Love Among Ruins
There was gunfire everywhere, pinging off of everything around them. She was frightened, confused and disoriented. She heard someone calling her name then felt someone pushing her to the ground.
Adele was a desk jockey for the most part. Though she had done her share of asset gathering and being undercover, she knew that the roles she had played were window dressing at best. Like all CIA operatives, she had done the training, had gone through Quantico and the Farm, knew how to shoot a gun, but it was all for show.
She was an administrator not a field agent. Plain and simple. That fact was why she was in the peril she was in and more disconcertingly, why Billy had been injured.
This latest part she had to play seemed simple. Deceptively so she realized too late. She and Billy were playing husband and wife arms traffickers. Billy would do all of the talking and all she had to do was look the part. Everyone had underestimated how badly things could get if the mission turned sour.
And it had gone horribly wrong. And it was as bad as Adele could ever have imagined.
Their covers had been blown by the asset. He had gotten greedy and had decided to play both sides. He had been killed standing right next to her by a sniper. Billy had spotted the telltale flash of a rifle sight and the red laser point. He then quickly acted to shield her, ducked her away with his body and down to the ground towards a nearby alcove for safety. She heard a barely audible grunt from him and knew that he had taken a shot to the back, but didn't know where. Panic then began to set in.
Billy had gotten hurt. All because of her. He could be dying because of her. Because of her inexperience. She shouldn't have been there.
When he fell, grunting from the impact to the ground, she noticed the blood on his back. It wasn't spreading quickly, but she knew it was bad. She dammed her panic and set about helping him up, getting him to a sitting position and leaning against the nearest pillar, but she couldn't dam the emotion. He tried to keep his pain hidden from her, but she knew he was suffering and it emphasized her helplessness and guilt. In the end, she wasn't hardened enough, wasn't field experienced enough to set aside her feelings, to remain objective. She should never have agreed to go, knowing that she could be a liability to Billy, but something inside of her couldn't let him go in alone. It was a pull stronger than her administrative impartiality.
She loved him and he could be dying because of her. He could die without knowing and she was waging her own internal war in wondering if he should know at all.
She had his life in her hands and she was selfishly afraid that he'd never know she loved him, had loved him for months, but had only realized it a few weeks ago. Rick had seen it before she had and had let her go with pain, but with love as well. He had told her that he loved her enough to let her go and he knew that Billy was the best man for her, that he would take care of her, make her happy, love her with everything he had and in the end, if she was happy, that's all Rick had wanted for her. If he couldn't do it, he knew Billy would.
She took off her jacket and placed it on Billy's wound. The pillar he was leaning on applying some pressure, but she knew it wouldn't be enough. From what she could see, he had taken the shot in the back and the high powered ammunition, designed to kill quickly and efficiently, had gone into Billy at enough of an angle to not kill him outright, but it remained lodged somewhere inside of him. He grunted with pain. Hearing him in pain, only brought more tears into her eyes.
She only saw compassion in his.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," she babbled, unable to keep the dam up anymore.
"It's all right, Adele," Billy said tiredly and in pain.
"No, no, it's not. You're hurt because of me, because I shouldn't have been on this mission. Damn it, damn it. I'm not helping you. I need to help you."
Billy saw the raw distress on her face and gently grasped her hand in comfort.
"Rubbish, this isn't your fault. Missions don't always go as planned. I'll be all right. You mustn't blame yourself," Billy consoled as he looked into her eyes. He then tapped his comlink. "Michael, Adele and I are pinned down at the drop point. The asset has been taken out by a sniper. Watch your backs. Can you get through?"
Billy arched a bit in pain, but breathed through it.
"It may take awhile. Are you okay?" Michael relayed back.
"I took one for the team, but I should be fine as long as you get to us sooner rather than later."
"Copy that. Hold your position and stay out of the line of fire."
"Right," Billy grunted with a rush of pain. "Stay out of sniper's way. Got it."
"How's Adele?" Rick asked through his own comlink.
"She's fine, Rick," Billy relayed back as he threw a wink and a smile towards Adele. "Safe and unharmed and I intend to make sure she stays that way."
Adele smiled nervous and shy, concern still on her face for Billy's condition.
"We're on our way. Hang on, Billy."
"That was my plan."
Billy looked at Adele. She was trembling and seemed uncharacteristically panicked.
"Adele? Are you all right? Were you hurt?"
Adele looked into his eyes. His genuine concern for her well-being brought fresh tears to well in her eyes.
"No, I'm fine. I'm not hurt."
"I'm just worried about you."
"You needn't be worried. Compared to other injuries I've had, this is a flesh wound."
She couldn't help, but smile.
"Now, you're just trying to make me feel better," she said.
"Is it working?"
"Maybe a little."
Billy took in some pain-filled breaths, but his observations never wavered. Adele was far from fine, though she was trying her hardest for his sake. He admired her attempts.
"Guess I wasn't convincing enough, aye?"
Adele smiled nervously again, her panic subsided, but her concern was just as heightened.
"I should never have come. I'm not a field agent and you got hurt because of me."
Billy knew he had to allay Adele's anxiety.
"Adele, you mustn't go on blaming yourself. You were in peril. It can happen to anyone. The job by nature is perilous and I promise you, what I did wasn't anything anyone else would have done, like Rick."
Adele winced at the mention of his name and Billy caught it.
"Is there something wrong between you and Rick?"
Adele took in a breath.
"We broke up," she said, her heart still heavy with guilt.
"What? What happened?" Billy asked, soft shock at hearing the news. "Rick never mentioned it."
"That's because it was my fault..."
"I seriously doubt that -"
"No, it was. You see...I...I've fallen for another man," Adele evaded, leaving out specifics. "Rick noticed and called me on it. We're parting friends, but I still feel terrible about it."
Billy gave her a curious look and detected something in her eyes, something intangible that he couldn't quite quantify. There was more to the story that she wasn't sharing. It was a rare moment when Billy Collins couldn't interpret a tell.
"You probably think I'm a terrible person," Adele said as she looked away, feeling as if Billy was judging her, after all, Rick was his friend, his fellow operative in the ODS and she had hurt him.
How could she tell him that he was the man she had fallen for? He could never care for, let alone love a woman who would hurt his friend like she had. He held such qualities in high esteem. She felt her heart break at the thought.
"Not at all, I'm just a bit flabbergasted is all. I had such high hopes for you two. Love blossoming among the ruins that is this job," Billy said as he sighed and grimaced.
"It wasn't Rick's fault. He tried, but my heart...belonged to someone else and I was denying it, partly because I didn't want to hurt Rick, but also because I don't think it'll be returned."
Billy was surprised at her self-estimation. He had never seen her as someone who was insecure about her abilities both as Deputy Director and as a woman. She had proven her worth in both arenas many times.
"And why not? You are smart, beautiful, capable -"
"Because he's too good for me," she blurted sadly.
"What? Nonsense! There is no man good enough in my view, except for Rick, of course."
Adele smiled shyly at Billy's comment. Unbeknownst to him, she was talking about himself.
"Does this man know of your affections for him?"
Ah, there was the loaded question.
"No, like I said, I don't think he feels the same."
"How will you know unless you ask him?"
Adele paused then their comlinks sparked. "Saved by the bell," she thought to herself.
"Billy? Do you copy?" Michael's voice came on.
Adele noticed Billy taking more labored breaths and knew he was deteriorating much quicker than either of them thought. He was pale and had a sheen of sweat.
Billy swallowed back his pain before he answered.
"Aye, Michael, what's your status?"
"We're boxed in so it might take a little while longer to get to you two. How are you holding up?"
Billy licked his lips and took in a breath before he answered.
"I'm doing fine. Get here when you can, but don't endanger yourself needlessly."
Adele fixed him with a look, knowing he was lying to Michael, but Billy shook his head as he gave her a pleading expression. She understood. It made her love for him burn brighter.
"Copy that. How's Adele?"
"I'm fine, Michael," she said not giving anything away.
Billy nodded in relief.
"We'll be there soon."
When the communication ended, she gave him a sad glare.
"Why did you lie to him?"
Billy trembled with pain.
"Because the truth would only distract their focus and once that's compromised, it's an invitation to more casualties. They can't be worried about me and stay safe."
Adele watched in awe at Billy's selflessness. She also noticed that Billy was still trembling.
Shock from blood loss.
She inched over, realizing that she was failing at staunching the blood flow she had decided that keeping him warm with her body heat would at least make him more comfortable until they got to them. She sidled up slowly, giving him enough time to reject her advances, but to her relief, he didn't and if she were to be honest, she had hoped he wouldn't. She also selfishly believed this would be the only way she would ever get close to Billy.
He allowed her to get close, feeling her fear and wanting her to feel safe. He hissed as he tried to wrap his left arm around her.
She tried to jerk away. "Am I hurting you?"
He pressed her lightly back into him.
"No, no, it's fine. I appreciate your help."
Her head was against his chest and she heard both his breathing and his heartbeat. His breathing felt strained against her and though she wasn't a doctor, she also thought she heard a flutter in his heartbeat. It worried her, but it still gave her comfort hearing it beat.
"So...this man of yours, you care for him then?" Billy moaned.
"Just rest, Billy," she said. She didn't want to think about how she could never have the man she loved.
She just wanted to enjoy being near him.
"You needn't fear that you'll not be loved in return. The heart is always right. Following it is never wrong. You have an open heart, love can't help but find you."
Adele began to sob. Billy was being so kind to her and it filled her both with love and sadness.
"No, I can't tell him. I'm a coward. I couldn't bear hearing that he didn't love me back."
Billy tensed with pain and she felt his exhale catch.
"Life is precious...tenuous...too much to waste on uncertainties...I told Rick...as operatives, we're not meant for...happily ever afters...but if you have a chance at it...don't squander it, yeh?"
She took in a sigh.
"Maybe I'm not meant for it either...after hurting Rick...he's a good man and I..."
"If I know our Rick...he only wants the best for you...love is about taking risks...sometimes...it misses the mark...but the heart...it can't be denied...shouldn't be denied...follow your heart...Adele."
"I'm afraid to..."
"This man of yours must be quite the fellow to...make you question your worth...because you are worth...the love of ten men...I assure you..."
Adele was amazed at how easily comfort came to Billy, to find the right words even being in pain as he was. He had no realization that he was the man.
She then heard Billy moan in his chest and she moved away to check on him. A sound had echoed into her ear from his chest and she didn't know why, but it brought a chill through her.
Billy looked ashen, his eyelids opening and closing slowly, his eyes, though, still lit up when his gaze caught hers.
"I promise you...he could do nothing else but love you...you could only bring love...you must tell him...give him the chance to love you back..."
She then watched in what she could only describe as like a deathly slow motion, Billy closing his eyes and going still.
At first she didn't register what had happened, then when the reality of it had sunk in, she had to restrain a scream in order to keep them safe and undetected, to keep Billy safe.
But Billy was far from safe.
Billy was dying.
She checked his pulse and found nothing. She put back her head and ear onto his chest to find his heartbeat, but there was only silence. Each action brought panic to her and it took everything in her to keep it under control. She then tapped her comlink. Something snapped inside of her and she was no longer helpless, desk jockey Adele. She was the Deputy Director and the man she loved, an invaluable operative, needed help and all she knew was that she had to get it to him.
"Billy's down!" She said commandingly. "Get help here now! Billy's down!"
She then proceeded to lay him down onto the ground and applied CPR to him. As she pressed onto Billy's chest, trying to keep him alive, each compression broke her resolve and she started to sob.
"I love you, Billy. Can you hear me? I love you. I'm telling you like you told me to. I'll be all right if you don't love me back as long as you live. Please live. Please."
Rick, Michael, Casey along with EMS rushed in to see Adele exerting CPR on Billy and it chilled them all. There was a lot of blood. It streaked the pillar and smeared the ground.
Rick watched sympathetically as he saw the desperation in Adele's eyes. He mourned the loss of never seeing that kind of concern, that kind of devotion for him again, but understood the power that her love for Billy must have over her as she worked on keeping Billy alive. He went over, touched her shoulder. She looked up, her eyes red from crying. He smiled and nodded.
"It's okay, we're here. Let EMS take it from here. You've done a great job," he comforted.
Adele nodded, stopped her CPR and stepped away from Billy. EMS rushed in and continued where she had left off.
She turned to them and with a difficult swallow she took in a breath.
"He was shot in the back from a high caliber weapon...saving me..." She choked out. "There's no exit wound that I can see so..."
She tried to squeeze back her tears. She needed to be coherent. Billy needed her to be calm and specific. It felt like an impossibly difficult act to pull off at that moment for her, to treat the situation, to treat Billy neutrally as if he were any other operative who had gotten injured, but she had to for him.
"He...he...arrested...I don't know how long ago...I've been applying CPR..."
EMS hooked him up to the needed equipment to monitor his vital signs. Once done, the sound of a flat line heartbeat was grating, painful, like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Adele then felt light headed. Rick saw her eyes roll up into her head and he caught her before she fell to the ground. He held her in his arms, cradled her as he watched EMS trying to bring life back to his friend, to the man his former lover loved. It all felt a little confusing emotionally for Rick, but his love and friendship for both of them wasn't and he stayed with them, giving each of them all he could.
Adele awoke groggily. She scanned her surroundings slowly. She pushed her mind to recall what had happened and when it came to her in a rush, she bolted up in what she realized was a hospital bed.
"Hey, whoa, take it easy," Rick's voice came through her fog.
She felt the dizziness that the rushing to sit up had caused and laid back down again.
"How long have I been out?"
"About a couple hours," Rick said.
"Billy?" She said, concern for him overriding her own sickly feeling.
"He's in surgery. The doctors think he'll be okay. Thanks to you," Rick comforted.
Adele looked Rick, her expression not of relief, but of profound sadness.
"No, no, he almost got killed thanks to me. He shouldn't have to be fighting for his life. This was all my fault. I should not have been there."
Rick was not surprised at her reaction. Despite her outward aloofness, she cared deeply, sometimes too deeply for the kind of job she was doing. Being a diplomat seemed like a better career path given her stellar qualities. He had been a lucky recipient of that caring and he knew that despite the fact that their relationship as lovers had ended, their friendship would survive.
"If you're trying to paint yourself as the martyr here, you'd be wrong," he said with a smile.
"Billy did what had to be done and maybe even more so because it was you."
"He loves you too."
Adele looked over at Rick, expecting to find a teasing or sarcastic expression, but she found none.
"What? Are you psychic now? You don't know that."
"Yeh, I kinda do. He may not have the same goofy, transparent expression that he saw through on me, but he's not so skilled at hiding his own emotions, as he'd like to think. How do you think I put two and two together? I may be the new guy, but not completely without observational skills."
Adele smiled. It comforted her that her friendship with Rick would never be lost. She then sighed with sadness.
"I don't think I'm good enough for him...for either of you. I hurt you so much. What kind of person does that make me?"
"I'm not gonna lie, I'll always regret not being the guy for you, but I mean it when I say that if you love him, you need to tell him. It's not fair to you and it's not fair to him."
"Love is a scary thing, but I wouldn't change how I feel about you for anything even with the hurt. And Billy, well, from what little I know about him, he's just too self-sacrificing for his own good. He doesn't think he's good enough for anyone. It's as much a bunch of crap as you thinking the same thing...I think that makes you perfect for each other in the best of ways. You both deserve happiness and maybe you're the only two who can give it to each other."
"Tell him, Adele. You won't regret it."
Billy was wheeled into an ICU room after surgery and Adele was there, waiting for him. Once he was settled in, she sat next to him. She held his hand in the hopes that he would know she was there.
After several hours, she was startled awake, feeling something move in her hand. When she realized what it was, she sat up to look at Billy.
It took a few minutes, but Billy recognized Adele and a tired smile crept onto his face.
"Deputy...Director..." he breathed out, his voice a rasp.
Adele's relief brought a wide smile to her face.
His gaze saw the blood on her clothes and his expression turned to concern.
"Are you...all right?"
"What?" She asked puzzled. She then followed his gaze and saw the blood. "Oh, no, I'm fine -"
"Ah so, that's all mine, aye?" He teased. "A wonder that I still have any left coursing through me."
Adele tried to swallow back the memory of his heart arresting on her, when she had to perform CPR to keep him alive, but she couldn't keep her composure in check and rushed out.
Billy laid his head back and clenched his eyes closed. "Blast."
Adele breezed by Rick and he became worried. He walked into Billy's room.
"What happened? Is everything okay? Are you okay?"
"Just being a right bastard, is all," Billy said angry at himself as he shuddered with pain. "I said something that upset her."
"I can't believe that. You'd never do anything to hurt her. Her emotions have been running high. You flat lined and she had to do CPR."
Billy sighed and slowly shook his head.
"That explains it then. I am an insensitive git," Billy said, his exhaustion deepening with the guilt he felt at upsetting Adele.
"I made a heartless and flippant remark about losing so much blood and still being alive. I have no memory of dying. Is it any wonder she was so upset?"
"It's okay, Billy. You couldn't have known. She'll be okay."
"I will fall on my sword and beg her forgiveness for my callousness."
Rick patted Billy on his shoulder.
"I guarantee she'll forgive you."
Billy noticed Rick's forlorn expression and knew why, but had to act as if he didn't know what had happened in order to respect Adele's confidence towards him when they had been pinned down.
"How are you and Adele by the way?" Billy asked.
Rick admired Billy's concern while he was trying to recover from major surgery himself.
"We're not together anymore, but we're still friends."
It still hurt Billy to hear that a romance he had been rooting for had cracked under the pressure of working in the Agency.
"I'm sorry to hear that, mate, perhaps that also explains her emotions."
Rick smiled again.
"What's so funny?"
"I'm enjoying how the tables have turned."
"Perhaps it's the medication, but I'm not following."
"Now who's keeping a secret from a spy? I can detect loving and longing glances too, you know."
Billy fell silent, embarrassment lining his features. Rick appreciated the concession in Billy's denial and the nobility of honoring their friendship by forgoing his own happiness.
"It's okay, Billy. I know the kind of man you are. I know you're willing to deny yourself happiness out of deference for me, for our friendship and as much as I appreciate that, you don't have to do that. Nothing'll change our friendship and I want two of my friends to be happy together. I know you'll treat her with respect and give her the love she deserves."
Billy took in a breath of relief, still unsure, still feeling he would be betraying a friend.
"Tell her how you feel, Billy. I know she loves you, but she's afraid you'll reject her because of me and that she isn't deserving. I know you believe she is as much as I do. She needs to know that you love her."
Billy sighed, nodded and smiled.
"Heart of a hero, mate. I've known it all along and you prove it every day," Billy said, as he faded back into sleep.
Rick smiled. Everything he had said had been honest and heartfelt. It gave him the freedom to let go of Adele, knowing she would be cared for and loved fully by a man he had a high regard for and who would honor her. It made him happy to embrace the love that had grown between his friends. Just as Billy had campaigned for him and Adele, he would now take the mantle to do the same for them. He relished the role.
Overnight, though, Billy had deteriorated quickly.
A raging infection had taken hold and his temperature had shot up to 104. They were pumping him with saline solution to keep dehydration from making his situation worse as well as antibiotics. The doctors weren't optimistic, but continued to treat Billy aggressively in the hopes that they could wipe out the infection before it further compromised Billy's immune system any more than it and his injury already had.
Rick was worried about Adele as Billy drifted in and out of unconsciousness and his breathing labored. She barely left his side and had been sleeping in a nearby chair.
Adele couldn't leave Billy alone. She came to the reluctant realization that it was possible he could die. It was a heart wrenching thought and she fought as much as Billy was fighting to resist it, but on nights when she heard Billy struggle to breathe and to defeat his pain the doubt would slither in. It was why leaving him was unthinkable. She was determined that he would never feel alone.
"Billy, I love you so much," she softly said as she held his hand to her cheek, feeling the heat from the fever.
Billy stirred and saw Adele, tears filling her eyes and he smiled.
"You're beautiful...you know?" he stuttered.
"And you're crazy, you do know that, right?" She teased in return.
Billy's expression faded into sincerity as he caressed his fingers against her cheek.
"I'm sorry I upset you...I could use a little work on my timing...yeh?" Billy smiled, but she saw the struggle on his face, his voice was a raspy squeak, his accent thickening.
"It wasn't your fault. I'm just acting irrational."
"No...no, you care...it's one of the many things I love about you..."
Adele was caught by surprise by his admission.
Billy noticed and smiled again.
"You heard correctly and no, I am not delusional with fever. It's about time I stopped being a coward, don't you think? I might not get another chance to declare my feelings for you."
"Don't say that. You're going to be fine."
"One should never take any moment with someone you love for granted. No time like the present to let you know that I love you with all of my heart."
Adele's eyes overflowed with tears at his declaration, but something felt off with Billy. She couldn't put her finger on it but the feeling worried her.
Billy cupped her jaw and wiped her tears away. She leaned into his hand. His touch brought such comfort and she felt her body relax.
"No more tears, love. My heart is full now that you know. I can die happy."
"Stop saying that, you're not going to die," she insisted.
Billy shuddered with chills and with pain. Adele squeezed his hand to let him know she was there, that she would never leave him.
"I love you too, so much...I'm sorry it took me so long to say it. I'm a coward too..."
"We were meant for each other then, yeh? Fated to fall in love," Billy said, exhausted, the weak smile still there for her.
"Live for me, Billy, so that we can have a lifetime to make it up to each other..."
"A lifetime with you...what a lovely thought indeed..."
Billy then closed his eyes.
"Fight, Billy, please. Don't surrender. Not now..."
TO BE CONTINUED…