faye_dartmouth: (CHAOS team)
[personal profile] faye_dartmouth
A/N: And finally, the end! I have to thank penless again, for her suggestion of the prompt and her beta and her general enthusiasm. It was such a pleasure to write this for her – and to share it with the rest of you :) So thanks to those who read and reviewed. It’s been awesome!

Previous parts in the MASTER POST.



PART THIRTEEN

-o-

Michael’s eyes were open, unblinking. He could see the generic tile, the beige walls. Doctors and nurses and patients and worried family members. He skirted them, circumnavigating the halls. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he had to go.

He had to go.

He’d been too idle as it was. Back during the mission, letting things play out, letting Vaughan guide things, letting Jenkins call the shots. He’d stood by and done nothing when Vaughan had been murdered. He’d left Billy to die in the back of a van. He’d abandoned Rick to homegrown terrorists. For his inaction, good people had almost died.

For his inaction, the mission had almost been lost.

For his inaction.

There was a door, different than the rest. An exit. Michael pushed his way through.

The beige walls gave way to cinderblocks and the tile floors branched out into stairs. Up and down.

It didn’t matter.

He went down, and realized it that wasn’t inaction. Michael had always been acting. He’d been plotting and planning, prepping and organizing. He’d never been doing nothing. He just hadn’t been doing anything that mattered.

Nothing he could do mattered now. He couldn’t repair the bleed in Rick’s spleen. He couldn’t fight the parasites in Billy’s body.

Michael couldn’t.

At the next landing, Michael’s breath caught and his knees went weak. He had to catch himself on the railing, propping himself up as best he could. He forced the air in and out, in and out, willing away the panicked feeling roiling in his stomach.

Rick might die. Billy might already be dead. Failure.

Michael had never really recovered from Simms and that time, there’d been no body. That time, he’d had Fay and Billy and Casey.

This time—

This time, the failure hit him like a suckerpunch and latched on like a leech. It was overtaking him, minute by minute.

Rick might die. Billy might already be dead.

The fear rose up with bile, turning to bitter anger. He lashed out, knuckles against the wall. The pain was sharp, reverberating in his hand and up his arm. It was his pain, though, pain he’d chosen. Pain he could control.

He struck the wall again, feeling the skin break and the blood well. He hit again and again, watching with pleasure as the blood smeared the wall. When his hand could no longer form a fist, he kicked with this foot, pain spiking through the sole of his foot but he didn’t stop.

Frustrated, he used his hand again, letting the other join it. When bone finally broke audibly, the pain was too much and his knees gave out.

This time, he didn’t try to stop himself. He crumpled, hitting the floor hard, hands limp at his sides.

He had nothing left to fight the sob that shook his body.

Rick might die and Billy could be dead and Michael was crying in a stairwell. Not God. Just a man.

Just a man.

And this time, it wasn’t enough.

-o-

For once, Michael lost track of time. When he finally came back to his senses, his hands were throbbing and his head ached. He was stiff, and standing was something of an awkward trial.

Forward motion was even more difficult, and his stomach churned uneasily as he tried putting one foot in front of the other. A fresh myriad of pains lit up throughout his body, but Michael grit his teeth and kept moving.

Going up the stairs was a difficult prospect, but Michael wasn’t one to shy away from necessary tasks – most of the time. He’d walked out of Billy’s hospital room while he was crashing, walked away from the waiting room while Rick was experiencing complications, so walking up the damn stairs was really the least he could try to do.

On the right floor, Michael ducked through the door, keeping his head down and his hands tucked gingerly in his pockets. He slinked as quickly as he could toward the nearest bathroom and went inside.

He was relieved to find it empty. One of the stalls had a mangled door and an Out of Order sign. Michael ignored it and went to the sink.

Only then did he allow himself to look at his hands. The knuckles were bloody, skin split deep in some spots. The blood had smeared, running down the back of his hand and through his fingers, staining the cuff of his shirt red. With care, he flexed his fingers, feeling the painful strain and mentally checking for breaks and fractures. Everything still moved, but the intensity of the pain in his right hand suggested that he’d probably fractured something. He would have to have that looked at…

Later. After…

Michael didn’t want to think about it. Instead, he swallowed hard and turned on the water, carefully washing the blood away from the still-weeping abrasions. The water ran into the white basin in pink streams. He was mindful of the deeper cuts, wincing as the simple movements seemed to jar him down to the bone, but was thorough and unwavering in his task.

When the worst of the blood had been cleaned away Michael pulled some paper towels to start drying. It was a messy and slow job, blotting away more blood in the process, and he was trying to form makeshift bandages to hide the garish sight when the door opened.

Instinct had Michael protecting himself, body alert and hands covered, ready for enemy or wayward civilian alike. It only took him a second to realize that the presence was neither.

Casey lifted his eyebrows. There was a quiet moment between them, of equal analysis and reality. Michael was used to the one being in command of such situations, and he felt uncomfortably vulnerable when he realized the positions were reversed.

Finally, Casey seemed to collect himself, moving coolly inside and letting the door shut behind him. “Next time you have a fit of rage, you should consider the bathroom doors,” he said, glancing purposefully toward the partially demolished stall. “Just as pleasurable to destroy and a lot less painful. Let me guess, a wall?”

Michael couldn’t help but feel chagrined. He looked down at his hands meagerly. Blood was beginning to stain the paper towels and he winced. “In the stairwell,” he confirmed.

Casey nodded. “Then you’re going to need x-rays.”

It struck Michael as funny. That, after everything, this was what he needed help with. He survived being undercover, survived explosions, survived failed rescues and successful rescues, and then he lost it in a stairwell and had no means left to put himself back together.

The harshness of it was bitter, and he wanted to laugh as much as he wanted to cry. Casey might not even know about Billy yet. Michael didn’t even know about Billy. All Michael knew was that he’d just broken his hand because of his own helplessness and human fallibility.

“Well,” Michael quipped, voice hoarse as he looked back up. “Like you said, I’m not God.”

Casey’s face went white, jaw working. For a moment, he looked chagrined but he took two even breaths before he composed himself and nodded. “That’s probably for the best,” he said. “Imagine a world created by Michael Dorset.”

It was a thought. A world full of order and routines, of doubt and discernibility. A world without privacy, without hope, without inherent trust in greater mankind.

Casey moved closer, lifting Michael’s hand and peeling away the paper towel. He made a face as he examined it. “Besides,” he continued. “I’m told that God made the day in six days, by Himself. That’s fine for God, though I’d have to question how well that’s working out for Him in the long run.”

Michael suppressed a grunt of pain while Casey dabbed at the blood, pulling apart the skin to see how deep the cuts were.

“But if this mission has taught me anything, it’s that I may be able to attempt things alone,” he said, feeling the bones in Michael’s battered right hand, “but I really don’t want to.”

With that, Casey rewrapped the hand, more tightly this time. He secured a longer length of towel, tightening it over the top. Het let Michael’s hand go and stepped back. Looking Michael squarely in the eyes, he shrugged. “I never would have made it this far without my team,” he said with as much simple honesty as Casey was capable of. “Now, don’t be stupid and let someone return the favor.”

For a moment, Michael forgot how to move. Casey wasn’t one for heart to hearts, but he also wasn’t one to mince words. He wasn’t one for platitudes, not even in times of crisis. What Casey said, Casey believed.

And Casey believed this.

Looking at his friend, that had never been more apparent. Casey was tired, worn with worry, and utterly sincere.

Michael swallowed with difficulty, and offered a weak smile. “If you keep talking like this, I’m going to have to file an irregularity report,” he said. “Where’s the Casey Malick I thought I knew?”

“He left his pride somewhere back in the desert when two of his teammates were lying half dead in the back of his car,” Casey admitted. “We’ll find it before we leave this country and finish this hell-bent mission.”

“That sounds an awful lot like optimism for you,” Michael said.

“Things change,” Casey replied. “Besides, I just talked to Martinez’s doctor. And he’s out of surgery and doing much better. So it’s less optimism and more realism.”

Michael almost startled at the proclamation. “He’s okay?”

“He’s still drugged and ventilated, but his vitals are much better,” Casey replied. “And, in case you were wondering, yes, Billy’s still alive.”

At Michael’s look, Casey rolled his eyes.

“Of course I knew about that,” he said. “After you didn’t come back, the doctor talked to me about his little episode. It’s still touch and go, but he’s still fighting.”

Rick was going to be okay. Billy was still alive.

It wasn’t much, but it was something. Maybe it was everything. Because Michael could plot and plan, he could stick to his routines, but there was still one thing he was missing: hope.

When the rest failed him, he still had hope.

Resolved, Michael nodded. “Okay,” he said.

Casey looked expectant.

Michael offered him a smile. “Let’s go check on our team.”

“That,” Casey said, straightening with newfound energy, “is a plan I can agree with.”

-o-

Michael let Casey wrap his hand – and technically they didn’t steal the gauze, just appropriated it, and with the exorbitant cost of health care, surely the CIA was paying for this one way or another – before they went to check on Rick. They got there just as the nurse was putting him back in his room.

She smiled this time. “I’m very glad to see you both,” she said.

“I can’t say the feeling’s mutual,” Casey muttered.

Michael returned her smile anyway. “How is he?”

“Much improved,” she reported. “Though really, you should ask him yourself.”

Michael blinked, uncertain he’d heard correctly. “You mean?”

She nodded. “He’s awake, though not for long,” she said. “You may get a few minutes—“

That was all Michael needed to hear. Moving around her, Michael went into the room, Casey right on his heels. The last time Michael had been in here, Rick had been unconscious and ventilated, barely hanging onto life.

This time, he was still pale – face worn and weary – but awake.

He was awake.

Michael didn’t know what to say. Next to him, Casey was clearly at a loss as well.

Then, Rick smiled, a wide, dopey grin. “Hey,” he said, voice wispy and slurred. “I don’t have a spleen.”

Casey snorted. “That’s nothing,” he said. “I always figured the next phase of human evolution would do away with it anyway.”

Rick kept grinning. “It seems like it should hurt more,” he said.

Michael smirked back, moving closer. He put a hand on Rick’s arm. “It will once you’re off the good stuff,” he said. “Trust me.”

Rick blinked up at him innocently. “Did you lose yours?”

“About fifteen years ago,” he said. “Haven’t missed it.”

Rick looked unduly serious, the earnestness in his brown eyes downright comical. “I never would have guessed,” he said. “I thought you were a man with all your internal organs.”

Michael nodded in true avuncular fashion. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

“Or a human by his internal organs, for that matter,” Casey snarked, sliding in around Rick’s other side.

Rick’s eyes turned from Michael to Casey and back again. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said.

“I wish I could say the same,” Casey said with a grimace. “But this hospital has the absolute worst food. I can barely find anything edible.”

“I know,” Rick said. “But you’re here for me. I mean, I thought I was dying and you’re here for me.”

Michael’s throat tightened just slightly. “You’re going to be fine,” he said.

“I know,” Rick repeated with more passion this time. “Because you guys – you didn’t leave me behind. You and you and Billy…” His voice trailed off, forehead wrinkling as he looked around meekly. “Where’s Billy?”

Casey’s posture stiffened and it was all Michael could do to keep his face neutral. “Just a little under the weather,” he said to Rick.

Rick’s eyes turned back to him, large and innocent and trusting.

Michael smiled, and paired his half-truth with the one fact that mattered. “So don’t worry,” he said. “I’m taking care of it.”

Casey’s eyes were on him, but he didn’t disagree.

Rick swallowed a little, eyelids starting to droop. “Okay,” he said, voice quiet but sure, evidence that trust could be earned. More than that, trust could be kept, contrary to all appearances. The lifeblood of any team in the field.

The thing they still had, that had never wavered.

“Just rest,” Michael said, a soft, gentle order.

Rick’s eyes fluttered and he quickly heeded, dropping back into unconsciousness as the drugs finally won out.

Michael stood for a moment, watching Martinez sleep. Across from him, Casey was watching him, careful and reserved. “That’s quite the promise,” he said.

Michael looked up. “You doubting me?”

“I just thought perhaps we’d learned a lesson or two about grandiose promises,” Casey replied.

Michael inclined his head. “And I thought we learned a lot more about the things we really need to believe in.”

Casey relented. “As long as you’re sure.”

“I’m sure,” Michael said, resolute, leaving no room for argument. He looked at Rick again. “I’m very sure.”

-o-

Michael’s certainty wavered when he saw Billy again. Seeing Rick so much improved had buoyed his spirits, but as he made the short walk to Billy’s room, the weight of the unknown besieged him. The last time he’d seen Billy, the other man had been technically dead. No matter what Casey told him had happened in the interim, the image was hard to scrub from his memory.

The thought of it, Billy colorless and still, the doctor pressing on his chest -- he shuddered, rubbing his damaged knuckles self-consciously. The pain was sharp, but grounded him. Still, when he got to the room, he had to take a few sharp breaths to clear his throbbing head.

The good news was that Billy looked better, although having a heartbeat sort of guaranteed that.

Still, Billy looked bad. The scruff on his face was thicker, the dark hair pronounced against his milky complexion. The fever still burned in his cheeks, his hair dirty and sweaty as he lay prostrate in the bed.

This was mostly the same, but what made it worse was the ventilator in his mouth. The tape was still hastily plastered across his face, holding the tube in at a slight angle as the machine administered even puffs of air.

In all, this could be disconcerting – no, it was disconcerting. Michael’s reaction was visceral, a deep nausea that swelled in his stomach and a dull ache that throbbed persistently in his head. The worry was gnawing, the impotence almost paralyzing.

But there was another side to the story. Billy was fighting – and fighting hard. Billy always scraped by, and to some, it might seem like luck, but to Michael it was always tenacity. Billy didn’t know how to fail, even when he probably should just let go. Few spies could recreate a career after being disgraced in one agency, but Billy had. Billy had.

Billy was still alive, and that counted for a lot.

Michael was determined to believe that, all evidence to the contrary.

And his plans had to account for that, no matter what.

“So we’re just waiting on you,” he said, eyes still on Billy. “As long as it takes. We’ll do this on your timetable.”

The loss of control could be frightening, but if Michael trusted anyone it was his team.

Suddenly, a monitor triggered. Michael stiffened in surprise, preparing himself unconsciously for a repeat of earlier. He expected the heart monitor to spike erratically, but the machines kept whirring, a small alarm sounding again.

Michael frowned, trying his best to discern its source. A glance at the monitors shows that Billy’s heart rate was steady and his oxygen levels were stable. His temperature had even dropped by a few points.

That suggested that Billy was getting better.

The alarm pinged again, and there was a small movement on the bed.

That meant Billy was waking up.

The alarm sounded again and Billy bucked this time, and Michael put it together. Billy was waking up and fighting the tube. It was an unpleasant thing to wake up intubated – Michael knew from experience – and Billy handled it well in the long run but the initial reaction was never anything short of panic.

With this in mind, Michael was barely able to move in time, positioning himself next to Billy’s side and putting a gentle but restraining hand on the Scot’s wrist. He was prepared when Billy’s body twitched again, his arms trying to move up to dislodge the tube.

Billy’s flailing intensified, just for a moment, before his eyes popped open, wide and searching before they settled on Michael.

The expression was almost heartbreakingly vulnerable, not that Michael would ever say that out loud. Still, the raw need in Billy’s eyes made his own chest tight even as he smiled. “You’re okay, Billy,” he said, the words as much a promise as the truth. “You’re going to be okay.”

Billy held his gaze for a long moment before his head twitched in a nod. The tension slowly drained from his body as he relaxed against the tube. As he gave in, Michael saw his eyelids begin to droop but the inherent trust was always there even as Billy slipped back toward unconsciousness.

Michael stood there, watching Billy breathe. He breathed in tandem, in and out, feeling something like contentment spread heavily over his body. It was okay now. Not the way Michael had planned it but the ends would speak for themselves.

There was a noise behind him – a nurse, Michael realized, to check the machines – and Michael turned to tell her the good news but the movement dimmed his vision and his body went numb as he lost sensation altogether and the world just blinked out.

-o-

In a haze, Michael was on his back. There were voices, droning somewhere, words he couldn’t understand.

Michael blinked, blinded by the bright lights. He blinked again and dark shapes moved across the light.

His ears were buzzing, his heart throbbing loudly. His hands and feet were tingling. He thought to move, but the determination in his mind never reached his limbs.

This was frustrating. It would probably be unnerving, but Michael was too busy being frustrated by his lack of control to be worried about it just yet.

Suddenly, a familiar face hovered above him. Casey’s expression was terse, but the deep lines around his eyes suggested his weariness. “You’re exhausted.”

“I’m fine,” Michael said, or tried to say. The words were thick and garbled because suddenly his tongue decided to stop working.

Casey’s look turned vaguely bemused. “No, literally,” he said, “you’re exhausted. A combination of the longstanding head injuries and the fact that you haven’t been eating or sleeping in who knows how long.”

Michael frowned, but the movement made his headache ratchet up a notch. “I’m fine,” he said again, more clearly this time.

Casey shook his head. “You will be after you’ve rested.”

Michael put all his effort into moving, but the renewed attention didn’t yield any superior results. “But Billy…Rick…”

“Are no longer your concern,” Casey finished for him firmly.

Michael wanted to protest, but his tongue was almost too thick to move anymore.

Casey’s expression softened, just slightly. “You’ve done all you can,” he said. “Let the rest of us take a turn.”

That went against Michael’s instincts, but it seemed he didn’t have any choice in the matter. Surrender wasn’t so much a matter of volition as it was finally giving in, and the letting go was as terrifying as it was freeing before the blackness ascended and peace finally prevailed.

-o-

Usually, Michael’s dreams were orderly affairs. They progressed in logical formation, punctuated by unrealistic fits and the occasional clown terrorist. His habits were so well ingrained that they permeated his subconscious, and he approached the dream world with as much simple scrutiny as he did anything else.

In this, the parameters were easy to define. His dreamscape was the desert, vast and barren, likely both a callback to the mission with Jenkins as well as a metaphor for the state of his life.

He was alone on the sands, lying on his back. Above him, the sky was endless and the grains slipped through his fingers as he tried to scoop it up, to hold it together.

Each grain was something different, something Michael recognized. There was his car and his desk at the office; his laptop and his closet of burn phones. And there was Fay and Higgins. Casey and Rick and Billy. The mission was there, too.

The pieces were distinctive but not equal. Some were bigger and some smaller, but all tiny in his hands. He shifted his grip, trying to hold them all. But the sands kept slipping out and the more he tried to hold them all, the more they slipped away.

Away and away and…

You may have a God complex, but you’re not God. Know the difference.

Know the difference.

And for once, Michael thought maybe he did.

His hands went lax and the sands spilled, covering him and filling the desert, filling the world until there was nothing left at all.

-o-

Then, Michael woke up.

There was nothing dramatic about it. One second he was sleeping, the next his eyes were open. He took a breath, tilting his head.

He was in the hospital. This made sense, considering this was where he’d been when he’d passed out. The fact that he’d passed out explained the IV and the monitor and the hospital bed.

Michael was coherent enough to be aware of his body’s aches. His head still hurt, but less now. His hand was a more pressing issue, and one look explained why. In place of Casey’s makeshift bandage was a bulky cast.

The sight made Michael scowl.

“Consider it a reminder of why fighting walls is a less than amazing idea,” Casey deadpanned at him.

Michael looked up, frowning. “Couldn’t you have talked them into a cast that was less bulky?”

“Be grateful it’s not pink,” came another voice.

Surprised, Michael turned in his bed, seeing Rick in the nearby bed. The younger operative looked haggard but awake, propped up by the pillows in his bed.

“Casey thought we should get the pink to teach you a lesson,” Rick said. “I told him that a mission where we almost all died was probably lesson enough.”

“Technically, perhaps,” Casey relented. “But it’s not nearly as much fun.”

The joking was something – probably something remarkable, Michael’s rational brain thought – but he was too distracted to comment. Because Rick was awake. Rick was—

“You’re okay,” he said, looking at Rick with something akin to disbelief.

Rick gave him a look of amusement. “Isn’t that what you promised me?”

“Yeah, but…” Michael started but didn’t know how to finish.

Casey snorted. “Yeah, but those who think they’re God think they can will things into existence by sheer insistence alone.”

Michael shook his head. “No, I just – hoped.”

“Well,” Rick said, “it worked. Yesterday was rough but I’m feeling much better today.”

A day, Michael noted. He’d been out for a day.

“Two days,” Casey corrected him. He shrugged. “I had them keep you under a little longer because I figured it’d be the last rest you’d have for a while, given your stubborn disposition.”

This probably bothered Michael but it was also probably expected. Michael had bigger concerns. “Billy?”

“Awake,” Rick said, a grin tugging at his lips.

“And bitching about how he can’t join the so-called party,” Casey added.

“So he’s--?”

“Okay,” Casey said.

“We’re all okay,” Rick said.

“Contrary to all our best efforts, it seems,” Casey said.

Michael couldn’t help it: he laughed.

“Unless you’re suffering from a nervous breakdown,” Casey hedged.

Michael laughed again.

“Michael?” Rick prompted, a hint of concern in his voice. “Are you okay?”

Michael looked at him, looked at Casey. He nodded, still grinning. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I really think I am.”

-o-

Waking up was the easy part, everything after that was more complicated. The good news was that Michael was still a creature of habit so falling back into old routines came easily enough. He started his paperwork in earnest, making now-frequent calls back to Langley, most of them to Fay.

His ex-wife had been as angry as she had been relieved, and she reamed him out for not keeping in contact, for not telling her everything. She had grounds to report his negligence, even grounds to have him visibly relieved of his duty by a supplementary agent, but she fielded their perilous mission reports to Higgins with care and consistency, and the fact that Higgins never demanded a debriefing during his hospital stay was a testament both to her sway and her concern.

Still, sometimes he thought he owed her, though he wasn’t sure what for. On the phone, she didn’t make him apologize and didn’t make him admit where he’d been wrong.

“You can say it, you know,” he told her finally.

“Say what?” she asked.

“I told you so,” he said.

She hesitated. “For what?”

“About the mission,” he said. “You said I was too afraid of losing control and that someday it would cost me more than I was ready to admit. That happened. I lost control on this mission. You were right.”

The words weren’t easy to say – emotions never were for him, much to Fay’s continued frustration – but Michael was always able to admit when he was wrong.

He just wasn’t wrong often.

Still, he’d been wrong to some degree. Not that he’d go back and do it differently, not that he knew how to make the mistakes go away. But just that sometimes holding control and having control weren’t the same things. He would never willingly give up the former, but he had to accept the latter as an inevitable part of his life.

Fay took a breath and held it. “Yeah,” she said. “I probably was.”

“So why don’t you say it?” he pressed, not to be cruel but because he really wanted to know.

“Because you’re not the only one who wants to control things, Michael,” she said. “You think I don’t know what it’s like to see the pieces on the board move without my control? It’s not easy. Never has been.”

The realization was sudden. He’d never considered it. Fay’s job was to organize, to oversee. She created missions, approved them, fleshed them out. She figured out the details for the greater good, to bring in intelligence, to stop terrorism, to protect agents.

To protect the ODS. To protect Michael.

For all the good it did her.

Michael understood. Fay understood. A marriage might fail from two disparate personalities trying to make things work. It might also fail because both parties were holding on too hard and didn’t know how to let go.

“Well,” he said finally, “maybe there’s a lesson we can both learn from this.”

“Oh,” she said. “What’s that?”

“That maybe the best plans are the ones we plan together,” he concluded.

She paused, and he could see her at her desk, fiddling with a curl in her free hand, a small smile on her lips. “You know,” she agreed, “you may be right about that.”

-o-

Michael was discharged, and Billy was moved into Michael’s bed next to Rick. Rick was looking better and already flourishing with his PT while Billy slowly gained his strength back. Days turned to weeks, but they were getting better.

Physically.

The emotional scars always took longer, even if none of them liked to talk about it. Casey stayed nervous, hovering more than he’d admit. He didn’t like to leave and looked for excuses to stay in the room, even when Rick and Billy were sleeping. When he finally did go back to the motel, Michael always heard him humming under his breath, tapping his fingers nervously on his hip as he tried his best to act like sticking around was just putting him out.

Billy was fighting exhaustion more often than not, but he tried to put on appearances when people were watching. And since he shared a room with Rick that was almost constant. Still, in the rare moments when Michael was alone with Billy, he could still see traces of the Scot’s vulnerability. His body was weak, legs shaking when he stood and face still pale. He slept fitfully, no matter how tired he was.

Rick was doing better than the rest. His injuries were another reminder to him that seemed to solidify his determination to do his job better. He attacked his therapy with a nearly frightening tenacity, and Michael understood the response. The kid had been forced to recognize his weakness and instead of letting that frighten him, he decided to combat it, to never let it happen again. As if training and planning and an upbeat attitude had done the rest of them so much good.

No, there were lingering issues here, and as Michael resumed his daily routines, he recognized that he would have to deal with that sooner or later. He didn’t want to push it – not with his team as fragile as they were – but the night before Billy and Rick were to be discharged, he knew he couldn’t let it slide any longer, not without risking it becoming a permanent impairment to their functionality in the long term.

Michael had planned missions of all sizes to combat a wide range of dangerous enemies. But figuring out how to breech the topic of emotions with his team was the most daring mission he’d planned yet.

Ultimately, Michael decided that the direct approach was the best. Plans with the fewest frills had the fewest chances of complications. And Michael needed simple right now.

“So, I know what the official report is going to say,” Michael began, “but I think we know it’s more than that.”

His team stopped – Billy had been trying to teach Rick a card game while Casey had been providing less than helpful commentary – and stared at him.

Michael didn’t back down, even if he sort of wanted to. “I’ve officially stated that there were a series of less than ideal events that we couldn’t control,” he said. “That’s only partly true, even if Higgins doesn’t need to know it. But we need to know what went wrong before we go home so we don’t let it happen again.”

They talked about these things. Mission assessment was a necessary part of the job. Still, on the rough missions, it was often easier to focus on the victory, not what went wrong.

Easier but not better. Michael couldn’t let it slide.

Casey shifted in his seat, sitting back and watching Michael skeptically. Rick blinked, wide eyed, fear suddenly apparent in his eyes.

For his part, Billy swallowed guiltily before he pursed his lips and took a breath. “I can’t help but think that my illness provided far too much of a complication,” he said.

Michael shook his head. “We can’t plan against illness,” he said. “Fay checked your records. You were up to date with vaccines. That really was nothing but back luck.”

Billy seemed to accept that, inclining his head. But he took another breath and looked up with more determination. “The body’s inevitable weaknesses are hard to protect against entirely,” he agreed. His expression wavered for a moment as he seemed to focus on the mere act of air moving in and out. “But I allowed myself to operate for far too long under its debilitating effects. I thought I had no other option at the time, but my compromised decision-making led directly to the serious injury and ultimate capture of a fellow agent.”

Rick squawked in protest. “That’s not your fault.”

Billy turned to him, quite serious. “I drove the car that probably caused a good portion of your internal bleeding,” he said. “You nearly died because of my actions. That fault is mine and mine alone.”

“I was running headlong into danger,” Rick interjected insistently. “If you hadn’t crashed the car, I probably would have gotten shot and died before any escape could have been made.”

“It is my job to protect my teammates, not imperil them,” Billy countered. “I should have done better at controlling my body’s limitations.”

It was Casey’s turn to snort. “There is only so much control you can muster,” he said. “And fighting malaria is no easy task. You have no blame what happened at the compound. When one member of the team is compromised by illness or injury, it is up to the rest to recognize the situation and compensate accordingly.”

“Oh, and such standards are ones you abide by?” Billy asked, a tinge of petulance in his voice.

Casey’s face was stoic. “According to my own limits, yes,” he said. “And the fact is that I knew you were suffering from potentially debilitating effects and did not make the effort to protect you. Instead, I sat by idly and let you get worse. I essentially watched as you fought for your life and didn’t even recognize the severity of the situation until it was almost too late.”

Billy groaned. “So no one is responsible for illness or injury except you?” he said with due sarcasm.

“We watch out for each other,” Casey returned, grinding out the words with vehemence. “And I failed.”

“You did your best to protect me from further harm,” Billy objected. “Which is more than I can say for my actions concerning young Rick.”

“Hey,” Rick protested. “I’m the one who half-assed this one. I was blind back there, so hyped up on adrenaline and fear that I didn’t think things through. I just did things and I put myself in a vulnerable position. I let myself get captured and you all had to risk your lives and the mission to get me out. That’s my fault.”

“You channeled your feelings into rage,” Casey countered. “Perfectly reasonable.”

“And totally understandable,” Billy said. “You should be able to charge ahead and expect your teammates to have your back.”

“My point exactly,” Casey said.

Billy turned back to him in exasperation. “There was nothing you could have done.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Casey said.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell all of you,” Rick said.

They were getting agitated now, all half out of their seats with the force of the argument. They had made their points, and Michael knew it was time to show them how they were right and wrong.

“Okay,” he interjected, not harshly but loud.

They fell silent, pulling themselves back in and looking back at Michael warily.

Michael took a breath. “You’re all right,” he continued. “Billy, your actions with the truck did lead to Rick’s injuries and capture. Casey, you didn’t step in sooner when we realized Billy was sick and let him get worse unnecessarily. Rick, you were reckless in the field and put yourself in a vulnerable position that nearly compromised the mission.”

They looked shocked and chagrined, sullen as they stared at him.

“And you’re also all wrong,” he said. “I could tell you about my failings. About how I was overconfident and failed to predict Jenkins’ actions. I cost Vaughan his life and nearly lost on the most valuable stream of intel we’ve had in years. I thought I had everything under control and nearly lost my entire team because of it. These are all lessons that matter, but they’re not what we should take away right now.”

None of them dared to speak.

“The point is, we’re not God,” Michael said, letting his eyes linger from Rick to Billy to Casey. “We’re just spies. Doing the best we can. We can’t expect anything more from each other and we shouldn’t expect anything more from ourselves.”

And that was enough. Sitting there, with his team, it had to be enough. Casey’s expression relaxed just slightly, the light returned in Billy’s eyes. Rick’s lips twitched into a smile and Michael felt the ease of control returning.

That would always be enough.

Date: 2012-07-12 01:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kristen-mara.livejournal.com

They're OK! *waves goodbye to Rick's spleen*

Poor Michael finally reaching his limits in the stairwell...

**The good news was that Billy looked better, although having a heartbeat sort of guaranteed that.**

I should hope so!

Well, that was quite a ride - do they get a few days' break before you imperil them again? *G*

Date: 2012-07-15 03:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
This fic, though it was about many things, ultimately came down to pushing Michael to his breaking point -- and then letting him get it all back together. It took me 90k to get there, but hopefully the journey was worthwhile.

And LOL. I have a few h/c one-shots up my sleeve, but they are lucky that feral!Stephen has been quite distracting for me lately...

Thanks!

Date: 2012-07-12 10:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lena7142.livejournal.com
Thank you for reminding me why Drugged!Rick is the best. XD

Also, this:


Michael couldn’t help it: he laughed.

“Unless you’re suffering from a nervous breakdown,” Casey hedged.

Michael laughed again.

“Michael?” Rick prompted, a hint of concern in his voice. “Are you okay?”


Heartbreaking, touching, but also funny. What a wonderful ending to a crazy trip with the boys!

Date: 2012-07-15 03:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
Drugged!Rick is kind of adorable. And canon! So few things are!

And I hope the entire journey was worthwhile. I'm sort of regretting now that I didn't blow up Michael at least one more time....

Thanks!

Date: 2012-07-14 03:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nietie.livejournal.com
This was such a great fic!

LOL at dopey!Rick.

Michael felt the ease of control returning.
That would always be enough.

I'd be just like him, wanting to be in control.

Date: 2012-07-15 03:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
I'm really glad you liked it! Thanks for reading and reviewing! It means a lot :)

Date: 2012-07-15 02:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] blackdog-lz.livejournal.com
Happy End :)

I seriously love the whole story. It's amazing.

Date: 2012-07-18 11:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
I'm really glad you enjoyed it :) And that it was worth reading given how long it is!

Thanks!

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