Title: Happiness is a Warm Puppy
Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: Written for (and beta'ed by) moogsthewriter. So it's her fault entirely.
Summary: Injured and alone on a mission, Billy finds an unlikely ally.
All things considered, this isn't the worst mission Billy has been on.
There was the time in Russia where he almost drowned in a frozen lake. And there was the time in Columbia when he was almost blown to shreds in a drug bust and ended up getting dangerously high on the fumes while also suffering massive internal injuries. And of course, there was the mission to South Korea in which he'd been tied to a bed for nearly a week straight and forced to endure various implements of torture.
In contrast, getting beaten and stabbed and left for dead in a back alley in Hamburg doesn't seem all that bad.
Sure, his team doesn't know where he is. And yes, his cell phone is smashed next to his face. And okay, he can't even move more than three inches in either direction without passing out. And fine, it's starting to rain, but at least he's not drowning in a frozen lake or being blown up with cocaine. And at least he's not being tortured.
A little bleeding builds character. A few bruises teaches humility. And lying alone and cold in the rain teaches...
Bloody hell, Billy doesn't care what it teaches. He's just glad that the trash back next to his head isn't smelly. There is some kind of unidentifiable liquid seeping out the bottom but it doesn't seem to have reached his head.
But Billy prides himself on his inalienable optimism. The bright light of hope in the cynical world of the ODS.
So yes, all things considered, it's a bonafide fact that Billy has been on far worse missions.
But as thunder ripples through the sky and the rain picks up, Billy wonders if this one won't make a run for the money on that.
Billy tries to remember how it went wrong.
He'd been careful - he really had. He likes to give the pretense of silly affability, but he's always very focused on missions. He's found that anything less than that usually leads to unfavorable circumstances.
Like being beaten and stabbed in a back alley in Hamburg.
But that's neither here nor there, because Billy had been careful. When he adopts a persona, he's flawless in its execution, and this had been no exception. Such things are necessary, especially when going undercover to catch a notorious arms dealer who is suspected of supplying weapons to sundry jihadist groups throughout the Middle East.
So, Billy's cover had been impeccable, and it was no accident that he'd made quick inroads with the mark. They'd targeted a lower level employee, someone who could be tricked and bribed and ultimately lead them to much bigger fish. The guy had been jittery - but most low brow criminal sorts seem to have such unfortunate dispositions - and Michael had wanted to pull the plug, but Billy had insisted they couldn't lose their only lead this late in the game.
In retrospect, Billy supposes Michael may have been right. The mark was late to the drop and showed up in an unfamiliar car. This had been an ominous sign, but if Billy had cut and run, they'd lose their only lead and their two weeks in Germany would be for nothing.
As it was, they still lost their only lead but Billy preferred to think it hadn't been quite for nothing.
Still, it was a less-than-ideal turn of events. After driving aimlessly around Hamburg with sufficient stealth to lose any and all tails, including Billy's team, Billy's new acquaintances had stopped at an alley.
His jittery ally had gotten a knife to the heart before he'd even stepped foot out of the vehicle.
Sensing the danger implicitly, Billy's self-defense had kicked in, which had kept him alive - mostly.
It had also made the attackers mad. After being tagged with a blade in his side, Billy had been unceremoniously beaten to a pulp and left to die.
Such measures were undeniably cocky - leaving a potential loose end still breathing - but his attackers had seemed to relish the notion of him dying a slow and painful death, fully aware of his stupidity, inadequacy, and defeat.
And now, aching and wet on the dirty pavement, Billy has to admit: he does feel pretty stupid and more than somewhat inadequate. It's never an easy thing, getting bested in a fight, even if it is three to one, and one side is armed while the other isn't.
But he clings to the fact that he's not completely defeated. If they'd known he was CIA, he'd be dead for sure. He'd gone down with his cover in place, though. At best, they thought he was just trying to lure their business away via the mark.
Their stupidity and inadequacy, therefore, will work inexorably in his favor. By leaving him alive, they will inevitably cause their own destruction because his team will come for him. And GPS tracking signal or not, they will find him.
Billy looks up at the sky as lightning flashes, the rain blinding him. He lets out a tentative breath, trying not to wince as it pulls at the open gash in his side.
He tells himself the facts again, reiterating the last point mentally for his own peace of mind: his team will find him. Sooner or later, they will.
In the growing deluge, Billy shudders. They have to.
After about ten minutes, it occurs to Billy how alone he is.
Hamburg is a big city, and sometimes he can hear cars driving by. But the rains seems to have scared off any pedestrian traffic.
He cranes his head to look around, but all he sees are trash bags and the dead body of their mark, half curled on his side, the pool of blood around him washing away while his eyes stare sightlessly past Billy.
Being hurt is not so uncommon for a CIA agent in the field. And Billy's endured his share of injuries. But usually he's not quite so alone with it.
In general, Billy doesn't like being alone - in sickness or in health. He doesn't like not having someone to talk to. It makes him feel vulnerable. Without someone to be buoyant for, his mood has a tendency to sink like a brick.
And while this isn't the worst mission he's been on, it hurts to breathe. His face aches and there's blood stinging in his eye. His arm feels broken and he's fairly certain there's a footprint imprinted across his stomach. He tries to use his good hand to catch the blood stemming from his side but he can't quite muster enough strength to do anything remotely effective.
He can't even roll onto his side to obscure his face to the rain.
He's just...stuck. Prone and hurt and totally alone.
Closing his eyes, Billy swallows hard. This isn't the worst mission, but it's also not his best. Alone in the rain, his only solace is that if he cries, there is no one there to see the rain wash away his tears.
Billy comes to with something warm and rough lapping against his face.
The sensation startles him, and he jolts awake. The sudden movement exacerbates his injuries, and he hisses in pain, breathing out a string of curses as his entire body throbs.
Nearby, there's a whimper.
Surprised, Billy opens his eyes. There, not a foot from his face, is a puppy.
It's clearly a mutt, with ragged, dirty brown fur that's soaked through with rain. The pathetic-looking creature has no collar, and its perky ears sit slightly askew on the top of its mangy head.
It whines again, looking almost hopeful at Billy.
Billy can't help but smile, if only because he knows how the poor thing feels. "Hey there, little fellow," he croons above the deluge. "Not exactly a nice day for a stroll now, is it?"
The puppy cocks its head, picking up its paw to wipe at its nose. Billy notices that it's shivering.
"Hey, hey," Billy says. It takes effort but he reaches out his good arm. "No need to cry now. You're not so alone out here."
The puppy seems to hesitate.
"Truth be told, I could use the company," Billy says. He nods his head, flicking his fingers toward himself. "Come on."
That's all it takes and the puppy gets on all fours, trotting forward to Billy. It puts its snout in Billy's face, sniffing with new interest.
The movement tickles, and despite his pain, Billy laughs. "I said come here, not to get fresh," he admonishes without any vigor. He manages to reach his hand up, running his fingers through the soggy fur.
The puppy nuzzles forward, using its tongue to lick carefully at the blood on Billy's face. It pauses, sitting back on its haunches for a minute and whimpering anew.
"I know it looks bad, mate," Billy tells him. "But up there, it's just superficial."
The puppy somehow manages to look doubtful. It barks, high pitched and tired.
Billy sighs. "I know the feeling," he says, nodding solemnly.
Stepping forward again, the puppy keeps licking, pulling gently at the cuts on his face, working its way back to Billy's hairline. This time Billy doesn't protest - doesn't have the energy - as the licking lulls him back to sleep.
This time, barking wakes him up.
His eyes snap open and he finds the puppy staring at him intently, mere inches from his face.
"Something wrong?" Billy asks.
The puppy's ears fall and it whines.
"I'm okay," he says with a touch of exasperation. "I have friends coming for me. They should be here soon."
The puppy gets up and walks in front of him, moving down Billy's body. It stops short of the bloody pool collecting at Billy's side and looks back, tail ducked between its legs.
Billy looks at the pool and considers it. His side feels a little numb now; in fact, his entire body feels numb. "Well, you may have a point there," he allows finally. "That one may be as bad as it looks."
The puppy turns back around and moves closer to his face.
Billy sighs and closes his eyes, the weariness pulling him back.
The little dog yips.
Billy opens his eyes in annoyance. "Just a little tired is all," he mutters. "Sleep is the best healing agent."
The puppy yips again, more insistently.
Exasperated, Billy manages a glare. "Okay, okay, you win," he relents. "But it's up to you to start the next conversation."
The puppy isn't much for talking, but it's not bad at listening.
"So that's why none of this is my fault," Billy concludes after regaling the small creature with a full history of how he came to be involved with the ODS in the first place. "It could happen to anyone."
The puppy snorts at him.
Billy scowls. "What do you know anyway?" he asks. "You probably haven't even been neutered, you mangy mutt."
The puppy whimpers, ducking its head. It gets to its feet and walks away.
"No, wait," Billy calls after it.
The puppy keeps moving down the alley. "I didn't mean it!" Billy tries to yell but his voice is lost in a clap of thunder instead.
Sighing, Billy closes his eyes. "Great," he mutters to himself. "Now I'm alone again."
This time, Billy wakes up to something nibbling on his ear.
Normally this would be somewhat interesting to him, except the teeth are actually kind of sharp and the breath is foul.
As it is, Billy's face scrunches up and he tries to roll away.
He doesn't get far when his body erupts in pain.
When he finally breathes through it, he opens his eyes. In front of him, the puppy is back.
"I thought you'd left," he says.
The puppy just stares.
Billy closes his eyes again, letting out a breath as the cold rain continues to pound over his battered body. "Everyone leaves."
The puppy is barking. Loud and in his ear.
Billy scowls as he wakes. "Sod off," he mutters. "I just need to rest."
The puppy barks again, growling this time as he nips at Billy's ear.
Frustrated, Billy opens his eyes. "You really are a determined wee thing, aren't you?" he asks.
The puppy seems satisfied that he's awake.
"Contrary to popular belief, I'm not here for your pleasure," Billy says crossly, but this time he keeps his eyes open.
The puppy just wags its tail.
Billy sighs, looking up at the rain and wondering how much longer he has to wait.
Billy didn't notice when he started shivering, but he starts to notice when he stops. He's been talking to the puppy intermittently; when his voice fades out, the mutt comes back up to him, nudging him with his nose until he opens his eyes and keeps talking.
Billy talks about anything. He talks about his mum and dad and his ex-girlfriend. He talks about his team and his apartment. He talks about the songs he composes on the guitar and what morning smells like in Edinburgh. He talks about his closest calls and his biggest fears and he talks until his voice breaks and he starts coughing.
The racking cough lasts nearly a minute, and when he's done, Billy thinks he might really be done. He doesn't know how long he's been here; he doesn't know how much longer he'll have to be here. But his strength is ebbing severely now and the blood loss is making him light headed. He can't feel his extremities and he's so cold that his entire body is starting to feel numb.
Pressing his lips together, Billy takes a ragged breath, looking the puppy squarely in the eyes.
"Sorry, mate," he says, the words clunky and hard. "I've appreciated the company, I really have."
The puppy barks at him.
"I know," Billy concedes. "And I've tried. You've tried. It's been a valiant effort all around. But it's just...cold."
As his eyes drift close, the puppy comes closer. Billy expects a nip or a bark but instead the puppy settles in front of him, curling up next to his chest.
The ball of heat is palpable and as Billy breathes out, he can feel the small, rapid heartbeat pounding against his own as he slips into sleep.
This time, he wakes when the heat is gone. Through half-open eyes, he sees the puppy moving away from him, barking frantically at something as it scampers down the alley.
Billy sighs; he can't blame the creature. Everyone seems to leave, one way or another. Once they figure him out, most people don't find much reason to stay. This is why Billy uses his facades so regularly; this is why Billy is friendly with everyone but friends with so few.
He thought his team would be here by now, but there's not much point in thinking about such things at this juncture. There's not much point in anything.
Billy doesn't fight it as his eyes shut again, the sound of the puppy's excited yips distant as the darkness closes in.
The rain stops.
The steady rhythm on his face dissipates and a warm hand smooths across it. His head is turned gently as someone holds two fingers to his neck and there's a murmur of voices.
Something presses into his side and a heavy cloth is draped over him. He feels himself being gathered upward and he can't protest when his head lolls against someone's shoulder and he's finally pulled clear of the ground.
Then, he's moving, limbs dangling as voices echo near his head.
He's settled into a seat and hot air blows in his face. Someone swears, and wet hair is pushed back from his forehead.
Billy thinks he should open his eyes, but he can't. Far away, he hears the sound of a familiar whine and he shakes his head, trying to speak.
"Easy, Billy, easy," Casey's voice comes, loud in his ear.
"I think we're good to go," Rick says.
"He secure?" Michael asks.
Billy moans and tries to shake his head again, because he can't go. He can't just leave it there. He tries to move but doesn't quite succeed and his voice is garbled in his throat as he begs for them to stop.
"Something's bothering him," Casey reports. "He's agitated."
"I think he wants the puppy," Rick says.
There's a murmur but the door opens and soft feet pad on the seat next to him. Billy still doesn't open his eyes, but when the warm tongue tickles his face, he lets himself sag into the soft seat, dropping back off into unconsciousness as the car pulls forward and the puppy settles itself snug against his side.
When Billy really wakes up, he's in a hospital. The bed is warm and the sun is shining. He feels like hell, but it occurs to him that he's alive.
The first thing that greets him is a contented bark.
Surprised, Billy looks down. Perched at his side on the bed is the puppy.
It looks better - hair washed and dried, which turned the pup from a mangy mutt to a sparkling example of man's best friend - and its tail is wagging expectantly.
Billy smiles. "Well, hello there," he croons.
From across the room, Michael scoffs. "So you wake up for the puppy," he says.
Billy looks at him brightly. "He is a bit more friendly than you are," he points out.
"I'm sure," Michael says.
Next to Michael, Casey is looking at Billy critically. "You almost got yourself killed."
"Almost being the operative word," Billy reminds him, but he is mindful of his injuries. His side aches and his arm is heavy with a cast. His face is still tender but the swelling seems to have gone down after his stint in the rain. "How did they make our mark anyway?"
"He got too nervous," Michael reports. "Talked to his employers."
"Who I take it were the three friendly blokes in the car," Billy says.
"Luckily, we got a license plate number," Casey says. "And managed to track down their identities."
"That was the easy part," Michael says. "Tracking you-" He shakes his head.
"You all were rather slow in getting there," Billy agrees.
"They drove to ditch a tail," Rick says.
"And afterward, finding any kind of trail was a challenge," Casey continues.
"We wouldn't even have found you when we did if not for your new friend here," Michael explains.
Billy frowns, looking at the puppy who is still snuggled against him happily. "How so?"
"He practically attacked us," Rick says. "Casey thought he was rabid."
"But he had a piece of your phone," Michael says. "Seemed like the only lead we'd gotten and he took us right to you."
Billy is almost surprised. He beams brightly at the puppy, scratching behind its ears. "There's a boy," he says. Then shrugs. "Or girl."
"Boy," Rick corrects. "And we had to smuggle him in here. The hospital staff wasn't exactly happy about the idea."
"Well, he's a sweet puppy," Billy coos, moving his fingers to stroke the puppy's side. "How can anyone possibly resist that adorable face?"
Casey rolls his eyes.
Michael sighs. "We convinced them that he was essential to your recovery," he says.
"Given that you'd almost bled to death and looked like you'd had your face rearranged, they were inclined to believe us," Casey adds.
"Ah, it wasn't so bad," Billy says, looking up with a grin. The warmth in his chest is back, growing and spreading throughout his body. Because Billy's not alone anymore; maybe he never was. "All things considered, I've been on worse missions before."
After a week long recovery, Billy is glad to be leaving the hospital. He's never been one for sitting still, which is all he can really do when confined to a hospital bed. So news of his impending release makes him happy, but the more he thinks about the reality of it, the more tempered his response is.
After all, leaving the hospital means catching a flight back to Langley, where Billy will go back to work and resume his life. A life that is not designed for a four-legged companion.
Billy's known since he woke up that he can't keep the pup, no matter how cute the wee creature is. It's just not practical. His lifestyle is too erratic and he's not even sure his place allows for pets. It would be no life for a puppy, especially not one so heroic as to save his life.
Still, Billy's sad at the notion of leaving his new friend behind.
"It doesn't seem right,"" Billy laments, even if he knows all the reasons why it is, in fact, very right. "We've been through so much together. Look at him." He looks at the puppy forlornly. "He's small and needy. This puppy needs a home."
Michael sighs with exceeding patience. Billy's teammates have taken their due turns with him, eating meals with him and finding him books to read while he's laid up, all of which Billy is quite grateful for. Michael, as team leader, has gone above and beyond, probably to assuage the irrational guilt Billy knows he feels for losing a trail on Billy when the deal went south.
Billy figures this is why Michael is doing all he's doing - for Billy and the puppy. As a paranoid bastard, Michael's not usually one to exhibit excessive sympathy, but he's been kindly measured as Billy's drags his heels on the inevitable.
"We'll find him a home," Michael says with confidence.
"But not at a shelter," Billy insists. "He needs a real home with a garden to play in and kids to frolic with."
Michael nods again. "Right, check to frolicking kids."
"Maybe I should go with you," Billy suggests, looking hopefully at Michael. "Check things out a bit."
It's a line Billy know Michael won't cross, no matter how pathetic Billy looks (and Billy really does try). Instead, he pins Billy with a look. "You're barely cleared for the flight home," he reminds Billy and his voice is still gentle but stern. "I told you, I have a friend at the embassy in Berlin. He's got two kids and a very nice home. The puppy be well cared for."
Billy can't help it if he looks dubious, holding the small puppy slightly closer to himself.
"I promise," Michael says.
Billy hesitates but he knows no other reasons to argue. He trusts Michael with his life - so it seems silly not to trust him with the well being of the puppy. But Billy still can't quite explain it - his attachment to the creature. During his recovery, the puppy has been his constant companion and Billy has gotten used to his wet nose in his face and the warm spot on his bed as the puppy curls up next to him at night.
"I'm going to go get some things before I meet with the ambassador," Michael says. He pauses, giving Billy a half smile. "Maybe you two can say goodbye."
Billy returns the smile gratefully as Michael leaves. Alone with the puppy for the last time, Billy sighs and looks at the little creature again.
The furry thing is in his lap, sitting contentedly, just like he has been stationed for most of Billy's hospital stay. When Billy make eye contact, his ears perk up and his tail thumps lightly against Billy's leg in a familiar gesture of hello.
Billy grins again, using one hand to smooth the fur on the top of the puppy's head. He runs his fingers down, scratching along the puppy's belly. Happy, the small thing flops onto his side, panting in contentment as Billy rubs.
"I know, I know," Billy says. "It's been fun. Best hospital stay I've had, hands down."
He stops scratching after a long moment, and the puppy gets to his feet, padding his front paws on Billy's chest and reaching its snout toward Billy's mouth.
The lapping tongue tickles but Billy doesn't turn away. "I know how you feel," he says, running his hand over the puppy's fur again. "Now easy, easy."
He pushes the puppy back gently so he's in Billy's lap again. Looking serious, Billy nods resolutely. "You're going to go to a good home," he says with as much excitement as he can muster. "A nice home."
The puppy yips.
"With kids and a garden," Billy promises. "Probably some bones and table scraps, too. Maybe even a nice female puppy to keep you company as you get older. Every right thing a puppy could ever want."
The puppy barks again.
"You won't even miss me," Billy says, trying to believe it. "And it's far better than my place, mate. I can tell you that. I don't even have a balcony."
The puppy seems to frown, tilting his head and whining slightly.
"Now don't give me that," Billy scolds but his voice doesn't carry any punch.
The puppy pushes his nose against Billy's stomach.
Billy tries to smile. He mostly succeeds. "Still, I owe you a great debt," he says, and he swallows hard, trying not to remember the cold rain on his face or the hard cement of the alley as he bled. "You saved my life back there, which is not something I will soon forget."
Whining again, the puppy gets up to lick Billy's face.
Stroking the puppy, Billy blink away the stinging in his eyes. "This is the best I can do to return the favor."
The puppy is still licking when Michael comes back.
"You ready?" Michael asks, looking at Billy.
Billy nods rapidly. "Of course," he says with forced cheer. He disentangles the puppy from his lap and holds him out.
Michael takes him carefully, and the puppy seems to accept the transfer. "When I get back, we'll get you ready to leave," he tells Billy. "Casey and Rick should be here soon."
Billy nods again. Then, one last time, he hesitates. "You said there was a garden, right?" he asks.
Michael smiles slightly. "Yeah, there's a yard," he assures.
As Michael nears the door the puppy starts squirming, barking in protest. Michael cradles it closer as he makes his way out the door.
Billy wants to object, too, but doesn't have it in him. If he opens his mouth at all, he's not sure he'll be able to go through with any of it. Billy listens until the yapping dies down in the hallway. He sits on his bed and focuses on breathing, reminding himself it's for the best. It's really very simple, all emotions aside. The puppy saved his life; this is his way of doing the same.
The puppy will be off the streets. He'll have a loving and doting family. He'll get to play and bark and do everything puppies want to do.
But still, when Billy finally boards the flight home and settles into his seat for a trans-Atlantic nap, there's a cold spot in his heart that keeps him up even as the long hours stretch peacefully on.
It's good to be home. Billy's body is on the mend and he's back at work, doing the things he does best. He still aches a little and it's hard to sleep at night, but he's getting there. If it's hard to smile, it's just because he's still so tired. Almost dying can take a lot out of a man, Billy reminds people with a knowing look.
If anyone asks (and they do), he's glad to be back. He jokes about the entire ordeal and retells the story with garish embellishments in the break room. All things considered, Billy's feeling great. Better than ever. There's nothing like a brush with death to revitalize one's spirits.
Still, at the end of his first week back, Billy's actually relieved to be done. His side is sore and he can't shake the weariness in his bones. He needs the reprieve that a weekend off has to offer, and he's not too proud to admit it.
Despite this, Billy's not actually looking forward to the long hours alone. Solitude can be a lonely thing, no matter how often he comes back to it. By the time he gets back home, he's half tempted to go to sleep on the couch the minute he gets inside. It's not like he has anything else to do or anyone to impress.
But as he unlocks the door, he hears something unusual inside and pauses. When he hears it again, he opens the door and looks in, surprised.
The small puppy runs up to meet him, jumping up and nipping at Billy's knees as he barks in excitement.
Billy leans over, scooping it up. The puppy wriggles, reaching his tongue out to lick at Billy's face.
Standing there, Billy endures the frenetic licking and looks in shock at his teammates, who are gathered in the room.
"Turns out the ambassador was allergic," Michael says with a shrug.
"And we couldn't just let a shelter have it," Rick adds.
"And do you know how hard it is to have a puppy flown across the ocean and pass through international customs unattended?" Casey asks crossly.
Billy just grins.
His teammates stay for the evening, and Billy breaks out the beer from his fridge and orders in a pizza. Rick bought the puppy a collar and Michael came with a bag of puppy food. Casey gives Billy a copy of Dog Training for Dummies.
When his teammates finally pack up for the night, they pause at the door.
"We're glad you're better," Michael says, and they all know it's an understatment.
"And we're glad the puppy is here, too," Rick says. The gleam in Rick's eyes tells Billy he means it.
"But I'm never going to puppy-sit," Casey warns. But the expression is forced and Billy suspects Casey likes the puppy more than the rest.
"Thanks, mates," Billy says, and he means it. He really means it. For the puppy, for finding him in Hamburg, for everything. "It really is good to be back."
That night, when he's in bed, the puppy curls up next to him, the little warm heart pounding against his own, and Billy falls asleep with a smile on his face, warm and content for the first time in ages.