A/N: So it's finally here.
I want to apologize for the unnecessary delay cause by a busted internet connection and give you with a much longer chapter than you will ever see from me. I hope you guys enjoy.
A/N 2: I've gone through this fic several times and after multiple edits, I still feel like I could do better. I'm happy with the storyline but I think the writing could use more refinement. But, it's been too long, so I'm just going to tell myself that I've tried my best. If there are painful truths I need to hear, let me know.
I think I'll have this thing beta'd from the next chapter.
Billy could easily remember the last time he'd held a rifle in his hand, sitting high in a tree, watching and dreading, as Michael and Casey were forcefully knelt on the wet leaves...
He blinked, cleared his head and looked around. Time was running out and he needed a plan.
Rick Martinez was used to taking orders from Michael. He was their leader after all. He was even comfortable with taking orders from Casey who, although rougher around the edges than Dorset, commanded a lot of respect. But, Billy? He was a whole different story. The man was mischievous, childish at times and was far more audacious than the rest of them. So when the imposing command buzzed over the earwig, he was more than just surprised.
"Martinez, keep your eyes down. I think Michael's got a shooter on the roof."
There was a dull thud as Dorset jumped off the table and made for the staircase to the roof. Casey stepped out of the truck inconspicuously and looped the camera from the passenger seat around his neck. He thought about that morning, when he had made a sweep with Billy and how he'd been called a redneck.
"Casey, cover his secondary exit, give me twenty."
Rick scanned the streets again, his eyes met Billy's and he turned away hopefully to give the rest of the street a once over.
Billy counted the seconds in his head as he moved towards Rick, a half-baked idea taking form.
Martinez watched the approach with obvious apprehension and Billy's steps faltered slightly.
"Work with me here, lad," he whispered and immediately grabbed Rick by the collar and shook him back and forth making it a point to look as angry as possible.
"How dare you, you high and mighty little bastard?" he yelled, his face contorted in an expression of genuine fury.
"I... but... you," Rick stuttered, stupefied at the scene unfolding before him.
"How could you do this to me? Do you think this is some kind of joke, man?"
Billy wondered if Rick had even understood what 'work with me' meant, because the operative looked honestly petrified and it was off-putting.
Casey stood at the bottom of the flight of concrete stairs, ears straining as he listened to Billy's exchange with Rick. His fists clenched and he inhaled. His rapidly beating heart rushed oxygen to his brain and adrenaline coursed through his veins. He wondered if the sniper had silenced his weapon. Would he hear it if a shot was fired? Would they have to take a corpse home today? His thoughts were muffled by the blood roaring past his ears.
Rick could see the roof of the opposite building from the corner of his eye, but he kept his attention on Billy, who for the most part, was shouting and spraying spittle in his face.
"I'm sorry, mate," Billy said under his breath, pushing him against the wall and drawing back his fist, ready to punch the smaller man square in the face.
Michael didn't expect things to go this badly. Spooking the man had never been part of the plan, but one look had confirmed his suspicion. It wasn't Adil.
The sniper was dressed in a khaki outfit and the checkered scarf around his face obscured his features. He was relatively fair with a rather old scar across his forehead and the little fingers on both his hands were missing.
Dorset barely had time to take a step as the man spun away, fired a random shot in Rick's general direction then dropped the rifle and ran for the outdoor roof access. Michael didn't know whether to chase after the guy or check on Billy and Rick but he gave it only a moment of thought before he grabbed the abandoned weapon and ran back the way he had come.
The impact was bone-jarring and Billy saw a fine spray of blood spatter Rick's face before his shoulder flared into bursts of white hot pain. The projectile embedded itself in the mortar behind Martinez and bits of broken plaster and concrete were dispersed into the air. Rick's eyes shut instinctively and he wondered if Billy's shoulder really had just had a hole torn right through it. The shock threw the taller man off balance and he slammed into Martinez who was crushed violently against the wall. There was an almost elastic snap in Rick's chest as the air was knocked out of him and he lifted his head to his partner's face. Billy looked completely stunned, eyes wide as he staggered backwards and crumpled to the ground. Rick sucked in several harsh breaths before he realized he wouldn't make it to his unconscious friend and he slid down the wall onto the dusty pavement.
When Casey threw out his fist at the escaping shooter, the man never saw it coming.
Michael was the first to reach them.
Billy was lying in the street, unconscious with a pool of blood slowly spreading under his right arm. He looked like a rag doll that had been crudely tossed away by a negligent child and it made his heart beat painfully in his chest. Rick, on the other hand, was seated with his back pressed into the structure behind him, arms around his chest and a dismal look clouding his face. He appeared to have suffered no external injuries but his demeanor conveyed a sort of dreaded calm before a violent storm.
The two men from the café came over as Michael knelt next to Billy and Rick spoke to them in Arabic, pausing frequently as his breath hitched in rapid bursts. From the snatches of conversation, he understood something about the police and a military operation but his attention was fixated on the casualty on the ground.
Casey managed to use the distraction to drag his zip-tied captive to the truck and throw him into the back before covering him with a sheet of old, gray tarp. He then came back and after an affirmative nod from Michael, went for Martinez. He used his shoulder to press up against Rick's underarm and pulled him away from the wall.
"What happened?" he interrupted, turning away as he caught a glimpse of the bullet hole behind them.
Martinez waved his free hand at him, as if holding two separate dialogues would be tiring and kept speaking to the men with him, effectively leaving Casey to look around for any other necessary damage-control.
The sound of annoyed, broken conversation reached Billy and his eyes fluttered open, a gasp escaping his lips. His left hand instinctively grabbed at his injured right arm and held it close to his body.
Sweaty fingers pressed against his neck and Michael's head swam into view.
"Well, that was an unexpected turn of events," Billy said slowly, a pained smile turning his lips.
"Feel like standing?" Michael asked with a small grin as he eyed the dazed Scot's bleeding shoulder.
Billy thought about the question but changed the subject, "Rick?"
Michael cocked his head in the direction of the voices and Billy turned his head. Rick was leaning against Casey, his hands gesturing as he spoke. Casey was subtly using his fingertips to pry the deformed bullet from the hole in the wall while giving more and more of his energy to holding up his partner.
"Was he hit?" Billy asked looking back at Michael, "He doesn't look very good."
"No. Casey's got him," Michael replied cryptically, "Can you stand? We need to get out of here."
This time, Billy nodded, "And Adil?" he asked, carefully levering himself upward.
"It wasn't him," Michael said as he came around Billy and took him by his good arm, "But, Casey's got the shooter in the truck."
He used one hand to steady Billy's injured shoulder, wrapped the other around his torso and pulled him up. Collins blinked rapidly to clear his vision as everything tilted sideways and held on to Michael.
"Ready?" Michael asked before looking ahead to give Casey and Rick a quick glance.
They had managed to talk the two guys into walking away and were now heading to their vehicle. Rick looked like he'd fall over if it weren't for Casey, who wasn't struggling as much as he did during the few times he'd had Billy drooped over him.
Dorset took a powerful hold over Billy who nodded slowly, then used his foot to pull dirt over the blood on the ground and stamped it down. Hopefully, the blackened sand would go unnoticed.
The trek to the car was physically sapping. Michael helped Billy into the front passenger seat, pulled the seat belt under his arm, clipped it in place and then took the driver's seat. In the rearview mirror he saw Rick, slumped over, looking tired and white as a sheet as Casey pushed him into the back and sat next to him. He looked at Billy again, watching blood very slowly soak into the upholstery and patted him on the thigh. He wasn't going to be hypovolemic for a while and somehow, he needed more reassurance than he could give right now.
"How fast can you get to the base?" Casey asked as he took Rick's wrist and felt his pulse.
"Forty five minutes…fifty, tops?" Michael said, testing the question.
Billy had to make an effort to look in the rear view mirror and his eyes fell on Rick.
"You doing okay back there, lad?" he asked as he fumbled with the glove box and tugged on the first-aid kit.
Rick looked up at Billy, his breath hitched painfully and he shook his head, mouth opening uselessly as shaky fingers pointed at his aching chest.
"Martinez?" Michael asked as he turned the key in the ignition, "Casey, what the hell's wrong with him?"
"I don't know," Casey said as he turned towards Martinez and pushed him into a supine position. He wedged himself into an uncomfortable crouch in the leg space behind the front passenger seat and pulled away Rick's blazer. He rolled it up, tucked it under his head, and then efficiently undid the buttons on his shirt. With gentle hands and great skill, he began palpating Rick's bruised chest.
Collins was using his teeth to pry open a pack of gauze when Casey made Rick shout out. Michael almost lost control of the car and a softly muttered 'Jesus' floated from the back.
Collins stuck the gauze to his bleeding shoulder and made an attempt to turn around. The kit tipped precariously on his thigh and it took a weak balancing act to prevent it from spilling all over the floor.
"What's going on back there, Casey?" Dorset asked pushing Billy back into his seat and patting him on the thigh, again. This would have been so awkward if the situation wasn't so dire, he thought stupidly.
Casey looked grim, "He's got a couple of broken ribs but, from the way he's breathing I can't tell if it's just the pain or a pneumothorax."
"I didn't think I landed that hard?" Billy said, looking as contrite as the pain would allow. He once again used his teeth to strong arm an entire stack of cotton pads from their shrink-wrapping and stuffed it into his shirt, his hand coming back wet with fresh blood.
Rick, who was mostly floating in a world of pain and misery, fruitlessly wondered if that was the reason Billy had crooked lower incisors. That or all those Curly Wurly bars he ate on long stakeouts.
Martinez now needed to actually make an effort to fill his lungs and he could feel the pressure of the air uselessly building up in his chest cavity. His breath caught in his throat when he inhaled and he grabbed at Casey's arm.
"Michael…" Casey began pressing warm, panicked fingers to Rick's carotid, "Hurry!"
Billy was using the rearview mirror to keep an eye on the backseat and when Casey began rooting around in his pocket, he knew what was coming.
Casey removed his Swiss Army knife and then looked around the back, eyes searching wildly.
"Casey…?" Michael intoned, watching him with eagle eyes.
"Casey, what do you need?" Billy asked quickly, his eyes darting to a worried Michael's face.
"I need a hollow tube… something to get the air out of his pleural cavity," Casey said without paying much attention as he fished around under the seat.
His words were all Billy needed before he looped his functioning arm under his own seat and brought out an empty, plastic ice latte cup. He wedged it between his thighs and tugged out the large straw.
"What about this?" he asked holding it up.
Casey grabbed at it, "Anything better?" he asked wishing he didn't have to keep making Billy do stuff for him.
He looked into the rearview mirror, his eyes meeting Michael's and he knew they were both thinking the same thing: they should have just let Billy drive.
Billy was a sacrificial sort of guy. He lacked a certain coldness that they possessed. Coldness the job required of them. God knows he had mentioned it more times than they cared to count. He went back for a fallen colleague no matter how vain he knew his attempts would be. He occasionally helped strangers with their shopping and rescued stray animals. Puppies, kittens, even a wayward rabbit, once. It was in his nature and as much as they hated that part of him, he made them better… different. And Rick, who was so much like him, needed that, if nothing else.
"There's nothing in the kit," Collins said looking at Michael hopefully, tired eyes pleading for help.
He was using the seat to put pressure on the entry wound to stem the bleeding but his lower legs were already numb and the tips of his fingers were going cold.
"Do I pull over? You can… you can drive… can't you?" Michael stuttered out as he patted Billy's thigh again. He was starting to worry about the energy his injured colleague was expending in his effort to help Rick.
"NO! No… keep going," Billy instructed quickly gritting his teeth as they hit a rock on the dirt track. He grabbed his duffel bag from near his feet and dug around inside. Having played a power company employee on one of their earlier missions, he knew he could find something for Rick's current situation.
His hands produced a roll of electrical cable and handed it back to Casey who looked mildly annoyed.
"Have you really lost that much blood, Billy?" Casey asked, genuinely confused. Rick's lips and nail beds were starting to turn a very unappealing shade of blue and he was making unnerving, hollow noises with his constricted throat.
"Hang on," Billy said before he leaned back and handed him a pair of wire cutters, "If you pull out the wires inside, it'll work, won't it?"
Casey was quiet for a moment, thought processes on overdrive as he considered his options.
"Well? Won't it?" Billy pressed, worried eyes glancing at Michael.
"Get me some water and the isopropyl alcohol!" Casey ordered, turning to Rick and positioning him on his side with as little jarring as possible.
Michael's foot unnecessarily pressed down on the accelerator as Casey explained to a semi-conscious Rick that he was going to cut into his side, just below the third rib and that it was going to hurt like hell and that if he moved, things could go downhill very, very fast. As he spoke, he stripped a small length of cable to find enough leverage to tug at the three separate wires inside. The muscles in his arms strained as he worked and he made some nonsensical attempt at reassurances, then in a very non-Casey fashion; he apologized for the pain he was about to cause. Rick tried to look attentive and Michael wished asking him to suck on a morphine lollipop was an option because Collins certainly wasn't about to voluntarily send himself into painless catatonia and he really needed someone to not be in constant agony.
The fact that Billy shuddered when Rick screamed was not a good sign and Casey mumbled comforting words to the teary eyed, panting mess that Martinez was. He looked exhausted. He actually looked like he would continue to scream if he had any more energy to do so.
Michael's shoulders drooped in relief when the sound of air hissing out of the hollow cable reached him and Casey placed the tube into a half-empty bottle of water. A minute later, Rick was greedily gulping down short mouthfuls of precious oxygen and Michael looked over at Billy with a grin.
"We're almost there," he said partly to himself and he was rewarded with a weak, lopsided smile.
"Michael, you might want to call ahead, let them know we're coming?" Casey offered as he used insulating tape to secure the life-saving tube at both ends.
Michael patted Billy on the thigh for the last time. He was starting to lean sideways now, glassy eyes fixed on a fly that was repeatedly slamming itself into the windshield and Michael wondered how much blood his partner had lost. He began to wonder, as he always did, if he could have done something different.
Billy would call it 'rubbish'. That sensible-Billy who lived real life and believed in good and bad and everything gray in between. He had to make sure Billy made it, so he could tell him exactly how scatterbrained he was being at that absolutely inauspicious moment.
And if that wasn't motivation, Michael didn't know what was, he decided as he floored the accelerator and picked up the satellite phone.
The base hospital was a stark, white building studded with plain windows, nestled in the furthest corner of the base. The security was tight and the three watch towers around it were all manned. There were four entrances that Michael could see and two of them were emergency bays.
As per his instructions, doctors, nurses, orderlies and two gurneys were waiting for them.
Michael managed to get out from behind the wheel, but his train of thought hit a cliff after that and he stood motionless as the hospital staff worked. Rick needed more time and care, but in his stable condition, they could afford the delay. Billy on the other hand was pale and unresponsive, except for the slight twitch when his ear was pinched.
Casey ordered a soldier to take the prisoner under the tarp to a holding cell and wait for instructions, and then watched as his teammates were rushed inside.
Casey moved over to Michael's side after a few seconds, "Do you want to wait inside while I get the truck out of the way?"
Michael nodded, "Yeah I'll be inside," he said before walking away solemnly.
Casey joined Michael outside the curtained trauma rooms, exhausted and too weak to find a place to sit down as the much needed adrenaline began to wear off. Slowly, the ache began to seep into over-worked muscles and over-stressed bones.
Beyond the curtains, medical jargon filled the air and nurses hurried in and out carrying necessary supplies.
Michael watched the organized chaos around them and when a nurse came out of Billy's area, he stepped in front of her.
"What's going on with my men?" he asked simply.
"Sir, you need to let me pass," the nurse insisted calmly, "The doctor will be out to see you soon."
Casey found the explanation acceptable and pulled Michael aside.
"We have to figure out what the hell happened to Adil," he insisted under his breath.
To anyone else, the detachment may have seemed cold and uncaring, but Michael understood Casey's need to keep his head in the game. He couldn't afford to lose focus because he knew that depending on a team really did take away from his one hundred percent. It was, however, a price he was willing to pay.
They didn't have to wait long before a tall doctor with salt and pepper hair and a tanned complexion exited the curtained area. He smiled at them, gave a few quick instructions to the nurse with him and came over. Behind him, the bed with Rick in it was wheeled out and the sound of monitors beeping assaulted their ears.
"Rick?" Michael called, distracted as Casey's hand gripped his arm.
"How are they?" Casey asked curtly as he looked at the man's name tag. It read 'Dr. Khalil Mahdi' and Casey correctly guessed he was a local.
The doctor nodded, "Mr. Martinez did indeed have a tension pneumothorax as you deduced. We inserted a fresh chest tube and he's being taken to surgery as we speak to have the damage repaired."
The doctor looked at Casey, "Your makeshift chest tube may have just saved his life."
Casey nodded, grateful for the assurance.
"And Billy?" Michael asked watching the curtain of the other trauma room.
"The gunshot wound to his shoulder fractured his clavicle and scapula and caused some internal bleeding. His condition is stable and I'm having an orthopedic specialist take a look. He might need surgery to repair any muscle damage but I assure you that both your friends are going to be just fine."
The sag in Michael's shoulder straightened a little. As weird as it was, for the ODS, this was good news.
Thank God, it wasn't Billy's shooting arm, he thought idiotically.
After Billy was also wheeled away and the sounds of packets of blood and saline thwacking together had faded, Michael and Casey found the energy to walk backwards into two plastic chairs set against an empty wall. They sat in silence for a long time before Casey finally broke through it.
"Are you going to update Higgins?"
"I should. I just don't know how to, without getting his blood pressure up," Michael replied with mild consternation. Everything that could possibly go wrong today had already gone wrong. He was not looking forward to hearing Higgins rip him a new one. Not on his own, anyway.
"Just call him," Casey said, sounding exasperated, "We can go talk to our friend in holding after that."
He held up a hand when Michael turned to him with a frown, "I know, I know. But, Billy and Rick are going to be in surgery a while. Besides, we've been in enough base hospitals to know that even intensive care is off limits."
Michael eventually gave in and stood. His brain was finally starting to function normally. The mission was still salvageable and as long as that was the case, completing it was a possibility.
"I'm going to call Higgins. Then, we get something to eat," Michael said before turning away.
Casey's lips turned into a faint smile as he watched Michael leave to find a phone.