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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: Hanging On (2/3)

January 30th, 2014 (11:03 am)
scared

feeling: scared

Notes in the MASTER POST



When Billy wakes up, it seems like a long time in coming. Somehow, he’s aware that time has passed -- probably too much time -- and he has the distinct impression that he’s missed something important.

With his eyes open, he studies the ceiling -- drab tiles with little holes -- and it seems unsettlingly unfamiliar because he’s supposed to be at the safehouse.

On the mission.

With Rick.

His eyes widen and he sucks in a breath--

And is assailed with pain. He’s half-choking with it, gagging for a moment before there’s a steady hand on his shoulder, pressing him firmly but gently back toward the bed. “Whoa, careful.”

It takes a minute while Billy breathes through his nose, tears burning in his eyes. His neck feels like it’s on fire, so he turns his eyes to the side, just far enough to see Michael perched by his side. He looks haggard, hair mussed and shirt wrinkled. The lines around his eyes are deeper suddenly, and even though he’s trying to smile, there’s fear in his eyes.

Fear. Billy knows fear. He can still feel it tickling the back of his brain, building in his chest and making his stomach go cold.

“You with me?” Michael asks, brow creasing with even more concern.

Billy tries to get ahold of his emotions, but finds himself shaky. He tries to swallow, but finds it difficult, and as he reaches up to his neck, he remembers--

The rope around his neck, the pressure on his throat. The men, the failed sensors, the window, Rick.

Billy looks up again, eyes locking on Michael’s with renewed intensity. When he opens his mouth, though, the sound that comes out is garbled and strained. He cuts himself off with a grimace, swallowing with decided effort before he tries again. “Rick?”

This time, the name is clear if barely audible. His voice is nothing more than a wisp, and just the mere act of breathing seems to aggravate it. But he has to know.

Michael shifts in his seat, the briefest flicker of uncertainty passing through his eyes. Billy’s the self-professed thespian of the group, but Michael knows how to keep his poker face when he needs to. “We can talk about that later--”

Billy shakes his head minutely, locking his jaw against the pain. “Rick,” he mouths again, keeping his gaze unwavering on Michael.

Michael sighs, shoulders sagging. “He just got out of surgery,” he admits. “They’ve got him on the critical list right now, but they say it went pretty well in there. Got the bullet out without too much complication. He could be moved up to ‘stable’ in the next few hours.”

It’s something of a consolation. He still remembers seeing Rick go down; he still remembers the blood.

Reflexively, he swallows again with a pronounced wince. Seeing Rick go down is without a doubt one of the scariest moments of his career. But being strung up by his neck and waking up unable to speak isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Eyes still fixed on Michael, Billy mouths, “Me?”

At that, Michael grimaces. “The fact that you’re awake and you remember is a good thing,” he says. “You were pretty cyanotic there for a while. They were worried about brain damage.”

Michael’s words are a little flippant, but Billy knows he’s just trying to hide the weight of this situation. If Michael’s here with Billy and not Rick, then the possibility of damage must have been more pronounced than the other man cares to let on.

His head feels fuzzy but that’s actually not his most pressing concern. Billy’s hand lifts again, flitting toward his throat. “And this?”

Michael’s mouth flattens. “You were lucky -- relatively anyway,” he says. “The rope did some trachial damage but they think it’s a controlled fracture that will heal okay on its own. The ruptured blood vessels will take awhile to mend, but you manage to avoid any crushing injuries.”

Billy considers this. “My voice?”

“Should be back as soon as the swelling starts to go down,” Michael reports. “Give it a few hours, and it should start to sound better, but you’re going to be sore.”

Billy lets out a breath, closing his eyes for a moment. It’s bad, but it could be worse he reminds himself. When he opens his eyes again, he feels somewhat calmer -- at the very least, he’s ready to face this mission again. “Who?”

Michael’s mouth twitches, eyes narrowing just slightly. “No clue yet,” he says. “We’ve been waiting for you and Martinez to stabilize before we start checking back to see if we can put together what happened.”

Glancing around, Billy shifts, propping himself up a little. “Should we go?”

Before he gets very far, Michael’s hand is on his shoulder again. “You shouldn’t go anywhere,” he says pointedly.

Billy frowns.

“The only reason you can swallow at all is because they’ve got you on the good meds to control the pain,” Michael advises him. “Plus, they want to make sure your trachea is healing okay before they let you go.”

Billy settles back but he gives Michael an indignant look. “This mission--”

“We’ll take care of it,” Michael promises him.

“I can’t just lie here!” Billy protests, the airy words sounding pathetic amid the humming machines.

Michael glances back toward the door. “Actually, that’s all you can do.”

The idea of speaking is suddenly more effort than it’s worth for his pathetic timbre, so Billy settles for a glare instead.

Scratching the back of his neck, Michael’s face scrunches up. “You’re sort of on psychiatric watch.”

It’s not the answer he’s expecting. Billy can only stare.

Michael shrugs. “Casey took Rick in and we only had the one car,” he explains. “I couldn’t compromise the safehouse any worse than it already was so I took you across the hall and said it was a suicide attempt.”

Billy can only gape. The fact that he’s been almost choked to death is part of that, certainly, but the shock of Michael’s revelation doesn’t help.

“I couldn’t get the authorities involved,” Michael says, sounding downright apologetic. “If they’d thought you’d been attacked, we’d really be in a mess.”

Billy glowers. “And we’re so fine now?” he asks, the words punctuated with squeaks of air as he tries to sound indignant.

“It’s only 48 hours,” Michael offers.

“48 hours!” Billy exclaims -- or tries to. It’s a rather meager sound, though, that does nothing to capture the injustice. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Tell them a story,” Michael says. “Isn’t that what you do? Create a persona? Get people to believe it?”

“Personas with some basis in reality,” Billy counters. “Look at me! Would a man such as myself ever be believably suicidal?”

“Well, right now the bruising on your throat is sort of a compelling point against you.”

Billy knits his brows together crossly. “You can break me out.”

“And take you back to the safehouse?” Michael offers. “We’re better off here.”

“Easy for you to say,” he mutters.

“Not really,” Michael replies, getting to his feet. “I’d stay but they’re only giving me a few minutes while you wake up. The rest of the time, you’re going to be kept alone.”

Billy purses his lips together.

“Hospital policy,” Michael explains. “They want to assess you without outside influences.”

Billy feels like flailing. Maybe it’s the mission; maybe it’s that Rick’s been shot. Maybe it’s that he’s been choked or maybe it’s all the damn drugs in his system.

Or really, it could just be the fact that he’s being kept mostly in isolation on a 48 hour psych hold.

This time, his face is pleading. “You can’t go,” he begs. “What am I supposed to do?”

Michael pats his shoulder one last time, lips quirking up into a grin. “Well, just hang in there, okay, buddy?”

Billy doesn’t smile; he can still feel the rope, still see that damn poster. “Not funny.”

Michael moves to the door. “If you want, I could stop by the safehouse and pick up the poster for you.”

“Very not funny,” Billy hisses, wishing he had a proper voice to express his displeasure.

Michael simply grins wickedly at him for a moment, but at the door, he hesitates. “Seriously, though,” he says. “You’d be here for two days anyway. It’s not that bad. We’ll be here with Rick--”

“And you’ll let me know?”

Michael nods. “If we need to.”

With that, Michael leaves, and Billy watches him go.

They’re okay, he reminds himself, even as he takes another painful swallow. Rick’s going to be okay; Michael will salvage the mission. Billy has survived this much; he’ll survive the rest.

It’ll be okay.

-o-

It’s not a long walk to the ICU, but Michael already feels exhausted when he steps out of the elevator. He knows Billy’s going to be okay -- it was a close thing, and Michael’s not going to forget the image of Billy half-suspended from the floor any time soon -- but Billy’s alive and he’s more upset about being pegged for suicide watch than he is that he just got strung up and left to die.

And he wasn’t lying about Rick -- not really. The doctors had been optimistic, from what Casey had told him. But the kid is still on the critical list, and Michael is never under the assumption that concepts such as luck actually work in their favor.

Plus, he’s not even sure what time it is. They’d gotten back to the safehouse well after dinner, and between everything, Michael’s pretty sure it’s the middle of the night and rapidly approaching dawn. Considering he hasn’t slept -- hell, he hasn’t even had a cup of coffee -- he’s feeling pretty worn down.

None of that even touches on the fact that this mission’s status is tenuous, that the safehouse has been breached, that someone nearly killed two of his men and he doesn’t know why. He’s been on and off the phone with Langley; he’s been working through their backup IDs. There’s a backup team on the way from Cape Town, but none of that helps him now.

Nothing helps him now except some good news and a place to close his eyes.

But when he walks around the corner toward Rick’s cubicle in the ICU, the first thing he sees is Casey standing in the hallway.

Michael’s stomach drops.

Casey doesn’t show it, but he worries about his teammates. A lot. Casey had been relentless during their wait for Rick’s surgery to be completed. He hadn’t even gone to the bathroom to clean up until Michael had made him, and he’d checked in with the nurses so often that Michael had worried they might issue a restraining order. When the kid had finally gotten out of surgery, Casey had insisted on staying with him.

To see him in the hallway...

“Relax,” Casey says, stopping Michael’s frantic train of thought. “He’s okay.”

Michael makes a face, disbelieving. “But--?”

“He’s awake,” Casey blurts, and a small grin plays at the edges of his mouth. “The nurses were so shocked that they called in the doctor right away. He’s in with the kid now.”

For a second, Michael can only gape. He’d wanted good news, but he’d been so braced for the bad that he’s not entirely sure he trusts this turn of events. “And he’s...?”

“Okay,” Casey says, sounding a little like he can’t believe it himself. “I mean, he was tired and in pain, but he remembers what happened. He was worried about Billy.”

Michael winces a little. “Billy’s going to be fine, but he wasn’t thrilled when I told him about the psych hold.”

“Can you blame him?” Casey asks pointedly. “Psychiatry is a questionable field of outright quackery, and while I do think Billy has more psychological issues than should be allowed, he’s not outright suicidal. I’d be indignant, too.”

Michael sighs. “If we’d taken them in together, you know we’d be even more of a mess,” he replies tautly.

Casey raises his eyebrows. “I’m not saying I disagree,” he says. “I believe it’s called empathy. It’s not an emotion I show often, but it did seem warranted.”

Michael squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, reaching a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose. His fuse is short; his shoulders are tense. He’s angry and he’s worried and he doesn’t know who to blame. “I’m sorry,” he says finally, opening his eyes and letting his arm down wearily. “I just...”

“Thought the mission was going well and came back to find that everything’s been compromised?” Casey concludes. “Yeah, I know.”

Michael looks around cautiously, uncertainly eyeing the nurses working and the visitors who seem to come and go. “I’ve got Fay working several angles back home--”

“But we have to know now,” Casey agrees with a somber nod of his head. “I mean, we’re supposed to meet with Viljoen again in--” He looks at his watch. “--four hours.”

Michael resists the urge to groan. “Look,” he says. “I’m going to go back to the safehouse and see what I can find. I’ve got a meet with the asset--”

“Who could have betrayed us,” Casey points out.

“More reason to go meet with him, see what I can find out,” he says. He looks toward Rick’s room. “Billy’s going to be in a secure ward for the next two days, so we won’t have access to him anyway. Will you...?”

“Yeah, I’ll sit with the kid,” Casey says. “I’ll see if he can remember anything.”

“And be sure to keep alert,” Michael warns. “Do a pass by the psych ward every few hours, just to be sure.”

“I’m not even sure who to protect against,” Casey reminds him. “We need to figure out who did this.”

“I know,” Michael says grimly. “That’s what I’m going to work on.”

-o-

Billy is no stranger to hospital stays. He’s had more than his share. Normally he writes it all off as an occupational hazard, but he has to admit, he’s finding this one more draining than most. It could be because it feels like he’s just finished gargling with broken glass. It could also be that his voice is still strained and squeaky, making conversation almost impossibly awkward.

Or it could just be the fact that he’s more or less locked up because everyone thinks he’s mad.

That’s an exaggeration, of course. They just think he’s suicidal. He can see it in the nurses’ eyes. Where most of the time he can waggle his eyebrows and grin to start the process of flirting; now they just look at him sadly, as though he might actually implode on their short watch.

Getting strangled, almost losing a teammate and generally buggering up a mission is hard enough -- being denied the simple pleasure of flirting with nurses is downright cruel.

It doesn’t help that his mates aren’t around. Usually he can count on one of them to keep him company through the long and monotonous hours of hospital stays. And it’s sort of making him feel on edge, not being a part of the team, especially when the mission is in the state it is.

Now that he’s awake and pleasantly medicated, Billy’s still going over it in his mind. He’d been so confused before, he’d never got a chance to discuss the details with Michael. Granted, he doesn’t know much, but he still remembers the man at the cafe. It hadn’t been coincidence.

It also hadn’t been subtle.

Perhaps he’d just been a lookout. Or maybe he’d known someone would be up there, looking down. Maybe the steady eye contact was a harbinger -- the worst kind of clue, after all, was one that you could figure out but never change.

If given photos, Billy could probably ID the man -- he had a keen sense for faces -- but they’d have to have some sort of prior photo to go off of, which might be a longshot.

Still, they have to know what the man’s affiliations are if they are going to figure out who ambushed them. It had to be someone who knew they were CIA -- because they’d found the security protocol and taken them out. Viljoen is good, but Billy’s not sure he’s that good -- not without some help. In some ways, he’s the most likely suspect being the mastermind criminal and all, but the theory still doesn’t sit well with Billy.

Though, to be fair, nothing sits well with Billy when he’s laid up in a hospital bed. Apparently in an effort to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself, the staff also sees fit to deny him any opportunities for amusement. If he doesn’t get to do something besides stare at the bloody wall, he reckons he might actually be insane by the time he gets out of here.

He sighs -- and regrets it when pain flares in his throat -- and looks at the clock.

And he sighs again, letting the low whine escape from his swollen neck unimpeded this time. With everything -- including his time unconscious and in the ER -- he’s only been here for 10 hours. Of that, he’s only been awake for three.

Which means he still has over a day left.

Hang in there,
Billy mentally reminds himself -- it could be worse, after all.

Though at this point, Billy’s not sure how.

-o-

The safehouse has already been compromised, but Michael works under the presumption that things can always get worse. There’s no security checkpoints anymore -- and he had to abandon his weapon -- so he’s more careful than ever going back inside.

On the inside, however, the scene is eerily calm. The last time he was here, Michael had been so distracted by Billy being strung from the ceiling to notice the rest. The apartment has always been sparsely furnished, but even the scant objects show the telltale signs of a struggle. The table is broken -- the laptop still open in sleep mode on the floor. And Billy’s poster is still hanging, the cuddly kitten still holding on like its life depends on it.

Michael is starting to know how it feels.

It’s some comfort, though. If only because at least Michael’s predicament isn’t emblazoned on some idiotic poster for years to come. No, when spies fall, all they get is a star on the wall -- and Michael is rather set on avoiding that for now.

Despite the obvious signs of a struggle, Michael can see no evidence that the front door has been tampered with. It was unlocked, of course, but it doesn’t seem to have been kicked in. Which meant the point of origin was the bedroom.

Turning away from the living room, Michael moves to the bedroom. The first thing he sees is the tacky puddle of congealed blood -- Rick’s blood. He doesn’t want to dwell on that, but he does note that the position suggests that Rick was in bed when it happened -- he hadn’t had much time to defend himself.

Moving around the bed, Michael goes to the window. It’s still broken, and he can feel the light breeze from outside. At the first sound of breaking glass, Rick would have been up. If he hadn’t had time to get out of bed, then whoever had broken in had known what to expect. All signs pointed to a planned hit, even if not a very clean one. The attackers came in fast and hard.

Skeptical, Michael ducks back outside, walking down to the second floor to check the security monitors. As expected, they’re visibly damaged. They had never been particularly high tech, but whoever disarmed them knew enough to simply rip them in two, effectively disarming them before an alarm could trigger.

In short, Rick and Billy had been ambushed by men who knew what they were doing and who would be in the safehouse.

And Michael just knows that his safehouse is compromised, his teammates are in the hospital, and his mission is up in the air. Worse still, he doesn’t even know who to blame.

Standing, Michael sighs, looking down the alleyway. He knows it’s actually a short list of suspects. Their asset could have sold them out or Viljoen could have made them somehow. Even so, Michael finds it hard to know how they found the safehouse. Thomas has never been there and Viljoen would have had to be on from the start to even have a chance. Michael’s careful, after all. The whole point of a safehouse is to be safe.

The irony is hard to take. Uncertainty is not something Michael enjoys. He can’t go back and prevent this, but he can figure out what happened. Starting with their asset.

Glancing at his watch, Michael starts moving the rest of the way down the fire escape. He’s got a designated meet with Thomas before the day starts -- and whether or not Michael decides to proceed with the mission, going to this meeting is sort of a must.

On the main street, he ducks his head and picks up his pace. It’s not a long distance to the cafe, but without a car, Michael still needs to hurry. He takes a circuitous route, doubling back a few times and using side roads when possible. He goes into a market for a while just to see if the crowds pass him by, but when he arrives he’s still early.

Settling down, he eyes the other patrons carefully. Nothing seems out of the ordinary, and Michael orders a water while he waits. As engrossed as he is with watching the room, he knows exactly when Thomas is late.

Thomas is middle-aged and almost absurdly punctual. His straightforward organizational habits had made them a good match from the start. Plus, Thomas’ father was an American, so he’s always had business ties. Michael turned him as an asset nearly seven years ago when his business brought him back to South Africa. With a thriving array of exports and delivery services, Thomas had ended up in the middle of a case. His team leader at the time had just wanted to get him out of the way, but Michael had seen the potential, and all these years later, Thomas had never let him down.

Until today.

After twenty minutes, Michael knows something is wrong. He thanks the waitress as he leaves, slipping out the door and starting down the street, tracking the path toward Thomas’ home. It’s not a long way, and Michael makes good time. He foregoes the front door, moving seamlessly toward the back of the house. Thomas lives alone, and there’s no sign of movement inside.

Discreetly, Michael pulls out his lockpick and starts to make quick work of the back door when the knob turns and the door swings open.

Michael freezes, his heart starting to pound. He listens, but there’s still nothing. He’s got his gun again, and when he pulls it, he’s overcome with an eerie sense of deja vu.

The floor creaks as Michael steps inside. Overhead, the ceiling fan in the kitchen is swirling lazily. There’s a plate of uneaten food on the counter. Moving farther inside, Michael sees Thomas’ keys and unopened mail.

Then he turns toward the dining room and sees Thomas.

Or what’s left of him.

Thomas’ body is tied to a chair. His body is covered in cuts and his hands are bloody where some of his fingers are missing. All of this would be garish enough if not for the fact that Thomas’ head is no longer connected to his body. Instead, it’s sitting on the dining room table, like a macabre centerpiece.

Michael closes his eyes. The emotions swell; he’s not squeamish, but he may be sick all the same. Because Thomas is dead. Worse than that, Thomas appears to have been tortured. If he is the leak that got Michael’s team attacked, he wasn’t a willing one.

Resolved, Michael opens his eyes again, forcing himself to take a closer look. He saw Thomas less than a day ago, but the blood is dried. This isn’t new -- chances are, if Michael’s right, Thomas was attacked the same time Rick and Billy were.

A coordinated, multi-pronged attack.

All of which points to Viljoen. It’s not quite his MO, but Michael supposes it’s not a stretch. Viljoen is vicious, and he’s never had any qualms about violence. People have disappeared who get close to him, but maybe he’s ready to start sending more profound messages. Maybe this is just the first time any official authority has even gotten close to him.

He’s planning to take Thomas’ credentials and go back to meet up with Viljoen, but when he gets to the living room, there’s really no point.

Because lying spread-eagled on the floor is Viljoen, eyes open and staring, limp hands holding his exposed entrails, which have spilled out from the wide and gaping slash in his stomach.

-o-

Billy doesn’t particularly care for psychiatrists. It’s not that he doubts their abilities -- the ability to understand the human psyche is very much one of the skills he treasures most in life -- but it’s just that he doesn’t much like it when people try to understand his psyche. Well adjusted people don’t become spies, and Billy can do his job just fine and he doesn’t need to talk about his tumultuous childhood to do it.

Still, it’s not like he doesn’t have any experience with psychiatrists. His training for MI6 had involved extensive psychological analysis, which had been by far his least favorite aspect of the entire thing. The doctors at the CIA had been even more thorough because apparently assessing the risk of hiring a man ousted by one of their allies was a serious sort of thing.

Billy wasn’t naive enough to think that he could smile and wink his way through a psychological evaluation. But he was also experienced enough to know that it did, in fact, help.

Somehow, though, when the psychiatrist finally makes her rounds to Billy’s room, he doesn’t think flippancy will get him very far. He is, after all, on a psychiatric hold from what the medical staff believes is an attempted suicide. Normally Billy likes to write off injuries, but he’s fairly certain that nonchalance is not the way to go this time around.

No, they’ll want him to be honest and reflective, to confess to his emotional misgivings and seek to find new purpose in life.

At the very least, it’s a performance Billy hasn’t given before, so he resolves to make the best of it.

It’s not like he has anything better to do.

Her name is Dr. Adair, and she’s about five years older than Billy. Her appearance is simple, and he thinks she could be rather fetching if she put some effort into it. Though perhaps impressing mental patients is low on her list of priorities.

“So,” Dr. Adair begins after the so-called pleasantries are out of the way. She speaks fluent English, and doesn’t waver with her eye contact. “Would you like to tell me about how you ended up here?”

At least she’s to the point. Billy bolsters himself, swallowing. His throat is still raw, but the swelling has gone down even if he’s too aware of the tender abrasions on the skin. “Apparently I tried to kill myself,” he says by way of reply.

She quirks an eyebrow. “Apparently?”

Billy clamps down his impulse to follow up with another quip and shrugs sullenly instead. “Truth be told, I don’t remember all the details.”

“What do you remember?” she asks.

Billy’s mind flashes -- the broken glass, Rick’s body on the floor, the rope around his neck -- and he works his jaw, taking a deep breath and letting it back out. He can use that anxiety -- it’s the key emotional component he has to build the right story here. “I remember thinking I had to keep hanging in there,” he says thoughtfully. He cocks his head. “But then, I just didn’t see the point.”

She nods. “So you decided to kill yourself?”

“It was more that I decided not to bother living anymore,” Billy tells her. He shrugs. “Sometimes going after the same thing, day after day, and never moving forward is draining.”

“Have you had these thoughts before?”

Billy’s shoulders slump and he lets his gaze drift to the ceiling while he shakes his head. He remembers when he first got his deportation notice, when he found out he was being disavowed and left out in the cold. He remembers sleeping with the gun on the pillow next to him, wondering if it was a better choice.

Looking back, he smiles. “Don’t we all?”

“Not all of us use a rope to hang ourselves,” she counters.

Billy is chagrined -- which is something, considering that her conclusion is not exactly true. The vulnerability is unsettling, though. Because Billy knows that the best lies are the ones with the most truth, and as much as this is all a fabrication, he has to pull the emotions from somewhere if he’s going to pull this off. He can’t blow his cover story by being flippant; he can’t oversell the drama and get himself drugged up and committed. It’s a fine line, and Billy’s good with persuasion but this level of nuance is worthy of Shakespeare.

And as avid a reader as Billy is, Michael is right when he says that Billy’s poetic heart isn’t connected to his writing hand. He covers a lot with charm.

It seems suddenly ironic how little that’s worth to him here.

“No,” Billy finally agrees. “I reckon they don’t.”

Dr. Adair repositions, sitting up in her chair and keeping Billy in her gaze. “Why don’t you tell me why you’re in South Africa for business,” she says. “You have a UK passport?”

“Yes,” Billy replies, working his brain for the right details. His cover for the mission is one he has memorized, but he checked his chart -- Michael’s pulled a backup ID and Billy can only hope that he’s left the rest wide open for Billy as he comes up with something feasible. “I came here looking for a new business opportunity.”

Dr. Adair, tilts her head. “And?”

Billy offers a wry smile in return. “I tried to hang myself in my flat,” he says. “I think you can figure out how it went.”

She seems unaffected by his coy response. “Why was the business so important?”

Billy blew out a breath -- a small scoff of indignation. “Because a man’s livelihood is all he has,” he replies. “‘A man can do no better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.’”

“What do you do for a living?”

Billy grunts. “What haven’t I done?” he retorts, because being vague is easier than developing a falsehood that might be easily pulled apart. “I’ve tried a bit of everything -- been a jack of all trades.”

“And this venture?”

Billy sighs, looking at his hands. “I was going to invest in a start up tech company,” he says. “It all looked so promising on paper, and even the facility when I came to check it out.”

“But?”

“But...as soon as they got my money, everything was gone,” he admits. “I was broke and disgraced. All my life’s savings -- gone. I didn’t even have money for a trip home. They took everything from me and I’ve kept on all my life, but what was the bloody point? I work hard, I do the right things, and for what? To be left with nothing.

The self-loathing is surprisingly easy to muster up, because he knows what it’s like to lose it all. He knows what it’s like to never be able to face his friends or his family again. He knows what it’s like to have nothing and be faced with starting from scratch.

Billy had done it, of course. But he’s hard-pressed to consider what he would have done if the CIA hadn’t taken him in.

It’s not a pleasant thought, and the grimace on his face feels real.

There’s an uncomfortably long pause, and Billy looks up, feeling Dr. Adair’s eyes on him. In other circumstances, he’d deflect -- diffuse the situation with a joke.

Now, he just gives up, clamping his mouth shut and waiting to be pressed for more.

“And now?” she asks finally.

Billy blinks; it’s not exactly the question he expects. “And now?” he repeats.

“What will you do now?” she presses.

“Well, I’m not sure there is much to do,” he says.

“Do you still want to kill yourself?” she asks bluntly.

It’s all a lie, but the starkness of the question still makes Billy uncomfortable. “Reckon there’s not much point anymore,” he says. “I already buggered it up once. Must be fate’s way of telling me I have no choice but to stick this out, shame and humiliation notwithstanding.”

In all, he thinks that’s a brilliant answer. It’s self-aware and realistic. It’s self-deprecating and remorseful. But it’s not without enough commitment to living. And that’s a truth that he doesn’t have to fabricate. He knows what it means to live. He knows what it is to hang on even when there’s nothing left to hold on to.

Billy knows what it is to hit rock bottom and persevere. He knows what it is to be a broken soul with the pieces glued back together.

He knows.

“What will you do?” Dr. Adair asks.

“See if I can beg some money from one of my friends back home,” he says. “I’m not sure I’d have any credible references here.”

“So you’d go home?”

The questions makes Billy’s chest twinge. “I’m not sure there’s much in the UK I can call home by this point,” he says. “A few friends, maybe. But I reckon a new start might be in order. I always did have this job offer in the States I’d been putting off.”

It’s a very subtle shift -- but the idea of change, of a second start -- it’s hope. It worked for Billy once; surely it’ll work again.

But Dr. Adair’s eyes narrow. “You have no one to go back to?”

“Just a few mates, but we talk more by text these days anyway--”

“I mean, a significant other,” Dr. Adair says.

Billy manages to keep his sheepish grin from appearing impish. “I’ve traveled a lot,” he says. “It makes most of my relationships short term.”

“Does that bother you?”

It’s not a question Billy suspects. He’d built his lie on the premise of being alone partially so he wouldn’t have to venture into interpersonal falsities that just muddied the waters. Sob stories about cheating wives and sick mothers are compelling, but Billy knows the hardest of them all is isolation.

He shakes his head, making a face. “I’m a bachelor by choice,” he says. “It’s far too late to change that now.”

Dr. Adair doesn’t relent. “You’ve never wanted to settle down?”

The question makes Billy stop. The answer -- the road has always called to me -- is on the tip of his tongue. But he can remember Elizabeth Dwyer from university, the way her lips felt when they kissed or the way her eyes brightened when he told her he loved her. In her, he’d seen the possibilities. He’d seen a house in the country and a couple of sprogs. He’d seen a steady job and a ring on his finger.

She’d seen something else, and it had probably been for the best.

These years later, he had to think that.

He shakes his head. “Maybe once...”

“So there was someone?” Dr. Adair asks astutely.

Frustrated, Billy sighs. “Years ago,” he says. “It would have been foolish, though, and I know that now.”

Skeptically, Dr. Adair purses her lips. “What about your parents?”

It takes all of Billy’s self control not to swear. Because he’s been attacked and he’s been strangled and he’s stuck on a psych hold and he’s already created the perfect story for everything -- and now she wants to talk about his parents.

The best he can muster is a rueful smile. “Not much to say,” he says. “They’re dead.”

Dr. Adair is unbothered by his bluntness. “Did you have a good relationship with them?”

Billy thinks about his father, drinking in his chair. He thinks about walking home with a black eye because his father refused to pick him up after school. He thinks about the dark cupboard where his da locked him up to keep him from scampering in and out in front of the TV.

He thinks about the bloody corpse before they’d taken it away.

He thinks about the deep hole in the ground, and how Billy hated everything about the man -- especially how all he wanted was his approval.

“My father was a difficult man,” Billy admits, far more candidly than he intends. “He’d be disappointed to see me here.”

Disappointed; not surprised.

“And your mother?”

Billy’s breath catches, and his eyes burn. She’d put up with his father all those years, but the moment he died, she gave up, too. Cancer didn’t take her until years later, but she let go the day they buried him in the ground. “She always thought that things would get better,” he tells her. “If we could hold out, just one more day.”

“Was she right?”

Billy wants to laugh; he thinks he may cry. “I reckon I still like to think so.”

Dr. Adair nods, jotting something down on the chart in front of her for the first time before readying herself. “Well, that was very insightful,” she says. “Thank you for your time. I’ll be back later to continue these questions and to talk about ongoing treatment options.”

Billy blinks, feeling a bit lost suddenly. He’s forgotten for a moment -- forgotten that this is a ruse. “What about the psych hold?”

“At the follow up, I’ll assess long term implications from this event with you,” she says. “Even though you seem to have a steady sense of hope following this incident, I’ll need to spend more time with you to see if you are equipped to handle the challenges of the aftermath. You seem like a fighter, but you’ve given up once, so it is essential to know that you won’t do it again.”

On her feet now, she smiles warmly. “We made excellent progress today,” she tells him earnestly. “You should feel very good about this.”

She’s right in ways she can’t even fathom. Because she believes Billy has hope. If he can spout a few self-help techniques upon her return, he’s confident he’ll be given his walking papers in no time.

And yet, lying there and remembering, Billy doesn’t feel very good. Not about the mission and not about the rope that found itself around his neck. Not about Elizabeth Dwyer or MI6. Not his about his father or his mother.

He just doesn’t feel very good at all.

-o-

Michael is tense the whole way back. He doesn’t trust a taxi driver, but walking through the streets isn’t much better. Everyone seems to be looking at him, and he’s far too aware of the multiple vulnerabilities of being alone on a crowded street. The alleys aren’t any better, though, and it’s all Michael’s self control not to start running.

As it is, Michael’s drenched with sweat and his finger itches, the weight of his gun close -- but not close enough. He resists the urge to tackle an old lady carrying a suspicious bag, and stares down a group of young men on the street corner just in case. Normally he’d attribute this to his overactive sense of paranoia, but this time, he’s pretty sure he’s justified.

The safehouse had been stormed. Someone had killed Thomas and dragged Viljoen there to boot. This isn’t just business; this is comprehensively personal.

But it doesn’t make any sense. The main suspects, Viljoen and Thomas -- both dead. It could be a mutual associate, but no one in either of their operations has enough wherewithal to mount such an attack. Nothing in their intelligence suggested any kind of strife.

It doesn’t make any sense. To storm the safehouse but leave Michael’s men alive? To track down Viljoen and Thomas and murder them so gruesomely?

Normally Michael is good at putting the pieces together, but this puzzle isn’t coming together.

Nothing
is coming together, and Michael feels like he’s working against an invisible clock, walking around with a bullseye on his back.

He’s so stressed when he gets back to the hospital that he’s downright jittery. Because Michael likes control, and he doesn’t have anything resembling control.

Inside, even the doctors and nurses look sinister, and Michael wishes he hadn’t ditched his gun outside. He wishes none of this had happened at all -- he wishes that he hadn’t had this asset, that this wasn’t a mission he felt he had to complete. But he’s not sure he can complete it -- he’s not even sure he can get his team home.

The tension is pulling his stomach so taut that he feels like he’s ready to snap. When he gets to Rick’s room, he slips inside, closing the door abruptly before shifting to the side and casting a wary glance out the door.

“If you’re going for subtle, I’m not sure such outright paranoia is your best approach,” Casey says glibly.

Brow furrowed, Michael turns. “We have a problem.”

Casey looks nonplussed. “You think?”

On the bed, Rick is propped up and awake. At Michael’s obvious agitation, he tries to sit up a bit more, face creased with concern. “What happened?” he asks. “Billy--?”

Michael shakes his head. “He should be secure in the psych ward by now,” he replies.

“I take it you found something at the safehouse?” Casey prompts.

“No,” Michael replies. “But I went to my meet with Thomas--”

“Did he turn on us?” Rick asks.

For the first time, Michael really takes a second to look at the kid -- and realizes that this is the first time he’s seen Martinez awake since he was shot -- no more than a day ago. The kid looks weak and pale, but he’s awake and he’s conscious. He nods toward the kid. “You okay?”

Rick shakes his head. “Yeah, but that’s not the point--”

“It is the point,” Michael interjects. He looks to Casey. “What’s the doctor say?”

“Mostly, that Rick’s lucky,” Casey replies. “Bullet didn’t hit anything vital. The blood loss almost made his system crash but once they fixed the bleeders and transfused him, he’s been rebounding well.”

“I’m fine,” Rick says, a little indignant. “So what is our problem?”

Michael’s not convinced Rick is fine -- the kid has just been shot and is recovering from substantial surgery. Blood loss can be rectified but the effects don’t go away immediately. And he needs to know about complicating factors -- about the muscles and nerves involved, about long term impairments, about recovery, about infection -- but he can’t deny that there are unfortunately larger issues still at play.

“Thomas is dead,” he reports.

Casey shows no reaction, but Rick’s eyes widen. “Did Viljoen figure out he was an asset?”

“Hard to say,” Michael says. He shifts, grinding his teeth together for a moment. “Viljoen is dead too.”

This time, Casey has a reaction. “They were together?”

Michael nods. “Viljoen was at Thomas’ place.”

Rick’s face screws up in confusion. “They weren’t friendly, were they?”

“You don’t usually ask criminals over for dinner,” Casey returns. He looks at Michael. “Any idea of what brought them together?”

“I’m guessing it wasn’t their idea,” Michael says. He takes a long breath, shaking his head soberly. “The bodies were set up -- almost like they wanted someone to find them. It wasn’t pretty.”

“Another message,” Casey muses.

“What message?” Rick asks from the bed.

Michael sighs. “Back at the safehouse -- whoever attacked you did it quickly. Both you and Billy were overpowered within minutes,” he explains. “We didn’t show up right away, but they still didn’t finish the job. Why go through the trouble of disabling a CIA safehouse, attacking the operatives stationed there, and then leave them only half dead?”

Rick looks paler at the bluntness.

Casey supplies the grim answer: “Because they didn’t want to kill you. They wanted to send a message.”

“But what message?”

Rick gives the question voice, but it’s the one on all their minds. Michael’s made a career of answering questions most people don’t dare asking -- and he’s good at it. He has a filing cabinet full of finished cases, each methodically completed, because he knows how to get answers. He knows how to finish the job.

But he doesn’t even know what this job is anymore. He doesn’t know anything.

This isn’t about exposing them -- if it was about telling Viljoen their real identities, killing Viljoen would have been superfluous. This isn’t about containing them, either. After all, Billy and Rick are still alive -- and it would have been easy to stake out the safehouse and jump Michael and Casey while they came back.

No, this is about control. The attackers have been purposeful every step of the way. They’ve called the shots and they’ve controlled what they can and cannot do. By not killing Rick and Billy, they left the distinct impression that it was a choice -- but not Michael’s. Michael usually takes point, but on this mission he’s a step behind.

A dangerous, terrible step behind.

It’s like someone has looked into Michael’s mission and picked apart the elements piece by piece. The safehouse is exposed; his team is broken. His asset is dead and his mark has been taken out without any interrogation or gain.

This is personal. It’s about letting Michael know he can’t finish this job, no matter what he does.

Because someone else is going to finish it first.

Michael doesn’t like unfinished business...

His heart stutters, his chest clenching. Unfinished business.

He swears. “The message isn’t about this mission,” he says, mind racing. Sweat breaks out on his forehead, and he swallows.

Rick shakes his head, clearly confused. “I don’t understand.”

“They’re saying the worst is yet to come,” Michael explains. “Think about it. The safehouse, incapacitating the team. Taking out the asset and the mark.”

“It’s building,” Casey realizes.

Rick frowns. “And what’s next?”

The realization is weighty, and Michael feels nauseated. “Us,” he says with a sudden certainty. It’s too methodical; it’s too calculated. “They’re going to come and take us out, one by one.”

Casey purses his lips. “We don’t know--”

“Thomas was tortured,” Michael replies gruffly. “If you’re going to take the time to do that sort of thing, you’re playing to something bigger. Whoever this is knows they’re a step ahead.”

“So if we’ve figured this out,” Rick says, tilting his head a little.

Casey looks at Michael coldly. “Then what are they up to now?”

Michael looks at Casey; he looks at Rick.

He thinks about Billy, stuck on a psychiatric hold.

His heart skips a beat. “When did you last check on Billy?”

“I made a pass by the ward an hour ago,” he says. “But they wouldn’t let me close to him--”

Michael closes his eyes.

Someone is picking apart his mission -- and Michael left one of his men, injured and alone.

There’s fear; there’s a spike of panic; there’s anger and frustration and doubt and everything.

But Michael doesn’t leave his missions unfinished.

Not now. Not with stakes like these.

He opens his eyes. “We’ve got to get up there.”

Rick shakes his head again on the bed. “I don’t understand,” he says. “Who--”

“There’s no time,” Michael snaps. He looks at Casey. “Stay here; watch out for Rick.”

“Michael--” Casey starts to protest.

Michael’s already at the door. “Just trust me,” he says emphatically before ducking out the door and praying -- hoping -- he’s not too late.

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: February 2nd, 2014 04:19 pm (UTC)

So many fave parts! LJ will probably choke so this may be a 2-parter but I loved this!! So many revealing moments! I loved every moment of revelation by Billy. He thinks he's "acting", but I love that he's revealing more than he realizes.


Billy shakes his head minutely, locking his jaw against the pain. “Rick,” he mouths again, keeping his gaze unwavering on Michael.

- I love that Billy is thinking about Rick first and foremost even despite his own injuries. It's so heroic.

“Personas with some basis in reality,” Billy counters. “Look at me! Would a man such as myself ever be believably suicidal?”

-- this is too cute! It's so true too. Billy is such a positive person, so jovial about life that no one could believe he was suicidal.

They’re okay, he reminds himself, even as he takes another painful swallow. Rick’s going to be okay; Michael will salvage the mission. Billy has survived this much; he’ll survive the rest.

It’ll be okay.

-- I'm getting some foreboding here. Calm before the storm, perhaps. I'm hoping so.

That’s an exaggeration, of course. They just think he’s suicidal. He can see it in the nurses’ eyes. Where most of the time he can waggle his eyebrows and grin to start the process of flirting; now they just look at him sadly, as though he might actually implode on their short watch.

Getting strangled, almost losing a teammate and generally buggering up a mission is hard enough -- being denied the simple pleasure of flirting with nurses is downright cruel.

-- I adore that not being able to flirt effectively (that the nurses think he is fragile mentally and takes pity on him) is killing him, that he considers it cruel. Too cute!

Because lying spread-eagled on the floor is Viljoen, eyes open and staring, limp hands holding his exposed entrails, which have spilled out from the wide and gaping slash in his stomach.

--Yikes! Gruesome! You outdid yourself! Every step Michael took made me nervous.

Billy is chagrined -- which is something, considering that her conclusion is not exactly true. The vulnerability is unsettling, though. Because Billy knows that the best lies are the ones with the most truth, and as much as this is all a fabrication, he has to pull the emotions from somewhere if he’s going to pull this off. He can’t blow his cover story by being flippant; he can’t oversell the drama and get himself drugged up and committed. It’s a fine line, and Billy’s good with persuasion but this level of nuance is worthy of Shakespeare.

-- I sense some revelations coming! Some untold truths *continues to read!

The self-loathing is surprisingly easy to muster up, because he knows what it’s like to lose it all. He knows what it’s like to never be able to face his friends or his family again. He knows what it’s like to have nothing and be faced with starting from scratch.

Billy had done it, of course. But he’s hard-pressed to consider what he would have done if the CIA hadn’t taken him in.

--sigh!

He shakes his head, making a face. “I’m a bachelor by choice,” he says. “It’s far too late to change that now.”

--there's such a sadness here!

He just doesn’t feel very good at all.

--sounds ominous and I love it!

Michael’s already at the door. “Just trust me,” he says emphatically before ducking out the door and praying -- hoping -- he’s not too late.

--love the build up! Rushing to read next part!!!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 8th, 2014 02:05 am (UTC)
billy casey trouble

There is a certain joy in finding distinctive ways to hurt Billy. I believe I did hang him once before, but there was still something fun about this one :)

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