faye_dartmouth: (billy watches)
[personal profile] faye_dartmouth
A/N: Let’s see if this whole rescue operation actually pans out this time around…

Previous parts in the MASTER POST



PART NINE

-o-

Michael was a creature of habit.

When old routines failed him new ones developed, evolved from the remnants of what had worked and what needed to work. He was reliable and resilient in this. He considered it to be less a task of invention and more a matter of adaptation. Mostly, Darwin would be proud.

This latest routine had only a few hours to evolve, but they were painful, vivid hours. Billy’s fever continued to rise, and the bouts of chills and heat became increasingly violent. The Scot was no longer conscious – raving with incoherent moans as the convulsions shook him – and each time he settled into the fevered darkness he seemed to slip further away.

Mostly, there was nothing to be done. But Michael’s tasks – though seemingly irrelevant – were the lynchpin of his sanity. During the fever, Michael used some of the tepid water to wipe Billy down. He trickled some into this Scot’s mouth, careful to ensure the taller man didn’t choke. He took Billy’s pulse at his neck, at his wrist, roughly calculated his blood pressure from all indications and then repeated the gentle process.

The bouts with chills were harder, and Michael sat close, maneuvering the makeshift pillow to cushion the worst of Billy’s convulsions. It had been nearly five hours, when Billy lapsed into stillness and didn’t rouse again.

Outside, it was dark. Michael checked his watch without emotion, seeing the seconds tick by with as much dispassion as he could manage. He stood every hour, walked once around the perimeter, checked his gun, and settled back down.

These habits weren’t much, but they were something. Intrinsically, they had little value, but Michael understood the quirks every agent had. The way Casey sang when he was nervous. The way Rick’s jaw worked as he paced when he wanted to question something but didn’t know how. The way Billy always found a way to move, exchanging uncertainty for jokes.

Michael kept routines. Silly things, conscious ticks that he purposefully established to bring order and predictability to his life and missions. It kept him grounded.

And he needed to be grounded.

The minutes slipped to hours. Billy got worse. Rick was captive and Casey wasn’t back yet and Michael needed to be grounded.

So he moved the compress, checked Billy’s pulse. He checked the perimeter, readied his gun, and settled in.

Then, there was a noise.

There had been occasional noises – the shifting of the siding, the faint flap of a tarp over a window, Billy snuffling in his illness – but this was different. The distant rumble was quiet at first, then louder and louder. Michael pictured it, could see the vehicle – larger than their Jeep, army grade – it was a good match for the car they’d swiped and it was time for Casey to be back.

Still, Michael checked his watch. There was reason for caution.

Careful, he checked his gun. It was still loaded. Glancing at Billy, Michael noted that the taller man was unmoving, mouth open as the sweat collected and soaked his hair. He wasn’t fine, but he wouldn’t get worse if Michael left.

It was perhaps the lesser of two evils, but still a necessary choice. Cautious, he got to his feet. Moving quickly, he scaled the distance to the wall, pressing himself against a wall and peering out one of the blown out windows.

The car was closer now, and the headlights went off as the car went in park. There was no attempt to hide, but Michael kept himself primed just in case. A few seconds later, Casey unloaded. He looked toward the building, waving his gun. “I can only hope you’ve managed not to be overrun since I’ve been gone.”

Michael let himself relax, just a little. “I was beginning to worry about you,” he said, voice casual but he kept himself stiff, eyes on the darkened car, just to be safe.

Casey grunted, pushing through the door. “Your lack of faith is insulting,” he muttered. The door shut behind him, and he zeroed in on Michael immediately. “But since I worried the same, perhaps I can’t fault you.”

There was no sign of distress, no sign of visible injury. Casey was back and he was fine.

The fact that something had gone right was such a shock that Michael still had trouble letting himself believe it. He hesitated, still standing near the wall, even as he let his aim fall. “With the way this mission’s gone,” he quipped.

Casey made a face of implicit agreement. “I just wish I could tell you it was going to get easier,” he said.

Michael stepped away, moving back toward Billy as he shook his head. “If that were the case, then I’d really start to worry,” he said.

Casey followed him. “Touché,” he said.

As they got back to the hobbled together base, Michael stepped around a crate, settling back next to Billy. His newfound habit reasserted itself, and Michael carefully lifted the compress, wiping it across Billy’s forehead before settling it back in place.

“How is he?” Casey asked.

Michael’s throat was tight, but he nodded. “This is Billy we’re talking about,” he said. His fingers felt for the pulse on his neck, then the pulse at his wrist. “He’d say he was just fine.”

“And he’d be the biggest liar among us,” Casey said with a snort of amused derision.

Finished with his routine, Michael settled back, turning his attention to Casey. “Which is why you need to tell me the good news.”

The meager humor faded and Casey settled on a crate on the opposite side of Billy. His gaze lingered just for a moment before he sighed and looked fully at Michael. “They seem to be keeping him in that last building on the compound,” he began.

“Didn’t it take on structural damage when Billy rammed it?” Michael asked.

This time, Casey visibly didn’t let his gaze flicker toward the unconscious Scot. Michael understood; Casey thrived when focused. Billy was a distraction he couldn’t afford just yet. “Some, but only to the front,” he reported. “They’ve got Rick locked up in an office at the back.”

“With an outer wall?” Michael asked, reimagining the building from his brief visits.

Casey inclined his head with a margin of satisfaction. “Even a window.”

Michael actually came close to smiling; he might have, were he not so exhausted. “That is good news.”

“Agreed,” Casey said. “However, the room is also carefully guarded. Two armed soldiers the entire time I was there.”

Two armed soldiers was less than ideal, but an outer wall with a window meant streamlined access and possibly a faster exit. It was about as much as Michael could hope for.

“I also have reason to believe they’ve mined the room,” Casey added.

Michael’s thought process stopped. “What? Why would you think that?”

Casey shrugged. “Probably because I saw them do it,” he replied. “They seem to be packing up, gearing to move out. Most of the men are loading trucks while the rest are fielding the exterior of the compound, but they spared two men to rig the place.”

“Thinking that any attempt at rescue would happen through the window,” Michael concluded. It was smart; it was the kind of forward thinking that protected one’s assets. It also made his job exponentially more difficult.

Michael’s eyes drifted toward Billy, and the pale, lax features made his stomach churn. He nodded, taking a breath before looking back at Casey with as much determination as he could muster. “It’s still doable.”

Casey looked more than a little skeptical. “The room is rigged to explode,” he said. “Not to mention the entire place is swarming with people.”

“The crowds will make it easier,” Michael said. “The fact that they’ve rigged it means they don’t have time to put a full watch on. They’re counting on blasting us all sky high as opposed to fighting us off.”

“Which, given the rigging, seems to be a fair assessment,” Casey countered.

“But we know it’s there,” Michael argued, emphatically now.

“I saw the wiring,” Casey said. “You don’t want to trip it.”

“So we won’t,” Michael continued, the plan unfolding in his mind. “We use the haze of confusion and what few supplies we have here to blend in.”

“And go in the front door,” Casey said. He was thoughtful, nodding. “It’s just audacious enough to work. You still have the guards.”

“Two armed guards are the least of my worries,” Michael said. “Once Rick’s free, we set the explosives and that’s our exit.”

“Well, assuming of course that you run like hell,” Casey said.

“I thought that was a given,” Michael replied ruefully. Then he hesitated. “How did Rick look?”

“I was far back but he seemed no worse for wear,” Casey said, face darkening just slightly. “I think he’ll be up for a run in the desert. We’ll have to make it a quarter mile at least, though, to get to the car.”

Michael considered that. It made sense. It would be as safe as anything. Except…

Except that Casey was presuming that they were both going.

In some ways, it wasn’t a bad supposition. Breaking Rick out of a highly fortified compound with a tactical genius in control was nothing to scoff at. Michael’s plan needed to be comprehensive, his execution flawless. Any oversight would likely result in death and/or capture.

Having two people would minimize that risk to some degree. Two people could keep watch while moving forward, more easily disarm two guards without a single gunshot. Two people meant that someone could carry Rick and fire if necessary.

Two people in the field, though, meant that Billy was alone.

Michael’s gaze went downward. Billy was getting worse – much worse. He was entirely vulnerable and every minute they spent in the field was one less minute Billy was away from the medical care he received. Two people in the field meant sacrificing Billy’s health.

Which was why Michael was going alone.

The resolve was sudden but certain, and he looked back up with renewed fortitude. “Just me,” he said, making the declaration as unimpeachable as he could. “I’ll go in, get Rick, and get out.”

The incredulity on Casey’s face was unmistakable. “That’s suicide,” he said. “With me, it’s still a death wish, but at least it’s not flat out stupid.”

“We can’t leave Billy alone,” Michael said. “If he gets much worse, you’ll need to drive him out of here.”

“And leave you behind?” Casey asked.

“We stole one car,” Michael said.

“Yeah, and that’s gone so well,” Casey snapped. It came across as anger; Michael understood it implicitly as fear.

“It’s not ideal,” Michael agreed. “But I can’t leave any of you behind. Not you, not Rick. Not Billy. If he gets worse…”

Casey’s brow furrowed. “So send me,” he said bluntly. “I’m the human weapon, not you.”

It was something Michael had considered. Casey was well equipped for the job.

But it was still Michael’s job. He’d put his men in too much risk; he wouldn’t sacrifice Casey as well. If this went south, he wanted both Casey and Billy in safety. Michael wasn’t a human weapon, but he wasn’t exactly a wilting flower in the field.

He shook his head. “I’m going.”

“No,” Casey replied flatly.

Michael’s eyes narrowed. For all the ODS bristled against the chain of command, Michael had always taken comfort in his men’s ability to follow his orders. “Yes.”

“No,” Casey said again, even more resolute now.

“That’s an order,” Michael growled, the tension swelling in his gut now.

Casey sat back, his defiance mounting. “Over my dead body.”

There was a wheeze and a faint chuckle. “I believe that’s my line in this case.”

Michael didn’t startle, but his shift of attention was immediate. He let his face soften, refusing to show the concern and growing determination that had been there just seconds before.

Not that it did much good; even with his eyes only half open, it was clear that Billy saw right through him.

Still, Michael was stubborn about these things. He smiled. “Over no one’s dead body,” he said, as if in finality. “But that’s not your concern. You should be resting.”

Billy blinked, weary and tired. “Seems that’s all I’ve been doing,” he said. “Hardly seems fitting when my mates are facing sure peril and probable death.”

Michael squeezed Billy’s arm, as encouragingly as he could. “Let us worry about that, okay?”

Billy nodded dimly, a small tremor shaking him. “Most assuredly,” he said, far too easily. Then his blue eyes focused even through the fever. “Because you’re not going to risk anything on my account.”

The gaze was piercing, and for a moment, all Michael could do was sit there, paralyzed by its surprising intensity.

Fortunately, while Casey disagreed with him on many things, he did not waver in this. “I don’t believe we asked you,” he said dully, but the lingering force of Casey’s will made it a clear non-negotiable.

For most people, that would be enough. But Billy wasn’t cowed any easier than the rest of him, especially when it came to Casey. He shook his head, vehement as the shivers ratcheted up a notch. “But it is my life you’re considering, aye?” he asked, all too knowingly.

Michael didn’t let his frustration show. Of course Billy knew. He pursed his lips. “You know we have to,” he said. There was no way to skirt the issue; at least, no way that Billy would allow. But honesty might just work, because Billy had few weaknesses, but guilt was one of them. “Your life is just as important as the rest of ours.”

“A sentiment I appreciate – truly,” Billy said, swallowing with difficulty. “Which is why we are all best served if we stay together.”

“In case you forgot, you’ve got a nasty case of malaria,” Casey reminded him gruffly.

Billy nodded. “And I’m all for a comfortable round of anti-malarial medication,” he said. His body convulsed slightly and his face pinched. “And perhaps some anti-nausea medication as well.”

“Which is why you can’t come,” Michael said. “Sending you and Casey back is the best chance to ensure that we all survive.”

“No,” Billy said. “It’s the best chance that I’ll survive and Casey and I will be going back alone.”

Casey looked up, met Michael’s gaze. This had been his point, and while Casey had enough respect for Michael not to agree out loud, the implication was clear.

Billy took a staggering breath, rallying himself. “We all go to get young Rick,” he said.

“You wouldn’t even be able to walk to the car,” Casey pointed out.

“So carry me to the bloody car,” Billy snapped. “And leave me there while you get Rick. I can be the lookout, for whatever that’s worth. We’ll all be together and it won’t have cost me much time.” He coughed, body trembling. “At this point, a few more hours isn’t likely to make much difference.”

Billy was being nonchalant and logical. The logic was sound, perhaps, but the nonchalance was forced. A few hours might make all the difference. They were flirting with disaster when it came to Billy’s condition, and yet Billy’s option had all the elements of a sound compromise.

Having a car in place would greatly simplify the escape. Having an extra man to drive while another could tend to Billy and Rick had definite appeal.

And yet, if something went wrong, Michael would sacrifice his entire team, not just half of it.

Billy’s eyes stayed steady, even as his body threatened to give in to the tremors. “You know I’m right,” he rasped. “It’s the best of all worlds; an ODS perfection.”

Casey’s silence was an implicit agreement. Michael was outnumbered and running out of excuses.

Not that he would necessarily let that stop him.

But before he had a chance to voice his obvious concerns and counterarguments, Billy shuddered, face twisting with pain.

“Promise me,” he ground out, eyes beseeching him now. “Promise me you won’t save me at anyone’s expense.”

It was a stupid promise, a foolish one. One Michael couldn’t give even if he wanted to.

And yet, it was one he couldn’t deny.

His will wavered and he nodded his assent.

Billy’s face relaxed, the relief palpable. Then he jerked, body curling to the side as his stomach revolted and he threw up again.

The retching was long and painful, and it took both Michael and Casey to hold the Scot up and keep him from falling face first into his own vomit. When it was over, Billy’s body went slack, eyelids fluttering as consciousness left him.

Gently, Michael rolled Billy back onto the makeshift bed, settling his long limbs into a comfortable position. For a second, no one spoke, all eyes on Billy as he took one struggling breath after another.

“So that’s the plan?” Casey asked.

Michael’s stomach was heavy, his throat tight. His eyes stung and he didn’t let himself blink as he nodded. “Yeah,” he said, almost grim. “That’s the plan.”

-o-

Michael was a good leader. That meant he’d do anything for his men. He risked life and limb and sometimes even national security. He defied orders and he overrode common sense. He broke laws and overcame the odds.

He succeeded. At any cost, he succeeded.

In this, Michael was nothing if not efficient. With the plan set, he did not linger to refine it or even to second guess it. There wasn’t time. Any hesitation and their slim window would be gone.

By his calculations, Jenkins’ deal would already underway. Based on Casey’s observations, after that, the group would only need about an hour to pack up and ship out to whatever secondary location Jenkins had improvised. The drive was maybe 40 minutes when speeding but they would have to ditch the car at least a mile out and take a circuitous route by foot, adding another good half hour to their commute.

In short, there was no time. Hell, there was barely time to load things up. As it was, he and Casey worked together, lugging the supplies in tandem and throwing them haphazardly in the back of the car. The only time they slowed was for Billy, carrying him gently by the blanket they’d been using for a bed. Michael took the corners near his shoulders while Casey lifted him near his feet. Together, they carefully walked, tugging the insensate Scotsman to the car with all the care they had left in their tired bodies.

They eased him down in the back, shoving aside the guns and supplies they’d reloaded earlier. Billy groaned, shifting restlessly, but he slipped back to unconsciousness as Michael went back to work. It wasn’t perfect – if the ride got as reckless as Michael feared it might, Billy would be dangerously unrestrained – but it would have to do for now.

Michael found a spare hat in the glove box and slipped it on as he climbed into the driver’s seat. He adjusted it, glancing back in the mirror at Casey. The older operative had set up next to Billy, perched staunchly as he set about reorganizing their supplies.

“You good?” Michael asked.

Casey looked at him, expression banal. “That’s like asking a man jumping from a plane without a parachute if he’s good.”

“Which you’ve done,” Michael pointed out.

Casey’s lips twitched in the small semblance of a smile. “There you go.”

Satisfied, Michael nodded. “I’d still hold on,” he recommended.

Bracing himself, Casey inclined his head. “Duly noted.”

Then Michael turned the key, pressed his foot down and took off.

-o-

The thing was, Michael was a good leader. That meant he’d do anything for his men. Anything. That wasn’t a decision he came to lightly, not in their line of work, not when anything meant anything.

Even lying to them.

Especially lying to them.

A half mile out, Michael parked behind the lone outcropping of plants and a large rock. He’d been driving slow with the lights off for a mile now, so when he killed the engine the soft hum in the arid night was barely audible.

Checking his gun, he packed as much ammo as he could, opened the door and finally looked back at Casey.

“How is he?” he asked.

Casey paused, looking down. His jaw worked just for a moment. “Still not conscious again,” he reported. “He’s running out of time. He won’t make it to tomorrow without some kind of treatment.”

It was the answer Michael expected. It did nothing to ease his nerves but it did solidify his resolve.

“Watch him, then,” Michael said. “If I’m not back in an hour, I want you to take him to the nearest hospital.”

Casey stared at him as he processed the words. “I’m going with you,” he said finally, as if that was a protest Michael would listen to.

Michael shook his head. “It’s too risky.”

“It’s the only risk that makes sense,” Casey countered.

“If something happens, I need to know that you’ll get Billy out,” Michael insisted.

“But if I don’t go, the odds of you getting Rick out aren’t good.”

Michael gave a dry laugh. “Since when have our odds ever been good?”

“And sometimes that goes against us,” Casey said pointedly. “Or do I need to remind you of how this mission has gone so far?”

At that, Michael sighed. “There’s no time to argue about this.”

“Which is why I’m going,” Casey said again, more adamantly now.

“Casey—“

“Michael,” Casey shot back, eyes blazing now. “You promised Billy.”

That one hurt; Casey knew how to go for the heart and wasn’t afraid to do it. Michael just nodded and refused to give in. “And I promised all of you I’d get you out,” he said. “That’s the promise that matters most. The one you’ll know I’ll keep.”

Casey didn’t waver, his eyes still boring into Michael. The obvious protest was there; the defiance was burning bright, threatening to burst. He could overtake Michael by force if he wanted, and they both knew it.

But they also both knew that Michael was right. Yes, they had a better chance of getting Rick out if they both went. But the improved odds didn’t warrant risking the second man. Not when Billy would die alone out here if they failed. The big picture left them with no good options, but this one was good enough.

More than that, this one was all they had.

Casey drew a breath then let it out again. “Two hours,” he said.

Michael’s mouth lifted in a small smile. “Hour and a half.”

“Fine,” Casey said. “Just remember, the room is rigged.”

“And there’s a lack of security around the back of the compound,” Michael said. “I got it.”

Casey didn’t look particularly convinced, but he sat back, marginally mollified. “Just come back,” he said. “And bring Rick with you. He’s the only one with any kind of bedside manner at all.”

Michael nodded. “I’ll do what I can.”

Casey didn’t reply this time; Michael didn’t wait. Instead, he closed the door, turning himself toward the compound. In the dark it was nothing more than a small collection of lights in the distance. The two other times he’d been there it had gone badly. All of his best laid plans for naught.

This time it would be different. It had to be.

Resolved, he ducked around the truck, checking the open desert before making his way out into the open.

-o-

In his head, Michael’s plan was carefully computed and perfectly delineated. He had contingencies and methodologies, mapped out minutely in order to have the best chance at success possible. He could account for everything except the emotions. The way it felt, the arid night air in his lungs. The sand shifting under his feet. The pounding of his heart as he took step after step away from Casey and Billy and toward Rick.

His palms were sweaty but he didn’t bother to wipe them down. He moved quickly and quietly, gun in hand, the extra ammo in his pockets landing heavily against him as he jogged through the night. He stuck to the fringes, just beyond what would be visible in a normal security sweep. The night worked in his favor for this, and he used whatever natural hiding place he could to obscure his movements as best he could.

It was tedious work, not so much exhausting as it was frustrating. Because Michael understood the value of a rear approach but the time his circuitous route took was pressing, each minute feeling like a lifetime – Billy’s lifetime, Rick’s lifetime. It was hard to be patient and slow when other people were living on seemingly borrowed time.

Still, when he made it around back, the benefit of his plan was plain. The security was lighter in this direction, exactly as Casey had explained. Crouched behind a rock, Michael watched as a guard paced by, disappearing around the bend in the fence and behind one of the buildings they’d demolished earlier in the day.

He watched a moment longer, noting the patterns of the men inside. It wasn’t quite chaos but it was close. People were performing their duties, but it only took one look to see how distracted they were.

This was the good news. Possibly some of the best news he had all day.

Narrowing his eyes, he scanned the fence, looking for any obvious entry points. It was mostly intact despite the earlier skirmish. There was a gate in one direction, but with a man at check, it was the least appealing option. Then his eyes zeroed in on the dark section toward the far corner. There was nothing special about it, and it was out in the open a bit, but the darkened portion was outside the beams of the two protruding security lights.

It wasn’t a perfect place but it was about as good as Michael was going to get. Without stopping to doubt himself, Michael broke out into a light jog, traversing the final distance with relative ease. As he approached, he traded his gun for the knife tucked into his pants. Glancing around furtively, he willed his nerves to calm, swallowing back the inevitable rush of adrenaline before slicing clean through the metal.

The hole he carved out was small and he had to duck to get through it. His shirt caught but he eased his way free, standing promptly and adjusting his hat. Getting to his feet, he took up a steady pace, adjusting his hat and keeping his head down as he made his way to the first building he saw.

At this point, true stealth was futile. He was going to be seen. The key was to ensure that he wasn’t noticed. There was a distinction in that, and an important one. People tended to look for things that stood out, not necessarily things that didn’t belong. True, being Caucasian was a drawback, but Jenkins’ recruitment strategy had clearly been one of expanding Sunday’s militant base. While the majority of men were black, Jenkins’ had secured some others – probably ex-military, if Michael had to guess – which would give Michael a little leeway.

A little, but not much. His success rested entirely on his ability to blend in. This level of finesse was often Billy’s forte, but Michael did have the unparalleled blessing of being entirely nondescript.

Fortunately, everyone was so set on trying to get the hell out that they were too aware of someone trying to get the hell in. This wasn’t much, but Michael didn’t have much else going in his favor tonight so he was going to take whatever he could get.

Head down, he nodded as he passed a group of soldiers, not slowing as he made his way across the compound. There was chattering and occasional yelling; cars rumbled to life, making their way to the exit and lining up for what he could only assume was the transport caravan. From the look of things, they were almost ready to go.

Which was fine with Michael. He was ready to go, too. But unlike Jenkins’ army, he only had one thing to load up.

With that in mind, Michael darted his way to the last building. He passed men carrying out boxes and he nodded in deferment as he ducked inside after they’d left. This building was busier than the rest, some of the rooms still being packed up.

Michael didn’t slow, even though he wasn’t exactly sure where he was going. He knew the general location thanks to Casey’s surveillance, but he had to trust his innate sense of direction to lead him through the corridors.

Then, he saw it.

Two guards.

They looked like the rest of the men, except there they were. Just standing there.

What would need to be guarded during an exit? Nothing that needed to be packed up. Nothing that they were leaving behind.

A prisoner.

Michael turned the corner and took a breath. In truth, he would have preferred a bit more time to prepare, to plot out a better entrance and an apt distraction. But there wasn’t time, and really, the only thing he had going for him was the element of surprise.

So, surprise.

Michael walked up to them and smiled. “Hey, I was wondering if you had seen Jenkins around here?” he asked.

The men frowned, one going for his gun, but Michael didn’t give him the chance. He kicked at the first gun before slamming his fist into the second man. His knuckles split and his hand exploded but he didn’t let it stop him. This time, he spun, using his leg to boot the first man in the stomach, following up with a knee to the forehead that sent him sprawling.

The second was reaching for his walkie-talkie and Michael lashed out, shoving him hard against the door. They crashed together and the man floundered for a moment before pushing back. Michael’s balance shifted and he teetered precariously.

The man yelped and Michael was suddenly aware of the racket. He had his gun, but any shot now would bring the entire compound down on him. It was too soon for that. Michael needed to end this – quickly and quietly. Feeling desperate, his heart skipped a beat and he held his breath, ramming the palm of his hand forward with all the force he could muster.

He hit flesh and there was the sound of cartilage breaking. The man’s nose gave way but Michael didn’t stop. The man’s head hit hard against the wall, and Michael felt the tension leave the man’s body as he slid to the floor in an immobile heap.

Lungs burning, Michael held himself very still, not daring to move. He listened down the hallways, trying to pick up any sound of movement. There were distant voices, but not imminent. He hadn’t been detected.

He let out a breath, the relief almost paralyzing for a moment. But there was no time to relish this victory, not with the next leg of the rescue still before him.

With that in mind, Michael turned his attention to the door. Without the guards, it was innocuous, as nondescript as the rest he had seen. There was no window and the locking mechanism appeared to be rudimentary, nothing he couldn’t crack with a paperclip.

Too bad he didn’t have a paperclip. His mission for a damn paperclip, horses be damned.

The tension peaked and he reached out, trying the handle tentatively. When it moved, he held himself very still.

The door could be unlocked for a number of reasons. Maybe in the shuffle, they’d lost the key. Maybe they just hadn’t wanted to waste time with it since they’d be leaving soon anyway. Maybe Rick had proven difficult and easy access in was more important than potential easy access out. Maybe it had just been an oversight and these two guards would have their asses handed to them when this little escapade was done.

Or maybe Jenkins wanted Michael to open it.

The thought was daunting, and threw his logical reasoning into overdrive. What if the entire thing had been a set up? What if the window had been to tempt him and the rigging had been to dissuade him, all to point him here? To this door?

And if Michael turned the knob, maybe he’d blow himself and Rick up. Maybe Michael would destroy his own mission, his own men.

Maybe.

Michael closed his eyes, trying to think which risk was worth taking.

The wrong choice might kill him. It might kill Rick. And he couldn’t count on Casey going back, staying true to his word. It could kill Casey, too. And then Billy would die alone.

And if he did nothing, then Rick was a lost cause. The result was the same.

Failure.

Michael was going to fail. All his planning, all his logic, and he was going to fail.

“You do impress me,” a voice shattered his thoughts.

Michael didn’t flinch, though. He wasn’t actually surprised. Pressing his lips together, he turned. “Jenkins.”

The man offered him a bland smile in return. “Anyone else would have blown themselves up by now,” he said. “I figured, the lesser trained would have tripped the wires by the window. Those with superior skills would be done in by the door.”

“They’re both rigged,” Michael concluded, the realization settling with new certainty. He inclined his head. “Clever.”

Jenkins shrugged. “You can’t plan for rebellion without being somewhat gifted in such things.”

“Your abilities are pretty good,” Michael conceded.

Jenkins’ look was condescending. “That’s an understatement,” he said. “Though I haven’t quite pegged you just yet. At first I really did think you were a drug dealer.”

“And now?” Michael asked wryly.

“Possibly special forces,” he said, but he shook his head. “CIA seems more likely for this type of prolonged undercover assignment.”

Michael didn’t confirm or deny it. “Then why haven’t you killed me?”

“I have allowances in my plans,” Jenkins said. “The same as you. I had to think, if I could keep you alive long enough to find out what the CIA knows about me, the better off my chances are.”

“Torture?”

Jenkins frowned dismissively. “It would be a bit predictable,” he agreed. “But maybe just the threat is enough.”

“You think I’ll cave that easily?”

“I think you’ll do anything for your men,” Jenkins said.

This sounded more brilliant than it actually was. Good leaders saw it in other good leaders. The desire to protect one’s men was a fundamental part of the job. Jenkins was willing to compromise foot soldiers, but he was still a leader. But the fact was, he understood lives were expendable.

Michael didn’t.

In this, Jenkins’ assessment was correct. One captured operative was only useful when parlaying to another. This part of the plan was good.

But he thought Michael would capitulate. He was expecting Michael to give in, if only in the pretense of buying time. The smug look on his face said it all.

Jenkins gave him an earnest look. “The best traps are the ones where the prey hang themselves,” he said, his tone pedantic.

The man was downright pleased with himself. He’d led Michael this far, maneuvered him this much, he thought it was over.

The problem was, in all the intricate plans, Jenkins had forgotten that sometimes the best solutions were the simplest. Sometimes you didn’t need to plan. Sometimes you just needed to do what seemed right and hope that when the dust settled, everything would work out for the best.

Michael planned enough to know when to stop. He plotted enough to know when it was time to throw the whole damn playbook in the fire and just act.

With that determination, Michael shrugged. “That’s not bad,” he said. “You’ve accounted for just about everything.”

“That is my job,” Jenkins said. “Now, if you will, please hand me your gun before this gets messy.”

Michael lifted his gun. “This?” he asked. Then he shrugged. “Okay.”

In that moment, Jenkins realized his mistake. Realized the contingency he’d overlooked. Because he thought himself to be too invaluable to dispose of. He’d counted on Michael not wanting to kill, but capture. He’d thought the sheer threat of being backed into a corner meant that Michael would fight like hell to get out.

Jenkins, however, was wrong.

The man was going for his gun, but it was too late. Michael ignored all the plans he made, trusted his gut, narrowed his eyes, and pulled the trigger.

-o-

Jenkins looked surprised as he fell. Michael wanted to take satisfaction in that but, in truth, he was really too busy to relish it much. After all, he still had a rigged door to open, an operative to rescue, and an escape to make past an army.

The problem was, the more Michael thought about it, the worse off he was. That was Jenkins’ flaw – maybe his fatal one – he thought too much. He planned too perfectly. Combat situations required precision and forethought – and a hell of a lot of luck. And, maybe most importantly, the instincts to know when how to use that luck to the maximum advantage.

Case in point: Jenkins was down and Michael had to open a rigged door. True, Jenkins could have been lying about the door, but lies weren’t his style. The door was rigged, Michael’s instincts had been right.

But Jenkins was an ammunitions expert. The bomb at the hotel had been messy but controlled. It probably wasn’t even meant to be fatal. Just enough to throw Michael on his ass. Shock value. That was how you won wars without risking too many men, and Jenkins certainly didn’t need to be throwing his men away even if he didn’t value them as equals.

In short, if Michael couldn’t beat Jenkins at a game of chess, then it was time just to throw all the pieces on the floor and trust his own fortitude to win out in the end.

Jaw set, he pressed himself against the wall, reaching out tentatively for the handle. He took a breath. Then another.

If he was wrong, he might kill Rick. He might kill himself.

He wasn’t wrong.

Determined, he wrapped his fingers around the handle, pushed down and pulled back. As the hinges inched open, something clicked and Michael dove to the side, covering his head as he fell and the explosion ripped the wall behind him.

-o-

His ears rang; his heart thumped. Dust was settling, debris shifting with audible groans. His body ached, a sharp pain along his back where a fresh wetness was spreading.

The sensations were vast, overwhelming. But they led to one simple truth: he was alive.

Ultimately, nothing else mattered. If he was alive, then the mission could go on.

The mission mattered. He’d deal with the rest later, one way or another.

With this determination, he got to his feet. His equilibrium wavered and his vision darkened around the edges, but he didn’t give in to the pull of unconsciousness. Time was critical now; with the explosion, reinforcements would be funneling in to see what had happened. When they realized that Jenkins had been felled, he imagined they wouldn’t take it well.

It would be chaos, of course, which would work mostly to Michael’s advantage. Haphazard attack strategies weren’t nearly as effective, but they could still be deadly. Which was why Michael needed to get as much of a head start as he possibly could.

Woozy, he forced himself to steady, squinting while his vision cleared. As he suspected, the bomb was specifically directed. The door and its frame were blown away, flinging debris into the wall across the hall, but beyond that, the damage was contained. And now Michael had a clear shot straight into the room.

He took one step, faltered, then took another. By the time he cleared the crumbling threshold, he could mostly see again, though his ears were still struggling to clear. He would have preferred to hear the sounds of impending danger, but with his heart pounding as loudly as it was, it wouldn’t make much difference.

Besides, it was his vision that mattered as he saw Rick.

The youngest operative was seated on a chair, arms pulled taut behind his back. He was covered in dust, a freshly bleeding scratch along his cheek. There were other bruises and abrasions evident under the grime, but they looked older, probably from the earlier scuffle with Jenkins’ men.

He looked surprised, a bit shell shocked, but very much alive.

Brow furrowed, he spit blood for a moment and then shook his head, as if to clear it. “Michael?” he asked hoarsely.

They were hardly home free, but it still warranted a smile as he approached, pocketing his gun. “You ready to get out of here?” he asked, pulling out his knife instead.

“You almost blew me up!” Rick said, still blinking a little dazedly. He head jerked, tracking Michael with some difficulty as he snaked around behind the chair.

Kneeling now, Michael didn’t bother with the clasp of the tip-tie and slice clean through the plastic. Martinez’s arms fell to his sides, and Michael moved back around in front. “Just making an entrance,” he said. Up close, he gave Rick another appraising look. The younger man was still dazed – worse than Michael – and there was a nasty bruise on his hairline, probably from his capture. “You okay?”

Rick blinked again, trying to focus on Michael and only succeeding somewhat. “That depends,” the kid said. “Did you suddenly get a twin brother?”

Michael frowned. “Is the double vision a new thing?”

“Well, I wasn’t born with it,” Rick said, words slurring a little.

Michael fought the urge to roll his eyes. Multiple blows to the head in a single day; even if Jenkins had tried to interrogate Rick, it was unlikely that he’d get anything from the kid in this condition. Which was good but also bad – concussions weren’t as minor as TV and movies made them out to be. If Rick took enough hits, he could be bleeding in the brain.

Michael’s ear popped and sound came flooding back. With that, he heard the shouts.

Focused again, Michael reached down, hoisting Rick by one arm. “Well, I hope you can stomach one more explosion,” he said.

Rick made a half-drunken grunt. “You mean three wasn’t enough?”

Michael guided Rick, half dragging him over the debris to the hallway. “I think there’s been four,” he said. “But I sort of lost count.”

Rick snorted again, making a squawk of protest as Michael settled him on the ground.

The voices were louder now and Michael hissed at Rick, “Don’t move!”

Martinez offered a meager reply, but Michael wasn’t listening. Instead, he went back into the room, making his way to the window. The wires were easy to spot – which had been Jenkins’ intention – and Michael figured they’d be easy to trip, too. The problem was, of course, how was he going to set off the bomb without catching the brunt of it.

Then again, the bomb’s blast was probably targeted toward the outside. Not that there would be an interior repercussion, but if Michael ran and dove…

It wasn’t like he had another option.

With that, he stood as far back as he could while he jimmied the window. It wasn’t locked and it didn’t take much. When Michael heard the click, he dove to the side as far as he could.

The blast was loud, rocking him violently. He hit the ground, fresh pain swelling through his body. He tasted blood in his mouth, but he rolled through it. On his back, he coughed, hacking his way back to awareness as the desert night invigorated his senses.

Blinking, he saw the gaping hold in the wall where the window used to be.

Which meant, it had worked.

There was no time to celebrate that victory; not with the sounds of yelling ever close.

He scrambled on his hands and knees, ignoring the sharp stones and plaster under him. By the time he got to the door, he managed to find his feet, half stumbling through the ruined doorway.

Outside, he nearly tripped, almost landing on someone when he fell.

Michael blinked, expecting it to be Rick.

He blinked again. It was Jenkins.

Bloody, with his eyes open. But not in death. He was alive.

Michael hadn’t exactly counted on that, though he hadn’t exactly thought about it at all. Incapacitation had been his singular goal, alive or dead had been superfluous.

But the fact that he was alive was relevant because if he was alive, then the mission might be salvaged.

Then all of this might not be for nothing. He might not have to beg for his job from Higgins or listen to Fay tell him I told you so. He might be able to get his men and his intel, the best of all worlds.

Without thinking any more, Michael reached down, pulling the man up. He groaned, and as Michael shifted the man over his shoulders, he felt fresh blood roll down his back from the gunshot wound in Jenkins’ upper chest. It was not Michael’s intention to be cruel – though he certainly wasn’t opposed to causing the man pain – but he had other priorities.

Like Rick.

There was a sudden ping of gunfire and Michael suppressed a curse. At least while carting around Jenkins, he had built in defenses. Not that it was bullet proof, but it was something.

Rick was only a few paces away, still on the ground but half sprawled now. He was blinking, but slowly, mouth gaping a little as he clearly tried to get his bearings.

“Come on,” Michael grunted, using his free hand and wrapping it around Martinez’s wrist. “Up we go.”

Rick made a sound of vague protest, but when Michael hefted him to his feet, he managed to stay standing.

“You good?” Michael asked, ducking down to look into his operative’s face a little more clearly.

Rick looked at him; up close, the blood was more vivid against his dusty features. He nodded. “Yeah,” he said, almost as if the answer surprised him.

There was yelling in the hallway now, and Michael made out the line of men taking position right as more gunfire hit the wall next to Rick.

“Good,” Michael said, giving Rick a tug. “Then let’s go.”

He turned, pushing Rick in front of him. The younger man stumbled, but kept himself upright. Michael guided him, the weight straining on his shoulders, as they tripped over the rubble back into the room. From there, Rick seemed to understand, took a beeline to the destroyed wall into the night outside.

Once outside, the night air made Michael stop. He hesitated, looking in all directions, gauging his best course of action. Straight ahead, there was the fence line, the fastest out but without any sustainable means of long distance movement. On foot, with two injured men, Michael didn’t like his odds.

To the right, he heard voices and movement.

So left.

Michael herded Rick, trying to push the pace even as his shoulders ached in protest. Rick fumbled as they rounded the corner.

The oncoming soldiers were so close that they didn’t think to fire. The confusion was the moment Michael needed. Pulling his gun, he shot low. The men fell in a chorus of curses. Rick kept moving, and Michael didn’t slow, eyes scanning the darkness for anything he could use.

The men weren’t mobilizing; disparate groups were still packing, some converging on the compound. Michael had some time, then. They might now know what had happened, and that was what Michael needed.

Just a few more seconds.

Then, he saw the car.

One soldier, loading up the back. Engine idling.

It was across the yard, in clear view of several contingents.

It was a risk, and militants tended to be trigger happy. But Jenkins had trained these men; with so much information about procedure, there was a good chance these men had neglected the skill of improvisation.

This wasn’t how Michael would plan it, but what the hell. At this point, he didn’t have any other choices.

“Go, go,” Michael said, shoving Rick forward.

Rick took a stuttering step, but soon they were running across the open space. They were halfway there when someone yelled. Almost a third when the gunfire started up again.

He could return fire, but he didn’t want to waste the time. They were close – so close.

As they approached, the soldier at the car turned, shocked.

Michael moved in, using his gun to backhand him with force and he crumpled down. Opening the back, Michael herded Rick in, tossing Jenkins haphazardly in after him. “Watch him,” Michael muttered, moving around to the driver’s seat as fresh gunfire erupted.

The back window broke and Michael ducked as he got in. The engine roared as Michael shifted into gear, pressing down hard on the gas and directing the car as hard and fast as he could. Men scattered. The fence approached. In the back, Rick was yelping, Jenkins was groaning. Michael tightened his grip, ducked his head and drove.

This wasn’t part of the plan, but it would work.

It had to work.

And then, the front of the car hit the fence. Metal clanged as the fence tumbled, hitting hard on top of the roof. There was the sound of grinding, a flicker of sparks, and the dark night welcomed them back into the open desert.

NEXT

Date: 2012-06-28 12:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nietie.livejournal.com
Woohoo! Chaosketeers at heart!

That's what I love about fic above TV/film: you can get a real insight inside a character's head.
Poor Michael. But he's doing a wonderful job, considering the circumstances.

Date: 2012-06-29 11:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
I agree with you -- while I do love the visual element of TV/movies, being able to get inside a character's head is very, very gratifying.

And poor Michael indeed! And he's still not done with everything just yet!

Thanks :)

Date: 2012-06-28 03:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] blackdog-lz.livejournal.com
Yay, Rick is safe :)
I really love the action in this part and the message that Michael's mission is always to bring his men home first.

(Just a side note: Malaria can't be treated with antibiotics :)

The writing tests are for a trainee medical writer position in England, and I'm really, really could get some positive news for once)

Date: 2012-06-28 03:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
He's safer for now...I'm afraid he may not be out of the woods yet.

(You know I actually knew that. I just generally throw in antibiotics as a catch-all and didn't catch myself this time. I think I used more accurate information in the rest of the fic. LOL, I should ask you to be my medical consultant!)

(And that would be an exciting position! I'll cross my fingers for you!)

Date: 2012-06-30 08:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] blackdog-lz.livejournal.com
Well, safe-ish then, it does reassure my nerves a bit though :)

(I once held a seminar about Malaria during Uni, so I can probably unearth it :) But at least the immunology courses pay off)

Date: 2012-06-30 07:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
I tend to have happy endings (unless I provide adequate warning).

(And LOL. Makes me regret being an English major.)

Date: 2012-07-05 10:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kristen-mara.livejournal.com

More explosions!!

**“So carry me to the bloody car,” Billy snapped.**

I luv him! He's so determined, even when in dire peril...

And Casey and Michael about the parachute ;) Love the banter between all the boys and Jenkins being snatched.

Date: 2012-07-05 12:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
Explosions! I figured if I was going to have one explosion in this fic, I might as well have six. Or something :)

And Billy is always awesome. I do wish we'd gotten more peril with him in the show but fic is the next best thing :)

Thanks!

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