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Chaos fic: At the Wheel (1/2)

February 14th, 2013 (06:16 am)

feeling: calm

Title: At the Wheel

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: I wrote this for lena7142. Beta give by postfallen. Set pre series. Split in two for LJ's size limitations.

Summary: Because Carson's a spy. And spies don't give up the wheel. Not to rookies. Not to anyone.


Carson's a spy. He's pretty sure he's not a great spy -- getting kicked off three teams and having three accusations of professional misconduct in his file is pretty compelling stuff -- but he is a spy. And spies, even the bad ones, don't like to give up control of the wheel.

Okay, this is especially true of the bad ones. And the wheel is sort of a metaphorical thing, but it's also pretty damn literal sometimes.

Like now.

Carson's got his fingers wrapped so tight around the wheel, he's almost losing feeling in his fingers. The speedometer is inching up and he glances in the rearview mirror.

"I know this may not be the time," Billy ventures from the passenger seat.

"No, it's not the time," Carson grits, pressing down on the pedal harder and gritting his teeth even as the cars in the mirror close in on them.

"I was just going to say that I do have extensive evasive driving experience," Billy offers.

It sounds diplomatic. It might be diplomatic. Except the kid's always trying to say something stupid. He's trying to point out that he's been undercover, that he has assets, that he can flirt his way in and out of things. And he's always got driving advice. Turn here, veer here, try second gear.

Carson knows the kid is trying, but really, he's just trying too hard. The big puppy eyes and overzealous attitude is sort of sweet, but it's not overly useful, especially not for a team like the ODS. Carson has done what he can to keep the kid out of trouble, but sometimes, Billy just needs to shut the hell up.

Like now.

"And in my experience, when you are in the far less superior vehicle, sheer speed is not your best bet," Billy continues helpfully.

Except it's not helpful at all. Because Carson's losing ground and these people are trying to kill them and Billy's trying to bolster his resume.

"Really, if you had let me drive--"

"Shut up!" Carson snaps, jerking the wheel hard as one of the vehicles pulls up next to them. "I'm a little busy here."

Busy trying not to die. He glances ahead and has to swerve to miss a huge rut that would have bottomed them out. He curses, and makes a face.

"I can see that," Billy says, sliding about in the seat. "Which is kind of my point--"

"Well, my point is getting us out of here," Carson seethes, bracing himself as the car next to him rams into them.

The car shimmies and Carson has to use both hands to steady the wheel.

Billy teeters precariously in the seat, arms in front of him on the dash. "If we had taken the time to pick out a more appropriate car--"

Carson curses again -- this time at Billy. "We didn't have a lot of options!"

"And neither does this!" Billy protests. "Rear wheel drive, no cruise control -- not even a decent radio."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Carson mutters. "You want some tunes for our desperate run for our lives from gun runners?"

"There's not even any seat belts," Billy reminds him. "This car is poorly equipped--"

They're rear ended this time, then rammed, and Carson spits curses loudly over the rushing wind outside the windows. This is not going well. This is really not going well.

Billy's still flopping over in his seat. "Really, I think my driving would impress you--"

Carson jolts the car, ramming the car next to him out of sheer frustration. "Really, huh?" he asks angrily. "That's nice. But you're not driving, kid."

"But my experience--"

"You're a rookie," Carson hisses.

"I served for five years--"

"And then got your ass kicked out," Carson says. "Hate to be the one to tell you this, but that sends you back to square one. You're a rookie, kid. And even if you weren't, you're not driving."

Because Carson's a spy. And spies don't give up the wheel. Not to rookies. Not to anyone.

Spies control their own fate.

Billy is protesting, but Carson's not listening. His eyes zero in and he sees his opportunity. Slamming the brakes, he turns the car hard, yanking with all the might to get them clear of the inevitable collision.

The tires squeal, the tires screech. The car next to him has sped ahead, and the car behind is speeding past him -- just like he planned. Both cars are flailing and out of control, and the one in front turns back just in time to collide with the one coming up behind with a splintering and screeching that lets Carson know he succeeded.

Carson grins, even as his car careens to a stop, spinning frantically in the vast desert highway in Ethiopia. He grips the wheel tight to keep them from flipping and he's almost got it --

And then he sees the other car.

They've crossed the median and traffic isn't much of an issue, but it only takes one car.

Coming right at them.

Carson doesn't loosen his grip, but this time there's nothing he can do as the car crashes into them and sends their car lurching ahead. Carson flails, head slamming forward and everything goes dark.


The first thing Carson is aware of is sound. Something is thrumming, and it takes him a second to realize it’s his own pulse pounding vigorously in his head.

He groans and starts to move, but quickly regrets it. The pain sharpens acutely, moving ferociously through his skull and radiating down his neck and through his shoulder blades. He’s hit his head -- and hard.

Gingerly, he opens his eyes, mindful to stay as still as possible. His vision is blurred and limited, but it’s hard to tell how much of that is a concussion and how much is because he’s smashed face first into something hard and black and smelling of plastic and blood.

His blood, no doubt.

Shifting, he realizes that his fingers are clenched so tight that his hands are locked in place, firmly around something.

The steering wheel.

He could be dead and he’d still be holding fast. That’s Carson, ever the spy.

Ever the control freak. He’s been trying to keep a handle on this mess of a mission from the start. It’s never a fun thing, messing around with gun smugglers. But with signs of a major sale to people with strong anti-US interests, it had been clear something needed to be done. Carson had never been convinced that going undercover was the right answer, but then, that wasn’t his call.


Or a lack thereof.

And this is where it got him. A blown cover, a failed mission, and a freaking car accident.

Wincing, he opens his eyes wider and tries to sit up. He’s tentative about this. Because if there’s something Carson hates more than being out of control, it’s being in pain. He’s one for creature comforts, if he’s honest, and being in Africa in the first place has got him all riled up. Too many insects; too much sweat. Terrorists running rampant.

And car accidents.

It takes some work -- hell, he almost passes out more than once -- but he manages to sit up. It leaves him panting, though, wheezing through his tight chest and blinking blood out of one of his eyes. For a moment, the pain is pretty powerful stuff and Carson considers the idea that he may be in serious trouble. He thinks about internal injuries and hematomas and his breathing quickens.

And settles down again.

Because yes, he’s hurt. Yes, he probably has a concussion. And okay, there could be internal injuries. But he’s awake and he’s coherent and his vision is gauzy from the blood but things beyond that are actually pretty clear, even if the sunlight outside makes him squint.

He can do this, he tells himself. He’s in control, hands on the metaphorical steering wheel. This outcome isn’t favorable, but beggars can’t be choosers, and Michael and Casey will bitch and moan and still come to his rescue. Besides, this isn’t all his fault. Billy--

Carson’s stomach drops and his breathing hitches. He’d forgotten about the kid -- his heart rate quickens -- and how the hell do you forget about a teammate?

Probably because Billy’s still the new guy. He’s only been on the team for a few months, and Carson hasn’t adjusted his mindset to think in terms of four instead of three. Plus, he’s sort of waiting to see if Billy will wash out. He is an MI6 reject, after all. Carson doesn’t put a ton of stock in second chances, even if the ODS has been his last chance for the last few years now. And probably because Carson drinks a little too much and sleeps a little too heavy and he’s too busy trying to keep himself alive to worry about everyone else.

Really, that’s what it comes down to. Michael’s a paranoid bastard; Malick’s a scary son of a bitch. Carson? He’s a selfish jackass, and he’s never made any qualms about that. Billy’s the overeager puppy, and Carson puts up with him because someone has to, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be Michael or Casey. So Carson’s taken it upon himself to show the kid some tips, offer a few pointers.

Not that it did much good. All Billy did in return was yap about his glory days, trying to remind Carson how he’s somehow experienced in just about everything. From flirting to driving, Carson’s about ready to be done with the kid.

Though, not literally. Because Billy’s still his responsibility in this mission, and Carson crashed the damn car and now there’s no sign of Billy.

“Collins?” Carson calls, his voice scratchy as he cranes his head to look around. The seat next to him is empty. The back seat is so small that he doubts Collins could fold himself up back there, not that this is any time for a damn nap. Still he swivels, having to rotate his body to look. “Billy?”

There’s nothing. Just the sound of the engine dying and the wind on the lonely highway.

Carson frowns, looking at the seat again. There’s nothing there, and Carson briefly wonders if the kid is outside trying to talk his way into annoying someone else, but the door’s shut. More than that, that side of the car is bent in on itself. There’s no way Billy could have pushed it open.

Heart pounding, Carson turns his gaze out, watching for signs of movement on the highway.

He looks through the open space where the windshield used to be.

His heart stutters, as the realization dawns with such clarity that he can’t fight it. Billy’s not here. At the rate they’d been moving and without seat belts, the force of the impact jarred them both pretty good. Carson’s throbbing head is testament to that.

But without the steering column to stop him, Billy’s forward momentum hadn’t stopped.

No, Carson closes his eyes. Instead, it took the kid right through the windshield.

So much for control.


The car is crumpled in on the passenger’s side, so when Carson pushes open his door, it resists just for a moment before swinging open wildly. It’s not easy to get to his feet, and he has to support himself on the doorframe as he puts one foot and then the other on the ground.

For a moment, he’s overtaken by a wave of dizziness that turns his stomach and forces him to squeeze his eyes shut. He breathes fast and heavy out his nose, clenching his jaw tight to hold back the bile that has risen in the back of his throat. It takes longer than he thinks it should, but when he opens his eyes, he’s at least not about to topple over.

Not right away, anyway.

Walking, though, is still a tenuous thing and his first step is stumbling, his knees threatening to give out as he makes his way from the car. He’s on the sandy median now. Squinting, he looks back and gauges the position of his hastily chosen getaway car. The impact must have spun them and sent them skidding, somehow forcing them back the way they came. There are vivid burn marks on the pavement and the earth is torn up.

The car is worse off. It’s mangled, dented and torn open in various spots. It’s hard to place where the initial impact was -- clearly, with the spinning, they endured multiple collisions. At any rate, the car’s totaled. Fortunately, it’s not Carson’s car. It wasn’t even a very nice car when he stole it.

Somehow, that’s not much consolation.

Turning away, he looks down the road for any sign of life. He still wants to believe it’s possible Billy’s going to get help -- the Scot is stupid and frustrating, after all. It’d be like him to try climbing out and flagging down unsuspecting motorists for help.

Except he’s not there. Up the road, he can see the mangled wreck of the cars that had been pursuing them, but no other obvious signs of life. Behind him, there’s still no sign of Billy, but Carson does see the other car.

It’s a nicer car than the one Carson was driving, and it’s still smoking, crunched and unmoving a dozen yards or so behind him.

Carson glances down the open stretch of road, and looks back. Billy’s his priority, but whoever this driver is, their fate is sort of Carson’s fault.

Swallowing, he limps back.

“Hey,” he calls out, wincing as his throat twinges. He has to wipe away the blood dripping down his face as he approaches. “You okay in there?”

There’s no answer, so Carson rounds the car, moving toward the driver’s seat. “Hey, buddy, you--”

The words don’t come. They don’t need to come. There’s no sense in asking if the driver is okay, because he’s clearly dead. His body is slumped forward, and the driver’s door is crushed inward, mangling the body. The man’s eyes are vacant and staring.

Carson’s stomach churns again. He swears, and this time he has to drop his head between his knees to breathe frantically, staving off the darkness on the edge of his vision. Collateral damage happens -- and this isn’t actually his fault. They were being chased by gun runners. He had no choice...

But now some innocent person Carson’s never met is dead and he’s stranded in the middle of nowhere and Billy’s still missing.

Lifting his head, he’s still heaving for air, eyes stinging as he tries in vain to clear the blood from his vision again. Control, he thinks. He just wanted control.

And now everything’s a mess. People are dead; covers are blown. Teammates are missing.

Carson’s not the most hardworking operative in the world. He credits his survival in part to his laziness. Oftentimes, he’s too inclined to avoid work and conflict, which means he’s usually not going to subject himself to needless peril. But he can be a determined bastard when he wants to be.

When he needs to be.

He needs to be now.

Control. Carson can still grab the wheel, and that’s just what he intends to do.

Teeth gritted together, he starts walking again, moving back toward his own mutilated vehicle. His own injuries are catching up with him a bit, and there’s a nagging pain in his chest and a sharp pang that runs up and down his right leg. Walking isn’t so easy, and every now and then his vision seems to fade out even as he moves forward doggedly.

When he gets to the car, his stomach lurches again, and this time he knows he can’t fight it. He turns away from the vehicle and has the common sense to move all the way across the road. If he’s going to throw up, he’s not going to get nailed by a car doing it. He barely makes it to the shrubbery on the side of the road before he hits his knees and heaves.

The bile burns up his esophagus, and he retches again. The third time, his chest feels like it’s going to explode and his vision goes entirely dark for a long, horrible moment.

When it clears again he’s still on his knees, fingers in the sandy earth. He’s crying, vomit still dripping from his lips as he strains for air.

Lifting his head takes too much work, and Carson’s wondering if this whole control thing is overrated. Instead, he flops onto his back. When the sun blinds him, he lolls his head to the side and looks out across the land. There’s not much to see -- some shrubs and trash--

And a body.

Twisted and bloodied, sprawled brokenly on its back. The face is covered with blood and there’s red pooling on the ground even as the lifeless features are turned toward Carson in unconsciousness.

It takes him a minute -- Carson’s concussed and exhausted, so it may take him more than a minute -- but finally he recognizes the body.



At first, Carson wants to heave again. He wants to throw up everything in his stomach and turn his insides out. He wants to fist his hands into the dirt and pound the ground until his hands are bloody. He wants to wail until his voice gives out and cry until there’s no tears left.

That’s what he wants to do.

But if Carson did what he wanted to do, he’d have cut and run out on the spy game long ago and he’d be sitting on a beach in the Caribbean, sipping drinks with his toes buried in the sand.

See, Carson’s a spy. He wants a lot of things, but too many of those things require him to give up control. On a beach, he’d be pretty damn comfortable, but he’d also be totally out of the loop. It sucks, but it’s true, and Carson’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

So he doesn’t hurl and he doesn’t cry or any of that crap. Instead, he staggers back to his feet and makes his way to Billy.

The kid looks worse the closer he gets, which seems sort of impressive since Carson had thought he looked dead from first glance. He’s on his back, but his legs are bent at odd angles, one clearly broken. His arms are equally flailed about, and it looks sort of like his wrist is bending at the opposite angle that it should.

And that’s not even the bad part.

The bad part is the tear in Billy’s scalp, leaving a flap of hair pulled away. His nose is clearly broken and there’s a slice that runs along his hairline, almost severing his ear. There’s blood everywhere -- nose, mouth, chin, ears, eyes -- and it’s so copious that Carson can’t tell what’s actually bleeding and what’s just being soaked by the rest.

Of course, his torso isn’t much better. The worst is the bloody gouge, running jaggedly along his side. But his shirt is shredded in places, his pants frayed from what looks like impact. His shoulder looks a little like ground beef and there’s a slice up his calf that is weeping continuously.

That’s just what Carson can see. Of course, maybe Billy’s lucky and escaped internal injuries, but when Carson looks at the kid, lucky isn’t the word that comes to mind.

Dead, however--

His throat constricts and Carson does his best not to think it. He’s still in control. Unless he can confirm otherwise, he can salvage this. Billy’s been thrown through the windshield, Carson’s wrecked the car and the mission and maybe his team, but maybe he can fix this.

As long as Billy’s alive.

Fingers shaking, Carson holds his breath but it does nothing to still the frantic pounding of his heart. It threatens to deafen him, and he’s not Casey Malick. He can’t control his body, but he’s still too damned determined to give up so he ignores the blood, ignores all the gore, and presses two fingers into Billy’s throat.

At first, all he can feel is the slick blood as it coats his fingertips. His breathing falters and his chest constricts. He locks his jaw, and steels himself, and waits.

For a sign of hope.

For a chance that he hasn’t failed.


A heartbeat.

It’s there, pulsating against his fingers in uneven, stuttered beats.

Billy’s alive.

He’s hurt and he may be dying, but he’s alive.

Carson can work with that.

Looking down at Billy’s broken body, he has to work with that.


Carson’s an acceptably proficient spy, but he’s really not a great medic. Michael’s the one with the brains for medicine (Mr. Pre-Med, himself) and Casey’s the one with the grit to actually tackle trauma with his bare hands and intuition.

Carson, meanwhile, tends to assume the worst and just thinks everyone is dying.

That’s counterproductive, of course, and right now, it hurts too much to think about. Because this is Billy, and the damn Scotsman is too impossible to die -- or at least, he should be. The kid’s mortality is suddenly blindingly obvious, and Carson can’t help but think how vulnerable Billy really is under all his flashy smiles and buoyant rhetoric.

As it is, though, Billy may die, and Carson barely knows that the head bone’s connected to the neck bone, so anything resembling first aid is not his natural defense.

Instead, he pulls out his phone.

Michael’s number is the first one on the list. He presses call and puts the phone to his ear, keeping a wary eye on Billy’s unmoving form.

Michael answers on the first ring. “Where the hell are you guys?”

“Nice to hear from you, too, sunshine,” Carson snaps.

“All our radars are going nuts, like we’ve been cut off--”

“Because we have,” Carson says tersely. “Sons of bitches made us.”

Michael swears. “You out, then?”

“Stole a car but we had some trouble shaking the pursuers,” Carson explains, glancing over his shoulder toward the still-smoking wreck up the way.

“Give me your location and Malick and I--”

Carson shakes his head, eyes back on Billy. “We need an ambulance,” he interrupts numbly.

“You hurt?” Michael asks, voice turning tense.

“Made a mess of the car,” Carson confirms. “I’ve got a concussion, but Billy...”

There’s a slight pause. “Bad?”

Carson looks at the flap of skin on Billy’s scalp, the blood that’s everywhere... “I don’t even know where to begin,” he says. “One second the kid’s criticizing my driving, the next, he’s through the windshield--”

Michael’s breath catches just slightly over the line. “But he’s alive?”

“We need help, Michael,” Carson say plainly. Because sometimes control meant knowing when to delegate. And with Billy bleeding and unconscious, Carson would delegate this as much as he could. “Main highway outside of town, about three miles out. No signs of life from the smugglers; another car seems to have a civilian casualty.”

There’s movement in the background, and Michael is distracted. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. We’re on it. Help will be there soon.”

It’s a relief, Carson tells himself. It’s supposed to be a relief.

But on the ground, Billy still bleeds.

“Just...keep him alive, okay?” Michael asks.

Carson’s eyes burn -- the blood, he tells himself, it’s just the blood -- and his head throbs -- concussion, he knows -- and he can’t look away from Billy. “Yeah,” he agrees. “I’m working on it.”

When the call cuts off, Carson’s on his own again. He takes a breath, tries to calm himself.

It doesn’t work.

Carson’s still concussed, and Billy’s still not moving, but Carson’s in control again. He’s the one giving the orders, and this time there’s no one to even question him.

It seems pretty cruel, actually. The universe’s idea of a horrible cosmic joke, giving Carson exactly what he asked for.

And with Billy dying right in front of him -- nothing that he needed.


It’s funny. No, it’s ironic. That’s what it is, as best Carson can remember. He’s not big into the literary terms, but Billy would call it ironic, bookish bastard that he is.

Because here Carson is, hands on the wheel, and nowhere to go. He’s already driven them right into disaster and now that he’s ready to hand this crap off to someone else, he’s stuck with it.

He’s just stuck.

On the side of the road with a concussion and a dying teammate.

Michael and Casey are the kind of dogged bastards that don’t know when to quit. Carson knows when to quit. In fact, Carson has nothing against quitting if things are stacked just right. He’ll risk his life when he has to, but if there’s a better alternative, he’ll always take it, hands down. That’s the thing about control. He likes to be able to stop driving when he chooses.

But now he’s stuck here, and control is his because Michael and Casey are still miles out, ambulances could be just as far, and Billy...

Well, Billy’s a mess.

Carson does what he can, which isn’t much. He’s passed Agency first aid courses by the skin of his teeth, so he knows to treat the bleeding and keep the victim still.

The second part is pretty easy since Billy shows no sign of waking. The first is a bit harder, and the lack of bandages is only half the story. He sacrifices his overshirt to the cause, but it’s stained with his own blood already. Still, he has no infectious diseases that he knows of and it’s not like he’s gotten lucky recently.

And there’s a lot of blood.

It takes some work to rip his shirt in two -- the jerking motion makes his head swim so that he almost passes out -- and when he’s done, he realizes he’s done such a pisspoor job that one half is gigantic and the other is almost nothing more than a scrap.

It’s better than nothing, he figures, but when he looks at Billy’s broken form, he’s not so sure about that. Two bandages; countless wounds. It seems stupid, but he almost passed out getting this far, and if the kid dies he wants to at least look like he made an effort.

He stiffens. The kid’s not dying, though. The kid can’t die.

It’s a shaky resolve but he takes the bigger piece and picks the gash on Billy’s side. It’s hard to determine which wound is most serious, but that one certainly looks gruesome, so covering it at the very least will minimize how much Carson has to look at the gore. He lays the soiled cloth on top and hesitates awkwardly. Making a face, he spreads his fingers and presses down.

He can feel the blood welling up immediately, but Billy makes no sign of protest. All the times he’s wanted the kid to shut the hell up and now he’d give anything just to hear him make some inane quip.

This is progress, though, Carson tells himself, looking briefly at Billy’s bloodied face. It’s starting to swell, and his nose looks downright grotesque even as Billy’s breathing starts to become audible.

Carson looks away. He knows it’s bad. He doesn’t need to keep looking to remind himself.

He looks instead at the other scrap of cloth and realizes that with both hands pressed along the jagged wound in Billy’s side, he has no way of applying the second bandage. For a second, he’s not sure what to do. He can feel Billy’s blood against his hands -- so holding here is important. But there’s so many other wounds -- the head lac, scraps on the arms and legs -- what if he’s neglecting something important?

Hell, what if all this pressure is making things worse? What if he’s exacerbating some internal trauma and he doesn’t know it? What if he’s made the wrong choice?

What if he kills Billy while trying to save him?

What if Billy actually dies, on the side of the road, going through the windshield because Carson can’t drive worth crap and picked a car without seat belts? What if Carson’s control screwed this all up?

It’s slipping away from him, and Carson’s chest feels tight. His vision is dimming, and he’s vaguely aware that he may in fact be hyperventilating.

Perfect. He’s losing control.

He’s losing control right when he needs to keep it; not that his control is doing any good, so maybe this is for the best...

The logic is getting him nowhere, and he squeezes his eyes shut, breathing through his nose for a moment. He doesn’t know how to do this. He doesn’t even want to do this anymore. He should have just given Billy the damn wheel and then this wouldn’t be his responsibility.

This wouldn’t be his fault.

He opens his eyes, looking at Billy again. The kid is breathing noisily now, his chest visibly rising and falling with effort. He’s trembling beneath Carson’s touch, face going gray under the blood.

It’s getting away from him, all of it. But Carson doesn’t move; Carson doesn’t let go. He’ll hold on to the end.

No matter what.


Carson’s not sure how long he sits there. His feet have gone numb and his arms are aching. Sweat is smearing with the blood down the side of his face so that he pretty much can’t see at all.

That’s okay, though. There’s nothing much to look at. He knows Billy’s still breathing by the sound of his grating breaths and he knows Billy’s still dying with the blood coating his hands.

That’s okay, he tells himself, even if it’s a lie. Nothing’s okay. Absolutely nothing is okay.

There’s nothing he can do about it, though.

There’s nothing he can do at all.

Just hold on.

Hold on.

He doesn’t hear the sirens and he doesn’t see the flashing lights, but someone touches him on the shoulder and he almost flails. He doesn’t have the energy, though, and when he blinks up to see the medic, all the fight leaves him.

Someone pulls him away, and Carson doesn’t fight. He’s not in control anymore, not as the medic lies him out on the side of the road. Carson’s not in control as the man shines a light in his eyes and starts talking to him. He can hear the words but none of it makes any sense, and he rolls his head to the side to look at Billy--

There’s only blood, though.

The medic probes his head, and Carson hisses in pain. He tries to see Billy one more time, but it doesn’t work.

Nothing works.

He’s not in control anymore.

As Carson closes his eyes and succumbs to unconsciousness, he wonders if he ever was.