A/N: Written for Faye Dartmouth, in (belated) honor of her birthday and as a gift for being such a wonderful friend. And because she's so wonderful, she beta'd her own present.
Disclaimer: CHAOS belongs to CBS and its affiliates. The various references throughout the fic also belong to their respective owners.
Billy and the Kid
It was bound to happen; Billy knows this. Even Superman has a weakness, and while Billy's eighty percent positive Casey isn't from another planet, he certainly exhibits Superman-esque qualities. Thus, it's inevitable that the ODS would eventually discover the one thing capable of bringing Casey Malick to his proverbial knees.
Still, Billy's more than a little surprised that the moment's arrived.
And that the rest of his team seems to have the same fear.
"This was not in the mission docket," Casey says. His body is tense; he's clearly ready to bolt at any moment. Or unleash his Human Weapon skills on the nearest group of villains; Billy can't quite tell, as he's never really seen Casey so uncomfortable before. And he's seen Casey unarmed, surrounded by a score of gun-toting guards, in nothing but his undershorts. Twice.
"Definitely not," Rick agrees, eyeing the problem before them warily. "I would have distinctly remembered this."
"It's unexpected, but it's nothing we can't handle," Michael comments casually, though it's apparent their intrepid leader would like nothing more than to go back in time ten minutes to avoid this scenario. "Higgins was pretty vague on the witness's identity, after all."
That's their mission right now — witness protection for the survivor of a bombing at sea. They have to protect the witness until the parameters of the murder investigation are figured out — mainly, which government has jurisdiction, as the victims, a slim majority of whom were American, were killed in international waters on a German boat by an Iranian known only as Zamani, who was arrested in Istanbul. It's a political nightmare full of a ridiculous amount of paperwork that Billy is glad he doesn't have to complete. But once that's done, they'll be able to hand the witness over to the proper authorities in the country to which Zamani is sent.
Though Billy realizes now that he probably should have expected that this mission wouldn't be as easy as Higgins made it sound just over 26 hours ago. He'd told the ODS they were on protection detail — particularly important at this stage, as Zamani is also wanted for crimes in six other countries, crimes where many of the witnesses have had to go into protection for fear of being killed by Zamani's allies. There's also evidence that Zamani is tied to both Al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab, making him important to the U.S.'s campaign in the Middle East.
A straightforward mission. Up until now, anyway.
Their asset, a former FBI agent now living as an expat in Istanbul, looks less than amused. "Is this going to be a problem?" Hawkins asks, crossing her arms and lifting an eyebrow.
"I just thought the witness would be... older," Rick replies after a moment.
"And out of diapers," Casey adds dryly, causing Hawkins to scowl.
"Honestly, lads," Billy says, "you act as though you've never kept an eye on a wee tyke before."
Because that's who their witness is — a small boy, no more than three years old at the most; Billy would guess he's just over two. He's staring at them through a mop of curly, dirty blond hair, dark eyes wide as he sucks his left thumb, a beat-up teddy bear tucked firmly against his side.
Billy glances over at the rest of his team and is momentarily surprised by the looks he sees. Casey's glaring at him with his patented you're a moron look, and both Rick and Michael seem uneasy. "Wait," Billy says. "You've never—"
"Do I look like I run a daycare?" Casey interjects.
"Contrary to popular belief, not all Hispanic-American families have dozens of small children running around needing constant attention," Rick adds, slightly put out.
Michael just shrugs helplessly. "It's never really come up."
The boy stares, still sucking his thumb.
"I'll ask once more — is this going to be a problem?" Hawkins asks. "Because our options are quite limited here, and if you can't handle this—"
"We can handle it," Billy says confidently.
Casey scoffs. "As long as I'm not the one that has to change diapers."
Not surprisingly, Billy's the one nominated to diaper duty.
It's okay though. Billy can work with that. It's been years now, but he had plenty of practice back in what he mentally refers to as his old life, when his country trusted him and his nieces adored him and his family still talked to him.
He tries not to think about it much.
But it does come in handy 'd prefer not to change soiled diapers any more than he has to, but considering some of the slums he's visited, the refuse pits he's been tossed into, and the near-gangrenous war wounds he's had to care for in the field, dealing with this is a cakewalk.
In moments like this, it's even amusing.
"You realize this isn't a nuclear weapon," Billy comments, glancing up from his work at the desk-turned-changing table. Michael looks back at him, mildly concerned; Casey, apathetic; Rick, curious.
All of them, Billy notes, are on the far side of the tiny living room in the two bedroom flat that's become their safe house for the foreseeable future.
"No, it's a bioweapon," Casey replies dryly.
"It legitimately could be," Rick says as Billy snorts. "In many countries, human waste is considered a Class C—"
"These are America's greatest defenders," Billy says in a conspiratorial voice to the boy as he cleans him with a wet wipe. "Between you and me, I think the Founding Fathers are rolling over in their graves right now."
The boy stares back with his wide eyes, seemingly enthralled by Billy's accent and totally unperturbed by the strange behavior of his other caretakers. He still hasn't said a word in the three hours he's been in their care, but he's stopped sucking his thumb; it's been replaced by the teddy bear's left ear.
"If the Founding Fathers are rolling over in their graves, it's because America's greatest defenders are now part of the Babysitters Club," Casey replies, crossing his arms.
"We're guarding a valuable asset," Michael says, though Billy can detect just a hint of sarcasm underneath his calm, authoritative tone. "A witness in a potentially groundbreaking case."
"Yeah — a witness who doesn't talk," Casey shoots back.
Rick nods his agreement, brow furrowing in confusion. "I don't understand how they expect a two-year-old to be able to testify against a terrorist and have that evidence stand up in court."
"Perhaps it won't come to that," Billy replies, securing the new diaper with ease. "But even if it does, children are much more observant and intelligent than most adults give them credit for. I imagine you know a great many things," he finishes, picking up the lad and setting him down on the floor.
The child keeps sucking on the bear's ear, but Billy sees a slight shift of expression across his face, one that hints at shock and fear and sorrow. It makes Billy sad and angry at once; a child at this age should be happy, well-loved, and in the care of his mother — not living in silence with a bunch of strangers who will likely never see him again after this mission is over.
"Yes," the Scot murmurs to himself, cleaning up the used diaper. "I imagine you know too much."
"He needs a name," Rick says.
"He has a name," Billy replies, flicking through the TV channels with the well-used remote. The child is tucked against his side, napping. It might just be the bonding that comes from having someone change his diaper, but the boy hasn't moved farther than a few feet from Billy since they took custody of him. "We just don't know it."
"Yeah, and it isn't likely we'll find out," Casey replies, not looking up from his magazine. The cover indicates it's an issue of Cosmopolitan, but Billy's half convinced there must be an issue of Guns & Ammo behind it; Casey appears to be reading it as attentively as he reads mission dockets, and Billy never figured Casey to be one for such check-stand drivel.
On the other hand, it has ten tips for a tighter tummy. Billy has yet to meet a person satisfied with the state of their stomach.
"That's the curse of poor paperwork," Michael says from his perch at the window. "And the fact that his mother smuggled him on board that boat."
The same boat, Hawkins had informed them, that Zamani had bombed nearly a week ago. The boy, a kitchen worker, and two Canadian passengers are the only survivors of the 124 people on board. No one knows who'd placed the child on the makeshift life raft he'd been found on; the people in charge think it was the kid's mother, as he'd been found with a gold locket containing the picture of a woman. And not just any woman, Hawkins told them; it was Zamani's second wife, the one who'd fled nearly a decade ago and submitted key evidence linking Zamani to Al Qaeda in exchange for protection.
The boy is too young to be Zamani's child, but apparently it's possible he's seen or learned information about Zamani. Until he begins to speak again, though, authorities won't know one way or the other. Thus, it is important to keep him safe until his relatives are contacted.
Once authorities figure out who his relatives are, anyway.
"Then we'll just have to give him a name," Rick says. "For now. I mean, we can't go around calling him 'kid' the whole time."
"We already are, it's working just fine" Casey declares. "Besides, naming pets is dangerous — once you do that, it's impossible to get them to leave. Michael named Billy, and we've been stuck with him since."
"It's completely out of gratitude," Billy replies dryly, keeping his eyes on the television. "I always told my mum that 'Bertrand' was a horrible name."
Michael snorts. Obviously he still remembers the mission in Angola, then.
"Seriously, though," Rick says, rolling his eyes. "What do we call him?"
"'Hey, you' seems to be working just fine," Casey deadpans.
"Perhaps Casey's issue of Cosmo can be of assistance," Billy adds. "I'm sure it has a list of baby names, right after the article that tells you what he's really thinking."
Casey shoots him a glare that would intimidate a lesser man. Or anyone not in the ODS, actually.
Billy just grins.
"Don't think that I won't kill you just because there's a child propped against your side," Casey growls.
"What do you think we should call him, Martinez?" Michael asks with the practiced ease of a leader who's cut off many attempted death threats and subsequent retaliations before.
Rick studies the kid, still sleeping peacefully against Billy. "David," he says finally. "We should call him David."
Billy thinks of this tiny boy bringing down a Goliath like Zamani. He grins at Rick. "Apt," he says. "David it is, then."
David is a quiet child.
Almost too quiet.
Billy suspects it has to do with the aftermath of his mother's death. After all, Billy has yet to meet a healthy two-year-old who isn't a veritable bundle of endless energy. Even his youngest niece, who'd been one of the shyest tots Billy had ever known, could run and scream and play for hours once she became comfortable with the people caring for her.
Though there is the added problem of a communication barrier with David. He's spent his life in the Middle East, so English is likely not his first language. But Rick's attempts to talk to him in Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, and French don't bring any verbal results, either; David clearly perks up and recognizes the Arabic words, but he still remains silent.
It's mildly concerning, actually. Billy's no child psychologist, and he has no idea how talkative the boy had been before the bombing that changed his life, but it still seems odd that the boy has apparently not spoken a word since his rescue.
He's yet to let go of the teddy bear, either, though Billy's more inclined to let that pass. After all, he still has fond memories of the blanket he'd carried around until there was nothing left but a pile of threads; the same threads that are now stored in a metal box tucked under the floorboards of his flat, actually.
Not that he'll ever admit to it.
Besides the bear, David has only two toys — a beat-up race car from that Pixar movie and a small stuffed dalmatian — and a book, an extremely well-loved copy of Winnie-the-Pooh. It's in English, which is mildly surprising, but its worn cover, frayed pages, and thoroughly broken spine prove it's been read hundreds, if not thousands of times.
David doesn't seem inclined to read it, though. When Rick had hesitantly asked, the boy had started crying and had only stopped when Billy had safely tucked the book away into the boy's small bag of belongings and had handed him his Lightning McQueen instead.
He's perfectly content now — silent, yes, but content as he toddles around the flat, guiding Lightning McQueen through the air and dragging his teddy bear behind him.
"At least he's easily entertained," Billy remarks quietly.
Currently, only he and Michael are in the apartment with David. Casey and Rick had left to get dinner and get away from the crying, screaming child. The flat is quiet now; Michael's still keeping watch at the window through the shade, and Billy still has the television on, though the sound is low. He's only mildly paying attention — most of his focus is on the tot wandering through the rooms.
"That isn't normal, is it," Michael says in a half-questioning tone. "His quietness, I mean."
Billy shook his head. "I don't think so."
Michael turns away from the window to watch David, who's now sitting on the floor by the coffee table in front of Billy. The boy is pushing Lightning McQueen across the scarred table top in an endless loop, but the only sound is the plastic tires turning over the laminated wood.
It would be cute, Billy thinks, if it weren't so silent and so sad. He's seen the way David eyes the door; like he's waiting for someone to walk through it at any minute. Though it would seem he knows the person he wants to see most isn't coming back; otherwise, he would've been crying and asking for his mother by now.
"I was an only child," Michael says suddenly. "So were my parents. So I never..."
"It's alright, mate," Billy replies when Michael doesn't seem inclined to finish his sentence. "I've had experience — not with my own, with my sister's," he adds when Michael shoots him an odd look. "But I don't mind taking care of him."
Michael looks out the window again. "We talked about it a few times," he says finally.
Billy nods in understanding. He knows Michael well enough to recognize the angle of his shoulders and the bend in his spine that appears whenever he's thinking about Fay. "It's not quite the same, though."
Michael chuckles, glancing back at David. "No," he agrees. "And even though... when we talked about it, it was more... it was a distant possibility. Something five, ten years down the road." His small smile turns self-deprecating. "And then not down the road at all."
Billy nods once. It's a familiar story — one he's not heard in its entirety, but he knows more than enough of to sympathize. Which only makes sense, given that this is Michael, one of the few people in the world that has an idea of what happened that resulted in Billy's arrival at the ODS.
It also means Billy knows enough to know that it's time to change the subject. "How many side stops do you think Casey and Rick will take before they decide it's safe to come back?"
Michael grins, wide and genuine, and turns back to the window. "They've been standing on the street corner for twenty minutes, waiting for a signal to come back in."
Billy blinks. "But it's raining."
"And apparently they think catching pneumonia is better than dealing with a screaming toddler," Michael replies. He laughs a little. "If they want to stand out there, I'm not going to stop them. We could use the surveillance on the street corner, anyway."
Dinner is a messy affair.
That's one thing Billy's forgotten over the years — how quickly tots can fling their food all over the place. Olivia loved throwing her creamed corn against the wall; Madeline liked to grind fistfuls of applesauce into the carpet of his sister's flat.
Apparently, David likes to flick rice everywhere.
They're eating the lahana sarma and yoghurt that Casey and Rick had picked up from the vendor down the street. It's a safe, traditional dish, and quite frankly, Billy's impressed by the choice. Toddlers can be quite picky, but picking something so common for the area practically guarantees the boy will be a fan, as odds are high he's had it a time or two.
Billy wonders who thought of it. Probably Rick; he's generally more aware of the nonviolent details, and Casey's always been more of a beef and potatoes fan, anyway.
In any case, David is pleased with the small meal. He's smiling, revealing gleaming teeth and dimples, and he's even giggled a few times as he utterly destroys the sarma sitting on his plate, alternately pushing the filling across his tray into the yoghurt and stuffing handfuls of it all into his mouth.
Casey rolls his eyes. Michael watches with fascination; Rick actually laughs every time David laughs, which makes David laugh more, thus perpetuating a cycle of giggles.
"America's greatest spies, reduced to mere giggle factories," Casey mutters, grabbing another sarma. "Oh, how the mighty have fallen."
"It's our greatest weakness," Billy agrees. "If our enemies catch word, we're doomed. They'll be bombarding us with small children armed with infectious giggles and charming — ouch!"
He blinks a few times, trying to get the piece of rice out of his eye. "You shot me!" he says to David, eyes watering a little as he finally gets the projectile out.
"He's got good aim," Rick says, impressed.
"How soon do you think we can start training?" Michael wonders. Billy's actually mildly concerned at that; Michael sounds like he's legitimately thinking about it.
David giggles and flicks another piece of rice with his index finger. This time, it nearly lands on Casey's plate. "Great," Casey mutters. The corner of his mouth is twitching. "Now I have to worry about contamination."
"David, that isn't proper manners," Billy admonishes, albeit half-heartedly. "You need to eat your food, not play with it."
"You're not one to talk," Rick points out. "Last week, you were making your sandwich look like it was talking."
"Quite badly," Michael adds.
"There were olives on the toothpicks holding it together," Billy protests. "They looked like eyes! It was set up perfectly!"
A piece of rice flicks his chin. He looks at David, who stares back with an innocent expression — rendered useless a moment later by his giggling.
Billy's pretty sure they're getting a glimpse of David's true personality here, and as adorable as it is, he's starting to think the boy must have been quite a handful for his mother.
"Fine, if that's the way you want to play it," the Scotsman declares, nudging a piece of rice out of his sarma. "This means war!"
David squeals with delight as the rice lands on his hand. Billy's eyes widen as he realizes his mistake when an enthusiastic and now encouraged David grabs a handful of filling and yoghurt.
"Great," Casey groans as they all tense.
Michael glares at Billy. "You are a horrible influence."
"People who start food fights should be the ones cleaning it up!" Rick says half an hour later as he scrubs yoghurt off the cupboard door. He scowls as rice falls into his hair from where it's stuck on the low ceiling.
Billy runs by at an exaggeratedly slow pace. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that — I'm too busy being pursued by a noble hero and his stalwart sidekick like the dogged criminal I am!" he calls, disappearing into one of the bedrooms.
David trots after him a moment later, holding his teddy bear high above his head like a superhero, giggling and squealing as he chases Billy.
"This is the weirdest mission I've ever been on," Casey says, wiping up the last of the mess from the table.
"Including Cairo?" Michael asks, standing on a chair and reaching over Rick to clean off the ceiling.
Rick's eyes light up in growing amusement. "Wait, wasn't that the one with the camel—"
"Yes, including Cairo," Casey interjects quickly. "And I'd appreciate it if you never brought that up again."
Of course, just because young David seems easily entertained doesn't mean he's always going to be happy. He is a toddler with needs and no apparent means to communicate them, after all.
"Make it understand that if it doesn't stop crying, I'm locking it in the guest bathroom off the main lobby. In the dark," Casey growls from his spot at the window; he'd taken over the watch from Michael at midnight. "Some of us are trying to sleep."
"You aren't among them," Billy says with a sigh as he paces back and forth, bouncing David on his hip. They'd managed to put the boy to bed a few hours after dinner, but he woke up screaming half an hour ago — first from fear of his nightmare and then from the sight of four armed men bursting into his room, looking for whatever threat had snuck past them. The riotous screams have quieted, but he's still snuffling and whimpering, and while he's allowed Billy to hold him, he doesn't seem like he wants to go back to sleep any time soon.
Casey tilts his head in acknowledgment. "But you are. And it's three a.m. And if I have to change its diaper because you didn't get enough sleep, there will be words."
"Children cry, Casey," Billy replies, trying and failing to keep the exhaustion out of his voice. "And they're prone to nightmares. Particularly when they've witnessed as much as this tyke has."
Casey shifts — just barely, a subtle tensing of his shoulders, but Billy knows him well enough to spot it. And it's enough to confirm Billy's suspicions — Casey's not upset at the boy's sniffling as much as he's upset about the cause. He'd been the first one to rush in to protect the child, after all; it's just that this time, the threat isn't one they can fend off with guns or brute force.
And that, Billy knows, is what's putting Casey on edge. Casey might be a bit of a heartless bastard at times, but he's by no means a robot, even if he'd like everyone to think so.
"Have you tried singing?"
Billy blinks out of his musings. "What?"
Casey pointedly avoids eye contact. "Singing. I hear kids like it. Maybe it'll make him go back to sleep."
Billy blinks a few more times, glancing down at the child in his arms. David stares back at him, eyes half-closed from fatigue but still streaming tears. His small body is trembling, and his breaths generally come as small hiccups.
It's a truly heartbreaking sight, one that Billy wishes he could end immediately. The problem is that he doesn't know how. For all the energy David had shown earlier at dinner, he'd still not said any words, and though he seems to appreciate the sentiment of Billy's calming voice, he hasn't reacted to any phrases specifically.
Plus, Billy's only known this boy for a day. He really has no idea what it takes to calm him down.
Still, Casey's idea is a sound one. And there's no other choice, really; nothing else they've tried has worked so far.
So Billy starts singing the first song that springs to mind. "Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly..."
Casey makes a face. "The Beatles? Honestly. You are a walking stereotype."
Billy ignores him because there's an instant, surprising reaction. David stills, his eyes widening in recognition as Billy keeps singing softly. Billy even sees his lips move a little, as if he's trying to sing Into the light of the dark black night.
"Apparently he's a Beatles fan," Casey comments with just a hint of surprise as Billy settles down on the couch, still singing, head propped up on a pillow against one armrest and feet hanging off over the other.
David shifts around until he's resting on Billy's torso, head tucked against Billy's chest and fingers twisted in Billy's shirt. Billy can feel the hard button nose of the teddy bear pressing against his sternum, but he makes no attempt to move it; he can feel David's body relaxing as he slips back into sleep, and he's not about to risk disturbing him. "So it would seem," he murmurs to Casey before switching songs. "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away..."
It takes the full rendition of "Yesterday" plus most of "Hey, Jude" for David to finally fall asleep. By then, Billy's mostly asleep himself; the couch is a little short, but it's relatively comfortable, and Billy's slept on much worse.
"You need help putting him back in his room?" Casey asks quietly.
"Nah," Billy slurs back. "We'll kip out here. If that's alright with you."
He doesn't hear Casey reply, but the next morning he wakes up with a spot of David's drool on his chest and a warm blanket thrown over the pair of them, tucked in neatly around his feet, and that's reply enough.
They settle into a routine of sorts over the next few days. Billy handles most of the childcare needs — bathing, changing diapers, and the like — while the others keep an eye on the street, taking turns every few hours to step outside of the apartment to sweep the area for signs of threats. Michael and Casey go out on a supply run on the third morning when it becomes apparent they could be stuck here for awhile. Michael spends a few minutes each day getting a briefing from Higgins, but so far the powers-that-be are no closer to cutting through all the political red tape.
It's not an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination, and the longer they stay, the more restless Billy gets. He's never been one to stay in one place for very long — not without work or other extracurricular activities to occupy him. But it's day five now, and Billy has yet to walk more than a few feet out of the flat. He tried to take a turn stepping outside to sweep the perimeter, but David had started screaming almost as soon as Billy's foot crossed the threshold.
Billy's back is also starting to get sore from spending so many nights on the couch. The only way David's been able to sleep soundly through the night is by falling asleep the way he did after that first nightmare — on the couch on top of Billy's chest after listening to Beatles songs. They'd tried to see if he'd fall asleep in the same bedroom as Billy, but it hadn't worked. Rick suspects it probably has something to do with the sinking of the tourist ship — it had happened in the wee hours of the morning, after all, so perhaps the feeling of being in a bed stirs bad memories for the poor lad.
Billy's inclined to agree with Rick's idea, but it doesn't stop him from wishing he could sleep in a real bed.
Still, there is a certain... charm to the routine, Billy supposes. It's an odd arrangement, to be sure, but it's allowed him new insights into his mates' personalities and quirks.
Rick has an even better poker face than Michael, Billy discovers on the second night; the rookie manages to clean them all out spectacularly and doesn't hesitate to gloat about it, even though they're literally playing for peanuts.
Casey likes to whistle in the shower if he thinks no one's listening; Billy thinks he's off-key at first, until he realizes that Casey is actually transposing songs a few half-steps above their given key. Clearly the Scot is not the only musician of the group.
Michael's improvisation skills go beyond the field. The fourth afternoon, they're attempting to watch a rerun of some American show about a group of seven lawmen in the old west, but the reception is horrible and the sound is shot, so Michael starts making up his own dialogue, voices and all. He's got a particularly convincing voice for the lawman with the long hair and buckskins, and Billy thinks that if there's such a thing as reincarnation, then Michael must have spent a past life as a gunslinger in the American west. And using his powers for good, of course.
Most rewarding, though, is to see young David slowly open up to them all, even Casey, who has gradually accepted that the boy is not in fact a bomb waiting to go off. David still communicates largely with squeals and hand gestures, but Billy catches the sound of a few words in the midst of all the squeals — a mixture of Arabic and English, and maybe a little French — and even though they aren't really coherent, they're still words.
He's even developed nicknames for the ODS — Rick is "Ray," Michael is "My," and Casey is a drawn-out shriek with a giggle at the end. Billy is now "Bah" after his late-night rendition of "Baa, baa, black sheep," which started off traditionally and ended up remixed to the tune of "Bohemian Rhapsody," with Rick providing backup, Michael laughing, and Casey rolling his eyes as David giggled.
In all, they're probably having a little too much fun sometimes, Billy thinks.
The biggest sign of progress, though, happens on the fifth night. The team's settling down for the evening, preparing to go to bed. Michael's settling into position at the window for his watch, and Billy's arranging the blankets on his makeshift couch-bed when David comes toddling into the room. "All ready for bed, sprog?" Billy asks, distracted, as he tucks in the blankets at the end of the sofa.
"Book," David says, voice a mixture of command and question, and Billy turns, blinking at the object in David's hands.
Billy glances at Michael, who is just as surprised, before looking back at David. "You sure?" the Scot asks. "You want to read the book?"
David nods again. "Book," he says again, this time all command.
"Well, all right then," Billy replies, settling down onto the sofa. "I was always more partial to C.S. Lewis myself, but I suppose I could stand a little adventure in the Hundred-Acre Wood."
David thrusts the book into his hands and then clambers up onto his lap. "Book!" he says once more before sucking on the ear of his teddy bear.
Billy clears his throat and gently opens the worn-out book to the first page. "Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head behind Christopher Robin."
They make it through two chapters before David falls asleep, and for a little while Billy just stares at him, absently rubbing one thumb along the book's worn spine.
"You're getting attached."
Billy glances up at Michael, who's eyeing him knowingly from his spot by the window. "Can't say I'm the only one, mate," he replies, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb the sleeping tot.
Michael inclines his head. "No, I suppose I can't," he acknowledges. "Just... don't get too attached. This mission won't last forever."
"I know," Billy says, glancing back at David. The boy's features are slack in sleep; the teddy bear is wedged between David's face and Billy's chest, and one of David's hands is loosely clenching the fabric of Billy's cotton sleep shirt. Billy's chest is warm, but it's from more than just David's body heat. "I know."
"I don't like it," Casey says flatly.
It's day seven, and they've finally received an update that isn't just wait and see. There's a potential lead on David's father; he's in hiding, apparently, and will only consent to meet if they meet in the midst of a crowded market square, David in tow.
It's a ripe set-up for a trap.
"Look, we all know that Higgins is better at sniffing out a double deal than he lets on," Michael says. His tone is neutral — carefully so, Billy recognizes, which means he's as big of a fan of the current plan as Casey is. "If he thinks it's legit, then it probably is."
"What if we cased out the area beforehand?" Rick suggests. "Then at least we'd have an idea of who would be out of place."
"It's a large area," Casey replies. "We'd need at least three people there to adequately cover it."
They all glance at David, who's pushing Lightning McQueen around the table again, babbling and squealing in delight. He feels the weight of their stares and glances up, grinning widely at Billy.
Billy swallows. "You three go," he says. "If this really is David's father, then we need to reunite them. And we need to keep him safe. I'll stay here, keep an eye on him."
The others look at him; Michael's glance is far too knowing, but Billy doesn't acknowledge it. "You sure you'll be okay?" Michael asks.
"We could make it work with two," Casey points out.
Billy shakes his head firmly. "No, no, we need to do this right. And if all three of you go, then you'll be able to each find an adequate lookout point for the actual meet. Besides," he adds with a slight grin, "I'm a veritable expert at this now. I've got the easy job."
The thing is, though, Billy's been kind of expecting the whole operation to go south at the drop of a hat.
It's pretty standard fare for them, after all. In all his years with the ODS, Billy can only recall around a dozen missions that went off without any kind of hitch. It's the nature of the job; most everything they do has significant stakes.
Still, when it actually happens, Billy's caught off guard.
The rest of his team has been gone almost two hours; they'd estimated it would take three to five hours to complete the job, so Billy's not expecting anyone to walk in for a while yet.
He's giving David a bath. Or trying to, anyway; the boy is understandably not a fan of water, and though this is going a lot better than the first time Billy made the attempt, David is still quite resistant to getting clean. And his resistance results in a lot of splashing.
Basically, Billy's the one taking a bath. It's a less than pleasant experience.
"I know, I know," Billy cajoles, massaging a bit of baby shampoo into David's hair. The boy is pouting magnificently; Billy's not sure he's ever seen another child stick out his lower lip quite that far. "This is a chore for us both, believe me," he continues, tipping David's head back. He's figured out that if he slowly pours a cup of water over the boy's hair without getting any in his face, it goes better.
David mumbles something unintelligible, smashing his fists into the tub.
"Yes, I know, you want out," Billy says, pouring another cup of water over David's hair. "I promise, if you can sit still for just a few more minutes, you'll be free from your watery imprisonment to reign terror throughout the flat once again."
He gets a face-full of water for that. "That wasn't very nice," he sighs.
Then the front door gets kicked in.
Billy reacts instinctively, scooping David out of the tub and covering his mouth to keep him from screaming. There's a small cupboard for towels right next to the tub; Billy wraps him up and sets him inside, putting the bear in with him. "Stay here, and stay quiet," he whispers fiercely. "Okay? Quiet."
David stares back with wide eyes, and he's already starting to cry, but he shoves the teddy's ear into his mouth and stays quiet, and Billy's never been so grateful in his life.
He can hear men growling at each other in low voices; they'd gone to the bedroom on the other side of the flat first. "Stay here, I'll be back in a jiff, okay?" Billy whispers, then closes the cupboard door.
It's really the last place he wants to leave the boy, but his options are limited, so he focuses on the task at hand, using that last wide-eyed, terrified look to fuel his concentration.
There's a gun sitting on the counter by the sink; Billy's been keeping it near since the others left. He snags it and moves out into the bedroom, pausing out of sight at the doorway.
The footsteps are coming closer; there are three voices, murmuring low in Arabic, but Billy can pick out the sound of a fourth man walking as well.
He checks to make sure the safety's off. Glances over at the bathroom, where the cupboard door is still firmly shut. Breathes in.
Then he's moving, stepping out into the doorway. His sudden appearance startles the four men approaching; before they can react, Billy's firing four shots, one right after the other, all aimed at center mass.
He scores direct hits; the men each drop with hardly a sound, no time to get a shot off.
A fifth man appears, gun raised, and fires.
The bullet slams into Billy's chest and he staggers. David, he thinks, and fires again as he drops.
Someone swears loudly in Arabic as Billy hits the floor. For a moment, there's nothing but pain; Billy only sees white, can really only register the hot, tight feeling in his chest, and he can't move, can't even breathe, but he has to move, because David's there, and David isn't safe, not yet—
Billy blinks and raises his head. The first four men are still down, motionless; the fifth's on his knees, pressing down on the wound in his thigh. His head jerks up when he sees Billy move, and he lifts his gun.
Then he drops, a second bullet wound right between his eyes.
Billy grits his teeth, keeps his head up and his gun raised for an agonizingly long moment. It could be hours, feels like hours — though the back of his mind registers that it's probably only a minute or two, if that — but no one else comes in.
The threat is past, just as quickly as it came.
The gun drops from his hand, and Billy's head knocks into the hardwood floor. It would hurt, except that he's only conscious of the pressure in his chest now. It's hard to draw breath; each movement feels like there's a tremendous weight resting on his chest. He can feel something warm, coppery at the back of his throat, but when he tries to cough to clear it, it just makes everything worse.
The world whites out for a moment. Billy's not entirely sure for how long.
There's a soft pressure on his face. A high-pitched voice wailing in his ear. A constant stream of Bah! Bah! Bah!
He opens his eyes. David's cries cease immediately, though there are still tears streaming down his face. He's sitting by Billy's head, tiny, chubby hands pressing firmly on Billy's cheeks.
"Bah," he says. He looks like he's about to start crying again.
Billy swallows the warm stickiness in his throat and says the first thing that comes to mind to try to calm the boy. "Here is... here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now... bump, bump, bump, on the back... back of his head behind Christopher Robin."
His voice is soft, and he has to stop every so often to clear his throat, to focus on taking a breath, but he keeps reciting the first few paragraphs. David stays there, warm hands on Billy's cheeks anchoring him to reality, even though Billy really wants to do nothing more than sleep.
But if he sleeps, then David will be alone. Unprotected. And Billy can't let that happen.
He's not sure how long he lays there reciting the bits of Winnie-the-Pooh that he can remember. He's getting cold; he's not sure if it's from the blood loss or the fact that he was soaking wet before this even began. He zones out a couple times, but David's there, shouting "Bah!" repeatedly until Billy starts talking again.
Footsteps again. But they're familiar this time, if a bit rushed, so Billy doesn't reach for the gun resting by his fingers.
There's cursing as they spot the bodies on the floor. "Billy? Oh my god, Billy," someone says. Rick's face appears a moment later. He's pale; looks absolutely terrified, actually.
Billy's quite glad to see him, though. "There," he whispers to David, who still hasn't moved. "Safe now."
People are cursing — damn it, I thought they were going to be safe who the hell — and there's sudden, painful pressure on his chest — hang on, Billy, please, just hang on — and really, after everything, it's just too much.
David's safe now. So Billy lets go.
His bed is comfortable.
Billy's not sure at first why that's so unusual. Granted, the bed at his flat has never been luxurious by any stretch of the imagination, but it serves its purpose. And his spine isn't horribly out of alignment after a long night's sleep, so that's a plus.
Still, this bed seems too comfortable.
Or maybe he's just too tired. There is a point in his scale of sleep deprivation where concrete feels like a feather bed. It's quite possible he reached that point before passing out this time around; he can't really remember how he got here, which is usually a sign he'd been up at least fifty-three hours before finally getting to sleep.
He shifts a little, and suddenly everything hurts.
An alarm starts wailing, and someone starts yelling, and somewhere very close to his ear a child starts crying, and Billy wants to figure out just what the hell happened, but the dark comes back and takes all the pain and noise with it.
Someone's breathing on his neck.
It's the first thing Billy's aware of when he wakes up this time. There's still a low-lying level of pain, but Billy's pretty sure he's on some good drugs, so he's able to set it aside mostly.
The person breathing on his neck, however, is something he can't quite place. Though the breathing pattern does sound familiar.
"How's he doing?" someone asks softly. Billy has to think for a second before he can put a name with the voice. Michael.
"Same." That's Casey. "I think he's waking up again, but he's being pretty slow about it."
Slow, Casey says. Just for that, Billy thinks, he's going to keep his eyes shut.
"And the kid?"
"Just fine now." There's a pause. "It's a dangerous level of attachment. What happens when we have to leave?"
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there." Another pause. "Martinez should be back soon. He's bringing David — er, Aydin's father with him. Hopefully that will help the boy transition back into a normal life."
Billy doesn't move, but he can feel the boy's small weight pressed against his shoulder now. David — Aydin? — shifts a little. Billy hears his lips smack, and then a small hand curls up next to his neck.
There's a heavy weight in his chest; it's not from the bullet wound Billy remembers getting.
"I was talking about Billy," Casey says, keeping his voice low.
Billy hears Michael sigh. "I know."
David — Aydin — snuffles again. Billy swallows the lump in his throat and just listens to the boy breathe.
A phone rings once, twice before getting cut off. "Higgins again," Michael says.
Casey growls. "He might be the boss, but he's got balls calling us after setting us up like that, using the kid to draw out Zamani's allies."
"Not his idea," Michael replies in the weary tone he gets when he's had the same argument several times before. "And he didn't know they'd storm the apartment."
"He still used us," Casey all but snarls. "And Billy nearly died because of it."
Billy swallows again. Dav — Aydin shifts closer.
The phone rings once more. "I need to take this," Michael says. A chair scrapes the floor as he stands. "It's Martinez."
"Probably with the kid's father," Casey agrees. "I'll come with you, make sure he's who he says he is — we can get a nurse to come in, keep an eye on the kid."
Billy listens as they step out into the hallway, leaving him alone — something they'd never do normally if he was unconscious. Which means they know he's awake and pretending otherwise. He would feel bad about that, but he figures they understand.
He turns his head just a little, until his cheek rubs against Aydin's soft curls. "Be happy. Stay safe," he breathes. Aydin sleeps on, unaware of the benediction. "Please. Stay safe."
This time, slipping into the darkness is far from a relief.
"I'm really not a fan of these things," Billy grumbles as Rick helps him into the wheelchair Casey is holding steady.
Rick chuckles. "You're only saying that because Michael banned you from racing in the halls."
"What's the point of sitting in something with wheels if you can't make it go as fast as possible?" Billy says, suppressing a pained hiss as he settles back in the seat.
It's been a week since Billy really woke up. He hasn't seen David — Aydin — at all; when he'd awakened after overhearing Casey and Michael's conversation, the boy had been gone, sent off to be reunited with his father — an Englishman, as it turns out, which is probably why Aydin stuck so close to Billy during the mission.
Rick said it was a good reunion, that Aydin was happy to see his father again, and left it at that. They haven't really talked about it since.
"Generally, a wheelchair is meant to help people who've taken a round to the chest, pierced a lung, and shattered three ribs make it down the hallway and out of the hospital without passing out," Casey says.
Billy shrugs very carefully. The drugs are starting to wear off; he doesn't say anything. It hurts, but it's kind of nice to not have his brain feel like it's wrapped in a wad of cotton. "So you say. But what's life without a little adventure, hmm?"
"Peaceful," Casey says flatly.
"Boring," Billy adds, lifting his eyebrows. "As I recall, you've popped a wheelie or two during your stints in one of these contraptions."
Casey keeps his face blank he pushes the wheelchair out into the hallway. "I plead the fifth."
Billy's head jerks around at the familiar call. There, at the end of the hall, is Michael, standing with a short, slightly paunchy man who's holding Aydin. The boy looks delighted; he's practically bouncing in his father's grip.
Billy grins widely as Aydin is set down. "Hey, there, sprog," he says as the boy toddles toward them, his bear still firmly in hand. Rick helps him into Billy's lap, and suddenly Billy's being choked out by a two-year-old.
"You look like you've been getting into trouble," Billy says, pulling Aydin away slightly and wiping at the chocolate smeared on one of his chubby cheeks. "You've been playing with your food again, I see."
Aydin squeals loudly and hugs Billy again.
"Billy, this is Aydin's father, Charles," Michael says.
Billy keeps one hand wrapped around Aydin and holds out the other. "A pleasure," he says.
Charles grasps Billy's hand between both his own. "Thank you," he says, blue eyes watery as he stares at Billy earnestly. "For what you did for my son, thank you."
Billy swallows the lump in his throat. "Really, sir, it wasn't a problem," he replies. His grip on Aydin tightens just a bit. "If anything, I should thank him. He — he kept me awake until help arrived."
Aydin makes a noise, like he knows what Billy's talking about, and buries his face in Billy's neck. "Bah," he whispers.
Billy's eyes are burning, but he refuses to blink. He smiles a bit at Charles. "Truly, you've got a delightful son."
Charles nods, beaming. "He can be quite a handful, but he's worth it."
"Yes," Billy says. "Yes, he is."
There's an awkward moment. Finally Michael clears his throat. "We should probably go soon if we're going to catch our flight back." He looks at Billy knowingly; Billy says nothing.
Charles nods again. "Of course. Thank you for this," he tells Michael. He puts one hand on Aydin's head. "Alright, Sprout, we need to go home. Say goodbye to Billy, okay?"
Aydin pulls back and stares at Billy with large, solemn eyes. "Bah?"
The lump in Billy's throat is back; he manages to keep his voice light. "Bye, sprog," he says, ruffling Aydin's curly hair. He nudges the boy's stomach until he starts to giggle again. "No more food fights, alright? Wouldn't want your dad to think I taught you bad manners."
Aydin gives him a big, slobbery kiss, then giggles as Charles picks him up again and tosses him into the air once, twice.
Charles nods at all of them, giving Billy one last grateful look, and heads back for the elevator. Aydin pops his head over his father's shoulder and waves. He's smiling now; it's a bit wistful, like he knows things are changing again, but Billy can tell he's genuinely happy. "Bye, Bah!" he calls.
There's an odd pressure in Billy's chest, but surprisingly, it's a good one, and he smiles widely as he waves back at Aydin. The tot's witnessed far too much in the past few weeks; it's good to see him acting more like a child his age should, safe and happy and protected by his real father.
Aydin will be fine. And that means Billy will be too, eventually.
The rest of Billy's team hovers close to his wheelchair as they watch the elevator doors close. He appreciates it; the ODS really isn't much for words in scenarios like this, but that's okay. Their actions speak for themselves.
They watch the numbers above the elevator go down until the car reaches the main floor. Then Casey clears his throat. "If we don't leave soon, we're going to miss our flight. And then we'll have to take a military transport," he says gruffly. "And if that happens, I will not be held responsible for my actions."
Billy chuckles. "Alright, then, gents," he says. "Let's go home."