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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: Lines in the Sand (2/2)

March 6th, 2014 (05:49 am)
aggravated

feeling: aggravated

Notes in PART ONE.

-o-



Rick was reading on possible chemical reactions, when Billy made a noise on the bed. He’d made lots of noise over the last hours -- mostly whimpers and desperately murmurs -- but this one was different.

It was a deep grunt, almost like a belch, and Rick was on his feet when he saw Billy’s body convulse violently.

Swearing, Rick barely had time to pick up the waste basket, putting it on the floor next to Billy as he frantically rolled the Scotsman onto his side. As he did, Billy heaved in earnest, retching forcefully as bile came up.

Rick made a face, holding him steady as he nudged the trash bin closer. The stench tested his own stomach, but he didn’t have time to indulge his nausea, all of his effort into keeping Billy from flopping off the side of the bed as he continued to vomit.

When he was done, Billy lay on the cot, shaky and spent. His half-lidded eyes stared sightlessly ahead while he panted heavily. Carefully, Rick adjusted the blanket, pulling it higher and tucking it around Billy as he eased the other man back onto the pillows.

Billy’s eyelids started to droop, and Rick ghosted a hand over his forehead, still flinching at the growing heat. “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay now.”

Whether or not Billy believed him -- or even heard him for that matter -- the Scot slipped back to sleep. Rick sat there for a long moment, watching as his breathing deepened although it remained strained and fast.

Finally, he sighed, getting to his feet wearily and making his way to the bathroom. At the toilet, he tipped the trash in and the slimy bile spilled out. Rick moved to the sink to rinse the bin, but when he glanced back at the toilet, he froze.

Billy’s stomach was nearly empty, but there was more than yellow slime. The water was stained red with blood.

Rick felt his knees go weak and he had to brace himself against the counter. Because Billy was sick; Billy was feverish; Billy was throwing up blood.

The simple fact was that it wasn’t okay at all.

-o-

The silence was hard to take.

The noise wasn’t much better. As the fever ebbed and flowed, Billy’s consciousness turned with it, and when the fever burned higher, it left Billy frantic in its clutches. The higher it got; the more desperate Billy was -- and the less Rick could do except be there.

“No,” Billy begged, tears streaming down his face now. His brow is drenched, his hair dark and matted as he twists on the cot. “Please, just -- no. Make it stop. Please. Please.

The last plea broke on a sob, and Billy shook as he cried.

Rick’s heart wrenched, and he tightened his grip. “I know, and I’m doing what I can,” he said, willing Billy to hear him, to believe him. “You’re doing great.”

Billy shook his head, face contorted in genuine agony. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed. “Please, I can’t -- please. Make it stop.”

The hallucinations before had been scary -- seeing Billy lost in another time.

These delirious rantings, however -- were downright unnerving. Because Billy wasn’t reliving the past; he wasn’t imagining a mission. The pain was so bad that it was all he could focus on. Billy wasn’t begging for his friends anymore; he was pleading for himself. That subtle shift told Rick more than he wanted to know.

It meant that Billy was at the end of what he could handle. Billy gave everything to his team, and only when there was nothing left was he worried about himself.

Which was why Rick knew this was rapidly going from bad to worse.

Billy strained in vain, bright eyes roving. “Please.

Rick held fast; he didn’t waver. That was all he had to offer.

He was starting to think it wouldn’t be enough.

-o-

Rick looked at his phone again.

It had only been hours since they’d broken into the lab; less than that since Michael and Casey had left to find a cure. But the minutes were torturous, moving with agonizing monotony. He knew it would take time -- to set up a kidnapping and then to execute it, not to mention coercing their subject into giving them what they wanted -- so he knew they probably wouldn’t call yet.

But they needed to. Because Billy was getting worse.

Rick had given up on going over the photos; he’d even stopped looking for stopgaps online. There were answers there, but they weren’t the ones Rick wanted. All the evidence simply told him that Billy was probably going to die.

As if Rick needed to be reminded.

Just being in the room with Billy was reminder enough. The fever was still climbing, burning through his body with a frightening intensity that left Billy frantic and comatose in equal turns. He hadn’t thrown up again, but Rick also hadn’t been able to force any water into him since this entire thing began. But his brow was still slick, so at least dehydration wasn’t a problem yet.

Not that it mattered.

Dropping his head and running a hand roughly through his hair, Rick was starting to wonder if anything mattered like he’d thought it did.

-o-

Rick was so afraid of the worst that when Billy opened his eyes, it took him a minute to notice. He went still, hovering in his position next to Billy’s bed, waiting to see if the Scot was going to throw up again.

But instead, Billy blinked a few times. His brow wrinkled and he swallowed, making a face of obvious discomfort. When he rolled his head to the side, his eyes were still glassy with fever but they locked on Rick’s with a startling coherency.

“Where...,” Billy started, but he had to stop, swallowing forcibly again with a grimace before trying again. “Where are we?”

The disorientation and confusion was evident, and Billy’s voice was a far cry from its normal, vibrant timbre. But there was recognition in his eyes; he knew who Rick was. Which meant...

Rick almost laughed in relief. “Oh, thank God,” he said, scooting the chair closer. “What do you remember?”

Billy had to think harder than he should, but he finally nodded. “The man in the lab,” he recalled slowly. “He dosed me?”

“Yeah,” Rick said. “We took the sample, so Michael and Casey are going to find out what it is and what we need to make you better.”

Billy nodded vaguely.

Rick leaned a little closer, placing a reassuring hand on Billy’s arm and squeezing. “But hey, you’re doing great,” he said. “Maybe it’s going to pass right out of your system.”

At that, Billy smiled. “It’s so nice,” he said, still wheezing a little while he found the words, “to have another optimist...on the team.”

Rick grinned. “Well, I’ve had a good mentor.”

Billy’s eyes fluttered and his body stiffened for a moment as he turned his head back away to cough. It was a small cough, but when it failed to work, Billy coughed again, this time the effort racking his body. It still didn’t work, though, and as the coughing continued -- still gaining speed -- Rick frowned.

“Hey,” he said, reaching out to Billy’s shoulder, pulling him back slightly. “You okay?”

Billy’s only answer was a cough. Concerned, Rick stood, working himself until he was over Billy, pulling the Scot’s hands away. Finally, the coughing abate, and Billy went limp under his touch, mouth open and eyes shut.

Given what he’d been through, that was probably expected.

But there was more.

Because there was a smear of red trickling from his nose, gathering on his upper lip and the fresh tear tracks from his eyes are stained red. He was bleeding, Rick realized. From the nose and the eyes -- hell, even the mouth if earlier counted. Blood loss from the orifices was a common symptom of severe chemical poisoning -- Rick had read about that during his research. It was usually one of the harbingers of decline; sometimes only preceding death.

Apparently Rick was right to fear for the worst after all.

-o-

There was nothing to do.

This had been true in the beginning, but Rick gave up all pretenses. He pulled his chair close to Billy’s side, and watched. Waited. Hoped.

Feared.

Because Billy was getting worse. After his brief bout of consciousness, it was clear the other man was slipping faster. He no longer ranted coherently, but was reduced to whimpers and moans between his desperate, reedy breaths. The entire cot was soaked, and Billy couldn’t lay still long enough to keep a cool compress or even the sheets in place. Bloody tracks were dried on his face, leaving his visage macabre, but there was nothing Rick could do.

So he watched. He waited. He hoped.

Michael and Casey would be back soon; they had to be back. They would fix this.

They would fix Billy.

They had to.

-o-

Then, the seizure started.

It started off with retching, but as Rick moved to grab the trashcan, he realized it was different this time. The shaking was too widespread, spreading from Billy’s legs and moving up his torso and jerking his arms. By the time Rick realized what was happening, Billy was convulsing in earnest, his head bouncing on the thin pillow as the seizure took hold.

Rick moved back to Billy’s side, but found himself impotent. Vaguely, he remembered to roll Billy on his side, keeping a hand on Billy’s shoulder to keep him from rolling off.

But there was no way to ease the shaking.

There was nothing.

Not when Billy’s lips started to go blue, the whites of his eyes visible as the pupils rolled back. Billy was dying -- his life slipping through Rick’s fingers -- and all he could do was watch.

It was agonizing; it was horrifying. Rick found himself mumbling the words to a prayer he didn’t even remember, begging for Michael and Casey to come back, begging God for any kind of reprieve, to make the seizure stop, to save Billy’s life.

He’d do anything to fix this.

Anything.

-o-

It ended as suddenly as it began. The tremors tapered off, and then Billy went horribly still, lips still tinged with blue as he lay prone on the cot. Rick’s fingers were shaking as he reached down to take Billy’s pulse, and the erratic heartbeat was hardly reassuring.

The seizure was over.

Rick just feared the rest would be over soon, too.

-o-

Billy feel eerily silent in the aftermath, the stillness lingering long after the tremors had faded. Part of him knew this was the body’s natural response; it was silly to expect Billy to wake back up.

But it didn’t really make him feel any better.

His nerves were getting the best of him, and he found himself jittering anxiously in his seat. When it all got too much, he took up pacing again, but this time he didn’t look out the window or check the door. This time, he merely walked to stave off the pressing reality of what was happening.

That Billy was dying.

That Michael and Casey were gone; that Rick was here; that it might all be too late.

Worried, he viciously attacked his fingernails, chewing anxiously at them. Billy was going to die. He was going to die while Rick paced and did nothing.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

They were the ODS. They defied the odds. They did the impossible. Because they fought harder, they did what it took.

I promise you we’ll save Billy’s life.

I’ll do anything.

It couldn’t go like this…

Suddenly, the door opened, and Rick turned, eyes wide and hopeful as Michael and Casey walked through the door.

Because maybe they had one more miracle; maybe it didn’t have to be like this at all; maybe the impossible was within their reach one more time.

-o-

Michael evaded his gaze, stopping a few paces inside the door. Casey closed the door behind them, face stiff and blank.

Rick waited. “So?” he finally prompted. “Did you get it? Where is it?”

Michael worked his jaw, glancing past Rick to Billy. “How is he?”

Rick scoffed. “Bad,” he replied tersely. “How do you think he is? This is why we can’t stand here making chit chat. So, where is it?”

Michael looked down again, and even Casey didn’t look him in the eye.

And then Rick realized.

“You didn’t get it,” he said, the words oddly light and surreal on his tongue. When Michael didn’t contradict him, his throat started to close up and he laughed raggedly. “You didn’t get it.”

Michael gathered a breath. “It’s not that simple--”

Rick laughed again, almost hysterical this time. All the waiting; all the hoping; all the belief...and Billy was going to die anyway. The realization left him light headed and giddy with terror. “It is that simple,” he said. “Billy’s dying and you didn’t get the antidote. So now there’s nothing we can do.”

Except wait for the inevitable.

Waiting with hope had been hard. Waiting knowing what was coming...it was almost unthinkable. Rick’s stomach turned and his knees felt weak, the edges of his vision starting to tunnel.

“It’s not,” Michael said, more insistent this time. “We didn’t get it, but we know how.”

Rick snorted, not even trying to hide his incredulity. “We’re sort of out of time here,” he said, gesturing wildly at Billy. “I mean, with the fever, the bleeding, and the seizure, I’m pretty sure Billy needs Plan A.”

Michael’s face darkened. “And Plan A is still the same,” he retorted. “Kidnap our mark, coerce him into working with us, obtaining the antidote and saving Billy’s life.”

“Yeah, if it’s so simple, then why are you were without the antidote,” Rick shot back.

“We missed him leaving on his nightly trip,” Casey said. “So we camped out in front of his place all day to wait until he came out to go home.”

Rick made a face, shaking his head. “Yeah?”

“So he hasn’t gone home yet,” Michael said. “We’ve got another hour--”

“An hour Billy might not have,” Rick retorted. “And besides, why are you here?”

Casey glanced at Michael, and Michael sighed. “We got tagged by local police,” he admitted. “Our covers held, but if they catch us in the area again, they’ll arrest us for sure.”

“Which means we can’t properly follow our mark,” Casey clarified.

“Which means,” Michael said, slowly and purposefully now, eyes on Rick. “You need to.”

-o-

The thing was, it wasn’t even a surprise. Rick had learned early on that the ODS was fond of improvisation, and that even though they each had a distinct role on the team, that flexibility was the name of their game. They were all ready for any challenge, and Rick had stepped up to the plate from day one.

He nodded. “Okay.”

Michael was actually surprised. “Okay?”

“Yeah,” Rick said. “What did you think I’d say.”

“To be honest, we thought it’d be a hard sell,” Casey said.

“Or that you’d at least read us the riot act and tell us what you were changing,” Michael said.

Rick furrowed his brow.

“I mean, you still do have to kidnap a civilian and forcefully convince him -- probably against his will -- to help us,” Michael reminded him.

That cold, hard truth had solidified in his brain a while ago. It still bothered him, he supposed. But...

He shook his head. “Billy’s dying,” he replied. “I’ll do anything.”

For a moment, Michael just held his gaze. “Okay, then,” he said, moving forward and handing the papers. “This is our mark. He’s currently praying -- which he does for about two hours every night.”

Rick took the files, scanning them quickly. “You were going to wait until he got back to his place to nab him?”

“Seemed like the best plan,” Michael said. “If we hit him outside of his apartment, we can use his own space to contain him.”

“And he has underground parking,” Casey said. “So if we need to make a field trip....”

Rick nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Is that everything?”

Michael looked at Casey. He shrugged.

“What about the syringe?” Rick pressed.

Casey lifted his eyebrows just slightly. Michael tilted his head. “You sure about that?”

Rick’s face hardened, gaze flitting toward Billy. “Like I said,” he continued. “I’ll do anything -- and I mean it.”

-o-

During most missions, Rick was constantly going over the plan in his head. He would stay up late, memorize the details, and spent his time on approach muttering the relevant bits under his breath. It earned him eye rolls and snorts of indignation, but when Rick was putting his life on the line, he figured it was worth it. He’d never understood how his teammates could be so quiet about it all -- even Billy found a certain calm before the storm right before a mission went hot.

Rick had never understood it.

Until now.

It wasn’t that he was certain of the details -- this time, he was less certain than ever. It was just that he knew there was no room for compromise. There was no point in going over the details -- the details didn’t matter. All that mattered was getting the job done.

All that mattered was getting in and getting out.

All that mattered was Billy.

As far as plans went, this one was sparse. He had a name; he had a photo; he had a location. There was no map of the ins and outs; no built in escape plan. He had no backup, and he had a gun, a file, and a syringe. Normally, such sparing accoutrements would make him nervous. Today, however, it didn’t matter.

He parked the car a few blocks away -- Michael and Casey had been tagged already, which meant their car probably had been put in the system, too, just in case. To make up for time, Rick jogged through the alleys to get to the most accessible point. He glanced at his watch, pushing his legs faster. He was almost out of time.

Turning onto the main street, he slowed his pace to fit in with the quiet foot traffic, ducking his head slightly to hurry along as inconspicuously as possible. The doorway to the mark’s building was exposed, but there was an abandoned storefront a few doors down that went deep into a stairwell. He would have to bank on their mark crossing the street before this point -- if he crossed later, Rick would be screwed -- but it was as good a position as any.

Really, it would be better to pick a position inside the building, but it would take too much time to circumvent the security measures. His best bet was waiting for the mark, capturing him on the outside, and then forcing him at gunpoint to access the building and the apartment -- hoping like hell the man didn’t put up a fight.

If he did, Rick would be forced to employ alternative measures.

At this point, he didn’t even know what that meant.

But, as he glanced down the street, he wondered if he was about to find out.

-o-

The mark was right on time.

Rick hadn’t been there for more than five minutes when he recognized the man coming down the street. It was a small victory that he had already crossed, so he would meander by directly next to Rick. Better still, the street was still quiet. There was a woman in a burka up the way, but her head was down and she seemed focused on other things. Two men were talking at the far corner; their vantage point wasn’t ideal, but Rick could hope that they were engrossed enough that they wouldn’t pay heed to any scuffle that was about to ensue.

And maybe it wouldn’t come to that. Rick could hope.

Hope didn’t get him very far, though. Hope wouldn’t save Billy. Hope wouldn’t kidnap a civilian.

Now wasn’t the time for hope.

The man approached and Rick crouched lower in the shadows.

Now was the time to act.

-o-

Rick knew how this was supposed to go.

Not just this attack -- because pulling a man unwittingly off the street and subduing him in the shadows was kind of a crapshoot, no matter how you looked at it -- but his career at the CIA. He was one of the good guys; he was supposed to fight the good fight; to make the world a little safer; to protect his country. He’d never envisioned it to be easy, but he’d always imagined it to be good.

He’d never imagined this.

The mark -- Majid, Rick remembered vaguely -- was a civilian scientist employed by a private corporation. There was no indication that he knew the full extent of his work’s intended use, or even that he was an active part in weaponizing the materials. The man was, by all standards, innocent, and Rick had never presumed guilt where there was no proof.

Yet, here he was, not exactly executing a sentence -- but worse. Using a man for his own personal purposes. Kidnapping, imposing bodily harm.

In short, this wasn’t the job Rick signed up for.

But it was the job he was going to do.

He waited until Majid was walking right by him and then he lashed out from the shadows. It was a quick, fluid movement, grabbing the man by the arm and jerking him back and pulling him close, using one hand to wrap around the man’s mouth before using the other to hold him tight.

The man bucked immediately, his mouth opening before Rick’s hand found purchase. He could feel Majid’s breath hot against his fingers, even as he clamped down to stifle the yelp of protest.

For a moment, it seemed to work. Majid flailed, but Rick was in control, dragging him back deeper into the walkway, positioning them far enough away so Rick could reach down, find his gun--

And then Majid bucked again. Rick bared down, but before he could regain full control, his hand slipped and Majid took a ragged breath before opening his mouth.

Frantic, Rick moved his hand back in position but it was too late.

Majid didn’t yell, though.

He bit.

Tears sprung to Rick’s eyes and his grip loosened, giving Majid the time he needed to pull away. The pain was more intense than he expected, but it didn’t matter.

What mattered was that Rick knew how this was supposed to go.

And he’d be damned if Majid screwed that up now.

Enraged, Rick charged again, this time tackling Majid to the ground. They rolled and Rick found himself on top, Majid splayed beneath him with wide eyes. His instincts screamed to knock the other man out, but he didn’t have time to rouse him to consciousness. Instead, he pulled his gun in one fluid motion, leveling it without hesitation at the man’s forehead.

“Enough,” Rick said in perfect, unaccented Arabic. “We need to talk.”

Majid was panting, eyes trained on the gun before flicking to Rick’s face. He swallowed, seeming to weigh his options. His eyes flitted to the street.

Rick leaned forward, lowering the gun until it was almost pressed between Majid’s eyes. He sneered. “Now.”

-o-

The plan had been to take Majid back to his house. It would be a secure location; it would give them privacy, which would give them time.

The plan, however, wasn’t going to work now. Majid was placated, but Rick had a feeling that once he moved the gun, that wouldn’t be the case for long. The street wasn’t exactly crowded, but it just took one bystander and the whole thing fell apart.

Getting arrested in Lebanon was a real fear, but it was the idea of leaving Billy to die that really motivated him.

Steeling himself, Rick eased back, keeping his arm taut so his aim didn’t waver. As he moved, he pulled Majid up with him, wary of the man’s slightest movements. “Say anything, and I will kill you,” Rick said.

There was a flicker of defiance in the man’s dark eyes, but when Rick thrust the gun toward him again, he swallowed.

Pausing, Rick glanced around. He didn’t know where the staircase went, but he did know the shop was empty. It had a bit too much visibility to the street, but that was a chance he’d have to take. There was no time for this to be perfect.

Rick nodded back. “Come on,” he said, turning Majid so he was in front of him. He drove the gun into the man’s back. “You will help me now.”

-o-

The door was locked, and kicking it open was awkward since he had to keep a gun trained on Majid at all times. The noise resounded unsettling through the space, and when it finally opened, Rick was more than a little relieved.

The relief was short-lived, however. He was keenly aware of the passing minutes, and he thought about Billy back at the safe house. If he’d vomited again; if he’d seized. If he was even still alive.

That numbing reality was all he needed to force Majid roughly to the floor. There wasn’t much left in the shop -- he’d intended to bind Majid to a chair, and he still had the rope in his pocket -- but that would take time. Time Billy didn’t have.

Time Rick didn’t need to waste. The gun was the leverage he needed as he had Majid kneel, hands at his sides.

“Now,” Rick said slowly, keeping his Arabic perfect. “I know who you are. And I know what you do for a living. So I know you can help me.”

“I do not help those who persecute me,” Majid replied, his voice rough like gravel.

“I don’t care,” Rick said. “I have a friend -- he’s been infected by some of the chemicals you help engineer. I need you to tell me what the compound is and where the antidote is.”

Majid laughed. “I am a scientist, not a psychic.”

“I have the sample,” Rick told him.

“I would need--”

“Nothing,” Rick said shortly. “You would need nothing. You’re good at what you do. You oversee too much work in that lab. You would know what it is with one look, and I have a sample.”

Majid shook his head. “I cannot--”

“You can,” Rick said, stepping slightly forward. He reached into his pack with one hand, keeping his aim steady and pulling out the syringe. “You can tell me what this is.”

Majid smiled. “You misunderstand me,” he said. “I will not.”

“He’s going to die without it,” Rick said, more forcefully now.

“A fate he deserves,” Majid said. “He would only come into contact with such a substance by breaking into the facility without authorization. His intentions -- and yours -- are not noble. More than that, you are an enemy of this State. You are an enemy of Allah. You are my enemy, and I would rather die than help save the life of those who go against the truth.”

Rick had always known this was the likely outcome. He had always known that, even as a civilian, Majid would probably harbor some strong anti-Western sentiments. He’d always known that getting the help they needed wouldn’t be easy.

Rick had kidnapped the man, held him at gunpoint.

The question was, did he have the fortitude to do what came next.

Majid laughed. “You are too weak to help him, anyway,” he said. “A coward, stealing scientists off the street and using a gun while you say please. I do not help cowards any more than I help the enemy.”

Rick didn’t want it to be this way. Rick didn’t want any of this. It wasn’t as if this man had any reason to help Rick. It wasn’t as if Rick would act any differently if their positions were reversed.

But Billy was dying, a slow and horrible death. Majid could help him.

Majid would.

Rick tightened his jaw and narrowed his eyes. “I will give you one more chance to help me.”

Majid’s mouth twisted into a feral sneer. “One more pathetic, spineless plea.”

Rick could get angry; he could threaten. He could posture.

Or he could get the job done.

He held the syringe up. “What’s in the syringe?”

Majid’s dark eyes danced. “A death sentence.”

Rick’s stomach went cold, a shiver racing down his spine. His head felt light and his ears started to ring as his consciousness narrowed to a fine point and his aim steadied, zeroed in on the point between Majid’s eyebrows.

He moved forward. “Okay,” he said, dropping the gun just a little and lifting the syringe nonchalantly. “Just remember: you’re the one who said it.”

Majid’s eyes darkened, the question evident on his face as Rick moved the syringe forward, pricking his skin before he had a chance to move.

Majid flinched, starting to yelp, but Rick depressed the plunger, pulling out the syringe neatly before stepping away, gun still poised.

“So,” he said, smirking a little now. “Tell me what’s in the syringe. Help me save his life.”

Majid’s eyes widened, his hand going up to the puncture point on his neck, mouth gaping.

Rick shrugged. “And maybe you can save your own while we’re at it.”

-o-

There was a moment of silence, fraught with uncertainty. Rick stayed close, syringe in one hand and his gun in the other, still trained on Majid. Majid, on his knees, had finally looked away from the gun and was staring, transfixed on the syringe.

Majid’s mouth dropped open. He took a ragged breath, starting to mutter the words to a prayer Rick vaguely recognized.

He shook his head, lifting the gun again. “You think Allah will help you now?” he asked. “You can die a martyr -- sure. And maybe you’ll have all that you could hope for in the afterlife.”

Majid looked at him, starting to tremble now as fear took hold in his dark eyes.

Rick didn’t relent. “But you and I both know that if you were the martyr type, you would have gone that route a long time ago,” he said. “The fact is, you’re just as much a coward as the rest of us. You think you’re doing good work, creating weapons that can destroy. But you let someone else do the real work; you leave it to someone else to make the decision of who will live or who will die.”

Swallowing, Majid’s eyes were wet, and he shook his head a little.

Rick thrust the gun closer, his own heartbeat resounding almost painfully loud in his ears. “I thought I might be like you once,” he said. “I was going to let other people make those choices. But not anymore. Not today. Today I’m going to decide. Today I’m going to do what needs to be done. And I swear to God, if that means putting a bullet between your eyes, I’ll do it. Because if you won’t help me, then you’re a murderer. I thought it was more complicated than that, but it’s not.”

On his knees, Majid was crying now, tears tracking down his face and disappearing into his beard.

“I’m prepared to do what I need to do,” Rick said, eyes focused on Majid, watching as his shoulders started to shake in earnest and he muffled a sob. “Are you?”

-o-

Rick knew how it was supposed to go.

He joined the CIA to be a hero; he wanted to serve his country, to do the right thing.

Serving was a choice, but the mission never was. The right thing wasn’t black and white, and the fact was, there were no heroes in the CIA.

There were just people who did what needed to be done.

Rick got the location; he got the pass codes. He got an exact layout of the facility and information about the key access point and how to evade security. He got Majid’s ID badge; he got the information he needed to save Billy.

That was what mattered.

Kidnapping Majid, injecting him with a deadly concoction, knocking him out and throwing him in the back of a car -- that wasn’t how it was supposed to go, maybe. It was never what Rick had intended, not in the beginning.

But, after all this, Rick found that he just didn’t care.

-o-

Breaking in, Rick expected it to go wrong. He expected the alarms to sound and to find out that Majid double crossed him.

It didn’t happen, though. Everything went perfectly.

He had no trip ups with security; he had no problem finding the storage containers. The antidote was right where Majid had said it was.

It seemed too easy, and Rick worried that Majid had told him the wrong vials, that he would get back to Billy and not have what he needed.

As he was driving back, Majid still unconscious in the trunk and the vials stowed securely in the seat next to him, it occurred to him that maybe he was just better at this whole thing that he’d thought.

At this point, as he sped back to his team, he really had to hope.

-o-

On the outside, he didn’t have to look at his watch to know that time was of the essence. He had the vials Majid had indicated. There was no time to independently verify what was in them, or if they would actually help Billy. They could be poison, for all he knew.

Rick hesitated, then glanced at the truck.

He’d already kidnapped and poisoned. He’d crossed all the lines he’d thought were sacred.

This...wasn’t so bad. If Majid was telling the truth, Rick would actually be saving his life.

If he was lying...

Then at least Rick would know by the time he got back.

Hastily, he opened the trunk. Majid was still curled up and bound, eyes closed in unconsciousness. He was pale -- sweaty. And Rick could already hear the labored twinge in his breathing as the fever started to take hold. Having him awake would have been helpful but at this point it didn’t matter. This was Rick’s last chance.

It was Billy’s last chance.

Swiftly, he pulled out one of the syringe’s he’d snatched, filling it from the first vial. He tilted Majid’s head, looking for the vein before sliding it in. This time, Majid didn’t flinch.

Pulling it out, Rick recapped the syringe and looked down at the man bitterly. “This better be the real thing,” he said. “Or I swear to God, I’ll keep you alive just long enough to kill you all over again.”

-o-

When he got back to the safehouse, his adrenaline was surging. He found himself more aware than he could ever remember being, finely attuned to every nuance in front of him. He killed the engine and locked the doors, tucking the vials under his arm and scurrying to the back. Popping open the trunk, Majid was still unconsciousness. Rick reached down, fingers brushing against his skin. He was still sweaty, but the heat had abated. His breathing had eased and the heartbeat beneath Rick’s fingers had started to normalized.

It worked.

Rick slammed the trunk shut and took off at a sprint toward the tenement. Inside, he took the stairs two at a time. When he got to the door, he didn’t knock. When he barged through, Casey half-leapt at him, but Rick didn’t even flinch.

“I got it,” he said, and only when he spoke did he realize that he was breathless. He held out the vials. “I got it.”

-o-

Michael wasted no time. Crossing the room, he sidestepped Casey and took the vials from Rick, taking them hastily to the kitchen counter. Pulling one out, he looked at it with a frown. “You sure this is it?”

“I’m sure,” Rick replied.

“We don’t have time for second chances on this one,” Casey reminded them, stealing a glance toward the cot.

Rick’s gaze drifted, and he saw Billy. The Scot looked worse than before, face colorless except for the streaks of blood. His mouth was open and he was on his side, breathing noisily. He looked bad. Really bad.

Rick’s stomach flipped and he looked back at Michael with a steady nod. “We won’t need a second chance,” he said, and it was the truest thing he’d ever said. “I’m sure.”

-o-

Billy didn’t move when they administered the drug, placing the needle gently at his neck and injecting the liquid. When Michael extracted the needle, he hesitated before pulling back and staring.

Together, they stood. Watching. Hoping for some kind of visible change, some kind of hope.

Billy didn’t flicker, face slack in unconsciousness as he continued to wheeze.

Rick swallowed, nodding down at him. “Has he been like...this the entire time?”

Casey was stiff by his side, but Michael nodded. “More or less,” he said.

Casey snorted.

Michael shrugged. “He never regained consciousness anyway,” he said. “We began noticing the tell tale signs that his body was starting to shut down about a half hour ago.”

“Which, if it’s gotten too far, then this might all be for nothing,” Casey said.

Rick shook his head. “It’s not,” he said. “It can’t be.”

There was a long silence, filled only by Billy’s railing breaths.

“I’m impressed you got back in time at all,” Michael finally said, glancing at Rick. “What did you have to do to get it?”

Rick huffed. “It was your plan,” he said. “I think you know.”

“Yeah,” Michael agreed. “But I mean. Did you...did you really do everything?”

Rick thought about Majid; stalking him in the street, fighting him in the entryway. Tying him up in the store and injecting him.

Rick had done everything.

And then some.

Rick turned, looking at Michael. “Does it matter?”

Michael looked at Billy again. “No,” he said. “I guess it really doesn’t.”

-o-

The hours watching Billy get worse had been long. Every second of vomit, of bloody tears, of seizing -- it had been an eternity.

This was even longer.

The seconds were excruciating, and Michael and Casey busied themselves with mindless tasks, as if checking the doors or organizing the files could change anything.

Rick was done with the pretenses. Instead, he sat by Billy’s side, eyes fixed on his face, waiting; hoping.

Knowing.

He didn’t think about the operational mishaps that led to this; he didn’t think about the paralyzing fear while waiting for Michael and Casey to get back. He didn’t think about what he’d done in the field, all the lines he’d crossed.

He’d never believed before that the ends always justified the means.

Maybe this time it didn’t either.

Watching Billy breath, drawing one ragged breath after the next, Rick just didn’t care.

-o-

Billy’s breathing started to ease. The fever receded from his cheeks, and the sweat started to dissipate on his brow. He was still pale, but the shivering stopped, and the ghastly look of near-death lessened to the point where Billy still looked sick, but alive and fighting.

Casey stayed nervous, but the songs he muttered under his breath were more melodic now. There was a method to Michael’s madness now, and when he finally closed the file in front of him, he sat back with a sigh.

And a smile.

“You know,” he said. “I’m not usually one to celebrate mission MVP, but I feel pretty safe in giving it to you this time. Way to save a life, kid.”

Rick craved praise and often found it hard to come by in the Agency. Being lauded as a hero -- it felt good.

But it didn’t feel right.

He looked at Billy and swallowed. “There’s something I need to do,” he said.

Michael’s smile faded and he tilted his head.

“Just--” Rick said, getting hastily to his feet. “I’ll be right back.”

-o-

Michael and Casey didn’t stop him; they didn’t even ask what he was doing. It occurred to him that saving Billy’s life so dramatically had earned him more than a little credibility amongst his teammates. That mattered.

And so did this.

On the street, the car was still where he left it. The street was vacant, so no one heard the muffled thumping from inside the car except Rick.

Quickly, he popped the trunk.

Inside, Majid was still bound and gagged. Though disheveled, he looked no worse for wear, blinking up at Rick blindly as his eyes adjusted to the sunlight.

Rick pursed his lips. “You didn’t want to save his life, so I won’t say thank you,” he said in Arabic.

Majid flinched and made a small whine.

“I guess that’s okay, though,” he said. “Because I didn’t want to save yours and I did that anyway.”

Trembling, Majid was silent.

“Still,” Rick said. “We are very different people. You made the choice to save your own life. I’m going to make the choice now to save you just because it’s the right thing to do.”

Majid dared to look hopeful.

Then Rick lashed out, hitting the man with a solid fist. Immediately, Majid went limp in his bounds, slumping back to the floor of the trunk without so much as a murmur.

“You don’t have to be conscious for me to save your life,” Rick said with a shrug. “So I won’t expect a thank-you from you either.”

-o-

This time, Rick was more careful in his route, and he picked a back alley near Majid’s home. With a cautious look, he confirmed that he was alone before getting out of the car and moving to the back. Opening the trunk, he found Majid -- breathing but unconscious -- bound and tied.

Inhaling sharply, he tried to remind himself that this was the easy part. Majid wasn’t his enemy necessarily -- at least, he hadn’t been when this mission had started. Letting him go was the right thing.

But hefting the man up, and dragging him behind a dumpster, it still felt like too kind a fate. Good people did bad things, sometimes; it was even a choice Rick knew he’d made this mission. But Majid made him question that; the lab tech made him question that.

His own actions made him question that.

Maybe they weren’t good people. Maybe they were just bad people.

Rick had thought he’d known the difference -- but then Billy had been exposed, Rick had kidnapped an innocent man, and the whole damn thing had fallen apart.

All Rick knew is that he didn’t regret it. Even if he should.

Leaning over, he cut the rope binding Majid’s hands and tore off the masking tape -- fewer ways to trace him, he figured -- before giving the man one last look and walking away.

-o-

There was no rush this time, but Rick still found himself speeding. He parked the car more discreetly, double checking his six just to be safe before he made his way into the building.

He took the stairs quietly, lightening his footfalls and pausing at the top, listening for any sounds. When there was nothing, he made his way down the hall, knocked once, and entered.

Instead of lunging at him, this time Casey lifted an eyebrow. He was holding a beer, seated at the table in the middle of the room. “Nice trip?”

Rick frowned, glancing past Casey toward Michael, who was tipped back in the chair and grinning.

“You should know that side trips are discouraged on official missions,” Michael quipped.

“We went off the official mission a long time ago,” Rick said.

Casey shrugged. “We mostly discourage anyone having fun outside ourselves,” he said.

“Unless it’s a tryst,” Billy’s voice interjected. “Not one of us here can actually say no when matters of the heart are truly involved.”

Billy.

Rick’s view of the bed was obscured by Casey and Michael, but when he finally stepped around the table, there was Billy.

The Scot still looked sick, but he was propped up on some pillow; pale, haggard, awake.

Alive.

Rick grinned. “How are you feeling?” he asked, a rush of adrenaline spreading through him as he approached Billy’s side.

Billy shifted slightly, grimacing. “A wee bit worse for wear, I reckon,” he said. “And exhausted, if I’m being completely honest.”

“But the fever?” Rick asked, glancing toward Michael.

“Seems to be low grade now,” Michael said. “We even gave him some crackers and water.”

“Despite the fact that I’m starving,” Billy said with a small scowl.

“Yes, well, once we’re sure that you’re not going to throw it all up, we’ll graduate you to toast and bananas,” Casey said with an air of condescension as he took another sip.

“It’s not the bloody stomach flu,” Billy objected. “I don’t even remember throwing up.”

Rick snorted. “We do.”

“See,” Casey pointed out.

Billy gave Rick a look of betrayal.

Rick shrugged. “Taking it slow couldn’t hurt.”

“Says the man who couldn’t even be bothered to stay around for my miraculous recovery,” Billy protested, sulking. “I mean, like you actually had better things to do.”

Rick scoffed. “You have no idea.”

Billy’s mouth twitched. “No,” he mused softly. “I reckon I might.”

There was a brief, uncomfortable silence until Michael rubbed his hands on his thighs and sighed. “Billy may be on a bland diet, but I’m starving,” he said. “Who wants to make a run for carry out?”

Casey stood up noisily, downing the last of his drink. “I will,” he said. “The only thing worse than being with Billy when he’s almost dying is being with Billy after he’s just survived. So many damn emotions.”

Billy shook his head, rolling his eyes. “I merely expressed my gratitude--”

“You cried,” Casey retorted.

“I was barely conscious!”

“You cried a lot,” Casey said, shaking his head. “I’m going to leave and attempt to restore this team’s dignity.”

Michael chuckled. “Good luck with that.”

“We don’t need him anyway,” Billy said as Casey left. He turned and looked up at Rick brightly. “Though I am told this whole thing was quite the adventure. And to think! I was unconscious for most of it. I expect a full retelling of the events, complete with actions, voices, and ad-libs.”

Rick wouldn’t even know where to start. With the mission; with the toxin; with the long hours in the motel room.

But he did know how it ended: Billy was alive, they were going home together.

That had to be what mattered.

He shrugged awkwardly. “It’s not that great of a story,” he admitted.

Billy made a sound of disbelief. “Somehow I doubt that very much,” he said. “So much angst! And peril! And the intrigue. The stuff of legends!”

Billy’s enthusiasm made him want to believe. This was the reason for it all, in the end.

“Easy there, Shakespeare,” Michael said, putting a heavy hand on Billy’s arm. He gave Rick a meaningful glance. “You just woke up and we haven’t even gotten you up and standing yet. Maybe we should hold off on the celebrating until you’re a little better.”

Billy settled back, pouting. But the moment he relaxed, his eyes were already heavy. “I acquiesce -- for now,” he said, stifling a yawn. “But I expect more later.”

“We promise,” Michael said with a small smile. “We’ll definitely talk about this later.”

Billy started to drift back to sleep, and Michael turned his gaze to Rick knowingly. It was a discerning, knowing look -- and that might have made Rick finch before. Rick had to answer for what he’d done. Maybe that should have scared him.

But after everything, standing there and watching Billy sleep, he just felt numb.

-o-

Billy slept hard, but it was a heavy, healing sleep. Though he still slept with his mouth open and his features were pale, he didn’t toss or turn and there was no hint of impending peril.

There was also no sign that he was going to wake up. Given that he’d just about died, Rick figured that was probably to be expected. Maybe even for the best. The longer Billy slept, the longer Rick could put off dealing with the reality of what brought them to this point.

Not that he knew what to do in the meantime. He’d felt useless watching idly while Billy died; he’s useless now, too, but without any purpose. He found himself pacing, alternative between nerves and a strange detachment that he didn’t know how to deal with.

For his part, Michael sat at the table. Though he kept a watchful eye on Billy, Rick found the other man watching him as well, assessing.

“You might as well ask,” Rick finally said.

Michael lifted his eyebrows. “Ask what?”

“The questions you’re thinking,” Rick said with a nod.

“And what questions are those?” Michael prompted.

Rick sighed, shoulders falling. “About what I did,” he said. “About what happened with Majid.”

Michael’s expression was impassive. He shrugged. “It was my plan.”

“Yeah,” Rick said. “But I’m the one who enacted it. I’m the one who stalked an innocent man and kidnapped him off the street. I held him at gunpoint, I threatened him and then I poisoned him--”

His voice was rising and he cut off sharply when Billy snuffled, rolling slightly in his sleep.

Swallowing, Rick regained his composure, dropping his voice. “I could have killed him,” he said finally. He looked away, his eyes burning. “And I didn’t care.”

Michael didn’t reply.

Rick laughed humorlessly. “I crossed a line,” he admitted finally, looking back up with Michael. “I crossed a line.”

This time, Michael took a slow and steady breath, letting it out. He wet his lips, pursing them for a moment before speaking. “You did what you had to do--”

“It was a clear line, Michael,” Rick protested. “I was willing to commit murder.”

“And that’s a line we’ve all crossed before,” Michael replied. He sighed, shaking his head. “Each of us has. More than we’d like to admit.”

It wasn’t quite absolution, but the implicit empathy was evident. Michael didn’t blame him; if anything, Michael respected him more for it.

It didn’t make him feel better.

Deflated, Rick sank into a chair. “I know what we do is messy,” he said. “And Majid -- he may have been a civilian, but he wasn’t innocent. I told him the facts, and he wanted to let Billy die. He was willing to have Billy’s blood on his hands.”

Michael’s eyes didn’t waver. “Then what’s wrong?”

That was the question. That was what all this came down to. Rick did what he had to do; Rick got the job done; Rick saved Billy’s life. It wasn’t easy, but he’d never expected it to be.

So what was wrong?

“I don’t feel guilty,” Rick finally admitted, the words sounding fragile in the tense air. “I mean, I knew what I had to do. I know the lines I crossed. And I don’t feel guilty about any of it.” He paused, letting out a ragged breath before looking at Michael imploringly. “What if I’m just like Majid? What if I’m no better than any other criminal out there?”

To that, Michael had no ready answer. There was no sarcastic quip, no easy quip. Michael looked old in that moment, the lines pronounced around his eyes and the weariness evident on his face. “In some ways, maybe,” he said. “We all have our causes, Martinez. And I’ll admit, sometimes I’m not always sure that what our government does is justified and that I’m always fighting for the right team. But the difference is that Majid would have let Billy die. You let him live anyway.”

Rick frowned. “How do you--”

“He was in your trunk, right?” Michael asked. “You really think we couldn’t figure out where you went?”

“Well, I--”

“To be honest, Malick and I had a bet,” he said. “He thought you were going to bury a body. I said you were just dropping Majid off. Since it only took you 30 minutes, we figured I won.”

Rick found himself gaping.

Michael shrugged. “You’re not like Majid,” he said. “We’re not foolish enough to think that everything the CIA does is right or good, but we know our team. There are no lines I won’t cross for that. And I sure as hell won’t feel guilty.”

Rick looked at Billy, chewing his lip. “And that’s enough?”

Michael followed his gaze. “You tell me.”

Watching Billy breathe, peaceful and even, Rick had no other reply.

-o-

When Casey came back with food, they were all famished. Billy roused and ate his share, and Rick found that when he’d finished his portion, he still wanted more. They bantered -- because that was what they did -- and afterward, Michael excused himself to make a security sweep while Casey grumbled his way into the bathroom for a shower.

Billy was still on the cot, propped up and drowsy. He looked better, certainly, but his skin was still pale and his hair disheveled. He was still sipping a bottle of water, flicking rice off his shirt onto the floor when he looked up and saw Rick watching him.

Screwing the cap back on, he leaned over slightly and put the bottle down. “I’m not going to break, you know.”

Rick frowned. “What?”

“Me,” Billy clarified. “I’m not going to break.”

Rick shook his head. “I don’t--”

Billy rolled his eyes. “You’ve been staring at me since I woke up,” he said. “Watching my every move, like you’re worried I’m going to fall apart or something.”

Not fall apart, but maybe vomit or seize...

Rick made a face. “That’s ridiculous.”

Billy smirked a little. “Unlikely,” he countered. Then, he hesitated, smile faltering just slightly. “I don’t remember much, but I know you stayed with me through some of the worst. For that, I’m sorry.”

Jaw tight, Rick shook his head stiffly. “You’ve got nothing to apologize for.”

“Then maybe a thank you would be more appropriate,” Billy ventured.

Rick let out a breath, trying to relax. He shrugged awkwardly. “It was nothing.”

“I doubt that,” Billy said. “Michael and Casey were scant on the details, but I picked up enough to know the burden of getting the antidote was left to you.”

“It was nothing,” Rick said readily. “Nothing you wouldn’t do, anyway.”

Billy’s face fell even more, even as he smiled sadly. “I was afraid of that.”

Something inside of Rick panged -- it wasn’t guilt, at least, not quite. But it was something of loss, something of regret. He’d done what he had to do, but he’d given up something inside himself for it. Something he would never get back. He could make new lines, but somehow he knew they’d all be easier to cross now in the aftermath.

“Don’t be,” Rick said, lifting his head just a little higher. He swallowed hard and found strength he didn’t know he had. “It was worth it.”

“I wish I could be so sure about that,” Billy said, his gaze deflecting.

“Well, I am sure,” Rick replied without hesitation. Billy looked up again, almost shyly meeting Rick’s intense gaze. “So you may just have to trust me on this one.”

Billy grinned sheepishly. “Seeing as you saved my life, I’m not sure I have any right not to.”

Slowly, Rick’s own smile widened as the numbness started to fade, sensation tingling in his chest and easing into his stomach. “Then that’s all the thanks I need.”

-o-

Rick knew how this was supposed to go.

Not everything worked out the way he thought. Extraction had a few hitches after Majid reported his abduction to the local authorities, and the dragnet forced them to lie low. It took Billy the better part of a week until all signs of the toxin left his body, and he fought a low grade fever and intermittent nausea throughout most of that. They didn’t end up with a full range of intel like they’d hope, but the specific samples Rick had taken would prove especially useful in analyzing the methods and capabilities of the lab and the potential threat.

They hadn’t exactly met the mission goals, but in the end, they’d come close enough to make it worthwhile.

That was really what mattered, he supposed. The details were unimportant; it was the big picture that mattered. The ends didn’t always justify the means, but sometimes they came pretty damn close.

Ultimately, no one had died. No one had gotten caught. No covers had been compromised. Billy was okay. They were all going home -- together.

Beyond that, Rick wasn’t proud of everything he did, but he was okay with it. It was impossible to regret saving Billy’s life. As far as Rick was concerned, all was well that ended well.

All was well.


Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: March 10th, 2014 10:50 pm (UTC)
All the good stuff!

Enough blathering, cutting to the chase with the lovely good stuff now. I think you know me well enough to know why I enjoyed every one of the below parts. Enough said.



Fave Part:

Finally, he sighed, getting to his feet wearily and making his way to the bathroom. At the toilet, he tipped the trash in and the slimy bile spilled out. Rick moved to the sink to rinse the bin, but when he glanced back at the toilet, he froze.

Billy’s stomach was nearly empty, but there was more than yellow slime. The water was stained red with blood.

Rick felt his knees go weak and he had to brace himself against the counter. Because Billy was sick; Billy was feverish; Billy was throwing up blood.

The simple fact was that it wasn’t okay at all.

--Ah, deteriorating. What's not to like?


“No,” Billy begged, tears streaming down his face now. His brow is drenched, his hair dark and matted as he twists on the cot. “Please, just -- no. Make it stop. Please. Please.”

The last plea broke on a sob, and Billy shook as he cried.

Rick’s heart wrenched, and he tightened his grip. “I know, and I’m doing what I can,” he said, willing Billy to hear him, to believe him. “You’re doing great.”

Billy shook his head, face contorted in genuine agony. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed. “Please, I can’t -- please. Make it stop.”



--*SOB!


Rick leaned a little closer, placing a reassuring hand on Billy’s arm and squeezing. “But hey, you’re doing great,” he said. “Maybe it’s going to pass right out of your system.”

At that, Billy smiled. “It’s so nice,” he said, still wheezing a little while he found the words, “to have another optimist...on the team.”

Rick grinned. “Well, I’ve had a good mentor.”

Billy’s eyes fluttered and his body stiffened for a moment as he turned his head back away to cough. It was a small cough, but when it failed to work, Billy coughed again, this time the effort racking his body. It still didn’t work, though, and as the coughing continued -- still gaining speed -- Rick frowned.

--YOU KILLED ME HERE!!!! Such a thing Billy would tease even dying.


Majid flinched, starting to yelp, but Rick depressed the plunger, pulling out the syringe neatly before stepping away, gun still poised.

“So,” he said, smirking a little now. “Tell me what’s in the syringe. Help me save his life.”

Majid’s eyes widened, his hand going up to the puncture point on his neck, mouth gaping.

Rick shrugged. “And maybe you can save your own while we’re at it


--There's a sad ruthlessness to this. It's not the cold kind that Casey or anyone else would exert, it's a resignation that he had to do the extreme to achieve the result he wanted.


Rick thrust the gun closer, his own heartbeat resounding almost painfully loud in his ears. “I thought I might be like you once,” he said. “I was going to let other people make those choices. But not anymore. Not today. Today I’m going to decide. Today I’m going to do what needs to be done. And I swear to God, if that means putting a bullet between your eyes, I’ll do it. Because if you won’t help me, then you’re a murderer. I thought it was more complicated than that, but it’s not.”

--I love the determination. I loved that later he saved his life. You gave Rick a morality that was totally believable and noble.


Billy made a sound of disbelief. “Somehow I doubt that very much,” he said. “So much angst! And peril! And the intrigue. The stuff of legends!”

-- I couldn't have said it better myself.





Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: April 7th, 2014 02:52 am (UTC)
Re: All the good stuff!

I did like the context in this one. It was fun to challenge Rick in this way, and I don't often make Billy that sick. So I'm all for new kinds of whump :)

Thanks!

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