heyy. thanks so much for reading. i am a newcomer to this fandom, and there are so many great works out there. i discovered chaos through faye dartmouth's fic, and it was through her that i became acquainted with the characters. it's sad that a show with such good writing and a great cast got cut short, but it's heartening to see the amazing contributions people are making to keep the characters alive! this is my first chaos fic, so here's hoping i do the characters justice. this fic is for faye dartmouth, for being fantastic in oh so many ways.
All mistakes are mine. I welcome reviews.
Disclaimer: Don't own.
It had gone to hell, as Rick had suspected the mission would.
Five weeks into his career as a member of the ODS, and he's already become almost clairvoyantly good at predicting such things. He supposes that he ought to be unsettled by this and look upon it as some sort of warning, some dire advice to maybe go tell Higgins to forget it; he's not cut out for this kind of spy work.
Of course, that will never happen. Mainly because if there's one thing the last five weeks have shown him, it's that there is always a Plan B, a back door, a team member to rely on. And if your team members happen to be ODS, your Plan B is to take your back door and blow it open with military grade explosives. Although Rick's first impression of his team may have been somewhat underwhelming, he has already been repeatedly shown that the ODS are highly skilled and specialized, a force that operates smoothly and stealthily. As he put it to Higgins before, the ODS get results, no matter the risk, and this is what makes them so awesome. That remains the undisputable fact about them, but that isn't the problem.
Problem is, most times Rick just feels like he's tagging along, and although he contributes his fair share and then some, he still feels like he's not part of the team's natural rhythm and that he's fumbling it up at times. He hasn't learned all the nuances, the subtle eccentricities, quirks that make his team members tick. Worse, they've seemed to figure out exactly how Rick Martinez is assembled. While they're tricking him into jumping into a Russian spy's car clutching a blank envelope, he's still a full two steps behind. Casey's varying glowers remain undecipherable to Rick, making him nearly impossible for the younger operative to scrutinize. Most times, he considers it a small victory if he has an entire conversation with Malick and doesn't walk away feeling chastised in some way. Michael is enigmatic but coolly friendly, and has been every since they returned from the Sudan all those weeks ago. And all Rick had to do to was eat a scorpion, maybe even be drugged without his knowledge. And then there's Billy, the man who talks enough for his other two team mates plus a little extra, but who remains a total and complete mystery to Rick.
That's sort of why this mission is a first for him, because Rick's been thrust into the co-pilot's chair in this one, teaming up with Billy to escort Sebastian Gomez, notorious arms dealer who does business with several US black market organizations, to Bogota to be extradited. Meanwhile, Michael and Casey were to fly the intercepted gun shipment out of the Colombian mountains to the Palanquero base. It was a successful bust, the result of a thoroughly plotted mission with the backing of an extensive network of highly useful intelligence. It was going far too smoothly to last.
"Don't do anything stupid that would warrant you in need of immediate rescue, Martinez," Malick growls a warning as they part ways. "Palanquero is more than a hundred miles away from Bogota."
In response, Billy claps a hand to Rick's shoulder heartily. "Rubbish, Casey, rubbish," he chuffs with a grin. "Martinez is as much a professional as I am; equally capable in brain and brawn."
"That's what I'm worried about," Casey shakes his head with a sour expression and turns to the small plane, laden with crates of illegal arms.
Michael smiles at Casey's general disgruntlement, watching him leave. "It might be hard for you to tell, but that's Casey's way of showing you he cares." He looks Rick up and down before continuing.
"We'll have an extraction set up and waiting for you at Bogota," he says, turning serious. "Good luck, Martinez." He turns and follows after Malick. Maybe the older operative had truly meant his well-wishing, but it has done nothing to soothe Rick's nerves. He feels frazzled, and does his best not to let it show.
The mission continues to be a success. When Billy and Rick track the fleeing Gomez down in the Colombian mountains a few hours later, the arms dealer apparently knows he's beat, and submits to the operatives as they handcuff him and lead him over the uneven terrain, back to the plane where the small, weathered pilot simply known as Julian waits impatiently for them.
"We must go, friends, and quickly," the pilot calls out to them in Spanish above the rising pitch of the wind. "The storm will not wait for us." He points an anxious finger up at the darkening clouds that swirl overhead, and Billy nudges Gomez sharply in the small of his back to get him to pick up the pace as they trot across the clearing towards the rickety plane. The storm had been a growing concern, and Billy and Rick had counted themselves lucky to find someone willing to fly them into the heart of the mountains after Gomez.
"Well, Martinez," Billy now chirps good naturedly as they draw closer. "I think you deserve a hearty congratulations. You did great back there. I think you're starting to come into your own as a spy. In fact, I've been working on a poem about you –"
The splitting crack of the gunshot startles Rick, but it's the sight of Julian going down in a spray of red mist that truly surprises him. Even so, he feels something in him seize and lock tight for a split second, and that's all the time it takes for Gomez to jerk free of his grip.
"Down, Martinez!" Billy shouts, and before Rick knows what's happening Billy is tackling him to the ground, where they land hard in a jumble of limbs. There's a crushing weight on Rick's back as he face plants in the moist dirt, but a second later Billy rolls off of him and is up on his feet in pursuit of Gomez. By the time Rick has managed to push himself up to his feet the Scot is already too far away to follow. Not that Rick has the inclination to follow. Instead, he whirls around, wild eyed and desperate, looking for –
- There! A small glint back in the thick line of trees catches his eye, within firing range, and Rick ducks low to the ground and runs behind the best cover he has: the plane.
It feels like it takes a lifetime for him to raise his gun and find his target. He holds himself steady and focuses as the world around him bleeds away and melts into one single pinpoint. He takes careful aim and fires in rapid succession, and is rewarded by the distant thump of a body hitting the soft ground cover like a sack of grain.
He doesn't feel anything at all like victorious as he lowers his weapon and finally gives his lungs permission to breathe. Instead, he just feels relief. Relief that when push came to shove, he was able to hold up his end of the bargain: he gave Billy cover. He defended his teammate's life. Billy's life.
Rick spins around and sees the Scot closing the distance between him and Gomez. For a moment, Rick allows himself to watch the chase, dropping his guard ever so slightly.
The hand that wraps around his ankle is clammy, not to mention completely unexpected. Rick nearly jumps straight into the air, if it weren't for a familiar voice speaking in Spanish.
"We're out of time," Julian gasps painfully as he pulls himself up into a sitting position, resting his back against the plane as he presses a bloodstained hand to his shoulder. As if on cue, the first flashes of lighting flares, and it seems dangerously close. Rain begins to pour vehemently. "We can't take off in this."
Rick can't answer, because Rick is too busy watching the chase. There's something, something's not right. He can't explain it, not even to himself, but it turns out that it doesn't matter because he's already running. But it's like it's a dream, or the air has thickened to molasses, or he's still slightly dazed from the shootout. Whatever the cause, Rick can't move fast enough.
But he can watch in helpless horror as the sky lights up and electricity seems to crackle all around him. The next thing he knows is that the world around him is exploding, gone in a deafening flash of light. It blasts him in the face, filling his eyes, his ears, his mouth, taking away all thought. He's not sure if he's running or falling or if he's been thrown. He could even be standing still. In that second, nothing makes sense, and nothing has substance.
And then the moment is over and Rick is blinking on the ground. He's sprawled at an odd angle that suggests he was thrown sideways, and his left wrist aches sharply from landing on it. He pushes himself up, shaking his head as though to clear it. His ears are ringing, and his body hurts in several different, faraway places.
It's all forgotten when he sees Billy on the ground a short distance in front of him, lying like a discarded doll.
It's a shambling run, but it's the best Rick can pull off under the circumstances as his shaky legs carry him to Billy's side. He falls jerkily to his knees, and his brain struggles to catch up to this unexpected, unbelievable turn of events.
Billy has just been struck by lightning.
Billy has just been struck by lightning in the middle of the Colombian mountains.
Rick can't even process it, he can't even begin to try, because Billy has just been struck by lightning and he's not breathing and as Rick pushes his fingers into the side of the Scot's throat, it would appear that he doesn't have a pulse.
Rick's not sure what it is that takes over from this point, whether it's instinct or survival training or just simple fear that propels him into action. Head tilted back, airway open, two quick breaths. Pump on the chest, thirty quick beats in time. Check for life. Repeat. Rick wills the body underneath his hands to respond, to jerk in the throes of coming back to life, instead of limply jolting under his rough ministrations.
Damn it, Billy. Don't do this.
Rick feels something snap in Billy's chest, and snap again, but he presses on doggedly. Never mind a rib. What's a rib in the grand scheme of things? Nothing, if it brings Billy back.
By the second round of compressions, Rick's broken left wrist is screaming at him. After the third round, he's not sure if he can manage a fourth.
He doesn't have to see if he can, though, because suddenly Billy's back. The Scot's back arches and he sucks in a great, gasping breath before he begins to cough raggedly, rolling onto his side and sucking in painful gulps of air. Rick's undamaged right hand hangs in the air in surprise, but then drops to his teammates' trembling shoulder.
"Easy, Billy, easy. Breathe, just breathe," he says in what he hopes is a soothing tone, but really Rick feels like collapsing in a quivering pile of spent nerves. But he can't; the mission isn't over. There's more to do, despite how much he feels like sitting back in relief. With one hand grounding Billy, Rick looks up, searching the grass for the body of Gomez. He finds it, not ten feet away. With one last look down at the Scot, who is still struggling to breathe normally, Rick moves cautiously to the arms dealer. He can see from only a few feet away that he's quite dead; the man's eyes are staring sightlessly and his leg is lying under his body in a grotesque angle.
Rick takes a quick, shuddering breath, forces his brain to stop spinning and think. A side splash, he figures. Gomez is dead from what must have been a direct strike, and Billy had to have gotten a secondary hit. The good news is that these aren't necessarily fatal.
The bad news is that Billy could have a world of complications. Rick's brain, now kicked into high gear, is regurgitating all the lightning strike facts it can recall. Muscle and nerve damage, broken bones, organ failure. All very real risks. Rick doesn't want to dwell on it, so he doesn't. Instead, he returns to Billy's side, rolls him onto his back as gently as he can. The Scot's eyes blink, a little unfocussed, and Rick gently taps his cheek.
"Billy. Billy, are you with me?"
The Scot frowns, as though puzzled by the question.
"And where-" he breaks off, coughing weakly. He immediately grimaces, one shaking hand lifting to his ribs. "Where else could I possibly be?" His eyes slide over to Rick's, and the younger operative can see that he's still more than a little dazed. "What happened, Martinez?"
Rick isn't sure he has enough words. Over his shoulder, he can hear Julian, yelling that it's time to leave, and Rick heartily agrees. He sits Billy up, ignoring his disoriented groan, and slings a lanky arm around his shoulders. "Lightning," he grunts, hoisting the tall Scot up and urging him into a brisk walk. Billy totters and lists precariously, as though drunk, and it's all Martinez can do to keep him propelled in a forward motion.
Apparently even that simple explanation is more than he can process in his addled state. The Scot's head droops before snapping back up. His legs are buckling underneath him, and it's a struggle for both operatives not to trip.
"Oh," is all he can say. "Well, that's a first."
Somehow, Billy has managed to take the words right out of Rick's mouth.
Rick snorts, tightening his grip on Billy's arm strewn across his shoulders. His left arm is loosely wrapped around the Scot's lower back, and the sharp ache in his broken wrist travels up his forearm in fiery darts of pain. In bizarre contrast, his elbow has gone disconcertingly numb. He distracts himself from the sensation by focusing alternately on Billy's face, still slightly tinged blue, and the helicopter, which is getting closer with every lurching step.
"Yes, it certainly is."
The mission has definitely gone to hell; Rick comes to that decision quite easily.
He knows it before he's half-throwing Billy into the small plane in his haste to get them in the air before any hostiles arrive. The Scot is beyond helping Rick; it's clearly all he can do to keep from passing out entirely.
He knows it before the storm buffets the plane around viciously, before the first consul light flashes alarmingly and the plane lurches. Julian swears, blanche-faced and sweating, and tightens both hands around the throttle, glancing at the altimeter.
He knows it before he twists around in his seat one last time to make sure Billy's securely strapped in, even as Julian yells out for them to hold on. Rick's fingers brush the front of Billy's vest, and the Scot manages to grab the younger man's wrist. Rick feels him squeeze briefly, and when he looks up he meets Billy's unwavering stare.
If they weren't in a rickety plane plummeting out of the sky, Rick could swear that the Scot has the ghost of a smile on his lips.
The moment is over almost the exact instant it happens, and Rick has just enough time to turn and face the spectacular view of the Colombian mountains hurtling towards them.
When Rick next opens his eyes at least two or three hours have passed, judging by how far the sun has traveled. Of course, that's including the amount of time it takes for him to have a coherent thought after he cracks his eyelids. His first realization is that he has a splitting, splitting headache. His next realization – and it's actually closer to an epiphany – is that he's not dead.
He opens his eyes wider, and tries to get his bearings. Taking a cursory mental inventory, he decides that other than the fact that his head is threatening to explode and his previously broken wrist hurts him tremendously, there is nothing else specific in his catalogue of aches and pains that he needs to worry about in the near future.
He manages to turn his head, despite the way this makes the world spin sickeningly. With a groan that he can't even be sure he voices, Rick rolls his face towards the pilot. The pilot…Julian. Yes, Julian.
He must have closed his eyes somehow without noticing, because when Rick opens them again he's staring at Julian's face, still looking shocked even in death. It's then that Rick sees the tree limb sticking out of the man's chest. A quick glance at the broken windshield shows Rick the trajectory at which the branch punched through.
It's enough to make the operative's already nauseous stomach jump into his throat. Rick doubles over, retching. It takes him several long moments to pull enough air into his lungs and for everything to stop swaying like he's at sea. He squeezes his eyes shut as he breathes in deeply through his nose, and it feels so good to immerse himself in darkness. It's such a temptation to fall into it completely, to give in to it. But he can't, he knows that much. He can't remember why he can't, but he just. Can't.
It's not every day he survives a plane crash, after all.
Oh. Billy's voice echoes in his head. Well, that's a first.
Rick's eyes fly open. He jerks his head up with a grunt. It feels like his skull is going to split open, but Rick is undeterred, fueled by concern. He twists around in his seat, hands struggling briefly with the restraints as he unhooks his safety belt.
He's there, in the backseat. Half of the Scot's face is obscured by blood, and the wall where his head is leaning is also smeared with it. Billy is pale, eyes closed, and still.
He looks dead.
Rick swallows the lump in his throat down as best as he is able, fighting the urge to vomit again. He raises a shaking hand, forcing himself to check for a pulse. His own heart is hammering so hard he can't be sure if that's his pulse thrumming unevenly or if it's Billy's, and when the Scot's eyes suddenly open at the touch Rick is unprepared and nearly falls backward from the shock.
The Scot mumbles incoherently, eyes darting around, trying to make sense of things, before they land on Rick. Even then, the younger operative isn't sure that Billy is tracking everything. There's a haze in his eyes that Rick doesn't like.
"Billy. Hey, Billy. You alright?"
Billy coughs weakly, and then grimaces, pressing a hand to his ribs and squeezing his eyes shut as he battles with the pain.
"Your ribs. I think I broke one. From the CPR."
"Feels like…more than one," Billy manages, voice breathy and strained. After a moment his brow furrows. "CPR?"
Rick is slowly making his way to Billy's side as best he can in the cramped cabin of the plane. His hands haven't stopped trembling, and it's hard for him to take Billy's wrist and count the beats of his pulse. The Scot's heart is pounding erratically, and Rick rests back on his haunches as best he can, assessing his team member.
Amazingly, other than the head wound, there doesn't seem to be any other injuries caused by the crash. At least, no visible ones. It isn't much of a consolation. Rick quickly feels Billy's legs, checking for breaks. He's moderately relieved that he finds none; they need to get out of here, fast, and it would be helpful if Billy were somewhat able to ambulate.
"You were struck by lightning, remember?" Rick supplies as he starts unbuckling the Scot's seat belt.
Billy opens his eyes again, with difficulty. This time, however, he manages to focus on Rick's face, and Rick is moderately relieved to see that the Scot's pupils are equal and reactive. Something that can't be said about his own, he's sure. He's had enough concussions to know what they feel like, and to be duly concerned. However, he would wager that lightning strikes trump concussions any day of the week. Including today.
Billy looks around, still dazed, but when he speaks his voice isn't nearly as slurred. "Where're we?"
"In the plane."
The Scot seems to accept that.
"Did we land?"
Rick could laugh, if he didn't feel like weeping. "Not exactly, but we're on the ground." In fact, it's a miracle that they crashed where they did. The plane is nestled in a small clearing, and twenty feet in either direction would not have ended well for them: They are surrounded by tall trees that could have easily rent the plane apart, while just in front of them is a long, sheer drop. How long, Rick doesn't need to see. From his vantage point, it's more than long enough.
"Ah," Billy breathes. "We crashed, then." His eyes slowly slip closed, and Rick's anxiety ratchets up. He reaches out and taps Billy on the cheek.
"No, no. Hey, no. Billy. Billy, don't close your eyes."
He increases his tapping, and finally the Scot groans in response.
"Then you best get me out of here, lad, if you don't want me snoozing."
Rick is only too ready to comply.
He can get Billy out of the plane, but he hopes that Michael and Casey can get them out of the mountains.
But for them to do that, they have to find Billy and Rick first.
He's not sure if he's in good enough shape to be calling the shots, not with a concussion, anyway. But he's definitely in better condition than Billy, although that's a small comfort. As it is, Rick can barely hang onto the taller man as they stumble tortuously over the overgrown, uneven terrain. Climbing out of the plane had left him so dazed that he'd nearly forgotten to check to make sure he and Billy still had their guns. His head is pounding harder by the minute, made worse by the strain of taking more and more of Billy's weight as they move. If his gasping, uneven breaths are anything to go by, the Scot is in a great deal of pain, even if he doesn't vocalize it. Rick isn't sure if Billy could even voice his discomfort if he wanted to. The Scot's awareness and lucidity are in a constant state of flux. Sometimes he can manage to string a few words together that make sense, but it's alarming how much effort it seems to cost him. Rick can almost hear Casey in his head, making dour comments about how the lightning must have scrambled his brains more than they already are.
Right now, Rick would just about give anything to hear Casey's voice, no matter how contemptuous the older man may sound.
At his side, Billy suddenly sags as though his legs have turned to water. Rick frantically tightens his hold on the Scot, for fear that if he goes down he won't have the strength to pull the taller man up again. The sudden movement causes him to use his left arm more than he'd intended, and the harsh thrumming turns into fresh agony that shoots straight up into his brain, whiting out his vision and robbing him of breath. He blinks back tears of pain and focuses on hauling Billy more upright before they press on. To where, Rick doesn't know, but he'll know it when he sees it.
"You – 'kay – Mart'nez?" Billy barely manages to get the words out.
"I'm fine," Rick grunts. "Never better."
"Piss poor liar…"
"Yeah, well, nobody likes a whiner," Rick replies, and this elicits a faint chuckle from Billy, who is trying his best to help by operating under his own steam, albeit weakly.
"Hafta be…honest w'eachother," the Scot gasps out, then bites back a groan as the toe of his boot catches on an unseen root.
"Got a knock on the head," Rick concedes. "My bell's rung pretty good but apparently I'm more functional than you. Can you make it just a little further?"
"Wisely and slow," Billy quotes, putting as much strength into his voice as possible. "They stumble that run fast."
Rick never thought he'd be so glad to hear another cryptic Billyism.
The tentative optimism that Rick had been trying to nurture bursts like a pricked bubble less than a mile later, when Billy's legs give out completely. To be fair, the Scot had put in a superhuman effort, but he just couldn't maintain. Rick tugs and manhandles him until he's propped against a tree.
"Let's take a break for a minute," he pants as he squats beside Billy. He passes the Scot the only water canteen they have between the two of them. "Here, drink."
Billy doesn't argue, and tries valiantly, but his hands are shaking too badly to lift the canteen to his lips. Rick does his best to hide his dismay as he reaches out and steadies the Scot. Billy drinks a few mouthfuls before he begins to cough, and Rick hastily takes the water away. After that, he can only hover and watch as his teammate tries to handle the pain.
"I'm sorry about your rib." The apology sounds lame in Rick's own ears, but it draws forth a small smile from Billy, who tries to wave away his concern. The movement is more of a half-hearted flap.
"No apology needed," Billy says. "I prefer a broken rib to being dead." He has to pause and grit his teeth a moment before continuing. "Though I wager it's more than just one." He closes his eyes a moment. "Where're we goin'?"
Rick frowns at the reemergence of Billy's slurred speech. The Scot is fading again, and he worries that maybe he missed something, that there are more injuries Billy is suffering from. Still, he knows there's no use in sugarcoating anything.
Billy doesn't respond, but an eyebrow twitches in an unspoken question.
"Bogota is east," Rick supplies, and then laughs a little half-hysterically. "I thought maybe we'd meet Michael and Casey halfway."
Billy's eyes open tiredly. "Be fast'r if…go on…w'out me."
Rick immediately shuts Billy's train of thought down. "No," he says simply, screwing the water canteen closed.
"You ready?" Rick doesn't wait for an answer, instead he wraps Billy's arm around his shoulder and heaves him back up to his feet, stifling a moan and willing the Colombian mountains to stop dizzily circling around him.
He pushes them away from the tree and then manages one step, followed by another.
By the time Rick finds them a suitable stopping place for the night, he is ready to sob from exhaustion. It's getting so dark that walking is becoming an increasingly dangerous proposition. Billy hasn't said a word in two hours, all of his concentration and strength being used for the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. Rick can't count the number of times they've stumbled to the jungle floor; his knees have long since gone numb from colliding with the ground, Billy's weight sagging across his shoulders.
The copse of trees and abundant flora offer enough camouflage that they won't be easily visible from afar. Rick isn't sure if they're going to have pursuers, and he prefers to think they needn't worry, but he's also not one to take unnecessary risks by making careless oversights.
Billy loses consciousness the moment Rick eases them to the ground, and the younger operative sets about checking the Scot over once again for injuries, looking for anything he might have missed. Checking Billy's head wound, he finds that the shallow gash has already closed over with congealed blood and looks unlikely to reopen. He feels down his neck and back, though he's sure if there was any sort of spinal injury it would be far too late to do anything about it now, especially after the rough trek they've just had. He checks the Scot's arms, then chest, pausing when he feels what he's sure must be at least two broken ribs and Billy reflexively flinches before moving on to palpate his stomach for any distension or hardness. He moves down Billy's legs and ankles, but stops at his boots. He's reluctant to remove them without due reason, because he's not sure if he can work them back onto the Scot's feet with his broken wrist. He nearly jumps out of his skin when Billy's voice floats up to him in the near dark.
Martinez sits back on his haunches. "I don't think you're in any shape to play doctor."
The corner of Billy's mouth twitches. "As much as I appreciate the levity, the same can be said for you. Especially with that knock on the head." A finger lifts in Rick's direction, indicating his face. "Have you seen yourself? You look like you were just in the losing end of a bar fight." It's as though the cuts and scrapes on Rick's face were only waiting to be acknowledged before making themselves known, and now they are stinging fiercely. Rick carefully feels his face and scalp; his fingers come away wet with blood.
Billy's voice sounds scratchy and raw; Rick reaches for the canteen. "Yeah, well. You should see the other guy," he tells the Scot. "Now drink."
The Scot takes a couple small sips before turning his head away, trying to suppress his coughing. He's not successful, though, and his face twists in pain.
"God," Billy gasps.
Rick slides himself backwards until he's sitting against a tree. He leans his head back and closes his eyes, content to let silence settle between them for the time being. He just needs to rest. Only for a moment -
"You going to let me help you splint your wrist?"
Rick opens his eyes again. It takes a supreme effort.
"Your wrist, Martinez."
Rick shakes his head dumbly. "I'm fine."
At that, Billy arches an eyebrow. "Aye, clearly. Who am I to argue with the concussed operative with a broken arm?"
Rick squints down at his wrist, letting his eyes slowly adjust to the dark. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he's aware that he's shivering. The temperature has dropped noticeably as night continues to descend. He can see the obvious swelling of his wrist, feel the broken bones grind together, and he's very nearly sick all over again. He knows he should deal with it, and quickly. It's already been too long. He's just. He's just so tired.
"Martinez!" Billy barks, and Rick snaps back into himself, hardly aware that he was drifting. He looks up at the older operative's face and sees an expression he's never witnessed before. Billy is staring at him, intense and grim, and it's more effective than a bucket of cold water.
Rick blinks, and things come back into focus.
Billy nods. "Okay," he echoes. "Now, we need a splint, yeah? And something to wrap it with."
It takes a few minutes, but Rick is able to find a stick that's about the right thickness and runs from his wrist to elbow. Billy insists on using his own undershirt to bind it to his forearm with, on the grounds that using Rick's would mean taking it off him, which entails jostling his arm. Just the mention of it makes the younger operative's stomach churn, and so he helps Billy ease the article of clothing over his head. That simple act leaves both of them pale and gasping.
Billy's burst of strength seems to last as exactly as long as it takes to finish tying the final knot. The Scot falls back, breathing harshly and shivering. Rick can't help but notice, and he worries again about the ramifications of being struck by lightning. He could be damaged internally, and there's nothing that can be done for him. Not here, anyway. Once again, Rick wishes fervently for some sort of rescue, to hear either Casey or Michael's voice out there, somewhere in the Colombian night.
Anytime now is good, guys.
It had been a long night.
Shortly after they completed the arduous and painful task of splinting Rick's wrist it began to rain. The jungle canopy kept most of the rain out but the temperature had continued to drop, and yet they were too worried about discovery by any hostile to risk a fire. In the end, they'd settled for covering themselves with their vests and whatever dry foliage they could find within easy distance. It was a doomed effort from the beginning. At least they were able to share body heat, although Rick had a hard time telling if Billy was getting any benefit from it. The Scot's shivering hadn't abated in the slightest. His breathing was shallow and shaky, clearly trying to avoid jarring his broken ribs. Rick had listened, and gauged the raw, scraping sound of Billy's lungs. He had long ago added punctured lungs to his list of potential concerns regarding Billy's physical health. He has to be careful about moving Billy, assuming he can be moved at all. His pulse is still erratic, and his lips remain faintly tinged a worrying shade of blue. Martinez has also added worry over damage to Billy's heart to the list some time back.
If anything, worry is a powerful stimulant. It somehow keeps Rick mostly awake for the rest of the night.
In the predawn grayness of early morning, Rick feels Billy stir for the first time in hours. He looks over in time to see the older operative blink slowly awake. It takes a moment for awareness to creep into his eyes, and with it comes disappointment at the lack of rescue. Quick as it had come, the look disappears, leaving Rick to wonder if he had imagined it.
Billy wets his lips. "Rick?"
Billy draws a leg up and then grimaces in discomfort as it pulls at his ribs. He slowly straightens his leg out again.
"Are you…are you quite sure that the pilot was dead?"
A sudden wave of guilt washes over Rick. He hadn't thought about Julian in hours, dead and impaled in the plane. He looks at Billy, and the Scot reads him like the open book he is.
"There's no helping it." Billy says, quiet and firm. He settles back, shifting uncomfortably. "There's nothing you could have done. Don't be sore with yourself."
"He warned me that the storm was coming," Rick rebuts, not ready to absolve himself just yet. "He knew that we were in danger."
Billy would look amused, if his face wasn't pinched with a fresh wave of pain. His breathing isn't improved, still shallow and rapid. "And what would you have done to remedy the situation, Martinez? Would you have held the weather back with your sheer will and determination? Would you have landed the plane yourself, with a broken arm? Why don't you just go ahead and single handedly take Gomez down, while you're at it." Billy stops, his eyes widening. "Gomez," he says. "Is he-?"
"Dead," Rick supplies. "He took a direct hit from the lightning, you got a weaker blast."
"Well, that's one bit of luck," Billy murmurs, leaving Rick to gape open-mouthed at him.
"You have a strange definition of luck," Rick tells him dryly. He shoves the water canteen at Billy. "Here, drink."
Billy takes the canteen, shaking it to judge the volume of water sloshing inside it. The Scot frowns. "This doesn't feel any lighter than the last time I drank."
"Your point being?"
"My point, Martinez," Billy says with a tinge of exasperation, "is that you have a head wound, a broken wrist, and you look like you're wearing about a pint of blood on your shirt. I would say you have a lot of stuff on your plate. Don't add dehydration to it, too." The Scot pulls himself up to a sitting position and rests against a tree. The small movement leaves him gray-faced, but he drinks carefully and thrusts the water back at Rick, who has a reluctant swallow. He's more than a little thirsty, but he wants to save as much as the water as possible.
"We need to find water today. We're running low."
"All the more reason to leave me behind. I'm slowing you down."
Rick refuses to acknowledge the statement as he stands stiffly and gingerly brushes his cargo pants off with his good hand. "You ready to get up?" he asks but doesn't bother waiting for a response. He reaches down and grabs Billy, leaving him no choice but to stand if he doesn't want Rick to hurt his broken wrist further. Once on his feet, the taller man shrugs off Rick's helping hands. He takes a tottering step but seems to rally with the next stride, and Rick lets him be. Instead, he walks within arm's distance of the Scot, should his assistance be needd.
It continues to drizzle all morning, and first they are damp, then eventually they become wet, and finally they're soaked. "October is Colombia's wettest month," Rick jokes without much humor. "What were we expecting?" The upside is that at least the rain collects in broad-leafed plants and foliage, providing adequate amounts of liquid for Billy and Rick to drink.
Billy chuckles softly in agreement, but otherwise doesn't rise to the occasion. Shortly after, when the Scot stumbles for the third time in five minutes, Rick edges a little closer.
"Need a break?" he asks, but Billy shakes his head.
"'m good – for another – mile." His breathlessness has returned. Rick digs in his heels.
"Well, I'm not." He settles down on a log, leaning forward and hanging his head below his shoulders. After a moment, he hears Billy sliding down to sit beside him, leaning back.
"Who 'm I – to argue?"
"I think maybe it's better if you save your breath."
"I think – maybe – you're right."
Rick looks over sharply at Billy at hearing the Scot's admission, but Billy's eyes are already closed.
Rick lets Billy sleep ten minutes longer than he'd originally intended. He doesn't want to say anything to his lagging teammate, but he doesn't like how quiet the jungle has gotten around them. The back of his neck prickles with the cold sensation of eyes on him.
He reaches out and lays a hand on Billy's shoulder. The Scot rouses sluggishly.
"Sorry," he mumbles, rubbing at an eye with the heel of a hand. "Didn' mean t'pass out." He shakes his head at the water canteen Rick offers and tries to climb to his feet. He makes it on the second try, with Rick's hand on his elbow.
They walk in silence for several minutes before Billy speaks again, sounding slightly more alert.
"So when were you planning on telling me that you think we're being followed?"
Rick shrugs a shoulder. "Seems to me that it didn't get past you, anyway."
Billy smirks a little. "Flatterer."
"If you have any suggestions, I'm all ears."
"Just one," Billy replies through clenched teeth as he tries to breathe through the pain, one arm wrapping around his ribs. "Go on - without me."
"Not going to happen."
"I'm not going to argue with you about this."
"Billy." Rick can't keep the growl out of his voice.
The Scot sighs in frustration. "You've been taking lessons in irascibility from our mutual friend, Casey Malick." The sentence seems to wipe him out, and he comes to a shambling stop, shoulders drooping as he lowers his face and gingerly puffs for air.
"It rubs off on you," Rick absently replies, taking Billy's arm around his shoulders without further comment.
It's a combination of the continuous rain and the trudging journey over the dense, slick jungle floor that wears on Rick and Billy physically. But the insidious feeling of being watched is what truly drains them. The feeling persists all throughout the rest of the day. Around midday, they find a stream and drink their fill – Rick praying the whole time that they don't end up with some sort of deadly parasitic infection – before topping up their canteen and setting out again. It was an unspoken mutual agreement to leave without resting further, and neither of them initiates much conversation during the trek. They're both too busy listening for sounds of possible pursuit.
The lapse in conversation gives Rick a chance to think. He knows that the distance to the extraction point in Bogota is insurmountable from where they are situated. But that's not what he's trying for. All he has to do is keep walking in this exact direction.
That, and keep the both of them alive.
He stops and reaches into his vest, pulling out his compass and checking his bearings. Still hanging off his shoulders, Billy is trying his best not to lean too much of his weight on Rick, staying mindful to not bump his bad arm.
The Scot bites back a cough, and it quickly turns into a poorly suppressed groan.
"You look - like a man," Billy pants, "who is - plotting something."
Rick doesn't comment. Instead, he gives Billy a good look. The Scot isn't doing well at all. His breathing continues to sound strained and shallow, and he can no longer stand without hunching over his broken ribs or pressing a hand to his chest. If he was pale before then he's positively white now, and his eyes are deeply lined with pain, smudged with shadows. His knees appear to be threatening to buckle with increasing regularity.
Again, worry flares in Rick's gut. He's quite sure that Billy's heart is damaged somehow from the lightning strike and that he's within an inch of perforating his lung with a rib fragment. In short, Rick isn't sure how much longer Billy can last. This dilemma serves quite well in distracting Rick from the question of how much longer he can last, himself. His head aches beyond comprehension, his vision doubling and blurring from time to time. But he can't acknowledge it. Billy needs him operational, because it's becoming more and more apparent that the Scot is on his last legs.
"Do you think you can make it til nightfall?" he asks Billy quietly.
Billy looks at Rick earnestly. "I can do that," he tells him. "Provided you do the same."
Rick nods tightly. "You've got a deal."
To Billy's credit, he actually lasts approximately twenty minutes past dark before his legs give out fully and completely. The Scot's taller body and long limbs drag the both of them down, and Rick bites off a curse of pain as his left arm takes the brunt of the fall to avoid landing on his teammate. Admittedly, the throbbing in his wrist had subsided somewhat after it had been splinted, but the sudden abuse awakens the sleeping beast. Stars of pain streak across his vision, the sounds of the jungle suddenly muted by the roaring in his ears. When his senses of sight and sound eventually return he immediately gets to his knees, casting around anxiously.
The Scot's voice is so soft that Rick barely hears him, but it's enough. When Rick turns and finds Billy curled up on his side, trembling, Rick knows that he won't be getting up again. This is as far as Billy can go, and Rick is fairly sure that between Billy's broken ribs and his own broken wrist, carrying the Scot is out of the question. Worse, he's definitely certain they haven't put enough distance between themselves and the plane to be safe.
Rick crawls to Billy's side without a word, reaching out and taking the Scot's wrist. Billy watches with tired amusement, eyes half open.
"Am I going to live, doctor?"
"Not funny," Rick grumbles, setting the Scot's wrist down. He knows all he needs to know – Billy's heart rate is still all over the place, thumping a dissonant rhythm.
"It's not too late to leave," the older operative breathes, eyes fluttering closed.
Rick hangs his head.
"Shut up," he tells his team member. His response is belated, though. Billy is already slackly unconscious.
Five weeks into his career with the ODS, and Rick is definitely able to tell when a mission has gone to hell.
Rick isn't one to overlook the small mercies, and it's for this reason that he's glad that Billy at least picked a good spot to collapse. When he gets control over the resurgence of pain in his arm and his mind clears, he is immediately made aware of two things regarding his surroundings. For one, they are in a decently protected spot: the ground dips sharply in a rut that has enough room for both he and Billy, and there are a good number of logs and thick, low growing vegetation further concealing them.
And two, there is the unmistakable sound of rushing water nearby. Water means a ready source for their canteen while they sit and wait for rescue.
It also means a blanket of white noise in the background for Rick to use to his advantage. Right now, he'll take any sort of advantage that gets thrown his way. Especially when there are so many things working against him, one example being hunger. It's been nearly twenty-four hours since their last meal. Besides Rick's compass and a nearly soggy packet of matches they have nothing in the way of supplies, especially food. This also includes extra ammunition. Between the two of them they don't even have a full clip.
Over the next hour there is another strike developing against them. Billy's cough worsens, and with it his pain. Rick isn't sure if the Scot has picked some sort of sickness out here in the Colombian jungle, or if it's a result of his inability to draw full breaths, but it's clear that there's fluid building in Billy's lungs; Rick can hear the gurgling wetness in his chest.
As the night deepens, Billy's condition deteriorates further. The Scot is shivering violently, the tremors causing his breath to catch in his throat as his broken ribs are jarred. There is extensive bruising across his torso as a result of their harrowing crash into the mountains, blossoming in deep, livid colours from the safety restraints.
Rick almost wants to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Shot at, hit by lightning, broken ribs, and a plane crash. All in one day. Calling Billy "tenacious" wouldn't even be the half of it. He watches Billy shiver and mumble in the dark, in the wet.
Pursuant be damned. If there was ever someone who deserved a warm fire despite the risk, it's Billy Collins. It takes Rick a bit of time to find stuff that's dry enough to burn and then gather it one-handed, and he is careful to strategically position the fire so that it's as concealed as possible. He makes sure to build it small, but not so small that the warmth can't reach the Scot from where he lies. Once he's got the fire burning, he turns to find Billy watching him with fever bright eyes.
Rick watches his teammate for a moment, listening to the thin, wet whistle of his lungs. "I know it's painful, but maybe you should try to sit up for awhile," he suggests. "Could be better for your lungs."
"At this point, lying down isn't exactly comfortable either." Billy holds out his hand for Rick to grip, and together they ease the older operative up against a moss-padded log. When Billy's sitting, Rick passes the Scot the canteen and presses him to drink. Once done, the Scot's arms fall into his lap as though exhausted. He squints at Rick. "How are you holding up, anyway?"
Rick shrugs. "I wasn't the one struck by lightning, but I'll be better when the cavalry comes."
Billy continues to watch him for several moments. He seems to weigh his next words carefully before he speaks.
"Rick," he begins, voice dull with weariness. "I know you aren't keen on discussing this, but I think it would be best if you reconsidered your stance on leaving me and getting out of here."
"I'm not leaving you behind."
"A noble sentiment, indeed, and one I greatly appreciate. Don't think of it as leaving me behind, per se." The Scot tilts his head. "More like, you're coming back with reinforcements for me, returning in some grand heroic gesture, no doubt."
"This isn't funny."
"And I'm not laughing."
Rick blows out a long, slow breath. "If we sit tight, we'll be fine. We just have to wait. They'll find us."
Billy looks at him silently for a beat, shifting against the log in an effort to take the strain off of his broken ribs. The Scot isn't complaining, but neither is he capable of denying pain, if asked. Rick doesn't need to ask, however. He's already seen the damage, and Billy knows it.
Finally, a slow smile spreads knowingly across Billy's face. "You know something I don't know." He looks equally impressed and curious.
Rick hedges before finally responding. "I may not have mentioned this, but I left Casey and Michael a signal back at the plane."
"Oh?" Billy stops to cough, cradling his ribs. "Comforting to know, Martinez. May I ask why you're only sharing this bit of information with me now?"
Rick shrugs feebly. "I didn't want to give you any false hope."
Billy starts to laugh but his body immediately goes taut with pain.
"Tempt not a desperate man," the Scot intones. "Lad, I will take whatever I can get, false hope or no."
Rick passes a hand over his face. He hates to admit it, but he will, too.
Rick doesn't mean to, but he falls asleep. At some point during the long hours of the night, when Billy flagged and conversation had lapsed, Rick's concussion finally came to the forefront, demanding his attention, draining his strength. His head pounded incessantly and his eyes kept blurring on him. The only thing that helped settle his stomach was closing his eyes, and when he opens them next he isn't immediately sure what it is that woke him. The first thing that registers with him is that it's dawn.
Rick glances over at Billy, unconscious and still leaning against the log. Near him, the embers of the fire appear to have been cold for a while now. Rick swallows, hesitant, before he silently moves to the Scot's side. He reaches out a hand and takes the Scot's pulse before moving in to listen to him breathe. His lungs definitely sound worse, and Rick can feel the fever before he even touches the back of his hand to Billy's forehead. Through it all, the older operative does not stir, which Rick finds more than a little worrisome. He sits back next to his teammate and rubs his own aching head, working out his next move, despite the best efforts of his empty stomach to distract him.
The sudden silencing of the jungle makes Rick almost start with surprise. The absence of the sounds of squawking birds and screeching animals brings with it a returning feeling of being pursued by someone who doesn't want their presence known.
It's this sudden development that decides Rick's immediate strategy. He's not operating under full steam, he knows. Worse, he's essentially on his own. Billy would probably try with a vengeance, but it's undeniable that he's too far-gone to be of much help. With the arrival of this new day comes the certainty that the Scot is in need of imminent medical intervention. Rick is still sure that the lightning strike is a major factor in Billy's decline, but what really scares him is how fast he's going downhill. His colour is ashen except for the sickly blush of fever, and his lips are still faintly blue as he pants weakly for breath. In fact, Rick wouldn't be surprised in the least if there already were a small puncture in one lung. Rick is not from a small family; he has older brothers, cousins. He's had his fair share of rough housing growing up, and he knows the pain of bruised and broken ribs. His short time with the ODS has shown him that none of them are slouches to physical trials, including Billy. If the Scot is in serious, debilitating pain, then something very serious is amiss. He must be hurt inside, somewhere.
So when Rick hears a mad flapping of wings from a good distance away, he has to act as fast as he can. He squints up at the jungle canopy until his eyes catch the bright flashes of motion as a flock of mid sized birds take flight at his six. He's on his feet and crouched low, scanning for further movement out in the trees even as he's reaching for the small of his back with his right arm, checking for his gun.
Heart racing, he risks a quick glance at Billy. He lays an anxious hand on the unconscious operative's shoulder and squeezes.
"I'm not taking your advice," he tells the Scot. Billy doesn't so much as twitch. "I won't be far."
Gun drawn, Rick melts away into the trees, in the direction of the river, using its noise to cover the sounds of his passage. He moves with slow and careful deliberation, checking the ground before he steps. Rick's done enough drills to cover his tracks as he soundlessly moves deeper into the brush, peering in the direction of where he saw the birds take flight. He arcs back in that direction, keeping Billy within his sight. He meant what he said to Billy; he's not going far from the Scot.
He doesn't need to, because whoever is following them is coming his way. A twig snaps, alerting Rick and giving him ample warning to step behind a thick, gnarled tree. He draws his gun and waits.
Breathless minutes tick by, and then Rick hears it: a furtive rustling, then the sound of another twig breaking underfoot. A moment later, a lone figure breaks from the trees and steps into view.
Rick ducks back behind his cover, flattening himself against the rough bark as he listens to the figure gingerly stalk past him. Blowing out a noiseless breath, Rick smoothly steps out from behind the tree and approaches his adversary. Raising his gun to the back of the stranger's head, he cocks it. The figure freezes instantly.
"Drop your weapon," Rick growls in Spanish, "and turn around. Slowly."
The figure obeys, setting down his rifle and carefully straightening back up with hands spread. He turns, and Rick gapes.
He's pointing his gun at a child, just a boy.
The kid blinks at Rick, eyes wide.
"Why are you following us?" Rick demands, keeping his surprise out of his voice.
The kid answers with a question. "Are you going to kill me?" he asks in Spanish, sounding at once defiant and scared.
"Not unless you give me a reason to, no." God, please don't.
The boy's eyes narrow. "You and your friend are Americans, right? Military? You don't need a reason. Where you go, people die." He sounds so much older than his years, and it tugs at Rick's gut. This boy may be just a child, but that doesn't mean he's had much in the way of a childhood. Walking around in the Colombian mountains with a rifle? Some playground.
Rick takes his time before responding. He looks the kid up and down for any sign or article of clothing that would give him away. Finding nothing, he peers at the boy's face. "What's your name?"
Rick sighs. The kid is mouthy, anyway. "Look, I'm putting my gun away, alright? I'm not here to hurt anyone." He tucks it away, moving slowly. "And my name's Rick. What's yours?"
"David," Rick nods. "Okay, that's good. David, you don't look like you're part of any faction. You're not a rebel?"
David looks at Rick with misgiving.
Rick tries again. "You're a farmer, aren't you?"
Silence. Then, "Si."
Rick crouches down. "You live nearby, and saw the plane go down. That's why you came out here, right? You followed us."
David's breath quickens. He looks at Rick imploringly. "Please," he says. "Just leave us alone."
Rick realizes that David must have seen the body of Gomez back at the crash site, twisted and dead in the grass. The smoking plane is a beacon to anyone in the area. He wonders who else has seen it by now. Hopes to God that the ODS are among them.
"David," Rick begins, still speaking Spanish. "That man that you saw back there? We didn't kill him. His death was an accident. But he was not a good man; you should know that. It's because of people like him that innocent bystanders get hurt all the time. You know about the shooting that goes on in Bogota, the fighting in the streets? David, how old are you?"
David looks up at Rick, like the child he is.
Martinez nods encouragingly. "Then you're old enough to understand why that man was bad, and why we came to stop him. We are from the US, you're right about that, but we're not the enemy. We're not here to hurt anyone; in fact, we're trying to leave. You've seen my friend already, haven't you? You've seen that he's been badly hurt. He can't go anywhere. We just have to wait for our friends to find us, and we're gone. Okay, David?" Rick slowly bends down and picks up the kid's rifle. David flinches, and Rick slowly disarms it before handing it back. He doesn't have it in him to do anything else. He just doesn't.
"You should go," Rick tells the kid, his shoulders slumping. "It's not safe, being around us. There could be other people looking for us, people that are like the dead man you saw, outside of the plane." His headache is flaring up again, and its return has chased all of his strength right out of his legs. He wants to sit down or vomit. Probably both. He doesn't react when the kid turns around and runs the way he came. Whether to retreat somewhere safe and stay there, or go and bring back reinforcements, more people with guns, he isn't sure. He just prays he made the right choice, because there was no other choice to make. No way is he willing put a kid in jeopardy. He already has Julian's blood on his hands, not to mention Billy's life, which is looking like it's becoming more precarious with each passing hour.
Speaking of Billy.
Rick turns and hurries back as quietly as he can, eyes and ears straining past the haze of discomfort and disorientation. He can't hear or see anything out of the ordinary, and jungle life has resumed all around him. Things are screeching, chirping, twittering, and swooping in a cacophonous blur of sounds. Rick is dying to put his hand up to shield his eyes and bend his head against the light, but he can't do that. He has to stay alert. Has to, for Billy, for the mission, for Michael and Casey, until they come. And they are coming; he has to remind himself firmly. They're coming.
Rick was hoping to find Billy awake, if not a little improved. When he arrives at their campsite he finds that he's got his first wish, but not the second. The Scot is slumping where he sits against the log, his arms limp in his lap. His face is bent, but at the sound of Rick's approach the Scot manages to lift his head a little and look over in his teammate's direction. Their eyes lock, and Rick can see right away that something has changed. Something is very, very wrong.
"Billy," Rick says, hurrying over and crouching beside the Scot. "What's going on?" Billy can only shake his head emphatically, squeezing his eyes shut. He's heaving and gasping like a fish out of water, and it's a fitting analogy because he's drowning on air, wheezing and bubbling, his lips and now his fingernail beds turning a noticeable blue. Billy starts to cough, and it's a desperate, choking sound because he can't draw in a breath. It sets Rick into a panic and he grabs at the Scot's flailing hands. He smacks his broken wrist against Billy's knee as he grips his teammate's hand, but he grits his teeth and hangs on.
"Billy! Billy, I need you to sit forward. Sit forward, Billy." Rick's barking instructions and pulling the Scot forward. Billy is pliant and limp, without fight or strength as he struggles to cough and clear his airway, and Rick has to lean him against his hip to keep him sitting upright as he shucks off his vest, grimacing again at the pain in his arm. He balls the garment up firmly and uses it to brace against Billy's broken ribs, supporting the Scot. It seems to help, and Billy is able to draw in a slightly deeper breath, and this gives him the force needed to cough something wet up and spit it onto the forest floor. Rick glances down and confirms his suspicion. The ground has a splatter of red on it, as does the Scot's bottom lip and chin.
A punctured lung, then. Rick's heart begins to thud painfully in response, and he feels a quick burst of adrenalin clearing his head. This has just become Billy's biggest concern, bigger than his probably damaged heart. With an injury like this, he could have minutes or hours, but he doesn't have days. Definitely not days.
He puts a shaking hand on Billy's shoulder, steadying him. "Just stay like this until you catch your breath." There's a weak snort, and Billy opens his eyes as he lifts his head a fraction of an inch, but Rick cuts him off. "Don't even waste your air on trying to make wisecracks," he tells him in a stern manner. "Just focus on breathing as deep as you can, even though it hurts."
"It's not – going - to inflate - my lung again - Martinez."
Martinez is incredulous. "Did you not hear me just tell you to not talk?"
Billy pulls off a trembling shrug. "Dying man's - last words."
Rick's heart clenches, as does his hand on the Scot's shoulder.
"Shut up, don't talk like that."
Billy closes his eyes.
The morning turns into midday, and midday to afternoon, and by then things are taking a downhill slide so fast Rick knows that come nightfall it will be too late. Billy is struggling valiantly, but apart from the occasional groan of pain he does not vocalize his suffering. He's probably already too far-gone. He drifts in and out of consciousness, and Rick does his best to keep him comfortable. He has leaned Billy back, padding the log he rests against as best he can with jungle foliage and one of their vests. Now that he knows Billy is bleeding internally he's afraid to give him water; his fuzzy brain is able to remember that water could make the Scot worse. He doesn't see how much worse it could get, but it's not a fate he wants to tempt
Rick keeps the fire burning all day. It's their best, last hope of discovery, one way or the other. At least, this is what he tells himself. In truth, he's glad to have something to do. The fire keeps him occupied when he's not looking after Billy. He holds onto the stubborn belief that it will be the ODS that finds them first.
His concussion dogs him, eating at his thought processes, reducing his world to a simple series of actions. Check Billy, tend the fire, wait. He sips water from time to time, carefully rationing it. He doesn't want to leave Billy any second longer than he has to, not even for a few minutes to get water.
Mostly, he sits and listens for signs of any approaching bodies, his chest tight with apprehension. The stress keeps him awake and mostly alert, even as his head threatens to shatter into tiny fragments from the splitting pain. His thoughts may splinter and fall apart, but he doesn't lose focus, doesn't lose sight of what he's about.
That's why he still hears the helicopter from a great distance away. But it's there. It's there, and it's so goddamned beautiful that Rick is convinced he's never heard a more welcome sound. He hears the sound of far off gunfire, and it buoys Rick's hope even as it sinks his heart. Gunfire means that whoever is shooting at the helicopter isn't happy about its presence, not like how Rick is. This definitely suggests it's an American bird, and that could mean ODS. They're coming.
"Did you hear me, Billy? I said they're coming!"
Rick lays his hand on the back of the Scot's neck and gives him a gentle squeeze, afraid to jostle him. Billy's eyes crack open, trying and failing to track Rick for several long moments. Finally, he blinks and he manages to weakly focus on the younger operative, and the Scot smiles.
There's something so happy, so fond, so accepting in Billy's expression that Rick freezes in his tracks. His heart stops cold.
"Damn it, Billy, don't you do this," Rick warns. "Don't give up now. Not when they're so close!"
If Billy hears Rick's entreaties, he ignores them. "Looks – like you'll – be out of here soon – " he gasps. "Just – a little longer."
"That's right," Rick agrees, nodding his head frantically. "Just a little longer. You just need to hang on, okay Billy?"
Billy's smile turns sad. "I'm so sorry," he whispers.
And then he's gone.
At least, he looks dead. It's the first thing that crosses Rick's mind.
I failed him.
His heart chokes in his chest and his mind starts to whirl. He reaches out but he's scared to check for a pulse.
It can't be. Not after all this. Not Billy.
He's so numb that it takes him several agonizing seconds before it registers that Billy has a pulse. It's weak and thready, but it's still there, under his fingertips. Billy is still alive. He puts his ear close to Billy's chest, and picks up barely discernible breaths. The relief rushes in so fast on Rick that it's dizzying. Now that their salvation is at hand, Rick's body is finally starting to shut down on him. Things are buzzing and shuttering like a slow film, and an inky blackness is starting to creep in on the edges of his vision. His brain and mouth feel stuffed with cotton. In some distant part of himself, he knows he should be surprised he's held out this long. And as much he wants to hold onto consciousness, it's a thin thread and it's slipping right through his fingers.
"Hold on a little bit longer, Billy," he whispers with numb lips. He's unable to follow his own instructions, and everything goes dark.
There's a hand, roughly tapping his cheek. There's a buzzing in his ears that slowly coalesces into a voice hissing in his ear.
"Wake up, Martinez!"
Rick obeys, eyes flying open in alarm. He's flat on the ground, a dark shape directly above him is blocking out the sun. It's a person, and as Rick blinks himself into awareness the silhouette takes a familiar form.
He squints woozily. Michael is staring down at him.
"You with me?" Michael holds Rick's gaze for another second before looking off to the side at someone. "How's Billy?"
"Alive," comes a grim voice. "But barely. We need to move. Now."
They're here. They're rescued.
He wasn't aware he'd said it aloud, but Michael's attention is focused back on him again. "Not yet," he tells him. "But just about. Can you stand? We don't have much time." Michael is already up on his feet, and he's reaching down and grabbing Rick by his good arm. The older operative hauls him to his feet like he weighs nothing at all. Once he's standing, Rick actually does feel like he's made of nothing, thin as air. He feels disembodied, strangely unconnected to anything going around him. He barely feels Michael shoving at the small of his back, trying to urge Rick on, prodding him as gently as possible. His voice is low and constant in his ears, and sometimes the younger operative manages to tune in and follow the steady stream of words.
"…landed near the riverbank. You got close enough, just a couple miles…"
"…saw the smoke from the crash site…led us here…good job…"
Things fade out to a distant hum after that. He is only marginally aware of the moving greens of the forest as he stumbles forward on legs he does not feel. He sees Michael and Casey carrying Billy on a stretcher, and he feels deaf and dumb as he drunkenly staggers alongside them. He's not sure how long he can carry on, but he doesn't say anything. He doesn't want to distract away from Billy, not when they're so close to getting him the help he needs.
There's the sound of gunfire somewhere off in the distance, and then there's sudden commotion. Michael appears out of nowhere, standing in front of Rick and gripping him by the shoulders. The older operative's mouth is moving, and Rick finds that he has to concentrate much harder than he should to discern what's being said.
"Did you hear me? Rick?" Michael is asking, searching Rick's face for signs of life. "I need you to take Casey's half of the stretcher. I'm sorry to make you do this, but we have to move!"
"Now, Martinez! Move!" Casey's there without warning, pushing at Rick with barely contained impatience. "Get going and I'll cover you!"
Feeling like a puppet, Rick allows himself to be pushed, pulled, and prodded over to the stretcher where Billy lies. Rick's bending over and wrapping his wooden hands around the stretcher's handles without thought.
It's when he moves to lift the stretcher that he remembers his broken wrist. Stars explode in his vision again, and Rick thinks dimly how often that seems to be happening to him since this whole mission went south so spectacularly.
It's his last coherent thought before he straightens and all reason flees him completely.
The pace is as quick as can be managed, and Rick is spurred on by adrenalin. He's sure it's the only thing keeping him going, and he refuses to look down at his left arm as he holds up his end of the stretcher. Neither does he look down at the burden he and Michael share. Billy lies slack on the stretcher between them, Rick bringing up the rear at Billy's feet. To the best of Rick's haphazard recollection, they haven't stopped to check to see if Billy's alive since they started out. He swallows back the bile building in his throat and presses forward.
Billy simply has to be alive. There's no other acceptable option in this proposition. It's the only outcome they'll allow.
The light of day is starting to dwindle. Soon, it will begin to darken into twilight. They have to get to that chopper before that happens.
There's a sound to their right, and suddenly Casey is back with them. There's blood splattered on his shirt, a bright spot of it drying on his neck. He makes a motion for them to follow him, and they allow him to take the lead. The operative leads them behind suitable cover and squats down.
"There's more coming," he hisses at Michael and Rick, face calm. "I can take them, but I'm going to draw them away from you. Stay here until that happens, but get ready to run."
"What about you?" Rick asks. He doesn't like the idea of them splitting up, but his tongue is too thick and heavy to articulate his concern.
Casey regards him blankly for a moment, taking everything in with his evaluating stare but giving nothing back.
"I," the Human Weapon responds evenly, "am going to take care of this problem, and then I'll meet up with you shortly."
"I said shortly, Martinez," Casey says sternly. "And I mean it. I only need three minutes, and I'll be moving faster than the two of you can carrying Billy."
"Just be careful, Casey," Michael says, and Casey looks disdainfully at their leader.
"Did you hit your head, too?" he asks. "Don't worry about it."
But Rick does worry. He has a feeling that there's more than Casey's letting on. He's never been successful at reading the taciturn operative, but he's never worn this expression before, either. There's a hardness to Malick's face, a tightness around his mouth and eyes that suggests there is something he's holding back. There must be more people after them than he's letting on. Casey got a glimpse of just how many and now he's back to warn them before he goes and risks getting himself killed for them.
Rick looks up at Michael, and knows that he's thinking along the same lines.
"No," their leader says with a singular, firm shake of his head. "I won't let you throw yourself on your sword."
Casey glares. "Billy doesn't have the time for us to sit around and argue about this."
Michael is implacable. "Billy," he returns, "would be the first to argue you on this until he's blue in the face."
"He's already blue in the face, Michael," Casey hisses, stepping closer. "If we don't get him to the chopper in exactly five minutes ago he's not going to make it."
Michael opens his mouth, but Casey throws a hand out without warning, silencing him. The operative motions for them to crouch to the ground, and they do. Moments later, the sound of someone approaching can be heard. Whoever it is, they're not concerned about being heard. They are running, crashing through the brush.
An instant later someone bursts upon their location, tumbling out of the bushes in a panicked lurch of limbs. Michael, Casey, and Rick draw their guns, but it's Rick who relaxes first.
"David," he whispers harshly, tucking his gun away for the moment. He looks around, but there doesn't seem to be anyone else with him. "What are you doing?"
"They're coming," David pants, winded. He sidesteps away from Casey and Michael, a little fearful. "Soldiers."
"Guerrillas," Casey agrees, voice low. "We are seriously outmanned and outgunned here, Michael. We have. To go."
Rick hears it now: the sound of voices shouting, the occasional gunfire. They're close, and getting closer.
"You need to get out of here, David," Rick grabs the boy by his elbow and shoves him back. David stumbles backwards a step or two, but doesn't move to leave. "Go! Now!"
"No," David pleads. "You don't understand. My brother," he nods in the direction of the approaching soldiers. "He leads them. He'll listen to me; I can turn them away."
Rick blinks slowly at this revelation. "Why are you helping us?" he asks the kid. He can't stop himself from forming the question, from letting it leave his lips.
The kid looks at him with wide, bright eyes, older and younger than the age of eleven.
"You already said why."
Then the kid is off and running, yelling and screeching like a banshee.
"Brother! Brother! They went this way! West, they went west!"
Without a word, Casey gently moves Rick away from the stretcher and resumes carrying his share of the load. Michael follows suit, and Rick follows as they resume their escape with their precious cargo, running east in a straight, inexorable line.
Rick has no memory of much beyond the act of running. It's his only purpose, the only objective he has to meet. He doesn't feel much of his extremities, which he's sure is a blessing in many ways, but he manages to keep himself from falling flat on his face. He scrambles over fallen trees, pushes back tree limbs that reach and try to slap his face, and through it all keeps a firm grip on his gun.
He's sure he's long since reached the limits of his endurance. He has no idea how far they've come, or how close they are to the helicopter. He can't lift his head and look around to check, because lifting his head and looking around are actions that are extraneous to running. He only has enough strength left in him to keep this choppy, forward motion going, and he isn't even sure how long that will last. He isn't sure of much anymore.
They make it to the riverbank, and it's wide and empty except for the waiting chopper. Rick collapses within twenty paces of it.
He doesn't feel someone turn him over onto his back. He blinks, and there's motion around him. He can barely see what's happening. The sky is getting darker, or maybe his vision is dimming. He can't bring himself to decide which it is.
In the air, Rick hears strange things. Words, sounds. Distant and chirping, barking and near.
"…Not breathing on his own…administering oxygen…"
"Chest tube – "
Nothing to do with him. He closes his eyes.
There's a hand on him, he can feel that much, but the funny thing is that Rick can't feel just exactly what part of him the hand is touching. There's a strange taste in his mouth.
When he told his mother that he was accepted into the CIA, her immediate response was to burst into tears and clutch him to her chest.
"Mi bebe," she cried, hugging him tight, and for just the briefest moment Rick wasn't sure if she was crying because she was happy.
"Not a baby," Rick mutters, swatting feebly at the air. He feels…different, somehow. He's aching, sure, but it's remote, almost not a part of him. He's flat on his back, not on the hard ground, not in the air, but in…where?
He puzzles over it, confused, until he hears a snicker.
"Right," a voice says. "Happy we've established that. You're not a baby."
Rick opens his eyes with a surprising amount of ease. "Casey?" It's brighter than he expected, and he has to squint a little bit, but when his eyes adjust he sees Malick standing beside the bed, looking somewhere between amused and disapproving.
"You're finally awake."
Michael appears next to Casey, looking down at Rick. "Welcome back, Martinez."
"Back?" Rick blinks fuzzily. "Am I in a hospital?"
"You are, and have been for over a week."
"A week?" Rick is shocked, and he looks back and forth between his teammates, who watch his reaction patiently. "I've been here a week?" Repeating it doesn't seem to help; he still can't believe how much time has passed. "What happened?"
"You crashed in the chopper," Casey explains bluntly. "Apparently it was a hematoma. You had a bleed in your brain. They put you in a coma for a few days to monitor it. They brought you out of it yesterday, and you've been in and out but this is the first time you've made some kind of sense." He glares down at Rick. "Though I'm not sure that's saying much."
Rick can only stare at Casey in shock. "That's the most you've ever said to me," is all he can think of to say in reply, and Michael does something extraordinary as soon as the words are out of his mouth.
Casey shrugs, nonplussed, and steps back, revealing Billy in the neighboring bed. Rick gasps.
The Scot is sitting up in bed, propped by pillows with the head of the hospital bed elevated. He looks tired and pale, but much improved than the last time Rick saw him.
"Hello, lad," Billy tells him, solemn and sincere. "It's good to see you awake. It was a near thing for you."
Rick looks at Billy, a little speechless, before turning back to Michael and Casey, unsure of what to say next. For some reason, he doesn't want to talk about that right now. He doesn't have the full scope, but he gets the picture. It was bad.
"How did you know where to find us?" he settles on asking.
At this, a small smile tugs on the corner of Michael's mouth. "You left us a pretty clear sign, Martinez."
Now it's Billy's turn to appear to be at a loss. His gaze travels amongst his three teammates, waiting for an explanation. "Well?" he prods. "By all means, don't leave me in the dark, here."
Michael's eyes don't leave Rick as he answers, a tinge of pride in his voice and expression. "Rick fixed the compass point in the plane consul in the direction you were heading. Could have easily missed it, too, if he hadn't pointed the pilot's index finger at it." He breaks off his gaze and looks over at Billy. "From there, we followed that direction. When we were sure that your trail was getting fresher, we radioed in for the chopper." He shrugs. "The rest is history."
Rick swallows at the mention of Julian. Dazed as he was, he barely remembers breaking the glass of the compass and fixing the needle in a single, crucial direction. It was an afterthought that made him manipulate Julian's fingers on the hand resting in his lap, making him subtly point at the message he'd left for his teammates.
"You did good, Rick." Michael tells him, and Rick looks up to see his leader reach down and clasp him by the shoulder. "The doctor says that you're going to be getting out of here soon, now that you're awake. Your concussion is manageable now, they say. And your wrist should heal up fine. Billy's going home tomorrow, they don't think he's going to suffer any permanent damage." He looks over at the Scot with a wry fondness. "They're going to want to keep an eye on his heart for any severe arrhythmia, but other than that he came out of that lightning strike quite lucky. He needed surgery on his lung, and he's probably off of field work for awhile, but other than that he's okay." He smiles knowingly. "Thanks to you."
Rick feels a sharp pang of guilt, nonetheless. He looks over at Billy with remorse.
"Billy," he begins. "About your ribs – "
"Not this again," Billy cuts in, rolling his eyes. "Honestly, mate. You really must have whacked your head hard. You're repeating yourself. You've already tried to apologize, and I keep telling you that I would rather be sore than dead."
"But your lung-"
"Martinez," Casey interrupts flatly. "You fell. Out of the sky. Don't you think that had something to do with Billy's injuries? He could just have easily collapsed a lung without your help. You saved his life, end of story. Just accept that you salvaged the mission and move on. Although I'm going to hold you accountable for the countless illegible forms and paperwork Higgins is going to make us resubmit as a result of Billy's impending desk duty. His writing is like a second grader's."
Billy looks offended. "Casey Malick," he says, petulant. "I'm deeply wounded by your unfounded accusations."
If Casey has a response, Rick doesn't hear it. His eyes are already getting too heavy for him to resist closing them. He lets them slide shut without a fight. The last thing he hears before falling under the pull of sleep is Casey's smirking voice.
"I think the kid'll live."
Five weeks as an ODS member, and Rick can already tell when a mission is about to go to hell. Fortunately for him, he also knows that there is always a Plan B, a back door, a team member to rely on. In his case, his team members are ODS. That makes him confident that things are under control, that they've got his back. Now, he knows that his team can say the same about him.
That feels pretty good.