Title: To Hope
Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.
A/N: This is based off a throwaway line in one of my other fics (God Complex, I believe). lena7142 asked me to write, so I did :) She then provided a very hearty beta. Remaining mistakes are because I fail at typing.
Summary: This is what we do. More than that, this is what living is. Sometimes you have to put yourself out there and hope for the best. (set pre series)
"I don't like it," Michael said.
Higgins raised his eyebrows, almost bemused. "I don't recall asking if you liked it, Operative Dorset," he said primly from behind his desk. "I just recall telling you to do it."
Michael shook his head. "It's not a good plan."
"It is, however, the plan," Higgins countered. "You will go in, set one of your men up as a buyer and ID the people involved in this group. Then you will turn that evidence over to me and we can talk about our next move in securing peace in Asia."
Michael had worked in the Agency long enough to read between the lines. He scoffed. "You want one of my men to be bait so you can ID some of the players in the most violent cell in Asia," he said. "And you want them to do it with little backup and no viable escape route if it goes wrong."
Higgins didn't waver. "Essentially, yes."
Michael set his jaw. "I still don't like it."
Higgins smiled in earnest this time. "Which is even more assurance that I'm making the right choice."
"I don't like it," Casey said, eyes narrowed at Michael from his desk.
Michael sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Me neither," he said. "But we've got no choice."
"Of course we do," Casey replied. "Since when do Higgins' orders mean anything to us?"
"Since he's right," Michael said, sighing heavily. "We're lucky we got this lead. It's a once in a lifetime chance."
"Yeah," Casey agreed, "because they'll kill the bait before we can get out of there. These people are brutal, Michael. They'll peg you or me as CIA before we even open our mouths."
Michael ground his teeth together. "They have UK partners," he said. "We can send Billy."
Casey's face darkened. "I really don't like it."
Michael slumped in his chair. "I know," he said. "But it can't hurt to ask him."
"I like it," Billy said, nodding his approval.
Michael had pitched the plan with no frills, laying out how Billy would be alone, vulnerable and outnumbered. "If something goes wrong, we'd never get there in time," he said.
"Essentially you'd be bait," Casey reiterated. "They'll think you're a rival faction. The only reason they'll want the meeting is to scare you into submission."
"But I just have to stand there and take it, yes?" Billy clarified.
"Yes," Michael said. "You'll have a video recorder on you. You just need to get them all on camera, and the mission is a success."
"Even though they'll probably kill you," Casey added.
"And we can't stop them," Michael finished.
Billy nodded thoughtfully. "I still like it."
Michael sighed in exasperation. "You would."
In the end, Michael made the plan as good as he could. He finagled them the closest vantage point possible. He made Billy memorize all the escape routes in the area. He set aside a safe house in the neighborhood. He gave Billy a word to tip them off if he felt like things were going south.
It was as much as he could do.
In the end, Michael had to hope it was enough.
Billy pulled it off well. He was flawless in his cover, and he'd handled the initial phone calls with ease. As he prepped for the meeting, Michael double checked their feed and gave Billy one last look. "Are you sure about this?" he asked.
Billy grinned impishly. "I was born ready."
"This isn't the time to be cocky," Michael warned, because they'd been cocky before. They'd been sure before. And they'd lost Carson Simms somewhere in North Africa to prove their folly.
Billy's smile fell and he looked at Michael earnestly. "This is what we do," he said. "More than that, this is what living is. Sometimes you have to put yourself out there and hope for the best."
That was probably part of the problem: Michael wasn't big on hope.
During the meet, Michael was pacing. The feed was strong, and Billy was calm.
That made one of them.
Casey sat as still as possible, watching the screen intently for any sign of movement.
"You won't see anything better by staring," Michael chided.
Casey didn't look up. "And you won't get there any faster by pacing," he countered.
Michael looked at him and sighed. "I need to do something."
"Me, too," Casey said. Then he sat up straight. "And we're live."
Michael's attention shifted, and he zeroed in on the screen, leaning close over Casey's shoulder. "Is that them?"
"Dark, broodish thugs?" Casey asked. "I think so."
The camera settled on each one, and Michael nodded his approval. "That'll be enough to create a profile from," he said.
"Should even be good enough for Fay to start running facial recognition for us," Casey said. "Assuming she's still talking to you."
"At work, sure," Michael said. "At home, we go through her lawyer."
Casey snorted. "You may want to hire your own sometime."
Michael scrunched his nose. "I don't trust lawyers," he said, watching as the men approached.
"I don't trust anyone," Casey rejoined.
"That's because you're a scary son of a bitch, Malick," Michael said.
Then, on the screen, one of the men pulled a gun. Michael swore.
Casey raised an eyebrow. "You were saying?"
The man lifted the gun. Billy was talking, a little faster now. His hands came up into the frame, clearly trying to placate the men.
"There's no need to be hasty—"
And then the gun fired – one, two, three – and the feed pointed up at the sky.
He didn't care about the intel. He didn't care about his cover. He didn't care about anything except Billy.
Because Michael had lost Carson. Michael's marriage was on the rocks. All he had was this job and two men he called his teammates, and he couldn't lose that – wouldn't lose that.
But when he rounded the corner to the now-empty alleyway and saw Billy's still form, covered in blood, Michael wondered if he already had.
This was what Michael hadn't liked. This.
Billy, lying spread eagled on the ground, eyes open and staring at the sky in shock. Blood everywhere, covering his shirt, pooling on the ground, staining his lips and running down his chin. Billy, sucking in desperate, ragged breaths, suffocating in blood.
All because sometimes bad guys took the bait.
Other times, they shot it to hell.
Michael stopped short and stared. Casey came up behind him, equipment in tow even as he passed Michael and went to his knees. He ripped Billy's shirt open, buttons flying everywhere, rending the soiled fabric apart so they could see Billy's chest.
So they could see the gunshots wounds.
Three of them, all to the chest. One was high, toward his shoulder. Another seemed to go straight through the lung. The other was right above his heart.
Casey swore, hands hovering just for a moment before he grabbed the tattered remnants of Billy's shirt and pressed down hard on the wound above the heart.
He looked up at Michael, his face twisted in a grimace. "You know those contingencies you planned for?" he snarled.
"Now's the time to use them."
He had a military contact on speed dial. One call, one request, and the closest team would be in the air. He pressed the next number, pulling in a favor with one of their best assets in Cambodia. He had access to an ambulance, which would take them to the closest airfield.
The next call was to Higgins. "You will get us approved to land in Bangkok," he said. "And you will get us the best surgeon in the city."
"Do you have the intel?" Higgins asked.
"Not unless you get me everything I need," Michael demanded.
There was a small pause. "Certainly," Higgins said. "Tell me what you need, Operative Dorset."
Michael had it all figured out. He had transport; he had medical support. He had the exit.
But as he watched Casey try to treat Billy, it seemed silly. Because Billy's face was colorless, lips stained with more blood. He was barely moving air, chest heaving up and down in stunted desperation. Casey had managed to press down on the second wound, the one to his lung, but it was like a little boy sticking his finger in a dam.
"A little help," Casey grunted.
And Michael kneeled beside them.
Casey nodded gruffly. "Take a bandage, start putting pressure on the shoulder wound," he said. "It's probably not a serious one, but at the rate he's losing blood…"
Every bit helped.
Swallowing, Michael reminded himself he wasn't a squeamish man. But as he pressed down on Billy's shoulder, the Scotsman shuddered, moaning as he started trembling in earnest.
Michael looked at him apologetically. "You're going to be okay," he said. "I've got it taken care of. Trust me."
Billy's eyes moved to him sluggishly. He wanted to speak – that much was evident in his eyes – but when his lips moved, nothing came out but blood.
And then Billy was convulsing, body thrashing, almost bucking Michael clean off. Casey swore and tried to give him an ample berth even while putting some pressure on the wounds.
It was a lost cause, though. Even as Billy's body stilled again, eyes closed and breathing almost nonexistent, Michael knew that.
Thought maybe it had been since the start.
The ambulance came. The medics didn't speak much English, but they had their orders. They performed basic triage and said nothing when Michael and Casey climbed in next to Billy.
He was still breathing when they got to the airfield, heart rate still registering on the monitor even as the medic bandaged the wounds and set up a pair of IVs.
He was still breathing when the Army medic took over, checking Billy's vitals as they settled him into the chopper, making a face as they took off into the air.
He was still breathing as they flew. Still breathing as Casey started tapping his foot, humming a song under his breath. Still breathing when Michael leaned forward and put a hand on his arm, willing him to fight, just a little longer.
Until he wasn't.
The medic didn't waste time. He didn't ask Michael to step away, but his precise actions left no room for Michael to hover. Michael had seen an AED work before, but it was still hard to watch it on Billy. The electrodes on his marred chest, the electronic voice saying Do not touch the patient.
The jolt of electricity as Billy arched up and down.
Up and down.
Up and down.
And Billy's heart was beating.
Michael wasn't so sure about his own, though.
At the hospital, Michael wasn't sure what strings Higgins pulled, but no one shooed them away. Michael stayed with Billy, walking beside his gurney as the doctors started talking in a language Michael was too tired to try to decipher.
It didn't matter anyway.
The only thing that mattered was Billy.
It mattered that they were checking the wounds, giving him blood. It mattered that they put a tube down his throat and started squeezing a bag of oxygen. It mattered that Billy's heart stopped again, right there in front of him.
This time, the doctor started pushing on Billy's chest.
This time, Billy's face went blue, then gray.
This time, Casey walked out.
This time, Michael thought none of it would be enough.
When they got Billy's heartbeat back, the doctor seemed surprised. This wasn't reassuring, but ultimately, Michael couldn't blame him.
He knew how the man felt.
But Billy was full of surprises.
Michael could only hope that he had some good ones left.
Again, though, Michael thought that was still part of the problem: he wasn't big on hope.
In the waiting room, he found Casey cradling his hand.
"You okay?" Michael asked, nodding at it as he sat.
"It's irrelevant," Casey replied. "How's Billy?"
"Alive," Michael reported.
Casey snorted. "For now."
"That's no way to talk," Michael said.
"It's written all over your face," Casey replied.
Michael settled back and sighed. "Yeah," he agreed, closing his eyes. "Yeah."
They waited in silence.
Michael had nothing to say; Casey needed nothing Michael could give.
The silence between them wasn't quite hope, but if they didn't verbalize their doubts, Michael thought that might be enough.
When Billy was out of surgery, they let Michael go to the recovery room. Billy looked spent, more dead than alive as the machines breathed for him. His condition was critical and mostly unstable. They'd done what they could to repair the vascular damage near his heart, but the work had been precarious. And the shot to his lung had splintered a rib. If they missed a shard…
If Billy got an infection…
If Billy's blood didn't clot…
If Billy had an embolism.
And Michael had no contingencies for any of it.
He and Casey waited together, long after visiting hours. They sat next to Billy, watching his chest rise and fall.
"He knew this could happen," Casey said. "And the idiot still thought it was a good idea."
Michael sighed. "It was a good idea," he said. "From the mission's perspective."
"Missions are abstract concepts," Casey said. "They don't have a perspective."
Michael raised his eyebrows. "That's surprisingly sentimental for someone like you."
"You're the one personifying missions," Casey retorted.
Michael's eyes settled on Billy. "The outcome doesn't change the inception," he said. "It was a good plan, no matter how it ends up."
"Do you believe that?" Casey asked, looking at him incredulous.
Michael turned his eyes to Casey and shrugged. "I have to."
In the hours that followed, Michael didn't know what to do. He couldn't sleep, he couldn't eat. He couldn't talk to Casey or listen to the doctors. He couldn't call Langley and he couldn't worry about Fay. He couldn't think about Carson Simms being MIA for a year now.
Except that there was no choice.
Sometimes, you had to put yourself out there. For the job. For sanity. For life.
Sometimes, it worked out great. Sometimes you got the girl, you made the friends, you finished the mission.
Other times, it didn't. You got divorced, you left a man behind, you watched a friend fight for his life—
Billy's heart had stopped.
Casey was in the hall, demanding help in every language he could remember to speak. When the doctors flooded the room, Michael found himself still sitting there, just staring.
Casey was yelling. Billy was fighting.
And Michael sat there because he didn't know what else to do.
Didn't know anything at all.
It took too long.
CPR. Epinephrine. Paddles.
They tried everything, and it failed.
They tried it again, and it failed.
Third time, and Billy's heart beat.
Not a resounding success, but success nonetheless.
For now, it would have to be close enough.
When Casey shoved the phone at him, Michael answered without thinking.
"The intelligence is impressive, Operative Dorset," Higgins said. "Needless to say, we are quite pleased with the results from this mission."
Michael didn't care if this was his boss. He snorted. "Yeah, except for the operative you have in critical condition in Bangkok."
Higgins was rightfully quiet.
"I told you I didn't like this plan," Michael said, too tired to stop himself.
There was another silence. Finally Higgins drew a long breath. "For the record, I didn't like it either," he said. "But we all do what we have to do in this job. If it's worth anything, I'm sorry. Give Operative Collins my best."
Michael hung up the phone with a grimace. As if that would ever be enough.
Hours turned into days. Michael slept at Billy's bedside, washing himself in the bathroom sink and living off the vending machines.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed; he wasn't even sure if he was awake or asleep most of the time. Casey was there, then he wasn't, but Michael kept his eyes on Billy as he thought, as he dreamed.
He dreamed about the explosion in North Africa.
He dreamed about Fay filing for divorce.
He dreamed about those three shots and seeing Billy in the alleyway.
Things he couldn't control. They were the things that scared him most, things he hated and loathed.
The things he needed more than the rest.
"This is what we do," he said. "More than that, this is what living is. Sometimes you have to put yourself out there and hope for the best."
And Michael wasn't big on hope, but in the end, he realized maybe that was all he had ever really had.
Billy got better.
They reduced his medication and removed the tube. He was taken off the critical list, and Casey stopped mumbling tunes under his breath when Billy finally woke up.
He was weak and he was confused, but he was okay.
He was going to be okay.
And Michael dared to hope that maybe they all might be.
It took longer than Michael would have liked, but they were finally going home. Casey was restless; Billy was still pale and underweight. But they were together. They were going home.
That was all that mattered to Michael.
"I don't like it," Billy announced.
"No one asked you," Casey snapped.
"Well, maybe they should have," Billy said. "I mean, I am the one who suffered in the name of American peace and prosperity."
Casey rolled his eyes. "If you're looking for a medal—"
"Just due recognition," Billy clarified.
Casey snorted. "And a personal nurse to accompany you on the flight home?"
Billy grinned. "Seems like a small price to pay," he said. "Besides, my condition is still precarious."
"Only because you insist on eating like a pig and flirting with everything that moves," Casey said.
Billy's smile only widened. "All important elements of my recovery."
Casey groaned. "And now I don't like it."
Michael sighed, shaking his head. "You can both dislike it," he said. "And I don't care."
"That is a startling lack of sympathy," Billy said.
"It is a little cold," Casey said.
Michael rolled his eyes. "Cold and unsympathetic, maybe," Michael relented. "But we're still going home. Together."
And for once, Michael didn't have to hope for anything because he knew, without a doubt, that for today, that was more than enough.