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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos/Primeval fic: Scars that Never Felt a Wound (1/1)

October 17th, 2013 (05:47 am)
frustrated

feeling: frustrated

Title: Scars That Never Felt a Wound

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos. Or Primeval.

A/N: This is a prequel of sorts to my Chaos/Primeval crossover Absolute Truths. Essentially, this fic makes much more sense if you’ve read that one since Absolute Truths explains the premise that Stephen Hart came back to life via an anomaly and was shipped off to the United States as Billy Collins for a new take on life. While there are no explicit references to Primeval in this fic, that’s the implied backstory. This is set early in Billy’s career with the ODS.

A/N 2: With thanks to lena7142 for beta’ing. Fills my “body image issues” square for my bingo card.

Summary: Michael had questions and Michael wanted answers, but in all the mystery, one truth was clearer than the rest: Billy was one of them, and nothing would change that.



-o-

When Billy Collins joined his team a year ago, Michael wasn’t actually sure it’d work out. The kid tried too hard, and he always seemed to be over-compensating. That meant he had something to hide, and Michael didn’t like secrets.

At least, not secrets that he wasn’t privy to.

It was just an awkward fit. Billy was too tall, too goofy, too green. There were some things he seemed to know implicitly and other aspects of spy work that he seemed entirely unaware of. When he talked about himself, it was like he was rehearsing a cover story. He wasn’t bad at it necessarily, and he certainly did get better as time went on, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that almost every word that came out of the kid’s mouth was a lie.

This was almost forgivable. Michael was a liar. They all lied for a living.

But Billy was lying to them.

And yet, he was good at what he did. He was a marksman, even though he didn’t like to make a fuss about it. He was funny and endearing. All he had to do was blink, and no one was more surprised than he was when most women (and some men) were fawning all over him to do what he asked. A charmer. Michael hadn’t wanted a charmer, but now that he had one, he had to admit, it wasn’t so bad.

And the most impressive marks the kid had scored were the ODS themselves.

The truth was, Carson was an easy sell. He’d been fond of the kid from the start, doting on him and taking the time to talk him through the stupid things that Michael couldn’t figure out how a spy didn’t already know -- even an MI6 reject. Casey was harder to work over, but Michael was amazed to see the human weapon threaten to destroy an entire terrorist compound to get the kid out of harm’s way.

Michael wasn’t sure when it happened for him, but sooner or later, he found himself counting on the rookie. He began thinking about missions that Billy would be perfect for. He started giving the kid rides to work every morning, and ended up with his radio programmed to all the wrong stations.

He liked the kid.

And damn it all if the kid didn’t just blossom. He opened up -- not about personal details of course, but his entire disposition. His jokes were funnier; his stories were more entertaining. He made friends easily throughout the Agency, and his charm on missions was unparalleled. Whatever lapses he’d had in his career at MI6, he more than made up for them now, and after a year with the four of them, Michael could hardly remember it any other way.

Then they got dropped in a sewage canal in the middle of nowhere with one lonely river to wash up in before making the five mile trek back to civilization. The hows and whys of their swim in sewage was not entirely relevant and, in truth, Michael would prefer not to dwell on it. All that mattered was getting back, reestablishing contact, and finishing the mission.

But first--

“Okay, everyone strip,” he ordered, slinging off his own sodden jacket. He made a face. “We’ll wash up and then head out.”

Casey sighed, quickly shedding his own jacket. “The smell of fecal matter will linger for months. Can we burn the clothes?”

Carson grunted. “You really want to get sunburn down there?

Casey raised his eyebrows. “You assume I haven’t already worked on a full body tan.”

Carson made a face, pulling his t-shirt off and dropping it on the ground. “I vote no to incineration,” he said. “I’m all for team bonding, but that’s a bit much.”

Michael chuckled. “No to incineration, but we will rinse out our clothes before we go back.”

Casey scowled, undoing the buckle on his pants. “Fine,” he said crossly. “I will incinerate later.”

“You can do whatever you want on your own time, pal,” Carson said with a grin, dropping his drawers to the ground.

Michael was down to his boxers when he looked at Billy. The Scot was being unusually reticent suddenly.

He was also still fully dressed.

“Problem, Collins?” Michael asked.

Billy swallowed, trying to smile. “I just make it a point never to skinny dip in unknown waters.”

“Just don’t swallow,” Carson advised. “Besides, whatever parasites may be in this water were already flourishing in that sewage canal.”

Billy’s features twitched.

“Oh, come on,” Michael cajoled. “You’re shy?”

Casey clucked his tongue. “And the Brits think us to be the prudes.”

Billy rolled his eyes. “I’m trying to think of the local environment,” he said. “Communities around here use this water.”

“We’re miles from any community,” Michael reminded him. “That’s the problem.”

“Don’t worry, kid,” Carson said with a wink. “I’m sure you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”

Uncharacteristically, Billy blushed, looking away as Carson dropped his boxers and eased himself into the water.

Casey dropped his next and marched himself proudly in after. “Besides, a little roughage in the water builds the immune system,” he says, staring to wash himself.

Michael smirked, taking off his own boxers. “You can leave your boxers on, if it makes you feel better,” he suggested, stepping into the stream as well.

The water was shallow at the bank and moving languidly. Michael found his footing, easing out until he was in waist deep water. He was careful to check for the current, and found it not too strong, making this the perfect place for a little clean up.

Casey was methodically scrubbing himself, and Carson was swimming. Michael went about his business until he looked up and saw Billy still standing there.

“Come on, Collins,” Michael said. “You’re at risk for all kind of illness the longer you keep that crap on your body and we don’t have time to be modest here.”

“What happens on the mission, stays on the mission,” Carson added easily. “We’ll tell you about Belfast sometime.”

Casey snorted. “No, we won’t,” he said. “Because then we would have to kill him, and it would be way too much trouble dealing with his body.”

Billy still didn’t move.

Michael rolled his eyes. “It’s an order, Collins,” he said insistently.

When Billy still didn’t budge, Michael’s face hardened.

“Otherwise we can ship your ass back to England and see what MI6 wants to do with you,” he concluded.

At that, Billy went pale. He was frozen for a moment, before his face went blank and he lifted a trembling hand to undo the button on his overshirt. The first shirt came off easy, and then his pants. Curiously, he dropped his boxers next and then hesitated before he pulled off the t-shirt and threw it into the pile of ruined clothes.

Then, Michael understood.

He understood the reticence. He understood the reservation. He understood the excuses, the fear.

Not because Billy was poorly endowed or because he had a paunch belly. But because his body was covered with scars.

At first, it was hard to distinguish them since the jagged marks traversed his entire torso. They intersected and crossed, some gaping and others fine. There were parts where layers of skin seemed to have been flayed entirely, and the ugly marks covered his chest, his stomach, his back and his thighs. He’d seen some of Billy’s scars before -- the marks on his arms and neck -- but this...

This was something else entirely. Billy had been tortured; he’d been savagely attacked. By what, Michael couldn’t be sure. By whom, Michael didn’t even want to speculate. But the marks were still dark, although healed, which meant the damage wasn’t that old. A few years, at best. Whatever had happened, it had happened during Billy’s stint with MI6.

Trembling, Billy kept his head high even as he refused to look at his team. He came into the water and washed himself briskly. The sun glinting off the water made the scars even more garish as the cool water turned them violet against Billy’s blanched skin. Before long, Casey and Carson stopped their hasty cleaning to watch as well.

If he noticed -- and there was no way he couldn’t -- Billy said nothing. Instead, he washed, fingers working over the marks until his body was glistening and clean. When he was done, he retrieved his clothes, soaking them in the fresh water until the worst of the sewage was gone.

When he was done, he went back to shore and pulled his shirt over his head. It was still dripping, but he hastily put on his boxers as well. “Okay, then,” he said, his voice sounded choked and rough. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Still standing in the water, Michael didn’t know what to say.

Billy had joined the team a year ago, and Michael had started to think the kid was a good fit.

Now, Michael realized he didn’t know anything about the kid at all.

-o-

It was a long walk back.

It would have been a long walk regardless. They were in Africa, walking through the height of the afternoon heat. They all still smelled vaguely of sewage, and their wet clothes dried stiff and uncomfortable on their backs before become soaked again with sweat. Their shoes were the worst, and Michael’s few were raw and itchy less than a mile in.

Normally, they might have made jokes. They might have traded barbs. They might have done something to pass the time, to make the miserable journey somehow bearable.

There was nothing they could say, however. There were no jokes, no barbs. The minutes passed slowly, and they took each pace as agonizingly silent as the last.

Under other conditions, Michael would have taken the lead, but Billy set out first, and Michael didn’t know how to stop him. Hell, he didn’t want to stop him. And still, there was no way he was going to lose the kid.

Not after...

Michael couldn’t even finish the thought. He exchanged an uncertain glance with Carson, who shrugged. Casey had his eyes fixed on Billy in what seemed to be disdain but Michael recognized as concern.

There were no jokes, no barbs, no stories, just one question that none of them knew how to ask.

Michael told himself it was respect. It was discretion. It was the right thing to do.

As they journeyed, it felt like anything but.

-o-

At the hotel, Billy breezed past the front desk and didn’t bother with the elevator. He climbed two flights of stairs, taking them two at a time, not even looking back as he used his key to open the door to their suite, letting it shut behind him as he disappeared inside.

Michael barely caught the door before it latched, propping it open as the rest of his team filed in. By the time Michael shut the door behind him, the bathroom door was already closed and locked with the water running.

In the room, Casey and Carson looked at him.

“Well, that was unexpected,” Casey started.

Carson grunted. “Unexpected? What the hell was that even?”

Michael took a measured breath, not sure what to say.

“You didn’t know, did you?” Casey asked.

Wearily, Michael moved toward the bed, taking off his ruined jacket. “It was a surprise to me,” he admitted.

Carson shook his head. “Wasn’t there something in his file?”

“The entire thing was redacted,” Michael reminded him. “If it was there, there was no way we could have seen it.”

“Those scars aren’t exactly old, Michael,” Casey pointed out. “He had to have gotten them with MI6.”

“I know,” Michael said with a sigh.

Carson made a face. “Damn bastards probably burned him when he got captured,” he said. “Which would explain how he ended up on our doorstep.”

“But not why he was cleared for duty,” Casey said. “Those kinds of scars come with deep psychological trauma.”

Michael knew this. Psychology was his specialty, and he’d read more than a little about the effect of torture on the human mind. How it changed people; how it haunted them long after it was over.

“If he’s a liability--” Casey started.

Carson made a noise of disdain. “That’s your first thought? We have to axe him?”

“I’m just being realistic,” Casey said. “If there are psychological issues at play, then it’s more important for Billy than any of us that we know about it.”

“You’re a heartless bastard, Malick,” Carson said.

“I never said that I wouldn’t personally rip the people responsible to shreds,” Casey said darkly. “And I may or may not go after whoever left him compromised over at MI6 before sending him our way.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Michael said.

Casey looked annoyed. “The people who did that--”

“Are not our business,” Michael said sharply. “Just like it’s not our business to decide whether he’s field worthy or not. I mean, he’s been with us a year. We’ve seen him under pressure.”

“Not that kind of pressure,” Casey said.

“Senegal,” Carson said. “He went straight in, no questions asked even though we told him that he was probably going to get shot to hell. And Caracas.”

“It’s not the same,” Casey said.

“And who the hell is prepared for torture anyway?” Carson said, his voice hitching. They all glanced at the bathroom, where the water was still running before Carson lowered his voice again. “Being a good operative only goes so far. When it’s just you and no way out, training, dignity, moral high ground -- it all goes out the damn window.”

“Besides,” Michael said. “We don’t know what happened.”

“Okay,” Casey said. “So are we going to find out?”

As if on cue, the water stopped and Michael had no answer for once.

-o-

When Billy opened the door a few minutes later, none of them had moved. The kid was in a fresh pair of shorts and a new t-shirt, and he said nothing as he brushed by them and went to his bag. He rifled through it quickly, leaving the clothes in a haphazard mess before pulling on a pair of pants and cinching a belt around his waist.

Then, he paused, as if deciding something before looking up at his team. His gaze settled on Casey and then Carson before landing on Michael.

“What you saw back there...,” he began, his voice faltering just slightly. He swallowed. “The details are classified. I’ve been forbidden to speak of them.”

That was a convenient excuse, though not actually entirely unbelievable.

“I just want you to know that it’s not what you think,” Billy continued, as if practicing from a script he’d memorized.

“It looks like you got torn apart, kid,” Carson said softly.

“There are only so many things that can do that kind of damage,” Casey agreed.

“And really, do the details matter?” Michael pressed.

Billy blanched. “Still,” he said. “I’m afraid this is my secret. You can poke around all you want, but you’ll never find out what happened.”

Michael was good at finding out secrets, but somehow he knew Billy was right about this one. Some secrets were so dark, so deep -- they were blacked out words in a top secret file. Michael would never know the truth.

Unless Billy told him.

And given the haunted, broken look in the younger man’s eyes, that probably wasn’t going to happen. At least not any time soon.

That was a problem. They were a team. Teams were built on trust. They didn’t have secrets; they didn’t have privacy. They had to be fully committed, or it just wasn’t going to work. Michael hadn’t wanted a new kid on the team in the first place, and now the idea of one with a broken past -- it was almost too much to think about.

Yet, it had been a year. A year, and Billy had proven himself in the field. He’d won over Carson and Casey. He’d won over Michael.

He was one of them.

Teams didn’t keep secrets but they also didn’t abandon each other. They had each other’s backs, and if anyone could use someone at their back, it was Billy Collins.

The surge of sympathy was almost surprising. Billy had kept his secrets, and Michael felt sorry for him. Because this wasn’t about Billy. This was about the fact that someone had hurt Billy--

Someone had hurt one of Michael’s team.

The fact that it was in the past didn’t change the reality that it had happened. And Michael couldn’t change that, but he could change this.

With resolve, he took a breath. “I understand classified,” he said. “I even understand holding things back that are too hard to talk about. I think we’ve all been there.”

Billy was watching him, cautious.

“The thing with secrets is that they make the truths harder for you to bear,” he said, as gently as possible. “We bear a great responsibility for the nation’s secrets. It’s a burden that is easier because we share it. You don’t have to bear yours alone.”

Billy’s expression faltered for a moment, but then he shook his head. “I can’t,” he said, the words soft and halting. “I just can’t.”

“I know,” Michael said, because he knew the psychology of it. He knew all the textbook symptoms of PTSD and how it lasted for months and years -- a lifetime, maybe. “But when you can...”

Billy blinked rapidly, then worked his jaw. “I may never be ready to tell you. I can’t promise you that someday I will.”

“The truth will come out eventually,” Carson told him sympathetically.

“Which is why I prefer to get it over with,” Casey said.

They meant well. Even Casey’s voice was stripped of malice; whatever doubts he had about Billy’s functionality, the human weapon wasn’t going to give up on the kid.

“Still,” Michael said. “It’s your choice.”

Billy hesitated. “And you guys?”

Carson sighed. “I’m too lazy to train another rookie.”

“I find change annoying,” Casey muttered.

“You fit in here,” Michael said with a shrug, feeling a smile start to tug at the corners of his lips. “Scars and all.”

Billy still looked uncertain. “You sound so sure.”

“Occupational hazard,” Carson quipped.

Casey shrugged. “I believe doubt is representative of a lack of fortitude. Acceptance takes a resilience few people realize.”

“We trust you,” Michael said, simple and definitive. Because that was the gist of it. Michael had questions and Michael wanted answers, but in all the mystery, one truth was clearer than the rest: Billy was one of them, and nothing would change that.

Billy looked down. “And if I don’t trust myself?”

Michael’s chest constricted inexplicably. “Well, you may surprise yourself,” he said. “You certainly surprised us. You never know how things are going to work out.”

“No,” Billy said with a rueful smile as he looked up again. “I reckon you don’t.”

It wasn’t much, but the shift in Billy’s disposition was just enough. The haunted look receded, and the charming Billy Collins Michael had come to tolerate and count on reappeared. This was how it was supposed to be. Whatever scars were there, they would heal.

One way or another.

“Good,” Michael said, rubbing his hands together. “Now that’s over with, what’s next?”

Billy made a face. “More showers,” he said. “You lot smell awful.”

Michael rolled his eyes. “That’s because some shower hog didn’t give us a chance,” he joked.

“No one’s holding you back now,” Billy said, using his towel to finish drying his hair.

Michael chuckled. “I’m next, then.”

“Hey!” Carson said. “Who died and made you--”

“Team leader?” Michael said, snagging his bag on the way there.

“I could stop you,” Casey threatened.

“Idle threats,” Michael said tsking his tongue. “Much more and I won’t leave you any hot water.”

Billy smirked. “You assume I left any for you in the first place.”

“Bastard,” Michael said from the doorway.

“No doubt,” Billy replied.

Inside, Michael turned on the water. He stepped out of his clothes, and stood under the water, letting it wash him again. He used soap on his own filth, hoping that it would be enough to scrub it all away.

It probably wouldn’t be, but it was a start.

He rinsed himself, turned off the water and went back to join his team.

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 18th, 2013 09:39 pm (UTC)
Lovely!

I loved the whole thing. The angst and vulnerability is so palpable and Billy's change of character is so dramatic and reveals such a dichotomy of the Billy of the present, as a part of the ODS and as the Stephen of his secret past that brings so much pain. I love the support from the others. Casey's is especially delightful and in the only way that Casey could express his "emotions".


Fave Parts:

Casey was harder to work over, but Michael was amazed to see the human weapon threaten to destroy an entire terrorist compound to get the kid out of harm’s way.

-- This was downright adorable. I love how you bear Casey to such vulnerability.

Michael wasn’t sure when it happened for him, but sooner or later, he found himself counting on the rookie. He began thinking about missions that Billy would be perfect for. He started giving the kid rides to work every morning, and ended up with his radio programmed to all the wrong stations.

He liked the kid.

And damn it all if the kid didn’t just blossom. He opened up -- not about personal details of course, but his entire disposition. His jokes were funnier; his stories were more entertaining. He made friends easily throughout the Agency, and his charm on missions was unparalleled. Whatever lapses he’d had in his career at MI6, he more than made up for them now, and after a year with the four of them, Michael could hardly remember it any other way.

--Billy wins hearts so easily! Hee!


But because his body was covered with scars.

At first, it was hard to distinguish them since the jagged marks traversed his entire torso. They intersected and crossed, some gaping and others fine. There were parts where layers of skin seemed to have been flayed entirely, and the ugly marks covered his chest, his stomach, his back and his thighs. He’d seen some of Billy’s scars before -- the marks on his arms and neck -- but this...

-- I loved this because I knew what was coming and felt so sympathetic! Also, what a great excuse to make Billy naked. HAHAHA!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 25th, 2013 08:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Lovely!
billy content

LOL, any reason for Billy to get naked is a good reason, right?

Thank you!

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: October 19th, 2013 11:13 pm (UTC)
Sequel


*subtly points to icon*

I love this, of course! Michael's thoughts on how Billy has grown within the team and how protective Casey is of Billy...

And when they see the scars, meep!

Love their banter. Thanks for keeping the team onscreen!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 25th, 2013 08:10 pm (UTC)
billy guitar

LOL, sequels! I have so much to write!

Thanks!

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