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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos/Pacific Rim: The First Line of Defense (7b2/7)

December 29th, 2013 (03:01 pm)
annoyed

feeling: annoyed

MASTER POST



The aftermath is quiet.

As a pilot, Billy had been used to two kinds of homecomings. One, where he was the triumphant hero. The other – well, he didn’t much remember the others at all.

This, though.

This is different.

Titan Crusader and his pilots are gone; the Kaiju has fallen; but for the team back at the Shatterdome, the work isn’t over. In many ways, it’s just begun.

Analysts compile data; technicians start to reset the system. Recovery teams are deployed, and scientific surveying crews are sent to the scene. Someone is handling the press; another is drafting a pair of obituaries. There are people mapping the fight, compiling information and footage from a wide range of sources to prepare a comprehensive overview of what happened. Technical teams are poring over the data, gauging the mechanical responses and their strengths and weaknesses.

There are a thousand tasks, each menial and important in their own right.

For Olivia, however, there’s just one thing.

“Permission to prepare the Jaeger Bay,” she says.

The LOCCENT Commander, looks surprised, then sympathetic. “You know the standard operating procedure,” she says. “Totaled jaegers are sent to Oblivion Bay.”

“Then don’t bring me the whole thing,” Olivia says. “I know you’ll retrieve its black box. Just bring me the Conn Pod with it.”

“The PPDC likes to centralize—“

“To hell with the damn PPDC,” Olivia spits. “Crusader was our Jaeger. His pilots were our pilots. Let me do this.”

“We don’t even know the condition—“

Olivia makes a face. “All the more reason to bring the Conn Pod home,” she says. “We can’t operate like we’re fighting some cold and sterile war. If we’re going to win, it’s not because we have perfect standard operating procedures. It’ll because we have the heart to do the right thing. Please, bring Crusader home.”

She emphatic about it, and her gaze is nothing short of intense. He’s seen her like this before, when she has her mind made up and there’s nothing left to change it. That’s one reason he’d loved her; she’d never doubted certain things, and she’d never been afraid to fight for them.

In that instant, he wonders how he’d ever lived without her. How he’d ever forgotten that part of him, that corner of her heart where she would always live. She is a part of him, and even with all the time and all that has happened, he can feel their connection now, more than ever.

She is nothing short of a force of nature.

Billy’s not the only one who knows it.

Shikata moves forward, quietly nodding his head. “Tell the crews to collect the conn pod.”

The LOCCENT Officer turns, eyes wide. “But, sir—“

Shikata smiles, almost fondly. “What will they do to us? Shut us down?”

The implications are not lost.

The Officer nods. “Yes, sir.”

Shikata looks to Olivia. “I want you to show the PPDC and the world that our efforts here are not in vain. We have lost much, but we will salvage what we can with our heads held high.”

Olivia inclines her head stiffly. “Yes, sir.”

-o-

She’s out the door without another word, but if she’d been hoping to lose Billy, she was out of luck. Not even a pace behind, Billy fell in step with her down the hall.

“What happened to the good little soldier I used to know?” he asks.

She purses her lips. “You’re not one to talk,” she mutters. “All your talk of duty and responsibility.”

“I was speaking in a broader sense—“

“And so am I,” she returns sharply.

Billy shrugs. “It’s just ironic—“

She turns sharply, stopping abruptly. “No,” she says, vehement now. “No, it’s really not. Because you think it’s your duty to lay down your life for some greater good. I think it’s my duty to save as many people as I can, starting with the people right next to me. Dying doesn’t help anyone, Billy. Dying just does the Kaiju’s job for them. Dying is a literal dead end.”

She’s breathing faster now, her cheeks flushed. She swallows so hard that it looks painful.

Billy’s stomach twists, and the guilt flairs deep inside. “I never meant it like that—“

“Then what did you mean?” she asks.

“I never wanted to go down,” he explains softly. “What happened in Avalon—“

“You let go, Billy,” she says, voice deadly and quiet now. “You let go.”

“I passed out from blood loss—“

“You let go and you didn’t have a single, bloody regret,” she says, and her eyes are brimming now. “You didn’t regret anything.”

“All I could think about was that we’d won,” he says, gesturing helplessly. “We’d saved a lot of people.”

“But we didn’t save what matters most!” she hisses.

“I reckon that’s what makes us heroes.”

Her face contorts somewhat. She shakes her head. “And that’s why I left,” she says. “I was tired of being a hero.

“But it’s a job someone is called to,” he says gently.

“Oh, spare me the lecture,” she says, flicking her ponytail restlessly. “I know all about saving the damn world. The PPDC sells the world on it, and we all eat it up. We’re making a world of heroes, all willing to go down with the ship. In the end, there’s not going to be anything left. Anyone can fall. Seems like no one know how to live anymore, though.”

She’s broken, and she’s hurting. It’s his fault. He didn’t choose to die, but he made all the choices that led up to it, so it’s still his fault. It’s his fault for never listening when she spoke; it’s his fault for thinking that the strength of their connection explained away the doubts. It’s almost funny, how two people can be so close and he never understood.

She’d been scared back then, and he’d never thought to see it. She’d been scared, and he’d lived up to all her nightmares.

No wonder she’d run away.

He reaches out to touch her. “Liv—“

She pulls away brusquely, shaking her head as she starts to walk again. “I’m not doing this now,” she mutters. “So if you’re going to leave, this is your chance.”

Billy watches her, studies her figure. She’s stronger than he is, she always has been. Maybe that was why he’d missed her vulnerability.

She’s giving him an out. It might be easier.

Except he can’t leave her.

Not when she’s everything good inside of him – and so much more.

-o-

It’s a long night.

Granted, Billy is used to working long hours in high stress situations. He has faced Kaiju in the field, after all, so really, working in an enclosed bay with no outside stressors next to the woman he loves should be easy.

He finds it to be anything but.

Olivia had always been impressive in the field, but the way she works in the Jaeger bay is no less of a feat. She keeps a skeletal crew on hand to prep the area. She clears out the heavy machinery and opens a large, flat space on the ground, double checking the dimensions.

It’s well into the night when the conn pod finally arrives, towed in by one of the helicopters. It takes some improvisation to get it inside – the conveyer belt is designed for a massive Jaeger, and Olivia personally jury-rigs the lift so it can extend higher.

She orchestrates with the crew to get an indoor crane in place, and it’s a tense, quiet effort to lift the conn pod all the way up and onto the newly created work surface.

When it gets there, Olivia is breathing heavily and she stands back with her hands on her hips. “Okay, everyone,” she says. “Good work for tonight. But it’s been a long day. Why don’t you all get some sleep. The B crew will be on in the morning, but I expect you all to report for second shift, no exceptions.”

Olivia’s team nods. No one disagrees. Even if they had the heart, it’s impossible to disagree with Olivia.

Billy watches them go, each more weary than the last. When it’s just the two of them, Billy finally says, “What about you?”

She sets her mouth in a grim line. “You know the answer to that.”

“You’re staying,” he concludes.

She looks at him. “I’m not the type to let go.”

He nods again, taking a breath and letting it out. “Okay, then,” he says. “Then tell me where to start.”

She raises her eyebrows. “This is my responsibility, Billy. Not yours—“

He tilts his head, giving her a plaintive look. “Your responsibility is my responsibility,” he says. “That’s the way it should be. That’s the way it’s going to be from here on out.”

She looks uncertain; part of her clearly wants to argue. But finally, she nods back. “Okay,” she says. “Grab the tools.”

Billy grins, feeling hope rise in his chest. “Just tell me what to do.”

-o-

Olivia’s always been good at giving orders. Billy’s not so great at taking them, except where Olivia is concerned. In that, he is nothing but attentive. She works hard.

He works harder.

The work is long and tedious. They disassemble parts and organize the pieces. When they start to tap into the power relays, Olivia coaches him carefully so as to protect the data.

He loses track of time – around Olivia, time has always been meaningless – but he’s grounded in the task at hand. A duty. It’s not flashy; it’s not life-and-death.

But it is important.

Working in tandem with Olivia, it may be the most important one of all.

-o-

When they’re done, Billy’s not even sure if it’s morning or night. Some technicians start to show up as they’re done with the disassembly, and they’ve got the relays hooked up to computers to disseminate the data.

Olivia stands, adjusting her ponytail before wiping her hands on her pants. Following her, Billy gets wearily to his feet, the sudden weight of fatigue settling over him. It’s not that he’s unaccustomed to hard work, but he remembers dimly that he’s only just been discharged from the hospital. Two days? Three? They’re all blurring together now, not like the edges of his vision.

“The hard work’s done,” Olivia says, to a man who looks like the second in command. “I want you to monitor the transfer and work on cataloguing the parts. Anything that can be reused, I want salvaged. Separate the rest for recycling. Even if we can’t use it, I’ll bet Sydney or Hong Kong can.”

The man nods, turning abruptly to start giving orders to the new wave of workers. Olivia sighs, looking to Billy, who hasn’t left her side.

“Well,” she says. She’s weary, too, and a little broken, but there’s a steadiness in her. A familiarity that wasn’t there before. Her lips twitch slightly. “You coming with me?”

It’s not quite an invitation. But it’s certainly not a rejection. It’s a place to start.

It’s something to hold on to.

A smile spreads across Billy’s face, and his chest fills with relief. He’s so set on following her that he doesn’t realize how weak he actually is.

Until his knees give out and the floor rushes up to meet him.

-o-

Even unconscious, Billy knows. He knows what’s happening. He knows what he’s done. He knows he’s neglected himself and left himself vulnerable – and he knows that this is the price.

He doesn’t regret it – he can’t, not when he’s still with Olivia – but he’s been here before. He can hear her, pleading with him, begging him. Billy, hold on. Just hold on.

Letting go is easier. Letting go is probably even forgivable. For all Billy knows, it’s inevitable.

Even so, this time, he refuses.

This time, he holds on.

This time.

-o-

There’s movement; there are voices. Billy aches, trying to curl in, but he can’t. A bright light shines behind his eyes, and something warm spreads through his arm.

But someone’s holding his hand. He recognizes the callouses, feels the strong grip as it clutches his fingers.

And he squeezes back.

-o-

When he wakes again, he knows he’s not alone. He’s not sure of much else, but he knows.

His fingers wrap around Olivia’s again, and he smiles. Because she’s here. She’s here, and he’s here, and they’re together.

Finally.

She takes a tremulous breath, shaking her head. “You’re an idiot.”

He knits his brow. “That’s not exactly the response I was looking for.”

“Well, what did you expect then?”

He shrugs a little. “Love, adoration, relief.”

“I am relieved that your idiocy didn’t get you killed,” she says. “But you are still an idiot. Why didn’t you tell me how badly you were injured?”

He makes a disinterested face. “Didn’t seem relevant,” he says. “Besides, I was released from the hospital.”

“After sustaining significant injuries and spending an extended time unconscious and in rehabilitation,” she reminds him. “The medical team got your file. You didn’t tell me you nearly died.”

“Nearly,” Billy points out.

“Seems to be a habit with you,” she mutters crossly.

Billy shakes his head. “It wasn’t like that,” he says. “Not this time?”

She doesn’t look convinced.

“When Disruptor went down, I nearly lost Rick – my copilot,” he says. “I felt him in my mind. I felt him slip away. I felt him let go.” He swallows, feeling slightly nauseous. “It was the worst feeling of my life, and I couldn’t let him go – I just couldn’t.”

Olivia’s face has turned somber. “You saved his life, though,” she says. “He’s fine.”

“I know,” he says, shaking his head. “But that moment – that loss. He was just gone…”

She moistens her lips. “It changes you,” she continues for him quietly.

He lifts his eyes to meet hers.

She doesn’t look away. “It changes everything.”

He almost deflates. “I’m sorry, Olivia,” he says. “I had no idea. I don’t blame you for leaving. I was stupid – I was so, so stupid—“

Her face contorts, and she closes her eyes for a long moment. “It wasn’t – I didn’t,” she cuts off with a choked sound. Her eyes open. “It wasn’t you,” she says. “It wasn’t your fault. I know that. You’d lost too much blood. The Kaiju – it had ripped you open.”

“I never should have let go,” Billy tells her. “I never should have made promises I couldn’t keep.”

She laughs, short and hard, wiping at her eye. “That was our job, Billy,” she says. “I blamed you, but I always knew that. It was our job, and I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I knew I could never get back in a Jaeger after what happened.”

“I would have understood—“

She gives him a knowing look.

“We could have tried—“

“Maybe,” she relents. Her shoulders slump. “But I didn’t want to try. I’d lost so much. I couldn’t be a pilot, but I knew I couldn’t be near you and hold to that resolve. I’d never been so scared, and I hated that. I hated that with everything inside of me. The Kaiju had taken everything from me – my self-esteem, my confidence, you—“

“None of this is your fault—“

“Yeah,” she says, sniffling now. “Yeah, it is. I was so mad at you for letting go, but I let go, too. I let go even more than you did. I let go when I should have known better, just because I was too scared to hold on.”

“I didn’t fight—“

“And I gave up,” she tells him.

Her pain is hard to watch, and the emotion on her face threatens to break him again. This isn’t why he came; this isn’t what he wants. He doesn’t blame her – he can’t.

“Olivia,” he says quietly, reaching for her again. “You are the strongest woman I have ever met. You bravery knows no bounds, and your ability to focus under pressure is unparalleled.”

Her expression wavers.

He doesn’t stop. “But you should know that I think no less of you for having emotions,” he says. “No one can be strong all the time. And I should have recognized that sooner. I should have told you sooner. I should have—“

“Oh, shut up,” Olivia says, a few tears slipping down her cheeks. She gets up abruptly and for a terrible moment, Billy thinks she’s going to leave. But then she grips his hand back, moving closer and sitting on his bed. She reaches up, tentatively, and brushes her fingers across his face. “Just shut up.”

Billy’s mouth is open to speak, but doesn’t have time to speak when Olivia kisses him, their fingers laced, holding like they may never let go.

-o-

Billy is suffering exhaustion more than anything else. After an IV and a good meal, the medical staff clears him and Olivia helps him into the corridor. He’s focused on not making a fool of himself, when Olivia opens a door.

Billy stops, cocking his head. “These aren’t my quarters—“

Olivia rolls her eyes. “You don’t have quarters,” she says. “You shouldn’t be here at all.”

“But you’re here,” he protests, trying not to sound feeble.

She sighs. “I know,” she says. “Which is why we’re at my quarters.”

He looks up in sudden surprise. “You hardly ever let me in your quarters.”

“That was before,” she says. “It’s not like you have any other place to go.”

He straightens, feeling unduly speechless. It’s not that big of a deal, he thinks rationally. But somehow…somehow, it is. “Are you sure?”

She rolls her eyes. “Shut up and get inside,” she says. “Because if you pass out again, I will leave you there.”

Billy grins. “Well, then,” he says, inclining his head. “After you…”

-o-

Inside, the room is neat and tidy. Everything is ordered and in its place, and it is surprisingly devoid of effects. Billy has never been overtly sentimental – he has things for the lack of throwing them out, but he carries few relics with him. He recognizes a few pictures of her family, a few medals from her career with the RAF – and then he stops on a small piece of metal poised on her shelf.

He reaches out, picking it up. “Is that…?”

She takes it from him and puts it down. “It’s the first part I ever replaced in Avalon Challenger,” she says. Her gaze lingers. “After she went down, there wasn’t much to keep.”

Billy raises his eyebrows. “We salvaged parts of her for Orion Disruptor,” he says. “I always could tell. Sometimes, in the drift, I heard whispers—“

Olivia presses her lips together, and Billy realizes he’s said the wrong thing.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t—“

She shakes her head abruptly, and Billy expects anger, but when she looks up, she just looks sad. “It’s just…,” she trails off with a taut sight. “I can’t do this.”

He nods. “I’m not asking for that.”

She huffs, laughing tersely. “Then what are you asking for? I left because of that. I left because I couldn’t take anyone else in my head. Not again.”

“Okay,” he says, stepping forward a little. “Not your head, then. What about your heart?”

She hesitates, so profoundly that it looks painful. The struggle on her face is clear, but she finally shakes her head. “Damn it, Billy,” she says in a rush. “You’re already there. You always have been.”

His heart swells, and the emotion fills his chest so much that it feels like it could burst. This is every dream he’s ever had, every hope he’s ever dared to dream. It’s always been Olivia, even when he didn’t know it, even when he Drifted with Rick. He’s never loved someone so completely.

He doesn’t know how he’s lived without her.

He closes the rest of the distance, taking her hands. “Then let’s leave,” he says, letting the emotion carry him. “You and me. Let’s go.”

Her brow knits. “Go where?”

Billy shrugs. “Anywhere!” he says. “Out of the Shatterdome, away from the Pacific.”

“We can’t run—“

“And why not?” Billy pushes.

Her jaw drops. “We have a responsibility—“

“I don’t have a Jaeger, and neither do you,” he points out.

“But the Shatterdome—“

He raises his eyebrows. “You think Tokyo will stay open? With what funding?”

She wets her lips. “But they might need more development—“

“They might,” Billy agrees. “But they’ve got an entire fleet they can’t pay. Even if they do offer you a job, they don’t need you.”

“But,” she sputters somewhat. “The fight—“

“—isn’t ours anymore,” Billy says. “You said it, Liv. You’ve known it all along. This world is full of soldiers, people willing to fall.” He shakes his head. “Anyone can fall, and we both have. Now I think we need to do something else. Now we need to learn how to live.”

It’s sentimental. It may even be stupid.

It’s also true.

The only truth that matters, maybe.

There’s doubt on her face, but when he looks in her eyes—

When he sees inside.

When he sees everything.

They don’t need the Drift.

They don’t need a Jaeger.

They just need each other.

Her fingers squeeze his back, and a smile spreads across her face. “Okay,” she says, softly first. But the certainty swells and they know. They both know. “Okay.”

-o-

It’s surprisingly easy to leave. Billy waits for Olivia outside of Shikata’s office; he says he can wait in her room, but she insists it will be short. As usual, she is right about this much, and a few minutes later she exits the room.

“No problems?” he asks.

She smiles a little. “I saved him the heartache of having to lay me off.”

Billy sighs. “He would have got you in at Hong Kong.”

Her smile widens now. “You’re not getting out of this that easily, Collins.”

Billy chuckles. “Fair enough,” he says. “You ready?”

She turns a little somber. “There’s just one thing left I have to do.”

“Can I come?”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “This one I’ve got to do alone.”

-o-

Billy walks her to the Jaeger Bay, but he lets her go in by herself. He watches for a moment while she makes her goodbyes, spending her time with each team member before talking at length with her second in command.

Then she goes to the remains of the Jaeger.

This will be the hardest goodbye, Billy knows.

He knows too well.

-o-

It’s been so long since he’s been with Olivia, but he trusts her as he does himself, so he does not feel compelled to linger. One of the benefits of their previous intimacy is that Billy is almost unable to doubt where she is concerned. She will come when she’s ready.

After all this time, he can wait a bit longer still.

Besides, it occurs to him that he is, in fact, hungry. His trip to the medical wing was a bit of a wake up call, and if he’s going on another long trip, he probably needs to get his strength up first.

Plus, he’s going to miss cafeteria food. Yes, the selection is horrible. True, it’s mostly cold and painfully rationed, but he likes going through the line and piling different dishes onto his tray. It just makes him happy.

He doesn’t have an ID card, but a bit of small talk and an affectionate wink get him through the line, and he’s settled down to eat what looks like processed meatloaf when someone sits down across for him. Being a part of the PPDC so long, Billy is a bit used to a crowd, although it’s not as common these days. Besides, the ranks formed their clicks. Newcomers were not readily acclimated on a whim.

When he finally does look up, he’s even more surprised. Because this is not some well-intentioned J-tech officer. Nor is this some curious K-science groupie.

This is Stacker Pentecost.

Stacker Pentecost, sitting across from him and staring him down. One of the first rangers, one of the best. The one who piloted Coyote Tango for hours by himself, and now the man who heads up the entire Jaeger Program. The heart and soul of it; the staunchest defender and the most masterful centerpiece of them all.

Stacker Pentecost.

“Ranger Collins,” Pentecost says.

Billy blinks, a bit dumb. “Just Billy now,” he says.

Pentecost inhales, looking perturbed. “Once you pilot a Jaeger, you’re always a Ranger.”

Billy nods, taking a small bite of his food. “It is something that sticks with you,” he agrees. “But you know that better than I do.”

Pentecost does not seem interested in small talk. This does not surprise Billy. While he has always been impressed with the man, he has always thought him to be too stiff to actually like. Billy is not intimidated by much, but there have been times when he thinks he’d rather face a Kaiju than Pentecost’s wrath.

“There are not many pilots who walk away, you know,” Pentecost says.

Billy shrugs a little, offering a lilting smile. “Most don’t have the option,” he says. “Being dead or radioactive and all.”

Pentecost’s expression betrays no emotion. “There’s something about it,” he says. “Once you face a Kaiju, you understand the risks too well to stop.”

Billy chews a piece of his food carefully, swallowing it down with a gulp of water. Pentecost is telling mere facts, but Billy senses the implications. “I came back once,” he says. “There isn’t a Jaeger left to pilot now, though.”

“And if there was?” Pentecost presses without hesitation.

Billy wants to laugh. Surely, it has to be a joke. He knows the funding situation. He knows the dire political climate. He knows the PPDC has nothing left to give and the Jaeger program has run dry.

He knows.

And yet, Stacker Pentecost is here in Tokyo, sitting across for him for a reason. It’s not to remember the good old days and it’s not because he thinks Billy might be a decent addition to the Hong Kong staff.

No, it’s something else.

Billy puts down his fork. “Are you telling me there is?”

At this, Pentecost glances around. His voice lowers. “I’ve got a Mark 3, currently being renewed,” he says. “She’s not the fastest or the strongest, but I think she can still be a viable part of the fleet.”

Billy raises his eyebrows. “Fleet is a generous term,” he says. “How many Jaegers are left?”

Pentecost’s expression hardens – a feat Billy would not have thought possible. “Which is why we need every Jaeger and every pilot we can get,” he continues. “We need you.”

It’s the obvious request, and Billy isn’t really surprised. He’s smart enough to see that coming, but the question still leaves him buzzing.

After all, this is a Jaeger. Another chance to fight. He’d left LA because there’s been nothing left for him to do there. He’d come to Tokyo because he’d seen his fight as over.

There’s been nothing in his life as important as this; there’s been nothing as memorable or defining or relevant. He’s known since the start, he was meant to be a Jaeger pilot. He’s good at it, and it’s who he is.

So he wants to. He truly, sincerely does. The surge of metal; the power of the Drift. Facing monsters; saving lives.

That’s what it’s all about.

That’s it.

“I’m flattered,” Billy admits. “But I don’t have a copilot.”

“Martinez is out, but if you could talk Drummond—“

Billy shakes his head. “She won’t,” he says. “And I won’t ask her.”

Pentecost wets his lips with an expectant nod. “We have a whole pool of candidates,” he says. “Preliminary tests suggest there are several strong possibilities who would be Drift compatible.”

Billy stares. It’s a novel idea, almost impossible to comprehend. A new partner; a new voice in his head. A new part of his very soul. He’d never thought it possible, after Olivia. It seems even less so after Rick.

“Besides,” Pentecost continues. “We both know this war won’t last much longer, one way or another. It is my intention to win – or go down fighting.”

It is a noble intention, at its very core. One Billy believes in so strongly it hurts.

“I could really fight again?” he asks, almost childishly now.

“We could be in Hong Kong by day’s end,” Pentecost confirms.

Billy looks away, remembering to breathe. The possibility. The uncanny possibility.

Before, he would have said yes. But something has changed, and it’s not just that he doesn’t have a Jaeger. It’s not just that Rick can’t pilot or that Olivia won’t.

It’s that he’s realized something. It’s that the greatest battles are rarely the most spectacular; it’s that the most important victories usually aren’t anything at all.

It’s that Billy’s made a choice, a commitment.

He made a promise, not to let go.

He promised.

He looks at Pentecost again, shaking his head. “I’m honored, sir, but I have to decline.”

Pentecost stiffens, looking at him darkly. “I do not need to remind you the stakes, Ranger.”

Billy shakes his head. “I know the stakes,” he says. “That’s why I have to walk away.”

“This isn’t a personal flight of fancy,” Pentecost continues gruffly. “This is a battle for humanity.”

“Aye,” Billy agrees. “It may end with a Jaeger, but it has to start someplace else. It has to start within us all, and I can’t do that in a Jaeger.”

“You’d be so selfish?” Pentecost demands.

Billy remembers Rick; he remembers Michael and Casey. He remembers Orion Disruptor and Avalon Challenger. He remembers Olivia.

He nods, smiling. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, I think I would.”

Pentecost sighs, but he’s a smart man. He knows a lost cause as readily as anyone. “I figured as much,” he says with resignation. “But I still had to ask.”

“Surely you have other options?” Billy asks.

Pentecost gets to his feet, looking a little grim. “Just one,” he says.

Billy nods. “Good luck with that, then,” he says. Then he shrugs. “With everything.”

“You’ll know how it goes,” Pentecost tells him, adjusting his uniform. “One way or another.”

-o-

Olivia finds him not long later.

“Finish everything up?” he asks.

“There’s a thousand things I could do,” she says, sounding a little harried.

“Well, we aren’t in any rush,” he says diplomatically.

But she shakes her head, eyes suddenly clear and bright. “There will always be a million things,” she says. “Until this world is nothing more than ash.”

“You sure about this?” Billy asks, just to be sure.

She smiles, looking him clear in the eye. “I think you know the answer to that.”

Billy grins back, reaching across to take her hand. “Shall we?”

She looks almost giddy, taking his fingers and giving them a squeeze. “We shall.”

They leave together, hand in hand. They aren’t sure where they’re going, but they both know they’re not going to look back.