Title: An Indirect Proof (1/9)
Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.
A/N: I'm not sure why I wanted to write this, but LOL, I wrote it anyway. The basic premise is what if it wasn't Carson who went missing in North Africa three years ago? How would that change things? Much thanks to lena7142 for cheerleading this effort and to penless for her tireless beta work. I think there are nine parts to this story total, and it is completed. I will be posting hopefully every Thursday and Monday until it's up.
Spoilers: Heavy for the entire series. References to every ep.
Summary: Rick Martinez joins the CIA and meets the ODS: Michael Dorset, Casey Malick and Carson Simms.
THREE YEARS AGO – North Africa
Months of planning, years of intelligence, and it all came down to the last thirty minutes. They had one chance – make it or break it – and Michael wasn't prone to fear, but he was a paranoid bastard, so a healthy sense of what might go wrong was inevitable.
And there was a lot that could go wrong. No matter how much time they'd spent prepping for this mission, these last thirty minutes were really all that mattered. Salazar was poised to break onto the counterfeiting scene in a big way – if he escaped from this operation, his place would be cemented and bringing him down would be so much harder. Right now, they had everything they needed. With this bust they could catch his latest order of American bills, his printing press in production, and even the plates themselves.
Thirty minutes and Ernesto Salazar would go from the next big thing to the next convict behind bars.
Thirty minutes. One chance.
Needless to say, Michael wanted to be sure they did this right.
"We'll split up into two teams," Michael reminded them. They were pressed just outside the perimeter of Salazar's bunker, their designated safety point. If they were here in thirty minutes, they were home free. If they weren't…
Michael didn't need to go into what would happen if they weren't. His team was good. More than that, they were ready. Casey was primed and ready, positively anxious to move. Billy looked confident and good natured, inexplicably smiling despite the pending conflict. Carson was weary enough for all of them, signs of exhaustion and age showing on his face.
They didn't look like much, but Michael trusted them with his life. More than that, he trusted them with this mission.
"Carson," Michael said, because he'd known Carson the longest. They'd worked together in Cambodia on a mission that had both saved Michael's life and defined his career. There was no one he trusted more than Simms. "You take Billy, head straight to Salazar's office. We need him alive in order to have a good chance at bringing him to trial and dismantling the counterfeiting outfit worldwide."
Carson nodded, glancing briefly at Billy. The Scottish operative was the youngest and newest to the team, and his enthusiasm was still palpable. "Salazar is awash in criminal activity, but somehow I doubt he'll put up much of a fight," Billy said.
"A few downed guards and Salazar will cave," Casey agreed. "He's got a weak stomach."
"Well, I can hardly blame him," Billy said. "The sight of blood is far from my favorite thing."
"He's still dangerous," Carson interjected, ever the voice of weary reason. "So we need to focus."
Michael nodded. "Carson's right," he said. "That's why you two need to move quickly and apprehend Salazar while Casey and I get the plates."
It would be the more dangerous job, which was why Michael had taken it for himself. Salazar would be guarded but with the press in production, there would be men everywhere on the production line. Which was why he'd decided to take Casey with him this time. Usually he put Casey with Billy, not just because it drove the older operative crazy, but because even after three years Billy was still the new kid on the team, and it wasn't that Michael didn't trust him, but it was just that Michael didn't quite trust him.
Paranoid bastards were also overprotective and irrational sons of bitches, sometimes.
But Michael would need the backup. Besides, Carson was good with the kid. Taking down Salazar was not exactly an easy order, but it was definitely one they could handle.
"Once we have what we came for, we need to get out – and fast," Michael said.
"They're probably not going to be too happy," Casey said.
"You think?" Carson said sarcastically. "We might as well be talking about a suicide mission, these guys are going to be so trigger happy."
Billy waved his hand. "A little peril comes with the territory."
"This is more than a little peril," Carson said. "I did the background on these guys. They have firepower and they're not afraid to use it. Once they catch wind that they've been infiltrated, they'll use whatever force they think is necessary to keep us from getting out of there alive."
"And we'll use whatever force necessary to get back out," Casey said.
Michael sighed. They were all right, which really was the problem. "It's a dangerous mission," he agreed, eyeing each of his teammates carefully. "But if we don't do this, if we let Salazar get away, we may never get another chance."
Billy looked intent; Casey was focused.
Carson collected a breath, jaw tight. "It's a hell of a risk," he said, wavering more than he normally did. Carson was like that, though. He was the only one of them who had a shred of common sense, which also meant he was the only one who ever entertained the logical notion of walking away.
He was also, not coincidentally, the guy who was always getting outvoted.
Carson let out the breath, shaking his head. "We'd be a hell of a lot smarter just walking away."
It was true. But the ODS hadn't scored countless successful missions by being smart. They achieved such things by being thorough and doing the job that no one else would do. It was why Michael had taken all the risks into consideration and still planned the mission anyway.
And why his team would follow him. Not without question, not without hesitation, but follow him all the same.
Carson looked at Michael. He looked at Casey and Billy, and shrugged helplessly. "All right," he said, throwing his hands up in surrender.
Michael nodded. "Okay, then," he said. "Any other questions?"
"Just one," Casey said. "When do we go?"
Carson's face was grim but Billy's eyes were keen. Michael couldn't help it if he smiled. "How about now?"
"Excellent," Billy said, rubbing his hands together.
"Thirty minutes," Michael reminded him. "I need all of you back here in thirty minutes for extraction – no matter what."
"Will do, oh fearless leader," Billy said, grinning impishly.
"I'll make it in twenty," Casey promised.
"Thirty minutes," Carson repeated gravely.
"Then let's do this," Michael said, looking at Carson, at Casey, at Billy – one last time – before they headed in.
Michael didn't get very far before he realized that something was wrong.
Their approach was too easy; security was too lax. There were no guards in the hallway, no one to hide from as they made their way.
And it was quiet. An eerie stillness, not the controlled chaos he'd expected for a compound readying to pack up and move out.
It was making him nervous, and next to him, Casey was downright twitchy. "I thought the intel on this place said they were doing a major production today," he hissed as they moved through the barren corridors.
Jaw tight, Michael kept his gun up as they moved. "They should have just started," he said back, voice low as he pressed marginally closer to his teammate.
Casey inclined his head. "If you say so."
He did. But Michael was starting to think that might not mean anything at all.
As they reached the production room, Michael slowed them to a crawl. Despite the quiet in the halls, Michael mentally prepared himself for the possibility of confrontation. After all, with production going on, it was entirely possible that Salazar's men were mostly tied up. The hallways might be abandoned because everyone was in here.
Which would make their jobs so much harder.
With his back against the wall, Casey went wide to the far side of the door. For a moment, Michael stilled his breathing and listened.
Frowning, he glanced at Casey, who shrugged.
Michael shrugged back. They had a mission, and they couldn't turn back just because things had been too easy.
Eyes locked on Casey's again, he nodded. Once, twice—
And then they were moving. Michael led, kicking open the doors and toting his gun up. Casey came in hard behind him, armed with two weapons as they burst through, ready for—
Michael's heart was pounding and his breathing was heavy, the adrenaline pulsating through him. They had the right place – there was the printing press – but it wasn't running. There was no money being printed; there wasn't even money sitting around. There were no workers.
Michael's hair stood on end, and he swallowed hard against the gnawing uncertainty in his stomach. Casey moved forward, still cautious, touching the machine.
"It's cool," he said. He looked back toward Michael. "They haven't been used all day."
Which meant they were gone.
Which meant their intel had been wrong.
Michael's stomach twisted and he felt a little ill.
Or someone knew they were coming.
"Do you smell that?" Casey asked.
Michael frowned. He was about to say no when he did.
Eyes wide, Michael turned just in time to see one of the far offices explode, fire billowing out in wafts of smoke as the glass shattered and the room shook, almost throwing Michael and Casey to the ground. Even if he kept his feet, it didn't do him much good, not as the fresh fire licked at the surrounding walls, catching the drywalls and sparking in earnest.
And the entire mission literally went up in flames.
Michael's plan had been to leave Salazar's compound with the plates, the bills and the man himself.
As the flames took hold, though, Michael was just worried about getting his men out alive.
Turning hard, Michael didn't spare another glance to see if there was anything to salvage. The entire building reeked of a set up, and that was humiliating enough. The idea of losing one of his men—
Well, that idea wasn't acceptable. Intel or not intel, Michael would get his men out.
"Go," he said, prodding Casey hard and propelling him back toward the door. "Go!"
Casey, ever vigilant, didn't need to be prompted. He was already moving, one step ahead of Michael as they ran back the way they'd come. In the hallways, the smoke was already started to drift and Michael paused just long enough to turn and pull the heavy doors shut behind him. It wouldn't do much, but if it bought them a few minutes, it'd be worth it.
It clicked into place, and Michael looked back to Casey, who was holding his sleeve over his face. "What about Simms and Collins?" he asked.
Michael put his own sleeve up with a wince. "We can wind our way back around—"
He was going to say they'd wind their way back, move toward Salazar's office in an attempt to circumvent Carson and Billy. It was entirely possible that they were on a fool's errand, too, and Michael could only hope that Salazar's office hadn't been any more booby trapped than the production room. If it was, Carson and Billy might need the back up. Even if it wasn't, Michael would prefer to let his team know the building was on fire since there didn't seem to be any kind of fire alarm in place.
But before he could say anything like that, another explosion shook the room, sending Michael reeling. There was a flash of light and he was weightless before he hit something hard and everything went dark.
It smelled like a bonfire, like the ones on the camping trips his dad had taken him on when he was a kid. With hot dogs and beans in a can and marshmallows, tucked together beneath the stars before his dad had left.
Michael hadn't been young enough to be sentimental about that, but if the sound of a crackling fire reminded him of home, if he slept with his father's smoke-worn blanket, then that was just the way it was.
The problem was, though, that this wasn't a campfire. And his father was dead, and Michael had promised himself that no one else in his life would die – at least not for a lack of effort.
So Michael planned and controlled and—
Smoke. Fire. Salazar. The mission.
He opened his eyes, inhaling sharply and promptly coughing. For a minute, everything was skewed, a blur of orange flame and hazy smoke. He was on his side, half-buried under some loose rubble.
Above him the ceiling was cracked, a gaping hole to the upper floor. The walls were badly damaged, and Michael was severely disoriented as he tried to catch his breath.
Not that it did much good. There were missions that went wrong and then there were missions that went really wrong.
And then there were missions that literally blew up, leaving Michael and his operatives in one hell of a lurch.
Jolting up, Michael ignored the stab of pain in his side, radiating fully down his leg and up to his neck. His head throbbed, vision swimming as he gagged on the thick air again.
"Casey!" he called out, the words choked. He cleared his throat, squinting so he could see. "Casey!"
In response, the fire crackled and the structure above him groaned. Michael eyed it warily. It held, but he noted the way it was buckling. Without the wall to support it, the entire upper floor was at risk of caving in.
Michael had survived two explosions; he wasn't sure he wanted to risk a collapsed building, too. Especially not with Casey…
"Casey!" Michael yelled again, on his hands and knees now, groping blindly through the wreckage. Casey hadn't been far from him, and the force of the blast couldn't have carried him too far off. He had to be here. Somewhere close.
Michael's fingers scrabbled against the debris, cutting on something sharp. He hissed but pressed on. "Casey!"
The fire danced across the hallway, catching on one of the timbers that had fallen across not far ahead of them. Michael was running out of time…
Then – something gave. Something warm and soft and human.
"Casey," Michael said, running his hand up and feeling Casey's leg. Brushing debris out of the way, Michael uncovered the rest of Casey and got a good look at his teammate for the first time.
The human weapon was unconscious, face half covered in blood. There was a large gash somewhere near his hair line, dripping thick wetness everywhere. In the dimness and with the smoke, it was hard to tell just how serious it was, but if Casey wasn't awake and bitching at him to get moving, it was bad enough.
Michael paused, just for a moment. The mission was a wash, but Casey wasn't his only teammate. With the latest explosion, the rest of the compound was in jeopardy. And he had no way of knowing how Carson and Billy were faring.
The building shuddered and the ceiling above him groaned.
Carson and Billy were a concern, but Michael could only handle one concern at a time. And for now, that concern was Casey.
Gritting his teeth, Michael reached down and took Casey's arm. Fresh flames sparked above him, and Michael felt the heat as he pulled Casey into a sitting position. His side protested, but he ignored it, pulling Casey over his shoulders and getting to his feet.
For a second, he wobbled. His lungs burned and his skin felt singed. The path they had come was blocked now – obscured with smoke and the caved in wall – so he turned, pushing in the other direction and hoping for a lucky break for once.
Luck, whether Michael liked to admit it or not, tended to play a fairly large role in the success and failure of his missions. True, he'd memorized the specs of the building as best he could, had mapped out escape routes and the fastest escapes, but when the entire building was coming down and the smoke was so thick he could hardly breath, it was really luck that he found his way out at all.
Outside, he still had to run a few dozen yards before the air cleared enough to take in a strangled breath of fresh air. It made him hack, and he stumbled, Casey's weight still heavy on his shoulders. The heat pressed at his back, and he knew that weakness was not something he could indulge just yet.
Behind him, the fire roared, and Michael continued at a staggering pace. His lungs felt like they were being squeezed and his vision swam dangerously, his entire side almost numb with pain. He hardly felt it, though – he didn't have time to feel it. He had to get Casey clear.
With no regard for subterfuge anymore, Michael headed fast toward the closest checkpoint exit, which was unsurprisingly unmanned. His legs started to throb, the need for air strangely pressing even in the bright sunlight.
When he finally tripped, crashing to his knees, he let Casey topple gently from his shoulders to the roadside just outside the compound. For a moment, he focused on breathing, sucking greedily, though to little avail. Still, it was enough to clear his head just so, and he forced himself back to his feet to look back.
The fire had nearly engulfed the building now; smoke was billowing into the sky. That would get attention – and soon – and not likely from people who would take kindly to four CIA agents milling about in North Africa.
Four CIA agents.
Michael looked back to Casey. His eyes were still closed, face smudged with soot and blood, almost unrecognizable. But his chest was heaving, wheezing breaths that Michael could hear. He needed a hospital. Michael probably did, too.
He looked back at the raging fire. Billy and Carson were still back there. Maybe they'd escaped out a different exit; maybe they were working their way back to the rendezvous. Maybe…
Michael had to rely on luck more than he liked, but he rarely trusted his men's lives with it if he had the choice. Aching, sore, and gasping as he was, Michael still had a choice.
Leaving Casey wasn't ideal, but the place was abandoned and even if the authorities were on their way, Michael still had some time to double back and get him. Forcing his legs to move, he took a limping step forward, controlling a wince and gritting his teeth hard. The next step was easier, even if it hurt just as bad, and soon he was moving in a lopsided run. Not his fastest, but it had to be fast enough.
Even so, his vision was tunneling, and he vaguely wondered how badly he was hurt. At the checkpoint his head went light and he found himself bent over, hands on his knees. He shook his head, breathing hard through his nose. He had to do this. He had to.
Pushing himself up again, he started moving and almost ran right into someone.
The impact threw him off kilter, but hands caught him, propping him up. "Michael?"
Michael blinked, squinting up at the familiar face. Graying hair, weathered features. "Carson?"
"Yeah, man," Carson said, his face twisted in worry. "You're not looking so hot there, boss."
Michael grimaced, straightening. "The entire thing was a set up."
Carson's face was grave. "I know," he said. "Where's Casey?"
Michael nodded over his shoulder. "He took a hard hit to the head," he said. "I got him back there." Then he paused, realizing there was something missing. His mind was more sluggish than he thought because he hadn't noticed the glaring absence of Scottish brogue until now. "Billy?"
Carson paled even more.
Michael's shakiness turned to numbness. "Simms, where's Billy?" he asked, demanding it now, even if he knew the answer from the look in Carson's eyes, from the fact that the man was standing there in front of him. Alone.
Carson's face fell, eyes wet. "Michael—"
Michael's mind rebelled. It wasn't true. It wasn't. Collins was the new kid, prone to disaster and overly exuberant. He was a bit on the annoying side and far too overzealous for his own good. But he was a gifted spy. He was a worthy teammate. He was Michael's responsibility.
He shook his head.
Carson's mouth fell open and he took a ragged breath. "I…I couldn't do anything," he said. "I'm sorry."
Carson was apologizing. He looked wrecked and broken because he cared about Billy. Hell, he'd taken the kid under his wing from the moment he'd arrived from MI6. He'd shown the kid the ropes, been the kid's best friend, took the time with him when neither Michael or Casey knew how or were so inclined.
And Carson was apologizing. Which meant Michael was too late. Which meant—
"He's dead," Carson said finally, the words gruff and broken. "He went down on the other side of some debris. I tried to get him, I really did, but I couldn't – there was nothing I could do—"
Michael shook his head. He didn't doubt what Carson thought he saw, but Michael wouldn't believe it. Not until he saw the body, not until he felt for a pulse.
Pushing forward, he tried to move past Carson.
The older man put a hand on his arm. "Michael, it's too late—"
Michael shook him off. "I'm not leaving him in there," he shouted back, pushing himself forward valiantly with every ounce of strength he had. He would find Billy. He would bring him home. He would.
And then another explosion rocked him.
The force of the blast threw him off his feet, and he hit the pavement on his back, head knocking hard. He blinked dazedly, staring up as smoke and fire danced in his peripheral vision.
Then Carson was there, pulling him up. Michael wanted to protest, but he couldn't move. Couldn't do anything as Carson hauled him away. Could only watch while the roof caved in and the walls were consumed, the blazing fire consuming everything in its path, until there was nothing left.
Nothing left at all.