In a Mirror, Darkly
by Valerie Vancollie
valeriev84 at hotmail dot com
Note: Okay, so it's been decided, there will be 2 more chapters to this fic after this one. I'm not yet sure if 28 will be a full length chapter, but I'll do my best to make it so.
Part VI: Billy: Hospital
Hospital Room, UCLA Medical Center
"Wow, I can't believe there's no one in here with you," Billy said as he entered Don's room to find his former partner lying partially reclined on the bed, watching TV.
"Yeah, I managed to convince Dad that I'd be okay if he popped down to the cafeteria for a late lunch."
"What about your girlfriend and brother? They were starting to look like permanent fixtures here too."
"Dad convinced Charlie to go home and shower while Robin had an important meeting downtown that she really couldn't afford to put off."
"On a Saturday?"
"It's about warrants for some ATF case."
"Ah, I see."
Billy dropped himself into the chair that had been pulled up to the side of the bed and used the opportunity to study the other man. The doctors had been forced to go in and surgically correct the position of some of the bones in Don's left hand as they'd already started to heal crookedly and most of his hand was now encased in a pristine white cast to hold the pins and bones in place, only one finger escaping the plaster confinement. He made a mental note to find a permanent marker so he could scribble on it, preferably when Don was asleep and unable to protest or veto any of his ideas. The doctors had also set his ribs. Fortunately, since the breaks were newer, that hadn't required any additional surgery. The nurses had given Don a pillow which he could clutch to his chest to ease the pain should he need to cough.
All of Don's cuts had been meticulously reopened and cleaned to ensure that all of the dirt and foreign blood was removed from the wounds before they'd been bandaged. The overall effect made him look somewhat like a mummy, or zombie, even without the bandages around his wrists and ankles where the various restraints used on Don had left their marks, though hopefully not permanently.
Although Billy was glad that Don's family and girlfriend hadn't seen him before he'd been treated, he almost found this worse. To see so much of his friend swathed in bandages really drove the situation home in a way the blood hadn't. That made absolutely no sense, but he figured it might have something to do with the fact that back in the basement he'd been so focused on Lawson, Keane and keeping Don awake that he hadn't been able to dwell on things as much as he could now. Not to mention the fact that he now knew much more of what had been going on and why. Lawson's description of the torture and Frazer's threats and intentions still made him sick to his stomach. Not that he found Keane's own brand of psychological torture any better, not on top of everything else.
The worst things by far, though, were the knowledge that Keane would have given Frazer free rein to kill Don however he so wished, the fact that Don had been aware of this and had had plenty of time to ponder it, and the fact that Frazer had used him against Don. The latter, though not nearly as bad as the first three, jarred with Billy as he knew how it would have affected his friend. The souvenir thing in particular had nearly made him lose his lunch and he was glad that was one of several details everyone seemed perfectly happy keeping from Don's family.
"So, the Bureau's finally informed the NSA of what happened," Billy stated.
"Oh, I imagine that didn't go down very well."
"No, it didn't, especially when Wright told them he'd held off on informing them about the situation out of fear that there could have been more traitors involved."
"Not like it wasn't a very real possibility, or that Banner or Lawson might have heard about it via their contacts and connections."
"Yeah, well, they kicked up some fuss about us risking the security of the intel and so creating a larger threat to national security."
"Oh, please. There was never any possibility of the information getting out into the open, not once Charlie told the Bureau what was going on. Without him, they didn't stand a chance of getting at it, which is exactly how I got involved in this mess in the first place."
"That's what Wright told them, but you know the NSA."
"If they're so worried, they should step up their own security. None of this would ever have been possible without Keane and Blakely getting to two of their people," Don said. "But speaking of the intel, what the hell was this client after anyway?"
"They won't tell us."
"The NSA point blank refuses to tell us anything about what they were after. Said it would compromise-"
"No, let me guess, national security."
"Yep. Even your brother couldn't get any answers out of them."
"They're not mad at Charlie, are they? For working on the problem?"
"They're not happy with him and one of the agents made some vague threats of repercussions, but his partner backtracked that quickly once they realized exactly who had given him his NSA clearance."
"You never told me your brother was so well connected."
"That's 'cause I didn't know until about five years ago myself when we worked a case with the CDC and needed someone with high clearance fast."
"That when you had those cases of Spanish Flu here?" Billy asked and continued indignantly when Don raised his eyebrows in surprise. "What? I watch the news, occasionally."
"Okay, so I only heard about it after it was over, but it caught my attention. Anything over here does."
And it was true, any time LA was mentioned on the news, it caught his attention, just like a mention of Albuquerque used to do the same. Billy figured it was one advantage of having friends outside of Fugitive Recovery, he could know things about where they were.
"What about Blakely?" Don inquired. "Do we have any more on him?"
"Some, but not a whole lot. Keane has remained tight lipped about him and their organization despite being offered various different deals, some of them far better than he deserves given what he's done."
"You know how the system operates, if they can use him to bring down someone bigger..."
"Doesn't mean I have to like it and don't even try and pretend you'd be okay with it if he'd accepted."
"Oh, I wasn't going to. Keane deserves the full force of the law, not only for what he did here, but for Detroit and anywhere else he's done this before."
"From what little we do know, Blakely seems to be a big international trafficker in information and weapons. He's been on the watch list of the NSA, CIA, ATF, CBP, ICE and even the FBI for a while now. With us he's not considered as high of a priority as he mainly deals with overseas matters, but he has cropped up on our radar a few times. The biggest problem is that not much is known about him. We only have a vague description of him and indirect evidence of his involvement in various jobs. The man is a ghost."
"And if Keane was right about him being able to choose his people so well, then most are unlikely to turn on him."
"Plus he's made a few good examples of those that have in the past."
"Yeah, well, not like we don't already know what he's capable of. If what he allowed Frazer to do just to cover his tracks is any indication, then I don't really want to know what he does to those who betrayed him. So, I take it this means we don't have enough to find Blakely."
"No. Wright wants Charlie to have a look at some of the data they have, but Sinclair and Granger seem to think that he won't have enough to work with."
"Our single biggest problem when it comes to Charlie helping us."
They lapsed into silence while Don pondered this new information. Soon enough it transformed into a more comfortable one like those they'd often had while on the road when they'd run out of things to say and weren't in the mood for their usual antics. Billy took the time to just study his friend, hoping it would help keep the nightmares at bay tonight. All he'd been able to see the past two nights had been that wretched basement. In his imagination, he'd sometimes arrived too late, only to find Don gutted like Banner; sometimes he'd arrived just in time to watch Frazer pull the trigger, unable to do anything to prevent it; and sometimes he'd arrived to find Don bleeding out, only to die in his arms before help arrived. It had been an endless loop, a parade of visions so lifelike he'd only known they were fake when he woke. Consciousness had provided precious little relief, though, as he kept seeing Don's reaction when he'd pulled out his knife or to being stuck with a needle. The involuntary actions had been so telling of the damage Frazer had wrought that couldn't be seen.
Though he didn't like to think about it too much, Billy found himself coming back to that issue over and over again. He of all people knew what it meant to Don to be an agent and what it would do to him if he lost that. He'd heard that his former partner had been seeing a therapist and hoped that he'd go back to him or her now. Much as he wasn't a fan of shrinks, he'd seen enough to know that some of them could have their uses. Besides, if this one had managed to gain Don's trust, then he couldn't be one of those idiots who blathered on about Freud and mommy or daddy issues and all that other nonsense.
"Have they found my badge yet?" Don asked.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, sorry, I meant to tell you right away. They found it among Frazer's stuff."
"Trophy. He wanted it as a Goddamned trophy!"
"Probably. I wanted to bring it back to you, but they need to process it further first."
"At least it was found."
"Yeah. Look, Billy, I need to ask you a favor."
Uh, oh. Billy recognized that tone of voice. Not to mention Don's whole attitude and posture just now. It was a blend of nervousness, fear and determination all mixed with that Eppes stubbornness he alternatively cursed or admired. While he'd been thankful for it just recently, he had the feeling he was gonna start cursing it real soon.
"Hey, whatever happened to 'sure, anything'?"
"It flew right out the window when you adopted the tone that tells me I'm not gonna like what you say next."
"What kind of friendship is that?"
Don sighed. "Fine. I want your knife."
Billy simply stared at Don in shock, unable to believe what he was hearing. The image of the younger man's reaction when he'd first opened the blade in the basement flashed before his eyes. It was too weak to be called a flinch, he hadn't had enough strength left for that, yet he'd still reacted, the response, the fear and expectation, so ingrained as to be instinctive even when in the hands of someone he knew would never hurt him.
It was the closest Billy had ever heard his former partner come to a plea and he had to close his eyes. He had another flash of Don as he'd been in the basement, covered in blood and cuts, his whole body reacting in fear to his blade.
"Why?" Billy questioned, uncomprehendingly. "Why on Earth would you want it?"
"You saw how I reacted to your knife before."
"I can't live like that, Billy, being afraid of every single knife; reacting like that to everything which could break my skin, whether it's a knife, scissors or a damn needle. I-"
"Don, it's a perfectly normal reaction after what you went through. Frazer tortured you for God's sake. I saw the marks, remember, and I read the transcript of your statement. What Frazer did and said, what you knew was coming, it would be abnormal for you not to have developed an automatic reaction to knives, even if you hadn't been stabbed before all of this happened."
"Regardless, I... can't live like this. I can't work like this. You know that's true, Billy. If I don't get over this, my career with the Bureau is over."
The fact that he'd still be able to hold a position at the Bureau other than a field agent wouldn't be any consolation to Don, so Billy didn't mention it. He looked away from his friend as he tried to imagine how he'd feel if their positions were reversed. Fugitive Recovery was everything to him and he couldn't imagine doing anything else. If a subconscious reaction threatened that, he'd do everything in his power to overcome it. Everything.
With a nod, Billy looked back at Don, carefully watching his reactions as he pulled out his knife. Although the other man had known what he was doing, Don flinched when he caught sight of the weapon. Billy simply held the polished wooden handle and kept his eyes on the younger man, waiting for the tense muscles to relax somewhat and Don to pull his eyes off the knife. When he finally did so and Billy could see that Don was aware of his surroundings, he slowly spun the knife around so the end where the blade came out was in his palm, before he extended his arm towards his friend.
Don swallowed hard before reaching out with a heavily bandaged and trembling hand for the knife. When his fingers closed around the hilt, Billy closed his own fingers around his former partner's hand.
"We're gonna take this one step at a time or you're only gonna make things worse."
When Don had relaxed as far as Billy thought he would given the circumstances, he gently pushed down on Don's thumb which covered the releasing mechanism for the blade. Despite being the one who held the knife and having control over the blade mechanism, Don's muscles jumped and tensed instantly.
"It's not gonna hurt you, not this time."
"I know," Don breathed after a few moments. "I just..."
"Think of it as Frazer's knife. Now think of what you did when Keane was shooting at you."
"My life was in danger."
"Yes, but you were able to overcome the fear then. That means you can do it."
"I didn't think of it then, I just reacted," Don stated, breath hitching as Billy released his hand.
Don simply looked at the blade for a moment, as if working up his courage. Billy kept a close eye on him, ready to grab the knife if it looked like Don was pushing himself too far. Slowly, Don rotated his wrist, looking at the blade from various angles before he pulled his arm closer to himself. Billy didn't dare say anything as he watched Don struggle with the emotions and memories that were still far too close to the surface for him to be doing this. The knowledge of how closely his former partner normally guarded his privacy made Billy feel privileged that Don trusted him enough to ask this of him and to allow him to witness this vulnerability.
"Maybe that's enough for now," Billy suggested when Don brought his left hand up towards the blade.
"No," Don stated simply.
Billy fought off the impulse to grab the knife away from him as Don traced his one good finger along the flat edge of the blade. The knowledge that such a sudden movement would only startle Don and could potentially hurt him, especially if he cut himself, forced down the desire. He also didn't want to think of what it would do to Don's psyche if he made such an unexpected gesture with the knife as pulling it away would undoubtedly be. Given Don's current state of mind, the fact that the knife was being whipped away from him instead of towards him probably wouldn't make any difference. All Don would see was the sudden, fast movement of the blade, suddenly beyond his control, and that would be enough.
The moment stretched as Don kept his finger on the blade, as if unable to pull it away now that he was touching it. Then, before Billy could say anything else, Alan's angry and shocked voice cut through the air.
"What the hell is going on here?"
Well, here we go, the final cliffy of this fic.
As for Don with the knife here, well, I did say he was gonna pull some macho crap regarding his new found phobia of sharp things. Besides, with Billy there, how was I to resist letting Don be Don?
Yes, there will be a hell of a blow out between Alan and Billy in the next chapter about this. And poor Don won't come out of it too easily either. His finger is on the blade here when his father startles him...
I hope you liked some of the backstory for Blakely given here. I've got a lot more in my head, but the Bureau can't know all of it or he'd be behind bars already.