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Chaos fic: Team Player (1/2)

December 6th, 2016 (09:04 pm)

feeling: exanimate

Title: Team Player

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: Beta’ed by sockie1000. Fills my vehicle crash square for hc_bingo.

Summary: Casey’s not a team player. But sometimes, for reasons Casey will never understand, some things are just meant to be. Preseries


For Casey, the entire thing is rather invigorating. Too often, he’s started to find his job mundane and predictable. The missions are redundant. The bad guys are too easy. He’s trained his body too long and hard to pussyfoot about.

So chasing a trained assassin along the top of a moving train through the Italian countryside is actually kind of a nice change of pace.

It’s the first good fight he’s had in months. Possibly years.

He knows the work the ODS does is good and important, and he does acknowledge there’s a certain new scope of missions that are available in the team context, but after two years with the ODS, he’s starting to seriously reconsider his choice. He wants something worthy of his talents.

He wants this.

The man comes at him, surprisingly steady for the high rate of speed and the height they’re at. Casey sees him coming, and he finds his balance without a second thought, getting himself in position while the man brings his gun up.

Casey swats it easily and it goes clattering over the side. He follows up with a quick kick. The man takes the hit and recoils, curling back expertly and coming back to a crouch with a knife in his hands.

Grinning, Casey takes the offensive this time, moving forward to elicit a strike. The man lashes out with the knife but Casey feigns, wrenching the man’s arm and chopping hard until the knife, too, falls harmlessly to the ground. He’s about to lock in a variation on an arm bar when the man writhes, catching Casey with an elbow to the face.

It’s a good hit, and Casey has to loosen his grip. The man pulls away and follows up with another punch across the face.

Casey takes that, too, and tastes blood in his mouth.


He can’t remember the last time someone got a good hit in on him.

It’s like a shot of adrenaline, and Casey springs to life. His wholly focused now, his entire body attuned for total destruction. He attacks in a full-on approach now, kicking and hitting relentlessly.

To the man’s credit, he parries well, and Casey gets tagged by a second knife before he lands a series of blows that send the man reeling, teetering precipitously over the edge. He falters, and Casey senses victory.

Which is why he promptly reaches a hand out to catch him.

The man loses his footing as their hands connect and Casey hits the train hard, digging in his feet as the man dangles precariously over the edge of the still-speeding train.

“Tell me how to disarm the bomb,” Casey says over the roar of the rails. “And maybe I’ll save your life.”

The man sneers. “You think you’ve won.”

Casey smirks. “I’m the one holding you back from being flattened like a pancake,” he reminds him. “So, yes, I’ve won.”

“You have won nothing,” the man says. “Best of luck.”

Casey frowns, about to hoist the man up when he brings one more knife out of his belt, using it to slice at Casey’s hand. The surprise makes him loosen his grip, and there’s nothing he can do as he watches the man tumble to the ground, hitting hard and rolling until his body is caught up in the rails. There’s a spatter of blood, and that’s pretty much that.

Chewing his lip, Casey sighs. He won this fight, but he hates to admit, the man is right. Because capturing the bad guy had been incidental. They know who he works for. They know what his plan is. They just haven’t figured out how to stop the bomb from exploding on the passenger train.

Huffing, Casey regains his footing and makes his way hastily across the cars. He scales back two cars, climbing down the back of the car and entering in the back door.

He’s greeted with a gun, which he scowls at, swatting it away.

Carson makes a terse face. “You get the code?”

“The guy jumped instead of telling me,” Casey admits.

Carson hisses. “That’s it, we’re all toast.”

Casey ignores him, moving closer to where Billy and Michael are hunched over the device. “No luck?”

“If I had more time, maybe,” Michael says.

“I already offered to cut the blue wire,” Billy says with a shrug.

“Despite the fact that you have no idea what the blue wire does,” Michael says in exasperation.

“Well, we’re out of options,” Billy points out. He nods to the timer. “Less than three minutes.”

Michael chews his lip and looks at Casey. “You didn’t get any hints.”

“I’m pretty sure that he wanted us to die,” Casey says. “And he was willing to die to make sure that happened.”

“Perfect,” Carson says. “You know, some of us would like to live to see a comfortable retirement.”

“Well, next time you can chase the assassin onto the roof,” Casey snaps.

“You know, maybe I will,” Carson says. “You probably killed him before you even asked.

“Hey,” Casey says, straightening and getting in Carson’s face. “Do you really want to go after me about self-control? You? Of all people?”

Carson doesn’t back down. “You want to go into this now?”

Casey cracks his knuckles and rolls his neck. “We’ve got two minutes,” he taunts. “It’ll only take me one.”

“And you’ll both die for your stupidity,” Billy says, pushing between them. “Look, we need to accept the fact that we can’t stop this bomb from going off and go to plan B.”

Casey grits his teeth together, giving Carson a withering glare.

Michael stands up beside Billy, looking at Carson and Casey in turn. “I’ve looked at the amount of explosives. It’s a big bomb, and it’ll knock out two cars easy.”

“Derailment is inevitable,” Billy agrees. “But we’ve managed to clear three cars in either direction.”

“Which should really limit the casualties,” Michael says.

“So you’re saying we should settle for less?” Casey says dubiously.

“I’m saying we should stay alive,” Michael says.

“If we die, our intelligence dies with us,” Billy reminds them. “This way, we salvage what we can and minimize losses.”

“Hey, I’m all for living,” Carson says. “Which way should we go?”

“Forward,” Casey says, nodding ahead. “Now.

Carson inclines his head smugly. “After you.”


They make it to the next car and are crossing into the second when Billy stops.

“Collins, what the hell are you doing?” Michael yells from the door.

Billy cocks his head. “Did you hear that?”

“You mean the sound of our impending demise?” Carson says from the door. “Yeah.”

Casey frowns, but then -- he hears it, too. A soft, muffled sound. Like crying. “Someone’s here,” he says.

Billy’s already moving, back toward the seats at the back of the car.

Michael curses, rushing back. He shoves Casey toward the door. “Go,” he says, eyes catching Casey’s just briefly. “Just go.”


“We’ll be right behind you,” Michael tells him. “That’s an order.”

Casey doesn’t like orders, but he also doesn’t like the idea of incurring unnecessary physical impairment. He’s at the door, crossing to the next car where Carson meets him with wide eyes. “They coming?”

“Yeah,” Casey says, pausing to look back. “They’re coming.”

Through the windows, Casey sees Billy pulling a child from the seats. He’s following Michael, who is sprinting toward the door. Instinctively, Casey moves back, opening the door to speed their passage--

When the explosion rocks the train.


The force of the explosion is deafening and disorienting, and Casey does his best to brace himself but it’s pretty much a lost cause. He’s airborne, and he forces himself to go limp as he hits hard on the ground before he’s tossed again. He’s not sure how many times he rolls, but when it all stops, his head is still spinning.

He’s conscious, but only by a matter of degrees. He’s aware only of his own breathing and the sound of his heart for several moments, before he blinks his eyes and starts to understand the scope of what has happened.

The explosive went off. The force probably decimated the car it was in, and threw the entire train off the tracks. Only three cars removed, Casey was close enough to the epicenter to incur a significant portion of the blast. That explains the ringing in his ears, and the derailment is probably to blame for the pains that radiating from his back, legs and neck.

As consciousness solidifies, he takes full stock of himself and assesses his injuries with a keen mental acuity. There’s a bleeding wound to the head, but given his general coherency, he thinks it’s safe to assume that it’s not a concussion. Something is gouged into his back, but it feels nonvital and relatively superficial, even if painful. His right knee is swollen -- probably sprained -- and he thinks he may have broken several fingers in his left hand.

There are other smaller bruises and contusions, but all in all, he’s not too much worse for wear.

Blinking, he sits up and looks around.

He’s doing okay, but the same can’t be said of their carriage. The entire thing is on its side, and there is luggage and debris everywhere. The roof seems to have been sheared away and there’s a gaping hole where it should connect to the previous car.

The car where he’d last seen Michael, Billy and the kid.

On his feet, he makes his way carefully over the mess, moving toward the back to look out. His knee protests and his stomach churns with nausea, but when he gets to the back, that’s when everything just stops.

Because the car is gone.

And it’s taken Billy and Michael with it.


He’s still staring blankly at the smoking debris field when there’s a groan behind him. He turns in time to see Carson sitting up. He looks pale, and a cut above his eye has spilled blood all down the front of his face. He’s cradling one of his arms close, and he grimaces when he tries to move.

It takes him a minute, but he looks at Casey. “Why am I not surprised to see you up and about already?”

Casey bites back a sarcastic reply and instead crosses the distance back to Carson. “We didn’t catch too much of the blast,” he says. “There may be more casualties up ahead just because of the number of people in each carriage.”

Carson hisses, trying to work his way to his feet. He’s shaky, and Casey hesitates, offering a steadying hand. Carson eyes him warily, but eventually accepts it until he’s standing on his own. “What about Michael and the kid?”

Casey feels the blood drain out of his face. “They didn’t make it out of the last car.”

Carson’s eyes widen. Limping, he pushes past Casey. “So where the hell are they?”

Casey follows. “That’s not really the right question,” he says.

Carson gets to the back and ducks out.

“The force must have disconnected the cars,” he explains. “We were derailed with the rest of the train, and the momentum from the engines kept us moving before we lost all traction. The portions of the train where the blast was concentrated, though--”

“Were blown to hell,” Carson concludes grimly.

“Judging by the smoke, I’d say it’s over there,” Casey says, pointing to a spot farther back on the tracks. It’s hard to make out much, but there’s a mangled mess of what seems to be several cars smashed together.

Carson looks like he may be sick. He pulls back inside, shaking his head. “They can’t be dead,” he says. “They can’t be.”

“Well, we have to get them out soon then,” Casey says. “With that smoke--”

“You said there might be other casualties, though?” Carson asks.

“You want to go back and check?” Casey asks doubtfully.

“I don’t want to be here at all,” Carson snaps. “But we have a mission to serve and protect--”

“And two of our own are back there, possibly dying,” Casey reminds him.

“Or they could already be dead!” Carson hisses.

“We leave no man behind,” Casey insists.

“That’s funny, coming from you,” Carson says back.

Casey squares his shoulders. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Most of the time, you act like you don’t even want to be on this team,” Carson replies. “You’re always looking for ways to leave us behind. Well, here’s your chance. Ditch us all with one blow.”

“You’re the one who wants to go help others while our teammates could be in need of assistance,” Casey seethes now, staring Carson down with unrelenting frustration.

“I just think it’s interesting,” Carson says. “Where was your concern when you were throwing the one guy who could stop this off the top of the train.”

Enraged, Casey lunged, grabbing a fistful of Carson’s shirt and slamming him against the side of the train. Carson flails, but Casey doesn’t let go. “You weren’t there.”

“I don’t have to be,” Carson spits back. “You’ve always looked at this team as something you can leverage for your own gain. It’s always been about you.

“And you’re one to talk?” Casey asks. “You’re always looking for the easy out, and when Michael and Billy didn’t come through those doors, you were still running forward.”

Carson thrashes, knocking Casey’s hands away. “You want to say something?”

“Yeah,” Casey says. “You’re as much of a selfish bastard as I am, Simms. I just don’t insult the people around me by trying to hide it.”

Carson’s face darkens, and his eyes go hard. Casey’s so transfixed that he doesn’t see the punch coming until it hits him across the face.

His anger spikes, and he lets the rest of his self control mechanisms go. If Carson wants a fight--

Then Casey will give him a fight.


Casey’s fought the most skilled fighters in the world. While Carson Simms is a passable spy most of the time, he’s not really one for discipline, so it doesn’t take much for Casey to get the advantage.

Carson’s not about to give in, though, which is the only thing that keeps the fight from being a one-sided onslaught. Carson gets a few good punches in, and one kick nearly takes out his knee.

Fresh anger surging, Casey doesn’t hold back and launches a full on offensive that quickly bloodies Carson’s nose and sends him hard to the ground. He has Carson straddled, and he blocks one last futile punch before holding both of Carson’s wrists above his head -- with one hand.

He smirks. “Anything you want to say now?”

Carson’s face twists in rage. “You son of a bitch,” he says, writhing uselessly under Casey’s weight.

“At least we know what I bring to the team,” Casey says. “You are just a washed up, burnt out reject that Michael feels some inexplicable loyalty to.”

Carson spits, bucking to no one available. “And you wonder why I don’t trust you as part of the team?” he says. “You’re a loose cannon, Malick. And if we let you, you’re going to kill us all.”

“This isn’t my fault!” Casey all but yells.

“Yeah, but you certainly didn’t help it!”

“Oh, and you did?” Casey asks.

Carson’s about to reply when another explosion silences them. It’s more distant, and though their carriage rattles, there’s no more damage.

To them.

But Casey has a pretty good idea where the blast came from.

He lets Carson go and he’s on his feet, limping toward the back again. This time, Carson’s no more than a step behind and he quickly overtakes Casey as they both stop at the door.

Where there was smoke earlier, there’s flames.

“Damn it,” Carson says. “If Michael and Billy are still in there--”

Casey nods hollowly. “Then we better move.”


Casey’s not one to admit weakness, but his knee is slowing him down more than he wants to admit. The impact jarred it badly, and Carson, being the son of a bitch that he is, took more than a few cheap shots at it during their fight. Now, it feels hot and swollen, and he has to limp along, just barely keeping pace with Carson.

As they approach, the wreckage becomes more defined. There is debris strewn everywhere, and the three cars centralized in the attack have been overturned and scrunched together. One seems to be just gone, with two others sandwiching the flattened remains.

It’s hard to tell for sure, but Casey is guessing that the decimated car was the one with the bomb, leaving the other two as the surrounding carriages. It’s a logical guess based on the physics of the blast -- but it’s also a hope. Because if Billy and Michael were in that carriage--

Well, then this isn’t a rescue operation at all.

But Casey’s not ready to admit defeat on that front just yet. As a matter of principle, he doesn’t fail. And he meant what he said to Simms -- they’re not leaving a man behind.

It’s actually a little surprising to him. He’s worked in the field with people before, and while he can deal with a certain amount of loyalty, he’s never actually considered himself a team player at heart. He appreciates what a team can bring to the mission, but he’s always thought it to be a pragmatic choice, not a personal one.

This much time with the ODS, though, and maybe things are starting to change. He’s not sure that’s for the better, but at the moment, he really can’t dwell on that. Not when Billy and Michael may still be alive.

At this point, Casey’s leg is killing him and he’s on the verge of collapsing. He drags himself the rest of the distance to the closest intact carriage while Carson wordlessly peels off and heads toward the one on the far side. They don’t like each other, but they do know each other -- better than either of them want to admit. Maybe that’s the problem between them -- they’re too damn much alike.

It’s not the time for contemplation, though, and Casey braces himself on some of the larger pieces of debris, having to use his upper body strength to drag himself upward. The carriage is upside down, with huge sections of the body caved in. When he gets close enough, it’s hard to see through the dim interior, and he has to steady himself as the debris he’s standing on shifts.

Upside down as the carriage is, the door is basically a lost cause in Casey’s current condition. Instead, he hops down, limping around the side for another possible opening. Most of the windows have been blown out, but they’re too high for Casey to navigate with a bum knee. Other blown out portions are too strewn with sharp parts to consider viable.

“You need a lift?” Carson asks.

Casey turns, a bit startled.

Carson shakes his head. “They’re not in the other car,” he says.

“You sure?” Casey asks. “What if they’ve been knocked unconscious or are buried in the debris?”

“I checked the number on the outside,” Carson says. He taps his head. “I remember everything, and I see a hell of a lot more than you give me credit for.”

Casey doesn’t have a comeback for that. He looks up to the windows. “That’s our best entry point.”

“That’s why I asked if you needed a lift,” Carson says.

“What about you?”

Carson sighs. “Look, you’ve got the upper body strength to pull yourself up and dig through any debris in there. You’d be up there already except your knee is toast right now. I have the knees but not the upper body strength,” he explains. “Hoisting you up is the only smart choice.”

It makes sense. It makes a lot of sense. It makes more sense than Casey wants to give Simms credit for.

Carson smirks. “I’m surprising you, aren’t I?” He remarks. “You really do think I’m just an over-the-hill operative freeloading off Michael’s loyalty, don’t you?”

Casey presses his lips together. “As much as you think I’m a heartless bastard who would kill my own mother to get ahead.”

“Touche,” Carson says.

Casey sighs, glancing back up at the carriage. “Now,” he says. “About that lift...”


It’s awkward and more than a little painful as Carson gives him a literal leg up. Casey almost falls several times before he manages to grab a hold of the window. Broken glass cuts his fingers, but he grits his teeth and ignores it, pulling himself up with all the upper body strength he has left after everything that’s happened so far.

It shouldn’t be as hard as it is, but Casey’s been in two fights and an explosion, so he figures it’s acceptable for him to be winded. He doesn’t bother getting to his feet when he finally pulls himself inside, opting instead to keep as much pressure off his knee as he can.

Besides, the entire structure is precarious at best. The metal groans under his weight, and as he crawls forward, he can feel it shifting beneath his touch. Worse still, the air is starting to thicken a little, the smoke from the nearby fire starting to show.

Given the situation, Casey knows that groping blindly is not his best choice. Instead, he stops, squinting through the dimness to get a better sense of what he’s looking at.

The interior is a mess. In fact, it’s hardly recognizable as a train carriage at all. Seats have been blown clean through, and luggage has been ripped open and scattered everywhere. With all this, it takes several moments for Casey to orient himself, which is when he realizes he’s staring straight at Billy.

The Scotsman is no more than five feet away, positioned against one of the walls. The carriage is upside down, which actually works in their favor for the time being. With all of the seats above them, Casey only has to navigate the debris to make it to Billy’s side.

Still, he moves carefully, mindful of his knee and the other dangers lurking. The carriage shifts again as Casey approaches, and to his relief, Billy groans, his eyes fluttering open as Casey gets to his side.

With effort, Billy swallows, taking a wincing breath. He’s clearly banged up, with cuts and bruises all over his face. The back of his head seems to be matted with blood and from the way he’s lying, it seems likely that they’re looking at other injuries as well. His face screws up, but when his eyes settle on Casey, he still manages to smile. “Fancy meeting you here,” he says breathlessly, the words strained and lackluster.

Casey refuses to acknowledge the fear that turns his stomach. “Can you move?” he asks instead.

Billy presses his lips together and makes a small sound. “Reckon we’ll find out,” he says haltingly. “But first things first--”

That’s when Casey noticed that Billy’s still got his arms wrapped around the child. The little boy is no more than five or six, and his eyes are wide and terrified as he curls closer to Billy.

“He’s been tossed around, but he’s more scared than anything,” Billy reports before looking back at the boy with a smile. “What do you say? Ready to leave?”

The boy looks at Billy and hesitates.

“Casey’s a friend of mine,” Billy says reassuringly. “He’ll take good care of you.”

The boy looks at Casey again uncertainly, and Casey realizes he’s probably not a very inviting figure right now. Consciously, he tries to stop scowling.

“See,” Billy says. “He only looks terrifying and mean. Deep down, he’s nothing but a softie.”

The boy looks dubious, and Casey wonders if the kid even speaks a word of English.

Casey rolls his eyes. “Come on,” he says. “We’ll never find your parents unless we get out of here.”

The boy seems to accept that, but he gives Billy one last lingering look. “Go on,” Billy says, smiling again. “I’ll be right behind you.”

At that, the boy starts to move, slipping out of Billy’s arms and stepping gingerly toward Casey. Casey braces him while they navigate over Billy, and it’s not hard to miss the way Billy’s face pinches with every small movement. The boy is fortunately able to walk, so he lets Casey guide him back to the window.

“Okay, kid,” Casey says. “I’m going to lift you up and you’re going to go through the window.”

The little boy stares at him.

“Someone will catch you on the other side.”

Brow furrowed, the boy looks scared.

“He’s nicer than I am,” Casey says finally. “You’ll like him. Trust me.”

It’s pretty clear the kid is more than a little uncertain about everything, but they’re also in a crashed train, so Casey figures he doesn’t have to make too compelling of a case to get the kid out. This time, Casey lifts the boy and he readily follows, reaching his hands up. “Careful,” Casey coaxes. “That’s it.”

He gives the kid a strong boost and then he’s up and on top.

“Carson!” Casey yells. “Incoming!”

“What the--” Carson’s voice is distant and cuts off. “Oh, hey, kiddo. You ready to get down from there?”

Casey watches as the boy disappears from view, presumably into Carson’s safe keeping. He waits a moment, then calls, “You got him?”

“Yeah, I’ve got him,” Carson replies. “Tough kid. What about the others?”

“Still working on it,” Casey calls back, turning back toward the rest of the carriage. His eyes settle back on Billy, and he starts back toward him with renewed determination. “One down -- two to go.”


He makes it back to Billy faster this time, moving close enough to start a more thorough assessment. The Scotsman looks like hell, but he also seems lucid, and he shakes his head when Casey starts to prod him. “Michael,” he says, pausing as his breath hitches. “You need to get to Michael.”

Casey frowns, eyeing Billy critically. It’s clear now that Billy’s sustained significant injuries -- it also seems like that he’s not getting out of here on his own steam or he would have moved by now. His body isn’t buried or obscured, but he seems to be making no effort to move his limbs. For a second, Casey worries about spinal injuries, but then concludes that internal bleeding is just as likely of a problem considering how badly tossed the carriage was.

Ultimately, though, the details are not important. Getting Billy out, however, is.

Billy takes a railing breath, eyes watering. “Please,” he says, voice breaking. He swallows with obvious effort. “He hasn’t woken up.”

“He’s around here?” Casey asks, starting to turn.

Billy nods. “Over there,” he says weakly. “Behind that suitcase...”

It takes a moment, but Casey makes out the large piece of luggage, splayed open a few feet away. The contents are strewn about, but under one of the flaps he sees a hand.

A bloody hand.

On his hands and knees, Casey moves forward, ignoring the glass as it cuts through his pants. He yanks the suitcase, pushing it out of the way, picking through a few piece of errant, singed clothing until he finds Michael.

Michael is laid on his side, limbs tangled and lax. There’s enough blood to have trouble locating the source, but when Casey looks closer, he can tell that most of the cuts are relatively superficial. There’s a shard of glass sticking out of one of his arms, but it doesn’t seem to be near anything vital.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is the head wound. Head wounds bleed notoriously, but the entire side of Michael’s face is swollen and distorted. His scalp has been severely lacerated and his nose looks to be almost shattered.

All things considered, he’s in pretty bad shape.

From behind him, Billy croaks. “Is he...?”

Casey reaches out two tentative fingers, touching the pulse point at Michael’s neck. Casey swallows. “Alive,” he says. “But he’s got a nasty head wound.”

Billy coughs, breaking off with a whine. “Best get moving, then,” he says.

Casey turns back and looks at Billy again. The Scotsman is by no means in a good position, but he is awake and conscious.

He looks at Michael again.

“Okay,” he says, reaching down toward the recumbent man. Because it’s not an easy decision, but nothing in their line of work is. “Time to go.”


Even though Michael is bigger than he is, carrying him normally wouldn’t be a problem. Casey’s got the strength, but with his injured knee, moving is easier said than done. Worse, the conditions are not exactly ideal, and the smoke is starting to be thick enough to burn his eyes as he drags Michael back through the debris.

At the window, he’s exhausted, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. Everything is starting to hurt, and he’s having trouble catching his breath. He lets Michael lay on the floor for a minute, pounding on the wall. “Simms!”

There’s a pound in return. “Casey, you got ‘em?”

“Michael’s unconscious, so he’s not going to be much help getting out.”

“Okay,” Carson replies. And there’s a pause. “Okay, just give me a second.”

“We don’t have a second!” Casey snaps, looking down the length of the carriage again. The smoke has limited visibility, and when he glances back, he can still see Billy’s blue eyes stand out in the haze. “Damn it, Simms!”

There’s a scuffle outside, and then a few bangs. Casey looks up to see Carson standing at the window, grinning. “Sounded like you could use a hand.”

Casey feels inexplicably put out. “How did you manage that?”

“Pulled a piece of debris over,” he says. “I know it’s not the most impressive solution, but sometimes this team needs a touch of common sense, and I’m always up for that.”

“The kid?” Casey asks.

“Handed him off to one of the bystanders,” Carson asks. “There’s more help coming, if you want to wait.”

Casey looks back down to the smoke and where Billy is still splayed. He shakes his head. “No time.”

“Then, no more talking,” Carson says.

Casey doesn’t need any further prodding. Bending over, he pulls Michael up under the armpits. Carefully, he gets to his feet, slowly putting pressure on his injured knee. It hurts, but Casey grinds his teeth together, and works through it, pushing Michael higher.

It’s not far enough, though. Simms is hanging almost precariously through the window, but Casey’s just not tall enough.

“Almost,” Carson says. “Come on, Malick.”

“This is as high as I go,” Casey grits out.

“Just a few more inches,” Simms cajoles.

“You go down a few inches,” Casey snaps.

“I thought you were the human weapon,” Carson chides. “Unless all that talk is for show.”

Casey’s anger spikes, and he growls inarticulately, channeling his rage into pure energy as he almost jumps, hoisting Michael higher until Simms nabs him and starts to pull.

“There we go,” Carson says. “Just a little bit...”

The weight lessens.

“Got him!” Carson says.

Exhausted, Casey half collapses to the ground, his knees giving out and depositing him heavily on his bottom. The exertion has left him trembling, and it’s hard to tell if the burning in his eyes is just from the smoke anymore.

After a moment, Carson appears again. “Got it,” he says with a grin. His smile wavers. “You think you’re up to get Billy? Or you want to wait for backup.”

Casey wants to sleep, right here, right now.

But that’s not how this works.

And that’s certainly not Casey’s style. He wanted a challenge. He’s never faced a challenge like this. Injured teammates and time is running out. He shakes his head. “Once this thing catches, we’re out of time.”

Carson points back. “They say help’s just down the road. We’re pretty far out, but I’ll bet the wreck will be on CNN before we get out of here.”

Casey shakes his head, setting his jaw. “This is our team,” he says woodenly. “We’ll get them out.” He looks up at Carson. “Just stay there.”

Carson inclines his head. “Whatever you need, buddy.”

It’s surprisingly reassuring.

With all the strength he can muster, he gets back to his hands and knees. “Two down,” he mutters under his breath as he moves toward Billy. “And just one to go.”


It’s not far to Billy, but Casey feels like he’s just completed an intense workout by the time he drags himself across the distance. His hands are almost numb, and he’s surprised to find them slippery with blood from superficial glass wounds. There’s not really any time to worry about that, though -- not with the growing smoke and Billy’s weak smile.

“The hero returns,” Billy croons, but his voice is almost a whisper and the smile doesn’t reach his eyes.

The entire situation is getting out of control. Feeling tired and overwrought, Casey glares at the younger operative. “If you’re going to talk like that, I’ll just leave you here.”

Billy feigns hurt, but he mostly just looks tired as his eyes droop. “Not buying it,” he murmurs. He blinks several times as if trying to orient himself. “You’re part of this team, Casey Malick. And you know it.”

There’s too much sentimentality involved with it, and if this were Carson, he might haul off and take a swing. But this isn’t Carson -- this is Billy -- and he’s been tossed around a train car like a pinball, so hitting him seems reckless and cruel.

Still, that doesn’t mean he’s about to justify any of this with a response. Instead, he starts assessing the younger man in earnest. “Do you think you can move?”

Billy’s smile fades with a grimace. “Not on my own, I’m afraid.”

The admission is telling. Billy usually avoids such truths. There are implications to the truth that Casey finds suddenly uneasy. He reaches out, probing the wound on Billy’s head. “Where else are you hurt?”

Billy winces, pulling away. “Reckon I lost count,” he says with a taut breath. It catches and he coughs, face screwing up in abject misery before he shakes his head. “But staying here to suss it out isn’t really a viable plan.”

The kid’s right about that, too. The smoke is thicker still, and the smell is acrid in his nostrils. Casey can already feel the start of smoke inhalation, and Billy’s probably suffering more than he is. Under normal circumstances, it is unadvisable to move injured parties, but there’s nothing normal about this. And if he doesn’t move Billy, the kid is probably going to die.

Suddenly, it’s his greatest challenge yet. It’s more pressing than an assassin on top of a moving train. It’s Casey, trying to save his team, trying to keep them together even as all the forces of the world seem to be caving in. Casey’s body is threatening to fail him; the fire is encroaching.

It’s up to him.

The surge of adrenaline is almost unexpected, though it probably shouldn’t be. Invigorated by the realization of the task at hand, Casey gets into a squatting position. He throws a few pieces of debris clear of Billy’s body and then rotates the Scotsman until his back is to Casey’s chest.

Billy cuts off a cry, but Casey can feel him stiffen when he wraps an arm around the kids chest. Under his touch, Billy’s heart is beating wildly, his breathing stunted and inhibited. There’s a whole host of thoracic injuries to consider, each more concerning than the last, but that’s not the priority now.

The priority now is getting out.


He barely feels the pain in his knee as he starts back. He moves quickly but carefully, mindful of each agonized breath Billy takes. When he gets to the window, Carson is already there, face stark against the blue sky outside. “Damn, kid,” he murmurs as Casey starts to lift Billy up.

As they shift, this time Billy can’t stop the cry. He sobs, almost choking on his breath as Casey gets on his toes and makes the hand off.

Carson catches Billy neatly, and with a few braced movements, he drags the kid clear of the window and they disappear.

That’s it.

Casey’s done it.

His team is safe.

It’s a heady feeling; a full sense of accomplishment.

And suddenly, he realizes how spent he is. The adrenaline leaves as fast as it came, draining out of him. His knees gives way and he stumbles, going to all fours as he takes a ragged breath, only to choke on the smoke. He coughs, blinking his eyes rapidly. But everything is blurred and dimming. Casey’s losing his focus -- he’s losing...


Casey startles, looking up.

Carson is there, face smudged and serious. He holds his hand out. “You coming?”

Casey doesn’t understand.

“We’re a team,” Carson says. “We leave together.”

Casey stares at him, the words falling woodenly over his dimmed consciousness.

“Now get up,” Carson says tersely. He swallows, and Casey recognizes a trace of fear. “Or I’ll climb down there and drag you out myself.”

That makes sense, cutting through the fog in his mind. It’s a challenge -- Carson knows him well. But it’s more than that. It’s a promise. It’s a pledge.

It’s teamwork.

Rallying his strength, Casey pushes himself back to his feet. He grinds his teeth together, climbing up until he’s at the window and takes a hold of Carson’s outstretched hand. “Not on your life.”

Carson grins, fingers locking tight as he hauls Casey up and out of the window into the daylight. “That’s what I was counting on.”


On the outside, Casey finds the light blinding. He takes a gulping breath and can’t get it down. He gags, his consciousness fleeting as his head goes light. He wavers, but doesn’t fall, and when he opens his eyes, he’s flat on his ass with Carson looking intently in his face.

“You okay?” Simms asks.

Casey squints and growls. “No,” he says. “But if you don’t let go of my arm, I will still kick your ass.”

Carson smirks. “Nice to see you, too.”

Casey doesn’t reply but instead drags himself to his feet. He wobbles, but Simms wisely doesn’t steady him this time. Casey manages another breath and then asks, “Michael and Billy?”

Carson’s face is pinched. “Michael’s still out cold, but he’s breathing all right,” he says, jerking his head away. “Didn’t get a good chance to look at Billy yet.”

Casey follows Carson’s nod and sees Michael laid out not too far away, Billy on the ground next to him, propped up on a piece of debris. In the distance, he can see emergency personnel descending and fire crews are clearly headed their way.

Hobbling, Casey starts to move, and Carson doesn’t need an invitation to follow. When he gets there, he falls gracelessly to the ground, eyes passing over Michael’s still form and noting the rise and fall of his chest. Then, he looks at Billy.

Billy meets his eyes, but only just. A smile almost passes over his face, but the kid’s face is taut with pain. His face is paler now, and in the sunlight, Casey notices a dusky shade that he didn’t see before. “Hey,” he says, inching closer. “You okay?”

Billy has no reassuring quip this time. Instead, he takes a laborious breath, and Casey sees that he’s trembling -- a lot.

“Billy,” he says, his concern deepening now. “Talk to me, Collins.”

But Billy can’t talk. He inhales again, but it seems harder than before, and his eyes are dim.

“Collins,” Casey barks, reaching up and grabbing Billy’s face. The blood on his hands smears with the blood on the kid’s chin, but Billy’s gaze is a little vacant. “Damn it.”

Carson is kneeling next to him. “What’s the matter with him?”

Casey doesn’t reply, but moves quickly, shifting Billy away from the debris and lying him flat on the ground. Spread out this way, it’s clear to see the uneven rise and fall of Billy’s chest. Something’s not right.

Frowning, Casey takes Billy’s shirt by the collar and rips down, popping the buttons and tearing the undershirt while he goes. Behind him, Carson sucks in a sharp breath.

Casey can’t blame him. Billy’s chest is a mess. It’s mottled with bruises, and there is visible distention in certain places. Gently, Casey runs his fingers along Billy’s ribcage, noting the successive breaks. He lets his hands rest for a moment, feeling the sides of Billy’s chest filling unequally.

He swears.

“What?” Simms asks, the worry evident in his voice now.

“His entire rib cage has basically been shattered,” Casey says grimly.

“What does that even mean?” Carson asks. “I mean, he’s breathing, right?”

“For now,” Casey says. “The kid’s chest cavity has been crushed. He can’t keep breathing like this for long.”

Carson doesn’t have a reply to that, and for a horrible moment, the only sound is Billy’s grating breaths.

The fire trucks have passed them now, tending the growing fire, which has consumed the last carriage. The rest of the emergency personnel are still situated in the distance. They seem to have been overlooked.

Normally, that would be exactly the way they want it. Slipping under the radar is preferable.

Not this time, though.

Not for his team.

Determination clenches in Casey’s chest. He looks at Billy, mouth open as he struggles and fails to draw breath. He looks at Michael, unconscious and unaware. He looks at Carson.

Carson’s eyes are bright. He nods.

And Casey’s on his feet and running.


As he approaches, it’s clear to see that a makeshift triage station has been established. Emergency responders have sectioned off the area, and people are seated in small groups, huddling together while watching the smoking remnants of the rest of the train. It’s actually not as chaotic as one might expect, probably because that despite the impressive wreckage, there are minimal fatalities.

Still, crews are securing other parts of the train. People are crying. Someone is yelling.

Casey ignores them all.

He narrows his eyes, and zeroes in on the only thing that matters. A medic.

There are lots of medics doing lots of medical things, so he sets his sights on a young woman who is climbing out of the back of an ambulance. She turns, pack in hand.

“You’re coming with me,” Casey orders.

She looks a little surprised. But then she smiles and responds frustratingly in Italian. He could probably translate some of it -- he knows the basics of the language -- but he doesn’t have the time or energy.

Plus, it’s not necessary. “No,” he says. “You’re coming with me.”

She shakes her head, giving him a vaguely sympathetic look. She starts to speak again.

Casey shakes his head and lets his eyes burn into her. “We are going this way,” he says, lifting a bleeding hand and pointing to where the fire trucks are still working. “Now.

The girl’s partner comes around, also carrying his gear. Mercifully, he speaks English. “Signor, please, if you can take a seat we will be with you in a moment--”

He’s being polite, and really, they’re just doing their job. Under these kind of conditions, a certain calm and order are necessary.

However, Casey can’t afford to be calm and orderly. Because Michael isn’t waking up and Billy’s chest has been more or less crushed, and if someone doesn’t come with him, Casey’s going to start hurting people until they listen, consequences be damned.

This is why Casey came and left Carson with their teammates. Because Carson’s diplomatic; his results take time.

Casey, on the other hand, does not tolerate debate. He insists upon results.

“I have two friends over there who are dying,” he says, his voice dangerously low and his heart rate accelerating. He’s sweating now, his cheeks flush as he stares the medics down. His body is so tense, he feels like it might snap in half. It’s not rational, but Casey is way past that point. He’s past every point, it’s instinct, pure and simple, and he will achieve the results he wants. “And you will come there right now or I will break your legs and wrap your stethoscope around your neck and drag you against your will. Do you understand?”

His voice teeters on hysterical rage, and he’s aware that people are starting to stare. But the girl looks over his shoulder, squinting. She mutters a curse in Italian. The man follows her gaze and his face pales. “Come on, then,” he says.

Casey is already running.


His pace feels relentless, but halfway there, the girl overtakes him. She’s already on her hands and knees next to Michael when Casey stumbles to a stop, resting his hands on his knees while he struggles to catch his breath.

It’s an effort, and his vision dims a little around the edges as the man sets up next to Billy. “I’m not sure if he’s breathing,” Carson says. “But with his chest injury...”

The man’s face turns stoic. He glances at his partner and asks something in Italian. She looks up, shaking her head.

Chewing his lip, he picks up his radio and calls something out before opening his pack. He’s pressing electrodes gently on Billy’s chest when Carson asks, “How is he? What’s going on?”

“He is very critical,” the medic says frankly, starting up a portable heart monitor. He proceeds to pull out oxygen, putting a mask over Billy’s bloodied face.

The girl says something else, starting an IV in the crook of Michael’s arm.

“And him?” Carson asks.

The man glances toward Michael. “His head wound is serious,” he reports.

“Come on, man,” Carson says, sounding desperate as Billy’s heart rate fluctuates badly. “You’ve got to give me more than that.”

“Would you rather have me explain their conditions in detail or would you rather me save their lives, eh?” the man replies shortly. “We all have jobs to do here. Please, for the sake of your friends, let me do mine.”

He has a point, which is the hard part. Carson and Casey have done everything they can -- they’ve done everything they need to do -- and now they have to stand back and wait.

This is the lesson of teamwork, the thing that has frustrated Casey from the beginning. He’s used to doing it all on his own, having no boss, no one to hold him accountable for the details. Going solo is total freedom; working with a team creates limits and frustrations.

But it also provides failsafes, because Casey doesn’t want to admit it, but he couldn’t have done this on his own. He never would have saved the people on the train and gotten a good look at the assassin without his team backing him up. And he never would have gotten Billy and Michael out alive on his own.

He needs these medics.

He needs Carson.

He needs Michael and Billy.

And it’s not just all purely pragmatic. He cares about his team. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t still be here.

It’s one hell of a realization. An entirely poorly timed. Because Michael’s unresponsive to deep pain stimuli, and Billy’s vitals are tanking, and what is Casey supposed to do with that?

The answer is simple.



He stands idle, cast aside and useless while another pair of medics come up, bringing backboards with them. He does nothing while Billy and Michael are strapped down with their necks stabilized. He does nothing while Carson begs for information, nothing as his teammates are wheeled away.

He does nothing.

Next to him, Carson looks devastated. He runs a nervous hand over his mouth. “They’ll be okay, right?” he asks. “They have to be okay.”

Casey doesn’t know. He doesn’t have the energy to speculate. And he certainly doesn’t have it in him to lie.

He sighs. “We should get out of here,” he says.

Carson looks at him, incredulous.

“Paramedics I can deal with,” he says. “But I’d prefer to avoid getting caught up by the cops.”

Carson makes a face. “Michael and Billy could be dying.

“I know,” Casey says. “Which is why we need to call Langley and update them. They’ve got cover identifications that’ll get them through the door, but there are going to be questions.”

Carson is practically gaping.

“Besides,” Casey says, a little softer now. “We can’t help them standing out here.”

Because the mission is over. All of Casey’s fight is gone.

Carson looks ready to argue, but when he sees Casey’s defenseless posture, he slackens, almost bowed by apparent grief. He lets out a breath, and shakes his head. “How did we end up here anyway?”

“Damned if I know,” Casey remarks. “But I suppose the best choice is to go forward.”

Carson’s lips twist into a grimacing smile.

Casey hesitates, then holds up his hand. Carson looks at it, skeptical. “I could use a hand,” Casey says sourly. Then he shrugs. “If you’re up for it.”

Carson retains his skepticism a moment longer. But then, he offers his hand out and pulls Casey fully upright and closer to him. He supports Casey on that first step, bracing him as Casey’s knee threatens to give. He’s aware now, just how worn out he is. He could walk out of there on his own steam, but he realizes that he doesn’t actually want to.

Leaning into Carson, they limp back together.


The place is swarming with people now, which incidentally is quite useful. As reporters descend on the scene, the level of chaos takes an uptick, and it’s easier than it should be to slip beyond the barricades and hotwire one of the reporter’s cars.

Illegal, yes, but Casey figures they’re not doing too much damage. A scene like this -- with terrorism suspected -- it’s not like any reporter worth his or her salt is going to be leaving anytime soon.

In the relative safety of the car, Casey sinks heavily into the passenger’s seat. Carson backs them up, and lingers for one moment, looking out over the scene.

The fire is out now, but the burned out hull of the train is still smoking. Casey hasn’t seen any bodies covered with sheets, so in that, Casey knows they were successful.

“It’s a job well done,” Carson comments, giving Casey a sideways look.

“Doesn’t feel that way,” Casey says, clicking his seat belt into place.

Carson snorts. “I find it rarely does anymore,” he says softly. “You ready?”

Casey lowers his chin. “Just drive.”

“No arguments on that one,” Carson muses as he puts the car into drive and pulls them away. Casey watches as the scene fades in the rearview mirror until they turn onto a main road and all that’s left is a billow of smoke on the horizon.


Casey is the muscle of the team.

So the fact that he’s on the phone, coordinating with Langley, really doesn’t make him happy.

To be fair, though, he thinks it makes Higgins even less happy.

“It’s all over the news!” Higgins exclaims, almost apoplectic. “I thought the goal was to stop it.”

“There weren’t any casualties,” Casey points out.

“But the agent--”

“Isn’t a problem,” Casey says. “Sit me down with a sketch artist and I can probably even get you a good picture for identification. If we can match it to anything, we can start tracking affiliates. We have a break in the entire European terror network.”

“There’s a smoking train on every major news channel around the world,” Higgins says. “I’m failing to see how this is good news, Operative Malick.”

“We got the intel. No one died. No one will even know we’re here,” Casey replies curtly. “As long as you help me out, that is.”

Higgins takes a long, measured breath. “What do you need?”

“Collins and Dorset have been taken to one of the local hospitals,” he says while Carson navigates the highway. “Their covers are pretty good--”

“But maybe not that good,” Higgins agrees. “If we want to avoid arousing the suspicions of the authorities, we’re going to have to make sure their stories hold.”

“And we’re going to need access,” Casey says. “I don’t care what you do, but get Simms and I listed as emergency contacts.”

“I don’t believe you’re in any position to make demands,” Higgins says.

Casey steadies him. “And I don’t believe you’re in any position to refuse them.”

Higgins breathes heavily. “Clean this up, Operative Malick,” he says finally. “Do your part in this.”

“As long as you do yours,” Casey returns easily, killing the call before Higgins can have the last word. He puts the phone down and glances toward Carson.

Simms smirks. “It almost sounds like you care, Malick,” he says.

Casey sets his eyes on the road ahead. “Just drive.”

Carson’s humor fades and he presses down on the accelerator a bit harder. “Working on it,” he mutters.

They speed on.


Casey has often doubted Carson’s role in the team, but he has to admit, the man’s a good driver. His speed is just shy of reckless, and he handles the tight curves of the countryside and the narrow streets of the city with equal ease. Somehow, he finds the perfect parking spot in front of the hospital, and he’s halfway to the front door while Casey’s just managing to stagger out of the front seat.

His knee is stiff and painfully swollen, and walking has become nothing short of a trial. Casey has a high threshold for pain, but he’s pretty sure he’d accept a shot of morphine right about now.

It’s not an option, though. Not with his team compromised. Not until he knows they’re okay.

He limps inside, pressing his lips together tightly as he lurches to the front desk and leans heavily against the edge where Carson is currently fumbling with his Italian.

“I don’t know, lady,” Carson says, gesturing wildly. “But they came in from the big train accident. Maybe you heard of it? Saw it?” He jabs at the TV, which is playing live coverage. “Accident!”

The woman behind the desk blinks at them apologetically, before replying and typing on her keyboard with new vigor.

“Come on,” Carson says, tapping his hand restlessly on the counter. “Come on, come on, come on.

Casey looks at him. “Losing your temper isn’t very helpful.”

Carson raises his eyebrows. “Like you’re one to talk,” he says. “But there are times I wish we had a translator on the team.”

Casey snorts. “Like I need one more person to worry about.”

“Yeah, well,” Carson says. “I’m all about sharing the load. Our life is lonely enough. No sense going it alone.”

“It might be easier,” Casey says.

“Not better, though,” Carson says. “Though it’s a toss-up sometimes. Easier or better. Not sure we ever really win.”

The woman looks up. “Ah!” she says, rattling off more information.

“Lady, English,” Carson says.

She holds up her hand, and gets to her feet, nodding down the hall.

“What?” Carson asks with a frown.

She speaks again, pointing now.

“I think she wants us to follow,” Casey says.

“Well, okay, then,” Carson says, starting after her. “Progress.”

Casey grimaces and takes a step. “Progress,” he mumbles and hopes it’s true.


Whatever Higgins put in motion, Casey can’t help but be a little grateful. They’re met by a nurse who speaks English and taken to a private waiting area. She offers them food and drink, and points out two pairs of fresh scrubs before offering medical attention for their injuries.

“Look, lady,” Carson says. “That’s all nice and all, but we’re here about our friends.”

“Yes,” she says primly with a small smile. “And the doctor will be in as soon as possible to discuss their conditions with you. But it is clear that you’re both in need of medical attention yourselves.”

“We’re fine,” Casey says with an air of exasperation.

She raises her eyebrows. “You look like you’re ready to fall over,” she says. “And both of you are hardly fit to be in public. Get changed and then let me look over your cuts and bruises to rule out anything too serious.”

“Fine,” Carson says begrudgingly. “But only if you tell us how our friends are.”

She sighs. “I really don’t have that information--”

“Then tell us they’re alive,” Casey interrupts, feeling his emotions hitch unpleasantly. He’s tired and he’s worn out and he’s scared -- and the whole situation basically pisses him off. If he’s gone through all this, then he has to know. He has to know. Now.

She draws her lips together, inclining her head slightly. “Last I heard they were both in surgery,” she reports gently.

“So they’re hanging in there,” Carson concludes.

Her gaze drops. “They are both in very serious condition.”

The words are quiet, but they hit Casey like a ton of bricks. She’s trying to be diplomatic, but Casey can read between the lines. Billy and Michael are fighting for their lives -- and there’s a pressing reality that they might lose that fight.

It’s a numbing realization. From the silence, he knows Carson’s had it, too.

The nurse sighs again. “Please,” she continues, emphatically now. “Get changed. I’ll be back in a few minutes with another nurse to examine you.”

Casey doesn’t want to say yes. From the stiffness in Carson’s posture, he doesn’t either. But what choice do they have?

They don’t. They’re back to nothing.

She excuses herself, closing the door quietly behind her. Casey looks over to Carson, who eyes him in return. He nods to the scrubs. “After you.”

Casey glares. “We don’t have time for this.”

Carson just grunts. “I want to agree with you,” he says. “But you heard the lady. If they’re in surgery, we’ve got nothing but time.”

“We should find out their condition,” Casey says.

“Hey, you have an idea? Go for it.”

But Casey doesn’t have any ideas. He just has idle threats he can’t follow through on. Because this isn’t what he does. He doesn’t negotiate; he doesn’t charm. He doesn’t work soft targets, because that’s just not what he does. Maybe when he was working solo, he might have been a little more used to it, but it’s a skill that he’s been more than happy to let slide. After all, that’s why he has Michael and Billy.

His stomach churns, and he drags his leg heavily to the scrubs. “Fine,” he says. “But this is under duress.”

Carson shrugs, snagging a pair for himself. “And I’m right there with you, buddy.”


The medical exam is like any medical exam only the nurses at least refrain from chit chat. They clean the wounds and apply butterfly bandages, taking the time for stitches with some of the nastier cuts. Casey submits to this silently, and merely grunts when his chest and abdomen are probed.

The nurses winces when she looks at his knee. “We will want to get a better look at that,” she says.

Casey glares at her. “Nothing’s broken,” he says. “Put a brace on it, and I’ll be fine.”

“If there is damage, you may need surgery,” she says.

“Yeah, which I won’t be getting here,” Casey replies.

“Our surgical staff is very good,” she assures him.

Casey works to control his frustration. “I don’t care.”

“Signor, we really must--”

Casey jerks away, covering his knee back up. “No, you really mustn’t--”

The nurse is ready to protest.

Casey is damn near ready to fight.

Carson stands, pulling his shirt back over his head. “Whoa, whoa,” he says. “How about a compromise?”

The nurse looks a little afraid. Casey is skeptical.

Carson grins a little. “You get a doctor down here to tell us about our friends,” he says. Then he nods to Casey. “And then Mr. Grumpy Pants here will consent to whatever tests you want to put him through.”

Casey does not appreciate the jest, but the nurse eyes them uncertainly and Casey realizes it’s a viable course of action. Not one he would have suggested, but then again, that’s part of why teamwork has its merits.

He sighs. “I accept those conditions.”

The nurse raises her eyebrows.

“See? He accepts,” Carson says. “Now come on. Be a sweetheart and get us that doctor.”

The nurse pulls off her gloves. “Fine,” she says. “But as soon as you have spoken--”

“I know, I know,” Casey mutters.

She nods. “Very well. Please, wait here.”

She leaves, taking the other nurse with her, and Casey turns his eyes vindictively toward Carson. “I do not appreciate being offered up as a bargaining chip.”

Carson snorts, rolling his eyes as he retreats to a chair. “We want information, right?” he says. “I don’t see what other leverage we have.”

“We have whatever leverage Higgins gave us,” Casey says dourly.

“Well, if you haven’t noticed, Malick, you can hardly walk,” Carson points out. “You need those tests whether you want them or not.”

Casey’s face screws up in disdain. “Wait, are you saying you had my well-being in mind?”

Carson shakes his head. “An unprecedented moment of weakness,” he says. “Don’t worry. I won’t let it happen again.”