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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: Calculated Risks 2/2

June 6th, 2011 (07:55 am)
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Continued from part one.


-o-

With this new revelation, Rick's calculations take a darker, more desperate turn. He starts by calculating the total volume of the room, then racks his brain back to biology to try to figure out how much air each person might breathe. He considers the average amount of breaths per second and multiplies that by four and really wants to start panicking at how quickly the numbers get big.

Breaking it down, the conclusion is actually pretty simple: there isn't enough air to last until morning. Not with four of them. Not even close.

They're going to die.

This is somewhat terrifying to Rick, who has accepted death as a possible outcome of this career choice, but never expected it to come in this manner or so quickly.

Or with people who seemed so totally oblivious to it.

Instead, his team acts like nothing has changed. They talk in equal turns, sharing stories and jokes. Rick can't bring himself to join them, both because the mood seems entirely wrong now and he is all too aware of how talking just uses up more air than sitting totally still.

"You're thinking too much," Billy says to him finally. He has moving from his slouched position, and his face is paler, but his disposition is still sunny, even though his voice is weaker.

"How can I be thinking too much?" Rick snaps back. "I thought I was supposed to think more. Isn't that what you guys are always telling me?"

"Thinking about the inevitability of impending death is not the kind of thinking we had in mind," Casey advises him. His face is a little sickly now, fingers still clutched around his wound so that his knuckles are perpetually white.

"Well, what else am I supposed to be thinking about right now?" Rick asks, feeling his temper straining against the bounds of his well-honed self-control.

None of them has a ready answer to that. Michael shifts a little. "It's always important to look for ways to fix problems as they come up," he says. "But when there's nothing you can do, obsessive worry won't fix it."

"It also won't hurt," Rick says, a little sullenly.

"You can never underestimate the power of positive thinking," Casey advises him.

Rick frowns. "But you're an eternal pessimist!"

Casey actually looks offended. "I'm a realist," he says. "I don't see the need to whitewash things with undue sunshine."

"A possibly noble trait," Billy concedes from across the vault.

"But I also refuse to accept failure as a preconceived fate under any circumstances, even when common sense might dictate otherwise," Casey continues.

Rick shakes his head. "So what does that mean?"

"That means," Casey says with an exasperated sigh, "that while I fully acknowledge imminent peril and will concede to certain odds, I never submit myself to them. Success in any context is largely determined by state of mind and I have trained myself to not allow my demise to be an option that I consider."

Rick's actually somewhat speechless.

"For me," Billy interjects conversationally, "I simply find it's more pleasant to dwell on the happier things. If I die, I don't want my last thought to be something unbearably miserable."

"Besides," Michael says, by way of concluding the topic, "I find that death is a very impractical detail to plan for. If we die, there's nothing else to worry about, so it's nothing to be concerned about."

It's almost nonsensical to Rick how much logic they're all using, and it's all so ridiculous that he finds he has no means left with which to disagree.

"You're crazy," he says finally, shaking his head. "You're all crazy."

"Right you are, my friend," Billy says, grinning widely. "And it's about time you stopped calculating the odds and just joined us in our joyous insanity."

-o-

After an hour, Rick starts to get drowsy. It's hard to tell if it's from the slow loss of air and build up of CO2 or if the loss of adrenaline is finally getting to him. As it is, he's starting to feel as loose as the rest of the team, so when they continue with their stories, he stops fighting himself from joining in.

"You know," Billy says, still slumped against the wall. He seems to be sinking deeper but doesn't bother to correct his posture as the minutes tick by. The seeping from the tourniquet hasn't stopped even if it's slowed, and Billy's conversational skills are not impeded except by the slow development of a drunken lisp. "I have to admit, if we do perish in here, I won't be without regrets."

Casey groans, scrunching his face up in pain--which is both physical and mental, as best Rick can tell. "And just when we convinced the kid to stop being morbid, you have to go and get started."

"It's not morbid," Billy counters with inalienable good nature. "But I have found myself reconsidering what things I might do if I get out of here in the morning."

"What?" Casey challenges. "Sleep with another Russian floozy?"

Michael smirks a little at that.

Even Billy doesn't seem to take it as an insult. "No, I think I've done sufficiently in that area," he says. "But I would rather like the chance to make things right back in the Mother Land."

Casey makes a face.

Rick looks at Billy curiously. "You mean, fix the thing that got you deported?"

Billy nods, somewhat solemnly. "In my long list of storied accomplishments, that little fact does stand out like a sore thumb. Rather like Casey in proper society."

Casey just rolls his eyes. "You were deported," he says. "Short of bribing someone inside the government, I'm not sure there's much to fix."

Billy shakes his head, eschewing the simplicity of Casey's answer. "It's more complicated than that," he says. "I never saw it coming when it happened and I never prepared myself to say goodbye in any fashion. It'd be nice just to tell everyone my side of things."

"Since they're going to care so much about the story of a disgraced and deported former agent," Casey mutters contrarily. If Rick didn't know them better, he might think they were actually fighting, but Casey and Billy seem to play off each other with a flourish that Rick still can't quite explain. They're something unspoken between all of them, so that the things they say are only part of what they all mean.

"Well, fine then," Billy says, turning his gaze pointedly back at Casey. "What regrets might you care to fix if and when we find ourselves out among the living once more?"

"I don't believe in regrets," Casey replies quickly.

Rick lifts his eyebrows; Michael seems to smile slightly.

Billy pounces. "Somehow I doubt that sincerely, Mr. Two Percent," he says.

Casey almost blushes, though Rick figures if he'd been at full health, the faint color in his cheeks wouldn't have been noticeable. He sighs, though. "Fine," he says. "I can't deny that part of me would like the opportunity to at least let Linda know that I don't regret our time together."

Now Rick finds himself smiling. "She was right," he says. "You do love her."

Casey scowls at him. "Love is an inconsequential term that has been watered down by massive marketing firms across the world."

Billy nods. "Definitely loves her."

"Fine," Casey snaps. "But I'm not the only one left who hasn't shared."

Eyes turn to Michael, who holds up his hands in protest. "You know I don't do the caring and sharing."

"For your team," Billy implores. "We're bleeding for you, man. Have a heart and take a risk with your emotions."

"It's only fair," Casey says.

Rick just nods.

Michael sighs, rolling his eyes. "It's possible that I owe Faye an apology," he relents.

"Ah, the ex-wife," Billy muses. "Though I dare say, it's possible you owe her more than one."

"It was a relationship that would have never worked," Michael says with a quick shake of his head. "But I wish it could have ended better. She's a good woman."

"A good woman, indeed," Billy says with approval. His eyes drift to Rick, and even in his good humor, Rick can see the exhaustion taking hold there. "And what about Rick? The perpetual new guy? What regrets might you like to fix when we finally breathe fresh air again?"

It's only natural that the conversation would come to him. They've all bared their souls more than they normally would, and Rick is not opposed to bonding in the face of mortal danger.

But when he opens his mouth, when he tries to think, he finds himself coming up empty.

He frowns. "You know, I don't know."

"We shared," Casey protests. "Even Michael."

"It's only fair, Martinez," Michael agrees.

"I know," Rick assents, but he shakes his head. "But I really don't know."

"Is it possible that this lad has lived such a perfect life as to leave no regrets?" Billy muses with amusement.

"Or it's possible that he hasn't lived enough of a life to have regrets yet," Casey says. "No risks, no regrets. It's a simple and smart formula."

In truth, Rick's not sure who's right, but he worries that maybe it's a little of both.

-o-

Rick's mind wanders, his awareness threading in and out of the conversation at random intervals. Casey talks about growing up on a farm and Billy shares some of his exploits running amid the streets of Edinburgh. Rick thinks about his own childhood, the years he spent in preparation without ever looking back.

He gave up sports and social events; he forewent friends and dates. But he's exactly where he wants to be, exactly the way he wants to be it. He doesn't want to go back and play soccer or date more. He just wants to be a spy.

It's the end all, be all of his life. Every risk he's taken, every sacrifice he's made, has been for this.

Now that he's here, it occurs to him that he doesn't know what comes next.

Actually, he doesn't know anything.

Except, he hopes, this: "I think I've figured it out."

The team looks at him and Rick is suddenly aware that his comment had no natural preface. Casey looks bored. "You've figured out why Billy should have gotten beat up more often as a child?" he asks, even though it's clear he knows that's not the answer.

Rick can't help but feel embarrassed, and almost wishes that he hadn't tuned that portion of the conversation out. But he doesn't have the attention and there's just not enough air to bother. Instead, Rick shakes his head. "No, I mean, I've realized why I can't think of any regrets."

"And why's that?" Michael asks.

"I've always known what I wanted," Rick says, the revelation settling over him by degrees. "And I've never doubted it. Never doubted anything. The only thing that matters is the goal I'm working toward. Everything else..." He pauses, shakes his head. He looks up at his teammates, feeling vulnerable. "Everything else just never mattered."

"And you think that's a bad thing?" Michael presumes.

Rick shrugs. "All my risks are calculated. I'm always thinking about the life I want to lead so that I'm not really living the life I have."

"Sometimes living is the problem, though," Billy offers. When Rick looks at him, the Scotsman looks weaker than before, a pale shadow of a smile on his face. He's fading, almost right before Rick's bleary eyes.

Casey nods wearily, and Rick realizes he's never seen the other man look so old. "And you forget that most regrets are weaknesses. Spies live in a world of highly calculated risks."

Rick just blinks. His personal realization is hard enough to handle and with the thin air, he's struggling to work through the point of anything else.

"They're saying you may be better off," Michael explains, as if he can read Rick's mind. Which, at this point, wouldn't surprise Rick at all "You only have regrets when you've screwed something up. Maybe you're just the smartest one among us."

Rick stares at him, looks for some hint of deception or sarcasm. But Michael's serious, the steadiness in his eyes as close to compassion as Rick has ever seen. Michael wants him to believe it, and for that, Rick wants to believe it, too.

But he can't, and as his eyes drift back toward the ceiling and Billy breaks into song, he knows none of them believe it, either.

-o-

Billy passes out first. It's hard to say if it's the blood loss or the slow loss of oxygen, but when Casey asks him if he's ever been to Amsterdam in the winter, there's just quiet when there should be a colorful response.

Michael's next to him in an instant, one hand on his face and another on his shoulder. "Billy," he calls, shaking him lightly. "Billy."

Billy doesn't stir under the contact, and his white face remains impassive despite Michael's imploring voice.

Shifting down, Michael turns his attention to Billy's leg, checking the tourniquet before feeling for the pulse in Billy's ankle.

When he pulls back, Michael sighs just a little. "He's out."

Rick's stomach lurches, his chest tightening.

"We'll just make sure we keep an eye on the bleeding," Michael continues, settling back into his position. "Keep the pulse in his leg as strong as we can."

It's good advice that completely misses the point.

Still, none of them seem ready to say it. Billy stays still on the floor, his chest rising and falling rapidly, long arms draped limply at his sides. In some ways, he looks almost dead already, and it's all Rick can do to keep from shuddering.

"Well, at least we'll finally have some quiet around here," Casey gripes, even though no one believes that he means it.

"Really, he's the lucky one," Rick ventures next, and in some ways it's true. "He gets to sleep through the rest."

"Oh, are we boring you?" Casey asks, sarcastic.

Rick manages a smile. "I'm sure I could think of better ways to pass my night."

Michael takes a breath and lets it out. He leans his head back against the wall. "I'm sure we call could," he agrees.

In the stillness, no one disagrees, and for a time, the only sound in the vault is the labored pull and push of Billy's breathing.

-o-

Stars start dancing in Rick's field of vision and it's all he can do to keep himself from running the numbers in his head. Now that he's clearly symptomatic, there can't be more than a few hours left. With Billy being unconscious, they may be saving some air that way, but not enough to offset their dire need. Adding it all up will just depress him, though, so he tries not to let himself make it a countdown.

Still, he doesn't need to calculate to know this is a bad sign. The problem is that everything is becoming a bad sign.

Billy is still breathing, which Rick counts as a good thing, but it seems diminished somehow. This is the longest he hasn't heard the tall operative talk, and it makes him feel oddly on edge. Casey has become increasingly gruff by contrast, griping and complaining about anything and everything. If Michael is worried, he's not showing it, even though Rick thinks maybe they were wrong about the blood loss not being the greatest risk.

Still, Rick's not sure it matters, and as he sucks in a lung full of CO2 laden air, he really is coming to believe Billy might be the luckiest of them all to miss this part. Not that he wants Billy to die, but if they're all doomed anyway, Rick can't be so sure that Billy isn't actually the lucky one in this. Death by oxygen deprivation isn't pretty, and even if he knows he'll eventually just fall asleep and never wake up, the idea of losing his mind to hallucinations as his lungs labor for oxygen that just isn't there is unsettling to him.

"I think it's time to say goodnight," Casey says out of nowhere.

Their conversation has trailed off, broken by intermittent comments that had no purpose or connection to one another. Still, Casey catches him off guard and Rick looks at the older operative and thinks maybe he's already starting to see things.

Casey is staring at nothing, but nodding quite seriously. "Our air consumption needs to be controlled," he say, and when he looks at Rick and Michael, he's completely lucid. "I'd been putting it off, but I think I should try."

Rick has no idea what Casey is talking about, but Michael doesn't seem phased. "It's entirely up to you," he says.

"I just wanted to let you know," Casey says. "So you're not worried."

Michael nods. "That's very considerate of you."

Rick just feels confused. "Worried about what?" he asks.

Casey turns his eyes to Rick. "Worried when I slip into a coma."

"Why would you slip into a coma?" Rick asks, not because it's a medical unlikelihood at this point, but because Rick has always figured that a coma would be something you wouldn't see coming.

"Because if I put myself into a coma then my anatomic functions will slow down. The bleeding will abate and I'll consume less air, thereby lengthening all of our lives."

This actually makes sense, which is somewhat worrisome to Rick. Maybe the air quality is worse than he thinks.

Still, the logical benefit of being in a coma doesn't explain how or why Casey thinks he can control such things.

Rick shakes his head again, trying to put it together. He fails. "But you can't control a coma," he says, hoping that his teammates see some semblance of reality.

Though, Rick has always suspected that they've always been somewhat compromised in that area, so a little oxygen deprivation probably hasn't changed much.

"Of course you can," Casey counters him. Even after all this time, he's still got one hand on his wound. "It's a simple matter of being aware of your body at the anatomic level. If you are aware of the hormones being passed through your body, you can slow or speed up their production. When that happens, all you have to do is alter the levels appropriately in order to induce a coma. Doctors do it all the time with medication, which is wholly unnecessary for someone who is properly trained."

This sounds ridiculous to Rick, but somehow there's no argument to it. Instead, he asks, "And you'll be able to wake yourself up?"

"Comas are not a suspension of thought, just the diminishing of vitals," Casey replies. "I'll know when it's time to wake up."

There's no doubt in his voice, not even a trace.

"I'll see you on the other side, then," Michael tells him.

Casey nods once, then closes his eyes.

Rick waits for a moment, for something to happen. Nothing does.

Next to him, Michael sighs. "He's done this before," he assures Rick.

Rick looks at him, dubious. "Really?"

"Would I lie to you?" Michael asks by way of an answer.

One nice thing about their situation is that Rick's inhibitions are entirely gone. "Yes," he replies in all candor.

Michael pauses and looks thoughtful. "You're right," he says. "Sometimes I forget that it's okay to be honest."

It's a testament to his growing haziness that he doesn't latch onto the admission. "So is Casey really in a coma?" Rick presses instead.

"I'd bet on yes," Michael says. Then his brow furrows. "And I'd check if my eyesight wasn't blurring."

Rick tries to study him, but finds it difficult. "You know, you may be ready to pass out," he points out.

Michael doesn't seem bothered. "I've been through worse."

Rick's eyes boggle a bit. "How have you been through worse?"

Michael shrugs one shoulder lightly, quirking an eyebrow. "This isn't the first vault I've been locked in where air is running out."

"And how'd you get out of the others?" Rick asks.

This makes Michael think. "I actually don't remember," he says. He rolls his head toward Rick to look at him squarely. "I was already passed out when the rescue came."

"And that's supposed to be encouraging?" Rick asks, incredulous.

Despite Rick's obvious doubt, Michael is still unperturbed. "I'm still here, aren't I?"

Rick finds it frustrating that he doesn't have an argument for that.

-o-

It's getting harder to focus.

The room seems to be constantly shifting. The colors fade in and out while the fog grows around the edges of Rick's vision. When his eyes move, everything seems to be in stop motion photography. Rick knows because his sister used to try it sometimes and he'd never understood the appeal.

He can barely see Billy and Casey anymore, but he sees enough of their outlines to know that they're not moving. He can't tell if they're breathing or not, but for some reason he trusts that they are.

Next to him, Michael is still awake, his body slumped down against the wall. Rick can hear him breathing despite the growing roar in his own ears.

He doesn't know how much time has passed; his calculations seem trivial now. Dying in five minutes is no different than dying in twenty, and Rick knows he's not supposed to think like that, but he really can't control much of what goes on in his head at the moment.

As it is, time seems to slow down. Every breath is an eternity, a long and labored lifetime. It's all Rick can do to keep his eyes open, and the only reason he bothers is because he's scared of never waking up.

Michael is not one for conversation, and Rick can't decide if that's a blessing. With Casey and Billy's storytelling, it had been easier to forget the severity of the situation. With Michael's silence, his brain is left to its own devices, which Rick decides is not actually ideal.

So when Michael speaks, for a second, Rick actually thinks it's a full on hallucination.

"I'm sorry," Michael says again, more adamantly this time. He's looking at Rick with such naked earnestness that Rick is convinced that he's imagining it.

Rick blinks, trying to get his addled eyes to focus. "Are you talking?" he asks.

"I'm apologizing," Michael clarifies, his voice sounding slurred. "Are you listening?"

"Yeah, of course," Rick replies, trying to sound serious, which is remarkably difficult at this point. "I just thought I was hallucinating."

"That's okay," Michael says with a knowing nod. "I think I may be, too."

Rick can only nod back. "Is that why you're sorry?"

Michael shakes his head, rolling it against the wall. "No," he says with a ragged breath. "I'm sorry you're here."

For a second, this makes Rick want to cry. "On the team?"

Michael's nose scrunches up. "In the vault," he says, lifting one hand to gesture wildly. "I'm sorry you're all here."

"You know, I'd tell you it's not your fault," Rick says, trying to sound assuring.

Michael nods. "But it is."

"Yeah, it sort of is," Rick says. "But we all came willingly."

"I know," Michael says. "Which I'm even more sorry for. I ask all of you to risk your lives, and you never hesitate."

Rick doesn't know what to say to that. Instead, his head lolls and he stares blankly at the impenetrable vault door, trying to remember life on the outside.

"But we're going to get out of this," Michael continues, with more confidence than before.

Rick turns his head back to Michael with a snort. "Billy and Casey have passed out," he says. "And we're both experiencing severe effects of oxygen deprivation and carbon dioxide poisoning. We're going to be dead within an hour."

Michael doesn't even blink. "We're going to get out of this."

Rick is gaping in earnest now. "And how can you tell me that?"

"I live a life of doubt," Michael tells him. "Skepticism killed my marriage and every other significant relationship I've ever had. This doubt has kept me alive and helped me complete over one hundred missions for the CIA. But you can only practice doubt if you have a few things that are solid. Inalienable. Everyone needs a bedrock. And for this team, I refuse to believe in anything less than total success, no matter how unlikely."

Rick is breathless just listening to the monologue. Michael's chest is heaving when he's done, a new sheen of sweat on his face. "It's a long shot," Rick says. "One in one thousand."

Then Michael looks at him again, and even in the growing dimness of his eyesight, Rick sees the certainty there with an unparalleled clarity. "We don't a thousand ways to succeed," Michael says. "We just need one. When it comes down to it, I don't care about risk assessment when I know that much. I regret a lot of thing, but I'll never regret that."

Rick doesn't have the mental capacity to dispute that. He doesn't want to anyway. "I want regrets," he says. His eyes light up. "Hey, maybe that's my regret. That I have no regrets."

"That's a dumb regret."

Rick's shoulders fall. "But it's all I have."

Michael shakes his head. "You have regrets," he says.

"How do you know that?" Rick asks.

Michael sighs. "Just think about it," he says. "Think about your life. Think about being given the chance to do one more thing. If you could make one more risk--just one thing before you die. That's your regret."

Rick tries to think about that, he really does. He thinks about the risks he's taken and the risks he's calculated against and tries to come up with something concrete. But his vision is almost gone now, and there's nothing left to hear. His breathing seems to ease and reality shifts away and the stillness pervades him at last.

-o-

When Rick wakes up, it's looks around with bleary eyes and for a second, it's hard to see. But somehow it clears, like an oasis on a foggy night, and Rick can see with a newfound clarity.

They're still in the vault. Casey's hand has slipped clear of his wound and his head is tilted to the side. Billy's long legs nearly stretch across the entire vault now, a puddle of blood now noticeable on the floor next to him. Even Michael is asleep now, propped up against the back wall in a sitting position with his eyes are closed.

Rick takes a breath and feels it start to cloud his vision again. The CO2 content must be overwhelming by now; in fact, he can't be sure this isn't a hallucination.

Still, Rick tries to check his watch, but finds he can't move his arm. Can't move anything anymore. The dimness is settling in again, and he's drifting back toward unconsciousness even as he tries harder to cling to awareness.

It's almost over now, and in his mind, he does the math. It must be almost dawn, and it's almost over.

He thinks of Billy's life back in Scotland; he thinks of Casey's feelings for Linda. He thinks of Michael and Faye; Michael talking about his bedrock. He thinks about doing one more thing, one last thing.

There's his mother and his brothers, his friends and his teammates, but there's nothing he needs to say to them that they don't know already. There's a lot he wants to do, but nothing he needs to do that will change anything between them. His family knows why he's living this life; his team knows that he'd die for them as readily as they'd die for him.

There's more than that. There has to be more than that. It's more than the family who raised him and the CIA future he's building. There's an empty apartment and a pretty girl with a bright smile. It's hard to know what it is between him and Adele; harder still to know if he should make the next move. One more thing, he thinks. One last thing. There are a thousand reasons it's not the right time to start an office romance, but he doesn't need a thousand reasons to bother. He just needs one.

Morning is close, but Rick's not sure it's close enough. What he does know, is that this is all almost over. One way or another, it's almost over.

-o-

The next breath Rick takes, there's air.

Not just recycled CO2 saturated poison, but air. Fresh and new and real.

Rick takes another breath, lets it fill his lungs and his consciousness jolts. With a gasp, he opens his eyes and finds himself staring at the vault's ceiling.

Despite this burgeoning awareness, Rick is still having trouble moving. He jerks his head to his side and sees that Michael is gone.

"We're going to need medical assistance," Michael's voice comes from somewhere. "Do you think we can find something off the books?"

"Of course," comes the reply. From the heavy accent, Rick recognizes Ari.

Rick breathes again and tilts his head toward the voices. In the new dimensions of his vision, he sees Michael crouched over Billy, Ari on the other side. "Easy, easy," Michael coaches, and together, he and Ari lift Billy by the arms and start to pull him clear of the room. Billy's head falls back limply and his legs trail after him, a smear of blood marking his wake.

When they come back, Michael meets Rick's eyes and smiles. "What did I tell you?" he says, coming closer.

Rick blinks, wetting his lips and working saliva back into his throat. "We're alive," he croaks.

"And already on the mend," Michael assures him. Behind him, Ari and another man have come for Casey, carefully moving him out of the vault. "Once you get some more fresh air in your system, you'll be up in no time."

Rick lets out a breath, barely able to believe it. "It's impossible."

Michael tilts his head.

"I did the calculations," Rick tells him. "Even with a generous margin of error, we never should have made it."

Michael looks a little disappointed. "Risk assessment is important but only valid to a certain extent in the field," he says. "You can never underestimate the power of the human factor, even in impossible situation."

Rick just shakes his head and wants to laugh. "I can't believe it."

Michael just smiles, patting him on the shoulder. "We all had one thing left to do," he says. "We all wanted that opportunity."

Rick lets his eyes drift back to the ceiling and this time he laughs in earnest. "One more thing," he says. Then he looks back at Michael. "What was yours?"

"Simple," he says. "I wanted to make sure I saw all of you get out of this alive. Mission accomplished. What about you, Martinez?"

Rick just laughs again, and lets the joy of being alive be enough for that moment.

-o-

It's not a hospital but Ari's home is comfortable and well stocked. The doctor comes to visit them in regular intervals and only two days go by when all four of them receive permission to travel.

Rick thinks it might be a little premature. Billy can barely walk and Casey's movements are still limited, but somehow Rick knows they've had worse before.

"If we don't go soon, I'm going to have to start rewearing my clothes," Casey gripes that night.

"Ari's wife has offered multiple times to do your laundry," Billy reminds her. "Poor woman has been hanging around us, desperate for some way to offer her undying gratitude."

"And have her wash the whites with the darks? I don't think so," Casey says.

Billy seems to accept that. He's settled against his headboard, looking at the plate of food on his lap longingly. "I must admit, while it will be nice to be back in Western culture, I think I will miss the exquisite dining options."

Ari and his family have been extremely accommodating in all regards. From medical attention to food, Rick hasn't felt this doted upon since the last time he visited his mother before joining the CIA.

Still, there are some gnawing doubts in the back of his mind about the trip home. "So what are we going to tell Higgins about what we've been up to?" he asks.

"You assume that we plan on telling him anything," Billy says with a wry grin.

Rick pauses, pushing at his own food with his fork. "But won't he be curious?"

"Of course he'll be curious," Michael counters from across the room. He's seated at a desk. "But with no friendly casualties and the decommissioning of an up and coming terrorist group, he'll be happy just to know there are no strings left to tie up."

"Besides," Casey interjects from his bed, "worrying about Higgins is by far the least interesting way to pass the time."

Rick resists the urge to roll his eyes. "So what would you suggest I think about then?"

"You just had a near death experience, lad," Billy reminds him. "Surely that makes you reassess your priorities just a wee bit."

Rick finds himself blushing almost inexplicably. In the days since their rescue, none of them had broached the topics of conversation they shared as they night wore on. Rick has half hoped that maybe none of them remembered besides him.

"Unless you still have nothing to regret," Casey muses.

Rick shrugs and tries to shake his head, hoping to divert the flow of conversation.

He should know by now that he's nowhere near that lucky.

"Come on, Martinez," Michael cajoles with unusual frivolity. "What one last thing did you think about when the air was running out and the dark was closing in?"

They're all watching him, with equal intensity. Billy looks amused; Casey looks determined. Michael just looks like he knows the answer already.

Rick feels flustered. "It's...personal," he says.

Casey rolls his eyes. "It's a woman."

Billy hoots. "Little Rick fancies himself a girl!"

Rick shakes his head and wants to protest but finds himself lacking. The jokes come hard and heavy for a while, and even though none of them mention Adele by name, Rick knows they probably figured it out long before he did.

Later, when Billy has had another dose of painkillers and Casey has allowed himself to fall asleep, Michael says to him in the darkness, "The thing with regrets is that having them is healthy only if you follow through. You can be defined by your risks or your regrets. It's your choice."

Rick breathes out and doesn't know what to say.

"And you can always find a new last thing," Michael advises him. "Don't let your regrets win."

Rick doesn't reply, but he doesn't need to. He stays awake until Michael's breathing evens out and there's only stillness in the room.

It would be easy to brush it off, of course. Really, Rick's not even sure where he stands with Adele or if things even have a chance of working out between them. He doesn't exactly have a lot of dating experience. More than that, he's still new to this job, and he knows he has a lot to prove and even more to learn. If he wants the career he's always imagined, it will take dedication and work. He's never allowed himself much room for anything else in this pursuit.

But he's never had a team like this before, either. A team to back him up, a team to support him. A team to keep him on the right path even when he doesn't know which way is up or down. No matter what mistakes he makes, his team will be there.

This is his bedrock, he thinks.

He doesn't regret the things he's given up so far. But he thinks he might regret the things he's giving up now if he doesn't take a chance on something that he's always deemed superfluous.

Rick'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.

When Rick finally falls asleep, he has a smile on his face because he knows what he'll be risking when all of this is over.

end