Title: Breaking the Surface

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos.

A/N: This fic exists because of lena7142. She prompted it then beta'ed it. Because she's sort of cool like that.

Summary: Billy thinks: this is no way to die.

-o-

Billy thinks: this is no way to die.

Granted, he's not sure there's any proper way to die. Sure, the notion of a blaze of glory has a certain appeal – he likes to think it'll take something spectacular to take him down, that he will not go gently into that good night.

Mostly he just wants his death to matter. He doesn't need awards or recognition, but he wants to know his life meant something. He wants to know his death served a purpose.

But as he struggles against the current, the water lapping higher and higher above his head, he can't find any purpose at all.

He thrashes, kicking up as best he can. He's not sure which direction he's headed in, but there's light above and he swims, he kicks, hestruggles, reaching for it with all he has.

He breaks the surface, feels cool air on his wet face, blinks once and then he's sucked under again, the current pulling him, water tossing him, head over heels, over head, over heels, over—

This time when he breaks the surface, he doesn't realize it. By the time he takes a breath, he gets nothing but a mouthful of water.

Then he's under again, tumbling. He scrapes against a rock, his fingers clench on sediment. He gags and flails, he has to go up, up, up—

He catches a glimpse of blue sky and opens his mouth, but before he can focus on the lazy blue clouds, there's nothing but water again.

The water burns his lungs, and the effort to clear them racks his body.

This is no way to die.

The coldness of the realization steels him and he keeps himself still for a long moment, feeling the current of the river as it pulls him down. His teammates won't be far; they were on the shore when Billy got knocked in, a wayward punch in a fight they'd already won. They'd be following him, tracking his progress, they'd find him if he could just break the…

Surface.

Billy's propelled up and he sees the land flowing by. He thinks he sees Casey running along the bank, but before Billy can blink, he's under once more.

This is no way to die.

He has to focus; he has to be in control. The current is strong, but Billy's a good swimmer. He can overcome this. He needs to move with it, not against, angle himself out toward the shore, slow and steady and…

Something eddies and he's turned, crashing violently into a rock. He's dazed and something aches in his side, and he cries out—

And takes another mouthful of water.

He coughs and tries to spit it out but that makes it worse. Calm becomes a fleeting thought, because everything hurts and his head feels funny and his lungs might explode and this is no way to die…

Except possibly the only way to die.

It's stupid and it's unfair, and it's pointless and it's beneath him, but there are things in life he can't fight. There's always been a current with an undertow, pulling him along, and Billy's been treading water, staying on the surface, but one slip, one lapse…

And he's under.

Maybe he's been under this whole time, maybe he's just been holding his breath, maybe…

His consciousness ebbs, his strength wanes. He doesn't know how to plan; doesn't know where this river goes. He doesn't know if his friends will find him; he doesn't know if he's drowning in three feet or thirty.

It doesn't matter.

This is the only way to die.

And Billy lets go—

There is black.

There is nothing.

There is—

Air.

Wretched and harsh, it grates in his lungs, and his entire body convulses with the simple movement. It burns and it pulls and it makes his head hurt and his back ache.

"Easy, now, easy," Michael says and squeezes his shoulder.

Billy's still fighting, flailing as he blinks blind eyes against the light.

"We've got you," Rick promises, and he sounds exhausted but he means it.

Billy wants to believe, tries to believe, but he's hacking desperately, and water spills out, running down his face by the mouthful.

"Whether you like it or not," Casey add snarkily, but there's concern there. Unyielding and persistent.

His body still fights; his spirit wants to rebel. It's instinct, after all; how he survives.

But not all currents are bad; sometimes there's worse things than letting go and seeing where it takes you.

This is no way to die.

But it's some way to live.

And Billy takes a breath – wheezing and desperate – and keeps on breathing.