October 2011

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Thursday, September 8th, 2011 09:21 am
For notes, disclaimer, etc., see Part One

Time passes even more slowly once the sun goes down. Billy seems to have rallied, at least for the moment. His breathing doesn't sound as labored, though his fever is still high. Michael stopped checking the bruising on his stomach awhile ago; they already know it's bad and getting worse, and checking it every so often isn't going to change the fact that Michael can do nothing about it. Billy's not getting any better, but he's not getting any worse, and for the moment, that's enough. It's not what Michael wants, but it's enough.

Rick's dozed off again, trying to get some sleep before his turn for watch. Not that Michael plans on waking him any time soon — Rick might as well get some sleep since Michael won't be able to. The concussion and Billy's condition won't let him.

Casey slips in and out of sleep, though he's awake more often than not when Michael glances over. He's settled himself so that Billy's head and shoulders are propped up slightly in his lap, keeping one hand on Billy's forehead to hold the wet cloth in place and monitor his fever. He's spent most of the last hour staring blankly at the other side of the wall, deep in thought.

"Every minute that passes is a chance for sepsis to set in."

If he had more energy, Michael would have flinched in surprise at the sudden statement. As it is, he turns his head slightly to eye Casey, who's now looking at him tiredly. "If there's a bleed in his digestive tract, then he's probably been developing it for awhile," Michael replies, keeping his voice low to avoid waking Rick.

Casey grunts. "So even if we get rescued soon, his odds of making it are pretty low."

Michael tilts his head. "Somehow I doubt this surprises you."

"It doesn't," Casey says. He looks down at Billy. "It just… doesn't seem right. Not after everything. We didn't even get a chance to go on the mission."

Michael swallows. Casey's statement is straightforward, empty of emotion, but Michael knows that this, more than anything, is a strong indication of how much the situation is affecting Casey. Casey's usually deadpan and sarcastic, but there's always just a hint of his true feelings underneath to offset the acerbic nature of the majority of his statements, enough to clue his team into what he's really thinking about something. Casey's also stubborn as hell — he has to be to be in the ODS, it's practically a requirement now — and he's usually the last one to throw his chips in when a situation looks grim.

It's disconcerting to see Casey act like this. It's even more disconcerting for Michael to realize that he and Rick feel the same; that the entire team feels like it's inevitable that Billy's going to die. They've given up.

It's wrong, Michael realizes. Billy's not one to throw in the towel so easily, and if situations were reversed — if anyone else was lying unconscious with internal bleeding instead of Billy — Billy wouldn't let the team think anything less than the sure belief that everyone was going to pull through, battered and bruised and in need of hospital care, but alive.

Michael's got to stand by what he said before; he has to, if he wants this team — everyone on this team — to make it out of this cave still breathing.

"We're still on the same mission," he says firmly. "Every mission is the same mission — come back in one piece. The specifics might change, but that's always the same. Billy knows that as well as you do. As I do. He's not going to give up on the mission yet, so we shouldn't either."

Casey eyes him for a minute. "You ever give Higgins that speech? Because that doesn't exactly sound like a mission he'd sanction."

Michael laughs a little. "Since when have we ever cared what Higgins sanctions?"

"Point," Casey concedes with a nod.

"Besides," Michael adds, glancing at Billy, "I think it's a mission he's always agreed with, anyway, even if he won't admit it."

-o-

The rescue, when it comes, is so sudden that Michael's not entirely convinced it's real at first.

Rick is the first to notice someone approaching. He's standing watch at the mouth of the cave, keeping an eye on their surroundings as the first light of dawn creeps in through the trees, when suddenly he stiffens. "Guys," he whispers fiercely, jerking Michael out of a light doze. "I think someone's coming."

Michael stands, leaning against the cave wall for support when the movement causes him to lose his balance. He forces the feeling aside and moves behind Rick, trying to stare out into the dimly lit forest. "Where?" he whispers.

Rick points off to the left. "Through those bushes. Whoever — or whatever — it was has stopped for the moment," he whispers.

Then they hear a familiar but little-used signal — two high, shrill whistles, followed by a lower-pitched trill. Michael holds his breath, hardly willing to believe it, until the signal repeats.

Rick lets out a long breath. "I don't believe it," he says. "It's them! The FBI is here!"

"Well, signal back so they know we're here," Casey says flatly from behind him. "Otherwise they're just going to keep moving. Or shoot you, if they think you're rebels."

Michael's not entirely sure how he manages to whistle when his mouth is so dry, but within moments two men dressed in military fatigues emerge from the brush. "You the ODS?" the leader asks.

Michael nods. "Michael Dorset, CIA."

"Christopher Billings, FBI," the leader says, shaking his hand. "My partner, Vern Patterson."

"We heard you boys got yourselves in a bit of a bind," Patterson says, voice light but eyes serious as he looks at Michael's bruised face.

Michael nods. "We're going to need a medical evac. We," he says, pointing at himself and Rick, "should be able to make it out on our own power, but we've got one agent down with a broken leg and another unconscious with a concussion and internal bleeding."

"We figured you might," Billings replies. "There's a clearing half a mile to the west where our chopper's waiting. We've got three medics on radio standby to get your wounded guys out on stretchers."

"I can make it out just fine, I just need a pair of crutches," Casey calls from where he's sitting in the cave.

"I'm not so sure that's the best idea," Patterson says, peering over Michael's shoulder into the cave to look at Casey.

"I don't give a rat's ass what you think," Casey replies. "You're going to need all the people you can afford to get Billy out of here. There's no point wasting manpower on me when I can manage to get out on my own."

"We don't have time to argue," Rick cuts in before either of the FBI agents can respond. "Radio your medics, tell them to take two stretchers and a pair of crutches, and we'll have them make the call when they get here. The main priority right now is getting Billy loaded up and out of here."

Michael stares at Rick in surprise as Billings nods his agreement. "Fair enough," the agent says, pulling a small radio from his pouch and stepping to the side to make the call.

Patterson steps forward. "You mind if I take a look at your guys?" he asks Michael. "I used to be a paramedic."

Michael steps aside and waves him by, still a little thunderstruck at the sudden turn of events. Help is here. They survived, Billy's still alive, help is here, and more is on the way. It's over, he thinks. It's over, and the rush of relief is dizzying.

It isn't until he hears Rick shout his name and realizes he can't see that he thinks maybe it's more than the relief that's making him dizzy.

Then everything goes dark and quiet, and Michael doesn't think anything at all.

-o-

There's sound. Sound and chaos and painful movement and bright piercing light, and Michael wants to do nothing more than get away from it again, but it seems he doesn't have much choice in the matter. He barely has the energy to be, let alone to do anything.

There's Rick cursing and Casey bellowing, "Don't you do this, you bastard, you lasted the entire night so don't crash on us now!" and someone else demanding a shot of adrenaline, but even though they're yelling at him, it doesn't seem like they're yelling at him. Or if they are, Michael doesn't understand why.

There's a high-pitched wail of a heart monitor and a computerized voice announcing, "Do not touch the patient," and the sound of body arching off a gurney, and Michael thinks Billy, and then it's all gone again, lost in a sweeping wave of pain and pain and dark.

-o-

There's silence.

It takes a moment for Michael to realize that it's not actually silent; just quiet compared to the last time he woke up, with only the sound of softly beeping monitors and the whoosh of a ventilator nearby.

It takes a moment more for Michael to realize his eyes are open; to register the sight of the stained tan ceiling above him, the feel of a nasal cannula, the dry, nasty taste in his mouth that lets him know he's been unconscious for awhile, and the dull, pounding throb of a headache just above the base of his skull.

"Michael?"

Michael turns his head slightly to the left and sees Casey and Rick sitting there. They look better than the last time he'd seen them; both are wearing a new set of clothes, Rick's arm is in a sling, and Casey's leg is in an air cast, propped up on another chair. The circles under their eyes are huge and dark, though, and they're both wearing several days' worth of stubble.

They're also staring at him warily, as if they're not quite ready to believe he's awake, and Michael gets the feeling he's done this waking up process a few times before. "What happened?" he asks, voice like sandpaper. "I miss the helicopter ride?"

Casey lets out a long breath, his shoulders slumping in relief, and Rick laughs out loud. Michael chooses to ignore its hysterical edge. "Trust me, you didn't miss anything worthwhile," Casey tells him, grabbing a small cup of ice chips from the end table and giving Michael a small spoonful. The relief is instantaneous. "Though next time you decide to have an aneurysm, you might want to wait until after we make it to the evac site. Particularly when we end up flying all the way back to Thailand."

Michael arches an eyebrow at the mini-rant, scrambled brain catching on one word. "Aneurysm?" he asks around a piece of ice.

"A small one," Rick says. He makes a face. "Relatively."

"They had to put a shunt in to control the bleeding," Casey interjects, glaring at Rick before giving Michael a few more ice chips. "How that qualifies as 'small,' I don't know, but that's what they told us. You were in a light coma for two days, in and out of consciousness for the last thirty-six hours."

Michael's other eyebrow goes up. Then his forehead furrows as a thought crosses his mind. "Billy?"

Casey's shoulders stiffen again and Rick's face falls as they glance over to the other side of Michael's bed. With more effort than Michael thinks it should take, he turns his head back to look.

Billy's in another hospital bed less than three feet from Michael's. What he can see of the Scotsman's face is a mottled mess of black, blue, and purple, but the majority of it is obscured by the large bandage near his hairline and the ventilator tube in his mouth. There's an array of monitors and wires and tubes and IV bags surrounding his bed, making him look tiny — a feat that should be impossible, given his height.

"They nearly killed him trying to save him," Casey says quietly. "He flat lined when we got to the helicopter, and when they were trying to resuscitate him, one of his broken ribs shifted. Made part of his right lung collapse."

"He was in surgery for almost eight hours," Rick adds, sounding absolutely drained. "He lost part of his liver, and they've had to go back in once for a bleed they missed near his spleen."

Michael tears his gaze away from Billy to glance back at the rest of his team. Both of them look ragged, exhausted; Michael's pretty sure they haven't slept in days.

Casey scrubs his face with a hand. "They've been keeping him under so that he doesn't move around and reopen any bleeders they might have missed," he says. "The amount of damage was extensive — hardly any of the blood inside him is his at the moment. He's got an infection, but amazingly enough it isn't a full-blown case of sepsis. There's no way he should be alive right now, but he's made significant progress over the last couple days." His expression lightens just a little as he glances over at Billy's bed. "Lucky bastard."

Despite the severity of the situation, the corner of Michael's mouth twitches just a little; that sounds like Billy. "What's the prognosis?"

"If his vitals keep up the way they are, they're going to start slowly weaning him off the drugs tomorrow night, see if they can't get him to wake up by the end of the week," Rick tells him. "There's some concern about brain damage, between the concussion and the severe blood loss and the fever, but the scans look pretty promising, and his fever's dropped to moderately low grade."

Michael nods a little, relaxing back into the mattress. "He'll wake up," he says with a tired confidence.

Casey snorts. "Of course he's going to wake up," he asserts. "Someone's got to be the annoyingly cheerful pain in the ass on this team, and he's the only one qualified for the part."

-o-

Once again, Michael finds himself waiting.

At times, he's got his doctors to keep him occupied. After waking up, he endures several hours of scans and exams and MRIs and people poking him and shining light into his eyes. Michael isn't one to typically submit to tests without complaint, but Casey had mentioned they were already on thin ice with the staff because they'd practically forced the hospital to let Michael and Billy share one of the larger rooms in ICU, and Rick had added that the staff wasn't happy that Casey was up and moving around, either, as he'd had surgery to put three pins in his broken leg and was supposed to be in recovery.

Personally, Michael thinks they did the hospital a favor in the long run; it prevented the inevitable ire that would have resulted from the team sneaking out of their rooms to check on Billy. Though Michael also thinks he personally would have had a hard time doing that, as the one time he tries to sit up at ninety degrees, the world grays out and he finds himself lying horizontal a moment later with a nurse monitoring his pulse.

In between the exams and scans and momentary blackouts, he manages to get both Rick and Casey to take a few hours to sleep in an unoccupied room the hospital has set aside for them. They don't look particularly well rested when they return, but the circles under their eyes are definitely smaller.

Billings stops by the day after Michael wakes up, while Rick and Casey are gone. "Glad to see you're awake, Dorset," he greets as he walks in. "You gave us a bit of a scare."

Michael shakes his hand. "Thank you," he says. "If you and Patterson hadn't shown up when you did, Billy wouldn't have made it. And I probably wouldn't have, either."

"You're welcome," Billings replies. "I might not be a fan of you CIA spooks, but we're on the same side. I've never been one to leave one of my guys behind — not if I can do anything about it."

Michael glances over at Billy in the other bed. "I know exactly what you mean."

Billings follows his gaze. "He going to be okay?"

"We think so," Michael says. "It'll be awhile before he's back in the field, but Billy's always managed to bounce back pretty quickly. He should be okay."

Billings frowns thoughtfully. "Are hospital stays a regular thing for him?"

"Far more than I'd like, unfortunately," Michael confirms. "But thankfully Billy seems to have more lives than a cat."

Billings hums an agreement, turning his attention back to Michael. "I just wanted to stop by and check in on you. Patterson and I are heading back to Cambodia tonight. Our boss has agreed to work with your boss and put another team together to finish your mission. We've already got leads on the guy that sabotaged your plane. Once we bring him in, we'll figure out if entrance by air is still a viable option. Otherwise, it'll be time to come up with a plan B."

Michael nods. As much as he'd like to be the one to complete the mission, it's just not feasible at this point — time is of the essence in a case like this, and in their condition, it will be months before any of them are ready for intense field work; it might even be longer for Billy. Plus, he thinks as he glances at Billy again, they've almost lost too much to this mission already. Michael's not too eager to try it again anytime soon.

"Well good luck," he says to Billings. "And watch out for surprises in your airplane engines."

Billings laughs. "Will do," he replies, shaking Michael's hand again. "I'll be sure to give your regards to your friend the saboteur."

"Thanks," Michael replies with a grin. "I appreciate it."

-o-

The nights are the worst.

Michael's always had a hard time sleeping in strange places; the severity of his head injury doesn't change that, especially now that he's awake and aware. He dozes fitfully, jerking awake whenever the nurses stop by on their rounds, or when Rick or Casey shift slightly in their seats as they continue their bedside vigil, or at every small sound that might be Billy waking up.

It's in the early morning hours the third night after Michael wakes up when Rick finally lets out an exasperated sigh. "Sometimes I wonder if he does this on purpose."

Both Michael and Casey arch an eyebrow. "What, jumping out of planes without a parachute and suffering from traumatic internal bleeding as a result?" Casey asks.

Rick rolls his eyes. "No, making us wait. He's always telling me of the importance of being on time, but then he always shows up late."

"You think he shows up late?" Michael asks.

"Well… yeah," Rick says, suddenly unsure. "I mean, he's the one that always makes you guys late for work — you've complained about it often enough — and I've lost track of the number of times he's shown up a few minutes late for a rendezvous."

Michael nods once as he lightly rubs the bald spot on his head where the doctors shaved his hair to put the shunt in. The incision is scabbing over, making it itch. "Has his being late ever proved a detriment to the mission?"

Rick thinks for a moment. "Well… no."

"Lesson of the day," Casey intones, glancing over at Billy's bed. "Being on time isn't so much about not being late as it is about making sure you're there at the right moment."

There's something odd about his tone that prompts Michael to follow his gaze. It takes a moment to register the fact that Billy's eyes are open. He's staring at the ceiling, looking as confused as he did back in the cave. A moment later, his body registers the foreign feeling of something in his throat, and he starts thrashing weakly, reaching up with a hand to claw at the ventilator tube.

"Easy, Billy, easy!" Rick exclaims, rushing over to Billy's bed, grabbing the flailing hand, and sticking his face into Billy's line of sight. "It's alright, you're safe now, we're at a hospital."

"You're okay," Michael calls, and Billy turns his head enough to make eye contact. His gaze flicks from Michael to Casey to Rick and back again, and finally he relaxes, save for his hand, which is gripping Rick's like his life depends on it. Michael smiles a little, relieved to see the recognition on Billy's face. "You're going to be okay," he repeats, and for the first time since they discovered they were one parachute short, Michael really, truly believes it.

-o-

Even after Billy wakes, the recovery process is slow.

The day after Billy wakes up, the infection in his body flares up, causing his fever to rise before finally settling in his already weakened lungs, giving him a case of pneumonia. The doctors warn Michael and the others that it's possible Billy will slip back into a light coma, given the development, but at this point the ODS knows better.

Billy woke up. He might still be on a ventilator, and he isn't able to stay awake for more than an hour at a time, but they know he'll be just fine now.

And sure enough, within a week, the worst of the infection has cleared away. Billy's weaned off the ventilator, though he's still forced to use an oxygen mask to help him with his breathing. But his vitals are up, his injuries are healing nicely, and the bruising on his face has gone down enough to allow him to see with both eyes again.

In the meantime, both Rick and Casey have been checked out of the hospital. Rick's made the necessary hotel arrangements nearby, and Casey's handled all the calls from Higgins because Michael still occasionally drops to sleep mid-sentence and has had three different instances of sudden nausea followed by violent vomiting.

After the initial phone call, Higgins has only called to check in twice since Billy woke up. Michael makes note of this for the future; Higgins doesn't pester the ODS nearly as much when he knows he'll have to deal directly with Casey. It also probably helps that Billings and his team were able to complete the mission the ODS started. It might not go down in the CIA book as a victory, but it's easier to get Higgins off their back since they're all well aware that the job was eventually completed.

Still, Michael understands Higgins' motives. The hospital bills from this trip aren't going to be cheap, considering three of them had to have surgery of some kind and that none of them walked away completely unscathed. And now that Rick and Casey are staying as outpatients at the hotel, they'll have those expenses on top of it. The sooner they can get out of Bangkok and back in the States, the better for the CIA's expense reports.

And Michael wants nothing more than to leave himself. He's ready to try to move on, to get this mission behind them and get his team healed up and back into the game. They'll all be stuck on desk work for awhile, Michael knows, but at least they'll be working together again.

But Michael also knows better than to rush a recovery. They're already pushing it as it is — particularly Casey with his broken leg — and Michael's well aware that it will be even worse once they get back to the U.S. They need this time to rest, recoup, and recover before they get back at it.

Plus, Michael thinks selfishly as he watches his team interact, it provides them a chance to spend some time together without the pressures of work. Granted, he'd prefer they not all end up in the hospital in order to have a team bonding experience, but he's not about to pass up an opportunity when it presents itself.

Because this is an opportunity — more than that, it's a necessity. Forming attachments in their line of work can be a dangerous thing — fatality rates are high, the risk of a double-cross is great, the competition is fierce, and the stressors of the job are hell on any kind of relationship. Michael spent the first half of his career looking out for himself, forming alliances only when it furthered his interests and the interests of the country he was working to protect. Most of the time, those interests coincided with those of his teammates, but if they didn't, Michael wasn't afraid to cut them loose when it was needed.

But those rules don't apply here. The ODS has a different way of doing things, and if there's one thing Michael's learned since he started leading this ragtag team, it's that friendship and loyalty aren't liabilities. They're assets — the most important assets Michael has. It gives him security, knowing he's got three good agents and great friends watching his back, and it gives him purpose, making sure he gets them out of every mission alive.

Most of the time, he doesn't have to face the reality that eventually someone on his team is going to get killed. The ODS has an extremely impressive record, with only a handful of fatalities since it was formed, so even though Michael's always quite aware of the stakes, even he can forget what the cost of failure could be.

Then missions like this one happen, and Michael's abruptly reminded of how quickly things can change in an instant. They'd come far too close to losing Billy; another few hours, and he'd have been dead, and with his head injury, Michael wouldn't have been far behind.

Now, as he watches Casey and Billy take turns telling Rick about what happened the last time they were in Bangkok while Rick laughs at the both of them, it's tempting to let that reminder fade to the background again. It's not something Michael likes to dwell on, but missions like this remind him how much he needs to be thinking about that. Because next time they might not get so lucky.

"And by the time we managed to catch up with them," Billy is saying, his voice still raspy, "the villains were unconscious on the floor and Casey was standing victorious, despite the two knife wounds in his shoulder and the bullet in his thigh. And you know what he says to me?"

"What?" Rick asks, face bright red from laughing so hard.

"'Your slip is showing,'" Casey deadpans.

"In exactly that tone of voice!" Billy declares as Rick starts laughing again. "He didn't even—" His voice chokes off as he coughs, and he waves away their concerned glances. After taking a couple deep breaths with the help of the oxygen mask, he pulls it back down over his chin and says, "He didn't even comment on how well the heels matched my skirt!"

Casey rolls his eyes when both Michael and Rick chuckle. "Considering everything was covered in mud and massuman curry, it would have been impossible to tell otherwise," he says.

Rick wipes tears of laughter from his eyes. "So this is why we avoid missions in Bangkok now?"

The rest of the ODS nods. "Which is a shame, really, because they have some of the best food on the planet here," Billy laments.

And suddenly they're launching into a discussion about what mission has featured the best cuisine, and Michael can't help but smile as he watches them. This is his team; these are his friends, his brothers for all intents and purposes — and for someone with no close family connections left, that makes them all the more important to him.

Next time they might not get so lucky, but Michael's going to try his damnedest to ensure there is no next time.

-o-

It takes another four days, but finally, finally, after more than a month of being away from the States, and more than three weeks after their plane crashed, they're going home. Higgins has arranged for military transport; it's not the most comfortable way to travel, but it's a way home, and for all his team might complain, Michael knows they're just as relieved to be going home as he is.

He knows they're even more relieved that there's not supposed to be any inclement weather on the way back. He's not sure any of them are prepared to relive the terror of flying through a storm and surviving a plane crash so soon.

The flight's a red-eye, so within a few hours of take off, both Casey and Rick have dozed off. Billy's awake, staring out the window at the dark ocean below. His skin is still pale, he's got fairly large circles under his eyes, and the bruises across his face have faded to a sickly yellow-green tinge; it all combines to give him a sickly look.

Still, he's markedly improved from how he looked in that cave. Michael's hoping he never has to see his friend look like that again.

"I didn't think I was going to make it out, you know," Billy murmurs suddenly. "I thought that cave was going to be the last thing I saw."

Michael straightens in his seat. It's the first time Billy's talked about the aftermath of the crash, and even though Rick and Casey still have their eyes closed, Michael knows they're listening in on this conversation, waiting to see what Michael's response will be.

For a moment, Michael considers lying. He thinks about telling Billy that he never doubted the outcome, that he knew help would come in time, that all of them would make it out of the Cambodian jungle, that they would be able to get back to the U.S. and keep on doing what they do best.

And it wouldn't even be the first time Michael's lied to his team. He avoids it as a rule, but there's been moments where he's been forced to withhold information for their safety. They've never been pleased to discover when he does it, but they understand for the most part, and Michael's fairly certain they'd understand now.

But Michael's never lied about something like this before. He's not about to start now.

"For a moment, I didn't think we'd get you out, either," he confesses just as quietly.

Billy glances at him, one eyebrow raised. "Only for a moment?"

Michael nods. "It was a long moment, but only for a moment." His lips twitch into a small smile. "You really think we'd let you do anything otherwise?"

Billy smiles fondly and tilts his head. "No, I suppose you wouldn't."

"But," Michael adds before he can stop himself, "try not to cut it so close next time."

It's a foolish request, Michael realizes; if there's one thing this mission's proven, it's that he's incapable of predicting when things will go wrong. He can plan and strategize and do everything he possibly can to create a fail-proof plan, but just one slight change can throw all his plans out the window and bring everything crashing down — literally, in this case.

Billy stares at him for a long moment before nodding once. "I'll do my best," he says.

Michael smiles a little, sees both Rick and Casey relax in their seats a little more at that response. "That's all I ask," he replies.

And even though it's only one request, it's the only one that really matters. Because no matter how quickly things can change, this mission has proven how much his team is capable of surviving. It's not the first time they've defied death in the field. Odds are high it won't be the last, and while Michael despises waiting and hates seeing his friends injured in the line of duty, he'll endure it as long as they continue to do the impossible and come back from the brink to fight the good fight another day.

And Michael has every confidence they will. After all, if there's one thing the ODS has proven, it's that they're capable of doing the impossible.

End.

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