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Chaos fic: The Last Lesson 1/1

September 16th, 2011 (10:42 am)
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Title: The Last Lesson

Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: I wrote this for blackdog_lz although it's taken me far too long to post it. Gratuitous whump of the Billy variety. Beta'ed by moogsthewriter. Mistakes that remain are my own fault.

Summary: Lessons. Some easy, some hard; all things Rick needs even if he doesn’t know why.



-o-

“Lesson one,” Billy says. “Always remember who you are.”

Rick squints into the sun, looking at Billy. The Scottish operative is seated at the cafe table, reclined easily. He looks nonchalant, but his eyes are transfixed across the road. This might be worth noting if they had not been staring at said storefront for nearly twenty minutes now.

“Okay,” Rick says, because there’s probably some wisdom in that somewhere. “But if I remember I’m a CIA operative, then won’t that make this entire mission problematic?”

Billy frowns a little, his eyes glancing at Rick in disapproval. “How so?”

Rick shrugs, trying to keep his profile low in the midday traffic on the street where they’ve been sipping sodas during their surveillance. “Oh, I don’t know,” he says. “Because the CIA doesn’t have jurisdiction to act within U.S. borders.”

This elicits a full-on glare of disappointment from Billy. “Unless having a soda is now against the law, I think we’re fully within our rights here,” he points out.

Rick rolls his eyes. He should have known better than to try simple logic with any member of his team. “We’re tracking a potential terrorist.”

“We’re gathering intelligence,” Billy corrects him emphatically.

“Which fully falls to the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security,” Rick points out. “Or the FBI.”

Billy’s look of derision is plaintive. “Lesson two,” Billy says. “Never leave important tasks to government agencies that are fettered by excessive red tape and legal codes.”

“So you’re telling me to break the law,” Rick concludes.

Billy quirks an eyebrow. “I’m telling you to use your many skills as a covert operative to make this country safe and to ensure that the world is a better place,” he says with conviction.

“In other words, break the law,” Rick concludes again.

Billy purses his lips. “Lesson three, semantics should only be employed to your particular advantage,” he says. “Otherwise, it is best to stay silent and learn.”

Rick rolls his eyes again and takes another drink while Billy refocuses his attention on the storefront.

-o-

It’s an hour later and Rick is standing at a book seller’s table in a pedestrian mall. Billy has tracked their would-be terrorist throughout town, and Rick has read the file on this guy -- so he knows what he’s capable of -- but watching him run his errands at drug stores and candy shops is getting a bit monotonous. Now he’s gone into a men’s clothing store and Rick isn’t certain that finding out the man’s choice in jeans is going to be overly helpful to any case they’re trying to mount against him.

“What exactly do you think is going to happen?” Rick asks finally, putting the book he’s been flipping through in boredom back on the table.

Billy leafs through his own book, expertly diverting half of his attention toward the latest storefront while managing to look genuinely curious about the book in his hands. “Lesson eight,” he says. “Even innocuous actions can be quite useful in understanding a mark. It’s not the obvious things that give you an in, but the seemingly unimportant ones.”

Rick frowns. “I thought lesson eight was about maintaining proper distance?”

Billy stops and looks at Rick thoughtfully. “I thought maintaining proper distances was lesson seven.”

Rick shakes his head. “Lesson seven was about wearing proper footwear.”

Billy considers this, nodding. “Right you are,” he says. He smiles, a glint in his eyes as he points purposefully at his head to make his point. “Lesson ten, then. Always remember the details. You may never know when they matter.”

And Rick really wishes he could argue that.

Which, he could, but he wouldn’t win. So there doesn’t seem to be much else to do but to smile and nod and follow along.

-o-


Another half hour. They end up traipsing through a shopping mall and after a while, Billy stations them at a hot dog cart, watching their mark get a haircut.

“A haircut,” Rick muses. “And what does that mean?”

“That he’s planning on being quite busy in the next few months,” Billy explains easily. “Possibly overbooked with nefarious affairs.”

“Or he could just need a trim,” Rick says. “Isn’t it possible that our mark is just having a normal day?”

“Terrorists don’t have normal days,” Billy tells him confidentially. He glances at Rick. “Lesson sixteen: spies assume the worst in everyone. Their livelihood and national security are very much dependent on it.”

Rick sighs in total exasperation. “Are all these lesson really necessary?”

Billy looks at him critically. “Lesson seventeen: never question the advice of someone who has an invested interest in your well being and productivity. Giving you asinine advice, while mildly entertaining, would ultimately be counterproductive to my goals and overall survival.”

Rick can’t help but glare as Billy turns his attention back to their mark in the barber shop. “You know,” he ventures, “all these lessons might be better learned were we on an actual mission. You know, something sanctioned. Something not illegal.”

“Walking the streets of D.C. is not illegal,” Billy says.

“But stalking someone is,” Rick points out.

Billy looks ready to respond, undoubtedly with something clever and frustratingly irrefutable, and Rick doesn’t think he can handle it.

He shakes his head, holding up a hand. “No, please, don’t,” he interrupts. “If you’re going to tell me that sometimes lesson eight is that sometimes bending the law is crucial to save the law, I might have to leave right now, terrorist getting a haircut or not.”

This time, Billy doesn’t reply. His gaze narrows, eyes transfixed with fresh interest.

Rick frowns. “I’m kidding,” he says. “I mean, mostly.”

Billy still doesn’t respond.

Rick sighs in earnest now. “Billy, what--”

Billy’s face turns down with a frown, which creases his forehead and seems to pull down his shoulders. “I don’t think he’s going to stop.”

Rick’s about to ask what Billy is talking about, if he somehow disapproves of their mark’s haircut, if lesson eighteen is about the value of a smart haircut, but then Rick sees the car.

There are lots of cars on the street, some parked, some moving along, but it doesn’t take a spy’s instincts to know that this is what Billy is staring at.

Because it’s not just moving, it’s careening out of control. Tires are screeching now and horns are honking and the car just barrels onward.

Right toward the crosswalk in front of them.

That’s less than ideal, Rick thinks, but he’s about to suggest they call the police to report the problem when Billy’s moving.

Running, actually.

And that’s when Rick sees the mother pushing the baby in a stroller across the street, right in the center of the crosswalk.

It’s all happening so quickly. The mother’s eyes widen and Rick gapes and Billy’s the only one moving, pushing the woman and the stroller clear of the car’s path a second before it gets there.

It’s a second to spare for the mother and her child.

There’s no such second for Billy.

The car connects with a sickening thud, and Rick can only watch as Billy is flung into the windshield before being forced over the roof of the car and hitting the pavement with another meaty connection.

The car veers away wildly, taking the corner wide and fast, tires screeching one last time before it disappears and silence resumes again.

-o-

Rick is still staring.

The woman is across the street, crying as she extricates her baby from the overturned stroller. There’s a flurry of activity from the pedestrians on the street. Someone in the barber shop comes out and their mark seems to vanish in the commotion.

Billy’s still on the pavement.

Rick blinks and remembers to breathe.

Billy’s still on the pavement.

Heart in his throat, Rick feels like he’s choking before he finally remembers to move. “Billy!” he calls, legs pumping now, moving fast and furious. Traffic has come to a standstill but Rick doesn’t care -- barely notices -- as he races to Billy’s side.

He hits his knees hard but ignores the pain. “Billy,” he says again, quieter this time but even more frantic. “Billy!”

Up close, Rick can begin to see the damage. Billy's body is twisted, legs askew even as his torso is on its back. Rick can already see the blood staining his jacket, which is ripped and ragged from its contact with the road. His other arm is bent awkwardly, limp and useless by his side. There’s blood on his face, streaming thickly from a gash in his forehead and there’s a raw spot on his nose and cheek.

Rick can’t tell the rest of the injuries -- he’s too scared to move Billy, too scared to even look -- but Rick can hear the rattling wheezes as Billy takes strained breaths.

And then Billy’s eyes are open.

Rick swallows, almost too surprised to speak. “Billy,” he says, the name nothing more than a breath.

Billy blinks rapidly a few times then his eyes seem to focus. “Rick,” he says, and the small movement seems to pain him, his back arching slightly as he tries to keep breathing.

Rick winces and wants to touch Billy, to comfort him, but he doesn’t know how. There’s no place he can touch Billy that wouldn’t hurt him worse and Rick’s terrified of the harm he could do. “Hey,” he says instead, hands hovering just over him as he tries to smile. “Just don’t -- don’t move.”

Billy doesn’t seem to hear him, or at the very least, he doesn’t seem to listen. His eyes rove for a moment before he swallows with effort and asks, “Do we still have...eyes on our...mark?”

The words are hardly audible and for a second, Rick thinks he imagined it.

But Billy is looking at him earnestly, so earnestly, even as blood starts running into his eye. “The mark,” he says, more forcefully now and it seems to take every ounce of strength he has.

Rick doesn’t care about the mark -- he’s not sure why it matters anymore -- but it matters to Billy and Billy’s broken on the pavement and it sounds like he’s breathing through broken glass so Rick has to obey.

Looking up, he sees the barber shop again. The mark is gone entirely now, no trace of him.

Sighing, Rick looks back in apology. “He’s gone,” he says. “The commotion must have scared him off.”

He expects a reprimand for this, maybe a small comment of disappointment. But instead, Billy just nods tightly, his face carefully composed but barely holding back the pain. “Last lesson,” he says, and his voice is weaker now, so quiet that Rick has to lean forward to hear him. “Sometimes there are things more important than the mission.”

It’s not what Rick expects -- in fact, it runs counter to everything he’s been forced to endure today. He shakes his head, refusing to acknowledge the burning in his eyes. “Like what?”

Billy blinks and his gaze wanders a bit. He coughs, a small cough that still seems to tax Billy terribly, and blood wells up in his mouth, staining his teeth. Still, Billy asks, “Are they okay?”

Rick can’t follow the shift in conversation. But Billy’s looking past Rick now, at something farther off.

Desperately, Rick follows his gaze and sees the woman from the crosswalk. She’s holding her baby now, standing worriedly next to a man who is on the phone.

“Yes,” Rick says, even as he hears sirens in the distance. “They’re both going to be fine.”

But there’s no reply.

Looking back at Billy, Rick finds the Scotsman already unconscious, head turned slightly away even as the blood begins to pool on the ground near Rick’s knees. Billy’s still breathing -- Rick can still hear the grating sounds of his breath -- but Rick has to wonder if it’s already too late to learn that last lesson after all.

-o-

For a trained CIA operative, Rick is pretty helpless after that. There is a crowd gathering -- people who witnessed the event, others who are just curious -- but Rick mostly can’t see them. He’s too busy staring at Billy, too afraid to touch him but too afraid to leave his side to do much else. There’s a commotion nearby -- sirens and chatter -- and suddenly there are footsteps and someone kneeling next to him.

“Sir, we’re here to help,” a woman’s voice says.

Rick looks up, almost startled. It’s a paramedic, with dirty blonde hair and kind eyes.

Another paramedic gets situated across from him, gloved hands gently on Billy’s body.

Rick shakes his head. “The car didn’t stop,” he says.

The woman nods, holding Rick’s gaze as her partner starts to pull out his equipment. “Do you know him?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Rick manages, his eyes flit to Billy, watching as the medic attaches a few electrodes. “He’s my coworker.”

“Okay,” the woman says. “What’s his name?”

“Billy,” Rick says, the name feeling harsh as the medic carefully assesses Billy, hands moving down the length of his prone body. “Billy Collins.”

The woman nods encouragingly. “How old is Mr. Collins?”

Rick tries to remembers -- because he knows he knows. His brow furrows as the man hesitates his fingers over Billy’s head wound. “Thirty-six,” he says, the answer coming from somewhere, Rick doesn’t know where, doesn’t care.

“And he was hit by a car?” she verifies. “What was he doing in the intersection?”

Rick’s gaze darts away and he sees the woman. She looks grave, her baby tucked against her, clinging to the child desperately. He swallows. “The car was going to hit a mother and her baby,” he reports, looking back at Billy. It’s hard to believe that only minutes ago, Billy was talking, joking, offering advice. Now he’s just lying there. “He saved them.”

If the woman takes note of the heroism, she doesn’t say anything. She’s too focused on the task at hand. Another person doing their job, as if that’s the only thing that matters. By the book, just like Rick. “Does Mr. Collins have any medical conditions we should know about?” she asks.

Rick keeps his eyes on Billy, watches as the medic starts to cut away Billy’s clothes, pulling out some IV tubing. “No,” Rick replies, his voice flat. “He’s...No.”

The medic across from them mutters something then looks up. “He’s definitely got a bleed somewhere,” he says, feeling gently across the now exposed flesh of Billy’s belly. He moves toward Billy’s head, pulling out a small light and testing Billy’s pupils. “Pupils look okay but we have a lack of stimulus to pain at this point. GCS is moderate.”

The woman nods. “Get the saline started,” she says. “What are his stats?”

The man frowns. “Not good,” he says.

“Tube him?”

“And then load him before he bleeds out,” the man says. “He’s as stable as he’s going to be.”

Rick hears the exchange numbly, but his eyes stay fixed on Billy. The blood is everywhere now, soaking Rick’s knees and nearly obscuring his face entirely. His face is deathly pale, colorless lips stained with blood in the daylight.

And Rick can’t make sense of it. Billy’s lying on the pavement, looking more dead than alive, and they’re not on a mission. They’re on recon, in D.C., safe in the States where the CIA doesn’t even have the authorization to do anything.

But apparently Billy doesn’t need authorization to get hit by a car. There’s no approval process for saving innocent people and almost dying for it.

Almost dying--

The man is working on an IV; the woman opens Billy’s mouth and slides in a tube. Billy doesn’t resist. Billy doesn’t fight. Billy just lies there and Rick can only watch.

And Rick has to wonder, where’s the lesson in this? What is he supposed to learn here? What is Billy trying to show him?

That it can end anywhere? That being a spy is only as dangerous as being a good person? That life is a mission you can’t plan and for every risk on a mission you see coming, there’s another in the real world you can’t walk away from?

That no one is invincible? Not even the ODS?

Not even the ODS.

The man is back with a backboard and they roll Billy onto it before they strap him down. They secure his neck in the brace and together and Billy doesn’t move -- doesn’t flinch -- and Rick can only watch and think about how this is a lesson he doesn’t want to learn.

-o-

When Rick calls the office, Michael answers. “It’s about time,” he says before Rick can say anything. “We’ve been waiting all day.”

It’s so normal, so expected, that Rick feels his throat tighten. The memory of Billy’s body getting hit, the stillness of his broken limbs on the pavement -- it’s still so fresh. The blood is still damp on Rick’s pants and he can smell it on his hands as he holds his phone to his ear.

And he can hear Billy, one lesson after another and his own frustrated commentary in return. And the last lesson...

There’s the image of Billy on the gurney, closed in tight behind ambulance doors while the medic squeezes the bag to breathe for him, one breath after another after another.

Last lesson...

“Rick?” Michael asks, and there’s new concern there. A sudden gravity. “What happened?”

What had happened? Could Rick even say? Did it even make sense? That Billy got hit by a car playing Good Samaritan? That Billy could be dying right now while Rick tries to make sense of it all in a phone call?

Rick can’t think of how to say it, but Michael seems to know. “Where’s Billy?” he asks, and his voice isn’t harsh but it’s demanding now, and there’s tension -- thick tension -- on the line.

Rick swallows and finds his voice. Because he has to. “They took him to the hospital,” he says finally, and it sounds lame, his own voice foreign.

“Was it the mark?” Michael presses.

Rick shakes his head. “No,” he says. “It was...a car. Two people in a crosswalk. Billy saved them. It was an accident.”

An accident. A fluke. Years of training and endless skill, reduced to almost nothing by a heroic twist of fate.

There’s movement on the other end of the line. “Where are you, Rick?” Michael asks.

Rick has to shake his head. “It was stupid--”

“Rick,” Michael’s voice cuts in, and it’s stern now. He’s ordering Rick, pulling rank, as only Michael can. “Tell me where you are. We’ll pick you up and we’ll go see Billy. Together.”

Not a lot makes sense, but that much does. Together would be nice, Rick thinks, because he feels pretty alone right now.

-o-

Michael and Casey are efficient. When they pick Rick up, the cops have already secured the scene and taken Rick’s statement. It’s all he can do to maintain their working cover in the States, and talking about being a pair of bank employees on their lunch break seems to be inadequate for everything Rick just witnessed.

Rick knows there’s a greater good involved, and the fact is, Billy’s future as a spy depends on Rick’s lies, even if it they don’t do him justice.

Michael talks to one of the cops and Casey pulls Rick inside the car. He doesn’t say anything, and Rick doesn’t offer any explanation. When Michael climbs back in, he nods to Casey before looking at Rick readily in the seat. “Cover is in place,” he says. “Got confirmation from the hospital and Higgins is working an angle to give us some access to Billy’s condition.”

Rick doesn’t say anything.

“It’s going to be okay,” Michael says, more steadily this time.

Rick just nods.

Casey looks at Michael and shrugs slightly. Michael sighs and turns in his seat to put the car in gear. As they pull away, Rick can still see the pools of blood on the pavement and wishes Michael were right. But as they pull away, Rick remembers a lesson Billy never had to teach him because it’s one Rick’s been learning the hard way: spies are liars, even to their friends.

-o-

In most ways, it’s easier to follow orders. Rick tends to chafe against the way his team treats him, always vying for more autonomy and respect, but the truth is, when it’s crunch time, he’s always felt comforted by their experience. He likes knowing that people can survive and flourish as spies. They have the career that Rick’s always thought he wanted, even if he is increasingly surprised about how they’ve managed to attain and maintain it.

In this, it’s easy to defer to them now. Michael checks them in at the hospital, gleaning a scant amount of information from the desk clerk before leading them up to a surgical waiting room. At this point, Casey sits him in a chair and perches dutifully next to him, where they wait until Michael returns.

“He’s in surgery,” he reports as he settles on the other side of Rick. “Damage was pretty severe, it looks like.”

“So a full frontal collision, then,” Casey concludes. “Do we have traffic cams in the area?”

“Already working on it,” Michael replies. “The cops are researching some leads as to the suspect’s car.”

“And I assume we’re not going to leave it at that,” Casey says.

“We have no legal right to pursue this case,” Michael says with a shrug. “But Higgins seems willing to look the other way on this one, especially given that Billy saved two lives.”

“But the mark,” Rick interjects suddenly, as the memory comes back to him. “We lost him.”

This brings the conversation to a halt. Michael looks at him and Casey shakes his head. “We’ve already wiretapped his phone,” Casey explains plaintively.

Rick’s brow furrows. “But...then...why were we tailing him?”

“Slow day at the office,” Michael says.

“And, to be frank, your tracking skills have been less than stellar in the field,” Casey adds.

For a moment, Rick can only blink. “It wasn’t a real mission?”

“Did we ever tell you it was a real mission?” Michael contends.

Rick gapes. “No, but...”

“We did want extra intel,” Casey says with a shrug.

“But Billy could die,” Rick says with unparalleled incredulity.

“Because of some idiot speeding through an intersection,” Michael reminds him. “Not the mark. If Billy hadn’t been there, that woman and her baby would probably be dead.”

Rick looks at him. Tries to understand. Tries to know why somehow that’s worth it. Because he saw Billy on that pavement. He kneeled in Billy’s blood. And there has to be more. There has to be more.

“Besides,” Casey says cautiously. “Billy won’t die.”

Rick’s jaw set hard and he’s blinking away tears. “You weren’t there.”

“We don’t have to be,” Michael says.

“We don’t even know the extent of his injuries,” Rick says. “He wasn’t breathing on his own. Internal bleeding.”

“Irrelevant,” Casey says.

Rick shakes his head, the audacity almost crippling his senses now. “I was there,” Rick says. “I watched that car almost break him in half. How can you say that?”

Michael’s gaze is steady; Casey’s presence is unwavering. “Because we know Billy,” Michael says simply.

“And Billy’s an annoying bastard and hell on long plane trips,” Casey says.

“But he won’t die like this,” Michael says with a confidence Rick can’t understand.

“Spies never die like this,” Casey continues for him. “That’s a lesson you’ll learn over time.”

Another lesson. One Rick wants to learn this time, but doesn’t know how as he settles back in his chair and waits.

-o-

It’s hours.

Michael wheedles more information from a nurse. It’s still vague, but they learn that Billy’s abdomen is a mess and the damage to his leg and arm are no picnic either. There’s massive reconstruction to be done and the time to stop all the bleeders alone will leave them there well into the night. Billy’s vitals have been touch and go, but he’s hanging in there.

He’s still fighting.

Rick tries to imagine that, tries to think of Billy's pale, limp body still harboring something with which to rally. Tries to think of the tube in his throat and the closed eyelids as a sign of strength, not weakness.

It doesn’t parse.

Nothing parses.

Because Billy saw the accident coming and knew enough to change it.

Rick didn’t see anything.

He spent the day hearing lessons but not learning.

Not learning anything.

Michael brings coffee; Casey offers energy bars. Rick takes both but doesn’t know how to indulge in either. He can still see the blood on Billy’s suit, still hear the wheezing of his breath in his chest.

Last lesson....

“Some things are more important than the mission.”

Rick doesn’t realize he’s said it out loud until Michael and Casey are looking at him. Unnerved, Rick shifts in his seat, blinking blearily at him. “That was Billy’s last lesson before he passed out,” he explains. “That some things are more important than the mission.”

Saying it makes it sound even more ridiculous.

Rick scoffs. “But that doesn’t make sense,” he continues. “We weren’t on a mission.”

Michael and Casey exchange a look before Michael leans closer. “Everything’s a mission,” he says. “Spies are never off duty. Billy went out to train you today and something else came up. Something that was more important than training you, more important than the mark.”

Rick has to shake his head again. “I don’t understand.”

Michael sighs. “It’s a lesson Billy’s learned the hard way,” he says. “Maybe he didn’t want you to have to suffer the same.”

“Today it’s a mother and child in a crosswalk,” Casey interjects. “Once it was a whole lot more than that.”

There’s something in their voices, something they’re not telling him. Something in what they know that Rick still doesn’t, and the wheels turn in Rick’s head before he comes to the realization. “The reason Billy got deported,” he says with sudden clarity. “It’s the lesson he learned when he got deported.”

Michael sits back but doesn’t deny it.

Rick frowns. “What happened?”

“It’s not our story to tell,” Casey says.

“But you can trust that when Billy says that sometimes the greater good is more important, it’s a lesson he’s learned with great personal sacrifice,” Michael says.

“Which is why, despite all appearances, you should always listen to Billy’s lessons,” Casey says with a certain amount of defeat. “Even when they seem entirely ridiculous.”

Michael inclines his head. “Especially then.”

It’s something to consider. Rick knows Billy likes to talk and he’s been aware for a while that his conversational prowess is partly inherent to his personality and partly a guise for something else. He’s come to realize that all spies have their persona, some more tried and true than others. Billy plays the friendly sort, and Rick has always known that part of it was an act but he’s never stopped to think about why.

Never stopped to question that Billy’s story is less humor and more hardship. That there was ever a time when he wasn’t the affable man Rick knows, that there’s a darkness, a regret that he refuses to show.

Maybe that’s the next lesson, Rick is supposed to master. To never take appearance at face value, to look beneath something that seems to good to be true. Whether it’s an asset that gives you everything you want or a colleague who is perpetually helpful and upbeat.

One may get you killed.

The other...

Well, Rick’s still figuring out the other. And he hope Billy lives long enough to give him that chance.

-o-

Night comes and lingers. Michael coerces Rick to the cafeteria for a meal, but other than that, none of them leave.

When the doctor finally tells them that Billy’s alive, Rick thinks that’s all he needs to hear. But there’s another lesson in this. Sometimes the simplest truth is never as simple as you want it to be.

Because Billy’s alive, but he’s still in a bad way. The surgery to reset his leg was straightforward, but the work on his arm was more delicate. Repairing his collapsed lung was messy but seems to be holding up okay. The internal bleeding in his stomach is the bulk of the problem, with bleeders throughout his digestive tract and some of the surrounding organs. It’s a small blessing, according to his doctor, that Billy didn’t lose any of his organs, but there’s no guarantee they caught all the bleeders. They may need to go back in if Billy’s vitals continue to fluctuate and his stats drop.

His concussion is only moderate, and is truly the least of Billy’s problems despite the fact that he’s still showing no signs of responsiveness. Only time will tell on that; with the medication he’s on, it’s not like he’s going to be regaining consciousness anytime soon any way it goes.

All of this is compounded by the fact that Billy’s at a high risk of infection; in fact, he’s already running a mid-grade fever, which the doctor suspects will continue to rise given the extent of his injuries and his time on the operating table.

So Billy’s alive -- drugged up and in a coma, hooked up to tube and wires and everything else. He’s got a long road ahead of him, assuming he survives at all.

When the doctor leaves, Casey purses his lips. The weariness in his face is replaced by stubborn defiance. “He’ll survive,” Casey says.

And Rick wants to believe him -- he really does -- but it’s the things he sees coming that he can trust the least, and Rick can’t decide if that’s going to work in his favor or not this time.

-o-

There’s more waiting.

This time, they take turns in Billy’s ICU cubicle, alternating during the hours the nurses let them in and usually coercing their way in after hours when the nurses are supposed to kick them out. But they don’t want him to be alone -- it doesn’t seem right. Billy doesn’t have much in this world, Rick realizes, except for three teammates and a job, so it’s up to them to give Billy the support he needs.

Besides, if Billy has a long road to recovery in front of him, they all have a long road in front of them, and though the ODS is difficult and usually off the books, that’s something they’ll always do together.

Rick takes his turns more than he has to, and if Casey and Michael notice, they don’t say anything. There’s not much to say, really, because Billy’s still in a coma, battling a fever, and all they can do is sit at his bedside and believe the best.

Which is what Rick tries to do. He tries to sit there and tell himself that Billy’s doing better, that he’s making improvements. He tries to remember how bloody and broken he looked on that road, how now he’s getting the help he needs to get better. That he’s already on his way to getting better.

It’s still a hard sell. Because Billy’s pallor is ashen, and his cheeks seem to sink more with each passing day. The stubble on his face only exaggerates the paleness and the vivid bruising is a stark reminder of the lingering injuries.

There are the tubes and wires to contend with, as well. Rick can’t identify all of them, but the IVs and drainage tubes are enough to keep him at a distance, even when he’s right next to the Scottish operative. The tube down Billy’s throat is taped down around his mouth, and it makes Rick’s mouth itch just seeing it. The one shoved up Billy’s nose doesn’t look much better.

And yet, the nurses say he’s doing as well as can be expected. They say Billy’s a fighter, even when they have to come in and change his urine bag or adjust the levels of his IV flow. They say lesser men never would have made it this far.

That’s a point Rick can almost believe, because Billy seems depleted by this. In real life, Billy’s a buoyant personality, larger than life. He’s perpetually upbeat and resilient.

Here, he seems like a hollow shell, reduced to weakness and uncertainty.

It’s something Rick doesn’t know how to deal with.

He can still hear Billy’s words, is the worst part. Last lesson...some things are more important than the mission.

Michael and Casey say that’s a lesson Billy learned the hard way.

Watching Billy struggle to live, it’s one that Rick’s learning the hard way, too.

-o-

Like most thing in Rick’s CIA career, Billy’s recovery is up and down. While the doctors are pleased that Billy’s survived, he’s showing increasing signs of infection and continued bleeding. It’s a waiting game to see if they can keep his fever in check long enough to perform the surgery, and no one says it, but Rick knows that eventually either option could very well kill him.

Still, with fluids Billy keeps his fever in check, but the second surgery seems to be harder on him than the first. Afterward, his vitals are hard to maintain and his fever spikes, leaving Billy closer to death than Rick thinks is possible.

But Billy doesn’t give in. He stays with them doggedly; even with the tubes and the medication, Billy’s still alive.

Michael and Casey endure the trials with as much stoicism as Rick might expect from them, but he can see the stress it adds. None of them are doing much at work these days, and Rick isn’t sure how Michael has managed to hold Higgins off their tails from skipping so much work. But Rick has a feeling that Higgins knows as well as the rest of them that it’s not even a choice for them. There are some things more important than the mission, and Rick sees that now. When Rick first started, he traded his soul for the promise of a job.

Now, he’ll trade that job right back if he has to, just to see Billy through the coming days and weeks.

The local newspaper prints a story about a local hero, and there’s a flurry of interest from the outside world. Cards and flowers line the room, things Billy can’t appreciate in his unconsciousness. Still, Rick takes a certain pleasure in them, lining them up because he knows that Billy deserves them.

The mother stops by once and when she sees Rick, she breaks down into tears as she says her thank yous. Rick tells her Billy is holding his own and promises to pass along her thanks and gratitude.

Everyone has thanks and gratitude, condolences and encouragement, and Rick passes it along until his voice feels hoarse in his throat.

Finally, he just has to shake his head and look at Billy and remember why they’re here. Lessons. Some easy, some hard; all things Rick needs even if he doesn’t know why.

It makes him laugh. “You know,” he says into the stillness of the room. “I think I finally get it.”

The monitors beep, the machines hissing as Billy doesn’t move.

“I think I finally get why you took me out there that day,” he explains.

The ventilator whirs. Billy’s chest rises and falls.

“But you know, here’s a lesson you might need to learn, too,” he says, leaning forward slightly. “Sometimes it’s okay not to make your point so dramatically.”

Billy’s face is still. The bruising is fading from deep purple to green.

“I’m not that slow of a learner,” Rick says. “So you can wake up now. Okay?”

The stillness stretches on; Billy is silent.

Rick’s stomach clenches, his jaw tight. “Really,” he says again, “you need to wake up now.”

-o-

It seems too simple, but it’s true. Billy starts to wake up.

Of course, being Billy, he has to do it in his own fashion. Just like he can’t be a normal hero; he has to literally throw himself in harm’s way. He can’t try to teach a lesson; he has to live it to get his point across.

The change starts subtly when Billy’s fever starts to drop. It hovers around 101 before disappearing entirely. When the doctors start reducing his medication, he actually starts to move. It’s not long after that when the talk turns from if to when in terms of Billy’s recovery.

It’s still frustratingly long, and days linger by with minimal change. Billy’s making purposeful movements now, and the scans all show that he’s regaining awareness as his bodily functions begin to rebound. The infection is behind him, and while Billy’s body is weak, it’s clearly making all efforts to come back to the living world.

Even when Billy opens his eyes, it’s hazy and vague. Sometimes he just stares at the ceiling, blinking a few times before drifting back into sleep. Other times, his body bucks, fighting the ventilator and it’s all that Rick can do to hold his hand until he drops back into sleep.

After a few days of this, the doctors remove the tube. Then, one day, Billy really wakes up.

At first, Rick thinks it’s just another false alarm. He’s used to this by now. Sometimes Billy will even mumble, his voice garbled and strained from disuse and the ventilator, but this time, something’s different.

This time, when Rick stands over him, Billy’s eyes lock on his and recognition dawns.

“Billy?” Rick asks, almost too surprised to say anything else.

There’s a clear effort on Billy’s face, his mind seeming to struggle with the myriad of unfamiliar sensations.

Rick leans forward, putting a hand on Billy’s arm. “You’re okay,” he says. “You’re in a hospital.”

Billy’s brow creases but he nods. His lips twitch and he grimaces.

Rick shakes his head. “You’ve been unconscious for a while,” he says. “Your voice may not--”

But Billy shakes his head insistently, but when he tries to speak, he coughs instead, his body trembling with the exertion.

Rick holds him down gently. “Hey,” he says. “Lesson two: when you’ve just woken up from a three week extended nap, it’s time to let someone else do the talking.”

Billy settles at that, one eyebrow quirking slightly as a faint smile twitches on his lips.

Rick grins. “Besides, you’re going to need your strength,” he says, hand steady on Billy’s arm as he keeps the Scottish man’s gaze. “You’re not the only one with some lessons to teach.”

-o-

It’s been a slow recovery, but things change quickly after that. Michael and Casey visit with new vigor, and within a day, they’re bantering like they used to. Billy’s still tired more often than not, and his voice still sounds like sandpaper, but it’s such a vast improvement that no one seems to mind.

The doctors warn of continued recovery time -- of physical therapy and time for his vocal chords to adequately heal. It’s going to be months until he’s back on the job, but if Rick knows Billy, he suspects it’ll be sooner than anyone thinks.

It also means it’s time to get back to work, which is the hardest transition for Rick to make. It’s hard to go on missions and to think about recon while Billy isn’t with them, and it doesn’t help that it’s a burden for Billy to feel left behind. He tries not to show it -- and he certainly plays the martyr when they tell him they can’t come around for a while -- but Billy misses the action, even if his body is nowhere near ready for it just yet.

Still, Billy’s progress is in leaps and bounds now. He’s sitting up and then he’s walking. He’s eating solid foods and then he’s pressing the nurses about outpatient care. When Rick and the rest of the team gets back from a mission to Egypt, the twinkle in his eye is back and his color is almost back to normal.

And he’s also positively glad for the company. “Ah, Rick!” he croons when Rick comes in. “The prodigal teammate finally returns.”

Rick offers a sheepish grin as he settles into the chair by Billy’s bed. “Things took a little longer than expected,” he admits.

Billy nods knowingly. “Aye, things in the Middle East rarely go according to schedule,” he says. “No real mishaps, though?”

They almost got killed in a firefight and then their hotel was nearly blown up, but these are details he figures Billy doesn’t need to know. Rick shakes his head. “No, it was pretty normal,” he says, which is actually the truth.

Billy seems vaguely skeptical, but doesn’t pursue it. “Well, all is well,” he says. “I was worried you would miss my homecoming while you were off gallivanting around the globe doing very noble things.”

Rick’s eyes widen. “You’re cleared for discharge?”

Billy’s smile is proud, self-satisfied. “End of the week,” he says. “It took some creative finagling, but Dr. Becker was eventually convinced of the reason that I will flourish more in my natural environment rather than the confining walls of a hospital.”

“You live in a hotel,” Rick reminds him.

“It’s not the four walls that make a home, but the life that is lived within them,” Billy says. He nods sagely. “That’s a lesson you would do well to learn.”

Rick’s heart skips on the words. Billy remembers bits and pieces of what happened to him, but he hasn’t mentioned the lessons he’d imparted, especially that last one before passing out. The memory hits Rick like a car going full speed and it’s all he can do to keep the emotions from pulling him back.

He can’t control his emotions quick enough, though. Billy’s brow furrows. “Something I said?” he asks.

Rick considers deflecting, but he knows it wouldn’t do much good. He shrugs, gathering a breath. “Just you and your lessons,” he says. “You told me one last lesson the day, when you -- before--”

Billy understands, even as Rick fumbles. “Ah, the mind grappling with unconsciousness can sometimes say the most confounding things,” he says. “I assure you, I can’t remember what I said, but if it was a tad inappropriate for the circumstances, you have my apologies.”

“No,” Rick says. “It was just -- I mean--”

Billy frowns.

Rick sighs again. “When you were -- before the ambulance came, you asked about the mark and then you asked about the woman,” he explains finally. “Then you said that the last lesson was that some things are more important than the mission before you passed out.”

Billy listens. His expression turns serious and he takes a measured breath. “Sometimes injury and peril can make me a wee bit serious, I’m afraid,” he says, as if to apologize.

“It was more than that,” Rick says and he keeps his eyes on Billy knowingly. “Wasn’t it?”

Billy shrugs. “All lessons are gleaned from personal experience, both good and bad.”

“It mattered then,” Rick says. “So it should matter now. You almost -- I mean, I thought you would--”

He can’t say it, but Billy doesn’t make him. He sighs, his shoulders sagging slightly. “I’m afraid I thought the same as you,” he admits. “The mind often goes to the one thing that matters most when it’s in fear of the end.”

“So why that lesson?” Rick pushes, because he knows what Michael and Casey said, and he knows that this is Billy’s lesson to share. “Why then?”

For a second, it looks like Billy might deflect it again. But he’s tired and it’s clear that there’s little left to hide between them. “The hows are neither here nor there when it comes to such a lesson, but I promise you, it’s the one that’s defined me more than anything,” Billy explains. “If I have anything to offer another agent, I have that much.”

Billy has more than that, Rick knows, but Rick doesn’t argue. “What did you mean?” he asks instead.

“It’s just a question of the sacrifice that matters most,” Billy says, and his eyes go distant as he remembers. “All missions, whether for the CIA or in life, have consequences and you have to figure out what’s most important. The lives you can save now or the ones you might save later. It’s not a clean choice and it’s rarely without its perils or regrets.” He pauses, shaking his head. “But it’s the kind of the decision that changes everything, that you’ll have to live with forever.”

Rick considers that, consider their intel on the mark and the woman and her baby.

Billy is looking at him earnestly now. “You live with it for better and for worse, and I promise you, it’s never an either/or proposition in that.”

“Did you make the right choice?” Rick asks.

“You mean with the woman?” Billy counters.

“No, when you learned this lesson,” Rick says. “Did you make the right choice?”

Billy’s expression turns sad and he looks away. With a deep breath, he shrugs. “I try to tell myself I did,” he says. Then he looks up and grins sheepishly. “Some days I believe it more than others.”

Rick wants to ask more. He wants to know about the mission Billy compromised, the one that brought him to the CIA.

But Billy is worn and tired, and he’s been through enough. And, as Rick sits there, he realizes that he doesn’t need to know. Because he knows Billy, just like Casey and Michael, and that counts for more than anything else.

“I’m sure you have ample questions,” Billy continues. “And normally I would love to entertain you with more lively conversation, young Rick, but I’m afraid I’m still not quite up to my old self, no matter what I may convince the doctors of.”

Rick nods readily, getting to his feet. “Yeah, of course,” he says. “You’ve earned your rest.”

Billy’s smile is rueful. “Not as much as you think.”

Rick shakes his head. “More than you’d give yourself credit,” he counters. “Anyway, you said the end of the week?”

Billy nods. “Should be quite the ordeal,” Billy says. “Several of the nurses are quite despondent about it.”

Rick smirks. “I wouldn’t miss it, then.”

Billy’s face brightens. “Good,” he says. “Because the first lesson is always to enjoy the celebrations whenever and however they may occur. You may never know when an opportunity will present itself again.”

Rolling his eyes, Rick’s smile widens. “Right,” he says, moving toward the door. “I’ll keep that in mind.”




Comments

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: September 16th, 2011 04:56 pm (UTC)
Observer

That was totally worth the wait and a great start into weekend :)

I love the amount of lessons that Billy throws at Rick and that he manages to lose count of them. And Billy as a hero and of course the whump.
It's heartbreaking how lost Rick feels and the steadfast believe of Michael and Casey that Billy will be fine is so in character for the two (and of course Billy'll always be, since he's stubborn like that.)
The hint of back story was also tantalizing.

To sum it up it was everything I needed :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: September 16th, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
billy likes

I was hoping you'd get to read it before your weekend started--but I get confused on the time differences--so I'm glad it worked out :)

When you asked for Billy getting hit by a car, I liked that it a different way to inflict injury, especially since I could use it outside an actual mission. So kudos to you on the idea (and I'm glad you just had a near miss and not an actual collision!).

And mostly I'm just really glad you liked it :) All the fic you produce, you definitely deserve it!

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: September 16th, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
Spies

It's around 7pm here right now, but time zones always confuse me as well :)

And at least something good came from the near miss :)

You probably produce just as much, but that's okay, because reading fic's definitely makes any day better.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: September 16th, 2011 05:25 pm (UTC)

So it's about 7 hours difference, I think. It's about 12:30 PM here (CST).

And I just know that you've provided me much entertainment through reading, so I like to return the favor.

Posted by: SamuelJames (samueljames)
Posted at: September 16th, 2011 10:59 pm (UTC)
Chaos

Read most of this through tears. Poor Billy but I could see him being heroic. Brilliantly written fic.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: September 19th, 2011 04:59 pm (UTC)
billy content

I'm very glad you enjoyed it. Thanks!

6 Read Comments