?

Log in

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

Chaos fic: Calculated Risks 1/2

June 6th, 2011 (07:51 am)
Tags: ,

Title: Calculated Risks

Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: I am rather hopelessly addicted to this show and so I'm indulging my muse while there's still a show to love. Much thanks to geminigrl11  for the beta :) Remaining mistakes and silly typos are because I type too quickly and don't proof read well enough.

Warnings: There are some spoilers for various aired eps, but it's hard to say when exactly this takes place considering the random order of the eps being aired. But I'll say it seems to be before the events of "The Mole" and serves as a precursor to Rick/Adele.

Summary: Rick doesn't have time to calculate the odds of survival at this point or to weigh the pros and cons of this course of action. At this point, all he has to go on are instincts and orders, and for once, those two things really seem to be working in tandem.

 

-o-

When all of it is over, Rick walks into Langley and goes straight to Adele's office. He doesn't knock, doesn't wait to be let in. He brushes by her assistant and doesn't care who else tries to stop him.

Behind her desk, she's surprised.

Then, she's relieved. "You're alive," she says, almost like she doesn't believe it, almost like she might cry.

Rick tries to find the words. There aren't any.

Instead, he steps forward, moving around the desk. She sputters as she tries to speak, but he doesn't let her. He pulls her up with one hand and cups her face with another.

Adele's cheek is warm; her eyes are wet. Her mouth is open, as if ready to say something.

Rick doesn't wait to listen. He's waited long enough and he's played by the rules all his life. The ODS, this mission, this team has changed him in this: he knows now that some risks are worth taking. Not because they're safe or guaranteed to pan out, but because they just are.

Like helping someone in need. Like putting themselves on the line to take down a terrorist network. Like sticking by each other no matter what.

Like kissing the girl you might be able to fall in love with, right there, right then.

Rick doesn't hesitate anymore when he leans in, pressing his lips to hers and letting the moment linger.

-o-

In the beginning, it's one of Michael's former assets. He runs a trinket shop in Cairo. With recent upheaval, business has been slow but that doesn't mean there's not action.

"Members of a homegrown terrorist group have started pressuring him to supply them with legal documents so they can move in and out of the country without being picked up by international agencies," Michael explains.

Rick frowns. "Why would they assume he could do that?"

Michael's face is terse. "Before he settled down, he used to do paperwork for a lot of people," he explains. "That's how he became so valuable to me."

"But I take it our friend Mr. Ishak wanted a more peaceful retirement," Billy ventures, still lounged at his desk.

"I can't make you come with me," Michael continues. He's standing in the front of the office. "And this is by no means official."

Rick scoffs. "That seems to be pretty common around here."

Casey shrugs. "Helping out might not only keep him safe, but might net us a few terrorists."

"Who could link us back to various ties within the region," Billy continues. He inclines his head. "That might not be such a bad thing."

"I'm leaving tonight," Michael says.

Casey makes a face and gets to his feet. When he sees Rick staring at him, he shrugs again. "What? If I'm going to make a flight tonight, I'm going to have to pack," he says, rifling through his desk to collect a few things.

Billy is grinning. "Do you think we'll have time to stop and see the Pyramids?" he asks. "All the times I've been to the region, and I still haven't seen them except on postcards."

Really, this is something Rick has come to expect. Michael always has a plan, sometimes sanctioned, sometimes not, and while they're always good causes, Billy and Casey never seem to greet such plans with anything less than anticipation. It's impossible to tell for sure if this is merely because they truly enjoy enacting justice around the globe or if their years as a team has built such an implicit trust that they actually never second guess Michael's tactical prowess.

And Rick can't deny that it is pretty damn good tactical prowess. Impressive, even. If the entire group of them were more sane, he might feel more comfortable following them unquestioningly.

The problem is, they're not altogether sane and Rick's been through enough crazy situations to know that a little doubt is necessary. If only because no one else will say something and because every time he seems to trust this team blindly, it ends poorly for him.

"Do we have a cover?" Rick asks, hoping to sound more practical than skeptical.

Michael nods. "My alias is still good," he says. "When I was stationed there, I was serving as a business liaison for an oil company. With the recent revolution, our fresh cover story is that we're trying to reestablish our presence with new faces."

Billy nods with an enthusiastic twinkle in his eye. "Americans are known for their notable love affair with the liquid gold."

Casey grunts, closing his desk drawer. "And Egypt is a prime money making opportunity," he agrees, straightening his jacket. "It should work."

"We land, make contact with Ari in what appears to be a professional capacity," Michael continues on without missing a beat.

"Something his new terrorist friends might not take too kindly to," Billy observes with a slight tilt of his head.

"Yeah," Casey says shortly. "They come after us for infringing on their territory, we take them down. The asset is safe, we ship off a few terrorists to make the world a happier place. Can I go now so I can properly pack all my toiletries?"

Michael nods. "Flight's at seven."

Casey grimaces as he brushes past Michael. "I'll be there at five."

As Rick watches him go, he can't help but be a little confused, which seems to be an all too common state of mind for him in this job. For someone who works in intelligence, Rick often finds that he feels left in the dark.

Michael tosses a manila folder to Billy. "Make sure Higgins doesn't see those."

Billy offers him back a jovial salute. "What's the good of being a spy if you can't hide from your own paranoid employer?"

Michael returns it with a small, approving smile and promptly walks out. To where, Rick's not sure. What he is sure of is that he's probably never going to know.

Still, Rick stares after him, wondering if he missed something. "So that's that?" he asks, because he can think of a thousand questions to ask, a thousand details to plan, a thousand risks to properly articulate, assess, and avoid.

Billy looks at him blankly. "What more did you want?"

"I don't even know where to get my ticket," Rick says, although that's really the least of his problems.

Billy just smiles. "I imagine it's right here, along with our passports and working aliases," he says, lifting the manila envelope.

That figures, because it seems just like Michael to tell them this mission is optional and still have all their flights and aliases in order. Nothing is truly optional in the CIA except for the decision to stay employed versus look elsewhere for work.

And yet, Rick's still trying to make it parse. He's a planner, and when he chooses to execute something, he likes to have his bases properly covered. The ODS is a haphazard and slipshod organization--in so many ways, he understands why Higgins is dubious of them.

"But how did he know we'd agree?" Rick asks.

Billy gives him a disappointed look. "And what possible reason would we have to say no?"

"The fact that it's off the books and extremely dangerous?" Rick suggests in an all too reasonable manner, even though he knows that's not enough. Because as readily as he can understand Higgins' hesitation when it comes to the ODS, he can also understand the sheer satisfaction of finding a mission and getting it done without the hassles of red tape and bureaucracy.

There's no middle ground here, it seems. Staying on this team is a risk Rick has to take because the positives outweigh the negatives.

At that, Billy just smiles as he gets to his feet, because Rick suspects the Scot can see through just how meager Rick's objections are. As he moves around Rick's desk, he taps the envelope on it. "And that's just what makes it the perfect mission," he says. He turns at the doorway. "See you at seven?"

Billy doesn't stay for an answer. When the door shuts behind him, Rick finds himself alone at his desk, wondering if he's just made another big mistake in his short career at the CIA.

-o-

On the plane, Rick thinks. Casey sleeps; Billy seems to flirt with everything that moves. Michael studies a case file, and Rick just thinks. He knows he should sleep, but he can't turn his brain off. He's always been that way, and now that he has life-and-death situations to consider, it's harder than ever.

Ultimately, this is how it works. Rick can't be sure the entire CIA is like this, but he has the nagging sense that each department has its insane and inane idiosyncrasies. It's very simple: intelligence is never safe and simple, which Rick has always known. He just never realized it's completely impossible to make sense of as well. To be a spy is to accept that. Rick values the ends enough to make the means palatable.

And really, some parts of it make sense. Developing and protecting assets. Taking out the bad guys and saving the good guys. At the macro level, all of this is very straightforward.

But in the details, it's just a mess. There's layer upon layer of lies and duplicity and sometimes the people being tricked are the ones that authorize everything. Rick is okay with risks. But sometimes he doesn't even know how much he's risking or what he's risking it for or if it all goes wrong, if his own country will disown him in the aftermath.

That's disconcerting for Rick, and he thinks that's why he always pauses. Why he never trusts a mission completely. Why he always wants more information before he takes a chance. Because Rick likes risks, but only when they're calculated. He's spent his life measuring and weighing costs and benefits, tailoring the bottom line so he comes out ahead.

Now he's being asked to jump headlong into the unknown with no regard for anything except the abstract greater good. He's betting his life and his career on a wing and a prayer half the time, and Rick really does have to come to terms with that.

The good news is that with all the long plane rides, he has plenty of time to at least try.

The bad news is that it's still never quite enough.

-o-

On the ground in Egypt, Rick expects it to go wrong a lot quicker than it does. At first, he thinks they'll be picked up from their hotel, that Michael's aliases will be compromised. Then, he thinks that Ari will have given them up and the first meet will be an ambush.

So when things are still on track by the night of the set up, Rick is both surprised and terrified. He's never been particularly superstitious, but he is someone who knows how to look at the odds and gauge trends. During his time with the ODS, no mission has ever gone by the books or according to plan, which means the likelihood that this will be the first is simply not very high. He's just waiting for the other shoe to fall and hoping it doesn't involve people getting killed when it does.

"You need to calm down," Casey says. He sounds exasperated.

Rick has been trying to calm down, but the fact is, they're in an unsecured location with no backup, waiting for terrorists to come so they can negotiate a fake deal. "I just feel like there are holes in the plan," he says.

"What holes could there possibly be?" Billy asks. He's lounging in a chair behind the counter, feet propped up.

Rick lifts one hand and gestures aimlessly. "What if they don't say enough to incriminate themselves?"

"These are terrorists who think that they're looking at a competitor," Michael explains coolly from his spot by the window. "They're not exactly known for their subtlety in these types of negotiations."

"Not to mention the fact that if they were fully skilled in such things, they probably still wouldn't be an up and coming organization looking for their break into the big time," Billy points out.

Rick lifts his hand around, raising a shoulder this time. "Okay, what if they insist on taking us somewhere else to complete the negotiation?"

"Then we stall long enough to get the evidence and the bail," Casey says tiredly. He's leaned against the counter.

This time, Rick throws up both arms. "What if they just blow up the entire place kill us and destroy all the evidence?"

Michael glances at Casey, who eyes Billy, who shrugs. "That would put something of a damper on things," he says.

"Exactly!" Rick says. "Which is why I'm just not sure why we don't have backup!"

Billy look to Casey, who looks to Michael, who looks straight at him. "If this were a fully established group, they wouldn't have let us live his long," he says plainly, the notion of their brutal execution seemingly very unimportant to him. "Since they're not, they would rather leverage us than kill us, a fact we can use to our advantage."

There's some logic to that, but it's still ODS logic, and Rick can't afford to give up his healthy skepticism for their methods even if their means are always without fault. "There's still too much that could go wrong."

Michael is impassive and looks back out the window. Casey just looks bored. Billy has the decency to maintain eye contact, face twisting into a guarded criticism. "If there weren't risks, someone would have done it already," he points out.

"But if we had gone on the books-" Rick begins.

This earns him a look from all three.

"Then we never would have gotten funding," Casey tells him.

"And Ari would already be dead," Michael says.

"And there'd be a terrorist cell with everything they need to make a leap into the big leagues," Billy concludes.

Rick just gapes. "But-"

"But nothing," Michael says. "We went into the desert to free one man. We travelled in and out of North Korea to save a diplomat's wife. We infiltrated a Russian arm's dealer's inner circle. These were all risks. Most people probably wouldn't have survived. Your first day on the job, we threw you into a car with a Russian operative and almost got you killed. We never pretended this job was without risk."

It's honest and definitive and completely without apology.

"But they're risks we can handle," Casey tells him.

Billy inclines his head. "And they're risks that are most certainly worth it."

Rick opens his mouth again, looking for a protest. When he finds none, he settles miserably into a chair next to Billy and reminds himself again why a job with the CIA has always been his lifelong dream.

-o-

It actually goes pretty well.

Michael plays the businessman in over his head and the rest of the team backpedals and apologizes sufficiently once the terrorists spell out their threats with exact clarity.

It's sort of remarkable, really. How quick these terrorists are to explain what they're capable of, providing specific examples of their growing list of illegalities.

They've provided a most convenient list of their crimes, perfect for any lawyer to indict them without the blink of an eye.

In all, they've got their needed evidence, the Egyptian military is on its way to impede the exit, and the terrorists actually believe they're idiot businessmen from America.

For a moment, Rick thinks that maybe this will go just as well as Michael says it will.

And then the terrorists open fire and Rick realizes that all his calculations were right.

-o-

Rick has been in firefights before, at least to some degree. But when a hail of automatic gunfire erupts, it's all Rick can do to duck and cover.

Cowered beneath the counter, Rick takes some solace in the fact that the rest of the team is there, too.

At least, they're long enough to pull their weapons and start returning fire.

Still, it's chaos, and between the gunfire and the gunfire, Rick thinks he's going to die.

His mind goes to his mother, and he remembers to say his prayers.

Then, like a hand from heaven, someone is pulling him harshly across the floor. Rick comes to his senses enough to see the wall splintering above him promptly before he's shoved through a door and rolled unceremoniously down a tiled hallway.

He looks up and Michael is standing there.

"Are you hit?" he asks, and his voice is hard to hear over the barrage just beyond the door.

Rick shakes his head and blinks.

"Good," he says, reaching down and hauling Rick to his feet with one hand. Behind them, the door opens, just long enough for Casey and Billy to come crashing through. "Then it's time to run."

-o-

Rick runs.

He doesn't have time to calculate the odds of survival at this point or to weigh the pros and cons of this course of action. At this point, all he has to go on are instincts and orders, and for once, those two things really seem to be working in tandem.

Michael is right in front of him, and Rick doesn't have to look back to know that Casey and Billy are right on their heels. The sound of gunfire is following them, and as Michael hurls him around a corner, Rick is vaguely aware of bullets hitting the wall behind them.

They don't stop running, though. They aren't even bothering to return fire. It's just a sheer desperate flight, and Rick hopes that someone knows where they're going because at this point, he doesn't have a clue.

When another door opens in front of him, Rick doesn't hesitate to run through it. It's only when he's face to face with a dead end that he turns around to see where they are.

He's panting, and it takes a moment to get his bearings. When he finally catches his breath, he sees Michael at the door, one hand pressed firmly against it. Casey's bent over, hands on his knees, while Billy is sliding down, back pressed against the wall.

Outside, there's still yelling and gunfire, but it's muffled now, and it only takes Rick a moment longer to put together why.

They're in a vault. Small, confined, and, thankfully, secure.

-o-

Rick's gratitude is somewhat short lived.

While it is indeed a relief to not be at the mercy of terrorists with machine guns, he quickly comes to realize that they are cornered.

More than that, it doesn't seem like the bad guy seem to like the idea of just letting them go.

Gunfire continues to pelt the door and Rick finds himself flinching.

Michael keeps one hand on the door and then nods reassuringly. He looks back, directly at Rick. "Relax," he says. "This is five inches of reinforced steel."

"It'd take a freight train to barrel through there," Casey adds with a huff from his spot.

Rick looks from Casey then back to Michael, and if he's wide eyed, he really can't help it. "Why are we in a vault?" he asks.

"Would you rather still be out there?" Michael asks plainly.

The answer is obvious, but there are still so many questions that Rick can barely keep his head on straight to ask them. "But why is there even a vault here?"

"Ari was an asset for the CIA for nearly fifteen years," Michael explains. "He knows a thing or two about being safe and prepared."

"With a vault?" Rick demands, more than slightly incredulous at this point.

"It looks like a vault," Michael concedes.

"But think panic room," Casey adds, still panting.

Rick has to admit, that makes sense, especially in a line of work where bad guys with machine guns may or may not come after you.

But there's still one relevant point: "And you knew this was here?"

Michael shrugs. "It was part of the backup plan."

It's all Rick can do to keep his emotions in check. As it is, he rubs a hand over his face and turns away for a moment. He's looking at the cement walls and thinking about how he's not sure how to be grateful and irate all at once.

Turning back around, he opens his mouth, then closes it. He turns back around.

"It helps to breathe," Billy advises from the ground.

"And to remember that survival is paramount, no matter how it happens," Casey adds.

Rick spins back around, flushed with accusation. He takes a step forward, finger up. "You should have told me."

Michael is frustratingly impassive. "Should I tell you every contingency in my head?" he asks. "Maybe every possible strategy that occurs to me?"

Rick shakes his head, adamant. "This isn't like that, and you know it," he says. "This is a key part of the mission intelligence that you neglected to share with me."

"If it makes you feel better, lad," Billy chimes in, "I didn't know about it either."

"Me neither," Casey agrees. "I figured there was some possibility, given Ari's circumstances and history."

"That's true," Billy says, with a ready nod. "Everyone who works with Michael comes away a paranoid bastard. You can't help it."

It's supposed to be placating, and Rick thinks they may have a point. But he has a point, too. He's been kept in the dark, treated like luggage, and thrown into life or death situations with nothing more than a vague notion of doing the right thing. He's a part of this team, and he wants to feel like an equal part of it.

Rick takes another step forward, eyes zeroed in on Michael. "We should talk about these things," he says. "If I'm going to stay alive long enough to not be the new guy, I need to know about these things!" He throws his hands up. "I mean, come on, they're not even going to stop firing until we come out."

"You're always going to be the new guy," Michael tells him without missing a beat. "And this vault locks from the outside, only. There is no internal release."

"Then they'll just blow the door down," Rick says. "Enough fire power sustained over a period of time--it'll get there."

Michael nods. "But you're forgetting."

Rick shakes his head.

"The rest of the plan," Michael concludes.

As if on cue, the gunfire outside stops. There's a new cacophony of yelling, and Rick picks up on the Arabic orders of what sounds suspiciously like police officers making arrests.

"We never had to hold out forever," Michael reminds him. "Just long enough for the Egyptian military to take our friends into custody."

"Survival," Casey reminds him.

"Tactical genius," Billy amends with a nod.

For a moment, all Rick can do is stare. Finally, he nods to himself. "Right," he says. "Of course."

Michael seems to straighten. "Good."

Deflated, Rick suddenly feels exhausted. He looks around warily again, taking in the full extent of the vault. It's not very big, no more than an eight by eight space with plain cement walls and a few stacks of shelving pushed against one wall. There are minimal supplies there, a few boxes, but not much else.

The door behind Michael is secure, and the light bulb above them is naked.

"So," Rick finally says into the growing silence. "When are they going to let us out of here?"

Michael looks at Casey, who looks at Billy. Billy doesn't even have the heart to look at Rick this time.

Rick shakes his head. "What?"

Michael takes a breath. "Well, that's the thing," he says. "They won't."

"Our cover won't hold up under military questioning," Casey says.

"That's why we were going to exit before the military arrived," Billy reminds him.

"But they were shooting at the vault," Rick reminds them.

"Which will look like a robbery," Michael says. "They'll call Ari, but with the hours of processing and interrogation, that won't be until morning, at least."

Rick blinks and tries to listen to what no one is saying. "So you're saying we're stuck here."

"A right smart deduction," Billy says with what sounds like genuine pride.

Casey rolls his eyes. "Someday give the kid a star."

Michael just nods. "Until Ari comes and opens it from the outside," he says, "yes, we are completely stuck."

-o-

After being shot at by terrorists and forced into an enclosed vault on an unsanctioned mission with what could very well be a group of rogue operatives, Rick knows that discovering they're stuck in said vault with said team really isn't the worst outcome possible.

But when he tries to envision the scenarios that would be worse, he comes up a little blank, save for the variations that involve capture and decapitation.

At least with this, he thinks, it can't possibly get worse.

That is until Michael starts his assessments.

He starts with Casey, who has seemed fine to Rick until he sees Michael peel away his outer shirt to reveal the patch of blood on his arm. Michael assesses it then tears a strip of the outer shirt to tie around it.

"It's a flesh wound," Casey tells him needlessly.

Rick edges closer instinctively. "Does it hurt?"

Casey looks at him and shrugs. "A bullet ripped through my flesh," he says with a deadpanned look. "What do you think?"

In all, Casey is remarkably calm, especially since the sight of the blood sort of makes Rick want to panic.

Michael, however, seems unconcerned, instead turning his attention to a goose egg on Casey's forehead. "Did you run into a wall?" he quipped.

"Ha ha," Casey laughed dryly. "When I was taking cover, I hit the deck harder than anticipated. I'm fine."

Michael stares at him intently for a moment. "Looks like it could be a concussion."

Casey doesn't flinch. "I'm fine," he says. Then his voice drops and he nods over Michael's shoulder to the opposite wall. "Now go check on Billy."

Michael doesn't need to be told twice, and Rick finds it hard to turn away, instinctively drawn to protect those he calls his team, until he turns and catches a glimpse of Billy.

True, he's been talking and debating with his team for nearly five minutes since being trapped in here, but it's the first time he's stopped to look at his partners without obsessing on the situation. Billy's still slumped against the wall. What Rick had taken for relieved exhaustion, he can now see as weakness and pain.

Michael is by his side, quick and efficient. He doesn't even need to ask to find the wound. He rips Billy's pant leg, revealing a string of three bullet holes running from his calf to his thigh.

Billy winces a little, but still manages to smile. "Also flesh wounds," he says.

Michael doesn't contradict him, not even as he pulls a strip of the fabric to start tying around his leg.

Rick can only stare. "How did you even manage to run on it?"

Billy shrugs with a self-deprecating grin. Rick is fairly sure that it must be facade, but he realizes that he's never seen much beyond it to know for sure.

"It's fairly easy to be motivated through the pain when there's the risk of catching a few more bullets," Billy says, as nonchalantly as he can while he heaves a breath. He shrugs one shoulder and somehow manages to look dashing even when he's pale and sweaty. "Three in the leg is a vast improvement over one through the chest."

Michael is still working wordlessly, his face almost as pinched and pale as Billy's as he tightens the fabric into a makeshift tourniquet. Billy's face twists in pain, but he doesn't say anything in protest, leaving Rick to object for them all.

"But you've been shot three times!" Rick says, because someone has to take this seriously.

Billy's face scrunched up dismissively. "It's not that bad," he says.

Rick can only gape.

-o-

Michael is efficient in his work. When he's finished with the tourniquet, he sits back on his heels and nods at Billy with certainty. "That should do it," he says.

Rick looks at the leg and Michael's handiwork. The tourniquet seems to be doing something of its job, but the wounds are still seeping blood and Rick has studied enough first aid in his training to know that while these wounds don't have to be life threatening, they do require treatment.

Billy smiles, and even though his face looks drawn and tired, he still somehow manages to seem sincere. "It feels better," he says. He takes a breath and manages not to wince despite the fact that Rick can still see the pain in his eyes.

It's such a bald face lie that part of Rick wants to continue gaping. But Billy's so resolute, so sure, so reassuring, that Rick ultimately doesn't have the heart. He wishes he knew how Billy did it; how Billy can lie with unparalleled tenacity, how he can make people want to believe him against their better judgment.

It makes Rick envious for a moment, until he remembers that Billy is bleeding on the floor of a sealed vault, away from medical intervention and painkillers.

Even if he might understand Billy's nonchalance, it's harder to grasp Michael and Casey's. Casey has seemed to settle easily against the wall on the opposite side, keeping a wary eye on everything. Michael eases back to sit crossed legged on the floor, and he looks like he's hunkering down.

Still tense, Rick looks at him, skeptical. "Shouldn't we be thinking of a way out?"

Michael blinks at him. "There is no way out," he says.

"But Casey and Billy are shot," Rick reminds him.

Michael shrugs. "There is no way out," he says again.

Rick takes a breath and tries to retain some sense of calm. "Then we're just going to sit here?"

Michael nods.

"But we can't just sit here!" Rick explodes.

Casey sighs. Billy looks at him, almost sympathetic. Michael is impassive. "No matter when the police notify Ari of the incidence, he will come to check on us."

Rick's searching for some kind of answer to do justice to his frustration and his incredulity.

Billy offers him a smile. "Just think of it as a sleepover," he says. "Did you go camping as a lad?"

"We can even have a singalong," Casey notes with sarcasm.

"Or we can sleep," Michael says, practical as ever. "We just have to stay put and wait. Things will be fine in the morning."

Between Billy's ridiculous optimism and Casey's wry darkness, Michael's straightforward illogical logic was almost kind of comforting.

Rick sighed and looked at the cement ceiling and shook his head.

Almost.

-o-

No one sleeps or even makes a pretense at trying. Casey sits stiffly against the wall, one hand clutched over his bandage. Billy doesn't make such a show, and with his loose-limbed sprawl, he seems content to just rest as the night wears on.

Michael never seems to move but somehow ends up next to Casey and Billy in alternating turns. He's always saying something when he checks Casey's bandage and he's usually making a joke when he's feeling for the circulation in Billy's leg.

The three of them alternate with a rhythm they don't have to discuss, telling stories in equal turns. Billy laments his unattended dry cleaning; Casey explains that he hasn't needed to go to laundromat since 1989 thanks to an Italian woman who has been following him ever since.

If these things seem weird to Rick, Michael seems to take them in stride, though Rick notices that no one asks Michael to tell any stories. Which is probably good since Michael seems to have no stories he's willing to offer.

"What about you, Rick?" Billy asks, rolling his head over to look at him. "How do you handle laundry issues?"

It's almost a little surprising to be included. He's found himself unusually reticent throughout this entire ordeal. He's not sure if it's the blood no one's talking about or the vault no one seems concerned about or the fact that they may never get out of here alive.

"Ten to one, he does it himself," Casey says.

Billy narrows his eyes as he studies Rick. Then, he nods in agreement. "Dapper as he is, I imagine he puts quite a lot of time into it."

"But considering the meager salary he must be making, he couldn't afford more than the laundry room in his building," Casey concludes.

This speculation is especially annoying since it is entirely accurate. "I do my own starching, too," Rick adds.

"So that's why your collars are always so perfectly stiff," Billy muses. He looks earnest about this even though Rick gets the distinct sense that he's been mocked. "I'm impressed."

"Thank you," Rick says. Then he shakes his head. "But why are we talking about laundry?"

"Would you rather talk about cooking?" Billy asks. "It's been years since I turned on a stove."

"I do all my own cooking," Casey says with a shake of his head.

Rick tilts his head. "Really?"

Casey lifts his eyebrows. "You think I'm going to trust someone else to prepare my food?"

Rick is somewhat amused. "You worried about someone poisoning it?"

Casey does not find it funny. "With your traditional poisons, no," he says emphatically. "But who knows what bacteria or viruses might infect it if someone else touches it. Or if they'll use natural ingredients. You know, it's been proven that the chemicals in processed food are designed to encourage addiction and obesity."

"That's the problem with government-run agencies like the FDA," Billy chimes in. "You can never trust them."

"But we're part of a government-run agency," Rick reminds them all.

Billy and Casey stare.

Michael almost smirks. "And what makes you think you can trust us?"

-o-

The conversation goes on. From Billy's stories from his rebellious teen years in Edinburgh to Casey's field exploits in Asia, there's not really a slow moment.

But Rick can't help his mind from wandering. He can't stop it. He's always been a thinker. Analyzing and assessing and calculating.

Considering the things that could go wrong. Weighing the possible escape routes that Michael refuses to acknowledge. Envisioning all other possible factors that might hinder their overall survival.

Infection is not a problem as long as Michael's assessment of Ari's return is correct. The lack of food and water is similarly unimportant along that timeline. There is the question of how long to leave on Billy's tourniquet, but Rick supposes it's a tossup between how fast he'll bleed against how long they can control the circulation in the leg. Rick also has some trepidation about leaving their gear in the motel room unattended for so long, but by paying a little extra, they'd guaranteed that housekeeping would stay out.

All of this is incidental, really, as long as Michael is right.

Overall, Rick might have to admit, Michael might be right to be staying calm. If he really knows his asset this well, and all evidence suggests that he does, then the odds seem to lean in their favor for ultimate success and survival.

That is sort of reassuring, and it takes the edge off of the fact that he's locked in a vault with no other viable way out.

Still, Rick's confidence wavers every time he sees the blood on Casey's fingers or Billy's weak smiles.

This time, when he looks at Billy, Billy is looking back at him. "You're worrying."

Rick opens his mouth to deny it, but he soon discovers that Casey and Michael are looking at him, too. He can't control the fact that he blushes. "How can you tell?" he asks.

"You haven't been listening to a word we've said," Casey tells him, sounding bored.

"And you didn't even laugh about my time chasing the Loch Ness Monster, and that is one of my best stories," Billy adds.

"So why are you worrying?" Michael prompts.

Rick considers denying it or at least deflecting it, but he really doesn't see the point. He sighs, shaking his head. "I just don't get how we can be so calm when half the team has been shot."

Casey pins him with a plaintive stare. "Simple," he says. "Bleeding to death isn't the problem."

Billy shakes his head in commiseration. "Not when we're running out of precious oxygen with every inhalation," he says.

It hits Rick like a ton of bricks. It's a fact he hasn't thought of, not even a little.

"Puts things into perspective a bit," Billy continues.

Rick blinks. Once, then twice. He looks around the room, the cement walls, the steel door. He doesn't want to think it's possible. "It's airtight?" Rick asks, silently begging to be contradicted for once.

"Any kind of ventilation system would be a weakness," Michael says. "Ari has kept international secrets in here. It's not a risk he was willing to take."

"So we're running out of air?" Rick asks, even though he knows the answer now, should have known it all along.

"In a manner of speaking, yes," Michael confirms.

"Why isn't there an internal failsafe?" he demands.

"If someone manages to get inside who shouldn't be here, wouldn't you want to make sure there was no way out?" Michael challenges.

"You said it was a panic room!"

"Only in a matter of speaking," Michael allows. "It's all a matter of priorities."

"Sure, and my priority would be knowing that if I accidentally got locked in here, I wouldn't have to die a slow and senseless death!"

Michael shares a look with Casey and Billy, before settling a cool gaze back on Rick. "Sometimes death is unavoidable," he says. "But we've already guaranteed that it's not senseless. You'll just have to find some comfort in that, Martinez. One way or another."

NEXT