It was just after three on a balmy day in September when Jackal found himself being summoned to the medical wing at Hereford. Though he remained wordless as he stepped through the threshold of the staff psychiatrist’s office, his body language was more than adequately conveying his displeasure. The routine he kept was something they had discussed to great length - it was how he remained grounded, and now it was being thrown into disorder at the whims of some man who wasn’t even a real doctor.
“You know, doctor, I thought we agreed that our next session would be on the second Thursday, did we not? By my calendar, we are nearly a week ahead of schedule,” he stated, almost petulantly, finally looking up from the floor and frowning with mild distaste at the man behind the desk. “You are not my doctor, Gustave. What is the meaning of this?”
Doc sat in the uncomfortable leather office chair, eyes flicking over the contents of a personnel folder that the Spaniard could only assume was his, judging from how frequently the two were brought up in the same conversation. The Frenchman flipped the folder closed, setting it on the desk and looking up at Jackal with a concerned frown. “I was asked to relay some unfortunate news, and Doctor Merryweather thought you would be less likely to react in… an inflammatory manner, I suppose, if it came from one of your compatriots.”
Jackal scoffed as he collapsed into one of the leather armchairs in front of the doctor’s desk, leaning back a little. “Clearly the good doctor does not know me as well as his little yellow folder suggests.”
Doc gave a half-shrug in response. “Perhaps not. Nevertheless, I’m afraid I must inform you that you’ve been moved to the off-duty rotation ahead of schedule. Officially, Six is accommodating your Spanish government’s request to release you from active duty for matters of national security.”
Jackal blinked a few times, confusion registering on his face, and Doc continued along.
“Unofficially, Ramirez, you are on medical leave. Multiple specialists have stepped forward with concerns over your performance as of late. You haven’t slept more than two consecutive hours in the past three weeks, and it is becoming rapidly evident that you are no longer mission capable,” Doc’s tone was stern, but the concern in his voice was immediately obvious and incensed Jackal to no end.
“You can’t let her do this to me, Gustave. I’m fine, I promise,” he replied, eyes fixated the man behind the desk and gripping the armrests of his chair hard enough to turn his knuckles white.
Doc’s look was apologetic. “It’s already done, Ryad. You need to take some time for yourself and rest. We have a flight scheduled to Madrid for Monday, so you have plenty of time to gather what you need.”
Jackal was fuming, staring a hole through the desk to avoid making eye contact with the Frenchman. “You make it sound like I am being let go. Your bedside manner needs some work.”
Doc stood up, taking the file and tucking it under his arm as he shrugged helplessly at Jackal. “Consider it a vacation, just one you can’t say no to. And please, Ryad, you must take care of yourself. We all need you, but you can’t help anyone like this. Take this seriously, I implore you.”
And with that, the conversation was apparently over. The doctor clapped him on the shoulder and stepped past him on the way out of the office, no doubt to tell the good Doctor Merryweather to take a few sick days of his own so that he didn’t accidentally trip and fall into an agitated Spaniard’s swinging fist.
He shook the thought from his head, sighing defeatedly as he pushed himself up from the chair and left for the barracks. Mira was going to read him the riot act, and then if he was very, very lucky, she wouldn’t beat him bloody with it after.
Jackal looked like a man from death row making his fateful walk to the execution chamber as he navigated through the base towards the place he’d come to call home.
“I can hear you out there, Ryalito, you can’t delay the inevitable!” came the familiar voice through the door he’d been nervously pacing in front of for the past five minutes. Taking a breath, he opened it and stepped through, prepared to meet his fate.
Mira was sitting at her small bedside desk, dressed in fatigues that looked like they’d been run through an engine block. She cut an imposing figure even when seated and covered in engine grease and oily stains, and Jackal paused a few steps into the room as her eyes fixed on him.
“So, Doc told you, then?” he asked, figuring he’d rip the bandaid off early.
“Oh, I found out, but it wasn’t from el doctor ,” she replied coolly, shifting her weight in her chair. “I received a call from Madrid, you see, to verify my availability to supervise a recruit that will be here to train with the best while you are away on business. So, you know, thank you for that, hermano. ”
“I only ever asked you for the one thing, Ryad. I would help keep our superiors off your back, but you had to keep your shit together,” she shot him a sour look, scratching at her stomach and then glancing down to inspect her grimy fingernails.
“It’s only for a month, Elena. I’m not being replaced, I just need a little time to prove I’m mission ready,” he explained, making his way to his utilitarian bed and sitting at the very edge, elbows propped up on his knees as he clasped his hands together thoughtfully.
“You need rest, Ryad. As you are right now, you’re a liability to the team, and a dangerous one at that,” was the terse reply.
This struck a nerve, even though he knew the point she was getting at. “Oh, please, don’t sugarcoat it for my sake,” he shot back.
Mira threw her hands up in frustration, an agitated groan following shortly thereafter as she turned her attention away from him and started digging through some of the assorted papers on her desk. Jackal thought the discussion was tabled, shrugging his shoulders as he let himself fall back onto the mattress and closed his eyes. He heard the sound of movement and approaching footsteps, winking open an eye to see Mira wave a vividly colored pamphlet at him and place it right on his face, filling his field of vision with blurry text and imagery. She stood over him with her arms folded as he took the pamphlet and held it away from his face, eyes scanning over the text. “What’s this, a nature hike?”
Jackal saw her roll her eyes, bringing a hand up to her face to cover the weary sigh. “It’s El Camino de Santiago. I’m a little surprised you didn’t recognize it, considering how often you complain about being fostered by Catholics as a child.”
The name barely registered for him, but he read on anyway. A thirty day journey, retracing the steps of pilgrims to the great cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The bullet points were divided into distinct sections, each extolling the virtues of the trip for personal fulfillment, religious beliefs or simple tourism. He felt Mira’s gaze fixed on him, most likely trying to read his reaction. His interest was clearly piqued, though he was stubborn enough not to want to give Alvarez the satisfaction.
The awkward silence was broken by Mira clearing her throat. “Well?”
He flicked his eyes from the pamphlet to her, his expression a little dubious. “Well, what? This isn’t going to cure insomnia.”
“Oh, now you are just being a child. We both know you could do with some time to clear your head, but this also gives you a schedule and a routine to stick to,” she said, being infuriatingly correct. Of course, she was right. He was no good to anyone like this, especially not if people had to depend on him. If he was being forced to take a vacation, a trip with a regimented schedule he could stick to would certainly help. He folded the pamphlet back up and held it out for Mira, who took it and then extended her hand out to him to help him to his feet.
“Come on, then. Let’s notify Six and see if we can get your flight changed,” she offered, and Jackal wordlessly accepted the terms as he reached up and took her hand. He was once again reminded of her remarkable strength as she pulled him to his feet, receiving another reminder as she wound back and gave him a light punch to the gut as he rose to his feet, doubling him over.
He wheezed as the air left his lungs, stumbling back and falling on his ass onto the bed again. “What the hell, Elena?!”
She burst into rough laughter, holding her hand out again for him. “That’s for saddling me with a recruit for a month, payaso. Don’t be a baby, that was maybe twenty percent power.”
This earned a laugh, and he took her hand again and was pulled back to his feet, though he immediately put up his hand defensively - much to Mira’s delight. “Well, you never know, it might be a pretty woman. I could be doing you a favor.”
An amused scoff. “Just because you are incorrigible, does not mean the rest of us are. Come on, we should get this figured out before it’s too late.”
A few phone calls later and they had scheduled a videoconference with Six for the following afternoon, leaving the two of them the rest of the day to try and figure out how they were going to pitch this in a way that stressed its importance without coming across as desperate. Mira even ran it by Doc, who was unsurprisingly encouraging of the notion, and offered to sit in for the call.
As the meeting time approached, the three of them set up shop in one of the conference rooms, with Mira taking charge of organizing the technical side of things. When the call came through, the display lit up as the image of the team’s commanding officer came into focus. She was in the backseat of a car, the vehicle clearly in motion.
“Are we coming through, Six?” Mira said, speaking loud enough for the speakerphone to pick up.
The woman on the screen nodded at them, speaking practically at a shout to be heard over the sound of the moving car. “Sorry we have to meet this way, but you’ve caught me in between budget meetings. I have to find the money to keep us going from somewhere, you know the deal,” she stated, though Jackal noted her tone was more informative and less apologetic. “So, tell me again why we’re paying for Mister Ramirez Al-Hassar to play tourist?”
Mira got out in front of it before his sarcasm could sink the entire endeavor, something he had to thank her for later. It didn’t take very long, both Mira and Doc making a coordinated effort to explain the benefits they had both spent the better part of yesterday trying to convince him of. He wasn’t completely on board with the ‘spiritual healing power’ of this pilgrimage, and the way Six was responding gave him the distinct impression that she wasn’t, either. Still, if it got him cleared for active duty, he’d be willing to at least play along.
“All right, all right, you’ve made your point,” Six finally relented, which came as a genuine surprise to Jackal - though the other two seemed more sure of things. “There are going to be stipulations, however. I’m sorry, but we can’t risk you going off the reservation. We’ll be sending someone with you. I’ll have someone review the duty rotation and make a recommendation based on availability.”
Mira spoke up again. “Actually, Six, I have a recommendation. I’ll forward you the information and you can get back to me later today?”
“Appreciated, Ms. Alvarez. Very diligent of you. I’ll look for the message. Anything else?”
Jackal stared vacantly at Mira, who gave him a helpless shrug and then gestured subtly at the screen, where Six was still waiting expectantly for a response. Clearing his throat,Jackal pushed himself up from his chair and nodded gratefully towards the camera. “Thank you, Six, I appreciate you taking this into consideration,” he said, realizing it was the first thing he’d said for the entire meeting.
“Of course, Ramirez. Please get this under control, I’d hate to have to go hunting for a replacement after we’ve put in this much work to get you to where you are.”
He read the glaringly overt ultimatum between the lines, and nodded once in response. “Of course. Hereford out.”
“Six out.” The screen went dark, and the other two sunk in their chairs as they breathed out exhausted sighs.
Jackal pivoted to face Mira, the question behind his inquisitive expression only too evident. “So you were planning to send a babysitter?”
Mira shook her head, waving off the question with a roll of her eyes. “Come on, don’t be like that. It’s someone that could use a break of his own, and he’s coming up off the rotation around the same time. Don’t worry, he’ll be able to handle himself.”
He wasn’t sure if she meant that he could handle himself on a thirty day hike, or handle himself with a ‘problem child’. Probably both, he figured. “Who is it, then?”
“Oh, you’ll see. Come on, you have things to prepare.”
She had been right, of course. Not only did he have to pack, but he also had to ensure his gear was checked and properly stored for the duration of his little ‘vacation’. The question of who he’d be stuck with for a month had been pressing, but the preparation had kept him too busy to dwell on it for longer than a few minutes at a time. His pack had been organized with his own brand of utilitarian efficiency - though Mira had talked him down from bringing more than one spare magazine for his sidearm when it became clear that he wouldn’t be dissuaded from bringing it along.
The question plagued him through the night as well. It was already difficult for him to find a few hours to rest, and that was before he was running through mental checklists to try and determine who he’d be saddled with for the month - and whether it would be someone he had any kind of interest in. That part was especially important. He laughed quietly as he laid in bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering if he was the only specialist on the base awake at 4 in the morning and comparing notes on the fuckability of their comrades.
He fell asleep with the thought that it was probably Dokkaebi.
When the morning of the flight came around a few hours later, Jackal was already impatient to leave. He skipped out on the morning run and avoided the mess hall altogether, wanting to spare himself the obligations of awkward goodbyes and speculations of what he was going to be doing in Spain. Doc and Mira had kept the details of his leave to themselves, thankfully, so aside from his mysterious companion, everyone on Hereford was still under the impression that he was being requested for a national security issue with the GEO.
One of the few things that had survived the generational change between the original and current iterations of Rainbow was their method of travel. Always civilian when possible, and always under their civilian identities. Rainbow was still supposed to be as ‘off the books’ as an international counter-terror operation could hope to be, so the less attention they drew, the better. The car arrived to take him to the Birmingham airport, and still he had no sign of who he was supposed to be going with.
Navigating the airport was, as expected, a nightmare of social awkwardness. Getting the firearm cleared for air travel was almost easier than dealing with the ticketing counter, at least Rainbow had people on staff to handle the requisite permits and paperwork. With practiced courtesy and a winning smile, he made his way through to his gate just as the first call for boarding was announced. With his pack checked, Jackal had no carry-on baggage to worry about - no material baggage, anyway. As he settled into the window seat, he sat back and closed his eyes, occupying his mind with the bustling sounds of the civilians around him.
“There you are, Ramirez. I was starting to wonder if this was some elaborate prank,” a smooth, smoky voice spoke, shaking Jackal from his peace. He winked an eye open and glanced up at the source of the familiar voice, the other eye opening as he peered up at Capitão in surprise.
The Brazilian settled into the next seat over, dressed in a casual business suit that - when combined with the patch over his left eye, still made him look like some kind of action movie villain.
“You’re the one Alvarez says needs a vacation?” Jackal asked, the surprise subsiding as he settled back into his usual brand of snark.
“She isn’t the only one babysitting a problem child for a living, irmão ,” was the snarky reply, as Capitão delivered on the setup Jackal had inadvertently created for himself.
Well. His luck could certainly have been worse, that was for certain.
“You look relieved. Should I be flattered?” The older man inquired, and Jackal reminded himself that he was only three months the Brazilian’s junior.
“I was just thinking that it could be decidedly worse,” Jackal replied, continuing after a beat. “It could have been Estrada.”
Capitão had said the same thing after the beat, and the two exchanged a knowing look before bursting into quiet laughter.
“Okay, hermano , we can save this for when we land. We’re supposed to be strangers on a plane, remember?” Jackal observed, and noted the nod of agreement from his colleague.
A wave of relief was washing over him as he settled in for the flight. He didn’t really know Souza all that well, but he knew from his personnel file that the two of them had more than a few similarities. It didn’t hurt that he was easy on the eyes, and his limited encounters with the BOPE operative on the base had been amicable at worst.
The arrival of the person assigned to the aisle seat sealed off any possibility of further conversation, and after the niceties were out of the way and everyone was settled in, the plane taxied to its runway to begin takeoff. Jackal closed his eyes again and sank back into the uncomfortable seat, trying to focus on something other than the roar of the engine and the rattling of the cabin as the plane took off.
The prevailing thought in his mind as the wheels lifted off the ground was that the prospect of BOPE Month sounded pretty good to him.