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Chaos fic: Falls the Shadow (1/1)

December 18th, 2012 (03:32 pm)

feeling: accomplished

Title: Falls the Shadow

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: For lena7142. Because nothing says Christmas (or solstice!) like DEATH. Beta provided by postfallen.

Warnings: Death! Seriously. More than one.

Summary: “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.”


Rick wakes up with a splitting headache. His eyes are open, but the world is all wrong. Everything is dark and there are flashes of light, punctuated with a grating keening. Something shimmies and there’s a series of booms and rattles, and when everything settles, there’s smoke and the acrid scent of flame.

Rick closes his eyes and breathes through it, breathes until the pounding in his head has abated enough, and he opens his eyes again.

The scene is no less strange, but this time he starts to make sense of it. It’s dark because they’re in a basement; the flickering lights are due to the intermittent flashing of the emergency lights along the corridor.

The corridor that’s half caved in, the rubble all around them and half pinning him to the ground.

Rick groans and tries to move, shifting the debris as he sits up shakily. The corridor spins and his vision grays dangerously, but he doesn’t pass out. After a few more breaths, the pounding in his skull is a secondary concern and he’s faced with the very stark realization that they may be trapped.

They, Rick remembers.

Stomach churning, Rick looks around desperately, trying to make sense of the flickering shadows in the gloom. He coughs -- there’s smoke coming from somewhere, even if he can’t see the flame -- and gets on all fours. “Billy,” he says, the words hoarse in his throat. He clears it and tries again. “Billy!”

He’s pawing around now, ignoring the sharp bite of shattered concrete and splintered metal as he searches. They’d been running, he remembers. They’d been ID’d and taken to the basement for further interrogation. It had looked bleak, but then Billy had seen an opening and they’d disabled the two guards and ran. It had looked like they had a good chance of making it until...

Until the whole damn building had blown up.

Above him, the ceiling creaks and fresh dust sprinkles down. Distantly, he can hear voices yelling in Arabic, and he catches snatches of their words, something about regrouping, taking what you can, getting the hell out.

Rick thinks maybe that should be gratifying -- whatever went wrong has hindered them -- but he still hasn’t found Billy...

Shakily, he tries to stand, half stumbling as he nearly rams his head into a smoking tube of broken and exposed piping. He hisses in pain, limping when his ankle almost gives out. “Billy!”

He’s ready to panic now. Because the smoke is starting to burn in his lungs and his eyes are watering and he’s bleeding down his arm. Everything hurts and he’s unarmed and he has no means of communication and--


The reply is quiet, the single word sounding like it’s been wrenched out painfully.

It’s also the best damn thing Rick’s heard in a while.

“Billy?” he asks, turning to look. “Where--”

“Down here,” Billy says, the words halting but stronger. “To your left.”

Rick turns obediently, scanning the ground. The corridor has collapsed in on itself, and at first all Rick can see is rubble, twisted and mangled and--

“Oh, God,” he says before he can stop himself. Because Billy’s sprawled on his back, legs slack and arms useless by his side. There’s blood smeared down his face, looking garish in the dimness, but the gaping wound in Billy’s stomach is the problem.

Billy’s lips twist upward. “I admit, I’m not looking my best,” he says, pausing for a rasping cough. “Though in my defense, blood is rather hard to coordinate.”

Rick is numb as he goes to his knees next to Billy. He wants to help, but as his hands hover uselessly over the wound, he realizes he doesn’t know where to start.

Billy’s stomach has been torn open. It looks like the rough edge of concrete or a broken piece of metal has slid through him, leaving him nearly eviscerated. There’s a white gleam that looks suspiciously like intestines in the gloom, and Rick feels his own stomach pull hard against itself as he reigns in the urge to vomit.

But he’s a trained operative. He’s a capable spy. He’s been on the ODS long enough to know that there’s always a way to fix things; there’s always a way out.

He just has to find it.

Forcing a smile, he takes off his jacket. The sleeve is wet with blood, but it’s still better than nothing as he rips it in two, balling up one half and pressing it haltingly to Billy’s stomach. Billy grimaces, jaw tightening at the contact, and when Rick uses the other half of the jacket to tie the bandage into place, Billy’s eyes are bright and wet with tears.

“I know it hurts,” Rick says, by way of apology. “But we’ll get it taken care of when we get out of here.”

Billy is trembling a little now, but he manages to nod. “That is an optimistic plan.”

Rick grinds his teeth together. “Well, then it should be right up your alley,” he jokes as he gets to his feet. “Now just...sit tight.”

The order is awkward, and Rick’s voice wavers precariously at the end of it. Because given Billy’s injuries, there’s nothing else he can do. There’s nothing else Rick can do -- except to get them out.

Which is what he’s going to do.

He starts by orienting himself, trying to figure out which way is which. He’s been turned around by the explosion and without any consistent lighting, he’s devoid of landmarks. But he pauses to listen, hearing the far off scuffling, and makes his best guess.

He turns, looking up and down in both directions. There’s nothing but rubble in one direction, and the entire floor seems to have caved in on the other. Rick moves to the far end first, trying to squeeze his way through. He doesn’t get far, though, nearly slicing open his arm as he pushes his way through. One wrong move, and the entire thing jostles, and Rick decides it’s probably not going to get him anywhere. If the floor has collapsed, the damage will be too hard to work his way through from the bottom.

On the other side, the rubble moves. Some of the smaller pieces are easy to pick up, but when he clears them, he finds nothing but slabs of concrete. Still he works, though, picking his way higher and climbing up to try to see any way out. Each piece he moves, brings more rubble into view, and the higher he is, the more the smoke burns his lungs.

He coughs, trying to hold it in, but his eyes are stinging. His fingers are aching.

He pulls. He pushes. He yanks.

Nothing gives.

He stands back, looking at the massive, immovable wall in front of him in futility.

“Rick,” Billy says again.

Rick steels himself, taking a few deep breaths. “Just give me a few seconds.”

But Rick needs more than a few seconds, and he knows it. He needs a miracle.

He needs Michael, with his plans. He needs Casey, with his strength.

He just needs to get Billy out.

That desperate, plaintive need drives him and he starts again, digging with more intensity now. Billy’s wound is serious, and Rick knows time is of the essence.

Rick knows.

The smoke is blinding him and he’s lost all feeling in his fingers. He grunts as he works, sweat mingling with blood that runs into his eyes. He grits his teeth, yanking with ferocity, because he has to get out, he has to get Billy out, he has to--

Then, something gives.

The rubble shifts, and Rick feels the tendrils of hope--

Right before everything shifts and a fresh slide of debris sweeps him off his feet and sends him tumbling back to the floor.

He hits hard, a fresh pain blossoming in his shoulder as blood wets the back of his hair. He sits up, looking through the gloom to see the pile of debris even higher, even thicker than before.

And all he can do is stare.

“Rick,” Billy says, voice even quieter now, and this time Rick has no choice but to listen. “Lad, look at me.”

Numb, Rick obeys. Billy’s not far away, still on the ground. The bandage is soaked and Billy’s eyes are eerily bright in the darkness.

The Scot has to pause to breathe, a deep, shuddering breath that seems to take more effort than it should. “It’s okay,” he says, simple and to the point.

Rick shakes his head. He doesn’t understand.

Billy is smiling now. “We like to believe in the impossible, but the fact is we’re fallible,” he says, the words coming with wheezes now.

Rick frowns. “And we overcome it,” he says. “Right? It reminds us that we’re human?”

“Fragile even,” Billy concurs. He swallows, a pronounced shudder passing through him. He closes his eyes for a moment before looking at Rick again. “You need to know it’s not your fault.”

Rick’s stomach goes cold. He inclines his head. “What?”

Billy nods. “This,” he says. “This is not your fault.”

Rick blinks, and then he realizes what this is.

This is absolution.

Billy is forgiving him.

Billy is forgiving him.

Rick shakes his head, face hardening again as he gets to his feet. He’s shakier now, and his head is spinning. The smoke is thicker now, visually obscuring his few and cloying in his nostrils. “No,” he says.

Billy’s shoulders fall. “Rick--”

“No,” Rick says again, adamant now as he attacks the pile. He pulls and he scrapes and he shifts because he’s going to get Billy out. He doesn’t want Billy’s forgiveness, he wants Billy to be alive. He wants them both to survive. He wants to drag Billy’s Scottish ass out of here and ream him out for being stupid, for telling him how melodramatic he was. He wants to joke with Casey and Michael while Billy recovers, make the Scot do all their damned paperwork for a month for being so stupid, for being ready to give in, for--

“Rick,” Billy says again, the words resigned now. Almost a plea.

And Rick’s self control shatters. He folds up, dropping to his knees. The sob that shakes him is sudden and uncontrollable, and he finds he can’t stop it.

He can’t stop anything. “If I don’t do this, you’ll die,” Rick says, admitting what he’s known from the start.

“Lad,” Billy replies, with no hint of humor or deflection. “I’m already as good as dead, and we both know it.”

Rick’s breath catches, his chest is tight. His stomach ties itself in knots and his pulse throbs in his temples. The tears burn his eyes, snot clogging his nose.

But he can’t deny it.

There’s too much debris; there’s too much smoke. Even if they got out, the sound of voices means they’d be killed before they got very far. And Billy’s injury...

Maybe with immediate medical attention. Maybe if they didn’t have to walk through a burning compound or traipse across a desert for extraction. Maybe if they had antibiotics and a way to close the wound--


“And I want you to know, it pains me to say this,” Billy continues, unyielding. “But you are, too.”

This time, Rick almost sags all the way to the ground, another sob racking him. Because he knows that, too. He knows it because the smoke is too thick, because the rubble is too hard to sort through. He knows even if someone does come to rescue them, the smoke alone will kill them, even if the fire doesn’t spread this far.

“The compound has collapsed in on itself,” Billy explains what Rick’s already figured out even if he can’t admit it. “With the rate of the smoke filling our too-small chamber, we’ve got no more than fifteen minutes.”

Rick breathes harshly, hot air out his nose as he pants.

“Normally I don’t so readily accept defeat, but there’s a time and place for hope,” Billy says. “And there’s a time and place to accept fate with dignity.”

Rick’s breathing catches on a garbled laugh, deep and jaded as he looks up at Billy. “Dignity?” he asks. “There’s no dignity here. I don’t even know what the hell happened!”

Billy doesn’t flinch. “You can figure it out,” he says. “You just have to think clearly.”

It’s a stupid thing, to sit and think clearly when death was so imminent. They don’t have time for this, they don’t have time--

Because the mission is time sensitive. They needed to infiltrate the terrorist compound and get away with their latest acquisition: a high grade explosive capable of significant damage. The worry isn’t so much that the terrorists will use it -- they’d probably save it for a rainy day, so to speak -- but that the local military would storm the compound and take it first.

And when the local military is no more trustworthy than the faction its fighting, that’s bad news for everything.

“The military,” Rick realizes. “This is their assault.”

“Indeed,” Billy says grimly. “Given the sounds and the pattern of the explosion, I’m guessing we fell victim to an advance aerial strike.”

“To knock out the defenses and prepare for a ground clean up,” Rick concludes. His eyes widen. “They’ll find it, won’t they.”

Billy nods, remorseful. “I’m afraid they will,” he says. “And all this--” He glances around at the smoke-filled chamber. “--will be for naught.”

It’s already for naught. The mission is over. Rick can’t get Billy out, and he can’t get the package out. The terrorists will get away with the rest of their arsenal and start over. The ground troops will come and clean up, retrieving whatever is left behind.

Including the bomb.

They failed.

And now they’re going to die.

Rick’s breath leaves him, the force of the realization almost crippling him. It can’t be like this. After everything they’ve been through, after everything they’ve survived -- after all the missions -- Bolivia and Russia and North Korea and--

He exhales raggedly and finds himself almost frozen. He shakes his head, the denial bubbling up from the deepest parts of who he is.

“No,” he says, quietly at first. Then he shakes his head again, more vigorously now. “It can’t be. It won’t. We can salvage the mission, we can get out--”

Billy’s face holds nothing but sympathy. “Rick,” he says. “I’m sorry--”

“No,” Rick repeats, stronger now. “Michael and Casey will find us--”

“And it’ll be too late,” Billy concludes. “They’re miles out. We haven’t got fifteen minutes.”

Rick lets out a strangled sob, choking it back in as a laugh. “We’ll dig our way out,” he says, and there’s more wetness on his face, his throat so tight he can hardly breathe.

“It’s over,” Billy tells him.

No lies. No tricks. No cajoling.

After all this time, all that’s left is the cold, simple truth.

Rick trembles. “No...” he says, but it’s pleading now, like a child. Because that’s what he feels like sometimes, even if he tries to deny it. He’s learned a lot in the past year, but he’s still in over his head. He’s still wide-eyed and ennobled when his team is knowing and jaded. He still comes to work, excited to do his job, proud to serve his country.

He’s always known he could die for his country--

But the dramatic force of the impending loss is almost more than he can bear.

Everything goes eerily quiet, and Rick’s ears buzz. Everything pulsates, reaching a pinnacle, a turning point Rick doesn’t want to face--

But ultimately, can’t avoid.

“It’s all over,” Billy says, and he’s breathing with effort now, chest hitching in pained, short gasps even as he rallies his strength to speak the words clearly. “But we can still win.”

The loss shifts; the denial settles. The silence is broken by the shifting of debris, as the ceiling creaks precariously above them. The air seems to spark with electricity, each breath tasting like battery acid.

Rick pulls himself together. “How’s that?”

Billy’s panting now, but his pale face breaks into a grin. “I still have the package.”

Rick’s pretty sure he has a concussion, and the smoke-clogged air must be impeding his critical thinking skills. Everything is gauzy somehow, his brain wrapped in cotton and he blinks a few times as he tries to understand. “The...package?”

It seems to take all of Billy’s energy to nod his head, and his eyes are disturbingly serene. “Aye,” he confirms, smiling dazzling Rick for a moment. “The package.”

The package. Rick’s concussed and he’s probably suffering from oxygen deprivation but he still remembers. They’d had the high grade explosive in hand when they’d been captured; the guards hadn’t known what it was. They’d confiscated it, but left it in plain sight when Rick and Billy made a break from it. Rick had been so focused on getting out alive...

For whatever that was worth.

Rick’s mouth drew closed. “But if we can’t get it out...”

Billy almost looks disappointed. “Come now,” he prods. “Surely you can think of another way to end this with proper fireworks.”

Rick stares, thinking he must have misheard. That he misunderstands. That Billy’s not suggesting...

That he can’t think...

That it’s not the only options...

But it is.

Rick exhales heavily. “We set it off,” he concludes.

Billy shrugs, a small movement with just one shoulder. “Out with a bang, I reckon,” he says. “And there’s a certain poetic irony I can appreciate. Taking the bastards out with the very weapon they thought would save them.”

Rick can’t help it: he gapes. “But we’d never survive the blast.”

There is no sign of surprise on Billy face. “Well, yes,” he says. “There is that.”

And there it is. The solution Billy’s known since the beginning but Rick’s been too terrified to accept. It’s a way to protect the mission, to serve the greater good.

It just also happens to be suicide.

“But,” he fumbles, flustered now. “It’s...we’d...”

He can’t finish. He doesn’t know how.

Billy seems to sag a little, his face slackening slightly. “Courage,” he says with obvious effort, “is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.”

Rick can’t even speak anymore.

He doesn’t have to.

“I’m not a wise man,” Billy says. “Those words aren’t mine. I told you the truth in the beginning: I say a lot of things I don’t mean because I’m too much of a coward to face the truth more often than not. But you, Rick. You’ve taught me courage again. You’ve taught me how to live. You’ve taught all of us. And I’d give anything I had to protect that, to preserve it, because God knows the world needs men like you.”

Everything hurts. Everything burns. Everything and nothing and everything.

Billy takes a breath, and it’s wheezing and wet. He shudders, grimacing as he holds himself together. “Courage seeks to live, but it’s willing to die,” he says. “I’d take your place, if I could, but I fear fate wants us both this time.”

And Rick is breaking. He’s falling apart. He’s not the man Billy thinks he is. He’s barely a man at all. He thinks of his mother and his brother and Adele and the soccer trophies he never won. He thinks about the open box of cereal he left on the table, his favorite coffee mug with the chip in the handle. He thinks of his mother’s gumbo, Adele’s shampoo, Plotkin’s office chair and Blanke’s stupid smile.

He thinks: he doesn’t want to die.

He thinks: he shouldn’t have to die.

He thinks.

And then Billy spasms, his controlled facade faltering irrevocably. This time, he can’t stop the coughs as they shake him, one harder than the last, ripping through his body with a terrifying intensity. He convulses, blood welling up and weeping down his chin as he chokes.

This time, Rick acts. He’s been paralyzed by the weight of his situation, but it occurs to him that Billy’s worse off. Rick may be able to pretend the inevitable isn’t coming; Billy’s not so lucky.

He’s on his knees now, next to Billy. His knees are wet in Billy’s blood, the ineffectual bandage proving useless after all.


Rick rolls Billy on his side, supporting the Scot by the shoulder while he coughs and retches, face stark white as he strains.

It seems to take too long, but when he stops, Billy’s spent. His face is translucent, eyes half-lidded as his body is trembling uncontrollably now. His skin is stained red, fingers limp and body listless as Rick tries to prop him up.

It’s a losing battle. Billy flops forward and Rick scrambles to catch him. He tries several more times while tears drip from Billy’s eyes before he gives up altogether, scooping the Scot up and hoisting him into his arms.

The hold is awkward, Billy’s body heavy and twisted. Rick can feel the hot blood soaking his clothes, even as he cradles Billy so the other operative can see him clearly.

For what it’s worth. Billy’s eyes are clouded now, foggy even without the thickening smoke. His breathing is erratic, uneven pants through blood-stained lips. Yet, there’s awareness. He laughs, a tired, wretched sound that cuts off with a horrible shudder. Billy squeezes his eyes shut, tears still leaking freely, and when he opens them again, Rick can see the fear.

“I didn’t -- want it -- to be like this,” Billy says, each word forced and desperate, heaved out with the last vestiges of Billy’s strength. “I tried -- I tried...”

“Hey,” Rick says, holding him tighter. “None of this is your fault.”

It’s not clear if Billy can hear him. He shakes his head, face crumpling. “Thought we’d have -- time.” He convulses again, fresh blood flecking his lips. “So many -- regrets--”

“We all have them,” Rick tells him, and that much isn’t a lie. “Doesn’t change the fact that you’re still a good spy. A good man.”

Billy laughs, barely audible now. His head moves minutely. “I wish...”

“I know,” Rick says without hesitation, willing Billy to hear, to understand, to believe. “I know.

But Billy’s tremors start to ease, gaze drifting. His breathing has slackened, his body going horribly limp in Rick’s arms. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs.

Rick’s heart skips a beat, pulling painfully in his chest. Hot tears sting his eyes and he doesn’t try to stop them. “Me, too.”

Billy’s eyes focus, one last time. One last moment. “You’ll do it?”

It’s a simple question, and yet, not. It’s life; it’s death. It’s the mission and one last promise. It’s finding the courage to do what needed to be done.

No matter what.

He doesn’t look away. Doesn’t blink. He nods. “Yeah,” he says -- promises -- even as his stomach roils and his palms go sweaty. “I’ll do it.”

And then Billy’s trembling stops, his breathing halts. His eyes stare out and there’s nothing left.

Except one thing.

Rick is numb when he reaches up and closes Billy’s eyes. He can hardly feel anything when he lays Billy on the ground, rooting around until he finds the package still tucked safely by Billy’s side. The smoke is too thick to see through now; the entire structure groaning. Somewhere, there are still voices.

It’s too late to get out.

It’s not too late to make this mean something.

Rick’s done crying. Rick’s done panicking. He’s done looking for miracles, denying the truth.

Rick’s just done.

He opens the briefcase. The mechanism is surprisingly simple. Rick’s no expert, but bombs are made to go off.

Steady now, he looks at Billy. He thinks of Michael and Casey. He thinks of his mother and Adele.

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.

Rick’s always wanted to be a hero, even if he’s never wanted to die.

Wanting to live is the same thing, though. He can’t embrace life if he refuses to accept death.

He’s not scared anymore. He doesn’t know what comes next, but suddenly it doesn’t matter.



He closes his eyes, finger on the detonator. One last choice. One last moment. It means something.

It means everything.

His finger twitches. His lungs ache; his head throbs. His breathing is compromised, his mind hazy. But he still knows what he’s doing. Now, more than ever.

He presses down.

For a suspended moment, the light illuminates everything, Billy and Rick and the mission and the ODS. He sees Langley and his family and the life he’s lived, the life he might have lived. He sees the children he never had and the missions he’s never completed. He sees Casey’s retirement and Michael’s remarriage to Fay. He sees Billy telling jokes when he gets welcomed back to the UK. He sees the four of them, as they should be, as they are, as Rick always thought they’d be.

And then, as quickly as it came, the light fizzles and pops, burning itself out into nothingness again.


Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: December 24th, 2012 06:02 pm (UTC)

Not many would appreciate this compliment, but that was a wonderful Christmas Eve story! So sad, in many ways horrendously so because of the inconceivable situation and choice, but it "bleeds" bravery, courage and bonding!!! Oh my goodness! You had me with Billy's mortal wound!

I thoroughly loved this! *rushes to read my story now.

Fave part:

Billy takes a breath, and it’s wheezing and wet. He shudders, grimacing as he holds himself together. “Courage seeks to live, but it’s willing to die,” he says. “I’d take your place, if I could, but I fear fate wants us both this time.”

--I love that Billy wishes it was only him making the choice, only him who dies. It's also great that he is still thinking of a way to make their deaths meaningful!!


Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 4th, 2013 01:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow!
billy bruised

Heh, yeah I knew you'd like this one, maybe even better than the one I wrote for you :) Glad it made for a nice Christmas read!


Posted by: Lena7142 (lena7142)
Posted at: December 24th, 2012 09:07 pm (UTC)

I love your take on that quote so much. You gave me everything tragic and heartbreaking and beautiful. Really. Amazing fic, and thank you so much.

Rick frowns. “And we overcome it,” he says. “Right? It reminds us that we’re human?”

“Fragile even,” Billy concurs. He swallows, a pronounced shudder passing through him. He closes his eyes for a moment before looking at Rick again. “You need to know it’s not your fault.”

I love how this exchange echoes that lovely moment in Core Fortitude between Rick and Billy. It summons up so much of their past together in between the lines. Excellent writing.

You spoil me!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 4th, 2013 01:19 pm (UTC)
billy watches

Gah, so much death! Why do people keep asking me to write deathfics?


Yeah, apparently I'm still in flailing mode :) But I'm glad you liked this! I don't spoil you. I only give you a fraction of what you deserve.

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