faye_dartmouth: (chaos group)
[personal profile] faye_dartmouth
A/N: This one is just about done. Two parts left! So at least we know it can’t get too much worse…right? I should really just apologize now…

Previous parts in the MASTER POST .



PART TWELVE

-o-

Michael was still a creature of habit. As his routines continued to fail him, he simply created new ones.

Here, in a hospital in Africa, Michael memorized the path from Billy’s room to Rick’s. He timed his visits, letting them coincide with the end of nursing shifts to avoid as much interaction as possible. When he arrived, he checked the chart, read any changes or updates, and then settled down. He talked to Rick and Billy, tailoring his conversation to their own personal needs.

He told Rick about the mission, about when they’d get to go home, about being a hero all over again. He regaled Billy with tales of missions past, reliving the ODS’ greatest hits and a few choices stories from Michael’s early days with the Agency.

Between visits, he stopped at the bathroom. He washed his face and his hands, and alternated between coffee and water. Sometimes he snagged a bag of chips or a candy bar, perfecting his excuses for being around after hours whenever a nurse or doctor happened to stop him.

It was simple but effective. He gained free reign without even asking for it, and his proximity allowed him to keep tabs on both Rick and Billy. He checked his phone, just in case, but he ignored the calls from Fay and Higgins, noted with some pleasure that Casey had not called him to check in.

Billy’s fever worsened through the night, leaving the Scot trembling and taut as sweat soaked his hair. His breathing was rough now, painful wheezes that puffed into the oxygen mask that the doctor added during his latest check. His diagnosis was confirmed some time later as malaria, but the prescribed treatment was not changed, even if it wasn’t showing strong signs of working.

Rick’s vitals fluctuated wildly, his fever rising and falling with the routine administration of his meds. He showed no signs of waking – and with the sedatives he was on, Michael knew that wouldn’t happen soon anyway – and when the nurse checked his incision site, it was still seeping blood.

It was bad, Michael knew. Billy wasn’t getting better and Rick wasn’t recovering. It was bad and likely getting worse.

Still, Michael persisted. Circling the hospital, going from one room to the next. The routine was all he had.

It was everything he had left.

With so much he couldn’t control, he could still control that.

Sitting by Rick, talking to Billy, he had to believe that still mattered.

-o-

When Casey came back, it had been exactly 24 hours. The timing was so precise, that Michael had no grounds to protest when Casey insisted that he take his turn. Tired, Michael acquiesced and made his way back to the motel.

When he got there he found it sparse and generic. He sprawled on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Time passed, but he couldn’t sleep. He kept thinking about Rick’s spleen and Billy’s fever. He thought about Jenkins and the military and Vaughan.

After a few hours, he gave up, sitting on the edge of the bed just staring at the wall.

When he finally answered the phone, it was more habit than choice. He didn’t look at the caller ID when he answered, “Hello?”

There was a small hesitation, a surprised inhale. “Michael?”

After days of calling him with no answer, it was clear that Fay hadn’t actually expected him to pick up this time. It had been inevitable, probably, but Michael had a history of being stubborn about these kinds of things when he put his mind to it.

Still, the sound of her voice – worried and gentle – galvanized him. She was his tie back to the real world, to reality, and as soon as he heard her voice, the weight of his operations success and failure hit him head on. There was a reason he avoided phone calls in these situations; they made him vulnerable and overwhelmed, two emotions he preferred to not have if he had any choice in the matter.

“Fay,” he said, because he didn’t know what else to say. There was nothing else he could say without betraying more, without letting on just how tired, how weary, how desperate he was.

She fumbled for a second. “I, just. We’ve been worried,” she said finally.

A lump formed in Michael’s throat. He swallowed, but it didn’t do any good. “I figured you heard from the military,” he said. “We transferred Jenkins to their custody.”

The facts were the easiest place to start. They were the official things that mattered, after all, even if they didn’t matter right now at all.

“Yes,” Fay said. “We’ve sent in a team to extract him. We’re not sure if we can turn him, but we’re hopeful that we can work backward now that we can confirm his identity and some of his associates.”

This was the conversation they needed to have for the record, but it was also the one that both of them knew didn’t matter.

“Well,” Michael said, holding the phone to his ear and staring at the ceiling. “That’s good.”

“Michael,” Fay started again, and her voice had that tone to it. Sympathetic and knowing. She was too compassionate to be smug. “Billy and Rick. We can’t cut through the red tape to the details just yet, but I know their conditions are guarded.”

Michael swallowed hard again, but the lump just got bigger. Of course Fay knew. Fay was smart and resourceful. She would pick up the name of the hospital from the transport Michael requested. She would easily be able to run their aliases through the system. She probably had been about a day away from deploying a secondary team to perform an on the ground assessment and effectively relieve Michael of his fledgling command.

She should have, at any rate. Michael was well overdue in checking in, and his AWOL status would be rubbing Higgins in all the wrong ways. The fact that she hadn’t was because she was Fay and he was Michael.

There was no point in hiding anything now. No time for apologies. Just the truth. “Rick was injured in the operation,” he reported, the words heavy. When he said them out loud, they just got heavier. “The infiltration got messy and Jenkins caught wind. Rick was held hostage before it was all said and done. He’s been in surgery but they think they’re ahead of the infection.”

This was partly true. Michael was choosing the optimistic spin because the reality was far too hard to admit.

Fay took a measured breath over the line. The fact that she didn’t challenge his sparse retelling was evidence of how much she still cared for him. “And Billy?”

“Came down with malaria before the mission was over,” Michael said. “We tried to get him to a hospital as soon as we could but it didn’t work out.”

“It’s a bad case then?” she prompted because she probably already knew. If it hadn’t been bad, Michael would have called by now.

“One of the more aggressive strains,” Michael confirmed. “But it’s Billy. You know how he is.”

“More lives than a cat,” she demurred, the faintest hint of humor in her voice. The humor was small and it resounded awkwardly.

Michael closed his eyes, letting himself melt into the mattress. He didn’t know what else to say. Didn’t even know where to start.

She took another breath. “Michael,” she began.

“It was a mess,” he admitted finally, because he needed to say it. The words were there, the truths deep inside of him, screaming to get out. “I made a mess.”

“It was a tough mission,” Fay tried.

Michael shook his head. “I risked my team,” he said. “And I almost lost them.”

“But you didn’t,” Fay replied readily. “I know you. I know how you are. It wasn’t your fault.”

Michael’s stomach clenched. He wanted to believe her. She was easy to believe, but he still knew better. He knew better because of Billy’s fever and Rick’s surgery. He opened his eyes again, staring back up into the darkness. “It was my mission.”

“It was a mission for all of you,” she said. “One you all studied, all came up with and all agreed on. A mission I provided intel for, that Higgins signed off on. You’re not the only one on the hook for things, for better or worse, Michael. You’re a good team leader, but that doesn’t mean that this is all on you.”

His lips twitched in a rueful smile. “You’re still trying to tell me I’m not God, then?”

“I’ve been trying to tell you for years,” she returned. “I should have cited it in our divorce papers, not that it would have made you pay any more attention.”

“What if I need to be?” he asked, honestly now.

She sighed. “And that’s why we’re divorced,” she said.

He closed his eyes again, clenching them shut against fresh burning.

“Michael,” Fay continued, hesitating. “What about you? Are you okay?”

It was the kind of thing Fay would ask because she still cared about him. Because she was Fay and he was Michael and that would never change. Maybe there was a time when he would have told her the truth, when he would have admitted how scared he was, when he would have explained that he was barely holding it together and he didn’t know what to do.

That time had passed, though. That time had been dissolved with their marriage, lost as they divided their assets. Maybe that time had never existed.

Either way, Michael shook his head. “I’m fine,” he said, throat tight.

“Michael,” she said again, her doubt clear now.

He swallowed with all he had. “I’ll call you when I have an update,” he said, shifting the conversation curtly. “Tell Higgins I’ll start the report.”

“Michael—“

He didn’t let her finish. Didn’t listen. Couldn’t. Instead, he hung up the phone, holding it to his ear even as the silence resounded loudly. It was rude, perhaps, but Fay would understand. And even if she didn’t, it was all Michael could do. When he couldn’t do the things he wanted, he would do the things he could.

Lying on the bed, not sleeping, phone in hand, this was all he had left.

-o-

When he made it back to the hospital 24 hours later, Michael was not well rested. But he had showered, bandaged the graze on his arm, and eaten and those meager things were enough to put on the appearance of rejuvenation.

Not that Casey believed him. Then again, it wasn’t like Casey was going to call him on it. For them, it was a careful balance of pretenses and reality. As long as one didn’t impede the other, the tentative balance of unspoken facades was acceptable.

Besides, they had bigger things to worry about.

Michael heard the problem before he saw it. From down the hall, Casey’s booming voice was readily discernible, though the litany of curses and condemnations was hard to sort through.

Motivated now, Michael eschewed his tiredness, jogging down the hall and bursting into Rick’s room.

The scene was chaotic, with two nurses by Rick’s bed tending the machines, which were beeping wildly. There was another nurse and the doctor standing purposefully in front of Casey, talking in loud, even tones even while the shorter man raged.

Casey looked like he had already flown off the handle, but Michael knew Casey. If Casey had truly lost control, people would be unconscious on the floor right now. As it was, the older man was at the end of his rope and Michael really didn’t want to have to break him out of jail before this mission was over.

Instead, he scooted in purposefully, wedging his way between Casey and the doctor with as much finesse as he could muster.

“Easy, easy,” he said.

Casey stiffened, but backed away when he recognized Michael. Michael glanced from him, to the doctor, who was flushed with obvious frustration.

“Someone care to tell me what’s going on?” Michael prompted.

The doctor adjusted herself primly. On Michael’s other side, Casey sneered. “This crackpot wants to take him back to surgery.”

Michael had entered the fray with the intent of stopping it. Casey’s pronouncement tested him on that. It twisted his gut, and Michael had to clench his jaw as he looked back at Martinez. The kid was pasty white as the nurse checked the leads on his chest. There was a new IV, one with blood, strung up alongside the others.

He was wavering on how to respond, because part of him wanted to attack just as much as Casey did. But he was the one in charge. Control was his responsibility.

Fortunately, the doctor had gathered her wits enough to take the lead. “As I was explaining to your friend here, I’m afraid that Mr. Rodriguez needs a second operation to stop a bleed in his stomach.”

Michael wet his lips, searching for the calm he wasn’t sure he had much left of. “Isn’t that what the first surgery was for?”

“My point exactly,” Casey muttered, voice deadly and body tense, but he kept his distance.

The doctor looked both wary and annoyed, and to her credit, she held her head high. “The repair work we completed earlier was extensive,” she said. “In these cases, sometimes missing a bleeder is inevitable. Although not ideal, the sooner we go in to fix whatever lingering damage may persist, the sooner he can fully recover.”

Michael’s eyes narrowed out of reflex. Trust was not something he gave easily, and this doctor had not yet proved herself. The fact that she was admitting a failure did not endear her to him. “And how do I know you won’t miss another one?”

She smiled, forced but polite. “You don’t,” she said. “But contrary to popular thought, doctors are mere humans. I will endeavor to do everything I can to stem the problem, but ultimately, I have my limitations. Unfortunately, your options are limited. Either we go in and fix the remaining bleed or your friend slowly dies while you watch with your indignation intact. The choice, of course, is yours.”

The words weren’t exactly malicious, but there was a hint of vengeance in her proud voice. She did not shy from eye contact and there was no apology in her eyes. She meant what she said, from the prognosis to her assessment. Michael understood the limitations of medicine, even if he didn’t like them.

Next to him, Casey seethed. “What if we choose a doctor who actually knows how to operate right the first time,” he muttered.

Michael edged in front of him, implicitly muting him. “You’ll take care of him, then?”

The anger faded from her face. She nodded, resolute. “I will do my very best.”

That was all she could offer, Michael knew. Really, it was all he could ask for.

Sighing, he looked at Rick again. The nurses had his monitors ready to transport now, watching their exchange with interest and uncertainty.

He nodded. “Okay,” he agreed.

She nodded back, turning toward the nurses. She said something in the native language, and soon the wheels on Rick’s bed were unlocked. Someone disconnected the ventilator, a nurse manually pumping the air from a bag instead.

As they passed, Michael watched Rick. Watched his lax body, his slack face. He would be okay after this. He had to.

Michael had to believe it.

Casey was tense next to him as the doctor looked back, nodding again.

The choice was made, even if there’d been no choice at all. Michael just had to hope that for once on this mission it would be good enough.

-o-

After the medical team escorted Rick out, Michael took a deep breath. Then another. The room was eerily quiet now, and he could hear his own heart pounding in his chest.

The doctor knew what to look for. This time, they’d fix Rick and he’d be okay.

Michael took another breath and kept himself very still as he searched himself for a new sense of calm.

Next to him, Casey had started pacing again. His movements were harsh and swift, choppy as he fidgeted with his hands, cutting a path across the now-empty room.

Michael remembered to breathe.

Casey seemed to twitch, shaking his head. “Doctors have an over inflated sense of ego,” he muttered, the words filled with venom. “As if going to school for ten years and accruing three life times’ worth of debt somehow makes them miracle workers.”

It was a misdirection of anger, but Michael understood it. Casey wasn’t mad at the doctor; he was mad at his own inability to do anything. It was the same thing Michael felt, the feeling he grappled with in the pit of his stomach.

Taking another breath, Michael found resolve in that. Because he couldn’t control what happened with Rick. He couldn’t control what happened with Billy. But he still had Casey.

He had to help Casey.

It almost hurt to let himself relax, the slackening of his posture going against all his instincts. But if he didn’t combat Casey’s tension with his own ease, then things could get out of control and Michael’s hold was tenuous enough as it was.

“Rick was in multiple explosions and a handful of gunfights yesterday,” Michael reminded him, trying to keep a shudder from running through him as he remembered each incident with vivid detail. “If you want a miracle, then look to the fact that he’s alive at all, especially after being held captive by an enemy.”

Casey shot him a glare but he didn’t slow. He shook his head. “That doesn’t change the fact that this so-called hospital botched the operation,” he snapped.

“This so-called hospital is the only reason that Rick is alive right now,” Michael said back. “Probably Billy, too. Unless, of course, you think you could have treated them both in the car.”

Casey stiffened just slightly. He held his head high, indignant. “I’ve done everything you’ve asked on this mission,” he said, stopping to look at Michael fully. His eyes were burning into Michael, the intensity so strong that it would have made a lesser man flinch. “I did everything, and now you’re asking me to, what? Wait and be patient while doctors with questionable track records perform surgeries that should have been completed right the first time?”

“I’m asking you to wait,” Michael returned flatly. “And trust.”

Casey’s face screwed up. “I haven’t even seen copies of their medical degrees.”

“Then trust me,” Michael said without hesitating.

It was the right tact, and Casey visibly paled. Casey could be flippant and derogatory but he did respect Michael. Over the years, Michael had won that respect and held it by consistent performance in and out of the field.

It was the respect that Casey had extended him during every part of the mission, from the ambitious planning to the slipshod escape. Michael knew it was wearing thin – for both of them – but for now it was enough.

Casey’s expression flickered, the hints of fear just visible in his eyes. “I don’t even trust God,” he said. “So what makes you so special?”

The question was as vulnerable as Casey could be. Or, at least, about as vulnerable as Michael had ever seen him. That was trust, without even saying it, and Michael wasn’t going to fail that, not now.

Rallying his strength, Michael smiled. “I’m your team leader,” he said. “And when have I ever left a plan unfinished?”

There were failed missions, of course, more than either of them wanted to tally, and neither of them would ever forget leaving North Africa without Carson. But the years spoke for themselves and they were still there.

And the fact was that they had to be strong for each other, because Rick and Billy would need them. Trust had to be earned or the entire thing would just fall apart.

Michael wasn’t going to let that happen, and he refused to let Casey give in either.

Finally, Casey’s shoulders slumped just slightly. He inclined his head in the ghost of a nod. “This would be a bad mission to start a new trend on,” he said, muttering the words with disdain to hide his fear.

Michael couldn’t quite smile, but his relief was palpable. “Do you want to camp out in the waiting room or check on Billy?”

Casey snorted. “Billy’s insufferable,” he said.

“He’s unconscious,” Michael reminded him. “And he likes your company.”

“Because he likes to annoy me,” Casey said.

“But he’s unconscious,” Michael said again.

Casey tweaked his eyebrows. “And you can’t hear him thinking there? Alone in that room? He’s even worse that way than normal,” he said, shaking his head. “No, I’ll take the waiting room, thank you very much.”

It was humor, of course. An ODS default coping mechanism. When they had nothing else, they could always laugh like it didn’t matter. Even when it did.

Especially then.

Michael laughed, but it made his chest ache. He nodded. “Okay, then,” he said. “You wait and make sure we don’t miss any updates. I’ll check in with Billy – he’d want to know what was happening with Rick, anyway – and we’ll reconvene in thirty minutes.”

Casey checked his watch. “Make it forty-five,” he said. He looked up and shrugged. “What? I think you’ll find Billy can make people chatty even when comatose.”

Michael grinned. “Forty-five, then,” he said.

Casey nodded and walked out without further ado. Nothing had actually changed, but Michael knew that most of that was a matter of perspective. Waiting in a hospital was a passive activity; enacting another part of the mission was purpose.

Resolved, Michael felt more confident as he went back into the hall, making his way to Billy’s room with the newfound confidence that he could do this after all.

-o-

Billy looked worse than Michael remembered. Memory was often an inconsistent guide, so in the long night at the hotel, he’d convinced himself that the half-dead image of Billy had been an exaggeration of exhaustion and fear.

Unfortunately, Michael wasn’t catching any breaks this mission. As the adage went, everything that could go wrong, would go wrong and this mission was indisputable proof.

In all, it took every ounce of Michael’s wavering courage to stand strong by Billy’s bedside. The Scot seemed to be losing the fight, though. The flush in his cheeks sapping the rest of his color, leaving him almost gaunt as a result. A quick glance at Billy’s chart confirmed what Michael should have suspected: the rounds of fever and chills were still pronounced, ravaging Billy’s body. His breathing was compromised – which was why the oxygen mask was still on – and his kidneys were slowing down. Brain activity was minimal as the swelling increased, and the fever had taken Billy beyond delirium, straight into a deep coma.

The meds weren’t working, although the doctors had not altered the regimen. The ones that had been added were to combat the symptoms, not the illness.

In short, they seemed to be trying to keep Billy alive long enough to give the parasite time to work through his body and hope for the best.

Hope. That was a funny sort of thing. Standing by Billy’s side, with Rick in surgery and Casey pacing in the waiting room, Michael didn’t feel hopeful at all.

Billy was all about appearances – he had been from day one. Smiling and affable, Billy had come to them making no note of the painfully redacted story that had been in his file. In the years since, Michael had seen nothing more than cracks in Billy’s façade, small moments when he knew there was more there but didn’t ask.

But here, Billy had no pretenses. He was stripped bare by the fever, lying vulnerable before him. Sure, Michael had seen Billy in the hospital before, and it was never easy. It was always something he glossed over in his memory because it was just too hard to take. Too hard to think about, to wonder what secrets Billy kept that Michael just never made himself ask.

As team leader, Michael probably should know. As a friend, Michael probably should have cared.

He’d always been afraid to tip the tentative balance, though. Michael needed control, and that meant that everyone had to play their parts. Billy was the charmer. There was no room for regret in the mission. From mission to mission, that was what Michael told himself. Billy could give himself up for the job and Michael promised to always bring him back home under the idea that maybe next time would be different.

Maybe next time they’d talk about the things that really mattered. Maybe next time Michael would tell Billy about how it felt to see the woman he loved date other people. Maybe next time Billy would talk about the betrayal he felt about being kicked out of his homeland, the despair he felt about never being able to go home.

Billy’s persona in the field was everything. Here, Billy was just a man. Struggling just like the rest of them. He always seemed larger than life, but Michael knew that wasn’t true. He was flesh and blood, felled by knives and bullets and illness.

Malaria. A treatable, preventable disease. Billy was dying from a treatable, preventable disease. Michael never saw that coming. He planned for everything, but he didn’t count on malaria.

An uncontrolled variable. As dangerous as a loose cannon on the deck of a rocking ship. It was out of his hands now, and it nearly cost them the mission.

Still may cost them Billy.

Billy would laugh if he were awake. He would try to relieve the tension. Try to tell Michael it wasn’t his fault. That was how Billy was. That was why the one promise Billy asked for was not to be saved at the expense of someone else.

They all wanted to be God, it seemed, just for different reasons and in different ways.

“At least I kept one promise,” he said to Billy in the humming quiet. It was a grim pronouncement and Billy didn’t flicker.

“Now wake up,” Michael ordered, “so maybe I can keep another one.”

-o-

Optimism was a tentative thing. Just like in the field, half the battles was just keeping up with appearances even in the face of growing and insurmountable odds. Michael had always been determined on this front, and such routines came to him by rote even if he had to maintain them by a deep force of will.

Besides, it wasn’t so outlandish here. This was workable. Billy was holding his own; he could still come out on the other side. Rick’s surgery would repair the damage; he would be as good as new. These weren’t facts but the truth was malleable in Michael’s world, the only thing absolute was his dogged determination that he would come out on top.

This conviction bolstered him, and he was holding his head high when he left Billy’s room exactly forty-four minutes later. Navigating the halls took approximately forty seconds and when he came into the waiting room, he was right on time.

He took some pleasure in this punctual accomplishment. Then, he saw Casey.

Casey wasn’t pacing, which might have been a good sign. But he also wasn’t on the chair.

He was standing, ramrod straight, knees locked and neck rigid while he talked to a nurse.

It was shock, which might be expected given all they’d been through, but Casey Malick didn’t do shock like a normal person. Most people would take the news stoically and then break down. Casey took the news stoically and then tended to explode. Last time, Casey had vandalized one of the restrooms. This time, Michael wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep the man from lashing out at the nurse.

Intent on keeping his operative in check and his so-called mission recovery in order, he strode over, placing an easy hand on Casey’s shoulder. Casey wasn’t one for casual touch, so he would understand the meaning in Michael’s contact: Calm down; you’re not alone. I’ve got this.

He met the nurse’s gaze, keeping his expression neutral. “Is there a problem?”

The nurse took a breath, eyeing Casey warily. “I just came with an update from the doctor,” she explained.

“That’s good, right?” Michael asked, still feeling the tension radiating off Casey. “The surgery should be what, half over?”

That was overly optimistic, and Michael knew it. Still, he wasn’t prepared for the tremor in the nurse’s face. “There’s been a complication,” she said, her English jagged but clear.

Michael swallowed. Casey didn’t move, not even to breathe. “A complication,” Michael repeated.

“There is new hemorrhaging,” she said.

“I thought it was one bleeder,” Michael said.

“So did the doctor,” she said. “But when we got him back inside, there was evidence of continued bleeding from several stitched wounds. We think part of the problem was an oversensitivity to the anticoagulants and just the extent of the initial damage.”

“But,” Michael prompted, because he knew there was more.

“But it will take a while and the doctor wanted to prepare you for the possibility that he may have to lose his spleen before this is over,” she said, finishing at a fast clip.

“You mean, if he survives at all,” Casey said.

The nurse looked startled, but she didn’t deny it.

It was true.

Michael’s heart stuttered, his throat getting tight. “Is that what you mean to say?” he pressed, because he couldn’t make assumptions on something like this. Not with Rick’s life. He needed something concrete. He needed to know.

Her mouth trembled. “The doctor is very skilled at this type of surgery,” she said, but it was hedging at best.

“Right, so you’re here softening us up so when the doctor has to come out, I don’t try to kill her again,” Casey said, voice sharp and cutting, dry enough to incinerate the simple words.

“The surgical team is doing everything it can,” she said, not really answering the questions anymore. “If you need anything while you wait…”

“We won’t call you,” Casey muttered.

Michael smiled tersely. “Thank you,” he said, grabbing Casey by the arm and turning him away. He didn’t look back as he pushed Casey down and glared at him. “You can’t keep doing this.”

“Keep doing what?” Casey snapped, looking far too defiant. “Face reality?”

“You’re scared, and I get that,” he said. “And I know usually you’d find someone to kill and right now we’re hard up on options, but you can’t do this.

This time, Casey didn’t back down. He held Michael’s gaze and shook his head. “Your platitudes are well done, but ultimately meaningless. You may have a God complex that rivals my own, but you’re not God,” he said. “Know the difference.”

It was true, but the plainness of it nearly took Michael’s breath away. His stomach roiled, his chest clenching. He shook his head. “You don’t get to pull this crap on me,” he said. “Not now.”

“So, what?” Casey challenged. “We wait until Rick’s dead? And how’s Billy doing? Because if you’re God, then I have a few complaints.”

Michael wasn’t sure if he wanted to hit Casey or laugh at him or just walk away. Because Casey was a bastard when he was scared, he was a son of a bitch when things got tough. And Michael knew it wasn’t without reason.

Casey was right, about the nurse and the doctor. Rick’s complication was serious. Rick was some wide eyed, hopeful kid when he joined Michael’s team, and Michael had tormented him and used him and now Rick might die because of Michael’s plans. Rick’s mother may get her son back in a box because Michael’s plans failed.

And Billy – who joked and laughed and was always there – might not wake up. He might die under an alias in a land that wasn’t his own and never go home at all. Billy wanted redemption, and Michael may have gotten him an early grave instead.

Michael knew these things. Michael knew.

But Michael didn’t do impotence. He didn’t do defeat. He didn’t.

He shook his head, eyes unyielding as he stared at Casey. “It’s going to be okay,” he said, insisting now. “You’ll see.”

The voice over the intercom was just one of many, and it had been blathering all day. Michael had listened vaguely, listening for the words he could make out in the unfamiliar dialect. So why he heard it this time, he wasn’t sure, but it was unmistakable.

The room number was the catch – after visiting Billy so many times, his room number was etched into his permanent recall – and his mind fumbled to translate the rest.

In front of him, Casey was doing the same.

The announcement repeated.

Then, Michael understood. Code blue.

There was a code blue in Billy’s room.

Which meant—

Billy—

Casey’s face twisted with dark vindication. “You were saying?”

Michael didn’t have time to lecture him or reassure him. His stomach dropped and his head was light. Still, none of it mattered as he turned on his heel and ran.

-o-

Michael ran so fast, that when he finally reached Billy’s room, he skidded, almost tripping over his own feet as he came to a stop. He was panting, heart thundering in his ears, eyes blinking rapidly as he took in the scene before him.

There were more people now, some Michael recognized, most only vaguely. Billy’s regular nurse was by his head, lowering Billy’s bed until he was lying flat. Another nurse had flung away the sheet covering Billy’s body while a doctor cut up the front of Billy’s generic hospital gown.

Billy was pale and lifeless, lips blue as a doctor moved around toward Billy’s head, pulling his chin back and opening his mouth. Billy didn’t resist, didn’t even flinch while a tube was threaded through and then promptly taped into place.

The staff was speaking quickly, the words mostly gibberish to Michael, but the monitors told the story. Billy’s blood pressure was plummeting and his temperature was spiking. Then, as a nurse started squeezing oxygen through the tube in his mouth, Billy’s heart rate stuttered, peaking in an unsustainable v-tach.

Then, flat line.

Another doctor moved in close, standing tall over Billy, pressing down on his now exposed chest. The movements seemed violent – hard and vigorous – and Billy’s entire body seemed to jerk with the motion. The doctor didn’t slow and the nurse kept squeezing and Billy’s face was slack and pale.

You’re not God.

Billy was dying, and Michael wasn’t God. Rick was having complications, and Michael wasn’t God.

Michael’s team was falling apart, and there was nothing Michael could do about it because he wasn’t God.

He was human, just like the rest. Just like Billy and Rick and Casey. Just like Fay. Just like Vaughan and Jenkins and everyone else.

Human, devoid of control except in his mind.

He was fallible. Humans bled; humans got sick. Humans got scared. Humans died.

Michael was human.

Suddenly, it was too much. The stress and the fear and Rick and Billy, and Michael turned and made the only choice he had left and walked away.

NEXT

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