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Chaos fic: Teachable Moments

December 19th, 2012 (08:37 pm)
worried

feeling: worried

Title: Teachable Moments

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: For bloodzephyr. This isn’t as elaborate as the prompt given, but I did my best to hit as many of the points as I could :) Beta given by sockie1000

Summary: Some lessons are hard and some lessons are scary and some of it is just weird. There are lessons. But not here.



-o-

“So,” Billy says, “this seems like a good time for another one of our lessons.”

Rick scoffs. “Really?”

“Sure,” Billy says. “Why not?”

Rick stares at him. Or he tries to. He has to duck a punch and kick an attacker, grabbing the impending wrist and wresting the gun away. His delay is hardly noticeable, though, because Billy’s squarely knocking out his own opponent before taking a punch to the gut from another one of their not-so-friendly hosts.

“Because we’re being attacked by at least a dozen very angry terrorists!” Rick says indignantly when he gets the chance, before he has to throw off one of the men who has clamped onto his back.

Billy shoves his boot into someone’s crotch and grimaces before his lips twist into a buoyant smile. “It seems like a perfectly teachable moment to me!”

This time, Rick stops. “But we’re busy!”

“Ah, well, there’s a lesson right there,” Billy says. “We’re never too busy to learn!”

Rick is too dumbfounded to reply.

He’s also too dumbfounded to stop the fist from crashing into his jaw. Reeling, he scrambles to keep his feet, charging blindly ahead until he runs into something and there’s a meaty thunk. He pummels with his fists, ignoring the feel of his skin splitting, hitting and hitting until something knocks him from the side.

On his back, he has to blink to clear the dark and when he does, he sees the angry man on top of him, face snarling and fist curled. One punch, Rick’s ears ring. Two punches, a tooth is gone.

The third never comes.

Instead, the man is gone, sprawled on his side and bleeding. Billy stands, grinning, above him. “Another lesson,” he says proudly. “Avoid fights you can’t win.”

Rick gapes. “And if you can’t?”

Billy shrugs. “Then always have the right person at your back,” he says, turning quickly to floor another man. Another attacker launches at Billy’s back, taking the Scot down to a knee. He grunts, flailing as the man wraps his arm around Billy’s throat and starts to squeeze.

Billy has his back.

Now it’s time to take the lesson to heart -- and return the favor.

Gathering his strength, Rick pushes to his feet and charges in, grunting with effort as he plows into the man and the fight starts again.

-o-

The good news is that Billy finally stops trying to instill nuggets of wisdom.

The bad news is that he’s stopped talking because the fighting just gets crazier. No matter how many times they seem to knock men down, they keep getting back up. Probably because there’s about a dozen of them, and they merely take turns being incapacitated before staggering back up for another go.

It’d be impressive were it not so damn annoying.

And painful.

Rick can’t avoid another solid punch to his temple, and he finds himself wavering precariously. Dropping to the ground is mostly accidental, but it sort of works to his advantage when his attacker throws a whiffing punch in the space where his head just vacated.

It’s a good thing it didn’t land; Rick’s not sure how much he has left.

He’s lying there dumbly -- too dazed to move -- and he wonders if maybe passing out is the better option to this endless fighting. Sure that might mean certain death, but that would at least cure his throbbing headache...

Then his attacker is gone when Billy hits him with a flying tackle.

Or when Billy falls on him.

Flying tackle sounds more impressive, but at this point, Rick’s not so sure.

Billy is slow in getting to his feet, and he stumbles once -- going to his knee -- and he barely has time to duck when another man comes at him. As it is, Billy doesn’t seem to have the strength to follow up and he takes a blow to the ribs that doubles him over. A kick to the knees sends him down.

Always have the right person at your back.

Rick’s head hurts and his vision swims, but Billy’s back is vulnerable -- and Rick has to fix that.

Lunging wildly, Rick finds his feet and flails as much as he charges. It’s not exactly a graceful movement, but it’s effective and he lands a solid hit that knocks the man off of where Billy is splayed on the floor, still trying to get up.

Rick turns instinctively, catching another man with a punch and then kicking another, and it feels good to be good at this, to do it right, to be good--

And then he turns into a fist.

It smashes him across the nose, and pain explodes. There’s blood and his vision swims so bad that he doesn’t see the punch that knocks him to the ground. He doesn’t see anything, in fact, except a blur of motion as someone sits on his chest and starts to pound.

At first, he counts the punches.

Then, he gives up after three.

Everything shifts and the pain becomes a living entity. It’s demanding and it’s annoying and it’s all he has left.

There’s a lesson in this, Rick thinks. But he sure as hell doesn’t what it is as the blackness rises and Rick passes out.

-o-

Somewhere, Rick’s mind is working. This isn’t so unusual; Rick’s mind is always working. That’s just the way he is. His mother says that he came out of the birth canal and just looked. He didn’t cry; he just watched. Always learning, she says. From the very beginning.

He learned to walk young; he learned to pile his toys in the corner of his playpen and crawl out. Of course, he didn’t learn how not to fall on his head until a few months later, but he learned.

Rick learned at school, always the top of his class. Kids went to recess; Rick went to the library. He read all the books in his elementary school by the fourth grade. When he went looking for more, the librarian glared at him over her wire-rim glasses and said, “Young man, you have a lifetime to learn. What’s the rush?”

The rush was that Rick had a lifetime. One lifetime. Infinite knowledge. No matter how much he read and worked and tried -- there was always more.

There’s always more. In college, at the Farm. With the ODS.

He reads all the files he can; he studies all the case studies. He reads newspapers in every language he knows, and starts to pick up another just because.

He practices at the firing range; trains in the gym. On missions, he’s alert, aware. He’s ready.

He learns.

Some lessons are hard (he’s in a terrorist camp and he’s been drugged and trust is the hardest and easiest part of his job) and some lessons are scary (he’s bleeding out in Bolivia and the morphine makes it okay but it doesn’t change the facts that he’s fading before he’s learned it all) and some of it is just weird (Casey’s slept with half the Agency; Michael’s a hopeless romantic; Billy’s scared of blood and chins).

There are lessons.

But not here.

There’s nothing to learn here.

There’s just dark.

There’s just....

Nothing.

-o-

And then, there’s something.

Rick’s not sure what it is, and after a few moments, he comes to realize his eyes are open.

His eyes are open and everything hurts. It’s all a mess of pain, encompassing and effusive, and he wants to close his eyes, but it takes too much effort.

He takes a breath, or tries to. It feels wrong and hard and something cold blossoms in his chest. He panics, but that only makes things worse and the edges of his vision start to dim, graying out precariously as he hinges on the brink.

And he might fall. He sort of wants to fall. Part of knows that’s probably not a good idea, but the rest of him is too scared and hurt to care. He could just let go. Really, it’s not a choice at all since he’s not sure there’s anything left to hold on to.

Because he’s not sure where he is. He doesn’t remember why he’s here. He’s not even sure who he is anymore, if he has a purpose, a life -- something. Everything is a mess, though, and it’s worse that he’s not even sure why.

His chest hitches, and he whines. Something bleeps, grating at his consciousness, and he’s not sure he’s going to fall anymore. He might just jump.

Then, someone’s there.

The face hovers, haloed by the light. Rick’s eyes burn, and he tries to blink, forcing hot tears down his cheeks.

Rick can’t recognize him -- can barely even focus on his features -- but the lips tug up into a smile and the blue eyes shine brightly as someone squeezes his finger firmly.

It’s not much, but it’s something, and Rick learns how to hold on even as he closes his eyes and the rest slips away.

-o-

When Rick opens his eyes, it seems clear some time has passed, but he doesn’t know how much. He doesn’t even remember sleeping, but this time he realizes pretty quickly that he’s in a hospital.

Which means, he’s hurt.

This seems perfectly logical to Rick until he realizes he doesn’t know how he got hurt. He doesn’t even know what hurts.

“Ah,” a voice chimes in, almost on cue. “Sleeping beauty awakes.”

Rick startles and looks to his side. The face is back -- the one from before. He has a body this time, though, seated in a wheelchair, clothed in a thin hospital gown.

The smile on his lips is forced as the man continues, “How are you feeling?”

Rick stares at him for a moment. He takes a few breath and swallows. When he opens his mouth to speak, his lips crack and his throat scratches. He winces, swallowing as best he can. “Bad.”

The man chuckles. “I would say so,” he says. “You’ve been unconscious for a week.”

Rick’s brow furrows, but he regrets it as his head starts to pound with new ferocity.

“Easy,” the man coaches. “You’re still recovering.”

Rick manages to look at him, eyes almost squinted shut. “From what?”

The man hesitates, but then smiles. “Just a spot of brain surgery,” he says dismissively.

Rick’s eyes widen, pain be damned.

The man sighs. “You had a hematoma,” he explains. “It was touch and go for a bit, there, but the doctors got it out and you’ve been improving ever since.”

There’s a lot there, and a lot of scary details. A hematoma -- Rick knows that’s bad, even if he’s not sure why he knows that -- and brain surgery. He reaches up to feel the bandage on his head and notices the dramatic pressure at the back of his skull. He wonders if the hole’s still there. “What happened?” he asks finally, looking back at the man.

At this, the man seems to flinch. Rick notices now how bad he looks. His face is a mess of bruises and his nose looks distorted. He’s got a bandage taped to his forehead and a badly split lip. He’s also pale and guarded in the wheelchair, the IV strung up at his side dripping into his arm. “You don’t remember?”

Rick shakes his head, a slight movement. “I don’t remember anything.”

This time, the man looks positively stricken. “They said amnesia was possible...,” he says, but it sounds like he’s trying to convince himself.

Which isn’t good. This isn’t good. He feels his heartbeat quicken. “I’m brain damaged?”

The man looks sympathetic. “You’re talking and cognizant,” he says. “The rest will come.” He grins, though it takes obvious effort when he winks. “You’ve always been a fast learner.”

Rick doesn’t know why he should believe this man, but he does. Somehow, he just does.

“Now then,” the man coaxes. “A little rest will do you wonders.”

Rick wants to protest, but he realizes just how tired he is.

“Sleep, then,” the man says as Rick closes his eyes almost against his will. “And we’ll talk more when you wake up.”

And Rick can’t argue because he’s already asleep.

-o-

Breathing in, Rick’s awake again. Things are clearer this time -- the lights seem sharper, the world less fuzzy -- and when he turns his head, the pain that flares is sharp and blinding.

“Easy,” someone says. “Your meds are low but you’re not due for another dose for another ten minutes.”

Rick grits his teeth and looks. The man from before is gone. This time, the man sitting there is tipped back in a chair, a posture of repose that is belied by the critical gleam in his eyes.

“Do I know you?” Rick asks.

The man lifts his eyebrows. “So I take it the amnesia is still a thing, then,” he says.

Rick frowns. “I remember waking up before,” he says. “I had a hematoma.”

“That’s right,” the man replies. “Billy said you seemed pretty with it. I guess he was right.”

“Billy?” Rick asks.

“The guy from before,” the man clarifies.

“In the wheelchair?”

There’s a brief flicker of emotion on his face. “Yeah,” he says. “That’s Billy.”

“And he’s my...?” Rick asks, trying to come up with an answer.

“Friend,” the man supplies. “Really, something of a coworker.” He pauses, eyes narrowed. “Do you remember your job?”

Rick struggles at that, thinking back as best he can. Thinking to the man in the wheelchair and the darkness and the pain and... He shake his head. “No,” he admits. Then his frown deepens, the feeling of worry and stress building unbidden. “It’s important, though, right? My job?”

The man smirks a little. “You could say that,” he says. “I’m Michael, by the way.”

“And we...?”

“Work together, too,” he says.

Rick nods, and tries to accept that. It’s reassuring, he supposes. Though nothing feels very reassuring. He can’t remember, after all. And he doesn’t want to be here.

He shudders, a spike of pain emanating from his head. Everything goes dim for a moment, and he suddenly finds it hard to breathe.

The man sits forward, but when he touches Rick’s arm, it’s too much. Rick recoils, drawing in, which only makes the pain worse.

The man -- Michael -- swears. “Take it easy, kid,” he says.

But Rick can’t take it easy. He doesn’t know how. He’s not even sure he can breathe or think or remember or--

Something wails, and suddenly his bed is lying flat. There’s a nurse and a doctor and someone shining a bright light in his eyes before something warm burns in his arm and everything goes hazy and dim and disappears all together.

-o-

This time, Rick’s cautious before he opens his eyes. He’s not sure what he’ll find, but he’s not sure he wants to find out.

“I know you’re awake,” a voice comes.

It’s different. Not Billy. Not Michael.

“I promise not to be too condescending until you’re upgraded out the ICU,” the voice continues. “So you might as well wake up and enjoy it while it lasts.”

If this is supposed to be encouraging, Rick’s not sure the man is doing a great job, but Rick opens his eyes anyway.

The man at his side this time is older still. His face is plain, and he looks annoyed to be sitting there.

Rick knows how he feels. He’s a little annoyed that the man is sitting there, too. “Where’s Michael?”

The man looks pleasantly surprised. “At least your short term memory isn’t impaired,” he says. “Do you remember what happened?”

Rick wishes he could say yes, but he withdraws a bit, sulkily replying, “No.”

“Figures,” the man says with a sigh, glancing back at the magazine in his lap. “Though there’s still some swelling in your brain, so I’m supposed to give you a pass.”

Rick glares. “Where’s Billy?”

The man flips the page. “He’s getting some sort of scan,” he says.

Rick tries to cock his head, but the small movement is excruciating and nausea swells in his stomach. “Scan?”

“Yeah,” the man says. “Apparently he hasn’t learned his lesson about pushing it after being severely beaten. I’ve always wondered who was brighter when it came to the two of you and it looks like you won this round.”

Rick’s not sure if he’s being complimented or insulted. He’s not sure it matters. “Wait, what kind of scan?”

This time, the man looks up. “Concern? For a relative stranger?”

This is true, of course. He doesn’t remember Billy even if he supposedly knows him. But...there’s something about him. Something he’s supposed to remember. Something important. “How badly is he hurt?”

The man regards him carefully. “Not as bad as you, but that’s not saying much,” he says.

Rick sighs and a monitor beeps a little faster. “Can’t someone give me a straight answer?”

The man glances at the bank of monitors, and then purses his lips. “Fine,” he says. “They’ve been monitoring some of his internal injuries and they’re worried that the idiot is still bleeding because he won’t sit still.”

“Why won’t he sit still?” Rick asks.

“Because he’s always talking his way back into this room, trying to sit with you,” he says with a pointed roll of his eyes. “I swear, he never learns.”

The aching in Rick’s head is growing stronger again, and when he tries to breathe through it, the queasiness in his stomach is almost too much. Still, he forces it at bay and shakes his head. “Why does he want to be in here?”

“So much for you being the smart one,” the man quips.

Rick grits his teeth, and he can feel the blood rushing in his ears as everything starts to tingle.

“Hey, are you okay?” the man says, and he’s moving closer but sounds farther away. Or Rick’s slipping away and he’s not sure why or how or...

Everything shifts, and he gurgles, his body convulsing as he starts to heave. The bile burns up his esophagus and it tastes acrid on his tongue as it comes out. Someone says something; someone else grabs his shoulders and turns him.

He heaves again, more forcefully this time, and the effort leaves him blinded, but he can’t catch his breath because he convulses again.

When he’s done, he feels spent and collapses backward. Someone catches him and the voices wash over him as Rick doesn’t fight the dark this time.

-o-

This time, Rick at least knows he’s sleeping. This is different than before; better. As he drifts, he’s keenly aware of what he knows:

He’s been hurt badly, and he’s still recovering. He has a dangerous job and three coworkers who seem to care about him.

Not coworkers. Teammates. They haven’t left his side.

And what he doesn’t:

What caused his injury, just how long he’s been hurt. What job he was doing, and why it seems so damn important. He might have a family but they’re not here, and he doesn’t even know where here is.

But, Rick can learn. If he keeps trying, if he keeps waking up and listening and asking questions...he can learn.

He can learn who these men are and why they won’t leave. He can learn why he should be scared out of his mind but every time he wakes up, three strangers make him feel okay. He can learn why he still misses the first man -- Billy -- and why the fact that he’s still injured bothers him more than his own slow-paced recovery.

Rick can learn.

Rick will learn.

He just needs to keep trying.

-o-

When he wakes up, it’s with a start. He opens his eyes and stares, blinking a few times until he sees Billy.

The other man looks worse than before, the bruises discoloring further and his cheeks almost gaunt. He has the start of a beard by now, which is Rick’s only indication that time has past.

He’s also still in a wheelchair, and he seems to be uncomfortable even as he smiles. “You’re not going to throw up again, are you?”

“Is that a problem?” Rick asks.

Billy shrugs. “Only if you are opposed to me joining you when you do it,” he says.

“That’s a bad deterrent,” Rick replies.

“But effective,” Billy notes. “You’re already less green.”

It’s true. Rick doesn’t feel inclined to admit it. If anything, it makes him feel more petulant. “Still,” he says. “I have a hematoma.”

Had,” Billy clarifies for him.

“I have amnesia,” Rick says.

Billy chuckles. “Aye,” he says. “I reckon I ought to listen to my own advice and avoid fights I can’t win.”

It’s a joke, just like the rest, but not. Rick can hear the words, recycled in his head, playing again and again, in stereo now, echoing and reverberating, smacking him in the face like a fist--

Bashing across his temple. Dislodging a tooth.

Terrorists. A group of angry terrorists.

And Billy. Fighting by his side, taking punches and having Rick’s back.

“Always have the right person at your back,” he blurts with such force that it surprises him. He blinks rapidly, breath catching in his throat as he looks at Billy again, but this time with recognition. He can see the bruises on his face and match the fists that swung at him. He can see the way he guards his side where someone pummeled him. Rick sees.

Rick remembers.

Billy’s eyes widen and he sits up. “You remember?”

Rick nods, dazed. “Yeah,” he says. “We were...fighting terrorists?”

Billy laughs, clearly relieved. “A whole bloody lot of them,” he says. “I’m afraid they got the better of us. If Casey and Michael hadn’t showed up when they had--”

It could have been worse. It should have been worse. Because Rick had gone down when Billy needed him. He could still see Billy, flailing on the floor, vulnerable and exposed--

“I’m sorry,” Rick blurts.

Billy stops talking, taken aback.

Rick swallows painfully. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “I was supposed to have your back, and I didn’t. It’s my fault you’re in that wheelchair.”

Billy lifts his brows. “You’re apologizing?”

Rick nods. “You said it yourself,” he says. “We have to have each other’s backs. And I didn’t. I’m sorry.”

“You do remember that you’re the one still in the hospital bed,” Billy points out.

Rick shrugs. “So?”

“So if anyone didn’t do their part, it’s me,” Billy says. “I let them take you down, and I was powerless to stop it. I’m the one who’s sorry, lad. You have no idea just how much. These past two weeks...”

His voice trails off and he looks stricken.

Rick’s too dumbfounded to speak.

Billy takes a shaky breath and tries to smile. “I’m a foolish man,” he says, looking down feebly. “Giving lessons that I haven’t learned myself yet. You’re right not to listen to me.”

Rick shakes his head. “That’s not true.”

“I’m afraid it is--”

“No,” Rick says, adamant now. “I’ve learned a lot from you. On this mission -- on all the missions. I mean, your timing sometimes leaves a little bit to be desired, but...” He shakes his head, shrugging in futility. “Without you, I’m not sure I’d be the spy I am today. Hell, I’m not sure I’d even be here still at all.”

Billy is watching him, expression shocked. “That’s funny,” he muses.

“Why?”

“Because I could say the same, me to you,” he says.

Rick scrunches his nose up. “What?”

Billy reddens. “We talk you down because you’re the new guy, but the fact is, Rick, you’re the best of us,” he says. “Your courage, your fortitude -- it’s the stuff of legend. I reckon I keep giving lessons in the field so you don’t realize the disparity. I’ve learned a lot from you.”

Rick’s heart swells, his emotions rising. It’s almost too much, but he smiles. “Maybe we’ve learned a lot from each other, then,” he says.

Billy hesitates, almost shy. Then his lips start to turn into the inkling of a smile. “I would argue with you, but that’s already proved moot,” he says. “So I think that’s a compromise I can live with.”

Rick feels himself relax. His head still hurts; his body aches. Some of the details are still a little hazy, but the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. He settles back into the pillows gingerly, and lets out a slow breath as his energy flags again. Damn concussion, he thinks, and wills his eyes to stay open.

“There is one thing, though,” Rick says, looking at Billy again.

“I was worried there’d be more,” Billy says.

“Next time we’re fighting for our lives in a fight we’re outnumbered in,” Rick says, “maybe we can save the lessons until afterward.”

Billy’s lips spread and his smile is bright. “Fair enough.”

Rick hums a little, eyelids fluttering. “And no more lessons until I’m awake again, okay?”

“Aye,” Billy says, and he sounds a little distant as Rick starts to drift. “I think we’ve all learned enough for one mission.”

This time, the darkness isn’t so dark as Rick eases his way to sleep once more.