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Chaos fic: The Elephant in the Room (1/7)

September 12th, 2013 (06:04 am)
sleepy

feeling: sleepy

Title: The Elephant in the Room

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: Written for postfallen. Beta’ed by sockie1000. Posted in seven parts to maintain my sanity. Will post Thursdays and Mondays, as I remember. Set directly after 1.01.

Summary: Rick’s second mission for the CIA is even more complicated than his first.



-o-

PART ONE

Cambodia. Heroin. Another mission for the CIA.

All things considered, Rick had been excited about the prospects. Intrigue and deception; danger and spywork. This is what Rick had signed up for. Hero’s work.

And it’s not the mosquitos, which Michael swats at with annoyance. It’s not the heat that Billy bemoans will be the death of them all. It’s not even the leeches, which Casey is right, did appear.

Hell, it’s not even the men with guns surrounding them. Or the elephants.

It’s Michael, voice low but clear. “Do you think you can take them?”

For a moment, Rick thinks he must have misheard. Because there are at least a dozen men, all carry automatic weapons. As if that isn’t enough, Rick’s pretty sure death by elephant is just as unpleasant as being a bullet-riddled corpse.

“Yeah,” Casey replies, not missing a beat. “But I need someone to draw their fire.”

Now Rick thinks they must be kidding. This has to be another hazing ritual. Sadistic and elaborate and Rick is not going to humor them by playing along because there’s an elephant staring him down.

“Not it,” Billy says.

“Not it,” Michael says.

Then, Rick understands.

He hasn’t misheard. This isn’t a joke. He turns toward his teammates, mouth open and eyes wide. This is their plan.

With a dozen armed men and an angry-looking elephant, miles from civilization in hostile territory in remote Cambodia, this is their plan.

Do you think you can take them?

Yeah, but I need someone to draw their fire.

Not it.

Not it.

Rick’s stomach drops out and for a second, he worries he might cry. Because he’s surrounded by a dozen armed men and an angry looking elephant, miles from civilization in hostile territory in remote Cambodia and he’s it.

-o-

Rick freezes.

It’s not something he’s proud of -- he’s trained too hard to stand stupidly in the face of danger -- but it is what it is. In his defense, this is only his second mission with the CIA and, really, it’s not like the team has given him any actual instruction on what he’s supposed to do at times like this. He’s fairly certain they don’t want him to die, but his feelings on that seem to change on a day by day basis.

Sometimes his teammates seem like heroes.

Other times, they’re sadistic bastards who should be incarcerated for the betterment of the world.

Right now, Rick’s leaning toward the latter.

Still, he’s too aware that he’s standing like an idiot when Michael bolts to one side and Billy slips to another. Casey charges past him, and Rick ducks just as the gunfire erupts.

He presses himself down into the fauna, ears reverberating from the sound of machine gun fire. The leaves kick up not far from him, and he mutters a curse, rolling back and tucking in on himself. The elephant trumpets in obvious distress and Rick squeezes his eyes shut, waiting to be trampled or shot.

Honestly, he’s not sure which one he prefers at this point.

Then, he remembers.

He’s CIA.

He’s part of the ODS.

He has a place on this team, and if he’s going to die, he’s not going to die curled up under the bushes. Breathing once and then twice, he steels his resolve and leaps to his feet, screaming in inarticulate determination as he surges forward.

After two yards, he stops.

The armed men are on the ground, unconscious, while Casey collects their guns. Michael is going through the belongings of one of them, and Billy is sitting next to the elephant, which thumps him lovingly on the head with its trunk.

Rick stares.

Michael looks at him blandly. “That would have been impressive if the fight wasn’t over.”

“I don’t usually favor primal screams as part of a valid fighting style,” Casey tells him, hefting a gun up. “But I have to admit, you sort of pulled it off.”

Billy shifts. “I, for one, was quite impressed,” he says. “With nary a concern for your own well being, you charged willingly into a fray, possibly at the expense of your life.”

Michael chuckled, pocketing a piece of paper. “Or at least at the expense of your dignity.”

Rick’s cheeks reddened. “You guys could have told me the plan.”

“We did,” Casey says. “I said I needed a distraction.”

“That’s not a plan,” Rick argues.

“Ah,” Billy says, getting to his feet shakily. He’s favoring one side, hand pressed against his stomach as he winces. “I’m afraid we sometimes forget that you don’t yet have enough experience to know exactly what we’re thinking. We’ve had six years to refine our craft together. We operate as a seamless team. It’s almost a psychic connection.”

“Plus it’s fun to watch you flail stupidly,” Casey says.

Rick glowers.

Michael seems to be holding back a smile as he walks back toward Rick. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Rick says, lowering his head a little and trying not to blush.

“And the rest of you?” Michael asks, turning around to look at Billy and Casey.

Casey is collecting one last gun and he gives Michael a withering look. “I’m not going to validate such a question with a response.”

Billy is making his way slowly back, still listing slightly. “Nothing serious,” he says breezily, but Rick can tell he’s in pain by the way his words are slightly clipped and his face is pinched.

Clearly, Michael notices it, too. “Gunshot?” he asks, nodding toward Billy’s side.

Billy shakes his head. “Caught a bit of a blade from hand to hand,” he says. “Like I said, nothing serious--”

But Michael’s already taking Billy by the arm, pulling him toward an open patch of ground. He half pushes Billy down, and the Scot yelps but seems to know better than to protest while Michael moves his hands away and looks at the wound.

Rick follows close behind, and he catches sight of the blood. It’s dark and it already coats Billy’s hand, staining down the side of his shirt. He hadn’t seen it before, but the stain is bigger than he’d thought, spread down Billy’s back a bit.

Michael is frowning, ripping the ruined shirt away and exposing the rip in the flesh. At first sight, Rick’s stomach churns a bit, and Michael winces as he probes it.

After a moment, Michael glances back. “Casey?”

Casey is already moving toward them, easing into position as Michael shifts back. Casey reaches out, wrinkling his nose as he touches the wound.

Billy inhales sharply, and his face is taut, but he says nothing.

Casey feels for a second before pulling his hand away. “Nothing life threatening,” he confirms, wiping his hands on his pants.

“See,” Billy says, a little breathless. “Like I said, nothing serious.”

Glaring, Casey doesn’t hesitate to add. “Assuming we keep it clean and watch the bleeding,” he says. “It looks like it’s going to clot okay on its own, but in these conditions...”

Michael nods, a little grim. “Infection,” he says.

Billy swallows. He’s trembling just a little, but when he speaks, his voice is strong. “We have antiseptic,” he says. “Bandage it up.”

“And what? Keep going?” Michael asks. He shakes his head. “Even if you had the stamina, it’s too risky.”

“Michael,” Billy says, lowering his voice this time. “The mission--”

Michael straightens, and nods, almost to himself with renewed resolve. “The mission,” he interjects with no room for argument. “Just changed.”

-o-

Rick’s never sure quite how they do it, but the ODS always seems to be one step ahead. Even when things are going horribly and terribly wrong, they are entirely unfazed.

It’s amazing, really.

It’s frustrating.

Mostly, though, it’s just reality.

“Okay,” Michael says. “So I think it’s pretty safe to say that this wasn’t the welcoming party.”

Rick glances around uneasily. They’ve secured the area and made a short hike to a secluded grove in the jungle. The assailants are tied up and disarmed, but there’s no telling when reinforcements might arrive. The elephant has wandered off when Billy finally prodded it. Even still, Rick feels conspicuous, which leaves him more than a little uneasy.

“Or if it was, they need to work on their social skills,” Billy quips. His timing is impeccable, as always, but the slight wheeze in his delivery is telling.

“I don’t know, I often find that saying hello by force is the best approach,” Casey says.

“How is that the best approach?” Rick asks.

Casey smirks. “Because they go away faster.”

“Yeah, but the network we’re looking at infiltrating doesn’t want us to go away,” Michael reminds them. “They think we’re going to invest in their farms.”

“With money they need to expand their heroin operation, no doubt,” Billy says. He moves just an inch, wincing. Casey has cleaned and bandaged the wound, but Billy’s still protecting it gingerly. “Killing us would hardly seem to be the best business tactic.”

“I think it’s safe to say our friends were from another group entirely,” Michael concludes.

“Competition?” Casey asks.

Michael pulls out one of the papers he confiscated. “Self-appointed oversight committee more like it,” he says, holding it out.

Rick leans closer, scanning the document. The language is foreign, but he can pick up enough words. A frown creases his forehead. “They’re a militia.”

“Also known as a terrorist cell,” Michael clarifies.

“Ah, wonderful,” Billy murmurs sarcastically. He breathes heavily as he continues. “No wonder Higgins fast tracked us on this. If we’d had any idea--”

“We probably wouldn’t have come,” Michael agrees.

“Or at least come prepared,” Casey gripes. “We’re a tea company. We’re armed with tea leaves; that’s no match for a terrorist cell.”

“But wouldn’t the cell have an arrangement with the heroin dealers?” Rick asks. He pauses, letting his thoughts coalesce. “They’re not in active competition. In fact, I’ll bet they’ve got a lot of crossover interests.”

“What are you getting at, Martinez?” Michael asks.

“Just that these cells like to keep a low profile unless they’re trying to make a point,” he continues, and it’s coming together faster for him now, certainty filling in the logical gaps. “A friend of a friend should be a friend.”

“In theory,” Billy says, sounding a bit grim. His blood stained fingers clench at the bandage around his side. “In application, I’m not so sure.”

“But maybe we just need to tell them,” Rick says, because sometimes things really are that simple. “If they knew who we were--”

“Then they might at least know where to leave our bodies,” Casey concludes. He looks at Michael. “This is risky.”

“This is the job,” Michael reminds him.

“We’re already down a man,” Casey points out.

“I’m fine,” Billy insists.

“You’re not fine,” Casey says back.

“The mission is more important,” Billy tells him in a low voice.

Casey turns a furious gaze from Billy to Michael. “Dragging an injured man into a mission is stupid,” he says, eyes darting angrily toward Billy before locking on Michael. “For everyone.

There’s a taut silence after that, and Rick can’t deny that they all have points. Honestly, he doesn’t know what the best option is. His training had been about abstract missions with abstract teammates -- this was real, down to the blood, the stress, and the elephants. CIA missions are hard to hold together, and cover stories don’t appear out of thin air. The reason Higgins’ approved a mission of this magnitude with so little lead team isn’t just for revenge; it’s because this is probably their only chance.

But Billy’s hurt. It doesn’t seem life threatening, but Rick remembers his first aid courses at the Farm. Treating a wound is imperative. Open stab wounds can be easily infected. Billy needs rest and time.

Two fundamentally opposed needs. And Rick has no idea which one to consider first.

Fortunately, that’s not his call.

Michael nods. “Well, we can delay our meeting a few hours,” he says, looking fully resolved now. “Our asset doesn’t live that far from here, and he owes us more than a few favors.”

Casey’s eyebrows go up. “You sure you want to trust him?”

Michael glances at Billy. “It’s our best option,” he says. “We’ll stop and regroup. That’ll give us time to get Billy rested and to see what he knows about the situation on the ground.”

Rick has to admit, that sounds sensible. Which is probably why it worries him.

For once, he doesn’t seem to be alone in his doubts. Casey shakes his head. “I don’t like trusting third parties during the mission,” he says.

“This entire mission is based on his intel,” Michael points out.

“Besides,” Billy adds, grinning. “This means we’ll be out of the jungle! No more leeches.”

Casey glares. “Only you, Collins, could make leeches sound appealing.”

Michael chuckles. “We ready to go then?”

Getting to his feet, Rick nods. It’s funny, how he can trust these men and yet not trust them at all. Sometimes he thinks he knows better, but the fact is, they’re so damn convincing when it counts. “I’m good.”

Casey’s not far behind. “I’m not sure ready is the right word,” he says, reaching down to help pull Billy to his feet.

Face paling, Billy grunts. He wavers for a moment, but smiles tightly. “Lead the way.”

-o-

Rick is physically fit. In fact, he’d readily excelled at the physical training courses at the Farm. He has an acute focus for such tasks, and whether it was doing 100 pushups or running for 5 miles, he could do it, no questions asked.

The problem is that fieldwork isn’t so much like training. Physical demands are doing pushups or running on a track. It’s laborious hikes through uncertain terrain. Even so, Rick thinks he could handle it with no problems were it not for the distractions of the mission.

It’s one thing to hike through the rainforests in Cambodia. It’s another to hike through the rainforest in Cambodia with a team he’s not sure he trusts and a militant group possibly looking to kill them. Not to mention the drug dealers they’re supposed to meet and Billy’s limping gait. Rick can accomplish anything when he’s focused, but right now there’s so much going on that he feels winded just by thinking about it.

They travel in relative silence, which Rick might have expected to be a good thing given the ODS’ penchant for the impossible, the ridiculous, and the annoying. Besides, he’s still a little uncertain about their safety on this trek. Michael has promised that he knows where they’re going and Casey does seem to be an able defensive measure, but Rick keeps making his way around a tree trunk and staring down the barrel of a gun.

Or the trunk of an elephant.

Rick’s not sure what would be worse.

What he knows is worse, however, is the tension that fills the quiet between them. He’s only been on one mission with the ODS, and he’d found their nonstop talk difficult to deal with. He’s never fully appreciated, however, that the banter was a good way to keep from worrying about the possibilities of impending disaster, of which, there are actually many.

Michael seems too focused on cutting their path, and Casey’s too busy glaring at the plantlife like it might attack them. Billy’s the one who’s prone to mindless chitchat, but the Scotsman is silent, too. He walks in front of Rick, placing each step gingerly while he uses one hand to guard his side. When Billy turns to check behind him, his face is place and pinched -- a sure sign of the older operative’s discomfort.

Rick loses track of time, and when Michael finally pulls them up for a rest, Rick’s surprised to realize how much he needs it. His lungs are burning and his legs feel rubbery. When he breaks out his canteen, he downs nearly half of it before he realizes what he’s doing.

Putting it down, he screws the cap back into place, looking around sheepishly as Michael watches him curiously. “You’ll want to pace yourself,” Michael advises. “It’s better to drink in small sips as we go instead of saving it all for now.”

Rick nods vaguely, watching as Billy lowers himself to the ground against one of the nearby trees while Casey sets about checking the perimeter. “I didn’t realize how far we’d gone,” Rick admits.

The smile Michael offers him is small. “You’re distracted.”

He’s not wrong, but Rick doesn’t want to admit that. Mostly because he doesn’t like how easily the ODS seems to know everything he’s thinking -- even before he’s realized he’s thinking it. A little indignant, Rick puts his canteen away. “There’s a lot going on.”

“Not really,” Casey says, coming back toward the center of their makeshift resting point and slinging his pack on the ground. “We’re walking through the jungle. This is nothing more than getting from point A to point B.”

“We could be hunted by terrorists,” Rick reminds them, trying his best not to sound petulant.

“If we were being hunted, they probably would have made their move already,” Michael says.

“There could be elephants,” Rick says, feeling more defensive. Then he feels completely stupid. “Elephant attacks are dangerous.”

Michael wrinkles his nose. Casey rolls his eyes.

It’s Billy who smiles. “Never mind them,” he says by way of reassurance. “Michael and Casey are not known for their nuance.”

“I also don’t tend to worry about elephant attacks,” Michael says wryly.

Casey looks thoughtful. “I think I could take one.”

Rick stares at him.

Billy chuckles. “Don’t worry, though,” he says to Rick. “A finer group of men you will not meet.”

Rick is dubious, and he doesn’t bother trying to hide it since he’s pretty sure his team already knows he thinks they’re full of crap most of the time.

Accordingly, Michael smirks. “We’ll rest for about 10 minutes,” he says. “I want to check the maps, but I think we’re about four hours from Jonah’s house.”

“Four hours give our...current condition?” Casey asks with a glance toward Billy.

Billy’s humor fades. “Don’t worry about me,” he says. “It’s a scratch; I can keep up.”

It’s Casey’s turn to look dubious, but Michael doesn’t seem interested in appeasing Casey’s doubts or Billy’s declarations. “Four hours,” Michael says again, looking purposefully from Casey to Billy before his eyes settled on Rick. “So everyone be ready.”

The order is general, but Rick can’t help but feel like it’s directed at him somehow. Why, he’s not sure. But this is the ODS. Nothing they do makes much sense.

But he’s the one who decided to stay with them. He’s the one who dropped everything and came on this mission. He’s made a choice.

Only time will tell if he regrets it or not.

-o-

True to his word, Michael rallies them after ten minutes. This time, he lets Casey take point, instructing Rick to follow close behind while he and Billy take up the rear. Rick feels conspicuously sandwiched -- it’s not hard to see Michael’s train of thought on this one. He trusts Casey and himself and is trying to protect Billy.

Rick doesn’t need to be protected, but he’s clearly not an equal.

He wants to say something -- and he very nearly does -- but as he opens his mouth to protest, he watches Michael help Billy to his feet. The Scot takes the help soundlessly, and Michael hovers close to him for a moment before Billy steadies himself and sets off. There’s no words exchanged between them, but it’s a quiet moment of support that is almost surprisingly gentle.

Right when Rick thinks the ODS is full of heartless bastards, they do something that makes them human.

Closing his mouth, Rick pulls his pack tighter and sets off down the trail after Casey.

-o-

The back half of the trek is exhausting. Casey doesn’t miss a beat, but Rick starts to feel it wearing him down. He’s soaked with sweat -- naturally, seeing as it is the rainforest -- and he’s had to work to fend off a muscle cramp in his leg from the up and down trail they seem to be following.

After a few hours, Rick’s too tired to think completely rationally, which at least means he’s not scared any more. He is, however, somewhat irrationally angry.

“Where does this asset live again?” he asks, the words sharp and clip as they make their way down an incline.

Behind him, Michael grunts. “His name is Jonah,” he says, and Rick takes some pleasure in hearing a slight huff in his breathing as well. “And he lives pretty far out.”

Rick scoffs. “Why?”

“You’re going to have be more specific,” Michael says.

“Why,” Rick repeats, using a tree trunk to steady himself, “would anyone live this far from civilization? Especially here?

“Jonah’s got his own way of doing things,” Michael explains.

From up ahead, Casey turns back. “Meaning: Jonah’s a paranoid conspiracy theorist who would rather live amongst terrorists and drug dealers than under governmental oversight.”

“But he’s got a good heart,” Michael clarifies quickly. “He wants to do the right thing and he wants the world to be a better place. He’s just a little choosy about who he trusts to do that.”

“He’s insane,” Casey says.

“He’s reliable,” Michael says. “His intel has never let us down.”

“Really,” Billy says, cutting in. “He’s our only option at this point, so this conversation is all rather...moot.”

He sounds terrible, and Rick turns around and sees Billy trailing behind him, almost side by side with Michael. He’s still moving under his own steam, but he’s visibly hunched over and his face is so drawn that it makes him look gaunt.

Suddenly, Rick’s discomfort seems silly. He’s feeling tired and winded, but Billy’s done the same hike with a knife wound.

Cheeks burning, Rick faces front again. “Well, not much farther, right?” he asks with as much optimism as he can muster.

It sounds flat to him, but Michael doesn’t miss a beat. “Not much farther at all,” he says. “We’ll be there in no time.”

Which, as far as Rick is concerned, wouldn’t be soon enough.

-o-

By the time they get to the house, Rick feels absolutely disgusting. His clothes are stuck to his body and he’s given up trying to stop the swath of bugs. He wants to shower, but he’s not sure it would even make any difference at this point -- he may not feel truly clean for months.

The bone-sapping heat is why Rick doesn’t blame himself for not really seeing the house before Michael pulls them to a stop and walks carefully through the jungle. Rick stops, wondering if Michael has finally gone insane, but when the team leader pushes away a few branches, Rick sees the fence.

Casey has doubled back and stands next to Rick, nodding. “That’s actually somewhat impressive,” he observes. “Jonah’s made some upgrades.”

“He’s got a way with things,” Michael says, cutting away a vine to expose a control panel.

Rick scoffs a bit, eyeing the trees and making out the well-hidden fence line. “How did he even get all this done?”

“Well, Jonah’s an eccentric conspiracy theorist,” Michael says, tapping a few buttons on the pad. “He’s pretty big into DIY projects.”

“Plus we’re not as remote as you think we are,” Casey says. He nods off over the fence. “Go five miles in the other direction and you’re at one of the only access roads to this area. It’s not exactly high grade but it is well traveled.”

Rick frowns. “So if there’s a road--”

“Then why are we in the jungle?” Michael asks, barely holding back a smile as he works a few more buttons.

“Because we prefer not to be seen,” Billy says dryly, and Rick glances to where the other man is leaning heavily against a tree. It occurs to Rick that it’s the first time he’s spoken.

“You work for covert affairs,” Michael reminds him as the gate swings open. “We’ve already made more of an entrance than we’d like.”

Billy grimaces, pushing off the tree and moving after him. “Me more than the rest of you,” he says with a small groan. “When I say spywork is in my blood, I generally prefer not to prove it.”

Michael ushers in behind Billy, his pace nearly matching the Scotsman as they cross through to the other side. “Not buying it,” he quips. “You like your theatrics.”

Casey snorts, waiting for Rick to go in ahead of him. “You probably went looking for the only idiot back there who brought a knife to a gunfight,” he says. “And then only you could actually get tagged with it.”

“In my defense, I did disarm two other men in the process,” Billy says. He lifts a finger. “And I charmed the elephant.”

Michael rolls his eyes. “The elephant wasn’t carrying a knife.”

“You guys really haven’t read up on elephant attacks, have you?” Rick asks.

“Thank you, Martinez,” Billy says. “At least someone on this team values my contributions.”

“Martinez didn’t even join the fight until it was over,” Casey says. “I’m not sure his opinion counts.”

“That’s because you guys didn’t tell me what you were doing!” Rick protests.

“Men with guns were standing there,” Casey replies. “It was sort of self-explanatory.”

“No!” Rick says sharply. “No, it’s really not.”

“We can talk about who’s the biggest idiot later,” Michael cuts them off coolly. “Right now, we may want to lower our voices. You know how Jonah is about company.”

Rick stops at that, and regains his bearings. Inside the fence, the yard is still thick with plant life, but there seem to be fewer trees. About half a mile away from the fence, there’s a simple structure. It seems to be made of metal, but the buffed surface seems muted to blend in with the surroundings. There are surprisingly few windows, but the antennas and wires on the roof are a sure sign of modern activity.

It’s not inviting to look at, and that’s not even considering the setting in the middle of the Cambodian rainforest.

“How is Jonah about company?” he asks, a pang of uncertainty settling over him.

Billy limps next to him, offering a weary smile. “You’ll see.”

-o-

At the door, Michael knocks three times. Then he pauses and knocks three more times.

Rick is perplexed, but then three knocks return. Michael knocks one last time and the door opens.

The man who answers is a few inches taller than Rick but far more gangly. He’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt that look two sizes too big, and he’s got glasses and scraggly brown hair. His expression is puckered, eyes narrowed in a glare, directed straight at Michael.

“I thought you said for emergencies only,” the man said, not hiding his suspicion.

Michael smiled. “Good to see you, too, Jonah.”

Jonah didn’t budge. “Emergencies, Michael.” He crosses his arms indignantly over his chest. “Assuming that is your name.”

“We have this conversation every time we meet,” Michael says with patience.

“And every time we meet, you’re clearly lying.”

“So you think this time will be any different?” Michael asks.

Jonah looks perturbed, and Rick starts to wonder if this is really that good of an idea. “Emergencies, Michael,” Jonah says. “I don’t really like visitors.”

“And I don’t really like visiting,” Michael replies without missing a beat. Then he nods toward Billy, who is bracing himself just slightly against the railing on Jonah’s industrialized front porch. “But this is an emergency.”

Jonah looks at Billy and sees the blood. His eyes widen. “Then why did you come here!” he exclaims. “I don’t like emergencies!”

Casey makes a sound of frustration in the back of his throat, and Rick glances at him, noting that the so-called human weapon seems to be barely containing his rage.

“You know what you really don’t like?” Michael asks. “You don’t like when there’s a full CIA extraction team landing in your backyard, during which time they will inevitably disclose your location and put tabs on you, tracking your every movement from here on out. You don’t let us in, you’ll be on the grid. Forever, Jonah.”

Jonah fidgets, looking nervously from Michael to the rest of them.

“Four operatives or the entire United States government,” Michael says. He shrugs. “It’s up to you.”

Jonah’s face darkens. “I hate you,” he mutters.

Michael grins. “I’ll take that as an invitation to come inside.”

Jonah doesn’t reply but turns around, muttering as he disappears, leaving the door noticeably open behind him.

Rick feels uncertain about this -- it’s not exactly a warm welcome -- but Michael looks at them with a wry smile. “After you guys.”

“Gee, I feel better already,” Casey says.

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

“That went better than last time,” Michael offers.

Billy’s the one who moves the first, pushing himself off the wall and limping toward the door. “Look on the bright side,” he says, patting Rick on the shoulder while he walks past. “I don’t think he’s got any elephants in there.”

Rick glares, but he has no reply as he follows Billy inside.

-o-

Inside, Jonah’s home is immaculate. In fact, it’s downright spartan with minimalistic furnishing and no decorations. The lights are almost blinding but all artificial, and it’s impossible to tell what room is what since they all include the same basic furniture.

As it is, Jonah doesn’t seem interested in playing host. He’s perched at a metal desk, staring at a computer screen, typing madly for a moment while the ODS filters inside. Billy settles heavily in a chair, looking positively relieved to be sitting, and Casey lingers by the door while Michael walks purposefully across the room and pulls out a chair from the table to sit close to Jonah.

Rick’s not entirely sure what to do, so he stands awkwardly in the middle of the room, trying to figure out if he looks threatening with his hands clasped in front of him. He tries stuffing them in his pockets, but then can’t decide if maybe being threatening isn’t such a bad thing.

As it is, no one seems to notice his plight. Instead, Michael is studying Jonah’s screen. “You’ve got a new username.”

Jonah slams the laptop shut. “Of course I do,” he says. “I add a new alias every three months, each of which is retired after exactly three years.”

“So what happens when the alias you use with me runs out?” Michael asks.

Jonah smirks. “Then maybe you’ll leave me the hell alone.”

“We know where you live, genius,” Casey says. “We have your IP address.”

“You only think you do,” Jonah says.

“We have a satellite lock on your location,” Casey says. “Not to mention a host of other technologies that I will not disclose at this time, all enable to ensure that you are at our beck and call.”

Jonah’s face turns a little red, a mixture of frustration and terror growing on his face.

“Which we only use in emergencies,” Michael interjects calmly.

Jonah seems to sulk, his shoulders slumping. “I don’t like this, Michael,” he says, tapping his fingers on his jeans. “You said it wouldn’t be like this.”

“It’s not like anything,” Michael says, shooting Casey a purposeful look. Casey doesn’t look apologetic. “Look, Jonah, everything is still on track.”

“Then why do I have four CIA operatives in my living room!” Jonah exclaims, getting to his feet and running a hand anxiously through his hair. “One of which is bleeding! Blood! Do you know how many diseases could be in blood? Are you being traced? Followed?”

Jonah’s obvious agitation isn’t reassuring. In fact, Rick’s starting to wonder if Casey’s right, which is more unnerving than Jonah’s behavior. Michael seems determined not to notice, however, and Billy is sitting with his mouth clamped shut, fingers pressed firmly against the wound.

“You know any kind of trackers we have are all emergency-based,” Michael explains easily. “You know how far out we are. You know if we had other resources to track us, we’d be using them.”

Jonah swallows, and he’s clearly trembling, but his eyes settle on Michael.

“We still fully intend to do this mission,” Michael says. “And there’ll be no sign of your involvement.”

“Except you’re already here,” Jonah says.

“You have this place outfitted so no one can see in,” Michael reminds him. “You’re a ghost here. And now that we’re here, we’re ghosts, too.”

Jonah glances around, looking almost desperate. “What if you were followed....”

“Then we’d be dead,” Michael says. “You know the groups around here. They’re not exactly subtle.”

Jonah still looks like he wants to freak out, and for a moment, Rick thinks he might. But instead, the man takes a few breaths and regards Michael cautiously. “What exactly is it you’re looking for?”

“Just information,” Michael says. He hesitates, eyes flickering briefly toward Billy. “And a place to stay for the night.”

Jonah actually squawks, arms flailing so wildly that Rick’s self defense training almost kicks in. But Jonah’s moan is one of agony, not attack, and Rick tries his best to take his cues from his teammates -- as if that’s some sort of measuring stick now.

Michael is calm. Billy is placid. Casey still looks like he wants to murder someone, which is to say he seems completely normal.

To think, he could have spent the night with Fay. Instead, he trusted the ODS and here he is. In a rainforest in Cambodia in a madman’s house.

Maybe Rick needs to reevaluate his decision making skills.

“Jonah, I know you don’t trust the government, and that’s a good thing,” Michael says. “We don’t trust the government. You know how we work. And you also know that things out there are getting worse. If this doesn’t stop, your jungle isn’t going to be the refuge you want it to be. Help us tonight, and we’ll make that better.”

For a second, Jonah looks like he actually might cry. Rick knows how he feels. The ODS is good at talking you into doing things that you don’t really want to do, at somehow being right even when they’re just so wrong.

“Besides,” Michael continues, almost oblivious to the obvious tension, “if you let us stay, I’ll make dinner.”

Jonah scoffs. “I never let anyone cook for me,” he says.

Michael smiles. “So you’re cooking?”

Jonah scowls. “I hate you, Michael,” he says, but the venom is gone. There’s still a trace of fear, but the tacit acceptance is impossible to miss. “I hate you so much.”

Rick thinks Jonah should join the club.

-o-

Jonah agrees to let them stay, but that doesn’t exactly make everything perfect. He shows them the spare bedroom and bathroom, but when Billy shuffles his way inside, Jonah immediately pulls out a drop cloth and starts covering all the sparse furniture. “And you’re using your own first aid supplies!” Jonah insists. “And we’re burning any linen that you touch -- and there’s bleach for the floors when you’re done.”

Billy looks both bemused and distressed. “I’m certainly hoping all that won’t be necessary,” he says. “It’s just a flesh wound.”

“They’re all flesh wounds,” Jonah says. “They all bleed. Even a single drop can contaminate. Use the bleach.”

Casey looks ready to protest, but Michael just shakes his head. “Casey, you and Rick take care of Billy.”

“I don’t need one minder, much less two,” Billy says, but the way he’s steadying himself against the table doesn’t exactly back up his point.

Michael can call him on it -- Casey sure looks like he wants to -- but apparently Michael’s feeling unusually diplomatic today. “Probably, but I think Jonah would be happier if there were just one of us out here.”

Rick looks toward Jonah, who is fussing about noisily in what he can only assume is a kitchen.

Billy still looks like he wants to argue, but it’s pretty clear he doesn’t have the energy. Even Rick can see that Michael’s offering him the best of both worlds: a chance for rest and his dignity.

The ODS is full of impossible, stubborn, frustrating men -- but they’re not stupid. Michael knows how to manipulate people and Billy knows when a deal is too good to pass up. The Scot nods his consent.

There’s a brief look of relief on Michael face before he nods at Casey, who moves toward the door. Feeling a bit out of place, Rick watches as Billy winces before following. Casey is already inside, unzipping his pack and unearthing their first aid kit.

Rick hesitates.

“That means you, too, Martinez,” Michael says.

Rick flushes a little. “I just...don’t know what to do,” he admits.

“This is still a mission, same as before,” Michael reminds him. “Always tend to the most pressing issue first.”

Considering this, Rick frowns. At this point, he’s not sure what the most pressing issue is. In fact, there are still huge gaps in his understanding of the mission altogether. The guys had briefed him, but they’d ended up sitting in separate parts of the plane during the long flight over, and Rick had been sandwiched between a yappy woman and a man who snored, so he’s not exactly well rested.

More than that, he’d spent all his time memorizing his cover story that he’s missing more than a few critical details about how they’re actually planning to use those cover stories and take down a network of heroin dealers.

And really, at this point, he’s suddenly realizing that most of this information has come from his teammates themselves, not a file, and he’s learned the hard way that the things they say are actually suspect.

Which is all to say, that Rick’s not sure what the most pressing issue even is anymore. Assumimg he ever did.

Michael rolls his eyes. “Your bleeding teammate.”

“Oh,” Rick says. “Right.” He falters, feeling stupid. He gestures toward Billy. “I’ll just. Be in here.”

Michael snorts, shaking his head while Rick turns toward the room, cheeks burning.

Facing an elephant is terrifying. Somehow, though, facing his team is never any easier.

-o-

When he closes the door behind him, Billy is already lying on the bed. Casey is kneeling on the floor, the first aid kit open on the ground next to him. Rick eases up, hovering behind Casey while the older man undoes the bandage and exposes the wound.

Up close and under the harsh glare of Jonah’s lights, the wound looks worse than Rick thinks it should. It’s about two inches long and when Casey probes the flesh, Rick can see that the cut goes deep into Billy’s flesh, still weeping fresh blood. Rick’s not squeamish, but the sight still turns his stomach a little, and he wonders in horror and awe how Billy walked all day in that condition.

From the bed, Billy smiles. “Michael would tell you that scars aren’t good in our line of work,” he says, winking a bit. “But I think they can make you so much more convincing in the field.”

It’s meant to diffuse the tension, but Rick finds he has a hard time smiling. “Shouldn’t we get this looked at?” he asks.

Casey huffs. “And what do you think I’m doing?” he asks, discarding the soiled bandage and pulling out a water bottle instead.

“I mean by a professional,” Rick says.

Casey pours the water carefully over the wound, using his fingers to clean the area with irrigation. Billy goes stiff under the ministration, and even though he makes no noise, Rick can see the Scot’s fingers gripping the drop cloth.

“If you can find one, by all means,” Casey says, using a fresh piece of gauze to dab at the bleeding.

“I just...,” Rick fumbles, looking at Billy again, whose eyes are glistening with unshed tears as he clenches his jaw together. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

Casey doesn’t look up, but pulls out the antiseptic. “Do you know why I am so successful as the human weapon?”

It’s not the question Rick expects. “I, um--”

“Because I know how the human body works,” Casey interrupts, applying the antiseptic unflinchingly, even when Billy bucks slightly and makes a small sound of pain. “I know it’s limitations and its functions. This allows me to push my body to its full potential and to capitalize on the weaknesses of others.”

Billy is crying silently now as Casey pads the wound, pressing more gauze on top and taping it down.

“It’s all human anatomy,” Casey continues, securing the bandage even more. “If you know the exact manner to kill a man, you know precisely how to save his life.”

Finished, Casey sits back, his hands dropping. On the bed, Billy is still speechless, breathing heavily while he clearly tries to regain his control.

Behind them, Rick feels out of place. This is not an uncommon feeling, which makes him feel like he should know what to do about it.

He doesn’t.

The silence is strange, and Rick feels guilty when Billy is the one who finally breaks it. He’s sweating badly and his voice sounds strained, but he lifts his head and says, “Fear not, Rick. Casey has saved my life more than once.”

“That’s because you attract trouble in whatever you’re doing,” Casey tells him sternly.

“What can I say?” Billy says, lips quirking upward. “It’s my charming personality.”

“They tried to kill you,” Casey says. “And any deeper and they would have succeeded.”

Billy shrugs, pushing himself up a little further. It’s a clear effort, and Rick almost wants to help him, but doesn’t really know how. By the time Rick can think of anything, Billy’s already sitting up. “Near death encounters are a talent.”

Casey shakes his head. “Next time I should just let you die.”

Billy’s grin widens, and Rick feels himself relax despite all obvious indications telling him otherwise. “I’d like to see you try,” the Scot cajoles.

Rick hasn’t known Billy that long, but the response is still so typical that it is immediately satisfying. It feels like things are back to normal.

Which is to say that things are still hopelessly out of control, but at least his team is back to being annoyingly unbothered by the likely chaos and doom that awaits him. The fact that Rick already recognizes this and takes some solace in it by the second mission should probably be disconcerting.

Rick’s too busy feeling relieved for that, though.

Before Casey can mount a likely snarky reply, the door opens. “You guys good to go in here?”

Billy gets to his feet. He wobbles slightly, but rights himself before Rick can move closer. “Good enough, at any rate.”

Michael looks to Casey.

Casey nods. “Wound is clean and the bleeding is slowing,” he confirms. “So far there’s no sign of infection.”

“See,” Billy says. “Good enough.”

Michael doesn’t look totally convinced, but he also doesn’t seem inclined to push it. “Okay, then,” he says. “Clean up and everyone out for dinner.”

-o-

Rick hadn’t realized it, but he’s actually really hungry. At the mention of dinner, his stomach starts rumbling and by the time he gets out into what must be the dining area, he’s practically salivating. He sits down anxiously, feeling more than a little vexed when the food is set out in front of them.

“These are...,” he begins, not quite sure how to finish.

“Emergency rations,” Michael concludes for him.

Jonah balks, sitting down and pulling three pouches to himself. “The best damn emergency rations money can buy.”

Casey sits down in one of the vacant chairs. “In some ways, I can appreciate the practicality,” he says, taking two packets for himself.

Billy is the last to arrive, and he’s winded when he sits down, favoring his side. “I suppose beggars can’t be choosers in the Cambodian rainforest, yeah?” he asks, taking a portion for himself.

Rick is still staring. “But they’re for emergencies,” he says, as if that should mean something to anyone here.

But then he remembers he is in fact the only sane person in the room. Possibly the only sane person for miles.

“Well, we did conclude earlier this was an emergency,” Michael points out.

“And every day of life is an emergency,” Jonah says, taking a noisy bite. “Come on, you guys knows what goes on in this world.” He snarfs another bite, then shrugs. “Besides, if I buy these I only have to go into town once every six months, which is way better than any other alternative.”

Despite his best efforts to the contrary, Rick still finds himself staring.

Michael shoves a packet at him, and nods.

Rick keeps staring.

Michael rolls his eyes, then turns his attention back to Jonah. “So, Jonah,” he says, opening his own packet. “You think you can tell us who our welcoming committee might have been?”

Jonah grunts. “Could be anyone,” he says. “This far out, people don’t like visitors. Especially from the CIA.”

“They don’t know we’re CIA, genius,” Casey snaps. “We’re a tea company.”

Jonah is unimpressed. “You look like spooks.”

“That notwithstanding,” Michael cuts in carefully. “These guys were heavily armed.”

“And they had elephants,” Rick adds.

Michael gives him a look.

Rick shrugs and finally takes a packet of food.

“And they were not very friendly, if I may say so myself,” Billy says.

Jonah sighs, starting on his second packet. “Sounds like the newest group, then,” he says.

“Newest?” Michael asks.

Jonah nods. “Most of the groups around here are pretty established, but there’s been some new activity from a neighboring area,” he explains. “They’ve been trying to expand their turf.”

It sounds a little ridiculous to hear someone talking about the Cambodian rainforest in terms for gang warfare, but then, everything is a bit ridiculous about this mission.

“So we came just in time for a turf war?” Casey asks.

“Nah,” Jonah says. “If there was any real danger of that kind of conflict, I’d be out of here.”

“Then why did they attack us?” Michael asks.

“Because you look like spooks!” Jonah exclaims, putting the second packet aside and opening the third. “These guys don’t like outsiders, so everyone looks like spooks if they don’t know them.”

“Seems a bit aggressive,” Casey says.

Coming from Casey, that’s saying something.

Rick finally cocks his head. “So the newest group -- is it a militia?”

Jonah looks at him, seeming vaguely impressed. “More or less, yeah.”

“Not related to the heroin farms,” Rick ventures.

Jonah makes a face. “Nah, they’re more into arms than drugs,” he says. “They have their own form of martial law this far out.”

“Are they connected to the other groups?” Michael asks.

“Not really,” Jonah says. “They coexist mostly peacefully but that’s only because they haven’t had a reason to get angry at each other yet.”

“So, in theory,” Casey says, “we could still make it to the heroin farms and finish the operation.”

“Sure,” Jonah says. “Just stick to the right paths, and you shouldn’t have a problem.”

Casey looks to Michael, who looks briefly at Rick and then Billy.

“Of course, that assumes they don’t hunt you down,” Jonah says nonchalantly.

Rick’s stomach flips.

“Are they established enough for that?” Michael asks.

“Not really, but they might try,” Jonah says.

Rick shakes his head. “Once they find out we’re clients of someone else, they’d be stupid to risk a war,” he says.

“Sure,” Jonah says. “But if you cross their territory again, you’re fair game.”

“So we don’t cross their territory,” Rick says. “Simple.”

But Michael doesn’t look so reassured.

Rick raises his eyebrows. “Isn’t it?”

“There’s only one access road,” Michael points out.

“Which is where we were ambushed,” Casey says.

“Which is all to say,” Billy says. “We can finish the mission, but we may never leave alive.”

-o-

After dinner, Jonah retreats to his bedroom and locks the door. “But don’t get any ideas,” he warns. “I’ve got full monitoring with video and sound of every inch of this place.”

Michael salutes him and Casey doesn’t hold back his sigh of exasperation as the door switches shut and locks loudly. Billy is sitting unusually still at the table, face still more drawn than normal even after the meal.

Rick let’s out a breath. “So, we can still do this,” he says, because this is why he’s here. This is why he joined the CIA. This is why enduring his teammates’ eccentricities is worthwhile -- because there’s a bigger picture.

Michael nods taking a drink from his glass of water before pursing his lips for a moment. “Yeah, but it’s still a week long mission,” he says.

“And if we miss our meeting tomorrow, we’re screwed,” Casey says.

Rick shrugs. “It’s not that far,” he says. He glances at his watch. “If we leave now, we can still make it.”

Michael looks from Rick to Billy, and Rick understands the implications at the same time as Billy.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Billy says flatly. “You can ask Casey, the wound is clean. I’m good to go.”

“Clean, sure,” Michael says, tapping his fingers on the glass. “But you’re in no condition for a night-long hike.”

“More than that, you have to keep it clean,” Casey says pointedly. “If you go running around the rainforest, you’ll end up with sepsis and die.”

There’s something to that, Rick knows. Most of his first aid training had always recommended that an injury be taken care of promptly and with all precautions. And Rick knows now how quickly things can spiral out of control.

Billy shakes his head. “We can die walking out the door each morning or turning on the coffee pot back at Langley,” he argues. “The odds aren’t that bad against me.”

“Bad enough,” Michael says. He gathers a breath. “We will finish the mission, but you’re not coming.”

Billy’s cheeks are turning red. He swallows, visibly shaking slightly. “Well that’s all well and good for you to say,” he says, eyes determined and hard. “But if you want me to stay, you’re going to have to make me.”

It’s a threat, and it’s so vehement that Rick is almost surprised. His team has never shown him anything but a united front -- usually in insanity -- and seeing them argue amongst themselves is actually unsettling. It’s humanizing, in a way, which is partly why Rick thinks it’s so strange to see. His teammates always seem to have it together, to know what’s going to happen. They have a plan, and Rick’s always the last one to know.

Michael doesn’t flinch. “I know.”

Billy seems to be waiting for more. His mouth is open, and he’s breathing heavily. There’s a tense beat, an uncertain silence, during which Michael’s gaze doesn’t waver and Billy’s eyes narrow--

Then widen. “Michael,” he says, the note of alarm suddenly evident. For a second, he looks lost, eyes darting around before settling on the empty glass of water in front of him. He almost laughs, a short, bitter and incredulous sound before he looks up at Michael again, eyes filled with something like betrayal. “You bastard.”

Michael smiles faintly. “Figured this way you might not blame yourself.”

“And it does avoid the inevitable humiliation of me subduing an injured man,” Casey points out.

Billy’s brow creases in apparent mortification. He starts to look a little desperate. “I trusted you.”

“I know,” Michael replies easily. “Which is why I had to do it.”

Billy chokes on something like a strangled cry, his head dropping forward as his breathing picks up. Michael sits placidly and Casey inches his chair just slightly closer to Billy.

They all seem to know exactly what’s going on.

Which figures. Rick doesn’t have a clue. “Um, am I missing something?”

Billy looks up, eyes flashing with anger. “They drugged me,” he says. “The sons of bitches put it in my water.”

Rick frowns. “I don’t--”

“You’re in no condition to be out in the jungle,” Michael interrupts, looking directly at Billy. “And you’re too stubborn to admit that while the mission is going.”

“Because you need bloody backup,” Billy hisses.

“This is doable as a two-person job,” Michael counters.

“And I can easily do the job of three people all on my own with the right mental fortitude,” Casey says.

Billy’s head drops forward again, his eyes blinking rapidly. He has to brace himself against the table, and his breathing turns ragged. “You just didn’t want to look me in the eye when you left,” he says.

Michael doesn’t deny it. “It’s for your own good.”

When Billy lifts his head again, his eyelids are growing heavy. His neck seems to be having trouble keeping his head upright and his gaze is unfocused. “Cowards,” he murmurs, even as the tension starts to drain from his body. His eyelids start fluttering and he begins to slump. “The lot of you...”

Then Billy slips sideways, starting to fall out of his chair. Rick’s eyes go wide and he fumbles to get to his feet, but Casey is already there, neatly catching the Scotsman as he loses the fight with consciousness.

Michael sighs. “Get him settled in bed,” he says quietly.

Casey nods, grunting as he hoists the taller man up into his arms and carries him with surprising delicacy back toward the spare room.

At the table, Michael takes another drink while Rick stares at him. “You drugged him?” Rick asks.

Michael puts his glass down, offering a small shrug. “You didn’t think we saved all the good stuff for just you, did you?”

Rick opens his mouth, then closes it. “Yeah, actually,” he says.

Michael smirks, but his eyes are tired. “You’re not the only rookie we’ve had, kid,” he says. “And bastards will always be bastards -- even to each other.”

Rick’s not sure if that’s a warning or a consolation.

He’s starting to think it’s a little of both.

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: September 19th, 2013 05:32 pm (UTC)
Great story!

I love this story so far! I can't wait to read the rest of the parts! I love Rick's POV in this. Since this was so early in his tenure with the ODS and from what we saw on the show, it was a long road to acceptance for him, it's great that you're capturing his thoughts and observations on this mission after rescuing Aldrich and the others, their first mission. Rick is still very much skeptical here and his hesitancy is very much here as well. He's waiting for the ODS to earn his trust and for now, they're not doing it definitively for him.

Of course you know that I LOVE that of all of them, Billy is the one injured. The man is a magnet for harm in our stories! But I LOVE that you have Michael drug him to keep him at Jonah's because he knows Billy would trudge on with the mission at personal cost and I love that Michael reveals his concern and protection in the only way a paranoid bastard would, giving Billy a mickey. Priceless.

That's why my absolute fave part (loving all of it for one thing or another) is the exchange between Billy and Michael when Billy realizes what he's done. That whole moment is achingly heroic on both men's parts!!! I didn't cut and paste it because I was afraid that LJ would choke, but I have re-read that section over and over because I love hearing the "voices in my head" reciting them. Especially Billy's, of course. HAHAHA! Like you're shocked,

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 12th, 2013 01:27 am (UTC)
Re: Great story!
billy art

Heh, what is the point of writing long Chaos fic if Billy isn't hurt? Oh, wait! There isn't a point! The only reason I write long fics is to hurt him badly :) I love that you can share that with me.

I admit, I LOVED drugging Billy.

Thanks!

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