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Chaos fic: The Shadow Proves the Sunshine (2/2)

October 11th, 2012 (06:33 am)
depressed

feeling: depressed

Continued from PART ONE.



-o-

Casey could have laid in silence for some time. Indefinitely, really. Casey had no inherent issue with silence; in general, he preferred it. And now that his boredom and embarrassment had been overtaken by his general sulkiness, he no longer felt the need to pointlessly expend energy in idle chit chat. That was a coping device for the weak willed and overzealous.

Casey was pathetic enough as it was. He was done relying on hurt and overly verbose Scotsman to distract himself from his glaring shortcomings.

He had been sloppy. He had been distracted. He had screwed up, and now the mission was in shambles and it was time for him to own up to that fact and take full responsibility for his failings.

Normally, such self reflection prompted a change to his daily routine. Extra training, a shift in training. Additional study or meditation; extended educational advancement to compensate for the gaps.

This time….

This time, there was too much to even pinpoint. It was his attitude, his distraction, his general disposition. He was just sloppy and made oversights and Billy had said it in the beginning: Casey was getting old.

There was only so much he could do to compensate for the inevitable failings of his body. There was only so much he could do before 100 percent just wouldn’t be enough. His percentages were relative, after all. What happened when his 100 didn’t meet someone else’s 90? Their 75? 50?

When would it be too much? When would Casey finally admit that he just wasn’t good enough? How many floors did he have to fall through before the point was made for him?

He had thought himself to be too good to stay past his prime.

He had thought a lot of things, though. And been wrong about many of them.

Still, he wasn’t going to cry. He wasn’t going to pout or sulk. He would accept it, learn from it, move on. Whatever that meant…

Across the room, Billy was breathing heavily, the stillness disrupted by a cough that seemed to rattle Casey even from a distance. When it was over, Casey could hear the increased pace of Billy’s inhalations, a marginal shift, but accented with a growing wheeze, Casey reminded himself that contrary to what he felt about his career, this mission wasn’t over yet.

The more Billy diverted, the more Casey was certain the Scot was in bad shape. He’d failed the team so far, he would give Billy what little he had left to offer: conversation.

“They’ll be here any minute,” he said, trying to sound vaguely reassuring, or at least not woefully pessimistic.

Billy inhaled heavily and exhaled in turn. “Mmmmm,” was his only reply.

“I mean, Rick’s new but he’s actually sort of quick,” Casey said, doing his best to be pointless and almost nonsensical. He had to give Billy some credit; it was harder than it seemed. “Did you see him that first day? Chasing down the Russian in traffic? Not bad.”

Billy coughed again, racking and wet, and when he was done he seemed to moan.

Casey knit his brows together, wetting his lips, trying to think of something, anything…

It was hard, though, and not just because it wasn’t in his nature. Because he was tired and hurting. He had lost some blood, he was sure of that now, and it was slick and hot down his back. His head was pounding, and it was harder to fight back now, harder to focus, harder to think—

“Doesn’t this remind you of Oslo?” he asked, blurting the first thing he could think of.

Billy took a stuttering breath and made a low sound. “Montevideo,” he replied.

Casey considered that. “You may have a point,” he conceded. His eyes darted to the side idly. “Don’t let it get to your head, though.”

“Wouldn’t…dream of it.”

Casey worked his jaw, grinding his teeth together. He flexed his toes, wriggled his fingers and felt fresh blood seep out of the wound in his side. He wanted to bleed; he wanted to hurt; he wanted this to matter.

Mentally, he cursed, face twisting in disgust. He was getting sentimental on top of everything else. What had happened to him? How long had he been slipping and he just hadn’t realized it until the whole damn bottom fell out?

He couldn’t let Billy down, though. Not more than he already had.

Ruthlessly, he shook his head, drawing his composure from the last of his dwindling reserves. “Though at least this isn’t as bad as Tripoli,” he said. “I hate that city.”

He waited for a reply. Billy breathed, wet and ever slower, moving the air above them by degrees.

“Billy?” he asked, craning his neck to the side, trying to rotate his shoulders. “Billy!”

There was a stirring and a wheeze. “You’re a good spy, Casey,” Billy finally replied, words tumbling out, fast and slurred. “Better than you realize.”

“You’re getting delirious,” Casey retorted, his gut twisting painfully.

Billy continued, as if he hadn’t heard Casey at all – and at this point, Casey wasn’t sure he had. “Good spies aren’t perfect. They’re all just human messes, like the rest of us. But what makes them great is that they know their limits—“ He broke off, inhaling desperately. “Know their limits and compensate.”

Casey closed his eyes, and worked to control his emotions. He was better than this. He was better than this. He owned the night; it didn’t own him. He wasn’t going to sit and cower and cry. He wasn’t.

“That’s almost coherent,” he said in reply, tone sharp.

Billy exhaled, long and deflating. “Should be,” he murmured, voice trailing off, accent so thick that the words were almost impossible to understand. “Learned it from you…”

All training aside, the words hit Casey like a punch to the gut. He was still human, despite his best efforts, and things still affected him. He still had pride; he still had fears. He still had affection, though he was sparse in showing it.

The problem was, though, that Billy was wrong. That wasn’t Casey anymore. He’d missed his critical weaknesses and let them get the better of him. He’d been too slow to see this threat, too set in his ways to anticipate this outcome before it occurred. They shouldn’t be here, and Casey’s failure was plainly seen and felt.

It was perhaps unreasonable to think he could foresee everything. But Casey had spent a career making unreasonable demands of himself and succeeding. Who was he without that?

Who was he at all?

He was nothing. Obsolete. Certainly no spy worth his mettle.

He would finish this mission, go home, and find a job better suited for his talents – or lack thereof.

He would finish the mission.

“Your sentimentality is better saved for Michael and Rick,” he said, ignoring how tight his throat felt as he forced the words out. “They’ll appreciate it more. Or at least not want to throttle you for it.”

This time, silence was the only reply. He could still hear the jagged inhalations and wheezing exhalations, but they were slower still, quieter.

“Billy?” he called again. “Come on, Collins. I’m tired of this back and forth.”

But this time, Casey’s persistence elicited nothing.

This really wasn’t so surprising. Just one more failure.

And now the darkness loomed.

-o-

Time passed, but Casey started to lose track of the seconds. The minutes blurred together. It had been an hour, maybe two. Maybe more. Maybe a lifetime; Casey wasn’t sure anymore.

Casey wasn’t sure of anything now.

He seemed to float, effusing into the darkness. He didn’t know where he began and where it ended. He was one with it, lost in it now, as if it had finally swallowed him whole. Maybe this had been inevitable; maybe he should have held on longer, waited for daybreak, but it was too late now.

It was too late.

Casey was injured and impotent, mere feet from Billy and unable to do anything to help him. He screamed and raged, throwing himself against the debris to no avail.

No effective.

Helpless. Worthless. Nothing.

Shadow Warriors craved the dark, but they had to be stronger than it. Maybe this time, the night had finally won.

Maybe this time…

Maybe…

Casey blinked. Stared. Inky blackness all around. Deep and constant, never changing, never ebbing. It would hide him from the world, but never from himself. It would take him until there was nothing left.

Until everything was gone.

-o-

Casey woke.

His eyes opened and he breathed in. Then out. Then in again.

His remained still, transfixed and frozen, eyes skimming the darkness, trying to…

Remember.

The safehouse.

The bomb.

The floor.

Billy.

He turned his head sharply, and pain immediately flared up. Grimacing, he fought a wave of nausea and shut his eyes for a long moment until he had a handle on it.

“Back…with me?” Billy asked, in halting, weak words.

Surprised, Casey opened his eyes. “I could say the same to you.”

“Sorry ‘bout that,” Billy said, each word carefully pronounced with extreme effort. “Don’t know…how long…”

Casey shook his head. He didn’t know either. “I’m the one who should be apologizing,” he said curtly. “Given the extent of my injuries, I had no business passing out.”

Billy’s labors seemed to be increasing. “You’re human…no shame…in that.”

Casey’s brow furrowed. “There’s plenty of shame in that,” he said. “What value am I if I’m just as easily broken down as the rest of you? What role do I serve if I’m just another average spy?”

“What?” Billy asked, the word turning a bit sharp. “You mean…like me?”

Casey’s shoulders slumped, the obvious implication not one he had necessarily intended. “That’s not what I meant—“

“But it is,” Billy continued, his breathing picking up in pace now. “You think…we’re all so…useless?”

“I didn’t say that!”

“You’re not…blaming me…for being trapped…”

“That’s because it’s not your fault!”

“And it’s not…yours!”

Casey’s body went taut, his frustration spiking. “But it is.

“Know your limits, Malick,” Billy said, the words forced out by sheer exertion now. “Accept them like…like the rest of us.”

“I have to be at 100 percent!”

“Then you wouldn’t…need us…at all,” Billy wheezed.

Casey’s face screwed up, and he shook his head. “You’re being purposefully obtuse.”

“You’re being…an ass.”

Casey snorted. “Glad to see you’re not so injured that you’ve impeded your sense of being completely annoying.”

There was a hesitation, a pregnant pause in the darkness. “Did you…hear that?” Billy’s voice had gone quiet again.

“What?” Casey asked. “Your completely illogical attempts at reason?”

“No,” Billy said, sucking in air greedily. “Listen.

Despite himself, Casey stopped. At first, there was nothing, just the sound of Billy’s labored breathing and the occasional shifting of the house. But then, over the darkness, he heard it. Faint sounds, like voices. Like footsteps.

Like rescue.

Casey’s heart skipped a beat, and he went tense, trying to prop himself up again, anxious and ready. His head protested and his side hurt, but he didn’t care. It didn’t matter, not as he strained to see in the darkness…

Light. Two small beams bouncing across the gap in the floor.

“Hey!” Casey yelled, fixating on the light, as small as it was. “We’re here!”

The sounds grew and the patches of lights danced as they got bigger and bigger. And then, the beams were pointed down, one blinding Casey as he threw his hands in front of his face and squinted around it to make out Michael’s concerned face.

“You two okay?” Michael asked.

“What do you think?” Casey snarled.

Michael chuckled. “Just give us a minute,” he said. “We’ll get you out of here in no time.”

No time was good, but for Casey, no time was soon enough.

-o-

Casey didn’t mean to, but when he blinked, everything disappeared. There was a long, vacuous moment, and when he opened his eyes, the light was closer, brighter, burning into his retinas as Michael asked, “You okay there, Malick?”

Casey grimaced, turning his head away and narrowing his eyes. “I’d be better if you stopped blinding me,” he muttered crossly.

The light shifted, moving away from his face, deflecting across his body enough so his eyes could adjust to the new brightness. In the light, he could see the scene more clearly. His mental picture had been fairly accurate. The field of debris was perhaps wider than he’d imagined, and he had to admit, it looked moderately daunting with the beam tipped precariously over him. But the rest – the wood and the broken plaster – was exactly as he’d imagined it.

Michael shifted back, the beam dancing slightly as he moved. “Well, I’d be better if you’d stop passing out every few seconds,” he said. His face went sober. “We’ll have you out of here in no time.”

Casey grunted. “Not like there’s anything worth staying awake for,” he said. “And all due expedience would be appreciated at this point. With Collins, no less.”

Michael’s eyes flickered across the room, and Casey turned his head, just making out Rick’s form as he eased his way over the debris and past Casey’s field of vision. A muscle twitched in Michael’s jaw, and when he looked back at Casey, he forced a thin smile. “Not much longer,” he said. He looked down the length of Casey’s body, nodding toward the beam. “If I shift this thing, are you in any risk of bleeding out?”

Casey had lost some sense of his injuries, but wiggling his toes again, he was reminded that they seemed intact. “My legs are fine,” he said. “I’m fine. You’re wasting time.”

Michael raised his eyebrows. “Fine is a generous description just given the look of your head wound,” he commented. “And I just want to be sure that we can move you without an ambulance on hand. If you’re bad enough—“

“Move the beam,” Casey ordered tersely.

“We have good enough covers—“

Casey glared, his frustration and anger and embarrassment all coming to a head and directing solely at Michael. It wasn’t fair perhaps, but if anyone would understand, it was Michael Dorset. “Move the beam,” Casey said again, with dangerous inflection.

Michael pressed his lips together and shook his head, but got to his feet, walking carefully over the debris to look for a place to stand. When he found moderately stable ground, he put his flashlight between his teeth and bent over. “You ready?” he asked around the flashlight, words a little garbled but still clear enough to understand.

Casey braced himself, nodding readily. “You lift, I’ll get out,” he said. “Quickly.”

The beam of light bobbed as Michael took a few deep breaths. Casey held his own breath, stilled his mind, closed his eyes and—

The movement was expected, but the sudden change in weight was still a jolt, the air escaping from his lungs in surprise. His eyes snapped open, blood flowing with new vigor down his thighs, and it took him a mere split second to remember that he needed to move.

Energy entirely focused again, he used his hands to push himself backward, relying on sheer core strength to propel his damaged limbs back and clear of the beam. He was half sitting up, trying to rein in a new swell of nausea, when Michael grunted, letting the beam fall back down to the ground with a resounding crash.

Just like that, Casey was free.

The miserable helplessness, the pervasive self-pity – all of it seemed to evaporate now that his agency was restored. Not that he didn’t have failings to contend with for this mission, and not that this wasn’t the worst mission ever, but he could do something about it.

He could do something.

Even with the nausea and the headache and the pain in his side and—

The light was on his again, and Casey turned his head away in frustration as Michael leaned close, on the ground next to him again. “You look like hell,” he mused.

Casey locked his jaw and sought for the inner strength he knew he had. He was functioning at less than 100 percent, but he was still in control of his faculties. He breathed hard, finding his center, and shook his head. “This mission is hell,” he said. “I strongly recommend leaving before something else utterly pointless occurs.”

Michael’s mouth quirked into a smile. “Once we have Billy clear,” he said, then glanced over across the room. “How’s it going, Martinez?”

“Got most of the debris off him, but there’s some heavy pieces here,” came Rick’s reply.

Free now, Casey followed Michael’s gaze and saw the youngest member of their team working over a pile of concrete, shifting the pieces, one by one.

Face pinched, Martinez moved one more, standing back and looking down. “There, I think—“

His voice cut off. In the pale beam of Michael’s light, Casey saw the kid blanch.

“Martinez, is everything okay?” Michael asked, getting to his feet.

Casey shakily tried to push himself up, to see, but the pain in his side hobbled him, the ache in his head blacking out the edges of his vision.

“We may want that ambulance,” Rick said, standing still and erect, not moving, not blinking.

Michael approached and stopped short.

“What?” Casey asked, finding his feet beneath him as he took an uncertain step. “He was talking until you got here, arguing like a pain in the ass, so what—“

Then he stepped close enough and saw Billy for the first time.

In the glow of Michael’s flashlight and the one Martinez had laid out on the floor, Billy was deathly pale, face almost colorless in the dimness. There was a long smear of blood that stood out lividly against his ghastly complexion, coloring the side of his face and staining his dress shirt.

His eyes were closed, mouth open. Mostly uncovered now, his body was limp, chest clearly rising and falling.

This was somewhat disconcerting, even Casey would admit that as he listed awkwardly to one side, but that wasn’t the problem.

No. The problem was what none of them had seen until the debris had been shifted and Billy was plainly visible in the light.

And Casey understood, then. The wheezing breaths, the strained talking, the faltering consciousness.

Because Billy was impaled on a piece of metal, through his upper chest, glinting with blood as it snaked up into the darkness above.

-o-

Time had been slow before. Infinite stretches filled with nothing but self doubt and recrimination, all lost in the unending darkness that saturated everything.

Time was fast now. Casey blinked, and time was gone, evaporated in the light as Michael and Rick set up their flashlights around Billy and set to work. Michael called an ambulance and Rick was taking Billy’s vitals, while Billy didn’t move.

Casey blinked again, and found himself on the floor. He was propped up against the debris, something digging into his back as blood ran down his back and pooled at his ass. He was outside the light now, separated, but he could still see—

He blinked, and Michael was in front of him. “Stay with me, Malick, come on.” Casey glared and tried to look around him, to see—

Billy. Pale. Unmoving. His breathing was grating and too fast, face gray as he struggled to live.

Failure.

Casey’s eyes closed. They were all capable of failure. Even Casey. Especially Casey.

He opened his eyes. There were paramedics now, and firemen. They had equipment and tools and spotlights, shining down, igniting whiteness on all sides. Voices rose and filtered through his hazy mind. Someone had a hold of him, laying him back—

And Casey shook his head.

He wasn’t helpless. He couldn’t be helpless. He needed to see, he needed to make sure Billy was okay, he needed to do this, he needed—

Hands held him, tried to strap him down—

And Casey refused.

He’d been idle too long; he’d accepted too much. He could fight this, and he would. He would rage and fight. With every ounce of strength he had left, he flailed, kicking and waving his arms and bucking and pushing up—

Someone was yelling, more hands tried to grab him, and Casey fought harder. His head hurt and his side was numb and he just needed to see—

But something pricked his arm, and his energy left him. Against his will, he sank back, not catching a sight of Billy as the darkness descended and took Casey once again.

-o-

Then Casey woke to light.

Even more intense than before, naked and glaring, unrelenting, straight at him.

Casey flinched and tried to lift his hand, but found his limbs deadened. Sluggishly, he turned his head, catching a glimpse of two people in scrubs.

Doctors.

Which meant this was a hospital.

His eyes adjusted to the light, and sound started filtering through his woolen brain. There were monitors and voices, talking in a language he couldn’t understand, didn’t care to make out. Doctors were important, Casey had to concede, but he didn’t like them. The only person who was justified in having a God complex was him – maybe Michael – everyone else just shouldn’t try.

They were too fond of lingo and trust and Casey liked sharp pointy things as much as the next guy, but cutting into his own skin seemed counterproductive—

Pain lanced suddenly, and a monitor sounded wildly. The voices picked up and Casey ground his teeth together viciously to control the new onslaught of agony. Maybe he’d been hurt worse than he thought.

Maybe—

He blinked, making out the lamp positioned above him. A gloved hand reached up and adjusted it, shining it down Casey’s torso.

He followed it and saw red. His clothing had been unfortunately removed, and he could see the ragged tear in his side, leaking blood while someone tried to cover it with a bandage.

That looked unfortunate.

And completely beyond his control.

Helpless, all over again. Like he was still trapped in the rubble while Billy—

Casey startled, his alertness sharpening dramatically. Billy had been trapped, Billy had been impaled—

He turned his head again, looking into the light, trying to make eye contact with someone who could give him answers. But the masked faces didn’t look at his face, and when Casey tried to speak, he realized he had an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose.

They weren’t going to help him. Sure, they might save his life, but that wasn’t Casey’s primary concern at the moment. If he wanted to know about Billy, he’d have to do it himself.

But his body was humming, his vision spotty and something warm spread through his veins as he turned away from the garish light once more.

For a moment, he could only lie there as the doctors worked. But one of the nurses shifted, stepping away, giving Casey a clear view across the room.

There was another area, swathed in light. A curtain was half drawn, but Casey could still see around it. There, illuminated in the brilliant glow, was Billy.

His skin was white, half coated with blood now that his clothing had been cut away. The wound in his chest was unsettling, the skin broken and twisted where the now-truncated rod poked through. His face was discolored, a tube taped around his slack mouth as a nurse squeezed a bag next to his head.

And a doctor stood tall next to the bed, pushing down on Billy’s chest in even intervals. The force was evident, the doctor’s face strained with the effort, his arms locked as Billy’s chest depressed roughly, fresh blood spilling out as a nurse tried to stabilize the wound with a pile of gauze in futility.

Billy didn’t have a pulse.

Billy was dead.

The odds of survival were slim where CPR was involved. In the medical setting, it was a stopgap while the doctors tried to see if other measures could renew a shockable rhythm. Most people died.

Casey had never believed in the impossible, but he’d counted on the ODS’ ability to defy the odds. His own ability to defy the odds.

But there Billy was, more dead than alive.

And here Casey was, laid out and impotent.

The nurse stepped back into place again and Casey had no energy to tell her to move. Instead, he couldn’t resist as a doctor turned his head, shining a penlight into his pupils. He was talking to Casey, he was vaguely aware, but the words were impossible to make out.

Meaningless.

Then the overhead light was pulled closer, flaring across his fracturing vision, threatening to take him once and for all.

But it was the darkness that won, coming back from nowhere to swallow him whole.

Casey didn’t fight anymore.

Casey just let go.

-o-

Casey had always preferred the dark.

He liked the anonymity. He liked the seclusion. He liked that he could do what needed to be done with no questions asked. There were no rules, no regulation, no red tape. The dark offered a freedom that no light ever could.

But it came with a price. The dark consumed and controlled; it offered no escape and threatened to hold you forever. Casey had always counted on his skills and prowess to overcome such threats, but he was starting to wonder.

This time, he was really starting to wonder.

It was stupid, and it was weak, and it was below him, but Casey had doubts. He had regrets and hopes and maybe – just maybe – he wanted to see enough to make his decision with all the facts, laid bare in front of him.

At this point, he didn’t know.

And if he kept drifting in this darkness he may never find out.

In all, he couldn’t decide if that was a good thing.

Or not.

-o-

It really went to figure that it ultimately wasn’t his choice to make. When he woke up, it was his body’s natural inclination and the slow decline of drugs in his system following whatever so-called treatment the doctors had deemed fit to subject him to.

This time, when he opened his eyes at least the light wasn’t blinding.

In fact, it was a little soft, warm rays brightening the room through the slitted shades. Everything seemed to be glowing, sunlight glinting off the rails of his hospital bed and reflecting off the face of the bank of machines just to his left.

Some people would probably call it pleasant.

Casey found it acceptable.

Besides, since he had no control over it at the moment, there was no need to dwell on it. Rather, he could use the light to better ascertain his condition and how much time had passed.

As to the first, his senses were somewhat deadened, his mind slower than normal and his acuity greatly diminished. This was a sure sign that he had been significantly drugged. Pain killers, in general, were options he eschewed, preferring to leave pain management to his self control techniques. However, in this case, he was fairly certain that he not only had had no say in the matter but that it might have been a wise choice on the part of the medical team.

His head was wrapped, the bandage precariously tilted so that the gauze slightly impeded the vision in his right eye. He could feel a row of stitches on his scalp, which he could only characterize as unpleasant but ultimately meaningless.

His ankle was in an aircast, but after moving his toes decisively, he concluded readily that it was nothing but a sprain and knew that he would be able to ditch the cast as soon as he had better control of all his faculties.

One of his fingers was splinted, which seemed stupid, but the biggest area of concern was the bulky bandage wrapped around his middle. It was too large to get a good look at, and from the general placement, he could only assume that it was from the wound in his side.

And, given how it felt, he thought perhaps he had underestimated it more than a little. He could feel stitches there, too, and more than he would have expected. Which meant that it hadn’t been a simple laceration. It was possible that there had been internal damage and that he’d undergone some sort of surgery to correct vascular damage.

That was unexpected.

Though given Casey’s total lack of foresight on this mission, perhaps not so much.

Then, the door opened.

Casey hadn’t had time to fully assess the room in its entirety, but when he looked up, he was pleased to see that it appeared to be private and not too full of interventions. Which meant he was doing okay.

Rick came through, balancing a cup of coffee in one hand with a paper in the other. When he looked up and saw Casey awake, he stopped, face going blank with surprise.

“You’re awake!” he said, pulling the paper out with his other hand.

“Brilliant deduction,” Casey said. “How many days have passed? One or more?”

Rick’s brow furrowed as the door shut behind him and he came into the room. “Erm, two,” he said. “You were out for a bit—“

Casey nodded. “So it was surgical,” he concluded. “No organs missing, though.”

Rick sat down, frowning. “Um—“

“Placement doesn’t make sense,” Casey continued, mentally mapping out his abdominal cavity. “And I would have likely been sedated longer and been in a more intensive ward. And if you’re here and not Michael, how bad can it be?”

Rick was almost gaping, eyes wide as he watched Casey talk.

Then Casey paused, sorting through his memories. There was his injuries, of course; the mission, unfortunately, and—

His stomach went cold and his jaw locked.

“You’re doing great,” Rick said, nodding readily as he tried to relax. “Doctors are really optimistic."

Casey heard him, but didn’t know how to acknowledge him. Because before the darkness, he could still see the light. Glaring and inescapable, showing truths Casey didn’t want to see. About failure and shortcomings and Billy—

Billy, gray and bloody.

Billy, laid out on an examination table.

Billy, heart not beating while some doctor flailed about.

Billy, dead.

“You’ll be here for a few more days, of course,” Martinez continued, oblivious, “but they don’t think—“

Casey stared at him hard and interjected forcefully. “Billy’s dead.”

Rick stopped short, mouth still open. He blinked. “What?”

“Billy’s dead, isn’t he?” Casey asked – demanded.

Rick stuttered. “I, um – what?”

Casey’s expression hardened. “Last I saw him, he was receiving a rather vigorous round of CPR from what I can only hope was a qualified emergency room doctor or whatever the hell they’re called here,” he all but snarled. “And given the low success rate of CPR and other resuscitation efforts, I can only assume that Billy is dead.

He practically spit the words, something twinging painfully in his gut. Because Billy was dead, and Casey had laid idly and did nothing. It was his fault.

It was—

“No,” Rick said, sounding almost surprised.

Casey blinked, focusing on the younger man again.

Rick shook his head, seeming to gather his wits. “I didn’t realize…” He swallowed, composing himself. “It was a close thing there, for a bit, and it was a difficult surgery, but, um, he’s improved a lot. Still in ICU, but stable. They think he’s going to pull through.”

Casey stared at him as the words tumbled through his slightly addled brain. There was another thing about the darkness. If Casey could lie and cheat and sneak around, then the truth could, too. He’d thought he’d been confident back in safehouse; he’d thought he’d understood the situation while unconscious in the hospital. But the dark could hide everything – especially the truth.

Lying there, healing in a hospital bed, Casey had to think that maybe the light had its advantages after all.

-o-

The light had its advantages.

And its disadvantages.

Because the light could reveal the truth – but sometimes the truth was ugly and garish, better left hidden,

Really, sometimes the truth was something Casey just didn’t want to face.

That was his darkest secret, he knew. That he clove to the dark not just to his tactical advantage or to avoid dealing with the pesky emotions of others, but that he opted for the shadows because his emotions were better hidden there. There were truths Casey didn’t want to face.

Like this.

Billy.

It had taken some demanding, but Rick had been easier to convince. Michael was harder, but since he was spending most of his time with Billy, Casey had an easy time guilt-tripping Rick into doing his bidding. Whether or not the kid got permission from the doctors and nurses, Casey didn’t know, nor did he care, but he’d been so focused on achieving his ends that when he was faced with the truth it was actually somewhat daunting.

Rick loitered by the door. Michael was in the chair by Billy’s bed. And Billy…

Billy was a mess. His hair was flattened awkwardly, still a bit caked with blood. There was a bandage on his head, obscuring some of the damage, but the colorful bruising down the side of his unshaven face was plain enough.

His complexion was milky, and his face was gaunt and sickly. A tube snaked from his slightly parted lips, taped down hastily into place.

The hospital gown covered the rest, but the tubes and wires said enough. One seemed to be draining blood from Billy’s chest – no doubt a chest tube from a punctured lung – and there was an IV attached on the back of his hand, which was placed carefully on top of the sheets.

The overhead light was unrelenting, washing out Billy’s face even more and making him look more dead than alive.

Casey didn’t want to think whether or not that were true.

Casey didn’t want to think at all.

That was all he’d been doing – thinking. He’d been thinking since the beginning and what good had it done him?

The fact was, the dark had been no kind of refuge. It had hidden the truth, weakened him further.

But the light wasn’t much better. With its glaring obviousness, overstating already brutal truths with undue viciousness.

The dark hid; the light manipulated. All Casey could do was sit there and watch. As Michael worried; as Rick fretted; as Billy breathed.

And Casey watched.

If only because he could.

-o-

Recovery was always nothing short of awkward.

This was part of the reason Casey preferred not to get injured. Yes, he hated the helplessness and the embarrassment, but the aftermath was cumbersome and unsettling. He had to sit in a bed and rely on people to do things for him. People he didn’t know served him meals he couldn’t identify and he had to submit to being poked and prodded and questioned until he very nearly wanted to kill someone.

Worse still, a lot of recovery was a waste of time. All the procedures and tests – they were irrelevant. Casey knew his body; Casey knew his limitations. He could set his own pace and he didn’t need quacks with letters after their name to prove their so-called knowledge by throwing around big words and ordering superfluous tests.

Casey was better than this.

And yet…

He was weak. He was hurt. His head still throbbed and sometimes he still found himself on the verge of blacking out for no reason. He was easily winded and the pain in his side left him tacitly consenting to the heavy narcotics they continued to offer him a few days post-op.

Because Casey was, unfortunately, human. The starkness of that revelation had left him ashamed and angry back in the safehouse. Now he accepted it with a certain numbness. This was his own fault; this was his own weakness; this was on him.

Was it all a waste of time? Yes. But Casey was a waste of time and space, so perhaps that was fitting.

If Rick noticed his foul mood, he was smart enough not to comment. Casey had no such luck with Michael.

His team leader had known him too long; he knew him too well, and he was too much of an egotistical bastard to keep his mouth shut.

“You’re planning something,” Michael said finally, when the silences between them were too pointed. Neither of them had ever had the need for pointless chatter – that was Billy’s coping mechanism, not theirs – but they knew when the silences were amiable and when they weren’t.

That didn’t mean that Casey would own to it, though. He shrugged diffidently, trying to make the remote work to change the channel on the archaic TV in his room. “You say that like you’re the only person on this team allowed to plan.”

Michael showed no sign of being bothered by the accusation, false or not. He’d been there for only about twenty minutes, relieving Martinez early for some reason. “I just know that there’s never a good plan to be made from a hospital bed,” he said. “I’ve learned a few things from experience.”

Casey snorted, but said nothing, hoping they could leave it at that.

But Michael was almost as bad as Billy about not leaving well enough alone. When he wanted to, the other operative could pick and prod and prattle until Casey broke. “So I figure you’re planning how to get out of here early," Michael said. "I know you’re restless. I can tell, so that wouldn’t surprise me, except with Billy still in the hospital, there’s no place you can go that’s better than here. You already get daily visits to his room, and you don’t like bedside vigils.”

Casey managed to change the channel, but the news program was in a foreign language with closed captioning that looked like gibberish. “Yeah,” Casey said. “So?”

“So,” Michael continued. “That means you’re probably planning your recovery. I’ve talked to your doctors, though—“

“Isn’t that against doctor-patient confidentiality?” Casey asked, perturbed.

“The doctors like me,” Michael said.

“You stole the charts,” Casey said crossly.

Michael didn’t deny it. “The point is that I know you’re doing fine. You’re going to be up and at 100 percent in no time, so I don’t think that’s it either.”

“So then by your own logic, it’s nothing,” Casey said, settling for some demented looking game show with contestants jumping wildly in the audience.

“Unless that’s not the kind of recovery we’re talking about,” Michael said, a little thoughtful. He cocked his head, eyes narrowed. “You’re going to quit.”

The plainness of the revelation was so stark that Casey almost dropped the remote. The fact that it was true made his stomach roil.

Still. He didn’t. He held the remote, fingers locking down hard as he stared at the TV and refused to look away. “If you’re so sure, then why are you even bothering with this conversation,” he said.

“Because I want to know why,” Michael replied.

Casey took a breath slowly, held it for a moment, then let it out. He’d been over this in his mind. He’d been over it more than once, countless times, and he always came to the same conclusion. His growing certainty had been one thing, but the idea of telling his team was still something he’d been avoiding. Not for the discomfort of it – Casey knew emotions were best dealt with like a Band Aid, fast and in one sweep – but because it would be counterproductive to their situation.

Billy was doing better, but he was still unconscious. No doubt, he had a longer recovery than Casey ahead of him. Rick was still young and inexperienced. The weight of Casey’s resignation would weigh heavily on both of them, especially if they weren’t allowed to transfer back to the US soon. It would be easier to wait until they were back home, until they were well on their way to recovery, and then Casey could turn in his forms and end things quietly. No fuss.

It was a good plan.

But Michael apparently had no desire to make this easy on him.

Sighing, he put down the remote and looked at Michael squarely. “It was my fault.”

Michael didn’t even blink. “How do you figure?”

“I was the one who tripped the bomb,” he said flatly. “We’ve been over this in my report. I walked into the booby trap because I was careless and sloppy. I let my preconceived notions and general disposition hinder my attentiveness and the result was nearly catastrophic.”

“We all miss things,” Michael returned. Despite the many hours Casey had spent making his case, he was suddenly with no doubt that Michael had spent more preparing his dissent. “I knew that house was probably rigged and I also knew that our mark probably wasn’t there. I sent you on a dangerous wild goose chase just to satisfy my own eccentricities.”

“That’s a moot point,” Casey argued. “I missed the trigger. I missed the signs. I set off the bomb and nearly killed Billy. There’s no excuse that can be made for my negligence. My 100 percent is not good enough anymore. I’m not going to be a lame duck, leeching off of the system when I’m past my usefulness. Resignation is the only viable option after my pathetic performance in the field.”

Because he really hadn’t seen it coming. At all. He’d been so sure. He’d been too tired. It wasn’t that he hadn’t just ignored the possibility, it was that he’d weighed the concern and dismissed it as irrelevant not based on the mission at hand but because of his own flawed thinking and emotional flaws.

Old and crotchety, in Billy’s terms.

Not good enough for spywork, in Casey’s.

Michael seemed to ponder for a moment before he chewed his lip and nodded.

Casey stared at him. Waiting.

Michael said nothing.

After another few painful moments stretched between them, Casey narrowed his eyes. “What? You’re not going to talk me out of it?”

Michael smirked. “You want me to?”

The turnaround was almost unsettling. “No,” he snapped, a little too quickly. “I just – I’ve never known you to willfully let me win an argument.”

Michael tilted his head. “And if I agree with you?”

The ease of the implicit accusation was unexpected; it stung.

Casey worked his jaw, frustrated that his own emotions were getting the better of him again. Because Michael was right; some part of Casey had expected Michael to talk him out of it.

More signs that Casey was too weak for this job. That he needed to walk away.

Now.

This way, he could still resign with a shred of dignity, head held high. It would be a clean, fast break—

“Besides,” Michael said, getting to his feet. “I’m not the one you’d listen to anyway.”

Casey shook his head. “If you think you can use Martinez with his puppy dog eyes—“

Michael laughed. “No,” he said, grinning slyly, like he knew something Casey didn’t. Which, the smug bastard – he probably did. “I can do better than that.”

-o-


Casey should have known. All the signs had been rather obvious. But still, when Michael wheeled him into Billy’s room, he still hadn’t figured it out until he saw the Scot sitting up in bed.

He looked bedraggled and groggy, but awake.

And grinning. “Ah!” he croaked, brightening as Michael settled Casey next to Billy’s bed, “Seeing you two is like a ray of sunshine, breaking through the dreariness of my strained existence in this grim hospital room.”

On the other side of the bed, Rick cleared his throat, getting to his feet. “I think the drugs are hitting him pretty hard still,” he said. “He’s pretty coherent, though.”

Billy turned his head, nodding seriously at Rick. “More coherent than I’d like after that exam they gave me,” he said.

Michael smirked a bit. “You think you have energy for this last visitor before you go back to sleep?”

“For Casey?” Billy asked. “I’d stave off more than sleep for this man. This unparalleled brother in arms. Dark and stoic and—“ He cut off, brow furrowed, a little confused. “So awesome, I can’t even think of bloody words to do him justice.”

Rick scratched the back of his neck. “Mostly coherent, anyway,” he said.

Michael jerked his head toward the door, eyes on Rick. “I think Casey needs to talk to Billy,” he said.

“I have nothing of importance to say,” Casey snapped, positively sulking in the chair. He hated using the chair to begin with, and Michael had brought him here under false pretenses. He’d been duped and set up and now he was being left with a drugged up, overly peppy Billy.

Who he needed to apologize to.

It was cruel.

Though not very unusual.

Michael shrugged. “Then, Billy has something to say to Casey,” he amended, heading out, Martinez not even a step behind.

And just like that, Casey was alone with Billy.

He’d been alone with Billy on and off during their hospital tenure, but it was the first time they’d been awake since they’d been trapped in the dark.

Now, they could look each other, eye to eye. That was how it was supposed to be.

And damn it, it was so hard.

“Well,” Billy said, still too cheerful, “I am quite glad to see that you are doing better. Truth be told, I was rather worried about you back at the safehouse. You looked ghastly.”

Yet, it had been Billy who had been dying. “You should have told me how bad you were,” Casey said instead.

Billy’s smile faded a little, the buzz of the drugs not enough to hide the flicker of regret on his features. “There was nothing you could do,” he said. “I didn’t see the point.”

“I need to be fully informed,” Casey snapped. “What you did was irresponsible and reckless. If we’re going to function properly as a team, then we need to be entirely honest with one another. Gaps in communication are no acceptable if we are going to survive. You can’t be so selfish and irresponsible and—“

Casey cut short. Billy was watching him, eyes wide, eyebrows raised, looking far too earnest and still too pale. This wasn’t about Billy, and Casey knew it. It wasn’t about what Billy had failed to tell him, it was about what Casey had failed to see. He was blaming Billy for his own weakness because it was easier than admitting the truth.

He took a breath.

He sighed.

“I’m sorry,” he said, shoulders falling, his emotions coming back under control as he refocused on what he’d decided before this point. This was of course why Michael had brought him here, to use Billy’s injury to throw him off his game and make him slip into accidental submission. It wouldn’t work, though. Casey wouldn’t let it. Steeling himself, he straightened, looking Billy in the eyes. “This is my fault, and I am taking measures to rectify it.”

Billy blinked at him. “Okay, then,” he said. “I reckon we can work on that together—“

Casey shook his head brusquely. “No,” he said. “This is everything to do with me. My weaknesses are the problem that need to be dealt with and I will deal with that – away from this team where I don’t pose a risk to you, the others, and national security.”

Billy seemed to be a bit slow on the uptake. “Pardon?”

Casey pursed his lips. “I’m quitting,” he said. “I wasn’t going to tell you until we got back, but I suppose this is just as good a time as any. I'm going to leave the Agency."

“Because a mission went tits up?” Billy asked in genuine confusion.

Casey sighed. “Because I thought I had it under control and I didn’t,” he said. “Because my overconfidence led to a lapse in judgment that nearly cost you your life.”

For a long moment, Billy merely looked at him. The machines beeped about them, and the air conditioner kicked on. Finally Billy nodded his head slowly. “You do know that having this conversation after I’ve just woke up from major surgery and am happily on a heavy narcotic isn’t exactly fair, yes?”

Casey shrugged. “I didn’t mean for this to happen now,” he said.

“Oh, I have no doubt,” Billy said. “Michael is a manipulative bastard, isn’t he?”

Casey grunted. “The worst. I’d respect him for it if I didn’t have to hate him so much.”

“And if he weren’t so right.

Casey stopped, cautious.

Billy gestured. “He knew if you came here, despite your better judgment, you’d see reason.”

“You’re not that persuasive, no matter what you think,” Casey said gruffly.

“Perhaps you are immune to my many charms, but that’s not why he brought you here.”

Casey shook his head. “I don’t follow.”

“I think it’s quite obvious,” Billy said. “He brought you here because he knew that once you saw the facts in the cold light of day you’d have no choice but to acquiesce.”

Casey rolled his eyes.

But Billy ignored him. “Because he knew that you’d eventually see that even though you think that you think this is your fault, you really don’t.”

“That’s surprisingly incoherent, even for you.”

Billy pressed on. “That’s why you started out the way you did,” he said. “We both had operational failures in this mission, Casey. You and me and Rick and Michael. All of us. Whoever had the last one may feel more responsible than the last, but we all make our choices in the dark and hope to hell that when the sun rises all is well. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, and the fact is, all we can do is learn from that and keep going.”

“I should have seen it—“

“And I should have, too,” Billy said. “You said it yourself, I should have told you the truth. We’re all so busy falling on our swords sometimes that we don’t even think. Michael sent us after a stupid lead to satisfy his own neurosis and this is where we are.”

“I can’t change any thing but myself,” Casey said. “And that’s what I plan to do.”

“Well, that’s bloody unfair,” Billy said sourly, pouting a little now.

“It’s for the good of everyone.”

“Rubbish!” Billy said. “It’s for the good of you.”

“I don’t want to fail you again.”

“So you’ll leave me instead?” Billy asked, indignant.

“You’re being sentimental.”

“And you’re being stupid!”

Casey’s agitation peaked, and he found his temper flaring. “You were the one who lied to me!”

“And you’re the one who’s quitting!” Billy spat back.

“Maybe I’m doing it because I can’t stand people who lie to me!”

“Good,” Billy retorted. “And maybe I’m asking you to stay so you won’t stay!”

“Then maybe I will stay,” Casey shot at him.

“Then maybe you should!”

“Fine,” Casey snapped.

“Good,” Billy returned crossly.

There was terse silence, Billy slumping a little in the bed, Casey’s heart pounding in his ears. What had happened…

What had happened?

Back at the safehouse? In his hospital room? Just now with Billy?

Things were easy to sort through in the dark. He could take and leave what he wanted. In the light, it was harder. Because he could see what he was losing.

And what he was gaining.

He would quit for himself.

But he’d stay for his team.

The day would come when those two things would have to shift, when the scales would tilt, and Casey would have to slough off into the darkness once and for all, but today, the fresh daylight coming through the windows, it wasn’t time for that yet.

Sitting back, he felt strangely mollified. Annoyed but…content.

Still, he glowered. “This entire conversation was a waste of time,” he muttered.

Billy nodded, clearly sleepy. “Mmmm,” he agreed. “Then next time, let’s not have it, okay? No more throwing yourself on your sword. It’s not what we want, yeah?”

“And if I think it needs to happen?” Casey prompted.

Billy smiled. “Well, I think this mission has proved one thing,” he said. “Your logic is not infallible. So you’re going to have to trust me.”

“But this mission has also proved that you’re a rotten liar.”

Billy chuckled. “Aye, I reckon that’s true,” he murmured. “The two cancel out, though, don’t you think?”

Perhaps.

And even if they didn’t, Casey had to think that for now, it was close enough.

Comments

Posted by: sockie1000 (sockie1000)
Posted at: October 12th, 2012 01:39 pm (UTC)
billy

ahhh... thanks so much for a wonderful birthday fic! angst and whump are the best gifts. :D

and poor Casey, learning his was wrong-- about the house, Billy's injuries, his own injuries, his usefulness, and most importantly, his place on the team. I'm so glad Billy was able to make him see the light!

A lovely fic all the way around. Thank you, my friend.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 15th, 2012 02:47 am (UTC)
billy watches

I'm just glad you had a great birthday! This fic is a pittance, I'm afraid, but it's all I have to offer :)

And that's what's great about h/c -- it forces characters to face weakness and grapple with it. Which is especially hard for Casey.

Thank you!

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: October 14th, 2012 09:40 am (UTC)
Casey and Billy

Lovely interaction between Billy and Casey

Casey's revelation that he can't do anything on his own anymore is just a little bit heart wrenching.

And you have impaled Billy again :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 16th, 2012 07:45 pm (UTC)
billy casey trouble

LOL, I did impale Billy! It just seemed like the rich thing to do while writing :)

Thank you!

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 14th, 2012 05:04 pm (UTC)

This is a testament to your writing and how seamless, self-contained and stand alone your stories are because I accidentally read this, not realizing there was a part 1 (this gives you an idea of how hellish my week was) and then I was gifted with both your and Lena's h/c stories. It just brightened my weekend where both of you seemed to know what I needed.

Of course I'll read part 1, but thought I'd review part 2 anyway given how perfectly self-contained it was.

As I've said before, you write the Casey/Billy partnership/friendship so excellently and true to character and yet you feel the deeply bonded emotional connection without making it too maudlin. I truly loved every moment and word and it's all my favorite part!

Thanks for cheering me up with every h/c word!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 16th, 2012 07:46 pm (UTC)
billy thinks

I'm sorry things have been so crazy for you lately! The fact that my fic can help at all is humbling :) If I weren't so knee deep in VS, I'd offer to write you more! Though if you had a prompt for a very short ficlet, I might be able to help...

Thanks!

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 16th, 2012 08:20 pm (UTC)
Your stories

I've appreciated every story of course especially the h/c ones. They cheer me up in more ways that I can express. And I love that you know what I mean by that. Overwhelmed doesn't begin to describe how I've been lately so your stories are literal lifesavers as a lovely way to escape. I haven't even been able to write at all these days and wish I could help with the VS. I know how busy, likely in a good way, you are over the VS. If you have any time, you know that any near-death/h/c story is the perfect remedy for all my ills, but only if you have time. It could be just a scene, character combination of your choice with Billy, injury of your choice. Brave, heroic, badly hurt Billy is always a joy to behold. HAHAHA!

Thanks for being so brilliantly prolific to supply much comfort.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 20th, 2012 03:31 am (UTC)
Re: Your stories
billy watches

Aw, I'm just so sorry things are stressful these days! I really do hope things settle down for you soon and you can return to a more manageable work/home life.

Right now I'm bogged down in VS, but will try to remember to share things with you as I write them!

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 15th, 2012 01:54 am (UTC)

Forgot to mention this fave part and tell you how much I love how you portray noble and comfort giving Billy. You know how much I adore that:

He waited for a reply. Billy breathed, wet and ever slower, moving the air above them by degrees.

“Billy?” he asked, craning his neck to the side, trying to rotate his shoulders. “Billy!”

There was a stirring and a wheeze. “You’re a good spy, Casey,” Billy finally replied, words tumbling out, fast and slurred. “Better than you realize.”

“You’re getting delirious,” Casey retorted, his gut twisting painfully.

Billy continued, as if he hadn’t heard Casey at all - and at this point, Casey wasn’t sure he had. “Good spies aren’t perfect. They’re all just human messes, like the rest of us. But what makes them great is that they know their limits-“ He broke off, inhaling desperately. “Know their limits and compensate.”

Casey closed his eyes, and worked to control his emotions. He was better than this. He was better than this. He owned the night; it didn’t own him. He wasn’t going to sit and cower and cry. He wasn’t.

“That’s almost coherent,” he said in reply, tone sharp.

Billy exhaled, long and deflating. “Should be,” he murmured, voice trailing off, accent so thick that the words were almost impossible to understand. “Learned it from you…”

--*sigh...I love Billy.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 16th, 2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
billy earnest

I love that injury lets people say the things they normally won't. And hey! Billy was conscious for most of the fic, which doesn't usually happen for me! LOL, that had to make you happy :)

Thanks!

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 17th, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
HAHAHAHA! You know me SO WELL!

Yes, this didn't go unappreciated. HAHAHA! I appreciate that you let Billy prattle despite his injuries, my sick sadistic side enjoyed every moment. You have to keep him conscious or at least semi-conscious, more often. HAHAHA! You write his "struggling" so well.



Edited at 2012-10-17 04:27 pm (UTC)

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