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Chaos fic: The Good News (and the Bad News) 1/3

May 2nd, 2011 (07:35 am)
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Title:  The Good News (and the Bad News)

Disclaimer:  Very not mine.

A/N:  This fic is for moogsthewriter , who is celebrating her birthday today :)  I was quite happy to learn she was a fan of this show, and my muse churned this out on her behalf.  She deserves this and so much more.  I’m so grateful for the chance to know her better this past year.  Also, much thanks to geminigrl11  for beta’ing this so quickly!  Due to how quickly I wrote and edited this, there are likely still some silly typo-related errors for which I take total responsibility.

A/N 2:  I just feel compelled to note that when it comes to writing CIA related plots, I’m really out of my depth.  I base things on really rough notions of what I know about international security issues, and my understanding is basic to say the least.  Writing about terrorists seems plausible, but I have to admit, I worry that I’m being too simplistic or somehow offensive.  So forgive any inaccuracies or plain stupidities.  I mean no offense and hope you can all suspend disbelief enough to enjoy it.

Summary:  A joint mission with MI-5 teaches Rick a few lessons about being a spy--and about Billy.

-o-

“The good news,” Michael says, handing out their files, “is that we’ve got a solid lead on a terrorist group known for taking foreign hostages in the Middle East.”

In his short time at the agency, Rick has learned to like good news.  This may seem obvious since good news is usually good, but good news at the CIA usually involves disarming terrorists and saving innocent civilians, sometimes on a grand scale.  Good news is why Rick spent so much time trying to join the CIA and why he comes back day after day, despite the insanity of his current post.

Casey barely gives his file a look, while Billy scans his with genuine interest.  This seems about right to Rick.  Casey has an inherent sense of missions; Rick half thinks that they’re all the same to Casey, as long as they involve guns, fighting and secrecy.  Billy approaches his with a boyish enthusiasm that somehow manages to be professional and endearing all at once.

Rick’s worked hard to measure his own response to such things, and it’s hard to tell how he’s faring since Michael always transfixes him with the same critical look no matter what the case may be.

Rick peruses the file curiously, consciously trying not to look too eager, but mostly failing.  Missions are still a surreal kind of excitement for him.  Every one still intrigues him, and he’d be a liar if he said that he doesn’t get butterflies in his stomach every time Michael brings them a new on. 

Fortunately, he’s a quick reader, and he’s already starting to fill in the blanks mentally.  In his free time, he sometimes goes over the most relevant wanted criminals, refreshing his knowledge of their crimes and last known locations, just in case.

Funny; something in his training may actually be paying off.  “Sayid Fayed,” he recites from memory.  He looks up, steady into Michael’s gaze.  “He’s been on the world’s most wanted list since 1999.”

“And he’s responsible for the deaths of over fifty civilians,” Billy adds, and Rick almost feels jealous that they all seem to know the details just as readily as he does.

Rick supposes that it’s really a good thing that his knowledge base isn’t too unusual.  While he would like to prove himself to be an invaluable asset to his team, he is rather tired of being the butt of most of the jokes in their office.  He already catches enough crap for bringing his mother’s leftovers for lunch each day; to be a know-it-all would probably just make him stick out even more.

“Not to mention the countless others we haven’t traced back to him,” Michael continues, eyes moving away from Rick to take in the rest of the team.  “Our intel is enough to get us into his compound and take out the command structure.”

No matter how hard Rick tries to just listen, his mind is already working.  It’s a problem he has that no one else on the team seems to share: he wants to know the hows and the whys and all the other details that the rest of his team either take for granted or inexplicably know.  “How do we know that Fayed is going to be there?” he asks.

Michael inclines his head with a look that almost suggests approval.  “Good question,” he says.  “We’ve obtained reliable information that he’s scheduled to see the exchange of a high profile captive.”

“And I take it that we’ll be heading up the other end of said negotiation,” Billy says.

Michael nods.  “With access to his compound, we should be able to take it out,” he says.

“How do we control for human casualties?” Casey interjects.

“The key will be to take out the command structure quickly,” Michael explains.  “If we are in negotiation with the upper command, that means that the less trained personnel will be guarding the captives.  If we can take out Fayed without triggering a security response...”

“The rest should come crumbling down,” Billy continues.

“And we walk out with the hostages and leave the mess for the military to clean up,” Casey concludes.

As far as plans go, Rick has to admit that one sounds pretty good.  But there’s still one lingering issue.  “So if that’s the good news,” he says.  “What’s the bad news?”

Michael hesitates.

Casey closes his file, face drawn in disgust.  “We’re not working this one alone.”

Rick blinks, looking from Casey to Michael.

Michael shrugs.  “The intel came from an American operative but was reported to a British outpost,” he says.  “Rather than have a pissing match about who gets what, we’re playing nice with our allies.”

Billy wets his lips, brow furrowed.  “MI-5 then?”

Michael sighs, lifting one shoulder, almost apologetic but completely resigned.  “Long live the Queen.”

-o-

Rick makes a mid-morning run to the soda machine and runs into Billy making his morning bathroom pit stop.

“Some mission, huh?” Rick asks with a grin.

Billy blinks at him.  “What?”

“I mean, taking down a terrorist cell,” Rick reminds him.  He leans forward.  “Afghanistan.”

Billy frowns a little.  “I suppose that is a bit more climactic than usual.”

“A bit more climactic?” Rick asks with a scoff.  “We’re even working with the Brits!”

Billy’s mouth turns into a sardonic smile.  “A rare privilege, let me assure you,” Billy says.

“Well, I’m just looking forward to it,” Rick replies. 

Billy pats his shoulder.  “That makes one of us, lad,” he says, a little grimly, but before Rick can question him, Billy’s already ducked into the bathroom.

-o-

Back in the office, Rick asks, “Is something going on with Billy?”

Casey doesn’t look up from his work.  “There’s always something going on with Billy.”

“I mean with the mission,” Rick says.

Casey looks up at him with a plain stare.  “It’s a mission with the Brits.” he says.  “Everything’s wrong with it.”

“What do you have against the British?” Rick asks.  “They are our closest allies.”

“Who still resent us for a little thing called the Revolutionary War and they still pay homage to a pointless figure head,” Casey retorts.  “It’s an inherent weakness they have never overcome and they can never be trusted for.”’

Rick has no response to that.  Because, how can anyone have a response to that?

Michael finally looks up.  “Maybe we should all get back to work.”

Questions aside, Rick thinks that’s probably a very good idea.

-o-

Rick doesn’t have strong feelings for or against interagency collaboration.  Of course, even in his short tenure at the CIA, he is aware that different agencies have different functions and very different policies.  While they are all inherently on the same team, the same petty back and forth Rick recognized in junior high cliques is still an ever-prevalent factor when it comes to cross-jurisdictional lines.

Such feelings of controlled animosity seemed to be only amplified when it comes to foreign agencies.

Michael is more uptight about the mission than usual, with extra briefings and the most thorough background prep that Rick’s undergone yet.  It seems funny that Michael might want to make a good impression, but knowing Michael, it’s probably just a complete inability to trust anything that MI-5 might have to offer, so he’s trying to cover his bases more than usual.

Casey is positively morose about it.  While Rick is reluctant to call say his colleague is pouting, there’s really not a much better word for it.  True, Casey is never much into light conversation, but even his pre-mission chitchat and arming sessions are taciturn and abrupt.  He seems to scoff every time they go over the mission details and rolls his eyes when someone dares to mention MI-5.

These responses are not so hard to believe for Rick.  After all, they are merely extensions of the eccentricities that he’s seen all along.  Michael gets more paranoid; Casey gets more sullen and to the point.  In the grand scheme of things, those reactions are probably to be expected.

However, while Michael and Casey make frustrating sense, Billy stops making any kind of sense.  This is the hardest part for Rick because in everything, Billy’s always been the easiest one to talk to.  Yes, Rick learned a long time ago to not believe half of what Billy says, but little white lies (or whopping black ones) aside, it’s nice to have someone to make friendly chitchat with.  Especially since Billy seems immensely interested in Rick’s extended family and will listen to any story Rick tells with a smile his face and what passes for genuine enthusiasm.

The friendliness is practically gone, though.  He doesn’t seem to be listening most of the time to anything--not Michael’s briefings, not Casey’s reminders, not even Rick’s stories about his mother’s homemade pie.  On top of that, the Scotsman is almost jittery.  While his normally energetic ways tend to keep him in constant motion, in the prep for the mission, Billy literally can’t sit still.  Tapping his foot, jiggling his knee, chewing his pen cap: Billy’s a ball of nervous energy.

“Make sure you have extra rounds on you at all times,” Michael says.

This would seem like normal conversation except for that they’re in the cafeteria having lunch.

Rick swallows a bite of his sandwich and nods as earnestly as he can.  He’s learned in his short tenure on Michael’s team that sometimes a simple nod can save him a headache.

“I’d always have two,” Casey grumbles.  “Damn Brits think that every mission is about style, not substance.  They’re likely to send in a team with only half the necessary ammo and a nice assortment of bulletproof vests to choose from.”

The comment is mostly innocuous, but in the days since Michael introduced them to this mission, Rick has heard nothing but disparaging remarks.  “They can’t be that bad, can they?” he asks. 

Casey rolls his eyes; Michael is impassive.

Rick feels like flailing a little bit.  He motions to Billy, who is seated next to him.  “They trained Billy, didn’t they?”

At that, everyone goes still.

Billy perks his head up, and Rick gets the distinct sense that he’s said something he shouldn’t have.

Fortunately, Billy laughs, clapping Rick on the shoulder with a lackluster attempt at camaraderie.  “Aye,” he says, pushing to his feet.  “Don’t worry about it.  Casey’s just jealous of their inherent style, but all things considered, the extra ammo may not be such a bad idea.”

Rick stares at Billy as he walks away.  When he turns back to his other teammates, Casey nods.  “See,” he says, not trying to hide his smugness.  “I told you.”

-o-

The rest of the day isn’t much better.  Billy alternates between bouncing like a school boy in need of Ritalin and hiding out like a well practiced recluse.

And if Michael tries to make him count the ammo again, Rick may just lose it.  He’s accepted that the idea of normal in the ODS is inherently and frustratingly illogical, but his team is acting even less like rational human beings than Rick has come to expect.  He’s built up his tolerance--he really has--but Rick is ready to have this mission over so they can get back to their typical strain of insanity.

Besides, it would all be much easier to accept if he had any inclination as to why.  He’s taken his time to study his colleagues.  Michael is naturally difficult and distrustful, and Casey is always inclined to find something to be grumpy about.  But Billy’s got him confounded, even more so because no one else seems to notice anything out of the ordinary.

Or at least, no one seems ready to talk about it.

On the way out of the office, he falls in step with Casey.

“So, big day tomorrow,” Rick says, as casually as he can.

“You mean when we willingly put our lives on the line with a foreign agency that is only moderately cooperative?” he asks.

Rick’s mouth closes and he nods for a moment.  After a few more paces, he says, “So, is it just me or is Billy acting weird?”

“I thought we had this conversation,” Casey replies abruptly.

“You never really answered the question,” Rick points out.

“Maybe I thought the question was stupid.”

“The question isn’t stupid.”

“It’s irrelevant,” Casey returns.

“Billy’s our teammate.”

“Billy’s an operative.”

“So the fact that he’s acting weird is totally not a concern,” Rick says, letting his incredulity do the rest.

“Collins always acts weird,” Casey replies without slowing.  “Being that friendly is unnatural and almost disturbing.”

This isn’t exactly what Rick was thinking.  He shakes his head.  “No, I mean, with this whole MI-5 thing,” he says.

Out of seeming reflex, Casey scoffs.

“Well, I was just wondering if you knew why,” Rick continues, trying not to sound too curious.

At this, Casey looks at him.

“It might be relevant,” Rick protests.

“It’s not,” Casey tells him flatly.

“But if there’s an issue with the team--”

“We’re going after a well developed terrorist cell with an operative we neither know nor can necessarily trust,” Casey interject.  “There’s a lot of issues.”

“I mean, personal--”

Casey shakes his head.  “Collins is a smart ass and far too prone to making friends, but he’ll be fine.”

Rick draws his lips together and frowns.  “He doesn’t seem fine.”

“Considering we’re working with the agency that promptly threw him out on his ass and made it so he could never visit his family or home again, I really think he’s doing just fine,” Casey says.

This makes sense, and on some level, Rick knew it.  Billy has always seemed proud of his involvement with MI-5, and he’s never denied that he got himself deported.  But for the first time, Rick considers the ramifications of that.

“But what happened?” Rick says.

Casey glances at him.  “That’s Collins’ business,” he says curtly.  “Just worry about your ammo and please, don’t miss your flight.”

Before Rick can reply, Casey peels out in the other direction, leaving Rick staring after him, mouth hanging open in the hallway.

-o-

Given the odd dynamic of the team with this mission, Rick figures it’s a good thing that they’re leaving so soon.  On the plane to Paris, he ends up crammed between a sweaty businessman and young woman smacking gum.  Halfway over the Atlantic, he’s about to go crazy.

Coming back from the bathroom, he finds Billy reclined in the front seat of the section, long legs stretching out in front of him and a buxom brunette curled sleeping next to the window.  The aisle seat is vacant.

“How did you get this seat?” Rick says, his tone accusatory.

Billy shrugs.  “Mina, the sweet girl that she is,” he says, nodding to the sleeping girl, “had something of a spat with her boyfriend.  I generously offered to give them the time they needed to cool off by switching seats.”

Somehow, given Mina’s appearance and Billy’s natural swagger, Rick is somewhat skeptical about the hope for the relationship.

“And what about this seat?” Rick hisses, pointing to the aisle seat.

Billy looks at it, as if he’s almost surprised that it’s there.  “Mina’s twin sister must have slipped into the bathroom for a bit.”

Rick has to roll his eyes.

“So I take it your seating is less than ideal?” Billy asks.

Rick glances back at his seat.  The man is sleeping, slumped over into Rick’s seat.  He sighs.

“Then, sit, sit,” Billy says, gesturing to the empty seat.  “I believe Mina’s twin may have snuck off with the male flight attendant, so I have the sense that this seat may be available for awhile.”

That notion is actually somewhat disturbing, but Rick is too grateful for a reprieve to question it.  Instead, he settles into the seat, shaking his head.  “They can’t even bump us up to business class,” he mutters.

“Well, it could be worse,” Billy says easily.

“How?” Rick asks.  “How could it be worse?”

Billy glances back and Rick follows his view.  He’s almost forgotten about Casey and Michael, who somehow managed seats together, but in the middle of the center row.  With an elderly couple on one side and a mother with a fussy toddler on the other, it’s clear that neither of them are going anywhere for the entire trans-Atlantic flight.

When Rick turns back around, he feels vaguely comforted.  This comfort makes him smile, and he leans closer to Billy.  “Casey’s really not happy about this mission,” he confides.

Billy shrugs, nonchalant.  “Don’t let his prickly exterior fool you,” he advises.  “He hasn’t had the chance to pack this many guns in nearly two years.  I swear, he’s as a giddy as a school girl.”

Rick has to laugh at that.  He lets his head loll back on the seat.  “This mission just seems to have everyone all turned around,” he says.  He rolls his head back toward Billy.  “Did you know that Michael actually gave me the whole file?  Nothing omitted or anything.”

Skeptical, Billy tilts his head.  “Ah, don’t despair,” he says.  “I’m sure there are a few relevant details that Michael has kept off the official record just to spring on you to keep things interesting.”

Rick scoffs, but doesn’t disagree.  “And then there’s you,” he continues.  “I mean, you’ve actually been quiet.  What’s going on with that?”

Billy doesn’t flinch, but something clenches momentarily in his expression.  It’s gone before Rick can even get a good sense of it, plastered over with a benign smile.  “Just offering a little variety,” he says.  “After all, how would Casey and Michael feel if I didn’t join them in their pouting?”

Rick is thinking of something to say and failing to come up with anything.

Billy adjusts in his seat and settles back a bit.  “Now if you don’t mind, I might try to get a wink of sleep before we land,” he says, his eyes closing.  He peeks at Rick for another second.  “You might want to do the same before Mina’s lovely twin completes her daring deed.”

With that, Billy seems to nod off into sleep, leaving Rick alone in his seat, wondering if any of this will ever, possibly make sense.

-o-

By the time they land in Kabul, Rick is not only convinced that commercial airlines are trying to torture passengers, but that his team is actually crazier than ever.  Between Billy’s silence and Casey’s nonstop grumbling, Rick actually finds Michael’s constant vigilance refreshing.

Still, there’s a mission to do and it starts with securing a car to get them out of the airport and into the city.  It’s a simple part of the mission, but even simple things are complicated, and Rick worries slightly that they may not make it past the airport before getting shot to hell.

Michael’s got the documentation in order and Billy’s being as charming as he can while he waves money in the air, and when Rick steps in with his fluent Arabic, they manage to secure a deal.

Still, the entire thing makes him uneasy, even when the man agrees to get them the keys.  Rick listens to the men talking in the background, catching snippets of profanity and threats.

“They’re really not impressed with us,” Rick says with a wince.

Billy shrugs.  “You get sort of used to it,” he says.

Casey nods.  “If it bothers you, you could always try to eat a scorpion,” he suggest.  He looked at Rick dryly.

Rick gives him a look.

“What?” Casey asks.  “It worked so well last time.”

“We did name you mission MVP, I believe,” Billy adds.

“And then you drugged me!” Rick hisses.

Casey shrugs.  “Details.”

Billy pats his shoulder.  “Don’t let the aftermath hamper the value of the moment.”

And Rick makes a mental note not to accept drinks for his team ever again.

-o-

They set up base in a safe house, which is nothing more than a small apartment just outside the city’s center.  Casey spends his time laying out their ammo while Billy fusses over his culturally appropriate garb.  Michael stands at the window, just out of the way, but with a full eye on the street.

“Anything?” Rick asks, standing next to him.

Michael doesn’t look at him.  “We’re in the heart of the radical Islamic movement,” he replies.

“Right,” Rick says, and he thinks that the idea of being ID’d by terrorist cells should bother him more than his team’s stunted behavior.  Oddly, it doesn’t.  “So do you know the operative we’re supposed to be working with?”

Michael shrugs minutely.  “I’ve seen his file.”

“But you’ve never met him?”

Michael looks at him briefly.  “And why would that matter?”

“I thought maybe that was why everyone was all anxious about this one,” Rick says with a shrug of his own.

Michael’s gaze turns back to him, longer this time.  “Do you know how to survive a long time in this business?”

Rick opens his mouth to speak.

Michael doesn’t let him.  “You trust no one until you have to,” he says.  “And even then, you only trust them as far as the situation requires.  Good guys can be bought just as easily as bad guys, and until you spend every day with someone, it’s impossible to know for sure.  Even then, it’s sort of a toss up.”

The monologue seems to have exhausted Michael’s conversational skills for the time being and he looks back out into the street.

From the floor, Casey looks up. “It also helps to have extra ammo,” he adds.  “And extreme hand to hand combat training, just in case.”

Rick doesn’t disagree and when he looks to Billy for his inevitable addition to the Lessons to Teach the New Guy, he finds the Scottish operative still sitting at the ground, staring absently at the ceiling.

“Great,” Rick says.  “No trust, lots of ammo.  I’m feeling good about this mission now.”

-o-

It’s not an hour later when there’s a knock at the door.  Everyone in the room tenses.  Casey pulls a gun and cocks it, moving carefully to a point just beyond the door.  Billy flanks the other side, just as wary, his own pistol pulled and ready.

At a loss, Rick draws his own weapon, falling in line on the far wall, eyes trained on the door as Michael approaches it cautiously.

The knock repeats, and Rick picks up the pattern.  Three quick raps, followed by two slow ones.

At the door, Michael pauses.  “Carry out?” he calls.

“Teriyaki chicken,” comes the reply, and even through the thin door, Rick can make out the lilt of an English accent.

With that, Michael’s hand closes around the handle.  He turns the knob cautiously, waiting one beat before swinging it wide and meeting the person on the other side with his armed weapon.

If such an introduction might be rude, Rick notes quickly that the person on the other side also has his gun drawn, and he’s eyeing Michael about as closely as Michael is eyeing him.

“You blokes certainly fit the part,” the man says, cocking his head just for a moment, but not letting his guard down.  “Michael Dorset, then, if your file is to be trusted.”

“Files are easy to forge,” Michael returns. 

“Well, then I suppose showing my ID won’t really help matters much, will it?” the man asks, a dry humor coloring his voice.

Rick’s arm begins to hurt a little from holding his aim so stiff and so steady.  Casey seems frozen in place, eyes narrowed and finger on the trigger, and even Billy is completely serious now.

“It might help a little,” Michael concedes.

“Well, I can do you one better, mate,” the man offers.  “I understand you’ve got a Billy Collins on your team.  The old boy and I did a mission or two back in the day.  He should be able to provide all the confirmation you need.”

This takes Rick by surprise, more so that it seems to take Michael by surprise, too.  It’s only a moment’s hesitation, but it’s one of the first times Rick’s ever seen the ODS leader come close to having something happen that he really didn’t see coming.

Michael recovers quickly, though, and glances toward Billy.  From his position behind the door, Billy is the only one who can’t see the British operative.  As Billy moves around from his position, Rick realizes with sudden clarity that such positioning was not an accident.

Billy’s gun is still drawn, but it’s already pointed down when he steps into the doorway.  His jaw works as he meets the gaze of the other operative, who drops his own gun and smiles widely. 

“Long time no see, eh, mate?” the operative asks.

Billy puts his gun away.  “He’s the real thing,” he says, stepping back from the door slightly.  His tone is tired and weary, his expression guarded.  “Gents, you can say hello to Operative Malcolm Arlington of Military Intelligence, Section 5.”

-o-

Malcolm Arlington is everything Rick might expect from an MI-5 operative.  Just like Casey suspected, he’s fully fashionable and smooth.  His teased black hair is wavy, falling neatly over his tanned forehead.  When he smiles, white teeth flash and somehow even in typical Arab garb, he seems suave and debonair. 

In short, he’s actually a lot like Billy, at least when Billy is acting like himself.

Although, there is something decidedly less genuine about Malcolm.  While he and Billy have the same inherent swagger, Rick still can’t feel inclined to trust the new operative just yet.

Of course, the fact that Casey always seems to have a hand on his gun and Michael never takes his eyes off him probably doesn’t help put Rick’s mind at ease any.

It doesn’t take them long to go over the plan.  The apartment is sparse, but there’s a table and makeshift chairs placed in the middle, where the relevant maps and documents are spread out.  Michael is to the point, and Malcolm is affable in his acquiescence.

“Any questions?” Michael asks.

Malcolm smiles.  “Seems like you all have a firm handle on things,” he says.  “I’m just here for backup.”

“We don’t need back up,” Casey snorts.

Malcolm shrugs.  “Just because you won one certain war doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything you can learn from your mature allies,” he says.  He leans forward and winks just a bit.  “Don’t forget, the Motherland has been training operatives long before your revolutionaries ever had the gleam for rebellion in their eyes.”

“And it did them so much good,” Casey mutters.

Malcolm seems amused, but doesn’t push his luck.  Instead, he leans back in his chair.  “So cocky,” he muses.  His eyes settle on Billy.  “I can see why you fit right in.”

Billy’s expression darkens.  “It’s a solid plan,” he says, and it’s clear to Rick that he’s ignoring the insinuation.

It’s also clear to Rick that Billy is the only one trying to ignore it.

Casey is keenly curious, and Michael’s gaze turns to Malcolm to gauge his reaction.

Instinctively, Rick does the same.  Malcolm is still smiling, broad and effusive, but there’s a glint of malice in his eyes.  “Ah, but we both know how you feel about plans,” he says. 

When no one replies, Malcolm lifts his eyebrows.  “So they don’t know?”

This piques Rick’s interest more than anything.  For all that he looks forward to missions, he’s come to realize that real glimpses into his coworkers personal lives is a rare and unusual thing.  After several months on the job, all he really knows about his teammates is that Michael is divorced, Casey has incomparable self-control, and Billy can bed any girl if given three days.

Beyond that, he’s yet to even figure out a birthday or home address for any of them, which wouldn’t bother him so much if they didn’t already know his entire life history, including an unfortunate incident with a monkey at the DC zoo when he was seven.

“It’s not relevant,” Billy snaps.

Malcolm raises his hands in a vestige of conciliation.  “It is a God given right of spies to pick and choose their truth,” he says.  “We have too much between us to violate such a sacred truth.”

Billy’s eyes narrow, but don’t leave Malcolm’s face.

Rick looks to Casey, who looks to Michael.  Michael presses his lips together and leans forward with new purpose.  “For now, all I need to know is that we’re on board with this plan,” he says.

Malcolm sighs a little, almost in exasperation.  “You, myself, and Rick go in as the private hostage negotiation team.  Casey and Billy take up position outside, coming up from the north to the back entrance, taking out the two guards in position there and wait for our signal.  Once we have full access to Fayed and his top officials, we make our move and secure the room.  From there, we make a joint assault from the inside and the outside, meeting up in the hostage room and disarming the guards by whatever means possible,” he recites, in almost perfect summation.  “It’s a bit trivial, so I think I can handle it if you can.”

“Good, then,” Michael says, ignoring the obvious jibe.  “Then I suggest we get some rest.  We’ll be on rotation to watch throughout the night, just in case.”

Malcolm smiles.  “And here I was hoping for some chitchat.”

Casey rolls his eyes as he pushes away.  “Just stay away from our gear,” he says, before retreating to his pack lined against the wall.

Billy says nothing and follows him.

“Martinez, you want first shift?” Michael asks.

It’s at that point that Rick remembers that they really are on a mission after all.  He tries to look serious.  “Sure,” he says with a nod.

Michael gets to his feet.  “Two hours, then wake Casey.”

“Will do,” he says as Michael moves back toward his own pack.

At the table, Malcolm fixes him with a steady look.  “You’re new at this, aren’t you?”

Rick frowns and shakes his head.  “I’m an experienced operative.”

Malcolm snorts.  “I can’t tell if your blatant attempts to sell yourself are purely American or because you’re green behind the ears.”

This insults Rick on a variety of levels.  “We are the ones who planned this mission,” he reminds their so-called British friend.

Malcolm tilts in his head in thorough amusement.  “So you are a newbie then,” he says. 

“Martinez is fine,” Michael says blandly from the far way.

“Of course, of course,” Malcolm says with a fake air of apology.  He leans forward.  “I don’t suppose you mind if I stay up to keep you company, though.”  He pauses and sits back with a shrug.  “Just in case.”

“I don’t need a babysitter,” Rick retorts indignantly.  He squares his shoulders as if to prove his point.

Malcolm’s chuckle is more than somewhat condescending.  “I’ve learned from experience that you always have to watch the green ones,” he says, his glance darting toward Billy.  He looks back at Rick, smug.  “Because if they mean it or not, they’re the link most likely to break.”

Rick’s even more offended, even though he has the growing suspicion that Malcolm’s not really talking about him.

-o-

Spies are a peculiar lot.  Yes, this is hardly news to Rick, but his team’s ability to invest wholly in a task is almost disturbingly easy.  Whether it’s combat or training or recon, they are all on the game, just like that.

Apparently, the same can be said for sleeping.

With Rick on guard, Michael, Casey, and Billy drop off in quick succession, leaned up against their packs for pillows.  Casey snores slightly, while Billy sleeps with his back to them.  Michael appears to be almost lounging and even though his eyes are closed, Rick gets the sense that he’s still watching everything that’s happening.

Rick takes position at the window, keeping out of direct sight, but giving himself an ample view of the slowing action below.  So far, he’s noticed some suspicious activity, but if he gets nervous about everyone carrying a gun in Afghanistan, then this is going to be a very long mission.

As it is, there doesn’t seem to be any immediate threats as far as Rick can ascertain.  No one seems to be staked out and watching them, and most people seem more concerned with being noticed than noticing anything else unusual, which really does work in their favor.

True to his word, Malcolm stays up.  He stations himself on the other side of the window but he seems to watch Rick as much as he watches the street.

“You work with quite the band of misfits,” he observes after awhile.  “Hardly what I might expect from a highly trained and effective CIA team.”

“You haven’t seen us in action,” Rick tells him.  “Casey’s a human weapon.”

Malcolm looks like he might want to laugh at that, but seems to reconsider it.  Instead, he wets his lips and nods.  “I’m sure,” he says.  “And what of your fearless leader?”

“He can see every contingency before they become important,” Rick says honestly.  “His mind never stops working.”

“And you’re the new guy, which just leaves Collins,” Malcolm continues, and even if his tone is casual, Rick senses the shift in his interest.

Rick does his best to give away nothing.  “He’s good under pressure,” he says.  “He can con anyone out of almost anything.”

Malcolm smirks.  “The con artist,” he muses with a self-satisfied nod.  “Yes, that seems rather right to me.”

Rick glares.  “If you know him so well, then what do you think of him?” he says with a note of accusation.  It seems like a good technique, to turn things back around on Malcolm, and Rick can’t deny a certain curiosity that’s been growing in him ever since this began. 

Malcolm actually looks surprised.  “You’re asking my opinion?”

“You’re the one asking all the questions,” Rick fires back.  “So you’re the one with an agenda here, and I’d just like to know what it is before this mission really starts.”

Malcolm pauses for a moment, nodding briefly.  “That’s certainly fair,” he replies.  “No one should be asked to risk their life when they can’t be sure of their backup.”

“And since you’re the odd man out, I think you should start talking,” Rick concludes.

Malcolm chortles.  “How long have you been with this team?”

“Long enough,” Rick says shortly.

“They’re good in action, I’m sure,” Malcolm says.  “I don’t mean to imply otherwise.”

“Then what do you mean to imply?”

Malcolm hesitates for a moment, then sits forward, meeting Rick’s gaze intently.  “I mean to imply that a few missions do not tell you everything you might need to know about another operative, especially under pressure.”

It’s actually nothing that Rick hasn’t thought about, especially since his team almost got him killed several times during his first few days on the team.  But no matter their methods, he’s seen them together.  He’s seen them in action.  Trusting them is inevitable.

Malcolm shakes his head.  “You’re young,” he says.  “I know how it is.  You have to trust your team because you don’t know who else to trust.  But use some common sense.”

Rick blows out a breath.  This is a runaround, and he doesn’t have the time for it.  Or maybe he does have time for it, but he really isn’t sure he has the patience.  He takes the weird crap that his own team throws at him, and the idea of enduring it from an outside source is low on his list of things he wants to do tonight.  “Again, you’re the one with something to say here.”

“I just find it interesting,” Malcolm continues with fresh vigor.  “That you all seem so quick to trust Collins after he’s proved himself a traitor to his home country.”

That’s the heart of this, Rick realizes, even if he hasn’t caught on until now.  This makes sense, finally.  Why Billy may not be happy about a mission with the British and why the British may have second thoughts about a mission with Billy.  After all, getting deported is a severe penalty, and while Billy has called his actions a youthful indiscretion, it would have to border on treason to warrant a full on deportation to one of its trained operatives.

“That was years ago,” Rick says.  “Billy’s been on this team for six years.  Michael trusts him.”

“Don’t deceive yourself,” Malcolm says.  “Michael doesn’t trust anyone.”

“To last on the team for six years?”

“Sometimes the best way to keep tabs on someone is to put them right in your sights,” Malcolm counters.

“Billy’s on our side,” he says finally, his exasperation wearing thin.

Malcolm is still looking at him steadily.  “And that’s what I thought, too,” he says.  “But it seems that he’s prone to switching allegiances at a moment’s notice.”

Rick is glaring now.

Malcolm shrugs innocently.  “You just don’t want to learn the hard way, mate,” he says.  “Trust me.”

Rick snorts a little and turns his attention back to the street.  As if it is really that easy.

-o-

After Rick’s turn on duty, he tries to get some sleep.  But Casey keeps playing with his gun in the night and Michael’s breathing never evens out and no matter how hard Rick tries, he can’t get Malcolm’s words out of his head.

Because there are things Rick knows and there are things he actually knows.  There’s a difference between what his gut tells him and what his mind can verify.  All things considered, his team doesn’t actually have the best track record when it comes to his involvement.  What with blackmailing and putting his life on the line without even having the decency to explain the plan to him first.

Yes, they gave him the pictures.  Yes, they have started to at least give him access to the actual files and not just their half-assed interpretations of them.  Yes, they’ve even had some bonding moments, the sharing of first loves and such things like that.  But what does Rick really know about them except that their crazy tactics get results and also make the CIA brass want them fired?

There’s a fine line with crazy.  Sometimes it allows people achieve the impossible.  But when pushed the wrong way, crazy becomes dangerous, and Rick doesn’t know just how close his team can come to that or even if they’d stop before anything went that far.

Rick’s gut tells him one thing.  He wants to trust these people.  It’s natural, of course, from situations of peril and daily interactions.  He likes them.

But Michael can barely trust his left hand in the presence of his right hand, Casey has the unnatural self-control to keep himself confined to a small space for fourteen hours, and Billy’s been deported from his home country.

All things considered, Rick can’t deny that it’s a little bit sketchy.  There has to be a reason, after all, that Higgins wants to liquidate the ODS.  There has to be a reason that they don’t make spies like these men anymore.  There has to be...

But Rick can’t convince himself of that.  Somewhere between three and four in the morning, he gives up on logic and tries to accept what Michael told him on their first mission.  Trust in the agency can be earned, and his teammates have never let him down.  At least not when it counted.

At least not without reason.

Of course, after Michael told him that, his team drugged him, threw him on a horse, and delivered him to terrorists.

When the day breaks, Rick lets himself open his eyes.  Billy’s still asleep, and so is Malcolm.  Michael is on watch and Casey is sitting at the table, peeling an apple.  “Nice rest?”

Rick grimaces as he rolls into a sitting position.  “The best,” he lies, and he’s not sure if he’s lucky or not when no one calls him on it.

-o-

In addition to planting infinite doubts in Rick’s head, Malcolm is also unfortunately unduly chipper.  He wakes up with a smile on his face.  “You ready for this today, gents?” he asks, cracking his neck for good measure.

Casey stuffs another gun in his pants.  Billy grunts.

“Just keep it according to plan,” Michael says.

Rick nods.

Malcolm grins.  “I, for one, am always good with plans,” he says, giving Billy a purposeful look.

Billy pales slightly. 

“Are we all clear?” Michael says, looking at each one of them purposefully.

Billy mutters, “Aye.”

“Crystal,” Casey chimes in.

“I’m nothing if not a team player,” Malcolm assures them.

Michael’s eyes settle on Rick.  “Martinez?”

Rick nods, forcing something that he hopes resembles a smile.  “Completely.”

-o-

As they gear up to go, Rick finds himself next to Billy.  He thinks about what Malcolm said; thinks about Billy dropping him off after his first day on the job. 

“So you know this guy?  Malcolm?” Rick asks as he zips up his pack.

Billy is shouldering his, checking the guns tucked into his camouflaged gear.  “Aye, that’s what I said,” he replies.

Rick hesitates, expecting more.  Billy is usually effusive in his chitchat and this new, quiet version is still hard to get used to.  “So, what do you think of him?  I mean, is he a good guy?”

Billy doesn’t look at him as he continues checking his gear.  “He’s a highly trained operative,” Billy reports, a little mechanically.

“I know, but I mean, what about him,” Rick pushes.

Billy finally looks up, something strained in his expression.  “You can trust him to get the job done according to plan, no matter what,” he says seriously.  “I imagine you will find a great deal of comfort in that.”

With that, Billy moves toward the door.  Really, Rick wants to find comfort in it, but the fact that Billy doesn’t is making it harder and harder to make sense of anything.

-o-

They split up when they leave the apartment.  Billy and Casey have to approach the compound from the desert, staying out of the compound’s security radar.  It’s a tricky job, Rick knows, and when he sees them leave, it occurs to him that he doesn’t know how they’ll do it. 

In truth, he’s never questioned it until now.  He’s just trusted that Casey has the plain guts and that Billy has the simple charm to pull anything off.  Between the two of them, Rick sort of suspects they could con a man in the desert to trade water for sand.

At least, Rick thinks they’re that good.  Sitting in the front of the vehicle with Michael, though, the idea of trust seems a little more ridiculous than ever.  Rick trusts a lot of things, from his teammates to the CIA to his mother’s moral judgments, and he doesn’t question these things.

Except he does.

Or he does now.

Rick never thought himself gullible, but his first day on the job had cured him of that delusion.  He’s just gullible in some contexts.  Rick wants to believe the system.  He wants to believe agents of the system.  He wants to believe Michael, Casey, and Billy.

But what he wants isn’t always the right thing and he almost got set up as a double agent to prove that to him.

When they stop off for a pit stop, Malcolm hops out and Michael sits at the steering wheel while the jeep idles.

Rick’s stomach is twisting and his jaw is tight.  He has to ask the question.  “Did you know about Billy’s history with Malcolm?”

Michael doesn’t look surprised; his gaze doesn’t even flicker from staring out the windshield.  “No,” he says.

“Shouldn’t that have been in the file?” Rick asks.

“If it was important, Billy would have mentioned it,” Michael says.

Rick nods, considers that.  He hesitates, then asks, “Doesn’t it seem weird to you?”

“We’re spies,” Michael returns.  “Everything seems weird to me.”

“But why wouldn’t Billy tell us that he knew Malcolm?”

“Maybe it wasn’t relevant,” Michael suggests.

“But it seems relevant,” Rick says.

Michael finally looks at him, brow furrowed.  “Why don’t you just ask the question you want to ask?”

Rick blinks, taken aback.  Swallowing, he wets his lips.  “It just seems like Malcolm knows a lot about Billy.”

“I’m sure he does,” Michael says, looking back out at the street.  “I assume that Malcolm knows a lot about the incident that got Billy deported.”

Rick’s eyes lit up. “Yes, that’s it,” he says.  “I mean, do you know why Billy got deported?”

Michael looks at him again, almost disappointed.  “We all have secrets,” he says.  “Most of them are as bad as they are good.”

“But what if the bad is really bad,” Rick prompts.  “Shouldn’t we know the details?”

“And you think that one of Billy’s ex-coworkers is going to be the most unbiased source?”

Rick considers that, and feels duly chagrined.  Still, the questions on the table, and now he really wants to know.  “But unless we know what happened, how can we know it won’t happen again?”

Michael takes a breath, and it’s clear that this is something he’s thought about.  “I don’t care about what’s printed in a file,” he says, shaking his head.  He looks at Rick.  “I care about what I see in the field.  Billy’s proven himself to me, this team, and this country.  I trust him, and that’s all I need to know.”

It’s a simple answer, and Rick envies his certainty.  The questions of trust and knowledge have been haunting him since this mission began, and to think it could be so easily resolved.

Spies have to know, Rick supposes.  Spies are just supposed to know.  Rick’s not sure how, but he knows he can trust Michael.  He can trust Casey and he can trust Billy.

He can trust them.  To be insane, to be ridiculous, to have his back, to do what’s right.

Malcolm is coming back out, and Rick stops and considers one more thing.  “So do you trust me?” he asks.

Michael looks at him, lifting his eyebrows.

Rick’s indignant.  “You do trust me, don’t you?” he asks, almost demanding now.

Michael shrugs.  “We’re getting there.”

Before Rick can protest, Malcolm gets into the back seat.  “We’re cleared to go,” he says.  “Let’s get this party started.”

Michael quirks a shoulder up, a turns his gaze back out to the road and they’re moving again before Rick can think of anything else to say.

-o-

Things go according to plan.

This really doesn’t surprise Rick very much, not even when they’re invited into a private room and Sayid Fayed is standing in front of them with his gun strapped around his shoulders with a smile that is supposed to be friendly.

“We aren’t here to negotiate,” Michael explains simply.  “We have the money, and now we want the hostage.”

Fayed looks a little amused.  “You make it sound so simple.”

“It is simple,” Michael says.  “We’d like proof of life.”

“Show me the money.”

“Proof of life first,” Michael says, without hesitation.

Fayed nods to the guard in the room, who ducks out.  Rick shifts from foot to foot, fingers sweating on his gun.  Michael is relaxed, but Rick can sense that he’s ready.  On the other side of him, Malcolm is almost vibrating with anticipation.

The door opens, and the guard comes back with another pair of men.  Rick recognizes them from the files.  They have the top three soldiers on the base in one single room.  Three on four, the odds are as good as they can hope.

Rick waits for his cue, because he knows that acting too soon could be disaster for all of them, especially the hostages.

Michael is biding his time, and Rick watches as the militants shift their guns.  For a moment, they’re all pointed down, and no one has to be told twice.

Malcolm moves first, at the guard, who may be the least important person in the room, but he’s the one who is most likely to get a shot off.  Rick takes the second lieutenant, kicking the gun in his hand away before pulling him forward to knee him promptly in the face.  Somehow, Michael has disarmed both Fayed and his first lieutenant, and the lieutenant is already out cold on the floor.

Fayed is looking for a fight, though, and Rick feels the pressure mount as he grapples with his own assailant.  When he finally delivers the final blow, he’s upright and panting in time to see Michael land a kick that puts Fayed on his back.

Malcolm has out a pack of zip ties and is making short work of the men on the floor.  He looks up with a grin.  “All according to plan, eh?”

Rick’s about to smile, because it is according to plan, and Rick likes that, and the whole rush of adrenaline is going to his head, but before he can smile, he remembers something else about Michael’s plans.

They’re always good, only in that for as much as they go right, they go wrong, just like that.

Because as they’re standing there, a klaxon starts blaring.

Rick looks at Michael.  Michael is looking at Malcolm.

“Bugger,” Malcolm mutters, picking up the guard’s walkie talkie and throwing it against the wall.  “Open channel.”

Rick blinks and tries to process that.  “But that means....”

“That everyone in this building knows we’re here,” Michael concluded grimly.  “And that all of them will be gunning for us in less than thirty seconds.”

NEXT

Comments

Posted by: Moogs (moogsthewriter)
Posted at: May 2nd, 2011 02:59 pm (UTC)
Oceans - Reuben

You wrote me Billy background fic.

Really long Billy background fic.

I take it back. You're not the best--you're the most awesome of the bestest. :D

There will be more squeeing after I'm all done, I'm sure. But I love you muchly for this so far. :D

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: May 2nd, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
oceans french

It wasn't supposed to be this long, but once I got going, my muse wouldn't shut up. Though I will say, writing that many words in such a short time was quite an adventure :)

But you are so totally worth it.

Posted by: Moogs (moogsthewriter)
Posted at: May 2nd, 2011 03:50 pm (UTC)
Oceans - Team Fireworks

I am totally a fan of your muse and the adventures it takes you on. :)

Aww, I'm flattered you think so. :) Especially when it gets me awesomeness like this. You've done so much for me... not sure how I'll ever be able to pay you back. <3 I suppose you'll have to settle for my love and adoration.

3 Read Comments