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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: A Stinging Reminder

September 22nd, 2011 (07:43 am)
Tags: ,

Title: A Stinging Reminder

Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: I was sort of bored last weekend and asked moogsthewriter for unusual ways to inflict harm on characters. She came up with two lovely options, but this is the one I ended up writing. There’s probably a whole lot about this that isn’t accurate and/or true, so I hope you’ll forgive the liberties I took, especially on the medical side. moogsthewriter also provided a beta :)

Summary: Of course, the fact that he was so enjoying that sense of a job well done was probably the dead giveaway of impending disaster.  Still, Michael didn’t see it coming.



-o-

Michael had accounted for everything.

Terrorist vehicle disabled: check.

Assailants subdued and out of commission: check.

Mark secured and in custody:  check.

Local military personnel evaded:  check.

Exit clear and ready:  check.

Team together and in one piece:  check.

All in all, Michael couldn’t help but feel good about their retreat.  Secure.  Safe.  Success was in sight.

He’d foreseen all the obstacles and accounted for each accordingly.  Michael was in control; he liked that feeling.

Of course, the fact that he was so enjoying that sense of a job well done was probably the dead giveaway of impending disaster.  Still, Michael didn’t see it coming.

He thought he would, of course.  As team leader, that was his job.  He had already foreseen dozens of possible caveats to their escape.  They’d made quite a mess in their capture, leaving the dense mess of remote Russian forest something of an obstacle course for their retreat.  More than that, their two-mile hike was vulnerable to any guards that might have lagged behind or any other individuals who may be in the area.

This was why Michael was taking point.  Rick and Billy were a few steps behind him, lugging their less than thrilled mark bound between them.  Casey was at the rear, consciously scanning their retreat with a confidence Michael trusted.

It didn’t seem likely that anything should go wrong.  If it did, Michael would bear the brunt of it. His mission, his risks.  That was how it worked in his mind.  From this vantage point, he trusted he would see impending risks in time to circumvent them.

So the next step shouldn’t have been a big deal.  There was nothing to tip him off that something might go wrong.  The woods were silent; the mark was cooperative if terse.  Just one step after countless before it, clear and purposeful.  It had been logical, inevitable, lifting his foot over the trunk of a fallen tree and setting it down again with confidence.

But when Michael put his foot down this time, there was something...different.  It was crunchy, yet soft--not a bush, not a branch--

He looked down and didn’t immediately recognize the gray object under his foot.  He thought maybe he should, thought maybe he would, but he didn’t.

Didn’t recognize anything until the sound of buzzing filled his ears.

It happened quickly.  One second there was silence; the next the air was alive.  Bees were swarming, bustling madly out of their now-demolished hive at Michael’s feet.

Michael’s instincts were to swat, but he knew distance was a priority first.  Tucking his head in, he charged forward, crashing through the brush blindly as the bees buzzed wildly all around him.  His feet fumbled in the brush, and Michael went down, hitting the ground hard and rolling while his body started to flare with pain.  Instinct took over again, and Michael ignored the sticks and rocks in his back as he curled in, protecting his face and hands in the chaos now that movement seemed to be an impossible feat.

There was yelling--and footsteps.  Somewhere, Casey was saying, “Cover him, cover him, cover him!”  It seemed like an odd thing to say--more appropriate for a firefight--and then Michael understood.

He was being smothered--hot fabric spread over his body.  The stings surged for a moment as another jacket was spread over him, patting down the length of his body.

Then, he was hauled up.

Blind from the dark and involuntary movement, Michael let himself be dragged a few feet before he thought to run again.  There was a hand on his arm, footfalls behind him, and Michael knew he wasn’t running alone.  His team was with him--not missing a single pace--and they all ran hard and fast, not looking back and not slowing.  Michael couldn’t be sure how long they’d been running when his lungs protested and his legs buckled slightly and he realized that the sound in his ears was the pounding of his heart, not the buzzing of bees.

Pulling himself to a stop, it was all Michael could do to stay upright, blinking wildly around the dense forest to get his bearings before exhaustion won out and he bent over at the waist and heaved desperately for air.  

For a moment, he focused on breathing.  His body was trembling, pain receptors stinging down the lengths of his arms and neck.  It took a second to pull his senses together, but finally he looked up, hands on his knees as he gauged the rest of his team.  

Despite his heaving breaths and stinging skin, Michael felt relief spread through him as he accounted for the rest of his team.  They were all there, panting and weary but still standing.  

It was another long moment before any of them could speak.  Rick had one hand gripped tightly around the mark, and Billy’s flushed cheeks while he puffed toward the sky were a testament to how much energy they’d all expended in the escape.

Casey pulled himself upright first, his breathing quickly coming back under control.  “You have to outrun them,” he said, and even though his voice was heavy with exertion, he moved lightly toward Michael.  “That’s the only solution.”

Michael grimaced, trying to straighten.  “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Of course,” Rick said, with one hand still hauling the bedraggled mark as he edged closer.  “It helps if you don’t step on bee hives all together.”

Michael barked a laugh, which almost caught in his throat with a cough.  “I guess I’ll keep that in mind, too.”

Casey moved even closer, inspecting him critically.  “You don’t seem to have been too badly stung,” he commented, sounding vaguely relieved.  “A healthy adult can easily endure up to 150 stings with no ill effects.”

Michael winced, looking down the length of his arm.  It was true--he ached, stinging in his arms and on his neck, but it wasn’t as bad as he’d thought when the swarm began.

“Still,” Casey said, “we’re going to have to look for stingers.”  He glanced back at Rick and Billy.  “All of us.  We should minimize the effect of any poison in our systems.  But don’t pull them; just scrape them off.”

Billy snorted, still sounding notably breathless.  “That sounds like a convenient excuse to feel each other up,” he quipped.  He gave a lopsided smile.  “Kinky.  I approve.”

Casey shot him a glare.  “We don’t want the stings to get infected,” he said plainly.  “We still have a two mile hike, and we need to all be at peak capacity.  Check yourself and see the damage--that many bees, I’m sure we’ve all gotten stung.  I’ll start with Michael and if you still need help when I’m done, I can finish with any of you.”

Billy gave him a mock salute, bending over at his waist to continue catching his breath.

Michael grinned, the slow relief turning to something of euphoria to know they were still okay.  The mission wasn’t compromised.  Not yet.  “Don’t I feel lucky.”

Casey raised his eyebrows and sat Michael down with some force on the closest tree stump.  As the older operative started his inspection, he saw Billy and Rick doing the same, starting with their mark, who looked less than thrilled by these events.

Still, Casey was fast and efficient, if lacking compassion in his methods.  Michael stayed still throughout the ministrations, however; he couldn’t afford another complication in this mission.  Not when they were so close to being done.  Being a good leader meant knowing his limitations and his one misstep had already set them behind schedule as it was.

After several more minutes, Casey stepped back.  “I think that’s the best we can do for now,” he said.  “You were lucky.”

Looking down his reddened arms and chest, Michael tried to smile.  “As long as we can get out of here in one piece.”

Casey shrugged.  “Unless you’re allergic to bees--”

Michael laughed.  “I think we’re safe on that one,” he said.  “Got stung all the time as a kid.”

Nodding, Casey turned toward the others.  “I trust the rest of you managed?”

Rick nodded, a few red marks visible on his neck and one on his cheek; the mark glared, trying to scratch his fingers at stings on his chest while still bound.  

Billy smiled, giving a few stings on his hands and wrist one more look.  “Another first thanks to my eclectic CIA experiences,” Billy said, rubbing the stings lightly.  He was upright now, but still seemed to be breathing a little heavy after their romp through the woods.

Next to him, Rick’s brow furrowed.  “You’ve never been stung by a bee?”

Billy shrugged, swallowing with some apparent difficulty.  “Most perils of the job involve guns and knives,” he said.  “So far we have avoided staging an assault on the malevolent bee populations of the world.”

“Don’t underestimate natural perils,” Casey said, seemingly indifferent to the red welts on his own arms and hands.

“And never underestimate the complications of a mission,” Michael advised, getting to his feet and feeling his age.

Billy nodded, resolute.  “Duly noted,” he said, wheezing slightly.  He swallowed again, visibly holding back a grimace that they all noticed and this time, couldn’t ignore.

Casey frowned, glancing to Michael.  Michael’s brow furrowed and he stepped forward, ignoring the ache in his legs and the small twist of nausea in his gut.  “You’ve never been stung before?”

Billy shook his head.  “No, I--” he paused, gasping heavily and blinking rapidly as he tried to retain his composure.  “This is a first.”

It was clear Billy was trying to sound typically buoyant, but his voice was strained and clipped, his breathing still labored even as the rest of them were returning to normal.

Michael cleared the distance between them, looking steadily at the Scottish operative.  Billy didn’t flinch, but he couldn’t quite hide his staggered inhale of air under Michael’s scrutiny.  

Glancing at Casey, Michael didn’t have to express his worry out loud.  Casey was already next to him, pressing a hand to Billy’s forehead before moving his fingers down and feeling around his throat.

Billy still smiled.  “So feeling up Michael wasn’t enough, eh?” he asked.  “Are we all going to have such special treatment?  If not, poor Rick might think you don’t like him as much as you like the rest of us.”

His voice was worse now, the wheeze more pronounced even as Billy kept himself still.

Michael’s jaw clenched.  He kept his eyes on Casey.  “Is it--” he started to ask.

Casey’s hands fell, face grim.  “Open your mouth,” he ordered.

Billy quirked an eyebrow.  “That’s quite a forward request.”

“It’s an order,” Michael said, and if he sounded angry, it was just to hide his growing sense of dread.

Billy seemed duly cowed and he complied with surprisingly little fuss.

Casey had to stand on his toes to see and when he did, his expression tightened further.  “So are you going to confess to having trouble breathing or do we need to simply assume it for you?” he asked pointedly.

Billy swallowed hard, still breathing heavy as he tried to smile.  “Well, you do take all the fun out of putting a good face forward,” he said.

“Tingling in your hands yet?” Casey asked, taking the admission for what it was.

Billy flexed his fingers.  “A little.”

Casey looked at Michael.  Michael did his best not to show how far his stomach dropped.  

“How long do we have?” Michael asked Casey.

Casey shrugged.  “The onset seems slow so far,” he said.  “But anaphylaxis moves quickly.”

Next to them, Rick’s eyes widened.  “You mean he’s allergic?”

The mark laughed.

Casey glared at him, silencing him effectively.  “We need to move,” he said.  Then glancing at Billy’s slightly pale face, he added, “Quickly.”

Billy somehow still smiled.  “Well,” he said with an airy calm.  “At least it is a lovely day for a run in the woods, yeah?”

-o-

Lovely or panic-driven, it did start as a run.

For ten minutes, they retained a good clip.  This time, Michael was still at point, but Rick was handling the mark alone a few paces behind.  Casey was taking up a spot next to Billy, casting worried glancing as the taller operative continued to pump his legs.

Then Billy stumbled, just slightly.  The run turned into a jog, lagging even more as Billy’s breathing turned audibly haggard.

After a mile, they were lurching when Billy’s legs finally gave out.

Casey cursed, and they all came up short.  Michael turned in time to see the older operative catch Billy’s taller body awkwardly, taking them both to the ground in a heap.

When Michael got to their sides, Billy was still awake, but his eyes were wide and wet, mouth open as he labored for air.  The obvious stress of breathing was catching up with him, and a sheen of sweat gave his pale face a waxy finish that unsettled Michael.

“We’re still a mile out,” Michael said.

Casey glowered, trying to extricate himself from Billy’s weight.  “We’ll have to carry him.”

But Billy shook his head, even as his chest rose and fell dramatically.  “I’ll slow you down,” he said.  “I can keep going.”

Michael looked dubious, but Casey didn’t hesitate.  “Fine,” Casey said, pulling Billy back to his feet without any prelude and lacing a supporting arm behind the taller man’s back.  “But next time you fall, I will carry your miserable Scottish ass, understood?”

Billy didn’t disagree for once; didn’t even seem to consider it.  Of course, Billy also could barely breathe, which was all the incentive Michael needed to turn back to front and keep going.

-o-

Another ten minutes, and Billy was barely conscious.  His feet were moving, but Casey was carrying the majority of his weight as Billy focused his efforts more and more on simply breathing.  They were moving at a brisk walk now, but even that seemed to have Billy and Casey falling behind.

Michael looked behind him more than ahead; that was a dangerous way to finish a mission, he knew, but he couldn’t stop himself.  Each time he looked, Billy’s head was slumped forward further, mouth open desperately and the grip Casey had on the other man was tighter, his own face pinched with worry.

And Michael saw more than that, too.  He saw the things he’d taken for granted, the mistakes he’d made.  He should have scoped the woods better.  He should have had proper medical equipment.  He should have watched that step as carefully as he’d watched everything else.

The self recriminations were fast and heavy in his head, and he was so preoccupied that he didn’t see Billy fall until he was face first on the ground.

This time, Casey rolled him to his back, and Billy’s eyes were open but unseeing.  They roved wildly, his entire body bucking for air now even as his lips were tinged with blue.

“We’re out of time,” Casey said, voice taut as he pulled Billy up.  This time Billy didn’t protest, his limbs loose as Casey propped him into a sitting position.  It was effort for him to sling the taller man onto his shoulders, but he didn’t complain under the new weight or as Michael steadied them.

“Then we better move,” was all Michael could say, hoping that it would be enough.

-o-

Their run was desperate in the last leg.  When they finally hit the tree line, they were all breathing heavy, panting and wheezing in the fresh blast of sunlight.  Michael’s body felt numb and tense, and he almost fell as he helped Casey lower Billy to the ground next to their car.

Rick was shoving the mark into the car, handcuffing him to the door behind him, before he came back to stand next to Michael.

With Billy flat on his back, Casey leaned over him, pressing an ear to Billy’s chest. When he got back up, his mouth was tight.  “He’s barely moving air,” he said.  “Heart’s still beating, but not for much longer unless we do something.”  He looked up, face deadly serious.  “Fast.”

“We’re still at least twenty minutes from the nearest hospital,” Rick said, a hint of despair in his voice.

Billy’s lips were almost entirely blue now, his efforts to breathe almost gone.

Billy was dying--that was the simple fact.  He was dying from a bee sting from one small misstep, one small detail Michael had overlooked.

Michael had failed.

But Casey shook his head.  “There’s no time for that,” he said.  “Someone grab the first aid kit.”

Michael blinked.  Rick stared.

“Unless you’d like to watch him suffocate right here, of course,” Casey amended brusquely.

At that, Rick startled into action, but Michael found himself paralyzed.  He couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t even breathe.  The sting of Casey’s words was too much, and he felt himself succumbing to them against his will.  He couldn’t do anything.  Couldn’t do anything as Rick went to his knees next to Casey, couldn’t say anything as Casey tore through the contents and pulled out what he needed.

Didn’t even flinch, not as Billy went deadly still, not as Casey cleaned a knife with alcohol and lined it up on Billy’s neck.

Didn’t blink as Casey made the cut, as blood welled in the incision.

Didn’t look away as Billy’s face went white then ashen then blue before Casey threaded a small section of tube through the bloody wound and Billy’s chest rose.

It was a desperate hitch, nearly jerking Billy’s entire body.  Michael stared as Billy took another breath.  Then another and another.

He was alive.

Casey looked up, hands covered in blood.  “It’s a temporary fix,” he said.  “We’ve still got to get him to a hospital quickly if we’re going to reverse the anaphylaxis.”

It almost didn’t make sense.  But Casey was looking at him and Rick had tears in his eyes and Billy was limp on the ground and breathing.

It wasn’t over yet.

Michael hadn’t accounted for that, but it was time to start planning again before time really ran out.

-o-

As Casey and Rick bundled Billy into the car, Michael got in the driver’s seat, hands clenched around the wheel.  He drove with his eyes in the rearview mirror, watching as Casey cradled Billy’s head carefully in his lap, holding him steady as the car bumped down the road.

Michael was moving them all forward, but it still felt like he was going backward.  Like he was still in the forest, thinking that everything was over, when one misstep took him all the way back to the beginning.

But Billy was breathing, and Michael had to believe in second chances as he pulled them up to the hospital and slammed on the brakes.

-o-

For all the drama getting them out of the woods, the work at the hospital was relatively quick.  The doctors started Billy on epinepherine, and within minutes the swelling seemed to subside.  They quickly replaced Casey’s makeshift trach for the real thing, and when someone finally remembered to escort Michael to the waiting room, Billy’s color had improved and the nurse said that they’d still caught it in time.

It wasn’t even a few hours later when Billy was transferred to a room and showing signs of waking up.  The doctor had removed the trach as Billy’s vitals rebounded with treatment, stitching the wound and bandaging it lightly.  Billy’s breathing was still mildly strained, but when Michael stood over him in the dimmed room, Billy blinked up with a smile.

“First for everything,” the Scot rasped.  His eyes were tired but coherent.

Michael had to smile back.  “Yeah,” he agreed.  “For better and for worse.”

Billy kept smiling, his eyes drooping.  The doctors wanted to keep him overnight, make sure the anaphylaxis abated with no continued ill effects.  In truth, Billy probably needed the rest, and Michael still wasn’t sure he trusted himself to be in charge of things just yet.

Still, Billy wet his lips, wincing with the obvious effort.  “It was an accident,” he said.  “You couldn’t have known.”

“I should have known,” Michael replied without thinking.

Billy’s smile was wistful.  “Spies die thinking they’re invincible,” he said.  “They survive by knowing they’re not.”

As Billy faded back into sleep, Michael’s throat felt tight but he still had to smile.  There were a lot of variables he couldn’t control in a mission, no matter how hard he tried.  But the least predictable factors were the ones that mattered most.  The resiliency of his team, their tenacious refusal to give up, the way they faced each obstacle as a team, not individuals.

Michael couldn’t always plan for everything, but he had to plan on that.

Standing there, watching Billy sleep, Michael had to be thankful for that much.

-o-

Michael had accounted for everything.

A local operative on sight to handle the transfer of the mark: check.

A well-thought-out way to pitch their delay to Higgins:  check.

A new method of transportation home once Billy was discharged: check.

A fresh supply of epi-pens for each of them to carry on any and all future missions: check.

A piece of blackmail from Billy’s mission to Rome last year to ensure he carried one himself, mission or not: check.

His team together, alive, and safe: check.

All in all, Michael was feeling good about their retreat.  Secure.  Safe.  Success was in sight.

He’d foreseen all the obstacles and accounted for each accordingly.  Michael was in control; he liked that feeling.

But really, in the end, Michael liked knowing that he didn’t have to do it alone even more.

Comments

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)
Inconspicuous

That really was a lovely way to inflict some whump :)
I absolutely love Michael's POV here. And the tidbit, where he bribes Billy into carrying the epi-pen around is adorable.
And I really would have liked to see Casey schlepping Billy around.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: September 30th, 2011 01:10 pm (UTC)
billy considers

It's always fun to find new ways to inflict harm. It helps keep the writing process creative :)

Thanks!

Posted by: altpointofview (altpointofview)
Posted at: September 23rd, 2011 04:57 am (UTC)

Okay when the fix started & you had Michael take point & knowing you wanted an unusual way to hurt the guys I really started to panic. First of all taking point in the jungle?!? Have you ever seen "The Green Berets"?!?
All I could think of was OMG you know what happened to Jim Hutton when John Wayne let him take point!!!!!! I nearly bit my lip through when Michael stepped over that log & stepped on a bee hive. Okay girl you really got me on that one - totally didn't see that one coming. And then I get the action of Michael trying to outrun the little buggers & I thought I van not believe this you of all people are whumping Michael & leaving Billy alone.
My mistake! ;)
Excellent fic! LOVED IT!!!!
Now I believe you mentioned something about two ideas for unusual whumpage? So you're working on the other plot idea now right? :D

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: September 30th, 2011 01:12 pm (UTC)
billy knows

LOL, I haven't seen the Green Berets, so I couldn't imitate it if I wanted to :)

And I hope the bee angle was a decent surprise :) It was kind of fun to write, even though I know it was far from realistic.

As for the other fic idea, it's in the back of my head, percolating. But I've got a lot of fic I need to write and not much time to do it before baby, so we'll see :)

Thanks!

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