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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: The Next Step (1/2)

December 16th, 2014 (11:01 am)
annoyed

feeling: annoyed

Title: The Next Step

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: This fic fills my infected wounds/septicemia prompt for hc_bingo. Written for sockie1000 with beta help from postfallen. Set preseries.

Summary: All the next steps Casey’s taken, one right after another. Each one has made sense; every one has been right. But now that he’s here, he’s not sure where to go next.



-o-

Casey is not a man with delusions of grandeur.

No, Casey’s a realist. He’s practical and pragmatic. He does not indulge sentimentality, and he is not inclined to mediocrity or uncertainty. So when there is grandeur involved, there are no delusions. It is simple reality.

So, when Casey says that this isn’t quite what he expected for his career it’s not a determination without merit. Simply put, this is not what Casey expected because Casey has always known himself to be capable of anything. The hardest operations. The most dangerous missions. The deepest covers.

That is why Casey became a spy.

Not this.

“Which was all well and good,” Billy says as his long legs keep pace through the foliage. “But I had packed for a deep cover mission in the Caribbean, so I was ill prepared for a jaunt in Siberia. Bastards said it was a joke, but I very nearly lost my pinky toe on that mission.”

“I’m sorry,” Casey says.

“Me, too,” Billy agrees mournfully. “I am quite fond of my toes, especially the pinkies.”

“No,” Casey says. “I’m sorry that you’re such a moron that you got duped while on the job. By your coworkers, no less.”

“To be fair, I was a bit green,” Billy says. “First mission--”

“That could have been your last,” Casey says, stepping over a larger branch. He shakes his head. “Maybe they deported you because you’re an idiot.”

Billy pales a little bit, head down as he keeps ahead. “I’ve been on this team for nearly three months,” he says. “I refuse to believe you’re truly a heartless bastard, Casey Malick.”

Casey grunts. “You’re not helping your case, kid,” he says. “I may not have discretion over who is on this team, but that doesn’t mean I have to keep my opinions to myself. I’m frankly surprised the CIA picked you up at all. Someone must have owed you a favor.”

Billy purses his lips. “Appearances can be deceiving,” he says ruefully. “You, of all people, should know that.”

Casey harrumphs. “They can be,” he says. “But not always.”

“I have to believe,” Billy says. “That you’re here for a reason.”

“Well, I’m not here because I got myself deported,” Casey acknowledges.

Billy doesn’t rise to the bait. “You’re a capable spy.”

“I’m the best spy,” Casey corrects.

“My point exactly,” Billy says. “Why is the high and mighty on this team in the first place?”

“This team has more discretion than any other team in the Agency,” Casey points out.

“Which is why it hires MI6 castoffs, yeah?”

Casey turns a glare at the kid. “I don’t make the rules,” he says. “I just play by them as long as I need to.”

Billy nods, and they walk a few more paces in silence. “You had options, though,” he surmises.

“I always have options,” Casey says.

“So this team?” Billy asks.

“Was the next logical step,” Casey supplies to him. “But my career trajectory is none of your business.”

“You’re the one who asked how I got here,” Billy points out.

“I wanted to know what idiocy you had committed in the past to prepare myself for a possible repeat,” Casey says. “This may be reconnaissance, but it’s still a serious mission. I don’t like you; I don’t trust you. I was trying to be prepared. You’re the one who turned it into story time.”

“I was being friendly,” Billy says. “Which is more than I can say for you.”

“We’re spies,” Casey grumbles. “Not friends. It’s about time you learned the difference.”

Billy snorts. “Are you always this grumpy or do I just bring out the worst in you?”

“Does it matter?” Casey asks.

“Reckon not,” Billy says.

“Exactly,” Casey says. “Now shut up and check our coordinates. We should be getting close.”

Billy pulls out his GPS. “Some might say the next logical step for you would be to get a heart.”

“Yeah,” Casey says. “No.”

Billy shrugs and opens his mouth.

Casey stops and looks at him. “Really,” he says. “You should stop. I know ten ways to incapacitate you right now using nothing more than my fists. That number doubles if we take into consideration the brush and foliage in the area. Now, tell me the coordinates.”

Billy looks sullenly at his GPS. “We’re close,” he says. “Just another mile, due north.”

“Good,” Casey says. “See, that wasn’t so hard now, was it?”

Billy, mercifully, says nothing as Casey starts walking again.

The hardest operations. The most dangerous missions. The deepest covers.

That is why Casey became a spy.

Not this.

Babysitting the MI6 reject who didn’t know how to shut up. Casey has no delusions of grandeur, so when he feels like he’s wasting his potential…

Well, he’s starting to think it might be more true than he’d like to admit.

“Did I ever tell you about the time I fought ninjas?” he asks. “Because that is a great story…”

Casey suppresses a growl.

The next logical step.

Might be something he contemplates when this stupid mission is over.

-o-

The mission isn’t even a mission.

That’s the worst part of it all.

Not only does Casey have to endure the childish ramblings of Britain’s worst spy, but it’s all for fact finding. Sure, Michael has all these fancy names for it, but it all comes back to the reality that they’re just gathering intel. Any actual movement against this subset of the Russian mob is still years away. Because Michael has plans, and he sees the big picture, and apparently that means instead of stopping criminals, they are just going to take pictures of them.

Carson had called it a relief to not be in the line of fire.

Billy had just been so happy to have something to do.

Sometimes Casey thinks he’s the only real spy among them. Sure, they’re good under pressure, and Casey has seen Michael pull off some amazing things, but this is getting ridiculous. Casey’s skill are unparalleled, and instead of exacting covert justice, he’s taking pictures in the underbrush like a common private eye.

It’s demeaning.

It’s demoralizing.

When he’s done, he shoves the camera to Billy. “We’re good,” he says.

Billy fumbles with the camera. “Maybe we should move a bit to the right?” he ventures. “We might have a better view of the front--”

“It’s a gate,” Casey tells him flatly. “Behind that, is a road that leads to a building. That building has a door. There’s a security system -- nothing special, but nothing to snark about -- and there are a dozen armed men with guns. It’s a homebase for the mob. We’ve confirmed it. What could a few steps to the right give us?”

“Better imagery on the security mechanisms?” Billy asks. “A precise look at the entrance procedures and the ability to confirm the number of guards?”

Casey sighs, glowering. “Those details are superfluous.”

“The details can save a mission,” Billy points out.

“Sure, when they’re the right details,” Casey says. “All we need to know is this: security system, guards, mob. And our solutions are simple: disable it, disarm them, disband them. I could finish this right now but no, apparently we don’t want to risk anything.

“Michael’s plan is prudent,” Billy says.

Casey huffs. “Just take your damn pictures,” he says. “I’m ready to get out of here.”

Billy raises his eyebrows but wisely says nothing. He backtracks, moving along the treeline to another secure spot up the way.

Casey watches him, sulking.

This is pointless. This is beneath him.

Casey is so ready to get out of here.

In more ways than one.

-o-

It takes approximately 20 minutes.

They hiked for hours; they covered miles. They flew halfway around the world and secured permission from the highest rungs of the CIA ladder.

For a 20 minute photo opportunity.

Casey is more than a little annoyed, so when it’s time to check in with the rest of the team, Casey grumbles that he’s too busy packing up their gear.

He is packing the gear, but since it’s literally two cameras and a survival pack, it’s not like it’s a time consuming job.

Even so, Billy doesn’t seem to mind taking the call. The kid’s an idiot; he likes to hear himself talk. If anything, Casey’s doing him a favor.

To be safe, they trek a little deeper into the woods before Billy takes out the SAT phone. He has to wait a few moments for it to power up, and even then he seems to have trouble getting a signal. Casey’s already done with his part of this so-called mission by the time Billy gets the thing to ring.

“Well, it’s lovely to hear from you, too,” Billy jokes, and Casey can hear Carson’s sardonic tone over the other end. “And that’s confirmed. My photography skills may be a bit wanting, but I think we got a few shots worth keeping.”

Casey stows the pack over his back and does his best not to glower.

Then he decides that’s pointless and glowers heavily.

“Okay,” Billy says. He glances at Casey. “Of course not. We’ve had a smashing time of it.”

Casey sharpens the glower into a glare.

Billy smirks. “Truly,” he says to Carson. “After the hike back I’m sure we’ll be the best of mates.”

Casey doesn’t justify the Scotsman’s idiocy with an interruption.

“Of course,” Billy says. “We’ll meet you at the checkpoint in several hours. And you two bastards are buying dinner.”

With that, he hangs up. He starts to pack the phone up as he glances at Casey again. “Carson wanted to be sure you were treating me well.”

“Carson is soft,” Casey mutters. “He likes you.”

“Because I am quite likeable,” Billy says, as if it should be obvious.

“You’re an idiot,” Casey replies.

“And you’re so charming,” Billy counters.

Casey sets his eyebrows firmly. “Charm isn’t part of the job.”

Billy looks surprised. “It’s not?” he asks. “Have you not seen a James Bond movie?”

“Those movies are ridiculous,” Casey says. “If you look to him as a role model, then you’re in worse shape than I thought.”

With a small smile, Billy doesn’t seem phased by the insult. “Sometimes all it takes to diffuse a situation is a smile and some wit.”

“And sometimes that gets you killed,” Casey tells him. “I’ll trust my fists any day.”

“I’m not disparaging your physical prowess,” Billy says. “I’m just saying charm is another skill. Another tactical asset to consider. You talk about the next logical step, and maybe that’s it.”

“To become an idiot?” Casey ventures.

“To hone your interpersonal craft,” Billy says. “There are many ways to advance your career and not all of them involve changing your position.”

Casey is more than a little skeptical. As a general rule, he doesn’t take advice, and he’s less inclined than usual to tolerate it right now. “You got yourself deported,” he says. “You’ll have to forgive me for doubting the validity of your advice.”

Billy’s smile tightens but doesn’t fade. “Well, then, not much I can do about that,” he says. He looks out toward the forest. “You ready for the walk back?”

“Apparently,” Casey says. “Because sometimes the next logical step is the only one I can take.”

“Truer words,” Billy says. He holds his hand out. “After you.”

Casey sighs. This isn’t what he wants. This isn’t what he wants at all. But there’s nothing to be done for it.

With another deep breath, he adjusts his pack and takes the next step out into the woods.

-o-

Casey fully intends on keeping a quick pace. Not only will this reduce the amount of time he’s stuck in the woods with Billy Collins, but he’s quite confident that the younger man will get winded faster than Casey will. With any luck, after about twenty minutes, Billy won’t be able to draw a deep enough breath to bother Casey with some inane attempt at conversation

As far as plans go, this is one of Casey’s better ones. True, Michael is the so-called mastermind of their team, and while Casey can appreciate some of Michael’s nuance, he thinks that straightforward solutions are sorely underrated on the ODS.

Sure, it’s possible to plan or charm or even drink your way out of most situations.

But Casey finds it more expedient to simply power his way through.

One step after the next.

“Casey,” Billy says, a few paces behind. “Do you think we ought to proceed with a bit more caution?”

“The mission is over,” Casey reminds him brusquely, not bothering to turn around.

“But we are still in enemy territory, so to speak,” Billy says, starting to pant.

Casey smirks. “If you want to be stealthy, you should start by shutting your mouth.”

“Point taken, but still--”

Casey shakes his head, refusing to slow down. “But still nothing,” he says. “I played the game the way everyone wanted me to. I came all the way out here; I took the stupid pictures and put up with your chatter. Now, it’s done, and I’m ready to get the hell out.

“Of Russia?” Billy presses. “Or of everything?”

Casey grinds his teeth together as he picks his speed up until his brisk walk is nearly a jog. “As if it matters to you.”

Billy grunts as he moves to keep up. “I’m serious, Casey--”

And that’s when Casey hears it.

Not Collins’ labored breathing. Not the sound of his own heart thrumming evenly in his ears. Not the normal sounds of the forest, rustling in the leaves and echoing through the tree trunks.

No, it’s a small sound, almost lost beneath the crunching leaves beneath their own feet. But it’s breaking twigs and an inhalation of air--

And the sound of a gun being cocked.

Casey comes to a halt, and Billy almost slams into him from behind. The Scotsman protests loudly, until he sees what Casey has already discerned.

That this mission, as it turns out, isn’t over.

Not if the heavily armed man standing a few feet in front of them has anything to say about it.

-o-

Casey stands perfectly still.

He’s aware that this is a saying people will use. In most cases, it just means that someone stops and generally doesn’t move.

Not for Casey.

No, Casey remains perfectly still.

His breathing slows. His perception narrows. Every muscle of his body is held taut, suspended but innately ready for action while he assesses the situation.

And the situation, as best he can tell, is not great.

The man is heavily armed, which suggests he is most definitely part of the group they’re tracking. He doesn’t look particularly thrilled to see them, and he looks more inclined to shoot and kill them than to worry about effectively capturing them.

While these factors are not great, they also aren’t terrible. At any rate, they’re nothing Casey can’t circumvent.

For starters, the man is armed, but he is only one man. One man, even one with a gun, is no match for Casey. It would be tricky to get a clean break at the man, especially with Collins in the picture, but in theory, it wouldn’t be too hard to wait until the man’s aim is slightly off to make a forward assault and disable him.

The timing, however, is critical. On his own, Casey wouldn’t even hesitate. If the gun’s fixed on him, he knows at least half a dozen counter moves to avoid being shot while moving forward past the man’s defenses. This would be a done deal by now.

But with a second person, Casey has to worry about keeping Collins clear of the gunfire as well. It seems counterintuitive to most people who assume that having a team is always an asset. Casey doesn’t deny that there are times when a little backup is nice, but the fact is that Casey still works better alone, and situations like these only prove his point.

Teamwork is highly overrated.

His assessment is fast and to the point.

Unfortunately, the idiot with the gun has been making his own assessment. Casey figures this guy doesn’t want the mess, the hassle or the risk. Hell, he’ll probably get his ass chewed out if he shows up with two stragglers in the woods. By all appearances, this guy could be taking a piss or making a personal phone call on company time, so bringing in two prisoners is only going to reflect badly on him.

He lifts his gun higher, steadies his aim.

Casey breathes out through his nose.

This idiot is going to kill them.

Or try.

“Whoa!” Billy says, because of the three of them, only the Scotsman doesn’t know enough to think before he speaks. Casey is uncertain if this is a cultural issue or a personal defect. He’s inclined to think it’s both. “They never said anything about this in the guidebooks!”

It’s a stupid comment. Of course it’s a stupid comment; Casey expects no less from a stupid man.

Billy puts his hands up, looking unduly unsettled. “I’m sure this is a mix up!” he says. “We’re backpacking through the area. We wanted something a bit off the beaten path, so if we’ve wandered into something--”

The man replies gruffly in Russian, jabbing his gun in Billy’s direction.

Casey clenches his jaw. Billy has managed to annoy everyone in the vicinity and get himself in the path of the first bullet, which effectively limits Casey’s options.

“I told you we should have studied up on Russian before coming here,” Billy says with a nervous laugh. “I swear, whatever the misunderstanding, I’m sure we can work it out. I have my passport in my bag and--”

The man says something else, even harsher this time.

“You can call my mum!” Billy offers, a little giddy now. “She’s going to be tear me a new one after this. She lectures me about getting a steady job, not blowing through all my savings on wayward trips, but life is for living, eh? Can’t spend all your time cooped up in an office, working by yourself now?”

He’s rambling.

More than that, he’s rambling nonsensically.

None of that is true.

Which is when Casey concludes that this is a vain attempt to use charm.

Billy is trying to be sweet and endearing, as though that may disarm this man.

This is what Casey’s career has come to. Standing idly by while a Scottish man parlays for their freedom with petty lies and a winning smile.

Teamwork.

Casey can’t think of much worse.

“That’s what I told my mate here, anyhow,” Billy continues, nodding toward Casey. “He’s a bit antisocial, so I thought some one on one time might befit us both. Don’t you think?”

He’s talking to Casey now.

With an even, measured breath, Casey speaks tersely. “I think you’re wasting your breath,” he says. “This guy has a gun and he clearly doesn’t speak any English. You’re going to get us killed.”

The man tenses, gun flitting between Billy and Casey.

Billy inches forward, as if to put himself between Casey and the barrel of the gun. The man responds by training the gun on Billy once more.

Casey makes a face. Collins is trying to protect him.

As if Casey needs protection. As if Casey wants protection.

“Seriously, mate,” Billy says, imploringly now. “Whatever we have in our wallets, you can take. The phones? They can be yours. This is a misunderstanding.”

The man hesitates.

He looks at Casey.

He looks at Billy.

His aim drops, just a little.

Just enough.

Because Casey’s not one for charm, and he’s sure as hell not one to be rescued.

The opportunity is small, but it’s big enough for Casey. Casey has honed his mind and body to absolute perfection. He’s capable of what some might call impossible.

Casey’s not one for hyperbole. Mostly, he’s just one for action.

Surging ahead, he aims low. As he rams into the man’s midsection, the gun goes off but the bullet is wide. They hit the ground, and the man grunts beneath him. From his position on top, Casey has as automatic advantages, and that’s all he needs. With two quick, expertly landed punches, the man goes limp on the ground.

Casey stays at the ready, just in case. Deftly, he takes the gun and then proceeds to remove all other firearms and several blades from his person. Getting to his feet, he stows the weapons. “Action,” he says, with a satisfied smile. “Much better than talking.”

He turns around triumphantly, but Billy smiles wanly in return. He looks paler than Casey remembers, and he’s starting to sweat. They’ve walked hard, but it’s not been that far. Billy shouldn’t be that winded.

He also looks scared, his features pinched and drawn.

And that’s when he lifts his hand, which is smeared with red. He pulls his jacket away, blinking a few times as he looks down. From behind the fabric, Casey can see the red stain, growing steadily.

Billy looks up, starting to wobble. His mouth opens but there’s no comeback.

Instead, Billy’s knees give out and he crumbles to the ground.

-o-

Casey hesitates.

It’s nothing more than a split second, but it’s still a hesitation. A moment of indecision, when Casey is overcome by doubt and fear and emotion. It’s weak and it’s beneath him, and it’s just long enough for Collins to hit the ground hard.

And that’s when Casey gets a hold of himself.

In a few quick paces, he crosses over to where Billy has fallen. Deftly, he takes the other operative by the shoulder and turns him until he’s flat on his back, ignoring the yelping protest. Casey’s focus is singular as he reaches down, pulling Billy’s shirt up. When it’s still difficult to see, he takes the shirt and promptly rips it in half, eliciting a pained cry from the younger man.

Casey ignores him still, instead using his hand to wipe away the excess blood, which is spilling down the front of Billy’s stomach.

That’s when he sees it, the small wound puncturing the skin to the lower right quadrant. It’s missed the most vital organs, but it’s close enough to a gutshot that Casey can guess the implications pretty fast. Infection is probable, and the bleeding will be impossible to stop. Worse, if the bullet has hit the digestive tract, complications are almost inevitable, which means that every second Billy spends out of a hospital is another second that lessens his chance of surviving this.

“Oh, hell,” Billy breathes, his head lifting off the ground as he cranes his neck down. “This is bad. This is really, really bad.”

Casey inhales sharply, but can’t quite bring himself to disagree. This isn’t great, and Casey knows that. Hell, he probably knows it better than Collins does at the moment because where Billy can see blood and feel pain, Casey’s already doing the mental calculations to discern their best chance of getting out of this thing alive.

Essentially, though, there’s not a lot to assess. Billy is shot. He’s bleeding. Without medical treatment, he will die. It’s impossible to say exactly how long that process will take, but the chances are he’ll bleed out before he has the chance to die of sepsis, which means Casey’s only option is to tie off the wound and get them the hell out of here.

Now.

Because Billy’s annoying as hell, and Casey’s not sure he belongs with a team, but he’s not about to let a teammate die on his watch. If he leaves this team, it’s going to be on his terms, not because he feels guilty and not because no one can trust him.

Billy Collins has to live.

Because Casey Malick is not going to be the one who screws up the ODS. No, that’s a job for someone else. Another mission. Another day.

Billy drops his head back, and his breathing is starting to hitch. “Oh, damn,” he says, voice almost breaking on a sob. “Damn it, damn it, damn it.”

Casey grits his teeth together. Collins is starting to freak out, and Casey doesn’t have time for that. He also doesn’t have time to placate the man. Panic is useless. It just makes you die faster.

No, Casey prefer to use anxiety in a health way.

Quickly, he unshoulders his pack and then shrugs out of his light button up shirt. Efficiently, he reaches down, lifting Billy off the ground.

Billy inhales with a curse, and Casey can feel his hot breath against the nape of his own neck before he threads his shirt underneath and then lowers the Scotsman back down. Without skipping a beat, he takes the two arms of his shirt and start to tie them together, pulling taut so the knot is firm against the puckered flesh.

Then, he takes a moment to move the bandage, ensuring that the biggest portion is across the wound before tightening the knot once more and settling back on his heels.

That’s when he looks at Billy.

Sure, he’s been looking at Billy the whole time, trying to see how bad the wound was and tie it off. But this time, he doesn’t look at blood or listen to the rapid beat of his heart. He looks at Billy.

The other operative is whitewashed, face stony and pale, twisted with pain. He’s sweating, the beads collecting along his hairline and dripping back into the dark tufts of his hair. And he’s scared -- Casey can see it in his eyes, read it all over his face -- and he looks too young to be here.

Too young to die in a foreign land with a fake ID, working for a government he can’t even call his own.

This isn’t any kind of next step. This is just stupid.

Trembling, Billy meets Casey’s gaze. He licks his lip, taking a staggering breath. “Bollocks,” he says, voice shaking. “I’m dying.”

“That’s a bit melodramatic,” Casey replies.

Billy shakes his head, short, taut motions that cause the rate of his breathing to increase. “A gutshot, still miles from civilization,” he says. “I’ll never make it back.”

Casey lets out a tense breath. “On your own, no,” he agrees. “But you’re not on your own.”

Billy blinks a few times, as if trying to make sense of that.

Either the kid is stupider than Casey thought, or he’s really starting to get shocky.

Casey draws an equally tense breath. “We’re teammates, right?”

“For a while longer, at any rate,” Billy agrees tremulous.

Casey shrugs. “Then we might as well take advantage of that, right?”

Billy blinks a few more times, and his eyes are wet now. “Casey, I--”

Holding up a hand, Casey shakes his head. “Look,” he says. “We can either have a moment here, or we can get the hell out of here. Which do you prefer?”

Billy’s brow knits together. “Getting the hell out, I reckon.”

“Good,” Casey says, getting to his feet. He reaches down and takes Billy by the hand and heaves him up. The younger man grunts, swaying heavily as he almost falls into Casey. It’s awkward but not especially hard to keep Billy upright, wrapping his arm around the Scotsman’s waist as they work together to get their bearings. “So let’s go.”

-o-

In Casey’s mind, it’s all very simple.

Billy’s been shot, so they need to get Billy out. There are a lot of other details, Casey knows realistically, but he also knows that they are mostly irrelevant. There is one acceptable outcome to this situation, and Casey intends to make that happen.

Billy’s going to live.

He’s going to be tired and in pain, and he’s probably going to need a protracted hospital stay. Therapy’s going to be a pain in the ass, and Casey doesn’t even know how Michael and Carson are going to respond to this, much less Higgins. This whole injury-in-the-line-of-duty thing is no one’s favorite topic, and Michael will probably take it as a personal assault. And Carson -- well, he doesn’t need more reasons to drink, and he’s soft on the kid. And Higgins is always looking for a reason to get on their asses, so this surely won’t help any.

That’s fine, though. Because Casey doesn’t even need to stay around for all that. Once Collins is safe and squared away, Casey can file his paperwork and get the hell out. He won’t even look back. Not once.

Of course, he reflects, shifting his grip to pull Billy a little more steady, he has to get them out of this first.

It’s a long walk, and Billy’s already listing badly. Casey doesn’t stop to check the wound, but it’s easy enough to see that while the bleeding has slowed, it hasn’t stopped. He could carry Collins, if it comes to that, but Casey would prefer to spare both of them that indignity.

To Billy’s credit, he doesn’t complain. Casey knows it hurts from the tight wheezes that pass through the Scotsman’s lips, but the taller man doggedly keeps his feet, his body staggering but upright as Casey half hauls him through the woods.


“This was unnecessary, you know,” Casey mutters hotly.

Billy swallows audibly. “Is that your way of saying thank you?”

Casey makes a face. “Why would I be thanking you?”

“For having your back,” Billy says, as though it should be obvious. “That blighter had an itchy trigger finger.”

“Obviously,” Casey says. “Which is why you should have shut your mouth and let me do the heavy lifting.”

Billy cranes his neck, looking at Casey skeptically as they take another labored step. “A full frontal attack is a surefire way to get shot.”

“It’s action,” Casey says. “And you still ended up shot.”

“Because you charged him,” Billy points out.

“Because your prattle wasn’t helping,” Casey returned.

“I was thinking about ways not to get us shot,” Billy tells him frankly.

“It was pointless,” Casey says. “You would have stood there while he mowed you down.”

“And you would risk a fight when there might be another way out,” Billy says. “Sometimes the next step isn’t a step at all.”

“So you’re promoting inaction now,” Casey surmises sarcastically. “No wonders the British have terrible spies.”

Billy grunts, putting a little extra weight on Casey’s shoulder as they step over a particularly large branch. “I will have you know that charm can be very effective.”

“Violence is the only thing that is truly effective,” Casey says curtly. “Everything else is just wasting time.”

“You think the only thing that matters are steps forward, then,” Billy muses with a huff.

“What? You advise going backward?” Casey asks, navigating them around a tree. “Or worse, standing still?”

“I can think of worse things,” Billy murmurs.

Casey sighs, rolling his eyes.

“Oh, come on,” Billy says. “Are you really so keen on dying for the cause?”

“Of course not,” Casey snaps. “I’m entirely pragmatic. I don’t want to die.”

“And neither do I,” Billy returns, puffing his chest up just a bit. “As far as I’m concerned, there are too many causes to die for and not nearly enough to live for.”

Casey makes a face. “Did they teach you that drivel before or after they kicked you out of the country?”

“No,” Billy says, voice drawn thin. “That’s what I learned from working with a team these past few months.”

Casey furrows his brow skeptically. “How’s that working out for you right now?”

Billy snuffles, chortling wetly. “Present condition aside,” he says. “Three months here has beat the hell out of my three years back home.”

“Well, I could have told you that,” Casey says snidely. “Queen and Country aren’t all that you think they are.”

“It’s not that,” Billy says, hissing as his foot catches on the ground. He works to correct himself, fist clenching against Casey’s shoulder. “The problem was me, and it always was.”

Casey glances at him, surprised. “That’s the most rational thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

Face lined with pain, Billy offers him a small smile. “I was a lot like you, I think,” he says.

“Okay, now you’re just being insulting--”

Billy shakes his head. “My eye was on the mission. It was about personal accomplishments and individual challenges,” he says. “I did whatever was necessary to get the job done.”

“Well,” Casey says, gritting his teeth as Billy leans into him even more. “That’s sort of part of the job description.”

“Is it, though?” Billy says. “To be an unrepentant bastard at all times? We have to be accountable to someone.”

“There is a hierarchy,” Casey points out. “Even if it’s stupid.”

Billy nods at that. “Exactly,” he says. “That’s what I thought, and that’s why I did what I deemed necessary, and I’m not bragging when I say that I saved a lot of lives. I didn’t sit idle; I didn’t think my way out of things; I just acted because I knew what was right, all the consequences be damned.”

Casey considers that for a few paces. Finally, he tightens his grip on Billy’s wrist. “And?”

“And I was deemed an unacceptable field risk,” he says. “No one wanted anything to do with me, so when someone had to take the fall, I took it alone. Granted, I still think the right things happened, but if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have done it alone.”

“Trust is a dangerous pastime in our line of work,” Casey points out.

Billy inhales sharply, bracing himself as they turn around another tree. “Aye,” Billy agrees. “But we’re all on the shortlist here anyway, I reckon. The way I see it, we might as well die for someone that matters than a cause we can never live up to.”

Casey focuses on the ground, keeping their paces as gentle and even as possible. “So that’s why you thought to talk to the guy? Because you were afraid?”

Billy’s smile is wry. “Honestly?”

“I think deception is tedious,” Casey tells him.

“I was just thinking how I didn’t want him to shoot you,” Billy says. “My first instinct was to charge him, too, but I knew that would put you at risk. I might take it for myself, but with a team….”

Casey’s stomach twists, and his chest aches dully. He’d had the same thoughts, but he’d taken the chance.

And the results speak for themselves.

Pressing his lips together in a thin line, Casey hauls him a little more roughly over the next few paces. “Maybe that’s why teamwork is so overrated.”

“I regret a lot of things,” Billy says, voice sounding wispy now. “But not that.”

Casey grunts. “That’s because you’re an idiot.”

“Aye,” Billy says with a low, weary chuckle. “That I am.”

-o-

Casey doesn’t believe in failure. He’s not stupid. He knows things don’t work out sometimes, but he refuses to accept anything less than perfection from himself. He can’t control every variable, but he has a surprising amount of autonomy regarding most of them, so when he puts his mind to something, he’s used to seeing it through to completion.

Except where a team is involved.

Because it’s not just Casey.

No, it’s Casey and Michael, the control freak, and Carson, the functional drunk, and Billy, the happy go lucky idiot.

In Casey’s mind, he’s going to get Billy to safety and that’s going to be that. He’ll file his transfer paperwork, and call this whole thing a somewhat interesting and mildly enlightening learning experience.

That’s Casey’s plan.

Billy, as it turns out, has other plans.

Namely, to stop.

His conversation has dwindled noticeably in the last twenty minutes, and Billy’s sweat is starting to soak through Casey’s shirt. The bandage is saturated with red, and Billy has gone from limping to stumbling to all out falling throughout the course of their sojourn. So when his legs finally go out, he’s like a wet noodle, and Casey can only slow his descent while they both end up on the ground.

Annoyed, Casey grunts, already working himself back into position to hoist Billy back up. But the Scotsman shakes his head. “Just…hold up,” he pants.

Scowling, Casey shakes his head. “Why would we stop? You’re losing blood too fast,” he says. “We have to move.”

Billy drops his head back, laughing. “You answered your own question,” he murmurs.

Casey sighs, wholly unamused. “I’m serious.”

Lifting his head a little, Billy’s eyes open. He looks even worse now, with a clammy complexion that is surely indicative of early shock. “So am I.”

It’s clear that Billy’s reserves are running low. While this is a sign of Billy’s lack of fortitude, Casey can’t fault him too much. The kid is slowly bleeding out, and Casey knows there are certain things that mental surety can’t overcome.

Even so, staying here will only make matters worse. Insistent, he jostles Billy’s shoulders. “You’re not dying here.”

“That’s a lovely sentiment,” Billy muses, but he makes no effort to move. His brow creases and he takes several moments to breathe. “Maybe you should hike ahead,” he suggests. “Meet up with the others and double back. I’m just slowing you down.”

Casey shakes his head. “It’d be too long,” he says. “Even at the slower pace you’re moving, it’s still faster to bring you with me than to come back.”

“I’ve seen you move,” Billy reasons. “You could do it.”

“If I leave, then you’re dead,” Casey says flatly, because he doesn’t believe in sugarcoating the truth.

Billy holds his gaze steady. “You don’t know that.”

“Yeah,” Casey replies unflinchingly. “I do.”

Billy inhales, flattening his lips for a moment. “Well,” he says. “Seems a bit inevitable anyway.”

Casey’s brow darkens. “No, it’s not. Inevitability is the same thing as giving up. I refuse to accept that.”

“That’s not accounting for fate,” Billy murmurs, his eyelids starting to droop.

Casey handles him gruffly again, picking the other man up under the armpits and hauling him to his feet. “That’s a cop out,” he says. “You’re walking.”

Billy emits a low whine, his breathing catching sharply even if he doesn’t have the strength to fight it. “That sounds like you care.”

Adjusting his grip, Casey works his jaw, trying to keep Billy upright while the taller man is half draped over his shoulder. “You’re being sentimental,” he says. “We’re teammates, not by choice or any kind of design, but that means I’m obligated to consider your well being. It’s a duty, and I don’t fail my duties. You’re not going to die because I’m obligated to save your life. Don’t confuse tenacity with actual concern.”

Billy’s legs are moving to some degree, though he’s uncoordinated and heavy on Casey’s shoulder. “Sometimes I reckon they’re the same, especially with the likes of you. I admit, I can’t quite figure you out.”

“Well, time to learn,” Casey says.

“I think I’ve made an honest effort,” Billy says. “Sometimes I think I’ve got it all sorted, but then some idiot shoots me.”

“You’re the idiot,” Casey tells him. “You basically put a target on your chest.”

Billy lets out a long breath. “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

Casey scowls. “Then what are you talking about because, honestly, I have no idea.”

“About fate,” Billy says.

“There’s no such thing as fate,” Casey says in no uncertain terms. “There’s just the logical next step.”

Billy shakes his head, dragging his feet over several more paces. “My life has had no logical steps,” he says. “Just jarring ones.”

“Well,” Casey says, trying to keep his grip firm while avoiding the wound in Billy’s side. “That’s probably because you’re an idiot, like I’ve already established.”

A ghost of a smile passes over Billy’s face. “Probably,” he agrees, and lets the point stand.

Casey should find the acquiescence agreeable.

In all honesty, he’s not sure why he doesn’t.

It doesn’t matter, though. They still have a long walk ahead, and Casey’s not going to fail.

Not when his career -- and Billy’s life -- depends on it.

-o-

With Billy’s tenacity, they make it about another ten minutes. By Casey’s sheer fortitude, they make it another 20 after that. Billy’s sagging heavily on Casey now, and it’s almost more work trying to keep the Scotsman upright than it would be just to carry him outright. But Billy’s feet are still moving -- somehow -- and Casey doesn’t see a lot of palatable alternatives.

He just has to keep Billy walking.

Which means he has to keep Billy awake.

It’s all a means to an end. Namely, an end where Casey can leave this team and forge his career in a new, less cumbersome direction.

The best way of doing this is to think like Billy. That much is a bit horrifying to Casey, but he’s a spy. He’s used to doing undesirable things for a better end.

“So,” Casey says, nudging the other man slightly while he drags him along. “The mission that got you kicked out. What did you do exactly?”

Billy chuckles, his head still bobbed forward.

“Did you try to kill the queen?” Casey asks. “Because I have to admit, that might make me respect you more.”

Billy lifts his head tiredly. “Now, of all times, you want to make small talk?”

“I am capable of charm,” Casey says nonchalantly. “I just don’t find it particularly effective.”

“Your delivery is lacking,” Billy concurs as they limp along. “But I’m sure with a little practice….”

When he trails off, his head goes down again, all his energy fixed on making his feet move forward it seems. After several more paces of silence, Casey nudges him again. “You still didn’t answer the question.”

Billy cranes his neck up again. “What, you have genuine interest in my life?”

Casey shrugs one shoulder. “I am curious where the Brits draw their line in the sand,” he says. “Did you skip tea time once too often?”

“Sacrilege,” Billy murmurs. “Nothing so tawdry.”

“That doesn’t answer the question,” Casey points out.

“And it wasn’t intended to,” Billy returns.

Casey furrows his brow. “I thought you were the friendly one.”

“Charm,” Billy says with effort. “Is a farce. It’s a distraction. It lets people think you’re giving them everything they want when, in fact, you are offering them nothing.”

“So charm is nothing but effective lying?” Casey asks.

Billy smiles. “Worked on you.”

Grunting, Casey shifts his grip.

Billy inhales sharply, face paling again. His body starts to slip, and it’s all Casey can do to keep him standing.

Face pinched, Casey tries a different approach. “So do you want to go back?” he asks.

Billy takes a wheezing breath, looking up almost in confusion.

“To England,” Casey says. “Or Scotland. Or wherever the hell you’re from.”

“I was given the option of jail time or exile,” Billy says. “I’m not sure that’s really an option.”

“I didn’t ask if you could,” Casey says, successfully lugging them both over a large branch. “I asked if you wanted to.”

Billy sighs a little, head dropping forward. “I try not to think about it.”

“Well, America’s not all bad, right?” Casey prods. “The CIA has its merits?”

Billy laughs wetly, stumbling. “I’ll admit, I’ve found the team quite welcoming,” he says. “Present company as an exception.”

“You’re good with a team,” Casey says.

Billy looks up. “A compliment?”

Casey snorts. “You need complementary agents to be successful,” he says. “I wouldn’t call it an asset.”

“But is it really a weakness?” Billy presses.

Casey makes a face. “I don’t think I fully understand the point,” he says. “I go on missions; I do the job; but I don’t see how it’s any better this way.”

“There are people who have your back,” Billy says. “People who will carry your pathetic, bleeding body back through the woods.”

Or step in front of bullets when there’s no need at all.

Casey shakes his head. “It’s not for me, I think,” he says. “Three years since Michael recruited me for the ODS, and I don’t think I belong here at all.”

“You’re a brilliant part of the team,” Billy protests. “You said it yourself, perfect complements.”

“It’s too tedious,” Casey says. “We’re always doing something in some ass-backward way that goes against my nature.”

“And that’s a bad thing?” Billy asks.

“I’ve honed my mind and body to perfection,” Casey says, feeling somewhat indignant.

“Then why did you join the team in the first place?”

That’s a fair question, and it’s still a question that matters. Casey joined because he was looking for something, something that he hasn’t found. “I was looking for the next step.”

“We all have to stop somewhere,” Billy muses.

“Not me,” Casey says, keeping his eyes forward again. “If we stop, we die.”

“And they call me melodramatic,” Billy says.

Casey rolls his eyes. “It’s not so crazy to think that there’s another step waiting for me to take it.”

Billy shrugs. “I reckon not,” he agrees. “But it’s also not so crazy to think you might belong here, with us.”

Casey gives him a look. “What on earth could possibly lead you to that decision?”

Billy manages to lift his head, eyes twinkling slightly. “I’m good at reading people.”

Casey waits, as if for a punchline. When none is forthcoming, he shakes his head. “There you go,” he says dourly. “Solidifying my opinion of you as a complete and total idiot.”

Billy snickers wearily. “Well, I’d hate to disappoint you now.”

-o-

Resolve goes so far.

Charm goes even less.

Ultimately, there are limits that the body imposes that cannot be overcome. It’s nearly an hour into their trek when Billy goes down and doesn’t get back up.

Casey curses, trying and failing to support the loose limbed Scotsman, who remains frustratingly pliant beneath his touch. He shakes Billy’s shoulder before slapping him across the face, which elicits no more than a muted mewl of vague protest.

He’s out, though. His complexion is too pale, his pulse is too slow, and his skin is too clammy. The wound on his side is still leaking blood, and that’s that. Billy’s not going to be getting up again, not without medical intervention. And even then, Casey knows the other operative’s odds are starting to dwindle.

The idea of failure is not desirable, but in this context, Casey finds it unacceptable. Not just because he told himself he’d do it, but because Billy had been so damn confident about his decision to get himself shot. It’s something to put yourself in the line of fire, and it’s another to have no regrets when it goes wrong. Casey can respect that much in the kid, and it doesn’t seem fair. Casey’s the one who wants out, not Billy. Billy feels like he’s finding himself on this team. He probably sees this as his second chance, his last chance.

And besides, Casey promised him. Casey doesn’t make promises lightly, and though it’s not like Billy could blame him for failure, Casey doesn’t want to go out like this.

He won’t.

Looking up, he surveys the forest and mentally calculates how much farther they have to go. They’re over half way there, but it’s still enough distance to be concerning. Not that Casey can’t make it, but Billy has been slowing him down. Now that he’s unconscious, Casey may actually be able to move faster, but there’s not a lot of time to work with here.

If Casey’s going to pull this off, he’s going to need to run. And fast. There will be no time to hesitate or second guess or to slow down and catch his breath. If Billy’s going to survive, Casey will need to give everything he has -- and probably then some.

To some, this task might seem daunting. Casey knows it’ll be one hell of a feat, even for him.

But Casey is undaunted. And he does not doubt his ability to succeed.

Billy’s going to survive; Casey will make sure of that.

Determined, he hauls the younger man up, positioning him over his shoulder. He steadies himself for a moment, then turns toward the forest and starts to run.

-o-

In so many ways, this is easier. With Billy unconscious, there’s no distracting talk. Casey doesn’t have to worry about the other man’s dignity. At last, it’s just Casey and his own fortitude. He gets to determine the pace; he cuts the path. There’s no one to consult; there’s no one to debate with.

This is how it should be. It’s just so much more certain this way. Casey picking all his steps, the author of his own story, the catalyst of his own so-called fate. No one is slowing him down. No one is messing him up. There’s no one to second guess, to distract, to frustrate, to be bothered with.

It’s what he wants. His own consequences. His own choices.

One step after another.

Bearing down, he picks up the pace, pushing his own limits for no other fact than he can. Nothing can hold him back; nothing will.

One step.

After another.

One step--

Then, his foot catches. There’s a glint of metal, and a snick of a gear as it releases. At first, almost irrationally, Casey thinks it’s a landmine, and he tries to bring himself to a skidding halt in a vain attempt to delay the detonation. He falters, the forward momentum sending Billy plummeting to the ground. Casey braces, heart pounding, but it’s no matter, though. Nothing explodes.

Instead, the mechanism snaps shut, the rusted claws of a bear trap clinching tight around Casey’s ankle.

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