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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: The Elephant in the Room (5/7)

September 26th, 2013 (05:43 am)
sore

feeling: sore

Notes and previous parts in the MASTER POSTER.



PART FIVE

Expecting to be mowed over by gunfire, Rick’s a bit surprised that he’s still alive.

More than that, he’s surprised that it’s not an angry Cambodian.

Instead, poking up at the edge of the gully is Casey.

The human weapon is scowling, and he deftly slides over the lip, slithering over toward Rick with a look of general disdain. “If you’re going to point your weapon, you need to be willing to use it,” he snaps.

Rick’s brow creases. “You’re complaining because I didn’t kill you?”

“No,” Michael’s voice comes as he appears in the gully behind Casey. “He’s complaining that you apparently lack the common sense to defend yourself first.”

“Well, then why are you two sneaking up on me?” Rick demands, all too aware how stupid his own argument is.

“You’re green,” Michael says. “The green ones never shoot first.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” Rick says indignantly.

“We’re still alive, aren’t we?” Casey points out.

The answer is infuriating -- smug, condescending, and worse, Rick has no way to disprove it. His frustration is cut short, however, when Michael shifts on his knees to get next to Billy, who is still half-sprawled on top of Rick.

Michael’s movements become surprisingly gentle, his hand almost fatherly as he presses it across Billy’s glistening brow. Under his touch, Billy stirs, face turning toward Michael. Even so, he doesn’t wake, and when Michael smooths his hand down Billy’s cheek, the Scotsman seems to ease back into a deeper sleep.

“How bad?” Michael asks, not taking his eyes off of Billy.

“Infection’s spreading,” Rick says, and there’s no way to soften it. “It’s starting to abscess; he’s septic.”

Michael takes the news grimly. “We ditched our car about a mile up the road when we saw signs of fighting,” he says. He looks to Casey. “You think you can get us out?”

Casey snorts. “I’m not even going to humor such a question.”

Michael nods. “Good,” he says. “I’ll carry Billy. Martinez, I’m going to need you on point this time.”

That’s actually good news. But Rick’s still struggling to make sense of this uncanny turn of events. He’d been preparing himself to die, alone and tragically, and now Michael and Casey were here.

His team.

Michael is staring at him. “You okay, Martinez?”

Rick makes a face. “What are you guys doing here?”

Michael makes a face back. “Where else would we be?”

“I don’t know,” Rick says. “The mission.

“The mission changed,” Michael tells him. He shrugs. “Again.”

“But,” Rick starts but finds himself unable to come up with the words. “How...”

“There’s one road,” Casey informs him. “It’s not hard.”

Rick’s mouth falls open. “But the mission--”

Michael rolls his eyes, grabbing Billy by the wrist and guiding the limp form up and over his shoulder. “Is to follow orders,” he supplies, fixing his eyes on Rick’s. “So shut up, grab your gun, and take point.”

“But--”

Michael uses his free hand to shove Rick forward. “Now.

-o-

Rick’s wanted to take point. Hell, he’s dreamed about it ever since he got accepted to the CIA training program. He always envisioned the thrill of responsibility, the vigor of knowing it was up to him.

This isn’t like that.

As he cuts a path through the rainforest, he’s dogged with doubt and almost nauseous with fear. Behind him, he can hear the sounds of a fight but when he hears gunfire, Michael just prods him ahead, and the intensity in his eyes as he carries Billy leaves no room for argument.

So Rick runs.

It’s graceless, and he stumbles, almost losing grip on his gun. His heart is like a jackhammer, and he’s pushed on by the overwhelming reality that if he screws this up, there may be no other chances.

Not that he hasn’t screwed this up. He’s the one who passed on checking Billy’s wound; he’s the one who sulked instead of taking responsibility. He’s the one who struck out on his own and crashed the car. He’s the one.

If Michael and Casey hadn’t shown up...

He doesn’t even know why they’re here. He doesn’t know the status of the mission.

Rick doesn’t know anything.

Except to keep running.

-o-

Rick is so deeply set in survival mode, that he doesn’t see the car until Michael yells at him. Even then, Michael has to yell more than once, and when Rick finally turns around, he realizes he’s a good twenty yards ahead from where Michael is standing with Billy draped over his shoulders, jerking his head toward the road.

“What?” Rick asks, thinking belatedly to bring his gun up to bear.

“The car,” Michael says, emphatically now. “Unless you’d like to keep running in the opposite direction.”

That’s when Rick remembers that all this work is for something. He’s not one for idleness, but in the throes of tension, he’s been so focused on moving that he’s forgotten the endgame.

That they’re trying to get out of here.

Spurred back into action, Rick doubles back. Michael is already moving, but with Billy’s weight slowing him down, Rick overtakes him easily. He pushes through the rest of the brush and there it is.

The car.

It’s parked just off the road, not exactly hidden but still entirely intact. Rick doesn’t know where they got it, but at this point, he knows it probably doesn’t matter.

Rick’s never loved a piece of machinery more.

-o-

Rick is still standing there in awe when Michael huffs past him. “Give me a hand here?”

“Oh,” Rick says, and remembers to move, scaling the rest of the distance and opening the back door.

Michael is breathing heavily, and he audibly exhales as he maneuvers Billy back down, and Rick finds himself reaching out to steady the Scotsman’s pliant body as Michael climbs in after him, moving around to pull him farther inside.

When Billy’s legs are tucked safely inside, Michael nods to the driver’s seat. “You’re driving.”

Rick thinks he must have misheard, but when Michael pulls a set of keys from his pocket, Rick finds himself fumbling to catch them.

“I hope you drive better than you catch,” Michael says with a note of derision.

“I, um,” Rick begins. “Really?”

“Well, you did crash the last car,” Michael points out.

“That’s not what I mean,” Rick says. “You want me to drive?”

“I want someone to drive,” Michael says tightly. He nods toward Billy. “And I’ve sort of got my hands full right now.”

“I just...”

“Look,” Michael cuts him off, sounding more than a little terse. “You know how you crashed Jonah’s car? Which he’s going to be pissed about, by the way.”

Rick frowns. “Yeah...”

“I’m going to assume you learned from experience that time around, and that you won’t do it again,” he continues. “We are sort of out of backup plans here.”

Rick swallows, then grips the keys tighter, opening the front door. “Okay,” he says, sliding the keys into the ignition. “Let’s go.”

-o-

At the wheel, Rick has a moment of satisfaction. He’s been on point; he’s at the wheel. Despite his missteps, he’s made it this far -- and he’ll make it the rest of the way.

The buoyancy of the hope is exhilarating, and Rick feels his calm and competence return in force. He’s trained. He’s capable.

And then a figure blurs across the road and Rick slams on the brakes. The car lurches, and in the back, he hears Michael curse loudly. There’s nothing to be done for it, though, and Rick feels the brakes lock as they skid to a precarious halt.

Breathless, Rick looks up and recognizes the figure. It’s Casey, and he doesn’t look too pleased to be standing a mere foot away from the bumper of the car.

Rick can’t say he blames him.

-o-

“What are you doing?” Rick yells as Casey clambers in the seat.

“Getting your attention,” Casey replies. “You drive worse than Billy.”

“You ran in front of the car,” Rick exclaims.

Casey closes the door. “That’s because you drive like a maniac.”

“You don’t jump in front of cars,” Rick insists.

“You don’t leave your teammates behind,” Casey points out. “Especially when they just saved your ass.”

“Is it taken care of?” Michael asks from the backseat.

“For now,” Casey says. “But we’ll want to make good time before reinforcements arrive.”

“Agreed,” Michael says.

Rick realizes that they’re both looking at him.

Then he realizes that he’s not driving. “Oh,” he says, taking his foot off the brake. “For the record, I think that was reckless.”

“Oh, and charging out into the rainforest with no backup isn’t?” Casey asks.

“I didn’t have any other options,” Rick says, starting to pick up speed.

“Exactly,” Casey says. “Now you’re starting to understand.”

-o-

The ODS is annoying and frustrating. They’re liars and they’re really nothing more than scoundrels. Bastards was the term Billy had used, and Rick has found no words that better capture it.

He’s really pretty glad they’re here now, though. Sure, Rick’s at the wheel, but he’s under no delusions as to who’s in charge of this mission anymore. At this point, Rick’s nothing more than a glorified chauffeur, following the lines of the road with all the speed he dares while Michael and Casey handle the things that matter.

Casey is turned in his seat, and Michael has shifted to the floor space. In the rearview mirror, Rick can see him rip Billy’s shirt in half, and even if he can’t quite see the wound from his position, he can see the set of Michael’s jaw.

“How bad?” Casey asks.

“Bad,” Michael replies. “How long has his fever been this high?”

“Long enough,” Rick says, because he’s losing track of time. “He hasn’t really been conscious since we left Jonah’s.”

“He’s septic?” Casey asks.

“And then some,” Michael confirms. He turns his head, looking at the wound more closely. “He never stood a chance.”

“I never thought Jonah would stitch it,” Rick says, but the defense sounds feeble.

“That’s why if you want something done right,” Casey mutters.

Rick flushes.

Michael sighs. “No sense in dwelling on it now,” he says. “We need to get to the hospital, though. Fast.”

“Working on it,” Rick says. “Are you sure we’re clear?”

“Of course we’re not sure,” Casey snaps. “Which is another reason to drive faster.”

Rick doesn’t need to be told again. His foot is already pressing down harder, and he forces his eyes back on the road. The ODS is counting on him. Rick’s already let them down once -- in the worst possible way. He doesn’t want to do it again.

Because the ODS is annoying and frustrating. They’re liars and they’re really nothing more than scoundrels. Bastards was the term Billy had used, and Rick has found no words that better capture it.

But they’re the good guys.

More than that, they’re good.

He steals a glance at Billy -- and hopes they’re good enough.

But this time, Rick’s not going to be the chink in the armor. Not if he can help it.

With his focus back on the road, Rick drives on.

-o-

It’s almost impressive. Rick’s never driven these roads before, but he navigates them expertly, easily getting them into town and making his way to the closest hospital. It’s his sense of direction and his finely tuned attention to detail. This time, Rick performed under pressure -- and his team was there to see it.

But when he puts the car in park, when he climbs out, he sees Casey blur past him toward the entrance. A medical team is back in no time flat, and Rick finds himself the odd man out while Casey opens the car door and Michael backs out, hauling Billy with him.

The medical team lays him on a gurney, and Billy doesn’t so much as twitch while they wheel him inside, Michael still resolutely by his side and Casey leading the way.

Rick’s left, standing alone. Sure, Rick’s feats mean something, but they aren’t the things that matter most. Rick drove to the hospital, but Billy’s still sick. Billy might still be dying.

It’s not so impressive anymore.

-o-

When Rick goes inside, he’s only a few seconds behind his teammates, but it might as well be a lifetime. He finds Michael at the front desk, speaking in a broken dialect while Casey fumes.

Sensing that it’s not going well, Rick makes his way up, glancing at the receptionist, who looks almost as miserable as Casey.

Taking pity on all of them, Rick interjects. “What seems to be the problem here?” he asks, using the local tongue. “Can I help?”

The woman looks so relieved that she might cry. Casey and Michael exchange weary glances, but Michael nods at him. “Remember who we are,” Michael says.

Rick nods. Michael’s talking about their covers, but it’s more than that. Rick remembers that he’s CIA; that they are the ODS.

Rick tells himself that means something.

After all this, he hopes it does.

“Okay,” he says, smiling at the woman again. “Maybe we can help each other.”

-o-

Rick feels good about negotiating Billy’s check-in. It’s not exactly easy, and Michael has to call one of Langley’s cover lines to verify their insurance, but somehow they end up in a waiting room with a stack of forms and a promise that a doctor will be out to talk to them soon.

Sitting in the waiting room, watching Michael sort through the forms, Rick feels less good. It occurs to him that now that they’ve done everything they can do for Billy, it doesn’t seem like enough. Billy’s in an examination room, fighting for his life, and Rick is in the waiting room.

It just feels useless. Worse than that, it feels awkward. There seems to be a quiet understanding between Casey and Michael. They don’t look at each other; they don’t interact. Casey paces and Michael fills out the forms, and Rick just sits there, looking from one to the other in total uncertainty.

He’s also struck by the growing realization that this isn’t how it’s supposed to go. Not just that Billy’s not supposed to be sick (not supposed to be possibly dying) but that Michael and Casey left him behind. They left him to do this on his own -- and then came right back at the first sign of trouble.

Granted, it’s his fault, but he could have fixed this. He has to think he could have.

He’ll never know now. And either way, the fact that they came to bail him out hurts his pride more than he wants it to. The fact that he may have needed the help...

Is humiliating.

He feels guilty, then. This isn’t about him. This is about Billy, sick with sepsis.

But it’s more than that. It’s about a team that doesn’t work when people aren’t an equal ground. If Michael hadn’t left them behind in the first place...

Rick’s indignant.

He’s scared and he’s frustrated and he’s confused and it’s just too much.

They have to talk about this.

Billy’s half dead, and they have to talk about this.

Apparently, he’s the only one who thinks so. For a while, he stares at them. He watches Casey mutter under his breath; he watches as Michael fills out the form. He’s waiting for them to broach the topic first.

They don’t.

Rick’s frustration builds. He’s tired and he’s hungry and damn it, if they’re not going to say something, he is. “I didn’t think you’d come,” he blurts.

It’s not exactly what he wants to say; it’s really not even want he needs to say. It’s still the only thing that comes out.

Casey gives him a wayward glance but doesn’t stop. Michael looks up at him, expression bland. “Are you upset about that?”

The answer should be simple, but Rick realizes it’s not. He is upset, and yet he isn’t. If they hadn’t shown up, Rick’s not sure what would have happened. But there’s something in the fact that they swooped in at the last moment that rubs him the wrong way.

He works his jaw. “You think it’s really that simple?”

“We came in; we saved your ass,” Casey breaks in. “Next time, would you prefer a slow and painful death?”

Rick pales a little, but doesn’t back down. “That’s not the point.”

Michael’s eyebrows go up. “It’s not.”

Rick finds hims cheeks turning red. “No, it’s not,” he says.

“Your situation wasn’t very good,” Michael reminds him.

“He was going to get his head blown off,” Casey says.

“Yeah, but none of your are talking about what this is really about,” Rick says.

Casey stops to stare at him, and Michael looks downright expectant.

“There’s a damn elephant in the room,” Rick almost explodes. “And none of you see it?”

Casey makes a face. “Always with the elephants.”

Rick sighs in total exasperation. “You don’t trust me.”

There’s no sign of response from his teammates’ impassive faces.

“You didn’t trust me to come on the mission,” Rick starts because he can’t stop now. “And you didn’t trust me to get Billy out.”

“You’re taking this too personally,” Casey says. “We knew you were going to have to move Billy; coming back was the only feasible option.”

“Why?” Rick asks. “Why was it the only option? Because I’m the new guy? Because I’m going to screw up?”

“Because you’re one operative, taking a wounded man through enemy territory,” Michael tells him flatly. “This isn’t about trust. This is about being realistic.”

“And the mission?” Rick asks. “You guys didn’t even consider me.”

“We trusted you with Billy’s life,” Michael says. “We trusted you with one of our own. We don’t take that lightly.”

“Yeah,” Casey says, a little bitterly. “And look how well you did with that.”

The blood drains from Rick’s face. It’s not that he hasn’t thought it -- it’s not that he hasn’t blamed himself more than a little -- but hearing it hurts. He still remembers what they said: trust can be earned.

Of course, then they drugged him and ditched him, so Rick’s not entirely sure if they meant it or not.

Now, he’s less sure.

He’s not sure of anything. “I’m just trying to do my job,” he says finally. “And you guys won’t let me.”

Casey’s eyes divert, but Michael holds his gaze. “That’s why we’re all here, kid,” Michael says.

“Exactly,” Rick agrees. “So I shouldn’t be sitting in Jonah’s house while you guys do the mission.”

“Numb nuts,” Casey interjects. “He means, that’s why we’re here.

Rick tilts his head.

Michael smiles tiredly. “You want to talk about the elephant in the room? Think about this,” he says. “Maybe our choice to come back isn’t about our trust; maybe it’s about our priorities.”

Rick frowns.

“As in, maybe it’s not whether we trust you,” Michael continues.

“Which I think the jury is still out on,” Casey adds.

“Maybe it’s that sometimes we can’t get everything in our line of work,” Michael says. “So we pick what’s most important.”

It’s not the answer Rick expects. In fact, it’s an answer that leaves Rick dumbfounded. Because he’s been so busy being scared and indignant and guilty and angry that he hasn’t considered that maybe he hasn’t gotten everything right. Maybe his misjudged his teammates, even more than they’ve misjudged him. Maybe Rick wants the trust he hasn’t earned -- and maybe that’s just as much Rick’s problem as it is theirs.

Maybe.

Rick doesn’t know, and he doesn’t know how to find out. The emotions of the last few days are catching up with him, and he feels overwhelmed. He almost died; Billy may be dying; the mission--

He startles when Michael gets abruptly to his feet, and Casey’s not even a step behind him. Rick is pathetically still getting his head screwed on straight when Michael’s already face to face with the doctor.

“Ask him,” Michael says to Rick. “Ask how he is.”

Rick wets his lips, working to get his mind in order to translate. But when he looks at the doctor’s face, his heart stutters and his stomach clenches. He can ask how Billy is, but he’s pretty sure he already knows the answer.

-o-

Rick translates the words, each one sounded more wooden and foreign than the last. Some of the medical jargon is hard to precisely translate -- Rick’s can speak passably in the dialect, but he’s no expert -- but the gist is still intact.

And it’s not good.

The wound is badly infected, and while the staff has cleaned it and started Billy on a full round of antibiotics, the widespread nature of the infection is putting them at a disadvantage. Billy’s fever is high, and there are some signs that his organs may threaten to shut down unless things improve quickly. To point, they’re fighting an uphill battle, and the doctor laboriously points out that he can’t be held responsible if the treatments don’t work.

When the doctor is done, Rick doesn’t know what to say. He’s the default medium between his team and the medical staff, but the grim prognosis leaves him shellshocked. Not that he hadn’t known it was bad, but he’d pinned all his hope on getting here soon enough.

It may not be enough.

Rick may have killed Billy yet. And to think, he had the audacity to ask for trust.

To think he was even worried about it when Billy is still fighting for his life.

His throat is too thick to speak, his guilt too heavy to work around.

Casey is standing with his fists clenched, but Michael nods, looking at the doctor. “Can we see him now?”

-o-

This is only Rick’s second mission, so he tells himself that it’s entirely normal to feel like he’s out of his element. Mostly because he doesn’t know his element. He doesn’t know his team. This is all new to him, no matter how eager, smart and capable he may be.

Still, just when he thinks he has something figured out, he realizes that he’s wrong.

Very wrong.

There is no discussion about who will visit Billy first. Michael follows the doctor and when Rick goes to follow, Michael gives him one look that’s clear enough. Rick stops short for the lack of something better to do, and when Michael and the doctor disappear down the hall, Rick feels oddly forlorn.

“That’s it?” he asks, looking over to Casey.

The self-professed human weapon doesn’t look thrilled by this turn of events, but he doesn’t look surprised either. Come to think of it, Casey’s never looked thrilled. “Billy needs rest,” he says. “If we go in as a team, it’ll hardly be a restful environment.”

Rick’s gaze lingers down the hall. “But what are we supposed to do?”

“Wait,” Casey tells him simply. “It’s not my favorite answer, but sometimes the best course of action is inaction.”

There’s truth to that, and probably a lot of wisdom. Still, Rick’s stomach churns uneasily. He glances at Casey. “Does this happen a lot?”

Casey looks unamused. “Do we get stabbed and improperly treated before taking ill-advised trips through the jungle without backup?” he asks. “No, this is the first.”

Rick sighs. “I mean, injuries,” he says. “I mean, what you do...”

“Is dangerous,” Casey tells him tersely. “Which is why we work hard to make sure we’re better than everyone else.”

Which is why the rookie stays behind; which is why the mission changes when someone’s in peril. His team is difficult and confusing, but one thing is obvious: they care about each other.

And Rick let Billy get sick on his watch.

He sighs. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t mistakes my coldness for a front,” Casey tells him. “You don’t owe me an apology.”

“Still,” Rick says. “I know this can’t be easy--”

Casey narrows his eyes dangerously. “You don’t know anything about this,” he says. “You’re apologizing to make yourself feel better. I don’t believe in making amends; I believe in doing better. I believe in proving myself. The rest is sentimentality.”

To that, Rick has no reply. He’s right about everything, but mostly this: the rest is sentimentality. Which is why it’s so damn hard.

-o-

When Michael comes back, he’s stoic. His face is pinched, and he doesn’t say much but with a silent nod, he and Casey seem to confirm something. Rick’s not sure what when he realizes that they’re staring at him.

Rick shuffles his feet. “Um, is there something--”

“It’s your turn,” Casey explains.

Tilting his head, Rick isn’t sure whether he should frown or smile. “I, um--”

“They’re only letting one person in at a time,” Michael says. “You helped get him this far....”

“And I think you have something to tell him,” Casey reminds him pointedly.

Rick feels flustered. “But, I mean. He’s your teammate--”

“He’s our teammate,” Michael corrects. “Unless you want to bail on us already?”

“Which, considering that this is partly your fault, would be pretty crappy of you,” Casey says.

This is all reassuring and disconcerting, and Rick finds himself standing stupidly.

“Thirty minutes,” Michael tells him. “Then meet us back here.”

There’s no room for argument, and Rick can’t think of a good reason to anyway. Shutting his mouth, he starts down the hall.

-o-

Rick has never shied away from any task assigned to him. Even the difficult, even the monotonous, even the terrifying -- Rick does what he has to do. That’s just who he is.

But standing at the edge of Billy’s hospital bed, he’s struck by how this is so much harder than the rest.

Because Rick’s not a spy here. He’s not sure what he is except useless.

The room is dim and warm, the machines creating a buzzing noise that is punctuated by beeps and whooshes. The medical equipment is only vaguely familiar to Rick, and he knows it’s all there to help Billy, but it’s still daunting to look at it.

None of that is Billy, though, and Rick thinks that’s the hardest part. On the bed, Billy looks small somehow, lost amid the machines and the equipment that are saving his life. It’s not just Billy’s struggle anymore -- he doesn’t have enough to fight on his own. Billy needs the IVs and the monitors, because he is running out of things to fight with.

In short, he’s losing the battle for his life.

That’s a sobering thought, especially since this is Billy. In the short time Rick’s known the other man, stillness and silence haven’t really been part of the picture. From the first day, Billy’s been larger than life. He’s the only one who’s cracked a smile or acted like he wanted Rick there at all. Granted, he’s also lied to Rick, but Billy’s larger than life personality had at least given Rick a place to start.

There’s none of that here now. Not with Billy’s fever so high; not with the infection so deep.

And it’s Rick’s fault.

He joined the CIA to save lives, but standing there, Rick is struck by the terrifying realization that he may have just cost someone theirs. He may have cost Billy his.

He can be angry that he was left behind; he can be frustrated that his team came back for him. None of it changes the fact that Rick made choices that led to this. This is Rick’s failure.

This is Rick’s responsibility.

Suddenly his chest is tight and his eyes burn. “I’m sorry,” he says, his voice almost faltering in the unnatural stillness. He searches Billy’s face, but there’s no sign of life. “I...thought I could do it. I never meant...”

He never meant anything like this. He’d wanted to do the right thing, but Billy had been right. The heart of a hero wasn’t enough. But it wasn’t just cunning that Rick needed.

It’s everything.

His team may have been full of paranoid bastards, but they’d saved Rick when it mattered. They’d come back for him, every one of them. They’d never let him down.

On his second mission, Rick can’t say the same.

“I’m so sorry,” he says again, wishing it were enough.

His team trusted him with this, and he’d let this happen. They’d been right to come back and maybe they’d been right not to take him in the first place. Trust can be earned -- but that means Rick does have to earn it. What has he done for that yet? Two missions in, and what does he have?

He has a dying teammate and it’s all his fault.

Somehow saying sorry doesn’t cut it.

Rick doesn’t know what does.

-o-

Rick is prompt about leaving Billy’s room, both because he’s a little afraid of what Michael and Casey will do to him if he’s late and because sitting next to Billy is hard. The doctors explained that unconsciousness is going to be a given until his fever breaks and that in truth, it’s the best thing for Billy at this point while his body struggles to fend off the worst.

Rick never realized how dour the CIA would seem without Billy. Sure, his jokes are stupid. Yes, his stories are inane. And he quite clearly lies about anything and everything. But the friendly banter is pleasantly distracting, which Rick realizes sitting in the gloomy silence, is maybe Billy’s point.

It’s easy to underestimate the ODS. They’re a strange group and they hardly look like a highly trained unit. But they all keep surprising him.

And Rick seems to keep doing exactly what they expect.

So at this point, punctuality he figures is at least a way to make amends.

When he arrives in the waiting room, his teammates look neither surprised nor disappointed. Michael’s expression is tired, and Casey glares at him once before brushing by him on his way up the hall.

Rick turns, watching him. “Is he--?”

“He was angry I let you have the second turn,” Michael informs him.

Rick looks back at Michael curiously.

Michael shrugs. “You haven’t been our only new guy,” he explains. “Casey’s been looking out for Billy since his Scottish ass arrived here six years ago.”

This seems funny to Rick, and he sits down, quizzical. “Really?”

“The deeper his scowl, the more he cares,” Michael says. “If he ever starts yelling, you can assume that he’s not so much angry as he is scared.”

Rick’s frown deepens. “Really?”

“Well, okay, and then he’s really angry that he’s scared,” Michael continues. “Either way, it’s not you, kid.”

Rick’s shoulders slump a little. “It is my fault, though,” he says. “All my talk about wanting the responsibility, and I fumbled it.”

Michael takes the admission stoically. Rick expects smugness, maybe even an I-told-you-so. But when Rick looks at Michael, he just looks old. “This is my team,” he says. “All outcomes rest on my shoulders. I’m sorry we had to leave you in that situation.”

“It would have been fine if I’d checked the wound myself,” Rick protests.

“Maybe,” Michael concedes. “But maybe not.” He sighs. “Mistakes happen. What we do -- it’s not about being perfect. It’s about doing the best you can at any given moment and hoping for the best.”

Not for the first time on this mission, Rick finds himself incredulous. “Hope? Billy says you’re a tactical genius, and that’s what it comes down to? Hope?

Michael’s smile is wry but his eyes are sad. “It’s not my favorite part of the job, either, trust me,” he says. “But if you want to talk about the elephant in the room -- that’s it. That’s the thing that haunts us. We plan, we fight, we charm -- and it’s not always enough.”

It’s not said cruelly, but the words are still hard to hear. Rick’s stomach tightens, and he forces himself to swallow. “I still should have checked the wound.”

Michael nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Next time you will. We’re all still learning here.”

“You think there’ll be a next time?”

Michael lets out a slow, even breath. “I hope so,” he says with a nod. “I really hope so.”

-o-

Billy gets worse.

As the day wears on, Michael grows increasingly sullen. The lines on his face are deep and set, and he rarely leaves Billy’s room, no matter what the doctors try to say. Casey takes to pacing more forcefully and when he yells at a nurse for running into him after dinner, Rick knows things are bad.

At Billy’s bedside, he watches as the other man wheezes, his face flushed and skin hot. His kidneys are threatening to shut down. This may be the beginning of the end.

Rick hopes. When there’s nothing left, all that’s left is hope.

-o-

He falls asleep in the waiting room, slumped against the wall with his head propped up on his hand. He knows he’s dozing, but doesn’t have the energy to stop himself as the thickness of sleep fogs over his brain.

He’s in the jungle again, pushing and fighting his way through. He’s lost and he’s scared, and there’s leeches clinging to his face while he runs helplessly in circles.

When all hope seems lost, there’s a rumble and the ground shakes. He’s thrown to the ground and when he looks up, he sees the elephant looming above him. At first, he’s afraid but it stops short of him and shows no sign of moving. Instead, it trumpets and when it looks back down at him, Rick sees his team perched on its back.

Casey looks less than pleased to be riding on the back, while Michael guides the head. Billy waves cheerily from the side.

“Cheer up, son,” Billy croons. “Our greatest fears are sometimes our greatest assets!”

“Easy for you to say,” Casey mutters. “I think she had beans.”

“Look, that’s all well and good, but are we ready to go yet?” Michael asks. “We do have a mission to complete.”

Before Rick can answer, the elephant trumpets again and Rick startles awake.

He blinks a few times, swallowing.

He’s awake.

He’s still in the waiting room.

Then he realizes there’s no elephant trumpeting -- no, it’s the sound of the PA system.

Signalling a code blue in Billy’s room.

-o-

Heart pounding, Rick runs. He moves through the halls like his life depends on it. The adrenaline is pumping again, and he feels like he’s in the car with a Russian operative, like he’s eating a scorpion in the desert, like he’s coming face to face with an elephant.

He’s not backing down.

At Billy’s door, he skids, grabbing the door frame to pull himself in. He’s breathless, throat almost too tight to let air through as he tries to see. At first, there’s just chaos -- a medical team shouting in a rapid, foreign gone, Casey with his fists clenched as he stands dangerously still in the corner, and Michael poised but motionless just beyond the furious action.

Rick stops, not sure what to do. He tries to see around the action, tries to catch a glimpse -- and makes out Billy’s lax form, his exposed chest before a doctor shifts, making an order. Numbly, Rick watches as a nurse turns an alarm off and the doctor steps away with a look of finality.

It’s over, Rick realizes, sudden horror swelling in him.

It’s over.

-o-

At once, the weight of grief is crushing. The sense of loss, the reality of failure, flooded through him with an unexpected and unstoppable force. He felt like he’d been punched in the stomach, and he was vaguely aware of his own trembling as the blood drained from his head and he realized what had happened.

What he’d done.

Billy is dead.

He’d essentially killed Billy.

It’s his fault.

The doctor removes his gloves and looks up. But he’s...smiling?

That can’t be right. That doesn’t make sense.

Something isn’t right. Rick’s missing something, something big--

Michael turns to him, his mouth moving but Rick can’t hear the words. He blinks, watching as Casey’s face goes entirely white and the nurses move around the bed, giving him a view of Billy--

Michael’s hand grips his shoulder. “What’s he saying?” he demands.

But Rick doesn’t know; Rick can’t hear. Rick can’t make sense of it--

The doctor speaks again, eyes warm and light.

“Translation,” Michael says, seething a little now. “Now.

Rick furrows his brow, looking at Billy. The Scot is still lifeless on the bed, and his face is pale. He looks horrible, but...

Casey rounds on him, hands firm on his shoulders as he shakes Rick, almost violently. “Tell us what he’s saying, or I swear to God, I will eviscerate you with my bare hands right here in this hospital room.”

Rick blinks, mouth hanging open. Stunned, he looks at the doctor, who is equally stunned. The man hesitates, as if not sure whether to continue, but when Rick does nothing, he says in fractured English, “He is okay.”

Casey’s fingers are crushing, and the grip doesn’t abate, not even as Michael steps forward with a glance back to Rick. “Ask him what happened.”

Numbly, Rick’s tongue forms the words.

The doctor seems encouraged and spouts of more quickly in his native language. Rick listens and tries to understand.

He looks at Billy.

“Well?” Casey asks, giving him another shake.

Rick barely remembers to breathe. “He’s okay,” he says, as if trying to believe it himself. He sees what he missed now -- the rhythm on the now-silent heart monitor, the even rise and fall of Billy’s chest, the pallid skin no longer burning with fever. “His fever broke.”

“Then what was all this?” Michael asks.

The doctor continues, as if he understands now.

Rick almost laughs. “Shock of recovery,” he says. “It happens sometimes with patients who are suffering from really high fevers. He was so close to organ failure that the sudden break in temperate sent his system into a shock. But he’s better now. It’ll take some time, but they think he’s going to be okay.”

-o-

The news is good, but the fight is long from over. Billy’s fever has broken, but it’s still high, and he’s still struggling to fend off the lingering infection. He’s not in immediate danger, but he needs continued rest and antibiotics to give his body the best chance possible.

It’s not a death watch anymore, though. Rick takes comfort in that.

In fact, Rick finds strength in that.

Michael and Casey seem just as relieved as he is, and after Casey lets Rick go, the tension seems to abate. When Rick says he’ll take the morning shift, they both agree and Rick finds himself at Billy’s bedside.

Which is where he belongs. His team trusts him; this is a responsibility he can handle.

Settled next to Billy’s bed, he just grins. “It’s under control now,” he promises. “So whenever you’re ready, we’ll be here waiting.”

His teammates are paranoid, lying bastards.

But Rick’s not.

Every word is true. He’ll make sure of that.

-o-

By the end of the day, Rick is tired and sore -- but gratefully so. It’s reassuring to see Billy sleep now -- his labored breathing has eased and the sweat doesn’t soak his hair anymore -- and after how close they’d come, Rick will take any reassurance he can get. Plus, there’s a sense of control. He understands now that he’s been left in charge, and he knows the importance of that. Billy needs someone there for him -- and Casey and Michael need someone to be their backup.

That’s Rick.

He’d thought that wasn’t good enough before, but if there’s one thing he’s learned from this mission, it’s that no matter what part he plays, he has to play it well. His team relies on him; they need him.

Except for the fact that Billy almost died, Rick thinks that makes for a pretty good outcome all together.

When lunch passes, Rick figures his teammates fell asleep and got something substantial to eat. When dinner approaches, he takes solace in the fact that they’re really letting him take the wheel this time. But as evening rounds pass and Michael and Casey don’t show up, Rick is starting to wonder.

It’s all still good news for Billy, though. His temperature is holding steady at a moderate degree. He’s still unconscious, for lack of a better word, but his vitals are rebounding. There’s a slight rattle in his lungs that could be the start of pneumonia, but the antibiotics seem to be doing their job and the doctors are still optimistic about the long term prognosis.

Michael and Casey will be relieved. Rick wants to tell them.

Except they’re not here.

There’s trust...

And then there’s instincts.

Rick knows what his team has told him, but maybe Billy said it best -- they’re paranoid bastards, they say a lot of things they don’t mean.

Something’s wrong.

He’s about to get out his phone, when there’s a sound at the door. Rick looks up and sighs in relief.

“I was wondering about you two,” he says as Michael comes, Casey right behind him. “I know I said you guys could take some time off, but....”

He trails off. The feeling of relief abates, and the sense of unease returns. Something’s still not right. Michael and Casey are here, but they’ve hardly stepped in the room. They’ve changed clothes and showered, but they look fully geared up. Casey’s socks are rolled up over his pants.

Rick stops, cocking his head. “You’re...leaving?”

Michael’s lips settle into a firm line, and he nods. “We still have a mission.”

It’s the truth, but it’s not really the truth Rick was expecting. His mouth falls open. “But what about the team? What about the things that really matter?” he asks, feeling his indignation flare.

“We came back; we got Billy help,” Michael says. “Now we have to finish the job we came here for in the first place.”

“The CIA tends to frown upon spies going overseas and not doing the mission,” Casey says.

“Okay,” Rick says, nodding slowly as he tries to make sense of that. He glances toward Billy. “I can probably be ready to go in an hour. If you guys can sit with Billy, I’ll just...”

He trails off again. Michael is looking at him plainly and Casey almost looks amused.

Rick’s shoulders fall. “Oh, come on!” he says. “You’re leaving me behind again?”

“I thought we’d made it clear that’s not what this was about,” Michael says.

“You guys left me here all day so you could plan your way back, didn’t you?” Rick accuses. “That whole talk earlier -- that whole thing about trust -- that was a lie, wasn’t it?”

“It wasn’t a lie,” Michael says.

Casey makes a face. “At least not entirely.”

Rick glares. “See.”

“No, you see, Martinez,” Michael says. “We trusted you with Billy’s life once. That didn’t go so well but you haven’t heard one ounce of righteous indignation from us.”

Casey huffs.

Michael rolls his eyes. “Okay, so maybe you’ve heard an ounce,” he concedes. “But it’s not without merit, and I think you know that. And yet, we trusted you again today.”

“Yeah, after you knew he was getting better,” Rick protests.

“That’s what we thought before,” Michael says.

“We tend to assume disaster is always looming,” Casey says.

Rick shakes his head. “You lied to me.”

“We were giving you a chance to prove yourself,” Michael says. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

It is, but Rick knows better than to admit it now.

“Because this is your chance,” Michael says. “Trust can be earned.”

“Trust has to be earned,” Casey clarifies.

“Earn it now,” Michael says. “Stay here with Billy; make sure he’s okay.”

It’s a damn good argument, and they know it. Rick feels his resolve wavering. “But the mission...”

“Just changed,” Michael says. Then he shrugs. “Again.”

Rick knows when he’s beat. “What if you need backup?”

Michael smirks. “What if you need backup?”

Rick glowers.

Michael chuckles. “This is the easy part. In and out and we’re done.”

“Yeah,” Casey says. “Really, you’re the lucky one -- no leeches in this hospital.”

“But Billy,” he says, eyes going back to their recumbent fourth member.

“Is in your hands now,” Michael says. “Don’t screw it up.”

Casey narrows his gaze. “Or we’ll screw you up.”

“That’s really encouraging,” Rick says sarcastically. “Thanks.”

“Anytime,” Casey says.

Michael claps him on the shoulder. “That’s what teammates are for.”

-o-

There’s no further argument. Michael and Casey leaves as quickly as they come, and Rick finds himself alone in the hospital room once again.

The feeling of uselessness is all too familiar. The letdown of inaction is becoming a recurring theme. He feels betrayed and disheartened and annoyed that he ever believed that something had changed between them. The ODS lies and manipulates, and Rick wants to think he’s part of them, but he’s just another pawn to them.

He wants to earn their trust, but it’s increasingly clear to him that they have no interest in gaining his.

Now, here he is. Holding a vigil for a relative stranger, sitting idle while someone else does his actual job. When Billy wakes up, Rick’s going to have to be the one to explain what happened. He’s going to have to be the one to explain how they got here and why they’re alone again.

It’s not fair.

Rick wants to rail against that, but there’s no one to listen. There’s nothing to do.

Except sit -- and wait.

Because apparently that’s what teammates are for.

-o-

Rick would like to think he’s above sulking. Perhaps he’s brooding. Maybe he’s thinking critically about the mission status.

Or maybe he’s just pouting like a child, because that’s what it feels like.

That’s not all he does, of course. He talks to the doctors and nurses, and he sleeps on and off for most of the night. In the morning, Billy’s fever hasn’t changed, but all his other vitals are showing steady improvement so they take him off the critical list and arrange to move him to a less intensive ward.

This is good news.

But when dinner comes and Billy is settled into his new bed, Rick still finds himself sulking. Michael and Casey are probably back on site now; even Jonah is out there in the rainforest, just steps from the action. Billy is nurturing an injury procured in the line of duty.

And Rick is sitting stupidly reading magazines in a foreign language. This time, there’s not even a perimeter to check or an asset to talk to. It’s just Rick and a medical team and a sleeping man.

He thinks it shouldn’t be this way. After everything, it really shouldn’t be. His team trusts him, but they don’t, and Rick’s not sure what parts are lies and what parts are truth. Every time he thinks he has it figured out, the ODS does something inane and throws it all on his head. They’d put Billy first; then they’d put the mission first. And then they’d pulled whatever line best served their purpose and pulled Rick’s heartstrings until he did what they wanted with a flourish.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

Rick’s lost track of how many times they’ve fooled him.

Worse, what is he going to tell Billy when he wakes up? About his role in this? About where Michael and Casey are? About how they came back for him and left him all over again? There’s no conversation Rick can envision that isn’t awkward.

It makes Rick want to leave, honestly. He wants to go back to their hotel room, take a hot shower and forget this.

But he can’t blow it off. Last time he took something lightly, Billy almost died.

So Rick is going to stay. By himself. Awkward and useless. Angsty and frustrated.

Sulking all the while.

-o-

It’s almost night again, and Rick has managed to prop himself back in a chair, tipping just enough to recline his head when something moves.

Half asleep as he is, Rick’s training kicks in pretty quick and he startles back to awareness.

Which is enough to knock him unceremoniously from the chair. He hits the ground hair, the plastic chair clattering beside him. It’s a ruckus, and when he stands up, he’s thankful there was no one around to see that.

Except there is. There’s Billy, who is supposed to be unconscious and recovering but is awake and looking at him, a bit perplexed and completely exhausted. “Did you mean to do that?” he asks, and his voice is hardly more than a whisper.

Rick hastily picks up the chair. “No, I, um,” he stutters before abandoning that train of thought. “You’re awake!”

Billy’s eyelids flutter a few times, and it seems to be a struggle to stay awake. Somehow, he still smiles. “Just in time for your spectacular performance,” he says. Then he looks around, forehead furrowing. “Hospital?”

Rick moves closer, feeling like he should apologize. “Yeah, sorry,” he says. “You got pretty sick.”

Billy glances down the length of his body, grimacing a little. “It seems so,” he murmurs, eye flicking back toward Rick. “You got me here?”

Rick pauses, considering his answer. It occurs to him that he doesn’t know how aware Billy was at any point during the journey. When Rick loaded him up, he was pretty out of it. It’s entirely possible he doesn’t know what happened. “What do you remember?”

Billy’s eyebrows knit together. “Not much, I’m afraid,” he says. “Movement and pain.” He cocks his head. “Elephants?”

Rick can’t help but smile. “Well, at least you remember the good parts.”

Billy chuffs. “Then I’m not sure I want to know the bad,” he says, looking around again at the room. “How bad off am I, anyway?”

“Better now,” Rick says readily. “Your fever broke about a day ago. You’ve still got a nasty infection, but they seem to be ahead of it for now.”

Billy seems to process this. “A day ago?” he asks. “How long...?”

“Just a few days,” Rick tells him honestly.

This answer makes Billy frown. “The mission?”

Of course Billy would ask that. He nearly died from an infection and he doesn’t care about his prognosis. He doesn’t care that he’s still at risk for pneumonia or that his kidneys very nearly shut down. He doesn’t care that he could still be looking at a good month of recovery time, assuming he doesn’t have any secondary infections.

All Billy cares about is the mission.

Rick sighs. “Still on,” he says. “The guys took a break to help me get you back, but they should be back at it now.”

This registers fresh concern on Billy’s face. “They came back?”

Hesitating, Rick nods. “Yeah, they came when I said I was taking you in,” he admits. “It’s a good thing, too. We ran into a bit of trouble on the way out.”

“Our friends from before?” Billy asks.

Rick nods.

Billy’s face goes white.

“We made it, though,” Rick assures him. “Jonah’s car, not so much, but we’re all fine.”

“For now,” Billy says. “They went back out into that jungle, though. After a second skirmish, tensions are going to be high.”

It’s a fact that Rick hasn’t quite considered, but now that Billy says it, it makes a lot of sense.

Billy gathers a breath, eye darting toward the door. “We need to get out there--”

“Whoa,” Rick says, putting a restraining hand on Billy’s shoulder. “You’re doing better, but you’re not out of the woods. They left me in charge of you, so what I say, goes.”

Billy gives him an imploring look. “It’s not just our friends,” he says. “The entire mission is much more high risk. With this kind of activity, everyone involve is going to suspect a trap. Michael and Casey could be compromised. We have to go--”

Billy tries to lift himself again, but this time, the pain stops him. He curls over with a gasp, and when he looks up, his eyes are wet and wide.

Cursing, Rick tries to brace the other man in order to keep him still. “I know I’m the new guy, but you need to listen to me,” he says. “You can’t leave. You need to stay in that bed, and if I have to strap you down to keep you here, I will.”

Billy’s breathing is labored as he meets Rick’s gaze again. “I have to stay,” he says with a slow nod. “You don’t.”

Rick’s heart skips a beat. “What?”

“I may be out of this fight, but you’re not,” he says. “You can go.”

Rick snorts. “They left me in charge of you.”

Billy makes a face. “You said it yourself, as long as I stay in bed, I’m fine.”

“Probably.”

“And if not, there’s an entire medical team here that is far more fit to take care of me than you are,” Billy tells him.

“But Michael--”

“The bastard is protecting you just as much as me,” he says. “He knows how dangerous reentry would be at this point and he already blames himself for my current state.”

It’s Rick’s turn to balk. “I’m the one who let it get infected.”

“And he’s the one who drugged me into oblivion,” Billy says. “You’re not thinking like a man with a God complex. If Michael can’t trust others, that means he can’t blame them either. He thinks the entire world revolves around him and his decisions. He blames himself for this mission, and he probably can’t face risking the new guy yet again.”

In all of Rick’s brooding, he hasn’t quite considered that. That Michael doesn’t blame him; that there’s a way to spin this that isn’t his fault. That it’s not that his team doesn’t trust him, but that they don’t trust themselves with him. “But...,” he tries, but no words come.

“But nothing,” Billy says. “The sentiment of it all is quite lovely -- staying with the injured teammate -- but you have to know when to call bullshit, lad. And right now, Michael Dorset is full of it.”

Rick doesn’t know what to say. “But they trusted me to stay here.”

“Rubbish,” Billy says. “Trust isn’t doing exactly what is asked of you. Trust is doing what’s best for the team. Michael put our well being ahead of his own. Now that I’m well enough, you can return the favor.”

The words are like a rush of adrenaline, coursing through his body. Rick’s fingers start to tingle and he wets his lips. “But won’t it be dangerous?”

“Aye,” Billy says. “But I’ve seen you in action. As long as you steer clear of the elephants, there’s nothing that can’t stop you as long as you’re smart.”

“But I don’t even know what I’m doing,” Rick protests.

“You’re backup,” Billy says. “Move back toward the destination, look for signs of trouble. If all appears well, slow your pace and keep your distance.”

“And if all isn’t well?” Rick asks.

“Go in firing,” Billy advises.

For a moment, Rick’s not sure what to say. He’s not sure what to do. “You’re telling me to defy an order?”

“I’m telling you to go where you’re needed,” Billy tells him earnestly. “No one will fault you for that.”

Rick nods. “Okay,” he says. Then he gets to his feet, nodding again. “Okay.”

Billy smiles reassuringly. “Excellent,” he says. Then he pauses. “Just...be careful.”

“I thought you said I was a trained operative,” Rick says.

“And so am I,” Billy says. “That hardly makes us infallible. Use restraint. You can be a hero, but don’t be a martyr.”

“Okay,” Rick says. “I think I can do that.”

“You promise me,” Billy says. “You promise me that you’ll come back.”

Rick smiles. “Promise me that you’ll stay in that bed until I get back.”

Billy returns the smile. “Deal.”

“Deal,” Rick agrees.

“Now go,” Billy says. “Before I regret this.”

“Okay,” Rick says, and he turns to leave before he regrets it either.

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: September 26th, 2013 11:09 pm (UTC)
What a load of serious angst!

Man, I'm exhausted. Between the action, Michael and Casey's rescue, Rick's monumental case of guilt, angst and brooding all rolled together, Billy's setback, then his recovery which came with alarms that signaled death, the split second of mourning, more Rick pouting and bemoaning then Rick going off defying one set of orders for another set of orders from a man who's just recovered from near death. *WHEW! Is that a proper recap or what? And there are 2 more chapters to go! Wow...Like I said, I'm exhausted. It's BRILLIANT as Billy would say.

Fave part (shocker):

For a moment, Rick’s not sure what to say. He’s not sure what to do. “You’re telling me to defy an order?”

“I’m telling you to go where you’re needed,” Billy tells him earnestly. “No one will fault you for that.”

Rick nods. “Okay,” he says. Then he gets to his feet, nodding again. “Okay.”

Billy smiles reassuringly. “Excellent,” he says. Then he pauses. “Just...be careful.”

“I thought you said I was a trained operative,” Rick says.

“And so am I,” Billy says. “That hardly makes us infallible. Use restraint. You can be a hero, but don’t be a martyr.”

“Okay,” Rick says. “I think I can do that.”

“You promise me,” Billy says. “You promise me that you’ll come back.”

Rick smiles. “Promise me that you’ll stay in that bed until I get back.”

Billy returns the smile. “Deal.”

“Deal,” Rick agrees.

“Now go,” Billy says. “Before I regret this.”

“Okay,” Rick says, and he turns to leave before he regrets it either.

--I LOVE that Billy makes RIck promise to come back, to be a hero, but not a martyr, a difference that's definitively pointed. It was sweet! Of course I also love that Billy actually tries to get out of bed to finish the mission.

I better rest up for the next chapters. I suspect more action is in store.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 28th, 2013 02:20 am (UTC)
Re: What a load of serious angst!
chaos team more

Action! I always worry my fics are boring so I'm glad that I at least kept things moving -- even a bit too much so :)

Thanks!

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