?

Log in

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

Chaos fic: Lost and Found (4/4)

December 17th, 2012 (07:10 am)
cynical

feeling: cynical

A/N: Thanks again to postfallen for her beta work, and thanks also to those who read and reviewed :)

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR



PART FOUR

The ride over is long.

Michael is stone-faced in the driver’s seat. Casey’s taut next to him. In the back, Rick forgoes his seat belt and sits closer, wetting his lips as his nerves mount. “So maybe you should tell me the plan,” Rick suggests.

Casey looks to Michael, who shrugs. Casey sighs and looks back at Rick. “It’s really very simple,” he says.

“Like what?” Rick asks.

“We’ll park a few miles out, just out of their security range,” Michael explains.

“And we’ll take the last bit by foot, staying as low as possible to put off any altercation as long as we can,” Casey says.

Rick nods readily. “Sounds good,” he says. “Then what?”

This time, Casey doesn’t speak.

Michael purses his lips, seeming to search for a way to say it. Finally, he simply states, “We go get Billy.”

Rick waits. When there’s nothing more, he frowns. “That’s it?”

“Were you expecting a doctoral thesis?” Casey snipes. “We’re sort of running low on options at this point. A simple in and out extraction is no longer in the cards. If they already know they’ve been breeched, then a little extra fireworks isn’t going to put a dent in our overall mission.”

Rick frowns. “So, I don’t think I understand--”

Michael sighs. “We take the back entrance, which is less fortified. If luck is on our side, we should be able to down the guards without inciting a firestorm and alerting the rest of the base,” he explains. “We’ll go in with stealth as long as we can.”

“And when we can’t?” Rick asks.

“We’ll shoot our way through,” Casey says. “Simple but still very effective.”

For a second, all Rick can do is look at them. The unwavering commitment in Michael’s face as he sits rigidly in the seat, both hands on the wheel. Casey’s detached candor as he holds a gun in his lap and keeps his eyes out across the savanna in front of them.

Rick knows that Michael and Casey aren’t naive. He knows that they know the risks better than he does. But they don’t have any hesitations. Whatever doubts they harbor, they’re willing to live with them because the bigger picture is what matters.

The bigger picture matters.

The fact is they’ll get Billy out. They’ll get Billy out or die trying.

In the end, that’s the only plan that matters.

“So, no questions?” Casey asks finally.

Rick just shakes his head. “Simple but effective,” he says finding his voice strong and sure. “Works for me.”

-o-

It’s hard to tell if he’s still alive or not.

Billy seems to be breathing, but at this point, he’s not so sure. The pain has exceeded his limitations, pitching violently before settling into a pervasive numbness.

Voices, movement, sensation – it all blurs together and fades. It doesn’t mean anything. Billy’s not sure he means anything. His body is broken, his blood is spilt, and his soul seems to be dissipating into the nothingness that follows.

He’s still hanging – at least, he doesn’t remember being moved. Someone lifts his head and Billy ignores it until his eyelid is peeled back and a bright light floods his senses.

It’s so unexpected – so vibrant – that he finches.

Behind the light, someone smirks. “I have found you to be worthless after all, my friend,” the voice says.

Billy wants to shut his eyes but finds he can’t.

“But I have found you to be quite entertaining through this process,” the voice continues, but then the smirk turns condescending, pulled down at the sides. “At least until the meager end. I must say, I expected more at this point.”

It’s a taunt, and one Billy might feel like a stinging barb were he not barely clinging to consciousness.

As it is, he can only hang there, staring against his will as his brain struggles to match the speaking voice with the lips that move in front of him.

The face frowns, then, and a hand reaches up. One finger is licked and it’s brought closer to Billy, scrubbing purposefully at a dried patch of blood on Billy’s face. “Pity,” the voice says with what almost sounds like genuine regret. “We had such a spectacular start. I’m afraid your ending will be far less noteworthy.”

That’s the story of Billy’s life, it seems. Glorious beginnings and burnt out ends. Such great prospects but they never pan out.

With that, Billy’s head is dropped and he can’t stop it from falling. Instead, he focuses his effort on breathing – ragged, struggling breaths that remind him that he is still fighting.

Still, there’s the sound of footsteps, moving away. “Watch him until he dies,” comes the order. “And please note the time of such events. We are taking bets.”

The footsteps resume and fade. The door closes. Billy hears it lock.

Somewhere, the guard left in the room shuffles his feet.

Billy hangs. Eyes closed. Breathing in, breathing out.

There’s nothing else. Nothing else.

Nothing else to fight for. Nothing else to struggle against. Nothing except the slow, painful fade of death.

-o-

It’s not much of a plan, but their execution has never been more effective or efficient.

They take down the perimeter guards with ease, Michael knocking out the security camera with one long range shot. Getting inside is just as easy, and they don’t make a noise as they move through the halls with ceaseless stealth. Guards go down, one after another. Rick doesn’t look them in the eyes – doesn’t care to. They don’t use bullets – but Casey doesn’t need bullets – and Michael and Rick follow him with zip ties to clean up the mess.

Rick’s always known the ODS to be good – but he’s never known them to be this good. Then again, they’ve never had a cause so worth fighting for.

As they breech the interior, Casey yields, looking to Rick. Rick nods without having to be asked the question and soundlessly takes point, moving them in the direction of the cells where they’d been held. Rick remembers it vividly and tracing the path backward is frighteningly natural.

But Rick can’t forget. Couldn’t forget. It doesn’t matter how long he spent there; what matters is what happened to him while he was here. What happened to Billy.

What’s still happening to Billy.

When they round the corner toward the cells, there’s a new guard on duty. It’s possible to try hand to hand, but Rick doesn’t want to bother.

Hell, there’s no reason to bother. The guard may be different than before, but these are the people who captured and imprisoned him. Who beat Billy…

Rick fires a single shot, straight to the chest.

The guard goes down hard, sprawling on the cement. Rick moves forward, gun still aimed as he approaches. Michael and Casey fall in fast behind him, Casey moving to disarm while Michael keeps watch.

Rick takes the keys from Casey, who has pulled them along with the gun from the guard. Rick unlocks the door and holds his breath as he looks inside.

He’s not sure what he expects – Billy curled up in a ball, Billy sprawled lifelessly, Billy grinning up at him saying, “Just about time.”

But what he sees is--

Nothing.

The cell is empty.

Rick’s heart stutters. The drain is there. An empty bottle of water. But no Billy.

No Billy.

Blinking hard, Rick pulls out. He ignores the look Michael gives him, grabbing Casey and pushing him out of the way. Then he leans over, grabbing the guard by his shirt and shaking him forcefully.

“Where is he?” Rick demands, and he can feel the emotions boiling beneath the surface. He can barely hold onto his fear and so he gives into his rage instead.

The guard shakes his head.

Rick jerks him again. “Where is he?” he says again, more forcefully now. He doesn’t care who hears him – doesn’t even think about it. He just wants — just needs — this answer.

The guard shakes his head then grins. His teeth are bloody, the color is draining from his face, but he looks up at Rick with delight in his fading eyes. “Too late,” he says in broken English. “You are too late.”

Rick shakes him some more and is going to demand an answer again, but the guard’s body goes slack, his eyes open but unseeing.

It’s a bitter thing – Rick’s not sure he’s ever looked into the eyes of a man he’s shot while he dies before and it’s a cold feeling – but it had to be done. It had to be done and now it might be for nothing.

But it can’t be for nothing.

The cell is empty. There’s no body. That just means Billy’s not here. It doesn’t mean--

It doesn’t have to mean--

You fight because it’s all you have. It’s the one thing you can’t lose; you have to leave it behind.

And Rick has. But not this time.

Not this time.

Resolved, Rick puts the man down and straightens. Michael and Casey are watching him. For a second, Rick’s heart is pounding and his ears are ringing. But he pulls himself together and sets his sights ahead. “Follow me,” he says.

He doesn’t wait to see if Michael and Casey will follow him. He’s already down the hall when their footsteps fall in behind him, and Rick doesn’t slow down as he makes his way toward Billy.

Because Rick will find him. One way or another, he’s sure of that.

-o-

It’s instinct, and Rick doesn’t fight it. This is as sure as he’s ever been, even when he has so little to base it on. This is what he’s meant to do. He’s found his purpose, he’s found what matters. He’s found it.

They take down more guards as they go, and Casey is getting twitchy inn the rear. Still, even when Michael’s face is creased with concern, they don’t slow down, keep Rick’s pace as he moves through the halls.

He remembers this vaguely--these winding corridors--and he focuses on Billy and lets that guide him.

When he turns the corner, he knows he’s found it. There’s a guard on duty--who Rick takes out with a single shot--and another one is roused from inside before Michael downs him. As Michael and Casey flank him, Rick continues with his lead. He steps around the guard’s body and tests the door.

It’s still partially ajar and Rick doesn’t look at the bloodied guard as he steps inside.

The room is one Rick remembers. Cold, bleak walls. A single light, hanging from the ceiling.

But that’s not the only thing hanging.

Because there, in the middle of the room, is Billy. He’s strung up by his wrists, which are manacles attached to a chain that hangs from the ceiling. His battered body hangs loose from there, ribs strained and visible above the tattered remains of his clothing. His long legs brush the ground but offer no support.

It’s a macabre image, and for a second, Rick’s frozen.

Because he’s found Billy and he feels like he’s lost him, all over again.

But Billy’s chest is still moving – jagged inhalations and forced exhalations – and though his head is flopped forward, the blood is still fresh on the cuts through his body. There’s still a pool collecting on the ground near his feet.

It takes effort – more than Rick wants to admit – but he finds the courage inside of him and steps forward. It’s not a long distance, but it seems like miles before Rick’s next to Billy.

Up close, the damage is vivid – worse than Rick remembers. The markings are varied and painful – some made with implements that Rick doesn’t want to imagine. Still, he can recognize knife work and whipping, burns and gouges. There’s almost no skin untouched, and what isn’t marred with blood is covered with bruises, suggesting that the damage goes much deeper than Rick can see right now.

Rick thinks about Billy, enduring the torture. Thinks about how much worse it had to be when Rick escaped. Thinks about Billy suffering for him. Thinks of Billy’s platitudes and speeches of encouragement. Thinks about how Billy stayed strong for Rick and there had been no one here to stay strong for Billy when he needed it most.

Billy suffered here. Alone. What Billy endured--

Rick has to swallow hard against the burn of tears. It’s almost more than he can take, but he’s come this far and he’s not backing out now.

Gently, he swallows his fear and reaches up a hand, pressing two fingers into the side of Billy’s neck.

Billy doesn’t even flinch and his skin is clammy. With Rick’s own heart pounding, it’s hard to feel at first, but the rapid throbbing of Billy’s heart is reassuring. Moving his fingers, Rick uses his hand to lift Billy’s head, looking into his teammate’s face.

Billy’s pallor is wan, the deep circles under his eyes almost impossible to see through the bruising. His nose is clearly broken, blood still dribbling from various cuts. His closed eyelids are even bruised and Rick wishes Billy was awake to see his rescue.

“It’s okay,” Rick says, trying to believe it.

Billy’s expression doesn’t flicker.

“It’s okay,” Rick says again.

Behind him, Michael steps closer. “How is he?” he asks, voice slightly breathless and Rick remembers that finding Billy is only half the battle.

“Bad,” Rick reports, his throat tight. “But alive.”

“Of course he’s alive,” Casey snarks from the doorway where he’s keeping point. “He’s too damn ridiculous to die in a place like this.”

Michael moves even closer, looking up at the chain hanging from the ceiling. “We’ll need to get him down,” he says.

Rick knows that Michael’s right. He knows there are still many practical aspects left to their escape. But somehow, he doesn’t care. He can’t take his eyes off of Billy, can’t stop looking at him, can’t stop hoping to see him wake up.

This is his fault, Rick thinks. This is the cost of Rick’s freedom. Logically, Rick knows it was Billy’s only hope of surviving, but the reality of it still hits hard. Billy took on more than his share for Rick, and Rick left Billy to bear the rest of it. It doesn’t seem fair and even if it’s no one’s fault, it’s still hard to accept.

Michael comes closer still, now with a lock pick. He makes short work of the lock and Rick moves instinctively forward to brace Billy as the manacle is released. With one arm free, Billy’s weight staggers, his body slumping slightly. Rick works to ease the pressure on his other arm as Michael frees it. With both arms free, Billy slumps in earnest, his entire weight crashing downward.

It’s all Rick can do to hold onto him.

Billy’s substantially larger than Rick, and the extra dead weight is unwieldy. Still, Rick works to brace himself, maneuvering Billy’s weight as carefully as he can. It takes some effort – and it’s probably not a pretty picture – but Rick finagles himself downward, easing Billy down with him.

On the ground, Billy’s head flops back, his arms dragging on the ground. Rick moves one hand to cushion Billy’s head as he lowers him all the way to the ground.

“We need to move,” Casey says from the doorway, and if he sounds annoyed, Rick knows it’s only because he’s getting anxious about making a clean getaway.

“Give us a second,” Michael hisses back, stepping around so he’s on the other side of Billy.

On the ground, Billy is gasping, his chest almost heaving for air. His face is slack, but Rick can still see the evidence of pain around his eyes and his mouth, even in unconsciousness.

“We’ll need to carry him--” Michael begins.

Rick nods tightly, eyes still fixed on Billy’s features. “I got him.”

Michael’s face keeps its composure, but there’s still surprise in his eyes. “He’s not exactly a lightweight,” he says cautiously.

Rick looks up, meets Michael’s eyes with intensity. “I got him,” he says again.

This time, Michael hesitates only a second before he nods. “Okay, then,” he says, backing away. “Let’s go.”

Jaw clenched, Rick looks at Billy again. Looks at the broken body, the pale face, and remembers his words. “We’re still fighting,” Rick tells him as he hoists Billy back up. “We won’t stop fighting.”

-o-

It’s not easy work – Billy’s height is a factor and Rick’s never actually carried someone in a fireman’s carry before. It takes most of Rick’s strength just to stay upright, one hand wrapped around Billy’s leg and the other in front of him for balance. By the time they’re down the hall, Rick’s shoulders ache and his body begins to protest, but he doesn’t listen to any of it.

Instead, he stays close to Michael, who has taken up point, and keeps himself aware of Casey, who is sweeping their rear at Rick’s heels.

Their exit is messy – and Rick has no means of cover while he carries Billy through the small skirmishes that mount.

At the exit, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Rick has to stay out of sight, tucking himself against the wall stiffly, keeping Billy out of the line of fire as Michael and Casey lay down alternating rounds of fire. It seems to take forever for it to die down, and when Michael gets on his feet and yells, “Let’s go!” Rick doesn’t think twice

It’s a blind charge, almost – Rick remembers well. They keep going, stepping over bodies and heading to the doors and out.

Rick’s blinking blindly before he realizes that they’re in the open. He doesn’t wait for his eyes to focus as he keeps running, his arm still tight around Billy as he follows Michael and Casey.

When his eyes are working, Rick sees Michael at a car. He’s jerry rigging the steering well even as Casey fires behind them.

Rick ignores both of them, sweeping around to the far side and fumbling for the back door. It’s not locked, and the momentum makes Billy hard to hold on to, but Rick doesn’t fumble as the door swings open.

Bullets ding the car and Rick ducks, almost dumping Billy into the seat. He shoves harder than he wants to, but the need to get out of there is more pressing than anything.

The engine roars to a start and Rick scrambles inside, mindful of Billy as he takes a position in back.

Casey opens the passenger door, still firing while he climbs inside.

Michael doesn’t wait for them to be secured as he starts to pull away and Casey pulls off a few last shots while the car skids wildly toward the exit.

The car crashes through the security gates – engine lurching – but they don’t slow down. The car goes faster – Rick can feel the engine pulling against the metal – and Rick sees the savanna speeding by them.

It’s happening again. Freedom is in his grasp, so sudden and so jarring that Rick almost doesn’t know how to compute it. Only this time, they’re all free. They’re all together. They all made it.

Rick’s gaze falls and he looks at Billy again. The Scotsman is still where Rick shoved him, body twisted unnaturally in the seat. Frowning, Rick takes the time to untangle Billy’s limbs, rearranging him carefully even as the car jerks and swerves on their path toward freedom.

When Billy’s in a comfortable position, it doesn’t seem like enough. Because even with his limbs straight and his head relaxed, Billy still looks bad. He still looks more than bad – almost dead.

It’s hard to see. Hard to think that they can come so far, find so much, and maybe not have it be enough.

But it has to be enough. Rick escaped and Billy survived and they have to finish this.

Billy takes a strained breath, then another. Rick can hear the wheezes even over the roar of the road and the thudding of his heart.

They have to.

Throat tight, Rick doesn’t cry. He just sits there, stiff in the back seat while the car races on, and tells himself that truth over and over again.

-o-

Rick doesn’t notice when the savanna gives way to city. He doesn’t even see the hospital as Michael speeds toward it. His eyes are fixed on Billy, watching for his breath, memorizing every wound and wondering what it must have felt like.

The car jolts to a stop and Rick has to brace himself from crashing on top of Billy. Michael and Casey have their doors open before Rick even realizes where they are.

By the time the revelation comes to him Billy is already being pulled out. There are doctors and nurses and a stretcher and everyone is talking and Rick feels himself slipping as he tries to keep up.

It takes work to extricate himself from the car, and when he’s out, Billy’s already being wheeled inside. The blood looks garish on the white gurney and the doctors are calling things out with concern and Billy doesn’t move – doesn’t even twitch – as he’s wheeled inside.

Rick’s instincts are to follow, but Michael’s hand holds him back.

Surprised, Rick looks at his team leader.

Michael’s face is pinched and tired. He shakes his head. “That’s all we can do for him now,” he says.

Rick blinks, almost uncomprehendingly.

Casey is standing on the other side of him. “Trust us,” he says, and even though his voice is hard, there’s something of comfort in it as well.

Rick stares at the door and thinks of Billy. Alone with strangers again. He takes a staggered breath.

Michael’s hand squeezes his arm. “You found him,” he says. “That’s all you could do.”

Rick still stands, still stares. He feels Michael and Casey, shoulder to shoulder with him, and takes comfort in their strength. They’re not alone in this, and Rick likes to think that Billy’s not alone anymore either.

Michael’s right, of course. Rick’s done everything he can.

But as he stands there and thinks of Billy’s sacrifices, he can only hope that it’s enough.

-o-

Ever since his capture, Rick has had trouble keeping track of time. Between unconsciousness and the long stretches of isolation, the give and take of seconds and hours has blurred to him, melting into periods of too long and not long enough.

The waiting room isn’t so bad, in theory. The chairs aren’t luxurious, but they’ve got cushions. And this time he has company.

Michael comes and goes, making phone calls. Casey doesn’t move next to him, so still that he could be mistaken for a statue. Michael gives him something to drink; Casey makes him eat a candy bar.

Still, this wait is harder than the rest.

Because there’s nothing Rick can do. He can’t plot his escape or watch over Billy while he sleeps. He can’t run for his life or hatch a plot to bring Billy back.

The open waiting room is full of people and noise, but it’s as quiet and desolate as the four cement walls of Rick’s imprisonment.

“What if he doesn’t make it?” Rick asks.

Next to him, Michael takes a breath. “There’s no reason to think he won’t.”

Rick closes his eyes, fighting against a swell of nausea. “He was tortured,” he says, the words hard to say. He shakes his head, opening his eyes. “What they did to him--”

“Torture is more psychological than physical in its intentions,” Casey supplies from the other side. “The worse someone is hurt physically, the more certain you can be of their fortitude.”

It’s something to consider. Because as broken as Billy was, he was still breathing. Billy’s the one who said it – you fight because it’s all you have.

You fight.

But then he thinks of Billy, bleeding in the back seat, each breath more uncertain than the last. “Everyone breaks,” he says. “One way or another.”

He half expects them to disagree. Instead, Michael sighs. “It’s true,” he says. “The body isn’t designed to hold up under everything.”

“So what if Billy doesn’t make it?” Rick asks again, and he looks at Michael earnestly this time.

Michael shrugs, almost helpless. “Then we fight for him,” he says.

“That means,” Casey interjects, leaning somewhat closer. “We don’t doubt him, even when the odds look bad.”

“Because he wouldn’t doubt us,” Michael says.

Rick breathes and tries to make sense of it. He looks down at his hands, his own feelings of frustration and futility burning deep inside. “I just feel so helpless,” he says. “It’s like I’m locked in that cell, watching them drag Billy away all over again.”

Michael and Casey exchange a look.

Finally, Michael continues. “None of us were ever looking for a team,” he says. “I spent years as a solo agent. Casey even more. Teamwork requires extra skill and coordination, more loose ends to worry about tying up. It’s messier and riskier. But what we found here — what we found in the ODS — is worth it.”

“The problem is,” Casey continues for him. “That what you find in a team comes with the added risk of loss. You can’t have the support of a team without the risk of seeing them put into jeopardy.” He pauses and shrugs. “Or worse.”

Rick swallows hard. “So why do it?”

“Well, we’ve each tried to ignore it,” Michael explains. “We’ve hazed new people out the door and tried to keep our personal lives out of the office.”

“But Billy’s so damn exuberant,” Casey gripes. “It’s like trying to hit a puppy. You just can’t bring yourself to do it, no matter how many times you want to.”

“And it’s how we know you belong with us,” Michael adds. “Billy saw it from the start, I think, but it’s taken the rest of us a little more time to accept it.”

“But you’re one of us,” Casey says. “You found yourself a team, for better or worse.”

“And no matter what we go through--no matter what Billy goes through – we won’t lose sight of that,” Michael concludes, his gaze lingering on Rick.

It’s true, Rick realizes. It’s all true. What he’s found in his time at the CIA isn’t his own strength or abilities – it’s his team. It’s how they make each other better, how they fill in the gaps for each other. It’s how when one of them is lost, the others don’t stop to find them. It’s four working parts to make a whole, and it means more than any mission or any objective.

It means everything.

Rick doesn’t know why it’s taken him so long to figure that out, why he needed Michael and Casey to spell it out, why Billy needed to prove it with his blood and sacrifice. But he’s found it now. He’s found it just in time to face the reality that he might lose it just that fast.

-o-

When the doctor finally comes to talk to them, Rick is almost ready for the worst. It’s not the worst, but as Rick tries to translate the details, it almost feels that bad.

Billy’s alive – and that’s the critical element – but he’s a mess. While the vast majority of the cuts and abrasions are superficial, there are some that were deep enough to cause possible damage. There’s some internal bleeds that the doctors have tried to correct but will have to continue to watch and see. Fortunately most of the damage to his face will heal without cosmetic procedures – although his nose is badly broken – but the rest of his body will likely never look the same.

All of this is bad, but the doctor’s biggest concern long term is the damage to Billy’s tendons in his hands and wrists. They’ve done what they can to repair the damage, but it’s going to be a long road to see if the nerves and muscles heal in a way that gives Billy real mobility again.

To make matters worse, a number of the wounds are badly infected and Billy’s fighting a moderate fever, which may be threatening to compromise his internal organs if it keeps up.

The bottom line is that while Billy’s alive, it’s going to be a struggle to keep him that way. And even if he survives, there’s no guarantee he’ll have the same quality of life as before.

It’s a weighty prognosis, and Rick feels the weight of it on his shoulders. It’s not just that Billy could still die for him; it’s the fact that Billy may survive but not really recover that he doesn’t know how to deal with.

Next to him, Casey is stoic. Michael asks, “Can we see him?”

When the doctor explains one at a time, no one stops Rick when he goes first.

“He’d want to know you’re okay,” Michael tells him.

“You’re the only one capable of appealing to his inalienable sense of optimism at a time like this,” Casey adds.

Rick smiles – or tries to. But as he walks down the hallway after a nurse, it’s a cold, stiff walk that scares Rick more than the gun-filled corridors of the compound and the lion-ridden savanna. Those times, he knew what he was going to find.

This time, Rick’s not so sure.

-o-

At Billy’s bedside, Rick finds himself at a loss. Because he’s seen Billy through a lot of horrible things over the last few days. He’s seen Billy beaten, seen him in pain. He’s seen him struggle to eat and pass out on a whim. He’s seen him curled up and broken, hanging and limp. He’s seem him laugh through the pain and stay strong through the worst of it.

But now--

Now Billy’s just still. Swathed in bandages and stretched out on a hospital bed. There are still cuts exposed – cleaned but angry red – and Rick can’t even count the number of tubes and wires attached to the Scotsman’s body.

His tattered shirt is entirely gone and it hasn’t been replaced. The thin sheet covers him up to the waist, and Rick can see that Billy has lost weight. His ribs are more prominent than Rick thinks they should be, and there are hollows in his cheeks, even as his eyes are closed in the semblance of sleep.

It’s not quite sleep, though, and Rick is all too aware of the difference. The beeping monitors and whirring machines are a dead giveaway, and Rick feels uneasy at the sight of the ventilator protruding from Billy’s mouth, which looks anything but comfortable.

Billy would complain about it, if he could. He can’t – obviously – and Rick finds himself wishing for the silly platitudes and friendly overtures. Sometimes they seem entirely misplaced, but Rick misses the comfort and reassurance they offer. He might try to offer Billy the same if he were awake to appreciate it.

He’s not. Given all Billy’s been through, Rick thinks that might be for the best. Billy’s been through enough pain that he probably doesn’t deserve to feel the post-surgery effects or the overwhelming life saving measures enacting just to keep him breathing.

Yet, it’s not easy. None of this has been easy, not since the compound, not since they got to Africa, not since Rick found that critical piece of intel that made all of this seem viable. If he’d known then, he might not have planned this mission.

It wouldn’t have made a difference, though. Michael, Casey, and Billy – they would have planned the mission the same. Especially Billy, even if he’d known that this would be the outcome.

That’s what makes them different, Rick knows. That’s what makes their jobs so important. There are risks – there have to be risks—

Standing there, watching Billy fight to live, it’s hard to believe that it’s worth it.

It’s harder still to accept that it isn’t.

The fight has to be worth something. They have to be holding on to something that matters. Otherwise Billy wouldn’t have tried so hard to save Rick back in the compound. Rick wouldn’t have battled everything in the world and inside himself to bring Casey and Michael back to rescue him. They wouldn’t still be here, in this hospital, ignoring the odds of a full recovery and clinging to the simple fact that Billy’s made it this far.

Because Billy has made it this far, and Rick has to believe that he still has something left to fight with.

Looking at Billy, though, it’s hard to believe. The Scotsman looks bad and Rick feels his resolve falter.

Shaking his head, he pushes it back. Moving closer, he gently scoops up Billy’s hand, holding it tightly in his own. “You fight,” he says, voice barely a whisper even as it cracks on the words. He remembers Billy’s face when he told him the same, he remembers Billy’s resolve, his veracity, his certainty. Rick finds that inside of him and holds on to it with all he has.

“You fight,” he says again, stronger this time. “You fight because it’s all you have. They could take your identity or your body. And they almost took your life and they may have taken a little bit of your soul. But you still have your will. They can’t take that. You didn’t surrender it then, and you can’t surrender it now. You may have lost the rest, but you can’t lose that.”

Billy doesn’t stir, the machines hissing in equal turns.

Rick blinks his burning eyes and makes himself finish. Not for his sake, but for Billy’s. “So you fight,” he says again, and his voice is shaky but certain. “Just like we fought for you. You fight for us. One last time, okay?”

The question hangs, lingering unanswered in the stillness. Billy doesn’t move, but he doesn’t have to. Rick knows him well enough to know what Billy’s answer is and he shows it in the beating of his heart as he takes breath after breath with the ventilator’s help.

-o-

The hours turn into days, and a rhythm develops that is both the same and different. Rick’s still waiting, sitting idly by while Billy suffers and fights, and when he wonders why it’s so hard, he remembers how Billy explained that not all torture is physical.

And it is torture, sitting there and waiting. He takes alternating turns with Michael and Casey, and they all talk but don’t know quite what to say. Michael tells stories about first meeting Billy and Casey grouses about some of their worst missions together and when Rick laughs at the exploits, it aches in his chest.

Billy’s prognosis is still complicated, even as he improves. The doctors are cautious in their optimism, and are always sure to remind the team that Billy’s struggles will only compound once he’s awake and starts to regain the ability to move. There will be long delays, they warn, and it’s not going to be easy.

As if anything up to this point has been easy.

Rick doesn’t think about it like that, though. He can’t focus on the long term when all he wants is for Billy to wake up.

“He’ll wake up,” Michael says to no one in particular.

“He’ll just take his own sweet time about it,” Casey harrumphs in return.

Rick believes them both as best he can but he doesn’t need their comfort because he knows that Billy fought too long and hard to give up now.

He believes that because he believed Billy back in that cell. He believes it because it’s all he has, all Billy has. Mostly, he just believes.

-o-

Rick only sleeps because there’s nothing else to do, and he’s come to know the four bleak corners of Billy’s hospital room as well as the sullen corners of their cell. There’s no lock on the door but he still can’t leave, and it’s hard to keep himself from despair while he waits for something to change.

Michael is handling issues on the phone with Langley. Casey has been relegated to sleeping in the hotel room they’re renting but have hardly used. Rick hasn’t left, though. Won’t leave.

Billy’s condition improves, but he’s still in bad shape. The doctor’s think he’ll live but have made no promises about recovery timelines or quality of life. The ventilator is removed and his sedation is reduced, and Billy lies pliant through it all.

Waking and sleeping are much the same. Consciousness only reminds him of how perilous the situation is and sleep is a steady stream of dreams and nightmares he doesn’t know how to contend with.

So when he wakes to the sound of movement, he doesn’t think much of it. He thinks it’s a doctor or a nurse, or Michael or Casey coming back early. He thinks it’s anything except what it is.

“Billy?” Rick asks, because he’s too surprised to believe it.

But it’s real. Billy’s blinking at the ceiling, eyes wide and bleary and confused. His chest is heaving a bit with the exertion and his fingers flex at his sides.

“Billy,” Rick says again, scrambling to move forward and get in Billy’s line of sight.

It takes a moment for Billy’s eyes to focus, and another long moment after that before any kind of recognition dawns. When it does, Billy’s brows furrow and his eyes grow damp.

It’s not the reaction Rick expects and for a second, he doesn’t know what to do. “Hey,” he says finally, searching for the words. “It’s okay.”

Billy takes a stuttering breath and nods his head, visibly pulling himself together. He opens his mouth to speak, but no words come out. He swallows hard and tries again. This time the words are strained and garbled, but Rick still understands them. “I don’t know where I am,” Billy admits.

It’s not the roiling enthusiasm that is normally such a big part of Billy’s persona. It’s not even couched in guises meant to protect Billy or Rick or both of them. It’s just a naked, real statement – a reality of being lost that Rick suddenly understands all too well.

Pushing back his own emotions – because this has been a long and tumultuous mission and it’s not over yet – Rick smiles and grips Billy’s arm to let him know he’s really there. “It’s okay,” he says. “I know just where you are.”

Billy holds his eyes and then nods imperceptibly. It’s a clear struggle for him to stay awake and Rick doesn’t have the heart to force him to endure consciousness more than he’s able.

Still, Rick doesn’t look away and doesn’t let go. “I found you,” he says while Billy’s eyes blink slower. And he means that – and so much more. “I found you.”

Billy relaxes at that, easing back into sleep. Rick’s still there, holding on and holding fast, as the seconds give way to minutes and Billy finds his way back home.

EPILOGUE

The trip home isn’t as momentous as it seems like it should be. Billy is transferred directly to Georgetown, where he’s put in a long term recovery unit. The ODS is officially put back to work, but Rick spends more of his time at the hospital than on the job and he dares Higgins to say anything about it.

In this, the hours are long. Rick spends endless minutes in Billy’s empty hospital room, waiting him to come back from his latest round of therapy. He’s still regaining the use of his feet and it’s still a struggle to make the fingers on his right hand curl into a fist. His stamina is lacking and he still needs a few more surgeries before the doctors will feel good about the long term prospects for his left ankle.

Rick waits, though. Counts the seconds as they pass and is ready and waiting when he hears the sound of Billy’s wheelchair being pushed down the hall. The nurse helps ease Billy back into bed, where he collapses unceremoniously, his face pale and drawn, the shadows of bruises still visible on the sunken skin.

They make light conversation as Billy drifts off to sleep and Rick is still there when dinner is served and Billy forces himself to eat.

Over time, Rick starts helping with the therapy, sees it when Billy takes his first steps again and as he starts to rebuild his muscle strength. It’s hard work, and for as hard as it is for Billy to push himself to his limits, it’s harder still for Rick to sit there and make him endure it with nothing more than a strong shoulder and an encouraging word.

Overall, it’s long and it’s hard. Billy struggles with each milestone more than Rick expects him to. Most days, he will still laugh and tell stories to pass the time, but there’s a growing sense of withdrawal as each day passes. Rick sees it in the little things, the small in between moments when Billy thinks no one is watching. He puts on his best for Michael and Casey, but Rick is there enough to see more of the truth, and Rick realizes now more than ever just how badly Billy has suffered – in his torture and in this aftermath.

It renews Rick’s resolve. He comes every day now, almost takes a leave from work. He forgoes missions and completes his paperwork remotely to stay by Billy every day of his recovery.

Some days are successes.

Others aren’t.

Some days, Billy surprises them all.

Other days, he can barely control his pain and frustration.

Today, Billy’s supposed to walk a mile through the hospital’s corridors, but only half way there, he’s spent. He’s sweating and pale, breathing ragged and strained. The scars on his body are healing but visible, and while Billy will usually shrug most failures away with a self deprecating smile, this time he just collapses.

Rick is there in an instant to prop him up. “I got you,” he says. “It’s okay.”

Slack against Rick, Billy laughs bitterly. “That’s funny,” he wheezes.

Rick frowns. “What?”

“Just you, saying it’s okay,” he says.

“You just have to get back up,” Rick says. “You can finish it--”

Billy barks another harsh laugh. “You say that like it’s so simple.”

“It is,” Rick contends.

Billy sighs. “I’m practically an invalid,” he says. “All my years of training and service and now I can’t even walk in a damn circle without my entire body falling apart. What’s the bloody point anyway? At this rate, I’ll be lucky if I’m ever deemed field worthy again.”

It’s a surprising gruffness from Billy, who usually faces things with such a sunny and vibrant outlook. But the months have been hard on Billy, and his own weaknesses have taken a toll on the Scotsman’s usually buoyant personality. Rick knows he misses work--knows he misses holding his own on the team and feeling like a valued part of something bigger than himself--but it hasn’t struck Rick just how much Billy is struggling until right then.

Because this is Billy giving up. Lying in Rick’s arms and, after everything, finally admitting defeat.

And Rick feels his heart break. Because it has been a hard road and it’s been harder than any of them might have imagined. And Rick understands – he understands how much Billy has fought and lost, how every small gain Billy’s eked out has come at a price that Rick can’t quite imagine paying.

So his heart breaks and he understands and that’s why Rick can’t sit idly by and listen to it.

Adamant, he hardens his face and shakes his head. “That’s bull shit,” he says flat out.

It’s Billy’s turn to frown, clearly taken aback by Rick’s stolid response.

“It’s a cop out,” Rick continues, not even bothering to let Billy reply.

Billy’s anger drains slightly and his features reveal the deep exhaustion and demoralization that the Scotsman has kept barely at bay since he woke up in the hospital all those months ago. He’s hidden it well all this time, but Billy has no facades left to cover it “I just don’t have the will to overcome it anymore,” he says honestly.

Rick shakes his head anyway, holding Billy’s gaze and refusing to be deterred. “Bull shit,” he says again. “You fight.”

“I can hardly walk!” Billy protests, gesturing helplessly at his legs.

“You still fight,” Rick insists.

Billy looks like he may genuinely despair for a moment. “Why?”

And it’s one of the few times since he’s met Billy that he’s asked a question he doesn’t already know the answer to. That he’s asked a question of Rick that he really needs the answer to.

“Because it’s all you have,” Rick tells him, not even hesitating. “They can take your identity. They can take your body. They can even take your life or your soul, but they can’t take your will.” He shakes his head. “Not unless you surrender it. It’s the one thing you can’t lose.”

Billy is watching him, eyes watery. A smile spreads tiredly across his face. “Unless you leave it behind.”

“And you won’t,” Rick says with force.

“What if I already have?” Billy asks, and normally it’d be laced with humor or sarcasm, but Billy still just wants to know.

“You haven’t.”

“How can you be sure?”

It’s such an innocent and heavy question, laden with need and uncertainty that Rick isn’t used to hearing. He’s usually the new guy, still scrabbling for advice and trying to prove himself to his teammates. But this is different--he’s different, Billy’s different, the team’s different--and some of it is for worse but not all of it.

“Because if you did, I’d carry it for you until you were ready to find it again,” Rick says. “So you’ll fight. We’ll fight. Together.”

Billy’s expression wavers for a long moment, and then he swallows hard. “You know,” he says. “If I’d known you were going to take that speech so seriously, I might have reconsidered all of its implications.”

Rick laughs, his chest tight with emotion, but his gaze doesn’t flicker. “You were right,” he says. “Just like I am now.”

Billy nods, wetting his lips. “Aye,” he says. “I suppose that’s true.”

“So,” Rick replies, rallying his own strength for Billy’s sake. “Are you ready to get up?”

Billy collects a breath and lets it out wearily. “Somehow I don’t think I have much say in the matter,” he says, even as he starts to push himself back up.

“No,” Rick says, moving to support him. “I don’t suppose you do.”

It takes effort to get Billy back to his feet, and even then, the Scotsman is unsteady. The rest of the mile is tedious, and by the end, Rick is half supporting Billy’s weight as he limps along. Rick helps him back to his room in a wheelchair and eases Billy back into his bed, where the taller man is half asleep before he hits the pillow.

Rick settles into a chair next to the bed. In the dimness, Billy watches him in pure exhaustion. “Thank you,” he says. “For finding me.”

Rick just smiles, keeping steady in his post. This is where he’s supposed to be, what he’s supposed to do. More than serving his country, more than being a spy. Just being part of the ODS, being a friend. “Hey,” he says with a shrug. “I’m just returning the favor.”

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: December 18th, 2012 06:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, a happily ever after, after all!

I LOVE how you've resolved this! You're amazing when it comes to writing a story that pulls the reader along with the characters, has them feel what they feel both physically and emotionally, placing them in the same space as they are, like Rick from despair to resolve because of Billy's strength and encouragement then turning the tables where Billy's well-learned lessons are then applied to him. More wonderfully is that just when you think that there is no way that the story can end well, that Billy's fate only has one direction to go, you pull them both out from darkness and actually give them and the reader a happy ending, renewed hope, and immensely felt gratitude for surviving. Just delightful! Of course, you know how much I enjoyed all the dire straits and incredibly painful torment, because even at the worst of it Billy was fighting. You didn't have to hear it in his voice from words, it was in your descriptions.

Of course I LOVED it all, but the last section, just destroyed me in the best of emotional ways:

Billy is watching him, eyes watery. A smile spreads tiredly across his face. “Unless you leave it behind.”

“And you won’t,” Rick says with force.

“What if I already have?” Billy asks, and normally it’d be laced with humor or sarcasm, but Billy still just wants to know.

“You haven’t.”

“How can you be sure?”

It’s such an innocent and heavy question, laden with need and uncertainty that Rick isn’t used to hearing. He’s usually the new guy, still scrabbling for advice and trying to prove himself to his teammates. But this is different--he’s different, Billy’s different, the team’s different--and some of it is for worse but not all of it.

“Because if you did, I’d carry it for you until you were ready to find it again,” Rick says. “So you’ll fight. We’ll fight. Together.”

Billy’s expression wavers for a long moment, and then he swallows hard. “You know,” he says. “If I’d known you were going to take that speech so seriously, I might have reconsidered all of its implications.”

-- I love Billy's snip of humor at the end. It reminds you that he's still there despite his words to the contrary earlier.


Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 14th, 2013 12:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh, a happily ever after, after all!
billy likes

I'm desperately trying to catch up with things, and found this comment neglected. My apologies! But I'm glad you liked this -- it's never been my favorite fic, but I always liked the idea of it, especially in that Billy's faith can flag sometimes and that he needs his team to help keep it together.

Thanks!

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: February 14th, 2013 05:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh, a happily ever after, after all!

No problem. I loved what you said about it not being your favorite and I'll admit that I'm terrible at giving Billy any kind of frailty or flaw, let alone weakness so this story was great in that you had Rick throw back at Billy his own words of strength. That made perfect sense and the frailty that much more meaningful.

3 Read Comments