Title: Mission Improbable
Characters: Rick, Billy
Genre: Action, whump (gen)
Rating: PG-13 for some language.
Summary:This was why they had stunt men in those stupid spy action thrillers – to do this sort of thing. But Rick's life wasn't a movie and he didn't have a stunt double and he couldn't afford to lose Billy and the mark...
A/N:This is for Faye Dartmouth, goddess of h/c and whump that she is. She also kindly provided a beta; remaining mistakes are my own.
- Mission Improbable -
Rick remembered seeing a movie once with a chase scene on top of a train. People had been running over the roof with relative ease, leaping from car to car as the train sped along the tracks, beautiful countryside flashing by.
It had looked daring and exciting.
It hadn't really done a good job of emphasizing the sheer, overpowering terrorof clinging to the roof of a moving train for dear life while people tried to shoot at you.
He flattened himself against the roof of the passenger car he was currently on, trying to make himself as small a target as possible to the shooter two cars ahead. Over the roar of the wind, he could barely even hear the bark of the gun, though the ping of a bullet against metal less than two feet away from him was certainly loud enough. The wind tore at his clothes, threatening to rip him from the train and send him tumbling to what would be a quick but messy death.
"You alright?" Billy had to scream at the top of his lungs for Rick to even hear him. The Scottish operative had just landed next to Rick after leaping forward over the gap between two cars. Rick had barely even managed it, having been all but paralyzed by the sight of the tracks flying past beneath them at a blur. One misstep, one missed handhold, and he'd be little more than a red smudge at these speeds.
Rick nodded. "Yeah," he shouted back, then flinched as another shot ricocheted nearby. "Been better," he added.
Billy grinned, then pulled out his own gun and took two shots, making their attacker shrink away, then moved to leap another car forward.
It wasn't even supposed to be one of the action-packed, death-defying missions. This was supposed to be a working vacation, in many ways; the original mission proposal had seemed dull. The only reason they'd even accepted it was because it was in Paris, and Michael could never pass up Paris.
But then they'd found out Alwas, the Algerian national they'd thought might be entering into arms dealing, had been much further along in his dealings than the CIA had ever suspected, and was in fact arranging a delivery of supplies for a dirty bomb that week. And instead of simply running recon on the man's resources, they were trying to intercept a small warhead before it was shipped out of the port in Marseilles.
The vacation had been cut short.
They'd gone to follow the bomb. Michael had concocted an elaborate, last-minute plan involving luggage swaps, body doubles, and Billy putting on a ridiculous if surprisingly accurate French accent.
But things had gone wrong. The handle had broken off the fake suitcase, Rick's surveillance gear had crashed, Billy hadn't known the code phrase, and Alwas' agents had spooked. And now Rick was chasing after one of Alwas' men on the roof of a moving train, hurtling along at ungodly speeds through the French countryside somewhere between Paris and Marseilles.
It was like a movie. But not as fun. No, Rick decided: not fun at all.
And when the train began to slow, the rolling hills giving way to a more industrial type of scenery, Rick was almost trembling with relief. They'd come to something of a stalemate, with him and Billy pinned on the roof of the train, exchanging potshots with Alwas' man, trying to keep him in sight if nothing else while Casey and Michael tried to track down the warhead inside the train. They just had to make sure they didn't lose him. Admittedly, this would be harder with the train no longer travelling at insane speeds, but Rick could handle chasing down a mark so long as the ground under him wasn't also moving.
But as the groan and shriek of protesting metal rent the air, the train gradually slowing, the target didn't wait for the train to stop. As they began to pull into a sprawling train depot, full of empty freighters covered in graffiti in assorted languages, Rick saw the man clamber back on to the roof of the car, then crouch as if he intended to jump.
Billy also saw it, and with the wind no longer threatening to rip them from the roof, tentatively got to his feet, balancing even as the train swayed and shuddered over the changing tracks. Rick's stomach flipped, but he followed suit, staying low, one hand on the ground to keep his balance.
Only then Billy was running forward, sprinting to the front of the car and leaping, landing on the next one forward in a cat-like crouch before springing forward again.
Rick swore, then followed, trying not to think about all the ways in which this was a terribleidea.
The train was moving quite slowly now, but it was still moving. But then, so was Billy and so was the mark. And as Rick watched in horror, Alwas' agent backed up to the side of a car, then took off with a running leap to jump off the side of the train on to an adjacent, stationary freighter on the tracks beside them.
Billy waited only a moment, then jumped as well.
This was stupid and dumb and probably going to kill him or break every bone in his body. This was why they had stunt men in those stupid spy action thrillers – to do this sort of thing. But Rick's life wasn't a movie and he didn't have a stunt double and he couldn't afford to lose Billy and the mark.
For a second he was so stunned that he'd managed to jump from a moving train without incident, he didn't move. Then he recovered his bearings enough to look around and see Billy, once again sprinting down the length of a now mercifully-still freight train, slowly but surely closing the distance with the mark. Rick's legs still felt like jelly, but he managed to coax them into running after, propelling himself over the gaps between the cars with increasing ease.
Then the mark disappeared, apparently jumping down between two cars instead of crossing the distance. Rick spotted a flash of movement on the ground to the right, then saw Billy simply jump to the side again, off the current freighter and on to a shipping container on an adjacent track. There was a veritable forest of containers now, which had been unloaded from the freight trains to wait eventual processing and transportation to the ships in the port. From the looks of it, some had been waiting a long time, and less than half of them were mounted on tracks. And now Billy was leaping from one to the other like some sort of urban monkey, chasing after a target Rick couldn't even see any more.
Rick did his best to follow, though at one point he came to a gap he knew he couldn't leap, forcing him to climb back down on to blissfully solid ground in order to cross to Billy's position.
Billy stood atop a container, brow furrowed in concentration as he spun, looking all around him. "Bugger," Rick heard him curse.
"Did you lose him?" Rick asked, coming up beside the container.
Billy chewed on his lip, then his face lit up. "There!"
Alwas' man was on the far side of the depot now, running across the tracks toward a freighter that was just pulling in, slowing to an easy crawl. Billy was sprinting, jumping and leaping between containers, closing the gap.
Of course, there was the matter of the gap between the last container and the freighter. Billy would have to climb down for that, Rick noted. There was no way he could -
– Jump –
Rick stared in horror as he sprinted toward the train at full tilt. Billy launched himself off the last container and, for a moment, was an airborne jumble of flailing limbs before crashing into the side of one of the freight cars, hands just barely grabbing the top to keep him from falling down on to the tracks.
He'd made it. Barely.
And Rick was running alongside now, his chest heaving with exertion as he fought to keep up, to keep Billy in his sight as the Scottish operative pulled himself on to the roof. As Rick came up alongside a maintenance ladder, he grabbed it, hauling himself up on to the side of the train and crawling up to join Billy on the roof.
Billy was still several cars ahead, and once again was looking around him in consternation.
Rick felt his heart begin to sink, then he saw Alwas' man climb up on to one of the cars in front of Billy. And raise his gun.
He didn't have time to shout a warning. Billy looked over at him, though, and recognizing the look of horror on Rick's face, immediately turned –
– just as the gun went off –
– and Rick could only stare and watch as Billy spun, then fell back off the side of the train and disappeared.
There was a moment when Rick's heart stopped and his mind went blank.
His hand, however, went for his gun.
He didn't think. He just fired. When the mark disappeared, he couldn't even tell if he'd shot the man or if he'd simply ducked out of the way. He couldn't tell. He couldn't even see straight.
He'd heard Casey use the words 'blind rage' before but had never understood until now.
Part of him wanted to give chase. To keep shooting until the chamber clicked empty.
But as the ringing in his ears died away, he remembered something more important: Billy.
This time, Rick jumped off of a moving train without hesitation.
It took him a few minutes to find Billy. The train had been moving while Rick had been shooting, carrying him farther from the point where his teammate had fallen.
Billy had fallen on the far side of the tracks, where the depot ended and the gravel and metal gave way to scrubby grass and spilled off into a muddy gully filled with garbage. Amidst the weeds, Rick almost missed Billy altogether, but the flash of white from the agent's shirt stood out against the brown grass.
"Billy!" Rick shouted, and then he was running again, ignoring the ache in his legs.
Billy lay in a crumpled heap in the gully. Rick ran full tilt toward him, skidding to a stop in the gravel and then kneeling down, hoping, praying...
Billy blinked and looked up at him, grimacing. "Well. That was bracing."
Billy was alive. For a moment, for severalmoments, Rick had feared the worst. Seeing Billy spin as the gun went off, falling bonelessly from the top of the train –
"You were shot," Rick stated numbly.
Billy glanced down at his shoulder; the sleeve was stained with a growing blossom of crimson. "Aye, that I was. It's mostly a graze, though. Looks worse than it is, I'll wager." His expression tightened then, in obvious pain. "Though to be honest, the shoulder isn't really the chief of my concerns."
Rick looked at him in confusion, then glanced downward. Down at the twisted, unnatural angle of Billy's left leg. He sucked in a short, hissing breath. "Aw, hell..."
Billy's leg was broken. Badly.
"We need to get you to a hospital..."
Billy shook his head. "No time. Call Michael and Casey. Let them know we lost the target. We need to finish apprehending Alwas' warheads."
Rick stared then scoffed, even as he pulled his phone from his pocket. "In case you didn't notice, Billy, you were shot and took a short walk off the top of a moving train. You needa hospital!"
Billy shrugged with his good shoulder, forcing a thin smile. "All things considered, I'd say I'm in right good shape." Then the smile vanished, and Billy was dead serious: "The leg and the arm can wait. That shipment can't."
And Rick knew he was right. With a sigh and a rueful glance, he made the call.
Billy was alive.
Rick kept reminding himself of that, as it was really the one silver lining of a mission that was otherwise heading to hell in a handbasket.
The conversation with Michael over the phone had been brief, the team leader's tone strained with frustration when he found out that not only had Rick and Billy managed to lose the mark, but weren't even on the train anymore.
"We're pulling into the station," Michael announced through the static on the line. "Casey and I will tail the remaining agent. Do you and Collins have any way of getting here? If things get dicey, we could use you on backup."
Rick was about to reply that he didn't think Billy could stand, let alone cross the city, but Billy caught his eye with a meaningful look. "We'll... figure something out," he finished instead.
"Right. I'll have Malick text you our position as we keep moving. Remember, Martinez: we can't let that warhead reach the docks."
Then the line went dead and Rick almost screamed with frustration at it all. He was stuck in a train yard on the fringes of the city because of a stupid chase that had resulted in his teammate being incapacitated. And now the whole mission could fail because of it and all the lives lost as a result would be on him. And it wasn't fair.
The moment of indignant aggravation passed, however, when he heard Billy swear softly from his position on the ground. Billy was alive, but he was still hurt, and if Rick was going to get moving and help anyone, he first had to get Billy ambulatory.
The presence of an immediate problem allowed Rick to focus, and oddly enough, calmed his racing mind. He knelt down and began to examine the Scotsman's injuries. The bullet that had caught Billy in the shoulder had hit him with enough force to knock him off balance and therefore off the train, but it was, fortunately enough, a graze. There was a nasty furrow in the muscle, but the bullet hadn't clipped any major blood vessels and the bleeding was slow and sluggish. He took off his blazer and unbuttoned his dress shirt; with a little help from Billy's pocket knife, he was able to slash it into strips, several of which went toward wrapping Billy's shoulder and forming a crude, but effective bandage.
The immediate matter of the bullet wound tended to, Rick began to slowly roll Billy's pant leg up so he could get a look at the break. Billy hissed when his leg was jarred ever so slightly, and when Rick looked up at him, the other operative's face was pale, the creases around his mouth deepening as he grimaced.
The break was partway up the shin, and Rick's stomach turned at the sight of bone jutting up at the skin, pulling it taut. There was already dark and livid bruising stretching down from the middle of Billy's shin to his ankle.
"Bad?" Billy asked, pointedly looking up at the sky.
"Not good," Rick replied grimly.
"Can you set it?"
Rick bit his lip. "I... don't know how. I might just mess it up further."
"You know what a proper, unbroken leg looks like, right?"
"Make it look like that." Billy said it with a smile, but Rick could see him bracing himself already.
He looked down at the broken leg. He had no idea what he was doing... this was a terrible idea. He should just call an ambulance and have them take Billy to the hospital while he regrouped with Casey and Michael to finish the mission.
But he couldn't.
And maybe he couldn't set a broken leg either, but Billy wasn't giving him any other option but to try.
"This is going to hurt."
"Noted," Billy replied, leaning back and looking up at the clouds.
Tentatively, Rick touched Billy's leg, noting how the Scotsman flinched at even the lightest touch. He felt where the bone jutted upward and saw Billy's hands form fists in the gravel, clenching handfuls of rock and earth with white knuckles. He pressed downward and heard Billy whimper. He pulled and saw the bone shift out of sight, and Billy gasped. And when he pushed and twisted Billy's ankle to straighten it out, he could swear he felt, or maybe heard, bone grinding beneath his hands as Billy screamed.
Then something sort of clicked into place, and Billy shuddered, falling back with sweat running down his temples.
"I think... I think that's it..." RIck murmured, trying to control the urge to be sick. His heart was pounding and he felt a little lightheaded.
Billy didn't reply, taking deep ragged breaths instead.
The break was set, but it would need to be splinted. Rick cast around for several minutes; the vegetation was mostly grasses and weeds, so the odds of finding a stick were slim. But there was trash and garbage strewn around the gully, and after a bit of scrounging, Rick found a length of plastic PVC piping that was short enough to do the job. Using the remaining strips of his shirt to tie Billy's leg to the piping above and below the break, he managed to splint the injury while Billy recovered enough to finally look like he wouldn't vomit or pass out. Tugging Billy's trouser leg back down over the makeshift splint (which made for a snug fit), Rick collected his blazer, pulling it back on over his white undershirt.
"You alright?" he asked, looking down at Billy.
"Yeah..." Billy swallowed, looking a bit shaky. "Been better."
Rick looked around them. Having accomplished the immediate task of stabilizing Billy's injuries, he was now faced with the even more daunting task of completing the mission, and he felt his heart sink. "There's no way we're going to make it to the train station on foot..."
"Don't need to." Billy interjected. Rick looked at him questioningly, and the Scot jerked his head back toward the opposite side of the gully, where there was a chain link fence, a few unattractive industrial buildings, and –
– parked cars.
Rick raised an eyebrow. "You know how to hotwire a car?"
Billy forced a tremulous grin. "Does a bear shit in the woods?"
Billy was hurt. Rick was apprehensive. The mission was going to hell.
But it hadn't quite gotten there yet. There was a slim chance this could be salvaged...
Rick looked down at Billy. "Do you think you're up for trying to stand?"
Billy held out a hand, which Rick promptly reached down to clasp: "I reckon we're about to find out."
Moving with Billy was proving to be a challenge.
The mission was providing Rick with quite the workout. Running all over Paris. Running all over a train. Jumping off said train while it was still moving, running across a train yard, then climbing up onto yet another perfectly good train, which he proceeded to jump off of, again. And now he was half-carrying a man who had a full head of height on him, and only one functioning leg.
Nevermind the bullets people kept shooting at him; if Rick died on this mission, it would probably be from exhaustion.
He only indulged his self-pity for a moment, however, before reminding himself that he could have it worse.
He could be Billy.
The Scot had to lean heavily on him, wrapping his uninjured arm over Rick's shoulders, lifting his broken leg up off the ground and hobbling along on his right foot, using Rick as a human crutch. It was obvious that every movement hurt him, as his breath hitched with each step, his face white as a sheet as they slowly picked their way down through the gully.
"You know," Billy muttered from between clenched teeth, "When I said I wanted to go for a nice walk through the French countryside, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind."
Rick snorted. "Next time you decide to jump off a moving train, pick a more scenic spot."
Billy chuckled dryly, wincing. "I'll keep that in mind. Though it's possible I'll be rethinking trains as my preferred mode of transportation after this... Gah!"
Billy's foot had slipped on a patch of mud, and suddenly Rick was the only thing holding him up. The younger operative felt his knees buckle and he almost went down too, but managed to brace himself and haul Billy back upright. "You okay?"
Billy looked like he might be sick for a moment, taking several deep, shaky breaths before answering. "Fine."
Finally they were out of the gulley and maneuvering through a gap in the chain-link fence where someone had previously cut through with a pair of bolt-cutters from the look of it. Rick's guess would have been vandals breaking in to tag the train cars, judging from the amount of graffiti he'd seen, but he was too grateful that he wouldn't need to climb a fence with Billy in this condition to care.
Once through the fence, the ground turned to solid pavement, which made the going a bit easier. Soon enough he and Billy came to a battered old Renault, whose lock Billy popped with ease, sliding into the driver's seat. Rick went around to the other side, taking the passenger seat as Billy yanked wires down out of the steering column, muttering to himself under his breath as he manipulated the circuits until he managed to coax the engine to life with a sputtering cough.
"Success!" Billy crowed, managing to grin in spite of it all and grabbing his seatbelt.
Rick raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you can drive right now?"
Billy nodded. "Still got my right foot, which is all I need to hit the gas. You, young Rick, just need to focus on telling me where I'm going."
And as Billy peeled out of the desolate lot toward the city, Rick hoped that the worst was over, and the mission would be relatively smooth from here.
Hoped, but ultimately knew better.
The outskirts of Marseilles might have been dirty and industrial and modern-looking, but it was still an antiquated city. This became more apparent to Rick as they encountered roads that had obviously gone a great length of time without maintenance. The car leapt and jostled its way through narrow European streets, rattling over patches of cobblestone wherever pavement gave way.
Rick kept stealing sideways glances at Billy. He could see the muscles in Billy's jaw working beneath the ever-present stubble as the Scot ground his teeth together every time they hit a dip or pothole. It didn't take a mastermind to know he was in pain, and that their jarring route was probably only making it worse with each bump.
But Billy didn't slow down, didn't take a circuitous route to find smoother, broader roads. He drove like a demon, taking sharp turns and roaring down back alleys, closing the distance between them and Michael and Casey's coordinates as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Rick had called Michael and Casey as soon as they'd pulled out of the lot; Michael didn't sound happy, and in the background he could hear Casey spouting a litany of highly-colorful curses. Apparently Alwas' man had made Michael and Casey and bolted at the station, the suitcase containing the warhead still in his possession. The other half of the ODS had managed to keep in pursuit, however, and had tracked the man to a warehouse whose address Michael was texting...
They hit a nasty bump and Billy blanched. For a second, Rick worried about him fainting at the wheel, but Billy made a hard left turn and then a right, and then they were pulling up outside a squat, ugly warehouse that stood out in modern contrast to some of the older, if somewhat shabby, buildings in the neighborhood.
Billy put the car in park, breathing a bit heavier than normal. Rick unfastened his seatbelt and reached for the door, but paused when Billy began to do the same.
Rick bit his lip, not sure how to broach the subject. As the junior member of the team, he was in the last position to issue any kind of order. But he also didn't trust Billy to keep an eye out for his own welfare. "Maybe it would be best if you... stayed in the car."
Billy scoffed. "They need backup. We're the backup. I cannae be backup if I'm out here twiddlin' me thumbs!"
You can't be backup if you can't walk. Dragging Billy's crippled form into a firefight wasn't an idea Rick relished. Granted, going into a firefight in any circumstance was a notion to give him pause, but that particular scenario would be worse than usual. "If we get our hands on that warhead, we're going to need to get the hell out of dodge real fast. You're the best driver in the team. We'll need you here, ready to gun it the minute we get out of there before things have a chance to go to hell." Or, well, further to hell. The mission was pretty nearly there already, but Rick omitted that detail from the case he was making.
For a minute, Billy looked like he was going to continue arguing, but then the Scot's features went a bit lax and his shoulders slumped in dejection. "Fine. But you call me if you need me in there, aye?"
"Will do," Rick promised, hoping it wouldn't come to that. He climbed out of the car, then leaned down through the window. "We'll probably be coming out hard and fast, so keep the engine running."
"Aye, I'll do that. Good luck, lad."
"Thanks," Rick replied with a wan smile.
The way things were going, he'd probably need it.
Rick barely made it in the door before the rat-a-tat of automatic gunfire rang out from somewhere in the building. It was muted enough that he knew he wasn't in immediate danger, but he flinched anyhow. Though being shot at was getting to be a rather distressingly routine occurrence, it wasn't one he thought he'd be getting used to anytime soon.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, making his jump even as he silently thanked God he'd remembered to turn it to vibrate before walking into a potential firefight. Pulling out his gun with one hand, he pulled the phone out with the other, checking the text from Michael:
cud use some backup plz. stuck bhind crates back of bldng. hurry.
Rick took the safety off his pistol. He'd been too busy not falling off a train earlier to get many shots off, so he figured he still had plenty of ammunition.
If the continuing sound of gunfire was any indication, though, it was possible that Michael and Casey might not.
The building's state of disrepair made it clear that it was normally abandoned; the front, where Rick had entered, contained a small lobby and set of rooms he guessed were offices and filing rooms for keeping track of accounts and shipping orders, back when the warehouse had been in use. Which meant that the back, where Michael and Casey were, was probably storage, shipping and receiving.
Now he just had to get there...
Rick kept his eyes and ears open as he carefully tried doors and worked his way toward the back. He could still hear automatic gunfire in short, scattered spurts. That had to be Alwas' men. Or whoever he was selling to. The occasional, punctuating shots of pistol fire that barked in return were probably Michael and Casey. From the ongoing nature of the firing and the intervals between exchanges, it sounded like a stalemate with both sides hunkering down until one ran out of bullets.
It didn't take him long to get to the back room. It took him slightly longer to get to Michael and Casey, darting between crates and doing his best not to draw any notice from the men with guns, in case they decided he made for an easier target. Michael and Casey were pretty clearly pinned down; it wasn't too hard for Rick to make it in, but that was because no one knew he was there yet. Michael and Casey, on the other hand, had a room full of angry Algerians waiting for them to move from out of their cover.
Rick was almost to the heap of crates where Michael and Casey were hiding when one of Alwas' men must have spotted him. Suddenly bullets were chipping the concrete around him and sending showers of splinters up from old wooden pallets as he made a running dive for the safety of his teammates' cover, sliding in on his stomach like he was stealing home plate.
The gunfire persisted for another second, then subsided.
Rick looked up at his teammates. "So. I heard you guys needed backup?"
Michael frowned. "Where's Billy?"
"He's not doing so hot. He's in the car," Rick tentatively explained before quickly changing the subject: "what happened to the warhead?"
Michael gave a wry smile, then held up a silver case. "Got it right here."
The rat-a-tat of a machine-gun interrupted the conversation, making them all wince. "Unfortunately," Michael added, "they're not too crazy about the idea of us keeping it."
"'They' being both the buyers andthe sellers, at this point," Casey growled from where he was curled on the floor. Rick glanced over at him for the first time – up to now he'd thought Casey's position on the ground was to present less of a target, but something in the other operative's voice had sounded... off. Looking at him now, Rick felt his heart leap into his mouth. "Oh shit, Casey, are you ok?"
There was blood staining the white front of Casey's shirt, garishly red against the monochrome of his suit.
"He's fine," Michael interrupted, looking sour. "It's not serious."
"Speak for yourself," Casey retorted.
"Well, not life-threatening," Michael amended. "It's made him significantly less useful in this fight, though."
Rick crouched at Casey's side, and when the older man moved his arm, Rick felt his shoulders sink in relief at the realization that the blood wasn't from a shot to the torso as he'd initially feared, but rather from the hand that Casey had been cradling protectively against his chest. "What happened?" he asked.
Casey grimaced and held his hand up. Rick stared at – no, through– the hole in the middle of his palm and felt his stomach do a somersault. "Oh," he managed.
"Turns out, grabbing the barrel of someone's gun to disarm them only works if they don't think to pull the trigger," Michael remarked, and Rick could almost swear he detected a hint of smugness. Casey's scowl deepened.
"So, what's the plan for getting out of here?" Rick asked as a bullet whizzed by and ricocheted off the far wall.
Michael made a face. "The plan involved Billy. But I can improvise with just the three of us. How are you on ammo, Martinez?"
"Good. Malick can't lay down particularly good cover fire with his left hand, so that's your job. Casey will get the warhead. I'll give us an initial distraction, and when I say go, we all run for the door."
"...That's it? That's the plan?"
"I'm kinda making it up as I go here, Martinez. They can't all be gems. Now get ready!"
Rick braced himself in a crouch, ready to run. Casey clutched the case containing the warhead with his good hand. Michael leaned around the corner –
– and put three bullets into the old truck on the other side of the room.
Rick blinked. Nothing happened.
"Uh, Michael... was that supposed to explode?"
Somewhere, one of Alwas' men sniggered.
"No," Michael answered, smiling thinly. "But it was meant to make them underestimate us so they wouldn't expect this."
Rick gaped as Michael pulled a grenade from God-only-knew-where, pulled the pin, and hurled it.
"GO!" Michael shouted, and then they were all running and guns were firing and then the grenade went off with an unholy bang that Rick didn't hear so much as feel in his bones as he stumbled and kept running, doing his best to provide suppressing fire.
Michael led the way. They ducked behind crates and sprinted through rows of shelves, back toward the door. For a second, it seemed like the plan might work.
Then Alwas and several of his goons stepped out in front of them, guns raised.
Michael slid to a halt, Rick nearly crashing into him. The shelving units had provided cover, but now they were boxed in with nowhere to go.
Alwas – a tall, striking man whose dark complexion was complemented by his well-tailored white linen suit, smiled dazzlingly at them. "Messieurs. I believe you have something that belongs to me."
Rick saw Casey instinctively clutch the case even tighter, now with both hands, his injured palm leaving a smear of crimson.
Michael's jaw worked as he clenched his teeth. "Finders keepers, Alwas."
Alwas gave a velvety chuckle. "Not a very clever answer for such an allegedly clever man."
Rick cast a desperate glance around them. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Giving over the warhead was their only option for survival.
"Give me the case, Monsieur Dorset."
Michael lifted his chin defiantly. "Over my dead body."
Alwas narrowed his eyes. Then smiled. "If you insist. Tuez-les."
Rick recognized the kill order, but there was nothing he could do. He raised his pistol, though he knew he wouldn't get a shot off in time, and braced himself as a gunshot rang through the air.
Then stared as one of Alwas' men dropped to the ground.
And suddenly, there was chaos. Michael grabbed him and they both hit the floor hard, Rick's gun tumbling from his hand and skittering across the concrete as bullets whizzed through the air and voices screamed in confusion, pain, and rage. Rick crawled along the floor, trying to find his gun, trying to stay low, trying to figure out just what in the hell was going on –
Another gunman. Backup.
Crawling to the edge of the shelving, he could see Billy bracing himself in the doorway, firing off shots at Alwas' men. Another one of the goons went down with a howl, and then Casey was scrambling past Rick for the door.
"Go!" Michael bellowed from somewhere behind him, shouting to make himself heard over all the gunfire as he raised his own pistol and let off two shots.
Out of the corner of his eye, Rick saw Alwas disappear behind a stack of boxes as another hired thug fell to the ground with a grunt. Somehow back on his feet, Rick ran toward the doorway, aware of Michael sprinting along behind him.
Then they were both through and Billy slammed the door behind them as they all sank, gasping for breath, ears ringing.
"Thought you lads might need some backup," Billy remarked, leaning heavily against the door. The bloody stain on the bandage at his shoulder seemed to have spread, and his face was pale, glistening with sweat.
Rick glowered up at him. "What happened to staying in the car?"
Billy gave a half shrug. "Bored." He was clearly going for nonchalance, but Rick knew better. Billy had heard the gunfire from outside and had come in after them, probably propelled by nothing more than desperation and adrenaline.
Adrenaline that had to be fading as Billy slumped, then collapsed to the ground as his leg gave out beneath his weight. The Scot swore violently as he dropped to the ground, hands balling into fists against the concrete.
"Billy?" Michael was instantly kneeling next to him. "What is it? You hit?"
"No, he just ran in here on a broken leg," Rick snapped. As grateful as he was for the rescue, it now meant that Billy was in even worse shape, and he felt inexplicably responsible for it all.
"'Fraid I won't be doing much more runnin' fer a while now," Billy slurred, grimacing. "They've scattered for now, but it'll only be a few more minutes until they regroup."
"Then we need to get out of here fast," Casey replied, already straightening up.
Billy shook his head, a ghost of a sad smile on his lips. "I reckon 'fast' isn't something I'll be managing today, mates. You go on. I can hold 'em off and give you long enough to get to the car."
Rick's head was swimming, his ears still ringing from the grenade and the guns as he tried to make sense of what Billy was saying; what he was offering to do...
"No." That was Michael, shaking his head firmly. "We all walk out of here. Maybe some of us are limping, but we aren't leaving you behind."
Billy made a face. "I'm going to slow you down. And it isn't just about us; it's about that warhead and making sure Alwas doesn't get his hands on it to sell it to some maniac."
"I agree. We're taking the warhead with us, and we're allleaving. Now shut up, and no more of this martyr bullshit, ok?"
There was something in Michael's eyes that made them all fall silent. "I will carry you out of here myself, Operative Collins, if it comes to that. Understood?"
Billy pursed his lips together, then nodded.
Michael immediately turned to Rick: "Ok, Martinez, you remember how to get out of here?"
"Yeah," Rick replied, pulling himself back together.
"Good. You take point. Malick, you carry the warhead and follow Martinez. Collins and I will bring up the rear. Now let's move!"
Rick immediately checked the ammunition left in his clip as he moved toward the front of their party. Casey hefted the case and took up position behind him. Michael bent down and pulled Billy upright; for a second, the Scot looked like he was going to faint, but Michael looped an arm underneath Billy's armpits, holding him up. Seeing that they were all on their feet, Rick began to move down the hallway as quickly as he dared. He'd been following the sound of gunfire for the most part as he'd made his way in, so he wasn't entirely sure of the route, but he managed to recognize enough to keep them moving.
Only a few minutes passed before they heard muffled yelling as Alwas' men began to regroup. "It's gonna be a close call, Michael," Casey grumbled, gritting his teeth.
It was at that moment that Billy stumbled and fell, nearly bringing Michael down with him. He cried out, a muffled yelp of pain that he couldn't quite stifle in time, eyes suddenly shining with unbidden tears. "Bollocks," he whispered hoarsely. "I'm sorry, Michael, I– hey!"
Michael hadn't waited for whatever apology or request to be left behind Billy was preparing. Instead he was true to his word and simply ducked down and grabbed Billy, hauling him up, turning him around, and then bending at the knees and folding the other operative over his back, wrapping an arm around Billy's good leg at the knee and taking hold of his arm before standing up with Billy in a fireman's carry.
The sounds of voices grew louder as a clatter indicated Alwas' men had found the door.
"Move!" Michael shouted.
Then they were running. Rick leading, trying to think through their course without stopping, turning left and then right more on instinct than anything, praying that he wasn't inadvertently leading them in circles. Behind him Casey hugged the bulky case to his chest, pale and awkward but still moving with surprising speed. And only two steps behind, Michael shouldered Billy's weight and ran, his charge fueled by pure adrenaline.
There was yelling, and then more gunfire. The weapons-dealers had heard them, were closing in. Rick found himself panicking at the thought that as fast as they tried to move, they simply wouldn't be fast enough. A bullet ricocheted down the corridor and chipped the plaster mere inches from his head, making his heart skip a beat.
"We're not gonna make it to the car!" he shouted, right as he rounded a turn and they reached the lobby.
"Don't have to," Michael grunted, passing him. "Just gotta make it to the doors. The minute you get through, hit the ground!"
"What?" Rick shouted, following at an all-out sprint as they dashed across the lobby to the main doors. "How is –"
They burst through the doors and all immediately flung themselves to the ground. As he dropped, Rick caught only the briefest glimpse of flashing lights and men with guns surrounding the warehouse...
Then there was gunfire as the doors burst open again, their pursuers having finally caught up. Glancing over his shoulder, Rick saw Alwas, holding an AK-47 in one hand, a smear of blood running down his temple and staining the shoulder of his once-white suit, the expression of calm superiority distorted by rage.
Men with guns in front of them. Men with guns behind them. Rick squeezed his eyes closed and prepared for annihilation...
"Attention! C'est la police: déposez vos armes!"
It took a moment for Rick's mind to translate, and another for the meaning to sink in. But when it did, he couldn't help but laugh in relief. The French police had arrived, just in time to see Alwas run out of a building waving a gun and attempting murder.
Granted, they'd also arrived in time to see a band of American spies run out of a building with a briefcase containing a warhead...
In light of that, he decided it would be best to stay on the ground, letting go his grip of his pistol and putting both hands on the back of his head. A moment later, however, an open hand came into his field of vision. And when Rick looked up, a familiar face smiled down at him, offering what Rick slowly realized was a hand up. "Hello again, mes amis."
Rick blinked, taking the hand and letting the other man help him to his feet. "Luc!"
The French agent smirked, patting Rick on the shoulder. "Normally I would not be very happy to have to deal with American agents on French soil yet again, but considering the results..." He glanced over to where Alwas was being handcuffed by several policemen, the rest of his men being held at gunpoint as the officers went through the process of disarming and apprehending them. "I think I am in a very forgiving mood. We have been trying to gather sufficient evidence to take Monsieur Alwas in for his, euh, activitiesfor quite some time now. It would appear that I have you to thank once again, Monsieur Dorset," Luc added to Michael, was on his feet and had walked over to them, offering Luc a polite nod. "Now, please pardon me, I have an important arrest to report. I am also thinking your companions have need of an ambulance, non? I will have one called for."
Rick frowned in confusion as soon as Luc walked away. "Michael?"
"I called Luc and tipped him off," Michael explained.
"You... called Luc? What happened to keeping our cover and not ticking off the French?"
Michael shrugged. "After Alwas' guys made us on the train and spooked, I figured the risk of them getting away was too high. We didn't have enough intel on the scope of his operation and didn't know what we were walking in to. So I called Luc so he could get the French authorities in."
Rick thought back to when things first began to go wrong with the mission, shortly before he wound up on the roof of a train. "So if you called him then–"
"He apparently hopped on the next high-speed train down from Paris. Probably pulled in on the TGV not long after we did. I texted him again from the station when I figured we might need back up."
"I thought I was backup!" Rick protested.
Michael smirked. "Lesson of the day, kid: always have more than one backup plan."
Rick's ego still felt somewhat bruised, but the knowledge that the intervention of the French police had kept him from being riddled with holes helped to assuage the hurt. "So what now?"
Michael sighed. "Now, we get Billy and Casey to a hospital. And wait for Luc to smooth some of this out. Considering we probably just got him promoted, I have a feeling he might be willing to fudge some details in our favor about interagency collaboration in his report."
"And the warhead?" Rick pressed on, watching as Casey reluctantly handed the case over to French Intelligence. The ill-tempered operative was seated on the curb in front of the warehouse; Billy slouched on the ground next to him where Michael had apparently put him down.
Michael sighed. "Property of the French government now, at least until they dismantle it."
Rick raised an eyebrow. "And you're okay with that?"
Michael grimaced. "Let's look at it this way. When was the last time you woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, overcome with the dread of potential nuclear war with the French?"
"Same here. Provided they don't lose it again out of sheer incompetence, I think we'll be okay leaving it with them. And I rather doubt they would have let us bring it home in our carry-on luggage anyway." Michael grinned at him and Rick couldn't help but smile faintly back.
It was over. Alwas was in custody. The warhead was in more-or-less safe hands. Higgins would probably try to sack them all, but with Luc running interference with the French government on their behalf, things hopefully wouldn't be too terrible.
It was over.
There was still the matter of Casey, face pale and drawn as he busied himself with tearing strips from the hem of his shirt to try to stem the flow of blood from his injured hand. Sitting on the steps beside him, Billy wasn't looking good either. His eyes were unfocused, his jaw hanging slightly open as he stared vacantly into space.
The smile faded from Michael's face. In the distance, they could hear the two-tone wail of the promised ambulance approaching. "What happened to him anyway? Why didn't you take him to a damn hospital?"
Rick made a face. "He got shot and fell off a train. And have you ever gotten Billy to abandon a mission when he didn't want to?"
Michael blinked. "Ok, that's a new one for him. At least the part with the train. And yes, I have, but it required forced sedation so I can see your point." His shoulders slumped in evident exhaustion.
"Guys?" Casey shouted out to them. "Guys, I think we have a problem..."
Billy had slumped over, eyes closed, crumpling limply back onto the steps. Within seconds, Rick was kneeling beside him. "Where's that ambulance?" he shouted, then repeated in French. As if on cue, the ambulance pulled in to the already crowded back street, EMTs scrambling out and making their way over with a stretcher.
Billy's eyelids fluttered, and he groaned. "Hey," Rick murmured, squeezing his teammate's hand. "Hey, the ambulance is here, we're gonna get you to the hospital and patch you up, ok?"
Billy looked around, eyes failing to focus. "Mission?" he managed to ask, looking at a spot slightly over Rick's left ear.
"Mission accomplished," Rick said.
Billy smiled. "S'good."
Then he was being loaded onto the stretcher and carried off into the ambulance.
Rick felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Michael offering him a reassuring look. "He'll be fine. Malick's riding with him anyhow."
"We're going to follow them, right?" Rick asked.
Michael grinned. "Damn right we are."
Rick swallowed and tried to buoy his spirits as he watched the ambulance pull out. Alright, there had been casualties. But Casey wasn't hurt badly and Billy was going to be okay.
It was all going to be okay.
They were all there waiting when Billy woke up.
Tending to Casey's hand hadn't taken long. The doctors said he was lucky; the bullet had miraculously missed the bones and major tendons in his hand. They were optimistic about him recovering a full range of mobility, though for the time they swaddled the appendage in so many bandages as to make it look like a bulky, white paw.
Billy had required a bit more attention. His shoulder only needed a few stitches, but the doctors had made faces when his x-rays returned, and he was scheduled for orthopedic surgery. When Rick managed to apprehend a doctor long enough to get an explanation, he was told that the break had come un-set, probably when Billy had run on it while attempting his rescue of the team, causing further damage to his tibia and dislodging a few fragments they hoped to chase down before they had a chance to get into his bloodstream.
The prognosis made Rick's stomach roll, but Michael appeared oddly optimistic. "Relax. We've fulfilled our quota of shit going horribly wrong for one mission. The universe is due to cut us some slack," he remarked, giving Rick a pat on the shoulder while he dropped a euro into the vending machine.
Rick was skeptical. But it turned out that Michael was right. Billy spent a mercifully short time in the OR before a nurse retrieved the ODS from the waiting room, informing them that Collins was still under sedation, but that the doctors were able to retrieve the bone fragments and reset the fracture without complications.
So when Billy's eyes finally fluttered open, it was with Michael, Rick, and Casey all sitting around him, looking right back.
"Hey," Rick said, smiling hesitantly. "How you doing?"
Billy smiled tiredly. "Been better." Then he chuckled and added, "but I've also been a hell of a lot worse, so I guess that's something."
"So what's this I hear about you jumping off moving trains?" Michael asked, raising an eyebrow.
Billy grinned sheepishly. "Well it just looked so cool when they did it in that Mission Impossible movie, how was I to resist?"
Casey snorted. "Your lack of inherent survival instincts never ceases to amaze and appall me," he remarked dryly.
Billy grinned impishly back at him. "Says the man who tried to catch a bullet with his bare hand?"
Casey suddenly looked less than amused. Billy turned to Michael: "Sorry I was a wee bit out of it toward the end there. How did we make out?"
Michael leaned casually on the foot of the hospital bed. "Warhead is on its way to be dismantled. Alwas is in custody, as are most of the guys he was selling to. The French authorities have fully shut down his operation and they're pleased as punch."
"And what about Higgins?" Rick interjected, somehow doubting Higgins would be quite as overjoyed. He'd been too busy translating French to English with the doctors to stay in the loop with Michael's phone calls back to Langley.
"Oh, he's threatened to sack us," Casey replied dourly. "Fortunately, he's been too busy fielding 'thank you' calls from the French ministry to make good on that threat. It appears our friend Luc did us a solid."
"Well, he did get another promotion out of our grunt work," Michael remarked. "Fair's fair."
"Well," Billy said, leaning back on his pillows. "I reckon that brings me fully up to speed."
"Hang on, I have a question."
Everyone turned to look at Rick.
He swallowed. "Where the hell did Michael get a grenade?!"
Casey smirked. Billy grinned. Michael laughed. "Always be prepared, Martinez," he replied, patting Rick on the shoulder.
"What, did you just happen to put a grenade in the bag when you were packing your lunch this morning?" Rick asked, a bit miffed.
"Don't be ridiculous," Billy answered.
"Michael never packs his own lunch," Casey added. "He's a cafeteria man."
Michael appeared highly amused. "We were in a warehouse frequently used by arms dealers for transactions and exchanges. Where do you think I got the grenade, Martinez?"
"... Oh." Rick looked down sheepishly. "Ok, now I feel dumb."
"Don't worry about it. And as a side note, you'd be surprised what modifying your carry-on with a lead compartment will allow you to smuggle through security and customs."
"Wait... what?! Is – is he joking?" The rest of the ODS were laughing. Rick looked around with wide eyes. "Guys? That's a joke, right?"
Michael wiped away a tear of mirth, getting himself back under control. "Okay, now are we done with the Q and A?"
"Almost, I reckon." Billy sat up, looking down in consternation at his cast, having just pulled aside the hospital sheet. "I have just one more question. Nay, make that two: First of all, who signed my cast 'Rocket Rick'?"
"Uh, that'd be me," Rick confessed, cheeks still red.
Billy quirked an eyebrow. "I sense there's a story there, which I will require you to regale me with at a later date. Casey, I'm guessing you're the one who signed 'John Smith' –"
"Signing my own name would put me at risk for compromise. Your leg's done enough to be a security risk already."
"– which leaves me with one more question." Billy paused and looked at them each in turn. "Which of you right bastards is responsible for my cast being pink?"
And as the room once more filled with uncontrolled laughter, Rick couldn't help but think that even if missions didn't always go the way they seemed to in the movies, every now and then, they did get a pretty decent happy ending.