It was a spy's lot in life in the end and he had come to acceptance with it.
He had the best mates, better then any he had known at MI-5, more importantly he had complete and utter faith in them, but missions can and do go horribly wrong at times.
When they do, sometimes you find yourself alone, with only your wits about you to keep you from getting killed.
This was one of those times for him.
When you have your wits plus an able body it was difficult enough, but if your body was even the remotest bit compromised, struggle elevated from mildly inconvenient to utter rubbish.
And that's where Billy found himself, quite literally.
He had awakened abandoned, alone and in a rubbish pile.
At first it was annoying to discover that he was reeking of refuse then he made the mistake of moving abruptly. Rule number one from Casey Malick's survival handbook, always move carefully upon wakefulness from unconsciousness because you never knew what kind of condition you'd find yourself in and you didn't want to worsen it by causing pain or unconsciousness. Wise words from a man who claimed unashamedly that he really detested mankind.
Still, Billy rued his forgetfulness of that rule as pain radiated from his left side so shockingly that it pushed any aromas of garbage out of his nose and his mind. It brought to his attention straight away to where the pain was coming from.
"Bugger," Billy cursed and groaned simultaneously.
He collected his thoughts, breathed through the pain and set his sights to determining his injury. Rule number two from Casey Malick's survival handbook, assess physical injury and determine limitations resulting from said injury.
"Right. Get out of my head, Casey. I'm doing it," Billy grunted as he unbuttoned his vest and found the bloody mess marring his shirt. "Blast, I just had that dry cleaned."
He unbuttoned his shirt next and peeled that back. The injury didn't come as a surprise.
"Right. Bullet wound. What a shock?" Billy muttered sarcastically.
Rule number three. Attend to the injury where possible.
"Tricky feat that one," Billy said to himself.
He chuckled a bit, though he regretted the searing pain it caused soon after.
"Who needs an audience when I can bloody mutter to myself and be quite entertained?"
Billy then became serious again. He knew that having been shot then the wound being exposed to the unsanitary conditions he had found himself in was not ideal and he had to find a way to get help or at least find a way to address the wound as best as he could until he got help, hence, Casey's rule number three.
He took in his surroundings, rule number four, ascertain location to determine proxity to populated area.
He found a tree next to him that he could use to pull himself up to a standing position. He girded himself for what he knew would be unpleasant and painful. If only he had Casey's ability to disconnect from pain, he'd just have to rely on his high threshold alone.
He moved to position himself and past experience had told him that the quicker the moment the better, much like the yanking off of a band aid. The pain might linger longer after the fact, but the initial burst would be swift and lessened the potential debilitating affect that such a counter intuitive act would cause.
There would be no temptation to stop in the middle of the act because that never ended well. It usually ended with either complete surrender to exruciating pain or unconsciousness and Billy couldn't afford eitherof those.
Timing was everything in the spy craft.
Life and death relied upon how much time was spent in evaluating the situation and how quickly each one was taken care of.
Injury, for example, had a very small window of opportunity depending on how bad it was. There was a time of expiration for very moment spent injured.
From the moment of the occurrence of the injury and depending on whether you were rendered unconscious outright from it for a period of time because of it, subtracting vital minutes for that, determined how much time you potentially had remaining to you to deal with the injury before irrevocable damage rendered you impotent to finding help. It all played in the survival equation.
Billy had practiced the scenario over and over and though there were similarities, it was the aberrations that played a larger role in the battle for life to win over death's wrenching pull.
He smiled. It was really quite Shakespearean to give death such anthropomorphic qualities. He didn't see it as the hooded figure with a scythe in his mortal play. No, Death was more of a mocking figure, leaning against the tree he was planning to use to stand up, for example, its arms crossed, standing idly by with a sickly joyful grin on his face, relishing in just watching him vie for survival, daring him to keep fighting him. Death would wait, like a hovering vulture, one of its minions, most like, until Billy was too weak or perched precariously on the edge of hope where it would then yank him back down to greet him face to face, breathing its soured stench of decomposition into Billy's own lungs so that the rotting, life sucking versus life sustaining air, if you could call it that, took Billy's breath away.
Billy swallowed hard then hoisted himself straight to a standing position, only using the tree to give him balance, not relying on it for true support. He needed to know how much he could do without that support because traversing from his point A to wherever he had decided was his point B depended on how long he could stay on his feet without assistance.
"Take that you ruddy bastard," Billy mocked.
Death gave him a snort and a sneer then gave him a gap toothed grin.
"Enjoy your victory for as long as you can. Once you have one foot in my world, you'll be mine to steal."
"Bugger off," Billy spat defiantly.
Billy closed his eyes to incite peace into his psyche. He allowed the pain to dissipate if leaving a constant throb in its wake. He could manage the throb, but knew that it would be temporary. Pain was not far for as soon as he began to walk, it would return with unparalleled vengeance. It was just patiently waiting for its queue.
He was in an urban forest or possibly a park. He hoped it would be the latter. He would find civilization more quickly if he held off unconsciousness long enough to find someone. It would also explain the garbage around him, clearly used as a way to camouflage his own decomposition so that he wouldn't be found easily.
No matter what, his first priority was to find a way to cleanse his wound, get a better look at it and administer what first aid he could.
"Hurry up, you ass. Haven't I taught you anything?" Casey's voice entered his mind to "inspire".
"That you did, mate, but not guaranteeing I was listening all the time. You'll have to be content to tell me that you told me so."
"If you don't hurry, I'll be telling it to a corpse."
"Right," Billy said as he heard water not too far away.
He pushed away from the tree. It was a disconnect that was surprisingly bringing on a feeling of regret because once done, pain would assert and be his new companion. He didn't want that, but he knew it was inevitable.
The first step was always the hardest because it was the one step you overthought, overanalyzed and hesitated for as long as you could to take. Once that first step of momentum was in motion, the rest would come as a blur of purpose.
Tentative. Slow. Fearful. The right foot pressed against the grassy floor and his body leaned into it.
And there it was, the searing penetrating pain, but it was also all too familiar to Billy. It wiped all sight from him for a split second and robbed him of breath, but he wedged a wall of concentration between the severity of it and his next steps. He kept his pace determined, intense and focused.
He followed the sound of the water. A soothing sound written so enticingly in literature as the cool relief, both in touch and taste. Whether it was a stream, a babbling brook, or a raging river, the relief was always represented in the welcoming sound it called out. A moving flow of water was the best news because even in an urban environment, it meant a reasonably assumed safety in using it.
He continued with a balance of haste and need towards the sound and was filled with absolute elation at finding it. He walked closer, but realized that he would need to kneel to even have a chance of obtaining enough of the elixir to drink or to apply to wash off his wound. "Ah, what's a little more pain, aye?" He thought to himself.
He committed himself and kneeled down. He grunted as he scooped up a handful of water, its coolness reassuring and its offer of healing irresistible. He splashed the water into his wound haphazardly at first, the dizzying mixture of stinging pain and numbing effect, caused him to desire falling into the depths of the stream as Narcissus had, enamored with his reflection, in Billy's case, the desire stemming from the need to rest.
Maintaining perspective was difficult when compromised. Your mind and body warred for dominance and focus was the prize.
There was always a risk in tending a wound and not in the way one would think. Sometimes, leaving a wound unattended, though obviously a life threatening choice "and really stupid" Casey would insist, could work to a person's advantage.
Billy had learned that lessening the affects of a wound could make you misjudge the seriousness of it, allow you to think you're fine when, in fact, something more sinister was playing out inside of you.
Also, a painful wound kept you awake, alert.
"Okay, not even I'm that masochistic," Casey's voice countered. "And I have a better threshold for pain than you do."
Billy sniggered. "That remains to be proven, my friend."
Still, Billy knew that he had to make an initial attempt at cleaning the wound given the conditons he had awakened in so he continued on.
He opened his shirt, scooped up more water and began rinsing it. Once the blood and dirt was removed, he could see the wound more clearly.
"Ah, yes, there's a hole there, all right," Billy gritted as he turned towards an angle that would help him see the wound as completely as possible.
It was bleeding, but not profusely or very quickly so one measure could be made, at least. He was not going to bleed out right then and there. Small comfort, but comfort nevertheless. He knew if nothing else, he had to do the best he could to stem the bleed though he dreaded the first aid prospects left to him to accomplish the feat.
Spies were lousy at being prepared for such situations, no portable first aid kits at the ready and despite the allure of American television's make-shift MacGyver where he could concoct things from spit and baling wire, Billy had to make due with what he had on him. He chuckled at the Celtic nature of MacGyver's first name, Angus.
"Perhaps the lad has something going for him after all with a name like that to live up to," he mused to himself.
He knew that he would have to wriggle carefully out of his jacket, vest and shirt. The pain of those acts would be considerable and he had to approach it all slowly. He couldn't afford to pass out. He needed to pack his wound to hopefully stop or at least slow the bleeding down.
Billy laid himself down onto the ground, figuring it would be easier to do it that way versus trying to remain upright the entire time. At first the jolt of pain was uncomfortable, but then for a moment, the relaxation he felt, the messages sent to his brain from his body were oh so tempting to listen to.
"You need rest. Just for a minute."
"Well, maybe for just a minute," he heard himself agree.
His eyes started to flutter closed as he let his breathing ease with the release of the pain, but then he started awake bringing in a rush of agony that caused him to groan.
"No! Stay focused there, Billy boy. You can't afford to nap now. You have to find help. You have to find your mates, help them find you."
It was in those seductive moments you learned that sometimes your mind gives you false scenarios that are not in your best interest. Lying down wasn't a good idea. He needed to stay awake, needed the pain to keep him that way.
"Bugger," he swore as he lifted himself back up to a sitting position, groaning the entire time.
That reminded him of another reason for not lying down, the pain coming up would be far worse and not necessarily worth the reward of the rest.
"Serves me right," he said as he slowly removed his vest, inching it off his shoulders, shallowly breathing to endure the discomfort.
His shirt was next. He shivered as he peeled it off, but maintained focus. He ripped several length-wise pieces off of it. The movements had required more muscle strength than he had anticipated and each tear caused wave after wave of pain, but he needed ties to wrap around him and hold packing pressed against his wound.
He packed the wound using his vest and tied the strips to hold it in place. It wasn't ideal, but it had been worth the exhaustive effort. He hoped it would be enough to staunch the blood flow a little. He put what was left of his shirt back on as well as his jacket in order to keep chills under control if they should assault whether from a drop in temperature or worse yet, infection. Chills would shake his body hence his wound, adding to the already dwindling pain threshold.
Rule number…Billy couldn't remember, but he knew what it was…recognize the changes the longer you're injured: Exhaustion, weakness, memory loss, pain becoming more dull and distant, less about the injury and more about the ability for him to be aware of it. He was becoming numb. He found himself ticking off more and more of the items.
"Right, time to get moving then," he said, but his body didn't respond very quickly to the command.
He found himself exerting more to make his body do what he wanted of it. The more exertion, the more it taxed the very few reserves he had left.
Still, he got to his feet, teetered a bit, but managed to keep from falling. He started walking.
He fought every muscle spasm that threatened to keel him over. He only balanced himself on each tree that he went by. He didn't dare stop or rest.
His body cried out to him to stop, shattering him with pain just when he thought he was home free from it.
Cold was penetrating his bones, but he knew it had nothing to do with the weather. Without looking he knew he was losing more blood, his improvised first aid was failing him and as darkness began to fall, he knew he was not only losing light but energy as well.
He was running out of time.
He could hear Casey in his disoriented mind.
"Find shelter you idiot."
"Right, care to give me a clue as to –"
Billy said, but was cut off by his own glance toward a clump of trees. He saw a building.
He felt renewed vigor rush through his veins as he walked to it, every step jarred his wound and sent wave after wave of pain into his body. He grimaced and grunted. He fought every instinct to collapse as he finally reached the door. He leaned on it and took in a few breaths to cleanse away the pain, but to also keep from passing out. Once he had collected himself, he knocked on the door.
He tried to peer into the windows. It was dark inside.
He tried the doorknob and it turned. The door swung with little effort for which Billy was grateful. He had very little to give at that point.
He walked in and though the place had the look and feel of having been abandoned, Billy saw opportunities. He had spotted a well outside and knew he'd need water to replenish and to clean his wound. He hobbled out and poured the water into a small bucket. He barely carried it back.
His body was now screaming at him and he knew he wouldn't be able to hold off sleep or had to hope it was sleep and not something more permanent.
First he checked his wound and though it was still seeping blood, the flow had considerably slowed. That was the good news.
What he couldn't check was whether the bullet was still inside of him. Infection was inevitable. He just didn't know how much time he had before it set in. All he could do was continue to clean the wound for now.
As he did, he surveyed the room he was in. He noticed that there were wrappers of candy and other junk foods. They looked fresh. Another bit of good news. Clearly people came here and from the looks of the diet, they were probably young kids treating the place like a secret clubhouse. He had to hope that some of them might return, especially as darkness fell. He had remembered in his reckless, rebellious youth, sneaking off to pretend adventures in abandoned buildings around his home or as he got older to snog with a pretty young girl.
Ah, good times then.
The evidence around him allowed him to stave off planning much more at that moment other than to rest. He then spied what looked like unopened chocolate bars on a table. Suddenly his stomach rumbled in protest that it needed to be fed. He grabbed the bars and opened one. He'd have to reimburse whoever brought them. A jolt of sugar and chocolate would help keep his strength up. As he bit and chewed the bar, he didn't think that anything could taste so lovely.
He saw a chair in a corner and slid his body slowly into it, careful to keep pain and re-injury from setting him back. He took in deep breaths and before he even realized it, he was instantly asleep.
He stirred with slow reckoning not knowing how long he had been sleeping, grateful that it had just been sleep. He didn't feel better which concerned him, still, another quick assessment told him that he wasn't feverish and the pain was distant. He opened his crusty eyes and tried to focus in the dark room. His gaze then settled on a little girl's face. He didn't startle for fear he would scare her away.
"Are you okay?" Her timid voice cracked, her expression more of concern than of fear.
"Hello there, love. Yeh, yeh, I think I'm fine."
"You don't look fine," she said, her voice less of a whisper.
"Smart girl. You got me. Maybe I'm a little hurt, yeh?"
"You talk funny," she said with a small and curious smile.
"I do, don't I?" He said, getting a sense that if she were afraid, she would have bolted by now. "My name's Billy. What's yours?"
Billy tried to straighten up in the chair, but grimaced in pain.
"Ah, meaning petite and feminine. It suits you," he charmed and it brought a small smile.
"How do you know what my name means?"
"I know a lot of stuff like that. It's all stuck in my noggin up here, yeh?" Billy said as he pointed to his head. "Can't help what spills out of it."
"You're not from around here, are you?" Charlotte giggled.
"Sadly no, I'm from Scotland. Do you know where that is?"
She shook her head.
"Well, then, maybe someday when your parents take you there…" he started, but noticed a change come over her face. "What's wrong, lass, have I said something wrong?"
"My mom and dad are in heaven."
Billy winced from the sad lot this lovely girl was in. No one that young and sweet should be an orphan.
"I'm sorry there, sweetheart, I didn't mean to make you sad."
"It's okay. You didn't know. I live with my sister and her…" she stopped, her face going slightly pale and she swallowed difficultly. "...her boyfriend."
Billy's instincts tingled. Something about how she had said the word boyfriend and the look that came over her made the hackles at the back of his neck stand on end.
He then spotted a bruise on her neck. It had been hidden in shadow and even in his weakened state rage began to assert itself. Given the observations he'd made so far and he prided himself on that gift, he knew that the boyfriend was hurting Charlotte. Sad to say he'd seen his share of brutality, but when it came to innocent children, all sense of proper justice left him and revenge in all its sweet satisfaction was all he wanted to exact. The thought of applying it to the disreputable boyfriend infused his body with not only renewed strength, but also renewed purpose.
"Are you all right, love?"
Charlotte didn't answer. She just stayed silent, but Billy could see the fear in her posture.
"I promise you that you're safe. I won't hurt you."
She looked at him with a caring expression, seeing the sincerity in his eyes as she had never seen in her abuser's and she smiled.
He admired how children had a deeper intuition than adults if left unsullied by cruelty and brutality. Knowing what he suspected about her, he found it even more impressive that Charlotte could still impart such trust to him, a stranger. There was a part of him that also suspected that she needed to believe that she could trust him. That he would save her and he promised himself that he would.
Still, he needed more proof from her. He had to gain more of her trust.
"This place yours then?"
"I come here a lot. It makes me feel..."
She nodded and bit her lip. Billy noticed it and sensed that something had happened.
"Do you need to feel safe now?" He gently prodded.
She nodded her head furiously and as if feeling she could shed the mask she had one, she revealed her true fear.
Her eyes filled with tears and a small whimper clogged her throat.
"He's hurt you, hasn't he?" Billy asked, keeping his fury in check for her sake.
She nodded again.
"Is he coming for you right now?"
She nodded again, tears began to stream down her face now.
"Does he know about this place?"
She shook her head this time.
Even if that were true, he'd have no trouble finding it sooner or later if he was on the hunt for her. They had to get out of there. They were sitting ducks with only the one door in and out.
Billy needed her to know that he would protect her. He needed her to feel safe with him so that she would follow his lead.
"Charlotte, I want you to know that I won't let anyone or anything hurt you, all right?" Billy emphasized.
She understood, but her gaze fell to his bloody shirt.
"But somebody's hurt you."
She was such a lovely, caring and perceptive child even after all that had been done to her, she was still worried about him. How could anyone hurt her? His anger built up more and more at the thought and the adrenaline it pumped into him, kept him from succumbing to his injury.
"Aye, but I'll be fine. Don't you worry about me."
Her expression looked doubtful and he couldn't exactly blame her. He probably looked far from being able to protect himself let alone her. He didn't think he was being all that convincing himself, but his injury had to be irrelevant in the scheme of things. She was more important and for now, he was feeling capable of helping her. He knew that at some point, likely sooner rather than later, he'd feel the effects and he'd be useless to her then.
"You're bleeding. I..." she stuttered. "I know how much bleeding hurts."
Billy bit his lip, restraining the continuing rage at imagining someone causing Charlotte harm.
"I need you to promise me something," Billy said.
"What's that?" She said, looking shy and fearful.
"You don't have to say anything. Your secret's safe with me. I know it's not safe for you at home. You've been a brave girl, but you have me now and I promise I'll protect you. I need you to trust me and do what I ask, all right?"
Charlotte felt the warmth of Billy's promise of protection and exhaled with relief. She didn't have to pretend with him, she didn't have to lie to him. He had understood her plight without her having to say a word. Still she worried.
"But my sister-"
"I promise you that we'll get her and keep her safe too, but for now, it's more important that I keep you safe."
"But you're hurt..." she fretted again.
He tried to prop himself up and make another assessment of his condition. Pain? It was still there, but manageable for now. To say that he'd been in worse condition in the past would be a sad admission and understatement. At least for now, he still felt like he didn't have an infection yet so that played in their favor for as long as he staved it off. He pulled his gun out of his jacket pocket. Charlotte stared at it.
"Don't worry, love. Just a precaution."
"Do you know the area well, lass?"
She nodded again.
"Can you guide us to someone who can help?"
"I think so."
"Good, good. Right, time to get going then."
Billy got to his feet, doing his best to keep any sounds of discomfort to himself. He had to do the best he could to hide anything that could make Charlotte fearful.
"CHARLOTTE!" A voice bellowed and Billy could see Charlotte stiffen with terror.
They had run out of time.
TO BE CONTINUED. Thanks for reading!