?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: The Elephant in the Room (3/7)

September 19th, 2013 (05:50 am)
aggravated

feeling: aggravated

Previous parts and notes in the Master Post. Oh, and this is also for a square of my hc_bingo card. (Prompt = infection!)



PART THREE

Despite all obvious indications that Rick is useless, he makes the most of himself. This has always been the way he is, after all. His teachers called him a go-getter, and every boss he’d ever had had always gushed about how self-motivated he was.

At least, until the ODS. Michael Dorset hazed him and used him as he saw fit. And Higgins wasn’t really much better, even if he did seem to be less sneaky about it.

But none of that would be for a lack of trying, as far as Rick’s concerned. This is why he always shows up on time; this is why he pulls late hours. This is why he takes extra time to memorize the ancillary materials in a mission file and always volunteers to do the hard jobs first. Because that’s who Rick is. He’s a self-starter; he’s highly motivated. He pursues excellence even when no one asks it of him.

So he checks on Billy like clockwork, changing the bandage every other hour and flushing out the wound when it seems to need it. He plies Billy with Tylenol every four hours and makes sure the Scot drink consistently. He scours through Jonah’s cabinets and finds something that resembles chicken broth and makes it for Billy.

When he takes it in, Billy rouses slightly. It seems like he wants to go back to sleep, but when Rick places the food on the small bedside table, Billy opens his eyes and looks at Rick wearily.

Rick smiles apologetically. “You need to eat.”

Billy makes a small face. “Not to sound ungrateful,” he says, “but the thought of food in a pouch rather turns my stomach.”

Rick chortles under his breath. “I respect that, actually,” he says. “Which is why I made you soup.”

Billy cranes his head, eyeing the steaming bowl. “Soup?”

“As best I can tell,” Rick says, pulling the chair up closer. “It doesn’t have much for noodles in it, but it at least has the right consistency.”

With effort, Billy maneuvers himself upward. He winces as he settles gingerly against the pillows. Rick doesn’t wait to be asked but reaches over and picks up the bowl, offering it to Billy who accepts it wordlessly. Rick doesn’t comment in reply, not even when Billy’s hands shake slightly as he picks up the spoon and takes his first bite.

He swallows, then smiles at Rick. “Chicken,” he muses. “I imagine your mother used to make that for you when you were a wee lad under the weather.”

Rick can’t help but smile a little. “She made good soup,” he confirms. “But her specialty is asopao.”

“A delightful Puerto Rican treat,” Billy says before taking another bite. “That’s not common, you know.”

“For Puerto Rican food to be good?” Rick asks.

“No, for people with happy families to end up in the spy game,” Billy says. He looks wistful for a moment. “It’s not a life for the normally well adjusted.”

“I don’t know about that,” Rick says. “I mean, you guys...”

He trails off, the words dying in his throat when he realizes what he’s saying.

Billy just smiles at him. “We’re paranoid bastards for a reason,” he says. “Safe to assume, our mothers didn’t go around cooking asopao.”

Rick feels silly now.

“But I must say, I approve of having such a family-oriented type on the team,” he says, nodding to his soup. “Your efforts in the kitchen are much better than Michael’s and your bedside manner is a vast improvement over Casey’s. All things considered, I feel as though I’m in the most capable of hands.”

It’s a compliment; it’s also a way out of the awkward dead end conversation Rick’s been having. He’s grateful for that, which makes him feel even more sheepish. Billy’s the one with an infected knife wound; Rick should be the one doling out comfort.

“It’s the least I can do,” Rick says.

“Hardly!” Billy says. “Never underestimate the power of diligence.” He nods knowingly. “You have your part to play in this team.”

Rick scoffs. “Doesn’t seem that way.”

“Give it time,” Billy advises. “If nothing else you, you can be our resident soup maker. This is delicious.”

Rick laughs. “I was hoping for something more than that.”

Billy swallows another mouthful. “We all have to start somewhere,” he says. “Trust me.”

Rick still wants to argue, but it doesn’t seem right. Not with Billy in the bed, fever still burning in his cheeks as he favors his side.

Instead, he smiles back. “Yeah, I guess,” he says. “Now eat up. When you’re done, we’re changing your bandage.”

Billy makes a face. “That’s not exactly inspiring.”

“No, but it’s necessary,” Rick says, no nonsense.

“I reckon you got that from your mother, too,” Billy says.

“What?”

“The mother hen,” Billy says. “It suits you.”

“I’m not a mother hen,” Rick says, a touch of petulance in his voice. He furrows his brow. “Now eat before it gets cold.”

Billy smirks. “Cluck, cluck.”

-o-

That night, Rick sleeps in Billy’s room. The couch is uncomfortable anyway, so Rick stacks as many spare blankets as he can scrounge up and makes a mattress for himself by the wall. Billy looks both amused and humiliated, but merely makes a quip about having a slumber party before he drifts off to sleep.

Rick isn’t surprised. After their late dinner, Rick had cleaned Billy’s wound thoroughly again, leaving the Scotsman spent and exhausted. With another few pills, it had been all Billy could do to keep his eyes open, and Rick figured sleep was better than anything else.

Jonah has been a ghost of a presence, but he’d lingered in the doorway long enough to ask if Billy was okay. Rick didn’t have much to report, but he merely said they’d know more in the morning.

Curling up on his side, eyes on the bed, Rick just hopes it’s good news.

-o-

In the morning, Rick wakes to the sound of movement. In a flash, his eyes pop open and he sits upright, at the ready.

“Easy, lad,” Billy says from the bed. He’s grinning a little. “Though I am impressed with your reaction time.”

Rick slumps slightly and does his best not to feel petulant. Then, he looks at Billy and realizes that the Scotsman is sitting up, legs draped over the side of the bed. He’s still favoring his side and he’s paler than normal, but the twinkle in his eyes is back.

Brightening, Rick gets to his feet. “You’re feeling better?” he asks, daring to be hopeful. “I mean, you’re looking like you feel better.”

Billy chuckles, pushing himself to his feet. He wavers, and Rick hovers close, but Billy finds his equilibrium on his own. “I’ll feel better after a trip to the toilet and a warm shower, but I think the fever’s gone down.”

Rick casts a glance toward the bandage.

Billy rolls his eyes. “I’ll let you have a crack at it after I spend some time in the bathroom.”

Rick hesitates. “Are you sure you’re up for that?”

“I haven’t showered since we left the United States,” Billy reminds him pointedly. “I think at this point it’s a vital necessity.”

Rick reddens. “I just...don’t want you to overdo it.”

Billy smiles. “And there’s the mother hen,” he cajoles.

Rick sighs. “I’m not a mother hen.”

“You are an adorable mother hen,” Billy tells him.

“Maybe you should go take your shower,” Rick suggests.

Billy’s grin widens. “I couldn’t have come up with a better suggestion myself.”

-o-

Rick finds himself loitering in the bedroom. He tidies his space and then changes the sheets on Billy’s bed. When he tries to find the laundry for the dirty sheets, Jonah makes a face and directs him to the incinerator instead.

After that, Rick organizes the supplies and tries not to watch the door. He listens as the shower runs and then turns off. When Billy finally comes out, Rick is on his feet and staring.

Billy stops in the doorway and stares back.

“I, um,” Rick starts to say. He frowns. “We need to bandage your wound.”

“You seem quite eager to do that,” Billy observes, walking carefully back to his freshly made bed. “Did you change the sheets?”

“Maybe,” Rick says. “You know, nevermind.”

“I think that’s cute,” Billy comments.

“It’s sanitary,” Rick says gruffly.

“You really aren’t working in the right direction against that mother hen image,” Billy points out.

Face red, Rick glares. “How about this then?” he says. “Sit down and shut up, because I know your weakness right now and you keep talking like this and I won’t be afraid to use it.”

Billy looks at him, eyebrows lifted. “Threats of physical violence? I’m impressed,” he says. Then he winks. “Course it’d be much more convincing were you so not so obviously distressed about my well being.”

Rick lets his shoulders sag. “Just sit down. Please?”

Billy nods, turning to sit himself gently down on the bed. He gives Rick a winning smile. “See?” he says. “All you had to do was ask.”

-o-

At this point, Rick’s pretty good with first aid. He’s learned more about the practical applications in one day than all his training at the Farm. He checks the wound efficiently, and notes that it does seem to be clean -- and it’s still draining. That’s the good news.

Still, Rick finds himself frowning. “It’s still pretty red,” he observes, touching the tender flesh gently.

Billy stifles a hiss. “Well, stab wounds have a tendency to be like that.”

It’s deflection; Rick’s not sure he’s buying it. “It still doesn’t look good.”

Billy yelps as Rick’s fingers probe slightly harder. “Well, I’ll admit that it doesn’t feel great either,” he says. “But my fever is gone. My energy levels have rebounded. I’d say that’s a step in the right direction, yeah?”

Rick reaches for fresh gauze. “I guess,” he says, starting to put the gauze in place. “I’d feel better if we had a doctor look at it.”

Billy snorts. “Who needs a doctor when I have my own mother hen?”

Rick narrows his eyes and shakes his head. “You’re not going to let that drop, are you?”

Billy beams at him. “Not since I found out how much you like it.”

Ducking his head, Rick tries not to sulk. “I hate you.”

Billy just laughs.

And Rick hates him a little more.

-o-

Rick has his reservations, but Billy’s pretty hard to talk down once he has his mind set on something. Rick offers to bring him breakfast in bed, but Billy balks, insisting that it’s too early in their relationship for such measures when his legs are perfectly capable of walking ten feet.

Rick can’t completely disagree, even if he thinks being cautious would be more prudent, but before he can come up with some sort of compromise, Billy is already at the door.

Getting hurriedly to his feet, Rick follows, and he follows Billy into the kitchen.

Jonah is at the table, laptop set up, and he looks up with a ready smile. “Billy!” he says enthusiastically. Then his face goes serious. “How do you feel? Are you experiencing hot flashes? Heart palpitations? Dizziness?”

With a small laugh, Billy sits down across from him. “Let’s focus on the positive instead,” he says congenially. “Perhaps some breakfast?”

Jonah gets up, at the ready. “I have some excellent packets for scrambled eggs and bacon.”

Billy forces a smile. “That sounds...interesting.”

“If you add salsa, it’s not so bad,” Jonah says.

“And you have salsa?” Billy asks.

“It’s one of the few foods I stock,” Jonah tells him. “It’s sort of my weakness. That, and coconut milk.”

“Good choices,” Billy observes. “Processed protein and salsa it is!”

Jonah smiles, almost in giddy relief. Then, he hesitates. “I’m...you know, sorry,” he says.

“You were trying to do what you thought was best,” Billy tells him sympathetically. “And trust me, I’ve made far bigger mistakes than that.”

“I would never have -- I mean, if I have known,” Jonah says.

“No worries, mate,” Billy tells him. “Now how about that breakfast?”

-o-

Breakfast is good. Sure, the eggs and bacon taste like cardboard but the salsa’s not bad. And Billy’s so upbeat that it’s hard not to enjoy it. He’s cracking jokes and telling stories, and soon they’re all laughing.

Rick’s still not happy about a lot of this. He’s not happy that Billy’s wound got infected; he’s not happy that he got left behind. But he thinks it could probably be worse.

For now, that’s enough.

-o-

The morning passes uneventfully. Jonah retreats back to his room after a few paranoid rants about the government, and Billy sighs, seeming to sink deeper into his chair.

Rick fiddles with his glass for a moment, glancing at Billy and then looking uselessly around the room. He chews his lips and weighs his options.

“You may as well ask,” Billy finally says.

Rick’s head snaps up. “What?”

“About the mission,” Billy surmises. His eyes are steady on Rick. “You’re wondering about the mission.”

It’s true. Rick’s been doing his best not to think about it, but the fact is, it’s all there is to think about. He’s wondering how Michael and Casey are faring; how their covers are holding. He’s wondering about the intrigue, the action. He wonders if there’s been action, if their true spy skills have been put to the test.

He wonders what it’d be like to be there. Rick still has his cover memorized. His name is David Cordon, and he’s from New York City. He’s had a rough childhood, but he found his niche in the business market and is the newest member of the team. His expertise is Asian leafs.

But now he’s just Rick Martinez, holed up in a safe house of sorts, doing nothing.

“I’m not thinking about the mission,” Rick lies.

Billy smiles. “The trick to lying is to create a falsehood with some basis in reality,” he says. “That statement is simply too audacious to stand.”

Rick sighs. “Okay, fine,” he says. “I might be thinking about it a little.”

“They’re fine, you know,” Billy says.

“Oh, and that’s why you tried to go after them even with a knife wound?” Rick asks.

Billy chuckles. “Aye, you have a point,” he says. “But it’s just second nature to protect your team. There’s a reason none of us have families.”

“Michael was married,” Rick points out.

“And is currently divorced,” Billy reminds him. He shakes his head. “The term brothers-in-arms is quite apt, and none of us like leaving that to chance.”

That’s not exactly the answer Rick was expecting. In truth, it’s not what he’s been thinking about at all. He frowns. “So it doesn’t bother you that they drugged you and ditched you?” he asks.

“Of course it does,” Billy says. “But I know why they did it. Because they want to protect me as much as I want to protect them. That’s what a team is about; that’s trust.” He shrugs. “Besides, I was more upset with myself for not seeing it coming. I’ve worked with Michael Dorset too long not to see such antics in advance. And I still fell for it like a rookie.”

Rick scowls.

Billy’s grin turns mischievous. “Present company most definitely included.”

“You were all being so nice!”

“And that should have been your first tip off,” Billy says. He pauses, face falling just a little. Rick notices that he looks tired, pale, and when the Scot continues, his voice is less full of gusto. “But I can’t call you on that now, can I? Present situation considered.”

Rick could quip, but instead he shrugs. “You sure you’re feeling okay?”

Billy waves his hand through the air. “Just tired,” he says. “Being stabbed is rather taxing.”

“Maybe we should check the wound,” Rick suggests.

“If it’s all the same to you, my dignity would prefer to do it myself this time,” Billy says, pushing himself to his feet.

Rick stands, starting to protest.

“I can change a bandage,” Billy assures him. “And I can clean it.”

Rick isn’t sure, but it seems reasonable. And Billy’s been compliant and upbeat all day. If he’s on the mend, then there’s no harm. “You’ll let me know if you need something?”

Billy nods dutifully. “I wouldn’t call anyone else.”

There’s no one else to call, but Rick lets that pass. “I’ll check on you for dinner,” he says. “And that time, I am checking your wound.”

Billy’s eyes light up.

Rick holds up his hand. “So help me God, if you cluck at me--”

Billy pretends to sulk as he makes his way back to the bedroom. “You ruin all my fun,” he says.

“I can live with that.”

-o-

Rick spends the afternoon trying to decide if he’s bored, worried or simply restless. He’s probably a little of all three, and he finally gets so desperate that he agrees to play Jonah in some video games. After about four hours of Call of Duty, he glances at his watch.

“Billy’s due for a bandage change,” he says. “And then we should eat.”

“I’ll warm up some dinner!” Jonah volunteers with undue enthusiasm.

Rick smirks. “Don’t put yourself out there.”

“Hey,” Jonah says. “Those meals are first class. They don’t come cheap.”

“So you pay through the nose for inedible crap?” Rick asks.

“Highly advanced, completely nutritious, self sufficient meals,” Jonah clarifies. “When the world succumbs to a zombie infection or aliens invade from outspace, I can outlast you all.”

“I’ll take that under consideration,” Rick says as he makes his way to the bedroom.

“Don’t come calling for me when the zombies start eating people!” Jonah calls after him.

Rick doesn’t turn around, shaking his head. “Will do!”

-o-

In reality, Rick’s feeling almost chipper. Yes, he’s been left behind by his teammates, but all things considered, it could be worse. This mission will be over sooner rather than later, and if he can just gut it through the next few days of survivalist food, he’ll be no worse for wear.

In fact, he thinks maybe this will be a turning point. Maybe a critical bonding experience. Maybe if he plays the part well enough, his team won’t think to sideline him again. Maybe he’ll gain Billy’s trust and have better insights into the inner workings of his team.

But when he opens the door, Billy doesn’t stir.

He knocks. “Hey, Billy,” he says.

There’s no sound from the bed.

Frowning, Rick steps inside, leaving the door ajar as he steps closer toward the bed. “Jonah’s making dinner,” he says. “And it’s time to change your bandage.”

When there’s still no stirring from the recumbent Scot, Rick crosses the rest of the distance, reaching down to shake the other man.

That’s when he feels the heat.

The fever hadn’t been gone that morning, but it’d been better. It’s clearly back now, though Rick tries to remind himself that’s probably normal. Fevers spike in the late afternoon, and Billy hasn’t been taking Tylenol as regularly today.

But Billy still doesn’t stir at Rick’s touch, and that’s worrisome.

He shakes Billy again, looking intently at the other man’s face. “Billy,” he says. “You need to wake up.”

This time, Billy’s face twitches, face contorting in something like pain before he sighs and eases back into what is clearly unconsciousness now.

For a moment, Rick stops. He’s been here before; the scene is eerily similar.

Which is why it doesn’t make sense. Billy had been getting better. The fever had gone down, the wound was draining, Billy had been upbeat. Rick had assumed...

His stomach bottoms out.

Rick had assumed. He’d been there before, too. He’d assumed that Jonah would clean the wound and leave it be, and instead he’d stitched it up. Rick had assumed Billy was just sleeping off the effects of the drugs, and instead he’d been burning with infection.

Suddenly Rick’s assumption that Billy had been getting better isn’t such a sure bet anymore.

His fingers shaking, he throws back the sheet. Billy shivers in response, but makes no further movements as Rick lifts up his shirt. Carefully, he removes the bandage and his heart sinks at what he sees.

The wound is starkly red now, still swollen and seeping. There’s more than a little discoloration, and Rick’s no medical expert but it’s starting to look like an abscess.

This is a turning point, after all. Just not the one Rick had been hoping for.

-o-

Wordlessly, Rick cleans the wound. Billy whimpers, muttering a few times, but when Rick’s done, the other man lapses back into a deeper sleep, mouth slightly open as he breathes heavily. Rick loiters for a moment, idly arranging the sheet, but his feet are heavy and his stomach is in knots when he goes back out.

Jonah is already at the topic, tapping away at his laptop while he downs his meals. “I left a good selection for you two,” he says. He glances up. “Billy not feeling up for it?”

Rick swallows. “The fever’s back,” he says, the words like ash in his mouth.

Jonah stares at him for a moment.

“It’s worse,” Rick clarifies.

Jonah blinks. “Worse, like, he’ll be eating dinner in bed?” he asks slowly.

Rick wants to say yes. Rick wants to pretend. He wants to go back, to change this, to make it different. But all he can do is stand there, hands useless at his sides. “Worse.”

Jonah’s shoulders fall, his face going slack.

Rick nods hollowly. “A lot worse.”

-o-

Rick is numb, but Jonah seems to go into survival mode. This is probably a fall back for the other man, because he starts stockpiling supplies into Billy’s room for no discernible reason. He stacks boxes of gauze and sterile sheets, lining up bottles of bleach and producing a mop. When that isn’t enough to quell his nervous energy, he boils water and soaks washcloths in tepid water.

A lot of it is pointless, but it’s well intentioned -- and this time it’s not going to hurt anything. And it leaves Rick alone, sitting next to Billy’s bedside with one of the washcloths, laying fresh ones across the Scot’s flushed brow in a seemingly futile attempt to cool him down.

He rouses Billy on and off, forcing him to drink some water. To Billy’s credit, he seems to try helping, but his eyes are bleary and more water runs down his chin than into his mouth before he is pulled back under by the fever.

Sitting there, he envies Jonah. With his puttering about and organizing, the asset can pretend there’s still something useful to be done. Here, watching the infection ravage Billy’s body, Rick can harbor no such delusion.

He can only change the washcloth, check his watch and bide his time.

While Billy gets worse.

-o-

When Rick’s phone rings, he answers before the first chime ends. “Michael,” he says, the word fast and rushed.

“Good to hear from you, too,” Michael quips on the other end through a haze of crackle on the line.

Rick swallows, eyes skittering toward Billy. The Scotsman’s sweat-soaked figure is a reminder that Rick’s too scared to be embarrassed. “Billy’s worse.”

There’s a brief moment of feedback between them. “Worse?” Michael asks, the sarcastic humor evaporating from his voice.

“Fever’s higher, the infection spread,” Rick reports.

The static flares again, obscuring what Rick thinks must be a curse. “You sure the infection’s spread?”

“I think it’s starting to abscess,” Rick admits.

This time, there is no question that Michael curses.

“I think we need to get him out of here,” Rick continues, his hands starting to sweat.

There’s a string of feedback, Michael’s voice cutting in and out. “--have you tried -- because there’s -- mission’s complicated. Rick?”

Rick shakes his head, pressing his finger to his ear and turning away to raise his voice. “You’re breaking up.”

“You should -- wait. We’ll try -- back -- can’t -- four days,” Michael voices comes intermittently.

“You’re saying you still won’t be back for four days?” Rick tries to clarify. “What do you want me to do?”

“No, we’ll -- mission, but Billy -- it’s up to you.”

Rick’s heart starts to race again. “So you’re not coming?” he asks again. “How am I supposed to get Billy out of here by myself? What about the local militia? He’s bad, Michael. I don’t know if I can do it.”

The crackling intensifies again. “--no choice. We’ll -- mission. Billy’s -- up to you.”

Face flushing, Rick feels a little like panicking. He’d wanted answer; he wanted clear direction. For once, all he wanted was to follow an order, no questions asked.

“I don’t think I can do this alone,” Rick says.

“Martinez?” Michael’s voice comes. “--we’re not -- mission.”

“I don’t care about the mission,” Rick retorts. “What about Billy?”

But this time, the static blares so loudly that Rick has to pull the phone away from his ear. It spikes again, before the line goes dead.

-o-

Rick tries to call back, but it won’t connect. He holds it for nearly ten minutes, but there’s no further contact.

There’s nothing.

Rick’s not even sure what conversation he just had. He doesn’t know the status of the mission; he doesn’t know if Michael’s even aware just how serious Billy’s condition is. All he knows is that Michael’s thinking about the mission, and Billy is Rick’s responsibility.

Up to you.

He looks at Billy, stomach so taut, he feels like being sick.

It’s the vote of confidence he’s wanted, but now that he has it, he’d do anything to get rid of it. Because he knows how to improvise in the field. He knows how to fight through to the end of a mission.

But he doesn’t know how to do this.

With Billy sleeping fitfully on the bed, fire raging through him, Rick just doesn’t know.

-o-

Numbly, he sits next to Billy again. He places the phone with shaking fingers on the bedside table and reaches for the washcloth instead. It’s still damp but warm to the touch, and Rick swaps it out with a fresh one.

As he applies it, Billy murmurs, his head turning slightly and his eyes blinking open. This has happened more than once, so Rick doesn’t get his hopes up. “The team?” Billy asks, the words a mess of slurred syllables.

Rick smooths the washcloth over the Scot’s hair, folding it gently across his brow. “They’re okay,” he says, almost out of reflex. It’s the only thing Billy’s asked about since the fever spiked again. And Rick has no medicine, so if a wishful truth is the only comfort he can offer, he’ll give it.

Billy blinks a few times, eyes glassy and unfocused. He stirs, a bit agitated. “We need to help them--”

Rick moves a hand to Billy’s shoulder, gripping it steadily. “Hey, I don’t think you’re up to going anywhere right now.”

Face distressed, Billy is almost whining. “The team,” he says, practically begging now as his eyes finally lock on Rick’s. “The team comes first.”

It’s such an earnest statement, that Rick doesn’t know what to say. He stares dumbly back at Billy’s fever-clouded eyes, mouth hanging open, words of empty encouragement suddenly stuck in his throat.

Then, Billy’s eyes lose their focus again, eyelid drifting closed as he slips back into unconsciousness.

Rick can’t tear his gaze away, though. Billy wasn’t even lucid, but everything he says makes sense. It makes perfect sense. It’s a question of priorities, which, Rick realizes, really isn’t a question at all.

Just like that, Rick knows what he has to do.

-o-

Jonah’s in his bedroom, but Rick doesn’t care much about the other man’s privacy at this point. He slams his fist on the door. “Jonah,” he calls. “Jonah.

There’s no response, and Rick rolls his eyes, gritting his teeth.

Slamming on the door again, he is all but yelling now. “Open the door or I swear to you, I will open it for you.”

There’s still no reply.

“Jonah, open the door or I will publish your identity including your IP address the instant we get back to the States and I will make sure that you can never live in privacy ever again.

He’s about to pound his fist again, when the locks start opening. The door swings open, and Jonah stares at him, paled faced and wide eyed. “I was in the middle of a game--

“Yeah, and Billy’s sick,” Rick reminds him.

“I know!” Jonah says. “This is my best method of stress relief. I felt like I was in the way, and I didn’t--”

“I don’t care, okay?” Rick says. “I just talked to Michael.”

Jonah stops, and for a moment his eyes are hopeful. It’s almost painful to see, if only because Rick knows how he feels. Rick knows how much he’d counted on that phone call from Michael, how much he wanted that call to fix everything.

The sense of disappointment is close to loss, and Rick feels it building dangerously in his gut. He can’t give into it, though. He’s a spy.

This is his responsibility now.

“This is up to us now,” he says.

It seems impossible, but Jonah’s eyes widen even further. “But we don’t know anything! We can’t -- how can we -- he’s going to die -- and I killed him--

“No, just -- no,” Rick says. “You need to calm down. We need to calm down.”

Jonah still seems close to hyperventilating.

Rick remains resolute. “I have a plan.”

“You do?” Jonah asks, sounding young and stupid.

It just makes Rick feel even more certain. “Do you have a car?”

-o-

Rick doesn’t wait for Jonah to answer. Instead, he turns sharply, going over to the gear the team left stowed in the living room. Jonah, gaping, trails after him.

“What do you mean, do I have a car?” Jonah asks.

Rick unzips a pack, throwing unnecessary contents aside and keeping the important stuff -- weapons and coordination codes and the extra SAT phone. “It’s a simple question,” he says, rezipping the pack and getting back to his feet. “Do you have a car?”

“I live in the middle of nowhere,” Jonah says. “Of course I have a car. I have a very nice car. Completely tricked out and strong enough to stand up to almost anything short of a nuclear blast.”

“Perfect,” Rick says. “I need your keys.”

Jonah stops. “I, um. My keys?”

“Yeah,” Rick says. “I’m going to need them to drive Billy out of here.”

Jonah’s mouth drops open. “No,” he protests. “I mean, my car, it’s for--”

“Emergencies?” Rick interjects unflinchingly. “You mean in case you accidentally kill CIA operatives?”

This time, the blood drains from Jonah’s face. He shakes his head. “It’s literally my last resort,” he says. “It’s my only method of transportation.”

“Well, if it makes you feel better, I do intend to get it back to you,” Rick says.

“But you’ll expose me!”

“Maybe,” Rick says with a nod. “But if you don’t let me go and Billy dies, you’ll have a CIA extraction team touching down in your backyard. Then you really will be exposed and not just for living here. But for being a CIA asset. Is that what you want?”

Jonah looks like he’s ready to cry. “I never wanted any of this.”

Guilt pangs in Rick’s gut. He doesn’t take any pleasure in this. He doesn’t like being the bad guy. He doesn’t like using fear and blunt tactics to get what he wants; that’s not what he signed up to do.

But his job is to save Billy. And right now, Rick know of only one way to do that -- and he’ll use whatever means necessary.

Suddenly he knows what it feels like to be a right bastard. He’s not bad for the sake of being bad. He’s bad for the sake of being good.

“I know,” he says resolutely. “So give me the keys and let’s make it better.”

-o-

The car is in one of the exterior buildings. Jonah has to enter three passcodes and undo two manual locks. Even after all that, he seems reluctant to give Rick the keys. “You’ll get him out?” Jonah asks. “It’s going to be okay?”

It’s a simple question, but not one with an easy answer. The truth is, Rick has no idea what he’s doing. He’s in foreign territory with a very sick teammate. He has no backup and very few resources. If something goes wrong, he’s virtually on his own. Sure he has some weaponry on hand, but there are armed men out there -- a lot of them -- who may be more than ready for a rematch. If that happens...

Well, then Rick will have bigger problems than trying to return Jonah’s car.

That’s not what Jonah wants to hear, though. More than that, it’s not what Jonah needs to hear.

Rick breathes deeply. “I promise,” he says, holding Jonah’s gaze, “I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen.”

Jonah nods and exhales, then hands Rick the keys.

-o-

It’s easy to get the car around to the front of the house, and Rick has it loaded with the gear he’s deemed necessary for the trip. He brings up the GPS and programs in the fastest route to the closest hospital. It’s actually not that far -- once he gets out of the rainforest.

Rick chooses not to think about how meaningful that stipulation is.

Instead, he needs to get Billy in the car first.

His resolve falters when he reenters Billy’s room, and Rick wishes not for the first time that he had some validation that he was making the right choice. It seems like a dramatic choice, but he’s seen Billy’s wound. He’s felt Billy’s fever. He knows that if left untreated any longer, this infection may very well take Billy’s life.

Rick’s still the new guy on the team, and he’s hated them more than once in his time with the Agency, but the idea of letting Billy die...

It can’t happen.

Determined, he crosses toward Billy’s bed, pulling back the sheet. “Okay, Billy,” he says, lifting one of Billy’s arms and dragging it over his shoulder. “Time to go.”

Billy makes a small mewling sound, his head dropping back while Rick positions himself alongside Billy. It’s not an easy task, and he grunts as he kneels lower, hooking his other hand under Billy’s legs and hefting upward. The Scot is taller than he is, and his limbs are gangly and awkward as Rick strains under the weight. He can feel the heat of Billy’s fever, though, which is all the motivation he needs to just keep going.

Straightening, he takes a moment to adjust his grip, trying to bob Billy’s head against his shoulder with limited success. Billy’s body looks uncomfortable in his grip, but Rick thinks he may be even more uncomfortable trying to carry the weight, so he decides it’s a wash and starts moving.

Jonah meets him at the door, hovering worriedly as Rick tries to maneuver his way out of the bedroom without knocking Billy against the doorframe.

“The road’s really easy to find,” Jonah explains. “I’ll open the back gate remotely so you can get out clean.”

Rick grunts, inching past Jonah as he bears Billy through the living room. “If Michael comes this way--”

Jonah is following him, nodding readily. “I’ll direct him your way,” he says. “But you should be careful. I mean, the road’s not far but there’s always activity around here.”

Rick’s face reddens as he reaches the door. “That’s not really very helpful.”

Jonah rushes around, opening the front door for him. “It’s just a warning,” he says. “I mean, you guys are CIA. You’re like superheroes. I’ve seen the stuff Michael can pull off. If you’re with him, this sort of thing should be a walk in the park, right?”

A walk in the part that included gun-toting enemies riding around on elephants. Elephants.

Not to mention sick teammates.

Rick smiles hollowly. “Sure,” he says, breathing strained as he hoists Billy higher in his arms. “Piece of cake.”

Jonah looks distressed again. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

Rick glances at Billy, and he can’t help but think about how he slept instead of standing watch, how he yielded his responsibilities once and Billy is paying for it now. “Yeah,” he says. “Me, too.”

-o-

Jonah doesn’t go outside, which Rick figures is just as well. Jonah is a mess at this point, apologizing and fretting and worrying. It’s hard to say if his paranoia is a result of living by himself or if it merely drove him to this lifestyle, but Rick doesn’t have time to care.

He only has time for Billy.

Getting down to the car is nothing short of exhausting, and Rick does everything he can not to drop the older operative. Still, when he stumbles the last of the distance, his arms are aching and his back is screaming while sweat starts to soak into his shirt. It’s almost a herculean effort to open the back door of the car, and he half drops Billy into the seat with an oof.

The physical relief almost makes him feel even worse, and he hurriedly moves around to the other door, opening it to pull Billy in and rest him more comfortably on the seat. He frowns, trying to get the middle seat belt to fit around Billy for added security, and as he rolls Billy gently into place, the Scot rouses.

Surprised, Rick pulls back. “Billy? You with me?”

Billy’s eyes flutter, and he looks around hazily. “Wha...where are we?” he says, the words thickly accented and hard to make out.

“Jonah’s car,” he explains.

Billy’s brow creases in total confusion.

Rick plasters a smile on his face. “It’s okay.”

“The mission?” Billy asks, his voice so small that he sounds somewhat like a child.

Rick’s breath catches. “I’ve got it under control,” he promises vaguely.

Billy nods, and his eyes start to close again. But his hand reaches up, grasping Rick’s arm, and when Rick looks again, Billy’s blue eyes are bright and fixed on Rick. “I trust you,” he says. “Completely.”

Rick’s too dumbfounded to speak, and then Billy’s grip loosens, his eyes rolling back as he goes limp on the seat once more.

It’s certain that Billy’s not lucid, but somehow that just makes it worse. Because when Billy’s lucid, he lies and fibs. Maybe his guises are so practiced that he can use them even when semi-conscious.

Or maybe he means it.

Maybe he trusts Rick.

Which makes the fact that Rick has no idea what he’s doing even worse -- and success is even more important.

Gritting his teeth, he snaps the buckle into place and closes the door.

It’s time to go.

-o-

It starts off well.

Rick makes it through the back of Jonah’s compound, hands tight on the wheel. The back gate is easy to find among the brush, and just as promised, it swings open as he approaches.

It’s a bumpy transition to the access road, and Rick finds himself bouncing all over the place as he tries to keep the car on the road. He has to give Jonah credit, though. He’s picked a sturdy car, which seems pretty adept at off roading.

Still, he’s relieved with the trees thin and the road appears. The car jars as he drives them onto the blacktop. The road is pitted and more than a little uneven, but it’s still a significant improvement, and Rick anxiously presses down on the gas.

The engine purrs, and Rick pushes it faster, glancing at Billy in the rearview mirror.

“Just hold on,” Rick says. He levels his eyes at the road, tighten his grip and keeps on going. “It’s going to be okay.”

-o-

The first few miles pass in a blur. The evening is starting to fall, but the visibility is still good. Regardless, Rick’s so tense that he almost forgets to breathe, and when his fingers finally start to loosen, he realizes that they actually ache. He nervously checks the mirror; it’s impossible to tell for sure that Billy’s breathing, but sometimes his face scrunches up in pain when they hit a pot hole or a rut in the road.

It’s something. Rick doesn’t know whether to feel guilty or just relieved.

Either way.

He thinks he can do this.

And then he looks up and sees the elephant, standing smack in the middle of the road.

-o-

Rick slams on the brakes.

The car responds beautifully, tires screeching as his brakes grind. He comes to a skidding halt, just shy of the creature, still standing stoically in front of him in the growing twilight.

Heart pounding, Rick doesn’t move for a moment. He’s sweating in earnest now, rivulets running down his temples and trickling down his back. His throat is tight; his blood is loud as it rushes through his ears.

An elephant.

An elephant.

There can’t be that many wild elephants in Cambodia; they’re endangered. What are the odds?

Rick’s stomach flips ominously.

The odds aren’t good that he’d run into a wild elephant. But there are more than wild elephants around here.

Rick’s mind flashes back to the militia; he remembers the ever-present thought of being trampled. Even now, the elephant seems to be glaring at him, like it knows him.

He knows this elephant.

Which means, it’s not alone.

-o-

Panicked, Rick slams the gear into reverse, jamming his foot on the accelerator. The car lurches, the tires spinning to find traction as Rick jerks the wheel hard and skids backward. The sudden movement seems to startle the elephant, which rears back and trumpets.

As if Rick doesn’t have enough motivation to move.

His rear tires thunk down, off the blacktop, and Rick hits the brakes again while changing out of reverse. He is pressing down on the gas, turning in the other direction when the men with guns finally appear.

The first volley of gunfire makes him flinch, and he jerks down reflexively as the exterior pings repeatedly with machine gun fire. He knows Jonah said it was bulletproof, but Rick’s not really wanting to find out the hard way if that’s somewhat of an exaggeration.

The car is jostled violently as Rick hits the road again, and he swerves, keeping the car as unsteady as he can. A steady target is too easy to hit.

Of course, it isn’t ideal with Billy strapped down in the backseat.

Still, Rick doesn’t have a lot of options.

It occurs to him for a moment that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing now. He’s fleeing, but where? He can’t go back to Jonah’s. And this road doesn’t go anywhere useful. He needs the hospital, and the deeper he gets into the rainforest, the fewer exits he has.

Mostly, he’s letting them run him into a dead end.

Rick curses, and his entire body feels light. His head is pulsing; his fingers tingling.

He can’t run away from this.

So he’ll have to run though.

It’s a split second decision, and he doesn’t have time to think through how stupid it probably is. How likely he is to get himself and Billy killed.

There’s just time to spin the wheel, just barely easing off the brakes, and hoping for the best.

-o-

Rick’s practice and trained in every area possible, but it occurs to him one second after he turns the wheel that he’s not well practiced in evasive driving. This isn’t unexpected; it’s not exactly easy to try out reckless driving maneuvers. He’d thought that would be okay.

Now, he’s not so sure.

Because, it occurs to him vaguely, if he screws this up, he’s probably going to die.

Rick doesn’t want to die. And he certainly doesn’t want to die on his second mission because he didn’t practice evasive driving and went to sleep instead of changing his teammate’s bandage on his own. They probably wouldn’t even give him a star for this, just based on his stupidity alone.

That thought is enough to gird him, and he bears down as he brings the car around, willing it to stay on its tires as he turns until he’s gone 180 degrees. He doesn’t give himself a second to appreciate the velocity at which he just completed such a maneuver; instead, he presses down on the gas and floors it.

The engines roars into action as Rick pushes the car forward. He can see now there’s just one vehicle following him, which is the good news.

The bad news is that the people in the car are armed, dangerous, and in his way.

Rick can’t change most of that.

But that last part...

Rick thinks maybe there’s a chance.

Setting his jaw, Rick pushes the pedal all the way to the floor.

-o-

When Rick was a kid, his older brothers used to play chicken on their bikes. They used the empty dead end street around the corner from their house, setting up on each end before starting right at each other. For his brothers, it was a game of skill and nuance. They learned each other’s tells, to figure out who was going to pull out first.

Rick had rarely been interested in the game. He’d had other concerns and other interests, but the summer he finally rode his bike to the dead end, his brothers were only too eager to have him play along. That first day -- was also his last.

Mostly because Rick always won. Every game, without fail. The last game, his oldest brother had jerked so hard at the last moment that he’d crashed his bike, scraping up his elbow badly and bending his front tire. He’d gotten up and declared their game over.

“But I’m good!” Rick had protested. “Aren’t I good?”

“You’re stupid,” his brother had told him. “You don’t understand the game.”

Rick frowned. “The person who turns first loses, right?”

“Sure,” his other brother said. “But you never turn.”

“That’s because I want to win!” Rick said.

“And that’s why you’re stupid,” his oldest brother said. “That’s how you get killed.”

Rick hadn’t understood. All he’d known was that he’d won. That was how Rick lived: nothing held back. All in.

It’s been years since he played chicken, but he’s just as much all in. He’s going to win.

Or he’s going to die.

He thinks of Billy, and has a moment of doubt.

His eyes settle on the road, and there’s no time to second guess. At their rate of speed, with the distance between them, Rick can’t pull away.

The other car charges back and gunfire erupts again, nicking off the hood, one striking the bulletproof window. Rick doesn’t even flinch this time.

It’s him.

Or it’s them.

Him.

Them.

Him.

Them.

They’re a split second from collision, so close Rick can see the whites of the other driver’s eyes in the gathering dark, right as they get wider.

And then the other car jerks. They’re so close that collision is somewhat unavoidable, and the two cars scrape noisily, and Rick has to tighten his grip on the steering wheel as the entire car shimmies and metal screeches. For a moment, Rick worries that something is going to give, but Jonah’s sturdy car is everything the asset promised it would be. It doesn’t yield, and the other cars loses control, spinning off toward the brush and trees. Rick looks in the mirror in time to see it bank hard, tipping as it careens uncontrollably into the trees.

Him.

-o-

The surge of adrenaline is intoxicating, and Rick whoops giddily as they power down the road. He passes the other group of men -- standing by the elephant. A few manage to fire at him, but he’s too far and he’s too fast. A few bullets ping harmlessly off the exterior, but they can’t stop him and the elephant trumpets in something like frustration as Rick takes a curve in the road and they all fade away.

It’s a rush. Victory, and not just over a game of chicken. He’s a spy, and this is why. This is how. Michael had him stay behind, but Rick’s skilled and he’s capable -- and this proves it.

He’s faced the bad guys; he’s face the elephant; he won.

He won.

Then he looks in the rearview mirror again. Billy is still sprawled in the backseat, sweatsoaked and unconscious. Rick’s guilt spikes.

He hasn’t won yet.

“I’ve got this,” he says to Billy. “We’re almost there now.”

He looks back at the road and doesn’t slow down.

“We’re almost there.”

-o-

They’re almost there.

But not close enough.

They make it another mile when something shudders in the engine. Rick’s brow creases as he checks his gauges. Lights start to flick on when there’s another guttural screech and the car lurches. Rick’s heart skip a beat, but there’s no time to do anything when there’s a horrific clang and his steering goes out and the engine sputters.

He has no control now, and the car jerks. He fights at the wheel, but it’s still a mostly wild departure as the road turns and the car keeps going straight, right into the brush.

There’s a bump as they go off the pavement, and the brush scrapes against the car. The trees loom ahead and Rick can’t help but yelp as the car clips one of the trees, sending them spinning off deeper into the trees.

The tree that stops them is massive, and its looming trunk is square in Rick’s windshield. He cringes, bracing himself as the car impacts violently. There’s a violent noise and a drastic jolt before Rick realizes he’ll never win a game of chicken against a tree.

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: September 20th, 2013 12:34 am (UTC)
Whew! *wipes the sweat from her brow, but loves the mother hen!

This was a fantastic mix of action and sweet friendship! I LOVE how Billy teases Rick over being a mother hen, but can feel the gratitude, the bromance between them, a bromance that could never happen between Rick and any of the others. Billy may have to be manipulative and like you have Rick observe so practiced in deception that you can't tell where Billy ends and the cover begins, but there's such a warm soul beneath the perceived cynicism. Michael and Casey can't even pretend sincerity.

Then, of course Billy makes a turn for the worse (you're good!) and the action that Rick yearned for is now thrust into his lap that he has no choice but to take it full bore for Billy. I love the childhood backstory about playing chicken. I'd never have imagined Rick in a "risk taking" position even to win and yet it explains so much about why he's a natural CIA agent. He may be the voice of reason among the group, but he has to possess some fearlessness otherwise he would be frozen at every threatening challenge. I also love the "dichotomy" between playing a mother hen and having played "chicken".

Great!!!

Fave part:

“But I must say, I approve of having such a family-oriented type on the team,” he says, nodding to his soup. “Your efforts in the kitchen are much better than Michael’s and your bedside manner is a vast improvement over Casey’s. All things considered, I feel as though I’m in the most capable of hands.”

It’s a compliment; it’s also a way out of the awkward dead end conversation Rick’s been having. He’s grateful for that, which makes him feel even more sheepish. Billy’s the one with an infected knife wound; Rick should be the one doling out comfort.

“It’s the least I can do,” Rick says.

“Hardly!” Billy says. “Never underestimate the power of diligence.” He nods knowingly. “You have your part to play in this team.”

Rick scoffs. “Doesn’t seem that way.”

“Give it time,” Billy advises. “If nothing else you, you can be our resident soup maker. This is delicious.”

Rick laughs. “I was hoping for something more than that.”

Billy swallows another mouthful. “We all have to start somewhere,” he says. “Trust me.”

Instead, he smiles back. “Yeah, I guess,” he says. “Now eat up. When you’re done, we’re changing your bandage.”

Billy makes a face. “That’s not exactly inspiring.”

“No, but it’s necessary,” Rick says, no nonsense.

“I reckon you got that from your mother, too,” Billy says.

“What?”

“The mother hen,” Billy says. “It suits you.”

“I’m not a mother hen,” Rick says, a touch of petulance in his voice. He furrows his brow. “Now eat before it gets cold.”

Billy smirks. “Cluck, cluck.”

-- AWWWWWWWWWWW!!! I can see this! And I SO WISH I really could see it.

Edited at 2013-09-20 01:00 pm (UTC)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 28th, 2013 02:22 am (UTC)
Re: Whew! *wipes the sweat from her brow, but loves the mother hen!
billy guitar

Heh, my fics are rather predictable in that Billy will ALWAYS take a turn for the worse. I'm just glad you're still reading such things and getting a kick out of it!

Thanks!

2 Read Comments