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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: Team Player (2/2)

December 6th, 2016 (09:06 pm)
lazy

feeling: lazy

Continued from Part One





-o-


The doctor is younger than Casey, which immediately makes him ill at ease. And she has a pretty smile and a damn ponytail, because apparently there are no standards for medical care in Italy.


Carson chuckles. “You’re not actually the doctor, are you?” he asks.


She doesn’t take offense, even if she has every right. “I’m one of the doctors, yes,” she replies in accented English. “My name is Dr. Pirelli, and I was one of the surgeons operating on your friend, Signor Miller.”


Miller. That’s Michael’s alias.


“And?” Carson prompts before Casey can think of something to say.


She takes a breath, and her hesitation speaks volumes. Casey feels his stomach turn painfully as she starts to speak. “Signor Miller sustained a serious injury to his head.”


“Save us the party line,” Carson says. “We’re big boys. We can take the truth.”


Wetting her lips, Dr. Pirelli looks almost apologetic. “He suffered from a subdural hematoma. We were able to treat it relatively quickly, but the swelling in his brain is still significant. There is no telling what his long term prognosis will be until we can control the swelling.”


Casey’s only vaguely aware that his fists are clenched now. “Are you implying that he may be brain dead?”


“I am implying nothing,” she says frankly. “I am merely saying that we cannot provide a full assessment of his condition until the swelling abates. Currently, he is stable but critical and we have him on a full range of medications designed to reduce the pressure in his brain.”


“So when’s he going to wake up?” Carson prompts.


“We are hoping the swelling will decrease over the next few days,” Dr. Pirelli says.


“And he’ll wake up?” Carson asks, persistent.


She hesitates again.


Casey shakes his head, letting out a bitter breath. “If he wakes up,” he clarifies.


She closes her mouth.


Casey looks at Carson. “She’s saying they’ll know if he’s going to wake up in a few days,” he says. “They’re not even talking about brain damage yet because they think he might be a vegetable for the rest of his life.”


“At this point, we have reason to hope,” she says gently.


“And reason to doubt,” Casey says.


“Please, I do not wish to give you false hope, but there is reason for hope,” she says. “Brain injuries are highly variable. All things considered, Signor Miller has good odds.”


“Odds of what?” Casey asks. “Of remembering his name? Of being able to wipe his own ass?”


The doctor has her mouth open to reply, but Carson interjects again. “So we’re at wait and see with Miller,” he says. “What about Everett?”


This time she knows better than to hesitate. “I wasn’t involved in Signor Everett’s surgery,” she starts, “but I have been fully briefed on his file.” She pauses, looking them each purposefully in the eye. “I’m afraid his condition is quite critical.”


“Okay, this is a hospital,” Carson says. “Everyone’s critical.”


“Yes, but Signor Everett suffered extensive injuries to his ribcage,” Pirelli explains. She gestures to her midsection. “When a rib is broken, it essentially destabilizes the region. The ribcage is a protective shell of sorts. If enough ribs are broken in a line, then the entire thoracic region is compromised.”


“English,” Carson says. “I don’t speak medical any more than I speak Italian.”


She shuffles through the files and brings out an x-ray, placing it in front of a blank piece of paper. “See here,” she says, pointing to the image. “You can see the string of breaks.”


Casey tilts his head. “That doesn’t even look like a chest x-ray.”


“No,” she remarks. “Because the breaks have created a variety of problems throughout his chest. Not only were both lungs punctured, but his spleen was lacerated and his chest cavity has created an imbalance in the pressure, which has severely inhibited his breathing. Essentially, his lungs were inflating differently, which is why he was so badly hypoxic upon admission.”


As she explains it, Casey can see it. He’s not a medical expert, but he knows the human body. The distortion of Billy’s chest is almost grotesque, and the severity of the injury is suddenly all too clear.


Carson sits back with a heavy sigh. “So I suppose you’re going to tell us to wait and see with him, too, huh?”


She puts the x-ray away. “Signor Everett’s condition is still unstable. We will be monitoring him closely. It is a serious injury, but if he can survive the first few days, his chances for a full recovery are optimistic.”


“But he may not survive a few days,” Casey concludes.


Carson shakes his head. “That’s a hell of a thing,” he says. “One will live the next few days but may never wake up. The other could have a healthy life but probably won’t make it that long.”


“Medicine is a science, yes,” Pirelli says. “But it is not perfect. Your friends are still alive, though. Please, take solace in this.”


“We want to see them,” Casey announces.


“In time,” Pirelli says.


“No, now,” Carson joins in.


Pirelli smiles. “In time,” she says again. “First, though, I believe someone is due for some tests, yes?”


Casey makes a face.


Carson shrugs. “A deal is a deal.”


“I hate you,” Casey says with a glare.


“I know, buddy,” Carson says. Then he looks at the doctor, expression suddenly hopeful. “Can I push the wheelchair?”


-o-


Casey doesn’t particularly consider himself a man of his word -- that’s one of the real perks of being a spy, lying and subterfuge go with the territory -- but he honors his promise to submit to extensive medical testing. Mostly because he has nothing better to do. And because Michael and Billy are still in critical care, which means Casey doesn’t want to piss people off too much.


It’s not because he feels any obligation to the nurses. Or to Carson -- the bastard.


Carson is slightly chipper throughout it all, peppering the nurse with not-so-helpful questions while she checks and examines his knee. When he’s finally shuttled off for x-rays and other scans, Casey is actually relieved. Normally, he doesn’t like exposing his body to unnecessary radiation, but if it gives him a moment away from Simms, he’s all for it.


When they’re done, the nurse admits him to a room. “As a precaution,” she assures him with a friendly smile.


Casey stares at her.


She pats him on the arm. “I’ll be back with the doctor when we have processed your test results,” she says. “Just wait here.”


With that, she leaves and Carson sinks into the chair next to Casey’s bed. “Waiting,” Casey says sullenly. “It’s counter to my nature.”


Carson waves it off. “You say you’re the best with self-discipline,” he comments. “So I’d think your self-control would be able to handle this and more.”


“I can use self-discipline when it’s necessary--”


“Hate to break it to you,” Carson says. “But you’ve got a bum knee and half of our team is on the critical list. Waiting’s sort of the name of the game.”


At that, Casey actually sulks.


Carson shrugs, yawning. “At least you got the bed.”


-o-


Casey is still sulking when the door opens again. He expects to see the nurse, but he finds himself caught off guard when it’s the doctor from before.


He’s not ready, he realizes. Because Dr. Pirelli could be here to tell them that Michael’s swelling has increased or that Billy’s vitals have tanked. She could be here to tell them that their teammates are dead.


But then Pirelli smiles. “I have arranged to let you see your friends,” she says. She sobers a little. “Not for long -- they are both very critical -- but I thought you might appreciate a visual confirmation that they are alive.”


Carson is already on his feet. “That would be great, thank you,” he says.


Casey tries to throw his legs over the side of his hospital bed but finds the motion stunted and painful. He grits his teeth together, growling under his breath at the intensity of the pain.


Dr. Pirelli looks at him critically. “Do you need a higher amount of pain medications?”


“He doesn’t have any pain meds in his system,” Carson says.


Pirelli looks concerned. “Well, that’s highly unorthodox,” she says. “It is policy--”


“I don’t need the damn drugs,” Casey hisses. “I refused them, even when your nurse tried to force them on me against my will.”


Dr. Pirelli’s expression is surprised.


Carson shrugs. “But hey,” he says with a nod to Casey. “I’ll push the wheelchair again.”


Casey’s cheeks burned brighter even if he couldn’t refuse.


-o-


The levity is short lived, and it occurs to Casey that Carson’s a pain in the ass only as necessary. Normally, it’s Billy’s job to lighten the mood, but Carson can hold his own. Casey is inclined to think the other man petulant and childish, but he sees something of a method to the madness.


At the very least, Carson knows how to get it together when it counts.


And it counts now.


The quips stop the moment they hit the ICU, and by the time the doctor shows them Michael’s room, Carson isn’t saying anything. Casey can’t blame him. There’s really nothing to say.


Michael’s head is bandaged, the tufts of his hair sticking out awkwardly. His face is mottled with bruises, and with his eyes closed, he looks like he could be asleep.


Except there’s equipment everywhere, and the nasal cannula is hard to ignore. Besides, Michael never sleeps. Casey is fairly certain that Michael Dorset is incapable of actual rest, and that even his dreams are paranoid and particular.


There’s none of that now, though. There’s just stillness -- inside and out.


It is perhaps the most unnerving thing he’s ever seen.


He’s never given it much thought, but he counts on Michael to be in charge. He likes that Michael plans and plots. Casey’s perfectly capable of it, but the nuances of a given mission tend to be a bit tedious. Casey doesn’t want to hammer out cover stories when there are people to beat up and sources to intimidate.


Michael did his part in this mission, but Casey didn’t do his. Because he’s the muscle -- he protects them -- and here they are, Michael lying unconscious on a bed, fighting for his life.


Carson pushes him up to the side, but then circles around. He lingers, and Casey can see an affection that he’s never seen before.


Or never looked for.


Carson’s bitter and lazy, but he cares about his team. Carson takes the easy way out whenever he can, but he cares about his team. When the chips are down, Carson’s bets are easy to see. For all that Casey’s railed on the other man, he’s got clarity where Casey’s only had confusion.


Carson was right.


Letting out a heavy breath, Carson looks up at him. “Sometimes I hate this team.”


Casey turns his eyes back to Michael, wondering how much brain activity he has left. “Then why are you still here?”


“Same reason you are, I’d guess,” Carson says. “I owe them this.”


Casey doesn’t have a reply, and he watches as Carson hesitates before reaching down and taking Michael’s hand in his. “For what it’s worth, I’m still here,” he says softly. “I’ll be waiting for you to take this all back over when you wake up.”


The silence looms. Casey feels like he should say something, like he should do something, but he doesn’t know what. He doesn’t know anything. All his training and all his skill, and he’s useless here. He has no comfort. He has no insight.


He has nothing.


Just a wheelchair and a team leader laid out in a hospital bed.


-o-


Dr. Pirelli takes them to Billy after about ten minutes. The minute he’s wheeled inside, he realizes he was wrong before. Seeing Michael wasn’t the most unnerving thing.


Seeing Billy is.


The Scotsman is young and far too energetic most of the time. Casey loathes him more often than not because he can’t sit still and he never shuts up. He’s stupid and sings off key. He writes bad poetry -- and Casey thinks all poetry is bad, but Collins’ is a whole new level of awful -- and he makes jokes that just aren’t funny. He’s the bane of Casey’s existence.


Not anymore, though. Now, Billy is laid out and pale. There are wires everywhere, and he’s breathing through a damn tube. His chest is covered with bulky bandages, and the hissing and whirring from all the machines is basically impossible to sort out.


Michael looked asleep.


The kid just looks dead.


At his back, Carson curses softly. “Damn it, kid,” he says. “He actually still believes that this is all about hero’s work.”


Casey is settled by Billy’s side while Carson moves around to the other. “I always figured he was full of crap,” Casey comments.


Carson smiles sadly, shaking his head. “No, I’m pretty sure he believes it,” he says. “I think he’s still trying to prove something.”


Casey has no reply. Whatever Billy’s trying to prove, Casey has to think he’s done it by now. He willingly put his life on the line, so if that doesn’t make him a hero, Casey’s not sure what does.


Normally, Casey wouldn’t think much of that. He’s not about heroes. He’s about warriors. He’s not about sacrifice. He’s about winning. It’s one thing to know his team all has a part to play, it’s another to acknowledge that maybe Casey’s better for knowing them.


Carson sighs, resting a hand on Billy’s shoulder. “You have to keep fighting,” he says. “Just keep on doing what you’re doing, okay? I’ve never met anyone as stupid and stubborn as you are, so I’m counting on that.”


It’s a strange sort of intimacy, and Casey finds himself at a loss yet again. He’s seen people hurt and killed on the job -- even people he liked. But those that he cares about...


Well, there’s a reason he left Linda.


Maybe he should do it again. Maybe he’s becoming a liability. Maybe the best thing he can do for his team is to get the hell out.


Carson turns his eyes to Casey. “You were right, you know.”


Casey frowns.


“About me,” Carson continues, his gaze drifting back to Billy. He shakes his head. “Collins stayed back for a kid he didn’t know, and I wasn’t even going to go back for my teammates. I shouldn’t be here at all.”


Normally, Casey takes pleasure in validation. Except this time, it’s not a compliment he can accept.


He shakes his head vigorously. “No,” he says.


Carson looks at him in surprise.


“You are the only one who belongs here,” he says. “You’re a part of this team. You know them. You know what they need.”


“Did you miss the part where I was running away from the explosion?” Carson asks.


“Self-preservation is an asset,” Casey returns. “Did you miss the part where you knew exactly what to say to each of them?”


“For all the good it does,’ Carson says.


“You’re a part of them,” Casey says. “You fit, selfish laziness and all.”


Carson’s lips twist upward into a wry smile. “Malick, you really don’t get it yet.”


“Get what?”


“Which one of us belongs here,” he says. “For me, it’s all habit. I mean, I like Michael and I care about the kid, but I put myself first when things are on the line. You, on the other hand--”


Casey furrows his brow.


“You were the one running back in there even as the bomb went off,” Carson says. “You were the one who insisted to go back even when you couldn’t walk. It’s not rote for you. It’s natural. It’s instinct.”


“I’m better on my own,” Casey says. “You know that--”


“You’re less vulnerable alone,” Carson tells him. “But you’re more a part of this team than I’ll ever be.”


Casey doesn’t know if it’s true. He doesn’t know if he wants it to be true.

Mostly, Casey doesn’t know anything, and the ambiguity of it all is starting to unsettle him even more.


Which is really starting to piss him off.


He inhales sharply, and lets the air out through his nose. “We’ll see,” he says.


Carson keeps his gaze on Billy. “Yeah, I guess we will.”


Casey inches closer, watching the machine keep Billy alive.

We’ll see.

-o-


After their visiting time is up, there’s no choice but to go back to Casey’s room. Carson’s pretty quiet about it, and Casey’s never been one for conversation. It’s certainly something that Casey misses Billy’s ability to prattle on about nothing.


That’s the beauty of a team.


Or the peril of one.


Casey finds himself increasingly frustrated that he’s not sure which it is. It is easier without a team in a lot of ways, but it’s not better. It’s limiting and it’s frustrating and it’s sort of terrifying. Casey’s always been concerned with the former two issues and overlooked the latter.


Until now.


On his bed, he sits with his arms across his chest, scowling. He maintains that position for nearly ten minutes before he realizes that Carson’s not actually paying attention.


“You’re quiet,” Casey observes.


Carson shrugs, still looking idly out the window. “Not much to say, is there? Billy’s the chatty one, and Michael’s the one you can bait into a debate just for the hell of it.”


Casey shakes his head. “You talk almost as much as either of them most of the time.”


“Yeah, well, you talk more than you like to think you do,” he says. “Even your whining and complaining counts.”


“I do not whine.”


Carson arches an eyebrow.


Casey refuses to let himself blush. “I voice appropriate discontent.”


“You whine,” Carson says. “Appropriately or not.”


“Well, you have to admit, you guys give me a lot to whine about,” he says. “Michael’s always got these crazy plans, and the kid’s always rambling on and making jokes, and you -- you’re being a smart ass, trying to get out of things.”


“If we’re that annoying, then why are you still here?” Carson asks.


Casey draws his brows together. “That’s the point I’ve been trying to make,” he says. “I don’t belong here.”


“Except you’ve been here for years,” Carson says. “Hate to break it to you, buddy, but a guy like you? Man of action? If you wanted out, you’d have cut us loose within a month if you really believed that.”


He has a point. He has a good point. And Casey doesn’t want to admit it -- not even a little. Instead, he darkens his gaze. “Well, then, what about you? You’re the one saying you don’t really fit in,” Casey says. “What’s kept you around all these years?”


Carson gives him a pointed look. “What, no scathing suppositions on your part?”


“I’m not looking to fight you now,” Casey says.


“Since you think even laid up in a hospital bed you can take me?”


Casey’s anxiety flares. “Is that a challenge?”


Carson rolls his eyes. “Only if you want it to be.”


“How about the truth?” Casey says. “You talk about teamwork, but you’re not acting very invested.”


“Because I’m no good at this crap,” Carson says. “I mean, maybe once I was. Michael and I -- we go way back. Ray Bishop recruited us both. Michael was all tactical genius, and I could be one hell of a charmer. Saved each other’s asses so many times, I lost track.”


“So what changed?” Casey asks.


“What didn’t change?” Carson asks. “A pretty face is only pretty so long, and pretty soon girls stop being flattered and start being creeped out.”


“This isn’t all about looks,” Casey says.


Carson sighs. “No, you’re right,” he says. “It’s about heart. It’s about wanting to do it. You and Michael and the kid -- you want to be spies.”


“And you don’t?”


Carson rubs his forehead with his hand. “I don’t know what the hell I want.”


It’s an honest admission -- almost uncomfortably raw. He gives Carson a lot of flak; he finds the other man incorrigible and impossible -- but it’s something of a revelation to think there’s more than that.


Casey works his jaw. “So why are you here?”


Carson shrugs, looking a little helpless. “Because of Michael and Billy. Because of you,” he says. “Because I’m better with you, even if I don’t want to be sometimes.”


Casey considers this, wonders if it’s true for him, too.


Then Carson smiles slightly. “Besides, what else am I going to do, huh?”


“You could go solo,” Casey suggests, knowing it’s an option he’s always held close.


“Nah,” Carson says. “At this point, the team’s the only thing I’ve got going for me.”


The team. It’s a liability and an asset. He’s been so concerned with himself that he’s not considered what he means to the team. He’s not fully appreciated the fact that they’re better together, more than they are apart. When one is weak, another is strong. They’re complementary.


They’re a team.

Maybe this is what Linda had hoped he’d figure out. Maybe this is why the Agency wanted him to find a team he could work with. Because on his own, Casey’s good.


With a team, he’s damn near unstoppable.


Ultimately, it’s not about him.


It’s not even about Carson, pain in the ass that he is. It’s not about Michael, comatose in a bed. It’s not about Billy, fighting for his life.


It’s about all of them.


Which is terrifying.


And invigorating. Sure, it’s not fighting an assassin on the roof of a moving train -- but it’s way more than that.


It’s sort of more than anything.


He sighs. “Yeah,” he agrees, because at this point, he doesn’t have anything left to hide. His team knows him almost better than he knows himself. “You and me both.”


Carson smiles wryly. “We’re a pair, aren’t we?”


“No,” Casey says settling back in his pillows somberly. “We’re a team.”


-o-


The gravity of seeing Michael and Billy is more distracting than Casey intends it to be. So much so, that when his own doctor comes back, he’s almost forgotten his own medical concerns.


When the doctor says he’s going to need orthopedic surgery to fix his knee, it goes over about as well as the punchline to a really bad joke.


“Unacceptable,” Casey says.


Carson shifts uncomfortably in his seat.


The doctor is clearly not expecting this answer. “I am sorry, Signor--”


“Good,” Casey says. “You should be. Because it’s a stupid course of action.”


The doctor’s mouth hangs open, and he looks positively flabbergasted. “But the injury--”


“Is something I will deal with through a doctor of my choosing,” Casey says flatly, crossing his arms across his chest.


“But the extent of the damage,” the doctor tries to explain. “If you do not receive treatment promptly, it may not heal properly.”


“Oh, and letting some stranger cut me open in a country where I don’t even speak the language is so much better?” Casey asks.


“I assure you, our surgical staff is very competent and we will happily answer any questions--”


“I don’t have any questions,” Casey says. “In fact, if that’s all, then I think we’re done here.”


He sits up, pushing his legs over the side of the bed and ignoring the flare of pain. He grinds his teeth together, hobbling on one foot.


The doctor makes a sound of distress. “You risk permanent impairment,” he says, scrambling to his feet in a vain attempt to restrain Casey. “Please--”


Casey jerks away. “Do not touch me--”


“Signor--”


“No!” Casey says, stepping back and feeling his hand curl instinctively into a fist.


Just at that moment, Carson wedges himself between them, steady hands pulling Casey back. “Hey, hey,” he says disarmingly. “No need to bust anything else in this room, huh?”


Casey stands back, his heart still pounding in his chest as he stares the doctor down. The man is red-faced, straightening his coat. “I am sorry about the news,” he says. “But I would not recommend surgery if it were not absolutely necessary.”


“I know that,” Carson says. “It’s just been kind of a rough day.”


“It’s been fine,” Casey snaps.


“Train crash,” Carson says with a shrug. “Lots of fire and stuff.”


The doctor is wary. “I can show you the scans again.”


Casey narrows his gaze.


“You know,” Carson interjects. “Why don’t you just give us a minute?”


The doctor looks dubious -- with good reason.


Carson smiles broadly. “Five minutes,” he says.


Finally, the doctor nods. “If you have any questions--” he says.


“We won’t,” Casey says.


“We’ll let you know,” Carson says over him.


When the doctor leaves, Carson sighs, running a hand through his hair before he looks at Casey. “What the hell was that?”


Casey shrugs, aloof. “That was an entirely justified reaction.”


“The man’s here to help you,” he says. “The last thing you want to do is piss off the guy who will be cutting you open.”


“He won’t be cutting me open,” Casey replies tersely.


Carson sighs again, shaking his head. “You’re making this hard, you know that?”


“I’m not making anything hard,” Casey insists.


“You need the surgery,” Carson says.


“Maybe,” Casey concedes.


“No, you do,” Carson says.


Casey makes a face. “And you trust that quack?”


“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” Carson says.


Casey is positively incredulous. This day has been too long; this mission has been too taxing. Michael and Billy may be dying, and Casey does not want to trifle with trivialities. “Why?”


“Because,” Carson says, “he’s a doctor. I’m not. And you know what? Neither are you.”


“I still know enough about the human body--”


“To what?” Carson asks, his tone sharp now. “You think you can fix your own leg? You think you can make it good as new? While you’re at it, why don’t you go relieve the pressure in Michael’s skull and keep the kid’s lungs inflated so he doesn’t die. How about that, then?”


Casey feels his cheeks flush, the blood rushing to his head. “You son of a bitch--”


“You going to fight me, too?” Carson asks, not backing down. “Because that’s more your style, isn’t it? Something you don’t like -- you fight your way out. Well, what about trust, huh? What about trust and teamwork? I thought we were in this crap together.”


“This is my body,” Casey says.


“And this is our team,” Carson returns without missing a beat. “And what happens to our team if you don’t get your knee fixed? What then? What if it never heals right? What if you’re not at full strength? What if it gives out when you pivot? What if you can’t throw a kick or break into a sprint like you used to?”


Casey feels his heart skip a beat, his face hot.


“You’re a damn human weapon,” Carson says. “We’re counting on that. We need that. But what the hell good will you be with a bum knee? You can’t risk that, man. You can’t.”


It makes Casey mad. It makes Casey really mad. To be talked down to, to be put in his place -- by Carson. To endure a rant. To be wrong.


This isn’t just about his knee. He’s had surgeries completed overseas, and it’s not his first choice, but it happens. That’s not really it.


It’s Michael, in a coma.


It’s Billy, in critical condition.


It’s the thought of them dying, and Casey not being there to do a damn thing about it.


It’s Casey, not in control.


Carson’s expression softens. “We’re a team,” he says, emphatic now. “That means sometimes you let someone else do the heavy lifting.”


“Like you?” Casey asks, his eyebrows raised.


Carson grins meagerly. “I’m not good for much,” he acknowledges, “but I think I can handle things while you’re out of commission.”


Casey wants to say no. A week ago, he would have said no. Part of him thinks he should say no.


But he looks at Carson. He thinks of Michael and Billy.


He inhales. “You’re asking me to trust you?”


Carson chuckles humorlessly. “Yeah,” he says. “I guess I am.”


Casey’s stomach churns so hard it hurts. He’s shaking and weak, but this is still a choice he can make. He will make. He nods. “Okay.”


Just like that, Carson’s face splits with a grin. “Damn,” he says. “I didn’t think that’d work.”


Casey sits gingerly back down on the bed. “It almost didn’t,” he says gruffly.


This time, Carson laughs for real. “You’re a softy, Malick.”


“Shut up,” Casey grumbles, even if he can’t disagree.


-o-


Casey has agreed to medical attention, but that doesn’t mean he likes it. The doctor is seemingly so grateful that Casey has consented to surgery that he schedules it as soon as possible and no more than 12 hours pass before Casey’s on his way to the OR.


The truth is, he’s exhausted. Even with all the downtime, he’s found it difficult to sleep, and even someone with a highly trained body like him needs to recuperate at some point. But between the nurses checking in on him and Carson’s pitiful attempts at conversation, there’s not enough quiet to really settle down in.


Besides, when he closes his eyes, he can still see Michael and Billy.


And Casey would rather be exhausted than consumed by that.


Their conditions are still mostly unchanged. Michael has shown no signs of waking, and Billy’s vitals have fluctuated dangerously even if they haven’t crashed. The wait and see line is wearing thin, and Casey has the dreaded sensation that time may be running out.


He gets another turn with both of them, this time on his own. He sits by Michael, remembering the look of distrust the man had given him on his first day with the team. It had been that moment that had made Casey find Michael to be an acceptable leader. And in the years that followed, Michael had exasperated him and bored him, but he’d never let Casey down.


Next to Billy, it’s a little harder because the kid looks so damn young. More than that, Casey can’t remember the last thing he said to the kid. Worse, he can’t remember if he’s ever told Billy that he’s actually a pretty damn good spy or if the kid will die still trying to impress Casey.


Nonetheless, Casey has reasoned that they’re going to be okay. To Casey, there is simply no other alternative. That’s how he approaches most things in life -- a certainty that leads to success. Usually he has more control over the outcome, but he refuses to give up the stance now that he needs it more than ever.


Still, in pre-op, Casey finds himself inexplicably nervous. He’s restless, shifting anxiously in his bed.


“Hey,” Carson says. “It’s going to be fine.”


“I know that,” Casey says -- a little too quickly. He furrows his brow. “I just...”


“Seriously,” Carson says, a bit gentle now. “The doctors know what they’re doing.”


Casey sighs. “It’s not about that. It’s just...”


Carson smiles, patting him on the arm. “I know, buddy,” he says. “I’ll tell Michael and Billy hello for you, okay?”


Casey scowls. “Just make sure they don’t die.”


“Tall order, huh?” Carson asks.

“This is the ODS,” Casey says. “I thought that was right up our alley.”


The doctor returns with a smile and a nod. Casey looks anxiously at a nurse, who smiles at him.


Carson squeezes his arm. “You just keep believing that, okay?”


-o-


When they give him the anesthetic, Casey can’t help but fight it. It goes against his instincts, after all. He doesn’t give in. He doesn’t give up.


But Carson’s got this one. And he trusts Carson with that much. Just like he trusts Billy and Michael to be okay.


They’re a team.


And at this point, Casey doesn’t really have any choice about that.


-o-


Casey wakes up.


For most people, recovering from major surgery is a matter of degrees. Usually, the anesthesia has to work slowly out of the system, causing confusion and delusions.


Casey is not most people.


When he wakes up, he wakes up. Conscious, alert and pained.


He hisses. “Damn it,” he says. “They go light on the pain meds now?


There’s a laugh from nearby, and Casey turns his head to see Carson. “Figures you’d be bitching before even getting out of post-op.”


Casey presses his lips together and looks in disdain at the ceiling. His knee is burning and his entire leg feels oddly heavy. “Did they screw it up?” he asks. “It feels like they screwed it up.”


Carson shakes his head. “Doc says you passed with flying colors.”


Casey levels a glare at Carson. “I know I did,” he says. “I’m wondering about them.”


“Everything looks good,” he says. “They’re optimistic.”


Casey actually harrumphs. “Somehow I don’t find that very encouraging.”


“Well, you should,” Carson says. “With the way our luck’s been...”


He trails off, and Casey looks at him again, suddenly with concern. “You’re not telling me something,” he realizes.


“What?” Carson asks, hiding what Casey sees as fear rather badly.


Casey pushes himself up a little, wincing at the pain in his leg as he takes a ragged breath. “What happened? I was out for, what? Two hours?”


“Three, actually,” Carson says.


Three hours. With Michael in a coma. With Billy’s vitals all over the place. “Carson,” he says, deadly serious now. “Tell me about Michael and Billy.”


“There’s time for that,” Carson deflects. “You just got out of major surgery yourself--”


Casey’s face contorts and the pain is buzzing in his ears now. He breaths, but his chest feels tight. Something is wrong. Everything is wrong. “Simms,” he growls. “My team--”


Carson looks lost, and his mouth opens to speak--


But Casey can’t hear his reply. His chest seizes, and oxygen is stuck in his lung. He gapes wildly, sucking in vainly as his heart pounds and his ears ring. The monitors are wailing and Carson is talking to him, but it’s too late.


Then Casey feels his heart falter and his consciousness ebbs and disappears.


-o-


Casey doesn’t want to die.


That’s what he’s doing, though. He’s dying. He’s not sure why. He’s not sure how.


He just knows it’s happening.


And it’s pissing the hell out of him.


Because he’s dying from routine surgery. He’s dying in a foreign hospital. He’s dying without saving a single life. He’s dying without leaving a real mark on the world. He’s dying before his enemies.


He’s dying without knowing if his team’s okay.


Casey’s never wanted to die -- because he doesn’t tolerate weakness. He’s never wanted to die because he doesn’t like failure. He’s never wanted to die because he believes he’s better than that.


But now, he doesn’t want to die because of his team. They need him and he needs them, and he needs to know they’re okay. They have to be okay. Because there’s never been a team like the ODS, and Casey doesn’t know if there’ll ever be another like it. They’re expendable on their own, but together -- they’re the best damn commodity the country has to offer.


Because Michael can plan anything. And Billy can sweet talk everything. And Carson has the level head they need to keep things together.


And Casey...


Casey’s the muscle to make it all happen.


The impossible.


And this is impossible. It’s death and it’s real and Casey’s never faced a challenge like this.


Not in years. Not in his life.


It’s not just chasing an assassin. It’s not a battle of martial arts. It’s not a speeding train or a bomb or a fire.


It’s each other.


Casey likes a challenge. He’s never had one like this before. He’s never failed yet.


And he’s not about to start now.


-o-


Casey wakes up.


Again.


This time, it feels a little different. He’d been rather certain of things before, but he has to admit, this time, he’s less so. Time has passed -- he knows that -- but he doesn’t know how much. And he doesn’t know exactly what happened.


He can guess, though. Because his leg still hurts, but not as much as his chest. And his throat is scratchy. His tongue feels thick and it sticks to the top of his mouth as he tries to blink away the crust out of his eyes.


That’s when he sees Carson.


Simms is sitting in the chair, next to his bed. It’s tipped back precariously, and Carson is sleeping against the wall with his mouth open.


Casey tries to speak, but finds the words garbled instead.


It’s enough to startle Carson, though, who flails for a moment, the chair clattering to the floor as he blinks rapidly. “I’m up, I’m up,” he says quickly. “I--”


His eyes settle on Casey, then widen.


“Casey?” he asks, dragging the chair forward as he looks intently at Casey. “Casey, you’re awake!”


Casey is tired and sore and confused. Which means he’s also angry and impatient. “Of course I am,” he says, even as it occurs to him that maybe it’s not such a sure thing.


Carson laughs, almost sounding giddy. “Thank God!” he says, scratching at his face, which is sporting more facial hair than normal. “You scared the hell out of me, man.”


The thing is, Carson means it. Casey can see it in his eyes; he can see it in his entire disposition. Carson looks wrecked. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days. He looks emotionally spent and physically drained.


Days, Casey realizes. His eyes widen. “Michael and Billy--”


Carson lets out a breath of obvious relief. “Doing much better, don’t worry,” he says. “Michael woke up and he’s still a little out of it, but it looks like his noggin’s all in order. Billy’s still in the ICU, but they’re talking about taking out the vent soon now that his chest is starting to heal a little. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the kid has a long ways to go, but this is Billy. I’m pretty sure he has more lives than a cat.”


This is good news. There’s a chance Carson is lying, but Casey can’t see any of the telltale signs. More than that, if Billy or Michael were in mortal peril, why would Carson be sitting by his bedside?


Casey shakes his head. “So what’s wrong?” he asks in total annoyances.


Carson stares. Then he lets out what can only be described as an incredulous snort. “What’s wrong?” he asks, voice hitching. “The man just wakes up after two days and asks what’s wrong?


This catches Casey’s attention. Two days. He remembers surgery. He remembers waking up. He remembers...pain.


Carson is still staring. “You don’t remember, do you?”


Casey is not amused. “Apparently I’ve been unconscious for two days,” he says snidely. “So I think I’m entitled.”


“Casey Malick, admitting weakness,” Carson says in vague amazement.


“Don’t think I can’t still take you,” Casey threatens.


“Yeah, not buying the threat this time,” Carson apologizes. “See, you’re still recovering. Doctor expects you to be laid up for awhile.”


Casey’s chest knots but this time it isn’t pain. “Awhile?”


“That’s what happens when you throw a clot and end up with an embolism,” he says with a cavalier shrug. “They lost you for a while -- and they damn near lost me, too, watching them do CPR -- but you’re a tenacious bastard, Malick.”


This is news to Casey. It’s a lot of news. It explains everything. The chest pain, the throat discomfort, the general weakness. His body is well trained and carefully honed, but blood clots are serious matters. If he’s undergone major surgery in an attempt to remove a clot from his lung -- well, then, Casey’s actually lucky to be alive.


Carson rocks back in his chair with a sigh. “Let me tell you, between you and Michael and Billy, it’s been a long few days,” he says. “You all tried to code on me at least once. The kid tried it two or three times, but I sort of lost count.”


It’s not easy to be in a hospital bed, facing a long recovery. But looking at Carson, Casey doesn’t envy him at all. In fact, it makes Casey almost feel lucky.


It almost makes him feel sympathetic.


“But don’t take that as an invitation to try it again,” Carson warns. “Because I swear to God, I can’t do this much longer. This isn’t really my part in all this.”


Casey manages a smirk. “Oh, I don’t know. I think you pull it off.”


Carson makes a face. “Pull what off?”


“The mother hen,” Casey says.


“Man, I’m here because I have nowhere else to go,” he says. “If you three croak, then no one else is going to come looking for me if I’m gone. If I didn’t have that...”


There’s a sadness there, a certain remorse. Casey finds himself uncomfortably sympathetic again. “Well, you don’t have to worry about that,” he says.


“Oh?” Carson asks, eyebrows raised.


“Well, I’m awake now,” Casey says. “And you said it yourself, Michael and Billy are on the mend. We salvaged the mission. We’re all going home. Against all odds, we’re going to be okay.”


Casey’s not one for comfort, and the speech is all he can manage. It’s not much, but it’s enough.


Carson grins. “Yeah,” he agrees. “I think maybe this time we will be.”


-o-


The rest is anticlimactic.


Casey’s recovery is slow, and apparently almost dying makes the doctors afraid to let you do anything, so Casey is strictly confined to bed rest until they’re confident that he’s out of danger. He’s jacked up on all sorts of crazy medications, which seem to affect him in adverse ways, and he finds himself so tired that most of the time he can’t even rally the energy to make a convincing objection to his state.


Carson comes and goes, but he seems to be making the rounds now. Casey even manages to convince him to take some time at the motel, if only because he’s starting to look mangy and Casey claims to be worried about attracting flies.


It’s not because he wants to make sure Carson takes care of him -- it’s not.


As time inches by, Casey feels anxious to see Michael and Billy, too. Carson’s reports are always positive -- Michael is awake and talking and Billy’s being moved to a step-down unit -- but Casey’s not really one for faith.


Plus, it’s his team. Without Michael’s snark and Billy’s jokes, his life feels oddly vacant.


After several days, he’s finally cleared to leave intensive care, but he’s not thrilled that he’s still stuck in a wheelchair. He’s started using his knee again, but no one seems ready to trust him on it, and Carson is all too willing to push Casey around in apparent mortification.


“This is absolutely ridiculous,” Casey mutters hotly as they navigate the halls.


“No, ridiculous would be you hobbling down the hallway on a still-healing knee and a fresh scar on your chest,” Carson points out.


“Why do they only let you do physical therapy in special little rooms and special times?” Casey gripes. “Because walking is not ridiculous.”


“Well, I didn’t realize you were the team doctor now,” Carson says crisply.


“I might as well be,” Casey returns. “Billy’s squeamish, Michael’s too theoretical and you’re just too damn lazy.”


“Point taken,” Carson says. “But it’s faster this way.”


“I didn’t know speed was an issue.”


They turn a corner. “Well, you might change your mind when we get there,” Carson quips.


Casey cranes his head back to look at his teammate. “What are you talking about?”


Carson grins, opening a door. “You’ll see.”


Casey looks ahead again and sees a nondescript, stark hospital room with two beds. One of which is indubitably his.


The other of which--

“Michael!” he exclaims.


On the bed, Michael looks worse for wear. His head is still bandaged and his face is colored with fading bruises. Still, he looks amused. “Is that excitement?”


Casey frowns, suddenly embarrassed by his display of almost-affection. “More like relief,” he says as Carson wheels him to the unoccupied bed. “The only American I’ve seen in a week is Carson.”


Michael winces sympathetically. “Yeah, I know that feeling,” he says. “Although until a few days ago, I still couldn’t tell people what year it was, so I guess it didn’t make much difference.”


“Glad to see that this accident hasn’t changed you two,” Carson says, rolling his eyes as he waits for Casey to get onto the bed. “I’d hate to think that somehow you guys learned how to be nice as a result of almost dying.”


“Oh, come on, Simms,” Michael says. “You’ve got to be loving this.”


Carson snorts, settling down in a chair. “Compared to watching all of you sleep? Hell, yeah.”


Casey situates himself gingerly, keeping his leg as steady as possible. “That’s probably the most work you’ve done all year.”


“Three years, more like it,” Michael says.


“Hey!” Carson objects. “Watch it, or I’ll tell Higgins you’re all fit and ready to fly coach.”


“Eh, not buying it,” Michael says. “You hate that more than I do.”


“And besides, you still labor under the false perception that I can’t stop you,” Casey says. “My physical therapy has been going very well.”


Carson rolls his eyes. “You two are classic, really,” he says, getting back to his feet. “As fun as this is, I think I’m going to go check on the kid.”


“How is he today?” Michael asks in all seriousness.


“Better,” Carson replies. “They’re hoping to reduce his meds even more, which should keep him coherent for longer.”


“But he is okay, right?” Casey asks.


“Careful, Malick,” Carson says. “Or I may think that surgery in your chest uncovered your heart after all.”


Michael snickers. “Just keep us updated.”


Carson offers up a mock salute. “Yes, sir.”


He waltzes out, leaving Michael and Casey in relative -- and suddenly awkward -- silence. It’s a relief to see Michael up and awake and talking, but beyond relief, Casey doesn’t have much to say about it.


On the other bed, Michael shifts and scratches his arm. Finally he takes a breath. “I’m sorry.”


Casey turns to look at him. “What?”


Michael shrugs. “I’m sorry.”


Casey shakes his head. “What on earth for?”


“My job on this team is to plan the missions so when crap happens, we can deal with it,” he says. “This time, I didn’t plan well enough.”


In everything, Casey hasn’t thought about blame -- at least not for anyone but himself. “My job is to protect the team, and you and Billy almost died,” he counters. “So if anyone is to blame--”


“I’m team leader,” Michael interjects firmly. “Responsibility stops with me.”


“That’s stupid,” Casey says.


“No, that’s how it is,” Michael insists.


“We’re a team,” Casey says, more forcefully than he intends. “We all do what we can, but ultimately everything we do is tied together. That’s just the way teams work.”


Michael is looking at him, eyebrows raised.


Casey scowls. “What?”


“Listen to you,” Michael comments. “Talking about teamwork like you mean it.”


“I have been a part of this team for a while now,” Casey says in exasperation.


“And the entire time I’ve wondered which mission would be the last until you got fed up and left,” Michael says.


Casey presses his lips together. It’s not untrue, necessarily, but he doesn’t appreciate being called out on it. He likes to think he’s been discreet.


“You know, Ray Bishop said you’d be a bad choice,” Michael comments.


“I’m the best damn agent the CIA has,” Casey says defensively.


“Oh, I know your work,” Michael says. “You’re good, no doubt. But you’ve never made it with a partner. Never even tried it with a team. Ray thought if I took you on, you’d get us killed.”


Casey’s face reddens; he doesn’t like to think how true that almost was.


Michael is still looking at him steadily. “Ray Bishop was wrong. About a lot of things, but especially that,” he says.


“I’m not really a team player,” Casey says reluctantly.


“Most of the time, sure,” Michael says. “You just needed the right team.”


That’s the point. That’s the truth that changes everything. Casey’s not a team player. He doesn’t play well with others. He likes solo work. But sometimes, for reasons Casey will never understand, some things are just meant to be. It’s not the challenge he’s used to, but it’s still a challenge all the same.


It’s worth figuring out.


“And if I’ve found the right team, then I sure as hell don’t want to hear you disparaging it,” Casey says with an air of finality. “It’s nobody’s fault. Or it’s all our faults. I don’t care which, but that’s how it’s going to be.”


Michael nods. “I think I can live with that. I’m still thinking I owe you thanks, though.”


Casey sighs, flopping back against the pillows. “I don’t think I can handle more sentiment right now.”


“I’m serious,” Michael says. “What you and Carson did for Billy and me--”


“Is part of being on a team,” Casey replies curtly. He makes a face. “Besides, if everything went according to plan, that’d be a little boring, don’t you think?”


Michael laughs at that. “After this fiasco, I think I could go for boring.”


Casey smiles faintly. “Yeah,” he says, feeling unduly wistful all of a sudden. “I think I could, too.”


-o-


Michael is horrible company, which is to say Casey is thrilled to have him around. They plot to get the nurses to leave them alone and manage to make daily escape runs to the cafeteria just to indulge in some real food. The doctors know what they’re doing, but no one can seem to catch them until Carson shows up and puts an end to their fun.


Even better, Michael is even more persistent than Casey in certain things, and somehow they soon have access to all of Billy’s medical records. They’re full of grim revelations, and Casey isn’t remotely squeamish, but he finds the details unsettling. The broken ribs had left Billy’s chest almost disconnected, which was why his breathing had looked so strange before. The doctors had finally gotten the pressure in Billy’s chest to equalize, but only after hooking him up to two ventilators to compensate. Worse still, the accompanying pulmonary contusion had left Billy on the brink of respiratory failure.


All things considered, it’s remarkable he’s alive.


Still, it’s a long-term recovery. Billy will be out of commission for months, not that Michael or Casey will be back in the field any time soon. Michael’s head wound is healing, but he still experiences bouts of dizziness and nausea, and Casey’s therapy is going well, but he’s got a ways to go until he’s back at 100%.


Michael plans it all out, maps out a routine and organizes a plan that has Billy living with Carson until he’s back on his feet. He has a workout regimen for each of them, based on doctor recommendations and independent research. According to Michael’s calculations, they should be field worthy in seven to nine months.


Seven to nine months. Casey tries not to think about that.


He just tries to think about the fact that the day exists when they’ll go out in the field again.


He just tries to think about the fact that they’re all going home.


Sometimes, he mostly tries not to think.


Even with all this, the inaction has him restless, and he pushes himself hard enough that the doctor finally clears him for early release. He’s pretty smug about it, and he’s packing his things when the door opens.


“I hear someone’s going home today,” Carson says jovially.


Casey looks up.


Carson’s not alone. In the wheelchair, Billy is seated. He looks weak and overly thin, but he’s smiling -- no, he’s damn near beaming. “So how about a going away party, eh?” Billy says. His voice is quieter and raspy, but all the inflection is there.


Casey stares, almost afraid to believe his eyes. He’s been to see the kid a few times over the last few days, but Billy’s always been so groggy that the visits haven’t been very reassuring.


But now, here he is. Smiling and joking and being Billy.


In fact, he’s so upbeat, it makes Casey cringe. He doesn’t normally trust happy people. And he certainly doesn’t like being around them. It’s been easy to forget since he’s been so concerned about his team’s well being that sometimes -- a lot of the time -- his team also drives him unequivocally insane.


For a second, the utter relief of it leaves Casey unsure whether or not to hug or punch the Scot.


He settles for an air of total exasperation. “About time you showed up,” he comments.


Billy is unbothered by the hint of accusation. Casey might like to think that it’s because Billy is incorrigible, but he suspects it’s just because the kid can see through his facades. “I do like making a bit of an entrance,” he says with a keen tilt of his head. “However, if you need a doctor’s note...”


“I think we’ve heard more than enough from your doctors,” Michael says, and he’s smiling, too. “You feeling okay?”


Billy’s smile is tempered at that. “I have definitely been better.”


“Yeah, we all have,” Carson says, taking a vacant chair.


“Though given the stern talking to from my doctor this morning, I reckon that I should be grateful to be alive,” Billy says. Then he looks from Michael to Casey. “Though I hear the same is true for all of you.”


Casey carefully places the last of his sparse belongings in his bag. “Near is a relative term,” he says, zipping his bag up.


Billy raises his eyebrows. “You weren’t worried, then?”


“Careful, Malick,” Carson warns. “I know the truth and I’m not afraid to use it.”


“And let’s not pretend anymore,” Michael says. “We’ve all had Casey figured out since day one.”


Casey’s brow creases. “That’s completely--”


“Emotionally stunted,” Michael interrupts. “Probably overcompensating for teasing during childhood.”


“And emotionally distant,” Billy adds in. “Likely a means of self-protection.”


“And a general pain in the ass,” Carson joins. “Because he’s good enough to get away with it.”


Casey finds himself speechless. He looks at Michael and Billy. He looks at Carson. “You guys don’t know what you’re talking about,” he protests, but it sounds a little weak even to his own ears.


“Yeah, we do,” Carson says with a laugh.


“But don’t worry,” Michael says. “We’ve kept you around this long.”


“Besides,” Billy says. “Isn’t there some comfort in knowing that there are no secrets amongst us? That we are a team, fully united in mind and spirits. That no foe, no matter how big or small, can stop us.”


“Unless they plant a bomb on a train,” Carson says.


“And hey, speaking of secrets, it’s been a year, Collins, and you still haven’t told us about MI6,” Michael says.


Billy immediately reddens. “Well, that’s classified--”


“But we’re a team,” Michael says. He glances meaningfully at Casey. “Right?”


Casey feels the tension easing from his body. He feels a familiar sense of comfort. He has his team back, and that means something. That could mean everything now.


“Eh,” he says. “The kid can keep his secret.”


Carson looks surprised. “You’re passing on milking it from the rookie?”


“I’m just saying we don’t need to know,” Casey says. “Because it’s not about secrets. It’s about trust. And at this point, I don’t think we have anything else to prove to each other.”


“Here, here,” Billy says with a boisterous nod.


Michael shrugs. “Guess I can’t argue with that.”


Carson is watching him carefully. “No,” he finally says. “I guess we can’t.”


“Well, now that that’s settled,” Billy says, rubbing his hands together. “We should celebrate.”


Michael makes a face. “Celebrate what?”


“Good health is out,” Carson says. “And success is sort of questionable.”


“And I don’t even want to know what sort of paperwork we’re going to have to deal with when we get back,” Michael says. “Not to mention the briefings.”


“Oh, come on,” Billy says. “Don’t be such a sour lot!”


They joke and they laugh. They poke at each other and make fun of each other. It’s stupid and it’s pointless and it’s more than a bit annoying at times.


More than that, the entire thing is boring. It’s mundane and it’s trivial, and it’s well beneath Casey’s skill set. He should be chasing assassins on the top of moving trains; he should be working deep cover in the most dangerous places in the world. He’s the best damn spy there is, and here he is, making small talk in a hospital in Italy.


It’s not what he expected.


But he’s finally able to admit that maybe -- just maybe -- he’s actually okay with that.