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

October 29th, 2012 (10:07 am)
aggravated

feeling: aggravated

Split for LJ. Previous parts in the MASTER POST.



-o-

After an hour, an orderly found him, and offered him some clean clothes and something to eat. Rick was too tired to disagree. In the bathroom, he threw his soiled clothes into the bag that had been provided, scrunching his nose as the blood started flaking to the floor.

Washing his hands was a laborious process, and no matter how he scrubbed, he couldn’t quite whittle away the remnants of red stuck deep beneath his fingernails and dried into his cuticles. He used up an entire roll of paper towels, and it still took him most of the second roll before he felt mostly clean. He felt unsettled leaving the bloody towels in the trashcan like that, but he didn’t know what else to do.

Which seemed to be a common theme for this mission.

Weary, he trudged back to the waiting area he’d been left in, nibbling on an apple before half heartedly eating a cookie. After another hour, he found himself almost dozing, head lolled back against the wall despite his better efforts.

He couldn’t let go entirely, though, no matter how tired he was. Because Michael and Casey were coping – probably poorly – and Billy was in surgery – possibly dying – and Carson was on the run – maybe never to be seen again.

If Rick let go, he might never get it back. After everything, that wasn’t something he was willing to risk.

At this point, he didn’t have another choice.

-o-

When the doctor finally came, Rick realized he’d been asleep. Coming to, he found himself badly disoriented, not sure what country he was in or what name he was going by.

The confusion passed quickly, though, when she started talking in staccato English that was surprisingly clear.

“First let me apologize for any inconvenience when you first came in,” she said. “We were not aware of your special affiliations with the Embassy. You have our apologies for the extra hassles you encountered upon your arrival with your friend.”

Rick got to his feet, teetering for a moment while his head finished clearing. He worked to focus his eyes, nodding intently. “That’s perfectly alright,” he said. “I was pretty out of it.”

“Understandably, given the shock,” she said with a polite nod.

“So how is he?” Rick prompted, unwilling to endure further small talk.

Her carefully crafted mask faltered for a moment, but she smiled. “He made it through surgery and is currently being observed in recovery while we wait for him to be stable enough to move to the ICU.”

That wasn’t so bad, Rick thought. After all the waiting and the worry, Billy being alive didn’t sound bad at all.

Except that there was more to it than that. He braced himself for the inevitable but.

She gathered a breath, forcing her smile even more than before. “The bullet fortunately missed the majority of the small intestines, but it still nicked his liver and damaged several of the hepatic veins and arteries, resulting in extreme blood loss. We have transfused him with several liters to help combat his hypovolemia, but his condition is still very guarded. The risk of infection remains high, despite preventative antibiotics.”

The explanation was clear and to the point, but Rick found himself struggling to keep up. Not because he didn’t understand, but because he was still trying to figure out just what it meant. Knowing the damage to the internal organs was one thing, but Rick still needed to know one simple truth. “Will he be okay?”

Her smile fell and she pressed her lips together, looking at him seriously. “If we can fend off the worst of the infection and continue to help his vitals rebound, then yes, he may be okay. However, that much blood loss takes time to recover from, and with his weakened system, it may be more than he can handle. If he starts bleeding again, or if an infection takes root, it could compromise his chances at recovery.”

Rick felt the lump reform in his throat, and he tried to swallow it, feeling almost like he was choking.

This time, her smile was sympathetic. “We’ll know more in a few hours,” she said as reassuringly as possible. “And you will be allowed to sit with him while he recovers.”

Rick nodded numbly.

She gave a small shrug. “I know it’s hard,” she said. “But right now, it’s just a waiting game.”

After everything, Rick thought that should be something he was used to, but as he followed the doctor back to Billy, he knew he wasn’t used to it at all.

-o-

When he was finally left alone with Billy, Rick’s first instinct was to be relieved. Thanks to Fay and the crew back at Langley, it seemed his credentials and Billy’s identity were infallible now, which certainly reduced his stress level.

But standing there, looking at Billy, it was anything but a relief.

Billy was still alive, that was true, but the slack figure was hardly recognizable. The thought suddenly struck him as odd: after all, Rick had only know Billy Collins for a day. The too-thin features could have been any stranger to Rick, and the thick beard might have been his everyday appearance as far as Rick knew. Save from one photo in a file, Rick had never seen the man before.

But that wasn’t what was so hard to recognize. It was the stillness, the utter lack of expression. Ever since Rick had met Billy Collins, he hadn’t stopped. He’d been effusive and upbeat, always thinking and plotting. There had been a hollow darkness there – something Rick had only glanced briefly – but despite what he’d been through, Billy showed more life and vitality than the rest of the ODS combined.

Even though they’d just met, Rick had appreciated that. Hell, he’d practically come alive with it. Billy’s enthusiasm had made him thrive; it had dramatically improved the team dynamic, revitalizing it from the inside out.

Yet, there he was. Hooked up to machine, eyes closed; unconscious and injured. A shadow of the operative Rick had met.

More than that, a ghost of the person he’d come to know through his poetry and his desk. There had been such hope, such dogged optimism; Billy Collins had never been idle. He was always moving, scratching things into his desk, scribbling poetry in his free time. That was Billy Collins.

This…

This wasn’t right.

After three years they’d found Billy, only he had rescued Rick as much as Rick had rescued him. He deserved better.

And Rick couldn’t do anything.

But he had to.

Michael and Casey were gone; Carson was never coming back. This was Rick’s responsibility now.

This was Rick’s only mission.

Standing there, lingering close, it seemed like the most important one yet.

-o-

Rick waited.

The truth was, he wasn’t sure what he was waiting for. The nurse had explained that Billy was deeply sedated; even if his vital did rebound enough, the medication wouldn’t let him come close to rousing.

But still, Rick waited.

Because that was what he’d been ordered to do.

As the time passed, though, he thought it was more than that. This wasn’t just a responsibility. Billy wasn’t a burden.

Studying Billy, he wasn’t sure what the Scotsman was to him.

He was more than his predecessor. He was more than a legend. He was more than a victim, a good operative, one of the CIA’s best.

He was…

He was the ODS. The soul of it, the very essence of it. He made everything make sense.

He was the kind of man who took a bullet for a stranger. A hero.

Someone Rick wanted to know. Maybe someone he’d known all along, but someone he wanted to know better. A teammate. Maybe a friend.

Maybe.

Billy breathed; his heart beat. Rick waited; for as long as it took.

-o-

Whatever Fay had arranged, Rick knew he’d owe her more than a little when they got back. Not only were the doctors and nurses suddenly deferential and patient, but they hardly even asked him to leave. Visiting hours apparently didn’t exist for him, and he found himself dozing in Billy’s small room.

Billy didn’t change – he seemed no better and no worse – and he hovered in a perpetual state of what seemed like near-death to Rick. The doctors were polite but not particularly encouraging, and the sympathetic looks from the nurses were beginning to set Rick’s nerves on end.

Sleeping was probably inevitable, but when he roused the next morning at the nurse’s shift change, he still felt as though he’d let someone down.

But Billy didn’t flicker on the hospital bed; medicated and unconscious.

Billy’s obliviousness only made him feel worse.

“Pardon me, sir,” the nurse said, offering him up that forcefully courteous smile all the nurses seemed to have perfected. “This message was left for you.”

Bleary-eyed, Rick took it and he was still blinking his way back to full awareness as the nurse started about the room, making notes and taking vitals, putting her name on the white board before updating other pertinent information that Rick had tried to look at but failed to comprehend.

When she finally left, he squinted to make out the handwriting – clearly someone who wasn’t a native English speaker – and put together the message.

At the hotel – catch us before noon or we’ll see you in a week.

–M

Sparse as it was, Rick had no uncertainty as to who it was from. Michael often operated on a need-to-know basis; he preferred to dispense details sparingly, and Rick was often on the receiving end of such scarcity. While Rick could appreciate such brevity in an unsecured method of communication, he had to admit, the vagueness of it left him unsettled.

Not that it was actually vague. Michael and Casey had clearly gone back to the hotel – the same one they’d started in, since Michael hadn’t specified otherwise. And obviously, Michael and Casey were getting ready to leave.

Squinting, Rick looked up at the clock. It was already 9 AM.

Michael and Casey were getting ready to leave soon.

Either they expected Rick to drop everything and do their bidding, or they hoped Rick wouldn’t have time to show up at all.

Which, of course, meant that Rick probably needed to show up more than ever.

Because where could Michael and Casey be going? At a time like this? They had Salazar; they had dismantled his operation. They had scored big in every element of the mission. There were no loose ends to tie up – because they’d left the entire place burning.

More than all that, they’d found Billy, which was really what this had been about from the beginning. Hell, that was what it had been about for the last three years even if Rick hadn’t known it and none of them had bothered to acknowledge it. Billy was the missing link of the ODS, and he was here. Alive, if not well, and he needed them now more than ever.

And Michael and Casey were in a hotel room, ready to leave.

There was only one possible reason. One explanation that made any sense.

Because if one wayward member of the ODS was in a hospital bed, another was now at large. Michael and Casey had risked everything to bring one home; Rick had to only think they’d do the same for the other.

Where Billy was a hero, innocent and lauded, Rick couldn’t imagine what fate Carson would await. Not just for North Africa, not just for leaving Billy behind once; but for doing it again.

Rick’s stomach turned a little, and he looked up blankly for a moment before his eyes settled on Billy. Rick had seen one teammate walk away. Maybe Casey and Michael had better reasons, maybe they intended on coming back but if Billy Collins was a textbook case of the unexpected.

It wouldn’t be worth it.

Justice wasn’t worth it.

Billy Collins was.

Getting up, Rick moved close, squeezing the recumbent Scotsman on the arm. “I know this whole walking away thing is getting a bit overdone, but when I tell you that I’ll be back, I mean it,” he said. He lingered, trying to smile. “After all, we need to talk about the condition of your desk. So you can count on it.”

He squeezed once more, forcing himself to swallow.

Then he walked away.

Not for the first time. But he hoped for the last.

-o-

Getting to the motel was harder than Rick had anticipated. He walked out of the hospital with his head high and the best of intentions.

Then he realized he didn’t have a car.

Then he realized he didn’t have more than 10 dollars.

Then he realized the motel was on the other side of town.

Discouraged and embarrassed, he found his way back to the main desk. He had only managed to start spinning his tail when the receptionist had a cab on the phone and she was telling him not to worry about payment.

Rick wasn’t about to let his pride stand in the way of what he needed, especially when it involved keeping his team together.

Or rather, keeping what was left of his team together.

He checked his watch nervously throughout the car ride, trying not to think of the look on Carson’s face when he walked away, the stillness of Billy’s features in the hospital room. This could still be salvaged. Rick had to believe that.

When the driver pulled up outside the hotel, Rick was somewhat less certain. Still, he thanked the man, who told him to have a wonderful day. Rick loitered awkwardly for a moment, waiting for the man to pull away before he headed in.

It was a nice hotel with a tropical feel. It clearly catered to Americans, and Rick nodded congenially at the reception staff as he slinked through the front doors and across the lobby. Their room had been on the third floor, large enough to sleep all of them with a comfortable breeze off its included balcony. With the four of them it had been a tight fit, but none of them had been particularly concerned about sleeping on this mission.

Even with everything that had happened, that much hadn’t changed. The sleep Rick had gotten sitting next to Billy’s hospital bed hadn’t done him much good, and as he pulled out his hotel key card, he felt more sluggish and tired than he remembered.

Or maybe he just really wasn’t looking forward to whatever Michael and Casey had planned.

At any rate, Rick wasn’t one to quit, especially not now. The lock flashed green and Rick pushed it open, putting his card back in his pocket as he shuffled inside.

And then someone grabbed his arm, wrenching it behind his back before turning him violently and slamming him against the wall, bracing him there by pushing roughly on his opposite shoulder.

Wide-eyed, Rick yelped, frantically trying to remember some type of self-defense before he was ruthlessly murdered.

“Casey!” Michael’s voice came. “Stand down!”

The person behind him gave a heavy breath, his grip still tight. “You should know better than to walk into a room unprepared,” Casey seethed into his ear.

Rick looked over his shoulder, trying not to whimper as pain lanced through his arm at the precarious position. “Noted,” he said.

Casey seemed to scowl, but he eased his grip, letting Rick go.

Rick tried to calm his racing heart, straightening his clothes in a vain attempt to look presentable. The clothing he’d been given yesterday had been clean, but they were a little too big and more casual than he normally preferred on a mission. “Though you did tell me to come,” Rick said, just a touch petulant.

Casey snorted, going back over to the bed, packing his things.

Michael shrugged coolly, putting a file folder down on the table. “We weren’t sure you’d come,” he said.

Rick resisted the urge to laugh, because he could read between the lines. More like they were hoping he wouldn’t show up in time.

Then, Rick really looked around. The hotel room was in a state of disarray. The beds were rumpled but not unmade, and there were papers everywhere with an open laptop next to the file Michael had put down. Someone had tacked up a map, and there was an array of pushpins punched through, connecting strings to various points around the globe.

It might have been amusing, but Rick knew better. To some, it might have looked like a child’s version of spycraft, but the frenetic, unkempt nature of it was hardly child’s play. Michael had always been a paranoid bastard with a mind that wouldn’t quit, but usually his plotting was controlled and orderly.

This…was anything but.

This was personal.

Rick swallowed. “You’re going after Simms.”

Casey didn’t look up from his work. Michael pursed his lips, but notably didn’t deny it.

Rick kept his temper. “Do you think you found him?”

At that, Michael took a breath. He hesitated, as if he might withhold this information, but then he nodded. “We think so,” he said.

“Or, at the very least, we have a good idea of where he might have gone,” Casey added shortly.

“We know Simms,” Michael explained. “We know his habits and his connections.”

Casey sighed, zipping his bag and looking at Rick plainly. “What he means is that the only advantage to working with a traitor for all these years is that we know how to betray him right back,” he said. “So I guess there is a bright side to all this.”

“We think we have a solid lead,” Michael continued, more diplomatically. “But if we don’t go after him now, his trail’s going to dry up quickly. He’s good at making connections, so it won’t be long until he gets out of the predictable hiding places and finds something a bit more permanent.”

Michael was right about that; Carson Simms was good at surviving. To the man’s credit, he’d told Rick that in the beginning. Rick had just never thought…

He’d never thought a lot of things.

But that wasn’t the point.

“So that’s it, then?” Rick prompted. “You’re just going after him?”

“He shot Billy,” Casey interjected roughly. “Not to mention the fact that he left him to die. Twice. I know I’m not the best when it comes to being a good person, but even I can see some things as moral absolutes.”

Rick’s brow furrowed. “You just found out about this a day ago,” he protested. “And you’ve already tried and convicted him!”

“Are you saying you lied?” Michael asked.

Rick shrank back. “No—“

“We also did some looking into North Africa,” Michael said. “We had never considered an inside job before, but once we did everything made sense.”

“Not to mention this explains his behavior over the years,” Casey said crossly.

“I didn’t want to believe it, but the evidence is there,” Michael said, holding out the file. “Once we looked for it…”

Reluctant, Rick took the file. He flipped it open, surprised to see that it was a detailed analysis of the North Africa mission. He shook his head. “That still doesn’t explain why.”

“Reasons are sentimental,” Casey said sharply.

“And it doesn’t make it less wrong,” Michael added. “He left Billy to die. He was ready to kill you to cover this up.”

Rick knew that. He’d been there. But…

He shook his head again. “He deserves to be held accountable, but it has to be fair,” Rick said. “And you two are running off for vigilante justice.”

Michael inclined his head. “I thought you were onboard with the unsanctioned missions.”

“For the greater good,” Rick said. He tossed the file on the bed. “This isn’t the greater good. This is revenge.”

“And I’m not seeing the problem,” Casey said.

“We deal with our own, Martinez,” Michael said. “Carson made a choice, and now he needs to live with it.”

Rick could still see the brokenness, the desperation on Simms’ face. He was living with it, and no matter how far he ran or how close to ground he went, he’d never escape it. He hadn’t escaped North Africa; he’d never escape Panama.

But that wasn’t the point, because that wasn’t the priority. Simms had made his choice for himself at Billy’s expense. And now Michael and Casey wanted to do the same thing.

And that wasn’t okay.

Face set, Rick lifted his chin in determination. “So you’re making a choice, too,” he said. “You’re choosing a personal vendetta over being there for Billy.”

Casey’s brow darkened and Michael’s eyes narrowed. “It’s not the same thing and you know it,” Michael said, voice low, a little dangerous.

Rick refused to be cowed. He held his head high, maintained eye contact. “Billy’s in the hospital right now,” he reminded them. “Recovering from a gunshot wound after being presumed dead and held hostage for three years.”

“That’s why you’re there,” Michael said.

“And why you should go back,” Casey added.

Rick shook his head, more adamant now. “We’re a team,” he said. “We’re there for each other. Billy barely knows me; it’s you he’s going to look for. It’s you he needs. He already had one teammate leave him, he doesn’t need two more to walk away, no matter what the reasons.”

“It’s a week, Martinez,” Michael said, and Rick detected a hint of pleading.

But Rick wouldn’t budge. “Yeah, and it was just three years,” he said. “Isn’t it what you just said? The reasons don’t matter? The action does? All Billy’s going to know when he wakes up is that you’re not there. Just like you weren’t there for three years.”

It was a low blow, and Rick knew it. Emotional blackmail at its finest. But someone needed to hit the nail right on the head and drive the point home. Simms didn’t deserve a free pass, but this wasn’t about Simms anymore. They could track him down later; they could stalk him and arrest him and turn him into Higgins for a right and proper investigation. If that resulted in charges then Rick wouldn’t object.

But it wasn’t his decision. It wasn’t his primary concern.

This was about the team. About Michael and Casey and Rick and…Billy. The ODS. Now that they were finally together, Rick realized how much he never wanted to think of them breaking up again. It wasn’t right, to disrupt the big picture right when things made sense. Not for revenge.

And definitely not for Carson Simms. Traitor, confused man, whatever he was. He wasn’t worth it.

Billy was.

This team was.

“And if something happened to him now?” Rick pushed. “I mean, if you walked away now and something happened? You haven’t even asked how he is.”

Casey’s face was painfully blank, but Michael was stiff. “We’ve been kind of busy,” Michael said.

“Yeah, so have I,” Rick said. “Sitting by Billy’s bedside, watching a machine breathe for him.”

Casey didn’t flinch, but Michael’s frame shook just slightly, his expression wavering.

Rick didn’t back down. “And you know who’s doing the most work right now?” he prodded. “Billy. Trying to live. So you can spare me your stories about revenge or justice or whatever. We look after our own. So do it.

Michael’s expression flickered again, and he finally sighed. “Damn it,” he muttered.

“Should I tell you about how many IVs he has?” Rick said.

Michael shook his head. “Your point is made, kid.”

Casey glowered. “We’re still going after him,” he said.

“Fine,” Rick agreed. “When Billy is awake, we can talk about that. Together.”

“We will talk about that,” Casey said pointedly.

“Among other things,” Michael said.

Casey held up one finger. “And I make no promises of restraint when we do find Simms,” he said. “My fuse can burn long and it can burn hard. Asking me to simmer is never a good idea.”

Rick nodded. “Noted.”

Michael sighed again, rubbing a hand at the back of his neck. Then he eyed Rick. “That wasn’t really fair, you know.”

“It’s a testament to how tired I am that an emotional appeal would have any weight,” Casey muttered.

At that, Rick finally smiled. “That’s why we’re a team,” he said. “We need each other.”

Casey shook his head crossly, moving toward the door without looking at Rick in total exasperation.

Michael gave him a critical look, frowning a bit.

Rick made a face. “Too much?”

“Yeah, just a bit,” he said. Then he cocked his head thoughtfully. “I think Billy’s rubbing off on you already.”

Michael moved past him to the door, and Rick stood for a minute to smile. Because he certainly hoped so.

Following his teammates, he hoped a lot of things.

And for the first time in his CIA tenure, he believed maybe – just maybe – it would be enough.

-o-

This time, they came back together.

The nurses gave them a strange look, one of them positively scowling, but no one stopped them as they crowded into Billy’s room. Whatever Fay had told the hospital staff, it was good for a lot. Which made sense to Rick. The ODS was good in and of itself, but it was better with a support system at home.

At least, that was how it had been with Simms. Now, Simms was gone, and everything was different.

Simms was gone, and Billy was here.

Simms had chosen to leave, but Rick had stayed. Rick had stayed, and Michael and Casey had chosen to stay, too. Now it was just up to Billy.

Rick sat close. Michael hovered. Even Casey watched nearby while Billy lay stilly on the bed, breathing, fighting, living.

“Just stay,” Rick whispered, a quiet benediction at his bedside. “Stay, and we’ll stay, too.”

It was a promise.

It was the truth.

In everything, it was probably the only truth that mattered.

-o-

The team had a quiet resolve. It was like back at the office in Langley, they all approached things in their own way. Michael dealt with the medical staff, overseeing Billy’s condition and orchestrating things back at the Agency. Casey brooded silently, alternating between stoic stillness and restless pacing. Sometimes Rick caught him humming under his breath, and in his mind he could still hear the haunting tune from Bolivia, when Rick had nearly bled out in the back of the van.

Rick had always wondered about his place in all this; he’d tried to figure out where he fit in. Sometimes he still didn’t know what to say to Michael, and Casey’s looks often left him feeling awkward and uncomfortable. But there was something different now, a shared understanding in the quiet between them.

They worked around each other, moving in understated harmony. When one of them left, the other took his place, and they brought coffee and doughnuts to share in turn. Rick knew that Michael liked salads for lunch and that Casey always loaded with protein, and one day Michael brought Rick his favorite kind of burger, and that was the way it was.

It wasn’t so different, maybe, but somehow so much better. Together, they rallied. Together, they made sure that Billy knew where he belonged – right there with them.

Because Michael was the leader of the ODS. Casey was the strong man. Rick was the new guy. And Billy…

Time would tell, Rick knew as he sat and waited.

He had to believe that time would tell.

-o-

After two days, Billy’s vitals improved. Michael picked up on this before the rest of them, noting the changes in the nurse’s checkup and sitting up straighter during rounds with the doctor. When the doctor confirmed that Billy seemed to be rebounding, Casey perked up, and Rick found himself inching forward with wide eyes.

“So he’s going to be okay?” he asked, not able to contain the hope welling up in him.

The doctor nodded, looking genuinely pleased. “He has a significant recovery period ahead, and the risk of infection remains high, but he’s rapidly improving,” she said. “I’m going to order that we reduce his medication and see if we can get him to start waking up in the next few days.”

Rick stared, and then he looked at Billy. The Scotsman still looked pale, still looked a little gaunt, but he was alive. He was getting better. He was going to be okay.

Casey snorted and moved closer. Michael clapped Rick on the shoulder.

They were all going to be okay.

-o-

Billy Collins was missing for three years.

He was unconscious for nearly a week.

During the three years, the ODS had assumed he was dead. They had had no idea; they’d grieved and tried to move on.

During the week, the ODS never left his side. Because now they knew; they’d never make those mistakes again.

Then, Billy woke up.

The doctor had been expecting it all morning, but Billy seemed to take his time about it. It started with small movements, and then infinitesimal murmurs of what could have been pain. His eyes moved beneath his lids, and sometimes they found him looking blankly around the room before he shuffled back off to sleep.

Rick began to get impatient, fussing about the room. Casey’s breathing was harsher, the traces of a song being pushed through under every exhale. Michael tapped his foot, staring and unmoving.

Waiting.

Three years.

One week.

And then Billy opened his eyes and looked at them.

It took a moment, a long painful moment as the ODS gathered anxiously around, for Billy to blink once, and then twice, eyes focusing on each of them in turn. He swallowed, wincing at the movement, and then moistened his lips in vain.

“I thought I already had this hallucination,” he said, voice scratchy with disuse and ragged with exhaustion, “Or has my rescue truly arrived again?”

Casey sucked in a breath and held it, and Michael seemed to waver precariously at Rick’s side. But suddenly, Rick felt unusually secure. More secure than he ever had before.

He smiled. “Yeah,” he said, leaning forward to squeeze Billy’s arm. “We’re here now.”

Michael and Casey edged closer.

Rick held Billy’s gaze. “And we’re not going anywhere.”

-o-

Michael and Casey had kept their word, and now Rick knew it was time to keep his. Casey had started showing signs of recklessness around the hospital, stalking the corridors and unsettling the nurses. Rick caught Michael tucking files into his suit jacket when he thought no one was looking, checking his phone for updates with a newfound persistence.

Part of Rick wanted to scold them, to ask them why it wasn’t enough to just be there for Billy, to appreciate the fact that their missing teammate was alive and if not well, getting better. They’d lost three years, surely that was enough.

But Rick had to admit, he was starting to feel restless, too. Because as right as everything seemed, he knew Carson Simms was still out there, and he could still see the look on Carson’s face before he turned away and left.

If Billy was their priority, that didn’t mean that finding Simms wasn’t important. Because Simms was their teammate, too. He’d made more mistakes than the rest of them, but they couldn’t just forget him, even if Rick wanted to. There was a lot that Simms needed to answer to. Rick still didn’t understand everything that had happened – not back at Salazar’s compound and certainly not in North Africa.

Besides, as happy as Higgins was to have the plates and Salazar, Simms going AWOL was still a bit of a conundrum and although their boss had given them leeway for now, it wouldn’t be long before they had to formally explain Simms’ betrayal.

An explanation, Rick had to admit, that would be a lot easier with Carson Simms in tow. As it was, Michael’s vague answers regarding Simms’ whereabouts were being met with increasing skepticism. They were running out of time.

Billy was at PT for the day when Rick finally brought the issue to the foreground.

“Okay,” he said. “You can go find Simms.”

Casey stared at him as if he were speaking Swahili. Michael lifted his eyebrows. “I didn’t realize we were looking for your permission,” Michael noted cagily.

Rick blushed despite himself. “I know you’re trying to hide it from me,” he said. “But I also know you’ve picked up your search for Simms again.”

Michael didn’t deny it. Instead, he shrugged diffidently. “It’s all well and good that we’re bringing Billy back alive, but sooner or later, we’re going to have to account for Carson.”

“Apparently the Agency doesn’t take well to its operatives going on the lam,” Casey snerked. “National security being what it is and all.”

Rick nodded readily. “How much blowback are we going to get for it?”

Michael looked vaguely impressed at the question, as if he hadn’t thought Rick would be thinking about it that much. “Hard to say,” he said. “The plates and Salazar got the Secret Service off our backs, and bringing Billy home will boost morale around the Agency, so Higgins would be inclined to write off our escapade down here, but without a concrete answer regarding Simms, it’s going to look a little weird.”

“You mean, we might be implicated,” Rick realized.

“Guilt by association,” Casey confirmed. “Sometimes we’re not that different than the KGB.”

Rick frowned, considering this for the first time. Simms had been part of their team – and integral part of their team. It was an obvious question: how didn’t they know?

But how could they have known? Maybe they could have suspected, but they were spies, and the best damn spies at that. Simms had buried his secret so deep that Rick doubted anything would have dragged it out except the possible exposure of someone bringing his past to light for him.

“It doesn’t help that we barely know the whole story,” Michael said. “Casey and I have put together as much as we can, but Simms knew what he was doing when he ran. He incriminated himself, but the damning evidence is gone.”

“Billy knows more,” Rick replied. “I mean, he seemed to have a lot more of it figured out. If we talk to him…”

Rick trailed off. Billy had been held prisoner, assumed dead and shot. He’d been through enough. To ask him to relive it…

“Yeah,” Michael said. “That’s sort of what we thought, too. So really, finding Simms is our best bet.”

Rick collected a breath and creased his brow. “So what leads do you have?”

Michael glanced at Casey, who looked a little impressed. He produced a piece of paper, holding it out.

Rick took it, looking at it curiously. “What’s this?”

“A heating bill from a safe house we run off the books in Poland,” Michael explained.

Rick scanned the numbers and the charges. “So?”

“So, you’ll notice that most months we only incur enough of a payment to keep the pipes from freezing.”

Rick saw the latest bill. “Someone’s been using it.”

Casey inclined his head. “Someone give the kid a cookie,” he said pointedly.

Michael ignored the snide comment. “It was just a slight uptick, but we think it’s enough for a night or two,” he said. “Chances are he’s already left by now.”

“But these charges are recent,” Casey said.

“So Simms can’t be far,” Rick said, feeling a twinge of hope.

“That’s our thought,” Michael said. “If we can get a plane out of here, we can be in Europe by tomorrow. We still have some unofficial assets in the area, and if Simms is around, he’s probably burned through a few. If we’re lucky, we might get enough intel to piece together his next move.”

“Then we can apprehend him, take him into custody, and serve his slimy little head on a platter to Higgins,” Casey said with earnest vitriol.

“Or at least hope that he can find his conscience enough to clear us of any wrongdoing,” Michael said. “And if he comes willingly, we may be able to spin it to get him a little leeway.”

“I’m not sure I agree with that course of action,” Casey growled.

Michael shot Casey a look. “Well, we can cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Rick could only nod. “It looks good,” he said, holding the paper back out as Michael took it. He looked at his teammates again. “It sounds good.”

“We thought so,” Michael said, tucking the paper into his suit. He hesitated. “You can stall here with Billy for another week or so until he’s fully recovered. If we’re not back by then, you’ll have to go back to the States—“

“Whoa,” Rick interrupted. “Without you?”

Michael shrugged. “I’m hoping it doesn’t take that long—“

“But Billy—“

“Will have you,” Casey said tersely.

“But Higgins—“

Michael gave Rick a disapproving look. “You’re good enough to be able to handle Higgins.”

Rick frowned, then took a breath. “Okay,” he said.

Michael actually looked relieved.

Then Rick added, “But you have to tell Billy.”

“Well, we did plan on saying goodbye,” Michael said.

Rick shook his head. “You have to tell him what you’re doing and why,” he said.

Michael’s expression shifted slightly, and Casey’s face set into a deep scowl.

“He deserves to know,” Rick said. “Or do we have to go over the whole three years thing?”

Michael rolled his head. “No, you don’t have to browbeat us into submission again,” he said. “We’ll tell him.”

Casey held up a finger. “We’ll tell him for his sake,” he clarified. “Not because you insist on using inane emotional appeals to attempt to make your point.”

Rick couldn’t help but grin a little. “That’s how teams work.”

“Using emotional manipulation to get their way?” Casey asked.

“No,” Rick said. “They hold each other accountable.”

Michael snorted. “I guess Simms missed that memo, huh.”

“Not if we can find him and make him do the right thing,” Rick said.

Casey shook his head, brushing past them. “Somehow I’m not holding my breath.”

Following after him, Rick hated to agree.

-o-

They waited until after dinner. Billy usually slept after PT, having thoroughly exhausted himself. He was recovering fairly well, according to the doctor, although his weakened overall condition had not helped him any. The doctors didn’t say much about that, but there were obviously some lingering questions in their eyes about just who this patient was and just what he’d been through.

Billy, thankfully, was their best defense against any skepticism, though. The Scot, though weak and hurting, was effervescent, charming everyone on staff within a day of waking up. He was upbeat and friendly, cracking jokes and telling stories. He didn’t talk about three years of incarceration or how he’d been chained to a bed and left to his own boredom for endless hours. He didn’t talk about minimal human contact and poor living conditions.

Sometimes, Rick thought he caught a glimpse of sadness in the other man’s eyes, but Billy always hid it well. That worried Rick some – he knew PTSD was a serious and real thing, and he knew Billy would be a prime candidate – but if anyone could survive three years in captivity with their spirit intact, it was Billy Collins.

Besides, Rick knew there’d be time for talking and time for healing once they got back home.

Billy ate the dinner heartily, even though Rick had found it barely palatable. Rested and fed, the Scot settled back in his bed with a sigh. “Comfortable as this is, I have to admit, I think I’m ready to go home,” he murmured with an air of contentment.

“I think we all are,” Rick said.

Michael hesitated, glancing at Rick and Casey.

Billy sat up straighter, eyes narrowing in on his teammates. “That’s not quite true, is it?”

It probably shouldn’t have been surprising; Billy had an uncanny sense of his teammates. It made sense, Rick figured, but Billy’s ability to read him like a book was still a bit startling at times.

Michael sighed in resignation. “We’re more than ready to go home,” he said. “We just have to tie up a few loose ends first.”

Billy frowned. “You said Higgins was quite pleased at the outcome of this mission,” he said. “You deconstructed a counterfeiting monopoly and even got the ring leader in CIA custody alive, prime for interrogation. Plus, you’re bringing home a prodigal son. What more could Higgins and his ilk ask for?”

Michael hesitated again, swallowing.

Realization settled over Billy’s face. “Simms.”

Michael gathered a breath, shrugging a little. “He’s got a lot to answer for,” he said. “I’m not sure we can convince HR he’s on an impromptu vacation.”

Billy’s expression wavered for a moment, his brow knitting. “So he’s made no contact then.”

Casey grunted. “Not a sound,” he muttered. “Bastard.”

Billy’s mouth drew closed and he nodded seriously. “He’s not a traitor, you know.”

Michael shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and Rick felt his stomach ache a little. It was one thing to say it himself, but to hear Billy say it…after what Carson had done to him…

Pursing his lips, Michael said, “He gave Salazar enough intel three years ago to put the man on top of the business. Even if it was extortion, it’s a serious breach, and the Agency’s going to want to deal with that.”

“I know Simms, and I know Salazar,” Billy told them. “This wasn’t voluntary.”

“Maybe,” Michael said.

“But not telling us for three years and letting us think you were dead was,” Casey said sharply.

Rick winced, but it was true. Even as much as he wanted to understand Simms, it was true.

“That’s not fair,” Billy said quietly.

“No,” Michael said. “But neither is the fact that you spent three years in Salazar’s outhouse so Simms could cover his backside.”

“Not to mention the fact that he shot you,” Casey pointed out.

Billy worked his jaw, looking down at his hands. For a moment, the buoyant personality was gone, and Rick saw the man beneath the guise. Older, tired, and worn. Billy Collins was a damaged man, holding more pain than anyone should. What had been done to him – by his captors, by his own teammate – it was more than Rick could even imagine carrying.

He wasn’t larger than life – Billy was holding himself together with all the strength he had left.

Rick felt his resolve harden; maybe Michael and Casey were right. Maybe Simms deserved every punishment the Agency could dole out – and then some.

But then Billy looked up. His blue eyes were clear and determined. His shoulders were squared, his head high. “We’ve all made mistakes,” he said. “Some of us more than others, and you both know it. You all gave me a second chance, and I expect you to afford the same grace to Carson.”

Michael inhaled, gritting his teeth. “It’s different—“

“Oh?” Billy asked. “You’re talking to the man who only avoided a conviction of treason by taking a plea deal that exiled me from my homeland. Or have you both forgotten that salient little detail with your warpath against Simms?”

Rick blinked, surprised, trying to make sense of this new information. He knew Billy was from Scotland – that much was obvious. But he’d figured maybe the man had dual citizenship, maybe he’d just grew up overseas.

But then he remembered the poetry. The story of a man cast away from home, finding a place to belong amongst strangers who would become his family.

This was why Billy had forgiven Simms so readily; this was why he’d understood. Sometimes you saved yourself because it was all you had. You could learn from that, though; you could do better the next time.

Like Billy.

Or you could keep running, like Simms.

Casey had grown painfully stiff and silent, while Michael was clearly working to retain a sense of composure. “I thought you said that was a misunderstanding.”

“It depends on who you talk to,” Billy said. “It’s all about perspective in these kinds of things, and I think we ought to think about Carson’s point of view.”

“He shot you,” Casey interjected roughly, his still exterior bursting for a moment as pure rage pulsated through him. “He fired a bullet into your body and left you to die.”

“And that was the second time he did that,” Michael reminded him. “We would have understood in North Africa if he’d had to leave you behind. We would have understood if he told us. He didn’t.”

Billy’s shoulders slumped, and he looked ragged again. “I know what he’s done,” he said quietly. “And I know I’m ready to let go. If I work to hold Simms accountable, if we hold onto the past…”

Then it could destroy them, Rick realized. Starting with Billy.

The Scot was weak; he was barely holding it together. He didn’t need justice. He certainly didn’t need revenge.

He needed his team.

“We’re going to need a story to tell to Higgins,” Rick said, piping up for the first time.

They all looked at him.

Rick shrugged. “Without Simms in custody, there’s going to be a lot of questions.”

“And I have answers,” Billy said readily. “Lots of them.”

Michael clucked his tongue a bit, shaking his head. “I don’t think—“

Billy waved his hand through the air. “Pshaw,” he said. “If I want to get back in the field, I’m going to be debrief and psychoanalyzed anyway. I might as well make it worth something to all of us.”

“Wait,” Casey said, indignant. “We’re actually thinking about letting him go?”

“No,” Billy said. “We’re talking about letting him make his choice. And then we’re talking about making our own.”

Casey’s anger seemed to simmer with that, settling on something more like moderate dislike. Michael sighed, but Rick found himself smiling.

Billy looked at them each, eyes brightening. “It’s not quite the old gang, I reckon, but it’s not so bad,” he said. “Young Rick here seems to have the makings of quite the operative if I do say so myself. And his upbeat personality is well suited to balance out all the negativity from the older half of this enterprise.”

Casey’s dislike turned to annoyance, and Michael scoffed. “We only rescued you a few weeks ago, and you’re already insulting us?” he asked.

Billy shrugged. “It’s not an insult,” he said. “Just…pointing out the reality. We complement each other quite nicely, don’t you think?”

And Rick had to admit, they did. Michael had the brains; Casey had the brawn. Rick had the heart, and Billy had the spirit.

They fit together, like they were meant to be that way. Like this was how it should have been from the beginning.

Like this was how it’d be from here on out.

And Rick couldn’t wait to find out.

NEXT

Comments

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: October 30th, 2012 06:24 pm (UTC)
Casey and Billy

And it all comes together (more or less :))

Amazing chapter. I really loved Rick's determination here and the team finally coming together. Even if it's at Carson's expanse.

And even though Carson betrays the guys, I still feel for him, so kudo's for writing such a convincing character even though we've only seen him for like half an episode.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 9th, 2012 04:10 am (UTC)
billy knows

It had to come together eventually so I'm glad it was worth the wait! And LOL, I feel bad for what I did to Carson's character. He doesn't totally deserve to be the bad guy, but I tried to do him justice.

Thanks!

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: November 3rd, 2012 04:43 pm (UTC)

Another STELLAR chapter!! Full of everything I LOVE!!! I love Rick's inner thoughts about the ODS, Billy and his role in it. I LOVE that he plays their conscience, calling them on their vengeance, forcing them to see that they were leaving Billy for a second time, choosing revenge over being there for him. Of course you know I just FAINTED DEAD AWAY at Billy's forgiveness of Carson, that he also becomes their conscience.

I loved every moment, but this, by far, moved me to heavy sighs of admiration:

But then Billy looked up. His blue eyes were clear and determined. His shoulders were squared, his head high. “We’ve all made mistakes,” he said. “Some of us more than others, and you both know it. You all gave me a second chance, and I expect you to afford the same grace to Carson.”

Michael inhaled, gritting his teeth. “It’s different-“

“Oh?” Billy asked. “You’re talking to the man who only avoided a conviction of treason by taking a plea deal that exiled me from my homeland. Or have you both forgotten that salient little detail with your warpath against Simms?”

Rick blinked, surprised, trying to make sense of this new information. He knew Billy was from Scotland - that much was obvious. But he’d figured maybe the man had dual citizenship, maybe he’d just grew up overseas.

And this too:

“Wait,” Casey said, indignant. “We’re actually thinking about letting him go?”

“No,” Billy said. “We’re talking about letting him make his choice. And then we’re talking about making our own.”

Casey’s anger seemed to simmer with that, settling on something more like moderate dislike. Michael sighed, but Rick found himself smiling.

Billy looked at them each, eyes brightening. “It’s not quite the old gang, I reckon, but it’s not so bad,” he said. “Young Rick here seems to have the makings of quite the operative if I do say so myself. And his upbeat personality is well suited to balance out all the negativity from the older half of this enterprise.”

--Thud -- that's me fainting again.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 9th, 2012 04:11 am (UTC)
billy thinks

Aww, you are way too kind. Your reviews are still the best :)

Thanks!

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