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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: The New Guy (1/4)

July 13th, 2014 (08:54 pm)
pessimistic

feeling: pessimistic

Title: The New Guy

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos. My life is sometimes chaos, though, but that’s not the same thing sadly.

A/N: For ayjaydee, about a month or so late. I hope you had a great day! Beta thanks to sockie1000. This also fills my hallucinations square for hc_bingo card.

Summary: Rick’s been on the team three years, and he’s not the new guy anymore. If only he could convince his team of that.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR



-o-

It’s been three years.

Sometimes, it seems hard to believe. That he’s been an active CIA operative for three years. Serving his country, making a difference in the world. Doing the jobs other people can’t to promote the greater good.

Sometimes, though, it seems really easy to believe. Three years of tagging along after his team, plunging into one crazy antic after the next. He tells himself all the time that he’ll stop being the brunt of all their jokes, but another mission comes and goes, and it seems Rick’s still the new guy.

It’s not like they’re bad guys. They are bastards, but they’re not bad guys. And they have some really great moments, and they’ve done amazing things together. There are no people Rick trusts more.

It’s been three years, and Rick wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

But, it’s been three years. Rick isn’t green behind the ears anymore. He’s a trained and seasoned spy. He has his own contacts, and he’s organized his own missions. Higgins is retiring, and there are other opportunities for Rick.

He chews his lip, looking at the transfer application. Adele had said he’d be a good fit for it, a deputy chief in a field office in the Middle East. It’d be one hell of a promotion, and Rick could make a difference there. It’s a smart choice.

Behind him, the door opens. “All the same, I don’t see why scotch can’t be declared an office expense,” Billy says, clearly belaboring the point.

“The CIA will already have to cover your liver issues down the line,” Michael says. “I wouldn’t push your luck.”

Casey scoffs. “That’s all Billy’s done for the last decade,” he mutters. “If the scotch doesn’t kill him, I very well may.”

“You’ve been saying that for years,” Billy says, sitting in his chair. “I am beginning to think you doth protest too much.”

Michael pulls out his own chair. “He’s right,” he says. “I think it’s pretty safe to say that your threats are a bluff.”

Scowling, Casey sits down as well. “It’s called restraint,” he says. “Lesser men would have given in years ago, when Martinez showed up and Billy became superfluous.”

Billy opens his mouth indignantly.

“Three years,” Rick blurts. His teammates look at him, curious. Rick blushes, and tries to act casual. “I’ve been here three years.”

“So the first nine we can account for,” Billy jumps in, missing Rick’s point entirely. “And the other three?”

“Don’t tempt me, Collins,” Casey growls, moving his mouse to wake up his computer.

Billy grins. “But it’s so much fun!”

Michael rolls his eyes, reaching for his glasses. “How’s that paperwork coming, Martinez?”

Rick stiffens, feeling suddenly conspicuous with the application in plain sight. “Um, good,” he says. “Just need a little longer.”

“Not too much longer,” Michael tells him. “We want to be in the air for South America by the end of the week.”

“Off for another jaunt of adventure and heroism!” Billy extols.

“If we’re counting on the new guy to get us there, then we may have to keep waiting,” Casey mutters.

Rick’s not surprised. It’s usually only a matter of time before he’s reminded -- quite vividly -- of his place on the team.

He also doesn’t have the patience for it. Not today.

“I’m not the new guy,” Rick says crossly.

“You just said it yourself,” Casey says. “Three years--”

“Is a long time!” Rick says. “I’m not a rookie anymore, guys. I’m not the new guy.”

“Ah, now who doth protest too much,” Billy says.

Rick sighs. “I’m not. The paperwork is almost done, and it’s impeccable.

“We don’t doubt that,” Casey says.

That’s too reassuring. That’s almost nice, like they trust him. Jaded, Rick narrows his eyes. “You don’t?”

“Of course not,” Michael says with a smirk. “Because the new guy always does the paperwork.”

Rick doesn’t even bother to groan. He should have seen that coming. After three years, he should see everything coming. That’s how it is with the ODS. Everything is predictably unpredictable. Nothing ever goes according to plan in the field, but the ODS is perfectly trained and in tune to respond to such unpredictability with steadfast resolve. It’s ironic, really. It’s impressive.

It’s exhausting.

And there’s nothing Rick can do but let it happen.

“Let me just say again, young Rick, how welcome your presence is on our team,” Billy tells him earnestly.

“You’re just glad you don’t have to do the paperwork anymore,” Casey says.

“And he is magnificent company,” Billy says with a glare at Casey. “Unlike some in our present company.”

Rick doesn’t even bother to interject again. There’s no point. He’s had variations of this conversation every week since he joined the ODS.

Every week.

Including the week he was out with the flu and the vacation he took last summer to Jamaica.

“Enough, you two,” Michael reprimands loosely. “We still have a lot of intel to cover before we’re in the air.”

“Three days,” Billy reminds them all with a wink.

Rick shifts his paperwork, pulling it over the application. It just needs a signature before he turns it in, but he can’t do that now. Not with the guys in the office.

Casey sighs. “If I can survive another three days with your insufferable idiocy.”

Three days, Rick thinks as he nervously starts up his work again.

Three days and three years. That’s not so much.

It’s also not so little.

-o-

For his mid-morning coffee, Rick finds himself in the break room. He’s pouring himself a generous cup -- his mug has gotten bigger each year he’s been with the ODS -- when there’s the sound of footsteps behind him.

The heels indicate someone female. The pace is strong but not committed. This is a confident person with no place in particular to be. The cadence of the footfalls is familiar, though, and three years with the ODS has made him something of a paranoid bastard. He knows who’s coming, and it’s the best part of his day.

“Hey,” Adele says. They’re all but living together now, but Adele likes to keep things strictly professional at the office. There’s no kissing; no holding hands. A few sly winks and seductive innuendos, however, are not off limits.

Rick puts the pot back and smiles. “Hey.”

“So, happy three year anniversary,” she says.

Rick tilts his head. “How did you--?”

“Well I have seen your personnel file,” Adele says. “And memorized. Meticulously.”

Rick furrows his brow. “That’s disturbing and unethical,” he says.

She wets her lips purposefully and sidles just close enough.

Rick can’t keep his composure. “It’s also pretty sexy.”

Having gotten the reaction, she pulls away to pick up a coffee cup of her own. “It’s also fairly easy for me to remember,” she says. “It’s my three year anniversary, too. You forget, we started on the same day, Rocket Rick.”

“Ah,” Rick says, pausing to take a sip. “And here I thought someone actually cared about my accomplishments.”

“Oh, I care,” Adele says, finishing pouring herself a cup. “But the Agency doesn’t typically honor people until they reach their five year service mark, so it’s still two years away.”

“That’s not very helpful,” Rick says.

“Aw,” she returns. “This is actually bothering you?”

“No,” Rick says, a little too quickly. He sighs. “I just. The guys haven’t said anything.”

“Well, that’s a good thing,” Adele replies. “It means they’ve stopped viewing you as an outsider.”

“But I’m still the new guy,” Rick protests. “Three years, and I’m still the new guy.”

Adele shrugs. “Relatively speaking--”

Rick levels her with a look.

“Right,” Adele says, readjusting her focus. “That’s not really the point.”

“I’m a good spy, right?” Rick asks. “I mean, I’ve organized missions. I’ve brought in intel. I’ve saved the day, more than once.”

Adele hesitates. “Are talking as lovers or work colleagues?”

“Does it matter?” Rick asks.

“Well, as a work colleague, I would remind you that you have accomplished a lot in three years. You’ve had a remarkable record,” she says. “But your teammates have all had much longer careers, and far more successes. In comparison, you really are the new guy.”

Rick’s shoulders fall.

“But that’s why I think you should apply for the position,” Adele says. “You can’t change the ODS, but you don’t have to stay with them, either.”

Rick swirls his coffee around. “I know,” he says. “It’s just hard--”

“No, it’s not hard,” Adele says. “It’s not even an insult to them, if that’s what you’re thinking. You’ve thrived with them. They’ve helped make you who you are. They’ve had a huge part in your success, but you’ve gotten to the point where you don’t need them. But if you stay there, if you stay with the ODS, you’re always going to be the new guy. Three years. Five years. Ten years. Until one of them moves on.”

He knows this. He knows this. But this is his team; they were the ones who saw him on his first mission. They know him, and he knows them. There are some bonds that are hard to break, even when he wants to. Things could be better without them, but they could also be worse. It’s silly, Rick knows, but it feels a little like betrayal.

“Hey,” Adele says, reaching out to touch his arm. “I’m serious. You are a good spy. You’re going to have a great career. People move on and people move up. That’s how it is. That doesn’t make your experience less. That just means you’ve learned what you need to. It’s a compliment.”

Of course, his team also pranks him, talks down to him and generally tries to terrorize him. They betrayed him his first day on the job, three years ago. Maybe he is overthinking this.

He smiles, meeting her eyes again. “I know,” he says. “I just don’t want to deal with telling them.”

“Well, then don’t tell them until after you hand in the paperwork,” she says.

“Oh, I won’t,” Rick says. “I won’t tell them until I’ve confirmed that it’s been received and reviewed and files. Preferable in multiple places with photocopies available.”

“Good,” she says brightly. “You know, three years ago you never would have thought like that.”

“Three years is a long time,” Rick says.

She nods sympathetically. “You really wanted a celebration, didn’t you?”

“Just a little bit,” Rick says, a little relieved to be petulant. “A card or something. Lunch out.”

“Well,” Adele says. “Maybe tonight I can tell you what I think of your spy skills again.”

Rick raises his eyebrows.

Adele trails her finger on his arm. “As your lover, that is.”

“I’d like that,” Rick tells her, grinning. “I’d like that very much.”

“Good,” she says, tossing her hair slightly as she regains her workly composure. “Until tonight, then,” she says primly as she strides back out just as confident as she came in. “Happy three year anniversary.”

-o-

On his way back to the office, Rick sips his coffee with newfound purpose. Sure, his team treats him like an unskilled novice. Yes, they act as if he hasn’t saved their lives more times than any of them can count. Of course, Rick’s spent three years proving himself just to be back at square one every single day.

But he has an exit plan. He has a future. He’s going to do things. His career is going to matter.

At least, he’s confident until he sits down at his desk and quickly realizes someone has been at his desk.

Someone has been all through his desk. Papers are scattered. His things are off kilter. His pen cup has been moved entirely to the opposite side.

“Hey,” he says. “Were you guys looking through my things?”

Casey doesn’t look up. “We have warned you about the dangers of displaying personal items.”

Michael raises an eyebrow. “Most people would have learned that after three years,” he muses.

Rick sighs, starting to shift through the papers in frustration as he tries to put reports back together. “You guys know all my secrets,” he fusses as he makes a stack and attempts to straighten it.

“That’s probably not something you want to admit with other spies,” Michael says with a smirk.

“Or anyone for that matter,” Casey says.

“Except Adele,” Billy suggests. “She would probably love the sense of power that comes with an entirely transparent soul.”

Rick glares. “I don’t have any secrets because you guys don’t give me any privacy,” he says pointedly.

“Again, that’s not really a bragging point,” Casey says.

Rick sighs, then he notices his desk doors are ajar. “And my drawers, too?” he asks incredulously. “Come on!”

“I needed a pen,” Billy says, sounding somewhat apologetic. “I asked Michael and he refused. Casey insisted upon some feat of strength before lending me one, and I did not feel up to such a challenge before lunch.”

“So you destroyed my desk?” Rick asks, shutting each of the drawers. He lingers at the bottom one, where he suddenly remembers the application has been stuffed at the very bottom.

“I did you a favor,” Billy tells him. “When your workspace is too predictable, you become boring and anal. Just like Casey and Michael, here.”

“It also means you get things done,” Michael says. “Ignore him.”

Rick tries to smile, but his heart flutters in his chest. His fingers start to sweat as he opens the bottom drawer, which has been pulled out just a crack. He might have left it like that himself. Or…

Swallowing, Rick tries to keep an even face.

“Everything okay, Martinez?” Michael asks.

Rick’s hand trembles as he slides the drawer out. Unlike the rest of the desk, however, it’s in perfect order. No signs of tampering.

He exhales, closing the drawer. “You know, you could do your work on your computer,” Rick advises, his voice even and calm despite the palpitations of his heart.

“Aye,” Billy agrees. Then he smiles, holding up his half-finished crossword. “But I can’t do this without a pen.”

Rick isn’t surprised.

Of course, he’s not really surprised about anything these days.

Three years, and Rick has his place on this team completely figured out.

-o-

Billy does his crosswords. Casey checks his email. Michael finishes a best seller.

Rick works through lunch and files the report. To Rick, it only seems natural to work at work. In all honesty, he’s not entirely sure how his teammates pull it off -- how they manage to know everything and yet never do anything.

Of course, none of them seem to have any kind of healthy life outside the office, so Rick figures it’s possible that they spend their free time doing work and spend their work hours acting nonchalant.

That seems just like them, in fact. Each of the plotting in their own way to make Rick crazy. He’d have called them on this behavior years ago, except they always seemed to make it work. No matter how hard Rick worked, they always seemed to know more. It’s kind of impressive, but Rick also recognizes the sacrifices involved. Michael’s divorced. Billy’s been deported. And Casey is...Casey.

Sometimes Rick worries that if he stays with the ODS long enough, he’ll become like one of them for real. Paranoid and devoid of a personal life.

That’s not what he wants.

Even so, it’d be nice if they helped with the paperwork every once in awhile.

Weary, he finally settles down for a bag of chips from the vending machine. He’s just about to take his first bite of salty goodness when he hears the footfalls.

Dress shoes; male. Three of them, different strides but all somehow in tandem.

Rick resists the urge to crawl under the table.

Instead, he shakes his head, not even looking up. “No way,” he says. “I’m eating.”

“We haven’t even said anything,” Michael says.

“Your lack of trust is insulting,” Billy says, sitting down across from him. He doesn’t ask as he reaches across to steal a chip.

Rick glares at him, swatting the hand away. “You don’t stalk the halls together unless you have a reason,” he says. “Otherwise it’s always divide and conquer.”

Michael looks somewhat impressed. “I never thought of it like that.”

“And the term stalk is rather negative,” Billy says. “I prefer to think of it as striding with purpose.”

Rick takes a petulant bite. “Whatever it is, you do it,” he says. “And right now, you’re stalking me. Which means you want me to go to a meeting for you or do some more paperwork or bribe Doris for extra funds. Well, not now. I just did all your paperwork, and this is my first real meal all day. I’m going to sit here and enjoy my chips, thank you very much.”

“Okay,” Michael says with an easy shrug. “I guess you can enjoy your chips while we get on a flight.”

“And take on international crime and terrorism with heroic accord,” Billy says proudly.

“But please, enjoy your chips,” Casey concludes. “If we end up captured and shot because we’re a man down, at least we’ll know it was worth it for your daily sodium intake.”

“Wait,” Rick says, ignoring the insults for now. “Flight?”

“Four o’clock, out of Dulles,” Michael says.

“Apparently your paperwork was quite convincing,” Billy says. “Higgins gave us the green light, and he wants us to fly -- now.”

“Fresh intel suggests renewed movement,” Michael explains. “We have to go now--”

“Or we won’t go at all,” Casey says.

Rick’s hungry, but he’s never that hungry. Missions -- that’s why he joined the CIA. That’s why the last three years have been the best of Rick’s life. Because his team is annoying and difficult and contrary and invasive -- but they get the best damn missions ever. Field work is what makes sense; field work is everything to him. A lot has changed in three years, but not that.

Never that.

“So we’re going, then?” Rick asks.

Michael inclines his head. “Unless you’d rather stay and eat your chips.”

Rick wants to be angry; he wants to be gruff and condescending, just like they are with him.

But...he’s done all the prep on this mission. He did the paperwork. This is his mission, and this is his team.

For now, anyway.

Crumpling the bag, Rick does his best not to grin like an over-anxious teennager. “Well, then,” he says, getting to his feet. “We better move.”

-o-

Back in the office, Rick doesn’t waste any time. He hastily sorts through his paper, sifting through the files as fast as he can to determine what he needs. There was a time when he would have obsessed over this, but anymore he can do it on gut instinct alone. He knows his missions; he’s ready.

“Hey,” Rick says. “Make sure we get that background report on the area. I have most of the main contacts memorized, but if things get difficult, we may want a few other people to fall back on.”

“Why would things get difficult?” Billy asks glibly. “It’s not as if we’re trying to get a trail on one of the most notorious lines of drug trafficking in the Southern Hemisphere.”

“Not just the most notorious,” Michael says. “The most elusive. That’s why Higgins was so keen to let us go. Apparently, he thinks Martinez hit upon something genius in this intel roundup.”

“It’s a small window of opportunity,” Rick delineates. “Because one of the leaders has a mother in this city.”

“Yeah, about that,” Casey says. “You really think crashing her funeral is the way to go?”

Rick looks up. “Hernandez is dangerous and manipulative, even for a drug cartel member, but he loves his mother,” he says. “He’ll be there, and if he’s there--”

“The rest of his business will be, too,” Michael says. “We know. We should be able to get firm IDs on a number of his most trusted men, which can help us track their movements better.”

“And we’re impressed!” Billy says.

“Mostly,” Casey adds coolly. “I’d be more impressed if we didn’t have to ask you where your bag is.”

That’s when Rick realizes that despite his ability to pack fast, his teammates are still faster. They’re each standing, bag at hand.

Rick sighs.

“Aw, never fear,” Billy says. “I take great pleasure in packing your socks.”

“You mean you take great pleasure in mismatching my socks,” Rick mutters.

Michael tries not to smile. “It’s okay, Martinez,” he says while Rick bends to unlatch the bottom drawer of his desk. “We forgive you for being a rookie--”

Michael stops short when Rick produces his own duffle bag. It’s smaller and tidier than any of theirs. He puts it on his desk with a diffident shrug. “You were saying?”

There is a moment of silence.

Glorious, victorious silence.

Then, Billy grins. “There is hope for the next generation after all!”

“About time,” Casey says with a condescending snort. “When did you finally pack that?”

“About two and a half years ago,” Rick says, slipping his scant paperwork into the front of his bag. “Remember? After Billy broke into my apartment and Michael packed a pair of shoes that didn’t match anything.

Michael grins. “That was fun, wasn’t it?”

“I had to wear brown shoes with black pants the entire time,” Rick says. “It nearly ruined my cover.”

“But it was so fun to watch you improvise,” Billy muses.

“And it was also fun that your lack of black shoes meant you were the one who had to stay back during the dinner party,” Casey says. “Dress code.”

“Yeah,” Rick says. “I remember.”

“The joys of being the new guy,” Billy says with more enthusiasm than should be warranted. “Buck up. You fill the role brilliantly. Best new guy we’ve ever had.”

“I’m the only new guy you’ve ever had,” Rick mumbles.

“Billy was the new guy for years,” Michael says.

“And he was terrible at it,” Casey says. “Even more annoying than he is now.”

“I reckon I was always too suave,” Billy preens. “But Rick -- young Rick has the youthful disposition and wide-eyed charm that so defines the part. One look at him, and you are drawn in by his boyish charm.”

“I’m a grown man, and I’m standing right here,” Rick reminds them, reaching down again to close the drawer. The bottom drawer -- without the bag, the application is in plain sight. He’d forgotten.

Michael smiles magnanimously. “If it makes you feel any better--”

“It doesn’t,” Rick says abruptly, grabbing the application and stuffing it in his bag with the rest. “It doesn’t make me feel better when you remind me again of my failures. It doesn’t make me feel better when you talk to me like I’m a kid. It just doesn’t.”

Michael raises his eyebrows.

“Someone’s testy today,” Casey says.

“Or nervous,” Billy says. “It’s perfectly normal--”

“Oh, come on,” Rick says. “On a scale of one to ten, I’m a two, okay? So can we just go already?”

In another moment of glorious silence, Rick shoulders his bag and leads the way.

-o-

By the time Rick gets into the hall, his team has already fallen into step beside him. By the time they turn the corner, it’s as if Rick was never in the lead at all. There is no acknowledgement that Rick is right.

There never is.

It’s just all business as usual for the ODS and their new guy.

“We didn’t manage to get tickets on all the same flight, but we should be on the ground within hours of each other,” Michael reports.

“I, of course, will take whichever flight guarantees me the window seat,” Billy says.

“It’s nighttime, genius,” Casey remarks.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” Billy says.

Michael snickers while Rick does his best not to roll his eyes. “The problem is, three of us are on one flight,” Michael continues. “Which means--”

“I’ll take the solo seat,” Rick says without waiting for anyone to volunteer.

Or, more aptly put, volunteer him.

They all look at him.

Rick shrugs. “Was I suppose to wait for you to volunteer me for this typical form of new guy torture?”

“I didn’t realize things were so predictable,” Michael says dryly.

“Nor that someone so young could be so bitter,” Billy says in dismay. “You should watch out or you may become Casey Malick yet.”

“There are worse things,” Casey says.

Rick just shakes his head, keeping the pace. He’s determined to breeze out of Langley before things can get any more ridiculous, but then he sees the sign for Human Resources.

He remembers, then, the application is still in his bag.

If he leaves now, he’ll miss the deadline.

If he leaves now, he’ll be with the ODS possibly for the rest of his career.

Abruptly, he stops. The team stops a few steps ahead, turning back with reserved curiosity. “New guy forget something?” Billy asks.

“I, um,” Rick says, gesturing vaguely down the hallway. “I promised Adele I’d say goodbye.”

“When did you talk to Adele?” Michael asks, brow furrowing.

“In general,” Rick says. “I promised her that I wouldn’t leave the country without saying goodbye.”

“And that’s why I’m not in a committed relationship,” Casey huffs.

Billy grins with a reassuring nod. “By all means, go and salvage your young love.”

“Just don’t miss your flight, Martinez,” Michael says, holding out a plane ticket. “We expect to see you on the ground.”

“It is my mission,” Rick reminds them.

“We’re a team,” Michael replies. “It’s our mission.”

Rick doesn’t know what to say to that. Honestly, he doesn’t care. The ODS will try to inspire him, to guilt trip him, to trick him, to cajole him, to anything -- just to get him to do what they want. That’s what happens to spies after too many years in service. They don’t know how to be honest or straightforward. They don’t know what real relationship always are, not without a lot of care and commitment.

Rick can’t end up like that.

He won’t.

This new job isn’t just about advancement, it’s about his sanity.

He forces a smile. “Don’t worry,” he says, starting down the hall. “I’ll see you when I get there.”

-o-

Halfway down the hall, Rick can’t help but look behind him. His team trusts him, and he trusts them -- mostly, they trust him to screw up and he trusts them to be bastards. It seems they’ve hardly noticed that he doesn’t screw up all that much.

They, on the other hand, become bigger bastards every year.

And it’s not all bad. Rick knows they mean well. Sometimes it’s just curiosity. Sometimes it show they express concern. Sometimes it’s just habit.

But Rick’s found them stalking him more time than he can count. In the start, he couldn’t catch them at it, but now he manages to figure out their ploys before they manage to pull them off.

Not that this stops them.

Three years, and Rick has learned a lot. His team, on the other, not so much.

When he looks back, there’s no one following him.

All the same, he doubles back and peeks back to where he last saw them. He does a loop in the area, just to be sure, and checks a few closed doors to be safe. When he feels well and truly alone, he starts back toward Human Resources. He’s too aware of the security cameras, but he takes comfort in the fact that any methods to hack those feeds would take too long to use, so even if the team did try to track his efforts by some other means, it would have to wait until after they got back from the mission.

By then, his application would be reviewed and processed.

By then, it would be too late.

By then, Rick might have his exit plan.

And Rick wouldn’t have to be the new guy anymore.

-o-

As he approaches HR, his pace quickens. His eyes dart around the hall, half expecting Michael to turn the corner or Billy to pop out of a door. He wouldn’t even be surprised if Casey dropped from the ceiling.

It doesn’t happen, though. He nods politely to someone before going inside. The receptionist smiles at him. Rick pulls out his application. He hesitates for a moment before putting it down and picking up a pen. He takes another breath before scrawling his signature across the bottom and holding it out.

“I’d like to get this on file,” he says. “Immediately.”

The man at the desk smile. “Oh, you’re applying for a field office!” he says. “That’s a great one. And so important, too.”

“Yeah,” Rick says, glancing nervously behind him. “Just, um. Get it copies and filed. Twice, please. I want one on the desk and one in the permanent file. That’s a secure area, right?”

“Our files are very secure, I promise,” the man tells him earnestly.

Rick is underwhelmed. Maybe its his over eager smile or his neatly styled hair. “Make it three copies, okay?” he says. “Get each manager their own copy, just to be sure.”

“My, my,” he says. “Thorough, aren’t we?”

“That’s the point, isn’t it?” Rick asks.

The man nods heartily. “That’s how I can always tell who will be a great spy in the field,” he says. “That healthy sense of paranoia.”

Rick glares. “Just make the copies.”

“Will do,” the man chirps back. “Thank you for your application!”

Rick scowls and turns away, huffing his way out of the office.

In the hallway, he straightens his suit.

That’s that, it seems. This is an immediate opening, and Rick knows things will probably move quickly. By the time he gets back, he’ll know. Hell, by the time he gets back, he may be a week away from a quick flight to a new posting.

He starts back down the hall.

In fact, he realizes as he goes, this mission to South America could be his last one as a member of the ODS.

-o-

Head high, he turns down another corridor. He knows it’s her before he completes the turn -- the click of her heels, the smell of her perfume -- and he stops with a smile.

“Hey,” he says.

She looks genuinely surprised. “Hey! I heard you guys got the green light. Shouldn’t you be on your way to the airport?”

Rick lifts his bag. “Headed there now,” he says. He bolsters himself, puffing his chest out just a little. “Just needed to drop off my application first.”

“Oh, that’s great!” she says. “That’s really great. I know they’ll be thrilled to get your application. You’re by far the most qualified candidate.”

“Yeah, well,” he says. “If this all goes right, this will be my last mission as the new guy.”

“I know!” she says. “That’s a little bittersweet, isn’t it?”

Rick grunts. “Bittersweet? I’ve been the butt of their jokes for three years. Do I need to tell you all the times they’ve drugged me?”

“Well, as I recall, you caught on last time,” she says.

Rick can’t help but grin. “Yeah, that was funny,” he says. “Billy was not happy that I switched our drinks, but the plan worked just as well with him as bait.”

“So, see,” Adele says. “It’s not like it’s been all bad. I mean, they have taught you a lot.”

“I know that,” Rick says. “It’s just. I can’t be the new guy. I’m not the new guy. If they want a new guy, we should let them get another new guy.”

“If it will make you happy,” she agrees.

“Well, it’ll be best for us, right?” he says.

She hesitates at that, something shifting in her countenance. She likes to be professional at work, but when she pulls him aside, he sees that the facade has fallen. “We will make it work, either way,” she tells him. “I’m naturally ambitious, and sometimes I worry that I’ve projected too much of that on you. I know we haven’t always had a relationship based on honesty, and this sort of natural dialogue doesn’t come easily for me, but I hope I haven’t pressured you--”

“What? No,” Rick says. “You’ve opened my eyes up to the possibility, sure--”

“Because I only suggested it because you sounded unhappy sometimes,” she says.

“I have been unhappy,” Rick replies. “I’m frustrated.”

“And you shouldn’t be,” she says. “But I just want to be sure that you’re doing this for the right reasons.”

“So I’m not the new guy?” Rick asks.

“You could always talk to them,” Adele suggests. “I know honesty is not a preferred means of communication amongst spies, but they do care about you. Just like I do.”

Rick grins, reaching up to sweep her hair off her cheek. “Not like you do.”

“Well, fine,” she concedes. “Not exactly like I do. But they might treat you like the new guy for a lot of reasons. Just be sure you want this because you want a new role. Not a new role on your team.”

Rick collects a breath and lets it out with a small smile. “This is what I want,” he says. “This is always what I’ve wanted. To move up. To make more of a difference. I’ve given this three years. Now I’m ready for something else.”

“Remember,” she warns. “You’ll be the new guy wherever you go. You’ll be starting all over again.”

“I’ve had three years of training by the right bastards themselves,” he says. “Somehow I like my odds.”

Chuckling, she nods. “You may have a point.”

“Of course I have a point,” he says, leaning forward to press a kiss to her cheek.

Adele, however, pulls away. The facade is back in place now, and she stands straight and proper. “Well, then, Mr. Martinez,” she says. “Best of luck.”

“I thought you said I was the best applicant,” he protested.

“I meant on the mission,” she says, smoothing the front of her suit. “Don’t forget, you’re still a member of the ODS. This may be your last mission, but I don’t want it to be your last.

“Is that worry?” Rick asks playfully.

“Professional concern,” she says coolly. “You are one of my best assets.”

“You know my best assets,” Rick tells her suggestively.

“Yes,” she demurs. “Though you may have to refresh my memory when you get back, Operative Martinez.”

His smile widens. “With pleasure.”

-o-

Pleasure is the word of the day. Not only did Rick get to say goodbye to his girlfriend and apply for a new and amazing job, but he also gets to fly by himself.

Some people find long flights boring.

These people have never been a member of the ODS. Nothing is boring with the ODS. When he isn’t doing their grunt work, he’s fielding their ridiculous requests about kidnapping people out of public bathrooms or going in on off the book cover businesses with them. He’s being drugged, dropped off, followed and generally harassed as part of this team, and while Rick knows this is all done with the best of intentions most of the time, it does get a bit exhausting.

For three years, he feels like he’s barely had a second of downtime. When he goes home, his teammates break in at all hours to do whatever they see fit. When he’s on vacation, they somehow end up on location with him regarding a mission. They’ve even shown up outside his mother’s house.

They go through his things; they bug his apartment; they talk to his friends. Life on the ODS is time consuming, invasive, difficult, amazing...but never boring.

So if he’s telling the truth -- and these days, Rick is rarely telling the truth with a team like his -- a long flight of quiet and isolation from other spies is nothing short of beautiful. He doesn’t care that he’s crowded into a center seat. He doesn’t care that the woman next to him has slumped over and is snoring in his ear. Because right now, Rick isn’t a part of the ODS.

No, Rick’s a lawyer for an oil company on his way to South America to make sure that everything is in order for an expansion deal. All he has to do is sit back and relax.

Not that it’s that easy, of course. Rick can’t help but check out the other passengers, sorting them in his mind from non-threats to potential problems. As an evening flight on a weekday, it seems heavy with business travelers, but not all men in suits are the same. Some have the harried look about them, taking their drinks and poring over their paperwork. There are one or two, however, who seem a bit too laid back and Rick considers the possibilities.

They could be foreign intelligence agents. Or they could be criminals, possibly with the very cartels Rick is tracking. They’re not familiar, though, so they aren’t in any database, but that’s the whole point of this mission.

Rick is psychoanalyzing a woman doing her makeup when he realizes what he’s actually doing.

He’s being like one of them.

He’s just like the ODS.

Paranoid bastards, to the last one. And Rick’s exactly the same. Assuming the worst in everyone; detecting subterfuge around every turn. Three years ago, he never would have done this.

Rick’s going crazy, that’s what it means. He’s actually becoming one of them. It’s taken three years, but he’s dangerously close to a tipping point. It’s not just that he doesn’t like being the new guy. It’s that he’s not always sure that he wants to be one of the old guys. He still remembers what Adele told him early on, that he was different from his teammates. She’d meant it as a compliment, and Rick understands now what she means.

Three years ago, Rick wasn’t naive. He was good. He was pure. He was idealistic.

Now, he’s mentally classifying complete strangers. He can tell himself it’s all about security risks and that’s part of it’s job, but that’s not why Rick wants to be a spy. There’s a balance between security and freedom; he enforcing security to give most people freedom. The problem with the ODS, and Rick’s known this since the beginning, is that they define their own boundaries as they see fit. It’s always for the greater good -- they’re heroes, each and every one -- but the boundaries are blurred.

Nothing is boring with the ODS. It’s complicated and it’s difficult, and although spywork is about subterfuge, it’s always been very simple in Rick’s mind.

To fight the good fight. To do what his country needs. To protect the innocent.

There’s right and there’s wrong. Other people may see a moral gray space from the outside, but it’s always black and white to Rick.

At least, it used to be. After three years, he’s starting to understand Higgins’ reticence about the ODS. They will pull of the miraculous, but then they’ll pull the rug out from under your feet. It’s hard to explain, how he can trust three men so implicitly and yet not trust them at all.

Maybe that’s just how it is, at least for the old school spies. Maybe that’s how it used to be, and the ODS is the last of a dying breed. Rick’s not sure he wants to be part of that.

In a new position, Rick will have all the same opportunities -- and then some. He’ll be deep undercover, providing longstanding intelligence gains that he’ll get to see through on the ground. He’ll get to define his own rules and do things his way. He can save his paranoia for when he needs it -- in the field.

He’s not sure he wants to become Michael or Billy or Casey. He wants to be Rick Martinez, and he wants to define what that means for himself.

He’ll never be able to do that with the ODS.

Next to him, the woman sniffs, head dipping down on his shoulder. Rick sighs, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. Settling back in his seat, he dims the overhead light and takes a few deep breaths. Then, he closes his eyes and relishes the sounds of normal people living normal lives.

Smiling to himself, Rick lets himself drift off to sleep for the duration of the flight.

-o-

Rick enjoys the respite for what it is, but when the plane lands, he knows there’s no time to sit around and wallow. No matter what’s going on with his application back home, he’s got a job to do. That’s another thing he’s learned from the ODS -- the job always comes first.

It may seem like a gruff list of priorities, but it’s about survival. There are times to be paranoid, and trying to identify key members of an elusive criminal organization is definitely one of them.

As he disembarks, he can’t help but watch his fellow passengers wearily, including the two suspicious men from the plane. They go their separate ways, however, and neither seems to have any particular interest in Rick.

Although he feels somewhat uneasy still, Rick hastily goes about his business, leaving the airport and calling for a taxi. He recites the name of the hotel without having to check his itinerary, and his small talk is right on point for a big shot lawyer looking to make a buck. He tips impressively -- all part of the character -- and checks in with due aplomb. At the desk, he watches the employees, gauging their level of interest and concern. The man helping him seems indifferent to him, but there’s a woman who keeps checking him out behind the desk.

He considers her possible affiliations, but ultimately decide she’s probably just checking him out. Rich lawyer on a business trip -- he probably seems like a catch. To find out for sure, Rick winks at her.

She demurs with a giggle.

And they call Billy charming.

There’s a few other suspicious people camped out in the lobby, but no one worth stopping for. He lets the bellhop take him to his room, and he’s grateful again that their separate cover stories allowed them separate rooms. A little privacy can go a long way.

After tipping the bellhop, Rick flops back on the bed. Which is exactly when his phone goes off.

Frowning, Rick pulls it from his pocket. “Hello?”

“About time,” Michael says. “Are you going to head over to my room or just lay there all afternoon?”

“Um,” Rick says. “How did you know I was even here?”

“We can check your flight status online,” Michael intones. “Besides, we already bugged your room.”

Rick wants to be offended, but he’s not even surprised. “You guys know you can trust me right?”

“Sure,” Michael says. “But where’s the fun in that?”

The call disconnects, and Rick groans, dropping his arm over his eyes. It’s only taken him three years to be paranoid. It probably won’t be long before he’s a bastard, too.

Rick is more certain than ever that it’s time for a change.

First things first, though -- he has a mission to complete.

-o-

He already knows Michael room number, and he doesn’t bother to knock. Instead, he stands, tapping his foot impatiently before Michael opens it for him from the inside.

“Too good to knock?” Michael asks.

Rick huffs, walking past him. “If you’ve already bugged my room, then you’ve already figured out how long it takes to get from one room to the next,” he says with a look to Billy and Casey for good measure.

“Listen to that,” Billy says proudly. “Said like a real professional.”

“I am a professional,” Rick reminds them. “Three years, remember?”

“Talk to us after a decade,” Casey says.

“All of which is beside the point,” Michael tells them. “This mission--”

“Is nothing but a go,” Rick says. “The service is tonight. I’ll check in with my local contacts, and we each need to cover separate entrance points in order to ID as many vehicles and people as possible. We want someone at the parking lot, and someone with eyes on the church entrance. Fortunately, there is enough tourism in the area that you guys can pull off tourists pretty well.”

“And you’re sure your invite to the funeral will hold?” Michael presses.

Rick doesn’t so much as blink. “It’ll hold.”

Michael nods, continuing, “Because a lot depends--”

“I said it’ll hold,” Rick cuts him off flatly.

Michael doesn’t back down. “Because we want to be sure--”

“Look,” Rick says. “If you want to double check my leads and contact all my assets, fine. It’ll take more time than we have, and you’ll probably spook every one of them, which will lead to this mission being a complete and total failure. But if you want to check instead of taking my word for it…”

Billy whistles. Casey raises his eyebrows. “Sounds like someone hates flying commercial as much as I do,” Casey says.

Rick glares.

“It is awfully jaded for someone so young and inexperienced--”

“But I’m not,” Rick snaps. “I’m not young; I’m not inexperienced.” He sighs, frustrating causing his cheeks to flush. “Look, I know what I’m doing. My intel got us here, and it’ll finish the job. You trust me. Right?”

The question lingers, hovering in the air with an unspoken uncertainty.

Trust -- it comes back to that. They have to trust each other in everything, and Rick has his doubts about some things, but not on the mission.

Never on the mission.

Michael meets his gaze, nodding. “Of course we trust you,” he says. “We just know what will happen if this goes south.”

Rick shakes his head. “It’s not going to go south.”

“Surely we’ve taught you better than that,” Michael says.

“You should always assume things will go south,” Casey agrees.

Billy nods knowingly. “It’s a better thing to be prepared--”

Rick groans. “Spare me the lecture.”

“You think you’re too good for it?” Michael asks.

“No,” Rick says. “I think I’ve heard it before. On every mission. For the last three years.”

“Well,” Billy says. “You know us. We like to be--”

“Annoying?” Rick provides.

“Careful,” Billy concludes.

“Also known as paranoid,” Rick says with a shake of his head. “Guys, I know. Trust me. I know.

Michael holds his gaze a moment longer before finally looking away with a diffident shrug. “Okay, then,” he says. “Let’s get this thing going.”

-o-

Michael’s team leader. Casey has over a decade of experience with the CIA. Billy has served on two spy agencies and worked throughout the world.

But this is Rick’s mission. It seems appropriate to him. To end on a high note. He can think of no better way to cap off his time with the ODS than bringing things full circle with one last success to chalk up to his name.

Despite the drawbacks, there are distinct advantages to knowing a team as well as Rick know the ODS. Because they spy on each other and invade each other’s privacy, they know everything about each other. There’s no need to communicate most of the time, which means operations are seamless. With three years together, they have a natural rhythm that defies reason and logic and everything else.

Simply put, they’re good.

They’re very, very good.

After making contact on the ground, Rick disseminates the best ground locations with the others. With so little time to prepare on site, they don’t debate the details but each member settles into their appropriate role.

Casey is down the street, as a last stop in case something goes wrong. Rick doesn’t think anything’s going to go wrong, but Casey’s an apt backup plan if ever they need one. Michael, naturally, has the bird’s eye view, snapping photos of the cars coming and leaving from the parking lot. He likes that sort of thing, having the big picture, and seeing how good he is at it, that suits Rick just fine. Billy has been planted as a mindless tourist, tasked with taking as many photos as possible of the people coming and going from the church. If anyone can get away with taking pictures of drug dealers, it’s going to be Billy with his affable charm and natural charisma.

Donning a crisp suit, Rick adjusts his dark blue tie. He looks the part of a well wisher, seeking to pay his respects. His choice to go in is only partly because this is his op. It’s also because he’s the only one who really looks the part, and his Spanish is by far the best.

Plus, Rick’s good at this sort of thing. Ever since he ate a scorpion on day one, they’ve all known how he functions under pressure. He’s not always conventional, but he’s got the guts to pull it off.

Besides, if this is going to be his last op with the ODS, he’s going to make the best of it.

He’s going to bring it all home with a bang.

After three years, he would have thought he would have learned by now.

It’s always the things he doesn’t see coming--

Those are the most inevitable things of all.

-o-

Sitting in the pew, Rick adjust his tie self-consciously. His cover is impeccable, but it’s impossible not to feel conspicuous. He gauges each well-wisher, determining if they are a threat and the best means of disabling them if they are. He’s thinking about stealing an old woman’s cane to knock out an entire row of mourners when he realizes the service is starting.

Awkwardly, Rick refuses to adjust his wire, even though it itches something terrible. They’ve gone radio silent for all obvious reasons, and he glances as the last stragglers take their seats when it finally occurs to him why this has been so uneventful.

Because he’s not here for little old ladies and grieving members of the community.

He’s here for the head of a drug cartel who’s supposed to see his mother laid to rest.

And Rick’s looked at every person at that church, and he hasn’t made a positive ID on any of them.

Cautiously, he looks around. With surreptitious glances, he’s able to look through the mourners, but this only confirms what he’s already realized: there’s no sign of Hernandez. He looks up; he looks around; he looks to the spot where the choir would be.

There’s no one there.

Drug dealers can probably come and go on their own timetable, but they’re not late to their mother’s funeral.

Unless, of course, they were never coming in the first place.

Heart skipping a beat, Rick mumbles the responses in Latin to the priest and looks over the program. All the appropriate information is there, and then he sees the note. It’s in Spanish, but Rick’s ability to translate is impeccable.

Private interment to be held with family at another location.

And that’s the moment he realizes his team was right.

Again.

Rick crosses himself and starts to pray.

-o-

It doesn’t help, of course, that this is a full Catholic service. Nothing is spared or skipped, so it’s a good hour before Rick is free to figure out what the hell he’s going to do next.

And he has to do something. If he goes back to the motel with nothing but a failed mark, he’ll never live it down. He doesn’t want to end his tenure with the ODS on such a low note.

Really, the solution is simple. The public service is by far the easiest option, but if he can find the location of the private ceremony, then this whole thing is still a go.

Fortunately, Rick’s a damn good spy. He thinks ahead like Michael; he’s disciplined like Casey; he can charm like Billy. It doesn’t take much to discern the most likely targets. While some of the younger men look like possible professional cohorts of Hernandez, they’re not likely to be stupid enough to say anything specific. The grieving young women would be too loud to deal with, but the little old ladies--

Rick casts a glance at the open casket. This was a well liked woman, one with a place in the community. She had friends.

And what are little old ladies going to talk about? The failures of their husbands and the exploits of their children. Rick doesn’t bother with the ones who look especially sad, but he finds a pair that seem suitably somber without being distraught and starts up a polite conversation in Spanish.

“She was such a woman,” Rick commiserates. “It is nice to see how well loved she was.”
“Yes, yes,” one woman tells him. “Such a lamb, that one. I take comfort in knowing she is with the angels in Heaven.”

Rick smiles sympathetically. “I hope her children were with her in the end,” he says as gently as possible.

At this, the second one tuts. “That son of hers,” he says. “She would give him everything, but he balks.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Rick says. “Is he here?”

“No, no,” the first continues. “He would have this all in secret, but his mother did not wish it. We are lucky we got her body as long as we did.”

“So she won’t be buried here?” Rick asks innocently.

The second crosses herself. “Bless her soul,” she murmurs. “No, that boy of hers. He will have her body taken up to the village.”

“The village?” Rick asks.

The women exchange a glance and tilt themselves forward. “She came here, to this city, from the village,” one explains. “She built herself from nothing, and endured much. Her son, he comes into this and does not understand. He thinks he understands, which is why he takes her to the village. But the things that go before are the things that matter, and he thinks they are nothing but stories. He can bury her in that village, but he does not understand the point.”

Rick raises his eyebrows. “The point?”

“Our roots are not for nostalgia,” the other says. “We cannot cut ourselves off and hope to suffer nothing. No, our roots are what makes us strong. That connection is everything, more than power or ambition or any of the rest.”

“She never wanted to go home,” the first says solemnly. “Her only wish was to see him return to her.”

The other mutters an expletive. “God rest her soul.”

Rick nods at them seriously. “I’m very sorry,” he tells them clasping each of their hands in turn. “So very, very sorry.”

-o-

Back at the motel, Rick’s the last one there.

He stalks in, undoing his tie and flopping heavily on the bed. “Don’t say it,” he mutters.

“Don’t say what?” Michael asks. “That the entire thing was a bust?”

“That we didn’t get a single positive ID?” Casey asks.

“Or how about how you used two little old ladies unabashedly in their time of grief?” Billy presses.

Rick glares at them each in turn. “First of all, it wasn’t a bust. We didn’t get a positive ID, but we know where we have to go.”

“Because you used grieving old women!” Billy says. “At a funeral!”

“I got the job done,” Rick snaps.

“But you’re forgetting that our mission parameters don’t clear us to stay here--”

Rick levels him with a stare. “Really?” he asks. “You’re going to lecture me about mission parameters.”

Michael’s lips quirk up into a wry smile. “I’m just saying it for your benefit.”

“You are the one who usually lectures us about such things,” Casey agrees.

Rick just rolls his eyes. “When was the last time I lectured you guys about anything?”

Michael narrows his eyes thoughtfully. “Athens.”

“Bogota,” Billy chimes in.

“Nairobi,” Casey says.

“All of which were last year,” Rick says. “And if you try to count Nagasaki, I’m calling it, because I lectured you about keeping Higgins out of the loop when you wanted to bring him in. And I was right, by the way. Just like I’m right now.”

There’s a moment of silence, and Rick takes some satisfaction in that. His team is fast and quick witted. To even earn a second of silence is a feat he’s grown to appreciate.

“Even if we do go off book,” Michael says. “It’s going to be a stretch. We have contacts and an escape route here. You can’t even be sure you know the secondary location.”

Rick shakes his head. “That’s what the little old ladies were about,” he explains. “They all but told me--”

“About the second service,” Michael says. “But they didn’t have a location.”

“The village can only be one place,” Rick says. “It’s all in the intel.”

Michael glances to Billy and Casey, who both shrug.

“You really didn’t memorize all the intel?” Rick asks, a little indignant. “The mother’s place of birth. It’s a remote village northwest of the city.”

“That’s why we have you,” Casey says with a cool tilt of his chin.

“As you were the one undercover,” Billy agrees.

“Uh huh,” Rick says. “Or you’re all getting soft.”

Casey straightens. “Would you like to test that theory?”

Rick doesn’t even blink. “If you like--”

Michael holds up his hand. “As fun as it would be to see you two go at it, I think we might still have some kinks to work out,” he says. “This village is northwest of the city?”

Rick eases back down a bit with a nod. “Yeah, it’s most indigenous.”

“Yeah, and it’s also going to be right in the middle of the rainforest,” Michael says. “Getting there’s not going to be easy.”

“Well, of course it’s not going to be easy,” Rick says. “Nothing we do is ever easy. That’s never stopped us before.”

“Perhaps not,” Billy says. “But sometimes it should and does give us pause.”

“What you’re talking about is almost unfeasible,” Casey says. “We have to get through the rainforest and set up reconnaissance in a remote area without being recognized.”

“We could blend in here,” Billy says. “There, we’d be ID’d the minute we stepped foot in the village.”

“Which rules out any kind of organized transportation,” Michael says. “Even if we had the funds to charter a flight, we’d be blown the minute we touched down.”

“So we don’t fly to the village,” Rick says. He looks at them all again. “Do I really have to spell it out?”

“Go ahead,” Michael says, sitting back with a curious glint. “Enlighten us.”

“We fly to the next closest village,” Rick says. “And then we hike the rest of the way.”

Michael looks bemused. Casey looks vaguely impressed.

Billy simply balks. “You want to hike through the rainforest? That’s not some leisurely stroll!?”

“I know,” Rick says. “We’ve done it before. A couple of times. And I’d argue that Cambodia was worse.”

Michael tilts his head. “We haven’t done this hike yet,” he says.

“The second you think things are going to go easy--” Casey starts.

Rick groans. “I know, I know,” he says. “That’s when things start coming out of nowhere.”

“And you’re not remotely concerned?” Billy asks. “Going outside our original objective with no backup and no support on a jaunt alone that could kill us, not to mention the difficulty of finding a good location to take photos without getting caught up in the inevitable security trap set up outside the village? This is a bit of a stretch. Even for us.”

Rick can’t help but grin. “Not for us,” he says. “This is my mission. Things haven’t gone according to plan so far, but we’ve still got options. Lots of them. And this will work. I know it will.”

The other three exchange wary glances.

Rick bolsters his chest, because he knows that he’s right. More than that, he knows that they know he’s right. “Trust me,” he says. “By this time tomorrow, we’ll have our photos and be on our way back home.”

Back to a proud director and hopefully a job offer -- and just about everything else Rick’s ever wanted in his life.