Rating: PG-13 for swearing, violent imagery.
Genre: H/C, angst.
Summary: All it takes is a second for the world to come crashing down.
A/N: This was written for the lovely and talented Faye Dartmouth, who also provided a beta. Remaining mistakes are my own.
It happened fast.
They had been cruising down a twisty little highway in Croatia. Billy was fiddling with the radio as he drove; Casey griped about his choice of stations, criticising the Scotsman's preference of late-90's Oasis in lieu of the soothing local folk music radio.
"Noel Gallagher is a brilliant man, and I will not have you insulting his innovative genius," Billy remarked, tweaking the knob as Casey grumbled, watching the road signs flit past, trying to make out the place names so they wouldn't miss their turn. It would, of course, be easier if he could read Croatian...
"Your utter lack of taste and flagrant ethnocentricity is appalling," Casey snapped, reaching forward to change the station back. "Why we're even capable of getting an English radio station out here is frankly baffling–"
"You're my wonderwaaaaallllll!" Billy bellowed along with the radio, drowning Casey out. "And all the roads that lead us there are winding –"
It was an apt lyric, considering how twisty the road was, Casey noted. Dusk had fallen as he and Billy drove back from the small village where they'd been doing recon, now en route to the city of Zagreb to meet back up with Michael and Rick.
The warm weather from the day was being replaced by a cooler front, though, and fog was beginning to form, obscuring the road as it turned and snaked between the rocky hills. Casey considered saying something, but Billy cruised on, apparently unphased.
"At the end of this chorus, I'm changing the station," Casey muttered, reaching back for the radio.
Billy smacked his hand away. "Don't you dare!"
"That I've tolerated this much of your singing is-"
Casey broke off mid-sentence as they rounded one particularly sharp turn to find that a small rockslide had blocked the road.
There wasn't time to stop. Billy swore and swerved, hitting the brake with a horrible screeching sound, but they were going too fast.
It all happened so fast.
And then, it slowed to a crawl.
Billy had turned hard, and the rental car spun out of control as they skidded toward the rocks, before veering to the side, toward the guardrail.
Over the guardrail was a cliff. And a steep drop.
They were going too fast.
And as time stopped, Casey was helpless to do anything as the car careened over the edge, freefalling through the air, their bodies becoming weightless for an instant –
– Then everything was crashing downward and inward as the world became chaos, time snapping back to its normal speed, perhaps even accelerating in compensation as Casey became unaware which direction was up and which was down, the world inverting and imploding in crunching, shrieking metal...
… and blackness.
Casey came to slowly, the ticking sound of a cooling engine and the groan of tortured metal unusually loud amid the stillness.
He was upside down.
Which was, he noted in a daze, problematic.
He was upside down. In a car. Or, actually, what was left of a car. Blinking, trying to get his vision to focus, he took in the crumpled hood and the acrid smell of exhaust and smoke.
They would not be getting their rental deposit back, part of him mused.
Then his head cleared enough to process the fact that if he smelled smoke, then his current position was probably not tenable; he was alive, but if he stayed put, he might well not be for long. An engine fire would make short work of him if he didn't get free. The thought spurred him to move his arm – wincing as he did so (sprained wrist, probably, he noted) – and unbuckle his seat belt.
He fell onto his head, yelping in pain. He gritted his teeth, both at the discomfort and the utter indignity of his lapse of control, trying to right himself in the awkward confines of the passenger seat. He managed to flip his legs forward on to the crumpled dash and twist his arm out from under him enough to open the door –
–only to see a sheer drop below him.
Alright. The door wasn't an option. Grimacing, he lashed out with his foot at the already shattered windshield. The remaining glass gave way without too much trouble, and while it was a feat of contortionism to twist himself about enough to crawl out the hole he had made, Casey had spent years honing his flexibility. Crawling out into the thin space between the hood and the ground, not looking down at the precipitous drop mere inches away, he began to worm his way toward freedom. Then, there was a sudden groan as the whole car shifted slightly. Casey froze, his heart skipping before the car seemed to settle and didn't move or skid any closer to the edge. Taking a breath, he wriggled his way out from under the hood until he was able to clamber to his feet, safe on solid ground.
His immediate need for self-preservation having been fulfilled, he began to assess his current situation, trying to focus over the disorientation and throbbing pain in his head that suggested he'd sustained a concussion at some point in the accident –
– right. Accident. He'd been in one. Single vehicle, no other parties involved. He had a sprained wrist and a concussion, and several cuts and abrasions, none of them appearing too severe. Billy –
Billy was still in the car.
Billy had been driving. Had been with him. Had shared the impact.
And hadn't said a word.
Casey's stomach grew cold. He scrambled toward the driver's side door –
– or what remained of it.
Casey's door had opened easily enough, but the driver's side of the vehicle was completely crushed in, the metal malformed and shredded from the impact against the rocks. Looking back up over his shoulder at the cliff to see just how far they'd fallen, Casey felt his heart skip a beat.
That he was alive was a miracle.
For Billy to be alive would require another one...
With the headlights all shattered and the engine and battery dead, the light of the moon was the only source of illumination. Casey couldn't make out much of Billy through the twisted wreck of the door and shattered window, but the Scotsman was eerily still and uncharacteristically quiet, his head lolling at a somewhat unnatural angle when Casey ducked down to the ground to peer in through the broken window.
"Billy?" Casey hissed. No response. Louder: "Billy!"
Billy didn't move.
Casey felt his stomach flip, and a wave of nausea washed over him. He told himself it was the concussion, though he knew that wasn't the only factor.
Billy had been driving. Casey had been distracting. And now Billy was hurt – maybe even dead – all because of an accident that might have been avoided...
No. He shook his head, though the pain and dizziness the motion brought made him instantly regret it. No, he couldn't do this. Guilt was a useless emotion. Wallowing in it was not a productive use of his time. Better to assess Billy's condition and find a way to call for help. That was what you did in a mission where things went wrong and an operative was compromised; you did something about it.
Taking a ragged breath, trying to make his head stop spinning and his stomach stop rolling, Casey tried the door handle. To no surprise, it didn't open. His vision adjusting to the gloom (which, considering there was nearly a full moon out, wasn't nearly as bad as it might have been), he could see the extent of the damage the car had sustained on that side; the door was shredded, buckled in with twisted lengths of torn metal jutting out from the frame of the car. Leaning against it, hauling uselessly on the demolishing handle mechanism, he grunted in pain as a sharp edge tore through his pant leg, cutting the side of his knee.
He didn't let himself think about the jutting, sharp edges on the other side.
Right. He couldn't get at Billy. Which was maybe for the best – the Scot might have suffered a neck or spinal injury, so moving him was a bad idea. The car was precariously positioned, but Billy was on the side that was still on land, and without Casey weighting down the other side, the wreckage ought to be marginally more stable. He needed to call for emergency medical services. Let the professionals do their job.
Casey patted down his pockets until he found his phone. The screen was cracked, but lit up mercifully when he hit the button. His luck ran out after that, though, when the damn thing beeped and flashed 'no signal' at him.
"Oh no you don't," Casey snarled. But the inanimate object refused to be cowed into submission.
They'd been able to get a radio signal on the road. If he climbed back up the hill to the twisting highway, he could probably get service enough to call out. But that would mean leaving Billy; a prospect he didn't relish. Something could happen while he was out of reach and unable to do anything... the rubble beneath the car could shift, sending it over the edge, back down the rest of the cliff. Something could ignite, the whole thing going up in a fireball. Billy could die.
If Billy wasn't already dead.
His stomach flipped again, and this time it took all of Casey's considerable control over his body to keep from retching. His vision swam treacherously. He needed to get to Billy... he couldn't move Billy... he needed to get help... he couldn't call for help... couldn't leave Billy...
Torn with indecision and frustration and wishing there was a wall handy so he could punch it, Casey put his aching, throbbing head in his hands and breathed, trying to figure out what to do.
Then fate made his decision for him.
There was a faint whoomphsound, and then a thin bit of light danced from somewhere under the crumpled hood. The acrid smell of exhaust had largely faded, but the sharp smell of smoke was unmistakable as it returned.
There was a fire in the engine block.
Suddenly, leaving Billy where he was had stopped being an option. Swearing, Casey yanked at the door with renewed desperation, but it refused to budge. His usual control slipping, no doubt compromised by the concussion, Casey yelled in frustration. He couldn't get Billy out the driver's door. Couldn't even get to the passenger door. Which only left the way Casey had gotten out: through the windshield.
And under a burning engine.
He hadn't much time. Yanking off his torn jacket, he wrapped the fabric around his hand and then dropped to his stomach, wriggling under the hood. A few well-placed blows with his covered fist dislodged the rest of the splintered glass, making enough of an opening for him to reach through and, hopefully, pull Billy out.
Billy still didn't move.
He was upside down, head and shoulders against the roof of the car, hips up and out of the seat, but legs firmly pinned under the remains of the dash. Under the car, it was too dark to make out much more than that. Twisting and pushing with his legs, Casey managed to wriggle himself in through the windshield enough to unhook Billy's seatbelt, doing his best to catch Billy as he sagged, one shoulder twisting under his weight.
Taking hold of Billy's shoulders, Casey pulled heavily. Billy's head twisted and his shoulders lurched forward, but that was all the movement Casey's heaving elicited.
Billy was stuck.
Somewhere above him, Casey heard another whooshing sound, and the air began to feel warm at his back. "Come on, Collins," he growled. "You don't have to make everythingdifficult!"
Rolling so he was on his back instead of his stomach, Casey scooched in through the windshield, ignoring the pain in his back as the nubbly edges of broken glass raked at it. From this angle, he could see how Billy's legs were pinned under the steering column. It was an awkward position, but he wasn't going to get a better angle to try to work his friend's legs free from the wreck.
He could hear crackling, and the air was growing noticeably hotter and heavier. The stench of smoke, sharp and caustic, mixed with another, more metallic smell Casey didn't have time to think about. He took hold of Billy's leg and pulled at it, trying to work the knee out from under the steering column. It was possible that the leg was broken, and all of Casey's pulling was only making it worse – but leaving Billy pinned in a burning car wasn't an option. With one last forceful tug, Billy's right leg came awkwardly free, the left following soon after. Billy slumped further onto his shoulders.
There was a loud bang above them. Casey coughed on the smoke that was starting to fill the air. "Ok, time to go," he muttered, pulling at Billy once more.
Billy was still stuck.
"Oh, come on!"Casey exclaimed in frustration. It was getting harder to breathe now. Billy was unbuckled, his legs unpinned; Casey ought to have been able to pull him out –
The fire in the engine was beginning to cast flashes of dancing golden light, and in that hellish glow, Casey saw what was keeping Billy transfixed. The source of the sickly-sweet metallic smell he hadn't been able to distinguish through the smoke, though now he wondered how he could ever have missed it.
A twisted shaft of metal – part of the car's frame, torn asunder by the crash – jutted inward from the door.
And Casey's heart sank.
Billy wasn't moving. Billy was impaled on a torn piece of metal. Billy was trapped in a car that was on fire.
And none of that changed anything, he reminded himself, coughing and then snarling with frustration and determination. The heat from the fire above was approaching unbearable levels, but either he and Billy both got out...
… or neither of them did.
This time, instead of pulling Billy down and out, Casey pushed him to the side, sliding him off the twisted piece of frame. The smell of blood grew stronger, and for a moment Casey nearly blacked out from dizziness, the world around him spinning in an awful tableau of blood and fire. Then he got a hold of himself. And a hold of Billy.
Billy slid out of the seat.
Casey crawled back, trying to keep from crying out as the hot metal of the hood scraped his already bleeding back. He pulled again.
Billy came through the windshield.
There was another loud bang, and a burst of hot air that left Casey nearly unable to breathe. He pulled again.
And Billy was out.
Working himself out from under the hood, Casey doubled over and grabbed Billy under the armpits, hauling the gangly Scotsman with every last ounce of strength he had, pulling him out from under the hood, away from the car –
– just in time, as a final bang accompanied a gout of flame, fire engulfing the entire engine block and dancing over the exposed undercarriage, filling the cab with flickering yellow tongues.
Casey collapsed back, letting go of Billy and falling back against the rocks, utterly spent as he stared at the flames, mesmerized.
A few seconds more, and it would have been too late.
"Guess we're not completely out of luck after all," he mused dryly, rubbing at his aching head.
Billy said nothing.
And for the first time, with the burning hulk of the car illuminating the entire cliffside, Casey got a real look at Billy.
Limp and bloody and lifeless.
And Casey realized that it might be too late after all.
For a few seconds, Casey's world reeled and teetered.
He'd pulled Billy from the wreck. He'd saved him.
Only looking down at Billy, he realized it might have been for nothing. That he'd been so focused on getting out of the crashed car, on escaping before the fire spread, he'd never taken into account the possibility that there might not have been anything to save.
That Billy might not have even survived the crash.
Lying there on the ground, Billy was ashen and still and his shirt was torn and soaked in blood, gleaming black in the firelight. A thin trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth up his cheek, a smear of red against gray flesh.
He looked dead.
No. Unacceptable. Billy wasn't going to die in something as stupid as a car accidentand Casey didn't almost just get himself burned to death pulling a corpse out of an upside-down car. It was stupid and he wasn't going to let it be true. He rejected the notion and reached forward, fingers seeking the carotid artery in order to prove himself right...
Casey felt himself sag in relief, even though he'd known no other outcome could be true. It was thin and thready, but Billy had a pulse.
For now. Casey ventured back toward the wreck, grimacing against the dry, hot air until he found where his jacket had fallen away on the ground. Picking it up and quickly retreating into the cooler air of the night, he brushed the dirt and broken glass from it, then proceeded to start tearing strips of the lining away.
Bandages. He'd need bandages.
He pressed strips of the lining against the deep, puckering wound in Billy's side where the metal had rammed through into his body. Blood still welled up, black and thick and hot. He pressed harder, and was rewarded by a twitch and a faint whimper.
Signs of pain. But also signs that Billy was alive.
"Hang on," Casey murmured, applying more pressure even as Billy twitched again and moaned pitifully.
Billy's eyes fluttered open, his pupils wide and unfocused as they danced back and forth, eyes darting jerkily as they searched the air. "Nnng," he groaned, then coughed, blood flecking his lips.
Hope and terror fought for supremacy in Casey's mind. Billy was alive. Billy was dying. Billy had come to. Billy was slipping away...
Hope and terror fought for supremacy in Casey's mind.
He quashed them both.
"About time you came around," he remarked, his voice even despite his racing thoughts.
For a second, Billy's eyes fixed on him. Then Billy wasn't looking at him, but through him, and then those blue eyes rolled back up into his head as he groaned and shuddered, sucking in breath wetly.
Casey clenched his teeth so hard his entire jaw ached. He pushed down harder on the wound, tying the makeshift bandage into place, using one hand to slide his belt off and using it to bind the injury and keep the pressure constant. This time, Billy didn't stir.
Help. He needed to call for help. Once more, Casey pulled his phone out. The crack in the screen had spread, spidering outward, but he still had power.
He still had no signal.
Looking down at Billy, Casey was torn. Casey Malick was not a people person. He'd readily confessed to having a general dislike for mankind. He didn't let many people close to him, and he didn't let himself care all that much about most of the individuals he encountered.
Because when Casey did let himself care, he cared. He cared a lot. He cared enough to be compromised; to function at less than 100%. Casey didn't let many people close, considered very few to be his friends; those that he did, he'd take a bullet for. Those that he did, he'd hang on to with all his might and iron will.
And with his teammate, his brother in arms, battered and broken and bleeding out in front of him, Casey felt himself spiraling down. 100%... 98%... 93%...
He didn't want to leave Billy. He wouldn't leave Billy.
But without help, Billy would die, no matter how tightly Casey tried to hang on to him.
Taking in a deep breath to steady himself, Casey stood, bracing himself as the dizziness struck and then slowly abated.
He needed to go call for help.
"I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere," he remarked to Billy.
Billy said nothing.
And Casey began to climb.
He didn't know how long it took.
His wrist hurt (punching through a windshield had done little to help the sprain), he'd twisted his ankle, and his head throbbed. His torn and bleeding back stung as the wind whipped at his clothing, buffeting him as he clambered up the cliffside, a few gusts nearly threatening to send him tumbling. And several times, the nausea and the vertigo from the concussion were so bad he was reduced to pressing himself down against the rock, hanging on for dear life and simply remembering how to breathe.
Casey was in pain. He was a human weapon, it was true, but half of that meant that he was, in the end, simply human.And for all the control he exerted over his body, it was, at the end of the day, still flesh and blood. He was strong and he was tough, but he wasn't indestructible. There were moments on that climb when he felt his willpower wavering.
Then he would remember Billy:
And keep climbing.
He didn't know how long it took. But finally, as he approached the demolished (and utterly ineffective) guardrail along the side of the road, his cell phone beeped.
He looked down at the small, flickering bar numbly, then began to clumsily punch in the number.
On the other end, the phone rang. Once. Twice.
Casey swallowed. "Michael –"
"Malick? Where are you guys, Martinez and I have been here for the last ten minutes."
Casey tried to form words, but his head was swimming. 81%... 77%...
"Casey?" Michael's tone shifted from annoyance to concern, immediately sensing that something wasn't right. "What's going on?"
"Accident," he managed to slur. "Around marker 109. Need an ambulance..."
"Casey, are you ok?" Michael's voice was now sharp with worry.
"M fine," Casey grumbled. It wasn't entirely true, he knew, but he wasn't in immediate danger. (72%... 68%...)
"What's Billy's condition?"
Casey's breath caught. "Ambulance. Now."
Michael cut out for a moment, and Casey felt a sudden pang of fear that he'd lost the signal. But a few seconds later, he heard Dorset again. "Rick is on the phone with local emergency services. You guys are pretty far out, though. It'll take them at least half an hour to forty-five minutes to get out that far," he explained, voice calm and even with only the faintest trace of strain belying Michael's worry.
Casey had given up on calm and even.
"Tell them to be faster," he growled, ending the call.
Thirty to forty-five minutes.
It was too long. Billy had been barely alive when Casey had left, and for all he knew, it was already too late.
Casey looked down the slope, the fire from the car still glowing red in the night.
And he began to descend.
When he finally got back down to the crash site, it took him a moment to find Billy. It was dark, the fire beginning to die down, and Casey could hardly see straight anymore. He felt like someone had crawled into his skull armed with a hammer and was trying to smash their way out through the backs of his eyes. He wanted to curl up and sleep and tell the world to go screw itself.
But he had to find Billy first.
Had to stay awake for Billy.
And there he was, right where Casey had left him, sprawled on the ground, unmoving. Casey clambered over, pushing through the fuzziness in his brain to make himself check on Billy. The pulse was still there, and Billy was still breathing, though it was an awful, wet, sucking noise each time inhaled. His lips shone with blood, and it dribbled from the corner of his mouth. The bandages were already soaked through, the blood pooling and watering the earth Billy lay on.
The accident had happened so fast.
But the rescue was going to be too slow...
Casey hated being helpless. He liked being a weapon, being a fighter, because it meant his enemies had faces and could be confronted. He could attack his problems and triumph over them. All it took was focus, dedication, and unwavering discipline over his body.
A body which was now mutinying against him at every turn, he noted crossly.
A body that did him little good now, since he couldn't beat or choke or shoot anyone to fix this.
He couldn't fix this.
All he could do was wait. And that was killing him.
Casey hated being helpless. It made him anxious. His control wavered and he lost his cool and he grew restless and panicked and desperate. And right now, he felt very desperate, warring against his own treacherous mind and body to stay upright and awake and not to scream his frustration out into the night sky.
Because Billy was dying and it was his fault. Guilt was a useless emotion, but he had nothing to channel it into. He had nothing to vent rage on, no enemy to focus in on, no outlet to redirect his anguish at. There were no bad guys. Just bad luck.
They'd been fighting over the stupid radio and Billy hadn't been watching the road and it was Casey's fault.
"I'm sorry," he grumbled, looking down at Billy. "There. I said it. Now pull through this and I swear to God, next time you can have full control of the radio."
If Billy heard him, he showed no sign of it. The only sound he made was the awful, wet rasping noise as he fought to draw in air, despite the fact that he was slowly drowning in his own blood.
Casey buried his head in his hands. "Shit, Collins." Ironically enough, he'd do almost anything for a radio right now. Music calmed him; soothed his nerves. Nerves which were frayed with pain and fear and guilt and overwhelming anxiety right now, to the point that he was hardly even functioning anymore...
Of course, the only song he'd be able to think of would be the stupid UK pop crap that Billy crooned along to. Casey grimaced, but he needed something or he'd lose it. He couldn't take this, just sitting here with only Billy's drowning breaths and the crackling of the dying car fire to break the silence.
"And all the roads we have to walk are winding," he began, mid-chorus because it was the first lyric he could remember. His voice was hoarse and quavering with anxiety, but he kept going.
"And all the lights that light the way are blinding..."
Billy twitched, convulsing slightly, a tremor shaking through his failing body.
Casey swallowed. "There are many things that I would like to say to you..."
But he didn't know how.
God dammit, Casey thought, breaking down as Billy convulsed again, gasping and shaking as he fought for air against the blood filling his lungs – he just didn't know how.
Casey tried to keep his eyes open. He kept getting disoriented, kept getting dizzy and losing focus and forgetting where he was... He was on a cliff in Croatia... he was in an empty field in Nigeria... he was in an SUV in South America...
… He was waiting for help. And hoping not to lose another teammate. Because he couldn't. He just couldn't.
Couldn't think. Couldn't see. Couldn't remember quite how he got here...
He was lying against a rock. The ground beside him tapered off sharply – behind him it sloped steeply upward. Somewhere above, there were lights and noise.
Someone shouted his name.
Why were they doing that? Casey blinked, trying to make his vision stop swimming and his head stop pounding.
Then something in his aching, scrambled mind clicked, and he remembered.
Billy, who was beside him and too spent to even shake anymore; Billy, drenched in blood whose tide Casey had been unable to stem; Billy, with his breathing shallow and watery, each desperate and reedy breath leaving fresh drops of blood on his lips.
Casey made himself think. Focus.
"We're down here!" he shouted, or tried to – his voice was hoarse, emerging as a croak. Grimacing, he tried again. "Here!"
And then there was more yelling from above, and flashlights bobbing on the ridge, slowly making their way down. Casey sank back against the rock. Rescue was coming. Help was here.
"Guess they made it after all," he mumbled to Billy.
Billy didn't reply. Didn't move. Didn't make a sound.
Not even the sound of his breathing.
The realization took a moment to sink in, but when it did, Casey's blood ran cold. Billy had gone utterly still, and his labored gasps had stopped.
He wasn't breathing.
"Don't you dare," Casey warned, crawling over to him. "Don't you dare. Not now. Not this close, you son of a bitch..."
But even though help was here, it was too late. Oblivious to the shouts and bobbing lights as his succor made its way down the hill, Casey groped at Billy's throat, trying to find that thin and thready pulse. Panicking, he pushed down on Billy's chest, but only succeeded in forcing fresh blood up and out of Billy's mouth, staring in horror as it welled up and ran down his cheek.
No. No no no no...
Then hands were roughly pulling him away, a voice shouting his name over and over until he tore his gaze away from Billy and looked up.
Michael was pale as a sheet. "Casey!"
Casey looked at him. Michael. Michael made choices and led people and fixed things when the plans all went to hell.
Casey blinked. "It was my fault," he murmured, unsure of how to explain. How to explain that the car was a burned out shell and Billy wasn't breathing and Casey didn't have control anymore and he didn't know what to do.
Michael hesitated, then shook his head. "It's no one's fault. That's why it's called an 'accident', Malick."
Casey turned and watched as Billy was loaded on to a stretcher by frantic EMTs, one of them already pulling tubes and piping out of a bag as another pressed fruitlessly down on Billy's chest.
And Casey didn't feel absolved.
He felt guilt and rage and panic and grief and all those useless emotions he tried to keep bottled up, but he couldn't anymore.
"Casey... Casey, look at me!" Michael ordered, his voice strangely muffled and far away.
But Casey had dropped to 0% and as Billy's lifeless body was carried away up the hill, he just had nothing left.
Casey came to slowly, in fits and starts, half-lucid and half-dreaming, noting the whiteness of the world around him and the muted but oddly familiar voices before he slid back under. He knew he should be alert; should be taking in his surroundings and assessing threats and locating the quickest point of egress... but he was tired and his head hurt and all he wanted was to sleep.
He wasn't sure how many times he'd only half-woken before he finally managed to keep his eyes open.
Michael was there, sitting in a chair, his suit rumpled and a thick coat of stubble on his chin. He'd been slumped in exhaustion, but sat up as soon as he saw Casey looking at him. "Hey. Welcome back."
Casey grunted. "Where exactly did I go, and why do I have a feeling I don't want to make a return visit?" His throat hurt and his voice was a bit raspy, his mouth dry and cottony. He screwed his face up, trying to work up enough saliva to swallow. "And how long was I out?"
"Two days..." Michael hesitated. "How much do you remember?"
Casey frowned. Remember... his head hurt and everything was fuzzy and jumbled in his mind. "We're in Croatia...?" he ventured, watching Michael's expression closely. Ok, Croatia was right, he could tell that much from his fearless leader's face, but there was something else. "What's going on, Michael?"
Michael pursed his lips. "Doctors said you'd probably have retrograde amnesia. You've got a severe concussion and a skull fracture."
Casey grunted, reaching up to tenderly touch the thick bandage he'd just realized was wrapped around his head. "Please tell me I didn't lose in a fight," he grumbled.
Michael didn't smile. "You were in an accident. You and Billy."
Casey blinked at him.
And then he remembered.
The radio. Crashing. Crawling out, trying to pull Billy free. Fire. Blood. Climbing. Billy's breathing. Billy not breathing...
"Where is he?"
Michael slumped back in the chair, suddenly looking tired and older than Casey ever remembered him being. "Intensive Care. He was in surgery for over ten hours."
Casey sat up, ignoring the sudden pain the movement ignited in his back and the swell of nausea. "Tell me."
Michael swallowed, then launched into the laundry list of injuries: "Collapsed lung, three broken ribs, pervasive internal bleeding, hypovolemic shock, torn ACL, broken arm, and a contused vertebra in his neck. They don't think there's any permanent damage to his nervous system, but they're monitoring him to see if they managed to get all the bleeders and to make sure he doesn't go into sepsis."
Casey nodded, stomach clenching, but grateful to Michael for not trying to sugar-coat it. "Prognosis?"
Michael shrugged. "He's still alive. And he's Billy."
Normally that would be enough. But Casey remembered the wet sound of Billy drowning in his own blood and the way he'd been so still as Casey dragged him bonelessly from the wreckage.
"I want to see him."
"What do you mean, no?"
"They're not letting anyone see him," Michael explained. And that made sense, Casey had to concede: Casey wasn't on death's door. If Michael had been given the choice, he would definitely be sitting vigil with his more critical teammate.
"Also, you're not exactly in good shape yourself. When we got there, you were torn up and bloody and so out of it you couldn't even get both eyes to look in the same direction."
Casey scowled, even though he knew it was probably true.
Michael's expression softened. "That you managed to pull both of you out of a burning car, call for help, and apply basic triage with that kind of brain injury is pretty impressive, Malick."
Casey looked away, unwilling to accept the compliment. "It wasn't enough."
"He's still alive. And he wouldn't have been if not for you."
"We wouldn't have crashed if not for me," Casey snapped.
Michael shook his head. "We saw the rocks in the road. You couldn't have controlled a landslide, so don't try to take credit for it."
Part of Casey wanted to continue to argue petulantly.
But mostly, he just felt exhausted and drained and wanted to sleep.
He fell back on to the pillows with a gruff sigh, looking up at the ceiling. "I'm going to attempt to relax now," he announced, hoping Michael would get the hint and leave him alone.
He did. Standing up, Michael nodded. "I should go find Rick anyhow. He wandered off to find the cafeteria almost half an hour ago and I think he may have gotten lost." He turned to the door, then paused. "If anything changes –"
"You'll let me know," Casey finished, closing his eyes.
And Casey was left with nothing but useless emotions.
Casey slept a lot.
The nurses kept a close eye on him, monitoring him and often shooing Michael and Rick from the room when they came around to visit. Casey found out from Rick that the doctors had considered operating after the medics had brought him in, in an attempt to reduce the swelling on his brain. "Guess you lucked out of having a hole in the head," Rick remarked.
Casey grunted. Yeah, that was him. So damn lucky.
Lucky enough that he'd survived the crash without much more than superficial injuries and a cracked noggin. Meanwhile Billy was still in a coma and on a ventilator.
Michael and Rick were sparse with their reports. Michael just got that strained, faraway look, speaking curtly and with minimal detail. Rick wibbled and rambled and managed to say nothing through all the 'er's and 'ah's and mumbled explications. From what little they managed to tell him, Casey got a grim picture of Billy's condition: he was more or less stable, but had required several transfusions. He had a chest tube in to drain his lung. There had been tears in his lung, liver, spleen, and bowel, both from the metal and from where his broken ribs had punctured them. There were signs of possible infection, but the doctors had him on a thorough barrage of preventative antibiotics.
Billy was alive. But it could be a near thing. It could change.
Billy got worse.
No one would tell Casey much, even when he threatened. His violent words apparently did not translate well (or at all) for the doctors and nurses, and off-balance and heavily bandaged, the slight human weapon apparently did not cut an imposing enough figure to intimidate his way into getting anything. Michael and Rick's visits grew shorter and rarer and then they stopped coming by at all, apparently maintaining a constant vigil for Billy.
And Casey could do nothing.
Then, Billy began to get better.
Rick finally came by when one of the nurses was cutting the thick swath of bandages away from Casey's head; catching a glimpse of himself in the reflection from the window, Casey winced at the dark bruises that covered the right side of his head and face, already beginning to yellow at the edges. He looked like hell.
Rick didn't look much better; his hair was unkempt, there was a shadow on his jaw, and his eyes were underscored by dark rings. He looked like he'd been wearing the same clothes for at least 48 hours, and probably hadn't eaten or bathed. He ducked in and murmured something to the nurse in a Serbo-Croatian dialect that only elicited a nod as she wordlessly stood and left, taking the torn bandages with her.
Rick sat on the foot of Casey's bed and offered him a shaky smile. "They've got a handle on the infection and his fever's broken. They're going to take him off the ventilator this afternoon."
It was good news, and it filled Casey with relief as he adjusted the sling they'd put his wrist in. But it wasn't really enough. "Is he awake?"
Rick's smile wavered. "Not yet."
"Can I see him?"
Rick nodded. "We got permission to get you discharged, so long as we keep an eye on you and don't let you do anything strenuous. Michael's working on the paperwork. And, er, getting some clothes for you."
Casey looked down at the hospital gown and sighed. Right. Clothes. "I take it my previous attire didn't survive my arrival here?"
Rick shook his head. "They were torn up and covered in blood. I'm pretty sure they got tossed."
Casey grumbled. "Well I'm not waiting. Let's go."
Rick immediately moved to get a wheelchair from the corner of the room. Casey scoffed. "I can walk. I'm not an invalid."
At this, Rick smiled faintly. "Yeah. But if you walk, you're gonna have your ass hanging out of that hospital gown all the way up to the recovery ward."
Casey had no articulate response. Mumbling in displeasure, he plunked himself down in the chair Rick had procured, grabbing a scratchy blanket from the bed to throw over his lap and exposed legs. "Fine. And for the record, this sucks."
Rick gave a tired chuckle. "Noted for the record. But hey, at least it's finally starting to suck a little less."
And Casey had to concede, as he was finally wheeled out to see an alive and stable Billy, the kid had a point.
"Stable" sounded better than it looked.
Billy was pale, his hair plastered to his ashen skin by a sheen of sweat. He was still intubated, the machine whirring as it breathed for him, the tube hanging from his slack mouth.
Rick hesitated, then withdrew to converse with one of the nurses in the hallway, leaving Casey alone with Billy.
And Casey didn't know what to say. He felt like there were things he ought to, but what was the point? Billy was comatose and couldn't hear him; Casey wasn't one of those naive idiots that convinced themselves that an unconscious mind could somehow hear him.
So if he talked, it was for his benefit, and not Billy's. A way to let the sound of his own voice distract him from the whirring and beeping of the machinery. Not because he expected a reply.
Even if he really wanted one.
"You know, that stupid song has been stuck in my head since I woke up and I completely blame you," he remarked. "And when you wake up, we are going to have words about your complete and utter lack of musical taste."
Billy didn't move and didn't reply. But he didn't argue either.
Casey was discharged. His head still hurt and he was at significantly less than 100%, hobbling along on a twisted ankle, his sprained wrist in a sling – but with the doctors confident that the swelling in his brain had sufficiently abated, he'd been allowed to leave. Michael had procured some street clothes and Rick drove him back to the motel room they'd rented, which neither Michael nor Rick had apparently slept in very much.
Rick crashed on the bed and slept while Casey stared up at the ceiling and continually checked his phone (the screen still cracked, but functional), hoping for an update from Michael.
Another day passed before Billy woke up.
Casey had been sleeping and Rick woke him by shaking him roughly. It was a testament to just how hard Casey had hit his head that Rick hadn't wound up in a choke hold for the offense. Twenty minutes later they were at the hospital, Michael waiting for them with a grin of relief.
"He's pretty out of it, but he's awake and breathing on his own."
For the first time since Casey had pulled himself out of the windshield of the wrecked car, he felt something in his stomach unknot. And when he told himself that everything would be fine, because the alternative was unacceptable, he finally didn't feel like a liar.
The nurses only let them in one at a time, fussing and protesting when all three members of the ODS tried to crowd into the hospital room.
It was silently agreed on between Michael and Casey that the kid would go in first; he was the newest and the greenest and the most fragile when it came to death and near-death. He'd need it the most.
Rick spent nearly twenty minutes in the room before emerging and nodding to Casey. "He's asking for you," he explained with a tired smile.
Casey exchanged a look with Michael, who shrugged. He stood, then passed Rick and made his way into Billy's room.
Billy still looked like hell, but he was awake and the tube was out of his mouth. He looked thinner, skin stretched tighter across the bones of his face, a thick layer of dark stubble coating his jawline. But when he looked at Casey, he looked athim this time, not through him, and there was a sense of clarity in his blue eyes.
"Hey," Casey mumbled, sticking his hands in his pockets.
"Hey yourself," Billy replied from the bed.
For a moment, there was an awkward silence.
Billy was the one to break it: "You can sit down, you know."
Casey pulled up the chair and sank into it. He wasn't sleeping quite as much now, but standing on his sore ankle hurt and he knew that returning his body to optimal condition as quickly as possible would require him not to exhaust his depleted reserves with unnecessary strain. So really, sitting was practical.
It also put him closer to eye-level with Billy. "You all right?" the Scot asked, brows furrowing in worry.
Casey snorted. "I'm not the one in the hospital bed, am I?"
Billy's eyes flitted over the bruising on Casey's face, then down to the sling. "No, I suppose not. But that wasn't really what I meant."
Casey swallowed. He knew what Billy meant. Knew someone had probably told him about the crash, about the fire, about what kind of shape he'd been in – more dead than alive – when the medics finally got there. Knew that Billy knew that Casey hadn't been all right at all.
"Just don't do it again," he groused, looking down at the tiled floor.
"Oh, forgive me, didn't realize it was my fault now," Billy teased.
The joke fell flat. Casey swallowed. "No, it's mine."
Billy's face fell. "What? No, I didn't mean– that's rubbish!"
Casey grimaced. "I've had time to think about it, Collins."
"There were rocks in the road. That's not your fault."
"You would have had time to brake if we weren't screwing with the radio."
"All right then, we'll blame the music if we have to blame something."
Casey snorted. "As much as I hate Oasis, I don't think we can pin this one on Noel Gallagher."
At that, Billy grinned. "Bollocks. You don't really hate them."
"Trust me, I do." That stupid song had been stuck in his head on repeat, hauntinghim...
And as if reading his mind, Billy began to sing: "Because maaaayyyybeeeee..."
"...You're gonna be the one that saaaaaaaaves meeeeee..."
"I will have them stick that tube back down your throat, if only to shut you up."
"And after aaaaalllll..."
Billy's voice was weak and it wavered a bit, but the mischievous glimmer in his eyes as he crooned was reassuring nonetheless. It was Billy, and he was alive and awake and back to annoying Casey as usual.
"You're my wonderwaaaaaalllllll..."
And though Casey would never admit it, part of him reflected that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't such a horrible song after all.