Title: On a Scale of One to Ten
Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.
A/N: Fills my phobias square for hc_bingo. For Crazycoffeekat. Beta with thanks to sockie1000.
Summary: They were all scared. Even if none of them wanted to admit it.
"On a scale of one to ten, how would you rank your fear?" Billy asks the question on a cold night when Rick has to drug a man and kidnap him from a public place. Everything they're doing is illegal, and it's dangerous, and if it doesn't cost them their lives or their jobs, they may just be heroes in the end.
Rick takes a breath and lets it out he nods. How would you rank your fear?
That was the question they all had to answer, and they all answered it differently.
Because they had to know what they were afraid of in the first place. And that was variable for all of them, but the constant fact was that they wereafraid. Every last one of them.
Even if none of them wanted to admit it.
Adele Ferrar has worked hard in her life, ever since she was a little kid. It's only natural, she supposes, because her position in life has always been directly related to what she makes of it. She's the only daughter of a powerful man, and she has no particular fondness for her mother and every ambition of her father. She was raised with private tutors and preparatory schools, and she knows she's as beautiful as she is smart.
For Adele, it's never been about taking the easy way out. If anything, she fights against form; she breaks the mold because, quite frankly, she can. She could do anything she wants - and she knows that, she really does - but she wants to do the things no one expects her to do.
She'll be an ambassador someday, and not by leveraging her father's political connections. No, she'll build her own, starting from the ground up. The State Department, now that would be easy and predictable.
But the CIA.
Well, that would be something, indeed.
It's lucky, she supposes, that she's secretive by nature, and she can convey confidence even when she has her doubts.
And that's her biggest secret of all: Adele does have doubts.
She second guesses, and she looks over her shoulder. She has to, given what she does and what she hopes to accomplish. She's not naive, after all.
But such emotions are not acceptable to her, not when she's worked so hard to cultivate the image she's made. She hasn't gotten this far by being soft.
That's why she never should have started dating Rick Martinez. He's all heart; he makes things complicated if only because it's all black and white to him. She's known since the start that she should just walk away, but this is a weakness she's indulged herself with.
That's also why she has to approve this mission.
"Are you sure?" Fay asks, a little quizzical.
Adele shrugs, entirely nonplussed. "It's a good lead," she says. "Probably the only one we're going to get."
"But this is a terrorist cell we know nothing about," Fay says. "The operatives would be going in mostly blind."
"All the more reason we need the intelligence," Adele argues.
"But the risk of losing them-"
Adele sighs, acting put out. "This is what we do, isn't it?" she asks. "We have a terror cell that is causing mass casualties in Africa. We don't know how they're recruiting, and we don't know the scope of their operation. This is putting us at a distinct disadvantage in that region of the world, a disadvantage that puts all of our operations and our country at risk. If you do the math, it makes sense. Higgins already agrees. Quite enthusiastically, I might add."
Fay flattens her mouth. "I know the greater good argument," she says. "And I know that if we're right - if this prison is a recruiting grounds for the network - then this will be a huge boon."
Adele raises her eyebrows. "But?" she presumes.
"But," Fay continues. "Anyone we send in will have very little backup. The chances of something going wrong-"
"Are part of the job," Adele tells her confidently.
Fay stops, shaking her head. "You really aren't afraid, then?"
"Afraid of what?" Adele asks.
"Afraid of sending your boyfriend into a situation where he has a fifty-fifty chance of not coming out alive?" Fay asks.
Adele's composure doesn't waver. "It's part of the job," she says again. "The job we all signed up for. Besides, why are you afraid? Rick will be a prisoner. Billy and Casey will be guards. Michael won't even be in the prison. You have nothing to be afraid of."
Fay does not look amused. With a terse smile, she gets to her feet. "Okay," she says. "I'll get the files together, and the ODS will be in the air by tomorrow morning."
"Thank you," Adele says sweetly, smiling as Fay exits the office, leaving the door open behind her.
Adele keeps smiling, watching as the other woman disappears down the hall.
She smiles as a few people walk by her office.
She smiles as she looks at the open file on her desk.
Because she is afraid for Rick's safety.
But she's more afraid of her own emotions.
In the end, something has to give.
Rick's not really afraid of anything.
His oldest brother is afraid of heights, almost to the point of paranoia. The time they'd stayed on the ninth floor of a hotel had been sheer torture for him, but Rick had never understood why. It wasn't as bad as his other brother, the one who was scared of spiders. As a kid, maybe it'd been understandable. But as an adult? Rick found it rather ridiculous.
People were afraid of crazy things. He had an aunt who was scared of the number 13. He knew a kid in college who'd be afraid of whales. Honestly, whales. What kind of person is scared of whales?
No, Rick is too smart, too practical, too determined to be afraid. Do some things make him uncomfortable? Sure, but that's no reason to let those things hold him back. Rick doesn't think of fear as a luxury he can afford himself. Not when there are so many things he wants to accomplish.
This lack of fear is how Rick got into the CIA. It's how he survive his first week with the ODS, with Russian spies and live scorpions and the whole nine yards. It's how he salvaged an asset from North Korea; it's how he didn't end up in a gulag in Russia. It's how he got Adele Ferrar to date him, and it's how he managed to stay on the payroll while going back on his word to the Director of Clandestine Services. It's how he got shot in South America, and how he got back to work without even missing a beat.
It's how he ended up here, in Africa, in a corrupt prison system where more prisoners are lost than actually prosecuted. He knows the intel suggests that a lot of the prisoners are being smuggled out to join a growing terrorist network. He knows that there's never been a mission where he's been more vulnerable and less informed.
Yet, Rick hasn't flinched, not once.
Standing here, though, he's starting to question that approach.
Because there are five very armed men, and Rick is in a very small cell with no on way out and no backup in sight.
"It says here that you have a colorful criminal past," one of the guards says.
Rick shrugs, perched hesitantly on the edge of his cot. "Most people who end up in prison do."
"You have an association with terrorist groups, even," the guard observes.
"I do work that pays," Rick says. "Pretty simple."
The man closes the file, smiling primly. "That is simple," he agrees. "Unfortunately, simple is not always better."
Rick does his best to show no emotion as the man puts the file under his arm and retreats toward the door. "I'm not sure I understand."
"Oh, well, our prison is currently at maximum capacity," he explains. "We pride ourselves on moving prisoners through...quickly."
Rick tenses, but doesn't bely anything else.
"Those with ideals, morals," the guard explains. "Those who are willing to fight for a cause bigger than themselves. They are given an alternative means of rehabilitation."
"And the rest?" Rick asks.
The man shrugs. "You do understand," he says. "We need the room."
Rick gets to his feet, the adrenaline surging through his veins. They were right, at least. This is a breeding ground for potential terrorists. Qualified candidates are no doubt funneled through the system right into the training grounds.
Unfortunately, those who aren't qualified are disposed of in a less auspicious way.
This is bad, and Rick knows it. He knows they intend to execute him, and he knows he can't count on any backup. He knows there's a chance he may not walk out of this, and he knows there's a good chance all the intelligence will die with him. Rick knows this, and he should be pretty damn terrified right now.
But he can't be. Because the mission's in play. Because he's not dead yet.
"Wait," Rick says. "I can be who you need-"
The guard smiles banally. "You are only proving your own lack of fortitude-"
"If you let me prove it to you-"
"I'm sorry," the guard says, stepping out the door. "I've spent enough time-"
Rick lunges forward, but the other guards converge, guns up. Rick goes still, hands up as his breathing tightens in his chest.
He's not scared of dying. He's really, really not. But it occurs to him suddenly that maybe there is one thing he's scared of.
No, one thing he's petrified of.
Rick's scared of failure.
That's why he's worked so hard. That's why he's never let anything stand in his way. Because Rick Martinez is scared to fail.
So with the guns trained on him, Rick doesn't see his own death.
He sees the failure of a mission.
Needless to say, when the gun goes off, he's nothing short of terrified.
Casey's used to being underestimated.
Ever since he was young, he's had something to prove. It's made him work harder than anyone else, and it's made him excel.
It's also made him immune to fear.
After all, when he's expected to be afraid of everything, he learns basically to be afraid of nothing. He's always been the kid with nothing to lose.
And, consequently, everything to gain.
It didn't take long, then, for Casey to realize that he's smartest, sane and more capable than just about everyone he's ever met. As long as he's got his fists and his wits, there's nothing that can stand in his way.
Casey's not afraid because there's basically nothing for him to be afraid of.
So when he realizes that the guards have converged on Rick's cell, he's not scared.
No, he's pissed off.
Angry that he didn't see this sooner.
Angry that these idiots would think to make a move like this.
Angry that they're cutting this mission so damn close.
Anger is not so bad, though.
Anger makes him stronger.
Casey runs, clearing the distance from one side of the prison to the other in less than two minutes. It's only because another guard tipped him off that he's able to make good inroads at all, and he basically doesn't care about his cover much at this point.
If things are going down, then a cover is pretty useless anyway.
Sprinting down the last corridor to Rick's isolation cell, he remembers to activate the distress beacon. It won't get backup here in time to win the fight, but Casey's smart enough to know that extraction is going to be a little more complicated.
He also knows, in no uncertain terms, that they will need an extraction.
After Casey finishes subduing the guards involved with the smuggling of prisoners, an extraction is going to be inevitable.
Heart pounding, he skids using a flying leap to take out the first guard - one of the leaders, no doubt, walking away before he gets his hands dirty. There are four other guards at the door of the cell, and even if Casey's fast, he's not entirely silent, and knocking a man unconscious with a single flying kick does apparently cause some commotion.
They turn, guns drawn, faces pulled taut with shock. Casey goes after the second, reaching for the muzzle of his gun to point it away when the first gunshot goes off.
Casey wrenches the gun free, using his momentum to spin into an oncoming guard.
The second gunshot reverberates, and Casey jams his hand into someone's windpipe so hard that he hears a crack.
A third gunshot and Casey kicks someone in the groin before kneeing them violently in the head.
A fourth gunshot and Casey stomps on someone's foot before jabbing him in the eyes.
A fifth gunshot and-
Casey staggers, the air letting out of his lungs as he looks down.
There's a patch of red on his stomach, spreading slowly. He can feel hot blood start to slither down his belly.
He looks up, straight into the eyes of the last guard.
The man is still standing, wide eyed, with his gun pointed at Casey.
Casey looks from him to the four men on the floor.
And Rick, smeared with red, laying prostrate in his cell.
The anger surges, and Casey can't even feel the bullet. He can't feel anything but the unadulterated rage that he channels into his fists and lets pulse through his feet. With a growl, he charges, so fast and vicious that the man doesn't have the chance to shoot again. Instead, Casey smashes his nose in with a single punch before kicking him in the gut and chopping him on the neck.
He crumples, collapsing lifelessly at Casey's feet.
Breathing heavily, Casey looks around again.
Five assailants, all down.
Rick's down, too.
He looks at his own stomach, which is saturated with bright red blood now.
His world starts to narrow, his vision tunneling. There's a roar in his ears, and his knees go weak. He crashes to the ground, wavering on his knees while bile rises in the back of his throat.
As long as Casey can fight, he's good to go.
When he can't fight, however.
Well, that's when Casey has something to lose.
That's when Casey can't control the outcome.
He blinks a few times, trying to clear his vision as it clouds over ominously.
That's when Casey's afraid.
He slumps to the side, landing on the ground with his cheek pressed against the cold concrete. From here, he can see Rick's chest rising and falling, even as the pool of blood starts to collect.
That's the last thing he sees as his vision fades and his consciousness teeters and oblivion looms.
That's when Casey's very, very afraid.
Billy: Being Alone
In some ways, Billy's an unlikely spy. Sure, he's charming and intuitive, and he's not adverse to putting himself in harm's way. But he's also a bit scared.
Nothing too surprising, at any rate. As a child, no one had thought twice when he was bothered by blood or heights or small spaces. Those are normal phobias, and for most people, that is no source of shame.
The problem is, of course, Billy's not most people. He's picked the one career path where blood, heights and small spaces are all fair game, and where any hint of fear is a weakness that could compromise everything.
That said, Billy's worked hard to muddle along despite these things. Adrenaline is a useful tool for many things, and Billy will always do what needs to be done.
Hence his reason for sprinting through the halls of a compromised prison, likely risking his cover and his well being in the process. But he's got an SOS signal from Casey.
Casey Malick is a human weapon. He doesn't signal distress unless there is real distress to be had.
Fears be damned.
Billy has a teammate to save, maybe two.
The bravado is all well and good, until he makes the last turn into the isolate ward and sees the bodies sprawled in the hallway. There are two guards, and Billy refuses to look too closely as he trips his way inside the door, which is propped open with the body of another guard.
And Billy sees the blood.
It's all over the place, smeared on the walls and pooling on the floor.
His stomach roils, and he swallows hard against a swell of nausea.
And that's when he sees the faces.
Because it's not just nameless guards.
No, there by the bed, that's Rick.
And by the door, that's Casey.
Rick's been shot in the chest; Casey's been shot in the stomach.
And there's so much blood.
His breathing catches, and he stops cold, too stunned to be panicked. An SOS is no light matter, not in their line of work, and Billy had been ready for a firefight, but this-
He stutters another breath, braces himself against the wall. He forces himself to step over a body, moving toward Rick's side as he fumbles numbly with his emergency phone, tucked into his pocket. There's only one number there; it's the only number he needs.
Shaking, he goes to his knees, reaching one hand with trembling fingers to Rick's neck. He's trying to feel for a pulse when Michael answer.
"Dry cleaning," he says.
Billy blinks rapidly, willing his own heart to stop pounding long enough to keep track of Rick's pulse. "Operatives down," he says, and his own voice sounds foreign to his ears.
"We got the SOS-" Michael starts.
"Then hurry," Billy says, moving from Rick to Casey. He grits his teeth and wipes Rick's blood off on his pants before he takes Casey's pulse. "They've been bloody shot."
"Who?" Michael asks.
"Both of them," Billy hisses, placing a hand on Casey's chest to feel the staggered pull of his breathing. "It's all a mess-"
"Can you get them out?" Michael asks.
Billy laughs, sharp and a little hysterical. "Two unconscious men in a prison?" he asks. "I'm surprise there aren't more guards here yet-"
"I'm doing what I can for an extraction," Michael says. "You okay?"
Billy laughs again, but the sound gets cut off in his throat. He's sitting in a blood bath, and two of his best mates in the whole world are probably dying. It's only a matter of time before someone realizes what's happened, and Billy's either going to be killed or kidnapped along with his friends.
And there's blood everywhere.
"Billy?" Michael is saying. "Collins!"
Billy startles, snapping back to awareness. "I'm here," he half mumbles, because fear is a luxury in his line of work. A luxury he can't afford right now.
A luxury his mates can't afford, more importantly.
"Look," Michael says. "I need fifteen minutes, okay? Fifteen minutes."
"What the hell am I supposed to do in fifteen minutes?" Billy hisses, even as he rallies his self control. "Need I remind you that they've both been shot?"
"Just...do what you can," Michael orders. "Secure the room. Apply first aid-"
"Michael," Billy says, voice cracking. "I-"
He looks hopelessly from Casey to Rick.
"You can do it, okay?" Michael coaches. "Secure the room-"
Billy inhales sharply and forces himself to get to his feet. He teeters for a moment, doing his best to step around the blood. As it is, he leaves a smudged bloody print behind him as he walks to the door, dragging the guard inside as he pulls it shut.
"These doors are designed to be locked from the outside," he says, phone tucked against his ear.
Billy purses his lips, glancing back. "Bugger," he mutters. "You're coming, right?"
"Ten minutes," Michael promises. "Ten minutes."
Billy nods curtly. "Ten minutes," he agrees and hangs up the phone. He lets it drop with a clatter.
Billy's terrified but ten minutes.
He can do this.
Skirting the blood again, Billy throws the mattress of the bed, picking up the bedframe with a noisy clatter as he hefts it across the room. It's awkward, but he manages to wedge it against the door. It won't hold forever, but Billy tells himself it won't have to.
"Okay," he breathes to himself. "Now, the hard part."
There's no avoiding the blood now - not with how he's tracking it with every step. Instead, he avoids the worst of the puddles and he goes back down by Rick's side. The younger operative is pale and still, and Billy can see that his lips are starting to turn dusky, even as his inhalations grow strained.
He's alive, at least.
But at the rate he's losing blood, that's not likely to wait for long.
The sight of blood is still overwhelming, and Billy can almost taste the coppery scent. He takes off his shirt and promptly rips it in two. Gently, he scoops Rick up, wrapping the makeshift bandage around Rick's chest before settling the other operative back on the floor. Rick doesn't stir, not even as Billy tightens the knot, positioning it as best he can over the seeping gunshot wound.
It's not much, but it's something. Billy tries to wipe his fingers on his pants, but there's too much blood to make a difference. Stepping over Rick again, he makes his way back to Casey. Using the other half of his shirt, he does the same thing for Casey, tying off the bandage as tight as he can before slumping back against the wall.
He's panting now, heart hammering inside his chest. The adrenaline is running so hard and fast that he feels light headed, and when he goes to rub his hand over his face, he's stopped by the blood.
Rick's blood; Casey's blood.
So much blood.
His hands are stained with it, and when he goes to wipe them off on his pants, those are stained too. The blood is all over him, just like it's all over the floor.
His stomach churns again, and it's all he can do to keep himself from losing his lunch. He forces himself to breathe, but when he looks up again, all he can see are the four walls of an enclosed space.
And they're starting to close in on him.
He's forced himself past his fear, he's got himself to this point, but he's slipping. It's catching up with him now.
He just needs to breathe.
Suddenly, there's a noise at the door. Billy looks up, wide eyed and startled. With no window in the door, it's impossible to tell who's there. He glances around, trying to find his phone, but it's lost in the mess.
Cautiously, he glances at Casey and Rick, finding them still breathing. He gets unsteadily toward his feet, inching toward the door and pulling his gun. It hasn't been ten minutes, he thinks. But then, time flies while you're having a panic attack, so maybe he's no judge.
He wants it to be Michael.
But he's more than a little scared that it's not.
Treading carefully, he makes his way toward the door, listening for any sound. There's no familiar voice, though.
All he hears is the sound of a gun being cocked.
A second before the room explodes with gunfire.
At first, it's just racket, and Billy curses, taking a step back. His foot lands in blood though, and he loses his footing, slipping hard to the ground. Blood splatters around him, and Billy tastes bile. Frantic, he tries to scramble away, on his hands and knees in the growing puddle. He stumbles to his feet, taking desperate breaths as the first bullet breaks through the door and clatters off the bedframe.
Startled, Billy turns. The gunfire has not ceased, and Billy realizes in such a small space, there's no room to take cover.
It's like fish in a barrel.
The inevitability of it is a sudden realization, so fast that he doesn't have time to be scared.
No, he doesn't have time for anything when the next two rounds tear through his leg and another catches him near the groin.
Gasping, he tumbles to the ground, landing in the blood. He looks down, but it's impossible to tell what blood is his and what isn't.
Billy tries to breathe, but his chest hitches fruitlessly. The ceiling is pulling down on him now as the blood rises. Flopping onto his other side, he looks to Casey and Rick.
They're still alive, he tells himself.
They have to be alive.
Because Billy's scared.
And he'll blame it on blood or small spaces. He tell people it's heights or chins or what have you. But that's all just a ruse to distract people from the face that one fear leaves him cold at night, wakes him up in a cold sweat and motivates him to do the stupidly impossible.
Anything, Billy knows, to keep himself from being alone.
All the rest, that's mere discomfort.
That's a phobia Billy will never get over.
One he'll take to his grave.
Which, as it turns out, may be sooner rather than later.
Michael: Loss of Control
It's never been an easy mission, but then, none of them are. That's just not the way it works, not in the CIA and especially not in the ODS. The entire point of their team, after all, is to be the first line of defense. To put themselves in harm's way so no one else has to. Michael's known that since the beginning, since Ray Bishop recruited him to the team and Michael's given up everything ever since.
That's not much of an exaggeration, either. He gave up most of his hobbies; he gave up a positive relationship with his parents. He still sees his sister and his nieces, but he hadn't seen his father for a year when the old man passed away, and he hasn't made time to visit his mother in the nursing home since two Christmases ago. All of his college friends stopped sending him notes at Christmas, and Michael's marriage is in shambles because Michael may have plenty of room in his heart, but he only has so much room in his head, and that's taken up by missions.
It's not that Michael likes giving up everything else. It's just that he knows there's no middle ground. If he compromises on missions, then people die. Good people; people he cares about.
Now, people he's responsible for.
Ray had been reluctant to give the team over to Michael. He'd taken him out for a drink and asked him very seriously if he was up for it. When Michael told him that he was, unequivocally, Ray just shook his head.
"You're not scared? Not even a little?" the older operative had asked.
Michael shrugged. "I know how to plan a mission," he said.
"And the unexpected?" Ray asked.
"All part of the plan," Michael told him.
Ray raised his glass with his head inclined. "To Michael Dorset," he said. "The fearless leader of the ODS."
Fearless is apt enough.
Michael's planned the hardest missions to the most dangerous locations. He's risked things that most people in the CIA would balk at. He's gone against terrorists, criminals, corrupt diplomats, assassins, and the Director of Clandestine Divisions.
And none of it scares him.
Not even now, charging into a secure prison facility with obvious terrorist ties with an SOS from his team. He's not scared. He knows that their cover is compromised; he knows that his team could be in peril or worse. He knows that the casualty count could continue to grow, what with the military escort he's got right now. He knows this could become an international situation if it's not handled correctly, and he knows that he could even get himself ransomed or executed by a terrorist network if he's not careful. At the very least, he's going to get an I-told-you-so from Fay and a verbal reprimand from Higgins, and he's going to have to watch his ass for the next six months to keep his job.
That's no reason to be scared, though.
Because Michael's still in control.
He's in control of the team as it breaks through the gates; he's in charge of the extraction, securing each section of the prison while on the way to isolation. He coordinates with the team leader; he keeps Langley in the loop. He makes sure that there no riots, no escapes, no accidents.
He's got this.
No questions asked.
Then he hears the gunfire.
He knows without checking that it's not from the extraction team. Moreover, he feels fairly confident that it's not his teammates doing the shooting - it's too erratic, too frequent, too conspicuous.
Michael swallows hard, ordering the team leader to secure the area while he starts off at a full on run now. He's got a map of the prison memorized, and he's sense of direction is damn near intuitive. He finds the security checkpoint to isolation wide open and compromised, and he hears more gunfire before he even rounds the corner.
He leads with his gun, but doesn't slow down. He quickly calculates that the bodies in the hallway are 1. not a current threat and 2. not his team.
The man with the gun at the door, however.
Michael can only conclude that he's hostile and that he's shooting at Michael's team.
Without hesitation, he fires - three times, just to be safe, the first two bullets to the shoulder and side before the third hits center mass and the man goes down.
With expert precision, Michael makes his way down the hallway, kicking guns clear while he goes. He takes the gun from the last man, stepping over him carefully as he makes his way to the door.
Rather, what's left of it.
The door has been riddled with bullets, and although it's clear that the door has been made with security in mind, the high caliber bullets have shredded the thing. There are wide gaps from where the bullet holes have run together, and Michael tries the handle.
When he finds it jammed, he kneels down and peeks inside.
At first, he sees the bed frame, which has been wedged against the door. Which explains why the man had been shooting wildly to try to blast the door open.
Then, Michael sees the bodies.
This time, however, they're not collateral damage.
This time, it's his team.
To some, this might be just the time to panic. This might be the time to lose it, to freak out, but not Michael.
Not when he's still in charge.
Not when there's still something he can do.
Putting his gun away, he grabs his walkie talkie and requests backup to his location ASAP. Then, he deftly goes to the handle again. With the bed frame still wedged into place, the problem isn't the locking mechanism. If the idiot wielding the gun had taken two seconds, he would have realized that he didn't need to blast all the way through the door.
No, all he needed was one small hole at handle level.
Snaking his hand through, Michael ignores the rough edges, using his hand to grope blindly at the frame, which was shoved in hard beneath the handle. It takes a moment, and he cuts his hand somewhat in the process, but the bedframe clatters out of the way and the handle snicks open almost immediately.
With that taken care of, Michael swings the door open and then steps inside.
The body closest to the door is not his concern. Stepping over that, he sees Billy first, sprawled on his back and blinking up at the ceiling.
"Billy?" Michael asks, squatting down next to him. He glances toward Rick and Casey, neither of whom seem conscious but have both been fitted with rudimentary bandages.
On the ground, Billy takes a stuttering breath. "Michael?" he asks, almost sounding confused.
Michael looks at Billy again, doing his best to smile. "Take it easy," he coaches, reaching to the discarded bed sheet. He balls it up, pressing it to the more serious of Billy's gunshot wounds.
Billy convulses slightly, panting for air. "So much blood," he says haltingly. "Tried to stop it-"
"You did good, okay?" Michael says, not so much because it's true - and it is true, from what Michael can gather from the nature of the scene - but because it's what Billy needs to hear. "Extraction is on its way."
Billy's glassy eyes seem to be staring past him, though. "Walls are...closing in," he continues, even more breathless than before.
"Claustrophobia, now?" Michael quips.
"And-and the blood," Billy stutters.
"I'll give you that one," Michael agrees.
Billy's breathing catches, and this time he doesn't respond.
Michael presses down a little harder, letting the pressure jar Billy.
It doesn't do much good. Instead, Billy's eyelids flutter shut, and Michael can feel the beat of Billy's heart like a butterfly in his chest.
It's bad, Michael knows.
He looks at Rick and Casey, both of whom seem to be alive but just as unconscious and bloody as Billy.
It's very, very bad.
Which means Michael has to fix it.
Using one hand to maintain the pressure on Billy's worst wound, he gets the walkie talkie out with the other. "We need to double that ETA, and I need the field medic and anyone else who knows a thing or two about first aid," he barks.
"Casualties?" comes the crackling reply.
"Three," Michael reports. "So get on the phone with whoever you need to talk to for an immediate airlift to the nearest hospital."
"Leave that to me," Michael says curtly, putting the device away again. With both hands, he applies double the pressure, and gives his other two teammates a guilty look. Michael's okay with making hard decisions and assessing tough priorities, but he has no way of knowing which one of his teammates is worse off. He doesn't know who's closest to death, and that makes this hard.
Shifting his weight, he uses on hand to check Martinez's pulse. He finds it slow and fast - and whoever did the makeshift bandage at least did a decent job. It's a bit of a stretch to reach Casey, and though the older man also has a heart beat, his breathing is noticeably strained, and the bandage over his wound is clearly soaked through.
Michael needs three sets of hands right now, and an entire army division at his disposal. Hell, at this point, Michael could probably use that medical degree he never finished.
Mostly, he needs to maintain control.
That's his job in all of this.
That's how he can send his operatives into a dangerous situation. Because it's all on him.
And here he is.
He looks around, reality washing over him like a bucket of cold water.
Here he is.
There's a ruckus in the hallway, but Michael easily recognizes the sound of American combat boots on the ground. The soldier on point comes in, two others fanning out behind him, and Michael doesn't even flinch.
"Clear!" the first one says, as the two behind him relax their postures.
Michael nods toward Rick and Casey. "I need two of you to start applying pressure," he says, and the two other soldiers obey, shouldering their weapons and stepping through the mess. "What about that medic?"
"Just on the way back," the team leader replies.
"And the medical extraction?" Michael asks, watching as the other two start tending to Rick and Casey, even while he doesn't diminish his pressure on Billy's wounds.
"Five minutes," is the reply. "But you're going to need clearance-"
Michael nods, looking down again. "Can you get this?" he asks, tilting his head toward Billy.
"Sir?" the man asks.
Michael sets his mouth in a grim line. "I have a phone call to make."
The team leader kneels on Billy's other side, taking over the pressure as Michael gets to his feet. He steps out of the way, making a path to the door just as the medic comes in, followed by two more men with medical gear. There's no room for Michael, not in a space that small with that many bodies.
He can't stay anyway.
Because Michael has a job to do.
There is more than one way to protect his team, and the ball is still well in Michael's court.
Hastily, he wipes his hands on his pants, foregoing the radio in favor of his phone this time. Within twenty seconds, he has Langley on the phone, and he leverages every bit of power he has to talk directly to Fay and then Adele and then to Higgins. Michael promises everything he has - and a few things he doesn't have - in exchange for the best care and the best protection.
It's a hell of a sacrifice, and Michael knows the cost will be one he's paying off for awhile.
But there's no price too high to bring his team home.
By the time he has Higgins word, the medical extraction is here. Billy, Casey and Rick are on stretchers, and Michael reaches for his gun. "Okay," he coaches. "We leave as fast as we came in."
"What about the mess?"
Michael shrugs coldly. "What about it?" he replies, because American involvement will be easy to suspect but pretty damn hard to prove, especially when any exposure of their operation by government officials will expose the terrorist ties. If that happens, the government owes them a thank you for doing the dirty work.
Or, what's more likely, is that nothing will come of it at all since the government probably already knows and has been turning a blind eye.
A prison riot happens in places like this.
It's not even local front page news, much less anything that registers on the national circuit. Higgins will guarantee that, and he knows Fay will work extra hard to make sure it stays that way.
This time, Michael takes point, leading the team through the fastest route out. The rest of the prison has been secured, with the prisoners accounted for and the security staff locked in the cafeteria. It's a textbook extraction, all things considered, and Rick and Casey are loaded up into the first helicopter, and Michael joins Billy on the second.
In the air, there's no time to stop. He checks in with the team leader, and then he checks in with the regional command base he's been coordinating with. He ensures that there are no other complications, and then he gives the order to fully pull out and let local authorities retain control. Other medical personnel have been called to the scene to assess any other possible survivors, and the mission is under control.
The mission is under Michael's control, more explicitly, and Michael handles the transfer to a civilian hospital with seamless grace. He knows how to fill out the paperwork; he knows exactly what stories to tell. He knows what questions to answer, and what answers to skirt. He's there as Casey gets redlined up to surgery; he's there when Rick has a chest tube inserted in the emergency room. He's there when Billy codes and comes back again.
He's there until they're all taken care of. He's there when the last nurse leaves him and the phone to Langley finally goes silent.
Michael's done all he can do, and he's done all of it without flinching. Not even once.
Numbly, Michael leaves the waiting room. In the stairwell, he takes a minute to breathe. He slumps back against the wall, forcing even breaths in and out.
It occurs to him now, when he's out of duties to perform, that he's not scared.
No, now he's petrified.
Because he's done everything he can.
And now all he can do is wait.
On her wedding day, Fay made a promise to love Michael Dorset for as long as they both would live. Standing there, she still remembers thinking, how scared she was that it wouldn't come true. She'd been scared, not of the commitment, but of the reality that Michael lived in the field. That someday, maybe someday soon, he wouldn't come home again.
She'd been scared that death do us part would be sooner rather than later.
She spent the next three years living that fear. She still remembers waiting up by the phone, waiting for him to check in. She'll never forget chewing her lip, staring at the phone, just willing it to ring. She remembers tracking planes halfway around the world; she can't forget monitoring countless news feeds, just looking for a hint of how his missions were going.
There were a lot of reasons she broke her promise to Michael, but that was a big part of it.
She'd been too scared to stay.
It's ironic, then, because here she is. Waiting by a phone, just hoping for any news. She'd always told herself it'd be easier if they were divorced, that she could stop caring about him, that she could look at him like just another operative.
But she's more afraid than ever.
Then, the phone rings.
Startled, she forgets to answer it at first, but then she has the receiver in her hand, and she says breathlessly, "Hello?"
She recognizes Michael immediately, and she lets out a breath in relief. "Thank God," she says. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah," he replies, but there's a distinct lack of confidence in his tone.
She sits up straighter. "Is your cover holding?" she asks. "I've contacted a number of people in your area, and if something seems wrong-"
"No, no," Michael says, and his voice says empty and tinny over the line. "I just…"
She pauses, brow creasing. She knows him too well. "Michael? Are you sure everything's alright? I know you said the mission's in order-"
"It is," Michael tells her. "I just got off the phone with the military. The site's being cleaned up by local law enforcements."
"My local contact say the government is showing no response," she says. "You were right when you said they were probably in on it."
"We should be able to get some positive IDs, at least," Michael says.
"And we can track their network better having confirmed this link," Fay says. She pauses, but Michael doesn't say anything. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"Yeah, I just…," he starts but doesn't finish.
She turns in her chair, rotating it away from the windows. "Michael?"
He gathers an audible breath. "They're all in surgery," he says finally, and it's impossible to mistake the breaking in his voice for overseas distortion. "Casey already has a fever, and the bullet may be in his intestines. Martinez's got a tube in his chest, and his rib cage is held together by a piece of wire. Billy lost over half his blood volume, and he keeps losing it faster than they can put it back in."
Fay's stomach turns, and she forces herself to swallow hard. This isn't the phone call she's always been afraid of, but somehow it's much worse. "Michael-"
He inhales raggedly. "I didn't know what to do," he says, as broken as she's ever heard him. "I didn't know-"
He breaks off, and it's not quite a sob, but he's working hard to control his breathing. It's hard to hear him like this, vulnerable and uncertain. That's not Michael. That's not the idiot who talks his way into the most dangerous missions. That's not the brash operative who talked her into marrying him when she didn't have a good reason in the world.
That's not her Michael.
"Hey," she says. "It's okay."
"They'll be okay," Fay says, trying to sound certain. "You got them out, okay? You got them out, and they're going to be okay. That's what you do, Michael. That's what you always do."
He takes an unsteady breath. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah."
"Do you want to keep talking?" she ventures.
"No," he replies, sounding markedly more composed. "I'm good."
"I'll call you to check in," he says. "Two hours, okay?"
He doesn't even let her reply when the line goes dead.
Sighing, she looks at the phone for a moment before putting it down. She's still waiting for a call, then, after all these years.
It's funny to think about, though.
That she's not the only one who's been afraid all this time.
Higgins is many things, but he's not stupid. No, he's anything but stupid. Stupid men don't rise to the top of the CIA. No, stupid men either wash out or die.
This is why Higgins has learned to harbor a healthy sense of fear. He believes fear is a necessary part of the spy game, since it can help inform decisions and create priorities. Fear is what created the Agency, whether anyone wants to admit it or not. Fear is what keeps it in power, even when people disdain their methods or question their integrity.
Fear is how Higgins knows which missions to green light and which ones to hold back. Fear is how Higgins decides to put an operative in harm's way or to pull them out, even against their will.
It's the fear that he could have done more.
The fear that he should have done less.
Higgins job is all about fear, and making sure that no one knows just how afraid he is.
Instead, they'll call him a bastard. They'll say he's out of touch or too by the book. They'll lament his tactics or bemoan his policies. They'll try to circumvent his authority, or kiss his ass to earn his approval.
Higgins is okay with that, all things considered. He doesn't need his operatives to like him.
He just needs them to do what he wants.
That's his responsibility, after all. That's why he's the director and no one else is. He's the one tasked with making the hard decisions. He's the one in charge of making the tough calls.
Consequently, he was the one who okayed the ODS mission to the prison. He's the one who signed off on sending in three operatives undercover to a situation that was likely to end up badly. The odds had been against them in some regards, but the fear of doing nothing had outweighed the fear of losing something in return.
And now, here he is.
It's not just his responsibility to make the decisions.
He has to live with them, too.
Dorset has reported that the mission, in essence, has been successful. They have identified the sources at the prison and shut down one of the main personnel pipelines for the terrorist organization. There's a strong possible, Dorset has said, that they can provide names, images and other critical intelligence regarding the operation.
However, this information has come at a price.
Dorset may be okay, but he's about the only one. Martinez is fighting a bad infection, and his fever is too high to travel. Malick will be out of commission for months with physical therapy and healing. Collins will probably be back sooner than that, but only because he's the luckiest bastard in the world who can flatline twice on the table and still bounce back to tell the tale.
He doesn't tell anyone, especially not Dorset, but he follows their progress closely. He's the one making anonymous calls to the hospital, and he's the one who arranges their flight home. He's the one staying late at the office, and making personal calls overseas when he's at home in his pajamas. He's the one losing sleep over four operatives he can't stand.
That's Higgins' job.
And win, lose or draw, he's damn glad when his operatives come home.
This time, they are coming home. Despite the odds, all four members of the ODS will be stateside within the week.
That's reason enough to put most of his fears to bed, at least for this mission.
Except that nagging fear that someday they might not come home.
And worse, still that they might find out just how afraid he truly is.
"On a scale of one to ten, how would you rank your fear?" Billy asks the question on a cold night when Rick has to drug a man and kidnap him from a public place. Everything they're doing is illegal, and it's dangerous, and if it doesn't cost them their lives or their jobs, they may just be heroes in the end.
Rick takes a breath and lets it out he nods. "About a seven," he says. "Seven and a half."
Billy grins, clapping Rick on the shoulder. "That sounds like a pretty workable number to me."
Rick nods, reassured. Michael and Casey are satisfied, at least.
Because that's the thing.
They're all workable numbers.
As long as they've got each other.