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Chaos Big Bang: A Matter of Luck 2/3

September 5th, 2011 (01:45 pm)

A Matter of Luck 2/3

Rick doesn’t need luck; he just needs his skills and his determination and this case will be over in no time.



There’s still a reality.

Rick’s safe--for now--but he’s locked in a utility room with no known way out.  On top of that, Billy is hurt--maybe dying--and Rick may be hidden, but that’s hardly the get out of jail free card that he really needs right now.

In some ways, it’d be easier to stay in the dark and just hope it works out.  But that’s not in Rick’s nature, and it’s sure as hell not in his training.

With a steadying breath, Rick turns on the light and takes stock of their new situation.

The room is small but actually seems more functional than the rest of the factory.  There’s equipment, which Rick quickly identifies as the heating and cooling system.  By the door, there’s a cabinet, which seems to be stocked with a myriad of cleaning and maintenance supplies.  Beyond that, there’s not much except wires and control panels, which Rick can assume is part of the electrical system.

It’s all something to keep in mind, but Rick’s not overly sure how any of it helps him at the moment.  Especially since there are more pressing issues at hand.

Billy is right where Rick left him, sprawled on his side.  In the yellow glow of the overhead light, the patch of blood on Billy’s suit is somewhat garish, and Rick doesn’t need to check to know that it’s still seeping fresh blood.

Moving quickly, Rick returns to Billy’s side, going to his knees in front of him.  The Scot’s face is pale, almost gaunt in the pale light, and his mouth is open as he draws ragged breaths.  This time, he leaves Billy on his side, pressing his fingers into Billy’s throat to check his pulse.

The beat is fast, tripping uneasily beneath Rick’s sweaty fingers.  He presses a hand to Billy’s forehead, noting the clamminess he feels there.  All in all, Billy is exhibiting the classic signs of early shock.

Trapped and on his own, Rick has no viable means of treating it, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t try to do something.  Even if he can’t reverse the damage, he has to control it in order to give them all enough time to figure a way out of this.

With that, Rick remembers the contingency.  In the heat of the scuffle and the haste of their exit, Rick hadn’t even sounded the emergency beacon.  

Reaching into his pocket, Rick pulls out the specialized pen.  It doesn’t look like much, but it’s the only hope he has.  Clicking it three times, a light flashes and it whirs to life.

And that’s that.

Swallowing hard, Rick pockets the pen again and turns his attention back to Billy.  Even with help coming, Rick can’t put off trying to treat Billy’s wound.

After facing down terrorists, Rick would think that this would be the easy part, but his stomach roils uncomfortably as he looks at his teammate again.  

He’s just not used to this.  Not used to being the one in charge, making the decisions.  He’s fought his team tooth and nail for the right to be respected in the field, but now that he’s here, playing the team leader under pressure, he begins to wonder if their choices are less about hazing the new guy as they are keeping him safe.

Because Billy’s life is in his hands.  The question of whether or not Billy lives or dies may be entirely up to his skills and capabilities.  The fate of this mission--the fate of his teammate--rests squarely on Rick’s shoulders and Rick’s good under pressure, but he’s never been under pressure like this.

Still, Billy’s losing more blood by the second, and that’s a fact Rick needs to rectify any way he can.

The decision still cold in his gut, Rick works to harden himself, carefully pulling on the lapel of Billy’s jacket and easing it back.  Conscious of the wound, Rick gently lifts Billy’s arm, maneuvering it as meticulously as possible.

When the arm is free, Rick lays it back down with care before peeling the jacket back and away from the sticky blood that has nearly soaked the back side of Billy’s undershirt.  Rick supposes it’s a hidden blessing that Billy’s choice of cover suit hadn’t been his typical three piece wear.  As it is, the wound is still partially obscured by the shirt and the blood, but by leaning closer and picking carefully at the fabric, Rick is able to get a better look.

It looks like a standard bullet hole, from what little experience Rick has with such things.  The hole is lower than Rick thought previously, and with the labored gargle of Billy’s breathing, he thinks it’s possible that the bullet has nicked a lung.

Rick doesn’t consider himself squeamish, but he’s also never been face to face with a bullet wound ripping through the flesh of one of his teammate’s before.  There’s a lot of blood, and this is Billy’s blood and for a second, Rick feels like panicking.

He’d kept it together back in the conference room.  He’d managed to hold himself in one piece while making their escape.  But now, alone, Rick has the overwhelming urge to just lose it.

Because the mission is blown and help’s too far out and there’s so much blood and Billy’s not even moving.  Rick’s trained and he’s worked and he’s studied and none of it has even come close to preparing him for this.

Still, Rick takes a deep breath and harnesses his emotions.  It was Billy who told him that fear is expected, as long as he knows how to use it.  He has to use it now.

With shaking fingers, Rick pulls off his own jacket.  It takes some work to rip the thick fabric, but when Rick finally has a few strips, he fashions a bandage.  Lacing it under Billy’s armpit, Rick ties it tightly before sitting back on his heels and looking over his handiwork.

It’s not much, but it’s something.  Billy still hasn’t moved, but Rick can hear his breathing.  Glancing at his watch, Rick wonders if it’s enough.


Rick tries to get comfortable, but doesn’t quite know how.  Standing doesn’t to him any good, and he feels too far away from Billy.  Sitting doesn’t do him any better, and he feels like he’s too lax on a job that’s too important.

Ultimately, he alternates between the two, looking at his watch and trying to remember how long Michael said it would take for backup to arrive.  Casey and Michael were on the outskirts of the city, which is the closest they could be without being conspicuous.  That’s not a horrible drive, but it’s still a haul, even if Rick knows Michael will make sure they make good time.

But there’s still the element of surprise and caution that will invariably slow them down.  Rick has no way of communicating any details about their location or their situation.  No matter how much Michael and Casey might be inclined to storm the place, they’re more likely to use caution.

This means that Rick needs to make their job as easy as possible.  He already has one team member down from the conflict, and he doesn’t really want to think about Michael and Casey getting caught in the crossfire either.

From out in the hallways, Rick can still hear movement and voice every now and then.  It’s only a matter of time before their location is compromised, and Rick has no way of knowing if that will be before or after Casey and Michael can arrive.

So essentially, Rick doesn’t know anything.  By sitting here in this utility room, he’s leaving Billy’s fate entirely to chance.

And given his apparent luck today, Rick’s not sure that’s a good idea.

Sighing, Rick sits down heavily looking at Billy again.  The wound is still seeping, but it seems to have slowed somewhat.  As it is, Billy’s still on his side, not even twitching since Rick secured the wound.  Anxious to do something, Rick reaches a hand over, pressing it into his throat to check the pulse.  The rapid beat strums beneath his fingers and Rick is surprised when Billy stirs.

At first, Rick thinks it’s just a fluke, but Billy seems to flinch, his eyelids fluttering before his eyes seemed to focus.

Scrambling a little, Rick cranes further in front of Billy.  “Hey,” he says, keeping his voice quiet.  “You with me?”

Billy blinks a few times, taking a shuddering breath as his eyes search for Rick.  When they make eye contact, there’s a moment of confusion before Billy swallows heavily.  “Mission’s still not going well,” he surmises, and it’s clear he’s trying to be light about it, but the weight of the words are still clear.

Rick tries to smile, forcing back his own uncertainties.  “I activated the emergency beacon,” he says.  “Michael and Casey are on their way.”

Billy nods slightly, still shaky.  “And our location is secure?”

Rick looks around, feeling helpless.  He shrugs.  “I had to improvise,” he says.  “It’s a utility room, but it locks from the outside, so I figured that will buy us some time.”

“Some time,” Billy repeats, exhaling.  He closes his eyes for a minute as if to garner his strength.  When he opens his eyes again, he looks weary.  “But maybe not enough.  What’s our overall status?”

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Billy is barely conscious, bleeding, and shocky and still asking about the mission status, but Rick’s still new enough at this that it is.  He huffs a laugh, and shakes his head.  “Hard to say,” he says.  “This place is big, but they know the hiding spots.  They’re going to check here sooner or later.”

Billy grimaces.  “And if it’s sooner--”

“--we’ll be in trouble,” Rick agrees.  “I’ve still got some ammo from the gun I took, but we’re cornered with nowhere to go.”

“And even when Michael and Casey arrive, they’ll be looking for a needle in a haystack,” Billy says in conclusion.  He blows out a breath.  “That’s some kind of luck.”

“I know,” Rick says, trying not to let his growing sense of despair show too evidently.

“We can always tip the odds,” Billy says thoughtfully.

Frowning, Rick looks at him critically.  “In what way?”

Billy strains to look around.  After a quick assessment, he’s breathing heavily but still looks at Rick fully.  “Am I to assume that’s an exterior wall behind us?”

Rick mentally goes over the floor plan, remembering the sunlight through the windows in the outer room.  “Yeah,” Rick says, nodding to the far wall.  “That should let out behind the compound, due east.”

“There is far less security in the back,” Billy reminds him.

“And we’d be in the middle of open desert,” Rick replies.

“It’s harder to hit a moving target,” Billy says.

It’s a tossup between despair and hope at this point.  Rick shakes his head.  “But we’ve still got a wall instead of a door or even a window.”

Billy manages a small smile.  “Oh, Rick,” he says, somehow managing to sound disappointed even while bleeding to death.  “Surely your time with the ODS has taught you better improvisational skills than that.”

Rick opens his mouth to protest, then considers.  He considers the thickness of the wall and the probable venting system in the walls.  He considers the chemicals and the electronics, the tools and the overall access.

“A bomb,” he says, almost surprised by the realization.  “We can make a bomb and blow our way out of here.”

At that, Billy looks proud.  “Now there’s my boy,” he says.


Making a bomb is actually almost as easy as it sounds.  At least for people who know what they’re doing.

Fortunately, Rick knows what he’s doing.  He can’t say he has ample experience in this regard, but he’s well studied and performed all his tests with a flourish at the Farm.

Still, when he’s sitting in a utility room, frantically throwing together his first makeshift bomb in the field, he feels decidedly far removed from training.

Billy watches him from the ground, blinking lazily and offering occasional lighthearted critiques.  Ultimately, Rick doesn’t have the time to be a perfectionist in this, and the only priority is to make a blast large enough to blow a hole in the wall without being so big to blow them up as well.

It’s a tentative balance, but Rick figures if he can snake the device into the air duct system, he can reduce their odds of getting caught in the crossfire and greatly enhance the overall impact of the device.

At least, that’s in theory.

The fact is, Rick’s never made an actual bomb and detonated it before.  More than that, he has no idea what will happen even if the bomb explodes according to plan.  He knows he’s going to grab Billy and run, but the question of where is still ever present in his mind as his fingers fumble with the chemicals.

Running by foot can only be a short term solution: Billy is too injured to make it far and Rick’s not naive enough to assume that he can actively shoulder Billy’s weight and still make a fast and under-the-radar escape.  Their best bet will be to obtain some kind of vehicle, but Rick has to bank on the fact that there’s probably something unattended in the back that they can take without too much fuss.

More than that, Rick has to count on the back being minimally guarded and being able to achieve all aforementioned feats before the explosion helps pinpoint their location to the terrorists.

In short, there are a lot of unknowns in this equation and Rick feels like he’s adding X and Y and just hoping that it comes up with an answer that doesn’t involve them getting killed.

“You’re stressed,” Billy observes from his spot on the floor.  He’s still on his side, turned toward Rick.

Rick spares him a glance but can’t muster much in the way of a smile to deter the comment.  “I’m making a bomb that may or may not kill us to get out of a terrorist run plant that we may or may not get out of alive,” Rick says, fingers stilling in their work.  “Yeah, I think I’m a little stressed.”

Billy is nonplussed by his bluntness.  “Dire, perhaps,” he concedes.  “But just think of the exciting stories you’ll get to tell if we make it out.”

Rick goes back to his work, shaking his head.  “‘If’ being the operative word.”

Billy makes a tsking sound, shaking his head.  “But focusing on the negative is entirely counterproductive,” he says.

Rick takes a breath and lets it out, reminding himself that Billy is injured and may well be suffering from shock and blood loss among any other number of worsening physical ailments.  He wet his lips, pressing them together before looking up again.  “I just want to get us out of here,” he says simply, because it’s the most honest truth he knows.

Smiling briefly, Billy looks strangely peaceful.  “I know you do, lad,” he says.  “And your efforts are valiant and respectable, regardless of outcome.”

Eyes back on his work, Rick’s stomach churns.  Billy’s voice isn’t cruel, but it still cuts Rick deep and he feels the inexplicable burn of tears behind his eyes.  “It’ll work,” he says, nodding to himself.  “If we can run the explosive down the ventilation--”

Billy is nodding along with him.  “We might be able to control the blast.”

“Maximize the damage to the exterior,” Rick continues.

“And minimize the risk to on the inside,” Billy concludes.  “It’s a right smart plan.”

Rick glances up at Billy, almost nervous.  “You think it’ll work?” he asks, and he sounds young even to his own ears, but he needs to know.  Needs to hear it from someone else to believe it.

Billy holds his gaze and takes a tired breath.  His face has turned waxen in the bald light.  His breathing is still rough and staggered and there’s no sparkle in his eyes anymore, no charisma left to hide behind.  “It’s planned as well as anything can be,” he says, almost weary.

Rick swallows.  “But?” he prompts.

Billy smiles at him.  “But you can’t plan for everything,” he says.  “I told you.  Luck is the uncontrolled element.  Sometimes you get lucky; sometimes you don’t.”

The words feel like ice in Rick’s stomach and he starts to shake his head.

Billy is not deterred.  He holds Rick’s gaze, so resolute that Rick can’t look away, not even for a second.  He takes a hitching breath, wincing.  “You can’t be blamed for bad luck,” he says.  “Remember that.  No matter how it goes.  The bad luck is not your fault.”

The implications are clear to Rick.  Billy’s is giving him an out.  Telling him that he doesn’t blame Rick if something goes wrong.  Telling him that he doesn’t blame Rick for what’s gone wrong so far.

It should be a welcomed absolution, and part of Rick wants to accept it--almost needs to accept it.  But he can’t concede their fate to luck.  Not yet.  Maybe not ever.

Clenching his jaw, Rick turns his gaze back down to his makeshift bomb, staring hard with deep, steadying breaths.  “Good luck or bad luck, we’re getting out of this,” he says with all the confidence he can muster.  He looks back up.  “I promise you.”

Billy is still smiling, almost apologetic.  Rick is waiting for a response--for something--when Billy seems to exhale, his eyes blinking slowly before fluttering shut and his body goes completely lax.

Rick waits a beat for Billy to wake up again.  When nothing happens, the fear is building in his stomach.  He can still hear Billy breathing, and he knows with the extent of Billy’s blood loss,, unconsciousness isn’t unexpected, even if it is worrisome and inconvenient.  But still--it’s unnerving and reminds him just how perilous the situation is.  Rick’s running out of time and whether he wants to admit it or not, he may be running out of luck.

Not if he can help it.

Swallowing hard, Rick looks back down at his bomb and considers the things he still needs to do.  He’s not sure it’s safe; he’s not sure it’ll work.  But it has to--and Rick can’t wait any longer.

He looks at Billy again, and his doubts are pushed back.  Bomb in hand, he gets to his feet and hedges his bet for what he hopes isn’t the last time.


It’s autopilot for a flight he’s never flown before.  It’s all new to him, but he doesn’t stop to think about it.  He doesn’t let himself think twice.

With the bomb rigged, he removes the ventilation panel, lowering it down the wall as carefully as possible.  His heart thrums in his chest as he hopes that he gets it down without blowing himself to hell.  He’s not sure he cares much about his own life at this point, but getting himself killed won’t help the mission--and it sure as hell won’t help Billy.

Once the bomb is in place, Rick pulls back, the makeshift detonator in his hand.  He sets it down as far as it will go before moving to Billy.  The other operative is still out, body limp on the ground, and Rick drags him back, as far away from the blast site as possible.  There’s not much Rick can provide in terms of cover, but he rolls Billy on his other side, face toward the wall, to minimize his risk of exposure as best he can.

He doesn’t let himself dwell, doesn’t let himself hesitate.  With Billy in position, Rick goes back to his detonator.  He gives the room one last look, turns his head away and ducks low and hopes for the best as he mixes the wires and the room explodes.


The explosions are more forceful than Rick expects.  He knows about the damage bombs and concussion blasts can cause, but it’s not something he’s experienced firsthand.  The bang ripples loudly, sending him sprawling head over heels on the ground.  He lands on his side and curls tight against the wall as rocks and metal shower over him.

When it’s over, Rick’s ears are ringing and he vaguely feels like he may be in shock.  But as he rolls back over to face the damage, he realizes that he’s still in one piece.  There are a few distance aches throughout his body, but they seem inconsequential when he sees the gaping hole in the wall with sunlight streaking through the settling dust.

It worked.

Rick swallows hard, letting that reality strengthen him.  It may or may not be luck; Rick doesn’t have time to sort it out.  Their exit is clear now, but so is their position, and Rick needs to move quickly if this turn of good fortune is going to be worth anything in the long run.

The dust makes his lungs feel tight, but Rick pushes through it.  His body protests as he struggles to his feet, rocks and debris falling off him.  He wades through the newly made mess toward Billy, who is still rolled onto his side facing the wall.

For a second, Rick fears the worst.  But when he peeks over Billy’s shoulder, the Scot looks no worse than before.  With a hand in front of his face, Rick feels for breath.  He knows that Billy’s injuries should probably be more closely monitored, but at this point, it doesn’t matter.  Until they have a clean break, the details don’t matter much at all.

With that thought pushing him, Rick rolls Billy all the way over and the taller man flops onto his back, arms and legs limp.  Grimacing, Rick preps himself with one last breath before grabbing Billy’s good arm and pulling him up.  It’s cumbersome work to position the other operative over his shoulder, and when Rick gets to his feet, the weight is a palpable strain.  Billy dead weight is hot and heavy, and Rick can feel his hot breath against his shoulder, his arms flapping uselessly, one against his back and the other on his stomach.

It’s precarious at best, but Rick knows he’s not going to manage much better.  He wraps one arm around Billy’s leg and pulls the gun out with the other and makes a break for the sunlight.


On the outside, it’s blinding.  The desert is vast and hot and with nothing to obscure it, the sun pelts down mercilessly.  Around the compound, the area is minimally developed, but there is a network of concrete roads and passageways within the fenced in section, which spans for a good half mile around the walls.  

The front of the building had had several entrances, with parking spaces and security checkpoints.  The back is less developed, but there are a number of loading bays and as Rick hedges his way out, he can easily see where the main security gate is.

This is good news and bad news.  This means Rick knows to run in the opposite direction, but it also means that if he’s made eye contact with the checkpoint, then the checkpoint has already been made aware of the location of the explosion.

Which is why there are armed guards running their way.

For a second, Rick’s heart skips a beat and he freezes.  He’s barely another heartbeat from panic, because he knows this is going to be close.  With automatic weaponry, it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, and Rick’s instincts and training are good, but he’s not sure he’s that good. Especially with Billy on his back.

Running is probably futile.

But staying in place definitely is.

He can’t give up.

For Michael and Casey and Billy and the mission.  For his mother and his brothers and everything he’s ever worked for.  Rick can’t give up.

So Rick runs.

He turns the opposite direction, keeping close to the wall.  His face flushes in the heat and he clutches Billy tighter, keeping his gun in front of him in case a new threat should appear.  He can hear yelling behind him now, and if he tries harder, he thinks he could make out the accent and the dialect to know what they’re saying but then he realizes that it doesn’t matter.  Rick doesn’t need to be a linguist to know what a shoot to kill order sounds like.

Still, he’s losing ground.  There’s a barrage of gunfire behind him and while it’s out of reach, it’s not by much.  Rick needs something else--and quickly.

Then, up ahead, around the corner, Rick sees movement and realizes there are more guards coming, this time from the other direction.

He’s running from danger into more danger and Rick pulls to a stop, ducking into the first crevice he finds along the wall.

Chest heaving, Rick closes his eyes and tries to think, but all he can imagine is his bullet riddled body being discovered in the desert, probably without its head.  This is it.  There’s nothing else he can do.  

It’s all come down to this.  Rick’s done everything he can, he’s done everything right.  He’s taken the best chances and employed all his resources to the very best of his abilities.  He’s thrown himself against the fate of the universe and here it is, spitting him back out in callous indifference and there’s not a damn thing Rick can do about it one way or another.

Rick’s about to accept this defeat, about to put his gun down when he opens his eyes and realizes that it’s not a crevice he’s hidden in; it’s a garage.  The doors are open and there’s no one there but him and Billy and a whole fleeting of armored all-terrain vehicles.

Rick laughs so hard that he’s almost crying as he opens the door to the closest one, throwing Billy inside before he hot wires the ignition and presses his foot hard on the gas.


Recklessness is not in Rick’s nature.  It never has been.  Since his childhood, Rick’s been inclined to self control and discipline.  While his brothers were being lectured for cleaning up their rooms, Rick was polishing his spelling trophies.

So careening through the desert in a stolen truck with armed guards firing at him as they gave chase was something of a new experience for him.  And he has to admit--it’s strangely invigorating.  He’s never been an adrenaline junkie, but as he plows the car through the fence and watches the metal go flying around him, he’s quickly beginning to see the appeal.

Of course, the fact that the bullets are real as they embed into the metal and shatter the windows sort of puts a damper on things.  And Billy’s bleeding form folded limply into the passenger’s seat certainly doesn’t help, except to sober him up.  He’s running on empty--figuratively and literally, he realizes when he looks at the gas gauge.  He can’t be sure of the fuel economy on a vehicle like this, but he doesn’t suspect there’s enough for the entire trip back to civilization.  Not to mention the fact that a few well placed bullets can take out a tire, effectively stalling Rick’s hopes of escape.

He hits a hard rut in the road and the car lurches.  Rick fumbles, throwing an arm out to keep Billy on the seat.  His grip slips on the wheel and he veers, and Rick curses as he tries to right the car while keeping Billy still.

Glancing in the mirror, he’s pulling away from the compound--it’s barely a speck anymore.  But the guards are still on his tail, the fleet of trucks and cars behind him seeming to grow by the minute.  More than that, they have experience in this area.  They know these roads.  Rick’s essentially driving blind, his focus torn between the path to safety and the daunting task of keeping Billy from getting smashed into the floorboards.

Gritting his teeth, Rick pushes the gas harder, watching as the speedometer creeps up and tightening his grip as the wheel tugs beneath his clenched fingers.  It’s all he has.

It’s not enough.

He catches sight of the first car in his mirror as it moves up, pulling alongside him.  He’s able to compensate when it swerves, but just barely.

Rick doesn’t seen the second one, creeping up on his other side, until he accidentally swipes it.

His car protests, but Rick refuses to let up.  At his side, Billy’s still unconscious on the seat--at least, Rick hopes so; he can’t actually tell if the Scot is breathing or not.

He can’t dwell on it, though.  Not as the first car veers at him again. Rick takes the hit as best he can’t, refusing to give ground.  The minute he lets up is the minute it’s over.  For the mission, for him.  For Billy.

There’s another car gaining on him, and the second car pushes forward.  Rick tries to outrun it, but can’t quite get the horsepower.  He can’t see how fast he’s going now--things are happening too quickly--but he knows that it’s just a matter of time before one of the attackers gets the break on him and cuts him off.

All this, and his luck runs out now.  Rick can feel the tears stinging his eyes, the panic closing his throat.  

Still, he goes.  He sees the cars moving in around him, sees the opening in front of him get slimmer.  There’s vast desert in all direction and Rick can’t get to any of it.  He wants to reach out, to touch Billy and remind himself why this is still important, but he doesn’t dare take his hands off the wheel, doesn’t even dare blink despite the tears that are blurring his vision.

If it’s over, it’s not for a lack of effort.  If Rick loses this battle, it’s not because he’s put up the white flag.  If Billy dies, Rick can die with him knowing that he’s done everything he can do.

Rick doesn’t stop to think or second guess.  He jerks the wheel hard, careening into the first car.  There’s a crunch of metal and Rick thinks he might crash as the wheel spins out of his hands and the car rotates out of control.  Still, Rick persists, grabbing hold and using nothing but sheer force of will to pull the car out of the spin and gunning the engine hard in whichever direction he happens to be pointing.

He can’t stop to think about Billy anymore--in the chaos, the other operative is on the floor--and Rick just keeps going.  He’s moving ahead at breakneck speed, so focused on keeping the car on the road that he doesn’t see the hulking tank until he’s about to crash into it.

Swearing, Rick turns the wheel hard again, missing the massive machine by mere inches.

The car jostles as he comes to a halt, engine sputtering as Rick pants, hand still on the wheel.

When he remembers that he’s still alive, Rick looks in his mirror, awed.  It is a tank, standing still in the desert, but Rick realizes it’s not alone.  In front of him are more tanks and army vehicles--the good guys, Rick realizes.

In his rearview mirror, Rick can see the advancing guards come to crashing stops.  Some of the cars toward the back have started to veer off, taking off in disparate directions.

It’s over, Rick realizes.

It’s over.

The relief is almost more than he knows what to do with and he laughs through tears.  “We did it,” he says, looking at Billy, who is still crumpled on the floor.  He closes his eyes and rests his head against the seat.  “We did it.”

There’s someone knocking at the window and Rick opens his eyes to see a soldier there.  Rick smiles lazily and fumbles for the door.  The soldier is saying something but Rick can’t hear.  Can’t even think much of anything as the world shifts and his vision dims.

As he hits the sand, his last coherent thought is that maybe luck is on his side after all.


It’s not dark.

Rick’s eyes are closed, but he can’t rest because it’s not dark out.  And it’s hot and there’s just too much noise.  It’s like trying to sleep while his brothers are blaring their music into all hours of the night.

Rick thinks his mother will probably handle this.  Except his mother is back in the United States and Rick’s in Africa in the desert.

The reality jostles him, and Rick opens his eyes with a gasp and has to blink away from the sunlight glaring into his eyes.

It takes a few blinks before his eyes adjust to the light and Rick realizes that he’s on a stretcher.  More than that, he’s not alone.  An entire army platoon seems to be scurried around him and Michael is seated at his side, watching him.

Wetting his lips, Rick struggles to adjust himself to get a better look at his team leader.  There are a lot of questions to ask--a lot of questions to answer, he’s sure--but there’s only one thing he can think about.  “Where’s Billy?” he asks.  

His voice is croaking, but the message is still clear.

Michael remains impassive.  “Your mission is shot to hell,” he says bluntly.

Rick can’t help but wince.  “I know,” he says, because he was there for the worst of it.

Michael’s face is still composed.  “Want to tell me what happened?”

The question seems simple enough, but when Rick’s mind works on an answer, he realizes that there’s nothing so simple about it.  Where does he begin?  The part where things were going fine?  Or the part where Omar made them?  Maybe the part where Omar was playing Russian Roulette against Billy’s head?  Or Rick’s desperate attempt to save their asses by getting the hell out?

Swallowing, Rick feels weaker.  “Something tipped Omar off,” he says finally.

“He’s naturally suspicious,” Michael reminds him.  “Did you hold cover?”

Rick remembers holding cover.  Remembers his pleading and his explanations and the cold fear in Billy’s eyes.  He still doesn’t know how much was real and how much was an act; Rick’s not sure it matters.

Rick shakes his head.  “For as long as I could.”

“So you did break cover?” Michael pushes.

Rick can hear the hint of accusation and he doesn’t know what to do with it.  Normally, he bends over backwards for praise, does whatever he can to please the people around him.

But Rick was there.  Rick stood there while Omar pulled the trigger once, twice, three times against Billy’s head.  He can still see Billy flinching, still hear the gunshot that almost did them both in.

“I had no choice,” Rick says.  “I didn’t tell him anything, but I couldn’t stand there and let them kill Billy.”

Michael’s expression changes minutely.  “They used him as leverage?” he surmises.

Rick nods.  “They separated us,” he explains.  “When they brought Billy back, he was beaten and tied.  Omar told me to tell him who we were or he was going to kill Billy.  I tried to hold cover for as long as I could, but if I didn’t do something...”

Then Billy would be dead.  This wouldn’t be a rescue operation, this would be a recovery sweep.

Rick swallows hard against the lump in his throat.  “I had to get him out.”

“This was the closest we’ve ever gotten to Omar,” Michael says.  “We needed this.”

Rick knows this.  Rick understands this.  But Rick doesn’t care.  Steeling himself, Rick holds Michael’s gaze.  “Where’s Billy?”  And this time it’s not a question.  It’s a demand.  Because Billy put his life in Rick’s hands, and Rick needs to know if that’s a gamble that paid off or not.

For a moment, Michael doesn’t respond, his eyes still searching Rick’s face.  “You value your teammate’s life above the mission?”

Rick takes a shaky breath, but his answer is surprisingly sure.  “Missions can come down to luck,” he says.  “Friendships never should.”

Michael looks at him a minute longer before he nods, sighing and looking at his hands.  Then he tilts his head, gesturing behind him.

Sitting up, Rick’s head spins, but he doesn’t let it bother him.  He’s too intent trying to see what Michael’s showing him to care.

Then Rick sees the other stretcher.  This one has several medics around it, Casey perched lightly on the other side.  Amid the flurry of activity, Billy’s lanky body is easy to make out, even if he’s not moving.  

Rick feels stiff.  “Is he okay?” he asks, trying to gauge what the medics were doing but coming up short.

Michael sighs again, scrubbing a hand wearily through his hair.  “Medics haven’t said much, but they’re trying to stabilize him for transport,” he explains.  “Casey’ll know more when they’re done.”

Rick can’t take his eyes away.  He watches as one of the medics hangs an IV and another threads a tube down Billy’s throat.  “But he’ll be okay?”

“With any luck,” Michael says, patting his shoulder.  “Now lie still.  The medics think you’re just exhausted and possibly concussed, but they still want to give you a once over before they take you to a hospital.”

Rick wants to protest, wants to say that he’s not that bad off, but as he tries to lever himself upward, his vision dims around the edges.

The next thing he knows, Michael’s hand is on his shoulder, easing him down.  “You did good, Martinez,” Michael says.  “No matter what happens, just know that.”

It’s the affirmation he wants, but somehow, this time, it’s not what he thought it would.  He lies there, blinking up into the sunlight, remembering how to breathe until he slips back into sleep.


Rick wakes up when there’s a medic standing above him.  He answers the plaintive and simple questions and there’s nothing to do but lay there as he’s hoisted into an ambulance and taken to the army hospital.  The doctors and nurses there aren’t much different, and he’s poked, prodded, and given the prescription of rest and fluids before he’s fit to return to duty.

Alone in a curtained area, Rick tries to sleep but finds the task difficult.  Every time he closes his eyes, he can see Billy’s eyes.  He can see the acceptance and understanding.  He can hear Billy saying that sometimes luck makes or breaks a mission and after it’s all over, Rick still can’t be sure which way this one went.

He’s alive--and that’s something of a long shot in and of itself.  But the mission is a bust and it’s possible that his cover has been compromised and Billy may still be dead.

The nurses who check on him are polite, but they don’t take the time to answer his questions.  It seems like hours when Michael finally shows up again.

The older operative looks worn--older than Rick has ever seen him.  He pulls up a chair next to Rick’s bed and settles heavily into it.

Rick watches him expectantly.  “So?” he finally asks.

Michael looks at him, eyebrow quirked.  “I think that’s my question,” he says.  “This is your mission debriefing.”

Rick blinks, trying to process the words.  He shakes his head, brow furrowed.  “But what about Billy?”

Michael sighs.  “Surgery,” he says.  He gestures toward his back. “The bullet nicked a lung and they need to do some repair.”

“But he’s okay?” Rick asks.

Michael almost looks bemused.  “You’re beginning to sound like a broken record, Martinez.”

“I had to carry Billy out of a heavily guarded terrorist facility,” he says pointedly.  “I wasn’t sure we’d make it.  I’d like to know we did.”

Michael seems to take Rick’s frustration as a good sign.  Instead of a reprimand, he nods as if he understands.  “The doctors are optimistic,” he says.  “It’s going to be a hard go and we may be cooped up for a while, but Billy’s been through worse.”

It’s still not everything Rick wants--but to be fair to Michael, Rick probably won’t be happy until he sees Billy smiling at him with some quip on his lips.  As it is, it’s as much of an answer as he’s going to get and Rick knows it.

Rubbing his hands on his pants, Michael sits back and looks at him anew.  “So,” he says.  “Your turn.”

Rick’s stomach flips and he shakes his head.  “I told you what happened.”

“I know,” he says.  “But don’t you want to know why it happened?”

Rick blinks.  “We know the leak?”

“It’s not so much a leak as it is just really bad luck,” Michael amends.

Rick can’t help it; he groans.  “No more luck,” he says.  “This entire mission has been nothing but a crap shoot since we came up with it.  I mean, Omar getting tipped off?  Running into an army platoon by chance?”

Michael looks a little amused.

“What?” Rick asks.

“We had some bad luck, but a lot of what worked was because of good training and good planning,” Michael explains.

Rick shakes his head, too tired to think through Michael’s veiled words.  “What do you mean?”

Michael collects a breath.  “I contacted the army,” he says.  “When we got your emergency signal, I knew it had to be bad.  You and Billy would never bail on a mission unless things were going to hell--and fast.  I figured we might need some reinforcements.”

For a moment, Rick can only stare.  It could be the exhaustion or it could be the painkillers, but things are hard to process.  “You called the Army?”

Michael shrugs.  “I had two operatives undercover with one of the most notorious criminals in the world,” he says.  “I didn’t exactly want to take any chances.”

Rick actually laughs.

“And it wasn’t luck that you and Billy were able to get out of there alive,” Michael continues.  “You did the right thing, pulling out.  If Omar was that suspicious, he would have killed you either way.  With this, you managed to save your life and your teammate’s life without officially confirming or denying anything.  It’s obviously not an ideal outcome, but under the circumstances, it’s the best you could hope for.”

Rick is just staring now.  “You’re telling me that the mission went well?”

“I’m telling you the mission didn’t go as badly as it could have,” he says.  “That means something in this line of work.”

“So what tipped Omar off?” Rick asks.

Michael inclines his head.  “Probably nothing,” he says.  “Omar’s been in the game long enough to smell a rat, even when there’s no clear evidence.  He’s stayed in business this long because he’s the definition of a paranoid bastard.”

“So it really was bad luck,” Rick says, almost in disbelief.

“Maybe,” Michael concedes.  “But it ended with good luck, too.”

Rick frowns.  “Billy almost died.”

Michael nods.  “And we got Omar.”

Rick blinks and thinks he misheard him.  “What?”

Michael nods again, steadier now.  “We got Omar.”

Rick shakes his head, scoffing.  “But--how?”

“When Omar thought he’d been breached, he ordered an evacuation,” he says.  “Part of that procedure was to take all questionable assets and flee the scene.  Normally, that’s a good plan, but not when there’s an entire army platoon in the desert waiting to pick up the strays.”

“They got him?” Rick asks, still feeling slow on the draw.

“And enough incriminating documentation to put him away for at least a few lifetimes,” Michael confirms.

Rick stares.  Then he laughs and stares some more.

Michael sighs again, getting to his feet.  “Luck’s just a part of this job,” he says.  “When it works in our favor, it’s stupid not to take credit for it.  Given the odds against us, we need all the help we can get.”

Rick’s brain starts working again.  “You’ll be around?” he asks.

Michael pauses.  “Casey and I were going to wait for word on Billy.”

“And you’ll tell me when you know something?” Rick asks.

Michael smiles slightly.  “You’re that worried?”

“I just need to see him,” Rick says.  “I need to see that he’s okay.”  Because they may have to leave missions to luck, but he’s not sure he’ll ever be okay leaving Billy’s fate to it any more.

Michael holds his eyes and seems to understand.  He nods once, resolute and sure.  “I’ll see what I can do,” he promises.

It’s not much, but after the day Rick’s had, it seems to be enough.