Time until afternoon passed rapidly, Kate helping the team to unload their gear from the plane as far as her injured arm allowed her to. She was thankful to have a job that kept her mind busy and her thoughts away from Church and her personal future. While they worked they chatted about random things and Kate began to feel that she was more and more returning to what she would probably call a normal life.
When the gear was completely stored in the barn, she, Billy and Yin sat down to clean the weapons. While working her way through the calming routine of this task, she kept glancing to Billy every now and then. The sniper returned her looks with a grin, his thoughts obviously wandering to the last time they'd done weapon's cleaning together as well.
The sun was about to touch the treetops, when they heard the faint thump of rotors. Kate put down the gun she'd been working on and peered in the direction the noise was coming from. Instantly, the bad feeling she had whenever she thought about the CIA handler was back.
"Church…" she whispered more to herself than to anybody else as the helicopter came in sight and began its decent to touch down near the house. The other Expendables had stopped whatever they'd been doing and walked over to the barn's entrance as the pilot switched off the engine. Kate followed them and saw three men exited the aircraft.
"Everything will be alright, you'll see." Billy replied on her unspoken thoughts as he stepped next to her. Kate shot him a doubtful smile. She watched Barney stride towards the CIA handler who was flanked by two bulky men in dark suits. They looked not very friendly but as Kate glanced to her sides she could not withhold a grim smile. It was quite sight she was looking at. Billy, Hale, Yin, Lee and Gunnar had lined up in front of the entrance, all with their arms crossed in front of their chest, a hostile look very similar to the one they'd shot her when they'd met in Lacy's bar. But this time it was not directed at her, but at Church.
The noise of the rotors fainted as Barney and Church walked over to them. As they approached her, Kate could not help but take a step back. She couldn't remember of being afraid of a single man, but that guys scared her in a way she was unable to put into words. It was not the kind of threat which Silva and his men had been radiating. From the very first moment, she'd known that he was a dangerous guy and even when his men had hunted her and Billy, she'd been in control of the situation- mostly at least. But with Church it was a whole different story. He had the power to destroy her life in the blink of an eye. His mere arbitrariness decided whether she would either start a new chapter by working with the Expendables or spent the rest of her life behind bars. And the very thought of the latter terrified her.
Meanwhile, Barney and Church had reached the group. The CIA handler glanced from one to the other, confusion flickering in his eyes as he realized that somebody was missing.
"Toll Road?" he simply asked.
"KIA." Lee said with a hint of sadness in his voice.
"Sorry." Church replied; his face impassive as ever.
"Are you?" Barney asked harshly as he looked to Church.
Everybody turned to him. Church held his gaze without even blinking as he stepped closer to the Expendables' leader.
"Indeed I am, Mr. Ross. I've lost somebody on that op as well."
There was just an inkling of noise as everybody shifted in their spots. About whom was Church talking? Who had participated in this mission except for the people to her left and right? It was news to Kate and by the look her fellow Expendables exchanged they'd didn't know either. But Barney enlightened them immediately.
"Her name was Natasha Kolchak, but you probably know her under the name Natalie Kessler. You sent her in to have an eye on Kate, but what you didn't know is that she was working for Silva. She sabotaged the mission and she is responsible for Toll's death." Barney said taking a step to Church. "So don't tell me that you are sorry." he hissed.
Kate sucked in a sharp breath as she realized what Barney had just told them. There was only one person Barney must have meant: the brunette from the club. From the very first moment she'd spotted her talking to Billy she'd had this feeling that something was off about her. Not only that she'd flirted with the sniper but also that she'd been armed had raised a whole bunch of red flags, but she hadn't got any time to think about her since Silva had kept her busy in that club. But as soon as she'd reappeared that the lake's edge, taking a new attempt in killing Billy, she knew that her gut feeling hadn't betrayed her. She had been working for Silva, it was without a doubt.
But it had been Church who had put her into that position. He had provided her access to Rafael Silva and to who-knows who much sensitive Intel on this operation. He had not realized that she'd changed sides and he'd endangered each and every one of this team by bringing her in.
This woman and Church are responsible for Toll's death and not I, Kate thought raging. But she had no time to pursue her thoughts because the CIA handler was speaking again.
"Where did you get this information?" Church asked in a measured voice, his expression not giving away his thoughts, but everybody saw that he'd visibly tensed at this information.
"Doesn't matter." Barney waved away his question and reached in his jacket's pocket. He pulled out the thumb drive. Church stretched out his hand, but Barney pulled back his hand.
"Enough with the games." he snarled angrily. "Don't you forget about…"
"About what?" Barney asked; his voice dangerously low. "That Billy was severely injured on our last mission in Europe? That this mission had resulted in the death of Toll Road? That your shitty recon on your assets almost got Kate and Billy killed? I have enough of your sickening hypocrisy, Church!"
Kate exchanged a nervous look with Billy as she listened to Barney's continuing rant against the CIA agent. This was not helping her to be cleared of the charges still pending against her. The sniper sensed her agitation, but neither did he know where this was going. He placed a comforting hand in the small of her back as he turned his attention to his boss.
When his hand touched her back, Kate unconsciously made a step towards the sniper. The time they'd spend in those Serbian forests had somehow made her need his presence even more. But this time, his proximity didn't calm her the way it used to. The tension between Barney and Church occupied every fiber of her nerves.
The CIA handler saw the movement out of the corner of his eyes and while Barney was still giving him the sermon, he turned to them. It took the Expendables' leader a few seconds to register that he wasn't having Church's full attention anymore. Instead the eyes of his opponent were glued to Billy and Kate.
While the sniper was his usual composed self, Kate tried her best not to wriggle under his stare. He'd obviously seen Billy's gesture. Now, with his attention at the pair of them, he gave them a long look, neither Billy nor Kate dared to move. Suddenly and only for a second, Church's expression softened and Kate could've sworn to see pain flicker in his eyes, but then the moment was gone. Before she could come up with a theory what this look had been about, he spoke to her.
"I would like to speak to Ms. Evans. In private." he added as he caught the suspicious looks of both, Barney and Billy. Kate didn't respond immediately, too surprised by the sudden changes their meeting had taken.
"You don't have to do this, Kate." Barney spoke out loud what Billy's eyes were telling her.
"It's alright." Kate answered calmer than she felt. Obviously, she had been the only one who'd seen Church's strange look and even she didn't know why she wasn't afraid of Church anymore. She took a step forward and Billy's hand slid from her back. She reached for it and squeezed it lightly without looking at him. Then she followed Church away from the barn, out of earshot for the Expendables.
Not liking this sudden change of events, Billy watched Kate and Church speak quietly. Their faces pointed away from them so he could not read her expression. She'd shoved her hands in her jeans' pockets, her stance neither tense nor relaxed. The conversation seemed to be intense yet not unfriendly. He didn't know what to make out of it, especially after the news Barney had revealed only minutes ago. He had no idea how his boss had managed to get his hands on this information that fast, but he was grateful. Grateful that this girl Natasha was no threat to either of them and grateful that Barney had something he could use as leverage to help Kate. For a brief moment, he wondered why Barney was still trusting Kate after he'd discovered that there was a leak coming from one of Church's assets, but the next moment he remembered what Kate had told him about her conversation with Barney. He'd stated that when he, Billy, was trusting her, he would do it as well. And after all that had happened, Kate had gained the trust and appreciation of their boss.
Redirecting his gaze towards Kate and Church, he watched them talking for a few more minutes. Then they shook hands and headed back to the group. As they'd reached the team, Barney looked to Kate with an imperceptible jerk of his head.
"We're good. Hand it over." she merely said as she took her old spot next to Billy.
After a moment of hesitation, Barney opened his hand, looking at the thumb drive before stretching out his hand to Church. The CIA handler had to make a step towards Barney and the Expendables' leader took the opportunity. When Church reached for the device, Barney got hold of his hand, stalling him in his place.
"I don't know what kind of deal you've cut with her now, but if you ever mess with my team again, I swear to God I will break every single bone in your body." he hissed, his voice dangerously low. "You feel me?"
"Oh, yeah. I feel you." Church replied and with that he briskly walked back to the helicopter, flanked by his guards.
As the small meeting dissolved and everybody went to continue with their work, Kate exchanged a look with Billy; then she headed for the old bench next to the farmhouse entrance. The sniper followed her and sat down next to her.
"What happened?" he asked curiously as he gave her a scrutinizing look. But Kate merely smiled. Maybe she would give him them whole story about what Church had told her; someday. But what she told him was this.
"He'd granted me full impunity, now and forever. I can stay with the Expendables if I want to." she replied calmly. Billy smiled.
"And do you want to stay with us?" he asked.
Kate didn't respond immediately. Thinking about it, she went through everything that had happened. Now with the pressure lifted from her shoulders, she could really decide what to do with her life. And with the possibility to really work with Barney's group doubts began to crawl back into her mind. Was she ready for this? Their first mission had been quite a bit and she was still not sure whether and how she was able to cope with it. What would future missions be like? Was she strong enough to fill the spot Toll had left?
"How… how do you cope with it?" she asked Billy as she watched the pilot start the engine of the helicopter while the guards closed the doors.
The sniper merely shrugged. He knew that she still struggled with the idea of being a real Expendable, which also meant not only a new job but a new identity for her. Not literally, but on a personal level. She had to redefine herself, maybe not her values but surely her way of life. His thoughts wandered to the day he'd been stabbed by Vilain. It could have ended the life he'd been known and living ever since he'd quit the service. And if it hadn't for Barney, his friends and Dr. Ryan he probably would have closed that chapter rather sooner than later. But he'd moved on and by the sight of Kate sitting next to him he knew that it had been worth it.
"Let bygones be bygones." he said and after a small pause he continued. "I don't forget what's happened; I couldn't even if I wanted to. But I try not to think about too much it and if I do, I try only to remember what's made me stronger."
Kate thought about his words. There was truth in them and she could understand what he meant. She had done something similar without even realizing. After she'd quit the service, she'd not given up nor had she forgotten about it. But she'd used her skills to make the world a safer place, not thinking about her personal wellbeing.
Billy had taken up his work with the Expendables after he'd been stabbed by Vilain, proving himself and everybody on the team that he could handle the job and its risks. He'd been in his usual composed and calm manner after they'd returned from Serbia, regardless the fact that they'd evaded death multiple times.
She thought for a moment what she'd taken home, except for the horrific memories. A new team, she smiled as she thought about Barney's kind words. Friends; not all of them, but especially because of that a purpose to fight people like Silva.
"What's it that makes you stronger after this mission?" she asked without looking to Billy.
The sniper smiled. He knew this question would eventually come. And if it came it meant that Kate had finally set peace with what had happened to them and especially to her. She'd come a long way from an USAF interpreter to a mercenary but when he looked at her now, he could see that he'd found her calling. He turned to her that they could face each other.
"I might have lost Molly," he said with a wink, "but I've gained you. You are making me stronger, Kate."
For a second Kate looked at him, completely taken by surprise of the honesty and affection of his words. Then she smiled and placed her head against his shoulder as Billy wrapped his arm around her.
"Likewise." she smiled quietly as they observed the helicopter rising into the air, hovering for a second before turning and slowly disappearing into the sky.
AN: I would like to thank all of you how have stay with me and this story. Your reviews, follows and favs gave me the courage and motivation I needed to keep on writing and improving this story. I had a blast writing for you and I sincerely hope you enjoyed this fic. THANK YOU! As you might have realized, some details of Kate's and Billy's personal life and past are not told yet. I am currently working on a sequel but it might take me some time until I bring it up here. So please be patient with me. Thanks again for reading and goodbye for now! xoxo