Back at the farmhouse, the Expendables were waiting with dinner. Despite both, Kate and Billy having lost track of time completely, after flying halfway around the world and being on the run for almost two days, realized how hungry they were and sat down at the table, digging in as everybody else.
It was odd to sit at a table, eating steak and salad. Civilized, calm, ordinary, Kate caught herself thinking as she ate mechanically. It was the first real food since the day before their departure to the meeting with Silva. She, Billy and Toll had ordered food, watched a movie, hung out together. Like friends, unaware of what they would face the next day. As her thoughts wandered to their dead friend, a huge lump formed her throat, killing her appetite instantly. She put down her fork and watched the others.
They ate in silence for a while before the Expendables started asking questions about the events in Serbia. Billy took over the major part of telling their story, sensing that Kate was not in the mood to speak, her just filling in details here and there. Grief mingled with anger as they spoke about Toll, but turned into grim satisfaction as Barney and his team learned how many of Silva's men they'd taken out during their getaway.
It was late when they finished dinner. Still the Expendables discussed numerous things about the mission, not aware of the fact that they were not helping either Kate or Billy one bit when dragging them through the memories of what they'd experienced. Kate turned to Billy who was sitting next to her.
"God, I would do anything for a hot shower and my bed." she groaned quietly as Lee put another round of beers in front of them.
"Tell me about that." he murmured back. He didn't want to appear impolite and leave the small gathering they'd set up for their safe return nor did Kate. But it would do her no good if she kept sitting around and the tense look on her face told him that she was not doing well.
When Gunnar asked Kate if she could remember anything about the IED's they had barely escaped, the young woman couldn't take it anymore. She didn't want to be dragged through those memories, at least not now.
"Guys, I'm sorry, but I am really tired." she excused herself, unconsciously clutching her arm. The soreness and dull throbbing after the anesthetic had worn out slowly turned into aching pain.
"Don't be, Love." Lee nodded in understanding. "Sleep tight and get well soon."
"Thanks again, guys." Kate replied and rose. With a small smile to Billy, she silently bit him good night and went upstairs to her room.
Opening the wooden door and flicking on the lights, Kate took in the sight of what had been her home for the past weeks. Images of her training with the each of the Expendables flashed through her mind. Vividly, she remembered the playfulness before they'd headed for Serbia and grief enclosed her heart like an icy fist. It hadn't been easy with them and especially with Barney and his hostility towards her, but she'd enjoyed the daily preparations with Toll and Billy. Memories of sitting in the kitchen, talking about random things came back and with the final realization that only one of them hadn't made it back home, she couldn't keep it together any longer. A strangled sob escaped her lips and she quickly shut the door, sliding down and leaning against it, face buried in her hands. Tear streamed down her face as she vent her emotions.
She'd been forced onto this mission and besides all the curveballs who had been thrown at her, she'd done her job. She'd secured the thumb drive and against all odds she'd survived. But nobody, not even Church and the immunity he'd promised her could make up for the horrors they'd been through while evading Silva's men. She didn't know how Billy was coping with it and she would eventually ask him later, but she had the feeling that he was doing much better with it than she was.
Come on, Evans. You have been through much worse, she scolded herself, as she wiped angry tears from her eyes. But had she really been through worse? Worse than seeing a friend die to save her life? Worse than being almost killed by a pile of IEDs? Worse than fighting twelve trained men while her friend was in some sort of post-traumatic shock?
She had been in countless dangerous situations, but not a single one where somebody she deeply cared about had been in harm's way. It was the very reason she had been so scared and not because of Silva she realized now. Even though she was glad that Billy had been with her and had her back, she'd never been more terrified to lose him than back in those forests. It was a sudden comprehension she was not sure where to place it, but it was helpful and it somehow cleared the paralyzing fog her mind. She was scared of losing Billy. And that fear she was able to channel and cope with. Hopefully.
It took her a while to stop the tears from falling, but when she was empty of emotions she felt better. Calmer. Peaceful. She knew it would take her some time to get over what had happened, but she'd made it out alive and she hoped it would make her a stronger person.
She looked down at herself and for the first time became aware of her appearance. Her boots were filthy and dirt was sticking to her jeans mingled with blood. Her vest and jacket were gone and she vaguely remembered Billy helping her changing her shirt for a comfortable hoodie. She ran her fingers through her hair and sucked in a sharp breath as she felt the knots within the strands. She needed a shower and she needed it now. With one last sigh, she rose.
While gathering all the things she needed, she realized that it was probably not a good idea to shower with a freshly stitched up arm and the bandage. The plastic wrap she'd given Billy a few days earlier came to her mind. Sighing about the delay of her longed shower, she kicked off her shoes and padded to Billy's room opposite of hers. She would've bet that he was still with the rest of the team, but as she enclosed his door, he heard a faint noise indicating that he was already in his room.
"Hey." she smiled sheepishly as he opened the door by the first knock. "I was just wondering if you still got some of the plastic wrap; to keep the bandage dry."
"Yeah, sure. Come in." he replied and let her pass. He went to his bathroom and searched for the roll.
Maybe it was just her, but Kate could not help but feel awkward. They'd constantly been together for the past three days and now she was knocking on his door, waiting for his permission to see him? It was somehow ridiculous.
Get a grip, Evans. We're back home and not in Serbia. Time to get used to the normal life, she scolded herself as she became aware of the direction her thoughts had taken. Quickly, she busied her mind with something else.
"How's your arm doing?" Kate asked as she heard him rummaging through his belongings.
"Fine, thanks." he called back.
"Dr. Ryan should have taken a look at it." she remarked as Billy reemerged.
"I trust your work. Look, it is fine." he replied bending his arm waving the roll in his hand.
"I've seen plenty of you having regained your flexibility, Mr. Timmons. I want to take a closer look at the wound."
She waited patiently as he rolled up his sleeve. Carefully she removed the dressing and examined the cut. Despite the lack to treatment over the past days it had healed well. Pleased with her work she nodded.
"You should be able to remove the stitches within a few days." she said as she ran her fingers along the gash. Billy observed her with a smile. She was always worried about the wellbeing of the others instead of taking care of herself. It was the reason why she'd been shot back in Afghanistan, why she'd been discharged, why she'd been stabbed by Silva. It was basically the reason why she was right here, right now, with him.
Now, he watched her pick up the plastic wrap, ruffling through her hair using her injured hand by habit, her face showing a flicker of pain as she stretched her arm too much.
"Let me help you with that."
"No, you're not." he insisted and took the roll from her hands.
She would rather die than admit that she needed help, Billy thought as he cut a fair amount of the transparent tissue from the roll. When he'd left the team shortly after Kate he'd intended to check on her before going to bed. But as he'd reached her door, he had heard her crying and his heart had dropped. She'd been so brave, so strong. But some force kept him from knocking at her door and comforting her. As much as he wanted to be there for her, he also wanted to give her some space to sort her thoughts about what had happened. It would take them some time and he was still not sure whether they would be able to walk away from it that easily. And Billy decided to find out rather sooner than later.
Observing the sniper as he wrapped the plastic tissue around her arm carefully, Kate silently smiled about him being that tender. But as he finished his dressing, he didn't let go of her arm. Kate looked up to him and was taken aback by the expression in his eyes. His dark blue orbs were like a mirror of what she'd felt only a few minutes ago. She could see still fresh the grief about Toll, but also the gratitude and incredulousness that they'd made it home. And fear. Fear for the other and that something would happen to him. Instinctively, she reached for him as he put his muscular arms around her.
"Shh, it's alright." he soothed her as s small sob escaped her; stroking her back.
"I know, but it's just…" she trailed off.
"Yeah, I know…" he murmured as he bent down to kiss her.
They'd come so close to die and neither Billy nor Kate wanted to waste any precious second of their time together. They both knew they had to get back to normal, that they could not stay together 24/7, but tonight they needed each other. But their definitions of the word together somewhat differed and Kate became aware of it as the kiss deepened and Billy walked her back to the door to shut it. Realizing what he was going to do, she brought a little space between them.
"Billy…" she warned half-heartedly.
"Stay." he murmured.
It were not his words that made her comply, it was the look in his eyes. They were filled with affection and worry. And as his lips found hers again, Kate could not only see but feel the determination to protect her and keep her safe and the promise that he would be there for her; no matter what.
Willingly, she let herself sink into the sensation as his hands wandered under her tank top, making quick work of it as well as of her pants. She helped him get out of his clothes and let him walk her to the bathroom, his lips never leaving hers, her body close to his.
Billy dissolved their embrace only for a second to turn on the water, but as he turned around to her again, his gaze dropped on the circular mark right above her heart. An almost black bruise was forming where Silva's bullet must have hit her vest.
"What the…" he gasped but she silenced him with an almost painfully tender kiss.
"I am alright." she whispered as she cupped his face with her hands. Though she was having trouble breathing it didn't matter to her. All she needed now was Billy. His physical presence was a reminder to her that she was safe, alive and well.
He reciprocated the kiss as he ran his fingers through her hair, forbidding himself to think about how close she'd come to die. And while he pulled her with him under the jet of water, he vowed that he would do everything is his power to keep her safe.
Feeling the water run over her aching body was unpleasant at first, causing the numerous cuts and bruises on her skin to sting and throb, but after a while her muscles relaxed. She looked to Billy who had his eyes closed, while the water was running over his head and down his body. She smiled at the sight. He became aware of that she was observing him and after a wordless look, he pulled her close, peppering her lips, neck and shoulders with hot kisses. Feeling Billy's lips on her sensitive skin, Kate all but moaned at his seductive touch.
She didn't stop him as he started to massage shampoo into her hair, rinsing it and taking the washcloth rubbing gentle circles across her entire body, literally removing the traces of the past days. They were in their own bubble and Kate doubted that anybody could bring them to snap out of it.
When Billy had finished his work she took the cloth from him and repeated the procedure, taking her time to really explore his body for the first time. With the soft tissue she traced the features of his muscular torso, his arms, his back; her lips following the trail of the cloth. He leaned into her touch, interrupting her ever so often with passionate yet tender kisses.
Her thoughts wandered to the last time she'd been in this room with him and the intense moment they're shared back then.
"What is it with us and bathrooms?" she mumbled as his lips left hers for a second. He chuckled against her shoulder, his hands wandering downwards to her hips, his grip comfortably tight and firm as he held her.
"I don't know. But I start to like them."
The next morning Kate woke up by the bright sunbeams on her face. They were tickling her skin and for a moment she just enjoyed the peace and quiet and thanked God that she was alive. She opened her eyes and turned to Billy who was still asleep. The covers of his bed were loosely draped around his muscular body, showing his arms and torso. For a while she took in his features, expression completely relaxed as he lay there, sound asleep. She listened to his even breathing, but her fingers itched to touch him, so she began to draw circles with her finger on his back. It didn't take a lot to wake the sniper. He stirred, then opened his eyes and blinked a few times.
"Good morning." he smiled as he stretched himself luxuriously.
"Hey." she replied softly as she took him in with a long look. Billy reciprocated it a little bewildered.
"What is it?"
"You look awful." she smirked gesturing at his black eye.
"Ditto." he grinned back as he placed a strand of hair behind her ear and bent down to kiss her.
Kate chuckled against his lips as she reciprocated the kiss. He was about to crawl over her, when she suddenly groaned with pain, reminding both what they'd been through the past two days.
"Sorry…" Billy mumbled and backed off.
She shook her head and snuggled into his warm body while he ran his fingers through her hair.
"It's alright. Don't worry."
And indeed, she was feeling much better than yesterday. Their little escape to the shower seemed to have worked magically on her mind. The memories were far away and it didn't even cost her much energy to keep them from her mind. Still sleepy she decided not to worry for how long this effect would last but enjoy the peace of the moment. They laid there in silence for a while. But the longer the silence lasted, the more restless grew Kate. The peacefulness from minutes ago had vanished and as her thoughts had wandered into the future and what it might hold for her, one person in particular had eventually crossed her mind.
"What's bothering you?" Billy asked at some time. Kate raised her head shooting him a disbelieving look.
"Now you are not only a mercenary and a sniper but a mind reader, too?" she all but groaned.
"No, but you forget that I know you quite well."
"Yeah." she mumbled, retrieving her previous position. "It's Church." she confessed after a while. "I hope he will let this go as soon as he has the thumb drive."
"He will." Billy assured her.
"But if he won't?"
"Then Barney and I will take care of him." Billy smirked as he shifted her in his arms. The thought had crossed his mind as well, but he decided that he would not help her if he encouraged her dark thoughts. Instead, he did what had helped the most in the past: distracting her from her thoughts.
And as Kate heart the words from her friend and saw the grin on his lips, she could not help herself but smile. It never ceased to amaze her how he could be so optimistic yet confident about things. She popped up her head on her uninjured arm facing him directly.
"Billy Timmons, I'll hold you to that." she laughed and kissed him.
They stayed in bed for another hour, chatting about random things. It was helpful to talk about ordinary things like the food or what they would do in the next days and Kate had the feeling that slowly, they returned to the life they called normal. After a while they stopped talking, both dwelling on thoughts, enjoying each other's presence. For both of them, it was the first time since they'd admitted their feelings, that they had really time to perceive the other. The times they'd been together had been really brief and always with half of their thoughts with the mission and what would lay ahead of them. But now, nobody was rushing them.
Kate feeling the warm skin of his bare chest under her fingertips, discovering how large his hands were in comparison to hers and he entwined their fingers. Billy had developed a habit of playing with strands of her hair, twirling them around his index finger, letting them fall onto her shoulders or the pillow. It was a nice feeling and Kate silently smiled about him being so gentle with her. It was quite a contrast to how he was on the job. With every passing second she relaxed more, her head free of thoughts, just enjoying this intimate peaceful moment. Both Kate and Billy were still tired and the quiet eventually lulled them into sleep once more.
An unknown amount of time later, Kate woke again. Her head was placed against Billy's shoulder and his arm was loosely draped across her stomach. She smiled as she observed him for a few seconds. It was a comfortable position, her bodies fitting perfectly together as they lay there and Kate wondered when they'd become so familiar with each other. But even though she enjoyed Billy's proximity, she was kind of restless. Careful not to wake him she snug out of his embrace and reached for one of his shirts hanging over the chair next to his bed. Her gaze fell upon their clothes discarded all over the room and she couldn't help but blush at the memories of last night.
She padded over to the window and glanced outside. The grounds of Barney's farm lay silent in front of her. The sky was shrouded in clouds, the pale sun casting a faint light on the grassy space and the forest. Frost was glistening on the roofs of the barns and Kate unconsciously wrapped her arms around her body. Her gaze automatically wandered to the tree line which marked the edge of the forest. It was a habit she'd developed ever since she'd arrived here. The woods had been her personal space to center herself when the world around her was going crazy. But after all that had happened she wasn't sure whether this environment would ever be the same for her.
Two arms snug around her waist as Billy placed his chin on her shoulder, his nose nestling in the crook of her neck. Kate leaned into his touch and smiled at this unexpected show of affection.
"Hey." she murmured back without looking at him.
His hands wandered to her hips as he continued to caress her shoulder with his lips. She could feel the heat radiating from his naked torso. It was quite distracting and it took Kate quite some effort to focus.
"You're a terrible liar." he chuckled as he followed her gaze.
Kate sighed as she gave in.
"I don't know how to explain it." she began after a while, sorting the words in her head. "It just came to my mind when it looked outside. My whole life I felt completely safe in the woods. I would go there whenever it had trouble, when life around me seemed too fast. The nature always calmed me, helped me center my thoughts. But after all that's happened, how am I supposed to feel that way again? How am I supposed to go back in there without constantly looking over my shoulder?"
She looked to him for the first time, expecting him to answer her question. Billy shifted her in his arms so that they faced each other. He raised his hand and placed a strand of hair behind her ear as he thought about her words. He'd always known that the woods and hunting meant a lot to her, but this confession showed him another facet of her personality. She was not afraid of the danger that might lurk behind one of those trees nor of the memories for their latest mission. It was the fear that something that she loved would not be the same for her. He didn't know why, but he could relate to her.
"Why don't we find out?" he suggested softly and reached for her hand.
Kate looked at him, then at the forest before she answered him. Her agreement to his suggestion was barley a whisper and while looking at her, Billy felt his protective instincts arise again. There she was standing in front of him, dressed with one of his shirts which made her look even more fragile.
"You'll be fine." he said with a reassuring squeeze of her hand. "You're not in on this alone, remember?"
His words were simple but effective nonetheless and they gave her the confidence and faith she needed. She knew that he would stand by her side and help her as he'd done it so naturally ever since they'd met for the first time.
After getting dressed in their respective rooms, Kate and Billy met downstairs. The house lay unusually quiet and as they entered the kitchen they found it vacant. A single sheet of paper was probed up against an empty beer bottle. Billy went to the table and picked it up.
"The guys went into town, the note doesn't say why." he informed Kate who was peering into the fridge.
"Hopefully on grocery shopping." she said as she closed the door.
Billy smirked and vanished through the door into one of the adjacent rooms. After a few minutes he returned, two guns in his hand. When Kate spotted the weapons, she shot Billy a questioning glance but the sniper merely shrugged.
"Better safe than sorry." he said as put the gun in the back waistband of his pants while handing her the other one.
"Yeah." Kate mumbled and stored the weapon, though not before checking it.
Billy wrote a quick note under the one from Barney saying that they went outside for a walk, then he grabbed his keys from the board near the door and closed the zipper of his jacket. He opened the door for Kate and let her pass, then locked it with his keys. Turning to her, he watched her staring to the tree line not far away.
"Ready?" he asked as he gave her a scrutinizing look.
Taking a deep breath, Kate squared her shoulders and without returning his glance she started to walk for the woods.
"Time to find out."