faye_dartmouth: (chaos team moves)
[personal profile] faye_dartmouth
A/N: The mission may be over, but the boys still aren’t in the clear yet…

Previous parts in the MASTER POST



PART ELEVEN

-o-

It didn’t take long for Michael to secure a transport. He offered to drive it himself, but was politely refused. Michael had assumed that it was all part of military protocol, but as he settled into the passenger seat, he realized there might be more to it than that.

Because he was exhausted. It was the early morning now, the sun lighting the sky in vibrant shades over the horizon. Michael couldn’t quite recall when he had last slept, and the events of the last twenty-four hours were more than something of a blur. From that first botched meeting, to Vaughan’s death, to all three rescue efforts – to say that the day had been long was an understatement of the most severe degree.

Michael was used to hard hours. He was used to tiresome work. He was used to bone weary exhaustion, the stress that builds and builds with no foreseeable outlet. But sitting there, not at the driver’s seat for once, it was almost too much.

After all, how much had Michael almost lost? Rick and Billy and Casey. The mission itself.

He had to brace himself as his driver skirted potholes, holding one hand to his head, pressing around the numbed stitches and swallowing back the nausea in his stomach. He told himself that it was the head injury, the slight concussion. That was all.

Still, by the time they got to the hospital, Michael was more than a little relieved. He thanked his driver and ignored the obligatory reminder about debriefing and made his way inside.

Michael didn’t speak much of the native language, but it didn’t require nuanced translation to navigate a hospital. Michael had done this more than he wanted to remember, more than he ever let himself acknowledge. But it always came back to him, a well rehearsed part with lines he wished he had never memorized in the first place.

He had made his way to a waiting room and Casey was easy to find. Disheveled and clearly American, he stuck out like a sore thumb. It didn’t help that he was restless, pacing back and forth, muttering under his breath.

When Michael approached, Casey didn’t slow, didn’t even look at him. Instead, he shook his head, brushing by Michael. “Did you take care of Jenkins?” he asked.

Michael regarded him with caution. “Turned him over to the military,” he confirmed.

Casey still didn’t visibly acknowledge Michael’s presence. “We could have used them a lot earlier on this one,” he said.

Michael watched Casey walk to the wall and turn before walking back again. His stomach churned. “Maybe,” he relented.

It said something of Casey’s state that he didn’t pounce on Michael’s admission. In fact, he still didn’t look at Michael at all. “The loss of control might have been worth it,” he continued.

“It could have made it worse,” Michael countered.

At that, Casey stopped, his eyes landing on Michael’s with a frightening stillness. Casey’s looks were always intense and unyielding, but the uncertainty, the fear there now – it was downright unnerving. “You don’t even know how bad it is,” he replied flatly.

Michael didn’t let the impact of those words show. He tried not to think about it. Tried not to think about Rick with internal injuries, Billy with advanced, untreated malaria. Instead, he held his head high, kept his voice even. “So?”

Casey’s mouth twisted into a bitter smile. “Where would you like me to start?” he asked jadedly. “Maybe with Rick’s invasive surgery to repair a ruptured spleen and a liver laceration? Or how about Billy’s possibly brain damaging coma and borderline organ failure?”

Casey’s words were chosen for their impact. There was no practical prognosis, just cherry picked details to make Casey’s point.

Michael knew this. But he also knew the point Casey was making. The point Michael didn’t want to face. Rick and Billy – they weren’t okay. Not yet. This had been a possibility, Michael knew, but hearing it, knowing it was true—

Michael didn’t know what to do with that.

Michael didn’t know what to do at all.

The ferocity in Casey’s eyes shifted from anger to something less and when he spoke, there was a hint of compassion even in his pointed tone. “So,” he said, inclining his head purposefully, “what were you saying about control again?”

-o-

Control was something you had or you didn’t. When Michael didn’t, he had learned that faking it was a close second. Most people believed in a person who believed in himself, even if that belief was far from warranted.

This served him well in all situations in life. It also made him the right bastard he was.

Casey had divulged Billy’s room number without too much prodding. He suspected that the older operative was partially relieved to not be responsible for the bedside vigil, and at least somewhat eager to make Michael face up to the consequences of his decision. He didn’t quite blame Michael – they had spent too many years together in the field, come through too many close scrapes – but Casey’s faith was always most tenuous when the team was on the line.

Michael could forgive that, would forgive it, once this was over. Casey had his coping mechanisms, and if they weren’t healthy, they were at least effective.

Armed with that information, finding his way in was easy enough. He watched the halls carefully. The daytime was clearly available for visitors, but Michael wanted to avoid nurses and doctors for now if possible. It was true that they could provide critical information, but they might also want critical information, and Michael was in no mood to negotiate delicate answers at the moment.

So he lingered in the hall, watching the nurse’s station, seeing the rotation. Watched a doctor make his rounds, watched the nurse check charts. When one came out of Billy’s room, shuffling off to the next patient, Michael seized his moment and ducked inside.

His successful infiltration without being noticed was enough of an accomplishment that he was already inside the room before he remembered the severity of Billy’s condition at all.

The room was small and private, which Michael attributed to the criticality of the ward. It was cluttered with equipment, the machines alive and buzzing.

Billy, by contrast, looked small and lifeless. He was laid out on his back, hastily half covered with an over starched sheet. He was attached to leads, which strung back toward the machines, with an IV in his arm and a central line running out from his ill-fitting hospital gown.

The sheer amount of medical intervention was the first realization. Medication, saline, heart rate, temperature: the myriad of devices were easy enough to sort out but hard enough to accept. And then there was Billy himself.

In the light, the Scot was almost garish, the dark stubble only accentuating his colorless skin. His cheekbones were flushed with red, and sweat still beaded across his forehead. His eyes were closed, mouth open, and his chest rose and fell in short, strained breaths.

Uncomfortable, Michael needed some sort of recourse. Picking up Billy’s chart was as much for information as it was to retain some semblance of control. Michael had some skill with doctor shorthand, but the language barrier did present some challenges. He skipped over the presenting symptoms and looked straight at the course of treatment.

The prescription for artesunate was a bit unexpected. It was a term he recognized only loosely, listed in an agency packet about treatment options for severe cases. It was coupled with saline to promote overall fluids and a fever reducer to tackle Billy’s fever.

From the chart, Michael glanced toward Billy and reconciled the information. It wasn’t news – Billy’s quick downward spiral and the time they’d delayed treatment had been hard to ignore – but it still felt stark knowing the clinical diagnosis was probably as much a worst case scenario as Michael had thought. Still, it gave new weight to the listlessness of Billy’s body, to the tremor from the fever. Billy was sick – Billy was really sick.

Glancing back down, Michael made reference to the blood work, seeing that a fresh batch of blood had just been drawn. Billy’s fever hadn’t fluctuated much, just enough to inch a few points higher since his admission. He could only surmise the rest. Billy had likely undergone another fit of fever pitches and chills, although he seemed to be resting now. No official diagnosis was made – not without two rounds of blood tests, anyway – but it was clear that the doctors knew what they were fighting.

Michael put the chart down, jaw set as he looked at Billy. Being right usually made him feel good, but in this case, it did nothing for him.

Being right meant that Billy was fighting for his life. While Michael plotted and planned and executed, Billy was waging a war on the most fundamental level. He had put everything aside for Michael’s mission, had ignored his body’s most basic instincts to do his part, and now that they had succeeded Michael had to admit that it didn’t feel like success.

Michael had controlled everything, including prolonging Billy’s time untreated and forcing him to the hospital, and for what? To realize he wasn’t in control at all?

In truth, he wasn’t sure what he’d expected coming back. Returning had been the only option, but he had never allowed himself to consider exactly what he was coming back to. Or more, what he thought he could do to change it. Michael was a CIA operative. A damn good one, but that was it.

He could control missions and protocol, but he couldn’t control illness and injury. He could tell people what to do but couldn’t make them survive. He could capture enemies and still lose friends.

Michael had controlled everything he could but now he had to face the fact that it wasn’t enough.

He wasn’t enough.

Standing there, Billy was fighting for his life, and Michael just wasn’t even close to enough.

-o-

Michael wasn’t in trouble and the chances of him being followed were slim. Though a good portion of Jenkins’ outfit was still alive, they were undoubtedly scared and uncertain. If Sunday survived, his leadership techniques would undoubtedly be questioned. Some sort of counterstrike might be expected, but Michael knew the man lacked the skills, foresight, and stamina to find the ODS after all the chaos they’d left in their wake.

Still, the idea of conversing with medical authorities made him uncomfortable.

Or maybe just watching Billy sleep, languishing with the fever, made him uncomfortable.

Either way, he watched the clock carefully, leaning close to Billy and promising to be back soon, before scuttling out just ahead of the nurse. Carefully blending in with the people in the hallways, Michael navigated his way back to the waiting room.

Casey was still there, but he was seated now. His knee was jiggling, though, and he shifted in his seat intermittently, eyes glued on the clock on the wall. To the outsider, he would still look like a mess, but Michael knew this was an improvement. He was back in control of at least some of his fear.

As Michael approached, he found that to be at least partially true. Casey had controlled his fear because he had channeled it to anger. This was to be expected when it came to Casey, but usually that anger could be directed toward the mission.

Now that the mission was over, Casey had no other recourse and seemed intent on directing it at Michael.

He leveled Michael with a glare, his eyes narrowing progressively as Michael approached. When Michael sat down in the chair next to him, Casey’s entire body went rigid and there was venom in his voice when he spoke. “So?” he asked, the words sharp.

Michael exhaled deeply and tried to relax. But no matter what he did, he could still feel the tension building in his shoulders, pounding behind his bandaged head. “So he’s not been conscious?” Michael asked, purposefully skirting the obvious malice.

“That’s why it’s called a coma,” Casey replied. “That’s what happens to people with a severe strain of malaria that goes untreated.”

There was ample truth to that, so Michael didn’t deny it. “Billy’s come through worse.”

Casey scoffed. “And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” he asked. “After writing bad poetry, Billy’s favorite hobby is taking one for the proverbial team. You’re talking about the man who’s lost count of how many times he’s been shot, so the fact that he’s been through worse isn’t much consolation.”

Eight, Michael thought reflexively. In the six years Billy’s been with the ODS, he had been shot eight times. Michael had mentally logged all those instances – eight bullets in four incidences – ranking them from least serious – the through and through in his shoulder in Peru – to the worst – the three bullets to the torso in Cambodia, the time Billy’s heart stopped three times before he came back to them for good.

These were the things Michael remembered. He had to remember. It was his job to understand his failures and successes, and the well being of his team was catalogued among the most important of variables. Billy had been shot eight times, though he’d suspected the Scot had probably had a few instances before joining that he’d just never shared, and Michael had never asked.

Still, if it wasn’t much consolation, it was a fact. Consolation was an emotion. Facts were workable tools, especially when it came to Casey.

“You really ready to write Collins off so quickly?” Michael asked, arching one eyebrow critically. It was a little cruel, maybe, but necessary.

Casey’s face hardened. He shook his head. “Don’t you dare,” he said, voice low and seething now. “Don’t think I can’t see your attempts to use reverse psychology on me.”

Michael didn’t deny it. Instead, he shrugged coolly. “It’s just logic,” he said. “Either you believe in Billy to do this, or you don’t.”

“He’s in a coma,” Casey replied, words purposeful and even. “He has a fever that is threatening to shut down his body. His entire respiratory system may stop working from the strain. His kidneys will shut down. His body is so infected with the parasite that it doesn’t matter how strong Billy is. It may be too late.”

Casey was right about all of it, and Michael had thought the same thing from the moment he realized Billy had malaria back in the mission.

But it didn’t matter.

It couldn’t matter.

He shook his head, undaunted. “Plans that expect failure, incur failure,” he said flatly. “Frankly, I expected better from you.”

Michael didn’t mean it – couldn’t mean it – but he had to say it. Because Casey needed to turn his anger into rage, turn his frustration into belief. He could hate Michael with due cause or he could lobby on his friends’ behalves. Michael knew which was better for Casey, better for Rick and Billy, better for all of them.

And really, Michael hadn’t earned the title “right bastard” for nothing.

Casey’s emotions wavered. The anger swelled to hatred, simmering so hot that for a moment Michael worried he’d pushed him too far, that Casey might snap at him and try to kill him. Michael would put up no defense – not that he could, if he wanted to – and trusted Casey to bring it back. Trusted himself to know his friend well enough.

Casey’s mouth twitched, his eyes gleaming. Then, a moment passed. Self-awareness flickered in Casey’s face and the calm started from his limbs and works its way to his core. After a moment, he was steadily composed. It was a nuanced change – visible only in his newfound stillness and control – and now when his eyes narrowed at Michael, it was entirely skeptical. “I still know what you’re doing,” he said. “And I still hate you for it.”

Michael nodded. “That’s fine with me,” he said. “Just don’t forget who the enemy is. Billy and Rick – they don’t need you to fight me.”

“No, they’d both probably appreciate the clichéd cheerleader, saying rah-rah in their corner,” Casey said, sounding both miserable and disgusted.

“The toughest task yet for the human weapon,” Michael quipped.

Casey took a slow, measured breath. Then he settled back, just slightly. “I’m always up for a challenge,” he said. After a moment, he looked at Michael again, adding, “If this doesn’t work—“

Michael lifted his hand. “Then you can go after me all you want,” he said. “I promise.”

It was true, in a way. Casey wouldn’t forgive him if something happened. Moreover, Michael doubted he’d forgive himself.

Really, Michael just hoped they wouldn’t have to find out.

-o-

Given all that had gone in to getting to this point, Michael should have relished the time to sit and recuperate so he could plan his next move. However, a hospital waiting room was never something he relished.

Still, he wasn’t one to let time go to waste, not that he could turn off his brain anyway.

There were still several major issues to contend with, the least important of which was correspondence with Langley. Michael had delivered Jenkins and been roughly debriefed but he knew there was plenty more to come after that. There was paperwork for the mission, paperwork for the arrest, paperwork for the damage incurred on Nigerian soil. Paperwork for the lapse of communication starting yesterday morning and lasting well over twenty-four hours.

Fay would be nervous by now, probably calling all her contacts to see what she could find out. It was likely that she knew they’d gotten Jenkins, but the absence of communication would lead her to assume the worst.

It was something to consider, Fay alone in her office, eating from her new trove of snacks. (He’d found it, no more than a day after she’d moved it. She wanted him to believe she’d given up chocolate, but the bag of Hershey Kisses was in the bottom drawer of her filing cabinet, behind mission reports from the year they were married.) She’d be putting on appearances as best she could, which also meant she wouldn’t be leaving her office often. She’d pretend not to stare at the phone and would not let herself be breathless when she answered purposefully on the second ring.

Knowing her, she probably had already contacted the local hospitals and ran their aliases. She’d know that Michael was alive, that Rick and Billy were hurt, but she’d want to hear it from him. She hated him, but mostly because she couldn’t hate him at all.

For that, he knew he should call her.

But for as much as Fay wanted to know he was alive, she would also have Higgins breathing down her neck, looking for an update. Higgins had a lot of bluster when it came to the ODS, and Michael didn’t doubt that the man would take any incident he could to break up the team. Not necessarily fire them, but to reassign them, as if he could retain their unparalleled skills and increase his control that way.

As a team leader, Michael had a certain appreciation for that. And more desire to subvert it. Playing nice with Higgins was a tentative balance, and Michael was far too aware of how any concession was a slow abdication of power.

Ultimately, though, Michael just wasn’t ready to talk about the mission. He couldn’t talk about intel or strategic gains. He couldn’t outline remaining leads or chart potential caveats. Not while two of his men were still in the hospital.

That meant Higgins had to wait. Which, in turn, meant Fay had to wait. The calculation was simple and necessary, as far as Michael was concerned.

The next calculations were much harder. With two men down, the primary objective was to get them back up. Fortunately, between Casey and himself, they were evenly matched. Still, factoring in sleep and rest, Michael knew they’d have to pay attention to the projected recovery schedules of their felled teammates to ensure that there was no chance of them waking alone.

This would take its toll on Casey, even if the other man refused to admit it. The truth was, however, that now was the best time to prepare for the difficult times ahead. It didn’t feel good to consider leaving now, but when Billy and Rick started making turns for the better, Michael and Casey would be on call 24/7.

(Michael made another aside to himself: remember to coerce staff into waiving normal visiting hours.)

Furtively, Michael looked toward Casey. The man had taken to humming under his breath, tapping his foot on the ground. He was intent and focused. No doubt, he would not take a suggestion to go get a hotel room well. It did not escape Michael’s sense of irony that after everything he’d been through this was what really gave him pause.

As he contemplated his approach, however, the choice became superfluous.

Because the doctor in the doorway was squinting at the chart, trying to move her mouth around the clearly foreign letters in Rick’s alias.

“That’s us,” Michael said, on his feet quickly, but Casey beat him there.

The doctor regarded them, and Michael tried not to look at the tired circles under her eyes, the flecks of blood on her scrubs. “Maybe it is best if you please come with me.”

Somehow Michael doubted that, but he didn’t really have any room to contradict so he followed her in step with Casey.

-o-

The doctor brought them to another room, smaller this time, but with a pair of couches and a cozy chair. The doctor held out her hand and Michael found himself sitting. Casey folded himself into the opposite couch with an air of stiff defiance as the doctor seated herself in the chair.

Michael had already surmised that Rick was alive. The doctor was smiling. True, it was forced, but she wouldn’t have put on the pretense unless there was at least something good to report.

Then again, given the tightness around her eyes, maybe “good” was a relative term.

“First, let me assure you that your friend came through the surgery and is now resting in a recovery room,” she said, smoothing one hand down her pant leg and glancing at the chart in her hand. “We were able to save the spleen and the liver, though the amount of blood in the abdominal cavity was extreme.”

Michael reminded himself that this was expected. Casey had told him as much and Michael had deduced it before he’d arrived. With that many explosions and collisions in a day, no one was going to get out unscathed and there was no telling what the guards had done to Rick during his incarceration.

In truth, Rick was lucky to be alive.

Still, Michael didn’t feel very lucky.

He smiled blandly at the doctor. “If that’s first, what’s second?”

She looked at Michael, assessing him. It seemed as though she wasn’t sure what to make of him, how serious to take him. If he was just another schlep in a waiting room or somebody who knew what he was talking about.

Those two things, of course, weren’t mutually exclusive, but Michael would play the latter to the hilt to leverage the intel and standing he wanted.

With another breath, she continued. “While we believe we have the bleeding under control, the time he went without treatment created another problem entirely.”

“Infection,” Casey surmised from the other couch.

Her expression registered vague surprise. “It is not uncommon in such bleeds. The internal tears allow infectious bodies to spread and proliferate. We are fighting it aggressively at this time.”

But it may not be enough. She didn’t say that, but she didn’t have to. Not to Michael and not to Casey. You could stitch organs together, replenish blood supplies, and ply a patient with antibiotics, but that was never a guarantee.

No guarantees; no control.

Michael shifted in his seat, suddenly feeling uncomfortable.

“We will have to see how he responds to treatment before making any definitive prognoses,” she explained.

In short, he was alive, but he could still die. He could still die and there was really nothing they could do about it.

Casey’s mouth went flat, eyes dead. “And people still extol the virtues of modern medicine,” he said, getting to his feet. “Quaint. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” He didn’t look back as he went out the door. He didn’t explain, but Michael knew he was looking for the closest thing to break, and Michael could only hope it wasn’t someone’s hand.

That was how Casey coped. Or didn’t cope, Michael wasn’t entirely sure. Pacing and singing and getting pissed off and hurting things. Because if something else hurt, that meant Casey didn’t have to. Denial wasn’t just a river in Egypt, it was an ODS way of life.

Billy played his denial in a different way, with jokes and smiles and stories. He seemed to think if he laughed hard enough, his pain would disappear. It didn’t work for Michael, but it seemed to work for Billy.

Except Billy was in a coma. He wouldn’t tell any jokes to ease the tension because he was half dead from malaria.

Michael didn’t quite manage a smile this time. He didn’t get angry and he didn’t joke. And he didn’t hope in senseless things. He simply believed in his own ability to make a difference, to do the right thing. Nodding, he let that compose him. “Can I see him?”

The doctor seemed vaguely concerned about Casey’s departure, but she shrugged. “I can have one of the nurses take you there.”

This time, Michael did make the smile appear. He nodded congenially. “Thank you,” he said, and he meant it. “For getting him this far.”

And now, as long as Michael was able he would take it from here.

-o-

Balancing the needs during a mission was something similar to juggling. All the elements were continuously in play but it required finesse to know which ball to catch and which one to send flying.

Or something. Michael wasn’t great with metaphors – figurative language was always Billy’s forte – but the point was that Michael couldn’t focus on everything at once. He’d already put communication with Langley at the bottom of his list.

Billy was still important, but Michael had checked on him and found himself woefully incapable of doing much. Casey was a more pressing concern – his disappearance was probably for the best, but still left a few lingering doubts.

But it was Rick who he needed to prioritize now. Out of surgery, a long road of recovery ahead: Michael needed to see his newest operative, to assess, to reassure, and to resituate.

Michael smiled politely as the nurse explained a few things in broken English. He was too busy discretely checking the halls to give her much attention. Still, he thanked her as she left.

Then, he saw Rick.

Like Billy, Rick lay surrounded by machines. The heart monitor was beeping steadily, while the nearby ventilator whirred rhythmically. Beneath it all, Rick was still. His face was grayish but the telltale signs of infection burned in his cheeks.

It was all too familiar. The same stillness, the same hold of fever: Billy’s malaria had warranted a good deal of his attention so far on this mission but it seemed like Rick was set on giving the Scot a run for his money.

He sighed, lingering awkwardly. “There are better ways to prove your place on this team,” he said. “I know you look up to us, but trying to outdo us in the injury department is really not recommended. And that’s one thing I think even Casey and Billy would agree on.”

If Casey and Billy were here, at any rate. Casey was off venting his anger and Billy was fighting malaria two floors up. But Rick didn’t need to know that.

Rick just needed to get better.

Michael hadn’t planned on having a fourth operative. Replacing Simms meant that Simms really was gone. The ODS was better as a four person operation, but after losing a man in the field, Michael had been more than happy to keep the two remaining operatives he had close, just to be safe. More men in the field meant more men to lose, which was why Michael hadn’t subverted Higgins’ tactic to keep them understaffed.

Now, standing here, he was reminded why. He was reminded of what it felt like to be responsible for someone and to see them suffer. He remembered the long, slow process of letting Carson go. It had nearly killed him – had destroyed his marriage, for sure – and he didn’t think he could do it again. Not with Rick.

Rick was still the best of them. He still had that spark, that unqualified innocence. He believed in things greater than himself. He made them whole. The ODS was functional without Rick – indeed, sometimes they had been more effective, so worn together that planning and communication had been secondary concerns – but Rick helped them do their jobs better.

Michael wasn’t one to admit that, though. He had given the kid nothing but a hard time because that was how spies learned. And if Michael showed no affection, then he didn’t have to show fear for losing him.

But he was afraid now. He understood why Casey had left – understood that burning, uncertain energy. There was no outlet for it. But Casey had the luxury of going off, Michael didn’t. This was Michael’s team and Michael’s mission, and being here for Rick – this was Michael’s job.

And for once, watching Rick fight for his life, Michael really hated his job.

-o-

Michael was still standing there when Casey came back. The self-professed human weapon didn’t make a sound when he entered – just the faintest movement of air gave him away – but Michael knew he was there. Still, he didn’t turn, didn’t look at the other man. He didn’t need to, and Casey needed his space more than Michael needed some kind of visual confirmation that the other man was okay.

Silence lapsed, filled only with the sound of the machines keeping Rick alive. Michael had been watching them closely, examining the mechanism that released the air, the small variations in his heart rate as his fever held steady and pitched. The minute changes seemed important but had minimal bearing on the big picture. If there was something to do about it Michael would have acted. If there was something to say he would have spoken by now.

Finally, he took a breath, letting it out in a sigh. “You didn’t hurt anyone, did you?”

Casey didn’t flinch at the suddenness of Michael’s voice. “As long as you don’t consider a bathroom door anyone, then we’re good.”

The humor was dry, as was typical for Casey. Michael smiled wryly. “You know, that sounds suspiciously like worry,” he said. “I thought worry would be right up there with grief – one of those pointless emotions.”

It was said in jest but it was still true. Casey took it unflinchingly. “It is,” he confirmed steadily. “Which is why I promptly channeled it to rage and purged its effect on my mind. I’m in complete control of my faculties now.”

“Good,” Michael replied, and he didn’t doubt it. Casey had never failed him in this, and there was nothing in his stoic demeanor now to suggest otherwise. This time, he turned to look at his operative, trusting him to be ready for what he needed to ask next. “Because I need you to go get us a motel room.”

For a moment, Casey merely blinked. “I’m going to assume you’re joking.”

Michael stood his ground, mindful of Rick still sedated on the hospital bed. “You heard Rick’s condition. You’ve seen Billy. This will be a long recovery and if we both stay here, we’re either going to get arrested or get sick ourselves. I’d prefer neither option, so we need a new home base.”

The plain logic was hard to refute, and that should have appealed to Casey. Yet, Michael knew that despite appearances, Casey was not as unflustered as he wanted to be. The emotions were still there, running high, and even if Casey had a grip on them it was a tenuous grasp at best.

Casey finally blinked. “Then you go,” he said, flat and to the point.

Michael was not surprised by the pointed turn. “I will later,” he said.

“You’ve been through more on this mission than I have,” Casey argued. “If anyone is going to leave, it should be you.”

“This is still my mission,” Michael said. “You’re still my operative.”

“Funny how you only pull rank when it’s convenient,” Casey told him, eyes narrowed.

“Most of the time it doesn’t come up,” he said. Then he let his face soften, just slightly. “I need you to do this for me.”

“I’ve already done everything you’ve asked,” Casey said.

This was true. Casey had done everything, supported him every step of the way. He’d gone into battle, pulled back in retreat, and waited in the wings all on Michael’s command. Every choice he’d made before had been for the mission, for Billy, for Rick. This time, this decision, it was for Casey.

Casey was the human weapon, and if Michael was going to accept the weapon part, he was going to protect the human part just as much. Casey needed sleep. He needed rest and quiet. He would be angry about going – he would be downright irate at leaving Billy and Rick at a time like this – but he needed it.

It was Casey’s turn. He could rant and rave; he could hit and hate. But he would get the rest he needed if it was the last thing Michael accomplished.

Casey assessed him. Then he seemed to sigh, eyes darting to Rick. “I know what you’re doing,” he said, glancing back toward Michael. “You think you can take care of me, just like you’re trying to take care of them.”

“I’ve asked too much of you already on this mission,” Michael admitted.

“It hasn’t cost me as much as the rest of you,” he said. “Remember, this is my responsibility, too.”

Michael couldn’t dispute it. Casey’s personal training had long reaching effects. Casey honed his skills not only for his own benefit, but to protect his team. He wouldn’t admit it, but he considered himself their protector in battle. To see Billy and Casey go down on his watch wasn’t an easy pill to swallow.

“You can only work within the confines of the game I lay out,” Michael told him. “The buck stops with me.”

Casey shook his head.

Michael shrugged. “If you want to disagree, then I’ll let you handle the phone calls back to Higgins to explain what happened.”

Casey scowled. “That’s low.”

“That’s the ODS way,” Michael quipped. “Anything to achieve the desired results.”

“Fine,” Casey relented. “I’ll go. But I think it is a superfluous order.”

“Noted,” Michael said with a nod. “And ignored.”

Casey rolled his eyes. Then his expression fell, eyes lingering on Rick again. “You’ll let me know if something…?”

Michael nodded. “I’ll watch them,” he promised. “Both of them.”

It sounded like more than it was, but it was enough. If it wasn’t, Casey was still humoring because there were some things Casey understood, even when he didn’t want to. Casey could be cold and calculating and clinical, but he was also a good man despite his best efforts to hide it.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll be back in the morning.”

“Bring coffee,” Michael called after him. “We’re going to need it.”

Casey sighed and made his way out, the drag in his step discernible and likely not for show.

When the sound of his footsteps had faded, Michael moved closer to Rick’s side. He looked at the bruises on the kid’s face, the small cuts that hadn’t been covered. “One down,” he said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. “So what do you say, Martinez, can we make it two?”

NEXT

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