Title: Friendly Fire
Genre: Angst, H/C
Characters: Rick-centric, team.
Rating:T for blood.
A/N:Huge thanks both to Faye Dartmouth for encouraging this fic and helping with the end, and to Penless for the beta! Remaining mistakes are my own.
Summary: One bullet. One unlucky hit. One mistake. And suddenly Rick's world is caving in around him...
"Turn left! Left up ahead!" Rick shouted, leaning forward over the dashboard, then ducking as shots rang out, one pinging off the glass of the windshield and sending out a spiderweb of cracks.
"Yes, I know; I can see him," Billy replied, jerking the steering wheel hard and making Rick lurch to the side.
"He's getting away," Rick protested, flinching as another shot echoed and went wide. "And right, into that alley!"
"I can still see that, lad. Now pipe down. While your input is normally treasured, for comedic value if naught else, I don't need the backseat driving in the middle of a chase," Billy grumbled, pressing down hard on the accelerator and gunning the old sedan's feeble engine. Normally the ODS opted for larger SUVs (black being the preferred color), or rentals with at least 6 cylinders, but in a pinch, this had been the first car Billy had managed to hotwire.
"Well, maybe if you let me drive for a change," Rick muttered, bracing himself as Billy took a sharp right that made the tires squeal.
Billy sighed in exasperation. "Are you still sore about that?"
"You've been giving me lessons! You know I'm ready for tactical driving–"
"Yes, yes, you're getting much better, but now is neither the time nor place for this discussion," Billy snapped, weaving between two dumpsters and wincing as one of the side mirrors scraped off with a loud clunk. "Next time, a'right?"
Rick scowled, then braced himself against the dashboard, eyes widening. "Woah, woah, right again; he's slowing down!"
The brakes screeched and Billy swung them to the right, the car drifting dangerously and missing the edge of a building by a hair's breadth. As they came to a stop behind the car their quarry had just vacated, Rick let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
"He's going to try to lose us in there," Billy said with a nod to the old hotel they'd pulled up alongside, unbuckling his seatbelt and opening his door.
Rick couldn't make out the words on the sign nailed up over the boarded-up doors, but if he had to hazard a guess they probably meant 'condemned.' Climbing out of the passenger side, he heard the click of Billy checking his ammunition and looked over at his fellow operative.
"Sorensen's armed, dangerous, and utterly barmy," Billy remarked, checking his backup clip. "He won't hesitate to shoot you, lad, so make sure he doesn't get the chance."
"What about taking him in?" Rick asked as they jogged toward the doors; someone had pried the boards off one of them, and Sorensen must've slipped through ahead of them.
Billy's expression darkened. "I reckon that ship sailed when he shot the ambassador, don't you?"
Rick swallowed, then nodded before slipping through the door into the musty dark of the hotel, gun raised.
The silence was eerie, broken only by the groaning of old and unsteady architecture, and the skittering of what Rick really hoped weren't rats. The air was heavy and dark, and the gloom nearly impenetrable.
"Now would be a good time to turn your torch on," Billy whispered to him.
"My–? Oh!" The dark concealed Rick's embarrassment; at least, until he pressed the button on his watch that made the face light up like a flashlight. It wasn't exactly James Bond-level tech, but he had to admit it was a handy feature. Billy pulled a thin flashlight, the rough size of a thick pen, from inside of his jacket, and they now had two beacons to cut through the inky blackness of the abandoned building.
"Any idea which way he went?" Rick asked, keeping his voice low.
Billy turned and looked around, casting his light across the lobby. There were footprints in the grime and dust, but more than one set – squatters, Rick guessed – and it was hard to tell with all the dust they'd kicked up just by entering which were freshest. "None whatsoever," Billy replied grimly. "But he can't have gone far. You take the hall to the left, I'll go right. We'll work our way through then go up to the second floor, aye?"
Rick nodded. "Okay."
Billy glanced over at him, then grinned and winked. "Happy hunting, lad. Whoever tags the bugger first pays for drinks when this is all over."
Then Billy was taking off down the hallway to the right of the dilapidated reception desk, leaving Rick to take the left.
Happy hunting, indeed.
When Rick had been eight, his brothers had dared him to go into a haunted house. Or at least, they'd said it was haunted. Really, it had just been a property that the bank had foreclosed on and then forgot about as it fell into bleak disrepair. But the neighborhood children had made up all kinds of stories about it, and eventually he'd been coaxed into braving the gloomy old house on the threat that he'd be called chicken if he didn't. Despite his childhood fears, there were no ghosts. But the floorboards had rotted through, dropping him into the basement with a mis-step, resulting in a sprained ankle, a broken arm, and several visits to the school guidance counselor to help him deal with his 'trauma'. His mother had been furious, and a chain-link fence had been put up around the house a month later.
The abandoned hotel reminded him of that damn house. Recalling the terror he'd felt as a little boy, alone in the dark, Rick swallowed and forced himself to get a grip. It was just an old building, and he was a grown man and a trained CIA operative. There was nothing here that could hurt him.
Well, except for the insane political activist-turned-terrorist that was somewhere in the building and packing heat, he reminded himself. But aside from Sorenson, nothing at all. Snorting, he tightened his hold on his gun, angling his wrist to cast a beam of light into a doorway before leaning in and checking the room.
Most of the doors on the first floor had been bolted and chained shut, so he didn't have too many places to check. The second floor, however, had the old and empty guestrooms, which proved tedious to clear. He was sure that at any minute, Sorenson would leap out from a closet and lunge at him with guns blazing. The thought put his nerves on end, and with each room that he cleared, he became increasingly certain that Sorenson would be hiding in the next.
The man was 'utterly barmy', as Billy had put it. He'd snapped, and had done so with maximum violence, gunning down a political official in the middle of the street. But he wasn't stupid, despite it all. Smart and crazy was a bad combination, as Michael had remarked before they're gotten a hit on Sorenson's location and launched into hot pursuit. Smart and crazy and armed was an even worse one.
Rick had become aware around the fifth room that having a bright light strapped to his person was probably not the best idea. A glowing target on his chest would have about the same effect, he mused morbidly, heart rate quickening at the realization. Torn between being lit up to be shot at and fumbling blindly in the dark, he prepared to open the door to the next room.
Then, he heard a creak.
Rick's heart leapt up into his mouth. He quickly hit the button on his watch that plunged him back into darkness, fighting to keep his breathing quiet. Up ahead there was a turn in the corridor, where moonlight filtered in through a bank of filthy windows. Inching forward, he hoped that Sorenson wouldn't hear the frantic beating of his heart; it seemed as though it ought to be deafening at this volume.
Another creak, this one closer. Rick tightened his grip on his gun, using both hands now, trying to ignore the sweatiness of his palms.
"He won't hesitate to shoot you, lad, so make sure he doesn't get the chance."
Turning the corner would be a moment of truth; Sorenson had a gun. Rick had a gun. It would be a simple matter of who was quicker on the draw to determine who walked away and who left in a body bag. Swallowing hard, Rick braced himself, taking one final deep breath –
Then turned the corner and pulled the trigger, the gunshot impossibly loud as it shattered the quiet. He hadn't hesitated. Hadn't left a split second in which Sorenson could shoot back.
And it had only taken that split second for Rick to realize in horror what he'd just done.
Because it wasn't Sorenson.
Billy staggered a step back into one of the shafts of moonlight, staring down at the dark spot on blood on his chest as it rapidly expanded and spilled down his shirtfront.
"Oh," he murmured in surprise. He looked up at Rick, his expression dumbfounded. "Good shot, lad."
Then Billy crumbled to the ground and Rick felt like he was falling as the world crashed in.
He'd shot Billy.
The gun slipped from Rick's hands.
He'd shot Billy.
He ran to where Billy had fallen, somehow forcing his feet to move awkwardly despite the feeling that his legs had turned to lead.
He'd shot Billy.
And now Billy was on the ground, lying on the dusty carpet as blood welled up from wounds Rickhad put in him.
"Oh god," he heard himself saying. "Oh god, oh god, oh my god. Billy, I, I'm so sorry, I thought..." He trailed off as his throat closed up. This couldn't be happening. This wasn't happening. He hadn't just done this, it was just a nightmare, and any minute now he'd wake up–
"Good lord, lad, I knew you were a bit miffed about me not letting you drive, but did you really have to kill me over it?" Billy asked with a shudder. His legs were twisted to the side but his shoulders were both flat on the ground, leaving him facing up, slightly curled in on himself around the pain. The blood–
There was already so much blood. Rick stared at it for a moment, numb with horror. Then, some part of his brain that wasn't too overcome with the magnitude of his mistake kicked into gear, and he peeled his jacket off, bunching it up and then pressing it against the wound in Billy's chest.
Billy groaned, eyes screwing shut and teeth clenching even as his back arched in pain, a response to the agony Rick was no doubt causing him with the pressure. As if he hadn't already done enough hurt, he noted, eyes burning. But he wasn't going to let Billy bleed out. Billy wasn't going to die. Billy couldn't die.
Because Rick wouldn't be able to live with himself if he'd killed Billy.
"I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry," he rambled, pushing down and feeling tears spring to his eyes as Billy writhed beneath him. "I thought you were Sorenson, I–"
"You shot first, just like I told you," Billy hissed, his breath coming in short, shallow pants. "If I'd been Sorenson, you'd be buying drinks right now."
"But you aren't. And I shot you," Rick replied, feeling Billy's blood beginning to soak through the fabric.
"Bad luck," Billy answered, trying to smile, only to have his breath hitch as his whole body shook. "Bloody hell, Martinez, when did you get to be such a damn good marksman?"
Rick wanted to howl and cry and beg for absolution. But it wouldn't do Billy any good, he knew, so he did the next best thing: "I'm gonna call for help," Rick announced, pulling one hand away from the jacket to reach for his cell, trying not to pay too much attention to the slickness covering his fingers.
"Good... plan..." Billy managed, trembling in earnest now. "Ambulance... will be good..." He convulsed and gasped, coughing wetly and groaning. "Mortician... might also be needed..."
Rick blanched. "No. Not gonna happen. Okay? You're–" he stopped as the other end of the line stopped ringing.
"You guys get Sorenson?"That was Michael.
Rick swallowed. "No. He got away. I–" He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, unable to make the confession. God, Casey and Michael would kill him. If Billy died because of Rick... they'd kill him. And he'd deserve it. "Billy's been shot. We need help."
Michael swore on the other end. "We're tracking your position now, Casey's gonna get an ambulance to you. How bad is it?"
Rick looked down at Billy, who was deathly pale in the gray light, dark blood flecking his lips as he coughed again, body bucking under the hand Rick still tried to hold pressure with. "Bad," Rick croaked. "Hurry."
He hung up, taking a deep breath to try to collect his wits. He took stock of the situation. Sorenson was probably long gone; the gunshot would have spooked him if he had gone to ground, and the odds of him circling back on his pursuit were unlikely. It was more probable that the madman was in the wind, not that Rick could bring himself to really give a damn about Sorenson anymore. Because Billy was in bad shape and going downhill fast. He was already expirating blood. His breathing was shallow and wet. That, combined with the central location of the wound, told Rick that the bullet had gone through one of Billy's lungs, which was now filling with blood. If he didn't bleed to death, he'd effectively drown.
All because Rick had been scared and shot first. A scared kid in the dark.
He put the phone down and began reapplying extra pressure to stem the bleeding, which pooled inexorably around his knees. "Bugger," Billy cursed, though this time he didn't writhe or twist under Rick's less-than-tender ministrations.
"Just hold on. Ambulance is on its way," Rick murmured, praying it would be soon enough.
Billy tried to say something, then coughed, gasping and choking for a moment before inhaling as deeply as he could. "Not your fault," he rasped.
Rick snorted, applying fresh pressure, ignoring the hot wet feeling of Billy's blood welling up through the cloth, trying not to register the coppery smell of it even as bile rose in the back of his throat. "I shot you. This is because of me. I'm not sure how it could be any more my fault."
Billy shook his head, looking up at Rick intently. "You did good. Sorenson... would've shot you. You were... quicker draw..."
"You didn't shoot me," Rick pointed out bitterly. Because right now, he almost wished Billy had. He'd take a whole clip of bullets through the chest if it meant undoing this nightmare.
"Like I said... quicker draw..." Billy smiled faintly but then broke off in a small cry, convulsing.
Rick's stomach turned and he felt tears of shame and guilt running down his cheeks. "I'm sorry," he repeated for what felt like the hundredth time. Not that a hundred times would be enough. Not that it could ever be enough.
"Tell them... Sorenson shot me. Just tell them... not you. Just a mistake," Billy murmured, eyes beginning to glaze over as he turned his head and stared at a point beyond Rick's head. "Honest mistake..."
An honest mistake. That was true enough, but it didn't mean that it wasn't the biggest mistake of Rick's life, regardless of honesty. A mistake that would haunt him indefinitely. A mistake he would never escape. A mistake that might well have cost his friend's life.
Billy's breathing was even faster and shallower now, each desperate inhalation pulling less oxygen into his flooded lungs and each exhalation a damp, choking noise. But as his breathing quickened, his reactions slowed, gaze tracking sluggishly as his eyelids drifted closed.
"Hey. Hey, stay with me, okay?" Rick said, pushing down just a little harder on the wound.
Billy whimpered faintly, but didn't manage to look at him. Rick could still feel him trembling, but his body had gone mostly limp now, his expression relaxing from a rictus of pain to something calmer and far worse...
"Billy? Billy! Hang on, dammit, please, don't do this to me..." Please don't make me have murdered you.Rick was on the verge of sobs. This was beyond fear, beyond guilt; this was the kind of abject terror he hadn't experienced since he'd been a child. "Please," he pleaded, voice cracking. In the distance he thought he could hear sirens.
Billy opened his eyes slightly, blinking a few times before he managed to focus on Rick, lips parting.
Rick held his breath. Outside, the sirens were louder, but in the dusty corridor he made himself be silent, preparing for whatever jibe or wise remark or words of absolution Billy was about to impart.
But it never came. Billy's brow furrowed in mild confusion for a moment, then smoothed. With a small sigh, Billy's eyes closed and his head lolled to the side, a thin trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth.
"Billy?" Rick's voice wavered and he couldn't see, couldn't think, couldn't process anything around him anymore, the world sort of graying out around him save for the understanding that this was his doing, that he did this...
Then the EMTs were there, pushing him out of the way as they immediately set to checking Billy's vitals and loading him on a stretcher. One of the men asked him something in Danish,
but Rick only stared at him blankly. Somehow he wound up in an ambulance, perched in the corner with a scratchy gray blanket wrapped around him and watching helplessly as the paramedics fought to keep Billy alive and breathing.
As Billy fought to keep alive and breathing.
And all Rick could do was watch. And hope.
They rushed Billy to the hospital. Rick staggered out of the ambulance and tried to follow, but as the medics wheeled Billy's gurney toward the operating room several orderlies stepped in and halted Rick before he could go further. His protests were ignored, and he was subjected to a thorough and entirely unnecessary examination before it was eventually determined that none of the blood he was soaked in was actually his, at which point he was deposited in a waiting room and ignored.
After a while, a nurse who spoke English arrived, hands full of paperwork for Rick to fill out. He kindly offered Rick a simple blue shirt to replace his currently bloody one, and pointed him toward the nearest washroom. Rick numbly filled out all the paperwork, then, in a daze, stumbled to the bathroom.
He locked the door and peeled his blood-stained jacket and shirt off. There was nothing to be done about the trousers, which were still damp at the knees, but dark enough to conceal the obvious stains. Turning on the faucet, he began to rinse the blood from his hands. It was faded to brown now, dried and flaking. But it was still unmistakably blood.
Watching as the dark red washed away and swirled in the water before vanishing down the drain, he found himself wondering if he'd ever be able to wash that much blood out.
He wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting in the hospital. It felt like minutes; it felt like years. He couldn't think; he couldn't make his brain shut up. And every time he closed his eyes he could hear the echo of the gunshot and Billy saying 'Oh,' as he looked at the blood pouring down in chest in surprise...
Each time the door opened he looked up in a mixture of hope and fear - hope that it was the doctor with good news, and fear that the news might not be good. But when the door swung open this time, prompting Rick's head to snap upwards, it wasn't the doctors. Rick's stomach did a flip and his insides went cold. Michael and Casey had finally arrived.
"How is he?" Michael asked, immediately crossing the distance and dropping into the seat beside him.
Rick stared at his knees. "Still in surgery," he answered.
Casey was a few steps behind Michael and remained standing. "Sorry it took us a while to get here."
Rick nodded, finding his voice had left him.
"We got the sonofabitch," Michael offered gently. "Sorenson's been apprehended."
"Alive," Casey added bitterly. "Though not for lack of trying, I can promise you."
"Casey threw him out a window," Michael confirmed with a nod.
And Rick felt like he might throw up. Michael and Casey were still under the impression that Sorenson had shot Billy. And they'd thrown him out the window. If they knew...
"You okay?" Michael was frowning at him.
Rick shook his head.
Michael reached forward and gave Rick's shoulder a quick squeeze. "He'll pull through. Not the first time he's been shot. Heck, get him drunk sometime and he'll show you the scars he's got from Bangladesh."
Not the first time Billy had been shot. But probably the first time he'd been shot by a teammate. It wasn't the bad guys this time, or the dangers of the job – it had been Rick's own incompetence, and that was unforgivable.
And his team didn't know. They didn't know it was his fault and now they were here comfortinghim. If they knew how Billy had really gotten hurt, what Rick had done –
He should tell them. He knew he should tell them. It would come out eventually, one way or another. If Billy lived, Rick would never be able to look him in the eye again. If Billy didn't live...
He had to tell them. But in his head he could hear Billy's failing voice: Just tell them... not you. Just a mistake.
He needed to tell them.
He couldn't tell them.
Just a mistake.
Leaning forward, Rick buried his head in his hands. He wanted to curl up and disappear, to vanish entirely, to be invisible.
But instead of ignoring him or letting him be, Michael put a hand on his back. Rick tried to shrink away from the touch, but couldn't. "Hey. It's gonna be–"
"It was my fault," Rick blurted, goosebumps prickling at his flesh even as he said the words.
Michael hesitated. "Martinez, Sorenson was a maniac. Whatever he did, it's not–"
"We lost Sorenson," Rick interrupted. He felt suddenly as though he were somewhere far off, watching the scene unfold from a distance. His mouth was on autopilot, spilling words he meant but didn't want to say, didn't want to hear aloud. But he couldn't stop. "We split up. He said not to hesitate, to shoot first. I thought... I didn't know..."
He looked up at Michael, whose expression had suddenly filled with apprehension. Rick swallowed, making himself look his team leader in the eyes. "I shot him. I shot Billy."
Michael stared at him, and then the apprehension melted away and all that was left was a blank mask. Rick heard Casey inhale, and then there was a moment of horrible stillness in which he could have heard a pin drop. His insides in ropes, Rick closed his eyes and braced himself for the explosion of fury and loathing that he deserved.
It never came.
Seconds ticked past. Rick finally opened his eyes to find that Michael had soundlessly gotten to his feet and crossed out into the corridor where he was engaged in conversation with a nurse. Casey was nowhere to be seen.
He'd expected anger. He'd expected disgust. He'd anticipated Michael snarling at him to get out, or Casey taking a swing at him. He'd been ready for any of those things.
But he hadn't been prepared for this. For nothing.
In a way, it was actually worse.
Rick had been the new guy; the screw-up. And at every turn, his team had never hesitated to call him out on his blunders – to rub his face in his failure and to highlight his gaffs. One error after another, he'd learned to accustom himself to contempt and ridicule, even as the mistakes grew fewer and farther between.
But this was a mistake of incomparable proportions. And it apparently transcended words.
And even when Billy had been smirking and Michael had been rolling his eyes at him and Casey had been responding to his queries and slip-ups with beleaguered sighs, they had done so as his teammates, responding to him with taunting and teasing much like a set of older-brothers might. He'd been the new guy, but he'd been a part of the team.
They'd never treated him like a stranger.
He'd never screwed up this badly.
A voice in the back of his mind whispered that he should simply get up and leave. He wasn't wanted here; he'd done enough harm. There was no place for him on this team – not after what he did. Higgins would sack him and his career with the Agency would be over, though that honestly felt like the least and most distant of his worries at the moment. If Billy pulled through and woke up, Rick would be the last person he'd want to see. And if Billy didn't pull through... Well, he'd do best to start running now, though he had little doubt that Michael and Casey would find him. He didn't think he'd bother to even make it difficult for them.
But really, this was the last place he belonged now. The thought was brutal and made the breath catch in his chest, but he couldn't escape the truth of it. His teammates couldn't even bear to be in the same room as him. Hell, he couldn't blame them – he couldn't bear his own company either. Billy's blood was on his hands; no amount of washing or scrubbing would cleanse him of that burden.
He should just go.
The thought had somehow travelled from his brain to his legs and he found himself standing shakily, then moving toward the door.
He was almost there when a slender, blonde doctor blocked his path. "Mr. Mikkelsen?"
He stopped, blinking numbly at her as his brain hastily changed gears, screeching to a halt and then spinning its wheels uselessly as he struggled to remember the cover ID he'd given to the hospital staff on his arrival. He'd been numb and entirely on autopilot at that point, the whole thing now blurring in his mind. But Tom Mikkelsen had been his cover, he remembered. "Yes?" he replied, trying to repress the urge to make a mad dash for the door.
"I'm Dr. Lindholm," she said, her voice accented but mercifully speaking English. She looked at him with something that might have been concern. "I have you listed as Mr. Brandt's primary contact?"
Brandt. Mikkelsen. Those had been his and Billy's names, he reminded himself. Mr. Brandt meant...
Billy. "Yes. Is... is he...?" He swallowed. A doctor coming out to find him was either good or very, very bad.
"Mr. Brandt is still in surgery, but he is holding on so far," she answered gently. Then her brow creased. "The bullet... there was no exit wound. The shot ricocheted inside the ribs, so there is considerable trauma–"
Rick's mouth went dry. Internal ricochet. A single through and through would be bad enough. For Billy to even still be alive after a bullet tore through his insides, bouncing off bone and shredding organs...
"– We need you to sign this form authorizing the procedure to remove the kidney," she concluded, and Rick realized that he'd spent several seconds spacing out and missing her explanation.
He stared down at the clipboard in front of him. "This... this will save him?" He asked, looking back up at her.
She nodded. "We're doing everything we can. The damage to the kidney is too severe at this point to salvage it."
He looked back down, then picked the pen back up and scribbled Mikkelsen's signature, barely remembering not to scrawl his own name. The doctor nodded and offered an encouraging smile.
"Your friend is a fighter. And our surgical staff is very good. I'll have the nurses keep you updated as best I can, but for now, assume no news is good news."
Good news was a bit of a hard concept to process. Any news that involved Billy still being in a hospital because Rick had shot him and the bullet had bounced around inside of him like a goddamn pinballdidn't seem like it had any business being called 'good.' But Rick nodded and thanked her and then found himself sagging back against the doorframe once she'd left, all his motivation to leave vanishing with an awful weariness settling in its place.
It was nearly dawn when a nurse arrived and explained in halting English that Billy was out of surgery, and Rick could see him.
Rick had immediately looked toward Michael, but the other operative didn't return eye contact.
It was Michael who ought to be visiting Billy. Michael and Casey, who deserved to see him, to be there with him. But Rick's attempts to explain this to the nurse somehow failed to penetrate the language barrier. She kept shaking her head and pointing to the admission paperwork, which only had Rick's name on it. Eventually, hanging his head in guilt and feeling Michael's eyes on the back of his head, Rick gave in and followed her.
He didn't remember getting to the ICU – the white halls all sort of blurred together – but then the nurse was pulling a curtain back and offering him a chair and then he was sitting next to Billy.
He stared at his friend. Billy had survived the extensive surgery, but he looked more dead than alive; his face was gray and pale, lips colorless, a bit of yellow tape standing out garishly against the corner of his mouth where it held the breathing tube in place. A machine nearby whirred as it pumped air into Billy's punctured lungs, a small tube in his side draining the blood and fluid that kept trying to fill his shredded chest cavity. And Billy was still. So very still. A rusty stain remained on his cheek where blood had trickled from his mouth while Rick had pleaded with him to stay conscious, to hold on...Rick took a deep, shuddering breath, then reached forward and used a tissue from the box on the bedside table to rub the stain away.
He half expected Billy to scowl and swat his hand away, griping that he didn't need anyone nannying him. He wished it with every fiber of his being. But Billy remained unconscious and lifeless, a set of the tubes the only thing keeping him breathing; a series of electrodes all that confirmed his heart beat.
One unlucky hit.
That was all it had taken. And it was all because of Rick. A hapless combination of eagerness and fear and ineptitude, and Billy had nearly died for it.
It was too much. And once again, Rick was a scared kid with the world collapsing out from under him.
And Rick ran.
He wasn't sure how long he ran for. He somehow got out of the hospital, bolting down a stairwell and out a maintenance door. Then he'd been out on the street, feet pounding against the asphalt as he'd simply ran, with no intention, no direction...
He ran until the cold morning air stung in his lungs as he could no longer breathe. Ran until the muscles in his legs burned. Ran until he was almost senseless, collapsing on a bench in a small park.
Around him the city had begun to awaken, the sounds of traffic encroaching on the quiet of the dawn, though he could barely hear it over the thrumming of his own heartbeat in his ears. He wanted to keep running. To the ends of the earth. But he was tired and he'd been awake for hours upon hours and his body simply wasn't up to bearing any more. So instead he sank into the bench, trying not to shiver as the crisp air chilled the sweat on his skin.
All his life, Rick had wanted to be a spy. He'd worked hard to get there. Dedicated so much of his youth to mastering the necessary skills. And for what? Oh yes, he was rated in a wide variety of munitions, and sure, he spoke a dozen different languages, but at the end of the day, he didn't really have what it took. He didn't have the fortitude, the iron will, the instinctsof a spy. He was just a kid, playing at being a CIA agent. And he'd nearly killed a man now. A friend.
He sat there in the cold, watching the sky brighten and the city buzz to life as thousands of people woke and went on with their lives, completely unaware that Billy Collins was breathing through a tube and that Rick Martinez was the cause of it. Only those that glanced at a newspaper would know anything about Jorgen Sorenson.
But Rick knew. And Michael and Casey knew.
He thought about going back to the hotel where they'd dropped their bags. He could just wait there. But Billy's things were scattered around their hotel room, willy-nilly as usual, and he wasn't sure he could handle that any better than the hospital. He could get his bag and leave. And go where?Back to the States, where he'd have to resign in disgrace? Or anywhere else, where he'd probably get hunted down for being a rogue agent?
He'd made one bad choice. Now all he had were bad choices. It was oddly fitting, he reflected grimly.
And ultimately, his own exhausted body made the choice for him, as he curled up on the bench and succumbed to exhaustion right where he was.
"You're an idiot."
Rick groaned in response. He ached. He was cold and he was stiff and he was sore and someone was telling him he was an idiot.
Which, he realized as his eyes snapped open and he remembered the events of the last 24 hours, he was. Hell, 'idiot' didn't even begin to describe it...
He blinked and slowly sat up, trying to ignore the general achiness that had set in during his impromptu nap on a park bench. He felt chilled to the bone, though there was a jacket draped over him. Which was odd, since his own jacket was soaked in blood in a hospital trash can somewhere...
Casey glowered down at him from where he perched on the back of the bench.
Rick looked up at him and swallowed. He supposed he ought to have seen this coming. In a way, he'd rather hoped it would be Michael who would come after him, but he supposed it made more sense for it to be Casey. Casey'd be the one who'd have an easier time of it.
"How did you find me?" he asked, throat uncomfortably dry.
"Tracer in your watch and in your phone. Obviously," Casey retorted.
Rick nodded. That made sense. He sighed, wincing as he remembered what had happened to Sorenson when Casey had finally caught up with him. "Are you gonna throw me out a window too?" he asked glumly.
Casey gave him an odd look. "I've considered it. But considering we're outdoors and on the ground, finding sufficient elevation for the act of defenestrating you to be effective would really require more effort than it would be worth."
Rick blinked, struggling to make sense of this circuitous explanation.
"Besides, this team is down enough men already." Casey stared out into the distance, expression inscrutable. "Which is why your little stunt of running off and taking a nap in the cold makes you a complete and utter idiot."
Rick gaped at him. Something wasn't processing... Rick had shot Billy. He'd let down his team and nearly killed one of their own. Casey had every right to yell at him. Casey had every right to kill him. In fact, Rick had more or less expected it. But he hadn't expected to wake up to a lecture with Casey's jacket draped over him to keep him warm.
And as he watched the older operative, he found that the expression on Casey's face wasn't one of rage or hate. He looked tired.
"You're not gonna kill me?" he asked, not quite believing it despite the mounting evidence.
Casey snorted. "If I wanted you dead I'd leave you to your own devices, Martinez."
Rick sat up the rest of the way, pulling Casey's jacket over his shoulders and swinging his legs off the side of the bench to the ground. His gaze dropped to his feet. "Billy..." he swallowed. "It was an accident."
Casey chewed on the inside of his cheek for a moment. "I know."
They sat in silence for a few seconds, neither of them looking at each other.
"We screw up, Martinez. We're spies. We're not gods; we're not infallible. And the nature of our jobs means that when we screw up, people get hurt. Good people. Sometimes our own people." Casey's shoulders sagged, making him looked smaller, older. "You'll rack up a body count in this job; that's a fact you should have already gotten used to. And some of them will be people who shouldn't have died. People who would have lived if you hadn't made one stupid mistake. The world isn't fair, so it happens. Sulking about it isn't going to change it."
Rick winced, though it was clear when he looked up and saw the haunted look in the other operative's eyes, that it wasn't Rick's mistake he was referring to. "How do you keep doing it then? Knowing you screwed up?"
Casey turned that stony gaze on him. "You do it so you don't screw up again. So that next time, the right people walk away."
Rick couldn't. He frowned. "So you just forget?"
"No." Casey pursed his lips. "You learn. You get better. Failure is an unfavorable outcome but it informs and motivates later success."
Rick hesitated. He wanted to believe him. Wanted to accept that he was somehow being absolved, that he was somehow still on the team. But the blankness on Michael's face – the way Casey had just vanished–
"And what if you shoot your teammate?" He asked in a small voice.
Casey looked at him.
"Then you get your sorry ass to the hospital where he's at, and you wait there so you can apologize to his face when he wakes up," the older operative finally said. "Now let's go before someone arrests you for loitering."
Rick blinked. It hadn't been what he expected. None of this conversation had been what he'd expected. He'd expected to be torn a new one, to be banished from the ranks of the ODS, to disappear ignominiously, his body never recovered.
He hadn't expected sympathy and understanding. Or at least, what sympathy Casey was apparently capable of mustering.
But then again, this was the ODS. They rarely did what was expected of them. They certainly hadn't been what Rick had expected when he'd joined up with the CIA. Missions never went as anticipated and their actions rarely held to the playbook. They were all about confounding the odds and taking people by surprise.
Last night, with hands drenched in blood as he applied pressure and waited for the ambulance, Rick hadn't expected Billy to live.
Standing up and nodding to Casey, he let Malick lead the way, reflecting that perhaps he could get used to the unexpected.
They took a taxi to the hotel, where Rick quickly washed up and changed, then proceeded to the hospital. This time, though anxious, Rick was at least coherent as he walked in, a few steps behind Casey (who at least appeared to know where he was headed).
It took some finagling to get into Billy's room; Michael had apparently been holding vigil the whole time and was still inside, and the nurse was reluctant to let anyone else in. Ultimately, a compromise was reached where Casey remained in the hall and Rick was permitted in the room.
Whatever bits of confidence he might have recovered, however, following Casey's tracks back to the hospital, dissipated the minute he squeezed through the door and carefully shut it behind him. The lights in the room were dim. The machines still whirred and beeped. Billy still lay motionless and lifeless in the bed, face waxy and a pale. Nothing had changed.
The only variation to the tableau from the last time Rick had been here was Michael; the team leader sat in a folding chair pulled up close to Billy's bedside, one hand resting on Billy's forearm. He was facing away from Rick, his posture slouching. When he didn't flinch or stir at Rick's entry, the younger operative wondered for a moment if Michael had perhaps dozed off. He was about to slip back into the hall, to tell Casey that perhaps they should come back later, when Michael's voice proved him wrong.
"You came back."
Rick swallowed, his mouth suddenly going dry. "Yeah," he answered feebly, guilty that his return had required Casey's intervention.
There was a long silence.
"I got the doc to talk to me while you were out. She says he's doing well. Barring infection, he should be okay." Michael's voice was weary and a bit hoarse as he spoke, but carried no recrimination that Rick could discern.
Which didn't mean it wasn't there. Rick looked down at his shoes, unsure of what to say. If there was much to say at all. "That's good."
Silence descended again, punctuated only by the steady beep of Billy's heart monitor.
"I'm sorry." It came out as barely more than a whisper, but it was the only thing Rick had to offer any more. "I'm so sorry."
The words hung on the air, then Michael finally shifted, turning to look at Rick. Like Casey, there was no anger, no loathing. The lines around his mouth had deepened and there was a pained, drawn look to his expression. And it might have been a trick of the light, but his eyes looked red and glassy.
Rick wanted to look away, but he couldn't. Sooner or later he would have to face Michael, he knew. He'd already flinched and run away once. Bracing himself, he met his team leader's gaze.
And Michael smiled sadly. "You and me both, kid," he answered, before turning to look back at Billy. "You and me both."
Rick knew they meant well.
His team had every right to shut him out, to ban him from even seeing Billy, to bury him in well-deserved blame. But they hadn't. Or they'd done their best not to. Casey had given him the pep-talk in the park and Michael had offered him sad smiles and they'd both insisted on him taking his own time to sit at Billy's bedside. It was more kindness than he warranted.
But though they meant to forgive him, he knew, the quality of their mercy was somewhat strained. Casey had been markedly reticent since their lone conversation, and often sat in silence, staring at the wall and humming tunelessly to the headphones he wore near-constantly. Though once, when Rick walked by, he noted that the cord had slipped from the jack and Casey hadn't appeared to notice.
Michael made an effort, but it was clearly taxing. Often times Rick sensed that his team leader was avoiding looking him in the eyes. He looked haggard, and sometimes Rick overheard him arguing with Langley on the phone in the corridor.
This time, when he came back in he offered a gruff smile that never quite reached his eyes. "We're approved to stay out here a while longer."
Rick looked up. "Higgins is okay with it?" He'd been fretting about the duration of the mission; they were supposed to be back in the States a day ago, but with Billy...
Casey snorted from the corner. "You at least managed to shoot Billy in a country with free emergency medical care. It's cheaper to put us up here for an extra week or two than it would be to foot the medical bills in the States."
Rick flinched at the reminder of what he'd done, swallowing and trying not to dwell on that fact that it was the most Casey had said to him in days. "What's the prognosis at this point?" His understanding of time had gone a bit wobbly, but he was pretty sure it had been days now.
Michael rubbed at his tired eyes. "It's good, actually. No infection, and no post-op complications. They're gonna start turning down some of his meds so he ought to be waking up sometime soon."
It was good news. Rick sank back into his chair, nodding. Good news.
But when it was his turn to sit with Billy, he felt an aching emptiness in his chest. Billy looked better; he was still pale, hair greasy from going days unwashed, stubble thick and lips chapped, but they'd taken the ventilator out, replacing it with a nasal cannula of oxygen. Before, he'd looked dead. Now, with his breathing a bit wheezing, but even-rhythmed and powered by his own lungs, he just looked asleep.
Good news. Billy was going to be okay.
Rick just wondered if he ever would be.
He and Casey got the call from Michael in the middle of the night; Billy had woken up.
They got to the hospital as quickly as possible, nearly running through the halls. When they got to Billy's room, Michael opened the door with the first genuine smile Rick had seen on his face since the start of the mission.
In the bed, Billy was propped up slightly on pillows, blinking sleepily at them and then grinning broadly. "They gave me morphine!"
Casey made a snerking noise and Rick relaxed a bit. It was good to see Billy, alive and awake. It was a stark contrast form how he'd looked in the hotel, limp and bleeding, face gray in the moonlight with dark blood flecking his lips...
"Yes, yes they did," Michael agreed with Billy. "Quite a lot."
Billy beamed, then looked lazily back over at Casey and Rick. Then his eyes widened a little. "Rick!"
Rick went stiff, suddenly wishing he could melt into the wall as Michael raised an eyebrow and Casey glanced blankly from Billy to him.
"Don't worry, Rick!" Billy reassured him gleefully. "I dinnae tell a soul about you shootin' me!" He made a move to tap the side of his nose with his finger, only to miss and inadvertently poke himself in the eye.
Casey snorted and Michael chuckled. Rick turned red. "So glad that secret's still under wraps," he mumbled, thankful at least that he had come clean prior to what might have been an even more awkward moment.
"Honest mistake," Billy continued, oblivious, smiling broadly. "Could've happened to any bloke. Also, they gave me morphine!"
Michael smiled. Casey relaxed. Billy rambled on half-nonsensically. And Rick took a step back and took it all in.
He'd shot his team-mate; his friend. It had been an accident and had nearly cost a life. But here, in the end, everything had turned out all right. Billy was alive and recovering. Rick's team hadn't rejected him. Everything was going to be okay.
Except that it wasn't. Because it wasn't okay. And even if everyone smiled and laughed and tried to forget about the whole thing, Rick would know.He'd know what he did. What he might have done.
And where he knew he ought to have felt happiness and relief and camaraderie, he found that he only felt hollow.
Billy got better. The first few times he regained consciousness, he generally only stayed awake for five to ten minutes before his morphine drip sent him back under, but eventually the doctors reduced his dosage and he grew more alert by increments. Michael made calls to Langley and Higgins and Fay – calls to arrange for Billy's continued medical care in the states, calls for transportation home, and calls to let everyone know the good news that Billy was slated for a full recovery.
Rick made calls of his own when he slipped out into the hall. Calls to Adele. Calls to HR. Calls that were even harder than the fraught silences in the waiting room had been in the days before.
Eventually, they were all back in Billy's hospital room, while the Scot bemoaned the inferior quality of the jello he'd been provided with.
Rick sat quietly in the corner, looking at his hands.
"It lacks any sort of cohesion," Billy griped, stabbing a plastic spoon woefully into the little paper cup. "It's less gelatinous, and more of a sort of toxically-colored soup! What sins have I committed that they punish me with such a tragically disappointing dessert?"
"Would you rather they be feeding you through a tube?" Michael asked with a quirked brow.
Billy scowled. "I rather they actually feed me edible food," he returned.
"Oh, quit your whining. Remember that time we had nothing but broth for a week in Algeria?" Casey said, the corner of his mouth twitching in what might have been a smile.
"I'm resigning," Rick said.
"At least broth is supposedto be soupy–" Billy stopped, then blinked. "Wait, what?"
And then all eyes were on Rick.
He swallowed, but his heart remained in his mouth. He felt absolutely queasy, but he'd made his decision. This was how it had to be. The only way it would be okay. "I've talked it through with HR. They're drawing up the paperwork. It'll be ready when we get back – it only needs signing," he explained, staring at the foot of Billy's bed so he wouldn't have to make eye contact.
Silence lingered for a few moments.
"Are you out of your mind?" Casey finally demanded, a slight edge to his voice.
Michael pressed his lips together. "Martinez..."
Rick shook his head. "When I joined the ODS, you taught me some things about trust. About how important it was in the agency. In this team. We all need to be able to trust each other completely. To be able to know we've got each other's backs."
He squeezed his eyes closed, then opened them and looked up. Casey was frowning. Michael's brow was furrowed in thoughtful concern. Billy's mouth hung slightly open, parted lips stained vaguely green by the offending jello. Rick took another breath, then continued: "You need to be able to trust me. But I can't ask you to do that anymore. Not when..." He wet his lips, scuffing his foot against the linoleum as he looked back down. "Not when I can't even trust myself anymore. I have no business being in the field after jeopardizing a fellow operative that severely."
The pronouncement was met with more silence. Rick bit his lip. He'd planned this far, but not much past this point. He had the sudden desire to sprint out the door and take off down the hall again.
Then Casey spoke: "I thought we'd talked about this," he said in a dangerously low and quiet voice.
Rick met his gaze. "You said that failure is an unfavorable outcome, but that it informs later success. That we learn from our mistakes to keep them from happening again." The muscles in his jaw worked and he fought to keep his hands from fidgeting. "I'm learning from my mistake. And I'm keeping it from happening again."
"Sure, with you."Casey snorted, grimacing. "But what about the next green-behind-the-ears rookie Higgins slaps us with to fill your spot? He won't have learned his lesson the hard way, and when he does–"
"–I've only got the one kidney, left, mate," Billy supplied. "I reckon one lesson's enough."
Rick had walked into the room with resolve. He'd been determined. Sure. But now he began to feel that resolve waver as he looked from one teammate to the other...
"We can forgive a lot of stupidity, Martinez," Michael said. "The only thing that's unforgivable is abandoning your team."
Rick felt the cracks in his resolve spider outwards, weakening it – shattering it.
He hung his head. "I... I can't..."
"We've all screwed up," Billy offered.
"Often more than once," Casey begrudgingly added.
"Yeah, and at least you didn't screw up badly enough to get kicked out of a country or anything," Michael remarked. "So far Billy's the only one who's managed to step in it that badly, and we still keep him around."
"Oi! Still in the room, here!"
"And let's face it, all of us have contemplated shooting Billy at some point or another," Casey noted wryly.
"Now you're just being mean," Billy sulked, folding his arms across his chest with a wince and lying back on his pillows. "I'm the bloody victim, here..."
"And hey, at least you shot him by accident," Michael said, grinning at Casey.
Casey's smirk vanished. "I thought we were done bringing that up?"
Michael winked at Rick, then rolled up his pant leg to reveal a faded, star-shaped scar on his lower calf. "Casey and I were in the ODS together for a grand total of three missions before he shot me."
Rick gaped. "Wait... he shot you?"
"On purpose," Michael confirmed with a wicked grin.
"It was a tactical necessity!" Casey protested. "Given our position, there was no other method–"
"On purpose," Michael repeated, rolling his pants back down. "And if the ODS didn't sack him–"
"You're making me reconsider the advantages of only shooting you in the leg," Casey grumbled, though there was a certain affection to his orneriness.
Rick stifled a smile, then hesitated as a more somber thought emerged. "I still don't trust myself."
Michael raised an eyebrow. "But you trust us?"
Rick paused, considering it.
His first day on the job, his team had tricked him into giving intelligence to the Russians, then had blackmailed him. His fourth day, they'd drugged him and left him to be captured by the enemy. He'd been conned into kidnapping a man and breaking countless laws, foreign and domestic, all because of the ODS.
And yet, he trusted them. Because Billy had always had his back and known the right words to say to soothe his nerves. Because Casey had irately gone toe-to-toe with the Russians to try to get him out of lockup. Because Michael had run miles through the dead of night to get him a doctor when Rick was dying.
He trusted his team with his life.
"Yeah," he finally said with a nod. "I do."
"More the fool you," Billy muttered beneath his breath, but Casey leaned back with a satisfied expression and Michael smiled gently.
"Good," Michael replied. "Then trust us to know that you belong on this team."
"If anyone's going to be able to put up with you and teach you to aim better, it's probably us," Casey added with a wry smirk.
"And really, you know us well enough to know we wouldn't let you off that easy," Michael finished with a wink.
Rick swallowed. "You guys are serious?"
Michael and Casey both nodded.
And Rick couldn't help it. He smiled.
"Now that we're done consoling young Rick and his fragile psyche, could we perhaps return to comforting the bloke who's in a hospital bed after being bloody well shot?" Billy demanded, scowling and pouting a bit in dejection.
Casey snorted. "Drama queen."
Billy's mouth fell open. "I never!"
"–Probably jumped in front of Martinez' gun on purpose, just for the attention–"
And as the teasing and haranguing resumed, Rick felt his smile widen until his cheeks hurt. Because maybe his trust in himself had been shaken. But his team's trust was unwavering. And if the ODS wasn't going to let him quit, well... who was Rick to fight it?
The resolve he'd had to leave had shattered and fallen to pieces.
He couldn't leave.
Because this was where he belonged.
Billy's recovery was a slow thing, but still steady in its progress.
By the end of the second week the doctors grudgingly authorized him to fly. He spent an additional week being monitored in an American hospital before being released, but with strict orders to stay out of the field. The paperwork for his extended medical leave proved surprisingly painless, and no one ever mentioned the now discarded paperwork for Rick's resignation.
Michael organized a few small missions that he and Casey and Rick executed in the interim. And when they got home, they'd stop by Billy's motel room to visit and catch him up on the stories and the office gossip. Though the Scot still got winded easily from the damage to his lungs, all the medical reports indicated that he was recovering ahead of schedule and that the doctors were highly optimistic about his return to duty.
Of course, this didn't stop Billy from taking full advantage of his injury.
"Martinez, be a good lad and fetch me another slice of pizza and a beer, aye?" Billy asked with a grin from the couch.
The four of them were sprawled across the motel room in front of the television, mocking a particularly bad action movie ("There's no way a blow to that region of the solar plexus wouldn't have incapacitated him," Casey had griped during a fight sequence, peeling the pepperoni off his pizza).
"Get it yourself, you don't even need the cane anymore," Rick had retorted, slouching comfortably into his chair.
Rick tore his eyes from the screen and looked over at Billy, who'd fixed him with a hurt and wide-eyed gaze.
"Martinez. Remember that time when you shot me?"
Michael snorted and Casey rolled his eyes. Rick blushed, then grumbled beneath his breath and stood up, making his way toward the kitchenette. "When exactly are you going to let me live this down?"
"I reckon we've got at least another year and a half to milk out of it," Billy replied gleefully.
"Terrific," Rick mumbled, opening the cooler and fishing around in the ice for a bottle. Not that he was actually as annoyed as he put on. It was all part of the act; the little play of jokes and jibes they put on for one another to make the truths less stark and vulnerable.
But the truth was Rick would fetch Billy his stupid beers for the rest of time, if Billy continued to stay alive to drink them. His gratitude remained profound, weeks after the fact, and he didn't think that would change any time soon. Billy had lived and had forgiven him. His team had forgiven him and let him stay. And Rick had let himself stay.
Not that he didn't still have moments of doubt. Some nights he woke up in a cold sweat, remembering Billy's ashen face and bloodied shirt. Some missions he found himself filled with terror that maybe this time would be the time he screwed up and had a corpse to show for it. Sometimes, he was still a scared kid in the dark.
He knew it would take time for that fear to subside. For him to gain control of it. Just as it would take time for Billy to recuperate from the loss of his kidney and the damage to his organs. But in time, they would both heal, and be back to full strength in the field. And if he was very fortunate, Rick supposed he might even find himself tempered and a better agent from the whole experience, as Casey had suggested.
Because Casey was right. Rick was motivated to be better.
And Michael was right. He could never be forgiven, or forgive himself, if he abandoned his team.
Especially not when they hadn't abandoned him.
Walking back over with a cold one and a fresh slice in hand, he looked over his teammates and smiled. This was his motivation to be better. To be stronger. To stay.
And as he settled comfortably back into his chair after handing Billy his food, Rick knew he wasn't going anywhere.