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Chaos fic: By a Thread (2/4)

April 1st, 2013 (11:14 am)
rushed

feeling: rushed

Notes and whatnot in Part One.

PART TWO



-o-

They’d been taken to a surgical waiting room, and as they settled down for what the doctor had promised would be a lengthy surgery, Michael found himself regaining control. It wasn’t really a surprise to him; this was what he did. If the image of Billy dangling lifeless in front of him had been paralyzing, the sight of Billy trussed up in a hospital bed had reminded him that he still had a job to do.

An important job, at that. Not just securing national interests and preventing threats to America’s sovereignty, but his team. There were three men in the ODS who he was responsible for.

Three of them.

One of them was in surgery, hopefully getting the best treatment Michael could hope for under the circumstances. The other two were right next to him, looking worse for wear and hanging to their self control by a thread. He’d cut Billy down, now it was time to focus a bit on the others.

Casey was still rigid, staring ruthlessly at the wall and anyone who dared cross his path. His fingers twitched, his toes wriggling in his shoes -- the only evidence of just how unnerved he still was. Casey was trained like no other operative he’d ever met. He was the most capable man Michael had known, with self discipline that defied all conventions. Maybe that was why the vulnerabilities of others hit him so hard. With most people, he could direct his fear to hatred, but when it was one of their own, he had a much harder time.

Of course, Casey also wasn’t one to accept comfort. Billy benefited from a squeeze on the shoulder or a rousing exchange of verbal sparring, but Casey was more likely to shut down than appreciate such tactics.

No, Casey required a different kind of distraction. In truth, he’d probably appreciate hand-to-hand combat to vent his frustrations. Since that wasn’t possible at the moment, Michael would give him something different to divert his growing rage.

“Hey,” he said, nodding toward the older operative. “You think you can call this one in?”

Casey glared at him immediately. “You want me to take a break to check in?” he asked. “We haven’t checked in for a week.”

“Exactly,” Michael said. “We’re going to need support at some point when it comes to Billy’s operation. Besides, we left Castillo and his unruly gang tied up and locked in a shed. It’s only a matter of time before someone finds them, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather it be someone who will make them pay.”

Casey’s mouth twisted into a sneer. “I can go back and make sure they pay,” he offered darkly.

“I’m thinking maybe calling Fay to have her send in the Ecuadorian Army might be the best option,” he suggested instead. “Castillo has been a pain in the government’s ass down here, if only for his reputation of operating right under their noses. They won’t pass up a chance to take him down.”

Casey snorted derisively. “If they’d made an effort, we could have avoided all this.”

And Billy might not be in surgery, breathing through his throat. That wasn’t the point, though. At least not the point Michael needed Casey to be dwelling on.

“Well, we’re making the effort now,” he said.

Casey made a face. “And I have to call in?” he asked. “You know I’m not the most diplomatic one of the bunch.”

No, that was Billy. But that didn’t need to be said.

Michael shrugged. “That’s the point,” he said. “I want action; you can make it happen.”

Casey stared at him for a long moment, as if trying to gauge if Michael was really serious. When Michael didn’t even blink, his expression tightened and he got to his feet. “Fine,” he muttered. “But I will not be held responsible if I somehow offend the hierarchy of command. I’ll tell them I’m working directly under your orders.”

Michael inclined his head in assent as Casey made his way out of the waiting area and down the hall. He would have to find a secure, private location, and the phone call wouldn’t be fun or easy or short. Though with Casey making the requests, somehow Michael knew it’d be shorter than Michael could make it.

It would be long enough, though. Both to get forces to Castillo’s compound and to help Casey alleviate some of his building stress. Two birds with one stone.

Which meant it was time to shift his focus to the last operative on hand.

Martinez was slumped in a chair kitty-corner to Michael, shoulders stooped low and gaze a little vacant. He’d made no attempt to offer suggestions to Michael’s makeshift plan to Malick, which was a sure sign that the kid had disengaged. It wasn’t a good sign, all things considered. Rick was too over zealous for his own good. For him to be disinvested from any aspect of a mission was usually a clear indication that something was wrong.

Of course, Michael knew what was wrong. They’d found Billy hanged and watched him almost suffocate before cutting open his throat. Their visit with Billy had assured him that he probably wasn’t going to die, which was some relief, but it had made it plain just how difficult it would be for the Scot to bounce back.

He gathered a breath and tried to smile. “You doing okay, kid?”

Rick didn’t move, didn’t even turn his eyes to look at Michael.

Michael hesitated, pressing his lips together, trying to piece together his best effort. Casey needed to channel his rage; Billy needed to be distracted. Rick needed to deal with the issue head on, but with care and sensitivity.

According to Fay, those things had never been his strength, but to Michael, it was all a matter of the right time and place. He didn’t see much need to be sensitive about picking a movie on a Saturday night. Trying to coax an operative off an emotional ledge, on the other hand, was really part of the job.

This was why he was a damn good operative -- and a piss poor husband.

“It really is going to be okay,” he said. “I know things were pretty tense back there--”

At that, Rick grunted, looking at Michael incredulously.

Michael didn’t let himself be dissuaded. “But you also saw Billy just now,” he said. “Considering what he just went through, he looked pretty damn good.”

That was somewhat true. Billy hadn’t been blue anymore, and the medical equipment had made the hole in his throat seem less garish. And he’d been awake and coherent -- those two things made a huge difference. Billy was still Billy, and even if there were some complications, the oxygen deprivation hadn’t caused any damage.

That counted for something. It counted for a lot.

Rick diverted his gaze, shaking his head. “You didn’t tell him.”

Michael frowned. “Tell him what?”

When Rick continued, his voice was quiet. “That he may never speak again.”

The blood drained from Michael’s face. It hadn’t been an overt decision, at least not one that he’d thought about before walking into Billy’s room. But seeing Billy laid out on the bed, seeing the fear in his eyes -- he couldn’t make that worse. Because the idea of Billy not speaking...

He wouldn’t acknowledge it now. He didn’t tell Billy because it wouldn’t do the Scot any good. And he wasn’t going to dwell on it here with Martinez because it sure as hell wouldn’t help the kid cope with what they’d just been through. “We’ll deal with that if we have to,” he said. “Getting the tube out of Billy’s throat is the first thing we need to worry about.”

Rick nodded absently. “What if the last thing Billy had said was him trying to beg for his life?”

Michael didn’t flinch, but only just. It wasn’t an easy thing to think about. He had to work to keep his breathing even, trying not to think too much about that. Trying not to think about Billy’s cover being blown, about the way he would have tried to talk his way out of it. Tried not to think of the superfluous words that hadn’t failed him--

Before a noose was tightened and all the words were cut off. Maybe permanently.

He shook his head. “It won’t be.”

“But what if it is?” Rick persisted. “Shouldn’t we have told him? Doesn’t he deserve the truth?”

The truth. Michael had always treated the truth as a commodity, something he could control and parcel out as needed. Trust among spies was a fragile thing, but he’d lied to his men more than once for their benefit -- and for his.

But this wasn’t about the truth. This was about belief.

“The truth isn’t everything,” Michael replied. “Besides, you should know by now that the truth is subjective and often what we make it. Telling Billy that he might never talk would only have made things worse.”

Because Billy had been scared enough. Without his words, the Scottish operative had been clearly struggling to retain his composure. To tell him that he might never get them back...

Well, Michael had wanted to help buoy Billy’s odds in surgery, not diminish them by taking away more of his hope. Castillo had put the noose on Billy’s neck, Michael wasn’t about to keep pulling it tight until Billy had no choice but to give.

He didn’t want to admit he was still helpless in all of this, that he still felt like he was sitting there, as watching Billy suffocated, doing nothing. He couldn’t.

Rick looked at him again, the tension drained from his face. He looked tired now, and very young again. “What if the truth isn’t something we want it to be?”

It rarely was. Not in Michael’s life -- not in Billy’s or Casey’s. Not even for the ODS or spies in general. But that wasn’t the point.

Rick didn’t need his doubts or recriminations. He needed a strong leader to be certain, even if he wasn’t certain at all.

So Michael sat back, smirking just a little. “Remember your first day on the job? When you came in there and lied to us?”

Rick blinked, but nodded. “Yeah, and you lied right back.”

“Exactly,” Michael said. “We’ve been controlling the truth since day one with you. It hasn’t turned out exactly the way we want, but I think it’s been okay.”

Rick didn’t argue.

“This is no different,” Michael said. “I promise.”

Michael wasn’t as good with words as Billy -- and the Scot definitely had a way with the kid. But Michael would be good enough for now.

Rick relaxed just a little, exhaling heavily. “If Billy were here, he’d tell me a story about wild dogs or something.”

Michael made a face. “And that would help?”

Rick smiled distantly. “Yeah,” he said.

Michael chuckled. “Yeah,” he mused. “I guess it probably would. When he wakes up, we’ll have to have him tell me that one so I’m caught up.”

Rick laughed, but then silence hung precariously, stretching between them as they waited. Michael wanted to say something more -- anything -- but he didn’t know what.

He couldn’t find the words.

-o-

Awareness came in violent snatches. His consciousness had dissipated in the operating room, slipping from him imperceptibly as the impact of the drugs mounted, and after that the darkness was cloying, broken by harsh snippets of reality.

He opened his eyes and saw an unfamiliar ceiling. A masked face hovered above him and the voices were distant, far away, before he was yanked roughly back under again.

The next time, the pain was acute and a monitor was beeping. Someone was talking to him, feminine and close to his ear. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Nothing--

Light. The pain was aching, nagging. He tried to regulate his breathing but found it difficult, found it--

“Hey.”

The voice was one he recognized, one he knew. He tried to turn his head, but found himself stuck. He had a moment of panic before Michael’s face came into view.

Billy took a moment, trying to steady himself, but when he opened his mouth nothing worked the way it was supposed to.

“Whoa,” Michael coaxed, settling a hand on his arm. “Can’t speak just yet, remember?”

Billy’s mind raced. He remembered...he remembered--

The tube, the brace. Castillo and the warehouse. Being nabbed off the street--

Hanging.

He shuddered.

Michael smiled anyway. “It’ll come back to you,” he said reassuringly, as if reading Billy’s mind. “You were pretty lucid before the surgery, but given the heavy duty drugs they put you on it’s no wonder things are a bit hazy for you at the moment.”

Before the surgery. To repair his--

Throat.

Billy tensed at the memory, lifting his hand and getting part way to his neck before Michael grabbed it, easing it back to the bed.

“It went well, by the way,” Michael explained easily, as if this was a normal conversation, not Billy with a hole in his neck on a hospital bed. “They were able to fix your trachea. They showed us some x-rays, which looked sort of like a Rorschach test to me, but supposedly that means that the reconstruction went well. They need to give you some time to heal, but they think you’ll be able to lose the tube eventually.”

Eventually. Billy felt air filter in his lungs, but his mouth felt weird. Things were heavy still, but he could make out the sensation of something wrapped around his neck. Not tight, but firm. Not digging, not compressing, but it still made him squirm.

Not that he could. The brace was still there and his body was weak and he was so tired...

“Anyway, one of us will be here when you wake up again,” Michael told him, softer now.

It would have been easy to drift, to let himself drift away.

But the helplessness made him rebel, if only on principle alone. He opened his eyes wider, meeting Michael’s gaze with fresh urgency. He furrowed his brow, the need to speak almost pushing him to the brink of his self control. Finally, he worked up his energy and mouthed, “My voice?”

Michael’s face froze, just for a moment. It was hardly a millisecond, but it was telling. Billy felt his stomach lurch, his entire body going cold.

Michael recovered quickly, though, offering him a confident smile. “It’s too early to think about that.”

It wasn’t a lie, at least, but the distraction wouldn’t work, not this time.

Billy blinked earnest, pleading as best he could for Michael to tell him.

Michael’s face went taut, and then he sighed. “They’re playing it cautious with the prognosis,” he admitted finally. “There’s a small fracture in your voice box. It’s probably nothing, but they’ve got to let it heal before they see what kind of impact it’ll have.”

The words were carefully chosen to tell Billy the optimistic version of the truth. But Billy was injured, not stupid, and drugs or not, he could read pretty clearly between the lines.

He’d be able to breathe normally, but he may never talk.

It was hard to comprehend, even if the meaning was entirely clear. Castillo had not only crushed his windpipe, but damaged his voice box. Billy didn’t know how to explain the total terror of such a prognosis, that talking was breathing. He’d always counted on talking until he ran out of breath. Silence...

Well, Billy didn’t know how to face the silence. That was why he sang random songs and recited wayward poetry. It was why he slept with the TV on and strummed his guitar through breakfast. It was why the months after his deportation had been so hard -- not just losing his friends and his life and his honor -- but being totally alone. In a country with no one to talk to, no one who wanted to listen to him at all.

He’d talked his way into the ODS and had been talking ever since. It was who he was. It was everything.

And it might be gone.

Michael’s fingers tightened knowingly. “It’s too early to worry,” he said, emphatic now.

Too early. Too late. Billy was still suspended, still hanging, waiting to know the outcome.

He let his eyes close, chest tight and throat aching.

Waiting for everything to end.

-o-

Really, it was good news. Billy’s surgery had gone well. Better than expected, actually, if the doctor’s enthusiastic report was to be believed. Michael’s Spanish was rudimentary at best, but the glowing smile on the man’s face as he gestured to Billy’s x-ray had been encouraging.

Billy wasn’t going to die. And he wasn’t going to spend his life with a hole in his throat, relying on a tube to breathe.

Michael had taken this to heart, reminded it to Casey and Rick as often as he could. But even Billy had realized the thing that wasn’t being said--

That none of this ensured whether or not Billy would talk again.

The doctor’s official prognosis was nothing more than wait and see. But his lackluster disposition when Rick had translated Michael’s pointed question had been answer enough. At best, Billy’s odds were about fifty-fifty.

There was a fifty percent chance Billy would recover and be back to his normal chatty self, annoying Casey in the breakroom and flirting with women on missions.

There was also a fifty percent chance that Billy would never make another sound, that he’d be relegated to whispers and hoarse keening for the rest of his life. This wouldn’t just take Billy out of the field; it would probably take a bit of Billy’s soul.

Given the dejected look on his face when he slipped back into unconscious, Michael suspected it might take a lot of Billy’s soul.

Still, good news. Michael was going to focus on the good news.

Which was why he smiled brightly when he came out of Billy’s room, nodding encouragingly to Rick and Casey who were perched nervously in a small waiting area nearby.

“So?” Rick asked, getting out of his seat and half coming to meet Michael.

“He’s awake,” Michael told them. “Or, he was. He was out again pretty quickly. But given that he just endured major surgery, I think it’s pretty good.”

Over eager and exhausted, Rick could only stare at him intensely for a long moment. “So he’s okay,” he said.

It wasn’t the most stellar observation, but it’d been a long night in the hospital, and there was only so much coffee could do to keep them alert and with it. Martinez was on his last legs both physically and emotionally, so Michael wasn’t about to call the kid on his sudden lapse in intelligence.

“Yeah,” Michael said. “He’s okay.”

“For someone with a hole in his throat,” Casey grumbled. He’d been off for several hours, arranging things with Langley. He also smelled vaguely of blood and whisky when he returned, so Michael expected the other man had made a few other much needed stop while he was out.

For someone who Michael had been pretty sure was going to die – Billy was most definitely okay.

That wasn’t the right thing to say, though.

He shrugged coolly, eyes on Casey. “For anyone,” he said, voice even and unyielding.

Casey said nothing.

Rick nodded. “So we can see him?”

“Yeah, I think it’ll be best if we take turns with him, at least until he’s off the drugs a little more,” Michael said.

“He’s clingy under normal circumstances,” Casey groused. “When he’s drugged up, he’s like a damn leech, sucking all your energy and sanity.”

It was true, though it wasn’t exactly the most forgiving portrait. Michael knew Billy well enough to know that the drugs lowered his defenses, made him vulnerable. That vulnerability made him reach out for tactile reassurance. It wasn’t exactly Michael’s favorite thing either, but since Billy was only drugged up when he was injured, it was hard to fault him for it.

Especially when it was usually Michael’s fault.

“Still,” Michael said, turning his eyes back to Rick. “Maybe you’d like to sit with him for a bit? Before going over to the motel to get some sleep?”

He said it casually, like it was incidental, hoping that Rick would realize what Michael was doing. The kid needed to sleep this off more than the rest of them, but with his damn earnestness and big, scared eyes, he wasn’t likely to listen to straight up common sense.

Tired as he was, though, Rick only nodded tacitly.

“Oh, and let’s be sure to keep things positive,” he added, stopping Rick before he could move toward Billy’s room.

Casey raised his eyebrows.

Michael sighed. “It’s still a lot for Billy to take in,” he said. “You know how much he hates being still, and he’s going to be laid up for a while. Plus, he keeps trying to speak, and if we want him to heal with the least setbacks we need to keep him calm.”

Rick seemed to pale a little.

Casey blew out a frustrated breath. “I’m not a nursemaid, Michael.”

“No, but you are his teammate,” he shot back. “And his friend. Besides, who was the one who stayed with you and kept you conscious during that mission in Greenland?”

Casey’s face drew down, darkening into a sulk.

Michael looked at Rick. “And don’t let him think about his voice,” he said, the order gentle but firm. “He’s got enough on his mind.”

Rick’s brows furrowed but he nodded.

“We’ll get through this,” Michael said, trying to sound like he meant it. “You’ll see.”

He had to say it. Because he had to believe it.

Because the person who would normally say it couldn’t speak at all.

-o-

Billy wasn’t sure how much time had passed. He woke periodically, eyes flitting around the room. Michael was there. Then Rick. Then Casey. They talked; they laughed; Billy slept.

And woke. Longer periods. Tests with the doctors. Scans in machines. Lights shone--

Lights faded. He woke in the dark, blinking up into the dimness. Michael roused and came next to him, squeezing his shoulder, telling him it was okay, it was just fine--

Martinez talking about growing up with brothers. He told stories--

Casey spoke grudgingly. Reminded Billy of their past missions and their foibles, all they’d done--

And then the entire medical team was there. Billy startled in surprise.

“We’re just taking out the trach today, remember?” Michael asked, sliding in easily next to Billy. He was beaming this time.

There was movement and pressure, someone palpating his throat next as the bandages were unwrapped. The air was cold against his skin and he flinched. Michael’s hand tightened and Billy forced himself to still.

Someone said something; hands moved above his head. Then something hissed, plastic popped and his throat convulsed.

The sudden shock was almost too much and Billy coughed wretchedly, body jerking as he flailed. He was choking and hacking, struggling and--

Breathing.

The air went in through his mouth, passing over his tongue and down his newly constructed airway--

And out again.

In.

And out.

He was breathing.

The doctors were still fussing, putting an oxygen cannula under his nose, hastily rewrapping his still-healing throat. But Billy didn’t care. His eyes filled with tears inexplicably and when he lifted his head -- the brace finally gone -- he met Michael’s eyes with nothing short of joy.

He wanted to say thank you. To tell Michael that he’d been right. To say how amazing this felt.

But when he opened his mouth, the air came in and--

Choked on the way out.

His tongue moved, his lips formed words but there was no sound.

He swallowed awkwardly, face scrunching in concentration. Above him, Michael’s face was creased with concern, his hand unmoving. “Hey, come on,” Michael coaxed. “You need to take it easy. Focus on breathing.”

Breathing. In and out. Billy couldn’t take it for granted, not after the time that had passed. He’d been told the odds. He’d been told the risks. He’d been told a lot of things, and done his best to hope to the contrary.

Because that was what Billy did. He smiled and feigned happiness; he said a lot of things he didn’t mean because the things that were true weren’t very pleasant. He’d striven for that optimism, tried to find it. It was all he’d had, small smiles and hopeful glances, while he waited.

There had been talk of speech therapy; about giving his voice box time to recover. It might take a while, he’d been warned.

Or it might never happen.

The sense of loss was palpable; the disappointment was impossible to hide. His failure was evident.

For once, at least it didn’t matter if he couldn’t speak.

Because there was nothing to say that made any of it okay.

-o-

Michael was right.

He usually was. He made a point of it. Even when he wasn’t, he was pretty good at manipulating the facts until it seemed like he was.

In this case, he really was right. They were going to get through this. Billy’s recovery was actually faster than anticipated -- the doctors were positively glowing in their reports. Michael half expected that they put Billy’s x-rays up in the doctor’s lounge just to brag about how well it was going.

On that front, Michael couldn’t complain. Billy was awake and breathing. The incisions on his neck were starting to heal, the ligature marks fading to bruises.

And he was doing better emotionally, too. Flirting with the doctors, winking at the nurses. He perfected his range of nonverbal responses, and could evoke laughter or sympathy with a simple look alone. In this, he was maybe even more charming than ever. His injuries tugged at the hearts of even the most uptight hospital personnel -- and his woeful puppy dog eyes and effervescent smile made him an instant celebrity.

By all accounts, Michael was more than right. They were going to get through this with a flourish. The doctors were already talking about releasing Billy and clearing him to fly home. Higgins had approved their unsanctioned mission and all the pieces were falling into place.

Except Billy still couldn’t talk.

He could whisper, of course. Near-noiseless words that were hard to understand when Billy got going. And he’d started to make some noises, which they were told was a good sign. His voice box was healing -- at least to some degree -- so he’d probably regain some verbal abilities in time.

Some, though maybe not all. As it was, Billy could make odd grunts and hums, inarticulate sounds that were more akin to animals than humans. Billy blushed vigorously every session with the speech therapist, who told him he was doing great.

For a man who had been hanged, he really was doing great.

But Michael could see the toll it was taking. He could see the flickering smile on Martinez’ face, the awkward stiffness in Casey’s posture. They overcompensated for it, of course, telling stories and cracking jokes with more consistency than they ever had before. They talked for Billy, learning to read his cues, responding to his needs before the Scot ever had a chance to vocalize them.

They were doing everything they could. But they couldn’t fix Billy’s voice. They couldn’t give him his words back, no matter how hard they tried or what efforts they made.

To make matters worse, there was nothing Billy could do either. Sure, he did his vocal exercises. He worked as hard as he could, but in the end it wouldn’t make as much difference as they wanted it to. Billy’s ability to speak depending on how well his voice box healed. It could be a full recovery.

Or it might never get better.

No one said that, and Michael half suspected that Rick and Casey didn’t let themselves think it. But Billy thought it. Billy just knew.

Michael could see it, haunting his eyes, the niggling but growing uncertainty even when he smiled. And when he thought he was alone, or when no one was looking, his shoulders slouched, his face went lax -- Billy knew.

Michael could straighten things out with Langley, run interference with the doctors. He could calm Casey and encourage Rick. But his platitudes did nothing for Billy, no matter how hard the Scot tried to hide it.

The harder it got for Billy, the more the others compensated. Rick positively doted; Casey was almost nice. And Billy withdrew, little by little. He still smiled brilliantly and played so coy, but the weight of it was taking its toll, almost choking them all by degrees.

Still, Michael was right.

Except for the ways he suspected he might be horribly wrong.

-o-

Billy was waiting.

He found he did that a lot these days. Being relegated to a hospital room didn’t afford him much in the way of entertainment. Normally, he might be able to charm one of the nurses into staying more than she ought, but no matter how adorable he was -- injured and ruffled in his current state -- they never could be convinced to stay for long with his lack of conversation.

The language barrier was enough of an obstacle. Without his vocal inflections, his whispered tales of greatness and peril simply did not translate.

It was to be expected, he told himself. A minor setback.

Shifting in his bed, feeling the healing wound tug at the skin of his throat, he thought maybe it was a bit more than that.

He’d forgone the hospital robes as soon as he could, and Michael had been diligent in bringing his clothes. They were a tad looser than before -- without the ability to swallow food for so long, he’d lost some weight -- but they were more comfortable. Plus, he thought as he fiddled with the collar, pulling it just a touch higher, if he folded the collars higher, he could hide most of the damage.

True, Billy was never one to eschew sympathy, but he hated that people didn’t look him in the eyes anymore -- they looked at his throat. By the time they made eye contact, they’d learned more about him than Billy cared to share. Even the ODS did it, looking at the fading marks and remembering what happened before looking away in guilt. Billy almost couldn’t stand it. The best thing about talking, after all, was that he could use his words to control what people knew and cared about. Without that...

Billy adjusted his shirt once more, trying to not look conspicuous. Without his words, he was more vulnerable than ever.

Without his words, Billy found there wasn’t actually much for him to do. Even now, all he could do and sit and wait while his mates sorted things out with the hospital. He was being cleared to leave -- a bit early, perhaps -- and normally Billy took pride in sweet talking his way into an earlier release, but this time it had been Michael’s planning, Casey’s glowering, and Rick’s translation that did the trick. All he had to do was sit here.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Billy sighed -- it was one of the few sounds he could make that still sounded normal, which was some consolation. He didn’t like to be bored any more than he liked to be silent. But there was literally nothing to do. Rick had even packed his bloody clothes.

He had been staring at the ceiling, counting the tiles, when finally the door opened. Michael led, grinning at Billy, Rick only a step behind holding up the papers triumphantly while Casey slipped in behind him.

“We got them!” Rick said.

Billy smiled back, if only because Rick’s sheer exuberance was a bit contagious.

“Took some work, but all you need to do is sign them,” Rick continued coming closer to Billy and handing them over.

“Thank you, lad,” Billy whispered, taking the papers. He paused, looking for a pen--

Before Michael held one out. “Took more than a little work,” he said, quirking his lips wryly. “Your doctor was in surgery so we had to convince the nurse to help us.”

“Which would have been easier if the charge nurse wasn’t completely devoid of compassion,” Casey said gruffly. “Her fondness for the rules represent everything that is wrong with modern healthcare around the world.”

Billy lifted his eyebrows. “Sounds like a bit of a spot.”

“It was,” Michael continued. “I thought we might have to scrub in ourselves to get the signature.”

Billy shrugged, gesturing with one hand. “You should have told me. I could have helped--”

Rick shook his head. “Nah, we got it.”

“Thanks to Martinez here,” Michael said with a grin.

“The kid was mildly impressive,” Casey agreed grudgingly.

Billy waited for the rest of the story expectantly.

A shy smile spread across Rick’s face. “It was mostly a group effort,” he said. Then he made a face. “The details don’t really matter, anyway.”

Michael snorted. “If you say so.”

Rick gave him a look. “The important thing is Billy’s going home,” he concluded, quite proud. “We’re all going home.”

They were bright; they were beaming. They’d gone out of their way for Billy’s sake and conquered the difficult intricacies of foreign health care. How they had accomplished this, Billy didn’t know. He hadn’t been there; they hadn’t told him. He thought maybe to ask, but the whispered words wouldn’t come. They’d probably sound a touch pathetic anyway.

The door opened before he could come up with another thought. The litany of Spanish was fast and hard to discern, but the agitated tone was fairly easy to make out.

Michael was on his feet, clearly concerned. Casey had tensed, and Rick met Billy’s main nurse head on, replying to her Spanish fluently.

Rick nodded a few times, then glanced briefly at Billy. “She needs to check you one more time apparently,” he said. He looked sheepish. “She wasn’t too happy when she found out we’d gone over her head to get you discharged.”

Billy smiled impishly. “Of course she wasn’t,” he whispered. “Marta and I have grown quite close.”

Marta clucked at Rick, moving past him to Billy. Her presence made Billy straighten expectantly. Voice or no, he had to perform. He had a reputation to protect, after all. And no Ecuadorian criminal was going to snuff that out with a noose.

Marta smiled at him, starting by taking his vitals. When she reached up to his neck, Billy did his best not to flinch, hoping no one saw how his face blanched ever so slightly whenever someone neared his neck. He hadn’t even managed to wear a tie just yet.

Marta nodded, asking something in Spanish.

“I’m not exactly sure what you want to know--” he began.

“She just wants to know about lingering pain,” Rick supplied.

“Ah,” Billy said. “I reckon there’s a twinge--”

Marta squinted at him.

Michael leaned closer, pointing to his own neck to show. “Just a little,” he said. “Un poquito.”

Marta inclined her head, running her fingers along the scars while asking another question.

Billy watched her earnestly. “I’m afraid--”

“Swallowing,” Rick said. “She wants to be sure you can still swallow okay.”

Casey chuckled. “Considering all the crap you’ve shoved down your gullet, I think you’re fine.”

“Esta bien,” Michael supplied before Billy had a chance to get a word in edgewise.

Rick came forward again, showing Marta the papers before launching into another explanation in Spanish. Marta listened, glanced at Billy, and responded to Rick.

And Billy sat there.

Waiting.

They were doing this for him. It was all about him, after all.

Yet, he had very little to do with it. He just had to sit there. When they told him to sign, Billy did. When they told him to leave, he did.

As he walked out of the hospital, it was an odd, surreal sort of thing. He’d expected this all to be harder -- not for him, because that had been hard enough -- but for them. He’d always been the talker of the team, the charmer. Casey used his fists; Rick used his heart. Michael used his brains.

Billy used his tongue.

Together they fit perfectly, all equal parts of a much better whole.

So he’d assumed that such an adjustment -- to have him silenced -- would be difficult.

But outside, blinking in the sunlight as Michael hailed a cab, Billy realized the only thing that was difficult was that they really didn’t need him to talk.

As they settled down, Rick discussing the price and Michael handing over bills while Casey loaded the truck, Billy was struck by the realization that they really didn’t need him at all.

-o-

Despite the fact that Michael generally traveled for a living, fighting on foreign soil to protect American interests, he really was something of a homebody. Coming home after a mission was always gratifying.

After a mission like this one, it was practically a relief.

Some missions went badly; that was the nature of the game. Michael wasn’t prone to theatrics or sentimentality, but he was really starting to hate South America. First, Rick and now Billy. It had taken him weeks to stop dwelling on how pale Rick had been in the back of the SUV, and every night they stayed in Ecuador, Michael still saw Billy’s slack form hanging in the air. He needed the familiar routines of Langley to get him back on his game.

Coming home was always a reset. After all, spies didn’t talk about what they did in the field. Missions were top secret, so sitting around discussing the details in the break room was generally bad form. People still knew to some degree, but even if don’t ask, don’t tell was no longer a military policy, it still existed in this way in the CIA.

People probably knew what had happened to Billy in some regard. But they weren’t going to ask about it, and Michael sure as hell wasn’t going to be talking about it any time soon. Neither would Casey or Rick for that matter. And Billy--

Well, Billy wouldn’t be talking about much until he got his voice back.

And he would get his voice back. Michael had to believe that, for his sake as much as Billy’s. As team leader, he needed all his men at full capacity. If Billy’s voice remained compromised, then Billy was compromised. The team was compromised.

That would be too many uncontrolled variables. Michael wouldn’t be able to tolerate it.

The implications of that were not ones that Michael cared to consider. He didn’t need to consider them. Not now. Not ever, if the ODS had any say about it.

Because his team was strong, they were stubborn. They were good. They were resilient. Rick bounced back after being shot. Casey never let his guard down. Michael endured every mission with the same tenacity. Billy had survived having his throat crushed. He wouldn’t let that bastard Castillo take his voice any more than his life.

For Billy, Michael had to think those things were mostly the same.

“I still don’t see why this is necessary,” Casey complained.

Michael glanced his way. “It was Martinez’ idea,” he said.

“I know,” Casey said. “Which is why it’s stupid and sentimental. That doesn’t explain why we’re actually doing it.”

“I don’t know,” Michael said, looking over their work. “I think Billy will like it.”

Casey rolled his eyes. “It’s a damn welcome home party, Michael. With streamers. I blew an actual balloon. This is a waste of my skills.”

Michael grinned, nodding over the cleaned up flat again. It had been Martinez’ idea -- his damn near insistence -- but Michael had readily agreed. Of course, he hadn’t counted on having to actually outfit the office and buy snacks, but once he’d agreed he’d found he’d had no choice. Martinez was the translator of the group, but Michael had to admit, he wasn’t bad at planning things. He’d orchestrated everything, from finding out Billy’s favorite breakfast to picking the Scot up and using a circuitous route to the office.

If this mission had taught them anything, it was that team roles were apparently meant to be defied.

And that it was important to remember that rope could be a weapon of force when employed properly.

“Nah,” Michael said. “We haven’t been in the field since Ecuador. Your skills are rusty. A little balloon blowing is good for you.”

Casey glowered. “About that,” he interjected, tying off a streamer with disdain, “when are we getting in the field again?”

Michael sobered. It’d been a thought he’d had more than once. They’d been home a few weeks now, and Michael had ducked most missions floated their way out of respect for Billy. But now the Scot had been cleared for work, and Michael wasn’t sure how that would play out in the field.

Billy could still whisper and he’d started to regain a bit more of his voice. He still wasn’t able to vocalize words, but that didn’t necessarily make him a desk jockey.

But it also didn’t mean Michael could have him front and center in the field like he normally could. He kept hoping that the next therapy session would be the one to help Billy start forming words -- but at a certain point, he’d have to bite the proverbial bullet and take his team back into the field.

With or without Billy and his voice.

“Let’s not rush it, okay?” Michael said.

“I haven’t,” Casey replied shortly.

“It’s his first day back, Malick,” Michael hissed. “Give it a rest.”

Casey opened his mouth to protest when the door opened. Rick was leading, Billy behind, head down. He was halfway through the door when Rick broke down and yelled, “Surprise!”

Startled, Billy looked up. His face went blank for a moment as he took it in -- streamers and balloons and snacks.

Billy gaped. “I have to admit, this one has me speechless,” he whispered. “Literally.”

Rick was grinning, and Michael moved forward, slapping Billy on the shoulder. “Good to have you back,” he said.

Billy worked his jaw and smiled back. “Good to be back,” he whispered, and if he sounded unconvinced, Michael told himself it was just the lack of inflection from the whispering.

Because they were going to be okay. They’d been forced to hang on with all they had in Ecuador, but now that they were back, they were going to be okay. Billy wasn’t hanging from a rope; Casey wasn’t cutting a hole in Billy’s neck. Rick wasn’t staring wide-eyed and young.

They were home. They were healthy. A little quieter, maybe, but that would change.

To Michael, there was simply no other option.

NEXT

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: April 3rd, 2013 03:28 am (UTC)

Wonderful chapter! The progressions you've made here are so logical and natural. I totally feel the "hovering" by the others and Billy's uneasiness about his future, I can feel his discomfort of being spoken for instead of being able to speak for himself, still, even in whispers, I heard his humor and his accent. Lovely!


Fave parts:

Well, Billy didn’t know how to face the silence. That was why he sang random songs and recited wayward poetry. It was why he slept with the TV on and strummed his guitar through breakfast. It was why the months after his deportation had been so hard -- not just losing his friends and his life and his honor -- but being totally alone. In a country with no one to talk to, no one who wanted to listen to him at all.

He’d talked his way into the ODS and had been talking ever since. It was who he was. It was everything.

And it might be gone.

Michael’s fingers tightened knowingly. “It’s too early to worry,” he said, emphatic now.

Too early. Too late. Billy was still suspended, still hanging, waiting to know the outcome.

He let his eyes close, chest tight and throat aching.

Waiting for everything to end.

--this is so heart wrenching!!!! And I absolutely LOVE how you described Billy as not liking silence. It's the perfect parallel to silencing him.


There was a fifty percent chance Billy would recover and be back to his normal chatty self, annoying Casey in the breakroom and flirting with women on missions.

There was also a fifty percent chance that Billy would never make another sound, that he’d be relegated to whispers and hoarse keening for the rest of his life. This wouldn’t just take Billy out of the field; it would probably take a bit of Billy’s soul.

--Thud!! Such a wonderful "comparison". From the delightful image of Billy talking and charming with his mellifluous voice to the dismal one of Bily silenced or resorting to whispers and keening.


Because that was what Billy did. He smiled and feigned happiness; he said a lot of things he didn’t mean because the things that were true weren’t very pleasant. He’d striven for that optimism, tried to find it. It was all he’d had, small smiles and hopeful glances, while he waited.

-- a great portrait of Billy.


And he was doing better emotionally, too. Flirting with the doctors, winking at the nurses. He perfected his range of nonverbal responses, and could evoke laughter or sympathy with a simple look alone. In this, he was maybe even more charming than ever. His injuries tugged at the hearts of even the most uptight hospital personnel -- and his woeful puppy dog eyes and effervescent smile made him an instant celebrity.

-- ADORABLE!! I can so imagine this.


Casey rolled his eyes. “It’s a damn welcome home party, Michael. With streamers. I blew an actual balloon. This is a waste of my skills.”

--Casey is hilarious! I hear his voice.

Edited at 2013-04-03 03:31 am (UTC)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: April 18th, 2013 11:31 am (UTC)
chaos team meeting

I started this fic with the idea of hanging Billy but the aftermath quickly took it over. The implications of Billy losing his voice were just too interesting to not explore. It would be so devastating for all of them.

Thank you :)

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