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Chaos fic: Lost and Found (3/4)

December 13th, 2012 (07:12 am)
refreshed

feeling: refreshed

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR



PART THREE

Rick’s still awake when he first hears the steps.

They’re distant, muted down the cement hall. Still, Rick makes them out clearly. Dress soles on hard ground, clicking methodically. Fast but not rushed.

Tense, Rick glances at Billy. The taller operative is still asleep – or unconscious, Rick’s not sure it matters – slumped on the floor of their cell, breathing harshly through his parted lips.

The footsteps stop outside the door and there’s scuffling. Keys jingle and voices murmur.

Rick holds his breath.

This is the moment, he realizes. Maybe the last chance he gets. Billy’s not going to last much longer – Rick’s window of opportunity is slim.

The door opens. Rick remains still. Doesn’t move, doesn’t flinch as they come for Billy.

And Rick watches carefully this time. Watches one guard in the door, the interrogator right behind him. The third plucking Billy off the ground, manhandling his deadweight around.

He makes out the curses and grunts as Billy is roused enough to walk.

Rick still doesn’t move. The interrogator looks at him, smirking. “Giving up already?” he asks.

Rick shrugs. “You already told me I’m just back up,” he says.

“Smart man,” the interrogator says. “Knows his own limitations.”

With that, Billy is pulled from the room, stumbling and slipping in the guard’s grasp. The door closes and Rick listens for the footsteps – one guard, one interrogator, and Billy.

Soon, the hallway is quiet. A small shifting of feet from the guard.

It’s just like Billy said. One guard. An empty hallway.

A smart man may know his limitations; a smarter one knows how to circumvent them.

-o-

Crouched on the floor, Rick counts the seconds. He holds his breath and listens down the hallway. A minute passes, two.

A thousand doubts plague him, but he forces them back. Instead, he listens as the guard coughs.

It’s impossible to say if it’s the right moment.

It’s impossible to say if this will work.

It’s impossible to say anything.

But it’s also entirely possible that it’ll work.

He presses his ear to the back of the door, closes his eyes and listens. He imagines the concrete hallway, imagines it just as Billy described it. Imagines it as a cold, straight shot to freedom. One guard to take out, get himself armed, and then start running and don’t look back.

Not for anything. Not even for Billy.

Rick’s scared to die, but he’s not scared to do what he needs to do. Survival is critical; he’s been trained to survive. He has to go.

But he’s scared to leave Billy behind. He’s scared that he’ll leave and won’t make it back. That he’ll come back and be too late.

His breathing strained, he finds Billy’s voice in his head. You fight because it’s all you have. They can’t take your will unless you surrender it to them freely. It’s the one thing you can’t lose; you have to leave it behind.

He can find his will and lose everything else. He just has to leave the rest behind to find the strength to do what needs to be done.

It’s what Billy’s sacrifice is for.

It’s what Rick knows he has to do.

Eyes open, he takes a breath and stops thinking. Stops second guessing and hesitating. Instead, he pounds on the door, pitching his voice just loud enough.

“Hey!” he yells. “Hey, I need help!”

There’s movement outside, almost surprised.

Rick pounds again. “I need to talk to you! I swear,” he says, letting himself sound breathless and panicked. It’s not a stretch. “Before it’s too late. I promise, I can tell you everything!”

There’s a moment of frozen hesitation.

“Please,” Rick says, voice breaking on a sob that he’s been holding back for hours. His desperation isn’t hard to mimic, because this is his only chance. He can get out of here, but only if someone opens the door for him first. For his sake, for the mission, for Billy, Rick begs, “Please.”

And the feet outside scuff the ground. Then keys jingle and the dead bolt moves and Rick slinks to the side and waits.

-o-

Billy wouldn’t bother waking up – at least not at first, after all this, he wants to make them work for it – but the sudden pressure on his arms is enough to rouse him against his will.

His head bobs as he fights against unconsciousness and by the time he’s actually lucid enough to see anything, he realizes that he’s not in the chair this time.

In fact, it’s not even the same room. It’s a similar room, but the door is on the other side and there’s no table, no chairs. The oh-so-friendly guard has retreated to the doorway, straightened at some semblance of attention. He still has his gun, but he doesn’t seem overly itchy to use it.

Which, makes sense, since Billy isn’t overly inclined to make any sudden moves anyway. Normally he’d blame the tight bindings to the chair, but this time his legs are dangling free, just touching the ground while his wrists are suspended above him.

It takes effort, but Billy manages to squint upward. For a second he’s blinded by the sharp light of the bare bulb, but he can hear the clink of metal and then he finally sees the chain hanging from the ceiling.

The chain is attached to shackles, which are clamped around Billy’s wrist.

Which entirely explains the uncomfortable pull on his shoulders and the biting of metal into his already battered wrists.

There’s the sound of movement in the room and Billy turns his attention back to the interrogator, who is standing in front of him.

Billy tries to find his legs and forces a smile. “I see I’m moving up in the world,” he quips, for what it’s worth.

The man offers a smile in return. “I thought you might need some more creative means of motivation.”

“I fully endorse creativity,” Billy says with as much confidence as he can muster. His throat feels strained but he ignores the grating. “But I have to say, shackles? Hanging captives like slabs of meat from the ceiling? Does seem a bit cliché to me.”

The man shrugs. “Clichés exist for a reason,” he says. He walks toward Billy and pulls something from his belt. “Their overuse justifies their very presence.”

“Nice to see you still employing logic while you strip people of their personal integrity and basic human rights,” Billy says.

The man inclines his head as he slips behind Billy. Billy can’t see him, but he can feel him. “You just need to answer the question.”

“You just need to ask the right one,” Billy says in easy return, but he can’t keep his body from tensing.

It doesn’t do any good.

The man lashes out, the leather strap raking hard against Billy’s exposed back.

“Who are you really?” the man demands, whipping Billy again. “Tell me.”

“I prefer to think of myself as a freelancer,” Billy grinds out, jaw taut as his body trembles against the intrusion.

“Lies,” the man says, bringing the lash across again to punctuate his point. “Tell me the truth.”

Billy can’t bite back a cry. Tears spring to his eyes and he shakes his head. “It is the truth.”

The whip bites into his flesh again. “You will tell me the truth,” the man says. “Or you won’t speak at all.”

The whip falls hard and fast after that, unrelenting. Billy tries to curl in, but there’s no place to go. The pain is blinding him, and it’s not just that he doesn’t have air to speak, he doesn’t even have the mental capacity to think anymore.

When it stops, Billy is sobbing, body still shaking from the exertion of it all. It takes him a moment to realize there’s a lull and more so, that his torturer is in front of him now, talking to the guard.

Their tones are hushed with alarm and Billy can’t speak the language – barely has the ability to listen to them at all – when the interrogator slams his hand hard on the door before abruptly leaving the room.

The guard keeps his post, eyes wide with new vigor. His hands are on his gun now.

Something has changed. Something significant.

Rick’s escape.

Nothing else could elicit such ire, such immediate response. Rick’s managed to escape and that’s the hope that Billy’s been holding out for.

Not for his rescue, but that Rick might not have to suffer his fate. Not for his own life, but for the mission, for his friends, for the greater good.

He’d always believed the kid had the heart of a hero and now it’s more clear than ever that he has the guts of one, too. And the cunning and the strength and the fortitude and everything.

The very idea of it makes Billy throw his head back and laugh, tears running down his face, his body bleeding and aching, until he can’t make any noise at all.

-o-

It’s easier than Rick expects.

The guard opens the door, leading with his gun. This makes it easier to swat away, which Rick does in two quick kicks. The guard is so surprised by the attack, that he doesn’t even have time to mount a counter-offensive when Rick hits him in the face – once and then twice – and he’s on the ground.

Rick doesn’t wait. He charges, mounting the man and following up with a battery of hits. He beats him senseless, one fist after another, until he finally realizes that there’s no tension in the man’s body.

Easing back, Rick looks at him, sees the mottle nose and broken lip. Blood seeps from cuts around his eyes, trickling from his mouth.

The entire thing takes less than a minute and the guard never even makes a sound.

It’s surreal as Rick gets off him, and he refuses to notice the aching in his fingers as he retrieves the guard’s gun, pulling the pistol off his belt, just to be safe. Peaking his head through the open door, the hallway is long, cement, and empty, just like Billy said.

It’s too easy, and for a moment Rick hesitates. He thinks about Billy in the interrogation room. Billy passed out on the floor next to him.

But it’s Billy’s voice still talking to him. It’s the one thing you can’t lose.

Rick’s not going to lose his will. Not when it’s taken him so long to find it.

Wetting his lips, gun poised, he races down the hall. Getting out is intuitive; he follows the passageways in a logical order, silent and deadly. He knows he’s approaching an exit when there are armed guards in front of him and Rick doesn’t even slow down as he takes them out, one by one by one.

They fall, not even getting a shot off. Rick doesn’t know if they’re dead – can’t bring himself to care. There’s no time.

Instead he runs, charging now at full speed. The gunfire will have attracted attention – he’s sure of that – and while the corridors may have some defensible possibilities, Rick needs to get a good head start in the open ground if he’s going to have any chance of making it back to Michael and Casey.

He has no pretense of stealth now. He runs – fast and faster.

At the door, he kicks at it. Finding it locked, he bends over and swipes the keys from the closest guard, nabbing his walkie-talkie and cell phone while he’s at it. It takes longer than he wants to jostle the door open, and he can hear the sound of footfalls and yelling as he pushes it wide and makes a break into the sun burnt day.

It’s so bright that Rick can barely see. But he doesn’t need to see to run.

And Rick runs.

Someone fires at him. Rick doesn’t stop as he fires back. He ducks behind cars for cover but keeps moving. As he approaches the security checkpoint where this all started, Rick doesn’t hesitate to take out the guards in clean, neat shots, hurdling over the guardrail in a single leap.

There’s more noise behind him now. Gunfire and yelling and engines starting. They’ll have speed, but Rick has determination. He doesn’t have a destination just yet but he has the motivation to get there.

Without thinking, Rick veers hard, moving away from the open terrain in front of the compound and toward the refuge of jungle nearby. Civilization is in the other direction, but there’s no cover that way, and more than civilization, Rick needs cover right now.

It’s not a far run, but it feels like miles. His heart pounds and his legs pump. Sounds from the compound fall away, drowned out by the thrumming of his heart in his ears.

They can never take your will unless you surrender it to them freely. It’s the one thing you can’t lose; you have to leave it behind.

So Rick does. He finds it, holds it, and leaves everything else. He pushes himself past the brink, makes his body work well into exhaustion. The pounding sun gives way to the refuge of trees and he doesn’t stop.

Can’t stop.

Every step hurts – aches – and he thinks of Billy back at the compound. Billy, alone and tortured.

Billy.

And Rick doesn’t stop.

Refuses to stop.

He’s not sure how long he runs – he’s not sure it matters. When his legs give out, he stumbles over a fallen tree. He rolls a little, trying to find his bearings. He comes to a stop but the world is still spinning, the canopy above him a mess of green and blue.

You fight because it’s all you have.

You fight.

And Rick has fought. But he’s so tired and he’s so hot and he’s panting so hard that he can hardly breathe and the sounds of the forest rise around him as his eyes flutter close and everything else slips away.

-o-

Billy’s still hanging when the door opens again. His feet are limp on the ground, knees slack. The weight on his shoulders is reaching a painful peak, but he doesn’t have the energy to move.

As it is, he barely has the energy to look up as the interrogator comes at him. This time, there’s no humor hidden in his face. There’s no smirk, no condescending air.

Just anger.

“Where is your friend?” he demands, face close to Billy, close enough to feel the anger radiating off him.

Billy grins a bloody smile. “You mean he’s not tucked nicely in your accommodating cell?”

The man moves, hand slapping across Billy’s face. It’s by no means the worst hit he’s received in the last few days, but it still rattles Billy.

“Where would he go?” the man says, voice almost deadly now.

It takes effort to even shake his head and Billy can hardly focus on the man’s face with his consciousness so precarious. “Where do you think he’d go?” he asks, words slurring. “Anywhere but here.”

This time, it’s a fist to his bruised stomach, driving the air from his lungs. Billy swings with the impact, eyes squeezed shut tightly as fresh tears seep out.

“Which is where I’d like to be,” he says tightly, trying to regain control over his breathing.

The man in front of him snorts. “It is where you will never be,” he says shortly, his tone perfunctory. He pulls something from his belt and Billy recognizes the nightstick for what it is. “Because unless you tell me where you friend is, you will never leave this room.”

Billy doesn’t have time to reply as the stick connects with his ribs. There’s no time to recover when it bashes into his arms and his legs and his chest and his neck. It drives into his stomach, steals the air from his lungs. A shot to this throat leaves him choking and a hand entwined in his hair jerks his head up, bringing him back to awareness, holding him steady.

“At least, you will not leave this room alive,” the man amends, breath hot in Billy’s face, and the smirk is back now, a deadly gleam in his eyes.

His head is released and his head drops forward. Before unconsciousness can claim him, the hits start up again, even stronger, faster, more unrelenting. Billy is powerless against it, shackled and hanging like a pathetic piñata that is already broken.

This is what Billy knew would happen. This is what Billy planned all along. Rick will survive. The mission will prevail. There may even be a rescue mission.

Billy just won’t be alive long enough to reap any of those benefits.

This is his fate and he’s resigned himself to it. But as the cloying darkness closes in, Billy can’t deny that fact that his isolation scares him – almost as much as his inevitable and impending death.

-o-

Somewhere, there’s a monkey howling. Given that they’re in a southern part of Africa, where wildlife is exotic and often teeming, he supposes there are lots of monkeys howling somewhere. This one just sounds particularly close, and the last Rick checked, he was stuck inside a cell awaiting interrogation or death. Or both.

Until he escaped.

Rick startles.

He escaped.

Blinking his eyes open, he sits up abruptly, his body protesting at the movement. Though his brief round of torture has left him bruised, it’s the days on minimal food and water that are making his body ache.

And his mad flight out of the compound probably hasn’t helped much.

His ears are ringing and his head is spinning. By the time he gets himself in check, he realizes that some time must have passed. Through the trees, he can see the approach of twilight and his throat itches with thirst.

The monkey in the distance howls again, joined by another. The sound of bugs and birds fill the air intermittently and Rick processes now what he’d been too busy to think about earlier.

His escape had been successful, but left him with no cover. The compound is situated on the edge of the savanna, just next to the outskirts of the forest. The direction Rick ran was the opposite way from civilization but it is also the only cover he could have possibly found. Out on the open road, he would have been a sitting duck.

Out in the open savanna, he’s not sure his chance would be much better.

Swallowing, he looks around again and considers the various predators probably lurking in the shadows. He’s not exactly safe where he’s at.

There’s still something working in his favor, though. With the fall of night, he’ll be able to leave the forest and take to the road. Wandering out in the open probably still isn’t smart--for possible patrols from the compound and from wild animals – but it’s a chance he’s going to have to take.

After all, what other options does he have? Rick can’t go through the jungle--it won’t get him anywhere. And it’s not like he can go back to the compound and politely ask to use a phone.

No, taking the road is his only choice and traveling by night is the only hope he has left.

The fact that it’s not much hope at all doesn’t seem worth considering at the moment.

Pushing himself to his feet, Rick sways for a moment. It takes effort to stay upright, and as he walks, the edges of his vision are dim. Still, he moves carefully now, feet padding softly on the fauna. It’s a bit of a hike to the edge of the trees, and he can see clearly now how far he ran in his mad dash towards freedom.

There are signs of the earth being torn up and Rick wonders briefly if his pursuers came close to finding him. There’s a chance they’re still out there.

It’s an unsettling thought, but Rick refuses to dwell on it. In his path back toward the edge of the trees, he’s found himself on the far side, at least a mile or two closer to road. It’s a stroke of luck; behind the compound, he’s less likely to be spotted and now he’s that much closer to freedom.

Rick swallows hard and tries not to think about it all too much. That much closer to freedom, when Billy is still stuck inside. He looks at the compound and thinks about his cell. Thinks about the four walls and the drain. He thinks about Billy.

Billy could already be dead. They might have killed him in anger. Even if Rick makes it to safety, he might have to stage a rescue operation for a corpse.

Assuming they leave anything left of Billy to find.

His jaw tightens and he shakes his head slightly. It can’t be like that. It isn’t. And Rick has to keep fighting in that belief. He has to.

Billy saved him.

It’s Rick’s turn to return the favor.

Jungle or savanna, guards or wild animal, tired or hurting, Rick has to.

-o-

After so much time in the cell, Rick thinks time should move faster on the outside.

It doesn’t.

Twilight lingers, the sun lowering imperceptibly over the horizon in frustrating slowness. Rick needs the cover of dark if he’s going to make a clean break--if he goes too early, he could make all of this for nothing.

And he can’t have that. Rick’s willing to die for his country--for his job, for his friends--but he doesn’t want it to be quite so quick or quite so senseless. Rick’s not a vain person, but there’s been too much sacrificed for him to let it fall apart now.

And still, waiting is torture.

The what-if’s are killer. The things that could go wrong. The things that have gone wrong. Perversely, he can’t stop himself from thinking.

Thinking about what Michael would do. Thinking about his cool headed plans, how he thinks nonstop on his feet. Thinks about how he sees every possibility and somehow plans for all the outcomes Rick deems unlikely. How he finds the missing piece to any mission, almost without trying, and finds success every time.

Then he thinks about Casey. He thinks about Casey’s dogged pragmatism, his plaintive resourcefulness. He can fight anything – and win. He knows all the possible means of failure and has the willpower to circumvent them all by sheer determination alone.

And he has to think about Billy – can’t stop himself from thinking about Billy. Thinking about how he sweet-talked his way into trouble so Rick wouldn’t have to face it. He keeps going over it in his mind, the way Billy put his own life at risk so Rick could escape, the way he did it with a smile even when he was bleeding from the inside out.

Over the sounds of the jungle, he can hear their voices.

It was always risky.

The entire point of the plan is not to get caught.

One of us has to die here; two seems superfluous.

Michael won’t blame him. Casey won’t either. And he’s practically got Billy’s blessing in all of this.

But Michael’s probably on the phone with Higgins, trying to secure more intel and support. Casey’s probably scouring the local area for clues and leads, checking up on the ins and outs of the terrorists in town.

And Billy--

Rick doesn’t want to think about Billy. Tied down in a torture chamber. Curled up, alone in the cell. It’s too much.

He still hears them all.

That’s one hell of a way to start the week.

It’s still going to be a tough mission.

You fight because it’s all you have.

It’s an endless loop, playing ragged through Rick’s tired mind, wearing down his nerves and weighing on his shoulders.

When it’s finally dark, Rick moves just to stop thinking about it all. Whatever the future of this mission holds, he thinks it can’t be worse than what he’s already been through.

At least, that’s his fleeting hope as he escapes into the night.

-o-

Making it past the compound is easier than he thinks it will be. In the dark, he moves low and fast, and it’s easy to avoid the lighted patches surrounding the area. Rick could take a wider route, but he still doesn’t trust the open savanna in the dark, so he walks the line as finely as he can.

When he gets to the road, it’s not easy to let his hackles relax. It’s still a long, open stretch in front of him and he knows that the majority of traffic is going to be headed to or from the compound. This means that hitching a ride is going to be unlikely if not impossible; it also means that he needs to be careful. There’s a chance they’ve still got patrols out looking for him.

More than a chance, really. These terrorists have a history of killing anyone who crosses them, and given the lack of evidence gathered against them, they’re pretty good at eliminating witnesses. It’s really not all that likely that they’d let a loose end like Rick waft in the wind.

Of course, they also might figure that with no means of transportation and the only way back to civilization on a lonely road through the savanna, he’s probably as good as dead anyway.

In all, it’s not exactly encouraging.

And yet, it doesn’t really matter.

Rick follows the road but keeps himself in the tall grasses to the side. It’s not perfect cover, but it’s still something. He can see the oncoming traffic and he should have time to duck if he needs to.

He keeps a good clip, forcing his rubbery legs to run. After several miles, his heart is throbbing, his lungs tight, but he doesn’t slow down. He knows that he still has a long way to go and that his travel will be more limited during the day. He has to put in his best work now--he has to put enough distance between him and the compound if he’s going to have any chance of succeeding.

And he has to succeed. At this point, failure isn’t an option. He has to make it back to Michael and Casey, just like he has to keep his feet moving, one right after another. He has to get help, he has to get help and go back for Billy. Before it’s too late.

Rick’s not sure just what that means. Or, if he does know, he doesn’t acknowledge it.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to ignore as he runs. His body feels weary but he just keeps running, fast enough that he can’t feel it. His face aches, his throat is parched; his entire body feels sore and strained. But it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.

It’s autopilot, and he’s so focused on the difficult task that he almost doesn’t hear the car until the flash of headlights momentarily blinds him.

Panicked, he dives low, ducking into the grasses flat on his belly. There’s the sound of tires screeching and Rick bites back a swear, mind working rapidly. Dark or not, he has to find some cover – some way to hide himself. If they catch him--

There’s no point in wondering. He won’t be alive long enough to worry about it if they catch him.

Such failure is not an option.

With fresh adrenaline, Rick scuttles rapidly across the ground, moving away from the road and into the deeper grasses of the savanna. He peels out at an angle, pushing himself away from the road and out of the obvious line of vision from the car. Behind him, he hears car doors and voices, but he doesn’t slow down long enough to worry about a translation.

A new light sweeps across the field and Rick goes painfully still, holding in his breath with such tenacity that it physically hurts. He squeezes his eyes shut and wills himself not to move, not to give any indication of where he’s at. The light lingers, pausing and Rick is too scared to even pray.

All this, and it could end here. Everything he’s done, and it could be over just like this. The sacrifices, the risks, the chances--

The light moves on. The voices sound less urgent. When the light disappears entirely, Rick hears car doors again and the rumble of the engine starting up.

As the car drives off, Rick blows out a breath and cries for a moment. The exhaustion is catching up with him – the early stages of dehydration probably are, too.

He’s made it this far, but lying there, alone in the savanna, it hits him just how hopeless his cause is. He’s not sure who he’s kidding. Billy is good with facades; Rick is not. He feels alone and scared and maybe he can’t do this.

Maybe he can’t.

Suddenly, a noise startles him.

Rick freezes, his crying stilled. He listens.

It’s not a car – but a rustling of the grass. And more: there’s a huff and a snort.

Rick’s heart skips a beat, almost stops all together.

An animal.

And Rick realizes that he may be out of the woods, but he’s nowhere near safe just yet.

-o-

The fear might be paralyzing, but the adrenaline is a Godsend.

Rick’s exhaustion is forgotten; his weariness nonexistent. He remembers that he isn’t here to die; he’s here to complete his mission. And whether he lives or dies – it’s not important for his own fate. It’s important to the CIA, to his team. To Billy.

It’s like a jolt to the heart and his eyes snap open, staring up into the darkness, his entire body still as a statue.

He hones his senses and focuses his hearing. He puts aside his beating heart, the deep anguish in his body, and listens.

There’s still scuffling. More snorts. It’s muted but not stealthy. The grasses move gently and Rick starts to discern the sounds of chewing.

A herbivore.

It’s a bit of a risk, but he’s sure enough in his assessment to sit up and look. He has to get on his knees to peer over the long grasses, but just a few feet over, he can see the grazing gazelle.

There’s one, and another. After a moment, he distinguishes nearly ten in the darkness. Not quite a herd, but definitely part of one.

At first, this is a relief. Gazelles are not harmful to humans, except if they stampede. But this small group won’t even be much good at that.

Rick looks behind him, checking the road. He can barely see it in the darkness, but it’s quiet and dark.

This is good, he thinks. All of this is good.

Just Rick, a lonely road, and a small group of gazelles. Considering that last night he was in a cell, trying to nurse Billy back to health, this is something of an improvement.

And yet, something’s not quite right. Something about how quickly the men in the car left, something about the small group of gazelles. Something about the African savanna at night and the eerie stillness that seems to surround him.

Something--

The quiet before the storm. Because a small group of isolated gazelles isn’t much of a threat. Not to a human--

Not to a carnivore.

The thought is just settling over him when Rick feels the hair on the back of his neck raise. Why wouldn’t the men search the ground? Send out a scout? Rick’s a loose end they can’t afford and these gazelle aren’t a threat--

But a lion is.

Rick hears the smallest growl – somewhere to his left – and realizes everything. The men didn’t search because they didn’t want to risk becoming lion fodder. The gazelles are innocuous except that they’ve brought the lion’s hunting grounds right to Rick.

He’s survived torture. He’s escaped terrorists. He’s evaded capture.

And now he’s going to be attacked by a lion.

It doesn’t seem fair.

Before Rick can dwell on that, there’s another growl and the rustle of grass. The gazelles go still and Rick holds his breath.

Suddenly, the gazelles dart off, scampering wildly and Rick barely has time to register the movement before he sees the flash of fur flying through the night.

He doesn’t know if it’s lunging at him. He doesn’t know if the gazelles see him or care if he’s there.

Rick just knows to run.

-o-

When he signed up for the CIA, he had thought he was ready for anything. International espionage, he figured, envisioning meets in dark alleys, deep covers, and sneaking stealthily through terrorist compounds.

Torture had also been a possibility, even if he’d had no idea at the time just what that would really be like. He’d contemplated the odds of getting shot, stabbed, abducted, and just about anything else.

But somehow, in his varied brainstorming, he’s never considered being mauled by a wild animal.

And yet, there he is. Running for his life with gazelles on the African savanna while a lion charges after him.

Wonders never cease.

It’s not the way he wanted to die, but then, he doesn’t really want to die at all. He thinks he should turn around, to see how close his impending doom is, but he doesn’t dare.

He can’t.

He just runs.

There’s pounding of hooves and a terrible growl. The air is split by a guttural howl and then the action fades.

Rick still runs, and keeps running. The gazelles around him scatter. Another hundred yards and Rick realizes he’s running alone.

Somehow, he comes to a stop, bent over and panting. He has to rest his hands on his knees as he cranes his head back to look in the darkness.

At first, it’s hard to see. His vision is strained from his exhaustion and the darkness is cloying. The tall grass is obscuring his vision for some distance, but he can still see the impressive form looming in the distance.

It is a lion – a female by the looks. She’s larger than Rick might expect, never having seen one outside of a zoo or enclosed space. She’s sitting majestically in the darkness, licking her lips before she bends over and rips at something. When she comes up, there’s a hunk of meat in her mouth and Rick realizes why the chase has stopped.

The lion caught its prey – one of the gazelles.

It’s as terrifying as it is amazing, and Rick might stay and gawk were he not still so perilously close to death on all sides.

A lion, angry terrorists. An endless journey with no provisions and no guarantee of success.

Rick laughs, almost crying as he does. It’ll take a miracle to get back.

Then again, it’s taken more than a few miracles to get this far.

With that determination, Rick pushes himself upright and heads off into the night.

-o-

Rick loses track of time. One mile looks the same as the last – endless grass, the pale stream of road the only thing keeping him tethered to any kind of direction. He runs until his consciousness fades and jogs until his straining lungs almost give out entirely.

Somewhere, he trips, snags his ankle. The pain is harsh and wrenching, but Rick just keeps moving.

When day breaks, he’s limping and gasping. It’s hard to tell what the most pressing need his body has. His throat feels like it’s closing up; his lungs are overtaxed. He hasn’t had anything to drink and everything hurts.

Not just hurts, aches. Deep, bone sucking, incessant. It eclipses his consciousness and he goes down hard into the grass despite his best efforts.

For a moment, he can’t even move. He sucks in breaths through his open mouth, tasting the grass as he strains desperately for air his lungs don’t know how to process. He’d cry but he doesn’t have the energy.

It’s over, he thinks. He’s come so far, but it’s over now. It’s just over.

His legs won’t move, his lungs don’t work, and he’s so dry that his eyes burn and his tongue is swollen.

It doesn’t end with torture or valiant escapes. It doesn’t end with the jungle or the savanna.

It just ends.

Michael and Casey might find him eventually. Might even save Billy.

Or Rick could just die, rotting in the open sun. And Billy could be tortured to death in a cold and bleak cell. Their bodies might never be recovered.

It’s over.

For a moment, it’s a fate he doesn’t know how to avoid. A reality he doesn’t think he can resist.

But he can still hear Billy. Over the pounding of his heart, the aches in his body, the voice is still so clear.

You fight because it’s all you have. They can take your identity. They can take your body. They can definitely take your life. Sometimes they even take your soul, but they can’t take your will unless you surrender it to them freely. It’s the one thing you can’t lose; you have to leave it behind.

Leave it behind.

He’s left his safe life to become a spy. He’s left Billy to try to save them both.

He can’t leave this.

He can’t leave his will behind.

Not now.

Not ever.

It’s a monumental effort, but Rick barely feels it as he gets back to his feet. The road still stretches long into the horizon but he doesn’t care anymore. Can’t care.

Instead, he pushes his tired feet to move, one after another, as he struggles doggedly toward hope.

-o-

Rick is almost beyond panting when he gets there. His chest aches and he can barely feel his legs. Michael catches him by his arm as he staggers through the doorway, and he blinks up at him, almost too surprised to know what to say.

He’s been running so long, working so hard, with his eye on this moment. Now that it’s here, he’s almost too exhausted to realize it.

Still, he takes a gulping breath, trying to clear the fog in his head. Everything hurts, and his consciousness flickers.

But Michael’s hand is steady, his voice demanding. There’s a note of intensity underlining the words, almost girded by what Rick might call panic. “Martinez, where’s Collins?”

Rick swallows hard and remembers. It’s a simple question, and it has a simple answer, but there’s no easy way to say it nonetheless.

Breathing ragged, Rick fixes his eyes on Michael so he understands. “I lost him,” he says, as his legs give out, the last of his energy dissipating. Michael’s expression is unwavering and Rick tries to explain what he doesn’t know how to grasp. “I tried, but couldn’t get him back. I lost him.”

The words resonate with painful veracity as the darkness finally claims him and he collapses in Michael’s arms.

-o-

It’s over.

At least, Billy’s starting to hope it’s over.

Previously, the torture sessions had been colorful but purposeful. They’d been contained and controlled.

This one--

This one hasn’t stopped.

The implements do get increasingly creative, Billy will grant his interrogator that. Electrical shock and water boarding. When he passes out, he’s unceremoniously brought back to life with a good hit or water being poured down his throat while his nose is plugged.

He doesn’t know how much time has passed; he isn’t sure he cares. The questions are fast and furious now – driven by anger and frustration. Now that Billy’s elicited the emotions he’s been provoking all along, he doesn’t see the need to keep making it fester.

Moreover, he doesn’t know how.

His voice is gone, broken on a yell when the tendons in his hand are sliced. He sees things in flashes of movement and light, swathed in red. He’s disconnecting himself, slowly but surely, and he can’t feel his dislocated shoulders or his limp legs as they drag across the floor.

Sometimes, silence passes. Billy drifts, not awake but not unconscious, and his facades are gone. He knew this would happen, but it’s still a stark and damning state of mind.

He’s alone.

He’s alone and he’s dying and he’s going to die alone.

Rick will make it to safety--Billy’s believes that--has to believe that. Rick will survive and Michael and Casey will get them all home to safety and the mission will be a success and this is what Billy wants.

This is what Billy planned for the minute things went south.

This is just what Billy knew would happen.

Still, it’s hard. He thinks of the other things in his life that he’s struggled with. Falling in love with Olivia Drummond just to let her walk away. Giving his life to service of his country only to be forced out years later. Making a home with a team and seeing one of his teammates presumably die a horrible and fiery death.

Of finding something hopeful with Rick, something worth fighting for, and knowing he’ll never get to see the spy Rick becomes.

Of becoming a team again – better than before, better than ever – only to be taken from it before he’s ready.

And Billy’s not ready. He may pretend he is, but he’s not. It’s a small ember of despair that’s always lurked inside of him and as the rest of him burns out, it re-ignites itself with vigor. Maybe Billy deserves this for some of his mistakes. Maybe Billy deserves worse.

He should be strong. He should be defiant. He should go out with a bang.

But rough hands slap his face. Fingers twist his chin, prying open his mouth. He’s prodded and poked, lifted and moved. A puppet on a string.

He stops opening his eyes. He stops reacting to the pain.

Except a whimper. A long, sustained whimper as he accepts his fate once and for all.

-o-

Rick can still hear the voices.

It takes him a minute to realize that this time, they’re not just in his head.

He wants to come awake at that realization but he doesn’t quite have the energy. As it is, it takes him almost a full minute to open his eyes. It’s another minute after that before he realizes that he’s lying on his back, staring at the ceiling.

Only it’s not the dank cell. It’s not even the jungle or the savanna.

It’s the hotel room.

With effort, Rick swallows, rolling his head toward the side. Things are blurry but he sees two forms bent over the table in the room.

“We don’t have the manpower,” Casey says.

“We don’t need the manpower,” Michael replies.

Casey sighs, looking wearily at Michael. “He might not even be alive.”

It’s realistic, and Rick knows that. But he can accept it. He tries to speak, but his words get stuck and he flails instead.

Still, it’s enough for Michael and Casey to look at him. Michael looks surprised as he comes closer. “Martinez?”

Rick swallows again, working the saliva into his throat.

“You’re badly dehydrated,” Michael explains. “Casey started an IV but it’s going to be a while before you’re back on your feet.”

Michael’s explanation is plaintive, and there’s no blame in it.

Rick shakes his head, his body starting to tingle. “Billy’s alive,” he says, and it comes out as a croak, but Michael and Casey still understand it.

Nonetheless, Michael’s face is grim. “You said you lost him.”

Rick nods as best he can. “They tortured him,” he continues. “My only chance to run was when they took him.”

Michael glances back at Casey, who shrugs. “Makes sense,” he says. “They’d be more preoccupied with the one they’ve got in questioning than the spare in the cell.”

Michael looks back at Rick. “How bad was he?”

It’s noteworthy to Rick that, despite their planning, Michael’s question is about Billy. Not the compound or it defenses.

And yet, the question is hard to think about. He remembers Billy’s efforts to stay upright, his battered body. “He’s still alive,” Rick says finally. “We have to get him out.”

Michael just nods. “We will,” he replies, and Rick knows that’s always been the plan. He leans forward, patting Rick’s leg. “Just get some rest.”

Rick tries to shake his head, but his strength is waning. “Defenses are weak,” he says.

Michael pauses, frowning. “What?”

It takes all of Rick’s energy to just stay awake. “It’s a skeleton crew,” he says. “Designed to look more impressive than it is. All you have to do is get inside. After that, the rest should be easy.”

Michael stares at him for a moment, clearly in disbelief. Rick would say more, Rick would say something, but unconsciousness is calling him.

He breathes out, his eyes fluttering. “You have to find him,” he says, voice barely audible as he loses his battle with consciousness once again.

-o-

This time, he dreams. The dreams are winding and complicated, snippets of his life thrown together. His first girlfriend and his second grade teacher; pitching a no hitter and graduating valedictorian of his class. The memories fade, one to the next, and Rick wanders through them, looking.

He’s looking for something, but he’s not sure what. He watches as he kisses Teresa McGrath in the front seat of his car, his hands toying with the bottom of her shirt but too shy to go further. He looks as Mrs. Upmeyer stands at the board and writes basic arithmetic in clean chalk lines that Rick copies down into his notebook. He watches himself holding the game ball above his head. He sees his mother beaming in the front row as he walks across the stage, diploma now in hand.

It’s not there, though. None of it is there. He sees himself, but it’s not him. At least, not all of him. He’s trying to find the missing piece, trying to put it all together, but the more he looks, the more lost he feels.

When he wakes up, Michael and Casey are stuffing weaponry into duffle bags. Michael looks at him. “Some timing,” he comments.

Rick frowns and sits up. It’s easier this time. “Where are you going?”

“We’re going to find Billy,” Casey replies simply, tucking an extra gun into his pants.

Rick swings his legs off the bed. “You have a plan?”

Michael doesn’t respond for a moment, just long enough to let Rick know that their plan is conceived but risky as hell. Still, he nods. “We have a plan.”

For a moment, Rick considers asking what it is. Then he realizes it doesn’t matter. He blinks a few times and nods. “What can I do?”

Casey lifts his eyebrows and looks at Michael. Michael seems a bit surprised, but not a lot. “You can stay here and get yourself back to one hundred percent,” he says. “We’ll be back with Billy in a few hours and then we’ll be cutting out of here as quick as we can before we start an international incident.”

It’s practical. Logical. Given the throbbing in Rick’s head and the pervasive weariness in his bones, it’s probably the best choice.

Rick gets to his feet anyway, shakes his head. “I’m going.”

Michael and Casey exchange another look. “You’re not exactly in peak capacity,” Casey reminds him.

Rick will not be deterred. “Billy put himself in danger to protect me,” he says. “He put his life in danger so I could have a chance to save us both. I’m not leaving him in there. I’m going back.”

It’s not much of a speech – if Rick were at peak capacity, he could probably do better – but it’s the truth. Plain and simple.

More than that, it’s a truth he knows Michael and Casey will understand. Rick may be the new member of the team, but he’s been there long enough to know how they function. He knows that they’ll throw themselves in harms way for the sake of one another and that they’ll do anything they need to in order to bring all of them back -- alive.

They’ve done it for Rick.

Rick needs to do it for them.

Michael finally nods. “Okay,” he says. “Gear up and be ready to leave in ten minutes.”

Despite his exhaustion, Rick’s ready in five, and they head out together in silence.

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: December 14th, 2012 04:41 am (UTC)

Heavy sigh!!! You are destroying Billy and it's complete and utter agony in the best of ways. Amazing in its magnitude and the disillusioning hope that not even Billy could survive such a beating yet the continuing hope he harbors when he knows Rick has escaped. It's so heroic that he has the presence of mind to be happy in the midst of his own dire circumstances.

Fave part:

Something has changed. Something significant.

Rick’s escape.

Nothing else could elicit such ire, such immediate response. Rick’s managed to escape and that’s the hope that Billy’s been holding out for.

Not for his rescue, but that Rick might not have to suffer his fate. Not for his own life, but for the mission, for his friends, for the greater good.

He’d always believed the kid had the heart of a hero and now it’s more clear than ever that he has the guts of one, too. And the cunning and the strength and the fortitude and everything.

The very idea of it makes Billy throw his head back and laugh, tears running down his face, his body bleeding and aching, until he can’t make any noise at all.

-THUD!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 14th, 2013 03:36 am (UTC)
billy guitar

More late thanks! I really liked taking Billy to his breaking point in this, even as hard as it is to envision.

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