in his voice now. “I don’t want to think I spent three years curled up and useless for no gain whatsoever. This is still my mission to complete as much as it is yours. Let’s do it – together.”

Rick’s throat felt tight, and he could hear the poetry in his head, Billy’s Scottish accent bringing it to life.

Brave companions
lead the charge;
three warriors
of certain heart

It had been bad poetry, but the truest intentions. This was Billy Collins.

--*THUD!


But Rick couldn’t help it if his own nerves melted, if his fortitude buoyed. It was true that this was going too well. But this wasn’t the ODS as he’d known it. This was hardly the same team at all. With Billy, the dynamic was different – it was better. Rick had no choice but to believe. If disaster was impending, Rick was ready to face it, because of this team. Because of the ODS. They weren’t invincible, he knew, but this was as close as they’d ever get.

Resolute, Rick looked up, met Billy’s gaze and found himself smiling. “Well, I say let’s go.”

-- I LOVE that you referenced fortitude. It fits the Rick and Billy dynamic perfectly.


Off to read 5B!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 28th, 2012 02:41 am (UTC)
Re: MY FAVORITE chapter!
billy casey trouble

Aw, I'm so glad you liked this chapter so much! It was hard writing so much of this fic without Billy, so when he finally came back into the picture, I admit, I enjoyed it a lot.

Thanks!

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