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Chaos Fic: The Good News (and the Bad News) 2/3

May 2nd, 2011 (07:39 am)
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A/N:  Notes and comments in part one.

-o-

Turns out, Michael is wrong.

It doesn’t even take thirty seconds.

Within fifteen, there’s gunfire at the door, and it’s only thanks to Fayed obsessive need for personal safety that the bulletproof glass has held up at all.

They’ve got their hostages pulled to the back of the room, all disarmed and tied and unconscious.  It’s a bargaining chip that might be worth something, but Rick really isn’t confident that it’ll be worth very much, not with an entire complex coming after them with bloody murder on their minds.

Malcolm has tipped a desk, and Michael pushed a cabinet in front of the door.  Now they’re behind the desk, guns in hands, talking about their options.

“We can wait,” Malcolm suggests.  “Casey and Billy are still part of this plan.”

“That glass isn’t going to hold up that long,” Rick says, ducking instinctively as the barrage of gunfire continues.

“He’s right,” Michael says.  “We have to stick to the plan.”

Rick’s beyond incredulous.  “But how is getting killed part of the plan?”

Michael looks at him like he should know better.

And Rick realizes, he should know better.  “If one of us can get into the hall, start laying cover fire from behind--”

“They’ll think they’re being attacked from multiple sides,” Malcolm continues.

“And we can start to work our way through toward the hostages to meet up with Casey and Billy,” Michael says.

Rick goes over it in his head, thinking about the logistics of it.  “It could work,” he says.

Malcolm laughs.  “Bloody good plan,” he says.

Michael snorts.  “Only if it works.”

-o-

It doesn’t sound like an easy plan, but the fact is that Rick has to crawl through a heating duct and trust that Michael and Malcolm will put down enough cover fire to make sure he can get out in another location without getting caught and/or killed.

Trust.  Funny thing about this mission.  It requires so much trust.  If he couldn’t trust Michael, if he couldn’t trust Billy and Casey, then crawling through this duct would be suicide.

Even with trust, Rick can’t ignore the fact that it is still probably suicide, but the fact that he does trust them certainly helps with his doubt.

Of course, trust doesn’t help with the fact that the system is clogged with sand and he’s basically navigating blind, mostly going on the sound of gunfire to help him approximate the best place to make his move.

Fortunately, Rick’s too invested to turn back now.

And these ducts are small enough that he’s not entirely sure he could turn around if he wanted to, so, ultimately, he doesn’t really have much choice.  He’s committed to this mission, and he’s committed to this team, and right now they’re trusting him to make the right distraction, and Rick’s not about to disappoint them now.

At least, not if he can help it.

When the gunfire is far enough away, he sidles up to an opening in the ceiling and tries to peer down.  It’s hard to tell, but the room below him seems clear. 

Taking a deep breath, he pulls his gun, gripping it tight.  With his other hand, he jimmies the vent covering free, saying one last prayer before he jumps down into the complex below.

-o-

It goes surprisingly fast.  Finding himself alone in a corridor, Rick moves quickly and efficiently back toward the sound of gunfire.  When he closes in, he takes position behind a corner, assessing the situation before charging it.

There are not as many men as he had anticipated.  A handful of guards, all fully armed and firing at the room.  Their singular focus is what Rick needs to work in his advantage.  They’re mostly young, and probably scared, so selling himself as an entire troop of reinforcements may not be as hard as it probably should be.

The key is to divide their attention, take enough fire to give Michael and Malcolm an opening.

And of course, not getting himself killed or maimed in the process is highly important as well.

He thinks about what he’s learned.  To have a plan, like Michael.  To be damn good, like Casey.  To know how to sell the entire act as truth, like Billy.

Rick checks his ammo, takes a breath, turns the corner and promptly opens fire.

-o-

It works.

Rick’s still not entirely sure how, but when the three of them are standing in the hallway with the downed guards, it’s fairly clear to Rick that somehow the foolhardy plan actually managed to pay out.

Malcolm’s grin is wide.  “Nice execution,” he says, nodding to Rick.

“I can’t believe it worked,” Rick admits.  This isn’t the first time he’s been in a firefight, but the sight of dead bodies still makes his stomach churn.  More so when he realizes that one could have been him.

“Well, it’s not worked quite yet,” Michael says through gritted teeth.  “We still have to meet up with Casey and Billy, free the hostages, and get out of here before their back up troops arrive.”

Suddenly, the victory doesn’t seem quite as good.

“Something of a downer, then, eh, mate?” Malcolm asks.

“Realistic expectations ensure proper preparation,” Michael replies.

“I always find that a little time reveling in the small things helps light the fire for going ahead,” Malcolm points out.

“Yeah, well, you also lost the war,” Michael deadpans back.  “So we’ll go with my way.”

-o-

About halfway through the compound, they finally get Billy on the radio.

“Sorry, lads,” Billy says, breathing harsh into the radio.  “We’ve been a bit busy.”

There’s a rapid report of gunfire on the line, another grunt, and Casey’s soft curse. 

“It’s totally under control,” Billy reports, and despite his panting, there’s a lightness in his voice that is entirely misplaced for the seriousness of the situation.

“Are you to the hostages yet?” Michael asks.

There’s another round of gunfire.  The radio crackles and buzzes; there’s a thud.

Casey’s voice cuts through the din: “What did you do with the radio?”

“I rather thought firing my weapon would be more useful while the wave of terrorists came at us,” Billy counters.

“If I need the backup, I’ll let you know,” Casey says.

“My mistake,” Billy agrees.

There’s a muffled sound and the radio seems to be back up again.  “All is well, lads,” he reports cheerfully, in a way that Rick hasn’t heard since before this mission began.  “Just around the corner and Casey is very confident.  How are you faring?”

They are pressed up against a wall, in the middle of an abandoned corridor.  There are three felled guards at one end, and from what Rick remembers of the schematics, they’re about to cross the complex’s security center when they breach the corner.

“We might be a while yet,” Michael confesses.

“You want some backup?” Billy offers.

“Negative,” Michael says back.  “For now, focus on securing the hostages and we’ll be in contact.”

“Copy that,” Billy says.

Michael puts down the radio and looks at Rick.

Rick looks back.  “You do know that after the alarm was sounded, the vast majority of the personnel retreated to this position.”

“And to the hostage room,” Michael agrees.

“So really,” Malcolm interjects.  “We’re all facing an equal likelihood of death.”

“Basically,” Michael says with a ready nod.

Rick lets his head drop back and looks at the ceiling for a moment.  Equal likelihood of death.

“It’s all part of the plan, though,” Michael says.

“Of course,” Malcolm agrees.

As if that’s something that’s suppose to make Rick feel better.

-o-

It actually doesn’t go as badly as Rick thinks it will.

The first row of defenders seems to fall back quickly, a few of them going down. 

But then the second row takes their stand, followed by the third.  When a fourth opens fire from the other side of the hall, it’s all they can do to fall back and keep from getting blown away.

“Is this still part of the plan?” Rick yells over the barrage of gunfire.

Michael grimaces.  “Mostly,” he says.

“Then, I hope you don’t think I’m being disrespectful,” Rick says, wincing slightly as the corner continues to chip away under the steady stream of bullets.  “But I think this plan sort of sucks!”

Michael turns slightly, getting a few shots off before falling back next to Rick.  “I think I might agree with you on that one!”

-o-

They have to fall back, finding cover in an office space, where they hunker down behind heavy metal desks.  This gives them a bit more of a vantage point, but the fact is, they’re pinned down and it’s just a matter of time until they run out of ammo.

Michael doesn’t seem particularly worried, at least no more than usual.  Malcolm is still laughing as he reloads.  “You Americans sure put on quite a show,” he quips.

“If we’re going to go for it, we’re going to go for it,” Michael says between clenched teeth.  Then he maneuvers, firing off a few more rounds.

When Michael comes down, Malcolm goes up.  When he falls back, he grins at them.  “So this is normal then?”

Rick takes his turn and feels the heat of bullets hitting the wall behind him.  He falls back, heart pounding.

“Yeah, more or less,” Michael confirms.

Malcolm laughs again.  “Brilliant!”

And Rick wonders why he’s the only one who thinks this is problematic.

-o-

It’s about over.  They’re low on ammo and the reinforcements seem well fortified and Malcolm’s not laughing as much and Michael’s mouth is drawn in a tight line.

“We could surrender,” Michael offers.

“They’ll kill us before we even have a chance,” Malcolm counters.

“But they’re going to kill us anyway,” Rick says, and even though he knows it’s true, he’s having a hard time really getting his mind around it.

“A blaze of glory sounds about right, then,” Malcolm offers.

“There’s no glory in dying,” Michael grounds out.  He turns to fire, then settles back.  “They’ll either bury us in unmarked graves or display our corpses for everyone to see.”

Malcolm fires.  “Still the pessimist,” he muses.

Rick takes his turn.  “Maybe we can focus on finding a way to not die,” he suggests, a little harsher than he intends.

“By all means,” Michael says.  “I’m open to suggestions.”

Only as Michael gets into position to fire again, Rick realizes he doesn’t have a clue.

-o-

Mentally, Rick is prepared to die.

Sure, he despairs about it for a moment, but he tells himself that this was always a risk he was willing to take.  His mother tried to talk him out of this lifestyle, of course, but Rick would never be swayed.  He wanted to be an American hero; he knows this is worth it.

That’s the easy part.

The hard part is the thought of actually dying.

Will it hurt?  Will it be quick?  What will happen to his body?  What will happen to the mission?  How much will they tell his mother?  Will there be anything left of him to bury at all? 

There aren’t answers to these questions, but as the gunfire intensifies and the enemy nears, he sort of figures that it doesn’t matter much anyway.  It’s a question of the right thing and doing his best, and Rick’s done all he can.

So he’s ready to die.

He takes a breath, and looks to Malcolm and Michael.  Malcolm is still firing, alternating with Michael.  Their banter has diminished; they know it’s just about time.

They’re all ready.

But it doesn’t happen.

There’s a fresh burst of gunfire and suddenly all hell breaks loose.  For a moment, Rick thinks maybe it’s already over, but nothing hurts and he’s not bleeding, and he realizes that the gunfire is no longer directed at him.

It only takes him a moment to put all that together and by the time he repositions himself for the fight, Malcolm and Michael are already there.  With a fresh view of the action, Rick realizes that someone is firing from the other side, picking off the enemy while their backs are turned.

With this, the guards have to scatter, looking for a new position.  There’s a new disorder in their approach, with some focused on the new threat and others still firing back at them.  The guards have the greater numbers, but the element of surprise is all they need.

Michael gets to his feet, taking cover behind a closer desk.  Rick follows suit, fanning out to another position.  With this diversified position, the tides are changing quickly.

And then, it’s over.

Not the way Rick expected of course, because in the debris, he’s still standing and Michael and Malcolm look no worse for wear.  From the other end of the hallway, Billy is standing there with a grin on his face.  “Thought you might need a little help,” he says.

Michael actually almost laughs as he grabs a fresh gun from one of the guards.  He moves toward Billy, clapping him on the shoulder.

Following after him, Rick has the sudden urge to hug the other man but settles for a watery smile instead.  “Good timing,” he says.

Billy grins back and nods.  “Can’t have you dying before you really get the hang of things around here now, can I?”

Behind him, Malcolm is stiff.  He lifts his head.  “Playing the hero now, Collins?” he asks.

Billy’s expression sours.  His jaw works.  “Just doing what I think is best.”

“I’m sure that quite the comfort for you,” Malcolm mutters as he brushes past Rick and Billy, following Michael down the hall.

-o-

Rick would very much like to wallow in the fact that he’s alive, but he realizes quickly that they still have to salvage the mission.  Moving through the compound is a tense sort of thing because they have no way of knowing how many guards are left or exactly where they are or what they’re trying to do.

“And the hostages?” Michael asks, glancing at Billy as they move quickly through the halls.

“We have the guards secured,” Billy says.  “Casey had it under control when I left.”

“But what if reinforcements arrive there?” Malcolm asks.  “The hostages will be one of the first things they want to take out.”

“Casey has it under control,” Billy says again, and there’s an edge in his voice now.  “I wouldn’t have left if I weren’t confident in that.”

“And your judgment is infallible, then?” Malcolm accuses.

“We need to focus on the plan,” Michael says.  “We’re not out of this yet.”

“That’s my point exactly,” Malcolm snaps as he moves ahead.  He stops at a corner and turns back to look at them.  “You’ve got loose canons on your team, Dorset, and it’s only a matter of time before it gets someone killed.  You may be okay with such things, but I would really rather not die on some half-assed American excuse for a mission.”

It’s almost as if on cue, because Malcolm turns the corner and the gunfire starts again.  Malcolm drops and fumbles to roll, but he’s still a sitting duck.

Michael is scrambling to catch up, and at the rear, Rick is still too far behind to make much difference.  But Billy’s close, and he steps around the corner and kneels, laying down a line of cover fire that lets Malcolm roll back to safety.

Michael’s almost there as Billy starts to step back.  It’s a short distance, and if they can just have two seconds to regroup, they can face this next threat.  Rick thinks, that’s that.

But then Billy falls.

It happens fast--faster than Rick thinks it should.  One minute he’s moving back, the next he’s just going down, and Rick doesn’t even have enough time to know exactly just what happened.

At first, Rick thinks maybe Billy has tripped.  Maybe he’s going low to avoid the bullets.  Maybe it’s some extra special MI-5 move that Rick’s simply not acquainted with at this point in his career.

But then Michael is grabbing at him, pulling him back.  As Rick closes the final distance, he sees Billy’s chest heaving and a dark stain of blood on his tan colored shirt as he lies splayed across the floor.

-o-

It’s a testament to Rick’s training that he moves into position for a fresh line of cover fire, especially when all he can think about is Billy and the blood.  But there’s still a job to be done, and Rick knows what he has to do if any of them are going to get out of here alive.  Malcolm is going high and Rick sidles in to go low.  When he gets a glance around the corner, he sees that it’s a small contingent--no more than three guards.

Malcolm takes a shot and one goes down.  Rick narrows his focus, pretends he’s aiming at a target on a firing range and pulls the trigger.  Once, twice.

He sets the second one in his site and repeats.

Then it’s silent.

There’s blood on the far end of the hallway, and Rick thinks about the men he’s just shot.  It’s part of the job, he knows, and he supposes he’s been lucky that he hasn’t had to do this before.

Lucky.

He feels vaguely nauseous as Malcolm moves forward to check the guards for sure.  He pulls back, letting himself collapse against the wall.

His stomach turns again, almost violently now, because there’s blood here, too, all over Billy, coating Michael’s hands as he presses a hand over the wound that Rick can’t see.

Billy coughs, a guttural, gargling sound, and his body convulses a little bit.

And that’s all Rick can take before he turns back around the corner and empties his stomach.

-o-

When he’s done, Rick feels better.  He glances down the hall, where Malcolm is securing this latest contingent of guards.  Rick doesn’t quite understand how Malcolm makes it look so easy, but he understands the need to stay productive--especially now.  Sweating and shaking, Rick rallies his strength, reminding himself that there’s nothing left to lose when he faces Michael and Billy again.

Michael has maneuvered around so that Billy’s propped up against the wall.  He’s ripping a sheath of fabric from one of his shirts, balling it up and pressing it hard into Billy’s side.

Billy hisses with pain but doesn’t pull away.  His face is pale, his breaths rapid and shallow.  His legs move slightly, but there’s nowhere for him to go.

“Martinez,” Michael snaps.  “You with me?”

Rick blinks and nods.  Then he remembers how to speak.  “Yeah.”

Michael doesn’t spare him a glance.  Instead he holds out a stretch of fabric with is free hand.  “Help me tie this around him,” he says.

Rick’s good at following orders, and this one is easier than most.  But as he scoots forward on his knees, his confidence betrays him and he hesitates.

Billy’s eyes are on him, a dull smile on his face.  “This is way easier than eating a scorpion, I should think,” he quips, and his voice is strained.  “Just a nice knot.  Boy Scout like you, should be easy.”

Rick can’t help but smile, if only because it’s clear how much effort Billy is making.  Carefully, Rick threads the fabric behind Billy, trying not to jostle him too much.  When he starts to tie both ends together over the compress Michael has made, Billy tenses slightly and Rick says, “Lucky for you, I made it all the way to Eagle Scout,” he says.

He pulls the knot until it’s snug, then pulls it a little more.  Pressure is the only thing that will keep Billy alive long enough, and they all know it.

Still, Billy yelps a little.  “Eagle Scout,” he cries, eyes blinking rapidly.  “I take it that’s a good thing?”

“The best,” Rick assures him.

“It means that Rick spent all his time in high school tying knots and starting fires,” Michael joins in.

Billy frowns, shaking his head a little.  “And not getting laid,” he bemoans, his voice wobbling slightly as Rick adjusts the knot and Michael takes his hands away.

“Yeah, well, in a situation like this, the ability to tie a good knot seems a little more important,” Rick concludes, satisfied that the bandage is as tight as it can be.

Billy hacks a dry cough.  “But still not nearly as much fun.”

Rick tries to smile, but Billy shuts his eyes for a moment, sucking his harsh breaths as he works through what Rick can only imagine to be pain.

Michael meets his gaze, and even though the older operative doesn’t say anything, Rick can tell that this isn’t good.

There’s no time to dwell on that, though.  Malcolm shows up around the corner, armed with more guns, face grim.

“We’re cleared for now, but I overheard a radio transmission,” he says.  “There are more guards coming.  It’s only a matter of time before this complex is overrun.”

Michael swallows and Rick watches him with wide eyes.

From the floor, Billy opens his eyes.  “Then we better get a move on, eh?” he asks.

The set to Michael’s jaw tells Rick what he’s really thinking, but Michael doesn’t indulge it.  Instead, he stands.  “Martinez, help get Billy to his feet,” he barks.  I’ll take point, and I want Malcolm at the rear.  We move as fast as we can until we can rendezvous with Casey.  Is that understood?”

Malcolm is already falling into position and it isn’t until Billy’s hand latches onto his arm that Rick remembers that he needs to move, too.

Billy’s face face taut with pain as he starts to lever himself to his feet.  When he gets to a standing position, he’s leaned heavily against Rick, and he looks down with a smile.  “I’ve got an Eagle Scout knot holding me together.  I couldn’t need much more than that.”

Rick can only hope that’s true (and know that it’s really, really not).

-o-

It’s an awkward march.  Michael keeps them at a good clip, and Billy’s straining heavily to maintain it.  His legs keep moving, but Rick can feel more and more of Billy’s weight being transferred across his shoulders.

The extra weight makes it hard to move, and Rick’s sweating almost as much as Billy as they move along.

Malcolm is a silence presence behind them, and whenever Rick catches a glimpse, the English operative is almost fuming, all traces of good humor gone.

Up ahead, Michael slows as he reaches another corner.  They’ve learned to be cautious, and so far, they’ve actually been pretty lucky.

This time, not so much.

Michael tenses, then fires, falling back as return fire peppers the far wall.

Rick stops suddenly, and Billy’s feet don’t quite keep up.  His feet tangle and he pitches forward.  Rick is reeling to keep them upright, and it’s a hand from behind that keeps them from going down.

Ahead, Michael has turned again, firing of a few more rounds before calling back, “Clear!”

That’s good news, because Rick doesn’t think Billy would have it in him for another firefight.  As it is, he’s not sure Billy has it in him to move at all, not that the taller operative seems ready to admit that just yet.

Where Rick is worried, Malcolm is seething.  “You’re being difficult as usual, I see, Collins,” he mutters.  He keeps himself close, as if he’s not sure Billy will fall again.

Rick’s not sure about that either, and he tightens his grip on Billy’s wrist.

Billy huffs a laugh.  “Nice to see that you’ve worked on your humanitarianism in all these years,” he breathes.

“Humanitarianism is a luxury,” Malcolm spats.

“I saved your life,” Billy reminds him.

“And now the whole plan is at risk,” Malcolm says.

Billy rolls his eyes.  “It’s always about the plan with you.”

“And it seems to be a fleeting concern for you.”

“Plans change,” Billy says, his voice rougher now.  He’s holding his head up to look at Malcolm and there’s a fire in his eyes that Rick doesn’t recognize. 

“But who are you to decide that?” Malcolm shoots back.

“So you would rather that I let you die?” Billy says, nodding a little.  His head dips down toward Rick’s shoulder and Rick has to adjust his stance to keep them steady.

“There are priorities,” Malcolm challenges, insistent.

Billy shakes his head.  “There’s more than a plan,” he says, words rushed.  He breaks off with a cough, but swallows it back.  “There’s doing the right thing--”

This time, the coughs are too much and Billy’s body is racked with them.  Rick tries to brace him, but as Billy’s body curves, the greater weight is more than Rick can handle.  It’s an awkward movement, and Rick refocuses his efforts from staying upright to making sure they don’t hit the ground with too much force.

As it is, Billy’s knees crumple, and Rick feels Billy’s grating breath hot against his shoulder as he tries to go to his knees without too much jarring.

He’s about to lose it, when there’s a hand on his shoulder.

Michael’s in front of them, balancing them both as he helps them to the floor.  It’s a gentle landing, all things considered, but Billy’s still barely propped up, head lolled against Rick’s shoulder and his legs twisted in front of him in what looks like an uncomfortable position.

“No matter what the plan was,” Michael interjects, glancing with purpose and Malcolm, “it’s changing now.”

Malcolm looks what he wants to protest, but wisely doesn’t.

“As it is, we’re moving too slowly,” Michael continues, turning his eyes back to Rick.  “Our primary objective has to be getting the hostages out of here.  If we can make a quick getaway, we can get them to safety and procure military support, hopefully before reinforcements arrive.  We’ll split up--”

At that, Billy lifts his head, urgency in his eyes.  He shakes his head and seems to try to move.  “I can go.”

They are bold words, but Billy’s body betrays him and he winces, sagging back against Rick.

“It’s better to keep a team here to ensure that the base is secured and give us intel in case reinforcements do arrive,” Michael explains.

Rick’s new to this job, and he’s fallen for some doozies in his short tenure, but even he can smell the BS involved in Michael’s plan.  There’s little tactical advantage to leaving a team behind, but Michael knows that going together will simply take too long.

Billy looks up again.  His eyes are wet and he shakes his head with new passion.  “Then let me stay on my own,” he says.

“No, Malcolm will come with me so we can meet up with Casey,” Michael explains.  “Martinez, you’ll stay with Billy--”

“Damn it, Michael,” Billy grounds out, and it’s not just physical pain straining him anymore.  “I can do this.”

Michael doesn’t even hesitate.  He shakes his head, adamant.  “It’s not your call.”

There’s a tense moment.  Billy’s entire body is shaking, but his eyes don’t waver.  Rick swallows hard, eyes turning from Billy to Michael.  Usually the team functions cohesively, with no visible discord.  Now, Rick can sense the unspoken argument.

Billy doesn’t want someone to have to stay with him.  He doesn’t want someone to risk their life for him.

But Michael can’t leave a man behind.  He won’t let one of his own be left to the wolves.

It’s a stalemate.

Then Billy ducks his head, nodding in acceptance.

“Good,” Michael says, getting to his feet.  He glances back toward Malcolm.  “You ready to go?”

Malcolm shrugs coolly.  “Been ready all along.”

Michael ignores the sarcasm, and instead looks back at Rick.  “You good, Martinez?” he asks.

Rick meets his eyes and is surprised by the sudden earnestness there.  This is an actual question, not a rhetorical one.  Michael is giving Rick all the opportunity he needs to back out, to let Michael take his place.

And it occurs to him suddenly that Michael’s first instinct wouldn’t be to leave Rick there at all.  That’s not Michael’s style.  He’s paranoid and he’s thorough, and he’s willing to blackmail the new guy in order to secure the safety of his entire team.  Michael would stay with Billy in a heartbeat, assume the most dangerous post for himself, except for the fact that there’s more than Billy’s life on the line.

There’s the mission and the hostages, too, and the simple fact is that for as much as he wants to stay with their downed teammate, he doesn’t want to trust Malcolm to handle the rest.  He needs to be in immediate command in order to make sure nothing else goes wrong, and with Billy shot, enough has certainly gone wrong already.

Rick looks at Billy, who is even paler than before.  The sweat is glistening on his face while he labor against the pain.  For the moment, his eyes are closed, tightly screwed shut to fend off what Rick can only assume is the worst of the sensation.

Billy’s blood is still seeping, even despite the bandage.  It’s all over Billy’s front, smeared on Rick’s gear as well.  There are smudges of it on his hands, and Rick knows this is going to get worse before it gets better.

Turning his eyes back to Michael, he understands.  Michael isn’t asking him to secure the base.  He’s asking him to try to save Billy’s life. 

Of course, the fact that both missions are probably lost causes isn’t lost on Rick, but it doesn’t matter.  Not really.  Because in all of this, Michael trusts him.  Maybe Michael’s trusted him all along, and he certainly trusts him now--with the thing that matters most.

And that’s a responsibility Rick wouldn’t shirk, not for anything in this world.

He nods tightly.  “I’m good,” he affirms.

Michael nods his approval.  “We’ll keep in radio contact as necessary,” he says.  “Assume a defensive position and just wait for the cavalry.”  He pauses, looks at Billy.  “Both of you.”

With that, Michael turns to Malcolm, who lifts his chin as he follows their stealthy progress down the hall.

-o-

For a few moments, it’s quiet.  The sound of footsteps dissipates, and Rick is left with his own pounding heart and the heavy sound of Billy’s breathing.

They’re still sprawled on the ground.  Rick’s side is going numb from Billy’s weight, and he can’t imagine that the position is any more comfortable for Billy.

He shifts minutely, and Billy groans.  He opens his eyes and squints up at Rick.  “What part of the plan involves inflicting torture on your teammates?” he asks wryly.

Rick smiles back, apologetic.  “I just thought you might be more comfortable this way,” he says as he continues to maneuver his body out from under Billy. 

Billy laughs hoarsely.  “You know, if you had skipped a few Eagle Scout meetings,” he starts through gritted teeth.  “You might have learned to appreciate the fine art of spooning.”

Rick snorts a laugh in return as he pulls Billy back, settling him against his pack, which is now shoved against the wall.  “You’ll have to teach me that on the next mission,” he says.

Billy meets his gaze and understands the implication.  He quirks his head.  “I assure you, such a lesson should never be delayed, and I do have plenty of experience.”

Rick shakes his head, giving Billy a determined half smile.  “I’ll take my chances.”

Billy’s eyes wander off a bit, and he gives a meager shrug.  “Your loss, then,” he mumbles distantly.

Rick doesn’t reply.  He’s too busy hoping that’s not the case to try.

-o-

Time passes slowly.  Five minutes feels like five hours. 

The hallways are silent, and Rick takes that for both a good thing and a bad thing.  He knows that any defense would have to be made by him, and that protecting a downed man while trying to save his own life would be exceptionally difficult, all things considered.

Still, the sound of his team coming back for him would be kind of nice.

Billy’s condition isn’t changing much, which again, Rick supposes is good and bad.  With a bullet wound, bleeding out is a primary concern, and when Rick checks the bandage, it seems to be doing its job as best it can.  If the blood loss progresses too quickly, Rick knows there’s nothing he can do.

So while the slow rate of bleeding is working in his favor, it doesn’t change the fact that Billy is, in fact, bleeding out.  Slowly but surely, their continued isolation doesn’t change the inevitable result.  Unless backup arrives--and soon--Rick’s going to be babysitting a corpse.

It’s an unsettling thought, to say the least.

“You look like shite,” Billy says, breaking Rick from his thoughts.

Rick glances at him, surprised.  The other man’s eyes are only at half mast, but he’s still pinning Rick with an intent and knowing look.

Rick uses his training and endeavors to hide his surprise.  He smirks a little.  “Like you’re one to talk.”

“Yes, well, at least I have a reason,” Billy says.  “What’s your excuse?”

“I’m just being vigilant,” Rick tells him.

Billy laughs at that, a soft, muted sound.  “If vigilance makes you pale and sweaty, then I might venture you’re in the wrong line of work.”

Rick rolls his eyes.  “So what explains your behavior on this mission?”

Billy raises his eyebrows.  “Getting shot was certainty not intentional.”

“I mean before that,” Rick retorted shortly.  When Billy gives him a purposefully blank look, Rick continues, “You barely cracked a smile this whole time.”

“Ah, Rick,” Billy says.  “I’m flattered.  If I’d known you counted so much on my charming personality, I would have tried harder.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it,” Rick tells him.

Billy sighs, and the humor goes out of his face.  The absence of it makes Billy look older, with pain drawing the lines of his face deeply.  He shakes his head.  “That’s a story for another time,” he says.

“What, you worried about privacy?” Rick cajoles.

“I’m not quite ready for the deathbed confessions just yet,” Billy quips back coyly.  His breath hitches and he coughs once.  With a wince, he adds, “At least not yet.”

-o-

Nothing happens.  Rick keeps watch with an acute intensity, aware of every shift in the environment, every possible movement in his vicinity.

But it’s quiet, and Rick can’t avoid the fact that he’s sitting in an abandoned complex, waiting for disaster or salvation, while Billy bleeds to death.

The bandage is saturated now.  Blood is beginning to dampen the carpet, pooling just a little, and Billy’s face is a deathly shade that Rick has only seen on corpses.

He coughs more, and his body shudders with the effort.  Breathing seems to be a full-body effort for the other operative, and he pants each strained breath through open, gray lips. 

Rick broaches the silence every now and then, but Billy’s answers grow shorter, less humorous.  He’s fading.  Rick can see it in the dull, glassy look in his eyes and the monotone of his voice when he ventures any kind of reply.

“So,” Rick says, louder than he needs to.  His voice still seems to echo in the empty halls.  “How many people do you think Casey had to manhandle in order to get everyone out of here safely?”

Billy smiles slightly.  “At least a dozen,” he replies.  “Anything less really wouldn’t do him justice.”

“He’d probably have to,” Rick says.  “It’s not like Malcolm could really be much help.  What was his specialty in MI-5 anyway?”

Billy’s eyes focus on him, and he smiles wryly.  “You think we’re to that point yet?”

Rick frowns.  “I was just--”

Billy nods weakly.  “I know, I know,” he says.  “And maybe soon.”

Rick falls silent, watching as Billy’s eyes wander, fluttering for a moment while he exhales heavily.

Maybe sooner than Rick wants to think.

-o-

When Rick’s radio crackles, he’s so surprised that he jolts.  He fumbles for it, nearly dropping it before pushing the talk button.

Michael’s voice repeats itself, “Martinez, Collins, do you copy?”

“Roger that,” Rick says, and his heart skips a beat.  He flashes a grin at Billy who manages a wan smile in reply.  “What’s your status?”

“Hostages are secure,” Michael reports.  “We’ve connected with a local army unit.  We should be at the compound in fifteen minutes.  Is the complex still secure?”

“No sign of movement just yet,” Rick replies.

“Good,” Michael says.  Then he hesitates.  “How is Billy?”

Rick swallows the lump in his throat.  “Still holding on.”

Billy seems to sigh, settling back into his pack.

“Copy that,” Michael says.  “See you in fifteen.”

“We’ll be here,” Rick rejoins, feeling his spirits buoy.

The crackle disappears and Rick turns a boastful smile toward Billy.  “Fifteen minutes,” he repeats.  “That’s pretty good, even for the ODS.”

Billy grimaces a little, but tries to turn it into a smile.  “We are the best,” he agrees, his eyes drifting closed and, this time, staying that way.

Rick’s stomach flips, his joy tempered by the ever-present reality.  He reaches out, puts his hand to Billy’s face.  The skin is clammy.  “Hey,” he says, shaking him slightly. 

Billy’s eyes open slightly, brow furrowed.

“Fifteen minutes,” Rick tells him, offers that fact like a life raft.

Billy nods.  His lips are dry, and he shivers under Rick’s touch.  “Fifteen minutes.”

-o-

It’s only been five minutes when Billy’s eyes close again.

Rick shakes him again, hand to Billy cheek, but this time the response is minimal.

Coldness starts to form in his stomach and Rick doesn’t want to deal with it.  He gets to his knees, leaning over Billy.  His eyes scan the bandage, which is completely saturated now.  The pool on the floor is growing, little by little every passing minute.

It’s almost too much, and Rick thinks he might panic.  Instead, he reaches toward Billy’s shoulder and grips it, giving him another shake.

The movement jostles Billy, and a groan escapes his lips.

“Ten minutes,” Rick tells him pointedly.  “You have to hold on for ten minutes.”

Billy groans again, his face creased in pain.  When he opens his eyes, they’re wet.  “You can be a cruel bastard, you know that?” he slurs.

Rick sits back slightly and lifts his chin.  “I did learn from the best.”

Billy actually manages a laugh at that.  At least, there’s a forced exhale of air that Rick takes for as much.

After a moment, Billy swallows with effort.  His expression darkens, and his eyes settle seriously on Rick.  “You know,” he begins.  “I learned from the best.”

“Well, I’m sure working under Michael has that effect on everyone,” Rick says.

But Billy shakes his head.  “I mean back at home,” he says.  “Malcolm, he was one of my mentors.”

Rick is surprised.

Billy nods.  “I know,” he says.  “Bastard has ridiculous genes, but he’s older than he’d confess to.”

“So that’s how you knew him,” Rick concludes.  “He was your boss?”

“Taught me everything I know,” Billy confirms.

“So I take it he took your deportation hard,” Rick muses.

Billy snorts a little.  “He was the one who pushed for it,” he says.

Rick frowns again.  “Why?”

“Because when a mission got complicated, I turned my back on orders and did my own thing,” Billy continues.  He shrugs minutely.  “It was his mission.  They were his orders.”

“How did disobeying orders get you deported?” Rick asks.

“I may have crossed illegally onto sovereign soil and worked with a known terrorist group to accomplish my means,” he says. 

Rick doesn’t bother to hide his surprise this time.  “But I thought you said it was a youthful indiscretion.”

“Aye,” Billy says.  “I was young.  I was naive enough to think that the ends really could justify the means.  I believed the big picture was more important than the mission.”  He takes a heaving breath, shaking his head.  “I was wrong.”

Rick takes that in, considers it.  He thinks about his own missions and the way lines get blurred when he’s in the field.  He considers the orders he’s received and the times he’s questioned them and the times he’s done things his own way regardless.  It’s always turned out, and Michael’s had his back.  But the thing with working under the radar is that sometimes it’s impossible to know which way actions will be judged until the dust clears.

“Why did you do it? Rick prompts finally.

Billy’s expression changes.  “The mission was too narrow,” he says.  “People were going to die and I knew we had the power to stop them.  So I did the mission--and then I just kept going.”

Rick swallows hard.  “Did it work?”

Billy nods, smiling a little.  “Aye,” he says.  “Saved almost a dozen people.”

“And Malcolm didn’t care?”

“They weren’t a part of the mission,” Billy says.  “Besides, when my cohorts in the terrorist cell were finished helping me, they promptly went on to bomb a bus.  Nothing I knew about, of course, but the connection didn’t look good.”

No, it didn’t, and Rick knows all too well that perception is often more important than reality when it comes to judging the outcome of missions.  It had been a harsh lesson, learned two days in when his team had calmly explain how a simple photo taken out of context could get him fired and left him forever in their debt.

Granted, his team at least had given him back the picture and traded it for trust.

But his team sees the big picture.  To make these mission work, to save lives and do the right thing, to win the day and stay alive--they have to. 

Funny, in all of the craziness of the ODS, Rick has never stopped to think that he might be lucky.

Looking at Billy again, Rick swallows.  “Why are you telling me this?”

Billy shrugs again, the motion even less than before.  There’s a ghost of his smile on his lips.  “Just seemed like the right time,” he murmurs.

And Rick can’t say anything, can’t do anything, as Billy closes his eyes once again.

NEXT

Comments

Posted by: Moogs (moogsthewriter)
Posted at: May 2nd, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
Psych - OMG

YOU WROTE ME BILLY WHUMP AND BACKGROUND FIC.

BRB FLAILING AND FINISHING THE EPIC AWESOMENESS THAT IS THIS STORY.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 2nd, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC)
stephen skeptical

What is the fun in writing fic if whump is not included? Especially for your birthday ;)

Posted by: Moogs (moogsthewriter)
Posted at: May 2nd, 2011 03:48 pm (UTC)
Oceans - Reuben

LOL This is true. :D

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