|Choices and Consequences
Author: Faye Dartmouth PM
Choices are easy; consequences are hard.Rated: Fiction T - English - Hurt/Comfort/Friendship - Michael D. & Billy C. - Words: 9,584 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 6 - Published: 02-16-12 - id: 7842031
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Choices and Consequences
Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.
A/N: For sophie_deangirl, who had a not great week last week. She deserves this and more, especially since she also beta'ed for me! Remaining mistakes are my own because honestly, typing is not my thing.
Summary: Choices are easy; consequences are hard.
Michael's job is all about choices. Which mission to take, how to go about it. Which mission to go off book for and which ones to play to the company line. He chooses methods, targets, covers – all of it is his to control, his to be responsible for.
Some choices are easy.
Some choices aren't.
"The choice is entirely yours, Mr. CIA," the man says on the phone. It's their mark and the fact that he has this number is a sign that something is very, very wrong. "I will send you a text message with two very disparate locations. I will keep your young operative, the Hispanic, in one location, with two of my most trusted men. On the other side of the city, I will hold your Scottish friend with two of my lieutenants. You will not have a lot of time but I think between you and your remaining operative, both of their lives should be spared."
"Then I'm not seeing the choice," Michael growls, because he doesn't have a habit of negotiating with terrorists, especially those who piss him off as much as this guy.
"Ah, yes," he says. "The choice is whether to save your men or save your mission. I am very nearly ready to depart myself. The airport is quite crowded, but I suspect I'll be on a flight within an hour. Which is, not so coincidentally, how long it will take you to save your men."
"There are other ways to get you," Michael sneers, but his heart is pounding and his chest his tight.
"There are infinite choices, yes, this is true," the man says. "But you know the essence of what I'm offering. The mission or your men. Choose well, Mr. CIA."
With that, the call ends and Michael stands, phone in hand wondering what the hell he's going to do.
Casey does not indulge Michael's shock.
"What did he say?" he asks. He knows something is wrong – he's known it before Michael did, when Billy and Rick never came back from their morning run to meet with their asset.
Michael swallows hard and takes the phone from his ear. The movements are stiff and he feels like he may be trembling. "They've been taken," he says.
"That's not possible," is Casey's plaintive reply.
Michael looks up grimly. "The call was from Billy's cell phone," he says. "He knew that Rick was Hispanic and Billy was Scottish."
Casey's expression doesn't flicker. "He's bluffing."
Michael's phone beeps and a text message appears. He looks at it, and his stomach turns to ice. He holds it up and shows the attached images to Casey. The first is of Rick, bound and tied to a chair. There's a gun at his head. The second is of Billy, on his knees. The side of his face is stained with blood and his eyes look a little bit off, but the gun pressed against his back is telling enough.
Casey swallows. "Okay," he says and his voice wavers, but just slightly. "So what's the plan?"
The plan is that Michael has no plan.
Because the real plan was to come in, get a read on the next target, plant a few bugs and see what happened. Nothing too invasive; something with long-term results. Their mission got complicated when they discovered that something more dangerous was in the works – and soon. But their asset is MIA now and Billy and Rick are being held hostage, so Michael's not sure of much except that this isn't how it was supposed to go.
In short, the plan is entirely screwed to hell.
Most ODS plans function in this way. Most of them involve some kind of catastrophic failure that requires improvisation on the fly.
Most of them don't involve two of his men, taken from under his nose, and a simple choice of which inalienable thing he'll sacrifice.
Michael doesn't like sacrifices. Never has and never will. It was all part of Fay's irreconcilable differences. Which, consequently, Michael had never accepted because he didn't make sacrifices and there was no way he'd start with that.
Still. Michael has to do something.
He starts by bringing up the coordinates he's been sent on the computer screen. Sure enough, the locations are far apart. Casey zooms in a bit and gets a better visual and the two warehouses are similar in size, so it seems legitimate.
"They could already be dead," Casey says, a little coldly.
Michael looks at him. "Do you want to risk that?"
"No," Casey says. "But it has to be said."
Michael nods. "Right now we have to operate under the assumption that they're alive."
"Which means I go after one, you go after the other," Casey concludes.
"Except that means that we lose the mission," Michael reminds him.
Casey scoffs. "And we still care about the mission?"
"This isn't a walk in the park," Michael says, hating himself for putting it into words. "These things matter."
Casey bucks himself up, coming to his full height, looking Michael squarely in the eyes. "You don't need to lecture me about the importance of the mission," he says tersely. "I've put my life on the line for this Agency just as much as you have."
"Then you know what I'm talking about," Michael says.
Casey steps closer, eyes burning dangerously now. "And you know what I'm talking about," he says, low and furious. "The mission is important. But Billy and Rick are more important. There will not be any debate on that."
Casey will hurt him if he deems it necessary. Michael doesn't doubt that. But Casey's still more bluster than not on this, because Casey's scared. He's been scared ever since Billy and Rick didn't come back, and he's downright terrified right now. His entire body is vibrating with it, and channeling it to rage is his only way of coping.
And Michael understands that. Understands that because he feels it, too. Michael has left a man behind before and he doesn't want to do it again.
But he knows the stakes. He knows that it's more than the life or death of two of his operatives. It's about innocent lives. If this mission fails, people will die. Possibly lots of people. There's going to be blood on Michael's hands and probably a lot of it.
That's the problem with choices. Sometimes there's not a good one to make. Sometimes all the options just suck.
Michael takes a breath and finds his resolve. It almost hurts, it goes against everything inside of him, but this is the only choice he can make in the end.
He nods, holding Casey's gaze. "Okay," he says.
Casey is a little taken aback. He hesitates, cautious. "Okay?"
"You go get Martinez," he says.
"And you'll get Billy?" Casey asks.
Michael doesn't hesitate. He nods again. "Billy's my responsibility," he says.
Casey's jaw works, but his shoulders relax. "Okay," he says, more conciliatory now. "And we'll meet at the airport when we're done? Try to see if we can salvage the mission?"
Michael smiles, offering as much confidence as he can muster. "It's the best choice we can make."
When they separate, Michael is running toward Billy.
But when Casey turns the corner and disappears into the city toward Martinez, Michael makes an abrupt turn and heads to the airport.
This is his choice, and it's no choice at all. He can't forfeit this mission. He knows he can't endure the headlines of people dying because of his inaction. He knows he can't let this man go, knowing what Michael knows.
Even if it means Billy dies.
Michael knows it's the right choice, even if it doesn't feel like it at all.
At the airport, it's easier than it should be. Their mark clearly doesn't expect him to show up, so when Michael sits down next to him, the man is too surprised too run.
"I am impressed," he says. "I did not take you for a man who sacrifices the lives of your men so flippantly."
"There's nothing flippant about it," Michael says, crossing his legs and looking out over the terminal. "You asked me to choose between one life and many. That's not really so complicated."
The man looks at his watch. "I'm glad you think that," he says. "I imagine your man is dying right now. I told them they could use their discretion." He shrugs, smiling a little at Michael. "I encourage creativity amongst my men."
Michael doesn't flinch. Instead, he snakes his hand around the man's arm and pulls him to his feet. "Creativity is good," he says. "It will keep you well entertained all your years in prison."
The man laughs as Michael tugs him along. "I did tell them to ensure that he was dead," he continues. "I told them they had to at least keep the head intact for easy identification. But my men are quite fond of blades. Gifted carvers."
Michael tries not to think about it. Tries not to think of someone cutting through Billy's skin, Billy's blood on the floor. Instead, he tries to think of the mothers who will see their children, the husbands who will see their wives.
Outside, he drags the mark more roughly to the car. He's tossing him in the backseat and handcuffing him to the door when Casey and Rick arrive.
Casey's barely frazzled, a few hairs out of place. There's a bruise blossoming on Rick's cheek but he's moving under his own power.
"We got here in time?" Casey asks, incredulous.
"But his flight took off two minutes ago," Rick adds.
Michael closes the door and looks at them.
Casey's face falls. Rick looks confused.
Michael looks down.
"Where's Billy?" Rick asks, so innocent that Michael's heart threatens to break.
And Casey lunges at him. "You son of a bitch!"
It takes some work for Rick to pull Casey off Michael, and even then, the older operative is fuming.
"You lied to me," Casey spits.
"I had to," Michael says.
Rick's gaping, a little wide eyed.
"You left him there to die," Casey says venomously.
Michael sucks in a breath and looks Casey in the eyes. "I hope not," he says. "But we're going to have to hurry."
Michael speeds the entire way there. When they get there, it's still twenty minutes past the deadline. Their mark tries mocking them until Casey punches him unconscious a mile in.
When they get there, Michael barely turns the engine off before he gets out. From outside, the commotion is easy to hear and there's a report of gunfire that makes his heart skip a beat as he runs faster.
Casey beats him there and Rick's right on his tail. The door is partially open and before they can step inside, they're nearly taken out by a volley of bullets.
Michael goes down to the floor hard, pulling Rick with him. There's yelling up ahead and when Michael looks up, Casey's already fanned out to the wide side of the warehouse.
Throat tight, Michael turns his attention to the melee and sees a well-placed firefight in the middle of the room. There's a body on the floor between the two entrenched sides.
The body is not Billy.
No, Billy's hidden behind a stack of crates, firing intermittently toward another man who has taken refuge behind a car.
The relief is palpable. It's almost intoxicating. Michael would laugh except for the fact that Billy's still in the middle of a firefight and this isn't over yet.
But with Casey almost in position, it's about over.
It's almost over.
Michael is about to relish this good news, about to navigate them into a better position when Billy ditches his position and charges.
It's such a bold move that Michael is too shocked to move. He knows his team does what it needs to and he also knows that more missions than he'd like to recount have succeeded on suicidal plans, but seeing it unfold without his control is something to behold.
Something terrifying anyway.
But there's no stopping it.
Billy's running, gun in hand but not firing. The rain of gunfire picks up pace and Michael foregoes secrecy and is on his feet. Casey has the same idea, running forward now to intervene, but there's nothing they can do.
Billy thinks he's doing this alone and he's doing what he has to do, no matter what.
It'd be damn heroic if it weren't so damn pointless.
For a long moment, Michael can't breathe as he watches, can't even move. He sees it in slow motion as Billy charges. He leaps on the hood, sliding across and catching the other man out as he fires rapidly. How he misses Billy, Michael can't be sure, but Billy doesn't stop until the gunfire does.
Then he sags, panting, propping himself up on the car.
"Billy!" Casey yells, closing the gap quickly.
Billy jerks his head up, surprised. His face breaks into a grin. "About time you showed up," he says, voice tinny from across the way. "Thought you'd finally left me to my own devices."
Casey jogs, slowing to a stop. "And risk impending disaster?" he asks. "I think not."
And it's okay. They're joking and the bad guys are dead and their man is in custody and it's okay.
But then Billy's smile fades and his eyes roll up in his head before his knees buckle and he crashes toward the floor.
He's not fast enough to catch Billy, but Casey's already there. He takes the Scot's heavier weight and cradles him as they go down, a mess of limbs on the warehouse floor. When Michael gets close enough, he sees the blood.
He sees lots of blood.
Michael can't move.
Casey's arranging Billy on the floor and Rick is hovering, not sure what to do. Michael stares at the patch of red, staining down Billy's side and soaking his pant leg.
Cursing, Casey moves over, ripping open the hem of Billy's shirt and exposing the puckered bullet wound low in Billy's stomach.
Rick sucks in a harsh breath and Casey just curses again.
And Michael remembers that choices have consequences. Every choice has consequences. Once you've made your choice, you have to live with the consequences.
He looks at Billy, bleeding on the ground, and he's not sure he can.
It's instinct, but Michael finds himself on the ground. Casey's dressing the wound as best he can while Rick secures the remaining terrorist. Michael presses his fingers into Billy's neck and feels the pulse thrumming, too fast and irregular.
Billy's eyelids flutter.
Michael tries to smile at him.
It takes a moment for the Scot's eyes to focus, and even then, his pupils are blown wide with pain. "You came," he says.
Michael thinks he can't speak but somehow he does. For Billy. "Of course we came," he says.
Billy smiles up at him. "They said you had made your choice," he says. "Said I wasn't important enough."
"And you're going to believe them?" Michael asks.
Billy's eyes drift. "Not hardly," he says and his body convulses. He coughs hard and blood wells up, staining his teeth. Eyelids flickering, his body seems to go limp again. "You always make the right choices."
It's like a dagger to the heart, and Michael physically hurts as he stares at Billy's colorless face and lax expression.
"We're secure," Rick reports.
"And Billy needs a hospital," Casey says grimly. "Now."
This time, it's no choice at all. "Then let's go," Michael says.
And no one disagrees.
It's hard, but Michael watches as Casey lifts Billy's taller frame up. The Scot doesn't move as they carry him back to the car. They shove their mark in the trunk, leaving Billy sprawled across the seat as Casey kneels next to him, pressing down hard.
Martinez is on the phone, arranging some kind of understanding at the local hospital.
He listens to Rick make the arrangements, watches Casey press down on Billy's side. Watches Billy bleed and bleed and bleed.
And Michael keeps driving, no matter how hard it is.
At the hospital, the doctors take Billy's lifeless body. Michael stays with Billy all the way to the examination room, watching as they strip Billy down and look at the hole in his side. He watches as a nurse inserts an IV into Billy's inert arm, watches as the heart monitor skips erratically and someone opens Billy's mouth and carefully threads a tube inside.
He stands there until the monitor wails and someone starts CPR, pressing down hard on Billy's exposed chest while the Scot's face goes ashen.
When he's escorted out to the waiting room, it's not his choice, but somehow that doesn't matter anymore.
The waiting room is tense.
Casey can't sit still. He stalks back and forth, glaring at everyone. He makes several people move and Michael thinks it's no coincidence that an extra security guard has been posted to the area.
He won't even look at Michael. Michael doesn't have the heart to challenge him on it.
Rick has sat next to Michael the entire time, too shell shocked to move. When Casey finally leaves for a trip to the bathroom, Michael takes a good look at the younger operative.
He doesn't look much worse for wear. His cheek is bruised but that seems to be all that was injured in his capture and rescue. From the brief conversation they'd had earlier, Michael knows that Rick and Billy were ambushed, betrayed by their asset. They hadn't had much chance to fight back and the last thing Rick remembered was getting punched in the face before waking up tied down and at gunpoint.
That information had been gleaned in a sparse recitation and Michael hadn't bothered to ask for more details. Frankly, the details no longer matter. The mission is complete – once they turned over their baggage in the trunk – and there's nothing they can do for Billy now.
Still, Michael's sacrificed a lot for this mission. Billy's health and Rick's innocence may be among them. He can't help Billy, but he thinks maybe he should try to help Rick.
"How are you doing?" Michael asks.
Rick doesn't look at him. He's staring at his hands. "You knew," he says, voice soft.
Michael doesn't let himself sigh. He made this choice; he has to shoulder this burden. "Knew what?" he asks, because he needs to know the accusation he's going to have to field first.
"You knew you were going to salvage the mission," Rick continues, voice stronger now. "And you knew that meant sacrificing one of us." Now he looks up at Michael. His eyes are red and tired, and he looks older than he should. "Why did you send Casey after me?"
It's a question that Michael probably should have expected but the fact is, he was so busy making the tough decisions that he didn't let himself think them all the way through. And it's not a question he wants to answer because it doesn't feel fair. He makes countless decisions in the field, some easy, some hard, some damn near impossible, and his logic is not always impeccable even when it needs to be.
So it doesn't feel fair, but Rick is sitting there wondering why he's not the one in surgery to repair extensive damage to his GI tract, so it's more fair than Michael would like.
This time he does sigh, collecting his breath to allow his thought to coalesce. "It's not a choice I wanted to make," he says. "All members of this team are equally important. If I could have put myself in either one of your spots, I would have."
"But you couldn't," Rick says, even stronger now. He swallows back emotion with effort. "Why did you pick me and not Billy?"
Survivor's guilt is a powerful and difficult thing. Michael's been there. No amount of explanation ever makes it easier and nothing he can say will ever do justice to his own turmoil when he made the decision. But since Rick's sitting there and Billy's not, it's still something he has to explain.
He wets his lips and doesn't let himself waver, even if he wants to. "It was a question of resilience," he says finally.
Rick flinches just slightly. "You thought Billy had a better chance on his own?"
This is possible in Michael's mind, but it's not the primary reason he made the choice. He shakes his head. "No," he says. "I mean, after the fact."
Rick still stares.
"Billy would never have been able to get over it if something happened to you," Michael says flatly.
Rick's brow creases. "What?"
Michael nods. "You're more resilient than he is when it comes to loss on a mission," he says. He shrugs. "I mean, you've never experienced it on this scale before, but I can see it in you. You are in this for the greater good."
"So is Billy," Rick shoots back.
Michael inclines his head. "To some extent, yes," he says. "But Billy's much more tied to people. He's been on my team six years, and I saw him after we lost Simms. I left Carson behind but I almost lost Billy back on American soil. I didn't know if he'd ever be emotionally ready for the field again. I'm still not sure he's the same operative he used to be."
Rick is still staring, the unshed tears bright in his eyes.
Michael shrugs, because he has no other explanation to give. "I had to pick you because picking him would have been too cruel for him," he says.
That's the crux of it, really. In the split second when Michael decided to sacrifice one of his team, it hadn't mattered who he thought was a better operative or whom he had a better relationship with. The calculation had been simple. In the long run, Rick would recover better from surviving.
But as Rick stares at him, Michael knows that surviving isn't forgiving, and his choice to save Martinez may be the last one the younger operative ever respects.
Still, Rick breathes out heavily, almost in a sob. He drops his head and cradles it in his hands. The grief is palpable. In all of Michael's calculations, he knew Rick would recover, but he never thought about how long it might take. If Billy dies…
Michael doesn't let himself finish the thought. If Billy dies, none of it will matter anyway. Michael likes to think of himself as a realist, but in this case, denial is all he has left.
Michael wants to comfort him, wants to reassure him, but when he reaches out to touch Martinez, Rick stiffens. Michael drops his hand and can't blame him.
Sitting back, he takes a breath but the oxygen barely seems to fill him at all. He looks at the ceiling and remembers that this was his choice.
This is still his choice.
Even if Casey kills him. Even if Martinez never speaks to him. Even if Billy dies.
His choice, and nothing he can do or want will ever change that.
Rick dozes after a few hours. They're in for the long haul due to the extensive damage from the bullet. Michael knows his anatomy; he knows that anything through the small intestines is a nightmare on the table. Billy's surgery is going to take a while.
Casey finally settles next to him in the early hours of the morning. He still doesn't look at Michael and when he speaks, Michael half thinks he's hallucinating.
"I know it is probably irrelevant," Casey begins without any preamble. "But I deserve to know why you lied to me."
Michael glances at him tiredly. If this is a hallucination, it's still one Michael feels compelled to answer to.
"I made my choice," Michael tells him. "But I also knew you wouldn't respect it."
"That's because it was the wrong choice," Casey replies, voice dead. He looked at Michael. The rage is still there but buried beneath the weariness. "You picked the mission. You picked the mission over Billy."
He did. It hurts to hear it like that, but it's true. He can't deny it. He won't.
Instead, he breathes, holds his head high. "You know the intelligence we got," he says. "People were doing to die."
"Yeah, and people die every day," Casey says.
"Their blood would have been on our hands," Michael says. "I can't do this job and carry that kind of weight."
"Fine, so you can do this job and carry the weight of knowing you willingly left Billy to die?" Casey snaps.
At that, Michael wavers. Letting innocent people die would have destroyed his integrity and his career. There's a moral certainty involved with that. Michael's a right bastard but he's inherently moral, even to a flaw. He'll compromise anything to achieve a goal that is worthwhile.
Now, though, in the aftermath, he sees there's a certain amount of fallacy in such simplicity. He's made that choice every time, but losing Billy isn't so black and white. It's a fact he's been avoiding but one he's known all along.
If Billy dies, Michael will have given up his career. He'll have forfeited everything that matters. It'll be the last meaningful decision he ever makes.
The emotion threatens to choke him, but he purses his lips and keeps it in check. Because Billy's not dead yet. Because Michael's career isn't over yet. Because Rick and Casey are still his team, even if they don't want to be.
"You and I both know that Billy is one to defy the odds," Michael says. He glances toward Martinez, slumped in his seat asleep, before looking back at Casey. "Rick's still too new to be put in that situation. If anyone could survive, I'd put my money on you first and foremost. But Billy's a close second and you know it as well as I do."
Casey can't argue that, but he also doesn't want to accept it either. His face twists with defiance. "Our primary mission is always to bring each other out alive," he says. "Ever since Carson—"
They've never said it in so many words, but it's true. Losing Carson had nearly destroyed them all and since then, their loyalty to each other had been unwavering.
Yet, Michael knows there are limits. He knows Casey knows it, too, but he's not team leader. Michael doesn't have the same luxuries. He has to make the hard choices so no one else has to.
"I know," Michael says. "That's why I didn't argue it with you. Because we both know I'm right but I didn't want anyone else to carry this burden. Not you, not Rick, not Billy."
"Billy's in surgery from a severe gunshot wound," Casey reminds him. "If he survives, he's probably going to be a mess with infection."
"And you think he'd want to know people died so we could save him?" Michael asks.
Casey's jaw sets hard and he looks down. "You should have told me," he says, but his voice lacks its bite now.
Michael blows out a breath. "No," he says. "I shouldn't have."
Casey looks up; he's clearly surprised by this admission because they don't usually talk like this. Michael is a man of few words, and Casey's a man of fewer. They have mutual respect in this, knowing that most things don't need to be said.
Some things do, however.
"Choices have consequences," Michael says. "I will carry them so the rest of you don't have to and if you want to fight me about it, fine. Beat me to a pulp if it makes you feel better. But this is how it is."
This is how it is.
Casey looks at him but says nothing. Michael has said enough for both of them; more than Casey wanted to hear but maybe not as much as he needed. When he looks down again, he just looks exhausted.
Michael knows how he feels. His entire body feels depleted. His words mattered but they've drained him, left him with nothing, the weight of his choices threaten to buckle him, but he knows he can't give in.
Not until this is over.
Setting back in his chair, Michael tries to relax as they wait.
Because this isn't over yet.
The day is still young. Outside, the sun is pink and orange over the horizon. Rick's been sleeping on and off and even Casey took a turn, propped up with his chin on his hand.
Michael hasn't slept though; won't sleep. His actions have brought them to this point; he believes it's his duty to see it through.
No matter what.
Michael thinks while he's in the waiting room. He thinks about why he joined the CIA. He thinks about those early missions when the world had seemed so big and so scary. He thinks about the first time he killed someone; the first time he saw someone die. He thinks about the first civilian who was lost in the crossfire.
And he thinks about the first time someone saved his life; the first time he should have been lying dead in a morgue but was breathing instead. He thinks about why he took the promotion to head up the ODS. He thinks about working with Carson and Casey. He thinks about recruiting Billy.
He thinks about the uncertain jokes the Scot used to tell. He thinks about how broken Billy had been when Carson had been lost. He thinks about Casey trying to teach Billy self defense. He thinks about a mission in Amsterdam with the three of them crammed into a double bed during a mission that wouldn't end.
He thinks about Rick's first day and all the days after. He thinks about his team.
He thinks about making a single choice: the mission over his team. It hadn't been easy, but it had been simple.
It's not that way anymore.
If he loses Billy…
The thought is hard to understand. It doesn't compute. But Michael saw the blood. Saw the deathly pallor of his face. Michael knows people die, especially spies. Even ones Michael cares about. He's not God. His choices are not omniscient. He's fallible.
That means he can make the wrong decisions. That means even when he makes the right decisions, things can go wrong. That means he doesn't always get to choose.
Sitting there, Michael doesn't get to choose anymore. Casey can hate him; Rick can loose faith in him; Billy can die. It's not Michael's choice any longer. Maybe he's fooled himself into thinking it ever was.
The doctor tells them that Billy's out of surgery. He doesn't speak English, but Rick knows the dialect. The translation is rough but Michael hardly needs to hear the words to know the general prognosis.
Billy's alive, but not by much. The surgery was complicated, and Billy's already showing signs of infection. It's going to be a tossup to see if the hospital can keep ahead of it or if Billy will succumb yet.
They can visit Billy, but only one at a time.
When he leaves, it's another choice who will go and who will stay.
This time, it's not a choice Michael's going to make though.
Casey doesn't let him. Instead, he nods toward Martinez. "You go ahead," he says roughly, and it's hard to tell how much of it is exhaustion and how much of it is an attempt to hide his emotions.
Rick swallows convulsively. "Are you sure?"
"You are bound to be more chipper," Casey says with a shrug. "Billy tends to respond to things like that."
Neither of them look at Michael.
In truth, he doesn't blame them.
When Rick comes back, he looks worse than before. He excuses himself and disappears. Michael is vaguely concerned but Casey just sighs. "Guess it's my turn," he mutters as he leaves Michael alone.
When it's finally Michael's turn, the morning has dwindled to afternoon. Casey has gone to find Rick, to make him eat. They don't suggest Michael take a turn, but they don't rule it out either, and Michael finds himself at Billy's bedside almost without trying.
It's not the first time he's seen Billy laid up. Billy has a penchant for these things, and if any of his operatives are going to drive Michael into early retirement, it's Billy. Michael figures it's his own fault for recruiting Billy all those years ago, but the extra stress has been worth it.
At least, that's what he tells himself when Billy's well and in the field. When he's here, watching Billy fight for his life, he's not so sure.
Except he really is. Because Michael's made his choices and Billy's made his. Billy's a spy and always has been. He never would have been happy in civilian life. Michael saved his life in all the ways that counted when he recruited him.
Of course, that may mean that he's saved Billy's life just to get him killed, but that's a risk Billy's knowingly taken. It's a choice Billy makes every day.
Of all of them, Billy will forgive him for this. Even if he dies, Michael knows Billy won't hold it against him. That's just the way Billy is. He's never valued his own life over those of his friends, of those who are innocent. If he had been there with Michael, he would have told Michael that his choice was right and good.
He's the one who said it, after all: Michael makes the right choices. Billy's hasn't doubted it; never will. He could die believing it all the same.
That means something, but it's not the solace Michael wants it to be. It's not really a solace at all.
Because Billy is unmoving on the bed. He's pale and waxy, hair pushed oddly to the side. He looks more unkempt than usual, which really is saying something given Billy's poor personal habits. The tape around his mouth holds the tube in place, parting his pale, chapped lips as it delivers bursts of oxygen.
Michael tries not to let it unsettle him. He looks at the monitors and takes comfort in Billy's heartbeat and his oxygen levels. His blood pressure seems to be a bit all over the place, but he's relatively stable.
Still, Billy's forehead is beading slightly with sweat; indicative of the fever and infection Michael knows he's going to have to beat. But Billy's always been one to defy the odds. He's done it before. He can do it now.
Standing there is almost awkward; after all, there's nothing to do. Billy is unconscious and one look at Billy's chart shows Michael that Billy's on enough meds to make sure he stays that way. Michael knows it's possible Billy could hear him, but Michael doesn't know what to say. An explanation seems to miss the point; an apology doesn't say enough. Michael's a man of few words, so he suspects it would worry Billy to hear him go on anyway.
Yet, Michael can't leave. Sure, when Casey or Rick come back, Michael will give them a turn, but Michael knows Billy well enough to know that he doesn't want to be alone. He drops Billy off at the same lonely motel room night after night, and Billy never says anything, but Michael knows it's not where Billy wants to be. He wants to be a part of something, to be included. He wants a home, a family: the things he lost when he left the UK. The things he probably suspects he doesn't deserve.
Michael can still see the surprise on Billy's face; hear the genuine pleasure in his voice. He didn't blame Michael for not coming sooner because he didn't think Michael would come at all. On some level, Billy still believes he's the least worthy of all of them.
This is why Michael hates his decision most. Not for Casey's rage, not for Rick's disillusionment, but for the implicit confirmation to Billy that he's not worth enough.
Right bastard, indeed.
So Michael will. He'll stay here until they make him leave. He'll stay for Billy because he's left the Scot behind once on this mission, and he doesn't plan on doing it again.
Billy's hurt, but the mission's not over. Casey relieves him wordlessly a short time later, and Michael figures he should do something about the man in their custody. Over the night, Michael made brief stops to let him out, letting him eat and drink and use the bathroom before locking him up again. It's a bit cruel perhaps, but this man laughed at the thought of Billy's execution, so he doesn't exactly feel guilty.
Still, Higgins has arranged a transport and Michael makes the exchange and calls Higgins to tell him it's a done deal.
"That's excellent news, Operative Dorset," Higgins says over the line. He sounds genuinely impressed. "You and your team have scored a wealth of intelligence on this one."
Michael smirks despite himself. "And only one of us had to almost die," he says a little bitterly.
There's the smallest hesitation on the other end. "I've been in contact with the hospital," he says. "Operative Collins is receiving the best care there is and you and your team are to take as much time as needed."
It's a pittance, really, but Michael knows it's more of an olive branch than Higgins is prone to giving.
"It's never easy having agents compromised in the field," Higgins continues. "It's not a decision I ever make lightly and such consequences are the ones I dread most."
Michael knows Higgins means it. He also knows that Higgins has made these calls more than he has.
"But there's a reason we do what we do," Higgins says with actual conviction. "It was the right choice."
Michael knows this already; hearing it is marginally validating.
But as he heads back to the hospital, Michael still wishes it meant something.
Billy's fever gains in strength, ravaging his body. He sleeps fitfully, even under sedation, the sweat soaking his hair and flushing his otherwise colorless cheeks. It burns, but Billy fights, and Billy's bad but he's holding on.
Michael stays when he's allowed, but at this point, the doctors and nurses are still more amenable to his presence than his own team. Casey has assumed a de facto leadership role when it comes to Rick, and he tells Michael where he can be and Rick follows him without making eye contact with anyone.
This is hard on them, and Michael knows they're not without cause. Casey's a human weapon by his own admission and efforts, but he's the worst equipped to handle these situations. In some ways, seeing Billy lain up is a reminder of Casey's own human frailties, but it's more than that. Billy is Casey's friend, even though Casey doesn't claim to have friends. Casey probably is the most dangerous operative in the entire CIA but he's surprisingly not cold hearted in his approach. Michael knows that if their positions had been reversed, Casey would have gone for Billy.
This is why Michael's team leader and Casey's not.
Rick hasn't had to face this until now. He's never had to look at the tough choice between a teammate and a mission, at least not on this end. The fact that Michael had run the extra miles for him must seem like a stark contradiction to leaving Billy to an unknown fate. Rick will likely come to understand someday; Michael fears he'll know too well.
But this is why Michael's team leader and Rick's not.
It's not just about making plans; it's about taking risks. It's about the well-being of his country, the security of the world, the lives of the people he's closest to. Michael has to be paranoid. He has to be a right bastard, because it's how he survives. How he is able to make the hard choices when it matters most. How he's able to keep going even when things go wrong.
Standing by Billy's bedside, it doesn't really make it easier.
If Michael can't escape his role, it seems like Billy can't either. His fever ebbs and his vitals improve. The doctors start talking about when Billy wakes up and then Billy wakes up.
He's groggy and confused and doesn't seem to remember anything. He goes to sleep quickly and when he awakens again, he asks the same questions, voice garbled and confused, before he slips back under again.
This is still an improvement, and Michael feels something like relief, strained though it may be. Rick takes the news with enthusiasm, staying doggedly by the Scot's side, offering him patient explanations and a gentle, reassuring hand.
Casey's tension eases, but the worry reveals the stauncher bitterness that Michael has been prepared for all along. He pulls Michael aside one morning and looks him readily in the eyes. "You will tell him what happened."
Michael isn't surprised. "He's barely awake."
"He deserves to know," Casey tells him.
"I was never going to keep it a secret," Michael says.
Casey is not swayed. "Soon," he orders. "You tell him soon or I will. And I promise you, I will not be sentimental or forgiving in my rendition."
With that, Casey stalks off. Michael watches him go, understanding the threat for what it is. Not just a threat - though Michael knows Casey's serious about that - but also the last shred of respect. In Casey's mind, there's only one way for Michael to redeem himself and that's through Billy himself. Even then, Michael knows he'll have to work to regain Casey's trust, but he's right to say that Billy deserves to know.
Because Billy's recovering in a hospital bed and it's all Michael's fault and Billy deserves to know.
Billy looks bad but it's still a marked improvement. He's sitting up in bed, propped up on pillows while he reads a book he's managed to procure from one of his many doting nurses. His skin still looks a bit sunken and he's still pale, but when Michael settles by his bedside, he smiles broadly.
"Good morning, oh fearless leader," Billy says grandly. His voice is still scratchy, but his inflection seems to overcome his lingering physical impairments.
Michael forces a smile in return. "I still think we've both had better."
Billy raises his eyebrows. "This is probably true," he concedes. He puts his book down and looks at Michael with a glimmer of humor. "Though I dare say, we've also both had worse."
Michael remembers the long week he's spent at the hospital, watching Billy languish while Casey and Rick ignored him. "You're right about that."
Billy shrugs congenially. "And this really isn't so bad," he says. "I mean, true, I am not such a fan of hospital food, but considering the alternatives, I think this is definitely worth celebrating. I'm grateful you came back for me, even when all looked bleak."
The gratitude is genuine, and it hits Michael hard. He's accepted his choice for better or for worse and while the prolonged silence from Rick and Casey has been hard to take, he realizes now it's been something of a comfort, too. Their accusation helps bolster his guilt; he can take solace in knowing that he made the tough choices for the right reasons. It's all somewhat an act of self-flagellation, but Michael needs that guilt in order to justify what he's done - in order to justify almost letting Billy die.
So gratitude, from Billy, no less. To hear him say thank you when it's all Michael's fault.
It's almost too much.
Billy is watching him, carefully now. "Something wrong?" he asks, because of course he's noticed Michael's silence.
Michael remembers where he is and what he has to do. It's not really Casey's threats or Rick's disappointed looks: it's Billy that deserves this explanation because while they've all suffered in this aftermath, Billy's the one who nearly lost everything.
Wetting his lips, Michael can't bring himself to smile. "I had a choice, you know," he says instead.
Billy seems unfazed. He nods. "Aye, you had many choices, I'd imagine," he says. "Better you than me, I'd wager."
Michael shakes his head a little, refusing to be distracted by Billy's typical fluff. "Saving you, I mean," he clarifies. "We were given three locations. One for Martinez, one for the mark, and one for you. They were counting on Casey and I going after our own so they could escape."
Billy is watching him, his face composed. He blinks, and Michael can see the gears turning in his head, as he understands the full implications of what Michael is saying.
Michael forces himself on. "Casey wanted to go after you and Rick," he says. "I let him believe that was what we were doing. But when he got Rick, I went after the mark."
The moment that follows is tense, uncertain. Billy stares at him, almost unblinking. Finally he takes a breath, inclining his head. "You got him, yeah?"
It's Michael's turn to blink. "Yeah," he says. "I transferred him over to American custody yesterday."
"So the mission was a success?" Billy asks.
Michael shrugs. "Yeah."
"And lives were saved in the process?" Billy presses.
Michael lets out a breath of frustration. "Yes, but-"
Billy waves his hand in the air. "I don't see any need for stipulations on success," he says.
This time, Michael balks. "I made the choice to essentially let you die."
"But I didn't, mate," Billy says.
"But you could have," Michael snaps back. "Hell, you should have. That was my choice and I made it without even thinking twice."
"And what? I'm supposed to be mad?" Billy asks. "Upset? The job is the job, Michael. I don't fancy an early grave, but I won't take my life at the expense of the greater good. If I'm going to have meaning in this world, then it will be by giving my life in the service of something far beyond myself."
"And I know that," Michael says. "But we have a promise to one another, that we come back together. We trust each other."
"Aye, with our lives," Billy agrees. "But it's never really so simple, yeah?"
"Probably not," Michael says, deflating. He remembers the clarity of the choice; remembers seeing Billy bleeding on the floor. Remembers Rick's wide-eyed betrayal and Casey's resentment. "But it seems like it should be."
Billy's lips quirk into a rueful smile. "No arguments here," he agrees.
"I just wanted to explain," Michael says. He sighs, shaking his head. "Maybe explain. I wish there had been a better choice."
"Choices are easy," Billy commiserates. "Consequences are hard. And I would know, trust me."
Michael doesn't doubt Billy in this. He knows better than the rest that Billy's made his share of choices, and he's endured his share of consequences. "I know why I made the right choice," Michael says. "But it's hard to believe it."
That's the crux of it. It's easy to do things in the name of national security. It's easy for him to put himself on the line for the country. But it's harder to believe when his friend is lying in a hospital, when someone he cared about almost died for his cold-hearted decisions.
Choices are easy; consequences are hard.
Billy collects a breath; he seems tired but not quite weary. "If it helps," he says. "I hold no ill will. If you had gotten me first and the mark had escaped, I don't know if I could have forgiven you so easily."
Michael can't help it; he grins. Not because this is easy, not because this is how he wants it to be. But because this is how it is. Because he can make the right choices and the wrong choices, and Billy will understand. He knows Casey and Rick will, too, because this is who they are. This is what they do.
It's a choice they've all made and they can fight and get pissed off and they can face death and it doesn't matter because the consequences are still the same. They're teammates; they're friends; they're more.
"Figures you would say something like that," Michael says, his posture relaxing as he eases into the chair for the first time since they rescued Billy.
Billy shrugs casually. "It's one of my many inherent charms," he says. His energy seems to diminish and he sinks lower on the bed, eyes suddenly heavy. He makes a face as he looks around the room. "Though, next time we make a choice that leads to prolonged hospitalization, could we perhaps choose a spot with a bit more comfort and style? I don't mean to be picky, but the food here is atrocious and these pillows leave me with a backache."
Michael finds himself smirking. "And I'm sure the gunshot wound, surgery, and prolonged fever have nothing to do with that."
"You're going to mince details with me now?" Billy asks, and he's clearly trying to sound incredulous but he's mostly just tired.
"Well, since I did make the choice to let you nearly get killed, I suppose I'll let this one slide," Michael relents.
Billy smiles. "You're all heart."
Michael leans forward, patting Billy's arm, as the Scot seems to drift closer toward sleep. "I do what I can," he says. It's a promise and it's a choice, and Michael hopes it's enough.
Watching Billy's eyes close and body relax, Michael really hopes it's enough.
Billy recovers quickly after that. That's the way Billy is. Soon he's staying awake and itching to get out, flirting up the nurses and trying to plot means of escape.
It's his buoyancy that helps the rest of them. He's cajoled Rick into laughing again and annoyed Casey into relaxing. By the end of Billy's second week there, things aren't quite perfect, but they're comfortable again. Rick is asking Michael questions again and Casey can look at Michael without glaring, so things seem like they're going to be okay.
Michael suspects Billy may have had words with his teammates. He wouldn't put it past the Scot to force amends between them all. Rick spends a few days looking dolefully apologetic and starts using deference in their interactions, and Casey stops making him drink his coffee alone in the hall. Since Michael has made no attempt to defend himself, he can only assume that Billy's done it for him. Normally, Michael doesn't like anyone meddling in his affairs, but it's easier when Casey and Rick trust him, so he's inclined to let Billy take the lead on that one as only Billy can.
Because really, Michael has to make the hard choices, but he's not the only one who can make a difference on this team. Besides, sometimes it's nice to have someone else do a little bit of the decision making, especially after a mission like this.
Michael knows he made the right choice but he doesn't want to think about how incomplete they would have been if things hadn't ended up quite so well.
That's the kind of thing that keeps Michael up at night; that haunts him on his morning jogs and lingers in his mind as he nukes his dinner. Some choices are right but wrong all at once, and Michael knows he's gotten lucky on this one.
Because, this time, they're going to be okay. Together, the four of them: they're going to be okay.
Ultimately, though, Michael's job is still about choices; choices about life and death, risk and safety. He's protected the mission, almost lost his team, but this may be the hardest one yet.
"I just think I should be entitled the aisle seat is all," Billy says. "I mean, considering my near brush with death, I should think that I'm entitled that much."
Casey glowers from his position, slouched in a chair in the terminal. "Aisle seats are a commodity," he says.
"You're not even that tall," Rick says. "And Billy did almost die."
"Thank you," Billy says.
"Experience should matter in these decisions," Casey argues. "Besides, Collins has gotten to sleep in a bed and have all of his meals catered to him. I've spent my nights either cramped in a chair or listening to Martinez snoring."
"I don't snore," Rick says defensively.
"And I was shot and in the hospital," Billy says.
"On very excellent meds," Casey reminds them.
Billy shakes his head. "Clearly, we are never going to reach a consensus," he says. "We're going to need someone to make this call for us. A neutral, sage opinion."
Instinctively, from Billy to Rick to Casey, they look at Michael.
He's the leader still. His choices have been questioned and tried, but they all still turn to him. They count on him, with the big things and the small.
Besides, he's the one holding the tickets.
Grinning, he shakes his head. "What makes you think any of you will get the aisle?" he asks.
Casey clucks his tongue while Rick gapes. Billy shakes his head, "The cold thrill of power has finally corrupted your once noble leadership."
Michael shrugs. "I'm just making the decisions as I see fit," he says.
"God help us all," Casey mutters.
"Oh, God won't help us here, I'm afraid," Billy says. "These choices are Michael's and Michael's alone."
No one disagrees. It's a lot of responsibility but Michael's not going to shy away now.
Not for life or death, especially not for plane tickets.
Besides, they don't have to know that he's sprung for an upgrade to business class.
Settling back with a smile as they bicker, he knows without a doubt he made the right choice.