A/N: This is really all Faye's fault. Not me getting addicted to this short-lived show, but the writing of massive fic. Of course, she spoils me shamelessly, so it's time I returned the favor.

Disclaimer: CHAOS is property of CBS and its creators, etc. Title is a line from T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding"(in section II, specifically).


It's wet.

It's not a pleasant way to wake up, Michael thinks. Nothing good has ever come from the mornings where he's roused from sleep by water. It's a sign the pipes in the apartment above him have resumed leaking, or that he's camped outside without a tent again, or that he's about to be roused for another session of water boarding. None of these options are particularly pleasant.

Judging by the dull, throbbing pain he's slowly beginning to register, Michael's pretty sure that of all the possible explanations for his current damp state, the last is the most likely. And seasoned agent or no, Michael's never been a fan of waking up to a torture session, so he keeps still and maintains a slow, even breathing pattern, trying to figure out where he is and just how he got there.

He hears water falling on vegetation, a strong breeze blowing through the leaves, and a strange, ominous creaking sound from somewhere above him. Through his eyelids, Michael sees a bright flash of light; a moment later, a dull rumble of thunder rolls through the air around him. It's raining, he realizes, which lends evidence to the idea that he's been camping outside again.

That doesn't explain the pain, though — it's sharper now than it was before, starting in his chest and radiating outward. And there's an odd pressure on his shoulders, almost like he's hanging—

"It's no good, I can't pull out of it — we're going to have to jump!"

A plane crash, Michael realizes, his eyes popping open. He blinks, then blinks again. For a heart stopping moment, he thinks he's gone blind because he can't see anything — it's as black as pitch in front of him. Then he remembers seeing the flash of light. He forces himself to calm down and use his other senses. He can hear rain falling on tree leaves, feel the pull of the parachute's straps around his shoulders as he sways in the wind, but he can't see the tree he knows he's stuck in.

Because now he remembers the mission — infiltrate a building deep in the Cambodian jungle that's allegedly housing a terror cell — and he remembers chartering the plane — Billy's knack for charming people and Rick's translation skills coming in handy once again — and he remembers taking off — Casey making snide remarks about the cramped conditions of the tiny cabin and Michael's less-than-smooth take off in the midst of a tropical storm.

He also remembers the explosion that took out an engine; the sound of alarms blaring; the feel of the stick bouncing and jerking in his hands as he struggled to pull out of the dive; the sight of the forest coming up to meet them; the realization that the plane only had three parachutes for its four occupants.

There's another flash of lightning, and Michael realizes a piece of his parachute has somehow wrapped around his face. A quick self assessment proves all his limbs are relatively uninjured, so he pulls the fabric free, blinking a few times until his eyes adjust to his surroundings.

There's still not much light for him to work with; if he remembers right, the plane went down shortly before midnight. So either he's not been unconscious for very long, or he's been out for at least a day. Michael's willing to bet it's the former — he's stiff, but not that stiff.

Plus, if it's been at least a day, it means his team hasn't been able to find him yet, and he doesn't want to think about what that could imply.

Wiping the rain from his eyes, Michael glances down. He's relieved to see the ground is less than twenty feet below him. As long as there aren't any rocks or logs hidden beneath the dense underbrush, a fall from this height shouldn't cause too much damage.

A quick glance up reveals less encouraging news. The chute has been ripped to shreds; it's too hopelessly entangled in the tree limbs to even try to salvage. And since Michael had jumped with only the chute on his back and no other supplies, that means he'll have nothing to help protect him from the elements.

His musings are interrupted by the sound of something crashing through the brush. "Michael? Michael!"

The relief he feels is almost overwhelming — at least one person on his team's survived, which gives him hope for the others — but he keeps his voice steady. "Up here, Martinez."

Rick limps out from behind the tree. He's got smears of blood across his face and shirt, and he's keeping his left arm close to his body. The gloom of the night doesn't obscure the relief plain on his face, but then, he's always worn his heart on his sleeve — at least around his teammates. "You okay?" he calls, squinting against the rain falling in his eyes as he looks up at Michael.

"Other than being stuck in this tree, yeah," Michael lies. He's pretty sure he's got at least one broken rib. A concussion is also pretty likely, but both are issues that can be dealt with later. "You?"

"Fine," Rick says unconvincingly.

Michael lets it slide for now. "Seen Billy and Casey?"

Even in the rain and dim light, he can see Rick's expression shift to worry. "Yeah. They're in a cave two miles south. It's dry — Casey's pretty sure it used to be some kind of animal's den, but it looks like it's been abandoned for awhile. We can take shelter there until this storm passes over."

Michael frowns. "Two miles?"

"You got blown pretty far off course," Rick replies with a one-shouldered shrug.

Michael glances up through the canopy of leaves above him. Aside from the steady stream of rain and occasional rumble of thunder, the storm is fairly quiet. Though if his memories are correct, it had been raging much harder when they'd been forced to jump out of the plane.

He looks back down at Rick. "How are they?"

Rick shifts. "Casey broke his leg. It was a clean break, though; we were able to set it without too many problems. He's cracked a few ribs, too."

He pauses for a moment as lightning flashes above them. Thunder rumbles loudly an instant later. "And Billy?" Michael asks. Not that he needs to ask to know it's bad; Rick wouldn't be dodging the subject otherwise.

Rick drops his gaze. "He got knocked out when their chute got caught up in the trees. Casey couldn't hold onto him, and he fell. He hasn't woken up yet."

Michael swears under his breath. It isn't an entirely unexpected outcome — Billy had been the one handing out chutes, had been the first to realize there wasn't one for each of them. There'd been no harness for a tandem jump, either, though that hadn't stopped Casey from trying to make one up out of their seat belts and a short coil of rope they'd found.

"Between my core strength and Billy's ridiculous amount of luck, it might just work. It's the only feasible option. Now let's get moving; otherwise the plane will crash and this discussion will have been entirely pointless."

"He's still alive, though," Michael says.

Rick nods, keeping his eyes averted. "At the moment, yes."

And that's enough, for now. But it's far past time for Michael to be out of this tree.

He reaches for the harness clips holding him in place. "Watch yourself, I'm coming down."

Rick looks up. "Wait, I don't think—"

Before he can finish his sentence, Michael's free-falling toward the ground below. He bends his knees and tucks his body into a roll when he lands, trying to reduce the impact. It sort of works — he ends up sprawled on his back, ribs screaming and head throbbing as he struggles to breathe and tries his hardest not to vomit or pass out.

Gradually the pain and nausea ebb, and Michael realizes Rick's kneeling next to him, one hand on his shoulder. "—and if I carry you back to the cave, Casey's going to get annoyed and huffy because he told me not to overexert myself, and you know how he gets when someone doesn't listen to his orders—"

"You're not going to carry me back," Michael says, cracking open first one eye, then the other when he realizes the world isn't spinning as much as his body thinks it is. "I'm fine, just give me a second."

Rick looks skeptical, but he doesn't argue. "Can you stand? We really need to get out of this rain."

Michael holds out his hand. "Help me up and we can get moving."

-o-

The trip to the cave is slow-going. Rick's ankle is clearly in worse shape than he's letting on, and the darkness and uneven terrain aren't helping matters there. The rain has yet to let up, making everything slick and wet and miserable. On top of that, the nausea overpowers Michael's strong will halfway through the trip, resulting in a long break to empty everything in his stomach and then dry heave for a bit.

The last half mile is the worst. It's been over two hours and they're leaning on each other now; at this point, neither one is able to stand up straight on his own. As it is, the only reason they're able to keep moving is because they both want to check on the rest of the team and make sure they're okay; make sure Billy's still with them.

"You know, I'm really starting to hate all the subtropical countries," Rick pants as they duck under a low-hanging tree branch.

Michael huffs a laugh, pausing long enough to help Rick hop over a fallen log. "I've never seen the appeal, myself," he says. "The bugs are huge and the beaches are too crowded."

"Actually, I was thinking about how I've never been able to come to one without nearly being killed by something or someone," Rick replies. He smacks at his neck and glances at his hand, making a face and wiping his palm on his pants. "But the bugs definitely don't help."

-o-

When they finally reach the cave, the sun's up somewhere behind the clouds and Casey's lingering near the entrance of their hideout. His left leg is wrapped in a basic splint, and he's somehow been able to find a branch large enough to serve as a crutch. Casey's always kept his emotions close to the vest, but Michael knows him well enough to see the slightest release of tension in his shoulders, the ease of the worry lines around his eyes.

"Glad to see you made it back in one piece," Casey says, nodding at Michael.

"Please tell me you got a fire going," Rick says. The air is still warm, but they're soaked completely through, and it's a miserable feeling on top of their injuries.

Casey gives him a look. "It's the middle of the monsoon season. There hasn't been dry wood around here for six weeks." When Rick huffs a sigh, he smirks a little and adds, "There was a small stash stowed away in the corner of the cave, though. I was waiting until you two got back to light it."

"Such a gentleman," Michael deadpans. "How's Billy?"

Casey's lips press into a thin line. "There's good news and bad news."

-o-

Billy's lying on a make-shift bed made of banana leaves, palm fronds, and pieces of Rick's parachute canvas. The left side of his face is obscured by severe bruising that extends well above his hairline; the other half is smeared in blood. His left hand is clearly broken in a couple places. Michael has to stare closely to see the shallow rise and fall of his chest. It's the only sign Billy's still alive.

At the moment, it's the only sign Michael needs.

"His pupils have started responding just a little; I think it's pretty safe to say he's got a bad concussion, not a cracked skull. He's moved a couple times," Casey tells them as Michael kneels down next to Billy. "Never regained full awareness, though."

"That's something, though," Rick says, huddling close to the small fire they've got going now. He props up his injured ankle on a rock. "Right?"

"He's got a fever," Michael says with a frown as he lays a hand on Billy's forehead. The moisture he thought was rain is actually a thin sheen of sweat, and the heat radiating off the Scotsman's skin is worrisome.

Casey nods once. "That's the bad news," he says, kneeling down and gently lifting the shirt from Billy's stomach.

Rick sucks in a breath as Michael swears. There's dark, colorful bruising across most of Billy's abdomen. "How bad?" Michael asks.

Casey shrugs, lowering the shirt again. "Right now, it seems to be pretty slow. But if he doesn't get some medical attention here in the next couple hours, it's going to go downhill quick."

"You said there was good news?" Rick inquires.

Casey nods again, pulling something from his pocket. "Billy managed to keep hold of this," he says, tossing it at Michael.

Michael catches it and can't help the grin that crosses his face. The silver item's small, no larger than a Zippo lighter. For all intents and purposes, it looks like a cigarette lighter.

Which is entirely the point, Michael thinks as he flips open the top. The small red button on the side has been pressed down.

"The emergency beacon," Rick says, a slow smile forming as he looks from Michael to Casey. "He activated it?"

Casey nods. "And as far as I can tell, it's still active."

"So they can find us," Rick says. "They can track us down?"

This time Michael nods. He clicks the lid of the beacon shut and stows it in his pocket. "They can. All we have to do is wait."

-o-

Waiting is hard.

Michael's never been one for waiting. Growing up, his mother always lectured him on patience. His teachers chastised him for rushing off before the bell had even rung. He's had countless tickets for running red lights and speeding.

His time in the CIA has taught him the value of waiting in certain situations. Waiting just a few extra days for a bust could mean the difference between a handful of years or a lifetime in prison. Holding out for that extra few minutes in a gunfight turns a grim situation into a victory when backup arrives. Pausing for just a minute when approaching a target prevents detection by a security guard taking an unplanned bathroom break.

This kind of waiting is the worst, though. Huddled in a cave, with little fuel for a dying fire, no food, no supplies, no possible way to complete their mission — nothing to do but sit and wait for help to arrive.

Nothing to do but sit and wait for Billy to take another breath.

Because Michael knows his operative is in bad shape. Billy's fever is picking up; they've resorted to taking strips of parachute canvas and letting them soak in the rain before laying them on his forehead to try to cool his temperature. The bruised skin across his stomach is getting firmer; the internal bleed might be slow, but it's steady.

And that's not even counting the concussion, which looks pretty serious, or the two broken ribs. The entire picture is grim.

"He's survived worse than this," Casey murmurs as Michael steps back inside the cave. Rick's sitting against the cave wall near Billy's feet, dozing restlessly; he's got one hand gripped lightly around Billy's ankle. Casey's leg is in too bad of shape to let him move around much, leaving Michael to keep heading back into the rain.

Michael tilts his head as he hands Casey a freshly soaked strip of cloth. "He has."

"More lives than a cat," Casey says, and Billy moans a little as the old cloth is replaced with the new, dripping one.

Michael frowns as he watches Casey adjust the fabric, taking care not to let the water drip into Billy's eyes. Casey's statement is true enough — Billy's always had a knack for getting himself into trouble, for taking the brunt of the hits for his team. He'd taken two bullets to the chest in Tajikistan a few years ago; even after flat lining three times he still managed to pull through somehow.

Billy is nothing if not resilient. But here, now, as Michael and his team sit yet another vigil over a wounded Billy, waiting once again for a rescue that might not make it in time, Michael can't help but wonder if this is the mission where they'll find out that this is it; this is the situation where Billy's luck finally runs out; this is the one where Billy comes back in a box, not a wheelchair.

And the worst part is that Michael has no choice but to sit and wait for the outcome. They're doing all they can at this point. There is nothing else to do but wait. Wait and hope and pray that Billy's got at least one more life left in him.

-o-

A few hours pass. The rain continues on, though the thunder has mostly stopped. The fire is down to just a few embers, making it difficult to see inside the cave, but not impossible; they're saving the rest of the fuel for nighttime so that they'll be able to see when the sun sets.

Rick's awake now; he takes a short trip out into the rain and manages to get a few bananas that have fallen from a tree he'd spotted on the way in. They're green and relatively tasteless, but it's something edible, something to satisfy the gnawing in their stomachs and give them a little more energy, even if it is energy just to sit and wait around.

Billy's fever is still climbing, slowly but steadily. His face is pinched in pain, and every so often he moans or mutters something inaudible. He's yet to open his eyes though; at this point, Michael isn't expecting him to.

"It's my fault," Casey says suddenly.

Rick and Michael look at him. "What are you talking about?" Rick asks. "You weren't the one who sabotaged the plane."

Casey levels a steady gaze at them. "When we pulled the chute, my jerry-rigged tandem harness came loose. And I had to try to steer the chute when we were landing, so I couldn't hold on to him. As soon as we hit the trees, he got knocked out and let go of me before I could grab him. And then I landed poorly after I freed myself from my chute, breaking my leg."

"It's not your fault," Rick replies immediately.

Casey glares at him. "The harness I built failed."

"It wasn't your fault, Casey," Michael declares firmly. "The fact that Billy's still alive is a miracle — you know that as well as I do. If you hadn't made the harness, there would have been no way you could have kept a hold of him when the chute opened, not in this weather. And there's no way he would have survived going down with the plane."

"Not that we would have let him do that," Rick adds firmly.

"Of course not," Michael replies.

Casey stares at them. "The broken leg was still my fault."

Michael tilts his head. "I don't think so. But we'll let you have that one, if it makes you feel any better."

Casey scoffs. "It doesn't."

Michael's mouth twitches. "I thought not. So stop thinking about it."

Casey glances down at Billy. "Easier said than done."

-o-

They've been silent, apart from Billy's quiet moans, for almost an hour. Michael's keeping an eye on the cave entrance for signs of someone coming — either friend or foe — and Casey's trying to strip away the wet bark of a thick, long-dead branch to get at the dry wood underneath when Rick suddenly gasps. "Billy?"

Michael looks back and is momentarily startled. Billy's eyes are open. He's staring at the ceiling, blinking lazily at it as if he's trying to figure out why it's there. Michael's not sure if it's because Billy doesn't know where he is or if it's because he wasn't expecting to wake up. He decides not to dwell on it.

Billy clears his throat. "That's unexpected," he rasps.

It's like a signal, a command that breaks the spell of silence that has fallen over them, and the others scramble to gather in around him. "You back with us?" Michael asks, moving so he's in Billy's line of sight.

It's a relief to see the operative's eyes tracking his movements; it's even more of a relief to see the faintest hint of a smile on Billy's face. "Not sure where I went," he replies, voice barely more than a whisper.

"A cave in the Cambodian rainforest," Rick replies.

Billy tries to move his head to see where the voice came from and hisses in pain, closing his eyes again. "Ah. Concussion, then," he moans, his already ashen face going even paler.

"Try not to puke, you might make the abdominal bleeding worse," Casey says, laying a hand on Billy's shoulder to ensure he stays still.

"Ha," Billy gasps. "Two-for-one! My favorite. Ribs, too?"

"Only a couple this time. You got off lucky," Michael tells him with a tense smile.

Billy shifts, then hisses again. "Lucky, eh? Beg to differ."

"You could be trapped in the undoubtedly smoking remains of our plane," Casey points out. "Or splattered like a bug on a windshield against a tree."

Billy hums in agreement, relaxing back into his makeshift bed. "T'would be most unfortunate," he slurs softly. His accent is thick, to the point Michael can barely understand him. Not that he always needs to understand Billy's words to get his meaning, especially at times like this. "And th' rest of you?"

Rick scoots in a little closer. "We're fine. Don't worry about us. You just hang in there, okay?"

Billy smiles a little but doesn't open his eyes. "Still a horrible liar, Martinez," he whispers. "Need to work on making you a… a proper charlatan."

Rick forces a laugh. "Alright then, you'll have to do that when we get home, okay?" There's no response. "Billy?"

Billy's silent once more, though his face looks less pinched than it did before. His skin still hasn't regained its color, though.

"He's out again," Michael says with a sigh, glancing up at them.

Rick looks both relieved and worried; Casey looks grim. "But he's doing better, right?" Rick asks. "I mean, he woke up. That's better. Right?"

"It's something, anyway," Michael says, glancing away from Casey's knowing look. The look that says he knows just what Michael's thinking.

They've been down this road before. With Billy, things always seem to get a little better, right before everything goes to hell. For once, Michael's really hoping they're wrong about this.

-o-

They're right.

The rain stops a couple hours later. Normally Michael would be all for that — it's one less inconvenience to deal with, and he's never actually enjoyed standing out in the rain — but this time it only adds to their problems.

Because Billy's fever, which had dropped for a little bit, is climbing again. Even with the subtropical heat and the warmth of the fire, he's shivering violently, and skin on his face that isn't violently bruised is extremely pale, save for the bright flush of fever on his cheekbones. The fever has been controlled somewhat by the rain-soaked parachute scraps they've been using, but now that the rain's stopped, they have nothing else to treat the fever with.

The only thing Michael can do right now is sit next to Billy and keep a gentle grip on his head with both hands to keep him from thrashing around too much and injuring himself more. The skin beneath his fingers is hot and dry; the fever's high enough now that any moisture that was there has evaporated, and Billy's past the point of sweating.

Rick and Casey linger nearby, too, each doing what they can to keep their teammate still. Billy's muttering at them, whispering and hissing and moaning words too garbled for Michael to really make out.

They all tense as Billy bucks beneath them, moaning in pain and sobbing something in a language Michael can't understand. "It's Welsh," Rick says suddenly, blinking in surprise. "He's speaking in Welsh."

Somehow that's not really surprising at all. "What's he saying?" Michael asks.

Rick leans in a little closer, trying to catch everything Billy's murmuring. "He's apologizing."

Casey tilts his head. "For what?"

They stay silent for a long moment as Rick listens closely to what Billy's saying. Finally Rick glances up at them. His face is troubled. "Everything. That's all he says. Popeth. 'Everything.'"

Casey snorts in derision, though it's pretty easy to see the concern lining his eyes. "The only things he needs to be sorry for are the stains on the passenger seat of my car and the gouge in the wall outside Higgins' office."

"I thought you said Blank was the one who did that," Rick says.

"He was the instigator, but Billy was the one who physically made the mark," Casey replies. "Just don't tell Higgins that — he still fumes about the plaque that got damaged when it fell because of that incident."

Michael remains silent, staring down at Billy's fevered face as he continues mumbling, occasionally turning his head as if trying to evade Michael's gentle grip. Even though Michael doesn't understand what Billy's saying, he's pretty sure he knows exactly what he's talking about, and the fact that Billy's fevered mind is dwelling on that at a time like this is far from reassuring.

There are only six people in the entire world who know exactly why Billy was kicked out of his homeland almost a decade ago. One is dead; one is in a prison so secure and so hidden it's as if he's dead; one runs MI6; one runs the CIA. The last two are in this cave.

Michael's not sure how much the other ODS agents know. As far as he knows, Rick only has a basic understanding of what happened. Casey knows a bit more, and he might have been able to dig up even more information than the scarce details Billy, Higgins, and Michael have mentioned over the years. But Michael's pretty sure Casey doesn't know everything, if only because a few of the key parts to the story were disposed from any permanent record a long time ago.

And Michael is well aware that despite Billy's outwardly cheerful, carefree nature, the events that happened over the course of a few days in Spain continue to haunt the Scotsman to this day. There were many things left unsaid throughout the process, things Michael's certain Billy wishes he'd said at the time.

If that's what he's thinking about now, trapped and injured and delirious in this cave, then things are even more dire than they thought. It means that Billy's mind, even if it's his subconscious mind, is thinking about regrets. About lost causes and failures and the way things could have been, and that isn't something that is going to help Billy pull through this.

Hang in there, Michael wills silently. Billy whimpers softly. Hang in there so you can come back and fix things. That's what you really want, isn't it?

Billy hisses something, then sighs and falls silent, save for his shallow, raspy breaths that are starting to sound far too close to death rattles, and Michael can't help but think that even if Billy does want to fix things, it might already be too late.

-o-

The clouds outside thin out just in time for the sunset. The air is still thick with humidity, even more so inside the small, stifled space of the cave. With Rick's help, Casey's managed to strip down an impressive amount of dead wood over the past few hours, giving them enough to fuel a small fire for the night. And on a quick check of the area, Michael managed to find a small collection of rocks that had trapped a decent amount of rainwater, allowing them to resume soaking the cloth strips to try to check Billy's fever again.

Unfortunately that's about the only good news they have. With no way to purify water, they've been reduced to the water they can extract from edible leaves and the green bananas they've been eating — which means there's no way for them to give any water to Billy to offset the dehydration from his fever and internal bleeding.

And the rest of the team isn't doing much better — Rick's having a difficult time staying focused, Casey's beginning to show early signs of an infection himself, and Michael's concussion makes him want to do nothing more than lay down and sleep to escape the pounding headache. He's been able to ignore it for the most part — Billy's condition is much more dire — but his body is starting to catch up with him, and he's not sure how long he can fend off the consequences of the head injury.

In short, their situation isn't good.

Surprisingly, it takes a long time for Rick to ask the question Michael's sure he's had since the plane started going down. "How long do you think it will take for help to arrive?" Rick asks, fiddling with a small piece of wood. His eyes are locked on Billy. The fever's now past the point of delirium; there's no longer a need to hold him down. The only sounds the Scotsman makes are his wheezing breaths, each a little shorter than the one before.

No one responds for a moment. "It depends if Higgins is willing to push for some inter-agency cooperation," Casey says finally. "The FBI supposedly has a team stationed in Bangkok. If it's true, and if Higgins is able to pull enough strings, it would only take them a day, maybe two at the most to reach us."

Rick nods distractedly, eyes still on Billy. "And if Higgins can't? If the FBI's team isn't there?"

"Then we could be looking at three or four days," Michael says. "Which means that come morning, we're going to have to figure out a way to get some water. Another storm system is supposed to blow in within the next thirty-six hours. We'll need to stay hydrated."

Rick huffs. "Not that it matters."

Michael and Casey look sharply at him. "What the hell are you talking about?" Casey says, voice dangerously low.

Rick pulls his gaze away from Billy's face to look at them. "Billy won't last that long. He won't even last the night."

"Shut up," Casey snaps before Michael can respond. "That kind of pessimistic attitude gets you nowhere in situations like this."

Rick laughs hollowly. Michael will never admit it to anyone, but it disturbs him. Rick's never sounded like that before. "What's so funny?" he asks with a frown.

Rick waves a hand at Casey. "Him," he says. "Telling me not to be pessimistic."

"I'm not pessimistic," Casey replies flatly. "I'm realistic. Yes, circumstances are less than ideal right now, but it's not going to do any good—"

"'Less than ideal' — really? That's a bit of an understatement, don't you think?" Rick scoffs.

Michael doesn't like where this is heading. "Rick—"

"Billy's dying!" Rick exclaims, voice cracking on the word. He points at the Scotsman, whose rattling breaths emphasize Rick's point. "Does that sound like someone who can last the night? We've got to face the truth. If that FBI team's not on its way right now, then Billy's as good as dead."

Every word is true — Michael's well aware of this, has been thinking it for the last few hours — but that doesn't stop the anger from flooding his system. "Listen to me, Martinez," he says, putting as much feeling and confidence as he possibly can into his words. It seems to work; Rick closes his mouth and sits up straighter. Even Casey seems to pay closer attention. "You know as well as I do that this is a bad situation. There is a very good chance Billy won't make it; we're not out of the woods, either. But this isn't the first time we've been in a situation like this and, God help us, it won't be the last. Billy's pulled through worse before; as long as he keeps breathing, he'll keep fighting, and he'll even keep fighting after that. And as long as he's fighting, then we're going to be right there with him. Okay?"

Rick swallows and lets out a shaky sigh. "Okay." Casey doesn't say anything, but he nods once, settling back against the cave wall. Even Billy's next breath seems to come a little easier.

It reminds Michael just how much this team counts on him. How much they trust him, how they listen to what he says, even when things look bad. How far they're willing to go, the things they're willing to do, the amount they're willing to sacrifice, just because he tells them to. Higgins might be the director of the CIA, but Michael's head of the ODS, and everyone knows that the ODS follows his lead first and foremost, even if some are less than willing to admit it.

It's an enormous responsibility; on missions like this, it's almost more than he wants. He'd been the one to develop the plan to attack by air; he'd been the one to select the plane they needed; he'd been the one who'd ordered them to jump into the dense forest in the midst of a downpour and gale-force winds.

Casey might think it's his fault that Billy's in this condition, but Michael knows better. Yes, the mission was necessary, vital to the continued security and protection of the country and the welfare of its people, but he was still the one who gave the order to pack up and leave the safety of their offices for the tropical jungle and ultimately a plane crash in the midst of a storm. It's his fault they're in this mess.

No one will ever blame Michael if Billy doesn't return from this trip. It's the nature of the job, and Michael had done everything he could to ensure the safety of his team, to bring them out of it alive.

But it won't matter if they absolve him of guilt. Because if Billy dies, Michael will blame himself enough for all of them.

-o-

Time passes even more slowly once the sun goes down. Billy seems to have rallied, at least for the moment. His breathing doesn't sound as labored, though his fever is still high. Michael stopped checking the bruising on his stomach awhile ago; they already know it's bad and getting worse, and checking it every so often isn't going to change the fact that Michael can do nothing about it. Billy's not getting any better, but he's not getting any worse, and for the moment, that's enough. It's not what Michael wants, but it's enough.

Rick's dozed off again, trying to get some sleep before his turn for watch. Not that Michael plans on waking him any time soon — Rick might as well get some sleep since Michael won't be able to. The concussion and Billy's condition won't let him.

Casey slips in and out of sleep, though he's awake more often than not when Michael glances over. He's settled himself so that Billy's head and shoulders are propped up slightly in his lap, keeping one hand on Billy's forehead to hold the wet cloth in place and monitor his fever. He's spent most of the last hour staring blankly at the other side of the wall, deep in thought.

"Every minute that passes is a chance for sepsis to set in."

If he had more energy, Michael would have flinched in surprise at the sudden statement. As it is, he turns his head slightly to eye Casey, who's now looking at him tiredly. "If there's a bleed in his digestive tract, then he's probably been developing it for awhile," Michael replies, keeping his voice low to avoid waking Rick.

Casey grunts. "So even if we get rescued soon, his odds of making it are pretty low."

Michael tilts his head. "Somehow I doubt this surprises you."

"It doesn't," Casey says. He looks down at Billy. "It just… doesn't seem right. Not after everything. We didn't even get a chance to go on the mission."

Michael swallows. Casey's statement is straightforward, empty of emotion, but Michael knows that this, more than anything, is a strong indication of how much the situation is affecting Casey. Casey's usually deadpan and sarcastic, but there's always just a hint of his true feelings underneath to offset the acerbic nature of the majority of his statements, enough to clue his team into what he's really thinking about something. Casey's also stubborn as hell — he has to be to be in the ODS, it's practically a requirement now — and he's usually the last one to throw his chips in when a situation looks grim.

It's disconcerting to see Casey act like this. It's even more disconcerting for Michael to realize that he and Rick feel the same; that the entire team feels like it's inevitable that Billy's going to die. They've given up.

It's wrong, Michael realizes. Billy's not one to throw in the towel so easily, and if situations were reversed — if anyone else was lying unconscious with internal bleeding instead of Billy — Billy wouldn't let the team think anything less than the sure belief that everyone was going to pull through, battered and bruised and in need of hospital care, but alive.

Michael's got to stand by what he said before; he has to, if he wants this team — everyone on this team — to make it out of this cave still breathing.

"We're still on the same mission," he says firmly. "Every mission is the same mission — come back in one piece. The specifics might change, but that's always the same. Billy knows that as well as you do. As I do. He's not going to give up on the mission yet, so we shouldn't either."

Casey eyes him for a minute. "You ever give Higgins that speech? Because that doesn't exactly sound like a mission he'd sanction."

Michael laughs a little. "Since when have we ever cared what Higgins sanctions?"

"Point," Casey concedes with a nod.

"Besides," Michael adds, glancing at Billy, "I think it's a mission he's always agreed with, anyway, even if he won't admit it."

-o-

The rescue, when it comes, is so sudden that Michael's not entirely convinced it's real at first.

Rick is the first to notice someone approaching. He's standing watch at the mouth of the cave, keeping an eye on their surroundings as the first light of dawn creeps in through the trees, when suddenly he stiffens. "Guys," he whispers fiercely, jerking Michael out of a light doze. "I think someone's coming."

Michael stands, leaning against the cave wall for support when the movement causes him to lose his balance. He forces the feeling aside and moves behind Rick, trying to stare out into the dimly lit forest. "Where?" he whispers.

Rick points off to the left. "Through those bushes. Whoever — or whatever — it was has stopped for the moment," he whispers.

Then they hear a familiar but little-used signal — two high, shrill whistles, followed by a lower-pitched trill. Michael holds his breath, hardly willing to believe it, until the signal repeats.

Rick lets out a long breath. "I don't believe it," he says. "It's them! The FBI is here!"

"Well, signal back so they know we're here," Casey says flatly from behind him. "Otherwise they're just going to keep moving. Or shoot you, if they think you're rebels."

Michael's not entirely sure how he manages to whistle when his mouth is so dry, but within moments two men dressed in military fatigues emerge from the brush. "You the ODS?" the leader asks.

Michael nods. "Michael Dorset, CIA."

"Christopher Billings, FBI," the leader says, shaking his hand. "My partner, Vern Patterson."

"We heard you boys got yourselves in a bit of a bind," Patterson says, voice light but eyes serious as he looks at Michael's bruised face.

Michael nods. "We're going to need a medical evac. We," he says, pointing at himself and Rick, "should be able to make it out on our own power, but we've got one agent down with a broken leg and another unconscious with a concussion and internal bleeding."

"We figured you might," Billings replies. "There's a clearing half a mile to the west where our chopper's waiting. We've got three medics on radio standby to get your wounded guys out on stretchers."

"I can make it out just fine, I just need a pair of crutches," Casey calls from where he's sitting in the cave.

"I'm not so sure that's the best idea," Patterson says, peering over Michael's shoulder into the cave to look at Casey.

"I don't give a rat's ass what you think," Casey replies. "You're going to need all the people you can afford to get Billy out of here. There's no point wasting manpower on me when I can manage to get out on my own."

"We don't have time to argue," Rick cuts in before either of the FBI agents can respond. "Radio your medics, tell them to take two stretchers and a pair of crutches, and we'll have them make the call when they get here. The main priority right now is getting Billy loaded up and out of here."

Michael stares at Rick in surprise as Billings nods his agreement. "Fair enough," the agent says, pulling a small radio from his pouch and stepping to the side to make the call.

Patterson steps forward. "You mind if I take a look at your guys?" he asks Michael. "I used to be a paramedic."

Michael steps aside and waves him by, still a little thunderstruck at the sudden turn of events. Help is here. They survived, Billy's still alive, help is here, and more is on the way. It's over, he thinks. It's over, and the rush of relief is dizzying.

It isn't until he hears Rick shout his name and realizes he can't see that he thinks maybe it's more than the relief that's making him dizzy.

Then everything goes dark and quiet, and Michael doesn't think anything at all.

-o-

There's sound. Sound and chaos and painful movement and bright piercing light, and Michael wants to do nothing more than get away from it again, but it seems he doesn't have much choice in the matter. He barely has the energy to be, let alone to do anything.

There's Rick cursing and Casey bellowing, "Don't you do this, you bastard, you lasted the entire night so don't crash on us now!" and someone else demanding a shot of adrenaline, but even though they're yelling at him, it doesn't seem like they're yelling at him. Or if they are, Michael doesn't understand why.

There's a high-pitched wail of a heart monitor and a computerized voice announcing, "Do not touch the patient," and the sound of body arching off a gurney, and Michael thinks Billy, and then it's all gone again, lost in a sweeping wave of pain and pain and dark.

-o-

There's silence.

It takes a moment for Michael to realize that it's not actually silent; just quiet compared to the last time he woke up, with only the sound of softly beeping monitors and the whoosh of a ventilator nearby.

It takes a moment more for Michael to realize his eyes are open; to register the sight of the stained tan ceiling above him, the feel of a nasal cannula, the dry, nasty taste in his mouth that lets him know he's been unconscious for awhile, and the dull, pounding throb of a headache just above the base of his skull.

"Michael?"

Michael turns his head slightly to the left and sees Casey and Rick sitting there. They look better than the last time he'd seen them; both are wearing a new set of clothes, Rick's arm is in a sling, and Casey's leg is in an air cast, propped up on another chair. The circles under their eyes are huge and dark, though, and they're both wearing several days' worth of stubble.

They're also staring at him warily, as if they're not quite ready to believe he's awake, and Michael gets the feeling he's done this waking up process a few times before. "What happened?" he asks, voice like sandpaper. "I miss the helicopter ride?"

Casey lets out a long breath, his shoulders slumping in relief, and Rick laughs out loud. Michael chooses to ignore its hysterical edge. "Trust me, you didn't miss anything worthwhile," Casey tells him, grabbing a small cup of ice chips from the end table and giving Michael a small spoonful. The relief is instantaneous. "Though next time you decide to have an aneurysm, you might want to wait until after we make it to the evac site. Particularly when we end up flying all the way back to Thailand."

Michael arches an eyebrow at the mini-rant, scrambled brain catching on one word. "Aneurysm?" he asks around a piece of ice.

"A small one," Rick says. He makes a face. "Relatively."

"They had to put a shunt in to control the bleeding," Casey interjects, glaring at Rick before giving Michael a few more ice chips. "How that qualifies as 'small,' I don't know, but that's what they told us. You were in a light coma for two days, in and out of consciousness for the last thirty-six hours."

Michael's other eyebrow goes up. Then his forehead furrows as a thought crosses his mind. "Billy?"

Casey's shoulders stiffen again and Rick's face falls as they glance over to the other side of Michael's bed. With more effort than Michael thinks it should take, he turns his head back to look.

Billy's in another hospital bed less than three feet from Michael's. What he can see of the Scotsman's face is a mottled mess of black, blue, and purple, but the majority of it is obscured by the large bandage near his hairline and the ventilator tube in his mouth. There's an array of monitors and wires and tubes and IV bags surrounding his bed, making him look tiny — a feat that should be impossible, given his height.

"They nearly killed him trying to save him," Casey says quietly. "He flat lined when we got to the helicopter, and when they were trying to resuscitate him, one of his broken ribs shifted. Made part of his right lung collapse."

"He was in surgery for almost eight hours," Rick adds, sounding absolutely drained. "He lost part of his liver, and they've had to go back in once for a bleed they missed near his spleen."

Michael tears his gaze away from Billy to glance back at the rest of his team. Both of them look ragged, exhausted; Michael's pretty sure they haven't slept in days.

Casey scrubs his face with a hand. "They've been keeping him under so that he doesn't move around and reopen any bleeders they might have missed," he says. "The amount of damage was extensive — hardly any of the blood inside him is his at the moment. He's got an infection, but amazingly enough it isn't a full-blown case of sepsis. There's no way he should be alive right now, but he's made significant progress over the last couple days." His expression lightens just a little as he glances over at Billy's bed. "Lucky bastard."

Despite the severity of the situation, the corner of Michael's mouth twitches just a little; that sounds like Billy. "What's the prognosis?"

"If his vitals keep up the way they are, they're going to start slowly weaning him off the drugs tomorrow night, see if they can't get him to wake up by the end of the week," Rick tells him. "There's some concern about brain damage, between the concussion and the severe blood loss and the fever, but the scans look pretty promising, and his fever's dropped to moderately low grade."

Michael nods a little, relaxing back into the mattress. "He'll wake up," he says with a tired confidence.

Casey snorts. "Of course he's going to wake up," he asserts. "Someone's got to be the annoyingly cheerful pain in the ass on this team, and he's the only one qualified for the part."

-o-

Once again, Michael finds himself waiting.

At times, he's got his doctors to keep him occupied. After waking up, he endures several hours of scans and exams and MRIs and people poking him and shining light into his eyes. Michael isn't one to typically submit to tests without complaint, but Casey had mentioned they were already on thin ice with the staff because they'd practically forced the hospital to let Michael and Billy share one of the larger rooms in ICU, and Rick had added that the staff wasn't happy that Casey was up and moving around, either, as he'd had surgery to put three pins in his broken leg and was supposed to be in recovery.

Personally, Michael thinks they did the hospital a favor in the long run; it prevented the inevitable ire that would have resulted from the team sneaking out of their rooms to check on Billy. Though Michael also thinks he personally would have had a hard time doing that, as the one time he tries to sit up at ninety degrees, the world grays out and he finds himself lying horizontal a moment later with a nurse monitoring his pulse.

In between the exams and scans and momentary blackouts, he manages to get both Rick and Casey to take a few hours to sleep in an unoccupied room the hospital has set aside for them. They don't look particularly well rested when they return, but the circles under their eyes are definitely smaller.

Billings stops by the day after Michael wakes up, while Rick and Casey are gone. "Glad to see you're awake, Dorset," he greets as he walks in. "You gave us a bit of a scare."

Michael shakes his hand. "Thank you," he says. "If you and Patterson hadn't shown up when you did, Billy wouldn't have made it. And I probably wouldn't have, either."

"You're welcome," Billings replies. "I might not be a fan of you CIA spooks, but we're on the same side. I've never been one to leave one of my guys behind — not if I can do anything about it."

Michael glances over at Billy in the other bed. "I know exactly what you mean."

Billings follows his gaze. "He going to be okay?"

"We think so," Michael says. "It'll be awhile before he's back in the field, but Billy's always managed to bounce back pretty quickly. He should be okay."

Billings frowns thoughtfully. "Are hospital stays a regular thing for him?"

"Far more than I'd like, unfortunately," Michael confirms. "But thankfully Billy seems to have more lives than a cat."

Billings hums an agreement, turning his attention back to Michael. "I just wanted to stop by and check in on you. Patterson and I are heading back to Cambodia tonight. Our boss has agreed to work with your boss and put another team together to finish your mission. We've already got leads on the guy that sabotaged your plane. Once we bring him in, we'll figure out if entrance by air is still a viable option. Otherwise, it'll be time to come up with a plan B."

Michael nods. As much as he'd like to be the one to complete the mission, it's just not feasible at this point — time is of the essence in a case like this, and in their condition, it will be months before any of them are ready for intense field work; it might even be longer for Billy. Plus, he thinks as he glances at Billy again, they've almost lost too much to this mission already. Michael's not too eager to try it again anytime soon.

"Well good luck," he says to Billings. "And watch out for surprises in your airplane engines."

Billings laughs. "Will do," he replies, shaking Michael's hand again. "I'll be sure to give your regards to your friend the saboteur."

"Thanks," Michael replies with a grin. "I appreciate it."

-o-

The nights are the worst.

Michael's always had a hard time sleeping in strange places; the severity of his head injury doesn't change that, especially now that he's awake and aware. He dozes fitfully, jerking awake whenever the nurses stop by on their rounds, or when Rick or Casey shift slightly in their seats as they continue their bedside vigil, or at every small sound that might be Billy waking up.

It's in the early morning hours the third night after Michael wakes up when Rick finally lets out an exasperated sigh. "Sometimes I wonder if he does this on purpose."

Both Michael and Casey arch an eyebrow. "What, jumping out of planes without a parachute and suffering from traumatic internal bleeding as a result?" Casey asks.

Rick rolls his eyes. "No, making us wait. He's always telling me of the importance of being on time, but then he always shows up late."

"You think he shows up late?" Michael asks.

"Well… yeah," Rick says, suddenly unsure. "I mean, he's the one that always makes you guys late for work — you've complained about it often enough — and I've lost track of the number of times he's shown up a few minutes late for a rendezvous."

Michael nods once as he lightly rubs the bald spot on his head where the doctors shaved his hair to put the shunt in. The incision is scabbing over, making it itch. "Has his being late ever proved a detriment to the mission?"

Rick thinks for a moment. "Well… no."

"Lesson of the day," Casey intones, glancing over at Billy's bed. "Being on time isn't so much about not being late as it is about making sure you're there at the right moment."

There's something odd about his tone that prompts Michael to follow his gaze. It takes a moment to register the fact that Billy's eyes are open. He's staring at the ceiling, looking as confused as he did back in the cave. A moment later, his body registers the foreign feeling of something in his throat, and he starts thrashing weakly, reaching up with a hand to claw at the ventilator tube.

"Easy, Billy, easy!" Rick exclaims, rushing over to Billy's bed, grabbing the flailing hand, and sticking his face into Billy's line of sight. "It's alright, you're safe now, we're at a hospital."

"You're okay," Michael calls, and Billy turns his head enough to make eye contact. His gaze flicks from Michael to Casey to Rick and back again, and finally he relaxes, save for his hand, which is gripping Rick's like his life depends on it. Michael smiles a little, relieved to see the recognition on Billy's face. "You're going to be okay," he repeats, and for the first time since they discovered they were one parachute short, Michael really, truly believes it.

-o-

Even after Billy wakes, the recovery process is slow.

The day after Billy wakes up, the infection in his body flares up, causing his fever to rise before finally settling in his already weakened lungs, giving him a case of pneumonia. The doctors warn Michael and the others that it's possible Billy will slip back into a light coma, given the development, but at this point the ODS knows better.

Billy woke up. He might still be on a ventilator, and he isn't able to stay awake for more than an hour at a time, but they know he'll be just fine now.

And sure enough, within a week, the worst of the infection has cleared away. Billy's weaned off the ventilator, though he's still forced to use an oxygen mask to help him with his breathing. But his vitals are up, his injuries are healing nicely, and the bruising on his face has gone down enough to allow him to see with both eyes again.

In the meantime, both Rick and Casey have been checked out of the hospital. Rick's made the necessary hotel arrangements nearby, and Casey's handled all the calls from Higgins because Michael still occasionally drops to sleep mid-sentence and has had three different instances of sudden nausea followed by violent vomiting.

After the initial phone call, Higgins has only called to check in twice since Billy woke up. Michael makes note of this for the future; Higgins doesn't pester the ODS nearly as much when he knows he'll have to deal directly with Casey. It also probably helps that Billings and his team were able to complete the mission the ODS started. It might not go down in the CIA book as a victory, but it's easier to get Higgins off their back since they're all well aware that the job was eventually completed.

Still, Michael understands Higgins' motives. The hospital bills from this trip aren't going to be cheap, considering three of them had to have surgery of some kind and that none of them walked away completely unscathed. And now that Rick and Casey are staying as outpatients at the hotel, they'll have those expenses on top of it. The sooner they can get out of Bangkok and back in the States, the better for the CIA's expense reports.

And Michael wants nothing more than to leave himself. He's ready to try to move on, to get this mission behind them and get his team healed up and back into the game. They'll all be stuck on desk work for awhile, Michael knows, but at least they'll be working together again.

But Michael also knows better than to rush a recovery. They're already pushing it as it is — particularly Casey with his broken leg — and Michael's well aware that it will be even worse once they get back to the U.S. They need this time to rest, recoup, and recover before they get back at it.

Plus, Michael thinks selfishly as he watches his team interact, it provides them a chance to spend some time together without the pressures of work. Granted, he'd prefer they not all end up in the hospital in order to have a team bonding experience, but he's not about to pass up an opportunity when it presents itself.

Because this is an opportunity — more than that, it's a necessity. Forming attachments in their line of work can be a dangerous thing — fatality rates are high, the risk of a double-cross is great, the competition is fierce, and the stressors of the job are hell on any kind of relationship. Michael spent the first half of his career looking out for himself, forming alliances only when it furthered his interests and the interests of the country he was working to protect. Most of the time, those interests coincided with those of his teammates, but if they didn't, Michael wasn't afraid to cut them loose when it was needed.

But those rules don't apply here. The ODS has a different way of doing things, and if there's one thing Michael's learned since he started leading this ragtag team, it's that friendship and loyalty aren't liabilities. They're assets — the most important assets Michael has. It gives him security, knowing he's got three good agents and great friends watching his back, and it gives him purpose, making sure he gets them out of every mission alive.

Most of the time, he doesn't have to face the reality that eventually someone on his team is going to get killed. The ODS has an extremely impressive record, with only a handful of fatalities since it was formed, so even though Michael's always quite aware of the stakes, even he can forget what the cost of failure could be.

Then missions like this one happen, and Michael's abruptly reminded of how quickly things can change in an instant. They'd come far too close to losing Billy; another few hours, and he'd have been dead, and with his head injury, Michael wouldn't have been far behind.

Now, as he watches Casey and Billy take turns telling Rick about what happened the last time they were in Bangkok while Rick laughs at the both of them, it's tempting to let that reminder fade to the background again. It's not something Michael likes to dwell on, but missions like this remind him how much he needs to be thinking about that. Because next time they might not get so lucky.

"And by the time we managed to catch up with them," Billy is saying, his voice still raspy, "the villains were unconscious on the floor and Casey was standing victorious, despite the two knife wounds in his shoulder and the bullet in his thigh. And you know what he says to me?"

"What?" Rick asks, face bright red from laughing so hard.

"'Your slip is showing,'" Casey deadpans.

"In exactly that tone of voice!" Billy declares as Rick starts laughing again. "He didn't even—" His voice chokes off as he coughs, and he waves away their concerned glances. After taking a couple deep breaths with the help of the oxygen mask, he pulls it back down over his chin and says, "He didn't even comment on how well the heels matched my skirt!"

Casey rolls his eyes when both Michael and Rick chuckle. "Considering everything was covered in mud and massuman curry, it would have been impossible to tell otherwise," he says.

Rick wipes tears of laughter from his eyes. "So this is why we avoid missions in Bangkok now?"

The rest of the ODS nods. "Which is a shame, really, because they have some of the best food on the planet here," Billy laments.

And suddenly they're launching into a discussion about what mission has featured the best cuisine, and Michael can't help but smile as he watches them. This is his team; these are his friends, his brothers for all intents and purposes — and for someone with no close family connections left, that makes them all the more important to him.

Next time they might not get so lucky, but Michael's going to try his damnedest to ensure there is no next time.

-o-

It takes another four days, but finally, finally, after more than a month of being away from the States, and more than three weeks after their plane crashed, they're going home. Higgins has arranged for military transport; it's not the most comfortable way to travel, but it's a way home, and for all his team might complain, Michael knows they're just as relieved to be going home as he is.

He knows they're even more relieved that there's not supposed to be any inclement weather on the way back. He's not sure any of them are prepared to relive the terror of flying through a storm and surviving a plane crash so soon.

The flight's a red-eye, so within a few hours of take off, both Casey and Rick have dozed off. Billy's awake, staring out the window at the dark ocean below. His skin is still pale, he's got fairly large circles under his eyes, and the bruises across his face have faded to a sickly yellow-green tinge; it all combines to give him a sickly look.

Still, he's markedly improved from how he looked in that cave. Michael's hoping he never has to see his friend look like that again.

"I didn't think I was going to make it out, you know," Billy murmurs suddenly. "I thought that cave was going to be the last thing I saw."

Michael straightens in his seat. It's the first time Billy's talked about the aftermath of the crash, and even though Rick and Casey still have their eyes closed, Michael knows they're listening in on this conversation, waiting to see what Michael's response will be.

For a moment, Michael considers lying. He thinks about telling Billy that he never doubted the outcome, that he knew help would come in time, that all of them would make it out of the Cambodian jungle, that they would be able to get back to the U.S. and keep on doing what they do best.

And it wouldn't even be the first time Michael's lied to his team. He avoids it as a rule, but there's been moments where he's been forced to withhold information for their safety. They've never been pleased to discover when he does it, but they understand for the most part, and Michael's fairly certain they'd understand now.

But Michael's never lied about something like this before. He's not about to start now.

"For a moment, I didn't think we'd get you out, either," he confesses just as quietly.

Billy glances at him, one eyebrow raised. "Only for a moment?"

Michael nods. "It was a long moment, but only for a moment." His lips twitch into a small smile. "You really think we'd let you do anything otherwise?"

Billy smiles fondly and tilts his head. "No, I suppose you wouldn't."

"But," Michael adds before he can stop himself, "try not to cut it so close next time."

It's a foolish request, Michael realizes; if there's one thing this mission's proven, it's that he's incapable of predicting when things will go wrong. He can plan and strategize and do everything he possibly can to create a fail-proof plan, but just one slight change can throw all his plans out the window and bring everything crashing down — literally, in this case.

Billy stares at him for a long moment before nodding once. "I'll do my best," he says.

Michael smiles a little, sees both Rick and Casey relax in their seats a little more at that response. "That's all I ask," he replies.

And even though it's only one request, it's the only one that really matters. Because no matter how quickly things can change, this mission has proven how much his team is capable of surviving. It's not the first time they've defied death in the field. Odds are high it won't be the last, and while Michael despises waiting and hates seeing his friends injured in the line of duty, he'll endure it as long as they continue to do the impossible and come back from the brink to fight the good fight another day.

And Michael has every confidence they will. After all, if there's one thing the ODS has proven, it's that they're capable of doing the impossible.

End.