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Chaos fic: An Indirect Proof (AU, 8a/9)

October 29th, 2012 (10:05 am)
indescribable

feeling: indescribable

A/n: Close to the end here. Previous parts in the MASTER POST.




SECTION SIX

PRESENT DAY – Panama

-o-

Rick had learned to expect the unexpected with the ODS, but this—

This was so far beyond unexpected. It was downright impossible. It was one of the things that he’d felt safe in assuming would never happen because there was no way to predict this would happen.

There was no way this could happen.

And yet, here he was.

Standing at gunpoint, Ernesto Salazar unconscious at his feet. Outside, the compound was burning and in a state of uncontrolled chaos. Michael and Casey were out there – somewhere – and the man who would probably cost Rick his job had just come in from nowhere to save Rick’s ass, despite the fact that Rick was the one who was supposed to be doing the rescuing.

All that was what it was.

But the person holding the gun?

Carson Simms.

Carson Simms.

Someone Rick had trusted, someone Rick had thought he’d known. Someone he hadn’t doubted, someone he’d come back for.

Someone Billy was accusing of being a traitor.

Carson’s face was taut, a mix of rage and resignation. He shook his head. “It’s not that simple,” he said.

Billy had approached, was standing next to Rick now. “No?” he asked. “So you’re not the one who compromised the mission three years ago?”

Rick’s mind raced, swallowing as he tried to understand. The mission three years ago. North Africa, where they’d first met Salazar. Where they’d lost Billy.

Carson shook his head, face twisting even further, his gun not wavering. “I’m telling you, it’s not that simple.

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about that mission,” Billy said, his words quiet but unapologetic. “Not much else to fill my time, you see. And I thought, how was it that Salazar had the entire place rigged to go up, just like that. We’re spies; we know there’s no such thing as coincidence.”

Carson laughed, a bitter, cruel sound. “Salazar figured that out all on his own,” he said. “He had us pegged probably from the start, you just didn’t know it.”

Rick’s hair stood up on end. It wasn’t an overt admission of guilt, but its meaning was clear. Simms had known something. Given that Simms was in Salazar’s office, trying to murder him, he knew a hell of a lot more.

Billy didn’t flinch. Instead he nodded. “But you did,” he concluded.

Something gave in Simms’ expression, something broken and desperate. “Son of a bitch nabbed me on our last pass,” he said.

“And what did he offer you?” Billy pressed.

Carson’s face turned to rage again. “Nothing, man!” he said, the gun flailing a little bit. Rick found himself trembling, virtually defenseless with the pistol trained on him at this range. “Is that what you think I did? That I took cash to let the rest of you walk into a trap?”

“You have to admit, mate, it looks a bit damning,” Billy said, shrugging just a little. “Michael and Casey were on the other side of the compound where the explosion was. When I came to, you were gone. When I went to find you, I found two guards instead. I told you my theory on coincidences. You wouldn’t leave me behind—“

“Unless it was the only way to save you,” Carson snapped. “You really think I wanted this to happen? You think I didn’t think of any way I could to save all of you? Salazar didn’t offer me money; he told me if I didn’t come with the file we had on him, he’d kill you.”

Rick found it difficult to breathe, his mind still struggling with understanding the gun waving in his face. Rick hadn’t been on the mission three years ago – he barely knew anything about it – but this was as much emotion as he’d ever seen from his teammate. It was raw; it was honest.

It explained more than Rick wanted to admit.

Carson wasn’t indifferent.

He’d sold out.

“So why not tell us?” Billy asked. “We would have helped—“

“And Salazar would have turned our photos and covers over to the highest bidder,” Simms said. “He had us cornered. We were screwed either way.”

“So you agreed to give him the file,” Billy said.

Carson sighed. “I agreed to do what was best for all of us,” he retorted.

But it wasn’t that simple, and they all knew it. Because Billy had gone missing, and the ODS never recovered, and here Rick was at gunpoint trying to clean up a mess that he couldn’t even begin to understand.

“And I followed you,” Billy realized. “I messed up the plan.”

There was a moment of real pain on Carson’s face, eyes bright. “I tried to talk him out of it,” he said. “Hell, I begged him. But he was going to kill me, man. He was going to kill us both if I stayed. I thought...”

His voice trailed off, his shoulders slumping.

Rick gaped, heart thundering, not wanting to finish the sentence in his head.

But Billy said it for all of them. “But you thought there was no point in both of us dying.”

It was harsh, and Rick realized how human it sounded. He tried to imagine what it’d be like, to know the choice was to stay and die for a friend or to leave and save his own life. This was what Carson meant, how you always save yourself.

Most people did.

But not all people.

His team hadn’t left him to die in South America. They hadn’t left him behind in Russia. And Billy hadn’t left him alone in an enemy’s house.

Yet here Simms was, holding a gun on him.

It was human.

It was wrong.

Carson’s face looked pained and he swallowed with difficulty. “I wasn’t a traitor, man,” he said, shaking his head. “You have to believe me. I wasn’t a traitor.”

Billy didn’t move, not forward or backward, and his expression softened just slightly even as his shoulders squared, pressing just slightly closer to Rick “I know that,” he said. “You were in a position that had no good solution. That doesn’t make you a traitor. But this, right here – if you pull that trigger – then you’ll be a traitor.”

Rick sucked in a breath and held it, watching as Carson’s expression wavered, tinged with grief. The older man took a shuddering breath. “I have to fix it,” he said. “Salazar knows too much. If he still has the file, then we’re all still in jeopardy. We need to kill him and torch the place, that’s the only way—“

“And what if he has it somewhere else?” Billy asked.

“And how will we explain it to the CIA?” Rick said, finding his voice.

The gun came up again, more erratic now. “Who the hell cares about the CIA?” he said. “Screw the CIA! This is bigger than Langley.”

Rick shook his head. “We could be arrested—“

“And Salazar could get us killed!” Simms said. “If we bring him back alive, he’ll roll on me, just that fast—“

And that was one of the most critical elements of this. If Salazar lived, then Carson Simms would be outed. There was no telling what the repercussions would be. At the least, he’d be kicked out of the Agency. At the worst, there would be criminal charges.

Simms had never lied to him. In the end, he always chose himself.

Rick’s conscience flared and his sense of duty overcame his shock. “We can’t kill him,” he said. “We have a duty—“

“So, what, you’re going to throw me to the wolves, kid?” Carson asked, jabbing the gun toward him.

Billy edged closer to him, hands out, disarming. “He’s just telling you the truth,” Billy said.

Carson’s eyes darted between them, his stance tense as he shifted his weight from foot to foot.

“You made a mistake three years ago,” Billy said. “No one will fault you for it. You had no choice. But you do have a choice now.”

Carson’s brow furrowed. “I left you for dead, man,” he said, almost whining now. “I destroyed us all. If Langley doesn’t throw me in prison, Michael and Casey will kill me.”

“They won’t,” Billy said. “We can figure it out. We’re a team. Isn’t that what we do?”

A team. They’d do anything for each other. Anything.

Simms was human; he was selfish. He’d left Billy to die once, and Rick could see the temptation to do it again.

But Billy wasn’t offering him a way out.

He was offering absolution.

And Rick didn’t know a lot, but he knew now that that was the thing that Carson Simms needed more than anything else.

Carson stood stiffly, gun still up, position unchanged. His face wavered, his expression broke, and his hand started to drop.

Then, from the hallway, there was a commotion.

Carson lifted his gun again, eyes going wide.

Rick turned just in time to see the flash of movement before something exploded from the back of the house. Rick rocked on his feet, lurching unsteadily forward toward Simms.

Right as the gun went off.

-o-

Rick hit the ground hard, the contact reverberating through his backside and sending sharp pain up his arm. There was already a haze of smoke in the room, a muffled sound of voices and the rat-a-tat of gunfire being exchanged.

Rick blinked, mouth open. He could still hear the shot from Simms’ gun. Close range, too close to miss. He could smell the discharge, almost taste it.

But when he looked down, there was no blood.

Not his chest, his stomach. Not his arms or his legs or anywhere.

He wasn’t hit.

He almost laughed, giddy with relief. Somehow, Simms had missed. Maybe it was the force of the explosion, maybe it was just Simms’ distraction; maybe it was just luck for once.

Sitting up, still gaping, Rick looked around. Carson was on the floor, pushing his way back up. Salazar was still unconscious, apparently oblivious to this turn of events. And Billy…

Billy was sprawled next to Rick on his back, head tilted up as he looked down the length of his body. Rick frowned for a second, trying to make sense of the image.

Sitting up now, he scooted closer to get a better look. And that’s when he saw Billy’s hands, lifting up from his stomach, wet and stained dark red.

Blood, Rick realized.

It was all over Billy’s fingers, staining his tattered shirt.

And suddenly Rick understood. It wasn’t the explosion; it wasn’t Simms’ distraction. And it sure as hell wasn’t luck.

Simms hadn’t missed at all.

Billy had just shoved Rick out of the way and taken the shot.

For a second, Rick could only stare.

Then, Billy’s breath caught, hitching with a shuddering gasp, his entire body starting to tremble, and Rick’s sense came back to him. Billy had been shot. Billy had been shot for Rick.

On his hands and knees, Rick crossed the distance, pushing away Billy’s hands and pulling at the ruined shirt. Beneath him, Billy bucked weakly.

“’s not so bad,” Billy said, blood-stained fingers leaving dark streaks on the floor.

Rick gritted his teeth, lifting up the fabric to get a look. At first it was hard to see with all the blood, but the small, puckered wound was high in Billy’s abdomen, leaking fresh red blood with every beat of the Scot’s frantically pounding heart.

Billy took another uneven breath. “Though, it feels a mite—“ he cut off with a grimace, “—uncomfortable.”

Rick froze for a moment, just looking at it. He thought about Billy’s desk and the poetry. Billy was a man who was willing to die for his friends. For people he hardly knew. He was willing to give a second chance to the person who had nearly cost him everything.

He didn’t deserve this. They’d found Billy, alive and okay, and he didn’t deserve this. To be bleeding and shot and—

Rick found his resolve and locked his jaw. Shrugging out of his jacket, he balled it up, pressing it down hard on the wound, wincing as Billy cried out with fresh pain. His head dropped back, his body trembling harder now, fingers clenched into bloody fists as tears sprung to his eyes.

“You were chained to a bed for three years,” Rick reminded him in a feeble attempt to joke. “This is nothing.”

Billy rolled his gaze back to Rick, smiling weakly. “Aye,” he said. “I’d rather—“ He cut off, his breath leaving him for a moment. His pallor went gray but he swallowed hard. “I’d rather die free.”

Something painful twisted in Rick’s gut. He shook his head, ignoring the sting of tears behind his eyes. “You’re not dying at all,” Rick promised. “That’d be a pretty crappy rescue, wouldn’t it?”

Billy looked ready to speak, but a curse distracted them both. Rick looked up, surprised to see Carson standing above him. He was still holding the gun, hair disarrayed and a cut trickling blood down his face.

Carson swore again, face blank before breaking with a bereft sob. “What did you do, you idiot?” he asked, voice broken.

Billy was shaking, but his voice was still clear. “Couldn’t let you shoot him,” he said. “You’d never – never forgive yourself—“

His voice trailed off, his body stiffening with pain as he squeezed his eyes shut and tears leaked out.

Carson nearly doubled over, hovering just above Rick now. “And you think I’ll be able to forgive myself for this?” he asked. He swore again. “Man, I never meant – I never thought – I just never…”

With obvious effort, Billy opened his eyes, a sweat breaking out across his forehead now, hot blood still welling up beneath Rick’s fingers. “I know, mate,” Billy said, the words strained and hard to hear now. “I know.”

From the hallway, there were voices closer now – indistinct chatter in Spanish lost in a barrage of gunfire.

Rick glanced up and Billy cried out again, this time his body going limp, face slack as unconsciousness claimed him. The smoke was getting hard to breathe in now – they were running out of time.

And options.

Rick looked up to Simms. “You have to help me with him.”

Carson looked back at him, expression blank again.

Rick didn’t waver. “We need to get him and Salazar out of here.”

Carson stiffened, the horror still written all over his shellshocked features.

“Carson!” Rick snapped, hoping to jar the other man. “We need to move. With this much smoke, we may be running out of time.”

Carson stared at him for a moment, indecision in his expression. There was fear and horror, lost and tragic. He hadn’t meant for any of this. He hadn’t meant to shoot Billy any more than he’d meant to leave him behind three years ago.

Choices.

It all came down to choices.

Simms could redeem himself. He could help Rick. Finish the mission, save Billy’s life.

But Simms shook his head. “I…I can’t.”

Rick’s stomach hardened and something like rage welled up. He used one hand to reach up, grabbing the lapel of Simms’ coat and shaking him, Billy’s blood smearing. “You have to,” he said. “You owe him this.”

But Simms shook his head again, breath catching. He took another erratic breath, face ghostly white in the haze. “I shot him,” he said, quietly now. “I shot him.”

“Yeah,” Rick snapped. “You did. So now let’s do something about it—“

Simms’ eyes were hollow, expression almost vacant in shock. He hitched with a sob, and he brought his free had up, running it through his hair and his face crumpled. “I shot him,” he said. “If he dies—“

“He doesn’t have to die!” Rick said, because he had to believe it. He had to believe Billy could be saved. His fingers tightened, looking up, almost pleading now. “Please.

Simms looked at him, eyes wet. Apologetic. Broken.

Decided.

He shook his head, pulling away. Rick’s fingers went lax, and Rick could see his bloody handprint on Carson’s shirtfront.

Carson looked at Billy, taking another step back.

“Carson,” Rick said, louder now, feeling desperation start to creep in.

Simms took another step, body tensely strung, his entire being precariously lilting.

Decided.

You always choose yourself. Always.

Carson Simms had made this choice three years ago.

Three years later, everything had changed.

And nothing.

“They’ll string me up alive,” Simms said, voice haunted and eyes bleak. “I won’t even make it to the States—“

“Simms…” Rick felt like there was something more he should say. Something more he could do. But there was nothing. He was out of words; he was out of pleas. He was out of everything.

Because it was too late.

Simms took one more look at Billy before he turned away and ran, leaving Rick pressing a hand against Billy’s stomach while the house burned and the enemy closed in.

And Carson Simms didn’t look back.

-o-

It was a long moment while Rick could only stare. Simms was gone and the fire was picking up. It was hard to see in the haze now, and the sound of gunfire was closer. He glanced over to Salazar, who was still unconscious, before he looked down at Billy.

The Scottish operative was lax under Rick’s pressure, his face pale under the scruffy beard. Without Simms, Rick was the one who was responsible now. For the mission.

For Billy.

Wetting his lips, Rick looked over at Salazar again. Bringing Salazar back with them was one of the critical components of Michael’s plan to avoid any prosecution. Getting him killed or leaving him behind to potentially be rescued by his own would be a disaster in terms of their own freedom and the long term success of bringing down the counterfeiting operation. They needed Salazar.

He looked at Billy again. Over the growing cacophony, Rick could hear if he was breathing, but either way, Rick knew he was running out of time. The gunshot was high in the abdomen, which could be suggestive of a whole range of injuries. The stomach, the liver, the kidneys. The intestines. Not to mention all the veins and arteries in the region.

Billy had waited three years for rescue; he didn’t have more than three hours now.

And Rick realized he had a choice. Just like Carson Simms, it came down to a simple decision. If he pulled out Salazar first, he could guarantee his own safe passage back to the States. He could have a long and productive career. He could make a real difference

If he chose Billy, there was a good chance he’d be arrested, tried and convicted. His career would be in shambles, and he’d likely spend the foreseeable future in a jail cell. Everything he’d worked for would be for nothing.

But then he thought about a line in Billy’s poetry.

There’s worse fates than to be
A star engraved upon a wall.

Leaving behind a teammate was one of those fates, worse than death. If Rick had any doubts, he just had to look at what it did to Carson Simms. What it had done to the ODS.

Rick wouldn’t wish that on anyone. He wouldn’t choose it for himself.

And he wouldn’t let Billy die, not after suffering so much. Not after Billy had come back for him.

Billy deserved better.

Rick would give him better.

Mind made up, Rick hoisted Billy up, wincing as fresh blood spilled from the wound. It was hard negotiating the Scot’s taller height and he nearly stumbled, his burden tipping, but he worked to find his feet. A fireman’s carry would be dangerous with the bullet still in Billy, but Rick didn’t have a lot of options. He couldn’t carry Billy quickly any other way – and if he took much longer, he’d never get them out alive with the smoke filling the room as fast as it was.

Gritting his teeth, Rick slung the unconscious operative up, feeling the weight on his shoulders a moment before the wetness of blood started to soak into his shoulders. It turned his stomach, but he didn’t let it bother him – couldn’t.

He sucked in, and hacked out with a cough. Grimacing, he put one foot in front of the other, steadying Billy with one hand on the man’s wrist, the other wrapped around his thigh.

It took a few paces to get up some speed, but when he reached the doorway, he was moving fast enough. From there, it wouldn’t be far. He could still see the layout in his mind, the long upstairs hallway and the grand staircase, which led straight to the front door. He just had to make it there.

Stepping out, the smoke was thicker, stinging his eyes. He held his breath as best he could, determined to keep moving, to finish what mattered.

But the sight of a gun pointed straight at his chest stopped him in his tracks.

-o-

Rick froze.

As this was the second time today he’d been held at gunpoint, he would have thought it might have lost some of its impact. But the sight still made his heart stutter and his mind go blank.

Then, he heard a familiar voice. “If this is your idea of being right back, then I think we need to have a team meeting when we get home.”

Michael.

Somehow, that made sense. First Simms, now Dorset. Knowing Rick’s luck, Casey would come barging up and tried to put him in a chokehold.

But Michael dropped the gun, stepping closer, face taut with worry as he realized who Rick was carrying. “Is that--?”

“Billy,” Rick confirmed. “He’s been shot.”

It was hard to tell in the sooty hallway, but Rick was pretty sure Michael’s face paled. “Is he--?”

“It’s bad,” Rick said. “We need to get him out of here.”

Michael nodded gravely, swallowing with obvious effort. “Did you find Simms?”

This time, it was Rick’s turn to pale. He set his face stonily. “He’s gone.”

Just like that, Michael’s face went blank, some emotion wrenching deep inside him. “Gone?”

Rick blinked and realized the implication. “Yeah, gone,” he snapped. “He ran off. I told him to stay, but he didn’t listen.”

“To get more evidence?” Michael asked, glancing down the hall. “We still have time to go after him—“

Rick’s frustration mounted and he shook his head. “No, we don’t,” he said emphatically, hoping Billy’s dead weight might prove his point.

“Casey’s coming,” Michael said. “You can take off with him—“

“No,” Rick said, almost seething now. “I don’t even know if he’s in the house.”

Michael’s face screwed up in confusion, the tendrils of a protest imminent.

“We can talk about it later,” Rick said, because he was tired and trying to explain everything right now, right here would get them all killed. He still didn’t know what to make of Simms’ betrayal, and he’d been there to witness it. If he told Michael, Rick wasn’t sure what would happen, but he knew it might end up getting more people killed. Right now, Rick wanted to save some lives. Starting with Billy. “We need to get Billy out of here. And if you want to salvage the mission, Salazar is back in the room, still out cold.”

Michael still looked confused, but he seemed to recognize the fresh determination in Rick’s voice. Rick was certain and sure; and for the first time in his entire tenure with the ODS, Michael didn’t question his judgment. It was hard to explain, harder still to understand, but the shift was clear.

Suddenly, he wasn’t just the new guy. He was the guy. One of them, in all the ways that mattered. He trusted them; they trusted him. All the pieces fit, right and sure and good.

Or, it would be good -- once they got the hell out.

At that moment, Casey came running up. He was slightly breathless, hair a little disheveled. “The immediate threat is neutralized,” he reported. “But the fire is out of control. I suggest we move if we want to have a shot at getting out of here.” Then he saw Rick, and the body slung over his shoulder. His face went blank.

Michael took a breath, interjecting himself before the human weapon could formulate another thought. “Billy’s been hit, Simms is gone,” he said. He nodded inside. “I need you to go collect Salazar and then we’re getting the hell out.”

Casey lifted his eyebrows. “Without Carson?”

Michael’s eyes settled on Rick, who didn’t even blink. Michael looked reluctant, but he still nodded. “Without Carson,” he said.

If Casey wanted to question that, one look from Rick and then to Billy’s unconscious form silenced him. He inclined his head, pursing his lips. “Don’t wait up,” he muttered, darting past them.

“Okay, Martinez,” he said, taking a deep breath and nodding forward. “Follow me, and don’t drop him.”

Rick adjusted his grip, jaw tight. “Not a chance,” he said, following close as Michael lifted his gun and started out again.

-o-

In the hallway, it was hard to see. Rick’s lungs had started to hurt, each wheezing breath a trial. He stumbled, nearly tripping over the bodies on the staircase, but staying close to Michael he made his way into the grand foyer.

His shoulders started to ache, and his entire back felt sticky and hot. But he adjusted his grip and kept running, not sparing a look at the flames licking their way through the opulent living room not far away.

Michael didn’t hesitate either, crossing the last of the distance and throwing open the front door with force.

At a run, Rick broke the threshold, almost blinded by the light. In the brightness, he found himself disoriented, the fresh oxygen exacerbating the tightness in his lungs. He choked for a moment, his head going light as he wavered on his feet, knees starting to buckle.

He was about to go down and take Billy with him, but as his stance gave way Michael was there, steadying him with one hand and stabilizing Billy with the other.

Still struggling to breathe, Rick tried to get his bearings, and found himself only marginally successful. When Billy’s weight was lifted from his shoulders he wanted to object, but he found himself coughing too hard to formulate the words.

He didn’t have to, though. Because Michael was there, laying Billy out and grimacing as he gave him a once over. The Scot didn’t move, his pallor even more haggard in the sunlight, mouth open as he drew fast, weak breaths. Michael didn’t say anything, but removed his outer shirt, ripping it promptly in two and tying a wadded up portion into place over the gunshot in Billy’s gut.

When Casey came up beside them, Salazar firmly in tow, Rick was propped up on his elbows, still gasping for air as he watched Michael finish his ministrations. Casey lingered, face devoid of emotion, as he looked down at them all. “So I take it we have a new plan?”

Michael sat back on his heels, sighing, wiping his bloody hands on his pants absently. “Well, a new-new plan, anyway,” he said. Then he looked at Rick, curious and critical all at once. “First, we need to find Simms.”

Rick shook his head, wincing at the movement. “Simms is gone,” he said. “Not hurt; not getting evidence. Gone.”

“So we think he’s still inside?” Casey asked pointedly.

“No. Maybe. I don’t know,” Rick told them, swallowing with difficulty.

Casey’s expression darkened. “I didn’t come all this way to make the same mistake twice,” he growled. “You two can take Billy—“

“No,” Rick interjected roughly. “Look, I don’t even know if I understand it, but he left. When I say he’s gone, I mean it. He left me alone with Billy bleeding out, so right now I don’t know if we owe him anything. He’s gone, and that was his choice, not mine.”

And not Billy’s.

“We can’t just leave him,” Michael said – or started to. But before the words left his mouth, an explosion shook the house as the fire picked up with a fresh burst of speed, exhaling larger puffs of smoke into the Panama sky.

It wasn’t a choice anymore.

Rick pushed to his feet. His vision tunneled for a moment, but he steadied himself by sheer force of will. He looked at Billy, then to Michael. “So,” he said, voice gruff and husky. “What was that about a new-new plan?”

-o-

Michael’s new-new plan wasn’t exactly any better than the last new plan. Or the original plan, for that matter.

Not that Rick could even remember the original plan anymore. Too much had changed, and Rick would be okay with anything that involved finally getting Billy out.

“Most of Salazar’s men have read the writing on the wall – they’ve scattered,” Michael said.

“No honor among thieves,” Casey grunted.

“And we took care of the loyalist back inside the house,” Michael continued.

Suddenly, a new burst of gunfire broke out and Rick ducked, throwing himself protectively over Billy instinctively. Michael turned, stepping in front, gun up as he fired off a few shots, forcing their pursuers down behind an abandoned car in the driveway.

“Mostly!” Michael amended.

Gunfire chipped the cement and Rick curled up, drawing closer to Billy. “So that plan?”

Michael grunted, firing a few more times. “Can you carry him?”

Rick squinted up, nodding. “Yeah.”

“Good,” Michael said. “Then we run.”

-o-

It wasn’t an in depth plan, but Rick found he kind of liked the simplicity of it for once.

He was less fond of being shot at, but at this point he was getting a bit used to it.

In the past, Rick would need details, would want explanations. But somehow, this time, he just knew. He understood Michael’s lead, could follow Casey’s frank logic. Michael was at the rear, firing off shots intermittently to keep their assailants at bay. Casey followed, Salazar over his shoulder, because if someone was going to get shot, Salazar was still the most acceptable loss.

And Rick led. Billy was heavy over his shoulder, but it was a weight that Rick gladly carried. For as long as necessary. Until this was over.

Michael hadn’t given him specific directions, but Rick still knew where to go. He made a straight line toward the fence until he came across the truck. It was abandoned, driver’s door opened and Rick ran to the far side, fumbling to pull open the back door.

Without words, Rick swiftly put Billy inside, spreading him out on the seat even as Casey scrambled in the other side, throwing Salazar roughly to the floor before closing the door as a hail of bullets pinged just outside.

Rick stayed close to Billy, covering him as best he could even as Michael slid into the driver’s seat and started the engine.

“We all good back there?” Michael called back.

Gunfire continued outside, shattering one of the windows.

“Just go!” Rick yelled.

“Preferably before we end up full of holes!” Casey added.

Michael steeled himself visibly, putting the car in gear and pressing down on the gas. Rick just barely had time to brace Billy on the seat as the truck lurched forward and they were off.

Looking at Billy’s worn, slack face, Rick knew it couldn’t be soon enough.

-o-

Michael had always been the default driver, and he always got the job done. But as he bounced along roughly in the back of the truck, Rick had to admit, the man lacked finesse.

But what he lacked in finesse, he made up for in speed.

And apparent fearlessness.

Michael jerked the wheel but didn’t seem to brake, and it was all Rick could do to keep himself upright and Billy still as the truck rocked precariously on the rutted ground. On the ground, Casey was hogtying Salazar, and the criminal grunted, flailing a little as he came to in the chaos.

Despite all this, Billy didn’t move, not even when Rick pressed a hand back down on the makeshift bandage, still wincing when fresh blood continued to well up between his fingers.

He stole a glance at Billy’s face. Unmoving. Almost gray.

They didn’t leave Billy behind this time, but they might lose him all the same. After everything, it seemed wrong. It was wrong. Billy couldn’t die. He couldn’t.

The truck turned hard again, and then picked up speed. “You might want to hold onto something!” Michael called from the front, eyes narrowed and arms straight as he bore down on the gas and didn’t yield.

Rick stole a glance out and saw the approaching fence. The checkpoint had been choked off, but it was abandoned, but there wasn’t time to stop and open it.

They were out of time.

And by the look on Michael’s face, he was out of patience.

Rick knew the impact was coming, but when the truck jolted, the fence flying at the windshield and cracking it before tumbling wildly over the top, he was still unprepared. The force rocked him back, and as he flew forward, he couldn’t stop himself as his face smashed into the seat. Below him, Salazar yelped, and Rick felt his knee grind into something fleshy.

He couldn’t worry about that, though, not with Billy’s body rolling up against him, flopping limply. Rick fumbled blindly for a moment, and when his vision cleared, he could see open space outside the window.

On the far end of the backseat, Casey was crouched, braced. His face was twisted with barely controlled rage. From the front, Michael called back. “That last bump was harder than I expected,” he said with unreasonable understatement. “Everyone okay?”

“No permanent damage here,” Casey said. He looked down at Salazar. “Unfortunately for some.”

“I’m okay,” Rick added, his voice sounding a little strained. Then he looked at Billy. The Scot had rolled onto his side, long arms dangling limply off the seat. Rick pressed one hand back to the wound, using the other to run along his face, pausing to feel for the pulse point at his throat. He swallowed in relief. “Billy’s still alive.”

“Good,” Michael said, veering the car back toward the road with more skill now but still at full speed. “Make sure he stays that way. Understood?”

The order was superfluous. It was the one Michael had given back when things started to go wrong. The one Rick had taken upon himself. The one that had been growing since he first opened the drop bottom of the desk, since he joined the team and sat in Billy Collins’ desk.

It was time for Billy Collins to go home.

Determined, Rick pressed down harder, eyes trained on Billy’s face, and refused to believe in failure.

Yet, there was doubt. Niggling, deep in the back of his mind. What if he was too late. What if this cost him everything. What if Carson Simms was right.

At the thought of Simms, Rick’s had to grit his teeth, holding back the urge to swear. This wasn’t exactly Carson’s fault, but it felt like it. He hadn’t meant to pull the trigger, but he’d pointed the gun.

And he’d walked away.

He ran away.

Rick didn’t know where he’d have gone, if he’d gotten out alive.

As they raced away from Salazar’s compound, Rick couldn’t help himself from looking back one last time.

The compound was a speck in the distance and when Michael turned onto the road, taking a sharp left onto a main highway, Rick couldn’t see it anymore at all.

-o-

On the open road, Michael’s hand steadied and Rick found a position to keep the pressure taut, pressing down with unyielding strength. They were free now; they were safe.

Yet, looking down at Billy, it didn’t seem so free or safe after all. Because Billy’s pallor got worse, his skin clammy and his complexion ghastly as he took shallow breaths, mouth open and panting.

Then, about two miles out, he started trembling. It was a fine movement at first, but after another mile, it was getting pronounced.

Rick wet his lips and tried to contain his fear. He was no doctor, but he knew what shock looked like. Worse, he knew what it meant.

“How are we looking back there?” Michael’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

Rick shifted stiffly. “Getting worse,” he reported.

“I think Salazar’s fine, though,” Casey added.

Next to Rick, bound and gagged, Salazar made a yelping protest. Casey cuffed him on the back of the head.

“But if we don’t put him in official custody soon, I can’t guarantee that it stays that way,” Casey added, even as Salazar gave him an indignant look.

Michael glanced toward Rick. “How bad is worse?” he asked, making eye contract through the mirror. “Do we have time to drop off Salazar first? If we drag him along, we’re going to have questions.”

Rick’s eyes went back to Billy. The Scot hadn’t roused once, and even with the pressure, the blood was still flowing. It coated the seat, smeared brightly over the entire back seat.

He forced himself to look away, turning his head to meet Michael’s eyes again. Before this mission, he might have doubted speaking up. Not just his own confidence, but that his opinion would have held equal weight. But that doubt was gone now. Or, at any rate, it didn’t matter.

He shook his head. “He’s losing too much blood,” he said. “He’s already in shock, and with a gut shot, I think we need to worry about sepsis.”

Michael held his gaze a moment longer before nodded resolutely in reply. “Okay,” he said. “Once we get to the city, we’ll make a straight line for the hospital. Rick, you’ll stay with Billy—“

“We’re forgetting that Billy technically isn’t here at all,” Casey said. “No cover; not even a passport.”

“I’ll get on the phone with Fay and figure it out,” Michael said. “Until then, Rick plays the dumb tourist who is too shell shocked to know what’s what.” He paused until Rick looked back at him. “Can you do that?”

It was something – to be trusted. To be given a part to play, equal and important. No doubts.

No doubts.

Rick nodded. “Yeah,” he said.

“Good,” Michael replied, eyes back on the road as they raced onward. “Casey and I will take Salazar to a secure location and figure out what to do with him. I’m hoping Fay can come through for us on this one.”

“And if she can’t?” Casey asked. “We are probably still wanted criminals, if you recall.”

“We have the plates,” Michael said. “We have Salazar. And most important, we have Billy. I say we call it in and dare Higgins to abandon us now.”

Casey inclined an eyebrow. “But Carson—“

Rick flattened his lips into a line. “Made his choice,” he said. “Trust me.”

“If he needs a rescue, you need to tell us now, Martinez,” Michael said evenly.

Rick shook his head. “He was alive.”

“So we left a teammate inside a burning building?” he asked. “Again?”

The grief was there, still raw but barely controlled. “I don’t think so,” Rick said. “He was on his way out when I last saw him.”

“On a compound of frantic criminals with guns,” Casey reminded him.

“Exactly. Simms made his choice; we made a choice for Billy,” Rick insisted. “Besides, if Simms is capable of anything, it’s surviving no matter what.”

Casey turned his look to Michael. Michael grimaced. Neither disagreed.

Rick shot a glance between him both. “It’s a long story,” he snapped. “And last I checked, time was one of the things we didn’t have.”

Casey snuffled, settling back gruffly. “Touché.”

“Just keep Billy alive,” Michael ordered.

Rick’s eyes settled back on Billy, whose breathing was faintly wheezing now as he labored for air.

It was just one order, but as Billy’s blood slipped between his fingers, Rick knew that it was easier said than done.

-o-

Rick lost sense of time.

It didn’t matter, anyway. He measured life in the stuttering beats of Billy’s heart, marking existence with each grating breath. The blood was everywhere, but Rick didn’t move his arms. They ached and then they went numb, but he didn’t dare move. For Billy.

For Billy.

The man who carved patterns into his desk. The man whose large shoes scuffed the bottom. The man who made a drop bottom to hide tokens of a life Rick couldn’t even begin to understand.

But he wanted to find out.

He pressed harder, he didn’t waver, because he wanted to find out. No matter what it cost.

Michael drove faster; Casey glowered. Rick pressed hard.

Somewhere, Simms was still running.

And Billy fought to stay alive.

Time would only tell if it was a fight any of them would win.

-o-

At the hospital, things happened quickly. Michael pulled them up to the door, and had run around to Rick’s door before he even had a chance to realize they’d stopped.

Then there were voices – yelling and movement – and Billy was pulled from the car, Rick’s arms numbly falling away as the Scot was negotiated onto a stretcher.

Then, Rick found himself pulled out into the light, the door slamming behind him. He was bombarded by voices, jabbering fast in Spanish, and he blinked, swaying slightly on his feet at the shock of it all.

Michael’s hand gripped his arm, and he pressed closer. “Keep it together,” he said. “We need you to take care of Billy. Can you do that?”

Rick wasn’t sure if he could stand, much less do anything of value. He was lightheaded and numb and tired and—

The medical team was moving, Billy lost among them, his long limbs limp on the gurney as they pushed him inside.

“Rick,” Michael hissed.

It was tempting to give in. To cave. To just let go.

But not yet.

Not now.

Without another look back, he moved forward, catching up to the gurney and leaving Michael and Casey to take care of the rest.

-o-

If anyone doubted Rick’s meek cover story of a mugging gone very, very wrong on holiday, they didn’t have time to give voice to it. Of course, with Billy’s vitals tanking and Rick covered in blood, the medical staff probably had other things to think about.

Still, Rick answered their questions sparsely, telling them that Billy’s ID had been lost, that Rick didn’t know what had happened exactly and he didn’t know what to do.

He didn’t know.

As he watched them treat Billy, he just wished that it was more of a lie than it actually was.

They made short work of Billy’s clothes. The blood had disguised how tired and worn the garments were, and when Billy’s wound was exposed Rick could still see the small hole. It looked too small to be so dangerous, but the blood around it told a much different story. It coated his stomach, smearing up his chest and across his forearms. It was stained down his legs, soaking the boxers, which were all that covered the Scot.

Rick’s Spanish was almost as good as his English, so picking up the medical jargon wasn’t hard. Someone said something about a rapid infuser; someone else noted his oxygen levels were dropping. An IV was started and when the heart monitor went live, the erratic beat was hardly reassuring.

Something bleated plaintively, and someone hung a second IV, this one dark with blood. The machine blared again, and Rick found himself pushed out of the way.

The dialogue picked up, the overlapping voices hard to distinguish as someone probed the wound before pressing down a fresh bandage. Billy started trembling again – more noticeably now – and the heart monitor registered an increased beat and Billy’s blood pressure started to drop.

And then someone was hauling him out, telling him about protocol and paperwork and how they needed him to fill out some forms.

Rick shook his head, starting to protest, tripping over his own feet as the nurse started to force him away.

Billy was his responsibility.

But he’d done everything he could for Billy.

As the nurse dragged him to the hallway, Rick caught one last look at the Scot, unmoving on the gurney as the doctors worked, and told himself it was enough.

And if he was starting to lie as much as his teammates, now was no time to start admitting that.

-o-

Rick wasn’t sure how long he sat in the hospital, staring blankly at the stack of paperwork he’d been handed. It was in Spanish, which really wasn’t a problem, but he was more than content to let the hospital think it was. While they tried to find him a translator, he stared listlessly at the wall, the pen barely clasped in his blood-stained hands.

Looking down, he thought they’d have to get him all new forms anyway; these were now smudged with red.

Billy’s blood.

The thought made his stomach clench and he looked away again, eyes darting uncertainly around the room. He felt conspicuous. Which, drenched in blood, he did stand out, and was probably why the hospital had put him in a private waiting room. It could have been for his own comfort, but he suspected that his appearance would be unsettling to other people milling about. He thought he should clean up, but he didn’t have any clothes. And he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He’d gotten Billy to the hospital, and Michael had said he’d take care of the rest…

And then, there he was.

Michael’s sudden appearance was so well timed that for a second, Rick thought he was actually imagining it. It wouldn’t have surprised him; he still felt a bit off kilter after everything. But when Michael’s eyes locked with his, Rick knew this was real.

Blood stained hands, shaky covers and possible charges back home kind of real.

Michael started over, unflinching, Casey a step behind him. They both looked grim, faces taut with worry, aging them more than Rick had ever seen. Between finding Billy and almost losing Billy, between reuniting the team and losing Simms, Rick couldn’t blame them.

Though suddenly, Rick realized their presence wasn’t so comforting.

Because they might have taken care of what they could, but there were still questions to ask. Questions that only Rick could answer.

Questions that Rick was still trying to figure out himself.

Still, Rick wasn’t going to run. Not now; not ever.

Michael settled in the chair next to him, glancing at the bloodstained paperwork while Casey sat stiffly on Michael’s other side. “Any news?”

Rick shook his head. “I think they took him up to surgery, but they’ve been too busy bothering me about paperwork to tell me anything else.”

Michael made a face. “We’ve got Fay working on paperwork of our own,” he said. “We should be able to get a fake passport via the American Embassy soon enough. That should expedite the process.”

“So it’s taken care of?” Rick asked, daring to hope just a little that something might go right for once. “Billy’s got an identity?”

“It was a bit of a hassle to figure out how to get around the fact that he never technically entered the country, but we burned a few favors,” Michael replied.

Casey snorted.

Michael shrugged. “Or more than a few,” he amended. “The fact that we got Salazar and the plates helped, though.”

“It also helped clear up our potential legal troubles,” Casey added.

“The Secret Service boys weren’t happy, but the fact that we tidied up their case faster and better than they could have means something,” he said.

“Though I still object to those yahoos getting all the credit when they effectively sat on their asses and did nothing,” Casey said.

“As long as we get home, I think it’s a win,” Rick said, sinking back in his chair slightly, his adrenaline faltering with the promise of his job and Billy’s passage back home taken care of.

Next to him, Michael didn’t relax, though. He hesitated a moment, eyes keen as he looked at Rick steadily. “We’ve taken care of our end,” he said. “And the doctors are taking care of Billy. Which means we’ve still got one issue we need to clear up.”

Just like that, the tension built again, and Rick swallowed convulsively. His frayed nerves flared up again, and he ground his teeth together to keep his expression impassive. Because Rick knew what was coming. And it wasn’t just that Rick didn’t want to talk about what had happened back in Salazar’s office; it was that he didn’t even know if he could explain it if he tried.

Michael showed no signs of backing down, however. “I went against every instinct I had back there and left an operative behind,” he said. “And I need to know why.”

Michael’s voice was steady, but the emotion was roiling just beneath the surface. It struck Rick again, more clearly now, just what a risk Michael had taken. Leaving without Simms – leaving without any of them – wasn’t something Michael would take lightly. On this mission, more than the rest. And yet, Michael had. Michael had listened to Rick and trusted Rick, and no matter how hard it was, Rick owed him an explanation.

“You didn’t leave him,” he said finally, trying to keep his voice even despite the emotion threatening to choke him. A lump formed in his throat, and he swallowed around it, forcing out the words with such control that it hurt. “He left us behind.”

To that, Michael had no reaction. Next to him, Casey’s dour expression darkened even further. “That’s a nice sound byte,” Michael said, head inclined, “but I’m afraid you’re going to have to be more specific this time.”

Rick sighed, and it came back to him. He could still see Simms, the gun to Salazar’s head. The desperate, panicked, rage that solidified when the gun turned on Rick. “When I went after Simms, I found him in Salazar’s office with a gun to his head.”

Michael didn’t seem surprised. “Well, the man did kidnap one of our teammates and hold him hostage for three years,” he said.

“If you had found me alone with Salazar, chances are that you wouldn’t have found him alive,” Casey said.

“That’s not true, and you know it,” Rick said.

“Well, you wouldn’t have found him conscious,” Casey allowed tersely.

“Exactly,” Rick said. “You wouldn’t have killed him.”

“I’m still not seeing how this leads to us running out with Simms not with us,” Michael said.

Rick looked at his hands, bloodstained and worn. He gestured helplessly. “I tried to talk him out of it, thought like you that he’d just gotten carried away,” he explained. Then he remembered Salazar’s knowing tone, Mr. Simms. Rick looked up, meeting Michael’s gaze again unrepentantly. “Simms knew Salazar.”

“We all know Salazar,” Michael said. “We studied his file for months prepping for North Africa and we studied it for a year afterward looking for any clue where he might have gone.”

“No,” Rick said, shaking his head, adamant now. The shock of the situation was giving way to exhaustion, and with exhaustion, he was finding his patience thin. “He knew him. And Salazar knew Simms. I don’t know what your mission was three years ago, but it didn’t end the way you think it did.”

Michael’s posture went stiff, but he belied no other sign of concern. “You’re still lobbing vague statements and not backing them up.”

Rick blew out a breath, willing himself to retain control. It wasn’t that he couldn’t see Michael’s point of view – because he did — but how was he about to explain what happened? That Simms had been compromised? Not just on this mission, but for three years.

Michael prided himself on knowing everything, and he’d missed this. But it made sense. Looking back now, everything made sense.

And yet, nothing made sense at all. “Simms was the last one to see Billy, right?”

Michael nodded. “They were together in the compound,” he said. “Their job was to find Salazar.”

“And Simms came back alone?” Rick prompted.

“Yeah,” Michael said, face going a little whiter. “He said he couldn’t get to Billy with the debris and when I turned to go back, the entire place went up.”

That might have been hard to envision, once. Now, it was too damn easy.

“Salazar blackmailed Simms,” Rick blurted finally, not knowing any other way to say it. “Forced him to turn over the intel from the mission by threatening to kill him and expose all of you. Simms gave him the intel, and when Billy came after Simms, Salazar took him, too. He told Simms he’d kill them both if he stayed.” Rick shrugged, the futility of it all almost overwhelming him. “So Simms walked away.”

It wasn’t a long explanation, but it was long enough to leave Rick feeling winded. His chest ached and his stomach felt queasy, the blood on his fingers making his skin feel tight. He’d always believed the truth mattered, that the truth would make things right, but these truths didn’t help anything.

These truths were difficult and wrong, painful and unrelenting.

Simms had chosen himself.

Over his team. Over Billy. Over his job. Over everything.

Casey had gone utterly still, eyes unblinking as he stared at Rick. Michael breathed in steady inhalations, studying Rick with unyielding scrutiny. They were looking for a sign – that he was lying, that he was mistaken, that maybe the smoke had gone to his head and muddled everything up. They were looking for a way for him to be wrong.

“That’s quite a story,” Michael said.

“And one hell of an accusation,” Casey rejoined.

Rick couldn’t back down now. “I know,” he said. “I didn’t want to believe it either, but he said it himself. And Billy – I think he suspected all along. And even then, I thought maybe I misunderstood but then he turned the gun on me.”

Michael cocked his head. “He what?”

“He turned the gun on me,” Rick repeated, struggling to keep his momentum when everything inside of him wanted to stop. To just make it not be this way anymore. “I had my gun up, to make him stop. I thought he’d see sense, but instead he threatened to kill me first.”

Michael Dorset had always been in cold command of the facts as long as Rick had known him. He was cynical and jaded and paranoid as hell, but he’d never been one to shy away from the truth.

But at the admission of Simms’ choice to turn the gun on Rick, he was plainly conflicted, and Rick recognized the telltale signs of denial fighting against the facts as Rick explained.

Rick wanted to stop. He wished he could. But after three years, Michael and Casey deserved the truth.

Billy deserved the truth.

Even Rick deserved it. “Salazar had him backed into a corner, and Simms decided to fight his way out.”

“That doesn’t mean we should cut him out,” Michael said. “He’s still our teammate—“

Rick threw up his hands. He didn’t blame Michael or Casey, but he had no other answers to give them. He had no way of sugarcoating this. He only had the raw and horrible truth, no matter how much any of them wanted to deny it. “You think I wanted it to go down like this?” he exploded. “I knew I couldn’t pull the trigger, no matter what. And then Billy showed up, and he wouldn’t even listen to Billy. Billy forgave him for everything and Simms was still too focused on saving his own skin to listen.”

“Carson Simms isn’t a traitor,” Michael retorted without hesitation. The plaintive statement carried as much conviction as Michael could muster.

It wasn’t enough.

Rick stared him back down. “No, but he is a compromised operative,” he said, and there was a difference. Rick might not have thought so once, but he wasn’t the naïve rookie anymore. He knew more than he wanted to. “That’s why he was going to kill Salazar. That’s why he turned the gun on me. That’s why he ran off after shooting Billy—“

The minute he said it, Rick knew it’d come out wrong. Not that it wasn’t true, but it was too plain, too forceful. The accusation of guilt was hard enough; that Simms was the one who shot Billy…

Rick didn’t want to believe it. Wouldn’t have believed it, but he’d been there. He’d heard the shot; he’s seen Carson’s guilt; he’d held Billy while he bled.

Michael froze. Casey turned white, fingers clenched into fists so hard that it looked like his skin on his knuckles might split from the force alone.

For a moment, the words hung there, Rick’s mouth still open, half horrified that he’d said it, but too terrified to take it back.

“It was an accident,” Rick amended, throwing it on half-heartedly. In everything, that much was true. Simms wouldn’t have shot Billy, otherwise. Rick found himself questioning a lot of truth, but he didn’t question that. It was Simms’ fault, without a doubt, but it had still been an accident. “We heard the noise in the hall, and Simms slipped—“

Rick could still hear the bang. Could still remember seeing Billy lying on the floor, blood covering his dirty shirt.

“—It was an accident,” he said again, too aware of how feeble it sounded.

“How can you be sure?” Michael demanded.

Rick wet his lips. “My gun was down. Billy didn’t have his pulled. Salazar was unconscious.”

Another long moment passed where no one seemed to breathe. Rick’s eyes darted uncertainly between Michael and Casey, but neither of them would look at him now. There were no more questions; there were no more clarifications.

Just slow, certain acceptance.

Just critical, unrelenting understanding.

“I think it broke Simms,” Rick said, because he could still see the visceral pain that left Simms doubled over. “He didn’t mean—“

“He shot Billy,” Casey clarified, voice sharp like glass.

“And then he left while Billy was bleeding,” Michael said, traces of anger rising to the top now.

Rick felt his confidence waver for some reason, not because it wasn’t true but because he wasn’t sure how they would react. What this would do to Michael and Casey. What this would mean for the team. If any of them could recover from this.

But denying it wasn’t possible, and it wouldn’t help. Not in the long run. It was plain what Simms’ denial had done to the team already; it was time to rectify that.

No matter how much it hurt.

“It was a no-win situation,” Rick said, trying to shrug, trying to make sense of it. For all his anger and indignation regarding Simms’ choice, he suddenly felt a pang of sympathy for the man. Three years he carried a secret. Three years knowing he’d made a choice to live while someone else died. It had destroyed him more than the rest, hollowed him out and left him desperate and meager.

Simms had saved his life and condemned it all at once. It was hard not to feel sorry for him. Simms had always been the one to teach him about shades of gray. Now, more than ever.

Michael pressed his lips together for a moment. Then, he laughed. “That’s not true,” he said. “Maybe we couldn’t win everything, but Simms made sure he came out on top.”

“He made a mistake,” Rick said. “He never meant—“

Michael shook his head. “Go,” he said, voice so low it was hardly audible.

Rick blinked, wondering if he’d misheard.

Michael looked up, eyes flashing as they met Rick’s. “Go,” he said again, the order gruff and harsh, unlike Rick had ever heard from the man before.

Rick was at a loss. He’d been prepared for anger, for denial, for violence, for tears. “But—“

“If you don’t want us to forcibly remove you from the room and place you unconscious in a hospital bed, go,” Casey said.

Rick blinked again.

“Check on Billy,” Michael said, cold and certain now.

“But what are you going to do?” he asked. “About Simms?”

“That’s our business,” Michael said.

“But I’m part of this team—“ Rick began to protest.

“You are,” Michael agreed. “But Simms isn’t anymore. If this was about Panama, it’d be different. But this is about North Africa, and when I say you need to leave that to us, I mean you need to leave it to us.”

Part of Rick knew it was a mistake. The news Michael and Casey had just been told – it was too much to let them process alone. It was too much to trust them to process alone. Rick wasn’t sure what they would do – what they even could do – but he had a sneaking suspicion he might not want to find out.

Still, they were right, somehow. Simms hadn’t betrayed Rick; not really. He’d betrayed Michael and Casey. He’d betrayed Billy.

His team had given him their trust. It was Rick’s turn to return the favor.

Because these were good men. The best men he’d ever known. He trusted them.

Nodding, he got to his feet. “Okay,” he said. Then he hesitated. “The paperwork…”

“Check with the desk,” Michael said. “Fay was having it transferred.”

Rick nodded, but lingered again. “You’re not leaving, are you?”

Michael looked at Rick, Casey’s gaze following along. “We know you need us, kid,” he said. “And Billy needs all of us. We won’t be far.”

Rick nodded again. “Okay,” he said, feeling awkward, like the puzzle piece out of place again, trying to fit in but the grooves never matching up. “So, uh. I guess I’ll see you.”

Neither of his teammates made any reply. They didn’t watch as Rick left. Outside, Rick let the door shut, pausing. He looked back through the glass.

Casey was sitting, straight and stiff. His lips were moving, even if his face remained expressionless. In reply, Michael took a ragged breath, head dropping down into his hands.

With all the strength he could muster, Rick walked away.

-o-

At the desk, Rick found a nurse. He tried to show her his unfilled forms, but she seemed to know something he didn’t. “No, no,” she said in accented English. “Paperwork has been faxed over from the Embassy.”

“So I’m good?”

She took the bloodstained forms and put them aside. “Good, good,” she said. “And you are, ah, one of the medical contacts?”

Rick blinked, and realized that Fay must have pulled more strings than he’d expected. Not only had she taken care of Billy’s identity, but she’d linked them all together. Though considering that Billy was an operative that the CIA had lost for three years, he supposed they owed him that.

Whatever favors Fay had pulled, the entire attitude of the staff shifted. Suddenly Rick wasn’t some wayward tourist struggling to speak English; he was somehow a VIP that the staff knew by name. They escorted him upstairs to a surgical waiting room where he was immediately greeted by a nurse.

She offered him platitudes and sparing answers, telling him that Billy was in surgery to fix the damage to his stomach and stop the bleeding, before letting him settle down to wait.

Rick was used to waiting. He’d waited for years to become a CIA agent. He’d waited for his fiancée to finally marry him. He’d waited to become part of the ODS. He’d waited to find the mystery man who’d shared his desk.

He’d achieved some of that, others not so much. But the things that mattered came through.

Sitting there, alone, Rick could only hope that would prove to be the case again.

NEXT

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 31st, 2012 11:18 pm (UTC)
The moment that stops my heart dead - BRILLIANTLY DONE!

I KNOW I don't have to tell you why I LOVED this SO MUCH! This was just a h/c lovers DREAM not to mention the lovely angst that comes from Carson's guilt, Billy's attempts at absolution, of COURSE, his heroics, saving Rick's life. Need I go on? This had everything I love and could want and you write it with such beautiful agony! There ARE WAY TOO MANY favorite parts! Most of the chapter really, but you KNOW the ones I HAVE to mention.


Fave parts:

It explained more than Rick wanted to admit.

Carson wasn’t indifferent.

He’d sold out.

“So why not tell us?” Billy asked. “We would have helped—“

“And Salazar would have turned our photos and covers over to the highest bidder,” Simms said. “He had us cornered. We were screwed either way.”

“So you agreed to give him the file,” Billy said.

Carson sighed. “I agreed to do what was best for all of us,” he retorted.

But it wasn’t that simple, and they all knew it. Because Billy had gone missing, and the ODS never recovered, and here Rick was at gunpoint trying to clean up a mess that he couldn’t even begin to understand.

“And I followed you,” Billy realized. “I messed up the plan.”

There was a moment of real pain on Carson’s face, eyes bright. “I tried to talk him out of it,” he said. “Hell, I begged him. But he was going to kill me, man. He was going to kill us both if I stayed. I thought...”

His voice trailed off, his shoulders slumping.

Rick gaped, heart thundering, not wanting to finish the sentence in his head.

But Billy said it for all of them. “But you thought there was no point in both of us dying.”

It was harsh, and Rick realized how human it sounded. He tried to imagine what it’d be like, to know the choice was to stay and die for a friend or to leave and save his own life. This was what Carson meant, how you always save yourself.

Most people did.

But not all people.

His team hadn’t left him to die in South America. They hadn’t left him behind in Russia. And Billy hadn’t left him alone in an enemy’s house.


--*sigh!!



Billy didn’t move, not forward or backward, and his expression softened just slightly even as his shoulders squared, pressing just slightly closer to Rick “I know that,” he said. “You were in a position that had no good solution. That doesn’t make you a traitor. But this, right here – if you pull that trigger – then you’ll be a traitor.”

Rick sucked in a breath and held it, watching as Carson’s expression wavered, tinged with grief. The older man took a shuddering breath. “I have to fix it,” he said. “Salazar knows too much. If he still has the file, then we’re all still in jeopardy. We need to kill him and torch the place, that’s the only way—“

--*sigh!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 17th, 2012 01:46 am (UTC)
Re: The moment that stops my heart dead - BRILLIANTLY DONE!
billy guitar

I'm so slow here, but still, your awesome reviews warrant thanks. I wrote this entire fic just to get to this h/c, so I'm thrilled you appreciated :)

Thank you!

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 31st, 2012 11:19 pm (UTC)
Fave parts P2

Couldn't let LJ cut me off:

More fave parts that have to be acknowledged:


Billy was sprawled next to Rick on his back, head tilted up as he looked down the length of his body. Rick frowned for a second, trying to make sense of the image.

Sitting up now, he scooted closer to get a better look. And that’s when he saw Billy’s hands, lifting up from his stomach, wet and stained dark red.

Blood, Rick realized.

It was all over Billy’s fingers, staining his tattered shirt.

And suddenly Rick understood. It wasn’t the explosion; it wasn’t Simms’ distraction. And it sure as hell wasn’t luck.

Simms hadn’t missed at all.

Billy had just shoved Rick out of the way and taken the shot.

For a second, Rick could only stare.

Then, Billy’s breath caught, hitching with a shuddering gasp, his entire body starting to tremble, and Rick’s sense came back to him. Billy had been shot. Billy had been shot for Rick.

On his hands and knees, Rick crossed the distance, pushing away Billy’s hands and pulling at the ruined shirt. Beneath him, Billy bucked weakly.

“’s not so bad,” Billy said, blood-stained fingers leaving dark streaks on the floor.

Rick gritted his teeth, lifting up the fabric to get a look. At first it was hard to see with all the blood, but the small, puckered wound was high in Billy’s abdomen, leaking fresh red blood with every beat of the Scot’s frantically pounding heart.

Billy took another uneven breath. “Though, it feels a mite—“ he cut off with a grimace, “—uncomfortable.”

--*THUD!

Billy rolled his gaze back to Rick, smiling weakly. “Aye,” he said. “I’d rather—“ He cut off, his breath leaving him for a moment. His pallor went gray but he swallowed hard. “I’d rather die free.”

Something painful twisted in Rick’s gut. He shook his head, ignoring the sting of tears behind his eyes. “You’re not dying at all,” Rick promised. “That’d be a pretty crappy rescue, wouldn’t it?”

Billy looked ready to speak, but a curse distracted them both. Rick looked up, surprised to see Carson standing above him. He was still holding the gun, hair disarrayed and a cut trickling blood down his face.

Carson swore again, face blank before breaking with a bereft sob. “What did you do, you idiot?” he asked, voice broken.

Billy was shaking, but his voice was still clear. “Couldn’t let you shoot him,” he said. “You’d never – never forgive yourself—“

His voice trailed off, his body stiffening with pain as he squeezed his eyes shut and tears leaked out.

Carson nearly doubled over, hovering just above Rick now. “And you think I’ll be able to forgive myself for this?” he asked. He swore again. “Man, I never meant – I never thought – I just never…”

With obvious effort, Billy opened his eyes, a sweat breaking out across his forehead now, hot blood still welling up beneath Rick’s fingers. “I know, mate,” Billy said, the words strained and hard to hear now. “I know.”

From the hallway, there were voices closer now – indistinct chatter in Spanish lost in a barrage of gunfire.

Rick glanced up and Billy cried out again, this time his body going limp, face slack as unconsciousness claimed him. The smoke was getting hard to breathe in now – they were running out of time.

--*double THUD!

If he chose Billy, there was a good chance he’d be arrested, tried and convicted. His career would be in shambles, and he’d likely spend the foreseeable future in a jail cell. Everything he’d worked for would be for nothing.

But then he thought about a line in Billy’s poetry.

There’s worse fates than to be
A star engraved upon a wall.

Leaving behind a teammate was one of those fates, worse than death. If Rick had any doubts, he just had to look at what it did to Carson Simms. What it had done to the ODS.

Rick wouldn’t wish that on anyone. He wouldn’t choose it for himself.

And he wouldn’t let Billy die, not after suffering so much. Not after Billy had come back for him.

Billy deserved better.

Rick would give him better.

--LOVE how you give Rick that "heart of a hero" though process here!!!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 17th, 2012 01:47 am (UTC)
Re: Fave parts P2
billy thinks

LJ has the silliest word limits! It makes me giddy to reread these reviews. Your enthusiasm makes writing worthwhile :)

Thanks!

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