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Chaos fic: Mothers, Sons and Teammates (1/1)

June 14th, 2015 (09:47 pm)
amused
Tags: ,

feeling: amused

Title: Mothers, Sons and Teammates

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: For ayjaydee, on her birthday. Well, after her birthday, but pretty close :)

Summary: Rick’s not sure how the stages of grief are actually suppose to progress, but he’s fairly certain that frenetic, full-time mission planning isn’t one of them.



-o-

Rick gets the call at Langley.

They’re batting ideas around for the mission. So far, Casey’s come up with: DESTROY RUSSIA. No particulars about that, just the general notion. Billy, on the other hand, is working on a foolproof plan that, as far as Rick can tell, involves doing nothing on the Italian coast.

He doesn’t hear Michael’s idea because when he takes the call, the world stops making sense altogether.

“Martinez?” Michael asks. “Everything okay.”

Rick blinks at him, dumb. “I--” he starts and doesn’t know what to say. “My mother--”

Billy raises his eyebrows. Casey looks skeptical.

Rick tries to remember how to breathe. “My mother’s dead,” he blurts, hastily getting to his feet. “I need to go.”

-o-

They don’t stop him. In fact, Michael sorts it out with HR and Casey volunteers to do his paperwork while he’s gone. Billy offers to give Rick a ride to the airport.

Rick shakes his head. “I can do this--”

“This is no time for pride,” Billy says.

“No,” Rick agrees. “But this is something I have to do alone.”

-o-

Back at his apartment, he packs a quick suitcase. He’s throwing in an extra pair of underwear when the tears come.

Hard and fast, he’s sobbing with a pair of boxer shorts in his hand.

He just talked to his mother a few nights ago.

And now she’s gone.

She’s gone.

Rick’s an international spy. He’s saved lives.

But he couldn’t do anything for the person who matters most to him.

Irony sure is a son of a bitch.

-o-

He overpays for his flight out, and he’s worn out and weary by the time he gets there. He’s the last one, of course, and his brothers are fussing over who will get the kitchen table.

His mother would hate that.

But she also wouldn’t be surprised.

Rick takes a beer and goes out back instead. His brothers’ wives are there, and there children are playing in the yard.

His mother never met Adele.

His mother would have liked Adele.

Adele would have liked his mother.

He drinks the beer, and thinks what if.

-o-

“You should have called me,” Adele says over the phone.

“You were in a meeting,” Rick says.

“But your mother died,” she insists.

“I figured it wouldn’t go over well,” he says. “I lied to you about my dad.”

“A lie I told you was very well done,” she reminds him.

He sighs. “It’s fine.”

“I would have gone,” she says.

He closes his eyes. “I know.”

There’s a moment of silence on the line. “Are you sure you don’t want me there?” she asks.

He opens his eyes again, and shakes his head. “This is something I need to do,” he announced. “Alone.”

-o-

Alone is relative.

The house is overcrowded that night, and Rick ends up sleeping on the couch surrounded by his nephews. When he can’t sleep, he walks the halls, looking at the pictures hung there. There’s more than he remembers, from birthday parties and soccer games and confirmations that Rick’s missed over the years.

There’s some of his father, from long ago, and some of him and his brother when they were young. There’s one picture of Rick at his college graduation, beaming as though he’s just conquered the world.

He’d been so proud of himself.

But not as proud as his mother had been.

“The world is yours, mi hijo,” she says. “Go out and take it. Go out and don’t look back.”

Rick didn’t.

God help him, Rick didn’t.

-o-

The funeral is crowded. People line up and down to visit the open casket, and Rick receives condolences from friends and long lost relatives he hasn’t seen in years. His brothers are quiet and somber for once, and they stand in a line, shaking hands and taking hugs. As if their mother’s life can be reduced to four small men at the front of a church.

Everyone tells Rick what an amazing woman she was.

As if Rick didn’t know.

-o-

The priest delivers a stirring message. Everyone is crying, even all of Rick’s brothers. For once, their gaggles of children are somber while people remember the woman that kept them all together.

Rick wonders, after they lower her into the graveyard, how they’ll do now that she’ll gone. Who will organize Christmas and remember every birthday. Who will hide Easter eggs and buy sparklers on Independence Day.

They bury her that day, next to Rick’s father.

They bury her, and Rick fears, they buried a lot more besides.

-o-

“We have to clean out the house,” one of his brothers says, popping open another beer.

“Are we going to sell it?” another asks.

“Nah, she left it to me,” the other says. “I thought me and the girls could move in.”

“All five of them?” the first asks.

“We all made it okay,” he replies.

“We could sell it, though,” the second says. “Make a buck or two.”

Rick closes his eyes, and thinks about the way his mother sang to herself as she made dinner. There are pencil marks on the door from where they grew up, and her apron is still hanging on the pantry door, ready to be used.

“What do you think, Rick?”

He blinks, looking at them in vague surprise. “Doesn’t matter,” he says. “Do what you think is best.”

Because without her here, this is just an empty house.

She’s the one that made it home.

-o-

By the time his brothers actually get productive, it’s already evening. They’ve found some boxes in the basement, and they’re currently taking everything out of the kitchen cabinets and generally making a mess. Rick bypasses a stack of plates and retrieves a drink from the fridge.

“Hey, make yourself useful,” one of his brothers says. “Wrap some plates up.”

Rick looks at the plates but makes no move toward them. “I’ve got a flight out in the morning.”

It’s the first time his brothers have really looked at him since he’s been back.

“It’s early,” he says. “I’m not sure you’ll be up when I go.”

The middle two brothers look at each other. The oldest one works his jaw.

“If you need something, though,” Rick starts.

His oldest brother snorts. “You’ll what?” he asks, voice thick with accusation. “You’ll not show up?”

Rick’s too tired for this. Not today, he tells himself. Not when their mother’s grave is still freshly covered. “I have work, guys.”

It’s the truth, but it’s not what they want to hear.

“What, and we don’t?” one of his brothers asks.

“Of course we don’t,” another quips bitterly. “You know how important Rick’s work is.”

“It is important, okay?” Rick says.

“You’re a damn banker,” snipes the oldest one.

His comeback is caught in his throat. His family doesn’t know; his family can’t know. There’s discretion for undercover agents, but he doesn’t think his family is an acceptable risk. Not as much for their sake as his own.

And honestly, it’s never come up much.

“It’s a big responsibility,” Rick manages to respond stiffly.

One of his brothers sneers. “That’s what Mom always told us,” he says. “She was so proud of you, her little baby boy.”

“She was proud that I set a goal and made it happen,” Rick retorts. “I didn’t sit around and expect everyone to do it for me.”

“Yeah?” his oldest brother asks, stepping closer to him now. “So you think you are the big success story of the family? Mama’s special little boy, all grown up.”

The other two brothers closed in on him, too, looming taller than him. Rick has always been the smallest.

Of course, Rick’s a CIA agent. More than that, he’s trained with Casey Malick. He’s not scared of his brothers.

Even so, he finds that he can’t move.

“She bragged on you, bragged about you to everyone,” his oldest brother says. “You were so smart and so true, but you know what else you were, Rick? You were gone. You were never here.

This isn’t what Rick wants to do today -- not today, of all days -- but Rick’s too tired to stop himself. He steps forward himself, puffing out his chest and refusing to let them look down on him. “You want go there?” he asks. “Really?”

“Yeah,” his brother says. “Let’s go there.”

Rick nods. Once, twice. And then throws all caution into the wind. “What about you three?” he returns, jabbing his finger at his brother’s chest. “You were here, but you weren’t here for her. You were here for the free food and the free babysitting and whatever else you could take. She’s barely even in the ground, and you three are bitching about getting rid of her stuff like she’s just some means to an end.”

“Oh, please,” replies one of his brothers. “You tell me what mattered most to her. Accolades on the wall--”

“Of which, none of you had any,” Rick says.

“Or family dinners,” interjects his brother, more strongly than before. “You may have done all these great things, but we stayed, Rick. We gave her family dinners and grandchildren and pictures on the wall. Look at them, Rick. Look at the pictures. Where are you, huh? Where are you?”

Rick’s so angry he’s almost shaking now, the grief converging with his pent up frustrations until his fists are balled and he’s afraid he might actually throw the first punch.

But it’s not until he’s outside, hurling his half-drunk beer into the backyard with hot, silent tears on his face, that he realizes that he’s not angry because they’re wrong.

He’s angry because he’s sort of afraid they’re right.

-o-

Rick wakes up on the porch swing in the pre-dawn. His mouth tastes bitter and thick, and he’s more than a little sore. Sitting up, he finds his phone in his pocket and scrolls for messages. He reads Adele’s friendly note, but skips the three from his teammates.

He’s had enough of people telling him what to do and how he’s failed. The ODS can get in line behind his brothers for once.

Even so, Rick can’t bring himself to leave with at least attempting closure. He scrawls a note of apology, which he means and doesn’t mean all at the same time. He doesn’t want to hold any grudges against his brothers.

If he’s honest, they’re just not worth it.

-o-

He doesn’t have much to pack, but he gathers his things anyway. He pauses while he goes, looking at the mementos for the last time. He runs his fingers along the doily on the top of the piano, brushes a layer of dust off the mismatched lamps in the living room. His mother’s favorite coffee cup is still on the counter, and the salt and pepper shakers she inherited from her mother are on the kitchen table.

Rick could take what he wants, and he doubts anyone would notice. A few years ago, he probably would have, he probably would have taken it all. But he still remembers the keepsakes on his desk at work -- the ones his teammates had deemed security risks -- and finally understands.

Instead, he takes a few of the pictures and settles for the crucifix his mother kept by the front door. She’s the only one who ever remember to pray for their father after his passing. Rick figures someone should do the same favor for her.

It’s the least he can do as he zips his bag up and walks out of his mother’s house for the last time.

-o-

The flight home is worse than the flight out. He ends up stuck to some little kid, wiggling restlessly in the seat next to him.

“Anything wrong?” Rick asks the kid.

The little boy looks up at him, looking miserable. “I want my mommy.”

The man sitting on the other side of the little boy offers Rick an apologetic smile. “My wife is meeting us at the airport,” he says.

Rick smiles politely back.

The little boy whines again, kicking the seat in front of him. “I want my mommy.

Rick sighs. “You and me both, kid.”

The little boy looks up at him, grateful for a moment. “Are you meeting your mommy too?”

“No,” Rick says, the word echoing hollowly in his chest. “Not any time soon.”

The boy nods in commiseration. “I’m sorry.”

Rick almost smiles. “Me, too.”

-o-

By the time he gets home, he’s got more messages from his team, and more than that from Adele. He takes a second to text Adele, but he’s too tired to do much else. It’s only the late afternoon, but he slumps on his bed anyway, kicking off his shoes and staring at the ceiling.

When the phone rings, he turns it off.

Then he finally sleeps.

-o-

He sleeps all night and into the morning. When his alarm goes off, he rolls over and turns it off. His phone is on the table not far away, but Rick doesn’t have the motivation to get up.

The world keeps turning, after all, no matter who decides to show up or not. If time doesn’t stop for his mother, then it sure as hell isn’t going to stop for him.

-o-

To Rick’s credit, he does get up eventually. He eats some cereal and even makes it to the shower. He’s watching TV in his underwear when there’s a knock at the front door.

He ignores it.

They’ll go away, he figures. Most people would get the hint.

Then the door opens without him.

Rick’s too morose to roll his eyes.

His teammates may have gotten the hint, but they showed no signs of taking it.

“Hey,” Michael says, pulling a key out of the lock.

Billy moves past him. “You could have at least called!”

“We had to hear from your girlfriend that you were back,” Casey says crossly.

They close the door behind them, each sitting in turn around the television.

“It is common courtesy,” Billy says.

“Not to mention a professional concern,” Michael says.

“What’s the professional concern with breaking into my apartment?” Rick asks.

“We didn’t break in,” Michael says. “We had a key.”

“Which we got the first time we broke in,” Casey adds.

Rick looks back at the TV. “I took the week off, guys.”

“From work, maybe,” Billy says. “But not from us.”

Rick sighs. “I just need to be alone.”

“We understand the grieving process, Martinez,” Michael says. “Being alone, believe it or not, isn’t part of it.”

“Guys, please,” Rick says, but he doesn’t have his normal vigor to fend them off.

“Relax,” Michael says. “We just want you to know we’re here for you.”

“Even when you don’t want us to be,” Billy adds.

“Even when we don’t really want to be,” Casey says.

“You guys are ridiculous, you know that, right?” Rick asks, even as he makes no effort at all to make them leave.

“Yeah,” Billy says, settling back into the couch next to Rick, totally ignoring the fact that the other man isn’t even dressed. “But we’re your kind of ridiculous.”

“You won’t even know we’re here,” Michael promises

“Except, of course, for the fact that we’ll be here,” Casey says.

“Whatever,” Rick says. “But you guys can order the pizza.”

-o-

They order the pizza, and they also pick up the beer. They watch old TV westerns all night, and Rick doesn’t laugh or anything, but he also doesn’t ask them to leave.

When he wakes up in morning, they’re gone. In their place is a pot of coffee and a half eaten carton of donuts. Billy’s note is hard to read but easy to understand somehow.

We’ll be at the office when you’re ready -- no rush.

Casey has added the postscript.

P.S. I get to pick the movie tonight.

-o-

It’s a little easier that day, and Rick even gets dressed. For a while, he tackles a few odd jobs around his apartment, the things he’s been putting off. It seems wrong now, to put things off. Tomorrow’s never been a guarantee, and Rick’s put his life on the line more than once in the field, but it seems different somehow.

The woman who gave him life is dead.

Rick has to stand on his own now, in a very cosmic sense.

It’s silly to think of it like that, but Rick still does.

Rick just does.

-o-

His team brings Chinese that night, and Casey picks a Bruce Lee movie.

“So you three idiots can at least learn something,” he says.

Rick doesn’t learn much about kung fu, but he learns that Michael has a nice singing voice, and that Billy snores when he sleeps. He learns that Casey can disarm a man and tie him up with nothing but a pair of pajama pants and a toothbrush.

How Rick learns these things is probably better not discussed.

The lessons sort of speak for themselves anyway.

-o-

By the end of the week, Rick is feeling a little better. On Friday, when there’s a knock at the door, he yells at the guys to come in. When they don’t, Rick finally opens it.

“Oh,” he says, looking at Adele. “I thought--”

“You thought you could spend another night with your teammates instead of me?” she asks, arching her eyebrows. “I understand men have to grieve in various ways--”

“Adele, I can explain--”

She holds up her finger and tilts her head. “Various ways, Mr. Martinez,” she says. “And I’m here to offer you another.”

-o-

Rick appreciates Adele’s visit, for more reasons than that. When they’re curled up in bed together, she asks if there’s anything else she can do.

He shakes his head. “It’s good to be home,” he tells her. “But a little weird, really. Because I always thought that my mother’s place was home, but she’s not there anymore.”

Adele nods. “Spies don’t often associate home with a place,” she says. “Life is too transient.”

“She was always the thing that made me normal,” he reflects. “She still sent me food. Some of it is in the freezer.”

Adele perks up. “The famous gumbo?”

He frowns. “How do you know about the gumbo?”

“It was nearly confiscated as a deadly weapon,” she reminds him. “Everyone knows about it.”

Rick huffs and rolls his eyes. “Do you want some?”

She curls in closer to him. “I would love some.”

-o-

When Monday comes around, Rick knows it’s time to go back to work. His apartment is spotless, and all his affairs are more organized than ever before. He even sorted his sock drawer by color, just like his mother used to.

He has to accept it sooner or later, that life goes on.

It’s the hard part of his job, and now it’s the hard truth of his personal life as well. But some people die.

The responsibility of the living, then, is simply this: to live.

And Rick’s always been the responsible one.

-o-

Still, before he leaves, he takes the scant mementos from his travel bag. He lingers over them before putting the pictures up in his room, and he hangs the crucifix by the door.

He studies it for a moment, and then crosses himself.

Then, Rick heads back to work.

-o-

It’s only been a week, but it feels like longer. Maybe that’s why the familiar routine is comforting, why he almost enjoys setting off the metal detector and having to empty his pockets. He even gives Blanke a salute in return, just for the hell of it.

In the office, his team looks positively giddy to see him.

Well, Billy looks giddy. Michael looks a little bemused and Casey glares somewhat less than usual.

“I’d nearly forgotten what a dour bunch this lot could be!” Billy says.

“And I’d nearly forgotten how nice it is to have someone to pair Billy up with so neither of us have to put up with him,” Casey quips.

“That’s all well and good,” Michael says. “But we’ve still got a mission.”

Rick looks at him with interest. “Oh?”

Michael nods. “Something came across the wire a few days after you’d left,” he reports. “It’s a tight timeline.”

“And dangerous, too,” Casey says. “We’ll be going in severely out numbered.”

“But the cause is good,” Billy assures him. “Better than most.”

“All the same,” Michael says, tapping the file on his desk. “We understand if you’re not ready--”

Rick makes a face. “Of course I’m ready.”

“Seriously, lad, think on it,” Billy says.

“We need you 100 percent in the field,” Casey warns.

Rick gathers a breath and sighs tersely. “Guys,” he says. “I’m back. I’m ready.”

The other three exchange curious glances.

“Let’s do this,” Rick says.

“Okay,” Michael says, tossing the file at him. “The mission is a go.”

-o-

The mission is a doozy, even by ODS standards. It involves gun smuggling and drug runners and a whole village stuck in the crossfire, complete with a pair of American aid workers being taken hostage.

“And you want to save the aid workers, protect the village and take out the drug runners?” Rick clarifies.

“You forgot the bit about gutting the gun smugglers,” Billy says.

“With no tactical support,” Casey says.

“And we only have two weeks to get in position,” Michael concludes.

“Oh,” Rick says, looking at the intel again. “Plenty of time for that.”

-o-

Rick’s not sure how the stages of grief are actually suppose to progress, but he’s fairly certain that frenetic, full-time mission planning isn’t one of them.

All the same, it works pretty well for him.

It’s something to do; it’s something meaningful.

It’s something to help him forget.

Rick will take all that.

This is what it is to be alive.

-o-

There’s so much to do.

There is intel to be processed. There are covers to be made. There are plans to be mapped out. There are travel arrangements to secure. Everything needs to be checked and double checked.

He’s only been gone a week, but it almost seems like a lifetime. There’s so much to catch up on that Rick wonders what his team would do if he hadn’t come back.

If he never came back.

It’s a morbid thought, but it’s one he’s had before. Although, not like he has it now.

Because now he thinks about a gravestone right next to his mother’s, shining and pristine under the midday sun.

Not on this mission, he decides.

He’s going to make sure of that.

-o-

It’s a good week.

Rick almost feels a little guilty about that, but he can’t deny it. It’s good to be back at work; it’s good to be part of the team. He brainstorms contingencies with Michael; he works out with Casey; he sweet talks support from other divisions with Billy.

They’re good together, his team. Sure, they’re annoying and they’re difficult, and they tease Rick merciless, but they’re his team.

More than a team, more than partners.

It’s the best week Rick’s had in a long, long time.

-o-

Adele finds him late in the office one night, still poring over his cover story.

“So here you are,” she says, glancing over his shoulder. “Mr. Felix.”

“Gregory Felix,” Rick amends. “But my friends call me Greg.”

Adele feigns a look of respect. “And what about girlfriends?”

“Greg’s a little too busy for a girlfriend,” Rick returns.

“Pity,” Adele says. “Because Greg is going to miss out on a really, really good time.”

“It sounds great, it really does--” he starts.

She shakes her head. “I know this mission is important,” she says, running her fingers down the length of his tie and teasing the bottom. “But so is this.”

Somehow, Rick can’t disagree.

Life is short, after all.

Far, far too short to say no.

-o-

Adele spend the night, and Rick watches her sleep in the bed next to him. He counts the seconds, minutes, hours by the steady rise and fall of her chest.

She’s never looked more beautiful to him.

-o-

The next day, he works harder, he works better.

Higgins is pleased.

“Impressive,” he muses at one of their briefings. “For once, I’m actually optimistic at one of your ventures.”

Michael exchanges a pleased look with Billy and Casey.

Rick nods his head. “You won’t be disappointed, sir.”

-o-

That night, he gets a call.

He’s so distracted by his work that he doesn’t think to look at the caller ID. It’s not like anyone calls him now, not outside of work.

“Hey,” he says, expecting it to be Michael with another consideration.

“Hey,” the voice on the other end says.

Rick sits up, frowning. It’s not Michael. It’s not Casey or Billy or Adele.

It’s his brother.

There’s a long inhalation over the line. Then a sigh. “Rick,” his brother says. “We need to talk.”

-o-

It’s the house, his brother tells him.

“What, you can’t get enough money from selling it?” Rick asks.

“No, man,” his brother says, sounding almost contrite now. “Mom left it to you. She left everything to you.”

-o-

The paperwork is all in the mail. Everything’s official, according to the lawyers. None of them were ready, but their mom was.

His brother hesitates. “What do you want to do with it? You just got to let me know what you want to do.”

His brother is hanging on, maybe with newfound compassion, maybe because he realizes that Rick has everything he wants. Maybe one of the stages of grief is being nice to people.

Maybe.

But Rick doesn’t know how to answer.

Because Rick doesn’t know what he wants to do.

Rick suddenly doesn’t know anything.

-o-

He’s numb when he gets off the phone. When it puts it back down on the table, he’s shaking.

All his work is still in front of him, but when he tries to look at it, the words blur together. He can’t remember what he was doing; he can’t think.

He inhales raggedly, trembling fingers spread across the bridge of his nose. Part of him, irrationally, wants to die.

But the thudding of his heart in his chest has never been so real.

-o-

Rick spends the whole night, wishing he could cry.

That’s not how this works, though.

That’s just not how it works.

-o-

He’s the first one to the office in the morning, and the last one to leave.

Somehow, he still gets nothing done.

-o-

Time is running short, and the list of things to do is getting longer. Rick does what he can, but every time he sits down, he thinks about half packed boxes of dishes in his mother’s kitchen and the quilts on the beds upstairs.

He doesn’t know how, suddenly, to create a backstory for a stranger when he can’t even figure out his own.

-o-

His brothers text him a few times a day. When they get desperate, they have their wives try, too.

We need to talk about the house, bro.

We need to make some decisions.

We need to something, man.

For Mom, Rick.

For Mom.

Rick can make decisions that save lives; he can make the hardest ones, about who lives and who dies, about what assets to protect and what losses to accept.

There’s no reason he can’t think of that this should be so hard.

But it is.

-o-

They’re down to the wire on this mission, and the more the pressure mounts, the less Rick can take it. It’s like everything is out of synch suddenly, as if he’s just a half-step behind, just enough to throw everything off.

He can’t stand it, either. All the details seem tedious, and the big picture seems pointless. The paperwork looks superfluous, and when his teammates chatter, all he can hear is how his voice doesn’t fit.

At home, he stares at the pictures from his mother’s house and wonders if he missed the point all along, if he worked so hard to become something else that he overlooked what he was really meant to be. He could take a job back home, work nine to five just like everyone else. He could meet a nice, safe girl and have a couple of nice, safe kids. He could barbecue on weekends and coach soccer games in the fall.

He could have been there, when his mother died. Maybe he could have helped her before it was too late. Maybe he’d trade all the lives he’d saved in the CIA for the one life he’d failed to save in real life.

There’s so much to do there, he knows. All the projects he promised his mother he’d help on but that he never had the chance to start. The carpet needs to be pulled up in the living room, and he needs to reface the kitchen cabinets. He talked about taking the dated wallpaper off the upstairs hallway and smoothing out the popcorn ceilings.

Those were never promises he’d intended to break, but they’re broken all the same.

He wants to apologize, but there’s no one to offer absolution.

Hell, there’s no one to even listen to him.

It feels like there’s no one there at all.

-o-

That’s not entirely true. There’s his team, with their mission and their plans and their details. Billy tells bad jokes, and Casey grouses all morning. Michael stews over nuances no one could possibly care about, and Rick’s suppose to see this as the greater good.

This.

“The airline called,” Michael says. “We got one upgraded ticket to business class.”

“I call it,” Casey says.

“That’s hardly fair,” Billy objects. “I have longer legs, and I cramp up terribly in coach.”

Michael gestures. “Seeing as I’m team leader--”

“Bollocks,” Billy says. “You can’t pull rank.”

“No, but I can call dibs,” Casey says.

“That only applies if you’re within sight of the vehicle in questions,” Billy counters.

“And again, I outrank you all,” Michael says.

America’s finest, saving the world.

With one first class ticket.

“What about Rick, then?” Billy suggests.

“What about Rick?” Casey asks. “He has to pay his dues.”

“He’s served faithfully all this time--”

All this time.

He’s served.

He’s given everything.

Everything.

He huffs. “You guys realize that this is more important than a ticket, right?” Rick asks. “I mean, people die for this stuff. People give up their homes and their families and everything. People put up with the bureaucracy and the danger and the complete lack of privacy, and this is what you think matters?”

His team is watching him now.

He lets out a half hysterical breath. “Life and death and plane tickets, is that it? Is that what this is all about? Is that what my career trajectory is? I’m the hero of business class?”

“Coach, actually,” Casey says. “The ticket’s mine.”

Rick pushes back from his desk, standing up with his cheeks flushed. “You guys really are bastards,” he says, stalking out of the room.

He’s shaking when the door closes behind him, and he’s nearly hyperventilating by the time he gets to the bathroom. Fumbling, he goes into a stall and slams the door behind him. For a moment, he flails, before pounding his fists against the cheap, plastic separator. When the fit of anger leaves him, he slumps forward, burying his face into his hands so his head is dipped against the door.

Eyes squeezed shut, he takes breaths in half-sobs.

Bastards,
he thinks, and he hates them for it. Bastards.

What he hates most, though, is that he’s just like them.

Alone, dysfunctional, married to their work.

Bastards.

To the very end.

-o-

When he makes his way back to the office, Michael and Casey have left for the day. Billy is kicked back in his chair, finishing up his daily crossword.

Rick says nothing, going stiffly to his desk.

Billy raises his eyebrows. “Everything okay?”

Rick clears his throat. “Yeah,” he says. “I just. I’m sorry.”

Billy nods, but doesn’t appear convinced by his apology. Instead, he gets up, tossing the paper on his cluttered desk. “Come on,” he says. “Best we leave for the night.”

Rick meekly picks up his abandoned paperwork. “I should finish this.”

Billy crosses over, looking seriously down his nose at Rick. “I said, I think it’s best if we leave for the night,” he says, more empathically now.

Frozen, Rick looks back at Billy, not sure what to say.

Billy, however, has never been one at a loss for words. “Come on,” he says, a bit lighter now. “Seems like you could use a drink.”

-o-

Rick tries to say no. In fact, he’s pretty certain he does say no, but somehow he still ends up at some crappy bar with Billy anyway. The Scot takes it upon himself to order them some drinks, taking a breath before raising his glass.

“To mothers,” he announces.

It’s so horribly cliche, that Rick almost blushes on his behalf. “Billy, come on--”

“No, no,” Billy says, adamant. “A toast to mothers.”

Rick rolls his eyes, wishing like hell he was somewhere else. “We really don’t have to--”

Billy raises his eyebrows. “We don’t have to what?” he asks. “Pay homage to the women who raised us and gave us everything we needed in life? We don’t have to respect the fact that their memories still keep us going, if only by sheer virtue of guilt alone?”

Rick is positively red in the face now, and he swallows hard. “I get what you’re trying to do--”

“Then why don’t you raise your glass?” Billy asks.

“Because we don’t need to,” Rick hisses, giving a fervent look around the room. “I know you think I’m upset about my mom, but I’m fine--”

Billy gives him a look.

“I’m fine,” Rick says again, even more forcefully. He reaches over, pushing Billy glass back to the table.

“I think that’s highly debatable,” Billy says.

Rick’s embarrassment is turning to frustration. “Did the guys tell you to take me out?” he asks. “You guys think I need a little coddling so I can do my job? Because I don’t, okay? I’m fine, and I can do my job, just as well as any of you.”

“Aye,” Billy agrees. “But I should remind you that the job of a teammate isn’t just in the field. We have to have each other’s back in real life as well.”

Rick tries to force his breathing to even out. “I’ve just been busy, is all. With all the planning, and I’ve been staying up late with the mission. I shouldn’t have been short with you guys, I get it,” he says. “But it’s nothing I can’t handle.”

Billy is frustratingly unmoved by the reasonable explanation.

“It’s nothing,” Rick says. “I mean it. Nothing.”

“It’s more than nothing,” Billy says, eyes boring into Rick now. “It’s your brothers and the house.”

Rick blinks, so taken aback that he doesn’t even know what to say.

“Don’t look so surprised,” Billy says, finally taking a drink from his glass. “Of course we know.”

Rick slumps, because it’s not a surprise. In truth, he feels a little foolish for not realizing that they knew. “My phones are still tapped?”

“Even simpler,” Billy says. “You leave your phone on your desk sometimes when you go to the bathroom.”

Rick slumps even more, looking forlornly at his drink now, too discouraged to even attempt drinking it.

Billy leans forward a little bit. “At least, you think it’s about the house.”

Glancing up, Rick is too deflated to be insulted. “So what is it about?”

“It’s about your mother,” Billy says, matter of fact. “It’s about burying someone that matters to you.”

“I’m trained--”

Billy shakes his head, and doesn’t let him finish. “That only makes it worse,” he says. “When you work with life and death on a regular basis, when you play with life on those broad terms and win, you start to think you can control it.” He takes another drink, shrugging helplessly. “That makes it all the harder when you can’t.”

Rick is almost seething now, teeth gritted and he refuses to blink. “I know how the job works, Billy.”

“This isn’t the job, though,” Billy reminds him. “It’s personal.”

“I’m fine.

Billy sighs at that, taking another swig from his glass. He glances around the room, fiddling with his napkin for a moment. “You know how old I was when my father died?”

Rick sits back. “No--”

“Eleven,” Billy tells him. “Now, don’t get me wrong, that was no great loss to the world or me, but it was the first time I’d ever been to a funeral. The first time I’d ever stood beside a gravestone and realized what it meant. They’re not monuments to the dead; they’re lifelines for the living. We put up granite slabs and honor them, turning our own hearts to stone for the loss we feel.”

Rick looks intently at his hands.

“For weeks after it happened, I didn’t really believe it,” Billy continues. “I kept sitting at the table, waiting for him to sit down across from me or to swat me on the backside when I was late home from school -- and God help me, I was always late. It kept me awake at night, how quiet it was. I didn’t miss him because I loved him; I missed him because he was part of my life -- a part I’d never get back.”

At that, Rick dares to glance up, just a little. Billy talks a lot, but he usually says nothing at all. It occurs to Rick that in all the time he’s worked with Billy, this is the only time he’s been totally honest. And if he thinks to doubt it, he can’t by the hollow look in Billy’s eyes.

Billy smiles wryly. “My father was a bastard, but my mother was a saint,” he says. “A better woman than either my father or I deserved. Then, most mothers are.”

Rick nods woodenly.

Billy chews his lip for a moment. “It was cancer that took mine,” he says. “Long and slow, but the ending was inevitable.” He pauses, a muscle twitching in his jaw. “She was diagnosed a month before I was deported. I had promised her I’d come visit before that, that I’d help her with the treatments and take some time off. But when I was kicked out, I had to leave without even saying goodbye. And oh, I talked to her on the phone. I called her all the time, listened as her voice got thinner and her spirit got weaker. I kept telling her I’d work it out, that I’d make it back.”

He trails off, face drawn and serious now.

“She died a year after that,” he says. “Emaciated on my false promises.”

Rick’s chest twinges.

Billy takes a drink and swallows it hard. “I’ve buried a lot of people in my life, lad,” he says. “And it’s never the funeral. It’s never the cause of death or if they lived a good and full life. The part that gets you -- the part that will always get you -- is learning to live with what you did and didn’t do.”

Rick nods for a long, slow moment. “And how is that supposed to make me feel better at all?”

Billy offers him a commiserating smile. “You buried your mother. There’s nothing that’s going to make you feel better about that, not even time,” Billy explains. “But the point of all this is that you don’t have to be alone. Suffering in isolation won’t get you anywhere but down a hole that will swallow the rest of your life. You buried one person, but you can’t let it bury you, and we’re here to help you, in any way we can.”

Rick’s vision is blurring, his fingers almost trembling on the tabletop as he tries and fails to focus on his drink.

“So,” Billy says, lifting his glass with what little remained. “To mothers.”

Rick closes his eyes.

“And all the sons,” Billy says, tipping his glass toward Rick, “who tried hard enough.”

-o-

They stay out, longer than Rick intends, and he’s just drunk enough that Billy has to drive him home, dumping him into bed with a faint chuckle. Rick wants to protest the treatment -- he’s not some kid brother for the team to baby around -- but by the time he thinks of anything to say, he’s already asleep.

Billy’s not there in the morning -- Rick thanks God for small miracles -- but he’s still somewhat grateful for the for the note with a smiley face on top of his phone, telling him he’s not expected until noon.

Normally Rick doesn’t take charity from his teammates, but it feels good to roll over and go back to sleep. It feels good to take a long hot shower and read the entire newspaper before gathering his things and heading out the door.

He doesn’t check his messages.

It feels good.

-o-

Not that any of that solves the problem. The mission is still pressing; the house is still pending.

Rick tries to be busy with the latter, but it’s almost impossible to ignore the former.

-o-

When Billy and Rick go to get lunch, Rick makes an excuse and heads to the gym instead. It’s busy over the lunch hour, and he starts with an intense cardio circuit that leaves him sweaty and winded. He’s doing sit ups when Casey shows up, looking down at him critically.

“You know that simple crunches really aren’t that effective of an exercise,” the older operative says.

Rick grunts and does another.

“And it’s never smart to workout on an empty stomach,” he says. “Especially since you probably didn’t have a high protein breakfast. You’re going to lose more muscle mass than you make at this rate.”

Rick glowers, pulling himself up for another sit up out of sheer spite.

“Seriously, this is ridiculous--”

Flopping back, Rick throws his hands over his head and sighs heavily as he lies on the mat.

“If you wanted to work out--”

“Maybe I didn’t want to work out,” Rick says, propping himself up on his elbows. “Maybe I just wanted to get away from my teammates. You know, just for a little bit.”

Nonplussed, Casey does not look overly convinced. “You’ve been in an acceptable mood all day.”

“Well,” Rick says, getting to his feet while suppressing a wince. “Thanks to you, I’m not anymore.”

Casey doesn’t even have the decency to look bothered by this. “My point is that you didn’t work out because you wanted to get away,” he says. “You chose to work out over lunch because you wanted to expend energy, not consume it.”

Reaching for his water bottle, Rick is too tired to argue. “So?”

“So, you want to stay active,” Casey tells him, as though it proves something.

Rick takes a large swig of water. “I’m still not sure what the point is.”

“You think that if you’re passive, then you have to face your grief,” Casey says. “So you’re avoiding periods of inactivity so you don’t have to face the fact that you’re still in the grieving process.”

For a second, Rick can only stare and hope that Casey isn’t actually talking about this.

Casey, however, simply stares back.

“You’re insane,” Rick says finally, starting to turn away.

“And you’re stupid,” Casey says back.

Feeling annoyed now, Rick turns back to him. “Excuse me?”

“You’re stupid,” Casey says again, completely unrepentant.

Rick feels a swell of mixed emotions, from rage to sadness and everything in between. He presses his lips together and says a small prayer for self control. “You’re going to insult me now?”

“I’m trying to help you,” Casey says.

“By insulting me,” Rick returns.

“By telling you that grief, contrary to your traditional beliefs about it, doesn’t have to be passive,” he says. “Coming to the gym, planning a mission -- those are not bad solutions to your problem, but you can’t bury the grief with them. You need to use your grief for them.”

Rick can take insults. And he tolerated an evening of regards from Billy. But tough love from Casey?

This isn’t what Rick wants.

Not now.

Not ever.

Working his jaw, Rick manages a sardonic expression. “So, what, then? You want me to fight it out and everything’s going to be fine?”

“No,” Casey replies. “I want you to remember that death may be permanent but a legacy never is. We can’t save everybody, but we can make their deaths mean something. Your mother is never coming back, and you have to accept that, but you should never accept stagnating her legacy by wallowing in grief.”


Rick’s breath catches, and his cheeks start to burn. “Legacy? My mother isn’t some hero in the field. She was my mother, and she died of a heart attack, alone in her house because no one was there to help her call for help in time,” he says.

Casey lifts his brows. “If you sincerely believe that’s your mother’s legacy, then you really are stupider than I thought.”

Rick’s face contorts. At this point, he might take a swing at Casey, no matter how suicidal that might turn out to be.

“This isn’t about how your mother died or what she died for,” Casey says. “This is about the fact that your mother mattered to people -- mattered to you -- while she was on this planet. Her legacy isn’t some house. It’s not a monument in a graveyard or pictures on the wall. She’s not going to care if you visit a stone slab and put little flowers on it.”

The words are harsh, and Rick feels them like blows.

“What your mother would want, however, is for you to be the best damn spy you can be,” he continues. “Because if your life is worth something, then her work is well and truly done.”

Just like that, Rick deflates entirely.

“Don’t sweat in vain,” Casey tells him frankly. “At least eat some yogurt first.”

With that, Casey walks away to start a workout of his own.

Rick stares after him, and his heart is pounding but it’s not from the workout.

Part of him wishes it was.

-o-

That afternoon, they have their last briefing with Higgins. They go over the details; they confirm the plan.

When it’s done, Higgins sits back with a nod. “I have a good feeling about this, gentlemen,” he says.

Rick wants to laugh or cry, he’s not sure which.

He’s just glad that someone’s feeling optimistic.

Because he sure as hell isn’t.

-o-

Adele catches him on his way out, pulling him into her office and closing the door. “So, you’re leaving tomorrow?” she asks.

He nods. “Just a week, if it all goes okay,” he says, the mission facts feeling rote on his tongue.

“A week is still pretty long,” Adele hedges, chewing her lip a little.

“It won’t be,” Rick says.

She takes a breath and purses her lips. “Maybe we can spend some time together before you go,” she suggests, sounding hopeful. “Something for the road.”

He squeezes her hand, leaning forward to peck her on the cheek. “It’s an early flight.”

“I don’t mind,” she says.

“I haven’t even packed,” he tells her.

“I’m good at packing,” she says.

He looks at her, willing her to take the hint.

She does after a moment, begrudgingly. Her smile falters and she nods. “Well,” she says. “I’ll call you.”

“Okay,” he says, kissing her again, this time on the mouth.

“And Rick,” she says, as he starts to leave. “If you just need to talk, you know.”

“I’m fine,” he replies.

“Yeah,” she says with a nod.

She doesn’t believe it, not a word.

That probably makes sense. He doesn’t believe it either.

-o-

He doesn’t say much as he finishes up his paperwork. Billy is the first to leave, bidding them all a fond farewell and waving away Michael’s copious reminders that he can’t be late in the morning. Casey departs not long after, with nothing but a cursory grunt and sigh at the prospect of the flight out.

When Michael finally packs up later, he makes a show of it, noisily opening and closing his briefcase before giving Rick a long once over. “You need to get some sleep tonight,” he says.

“Like you are?” Rick replies.

Michael half smiles. “The guys are worried about you.”

Rick glances up at him. “And are you? Worried about me?”

Michael shrugs. “Not really,” he says.

Rick looks back at his desk. “Good,” he says, but his chest feels hollow. “I’m ready for this mission.”

“We all know you’re ready for the mission,” Michael tells him. “But life has to be more than missions.”

“That’s kind of ironic,” Rick says. “Coming from you guys.”

Michael tips his head, not conceding the point but certainly not denying it. “Just means we know what we’re talking about.”

“I’m fine,” Rick retorts, the words thin as he grinds them out.

Michael nods a little, eyes still noticeably trained on Rick. He’s looking at him in that way of his, cold and assessing. Over time, Rick’s gotten used to that -- in many ways, Michael’s the worst bastard of them all -- but this time, it still leaves him on edge.

“You are your mother’s son, you know,” Michael says finally.

Of all the things, that’s not what Rick expects. It hits him like a blow, and he feels his eyes burn as he looked up, all hope of pretenses failing him. “What?”

“You’re like her,” Michael says. “In nearly every possible way.”

Rick lets out a breath of incredulity. “And how would you know?”

“Come on, Martinez,” Michael says. “I knew everything about you the day you joined.”

“But my mother?

“Especially your mother,” Michael says. “When your father died, she had to work odd jobs to make ends meet, but she was always there for each of you and your brothers. Even when your father was alive, she was the one that kept the family on track and together. She’s the one who made all your dinners and made sure everyone had their homework done. She cleaned your scrapes and screened your dates. She was never afraid to smack you on the backside if you needed it, but she never let any of you be embarrassed about kissing her in public.”

Rick knows all this -- he knows all this -- but hearing it said is strangely difficult. It’s the same tribute he’s heard a thousand times since his mother died, but the portrait Michael paints is so plaintively accurate that he hardly knows how to breathe. When the women at church are grieving and his brothers are trying to divide her things, this is the heart of it that they’ve forgotten. Not just that she was a good women, but that she lived a good life. She lived.

Michael clears his throat a little before he continues. “Your father was fun, but he spent too much money and made promises he never kept. Your brothers were like him, but not you. You were always like her. You were her best, even if she’d never admit it.”

He knows this too, and he knows that’s why his brothers resent him as much as they do. Because they’d always be not enough, they’d never compare. Because Rick was the one who lived up to her expectations -- and then exceeded them.

“She was proud of you; attended every graduation you ever had from preschool to college,” Michael says. “And you called her every week, like clockwork. Even when we were on a mission, you made a point to get away and call her even if only for a minute.”

It nearly breaks him now, and Rick lets out a ragged breath. “Not that it did any good,” he says all in a rush. “I wasn’t there for her, not when it counted.”

Michael gives him a quizzical look. “Do you think she believed that?”

Rick shrugs stiffly. “Maybe. Family was important to her.”

“Exactly,” Michael says. “Family was important. Family came first, which is why she wouldn’t have wanted you there when you had other things to do. Important things.”

“She was my mother, though,” Rick says, voice almost breaking. “And she died alone.”

“She put the greater good first, every time. That’s why she worked so hard so you could succeed,” Michael explains.

Rick inhales miserably. “And I put her last.”

Michael shakes his head. “No, you simply recognize the greater good. We all know that you would have wanted nothing more than to be with her, but that would have been the selfish choice,” he says. “You can’t do what you want, not in the life we lead. You have to put others first, even when it means sacrificing the most important thing in your heart.”

Closing his eyes, Rick tries to breathe. He can’t speak; he can barely even think.

“She was proud of you for doing what needed to be done,” he says. “Because it seems like she was the kind of person who understood that heroes aren’t made by the people they save. They’re made by the people they give up. That’s what made your mother great, and that’s what makes you just like her.”

Michael crosses around his desk, briefcase in hand. He stops at Rick’s desk and looks down intently. “Like I said, you are your mother’s son,” he says. “And she was a great woman.”

Rick works his jaw for several moments. When he meets Michael’s gaze, his eyes are wet but he manages to nod. “I know.”

With a perfunctory nod, Michael makes his way to the door. As he opens it, he pauses. “Go home,” he says, not an order but a suggestion. “Get some sleep.”

With that, Michael leaves, and Rick is alone. He looks at his desk then around the office at the three empty chairs.

He sits for another moment, glancing blankly at the papers on his desk. He could look them over again, but he knows them.

He’s ready.

It’s what he’s told people for two weeks, but now he believes it.

Michael’s right, he decides.

It’s time to go home.

-o-

When Rick gets back, he pulls another Tupperware container from the freezer and defrosts more of his mother’s gumbo. While he’s eating, he scrolls through his texts and listens to his messages. Each of his brothers has called him -- multiple times, in fact -- each one sounding increasingly desperate.

Come on, Rick. This can’t wait forever.

We need an answer. The lawyer’s all over my ass.

Call me back, bro. Call me back.

To their credit, they actually sound sincere, as if they’ve finally realized that they might need Rick after all, as if family isn’t something they can pick and choose. It’d be endearing, maybe, if it weren’t so much of a last resort.

Still, there’s a part of Rick that feels responsible, but his brother’s are grown men. They’ve never thought about him a day in his life. There comes a time when you have to weigh your priorities and make your sacrifices. When Rick’s given up so much already, deleting their messages and going to bed doesn’t really seem so hard.

When he sleeps soundly, belly full of gumbo, it doesn’t seem hard at all.

-o-

In the morning, he’s the first one at the airport. When the others show up, they look pleasantly surprised.

“I thought I told you to get some sleep,” Michael says.

“And I thought I told you I was fine,” Rick returns.

“And are you?” Michael asks.

Rick nods a little. “I think I will be.”

With that, Michael settles down next to him, taking out a book while they wait in the terminal. “Works for me.”

-o-

With a mission, it’s easy to forget. It’s not like he doesn’t have something else to do, between saving lives and stopping crime. It doesn’t all go perfectly, which just means there’s all the more to keep him preoccupied.

It’s hard work.

It’s good work.

Rick finds comfort in that.

-o-

Comfort is well and good, but it won’t save your ass, not when it counts. No, when people start shooting and civilians are in the line of fire and the mission hangs by threads, you don’t need comfort.

You just need to be good.

All of Rick’s training. All of Rick’s work and sacrifices over the course of his life. He needs them all to pull this off.

In the end, he’s the last man standing when his team finally arrives as backup. They look at him, wide-eyed and afraid, like they’re worried they might have lost him.

But Rick’s still standing.

It’s the best and worst feeling in the whole damn world.

-o-

In the aftermath, they need to get the hell out of there. As CIA agents, they can’t leave themselves exposed when the authorities show up, including local military support. But as he’s preparing to leave, he half trips in a pool of blood, where a young woman is gasping for air.

“Please,” she says, eyes big as she looks at Rick. “My baby--”

There’s no baby anywhere, though, and for a moment, Rick’s afraid he’ll have to tell her the worst. But then he looks at her and realizes what she’s talking about.

Her baby.

The round belly is nearly full term, and she’s clutching it with bloody fingers.

“Please,” she begs again. “Help my baby.”

-o-

Rick know what he’s supposed to do. The authorities will be here soon to secure the scene and contend with the injured. A public shoot out with civilian casualties is a big deal, and if Rick’s ID’d in all this, it could be the end of his career.

And Rick’s made harder sacrifices. He’s given up more important things. And his team will rip him a new one for risking it all like this.

But this time, Rick knows what he has to do.

This time, Rick stays.

-o-

He ditches his gun, and stays with the girl until help arrives. She’s got a bullet wound in her shoulder and a graze on her leg. By the time the medics arrived, he’s already got her bandaged and ready to go.

Even so, she’s drowsy with shock, and the medics note that the fetal heart rate is in distress. When they ask him if he’s coming, he’s already half in the ambulance, letting the girl squeeze his hand while the door is closed.

He stays with her all the way to the hospital and into the ER. No one seems to notice him while the doctors start to work, rattling off a list of concerns while she’s redlined to the OR for surgery on her shoulder and an emergency c-section.

When she’s gone, a nurse smiles kindly at him. “Your wife, she’ll be okay.”

“I’m sorry?” Rick asks.

“Your wife and your daughter,” the nurse says. “You saved their lives today.”

He’s not expecting that, but he’s not sure what surprises him more: the obvious misconception or the fact that they’ll be okay.

It doesn’t matter, though.

Rick smiles. “That’s good to hear,” he says, a little hoarsely. “That’s really good to hear.”

-o-

He’s on his way out, slipping out through one of the back stairwells. He’s halfway to the exit when something tightens in his chest and his knees start to go weak. He slows down, leaning heavily on the railing. At the closest landing, he stops at the window, leaning his hands against the ledge and dropping his head forward as he tries to breathe.

In and out.

In and out.

He saved a life today. He saved two lives. That matters; that counts.

He’s saved more than that, he knows. The good he’s doing can never be truly calculated; it’s a benefit he’ll never really understand.

But this he understands.

A young mother; a newborn baby.

Rick was there when it counted.

Rick was there.

The pressure builds in his chest until he takes a gasping breath that breaks on a sob. It’s a small crack in his facade, but this time, he doesn’t stop it.

There’s no need to stop it.

He lets out another sob and another until the harsh crying racks his body.

It’s not clear to Rick how long he stays like that, and he feels spent when the tears finally stop. He’s a mess, wiping snot and tears on his blood stained shirt. He’s trembling a little, and his knees still feel weak, but he takes a rallying breath.

In and out.

In and out.

Sniffling, he straightens as best he can. He nods once to himself and gathers his sense.

It’s time to go.

-o-

When he meets up with his team at the motel, they’re not very happy. Casey looks like he wants to punch him, and Billy looks like he might hug him.

“What the hell was that?” Michael asks. “You were supposed to be right behind us.”

Rick shrugs stiffly. “I had something I needed to do.”

“Something that was worth your career?” Casey asks.

“Or your life?” Billy adds emphatically.

Rick nods. “Yeah,” he says. “I think so.”

-o-

They forgive him quickly, because there’s too much to do. They’re already on a flight that night, and the plan is to be back at Langley to debrief by tomorrow. They have to secure the intel and clean all traces of themselves, and they’ve only got five hours to do all of it.

Besides, Rick suspects they already understand.

Because Rick’s not alone, not like it seems sometimes. He doesn’t need three selfish, idiots for brothers, not when he has the ODS.

And there’s one less funeral today thanks to him. That’s the kind of legacy he can leave his mother.

Rick is his mother’s son, after all. And she was an amazing, selfless woman.

Rick will let his life be a testament to that.

Today and always.

-o-

Between the flight and the debrief, it’s nearly 24 hours later before Rick stumbles back to his apartment. He’s exhausted and weary, and he drops his suitcase by the door. He takes out his personal phone to check his messages while he pulls the last of the gumbo out of the freezer and lets it defrost.

His brothers have all called again.

This time, Rick calls them back.

“Yeah,” Rick says when his brother answers. “About the house. It’s yours, if you want it. Have the lawyer draw up the paperwork, but you guys can have it.”

His brother sounds flabbergasted and more than a little happy. He asks if Rick’s sure.

Rick is. Rick’s very sure. Because he’s already gotten the best from his mother, and he knows it. The house -- it’s just a house.

His mother is more than that.

-o-

That night, he eats the last of the gumbo.

Nothing has ever tasted so good.

This time, though, he shuffles through his things until he finds the recipe card.

There is more than one way to make a legacy.

-o-

It’s a week later when Rick manages to get the team at his place. He’s got beer and appetizers, and they put on a baseball game while Rick makes dinner.

“And what culinary feat are we trying tonight?” Billy asks, looking more than a little anxious.

“I just hope you made a lot of it,” Casey grumbles. “I’m starving.”

Michael chuckles. “Normally I don’t accept homemade food,” he says. “But this time I’ll make an exception.”

Rick rolls his eyes, balance three bowls in his hands while he walks over to the couch and hands them out. “It’s gumbo,” he says. “And it’s delicious.”

He watches while they each take a bite, rocking on his heels anxiously. Billy is the first to comment, “That is excellent!”

“A surprisingly satisfying blend of spices,” Casey agrees, somewhat reluctantly.

Even Michael nods. “Not bad, Martinez,” he says. “But I still don’t get the occasion.”

Settling down with his own bowl, Rick shrugs. “No occasion,” he says. “Just wanted to let you guys know I’m grateful you’re here. I’m grateful for a lot of things.”

Billy slaps him warmly on the back. “As are we, lad.”

“This is getting far too sentimental for my tastes,” Casey complains.

“The thank you is unnecessary,” Michael says, but he lifts his bowl of soup just a little. “But it is noted, nonetheless.”

Rick is grinning, and he’s pretty sure he can’t stop. The picture of his mother on the table is turned toward him, and he likes to think she’s watching him now.

In everything -- the good and the bad -- Rick likes to think he’s done right by her. That she knows he loved her. That he’s done enough to make her proud.

Mostly, he likes to think that she’d see it was worth it.

Because Rick sure as hell thinks it is.

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: June 15th, 2015 03:27 pm (UTC)
Touching and moving!

This was a great way for Rick to get the needed "counseling" from men he respects and who have a wealth of life experience. Of course, my prejudice is Billy's comfort. There's something so full of regretful solemnity in his life experience that it just rings so heartbreakingly true. Loved this!



Fave parts:

Billy shakes his head, and doesn’t let him finish. “That only makes it worse,” he says. “When you work with life and death on a regular basis, when you play with life on those broad terms and win, you start to think you can control it.” He takes another drink, shrugging helplessly. “That makes it all the harder when you can’t.”

--so wise! Sigh!

She died a year after that,” he says. “Emaciated on my false promises.”

--The last sentence so achingly full of regret. Wonderful description!


Billy offers him a commiserating smile. “You buried your mother. There’s nothing that’s going to make you feel better about that, not even time,” Billy explains. “But the point of all this is that you don’t have to be alone. Suffering in isolation won’t get you anywhere but down a hole that will swallow the rest of your life. You buried one person, but you can’t let it bury you, and we’re here to help you, in any way we can.”

--so genuine in his concern and trying to uplift Rick's loss.


Edited at 2015-06-15 03:30 pm (UTC)

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