?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: Impact (1/2)

January 31st, 2013 (06:17 am)
grumpy
Tags: , ,

feeling: grumpy

Title: Impact

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: This is a follow up to my fic It’s Not the Fall that Kills You, in which poor Billy falls off a cliff and is presumed dead. The fact that I wrote a follow up should tell you already what happens in this one, LOL. Thanks to postfallen for giving this a once over. Remaining errors are because I am truly a horrific typist.

Summary: Billy falls; the entire team feels the impact.



-o-

The fact is, Billy doesn’t like heights. He’s not necessarily proud of this weakness, but he’s never exactly tried to hide it. His time as a spy notwithstanding, it doesn’t actually come up a lot. In fact, he finds this phobia much less bothersome than his implacable fear of blood and his hard to explain fear of chins. It’s not even as problematic as his claustrophobia, but still.

Billy doesn’t like heights.

There’s always this sense that he’s teetering on the edge, and he’s fallen from grace enough in his life to want to tempt fate in a much more literal fashion. And yet, he’s always known, even standing on the precipice of a great distance down, that it’s not the fall that kills you. Indeed, Billy’s not scared of the fall.

He’s scared of the impact.

Most of his life, he’s avoided the consequences of his actions. In school, he made people laugh so as to avoid the consequence of being lonely and friendless. As a spy, he got to flit from one spot to the next, doing what needed to be done and when things got messy, he could wash his hands and pretend like he was never there. Even his deportation was an act of avoiding the impact. He could have stayed -- could have fought. He could have jumped over the ledge and hoped for the best.

Instead, he’d panicked, looking down at the possible consequences, and he’d walked away.

Dangling from the edge of a cliff in Chile, Billy doesn’t have that luxury now. Because as much as much as he wants to hold on, it’s a question of one life or four. If he lets his friends fall, that’s a consequence that’s simply untenable.

It’s the lesser of two evils. Made simpler by the fact that he’s going to fall either way. This isn’t so much a choice for death as it is a choice to let his friends live.

Really, in that, it’s no choice at all.

So Billy closes his eyes, breathes a prayer, and lets go.

-o-

Michael runs.

Dogged steps, feet feeling leaden. He moves them, though, one after the other as he pushes on. He has to push on. There’s no choice.

Michael knows they have time now -- the one good thing about their rope bridge giving out is that their pursuers have no way of getting across. Hell, Michael doesn’t really have to run -- not for his life anymore.

But still. He has to run. He has to put as much distance between himself and that ravine, between himself and that cliffside, between himself and the place where he last saw Billy.

He has to run because there’s nothing to go back to.

Just an empty rope, a raging river, a deep drop, and a broken team.

And Billy’s corpse -- lost in the river, smashed on the rocks, tangled in the trees -- where Michael had let him fall.

It had been Billy’s choice; and really, if he hadn’t, there would have been four corpses. Michael would have done the same, if given the choice.

None of those reasons made it easier, though.

Rick staggers, almost falling, but Michael catches him, pulling him by the arm even as Rick squawks, choking on a sob. Michael doesn’t stop to look -- refuses to acknowledge his tear-streaked face and shell-shocked eyes -- and yanks him another few steps until he comes in step with Casey, who eyes him with a deadly, blank look before edging ahead purposefully and almost cutting him off.

Michael lets him. Michael will let him do whatever he wants as long as he doesn’t stop.

Because they couldn’t save Billy, and Michael couldn’t face his failure.

So he runs -- for the rest of his team, for the mission they might still salvage, for the hope of something better, for the fear of something worse--

Michael just keeps running.

-o-

It’s freefall.

For a moment, he’s suspended, wind rushing past his ears as he falls with his face to the glaringly blue sky. Then he shifts and he’s tumbling, twisting in the air and turning--

The blue swirls; the ground rotates below him. There are trees and the water and he’s on his back again, trying to breathe and he feels the spray of mist and then--

Impact.

Billy expects something dramatic, but instead it’s like an explosion in space -- the light flares and the jolt is palpable but surreal. There’s no sound; there’s no pain; there’s just the collision of two forces so hard and jarring that it defies the senses.

For a moment, that’s all there is. A confused lapse that could be only seconds or an eternity. Billy fleeting wonders if he’s dead--

And then the pain flares.

It reverberates through every cell in his body. He feels it, breaking his bones and rattling his brain. It pulses through his lungs, nearly turning his stomach. Everything feels like it’s bursting, and Billy wonders if he’s come apart at the seams.

Ragged, he tries to breathe--

And gets a mouth full of water instead.

The water -- Billy’s in the river. This is a stroke of luck that probably saved his life--

But he’s too busy almost drowning to appreciate it.

The current is strong and the water is deep and he flails, getting sucked under as he gulps for air and closes his mouth against the deluge. He can’t tell which way is up or down -- everything is dark and light and the water burns his eyes -- but when his face feels a brush of air, he opens his mouth--

Then he’s under again. He’s jostled, spun in an eddy before being unceremoniously sucked downward. He plunges, water sucked up his nose as he grunts, and he surfaces again just in time to see the rock in front of him.

There’s no time to move and his body revolts. He slams into the rock, knocking his head so hard that for a moment he just blacks out...

Until his body takes another breath.

He’s on his back. He’s turned by the current, his arm banging numbly against another outcropping before he’s thrust below the surface as the water turns rough.

Rapids.

It pushes and pulls and he’s down and up, up and down. He tumbles. Gagging and coughing and his lungs burn and his stomach roils and his panic starts to rise because it’s supposed to be the bloody impact that kills you--

Not the damn river.

He’s so angry about this that he forces himself up, pushing above the surface and moving his deadened limbs with a fortitude he doesn’t know he has. The rapids threaten to topple him, but he keeps his head up, and tries to decide which of the two rocks in his double vision is actually real.

Billy’s a lefty, so he places his bet on that, bears down--

And hits hard.

Impact.

It kills you after all.

-o-

Michael has the route memorized, even though he’s never actually been to the outpost before. It was always in the back of his mind as a contingency plan in case things went wrong. It had seemed like a good precaution and some damn good backup, for all the good it did them. No outpost in the world had been close enough when they’d been hanging off the edge of the cliff. No backup had come in time to stop Billy...

Michael has the route memorized, which is good, or he’s not sure he would have gotten there. As it is, he moves at a relentless clip, tripping over branches and rocks as he goes. He’d look down -- eyes on the ground can help -- but he can’t bring himself to turn his head down because in his mind he still sees Billy.

(Still sees the empty rope.)

Eyes ahead, Michael can’t even feel his legs, leading with determination as Casey and Rick follow. Michael’s in good shape, but his chest is tight by the time they reach the top of the ridge and look down a gentle slope. The outpost is situated on the next hill, obscured among the trees but the cleared out space for a helicopter is hard to miss in the Chilean foothills.

“That’s it?” Casey asks, sounding winded as he comes to a stop next to Michael.

Rick comes up next, panting as he leans forward, hands on his knees as he heaves for air. “You think they’ll help us organize a search?”

Michael’s stomach turns dangerously and he has to swallow hard to control the rise of bile. Denial is one of the stages of grief.

“Bastards let this group get away with everything right in their backyard,” Casey seethes. “What makes you think they’ll be worth anything now?”

Anger is another stage.

Michael locks his jaw and doesn’t reply. Instead, he nods out across the last of the landscape and says, “We’ll figure it out when we get there.”

Because Michael is angry and in denial and all the rest. He’s all that and more and if he doesn’t keep running, it may all implode. Michael’s lost one man; he can’t lose the rest. He can’t lose anything else.

So he moves, feet moving mechanically as he propels himself forward because there’s no place else to go.

-o-

Billy’s eyes open.

He inhales sharply and gags. His chest seizes and his stomach rebels. He turns his head in time to throw up, but the only thing he tastes is water. He hacks, throwing up again, before sagging back and staring up at the sky, taking stunted, desperate breaths.

He’s alive.

He’s alive.

He jolts at the realization, trying to sit up. There’s a flash of movement next to him and a hand presses on his shoulder to slow him down--

Too late.

The movement jars his body and he becomes keenly aware of his injuries. The pain is too diffuse to pinpoint, radiating through his limbs and spreading down his spine. His head throbs, vision gauzy and doubled, and his insides feel like they’ve been shredded, the remnants clamped in a vice. The overwhelming sense of it makes him want to throw up again, but the fact is that it hurts too much to move.

Then, someone talks.

Billy can’t figure out what they’re saying, but after a few minutes he manages to get his eyes to focus a little bit. The person by his side is blurry, but it only takes a second to realize they’re not anyone he knows. The face is old and wizened, dark hair streaked with gray and a simple gray getup that is decidedly unisex.

A local, he realizes. There’s a basket and it smells of soap and Billy collapses back against the rocks and closes his eyes.

The hand squeezes his shoulder and he startles awake, blinking rapidly. The sun is glaring still, blue sky too big, and the face is above him, both versions of it twisted with what Billy can assume is concern. Or confusion. Considering Billy just fell from the sky...

The memory makes him shudder. Which makes him groan. And he closes his eyes again, craving the cloying darkness as a refuge, an escape, an--

Another squeeze. Billy opens his eyes and glares this time. This person is persistent, the mouth moving and the words falling over him. He tries to listen, but it’s all gibberish, and the ringing in his ears is louder than it should be.

Then he realizes that the person is speaking Spanish. Billy has workable Spanish, but he doesn’t conjugate his verbs well and he never did like the subjunctive tense. His eyes flutter closed. This is Rick’s forte, anyway--

Rick.

Billy’s eyes open and stay that way this time. He pushes up and even if the pain spikes he keeps himself upright, even as the hand steadies him. It takes a long moment -- and every breath is agony, every blink is a new cacophony of pain -- but the nausea passes and the pain evens out and he looks at the person again.

Squinting, he can see her more clearly -- and it is a woman. Doing her laundry probably when Billy came tumbling down the current. The way she’s looking at him -- like a mother hen guarding her chicks -- he realizes she probably saved his life.

Brow furrowed, he swallows. His vision threatens to dim, but he manages to control it with a wince. “Don’t reckon you saw which way my friends went.”

Her eyes widen and she starts talking with more vigor now. The words are too fast to pick anything out, but she gestures repeatedly at the sky.

Billy tilts his head, looking up the rock face. It’s far. It’s too far.

Billy fell too far.

Everything starts to spin, and Billy starts to tremble. It’s impossible to think about, but he remembers now. Remembers the rope bridge and the angry men with guns and hanging from the edge of the cliff and letting go--

Billy convulses and tears seep out of his eyes. He should be dead. He’d counted on dying.

Few things work out the way Billy plans. Usually that’s not for the better.

This time, Billy thinks he might have got lucky.

Lucky is relative, though. Because Billy is sore -- he thinks every bone might be broken in his body and his lungs hurt just to breathe -- and there’s a nagging pain in his midsection that seems suspicious and his vision still hasn’t cleared. There are injuries, he knows. Broken bones, skull fractures, internal damage. If his lungs are broken, if his brain is bleeding, if there’s a tear in his abdomen -- then Billy may not be alive for long.

This is why Billy’s in a team, though. This is why he doesn’t go into these things alone. This is why...

The woman is prattling, though, and Billy looks up. Water is dripping in his eyes and the brightness is blinding, but he still sees the top where he last saw his friends.

They’re not there, of course, not that Billy would be able to see them from this distance. But that’s the point, he realizes as his stomach roils again. Because Billy survived the fall, and his teammates climbed to safety. Billy gave himself up to save them -- a heroic grand gesture that he never expected to come back from.

That no one would expect him to survive.

No one is coming for him. They might send a team to collect his body -- a dead CIA agent is still an important asset to control -- but they have a mission. They have intel. Higgins won’t spare them for a corpse.

And by the time someone comes to salvage what they think are his remains...

Billy’s body aches with renewed sharpness, ears rushing with blood as his heart thrums wildly in his chest.


By the time someone comes, all they’ll find are remains after all.

-o-

When they get there, Rick nearly collapses at the gate, sinking down against the fence and letting his head drop back. Casey glares at the comm system, as if day to day precautions in the Agency are to blame for everything.

Michael types in the passcode with numb fingers. He knows who’s to blame, and it’s not the Agency.

The comm crackles and Michael recognizes the pass phrase. The reply comes seamlessly off his tongue, and the stage reparate is everything it’s supposed to be. Michael’s a good operative under pressure.

As one of the operatives in the outpost comes out, Michael steels himself and forces the feelings back. He can’t afford to think otherwise.

He looks at Rick, at Casey. He still sees Billy, scared and resigned. He still sees the sheer drop.

Michael’s a good operative under pressure.

Just not always good enough.

-o-

Apparently, the woman seems to believe that since she fished Billy out of the river, she’s somehow responsible for him. With all of her references to “Dios Mio!” Billy wonders if she thinks he’s a bad omen or some sort of message from God. Billy frankly doesn’t care, he just wants to escape this encounter with his life. Because he’s survived the impact, but this woman seems determined to kill him by smothering him.

She’s well intentioned, Billy’s sure, but as she lays him out on the ground her voice is increasingly stern as she feels his arms and legs and presses on his chest. Unsurprisingly, it all hurts, and her frown only deepens as she seems to uncover more of the damage.

Billy’s consciousness ebbs a bit from time to time, but the results seem fairly clear. At least one of his arms is broken. One of his ankles may be, too, but that hurts less than the rest so he wonders if he got lucky with only a sprain. His right elbow is swollen and distended, which would be a problem except for the fact that his shoulder is not even in its socket anymore. His left arm has fared better, though he suspects something is broken in his hand.

The ribs on his right side are crunchy, and when her calloused fingers sweep over them, he almost passes out. She clucks her tongue and feels his abdomen next, a process which makes Billy tense and try to pull away. It could just be bruising...

Or it could be a bleed.

This should scare him, probably, but Billy’s a bit done up on fear at the moment. Besides, the throbbing in his skull is a good indication of a concussion -- or worse -- so his normal thought processes are impaired, probably taking common sense, fear, and logic out of the equation.

The good news is, of course, that Billy’s never been one for thinking in times of crisis. At the very least, this means he’s no worse off than normal.

Except for the injuries, of course.

Either way, Billy needs to go.

With effort, he pushes back up to a sitting position. “Thank you for your kindness,” he begins, struggling to get his feet underneath him. His right leg gives out and his left isn’t much better. “But I should probably be going.”

Her response is somewhat apoplectic. Billy recognizes a curse or two in her diatribe and she tries to push him down again.

Billy shakes his head. “Really, I have friends who can help me,” he tries to explain.

She doesn’t seem to be open to such ideas, though. And really, part of Billy can’t blame her. He can’t see himself, but the pain is indicative of serious damage. There’s a good chance Billy won’t make it very far, much less the winding way around the ridge to the foothills where the CIA outpost is. There’s a chance the woman can help him, but as remote as they are, the rudimentary medicine wouldn’t do much for internal injuries.

And the fact is, if Billy’s going to die he doesn’t want to die among strangers.

Billy doesn’t want to die at all.

But Billy can still see Michael above him, face tight with understanding. He can still see Rick’s eyes squeezed closed in desperation. He can still see Casey climbing, up and up and--

Billy let go to save them. And now he’ll hold on to save himself.

Determined, he pushes to his feet again. Everything wavers and he sways, but he clings to his consciousness with unflinching resolve. The woman is still jabbering and Billy simply pulls away, putting his numb left hand on her arm.

“Gracias,” he says, the Spanish words awkward on his tongue. “Necesito encontrar mis amigos.” He nods up. “Amigos,” he says again, for the lack of something better to say.

Up close, her face is agonized and conflicted but she nods. The Spanish that follows doesn’t quite compute in Billy’s brain but when she points down the river, he understands.

“That’s the way?” he clarifies.

She nods, waving in that direction again before veering her hand to the left. The directions are vague, but it’s the sentiment that counts.

Billy hopes so anyway.

As he takes a few faltering steps his body flares with new pain, and he has to admit he’s starting to have his doubts.

-o-

The security all checks out, but the two operatives stationed there are clearly not thrilled about the idea of company. Paranoid bastards, Michael thinks. He knows how they feel.

Still, Michael doesn’t see much other alternative.

One of them -- the younger one, a guy named Gillet -- makes small talk while the senior operative -- a woman named Clack -- talks in curt tones on the secured line.

“We heard there was something going down here,” Gillet says, friendly enough. “Though you guys must be on a pretty need-to-know basis. Langley didn’t even tell us to expect friendlies.”

Behind them, Clack hangs up and comes over. “I just got confirmation,” she says. “I’ve managed to arrange for a transport, but the soonest we can get something in here is tomorrow.”

“Fine,” Casey says, getting back to his feet. “That’ll give us time--”

“Whoa,” Clack says, holding up her hand. “No one’s going anywhere. Because the confirmation said there’s four of you.” She pauses, looking at them each critically.

Rick is standing now, right next to Casey. “That’s what we need to go back for,” he says, resolutely.

“Exactly,” Casey says, starting forward. “Now if you don’t mind--”

Clack moves into his path. “Actually, I do mind--”

Casey stops, staring at her with deadly intent. “I suggest you move away.

Clack squares her shoulders. “I’m supposed to keep you here,” she says, unflinchingly. “I have my orders.”

“And we have a man out there!” Casey growls. The intensity of it roils Michael’s stomach. It’s an emotion -- a passion -- he thinks he should feel. But he can’t feel anything. He can’t do anything.

“Please,” Rick adds, the hint of desperation ringing too true.

Gillet moves in, as if to diffuse the situation. “He’s trained; he’ll find his way here--”

“He was hurt--” Rick says, the words catching just a little.

“And we don’t leave a man behind--” Casey insists.

Michael’s feels his heart stutter, his chest constrict. He has no tears to cry now, but he feels like he’s being ripped apart. He’d just thought if he could get his team here, if he could get them safe...

But this isn’t his team, not all of it. Billy’s not here. Billy’s--

Clack shakes her head. “We’re not authorized--”

Casey advances anyway. “Screw authorization--”

“Hey, hey,” Gillet says.

“Just let us go,” Rick begs.

It’s reaching a tipping point. Things are rapidly spiraling out of control and Michael is sitting there, watching it happen. He closes his eyes, imagines the wind on his face.

For a second, everything dims. The sound of the fighting, the thick of the tension.

This time, when he opens his eyes, though, they’re all still there. Casey and Rick. Clack and Gillet.

Billy...

Michael is almost nauseous, but he gets to his feet, pulling Casey back and holding his arm out to keep Clack at bay. “He’s dead,” he interjects, his voice sounding rough and foreign. “Fell into the ravine during our escape.” He looks from Clack to Casey and Rick. “We already lost him.”

He looks at them, begging them to understand. Pleading with them to accept. Because Michael’s control is tenuous -- it’s basically nonexistent -- and if he hangs from the end of this rope much longer it’s going to fray right out from under him before he has a chance to pull himself up.

Casey’s eyes are wide, face red and chest heaving. Rick’s expression is trembling, fine tremors racking his body.

Michael swallows so hard it hurts. It hurts. “There’s going to be too much increased activity in the area now that we’ve pulled out,” he says. “If we go back out, it’s asking for trouble.”

“And Billy?” Casey grits out.

Michael holds himself as steady as he can. “You saw the cliff, Malick,” he says, not unkind, but to the point. “There’s no way he survived impact.”

Michael’s not sure any of them have.

-o-

Billy’s not a runner.

Granted, he can run, and he’s done more than his share. When peril is upon him, Billy can sprint with great alacrity. But he doesn’t have the stamina or the conditioning for distance. He doesn’t like the dogged, endless nature, the repetitive motions, the slow burn that always sets in, working through his gut to his legs, settling in his knees and tickling his head.

That’s what he feels now. A deep, weary exhaustion, sapping him from the deepest of his reservoirs, ebbing every dwindling ounce of strength left in him. Everything hurts. The throb has no start and no end, pulsating through him with every footfall, moving up his legs and radiating through his stomach and chest and tingling along his spine.

Faltering, his leaden feet stumble but when he reaches out to catch himself, his wooden hands fail him. He hits his knees, the impact jarring him as fresh tears come to his eyes and steal his breath. With a sharp inhale, he tries to steady himself, but the movement exacerbates everything and the gnawing pain in his chest darkens his vision and leaves him sobbing.

He can’t stop, though. He can’t. He has to go. To his team. Michael and Casey and Rick. He’s the one who fell. He has to pick himself up.

He has to.

Resolved, Billy lifts his head, looking out at the terrain in front of him. There’s a noticeable uptick now, the ground from the valley rising away from the riverbed with the horizon clearing toward what Billy hopes is civilization.

His sense of direction is off -- though in truth, everything is off for him right now -- but it seems to be the right direction. He hopes it is. If it isn’t, he’s really as good as dead.

Truthfully, he feels almost as good as dead. The nagging pain, the fog in his vision. Every breath is a struggle and his bones feel frail and grating. He wants to sleep, but he knows if he does, it’ll be the last thing he ever does.

He refuses to look up -- the steep cliffs still turn his stomach -- but he takes a moment to look back and gauge his progress. He feels like he’s been running for hours, miles, forever.

But craning his head, he can still see the river roaring behind him. He’s turned away from the straightaway where his rescuer had found him, but he hasn’t made it more than a mile.

The meager gain is a heavy reality, especially since he doesn’t know how long he was unconscious. He doesn’t know how far his friends have moved ahead or if he’s even within range.

He doesn’t even know if he can make it another step, much less another mile or two or three or ten.

He doesn’t know.

But he knows he has to try.

Struggling back to his feet, Billy’s legs threaten to give out, but he can hardly feel them. He rallies, summoning whatever he has left and starts to run again.

-o-

Michael doesn’t particularly like meeting new people, and CIA agents stationed in remote outposts are generally bad company. Michael knows. He’s been there.

Plus, meeting new people when he’s lost a man...

Michael doesn’t like anything in those situations. It’s nothing he’s well versed in, thank goodness, but even two times is enough.

There’s a cold starkness to it all now. The void is tense, only made worse by Clack and Gillet. No one knows quite what to say, and Gillet still tries to make small talk while Clack watches them warily from her desk.

Help is coming, at least. They’ll get the intel out. The mission will be a success. Billy hasn’t died in vain.

But he has died, and that truth is an oppressive weight that Michael can’t escape from.

Michael can’t escape anything. Even the interior of the small compound seems claustrophobic, and he feels himself itching to move but unable to. It’s an awkward mix of compulsions -- part of him still wants to run, part of him never wants to leave.

Ultimately, it’s not his choice. Clack seems intent on keeping them there, and with extraction coming tomorrow they have to wait it out.

If Billy were here he’d crack jokes and make things passable.

Billy’s not here.

Michael sighs. He’s counted on his team members to play their roles, but ultimately it all starts with Michael. It all stops with him, too, and if Billy’s not here that’s Michael’s fault, and he has to do what he has to do to fill the gaps.

Casey paces the confines of the room like a caged animal, eyes darting with dangerous intent as he slowly circumvents the furniture and seems to map out the best escape routes. Casey’s method of coping isn’t so much coping as it is getting really, really angry and since Michael wants to avoid further confrontation and violence for the time being, he decides to leave the older agent alone.

Rick, however, sits on one of the chairs and stares. He sometimes tries to listen to Gillet’s prattling, but he doesn’t seem to have enough energy to focus. He’s listless and forlorn, and he randomly lapses into a vacant stare, gazing indiscriminately at the floor. He looks young. He looks lost.

And that’s Michael’s fault, too.

Swallowing hard, Michael knows the practical details are taking care of themselves. With extraction coming, the mission will be wrapped up. Later, he’ll talk a little more discreetly with Clack about mounting a recovery operation. For now...

Michael settles down next to Rick, nudging the kid lightly with his knee. “You okay?”

Rick flinches a little, blinking rapidly. He doesn’t look at Michael. “I. Um.” He shakes his head. “No.”

It’s a simple answer; it’s an honest answer. Michael’s gut twists and his chest aches. “You know there was nothing you could have done, right?” he asks.

Rick still doesn’t look up, but he nods.

“Billy knew the rope was going to break,” Michael says. “It was going to kill us all.”

Rick closes his eyes, his breathing picking up.

“He made a choice, Rick,” Michael says, forcing the words out. “He made a choice to save us.”

Rick opens his eyes. He takes a few more breaths before he looks at Michael. “I was too scared to even look down,” he says. “I didn’t want to die. I thought I would give anything if I could just survive.”

Michael does what he can to stay still, to not break. His stomach roils and his eyes burn.

Rick’s lips twist into a sardonic smile. “Now I would give anything to take it back,” he says. “It wasn’t worth Billy’s life. None of this is.”

It hurts. Everything hurts. Michael wants to tell Rick he’s wrong, wants to remind Rick why they do this job, wants to offer platitudes and assurances and something, but all he can do is sit there.

“I didn’t even see it,” Rick continues, voice faltering. “It’s like it didn’t happen. He was there, and then he wasn’t, and he can’t be dead.” His voice breaks on the word, and then everything breaks. Rick curls over, the sobs shaking him, the sound wretched and choked.

Michael’s failure is visceral. The loss is overwhelming. Stiff, he reaches out, putting his arm around Rick, who doesn’t fight him.

There’s nothing to fight, after all. The mission’s over; Billy’s gone; the team is ruined.

Michael holds Rick as he cries and knows there’s nothing left at all.

He closes his eyes and refuses to look as the ground comes rushing up to meet them all over again.

-o-

Billy has this thing for surviving.

It’s not so much a thing as a base fact of his existence. Billy survives. The odds are stacked against him, the obstacles seem overwhelming, and Billy just never lets go. Sometimes he jokes that this is directly attributed to a lack of common sense; other times, he may attribute it all to his Scottish fortitude. Possibly, it’s dumb luck. Maybe it’s even a curse.

But Billy survives. His father locks him in a cupboard and Billy still comes out, squinting in the daylight. He gets kicked out of school, and he still learns enough to keep his head up. His father dies, he splits his knuckles getting into fights; he’s broke at university and his mother dies.

Billy survives.

Then he nearly dies on his first mission and gets dumped by the only girl he’s ever loved. He loses the only job he’ll ever be good at and finds himself dejected, downtrodden and deported.

Billy survives.

The ODS hazes him; his motel room is cold and lonely. He drinks too much scotch and hardly ever eats a balanced meal, and still Billy survives. He’s worse than a damn cockroach.

And yet, Billy survives.

His bones may be broken, his body is pained. His head spins and his vision threatens to leave him with every horrible step. The ground is hard and uneven beneath his feet, and his stomach threatens to rebel. Part of him wants to fall to the ground and die, right then and there.

It’d be easy, too. It’s not like anyone would blame him after falling off a bloody cliff.

Except, he can’t.

He won’t.

Billy survives. It’s a curse. It’s a promise.

It’s a fact.

Billy survives.

And keeps running.

-o-

Rick’s a mess, and Michael knows that it’s likely to get worse. Rick’s still new to this game; he’s seen people die before, but no one he’s cared about. No one he’s been so close to.

Besides, this sort of thing never gets easier. Over the years, Rick will learn to hide it a little better, but his tears are just one way of expressing grief and loss.

Still, Rick composes himself and sits, staring blankly at one of the walls. He may drift off for a bit, which Michael figures is for the best. Rick’s grief will be long, tormented and slow.

Casey’s, on the other hand...

Casey stops pacing long enough to glare out one of the southbound windows. His look is predatory when Michael approaches him, and he knows that Casey is not above hitting him if the situation is pressing. He’s not sure what Casey’s level of anger is right now and exactly where said anger is directed, but when Casey lets him get close enough to have a private conversation Michael counts that as a good sign.

Though he suspects that by the end of this, taking a punch might be the easier way to go.

Still, this is Michael’s job. He’s failed Billy. He’s done his best to comfort Rick. Now he needs to diffuse Casey’s anger.

“Kid’s still pretty upset,” Michael starts off, going with something neutral as he nods toward Rick. Casey’s not overtly sentimental, but he’s protective of his own. Having lost Billy, Michael is counting on his bond with Rick to be that much stronger.

Casey snorts. “His teammate died,” he mutters. “What did you expect?”

It’s cutting and sarcastic, but it’s not directly hostile. “I know,” Michael says, inching closer and looking at Casey carefully. “How are you holding up?”

It’s blunt, maybe, and this isn’t what they do. They don’t talk about feelings; they don’t share. Over the years they’ve worked together, Michael can probably count on two hands the number of times he and Malick have bonded, but that’s mostly been a luxury because they’re that damn good. It’s not that Casey doesn’t have emotions; it’s that Casey channels his emotions into rage and ferments them into energy. Casey’s emotions are productive, just like everything else.

But when they’re too much...

After Simms had gone missing, Casey had been a loose cannon. A few other missions had bothered him over the years, but this was the hardest yet. Because this was Billy. Casey’s necessary complement, and over all these years, Casey had grown fond of the other man.

Maybe not fond, but comfortable, which is as close as Casey got to affection.

Casey’s eyes narrow. “We’re going to play twenty questions?” he snaps. “We let one of our own fall to his death back there. How the hell do you think I am?”

The words are pointed, and the raw emotion behind them is too evident.

Michael shifts, easing closer, looking out across the expanse they crossed to get here. The hills are rolling and the mountains fill the backdrop with a grandiose flair that might have been beautiful.

Working his jaw, Michael controls his breathing. “I think you’re angry as hell because you don’t want anyone to know how much it hurts.”

Casey stiffens, eyes flashing darkly. “Of course it hurts,” he seethes. “Billy’s dead. I’m a weapon, not a machine.”

Michael nods. “I know. That’s why I think we should talk about it--”

“Talk about it?” Casey asks tersely, his voice rising. “Talk about what? The operational failures that led to the entire militia outing us? Or how about the brilliant plan of running really fast? Or how Billy ended up being the low man on the rope and giving himself up for all of us? Or maybe the part where you made us keep running without even a visual confirmation of Billy’s status.”

Casey’s face is red, his chest heaving. Across the room, Rick is curled in on himself, eyes shut mercifully in sleep. Gillet busies himself at the computer, purposefully ignoring them while Clack makes no secret of eyeing them warily from her post by the door.

Michael’s too aware of these things. But mostly he’s aware of the fact that Casey’s right. About everything.

Casey’s right.

He sighs, dropping his head. “I know,” he agrees. “If I could go back--”

Casey huffs, shaking his head. “I don’t blame you, Michael,” he hisses. “You want to play martyr; you want to try to fix this, but that’s not what this is about.”

Michael swallows hard. “Then what is it about?”

This time, when Casey meets his gaze the look is agonizing. Casey’s entire posture slouches. “It’s about closure,” he says. His voice drops. “We didn’t even get the body.”

It’s strangely vulnerable, and anyone who didn’t know Casey as well as Michael did might be taken aback. As it is, seeing Casey like this is never easy for Michael, even if it’s not unexpected. Casey is callous and terse by years of practice, not nature. And the people who see behind that guise -- Michael and Rick and Billy -- are the ones who can rip it apart the easiest.

Michael has no choice, though. He can’t run from this like he’s run from everything else on this mission. “I know.”

“It’s like Simms all over again,” Casey continues. His gaze sharpens. “We can’t keep doing this, Michael.”

There’s more than a trace of accusation, and a hell of a lot of resentment. Casey strives for perfection, and even if he’s realistic enough to know it’s not always possible, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t grate like hell when things fall short.

Michael’s stomach twists painfully. This mission has done more than fall short. It’s fallen long and hard and Michael’s wondering if they’ll ever hit bottom.

“I know,” Michael says again, because it’s all he has to offer. “If I could change it, I would. You know that.”

“We can,” Casey says, harsher now as his voice rises again.

“You saw that drop--”

“And bodies just don’t disappear,” Casey snaps. Across the room, Gillet cracks his knuckles and Clack is still staring. Casey leans closer. “We can’t leave him there.”

Michael’s face flushes, and the emotions pound in his head. “What do you want me to do, Malick?” he asks, sharply now. He nods toward the window. “The mountains will be teeming by now with a lot more than the militia that tracked us down. If we go out there we compromise everything we fought for.”

Everything Billy died for, he thinks, but he doesn’t say it. He can’t say it. He doesn’t have to, anyway.

Casey looks annoyed. “Clack’s a pain in the ass, but she’d keep the intel secure,” he gripes.

Michael scoffs. “So, what?” he presses. “You want to go out and drag the ravine yourself? We’re not equipped, and you know it.” He drops his voice and leans closer. “We’re not even emotionally capable of it right now.”

Casey doesn’t shrink away. “It’s Billy.”

The way he says it is so simple. It’s so plain. Michael can angst and posture, but that’s what it comes down to. It’s Billy. It’s Billy.

Michael let him fall, and now he’s making the choice to leave him out there.

Probably to rot.

It’s not easy. It’s not what Michael wants. But this mission is so far from what Michael wants that he doesn’t see the point in even pretending anymore. Slowly, Michael takes a breath and lets it out, trying to unfurl the knot in his stomach. It doesn’t do much good, but he swallows. “I know,” he says again, and it sounds pitiful now, more so with each admission. “I lost one man out there, though. I won’t lose two more.”

Casey makes a face of disgust. “We can survive--”

“Yeah,” Michael cuts him off abruptly. “That’s what we thought before.”

Casey’s expression turns, from disgust to incredulity. “So, what, then?” he asks. “You want to leave him there?”

Michael doesn’t want to leave him there, but he doesn’t want Billy to be dead. He shakes his head. “You really want to go out there?” he asks.

Casey regards him, standing stiffly.

“What about Rick?” Michael asks, nodding toward their youngest teammate. “You want to risk his life, too?”

Casey doesn’t budge. “Billy was his teammate as much as mine.”

“Exactly,” Michael says. “And what do you think it’ll do to him when we find Billy, huh? You saw that drop; you know what that will do to a body. Broken bones are a given. Internal damage is guaranteed. And we’re not talking about bruising and gashes -- he could broken wide open. He might not even look like Billy at all. Is that how you want Martinez to remember Billy? Is that how you want to remember him?”

Casey’s a tough son of a bitch, but the diatribe almost makes him flinch. His face is taut with emotion, even as he keeps himself almost painfully still. “We owe him this,” he says, not in denial but as the only counterpoint that matters.

And it does matter. It matters a lot.

Michael’s shoulders fall. Normally he likes being right, but this isn’t an argument he wants to win. Not that either of them could. “We owed it to Billy to bring him home alive,” he replies simply. “Going back out there -- risking what little we have left -- won’t change the fact that we already failed.”

For a moment, Casey watches him. His eyes gleam for a second and then he looks away, saying nothing. There’s no further defense. There’s no further argument.

There’s just nothing.

And not for the first time on this mission, Michael finds he has no choice but to finally just walk away.

-o-

It’s not so bad.

Sure, the ground is uneven, the slow but steady incline taxing him with every step. And yes, the sun is far too bright, damn near blinding him as he trips over the rocks and ruts in the foothills. It’s also true that Billy’s not entirely sure where he’s going, but he’s always had a pretty good sense of direction even if right now he hasn’t got much sense of anything.

Because fine, Billy’s in pain. Billy’s in a lot of pain. In fact, Billy’s in so much pain that he almost doesn’t know how to keep track of it anymore. It seems to vie for his attention. One second, his throbbing head threatens to blacken his vision; the next, his ribs are burning with such intensity that he almost gags. Then there’s the stomach and the shoulders and the legs and the -- bloody hell, the everything.

Still, Billy tells himself. It could be worse.

For starters, he thinks as he stumbles onward, it could be night already. The sun is sinking but it’s still light out, and if Billy doesn’t like blood or heights or small spaces, then he also not particularly keen of the dark. Plus, more practically, navigation would be damn near impossible in the dark, so the fact that he still has daylight is a real boon.

Then, Billy also considers that he could actually be in a far more dangerous country. Yes, the ODS made some enemies here, but at least he can feasibly move through the territory without every person he encounters trying to blow his head off. In all, that is quite helpful.

Also, it could be much colder. Or much hotter.

Actually, Billy’s not even sure what temperature it is. He’s sweating and shivering, so maybe that one is a wash.

But still. He could be hurt worse. He doesn’t think much about the fall (the distance, the weightlessness, the look on Michael’s face as he closed his eyes and Billy just let go) but he does know that he probably should be dead. Hell, he never suspected he’d wake up at all, so a little pain and exhaustion and total disorientation is really just a reminder of how damn lucky he is.

And if all that isn’t enough, Billy tells himself, huffing as he crests a hill and looks over the vast decline in front of him, the rope could have broke.

That’s the crux of this, Billy reminds himself. The rope could have broke and it might not just be Billy. It might have been Michael and Rick and Casey. If Billy’s here, stumbling through the foothills, then they’re off and safe at the outpost. Somehow, Billy got lucky enough to survive. If all of them had fallen...

This would be a very different story, then.

Billy takes a hitching breath and tries to steady himself. He blinks a few times, trying to clear his vision. In all, he’s only marginally successful. Things are hazy and his peripheral vision seems to be gone. He’s trembling, his knees threatening to give out at any second, and when he takes a breath it’s like a thousand knives stabbing his lungs so hard that he wants to curl up in a ball and cry.

Not that Billy’s opposed to crying at this point. He’s fallen off a cliff, so he’s earned it.

But if he cries, then he’s not running.

If he’s not running, then he can’t find his mates.

If he can’t find his mates, then he very well might die out here.

And that, Billy tells himself, would really be the worst thing of all. To survive everything only to succumb to his own weakness. It’s unacceptable.

So he ignores the pain. He fights through the nausea.

And he keeps on running.

-o-

Rick sleeps; Casey paces.

Michael stands.

He’s secured the intel, after all. Clack has arranged for extraction. Gillet has quietly agreed to organize a search party. Everything is done. It’s over.

But Michael knows better. There is a fraying loose end, swaying in the mountain breeze like the empty end of a rope.

Michael’s planned and he’s worked and he’s run.

And now he has to stand.

He watches as Rick shifts, whimpering slightly as his brow furrows and he settles back into exhaustion. He watches as Casey stalks the corners of the room, glaring at Clack and Gillet and the coffee pot, for reasons that no one can discern. It might be funny...

Except nothing is funny. There’s no one there to crack jokes. There’s just nothing.

Seconds tick by. Somehow the minutes build and the daytime starts to fade. And Michael stands and watches Rick, watches Casey, watches the expanse out the window. They’ve defied the odds before; Billy’s got more lives than a cat. He’s been shot and stabbed, dejected and deported and he’s still survived. He’s been kidnapped and knocked out, embarrassed and damn near erased from the record, and he’s always been there, riding with Michael to work and slouching at his desk with a crossword puzzle. Michael’s rolled his eyes at the Scot, cursed his bad timing, and learned to count on him for everything.

And now he’s gone.

He’s just gone.

One moment, he was there. The next, there was nothing.

Michael plans and he acts and he runs and he moves, and when it counted he clung to the rope and did nothing while Billy fell.

While Billy died.

The pain is building in his chest and the tears burn behind his eyes. At the window, he thinks of Billy -- the resignation and the fear on his face -- and tries not to think of the things he should have done, he could have done. If he’d gone last across the bridge, if he’d climbed faster. If he’d never gotten busted in the first place. If he’d seen Billy’s file all those years ago and just kept on looking for a replacement.

If.

The possibilities are lost, though. They’re slipping away from Michael, because maybe they’ve never been his to grasp anyway. He’s tried so hard, and it’s gotten him pretty far. He’s got Rick and Casey, after all. He has the intel. He has most of what he needs.

But not everything.

He can be there for Rick, he can talk sense to Casey. He can stand eye to eye with Clack and grunt at Gillet. He can do all these things, but...

Not everything.

In this, Michael is impotent, still hanging on for dear life even as everything threatens to fall apart. It’s teetering precariously while Rick sleeps and Casey paces and life just inches on, painfully and meticulously, second by second by second.

And Michael closes his eyes.

-o-

Billy’s been tired from the outset, but when the sun starts to dip behind the shallowing declines he feels a weariness he’s never known before. Billy has many sins -- lust and gluttony are just the start -- and his mum often warned him that his slothfulness could be his demise. He’d never paid her much heed and let his clothing pile up and the dirty dishes collect mold, because he’s always thought he could pull off great feats when it mattered.

Billy’s good under pressure, after all. He’s fallen off a cliff and managed to run this far. That counts for something.

He’s not there yet, though. And he’s just so tired.

His feet are dragging, toes numb and shins aching. His thighs are on fire and the pain cuts deeply throughout his torso. He has to keep running, though. For all the nights he was too lazy to walk to his bedroom, for all the mornings Michael had to drag him out of bed, he should be able to do this. He can do this.

He has to do this.

But his eyes are closing and his breathing staggers. He’s still on his feet as his consciousness ebbs and he trips, falling to his knees. The impact jars him and he cries out, catching himself on his battered arms that give way until he’s face first on the ground.

He’s not sure he can do this. He’s hurt and he’s winded and he’s just so tired...

His chest clenches and he tries to push himself up. He crawls a few paces before getting to his wobbly feet. If he sleeps, he’ll never wake up. If he sleeps, he’ll die.

If he sleeps...

His eyes are closing again and this time he doesn’t feel the impact as he collapses to the ground. It’s rough and he can taste the dirt and his arm is pinned beneath him and Michael and Casey and Rick and...

If he sleeps...

His eyes flutter, his heart pounding.

If he sleeps...

Billy can’t remember the reasons, though. He can’t remember the fears. He can’t even remember how to make his legs move or how to do anything but sleep.

Sleep.

And Billy does.

-o-

When the darkness takes hold, Michael stays awake. Gillet shows them a sleeping space -- it’s small and the cots are uncomfortable, but Martinez hardly seems to notice when he curls up and just keeps sleeping. It’s shock, Michael knows and suspects that morning will not be kind to any of them.

Casey will not be so easily coddled. But angry and grieving as he is, the man is still innately practical. There’s nothing he can do by staying awake so he rolls on his side, back to Michael, and settles into stillness. Even Gillet retires eventually, leaving Clack on first watch, and Michael doesn’t bother to offer to help her out. She doesn’t seem the type to take outside help, and Michael’s not sure what good his leadership is anyway.

Besides, he’s been going all day long. He’s past his prime.

He settles into his own cot and wonders if that’s true in more ways than one.

Still, exhaustion isn’t enough and he stares into the dark. He isn’t sure when he closes his eyes, but he knows when the nightmare starts.

Billy’s on the end of the rope and this time, Michael doesn’t look away. He watches as Billy falls and careens, tumbling head over heels until the floor of the valley comes up to meet him with devastating force--

Michael gasps, eyes opening. The dark is still the same; Rick is sleeping; Casey is still. Michael’s flat on his back, staring at the ceiling.

Billy’s not here.

And in the dark, Michael starts to cry.

-o-

Billy wakes with sunlight pressing against his eyelids. Even before he flinches, everything hurts, and the fresh wave of pain threatens to pull him back under before he even gets up.

But.

Billy wakes.

It comes like a revelation, and he’s so shocked that he opens his eyes--

And promptly almost chokes on his own spit. He coughs, shuddering as he flails on his side and hacks uselessly for a few minutes. The effort leaves him spent and crying, his entire body trembling in the early dawn.

Billy wakes.

Billy’s alive.

Yesterday is vague to him, but he remembers the sensation of falling. Of weightlessness and fumbling, of going down and down and down and--

He sucks in a ragged breath. He’d survived impact. He’s survived the night.

He’s survived.

He’s not sure how -- everything feels so broken -- but it seems silly to question it. Billy doesn’t even have the energy to question it. He really just wants to lay here, to close his eyes and tumble back into darkness...

He startles, eyes jerking open again. He can’t sleep. If he sleeps, he dies. And he hasn’t fallen off a cliff, nearly drowned in a river, and stumbled with a broken body to die here, like this.

Maybe he’s lucky. Maybe he’s really unlucky. Maybe he’s just too stupid to die. Maybe it’s just not his time.

Billy doesn’t care. He just pushes himself up, arms trembling as he stumbles to his feet. The world dips wildly and his stomach churns with nausea but he doesn’t care. He can’t care.

Because Billy wakes. Billy’s alive. And Billy has to find his friends.

Mostly, though, Billy just has to run.

One foot after another, knees shaking and body groaning. Billy runs.

-o-

Michael’s a bit of a morning person. He likes to be productive early, and he finds that getting up before the rest of the world puts him at a distinct advantage. Most days, even his days off, he’s up with the sun, going for a run or going over mission notes. He finds it refreshing; invigorating. And he always chides Billy for barely rolling out of bed while Michael pounds on the door with the engine running.

Correction: always chided. When they get back to the States, Michael will be making his trek into Langley alone. He’ll be so much more efficient.

In the wan sunlight coming through the windows, Michael closes his eyes, swallowing hard. As much as he glares at Billy for being slothful and messy, he knows the Scot helps keep him in check. Michael’s probably more prone to OCD behavior than he wants to admit -- paranoid bastard, after all -- and Billy helps keep him just a little bit grounded.

Billy fell down a cliff, though. And right now, lying on the uncomfortable cot, Michael feels like he’s slipping, too.

Across the room, Casey stirs. Rick’s still dead to the world, and Michael has no intention of disturbing him. The more the kid can sleep through this part, the better it will be.

Not that anything is really better.

Billy’s dead, after all.

Casey gets up and he doesn’t linger. Michael watches him as he goes out, but the older operative doesn’t even try to make eye contact. So he’s still not happy.

Not that Michael can blame him. Michael’s not happy either, but he’s less mad than he is just exhausted. Despite lying down for the night, Michael hardly slept, the nightmares shaking him awake until his nerves were too frayed to even try coping. He can still see Billy’s face -- how scared he is, how resigned he is -- and the damn rope is haunting him. Sometimes, he can almost hear Billy’s voice, the lilting accent trying to make it sound like everything is okay, like everything has always been okay.

Michael shudders. He wishes suddenly he could sleep like Martinez. Or even that he could suppress all the hurt into rage like Malick. Right now he just feels so empty.

Distantly, he hears voices. He knows he has to get up -- as much as he dislikes Clack, he has to work with her discretely at some point to confirm transport and to have her organize retrieval. Water runs -- a shower, Michael thinks -- and Rick snuffles in his sleep, rolling over and settling back to bed.

Sighing, Michael gets up. He’s lightheaded when he goes out, and he doesn’t bother trying to change his rumpled and smelly clothes. When he half staggers into the living area Gillet gives him a look, which Michael promptly ignores. Instead, he goes to Clack, who is sipping coffee while reading over a file.

She looks up at him, lifting her eyebrows. “You look horrible.”

Michael doesn’t even try to smile. “Malick in the shower?” he asks.

She nods, looking back down. “I can assume,” she says. “He only grunted and glared before locking himself in there.”

Michael sits down across from her. “He’s not exactly a people person.”

“We’re spies,” Clack replies evenly, glancing at Michael again. “I don’t have high expectations.”

“Yeah, well, cut us some slack,” he says. “We lost a man out there.”

To that, Clack is mercifully quiet for a moment. Finally, she holds out the paper and puts it in front of him. “For what it’s worth, he didn’t die in vain,” she says. “This just came in from local news outlets. The entire network is in disarray. Whatever you guys did, you did a damn good job.”

Michael scans the words, but none of them make sense. He tries to remember this mission. He tries to remember why they were here. He’s been so intent on finishing the job that he barely even knows what it is anymore. He tells Casey and Rick it’s worth it, but now when he’s presented with the evidence it feels empty.

Like a frayed rope dangling in the breeze.

We do what’s best for the team,
Billy’s voice is clear in his head, but Michael has no response. He doesn’t even know what it means anymore.

Stomach turning, Michael hands the paper back to her. “That’s good,” he says. “But that’s not the only thing that matters.”

Finally, she sighs, the edge fading from her face as her shoulders slouch. “You want us to organize a team,” she says.

“They know we were CIA,” he says. “Even a body...”

“Could be a potential risk, I know,” she agrees. “I’m already ahead of you. There will be two military intelligence officers with special training on board the transport that comes for you. They’ll stay here and commence recovery operations.”

That makes sense. Michael hadn’t even thought that far ahead. It’s his job to plan, and Clack’s done it all for him. Maybe if Clack had been in charge, Billy would still be here.

“Hey,” Clack says, softer now.

Michael startles and realizes he’d been spacing off.

“You did the best job you could,” she says, strangely sympathetic. “Losing a man is never easy--”

Michael grits his teeth and tears sting his eyes.

“--but you’re doing the right thing. Getting the intel taken care of; getting the rest of your team home,” she says. “That’s all you can do.”

That’s all Michael can do.

He knows it’s true. He’s been running from that cliffside since Billy fell because he knows it’s true. He’s done a thousand things right and a few things wrong and usually that all evens out but today...

Today Billy’s dead and Michael has to accept platitudes from strangers.

He closes his eyes for a moment and tries to remember how to breathe. When he opens them, Clack is still watching him, and this time Michael manages a smile as he answers, “I know.”

-o-

There’s a shooting pain that flares up through Billy’s leg with every step. When he hunches over to ease that pain something jars in his chest and his breathing falters. He straightens his back and his stomach feels like it’s being turned inside out even as he forces air out through his protesting lungs. This would all bother him more if his head didn’t hurt quite so bad.

As it is, he can’t afford to think about how it hurts, not when he’s so busy telling his body to lift his feet and move. To Billy, it’s a million single steps, each one more taxing and more costly than the last.

He’s dehydrated, even though he stumbles through a stream and pauses long enough to drink. He would have stayed longer but the ground had been so comfortable...

Another step.

Another step.

Closer to his friends. Closer to home. Closer...

Closer to failing. His body is starting to shut down, he knows, at least on some level. His breathing is harsh and strained, and his stomach is rigid. His peripheral vision is all but gone now and even the uneven ground in front of him is blurred and doubled.

It can’t be much longer, he tells himself. It can’t be much longer.

The pain escalates, moving through his hips and groin now and he almost cries out as he staggers and something seems to give in his chest. He coughs, almost falling, catching himself on a tree even as his wrist throbs unexpectedly, a thousand pins and needles.

He pauses to catch his breath, but it doesn’t help.

It doesn’t matter.

He’s almost there, he tells himself again, like a mantra now, and he forces his feet to move in a staggered rhythm to it. It can’t be much longer.

If it is, he’ll never make it.

He keeps moving, even as he slows because he knows failure is an option this time. With every step, with every breath, with every pain, failure is a very real option.

But as he stumbles again, Billy tries not to think about how he’s made a career of failure, starting with his first fall from grace to the last. That’s almost too much, though, and quitting seems suddenly very attractive. He’s let go before. It wouldn’t be so hard...

He shakes himself, clearing his head as best he can. This isn’t the time to reflect. This isn’t the time to think, even.

It’s just time to run.

NEXT


Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: January 31st, 2013 08:49 pm (UTC)
You know how to get to me!


You already know that I LOVE this story and all the pain and suffering that you put Billy through so I'm just going to revel again and share just a couple faves. I LOVE how you portray Michael in this as well. His guilt is so enveloping!!!! You know how I LOVE that too!


Fave Parts:

Dangling from the edge of a cliff in Chile, Billy doesn’t have that luxury now. Because as much as much as he wants to hold on, it’s a question of one life or four. If he lets his friends fall, that’s a consequence that’s simply untenable.

It’s the lesser of two evils. Made simpler by the fact that he’s going to fall either way. This isn’t so much a choice for death as it is a choice to let his friends live.

Really, in that, it’s no choice at all.

So Billy closes his eyes, breathes a prayer, and lets go.

-- I LOVE how you make Billy human, it just makes him all of the more heroic that he's afraid, that the choice isn't from suicide, but love of his friends, that their deaths wasn't acceptable. THUD!!!


Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 7th, 2013 12:35 pm (UTC)
Re: You know how to get to me!
billy guitar

Heh, I can always count on you to love Billy's unending suffering :) Your enthusiasm makes me want to torture him more!

Thanks!

Posted by: Moogs (moogsthewriter)
Posted at: February 2nd, 2013 03:01 am (UTC)
Avengers - Team

Oh. my. word.

Pretty much mentally screaming right now. Michael, you bloody arse, stop acting like a rational, emotional being, and get out there! Who cares that your reaction is logical!

:D

On to part two!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 7th, 2013 12:36 pm (UTC)
chaos michael

I felt pretty horrible for what I was doing to Michael -- knowing that for as reasonable as all of his decisions were, he was going to feel pretty much horrific about them after the fact. I'm pretty mean :)

Thanks!

4 Read Comments