Title: Decisions and Revisions (Which a Minute Will Reverse)

Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: I wrote this for moogsthewriter as a pick-me-up. She was then kind enough to give it a read for me. Remaining mistakes are entirely my own :)

Summary: But there's no time to think, no time second guess. There's just enough time to make one last choice.

-o-

It's a split second decision.

It seems like most things that balance between life and death are.

But there's no time to think, no time second guess. There's just enough time to make one last choice.

The car following them is smaller and faster. It'll overtake them in mere minutes, and if that happens, Billy knows the shooters will take them out one by one. And at these speeds, they'll never get a shot out, and since they can't ditch these fellows, the best bet is to take them all out of the game.

A crash at this point is inevitable. The car will ram them or Billy will lose control, and Billy doesn't want to go out on someone else's terms. Rick is whitewashed in the seat next to him, hand gripping the door handle so tight his knuckles are white. Casey is turned in his seat, straining against the seat belt with his gun in hand. Michael is watching him from the seat behind him, though, and for a second, their eyes meet in the rearview mirror.

Michael shakes his head. He's telling Billy it's not worth it, to play it safe. He's telling Billy to pull out now before they're a pile of flaming metal.

It's not bad advice; Michael's ideas never are. But Billy knows Michael's taken one other option off the table. One option that will minimize the damage and maximize the return.

If Billy turns hard and slams the brake; if he plants their car as a road block in front of the pursuer, then he can stop them before they stop the ODS. A head on collision is always worse than a side impact and if Billy times it right, it'll be a central hit to reduce the spin and chance of ricocheting hits.

The car will be damaged, yes, but may even be drivable. Most importantly, Rick, Casey, and Michael have a splendid chance of walking away with nothing more than cuts or bruises. Michael may break an arm, but Billy can reduce the impact on his door.

It's a win-win. It's the best option.

Billy steels himself, tearing his eyes away from Michael and looking back at the road. He tightens his grip, takes a breath, says a prayer, then turns hard and slams the brakes.

There's screeching and jarring, and Billy has to hold fast to keep control of the car. He does hold fast, though, refusing to relinquish control, and the vehicle obeys his fleeting commands.

As they skid to a stop, sideways across the road, Billy has time to see that his timing was just right. Perfect, in fact.

The car has no time to stop, barely has time to brake. They have no time to veer and Billy can see the look of terror on their faces as their vehicle slams into the ODS' at full speed.

Metal crunches. The world shifts. Billy thinks, this is the best solution. For the mission. For Rick and Casey and Michael.

For everyone but him.

-o-

Michael knows what's coming and there's nothing he can do to stop it.

The mission has been tough from the start. It's been tricky to get the intel and get everyone out alive. They'd managed to steal a car from the compound, but not without picking up a tail.

And a damn persistent tail. The problem with stealing from the world's most notorious criminals is that they're damn good. Billy's driving is the best Michael's seen, but their stolen vehicle is a luxury sedan - great for long car rides, but less good for evading hopped up sports cars.

Their only chance is to lose the tail, but on the open stretches of road away from the compound, that's not likely. If they could slow down to get a clear shot, they may have some luck, but if they slow down to get a shot, they're just as likely to get clipped. It's a risk, one that Michael might be willing to take - might have to take. It's the only plan Michael can see that gets them all out of this alive.

The fact that it could get them all killed, too, isn't lost on Michael, especially if the car is bullet proof like Michael suspects it might be.

Still, driving this fast for this long is eventual suicide. Once they get ahead, it'll just be a matter of time before they're taken out.

They can't outrun them and they can't out shoot them, and this is about as closed to screwed as Michael can imagine.

Casey is itching to fire and Rick looks like he may throw up. But Billy's entirely focused, body tense and mind focused, and when he meets Michael's eyes, it's clear that he has a plan.

And it's clear what that plan is.

It's suicide.

Because there is one surefire way to stop this chase, but it means one of them has to take the impact.

If Billy takes the impact. It makes sense, on some level. Stop the car, incapacitate the assailants, and then pick up on foot and call in for a closer transport out.

Of course, Billy will probably be a mess of mangled metal and bone, but Billy doesn't care about that. Happy-go-lucky as he seems to be, the Scottish operative has a self-sacrificial streak that rivals Michael's. It's what Michael would do if he was at the wheel.

It's the last thing he wants Billy to do from his safe spot in the back.

But ultimately, it's not his choice to make.

The car turns and Michael steadies himself. He moves center and braces himself.

When the cars collide, he lets himself rock with it, and doesn't fight the momentum. His body jerks and for a second his vision gets hazy, but when the movement finally ceases, Michael has to blink once before he's already strategizing their next move.

It takes him two seconds to recognize that he's fine. His side hurts and his head throbs, but he avoided any harsh impact. To his right, Casey is blinking and shaking his head. There's blood down the side of his face and his window is cracked, but he's still scowling and he's still moving, so Michael figures that's a good sign. In the front, Rick seems to be conscious but blinking blindly and it's hard to gauge the extent of his injuries.

Releasing his seatbelt, Michael moves his way gingering across the seat. "Is everyone okay?" he asks.

Casey takes a breath and lifts his gun. "Still in one piece," he reports. "But I may be a bit slower than normal in a fight."

Michael looks to the front, putting a hand gently on Rick's shoulder. "Martinez?"

Rick's head rolls and he coughs. "I - yeah," he says, breathing harshly. His face twists with pain. "I think maybe I broke my arm."

Michael doesn't bother to grimace. Instead he leans forward, straining to get a better look at the kid. His face is a bloody mess, a large cut split open across his forehead, another seemingly behind his ear. "You probably have a concussion, too," he says. "Do you know where you are?"

Rick blinks, swallowing painfully. "On the mission from hell?" he asks.

Michael can't help but smile. "You'll be fine," he says, and he's mostly sure of it. He turns to Casey. "Can you open the door."

Casey seems to shift, slightly tenderly, before he pushes on the door. There's a moment of resistance but Casey pushes harder and the door jars open.

"Good," Michael says. "I want you to get out and check on our assailants."

Casey nods, easing his way out and moving around the car. Anyone else, he might be concerned about sending over without backup, but given the force of the impact, Michael tends to think that their attackers won't be able to do much in the way of defending themselves, assuming they're still alive at all.

"Martinez," Michael says, scooting into Casey's vacated seat. "I'm going to get out and come around to open your door. You think you can deal with that?"

Rick nods, face taut with pain.

Michael slides out of the seat. Over the car, he can't see much through the haze of smoke coming from both engines. There's the faint smell of burning rubber and gasoline in the air. He makes a mental note that an explosion may be coming.

Without wasting time, Michael tries Rick's handle. The front of the car is bent badly, pressing into the doorframe, making it difficult to open. Difficult, but Michael hopes not impossible.

He jerks once and it creaks. Bracing himself with his feet, he puts his whole body into it, yanking back so hard that he feels his shoulders ache.

It works, though. The door pops open, almost falling off the hinges with the sheer force. Michael falls backward and doesn't have time to catch himself. Backside stinging, he gets to his feet to find Rick looking at him wearily.

The kid is more banged up than he'd thought. His eyes, while open, are hazy, and Michael can't tell off hand if it's the pain or the concussion. Either way, Michael knows he needs to proceed with care as far as Rick is concerned.

Gently, he offers the kid a hand. Rick takes it, face paling as Michael gets him up and out of the car.

In the sunlight, Rick's knees almost buckle. Michael has to catch him, propping him up carefully as he makes his way to the side of the road. To be safe, Michael goes an extra few yards until they're in the grassy field just off the pavement.

Rick allows himself to be eased back and when he's settled, he blinks large, child-like eyes up at Michael. "Billy's hurt bad," he says, his voice a little garbled. He swallows with effort. "I couldn't tell - I tried."

Michael nods reassuring. "I know," he says. "I'm going to go take care of him."

It's a promise as much as it is a comfort and Rick doesn't fight it when Michael heads back toward the wreck.

Casey is moving toward him. He's still bleeding, but he's moving smoothly, only a small limp to indicate any discomfort whatsoever. When he nears Michael, he shakes his head. "They're dead," he says. "Small car like that and they had virtually nothing to shield them from the impact."

Michael doesn't slow down, moving back toward their car. "Just as well," he says. "We're going to have a slow going getting out of here."

Casey is a step behind him. "There's more, though," he says.

At the door to their sedan, Michael pauses, looking back. He keeps his face steady, but his heart still skips a beat. "More?"

"They've got a fuel leak," he says. "It's the damn Italian design. It's a ticking time bomb."

It's a possibility Michael has considered, but it's not the one he was hoping for.

He takes a breath and comes to his resolve. "Martinez is hurt," he says. "I want you to take him to a safe zone and call for immediate backup. There's military activity in the region, and it shouldn't take much to divert a copter to our location for evacuation."

Casey is shaking his head. "But Billy-"

"I'll get Billy," Michael says shortly.

"You don't have time," Casey says emphatically.

"Then we should stop wasting it," Michael counters.

There's a split second of conflict on Casey's face, but Michael doesn't let himself dwell on it. He counts on Casey to follow orders, to do the right thing, the practical thing. Getting Rick to safety is just as much a priority as getting Billy out. They can't lose either, and if anyone is going to put their life on the line this time, Michael is damn well sure that it's going to be him.

Sliding down back into the front seat, Michael takes some satisfaction in hearing Casey's footfalls moving away from the vehicle. He knows Casey still has the intel in tow. The mission will be a success.

That's a good feeling. Almost as good as knowing that Casey and Rick will be safe. Banged up, but alive.

The good feeling is short lived, however, when he gets his first look at Billy.

Billy's not moving in the seat. His head is tipped back, blood running freely from his nose and mouth. The door is smashed into him, caving into his lanky body at odd angles. There are fresh blood stains on Billy shirt and a growing patch at his neckline from a weeping head injury. It's hard to see his leg, which is still stuck beneath the steering column, but when he reaches down to feel where the metal ends and Billy begins, the entire pant leg is drenched.

It's impossible to tell the extent of the damage - in fact, it's pretty hard to tell if Billy's still alive or not. But ultimately, it doesn't matter. Michael's not leaving a man behind, and he's not going to leave Billy to be blown up, alive or dead.

Michael's mind is made up, because Billy's not the only stubborn, self-sacrificial bastard of the group. They're getting out of this - together - or they're going down once and for all.

-o-

It's not supposed to be easy.

Billy knows this, learned it the hard way. There was a time when he believed he had nothing to lose and he lived with total abandon.

By the time he realized he had something to lose, he'd already lost it. His job, his friends, his family. And now when he jokes, it's because laughter is better than bitterness. When he tells stories of great adventures and literary giants, it's because his own reality is far too dreary.

People are defined by their decisions. It's not their beliefs, it's not their goals. It's what they do.

Billy left one country, disgraced and alone. When he leaves this one, he wants it to be heroic and respected.

Though, really, in the end, he's always going to be alone. It's the nature of the game. The sad truth of his life. He can make a thousand friends but none of them will ever know him beyond the guises. Those few who come close are the ones he'll die for, the ones he'll leave behind when there's nothing left.

And there's nothing left.

Just pain and darkness. The taste of blood in his mouth and the stench of gasoline.

Billy can't remember the specific, but the specifics don't matter. The ins and outs of the mission are irrelevant. The salient, resounding question is if the rest will be okay.

Langley can arrange new missions, but they won't find another Michael Dorset, Casey Malick, and Rick Martinez. They won't be able to replicate the ODS. Billy doesn't think of himself as fighting for a foreign land, but fighting for his friends.

This is all there is. When everything is stripped away, this is all there is. Billy likes drinking and he likes women and he likes seeing the world, but the only thing that redeems him is this.

After all, there is no greater love than this: that a man should lay down his life for his friends.

Billy can't count himself as a true believer in much - at least not anymore - but he's a true believer in this: his life can be measured in each moment, so he'll make them count.

He hurts, though, and he takes a struggled, hindered breath and feels himself faltering.

In the end, all he can hope is that he made this one count after all.

-o-

Priorities.

It comes down to priorities. Billy could have internal damage - hell, at this point, Michael's pretty sure that's a given. Add the probability of spinal injuries and Michael knows that moving Billy may very well paralyze him or worse.

And yet, leaving Billy here or even sticking around to stabilize him is a death sentence for them both.

Priorities.

It's not easy to reach down and pull Billy away from the door. The flesh seems entangled and Michael tries not to notice as the fabric of Billy's clothes rips as he eases him back. He tries to be gentle, but he needs to be efficient, and as Michael pulls backward, Billy's body slumps into him, his head lolling limply against Michael.

That makes it awkward work, and Michael can feel Billy's blood warm on through his clothes and the hot, shallow breath against his neck. So it's not a lost cause - not yet.

There's a rattle from outside and a fresh hiss. He's running out of time.

Billy's leg is still caught and Michael has to lay Billy flat on the seat as he maneuvers his way closer. He tries not to notice the swelling and bruises along Billy's bloodied face or the staggered rise and fall of his chest. There's not time. There's just not time.

Down lower, it's clear to see that Billy's leg is a mess. It's broken, a shaft of bone sticking through the blood-soaked leg. His foot is turned at an odd angle, still trapped under the caved in dash.

The metal is unyielding and Michael isn't sure what kind of damage he might cause to Billy's leg if he pulls the wrong way. But as his blood slicked fingers slip on the sharp metal, he realizes that he's got all the lubricant he needs and one last chance to save both their asses.

Situated firmly, Michael works the foot up as gently as he can. Billy groans from the seat, whimpering slightly in unconsciousness.

There's another hiss - louder - and the car shimmies.

Gritting his teeth, Michael refuses to think about the implications and he jerks Billy's foot hard, pulling it clear of the metal as fresh blood pours over his fingers.

There's no time to dwell on either his success or his potential failure. Scrambling, Michael gets to his feet, hoisting Billy up under his arm pits and backing out of the car with Billy dragging after him.

He almost falls onto the pavement, but manages to catch Billy's weight as they slip free from the vehicle. The smell of gas is prevalent now and somewhere he can hear Casey yelling.

Billy's body is ungainly in his arms, arms flailing and legs sprawled. Michael almost falls again, and there's not time for grace or any semblance of creature comforts. Instead he pulls Billy up, hooking his arms beneath his legs and letting the taller man's head fall back. Billy's arms flap against him as Michael starts to move. One staggering step turns into a lurching run.

Michael is close now. He can see Casey in the distance, standing over Rick. He's waving one arm and he's yelling, but Michael can't hear what he's saying.

He can't hear anything, but he can feel Billy's dead weight in his arms, feel the heat at his back as the force of an explosion knocks him from his feet and sends him flying.

His last thought when he hits the ground is that he hopes this close call was worth it in the end.

-o-

There's light.

Billy can't see it, but he can feel it. Feels it warm on his skin, saturating his face. He wants to melt into it, let himself go.

Then, there are voices.

Muted and distant, he can't make out the words. But he can recognize the voices.

Casey perfunctory cadence. Rick's uncertain lilt.

Billy thinks to open his eyes, but doesn't know how. He thinks to take a breath but the pain floods over him and he convulses instead.

And then everything throbs. His chest, his head, his leg: they're all on fire and instead of air, he tastes blood and he feels like he's drowning on dry land.

Casey is yelling now.

There's a gentle hand pressing into his forehead. "You're going to be okay," Rick says, and even while drowning, Billy can tell the kid is lying.

Billy attempts another strangled breath, his body bucking desperately this time.

This is how it is, though. Billy's life has been on a collision course with an unknown fate for as long as he can remember. He's always wondered why things happen the way they do, why he ends up in the places he does.

This time, he thinks, this time he may finally find out.

-o-

At first, there's noise.

It's a droning buzz in his ears. But after several moments, Michael starts to make out words. "...I don't care about your damn protocol," Casey is saying. "We've got three wounded agents, one of them critically. Unless you want the entire mission to be compromised, I strongly suggest you have a copter at our location ASAP."

Michael almost wants to smile. How Casey manages to threaten allies without ever uttering a word of peril is a skill unto itself.

Still, three wounded agents. Michael does the math. Martinez was hurt and Billy's the critical patient. Which makes-

He gasps, opening his eyes to the glaring daylight. Which makes him the third.

Blinking rapidly, his senses come back quickly.

He's on his back, grass scratching his cheek. He moves to prop himself up and can't help but wince.

Rick's hand finds his shoulder. "Easy," he says. "Casey thinks you're concussed."

Michael turns toward Rick, squinting at him in surprise. Rick is still a bloody mess, but there's a bandage tied to his head and his eyes are clearer. "And that matters because?"

"Because," Rick says carefully, "it means you should be resting."

Sitting all the way up, Michael easily pushes back his nausea. "I could say the same for you."

"I'm just sitting here," Rick defends. "Casey's orders."

Michael lifts his eyebrows. "I thought I was team leader."

Rick shrugs. "You were out of commission," he says.

To that, Michael can't argue. Doesn't really want to. Truthfully, he's still not feeling 100 percent and he's mostly just glad to see the kid coherent and talking. That was one less thing to worry about-

"Where's Billy?"

Rick blanches slightly and his eyes flicker beyond Michael. It's enough for Michael to figure it out. He turns and his eyes settle on Billy, who is stretched out on the ground not three feet from Michael.

From this angle, it's easy to see the ragged breaths as Billy labors. Casey has been busy, it seems. Billy's leg is straightened and wrapped in a bulky bandage. There's another compress tied tightly to Billy's head.

Still, Billy looks more dead than alive. The blood is stark on his pale features, staining him from head to toe. His face is hardly recognizable on the left side and his shirt is in tatters. Despite the thick bandages, Billy's leg is awash with red.

"Casey's getting us a flight out of here," Rick reports, and his confidence seems less now. "If we just hold fast-"

Michael listens but doesn't acknowledge Rick's words. Instead, he pushes to his feet. It's an uncertain process and his equilibrium lurches slightly but he quickly rights himself. He hurts more than he did before, and he thinks Casey's probably right about the concussion.

But it doesn't matter.

"Hey," Rick protests. "You should be seated-"

Michael ignores him. He casts a pointed look at Rick. "You should be the one who's seated."

"We're both concussed," Rick reminds him. "Trust me, you don't look so good."

He knows Rick isn't lying, but it doesn't matter. "I need to check in with Casey," he says. "And you need to keep an eye on Billy. Let me know the minute anything changes."

Rick's mouth is still open, but the protest never makes it out, and Michael doesn't stick around to give him the chance. Instead, he limps over toward Casey, who is still talking into a phone.

When he approaches, Casey grumbles a ten-four and hangs up to look grimly at Michael. "Ten minutes," he says.

Michael lifts his eyebrows.

"Military helicopter, ambulance equipped," Casey reports. "It took some finagling-"

"More than that," Michael says. "Just how much of your soul did you sell to get that?"

Casey shrugs. "Nothing I wasn't okay with parting with anyway."

"You shouldn't be offering people favors-" Michael starts.

Casey sighs. "If Billy doesn't get to a hospital within twenty minutes, he's as good as dead," he says. "We may be too late to save his leg anyway. I did what I had to do."

Michael stares at him for a moment, weighing Casey's words. Casey is hardly the sentimental type, but when the life of his team is on the line, he never holds anything back. It occurs to Michael far too late that Casey's just as scared of losing Billy as Michael is, even if he shows it in an entirely different way.

Casey frowns under the scrutiny. "What?" he asks, cocking his head. "You think you and Collins are the only two sacrificial heroes of the group?"

Michael shrugged a little. "I was sort of hoping," he admits.

Casey shakes his head and rolls his eyes. "Well," Casey says, and he tries to sound annoyed but Michael can trace the fear. "Let's just hope it pays off."

-o-

The problem with the right thing is that it's not always the best thing. Sometimes doing the right thing means the wrong results. Sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing.

Sometimes the right thing costs you everything you have.

Billy's always done the right thing, regardless of his own well being. Usually it turns out okay.

Sometimes, missions go wrong and people die. Sometimes, he gets decommissioned and deported.

Sometimes, he ends up barely breathing and hanging onto life by a thread.

It's funny, though. This hanging on. It doesn't feel as terrifying as he thinks it should. It doesn't even feel that different. He's just aware of it. As if he's always hanging on but just hasn't realized it until the precipice beneath is dark and yawning, almost begging him to come home.

And that's tempting. Billy's been without a home for long enough to want such things. He misses his friends and his family; his misses his flat and his job. He misses football - real football - and a right cold ale on a warm summer's night.

But it's an illusion. The darkness will no more take him back than anything else he tries to do. He can work hard and he can sacrifice, but the past is something he can't undo.

Not for the life of him.

Casey will take it hard. For all his sour demeanor, the human weapon is softer than the rest of them. Casey trains to avoid failure not because he's some inhuman automaton but because he's more human than the rest of them deep on the inside and he doesn't know how else to cope.

It will test Rick's confidence. He's still too new to this. He knows the risks and horrors of the job, but he doesn't know the reality like the rest of them do. He hasn't seen someone die because of him; he hasn't done everything right just to have it fall apart anyway. These are the things that change a good and brave man into a true and hardened spy. It's how human weapons and paranoid bastards are made.

Michael will take it hardest. Michael knows the potential for failure better than the rest of them. And Michael will know what Billy did and he will blame himself, no matter how much it's not his fault. It's one more drop in the bucket and Billy doesn't know how much more loss-driven-paranoia one man can carry and still call himself sane.

But it's the best option, Billy thinks. Maybe not the only one, but it's the best one. They'll recover, because Billy's tried fighting. He's tried fighting and he's tired. Maybe it's time for giving in.

Still, it seems like letting go should be easier than hanging on, but in Billy's life, the simple things are never quite what he expects them to be.

-o-

It's a short ride to the hospital.

Not short enough.

They've only been airborne a few minutes when one of the medics pauses. It's a small movement, but Michael can easily read the stiffness for concern.

Then, without further warning, Billy's heart monitor starts wailing.

The medic mumbles under his breath while his colleague continues compressing the air pump pressed over Billy's face. The first sits up on his knees, arms straight as he positions himself over Billy's now-bare chest. They'd cut off Billy's clothes within the first few minutes.

CPR starts just like that. Quick and succinct, the two medics work in tandem. One presses, the other squeezes, and Bill remains slack and pale throughout the ministrations.

Next to Michael, Casey is so stiff that Michael thinks he could shatter at any moment. Rick is trembling so hard that Michael thinks he might fall down.

And Michael can only sit there. He doesn't breathe, doesn't blink. Just watches as the medics try to save Billy's life. He counts the compressions and watches the squeezing of air and thinks, it can't be this close. There's no way it should be this close.

But it is. They're teetering on the brink of disaster, and maybe they always are, but they usually don't have to face it. Not like this. Their job involves so much peril that sometimes Michael forgets what it means.

He knows now. They all know now. They're a working set, one piece as strong as the rest. If one stops working, then the entire thing is apt to fall apart.

At the very least, the entire thing will be broken, maybe irreparably.

But Michael keeps counting because it's the only thing he can do. Casey still doesn't move and Rick may be crying and this can't be happening.

The medic squeezing the air stops, pulling out the AED. He attaches the electrodes while the first still compresses and when the machine barks out an order, they both still.

There's a moment of waiting, then they pressed the paddles down and the shock is emitted.

Billy jerks just slightly, going still.

Michael can't see Rick and Casey anymore. Can't see anything but Billy and the way this mission could end, the way it could all fall apart. He feels like he's on a collision course all over again but he's not at the wheel. He can only sit there and hope, sit there and hope.

And then Billy's body lurches under the shock again, and this time, there's a resounding heartbeat, one after another, until it's the only thing that Michael can hear over the pounding of the rotors as they make their way to the hospital.

-o-

The problem is with giving up control is that there's no longer any say in the final outcome.

Billy doesn't know how he's still here, but he knows he's here. He doesn't know quite what's happening, but he knows something is happening all the same.

The shocker is that he's alive.

Giving up and giving in: it doesn't change that which he calls his destiny. And when he opens his eyes, no one is more surprise than he is about the sudden clarity of the world.

The light is blinding and the voices are loud. There are hands everywhere and his body feels like it's on fire. He takes a breath and gags on it but when he tries to retch, nothing happens.

His eyes roam and he can't recognize this place. He doesn't recognize these people. But there are masks and gloves and someone is talking about oxygen saturation and Billy remembers the crash and puts it all together.

Still, there's nothing to be done for it. This time, it's a head on collision but he's not at the wheel, and suddenly he understands Michael's disconcertion.

He wants to breathe, but he can't. There's air on his face and lights in his eyes and pricks in his arm. Someone is talking about surgery and someone else is asking if he knows where he is, what's happening.

Billy doesn't care to answer, though, assuming that he even can. These people don't matter.

Billy's ready to give up again, to close his eyes and melt away. Billy can put on a show for the people he cares about, he can give his all for a mission, but when it's him and strangers, he's just as happy being anonymous as anything else.

But then he hears a voice. "Is he conscious?"

It's Michael, and his voice sounds funny.

That doesn't stop him from being persistent, however. "Is he conscious?"

That's enough for Billy. He turns his head as best his can, eyes roving desperately until he sees Michael's face. It's battered and bloodied; worse than Billy remembers. Rick is there, too, and he and Michael seem barely standing together. Casey is in front of them, watching.

Rick smiles. Casey smirks. Michael meets his eyes and says, "Don't let go. Keep fighting."

There's a fresh burst of pain and his vision dims. He wants to hold their eyes, but he can't. He can't quite hold onto consciousness, but that's not the fight that matters. A great man will die for his friends; maybe the best among them will live for them, too.

Even as the pain grapples at his awareness, Billy thinks that's a fight worth figuring out. Some things are inevitable, but some things are still a matter of choice, and if Billy's careening toward destiny, he's going to hold the wheel until the very end.

-o-

The crux of the mission happened in two short hours. The escape had lasted no more than thirty minutes. The accident had happened in mere seconds.

Billy's surgery, by contrast, is an lifetime.

It's been touch and go since the copter, and the doctors had been cautious in their prognosis. After all, Billy had a multitude of internal injuries that needed attention. From a perforated bowel and a ruptured spleen, to a number of unknown bleeders in the abdominal cavity, the ex-lap alone was slated to take hours.

And the work on Billy's foot - was another issue entirely.

When they had taken Billy up to surgery, Michael had allowed himself to be comforted by the mere fact that Billy was alive. Unconscious and intubated, but still fighting.

Now, hours later, Michael can't help but feel his resolve waver.

It's not a feeling he's used to. Michael works hard to retain control. He puts all his effort into foreseeing possible outcomes and planning contingencies to compensate. Even under pressure, usually he has the ability to dictate the outcome, whether for his fate or the mission's.

But now he's done everything he can, and it's not up to him. Michael's still in the backseat, trying to hold Billy's gaze and knowing it'll never be enough.

Casey hasn't moved from his seat, hasn't even shifted. His eyes are open but he doesn't even seem to blink. Michael's known him long enough to know how carefully composed he is; this isn't self control, this is barely restrained fear. Casey isn't scared of anything except failure, and though he regards the mission with the highest esteem, he values the lives of those he serves with above that. Above anything.

Rick looks like he doesn't even know where he is. The kid passed a medical examination, but the doctor had warned them all against the side effects of his moderate concussion. His face was cleaned and the worst of his cuts were stitched and bandage, and without the macabre display of blood, Rick just looked like a kid. It's not the first time he's wondered how the hell Martinez ended up with a unit like the ODS, but it's still a striking question all the same. Because Rick hasn't found his coping mechanism just yet; he still wears his hopes and fears on his face, and that just makes Michael feel worse.

Because this isn't just about Billy. Billy's death is hard enough to compute, but the effect on Casey and Rick will be profound.

And who is Michael trying to lie to? The effect on him...

Michael has seen men die in the field before. He's served alongside men who haven't made it out alive. He's not sure he can handle orchestrating a mission with the life of one of his own as forfeit. He's already a paranoid bastard; he's not sure what else he has to give.

None of them speak, because there's nothing to say. The platitudes would be empty. It's too early to reminisce, too late to question. All they can do is wait.

It's funny how the two seconds before the crash seem so similar to these hours in a waiting room. Michael knows what's happening, knows the possible outcomes, but all he can do is brace himself against the inevitability of it all.

When a doctor comes for them in the morning, Michael feels his heart catch. Next to him, Casey sits still and erect; Rick is almost vibrating.

Then the doctor smiles.

The details temper Michael's relief, but not by much. Billy's alive, if critical, but if Michael knows when Billy's going to pull a stupid stunt, he also knows when he's going to hold on for all he's worth. And if he knows something about Billy, it's to never underestimate the power of his will. Casey's the one with the reputation of a hard ass and Rick's the one every knows wants to climb the CIA ladder, but Billy's the one Michael knows to watch for. He'll sweet talk his way to the brink, but he doesn't let go.

He can't let go.

Michael just hopes someday Billy realizes he's not hanging on by his own strength. The rest of them are right there, hands down, to pull him back. He just has to let go to let them hold him fast.

It's a lesson they all need to learn, and Michael thinks at least now they have the time. And that's what matters. More than the mission, more than the recovery time. More than anything.

The fact is, whether it's Michael's doing or someone else's, it still feels damn good to win.

-o-

Awareness comes in fleeting bits. Being turned by a nurse. Having a doctor ask him to flex his toes. Breathing through pain while someone administers a fresh sedative.

These snippets hardly seem worthwhile, and Billy sleeps when he can. He doesn't consider himself lazy by nature, but time has taught him that sometimes the effort just isn't worth the benefits.

Sleeping or awake, he can't quite escape the pain. It varies from throbbing to muted, but it's always there, hedging on the edges of his awareness doggedly. His leg feels heavy, prickly and hot, and his side itches persistently and he doesn't have the energy to scratch at it through the bandages.

Over time, he becomes aware of more. He's in a room - a hospital he presumes. There's equipment and sterilization. And he can't see his team, but he knows they're there.

From the moment he wakes up, he knows they're there.

When he finally opens his eyes long enough to see beyond the end of his nose, he sees Michael asleep in a chair by his side. At the foot of the bed, Casey and Rick are in equally uncomfortable states of repose. They all look worse for wear; colorful bruises cover their faces and there's a neat row of stitches across Rick's forehead.

It's been days, Billy realizes. Almost weeks. Taking a breath, his side is still tender and it occurs to him for the first time that this is slightly more serious than normal.

Billy tends to wax poetic about most things in life, because he finds that seeing something in a rosy light simply makes the unbearable drudgeries of life more palatable. And the thing is, it's a sight to behold. His rugged and fearless teammates, sleeping as innocently as children.

They even look vulnerable, and it occurs to Billy that this is probably how they always are but they've all just learned to hide it well enough that it's easy enough to overlook.

At least, until it's impossible to ignore.

And really, after all this, Billy wonders if that's not the truth.

He doesn't even know the status of the mission. He doesn't know for sure how close they all came. But his team is bruised and battered, and that's just as much his fault as anything. Turning the car into traffic had seemed like the right thing, but Billy wonders for one horrible moment if it was just as much as a mistake as most things in his life turn out to be.

And to think, they're waiting by his bedside.

It's enough to make Billy consider pushing the call button and asking for more sedatives and a private room.

He doesn't get the chance, though, because Michael wakes up.

Really, it's a surprise that it's taken him this long. Billy can only figure that their time in the hospital has been less than restful.

Michael only blinks once before he sits up straight. "Billy?" he asks. "You with me?"

Billy swallows against his discomfort and smiles. "Where else would I be?"

Michael shrugs. "Last time you were awake you started quoting Shakespeare," he says.

Next to him, Casey's eyes are open, though his posture is unchanged. "You thought you were Romeo," he says, somewhat disdainfully. "And apparently there is no world without Verona walls. And then you mentioned something about a golden axe."

Billy has to blush.

Rick stirs, shaking himself awake. "Is he awake? For real this time?"

"More awake than you, it appears," Billy says, wincing slightly at the rawness of his throat. "Though I have to ask, how long have I been out?"

The three of them share a look, all hesitating slightly.

"Come on now," Billy says. "I already know it's bad."

"Two weeks," Michael says. "You were heavily sedated for the first one and they pulled you progressively off the meds."

"But you're still on the good stuff, I promise you," Casey says. "Considering the reconstructive work on your foot, you're going to need every ounce, so enjoy it."

Billy frowns and takes in his physical state again. He can't make out much more visually than he could internally. "So my prognosis?"

"You'll live," Michael tells him, almost ruefully. "No thanks to your antics."

"They repaired the damage to your abdomen and your head wound seems to be just fine," Rick offers, almost as if to be helpful.

"You nearly lost the foot, though," Casey reports. "You managed to get it wedged under the dash. You're lucky Michael didn't have to cut if off to get you out before the whole thing exploded."

This unsettles Billy. "The car exploded?"

Rick scoffs. "You nearly got your foot cut off and you're worried about the car?"

It's a fair point perhaps, but the explosion isn't something Billy had counted on. He could have killed his team after all.

Michael seems to read his mind. "The other car exploded," he says with a hint of exasperation. "It wasn't your fault."

This is a very Michael thing to say. Knowing the older operative, he's probably already reflected and found fifteen ways to internalize the blame, when the decision was rightfully Billy's. "It was a rash move," Billy says shaking his head. "I never meant to put any of you in danger."

"We know," Michael says shortly. "Because you put yourself squarely in danger's way instead."

Billy is almost embarrassed at how transparent he is.

"Yes, we know," Casey says. "And while I can appreciate the sentiment, I prefer to be fully briefed on such decisions in order to talk you out of your total idiocy."

"It seemed like the right thing to do at the time," Billy admits, a little sheepish.

"So did disco," Casey points out sharply.

Michael inclines his head. "And we've seen the pictures in Casey's file to prove how wrong that is."

Billy sighs, suddenly feeling the weight of it all on him again. His body is weak and he's tired - body and soul. He shakes his head. "There wasn't another move that ensured mission safety and minimal body count."

"So you thought you were an acceptable loss then?" Michael presumes.

Billy can't deny it.

Michael's expression holds steady and his gaze is unyielding. "No one on this team is expendable," he says, his voice flat. "No one."

Casey and Rick hold him steady in their gazes as well, and Billy feels the sudden urge to hide. His old patterns of self defense are tickling the back of his brain, and it'd be easy to give into them. He could laugh. He could rolls his eyes and make a quip. He could come up with a obscure literary references to baffle them into submission.

Or, he could accept it. Acknowledge it and let himself be real for the first time in what feels like years.

Ultimately, it's a split second decision. If there's some kind of inevitable crash to come, Billy would rather throw his lot in with those who would die for him than his own fears and doubts.

There's no more time to second guess, though. Billy makes his decision and gives up control, trusting that his team will pull it out for him.

No, knowing they will.

Billy swallows hard, feeling the uncertainty churning in his stomach. "I just wanted to do the right thing," he says, and his voice wavers slightly.

"We know," Michael says, and there's no accusation in his voice.

"And we respect that," Casey adds.

Rick shrugs. "But next time, do the right thing for all of us," he says. "Not just most of us."

There are no apologies to be had. There are no regrets to voice. His team doesn't need him to air his dirty laundry, and not just because they know it already. But because it doesn't matter. Billy can be defined in the decisions he makes, second by second, and right now they're offering him a choice. To segregate himself for his own personal satisfaction, or to accept a place fully as one of them, scared and imperfect as the rest of him.

Billy blinks rapidly and nods readily. "Okay," he says.

It's just one word, and this is just one second, but Billy thinks maybe it could change enough to make a difference in the end.