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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos Fic: Plan B 3/5

December 16th, 2011 (08:39 am)
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Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five



PART THREE

-o-

Billy has always enjoyed the out of doors, but he’s always secretly harbored an affinity for spending time inside. After all, while he flourished as a child wandering back alleys and finding mischief around the neighborhood with his mates, he also had a well worn spot on his bed where he spent hours reading anything he could get his hands on. He wasn’t a picky reader by any means: The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings were just as good a read as the glorified silly Americanisms of The Hardy Boys or the lovely Nancy Drew.

All these things have their merits, as far as Billy is concerned, and he’s the sort to believe that being well rounded is the secret to contentment in life.

But he can’t deny that after this sojourn, he may be rethinking his love of the great outdoors.

Because while the trees are quite nice and the sky is certainly very blue, there’s far too much nature and not enough civilization. While Billy misses things like running water and a hot meal, it’s really the lack of painkillers and the absence of a comfortable place to lay his head that are bothering him the most.

Oh, and the stabbing, unrelenting, horrific pain of having a bloody bear trap slam shut on his ankle. That’s one large point against the great outdoors; two for the enduring fever and nausea that seem to be following in its wake.

And three for waking up and seeing his friends’ concerned faces, while he’s keeping track.

And really, four for the fact that he’s passed out at all.

All in all, his relationship with nature is looking dubious, Walden be damned. Next time, he’ll read about it rather than live it, if he has his druthers.

Which is all well and good, but it doesn’t help him now.

Though, really, not much helps him now since he’s stranded in the Canadian forest, bleeding, with his friends clearly watching him with the utmost concern.

Since Billy can do nothing on the first two counts, he takes a breath, garners his consciousness, and sets about to attempt a remedy to the third.

It’s all a bit easier said that done, but Billy’s mildly grateful that this ascension to the world of the living is less hard to follow than the last. He remembers right off where he is and why he’s here. And he doesn’t have to think twice to remember why everything hurts. Things are hazier than they should be, he thinks -- the mission objectives and overall logistics are sort of hard to remember now -- but lucidity is more important than clarity at this point.

Wetting his lips, he manages to smile. It’s shaky, but it gets his point across. “You know,” he says, swallowing against the cottony feeling in his mouth. “Maybe not the best day for a hike, then.”

It’s a joke, but no one laughs. They all just stare at him.

Billy knits his brows together. “It’s a bit funny,” he ventures, and if his voice sounds pathetic, he hopes they believe it’s part of his self deprecating facade.

This time, Rick blinks. “You’re insane,” he says.

Billy lifts his brows, ignoring the fact that such a simple movement actually causes him palpable pain. “Perhaps,” he agrees, shifting slightly. He’s still on the ground, but it seems different now, and as the pain ebbs and flows, he realizes he’s on a stretcher, which explains how they’ve come some distance with Billy’s leg in the state that it is. “Though in this case, I think there may be extenuating circumstances.”

Casey scoffs at this.

Michael sighs, shaking his head a little. “At least your ability for understatement hasn’t been impaired,” he says.

The levity buoys Billy’s spirits, but even that can’t shake the dimness around the edges of his vision. “When it does, you can be assured that the situation is dire,” he says, and he has to take a breath. His chest still feels tight and the pain intensifies slightly. “Until then, we’re dandy.”

Casey inclines his head. “We still have over half our journey left,” he says, and even though he’s plainly telling the truth, there’s a familiar dourness that Billy finds comforting. “Save your optimism for when you really need it.”

Billy laughs at that, but it’s a wispy, breathless sound that ends with a cough. It takes more effort this time to keep himself composed and he can’t stop the pain from making him tremble. “Who says I don’t need it now, mate,” he quips.

Michael squeezes his shoulder. “We’ll get you out of here.”

Billy nods and blinks, finding his eyes sluggish to respond. “Sooner than later, I hope,” he says. His face falls as he starts to pant a bit. “And it’s gotten a bit warm, hasn’t it?”

Michael and Casey remain impassive but Rick can’t hide his obvious concern.

Billy looks to each of them again. “Fever, then?” he asks.

Rick’s eyes dart away.

“Ah,” Billy realizes, glancing down at his leg. “Infection.”

He recognizes the telltale signs of heat making the wound throb. His entire leg is burning quietly and the only reason he hadn't noticed it sooner is because the rest of him is in a fog.

The fact that silence answers him is telling. When Michael finally manages to smile, it’s too late to hide just how bad it is.

Still, his team is nothing if not persistent. “Nothing you haven’t dealt with before,” Michael says, in what is truly a valiant effort.

Billy has his doubts about that, but he doesn’t have the heart to contradict him.

Actually, he doesn’t really have the strength either. But if his mates are good for the show of things, then Billy’s game, too. “Well,” he says, “then what are we waiting around here for?”

That is the question that none of them have a clear answer for.

It’s also the motivation they need to keep going.

So the fact that the entire thing has left Billy spent and trembling is inconsequential. He’s given the team what they need and now it’s their turn. It’s not necessarily in Billy’s nature to accept such help laying down, but all things considered, he’s not sure he has much choice.

What with the pain, the weakness, and the pain.

And he really wants to be out of these woods, even if they have to carry him.

“Just you,” Michael jokes back. “Sleeping on the job.”

“I always tell you that your slothfulness is pervasively problematic,” Casey adds.

“And what kind of example are you setting?” Rick asks.

It’s not exactly convincing but it’s such a noble effort that Billy smiles despite the pain. “My apologies,” he says. He nods his head to the forest. “Shall we without delay?”

Billy says it casually, but if he’s harboring new resentments for the wonders of nature, then it’s no one’s business as Casey and Rick lift his stretcher and they set off again.

-o-

Michael’s been in a lot of high stress situations; it sort of goes with the territory when working as a spy in the field. In general, he’s good at it. He performs well under pressure, and he’s proven that the higher the stakes, the better he is. This is why Higgins can’t fire him, no matter how much he wants to. Michael leads his team to success. Michael yields results.

He’s not perfect, though. Usually that’s an allowance Michael makes as a throwaway disclaimer. He doesn’t actually want to mean it and most of the time, he can make others believe the opposite.

In truth, most of the time Michael is so busy planning, so busy seeing, so busy executing, that things such as doubt and regret really aren’t a problem.

But now, it seems, that’s all there is.

The terrain is rough and uneven and mostly unfamiliar. But he’s got an inherent sense of direction and with Casey at point, he doesn’t have to doubt that they’re moving on the right path. As much as he’d like it to be, there’s nothing more he can do to plot with their escape. This is the route they’ve planned since the beginning and even if they’re moving with more motivation than before, it doesn’t require any distinctive attention from Michael.

As for Billy, his condition is an immediate concern -- and ever pressing on Michael’s mind -- but there’s really nothing to be done for it. Casey has done what first aid he can, but it’s clear that the only solution is to get Billy out. Now that Billy’s conscious, Michael wishes he could say something to him, help keep his attention on other things, but at the back of the stretcher where Billy's head is, Martinez has taken up that role by default, leaving Michael to listen uncomfortably while they exchange breathless chitchat as the distance passes.

By taking up the rear, Michael’s positioned himself as the lookout. Casey needs to focus on the path; Rick needs to focus on Billy. This means Michael is in charge of making sure nothing stops their progress.

Since he’s done such a great job of that so far on this mission.

And yet, even with this responsibility, there’s only so much he can do. His visual sweeps only occupy so much of his attention, leaving him far too much time and energy to think.

Michael thrives in plotting; he wants to fall apart when he’s thinking.

There’s a difference, such an important difference. Plotting is with purpose; thinking is rehashing the inevitable. Plotting is his forte; thinking is his downfall.

And all he can do is think.

Between the mistakes he made leading up to the bust -- the ones that triggered security and initiated the mad chase through the woods -- to the possibilities of what might come next -- a hospital stay and a possibly compromised cover and a recovery for Billy that will be weeks (or months or more).

It’s too much. This is why Michael is a field agent, why he could never sit behind a desk. He wonders if this is what Fay felt like every mission he went on, if all she could do was sit at home and think until he came back.

If so, he would divorced him, too. Michael would do anything to get away from thinking.

He doesn’t have that luxury, though.

More to the point, Billy doesn’t have that luxury.

And that’s everything.

Everything that matters anyway.

So Michael scans the forest, keeps his eyes keen, focuses his mind and keeps going.

-o-

Rick’s never been one for small talk.

In all honesty, he’s just never had the time for it. Growing up, he always had better things to do. Work or training, studying or researching: with so much on the schedule, Rick found things like chit chat weren’t even on his radar.

He’s capable of it, of course. In fact, he can be damn good at it, if he’s being blunt about things. But he’d be a liar if he said that talking about the weather didn’t aggravate him slightly.

It’s not Rick’s aversion to small talk, however, that’s making this so difficult. Talking about weather, sports, the hassles of airline travel -- it’s all gravy to Rick right now.

Keeping a cheery face while Billy’s laid out on a stretcher, being upbeat while Billy’s bleeding and in pain -- well, that makes everything else look easy in comparison.

That doesn’t stop Rick from doing his best, though. The night he got shot in South America is hazy -- what with the pain and the blood loss -- but he remembers Billy’s steadfast presence. He remembers being told he was fine and listening to a story about wild dogs.

In retrospect, he doesn’t totally understand what the point of all that was, but he remembers how reassuring it felt. How just for a moment, there was something beyond the pain. Billy’s banter didn’t necessarily save his life, but it eased Rick’s pain, and that still means something to Rick.

Now that the tables have turned, it’s Rick’s chance to return the favor. He wonders absently if it was this hard for Billy. He’ll have to ask him when this is over, when Billy is better, when they’re out of these woods.

Rick doesn’t let his mind continue on that train of thought. Instead, he smiles and refocuses his efforts.

“I don’t see it,” he says, picking up the conversation from where he’d stalled to contemplate. He looks down, meets Billy’s eyes. “I don’t think Higgins is a cat person.”

Below, Billy scoffs. “In his younger years, perhaps not,” he says, not missing a beat in their assessment of Higgins' personal life. “But a man with the clandestine oversight such as that does not have time for a high maintenance pet such as a dog.”

“What makes you think he has pets at all?” Rick asks, and he sounds intent because on some level he is curious. Behind him, Michael is silent. In front, Rick can see Casey’s tense shoulders as he leads them on. If they’re inclined to join the conversation, they’ve given no hint of it, and Rick realizes that keeping Billy comfortable and preoccupied a responsibility that has fallen to him.

However, to Billy’s credit, though weaker than normal, his topic selection for small talk was immensely better than most healthy people’s.

Billy’s brow creases. “That amount of intelligence and responsibility is a heavy load,” he says. “Even if he has read his wife in, he needs someone to talk to that cannot be compromised. I would wager a four-legged companion is the very definition of sanity in such a position.”

There’s actually logic to that. Strained logic, perhaps, but considering Billy’s condition, Rick’s vaguely impressed. “So, when you get to be in that position, what kind of pet are you going to invest in?” Rick prompts.

A smile ghosts across Billy’s lips. “What makes you think I’d want such a thing?”

Rick considers this. “You’ll never leave the field?”

Billy raises his eyebrows. “You say that like you might.”

“I haven’t thought about it much,” Rick says, shrugging slightly. He has to readjust his grip on the poles but doesn’t slow down as Casey maintains a fast clip. “But I guess there might come a time when I’d consider moving up the food chain.”

This almost seems to surprise Billy. “You think you could leave the field behind, then?”

Rick shrugs again. “Maybe,” he says. “Down the road.”

Billy shakes his head, pursing his lips slightly. “Real field operatives can never leave it behind,” he says. “It’s in their blood, their very DNA. Those in management are important and noble in their own right, but a spy -- those who live their lives undercover and veiled in lies -- is a solitary sort. It's heroes work, through and through, because spies don’t just give up a little bit; they give up everything.”

It’s more serious than Rick anticipates, with more depth than he’s ready for. Their conversations have been light over the last half hour, punctuated with quips and jokes and ridiculous stories. But this -- this is something more.

Rick keeps his eyes on Billy, and for a second, the pain leaves Billy’s face open. There’s something more to the Scotsman now, a glimpse of what he normally keeps so close to the chest. It occurs to Rick that Billy’s more secretive than the rest of them -- it had taken more than a little cajoling to convince him to share a girl’s name in North Korea -- and Rick feels like it’s a glimpse of Billy he’s lucky to see.

Of course, Rick hates that Billy has to be in this much pain to show it.

Still, this isn’t about what Rick can gain; it’s about Billy.

Forcing a smile, Rick says, “Spoken like a true spy.”

“Touche,” Billy agrees, eyes twinkling a bit through the pain. “And I’d say it takes one to know one.”

“Honestly,” Rick says, leaning his head forward in confidentiality, “sometimes I feel like I’ve still got a lot to learn. I mean, I know I’m ready to be the guy, but the things you all do -- I don’t know.” He cuts off, shaking his head. These are things he doesn’t admit, but Billy’s vulnerability brings out his own. “I’m not always sure I’m there yet.”

“Rubbish,” Billy says flatly, and Rick is surprised by the sudden tenacity on his pales features. “I told you on the first day that you have the heart of the hero, and I meant it. And heart is the most important thing of all, more than planning or strength or charm. You can build the rest but you can renew a heart that’s lost its vigor.”

There’s something in that -- something even more unexpected -- and as Rick holds Billy’s gaze, he is overwhelmed with the sense that this is something Billy knows from experience. In the tired expression, in the strained features, Rick thinks maybe he can see a hint of Billy’s heart -- somehow broken but still struggling to stay vigorous underneath.

In front of him, Rick can see Casey’s shoulder stiffen. At his back, Michael’s footfalls come harder. There’s a truth there for all of them, for better or for worse.

And if this is the for worse, then Rick has to hold out for the better, too.

Resolved, he looks at Billy steadily even as they traverse the uneven ground. “Well, you would know,” he says, “because you still have it, too.”

There’s a flicker of something genuinely grateful in Billy’s eyes before his face turns in a self-deprecating smile. “That’s flattering of you to say, lad,” he says, voice even weaker than before. “And on account of you, I may be finding it again before it’s too late entirely.”

The depth of the compliment makes Rick want to deny it. The subtle implication of time draws his attention first, though. Adamant, he shakes his head. “It’s not too late,” he says. “Don’t be stupid.”

The seriousness fades from Billy's face as his grin widens tiredly. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” he says reassuringly. “That’s just the excessive pain and blood loss getting the better of me.”

It’s a joke and Billy says it lightly enough, but the situation is too serious for Rick to concede to the humor. Face tight, Rick swallows and shakes his head. “Don’t talk like that,” he says, a little sharp. “This is nothing. Just a drop in the bucket for us, right?”

Billy’s resolve seems to fade and Rick can’t help but notice that the flush in his cheeks is brighter now, the fever clouding his blue eyes. “Course it is,” he says, blinking slowly and his words start to slur a little. A beat passes and he seems to contain a wince before he settles deeper on the stretcher, the meager tension leaving his battered body. “I just need a little rest, is all. Get my strength back.”

The words trail off as Billy’s eyes flutter close. Rick waits -- feels Michael and Casey waiting, too, without any words -- but Billy’s eyes don’t open. His face goes lax, a soft sigh escaping from his parted lips as his strained breathing settles into a deeper rhythm.

Rick waits for a long moment but Billy doesn't move. Doesn’t twitch. Just lays there on the stretcher, face pale and body unmoving. And all Rick can do is stare, eyes burning and knuckles white as he carries Billy’s burden onward.

-o-

It’s all Casey can do to wait for the next leg of the journey to be finished. He probably would have given into his doubts earlier, but the middle portion of the trip had the steepest terrain, and he had been forced to double his focus just to find a path that would keep them from falling and spilling their cargo down the mountainside.

When he finally does pull them to a stop, they’re at a small stream. It might be picturesque but Casey is not inclined to notice such trivialities, especially when there are other pressing concerns to consider.

To point, Billy. The bank of the stream is flat and Martinez helps lower the stretcher down. When settle, Casey turns promptly, looking first to Rick. “Find the canteens and fill them up,” he orders. “We’re running low and it’s always good to have extra on hand.”

Rick nods, moving off to fulfill the request.

Then Casey turns to Michael. “If you can find some spare cloth, you may as well soak it,” he says.

He doesn’t explain why. His meaning is well enough understood; moreover, Billy’s condition speaks for itself.

With that thought, Casey lets himself look at Billy. He’s avoided it, kept his attention on the journey ahead. This has been practical to some degree, but he can't deny that the decision has emotional roots as well.

Fortunately, no one’s asking. They all have other things to do.

Collecting a breath, Casey takes in Billy’s condition at a glance. The wound on his leg is still well covered by the compress Casey has crafted, but the blood has soaked through to the outer later, saturating the fabric of the stretcher as well. That’s perhaps expected, but still not ideal.

Worse still, Billy’s face is flushed now, the brightness of fever full settled in. It’s easy to see the glean of sweat on his face, and Casey can feel the heat without touching him. His eyes are closed now -- he’s been silent for nearly twenty minutes -- but his breathing is accelerated and he whimpers occasionally, suggesting that Billy’s sleep is far from restful.

It seems superfluous, but Casey still runs his hand across Billy’s forehead, pausing his fingers at Billy’s throat to feel for the Scot’s pulse. It’s faster than before, skipping lightly under Casey's touch.

Frowning, Casey moves to the foot again, checking the pulse first. It’s a little hard to find, but there, and the foot is cold to the touch.

The coolness is a stark contrast to the heat from the wound itself, which is radiating through the bandage. He considers undoing the bandage, but he figures it’ll do more harm than good at this point. He doesn’t want to let up the pressure and he knows what he’ll find. Billy’s losing too much blood as it is; there’s no sense in letting more escape.

He sits back, feeling weary, just as Michael comes back. Their team leader settles in next to Billy’s upper body. He has new strips of fabric in his hand -- from his undershirt by the looks of them -- and he carefully places them on Billy’s forehead, making sure the wetness stays clear of Billy’s eyes.

Rick comes back a second later, hesitating before going to his knees next to them. He has two canteens, one in each hand, and he doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.

Casey would attribute this to his inexperience, but in this case, Casey actually can’t blame him.

Because it’s clear that Michael also doesn’t know what to do. He’s sitting there, just as blank, just as useless.

And Casey doesn’t know what to do either. He can hide it better than the rest, but he’s kneeling there, just as impotent.

They don’t know what to do because there’s nothing to do. Billy’s fever is raging, his foot is losing circulation, and if they don’t get out of here soon, Billy won’t get out of here at all.

It’s a sobering fact, and not one Casey is keen to accept. But he deals with reality. Deals with it and overcomes.

Gritting his teeth, he pushes to his feet. “We better move,” he announces definitively.

Rick and Michael are watching him, but don’t say anything.

On his feet, Casey looks ahead. “We’ve got a ways to go yet,” he says. He glances back, scanning over each of them but letting his eyes linger on Billy. “And no time to waste.”

-o-

Billy’s moving.

This, he thinks, is not so unusual. Billy’s spent his life in almost a perpetual state of motion. It drove his mother crazy -- his constant need to move -- and she says that she went gray early just trying to cope with his toddler years. He fared no better for it in school, often earning reprimands, but there was never anything to be done for it.

Billy just likes to move. Even as a child, sitting still seemed preposterous. Not so much impossible as just undesirable. There was always too much to do, to explore, to experience.

And really, Billy thinks his body has a predisposition for such things. He gets this itch -- a twitch that starts in his gut and spreads through his entire body. If he tries to ignore it, it just grows and grows and grows until he simply has to give into his baser impulses.

In some ways, it has served him well. Being good at sports as a child certainly helped him make plenty of good acquaintances (though sometimes he suspects he could never sit still long enough to make really good friends). And he’s always suspected that being on the move not only helped him make more connections and stay in shape, but made him a prime candidate for spying. He moves seamlessly through any situation, and it always seems too natural for others to suspect that he’s eavesdropping and not just expending energy.

(This is a skill; an asset. People train for this stuff; Billy’s lucky. )

It is exhausting, though. All that movement wears him out. He can ignore the strain long enough, but when he crashes, he tends to crash hard.

And he’s crashing now.

No, he’s already crashed, he thinks.

But he’s still moving. It’s a surreal sort of movement and he can’t quite get his head around it as his body seems to move without his consent. It’s almost like floating, though Billy knows logically that he’s never floated before so he really does lack an apt point of comparison.

Still.

He’s moving and he’s exhausted and he’d really rather stop both, if he can.

Problem is, he can’t. Because even with the volition of thought, there’s nothing to be done for it. He just keeps moving and moving, and the more he moves the more tired he feels.

Which is weird, now that he thinks on it. Because he’s moving but it’s not him doing the work. He’s less moving and more being moved and he’s not quite sure if that makes sense to anyone but him.

He thinks about opening his eyes, figuring this entire mess out. Because that’s another reason Billy’s always been on the move: he wants to understand things. He wants answers and if he sits still, there are only questions.

(The questions are bad, the questions are a weakness. He doesn’t ask his mother why he can’t have a dog and he doesn’t ask his mates why they all figured out how to grow up and get settled with a job with normal hours and wives and children and the things Billy doesn’t want.)

But even now that he’s moving there’s still no answers, just questions, and so maybe opening his eyes really wouldn’t matter much anyway.

Then again, it very well could. Because he’s not alone here. This is a distant fact -- not really a revelation but a quiet constant that he doesn’t often acknowledge. That’s another thing with moving; it keeps his attachments few and far between and he tries to tell himself he likes it that way.

(And no, he doesn’t miss his friends back in Scotland or his workmates in London; he doesn’t miss family meals or celebrating Christmas with the whole lot of them; he doesn’t).

But the move to the US is one that’s stuck and no matter how hard he tries to keep moving, the ODS has accepted him as their own. And they’re here now. They’re moving together, and for a second, Billy wonders if they’re floating, too.

This seems unlikely, and Billy knows that floating is probably a bad sign. And he remembers a little bit; remembers the pain and how much it hurt and there’s blood and there’s a mission.

There’s more than that and he knows it. He knows it and the facts are right there, just beyond his consciousness, but he can’t get them. He rages and he fights and it doesn’t make a difference. This is how it is, though. The things Billy fights hardest for are the things he can never get. The things he pushes for most are the things that never change.

(And he doesn’t remember standing in his boss’ office, hearing the reprimand. Doesn’t remember standing so still it hurt, keeping his posture erect and unyielding while he took every word. Doesn’t remember his stiff vocal cords offering the apology that wasn’t accepted. Doesn’t remember being told to leave and not come back. He doesn’t remember the plane ride to America.)

(Funny, though, it felt like floating, then, too.)

Billy thinks maybe he should change this. Maybe he should open his eyes, wake up, stop floating and figure it all out. Maybe this is the most important move yet, in all his life.

(Not just in his life; for his life.)

And he can’t. He wants to move but his body betrays him. He’s hot and he’s cold and his leg burns so hot that it burns up entirely. The heat is darkness and it’s weighted so heavily that he can’t break through.

(He can’t and he never can; he can charm anyone or anything except the things that matter, the things that could make him happy.)

His team is there, though. This matters.

(They haven’t left him yet; they’ve watched him moving so long that they know his movements before he makes them and there’s something scary about that. Comforting, too.)

His team matters.

He trusts them.

(With his life, first; with his heart, next. His mind and his creativity aren’t far behind. He’s still getting to his soul.)

And if he’s moving, they’re moving, and Billy thinks maybe this time it’s okay if they do the work. He trusts they’ll get him where he belongs.

(Wherever that may be; he’s not sure yet. Maybe he’s scared to find out.)

The uncertain certainty is what he has as the moving lulls him back into a restless sleep.

-o-

In Michael’s mind, this is how it goes:

Keep Billy cool and hydrated; move quickly and safely through the woods. Once out of the woods, call for immediate civilian aid. Hold intelligence on his person and accompany his team to the hospital. Once Billy is treated, make contact with Langley on a secure phone to update their progress. Organize a meet with a local agent and transfer intelligence back to Langley. Support team while Billy recuperates. After transfer back to the States, work back into normal routines and missions until Billy is back in the field.

There are some parts missing, of course, and a lot of details to work out, but overall, it seems reasonable enough. Plausible, even.

Mostly, it’s the only option that is both realistic and attainable at this point.

Normally, he’d prefer to plot out the details a little better, work in a few contingencies. And there is some room there for negotiation. If Billy is in good enough condition, they could always call for an immediate extraction; Fay’s not the biggest fan of the ODS, but she’d pull strings for a man in peril, even Billy. That seems unlikely, but their cover stories should hold, especially since a simple accident isn’t likely to warrant any police involvement.

There’s some room for complication with the handing of intelligence, and Michael knows that he will travel back to the States alone if he has to, which isn’t his preference but acceptable if it keeps his men safe and getting the care and rest they need.

He also has a list of reasons for Higgins to convince the man to let them stay, most of which are reasonable and above board, but he’s collected a mental list of the favors he’s yet to call in, and he will, if he has to.

And beyond that, he knows Billy’s prognosis will be variable, and Michael has a list of hospitals in mind for the long haul, too. Ones that specialize in orthopedic trauma and rehabilitation back in the States. If Billy’s condition is that complicated, Michael will make sure he gets the best care, and he knows right where the list of contacts are in the office for Fay to find if it comes to that.

This will work, Michael thinks as he scans the forest, keeping pace with his men. Michael has made a plan, improvised a new way out, and it’ll work.

He’s so intent on this that when they finally break through the edge of the trees to the dirt access road, it’s actually something of a surprise.

Casey stops them abruptly, and they ease Billy down. Michael does an instinctive sweep of the area before pocketing his weapon, shifting uneasily as he turns to his men.

Rick appears to be fretting but Casey is all business as he leans over Billy.

Billy looks bad -- worse than before -- his face haggard with the strain of the injury and his breathing is audibly forced.

In short, Michael’s not going to risk CIA extraction; a flight to the border would be too time consuming. Local assistance is more risky for their jobs but essential for Billy’s well-being.

Which means, it’s time for the next step.

Collecting a breath, Michael sidles in, pulling one of his burn phones out of his pocket. Holding it up, he waits for the signal bar to reassess itself. The last time he checked -- nearly ten minutes ago -- a single bar had flickered on and off.

This time, the bottom bar flicks on and off, then on again. Then, it stays that way.

Michael smiles, and if his satisfaction is grim, it still counts.

“Martinez,” he says, his voice curt and to the point as he holds out the phone. “I want you to call for local emergency personnel.”

Rick turns, blinking huge eyes up at him. “But--”

The question is so obvious that Michael doesn’t waste the time to let him ask it. “The basic facts stand,” he says. “We were out hiking, we had an accident. We’re tourists on the vacation from hell.”

Rick doesn’t look like he wants to protest, but he seems shell-shocked enough to hesitate.

Michael softens his stance. “Hikers get hurt in this area all the time,” he says. “Just mention a bear trap and I’m sure they’ll be more concerned about trapping out of season than where we’re really from.”

It’s enough for Martinez to pull himself together. He glances at Billy one more time before taking the phone and getting to his feet. He pulls away, just to the side, and Michael half listens as the operative starts to place his call.

Martinez is learning; a few months ago, Michael is sure they would have had to debate the point a lot more. But Rick cares about Billy, too. Maybe as much as the rest of them.

It’s worth thinking about, but not right now. Right now, the plan dictates that Michael focuses on Billy.

Squatting, Michael looks at Billy more closely. There’s still nothing encouraging in Billy’s pale features and up close, it’s easy to see that Billy’s clothes are soaked with sweat, even as he labors for air.

“How is he?” Michael asks, nodding absently toward the Scot.

Casey is performing the basic checks and he shakes his head. “Bad,” he says, flatly. Sitting back on his heels, Casey meets Michael’s eyes. “Really bad.”

In some ways, this is expected from Casey. Casey’s made a lifestyle of negativity, and if there’s a negative spin, he’s likely to find it and keep spinning until it’s entirely unwound.

More than that, Casey never responds well under this kind of pressure. He’s cool and with it until one of their own is bleeding and then he frets like an amateur.

But this is more than that. Somehow, it’s different.

Casey’s really afraid. His eyes are wide and he’s sweating. “Fever is up,” he says. “Dangerously.”

This seems obvious, but there’s more than that.

“We’re losing him,” Casey reports finally.

The words are plain but their meaning is hard to grasp. Because it has to be an overreaction. Michael is about to say that, about to remind them all that Billy’s survived worse, that they’ll pull through, when Billy’s breath catches.

Michael looks down in time to see Billy’s chest hitch, his breathing hesitating before he gasps violently. Then his entire body goes stiff, back arching off the stretcher.

For a second, they’re all frozen. Rick’s pauses on the phone and Case is poised, ready to help, but doing nothing. Michael’s just watching as Billy’s body trembles in exertion.

Then, the moment crashes, and Billy’s body goes limp and deadly still.

And suddenly, none of Michael’s plans matter anymore.

-o-

After his first day on the job, Billy had said something Rick still couldn’t shake: you traded your soul for the promise of a job.

The thing is, Billy had been right about that. Rick had been willing to do anything for a job. For this job.

The other thing is, he still will. Only he knows what things are worth doing and what things aren’t. He’ll cross different lines -- better lines -- and he’ll make a difference doing the things that need to be done that other people won’t do.

This is what the ODS is all about. This is why Rick is glad he’s here, even if sometimes he doesn’t understand his teammates.

It’s about the job for them, too, though. That’s the common ground that matters, that’s united them, even from the very beginning.

Right now, his job is to call for help.

And somehow, it’s one of the most important jobs Rick’s ever had.

His can hardly feel his fingers as he opens the phone Michael gave him. It’s a testament to his training that he remembers the digits. As it rings, he steps away from his teammates, turning toward the new open space around them as he takes a breath.

When an operator answers, it’s actually simple to keep his cover. Because the relevant facts are the ones that require no subterfuge. There’s a simple need now -- and it has nothing to do with espionage or state secrets.

Swallowing hard, Rick answers honestly when he’s asked what’s wrong. “We need an ambulance,” he says. “Our friend stepped on a bear trap while hiking.”

It sounds straightforward, and essentially, it is straightforward. There are circumstantial details but ultimately that’s not what this is about. This is about Billy, in need of help.

Rick tells himself that, again and again. He can get Billy the help he needs. It’s a job he can do. One he will do.

From there, relaying the information is easy and Rick finds himself calming. This is his job, after all. And from the beginning, that’s what it’s been about. Doing his job.

He doesn’t have to sell his soul but he has to sacrifice everything else, just like his team. And if they can do it, he can do it.

There is strength in this thought; certainty in the revelation. Rick finds his center and holds it steady as the woman tells him help is on the way.

And for a moment, Rick thinks, it’s going to be okay.

Until he hears the curse from behind him.

He turns in time to see Casey leaning over Billy, fingers pressed to his throat. Billy’s limp on the ground and Michael looks frozen.

On the other end of the line, the woman asks if he needs help starting first aid.

Rick doesn’t answer; can’t answer. There’s no point in answering. Because he needs a lot more help than she could ever give as Casey sits back, face taut and shakes his head. He straightens over Billy’s chest, arms rigid, as Michael moves toward Billy’s head.

Suddenly, the job doesn’t seem important at all, but he’d sell a lot whole more than his soul to get them all out of this in one piece.

It’s a deal he’s willing to make, but this time, he realizes that no one may take him up on it.

-o-

It’s a simple matter of biology.

The body needs blood to pump in order to properly oxygenate all organs so they can sustain normal functions. When a significant amount of blood is lost, this process is strained, resulting in slow degradation of the bodily functions. If left unchecked, systems will simply shut down and death will result.

Infection is when a foreign agent enters the body, thus eliciting a response from the immune system. Fever, in essence, is a means of combating the enemy in an attempt to rid the body of the foreign cells. However, when the foreign agent is too strong, the body’s defense mechanisms can essentially lead to its own destruction through accompanying impact on internal functions.

Blood loss and infection, when paired together, are a volatile combination. Blood circulation is necessary to fight the infection and without a sufficient supply, the weight of infection can be too much.

Not to mention the fact that any kind of trauma can have unprecedented impact on the body and it is entirely possible that damage to an otherwise non-fatal region can result in death when blood loss, infection, and ongoing pain are real factors.

In short, Billy's crash isn’t actually a surprise.

Still, as Casey presses down on Billy’s chest, it’s hard to say he saw this coming. He had thought they had time. He had believed they could hold off the complications long enough.

Casey had been wrong.

Heart pounding, sweat drenching his shirt, Casey pushes and pushes and pushes because he’d been wrong.

It’s not his fault that this happened -- he knows that on some level, even if he doesn’t quite believe it -- but in some ways, it really is. He should have gotten them out faster. He should have treated Billy better. The fact that he had no medical supplies and the trek was inevitable is not relevant.

Then again, guilt isn’t relevant either. Nothing is relevant. Just getting Billy back -- that’s what matters -- that’s all that matters.

He goes through the motions swiftly and expertly. His compressions are perfect, pressing down the right depth, his pace vigorous. He only pauses for Michael to offer two breaths before he starts again.

Beneath him, Billy is limp. He only moves when Casey moves and his face is blank. Casey’s trying to reverse the impossible and he hates that it actually does feel impossible.

He knows that’s not true. He knows CPR is a matter of biology as well. Keep the heart pumping, keep the blood circulating, and life can be sustained and restored.

It can happen.

It will.

Casey will accept nothing less.

Breathing hard, Casey keeps pressing, keeps working. His arms ache, his fingers protest, but he barely feels it. Sweat drips in his eyes, but he ignores it. He can’t fail. Not now, not with Billy.

Time is lost in this. Casey exists outside reality because reality is something he cannot abide right now. He is entirely in this moment, entirely in this action, and he stays there doggedly until someone pulls him away.

At first, Casey tries to fight. He flails, lashing out, and it’s not until Rick says, “It’s the EMTs, it’s the EMTs,” that Casey finally understands.

He blinks and reality comes back. He allows himself to be pulled back, Rick’s arms still restraining him even as the fight drains from his body. Instead, he watches as the EMTs bend over Billy, ripping his shirt open. Watches as they check Billy’s vitals, hookup their machines. Watches as Billy doesn’t breathe.

Watches.

And hopes.

Usually Casey’s not one for such weaknesses but if hope is the last resort of a desperate man then it’s really all he has left.

-o-

Billy's life has always been in something of a perpetual state of flux. As a child, he’d never sat still and in college, he’d found himself changing his course of study almost more often than he remembered to change his clothes. Then there’d been training to serve Queen and Country and the years of nonstop travel that had ensued. He’s always been flitting from one place to the next, and never looking back.

It’s the same in the CIA, though it’s not so much that he doesn’t want to look back as it is that there’s nothing left to look back at. And he’s still flying free, as it were, mission to mission, a string of friendly faces and pretty figures in his wake. He doesn’t break their hearts because he never lets himself take such precious things to begin with.

This is why Billy rents a motel room and refuses to sign a lease. This is why he doesn’t share the important details of his life with anyone -- the ones that make him feel. He’s transient by nature; inherently destined to keep on going from one spot to the next.

And now, things are different.

They’ve been different for a while, if he’s honest. Different since Michael accepted him onto his team, treated him as one of his own, let him do a job without a constant reminder of the failures he’d left behind.

Billy’s tried hard to keep himself apart -- he doesn’t tell stories that matter, he doesn’t let them too close -- but it’s different with them. They’re something he doesn’t want to lose. Something he’s afraid of leaving behind.

This is a dangerous thing, and though he’s pretended long and hard against it, it’s catching up with him now.

Because he’s hurt and he’s dying and he doesn’t want to leave.

And the more he doesn’t want to leave, the more he knows he’ll have no choice in the matter.

He has no choice.

His body is heavy but his spirit is light. He’s rising above it, leaving it behind. The pain is fading, falling away, and he feels it go with something of regret. He’d hold onto it -- hold onto anything -- just to stay.

It doesn’t matter what he wants. It doesn’t matter what he does or how hard he tries.

He sees it all so clearly now. Sees his mates, sees Casey pushing harder than he ever has, sees Michael with a scared look that seems so foreign on his face. Sees Rick standing in shock.

Sees himself, lying on the ground. He’s not moving. He’s pale and limp and Billy understands.

Understands that things are different. Last time he got comfortable, it cost him his country. This time, it will cost him his life.

He doesn’t know for sure what comes next but he knows what he’ll leave behind. And dying is the easy part, he figures. It’s going on in the aftermath that’s hard, he knows from experience.

This matters, these things are important, but Billy can’t hold onto them more than he can hold onto his consciousness or his life.

And he thinks of his mum in Scotland, his mates in London. He thinks of the mission that ended his career and the one that could end his life. He thinks of Olivia Drummond and Carson Simms. He thinks of Michael and Casey and Rick and the thoughts are growing jumbled and frantic, building and spinning.

Then, he just doesn’t think at all.

-o-

It’s a shock to lose Billy.

Michael is sitting there, watching Casey do his work. He’s about to say something reassuring, about to issue some kind of order to help things feel more normal when Billy just dies.

He dies.

In theory, it’s a simple idea. The strain of injury, the rise of fever, the loss of blood: Billy’s been fighting an uphill battle to stay with them and, given the distance they’ve traveled and the lack of medical treatment they’ve been able to provide, it’s really never been out of the realm of possibility.

But this is Billy. This is one of their team. And in this, it’s the most complicated thing in the world and there’s no simple way to accept it.

In fact, as far as Michael’s concerned, there’s no way to accept it at all.

So when Casey lines himself up to start CPR, Michael is just a movement behind, and they don’t need to communicate to work perfectly in tandem.

Casey presses Billy’s chest; Michael counts the compressions and pinches Billy’s nose, blowing in two breaths when Casey pauses. Billy’s face is still warm and fever-flushed, and Michael doesn’t let himself think about it any more than that.

This is a contingency he’s never explicitly planned for, but one they all seem to work to enact. Casey’s flawless in his execution of deep, even compressions and Rick is standing, phone still in hand with emergency personnel on the way. Michael breathes deep breaths, watches Billy’s chest rise, and the cycle starts again.

Michael has lost people in the field before. He’s had assets get killed, friends go missing. He’s seen some injured into a desk job and others lose their edge in the inevitable slide to retirement. He’s left one in a burning building and none of it’s been easy.

This is what they do: put their lives on the line for their country. It’s not just lip service, it’s the real thing. Michael knows that.

As he breathes for Billy, as Casey makes his heart beat, that doesn’t make it easier.

This is why Michael’s a paranoid bastard. This is why Michael never gave Fay the space she needed. Because Michael’s felt control slip through his fingers before and it’s always a prelude to disaster. It’s blood on his hands, warm skin beneath his touch, his heart pounding and stomach turning and nothing else and everything else.

Billy needs to breathe like Michael needs to be in control and he can fix this, he has to fix this.

He doesn’t see the medics arrive but when they pull him back, the flashing lights register and Rick is keeping Casey at bay. Billy’s shirt is cut away and the Scotsman isn’t moving and Michael feels himself slipping.

The AED appears; the pad are pressed into the exposed surface of Billy’s chest. Michael’s heart catches, his breathing stills, and he’s out of contingencies. He’s out of plans. What comes next, Michael doesn’t want to know, and his stomach clenches in what Michael can only know as fear.

The moment hovers. Billy’s body tenses, then goes lax.

It’s a shock to lose Billy and it’s a shock to bring him back. The medics seem pleased by this, and before Michael can move, they have Billy on a real stretcher, strapped down and strung up to IVs. One of them is squeezing air into Billy’s mouth and the other is pulling the gurney on the uneven ground.

Billy’s lost in the flurry and the equipment and Michael has Billy back but as the ambulance pulls away, he still feels like he’s lost him all the same.

Rick is still holding Casey back even though the older man has stopped fighting. Michael looks at them and remembers his responsibility -- not just to Billy, but to them.

He’s just breathed for Billy, watched his friend die and come back; the rest should be easy.

Well, easier.

Stiffly, Michael presses his lips together and rallies the strength he doesn’t have left. Walking to the stretcher, he bends over and picks up his pack, ignoring the patch of blood on the torn fabric of the stretcher. Shouldering his pack, he looks at his men. “Come on,” he says.

They look at him, Casey with disdain, Rick with shock.

“If we’re going to be there when Billy wakes up, we need to move,” he says, and he says it with confidence. The words are chosen carefully, when not if, and he makes this about Billy because that’s what they need.

That’s what they all need.

Michael lives in a world of truth and secrets, and this is different but really the same.

He nods toward the access road. “The car should be just up that way,” he says, because it’s simple even when it doesn’t feel that way.

They still look shell-shocked, like they want to protest, but Michael’s orders are too sure, and as he steps beyond them, Michael knows they’re following without looking back.

-o-

This isn’t how Rick thinks it should go.

As a spy, he’s used to having the upper hand. Spies who don’t have such an advantage are far too vulnerable, and Rick knows that from experience. More than that, as a member of the ODS, he’s used to circumventing whatever situation he's in to his own gain.

The problem is, of course, there’s nothing he can circumvent to make Billy better. There isn’t even anything he can do to improve his situation. He’s got no more rights than a civilian here; and worse, he’s not even a native of this country. He has no rights, no advantages, nothing. All he can do is make a phone call and let someone else do the work.

He can’t even ride in the ambulance or make the twenty minute jog back to their car go any faster.

It’s a strange thing -- this impotence. Rick’s felt it before, of course. Especially since joining the ODS. It’s that feeling he got when the man in the car spoke Russian his first day on the job. It’s the feeling he got when he woke up from a stupor and found himself being held captive. It’s that feeling that could only be assuaged by knowing his team could get him out.

But for once, they have no recourse.

They’re just as helpless as he is.

Finding the hospital takes some time. They've done their prep work in case of emergencies, but they’re still looking for a single building in an unfamiliar city. When they get there, they don’t get any farther than the admit desk, where their impotence takes the form of a squat Canadian woman telling them she simply can’t help him.

“He was just brought in,” Michael says, and he still sounds reasonable, which is remarkable, because Rick feels anything but.

The woman is no remotely phased by his statement. “You’re going to have to sit in the waiting room,” she says, barely looking up from her paperwork.

“We just want to know if he’s still in the ER,” Michael says.

“We’re not at liberty to disclose patient information to anyone that is not the next of kin,” she says, almost sounding bored.

Michael takes a breath, bowing his head. He's looking for self-control, for strength.

He doesn’t find it; at least not before Casey interjects. “We don’t have time for your bureaucracy,” he snaps. “This is a matter of life and death.”

She looks up, clearly bored. “This is a hospital,” she says. “Life and death is a given.”

It’s a cheeky answer and surprisingly inconsiderate and Rick’s debating whether he should go after her himself or restrain Casey from making the effort.

Because this is about Billy and they’re standing in a waiting room and the only thing between them and answers is a woman who doesn’t care.

She doesn’t care, and Rick cares so much that it hurts.

“Look,” Rick says, leaning forward. He cuts Casey off, positioning himself in front of the other man purposefully. “We were there with him when he was hurt. We carried him out of the woods and brought him back to life. We just want to know where he is.”

He says it simply and lets the emotion in his voice do most of the work. He’s aware of the boyishness of his looks and how powerful that can be, especially when dealing with older women. He’s not a charmer -- not like Billy, but Billy’s not here -- but he knows his assets and he knows how to play them.

She holds his gaze for a moment, then shakes her head. “Sorry,” she says. “You’ll have to wait.”

It’s so callous that Rick almost snaps. Almost reaches over the admit desk and grabs her. Because this has been a long mission and this has been a bad mission and Billy just died and Rick suddenly knows how Casey must feel every day of his life.

Michael is the one who grabs his arm, although Rick’s not sure it’ll be enough. He’s about to push ahead anyway when a voice says, “Are you Michael, Casey, and Rick?”

It takes a lot moment for Rick to realize what was just asked.

“Yes,” Michael says, clearly processing things faster than Rick. “That’s us.”

The new voice is from a younger woman -- a nurse by the looks of her. She looks tired and more than a little harried, even as she forces a smile. “Mr. Collins is asking for you.”

There’s a lot of responses to this. The first is petty and smug, because the admit nurse is still sitting there, somewhat gobsmacked by this turn of events. But mostly, it’s relief, because this is news about Billy. If Billy is asking for them, then Billy’s alive.

Billy’s alive.

“If you’ll follow me,” she says, nodding back toward the examination rooms. “You’ll only have a few minutes before we transfer him up to surgery.”

They don’t need any more of an invitation. As she leads the way, they all fall into line, and if Rick turns his nose up at the pudgy woman behind the desk, it’s entirely coincidence.

His smugness fades sharply when they’re led into the examination room. It’s more than a bit of a mess, with opened packages and trays moved around. Rick’s so distracted by the clutter that it takes him a while to see Billy.

He’s stretched out on the examination table, which is angled just slightly upward at his feet. His clothes are gone now and he’s been covered with a hurried assortment of blankets about his waist. His chest is bare, showing the electrodes pressed down, and his leg is exposed and heavily bandaged, the bulky layers of gauze hiding the grotesque wound underneath.

There are a pair of IVs, and one is dripping a clear fluid Rick guesses is saline while the other is delivering blood. The heart monitor is beeping, the rhythm steady if too fast. The oxygen mask obscures his face, the intermittent fogging another testament to Billy’s fight for life. There are other instruments -- things Rick vaguely recognizes but can’t bring himself to place -- and it all makes Rick almost want to run out just as fast as he came in.

Because he’s good at his job and he’s trained for everything, but this--

It’s almost too much.

He’s been afraid before, but never like this.

Never like this.

The desire to bolt is strong, but then he notices that Billy’s eyes are open and searching. Michael doesn’t hesitate to step forward, Casey not even a step behind. Michael’s smile is bold, undaunted, and Casey grimace of distaste looks annoyed and not scared.

“Hey,” Michael says and he manages to keep his voice soft while sounding entirely conversational.

Billy smiles somewhat, though the motion is hindered by the mask. One of his hands goes up, weakly reaching for the mask but Michael swiftly catches it, gently pinning it back down to Billy’s side.

“We might want to listen to the doctors on this one,” Michael advises. “Just to keep our cover.”

“And with the socialized medical system, if you question you may get compromised care,” Casey says. “We don’t have time to wait eight months for a MRI because you pissed the doctors off.”

Billy doesn’t argue, but Rick thinks it’s a good sign. Which is good, as far as Rick’s concerned, because it’s really about the only good sign. Billy’s eyes are open but clouded and even with the medical intervention, he seems to be having trouble breathing.

Regardless, he seems like he wants to speak, entire body tensing as his lips move. At first, nothing comes out, but Billy swallows with difficulty and this time, they all lean closer to hear.

“Was worried,” he says, voice quiet and hard to hear over the flow of oxygen.

Michael smirks. “You’re the one in the hospital.”

The wryness seems lost on Billy, whose eyes dart from one to the next earnestly. “Needed to tell you,” he says, breathing hitching.

Behind him, the heart monitor skips a beat and Rick feels himself tense.

Billy presses on, gaze not wavering. “Thank you,” he rasps, his entire body almost trembling with the effort.

It’s so hard to hear that Rick actually scoffs. Michael and Casey look at him, as though they’d forgotten he was there.

Billy’s eyes flicker to him and settle. “Couldn’t have gotten this far,” he says, pausing to gasp. “Not without....you.”

This is like Billy, Rick knows. He’s the kind of guy to offer reassurances even when there is no hope and over time, Rick’s learned to take most of what he says with a grain of salt.

And seeing Billy now, lying on that gurney, struggling to breathe, Rick knows to doubt Billy now. Not that the Scot isn’t grateful, but that this is as final as he’s making it sound. Because it sounds like amends; it sounds like goodbye.

Michael moves closer, a hand on Billy’s arm. “And we’ll be here for the rest,” he promises.

“Even if I hate hospitals,” Casey adds.

Rick wants to add something but he doesn’t know what and ultimately, he doesn’t get the chance.

Billy’s smile holds but his eyes start to close. This would seem reasonable -- with the blood loss and the fever, and now, the drugs -- but when an alarm sounds, it seems anything but.

Michael and Casey step back, eyes going to the equipment, looking for answers. But Rick can’t take his eyes off Billy.

His pale features are slack again, still blushed with a fever that sweats upon his brow. He looks smaller than he should on the gurney, dwarfed by the equipment and his unnatural stillness.

This isn’t how it should go, Rick thinks, not for the first time today. He’s impotent again, helpless and hopeless.

He’s still watching Billy when the nurse comes back in, when another nurse behind her pages the doctor.

Michael is asking questions; Casey is demanding answers. Rick just stares, shocked and stiff. No one pays any attention to them, but he hears the medical chatter, discerning it like he would any foreign language in the field.

“We need to get his volume up--”

“His pressure is tanking--”

“Heart rate is elevated--”

“His fever's spiking--”

When the doctor comes, he gives Rick, Michael, and Casey a single look. “Get them out of here,” he says.

Michael is mounting a protest while Casey barely holds back his rage. A nurse is trying to explain it to them, but Rick’s still listening to the doctor as he bends over Billy and frowns. “We need to redline him to the OR before his vitals crash completely,” he says. “One of the clamps in his leg must of blown. Have you called ortho?”

The chatter continues. Michael is being forcibly pushed back. Casey is swearing. Billy’s not moving, still as death, and there’s nothing Rick can do.

There’s nothing.

It’s overwhelming, and Rick’s never felt quite this useless before. Never felt quite this panicked before. But he can’t catch his breath, he can’t get his bearings. He’s lost in the woods, he’s in the car with a Russian, he’s shot in the leg in South America.

And there’s no one to pull him out.

For the first time in Rick’s CIA career, he does what he probably should have done that first day in Higgins’ office, and leaves.

He’s out the door before he realizes that he’s moving and he’s to the exit by the time he realizes what he’s doing.

Then he’s outside and breathing, deep, long, desperate breaths, and it’s only then that he realizes that he’s crying.

It’s weak and it’s childish and Rick can’t help it.

This breaks him -- and the thought of Billy looking like that breaks him more -- and he lets the sobs come as he surrenders to the futility of it all.

Part Four

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: December 21st, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)
Loved the whole thing!

Need I say that I loved every moment of this chapter, the dialogue exchange which seems so pedestrian under the stressful circumstances and yet seems so natural like Billy without having been told anything can ascertain that he has an infection, but the beauty of the moment is between Rick and Billy about doing the work. It's so thud-worthy as to make me sigh:

“Honestly,” Rick says, leaning his head forward in confidentiality, “sometimes I feel like I’ve still got a lot to learn. I mean, I know I’m ready to be the guy, but the things you all do -- I don’t know.” He cuts off, shaking his head. These are things he doesn’t admit, but Billy’s vulnerability brings out his own. “I’m not always sure I’m there yet.”

“Rubbish,” Billy says flatly, and Rick is surprised by the sudden tenacity on his pales features. “I told you on the first day that you have the heart of the hero, and I meant it. And heart is the most important thing of all, more than planning or strength or charm. You can build the rest but you can renew a heart that’s lost its vigor.”

There’s something in that -- something even more unexpected -- and as Rick holds Billy’s gaze, he is overwhelmed with the sense that this is something Billy knows from experience. In the tired expression, in the strained features, Rick thinks maybe he can see a hint of Billy’s heart -- somehow broken but still struggling to stay vigorous underneath.

Then this DESTROYS ME in the best way possible:


Regardless, he seems like he wants to speak, entire body tensing as his lips move. At first, nothing comes out, but Billy swallows with difficulty and this time, they all lean closer to hear.

“Was worried,” he says, voice quiet and hard to hear over the flow of oxygen.

Michael smirks. “You’re the one in the hospital.”

The wryness seems lost on Billy, whose eyes dart from one to the next earnestly. “Needed to tell you,” he says, breathing hitching.

Behind him, the heart monitor skips a beat and Rick feels himself tense.

Billy presses on, gaze not wavering. “Thank you,” he rasps, his entire body almost trembling with the effort.

It’s so hard to hear that Rick actually scoffs. Michael and Casey look at him, as though they’d forgotten he was there.

Billy’s eyes flicker to him and settle. “Couldn’t have gotten this far,” he says, pausing to gasp. “Not without....you.”

This is like Billy, Rick knows. He’s the kind of guy to offer reassurances even when there is no hope and over time, Rick’s learned to take most of what he says with a grain of salt.

And seeing Billy now, lying on that gurney, struggling to breathe, Rick knows to doubt Billy now. Not that the Scot isn’t grateful, but that this is as final as he’s making it sound. Because it sounds like amends; it sounds like goodbye.

-*SOB!!!!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Loved the whole thing!
billy watches

Heh, I have to admit that normally I wouldn't be quite so explicit with the hurt and the angst but for you, I pulled out all the stops. And it was so much fun! Honestly, I can't remember the last fic that I enjoyed writing quite this much. I'm so thrilled to have someone to share the depths of angst and wallowing with!

And now we just need James to get another series and FAST so we can maybe someday see something similar on screen!

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