?

Log in

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

Chaos fic: Burned (1/2)

November 12th, 2014 (08:42 pm)
nostalgic

feeling: nostalgic

Title: Burned

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: Written for and beta’ed by sockie1000. Set preseries.

Summary: So he was concussed and shot in the middle of the desert. So his cover was compromised and he’d been left for dead. So his teammate was missing and he was miles from any kind of civilian. So what?



-o-

Billy woke to the sunlight.

This probably shouldn’t have seemed so unusual; indeed, most people woke with light filtering through their windows.

But for Billy, there was no window. There was no comfortable bed or a blaring alarm.

There was just sunlight, hot and unrelenting, pounding down on him with an intensity he could not fully understand. He could feel it, prickling his skin and saturating into his clothes.

Groaning, he tried to move. There was a movement nearby, and then a voice, barking out an order. Brow furrowed, Billy tried to open his eyes, squinting against the sunlight as it assaulted his eyes. He was barely able to make out anything when there was a blur of movement and something slammed into the side of his head.

The impact was jarring and sent him spinning into darkness, despite the glaring sunlight. Something hit him in the ribs, and he oofed, flopping over until there was nothing holding him up and he fell.

It wasn’t a long drop, and he hit face first, getting a mouthful of something hot and grimy. It coated his tongue and he coughed, trying to lift his head. His eyes were open again, and it took him a moment to get a grasp on his surroundings.

Sand.

Lots and lots of sand.

Coupled with the sunlight, Billy finally made an educated guess. He was in the desert. And given his not-so-warm welcome, he could only imagine that his location was not a good sign.

He was trying to remember what happened, but the sunlight seemed to have baked his brain. There was a mission; there were smugglers; there was a cover story that hadn’t held together.

And there was one more thing, one more important detail he was missing. He just had to think, he just had to remember--

His thoughts were shaken by the sound gun being readied.

Heart pounding, he squinted up again. This time, he could make out the figure, partially obscured by the sunlight as he loomed over Billy, his gun pointed straight at Billy’s chest.

“I would ask you to tell your employer that we are not interested,” he said with a smirk. “But I think your corpse will convey the message well enough.”

Billy’s instincts to survive were strong, but he had no moves. He had nothing. Except for that one detail, that one thing--

Suddenly, there was a cry. Not a broken cry. Not a scared whimper. But a deep, guttural cry. The battle cry of a warrior, setting off for victory. The savage cry of a human weapon, being deploy.

The sound of Casey.

Then a gunshot cut through the air and Billy yelped before the sunlight exploded and Billy’s world went white.

-o-

This time, Billy woke with a start. Consciousness returned starkly, and the memories of what happened were vivid.

And really not so good.

Billy remembered now, how their mark had lured them into a meet just to turn on them. There was no indication he’d pinned them as spies, but currently he was not fond of the idea of new business partners. Billy had been trying to talk his way out of it when someone had hit him rather hard with the butt of a pistol.

He could only assume, therefore, that Casey had been manhandled as well, before they’d been transported into the desert to be executed.

It was all rather ingenious, Billy reckoned, except for the fact that they had severely underestimated Casey Malick.

Not that such a thing was hard to do. Billy had underestimated Casey more than once and learned the hard way to rectify such erroneous beliefs. Though, really, he figured Casey preferred it that way. He liked having something he could hold over people’s head, and he hadn’t let Billy live it down yet.

No, he still treated Billy like the new kid even though Billy was a seasoned operative who had been with the ODS for a year. In that time, Billy had never earned so much as a compliment from the older man, and worse, Casey was always saving his backside from certain peril and likely death.

And here, he’d done it again. He could still remember the furious look on Casey’s face when he’d let the goons get him on his knees at gunpoint. Billy hadn’t even put up a fight, thinking he could talk his way out of it, and Casey had been forced into equal submission by Billy’s choice. That would have been all fine and good if Billy had been successful.

But considering what had happened next, apparently that had been another poor choice.

At least Billy had experience with those.

Grimacing, he shifted. His face was pressed into the sand, and he could feel it caked into his stubble. He spit, trying to get some of the grainy substance off his tongue but only with minimal success. The movement made his head throb, and he was reminded that he had taken at least two vicious blows to the head.

Still. Billy swallowed hard, fighting back the onset of nausea from what he suspected was a concussion. As he pushed himself up, though, a sharp pain shot through his arm, and he collapsed back into the sand with a cry.

He bit it off, burying his face in the sand and kicking his feet in a desperate attempt to regain his self control. When he finally rolled on the side, sand was sticking to the unbidden tear tracks on his cheek. From this vantage point, he looked at his arm and made a face. The fabric was torn and bloody.

He closed his eyes.

He’d been shot.

He’d been outed, pistol-whipped, taken to the desert and shot.

As if this mission couldn’t get any better.

Part of Billy wanted to curl up and cry. A large part of him, in fact. He was tired of this; he was tired of everything. He worked hard and he tried harder, and nothing seemed to go his way. He should be a top operative at MI6, not the low guy on the proverbial totem pole across the pond. He was subject to Michael’s whims; he was the butt of Carson’s jokes; and Casey could hardly even tolerate him.

Billy blinked.

Casey.

The thought jolted him, and he pushed himself to a seated position. It still hurt, but not as much as before, and his vision only swam momentarily while the vertigo passed. Clutching his arm close to his body, he blinked a few times to get his bearings and looked out across the sand.

There was a lot of sand.

He could still see indentations where the car had driven away, but beyond that, the dunes were bleak and vast.

Wincing, he turned. “Casey?” he called, scanning the surrounding area. “Casey!”

His heart skipped a beat when there was no answer. Grinding his teeth together, he staggered to his feet. He let out a heavy breath, shrugging out of his overshirt and tying it hastily around the hole in his arm. Without a closer look he couldn’t say exactly how bad it was, but it was safe to say he’d had worse.

Besides, there was no way Casey would leave him in this condition. The man didn’t like him, but Casey Malick was not the kind to leave one of his own behind. Especially not when he could flaunt it in Billy’s face and grouse and groan about how underqualified Billy was to be a part of the team at all. In fact, if anything, Billy expected Casey to be stitching him up in the field, glaring at him and lecturing him for his unending stupidity.

Billy would deserve it this time, too. He never should have tried to talk his way out of this. He never should have promised that he could get inside at all. Michael had been hesitant to send Billy in, but Billy had made bold promises.

That he hadn’t followed through on.

And Casey would be the first one to remind him of that.

Except Casey wasn’t there.

And Billy was horribly, terrifyingly alone.

-o-

For two seconds, Billy panicked. His heart raced and his palms started to sweat. His entire body had shook and he stood, frozen and scared in the middle of the desert.

It was two seconds too many.

Because Billy was a spy. Billy was a fighter. And mostly, Billy had survived worse than this.

So he was concussed and shot in the middle of the desert. So his cover was compromised and he’d been left for dead. So his teammate was missing and he was miles from any kind of civilian.

So what?

Billy wasn’t going to die here. Not like this. Not after everything. The ODS treated him like the new guy, but he wasn’t some novice in need of a rescue. He wasn’t some damsel in distress or a know-it-all kid who needed his ass saved.

He was capable. He was trained.

He could do this.

He would do this.

With this certainty, Billy assessed his condition once again. The gunshot wound was an issue, but honestly, it wasn’t one he could do much about. It needed to be cleaned and stitched, neither of which he could do while in the desert. His best bet was to move quickly to safety and then seek treatment. With the heat being what it was, if he sat around trying to get the wound clean, he’d be sacrificing precious body reserves that he needed to make the presumably long trek back to civilization.

Which moved Billy’s attention to the next major problem. He knew he needed to get to civilization, he just wasn’t sure how.

A quick assessment came up short of anything particularly useful. His phone was gone -- he seemed to go through them rather quickly with the ODS -- and his lighter was also gone. Not that he much wanted fire in the scorching sunlight, but since the thing was an emergency beacon more than anything else, he found himself actually quite disappointed by its absence. His wallet and all his other papers were gone. The bastards had clearly gone through his pockets before unceremoniously leaving him for dead.

They weren’t, however, very thorough. Billy found that a bit irksome, in truth. How did the buggers out them if they’d managed to leave Billy with a knife strapped to his thigh?

There was some margin of comfort in being armed, but considering his current predicament, the chances of having an attacker to fend off were slim. It might have some survival possibilities, but there was no long term options that could help him outlast the sunlight.

No, really, all he needed was his legs. Though he was injured and imperiled, his legs were still fully functional.

Better still, the buggers left him with the best thing of all -- a trail to follow.

Billy turned, looking at the line of tire tracks, stretching out across the desert -- a veritable yellow brick road of his very own. It might not lead him home, but as long as it got him the hell out of this desert, Billy would be perfectly happy.

Billy started to walk.

-o-

Billy had never been particularly worried about the idea of hell -- brimstone and hellfire had always seemed so abstract. But walking through the desert, the sun burning him through, he was starting to reconsider his notions. Because if this was a taste of hell...

Well, then Billy had to start saying his prayers more often.

The tracks were clear, which meant that he hadn’t been unconscious all that long. However, for the first hundred yards, the tracks were all over the place. They swerved and skidded until Billy came to a place where they were lost in a mess of indentations and other tracks.

A struggle. Billy was adept at tracking, and it wasn’t hard to place the movements as human. Tracing their path, he was able to tell that there were three distinct figures, and based on the smudges across the desert, it had been one hell of a fight. At one point, he saw a smear of blood, coagulating in the granules, but other than that, there was no further sign of life.

Sighing, Billy stood back up and squinted at the tracks. Beyond this point, the tracks evened out again, which meant that whatever had happened had been finished here.

He turned, looking around once more. There was no body, though. If Casey had lost the fight, why wouldn’t they have left him for dead in the sand like Billy? And if Casey had won the fight, then where the hell was he?

Was it possible that Casey had actually left him behind? He hadn’t wanted to consider the possibility earlier, but faced with the facts, he wasn’t sure what else to make of it. There had been a fight, and someone had been standing well enough to drive away.

And leave Billy alone.

In the desert.

To die.

He swallowed, and reminded himself that melodrama was not the answer at the moment. A good, overly dramatic retelling of the story could include such flourishes, but he had to survive this ordeal first. And standing there wasn’t going to help him.

Besides, he didn’t need Casey Malick. He didn’t even need the ODS. He’d been banished from one homeland and lost nearly all his mates in the process. If ever there was a man to be an island, it was him. The more people wanted him to fail, the more he just kept holding on.

He didn’t want to die now; he didn’t want to show up in some obituary, just so his handlers back in England could close his file once and for all. If he had to do it alone, he would.

Billy had once believed in doing hero’s work.

Now it was just a question of survival.

Head down, eyes on the tracks moving away from the struggle, Billy walked on.

-o-

Billy had sweat through his clothes in less than ten minutes, and he was considering the advantages and drawbacks of taking his shirt off. As hot and sticky as it was, the idea of having every inch of his torso scorched and burned was less than appealing.

His feet itched, and the sweat made his socks slick until his shoes started to rub against his heels. There was sand everywhere, and he could feel it sticking to the soles of his feet and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t wipe the grains from the palms of his hands. His tongue was thick with it, and the more he tried to wet his lips, the worse it got.

He wondered if Michael and Carson would come looking for him, Casey’s great escape notwithstanding. They could be heartless bastards, but he hadn’t taken them to be quite so callous. Billy had proven his worth; he’d saved their lives from time to time. Surely they’d come.

Then again, Billy was still the new guy. They still preferred to haze him as much as listen to him, and if he couldn’t trust his own country to have his back, who was he to think a handful of foreigners would do better?

He sighed, wiping a hand across his forehead. It hadn’t been more than thirty minutes since he woke up and the sun was already addling his brain. With the climbing heat index and the intensity of the sun, the chances of his success were dwindling rapidly.

This was no time to be self-pitying or fatalistic, though. Not all of his mates had abandoned him back home -- there was nothing they could have done. And even heartless bastards hated paperwork, and if anything actually happened to Billy, it’d be a mess for them to clean up.

And regardless, Billy wasn’t going to die here.

He wouldn’t give the universe the satisfaction.

-o-

Billy had always fancied Robert Frost -- at least before this mission started. Now, as he trekked through the desert, the sun beating down on him, he had to question the man’s insight.

Fire and ice, as it were. The lesser of two evils, to be certain, but Billy was inclined to wax poetic about such things. In this regard, Billy had always likened fire to passion, and thought he’d prefer to go out with a bang of glory. Ice was slow, freezing you from the inside out, a hatred that killed your soul before letting the rest of you die.

Fire, though. Fire was painful and encompassing. It scalded you, burning everything away until your soul was laid bare and left charred and exposed.

Beyond his passion and zeal, what did Billy have? What would be left? If the sun burned all his guises away, would there be anything left to find?

Maybe he’d already perished twice, though. Maybe ice had frozen him from his homeland, and now the fire would come and take the rest.

Maybe he shouldn’t fight so hard.

Maybe this was inevitable.

He swallowed dryly, stumbling miserably another few paces. Lifting his head, he looked out across the dunes, watching as the heat shimmered.

Then, he saw something.

For a moment, he thought it was a hallucination or at least a mirage, but when he blinked it was still there. Heart pounding, Billy started to move again, faster this time. He broke into a run, jogging across the sand until he got close enough to see it.

It wasn’t water or shelter, but in truth, it was the next best thing. A chance at salvation, a sure way out.

Namely, a car.

With such hope in sight, Billy covered the last distance in a stumbling jog, almost tripping into the vehicle. He had to brace himself to a stop against the bumper, and he sobbed in relief, dropping his head against the glinting metal. The heat stung at him, but he didn’t care.

God help him, he just didn’t care. Thirty minutes in the heat had been enough for him; much more would do him in. Luck didn’t often break in Billy’s direction, and he would take whatever he could get.

After a moment of panting, he lifted his head again, looking around for the first time. He’d been so focused on the car that he hadn’t stopped to consider the rest of the scene.

The sand was tossed and scattered, showing an even more violent struggle than before. The vehicle itself was still smoking, the engine hissing lightly under the desert sun. That was somewhat disconcerting, but not quite as bothersome as the bodies.

Carefully, Billy pulled his knife, approaching the first figure with caution. He poked the fallen man, prodding him until he fell onto his back, and Billy recoiled at the sight of his bloodied face. His nose had been mangled, pushed back into his skull for a rather unpleasant death. Even still, Billy recognized him as the bastard who shot him and left him for dead.

Moving to the next body, Billy only had to glance to see that he was dead as well. His neck was at an odd angle, eyes open and sightless, mouth gaping up at the sky. The driver.

Confused, Billy looked around. His captors were here; the vehicle was here.

So where was Casey?

Perplexed, he got to his feet, scanning the scene again. Moving back to the car, he looked at the front, surprised to find it riddled with bullets. The windshield was destroyed, and the entire engine was shot to hell. Frowning, he reached to pop the hood, almost burning his hand on the metal. Swearing, he bent over instead, looking underneath the car.

His heart dropped. It was impossible to tell what the liquid was, but there was enough of it coating the sand to know the car probably wouldn’t be going anywhere. However the fight had gone, the only mode of escape had been destroyed in the process. Which explained why Casey hadn’t taken the car.

But it still didn’t explain where Casey was.

Standing again, he moved around to the far side of the car, catching a sight of footprints moving away from the scene. He followed them, tripping up a dune before standing at the crest and looking out over the other side.

And there, sprawled on the sand at the base of the dune, was Casey.

-o-

Billy’s pain and exhaustion was immediately forgotten, and he was driven by pure adrenaline down the sand. He lost his footing slightly, half skidding to a stop as he caught himself with his hands before scrambling the rest of the way on his hands and knees to Casey’s side.

“Casey,” he said, his own voice sounding strangely choked and strained. “Casey!”

He reached out, shaking the other man’s shoulder and then stopped short when he found it wet. Pulling his hand away, he looked at his red-slicked fingers in shocked.

Blood.

And a lot of it.

Looking down again, the blood on Casey’s shoulder was plainly visible. In fact, it coated his sleeve and was spreading steadily down his back and front.

Heart pounding, Billy rolled Casey onto his back, blinking back tears he didn’t have time for as he took in the rest of the older operative’s condition. Casey’s face was pale even beneath the sun -- a good sign that they hadn’t been out here too long yet -- and there were signs of bruising on his cheek with a trickle of blood coming from his nose.

His clothes also showed signs of a struggle, and though Billy could see the scrapes on his hands, there didn’t seem to be any other obvious injuries outside the shoulder wound.

Not that said wound wasn’t pressing enough.

Frowning, Billy swallowed back his nausea. He’d never been very fond of blood, and if he had his druthers, he would be nowhere near the stuff now. But as it was, Casey was bleeding in the middle of the desert with no one around for miles, so if Billy didn’t do it, no one would.

On some level, it was tempting. He was still the new guy, and sometimes he felt like his team barely tolerated him at all. He owed no allegiance to the CIA. He worked for a paycheck and a place to stay. This wasn’t the same as serving Queen and Country.

And yet, the ODS was still his team. The pranks and the hazing and all the rest -- this was still his team. Billy was not so jaded that such things didn’t matter to him at all.

Billy had lost a lot of things when his career at MI6 fell apart, but among them he couldn’t quite count his humanity. At least not yet. He didn’t fancy himself the kind of man who would leave someone for dead in the desert, no matter who they were.

He braced himself, trying not to notice that his fingers were shaking as he reached toward the wound. Carefully, he picked at the fabric, trying to see beneath--

When Casey’s voice scared the hell out of him.

“It’s a gunshot wound,” Casey reported tersely.

Billy startled badly, almost jumping out of his skin. His face flushed when he realized what he’d done, and he was left awkwardly wiping his fingers on his pants as he looked at Casey with a wan smile. “I can see that,” he replied, trying not to sound as completely sickened as he actually was.

Casey grimaced, making an effort to lift his head off the sand and craning it to get a better look. “Well, were you planning on doing something about it?” he asked sourly.

“I just got here,” Billy said defensively. He sat back on his heels. “I did wake up alone in the middle of the desert, you know.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Casey said, struggling into a sitting position. He was breathing heavily by the time he got there, but he squinted at Billy. “I was making my way back to get you.”

“Oh?” Billy asked skeptically.

“Yes,” Casey said with a glare. “After they shot you, they tried to shoot me.”

“Looks like they succeeded there, mate,” Billy pointed out ruefully.

Casey huffed, ripping his sleeve away and rolling the soiled fabric away from the wound. “This happened later,” he said. “I managed to distract them enough so you only got a glancing hit.”

Billy’s arm ached at the mention. “I take it your good luck didn’t last?”

Casey made a face as he looked at the hole in his arm. “It wasn’t luck,” Casey muttered. “It was skill and training--”

“Still not seeing the part where you took off down the desert and got shot.”

Casey stopped what he was doing to stare Billy down in earnest. “It was two on one, genius. And they were both armed. They doubled up on me and I took the shot to the shoulder.”

Billy frowned. “So how did you end up out here?”

“Easy,” Casey said. “They made the mistake of leaving me for dead.”

Billy’s eyebrows went up.

“I jumped on their car as they left. They made it this far before I managed to overtake the front seat. They stopped and we fought. I won.”

Billy blinked at Casey. In the past year, he’d learned not to question Casey’s prowess. Still, no matter how many times he saw it in action, the stories of Casey’s feat were downright impressive. And yet-- “And you ended up unconscious because?”

“Because I was losing a significant amount of blood,” Casey snapped. “I mean, what do you have to say for yourself? You have a moderate head wound and crumpled like an accordion from a graze. And you’re questioning my resolve?”

Billy reddened, but his embarrassment quickly turned to annoyance. “I should have just kept walking.”

Casey grunted. “Why didn’t you?”

“Same reason you tried to come back, I reckon,” Billy murmured.

“Loyalty,” Casey said with a taut sigh. “We don’t have to like each other--”

“We just have to work together,” Billy concluded numbly.

“Well, then, if we’re in this mess together, you mind giving me a hand?”

Billy looked surprised, even a bit confused as Casey held out his ruined sleeve.

Casey’s face darkened. “I’d prefer not to bleed to death, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Right,” Billy said, reaching out and taking the would-be bandage. “Though I have to admit, I’m not much of a field medic.”

Casey huffed. “This isn’t surgery,” he said. “Aim for the wound and tie hard. How difficult is that?”

Billy looked at the bloody sleeve, then to the wound. His stomach roiled. He could feel fresh sweat break out on his forehead and he swallowed dryly. “When you put it like that,” he said lamely, passing it off as a joke.

But the truth was, it seemed hard. Not just bandaging a wound but tending a wounded teammates in the desert, miles from help and safety. If the blood loss didn’t do Casey in, the sun and the heat very well could, and Billy’s head already felt fuzzy, a sure effect of dehydration and mounting heat exhaustion.

Casey made it sound so simple, but to Billy, it seemed very hard indeed.

-o-

Billy kept his jaw taut the entire time, breathing hard through his mouth as he tended Casey’s wound. There wasn’t much to do but add pressure, and Billy had even sacrificed another part of his shirt for the job, leaving him in nothing but a t-shirt. As small as the job actual was, Billy felt spent when it was over, sitting back on his heels with a sigh.

Face contorted in a grimace, Casey tested his shoulder before holding the injured limb close to his chest. Billy tried to object, but when he reached out to steady the other man, Casey actually growled at him and Billy thought better. Once sitting, Casey scowled out over the sand. “So what’s our status?”

Billy stared, feeling rather stupid. “We’ve been left for dead,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that means our status is bad.”

Casey rolled his eyes. “Being left for dead doesn’t make us dead,” he said. “I thought the English were supposed to be resilient.”

“I’m Scottish,” Billy reminded him.

“So you’re saying that makes you stupid?” Casey asked.

Billy sighed in exasperation, reaching up to swipe a hand across his brow. “I’m saying there’s not much status to attend to,” he said. “The mission is as good as over. And we’ve got one hell of a hike ahead of us if we’re going to make it out of here alive.”

If they made it out of here alive. Billy had been an optimist once, back when he’d been a proud member of MI6. Since then, he found his hope a little harder to sustain.

Especially in this kind of heat.

“Oh, come on, you’re not French,” Casey grumbled. “Be resourceful. We’re alive. We’re not without options.”

“What options?” Billy asked. “We need to move and we’re going to be moving slow now.”

“You worry about yourself,” Casey snapped. “I won’t slow you down.”

“You’ve been shot--”

“And you’re missing the point,” Casey said.

Billy opened his mouth.

Casey nodded toward the car.

Billy followed his gaze. The car. “I checked. It’s been shot to hell.”

“Yes, I know that,” Casey said. “I helped do that.”

“So, I don’t--”

“What’s inside the car,” Casey said tiredly now.

Billy cocked his head. “Supplies,” he realized. “They could have supplies!”

“Thank you,” Casey said, sounding genuinely relieved. “I was beginning to think the sun had fried whatever paltry intelligence you started with.”

Billy got to his feet, fighting off a brief moment of disorientation. By the time he righted himself, Casey had staggered into a standing position by his side.

“You sure you’re good to walk?” Billy asked.

“It’s not that far,” Casey muttered. “Besides, how do you think we’re going to make it all the way back to civilization if I don’t walk?”

Billy didn’t have an answer for that, and he hurried to catch up to Casey, passing the other man as they approached the vehicle.

He double checked the motor first, but when he turned the key in the ignition, nothing happened. By the time Casey finally made it to the Jeep, Billy was already rummaging through the seats, looking for anything worthwhile.

Weapons -- he took one pistol but didn’t bother with the rest. He threw together as much of the paperwork as he could find, snagging one of the packs in the back and stuffing them inside. No sense in letting all their hard work be entirely for naught.

His luck after that, however, was scarce. There were two bottles of water and an energy bar in the entire vehicle. The GPS system wouldn’t turn on without the car, and there were no signs of any type of mobile phone.

The trunk had some spare car parts and more weapons but nothing usable. Frustrated, Billy crossed the sand toward the first assailant, taking his ID and paperwork and putting it in the bag before nabbing his mobile.

And finding no signal.

Cursing, Billy threw it down, moving quickly to the other man. He had less than the first, and Billy chucked his worthless mobile as far as he could, howling and almost falling to his knees when he tweaked his arm.

From the car, Casey asked, “Are you done now?”

Billy looked back. “No mobile coverage,” he reported. “Two bottles of water. That’s not going to be enough.”

Casey was leaned up against the open trunk, still cradling his arm. “It’s better than what we had before.”

“Is this optimism?” Billy asked. “Because of all the times to change your MO, I’m not sure this is it.”

“This is practicality,” Casey replied bluntly. “Because I prefer not to think of dying as an option.”

“But it is an option,” Billy countered. “Bad things happen in our line of work. Bad things happen a lot. Bad things are happening now.”

“Yeah, and if we think it’s bigger than us, it will be,” Casey said.

Billy shook his head. “I don’t want to die here.” Not for a country he didn’t call his own with a team he didn’t know how to trust.

“Then, don’t,” Casey replied, getting back on his feet. “And let’s walk.”

Billy wanted to laugh; he wanted to cry. Casey made it sound so simple. They all made it sound so simple. While they planned and plotted, while they made Billy the butt of their jokes. They made it sound like it was nothing, like they could do the impossible.

Billy knew better. The impossible was aptly named, and Billy did not care to test it again. He had once, and been found lacking.

That was how he ended up here.

That was why he was stranded in the desert with Casey Malick.

That was why.

And yet, what was he going to do? He could rail and he could rant, but it didn’t change the cold hard fact -- or the blazing hot ones either.

Billy and Casey had nothing in common but a department. They weren’t friends. They were hardly even coworkers. Their mission was a bust, and their death was likely imminent. If Casey could look forward with a bullet in his shoulder and a Scottish teammate he couldn’t stand, Billy could do it with a head wound and a chip on his shoulder.

There was no other choice.

Just death.

Or life.

Billy took a breath, feeling his heart rate stabilize and his vision cleared. He nodded. “Okay,” he said, slinging the hastily packed bag over his shoulder. “Let’s walk.”

-o-

They walked.

Scotland was more cold than warm, with icy winds that swept across the highlands, leaving the ground barren and the sheep woolen. His people were made to be hearty for the winter, and he found he could tolerate almost any amount of cold without too much fuss.

But the heat.

The heat.

It was overwhelming and relentless.

And all they could do was walk.

Billy grunted, dragging his tired feet over the sand for another step. “This doesn’t seem fair.”

“We’re spies,” Casey snorted in reply. “Fairness has nothing to do with it.”

“That’s not much comfort,” Billy muttered sullenly. “What kind of criminals go through so much trouble?”

“The kind that take precautions,” Casey countered.

“So much for their precautions,” Billy snapped. “Given that they’re dead.”

“I do not hold that against them,” Casey said. “In their defense, I am a human weapon.”

Billy turned to look at the other man incredulously as they limped on. “You’re defending them?”

Casey’s brow creased. “They were just doing their jobs,” he said. “To their credit, they outed us and they came up with a mess-free disposal plan. All in all, they’ve made fewer missteps than we have.”

Billy sulked. “Yet we’re the one’s still alive.”

“Exactly,” Casey said, heaving forward another step. “So maybe you were right. This isn’t fair. The universe is being far too kind to us.”

Billy swiped a hand across his forehead. “Yes,” he mumbled sarcastically. “That’s it exactly.”

-o-

For about 30 minutes, Billy dared to believe Casey. In that, things were finally going decently. Yes, they were both shot. Yes, they were both hot. And yes, they were stranded in the desert.

But they were moving forward and making steady progress. There was a chance, even against Billy’s fatalistic tendencies, to believe that things might possibly get better instead of worse for once.

Then, Casey staggered.

“Whoa,” Billy said, sluggishly trying to support the other man before his knees crumpled and he hit the sand.

Casey’s face went stark white, his eyes wide and his knuckles white as he gripped Billy’s arm in a clear attempt to steady himself. It took a moment of pure silence before Casey stiffly straightened. “I’m fine.”

Billy raised his eyebrows. “You nearly passed out,” he said. “I don’t think--”

Casey’s eyes flash to Billy in anger. “I said, I’m fine.”

It was rubbish, of course. Outlandish and prideful rubbish. Casey wasn’t fine, and it was suddenly apparent to Billy that of the two of them, Casey was actually worse off. For all his confidence and certainty, he was just as human and susceptible to weakness as Billy.

Well, perhaps not as susceptible, but he clearly had his breaking points.

And apparently getting shot and limping through the desert was one of them.

“Casey,” Billy said, glancing toward his wound. “Maybe we should rest--”

“So you want to die?” Casey snapped.

“Casey--”

Casey grimaced, taking a staggering step forward. “We walk,” he said between grinding teeth. “We walk until we die.”

Billy blinked, mouth open but no protest coming.

“And if you stay behind, this time, I swear to God, I will leave you for dead,” Casey muttered.

The harshness stung, but Billy wasn’t so insecure as to not see the desperation. Casey was hurting, and for all that Billy was injured, Casey was worse so. More than that, Casey had planned on coming back for him, which was how he’d got into this state to begin with. They were teammates.

Loyalty.

It wasn’t always easy, but it was necessary.

Besides, beyond this team, what did Billy have? A lonely flat and a deportation notice? Billy didn’t have a life or friends, but he had a job and a team.

He didn’t have much to lose by dying.

But it was possible he had something to gain by living.

Casey would do it for him.

Swallowing hard, Billy strode forward quickly, coming up beside Casey as he took another stumbling step. Wordlessly, Billy caught him by the arm, steadying him again.

Casey paused, giving him a critical look.

“We’ll move faster working together,” Billy said with a faint smile. “Besides, in this heat, I need to remember what’s real.”

“You’re getting delusional on me, Collins?” Casey said crossly.

“You had doubts?”

At that, Casey indulged a small smile.

Then, Billy took out the bottle of water, starting to open it.

“I’m fine--” Casey said, huffing in protest.

“Well, I’m not,” Billy said, taking a short swig. It was hot going down, but it still felt damn good. It took a significant amount of his self control to stop, holding the bottle out to Casey. “You fancy some?”

Casey regarded him sternly, but finally reached out. He kept one hand wrapped around Billy wrist while he used the other to tip the bottle back, keeping his eyes on Billy the whole time. He took an equally small drink, before handing the bottle back to Billy.

Billy recapped it, stowing it in his pack. “There we go,” he said. “Should we be off?”

“Don’t patronize me, Collins,” Casey warned, scrutinizing Billy keenly.

Billy shrugged, feigning total ignorance. The only way to help Casey was to make Casey help him, and if Casey’s pride was too much for that, Billy’s certainly wasn’t. Being a disgrace had that advantage. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” he assured Casey. “Now, shall we?”

He tugged gently, and Casey resisted for a moment before allowing himself to be led. Billy slowed his pace, shortening his stride so they could walk in tandem. Casey was reluctant at first, but for all that he might want to resist, he needed Billy.

They needed each other.

Billy looked out across the barren desert.

He feared they were going to need a lot more than that.

-o-

Even slow and steady, the journey was taxing. Billy felt the heat pounding into his brain, and his tongue felt sticky and dry. Swallowing hurt, and his bones ached.

Next to him, Casey slowed bit by bit, his grip tightening as he leaned more heavily into Billy. His face was red -- from exhaustion or the sun or sheer embarrassment, Billy didn’t know -- and Billy reckoned now wasn’t the time to say anything about it.

Slow and steady. As constant as the sun as it burned them to the bone and left nothing in their wake.

-o-

Billy wasn’t sure how long they’d been walking -- he tried to measure the time by the sun, but the fiery orb seemed only to move closer instead of falling in the sky. His senses were dulled, all his focus on walking, when suddenly Casey fell.

The smaller man had been increasingly using Billy as a crutch, leaving his arm and side numb from the weight, so he didn’t quite notice in time to stop Casey from slumping toward the sand.

Yelping, Billy staggered and fell, going to his hands and knees. He blinked rapidly to clear his vision, looking over to where Casey was staring blankly up at the sun.

Billy’s chest clenched in fear. “Casey,” he said, crawling through the hot sand toward his teammate. He tilted the other man’s sun-scorched face toward him. “Casey!”

Casey blinked, dully at first before his eyes focused hazily.

Billy furrowed his brow, looking down to check the wound. The bandage was wet with blood, and the perspiration on his brow had started to dry. Blood loss and dehydration -- it was a volatile combination.

Casey still hadn’t responded, so Billy clumsily took off his pack, finding the open bottle of water. His fingers were shaky as he undid the cap, and it took more concentration than it should to lift Casey’s head and tip the bottle to his sun-burnt lips.

The first bit dribbled down his cheek, and Billy muttered a curse before adjusting his grip and trying again. This time, the water trickled into his mouth and Casey swallowed reflexively.

Then he blinked.

Then he looked at Billy. “I wouldn’t blame you for leaving me behind,” he said with surprising lucidity.

Billy’s stomach churned, and he shook his head, refusing to think about that. “I thought dying wasn’t an option.”

“You did say I was a pessimist,” Casey reminded him.

“Yes,” Billy said. “Which is why you’re fortunate that I’m an optimist.”

“I’ve always just thought you were stupid.”

Billy smirked. “Tomato, to-mah-to,” he quipped. “Now are you coming?”

Casey sighed, looking older than Billy had ever seen him before. “I don’t know if I can.”

“Rubbish,” Billy said, shifting his feet to prop Casey up even higher. If he wasn’t sure about it, he had always been one hell of a good liar. “You wouldn’t let me best you in something like this now, would you? Can you imagine what they’d say if you didn’t make it and I did? Is that the legacy you want to leave?”


Casey scowled. “I can see what you’re doing.”

“Aye,” Billy said, grunting as he helped Casey to his feet. “And is it working?”

“Of course not,” Casey said, but his words were breathless and light. “But it just proves that I can’t leave you to your own devices. Especially not in the desert.”

Billy smiled. “Then we best be going,” he said, trying not to feel so overwhelmed by the long stretch of desert in front of them. “We have a ways to go.”

-o-

Billy measured time by the dragging cadence of his footfalls. Each step was taken in the rhythm of his heart, punctuating the agonizing pace they were now traveling.

Casey was weak, his body slumped against Billy as his feet struggled to make purchase on the sand. Billy’s entire body ached -- from the concussion or the heat, it didn’t much matter now. Every fiber in his being wanted to stop, wanted to rest, wanted to sleep, but he didn’t dare.

Casey was the one who had said it, dying wasn’t an option.

Failure, it seemed, was spectacularly easy for Billy. Giving up came naturally to him.

Not this time, he vowed, half dragging Casey another step in the sand.

Billy was coming back with Casey.

Or he wasn’t coming back at all.

-o-

“The Scottish,” Billy said, heaving for air. His chest felt tight and his lungs felt dried out and arid. “We’re made for the cold.”

Casey grunted, his head dangling forward. “The body can be trained for anything.”

“Anything, eh?” Billy asked. “And how do you train for this?”

“Saunas, desert training, forced exhaustion,” Casey murmured.

“Seems like an awful lot of work,” Billy mumbled.

“If you want to survive…”

Billy blinked his head, shaking his head a bit in an attempt to clear away the spots. “And how’s that going for you?”

“We’re still walking, aren’t we?” Casey said.

“Aye,” Billy agreed, taking another agonizing step in the unrelenting heat. “I suppose we are.”

-o-

It was a bit like autopilot. Billy was going through the motions, step after step, doing what he knew he needed to do even if he couldn’t quite remember why anymore. He was tired; he hurt; there was no end in sight.

That was the story of Billy’s life.

At least, he reflected dimly as he tightened his grip around Casey and staggered forward, he had plenty of practice.

-o-

“You’re annoying,” Casey said.

Billy gave him a sideways glance. “Is that a legitimate comment or are you hallucinating yet?”

“Legitimate,” Casey grunted, though his words were weaker still. “I always figured your bravado was a mask for your failure.”

Billy winced, trying to orient himself with the sun again. Walking in a straight line had become increasingly difficult for him, and he found that his pace listed heavily to the side. “And it’s not?”

“No, it is,” Casey said, head lolling a bit against Billy’s shoulder, his forehead hot and dry through Billy’s shirt.

Billy huffed in frustration, his entire body protesting at the unending effort it took to haul himself and another man through the desert. His lips were cracked and his throat felt like sandpaper and he was rather too tired to deal with insult in addition to significant injury. “I’m not sure how this is helpful.”

“I mean,” Casey said, with obvious effort to enunciate the words. “I didn’t expect so much from you. I thought it was all bravado.”

Billy quirked an eyebrow. “And it’s not?”

“Not if we get out of here,” Casey said.

At that, Billy laughed outright. “A compliment!”

“A possibility,” Casey muttered. “Of course, maybe we are both delusional.”

“Either way,” Billy said, chuckling tiredly. “Seems like I’ll take what I can get.”

-o-

It was always something, though. No matter how hard Billy tried, there was always something else. If Billy didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all.

Because this time, when Casey went down, Billy couldn’t stop him. He couldn’t stop himself either, and he hit the ground numbly, blinking up at the glaring sunlight, blinding his eyes. It would have been easier if he’d died on that last mission with MI6. It would have been easier if he’d taken a prison sentence instead of a deportation notice. It would have been easier if he’d swallowed a bullet and not bothered with any of the rest.

It would have been easier.

He turned his head, looking to where Casey was passed out on the sand, eyes closed and body limp.

Pity Billy never did things the easy way.

And he sure as hell never learned from his mistakes.

Groaning, he flopped on his side, reaching out to shake Casey. “Hey,” he said. “Hey.

Casey twitched, but didn’t wake.

Brow furrowed, Billy struggled to his hands and knees, pulling out the bottle of water they’d been sharing. He opened it, trying to still his shaking hands and clear his blurry vision long enough to offer some to Casey. The liquid splashed on the other man’s chin, and when he finally got the rest into his mouth, he realized the bottle was empty.

The realization was daunting, and Billy scrabbled through his pack to find the second bottle. This was all that was left. One bottle of water.

He squinted out, seeing no end to the barrenness in sight.

It would never be enough.

Then again, nothing ever was.

Clenching his jaw, Billy opened the second bottle, lifting Casey carefully until he was rested against him. Then he poured more water into the other man’s mouth, coaxing him to swallow bit by bit.

When he was done, he tightened the cap quickly, ignoring his own parched throat. With the blood loss, Casey was at more risk of dehydration. Casey came back when Billy was incapacitated. It was time for Billy to return the favor.

“Come on now,” Billy cajoled dumbly as he awkwardly dragged Casey upward. The human weapon would be humiliated by such treatment, but that seemed like an apt trade off for surviving.

And if they died in the effort, then no one would know anyway.

There’d be nothing but bones in the desert, windswept and forgotten, a failure no one would commemorate.

A failure no one would probably know about at all.

PART TWO