faye_dartmouth: (billy thinks)
[personal profile] faye_dartmouth
Title: Like a Live Wire

Disclaimer: Sadly, I still don’t own Chaos.

A/N: I wrote this based off of the line in “Glory Days” when Casey talks about building up his resistance to electrical shocks. This is sort of my take on why he started doing that, so it’s set preseries. Beta was given by the fantastic [personal profile] lena7142, who spoils me shamelessly. Any lingering errors are my own.

Summary: In which Billy gets a shock, Casey discovers he has a heart, and the team bonds.



-o-

Panting, Casey pressed himself against the wall. The jungle heat was oppressive, and he could only hope that this close to the wall, they wouldn’t be seen by the surveillance cameras. It wouldn’t make much difference, but since he was trying to flee a highly fortified compound with sensitive intelligence in tow, he figured some discretion was probably in order.

“You reckon we can make it?” Billy asked next to him.

Casey looked up at him and glowered. So much for discretion. The Scotsman didn’t seem to know the meaning of the word. Collins had been on the team for several months now, and in that time, Casey had barely learned to tolerate the man. He was acceptable during certain portions of a mission, but Casey had worked hard to avoid any significant time in the field with him. Casey simply didn’t have the patience.

And really, Collins had seemed superfluous from the start. The ODS was entirely functional as a three-man crew, and if they needed to add a fourth member, Casey was not convinced that a cast off from the spooks across the pond was really their best bet. It wasn’t Casey’s decision to make, however, and now Casey was stuck with an over-eager puppy with a yappy bark.

Worse still, Michael seemed to think that Casey needed to bond with their newest recruit. Simms had complained that Casey’s inability to have a direct conversation with Collins was causing undue stress. Casey would have preferred to show Carson what stress really was, but Michael had been insistent. Bonding.

If he was forced to develop personal connections with people he found mostly infuriating, Casey’s idea of bonding would have been a terse lunch in the break room. Michael’s notion of it, however, involved breaking into a terrorist compound in Venezuela. Sink or swim, Michael had said.

Now that the mission was almost over, Casey was leaning toward drowning Collins to end the misery. The Scot had chattered on the drive up, flirted with everything that blinked at him, and been generally ungainly when trying to move through the halls without getting caught. Plus, his Scottish accent was grating. He even breathed with a brogue that drove Casey crazy.

And if something could be said in two words, Collins used five. Casey wanted to take the extra words and shove them back down his throat.

He made a mental note to consider that when they finished up here.

Which meant, they needed to finish up here.

Which made Collins’ questions relevant, though not necessary.

Still, appeasing Michael was somewhat important. So Casey sighed and condescended to answer the kid. “There’s not much choice, is there?” he asked back pointedly.

As usual, Collins seemed either willfully ignorant or impossibly unaware. Casey did not believe in being subtle, and with Collins, he had taken the direct approach more often than not. Even so, Collins just made a face, shrugging one shoulder nonchalantly. “There’s always a choice,” he said, with that annoyingly conversational tone of his. “We can flee and cling to the undying hope of escape, or we can stay here and get captured, tortured and inhumanely dismembered before our remains are left out as a colorful and rather graphic warning to others.”

“Right,” Casey said with a nod. “So not much choice.”

“Aye, I suppose,” Collins agreed, sounding a bit disappointed. His forehead wrinkled just slightly, blue eyes looking wounded. “I must admit feeling some trepidation, though.”

“We just broke into a secure terrorist facility and retrieved highly sensitive information from armed and angry men,” Casey said with due vigor. “And now you have trepidation.”

“Well, our little respite here is just giving me a chance to assess our odds,” Collins admitted.

More like it gave him time to find new ways to be annoying. Casey would have to work harder to avoid any such periods of inaction in the future.

“So?” Casey asked, entirely unimpressed.

“And they’re not good,” Collins told him honestly.

Casey scoffed. “The odds are for people who can’t control the outcome,” he said. “We’re trained. We’re skilled. We’re prepared. We don’t need odds. We just need to stick to the plan, use our wits and go.”

Collins nodded, bucking himself up. “Okay.”

Casey watched him for a moment. The answer was short and to the point, which meant it was entirely unlike Collins. It was a pleasant change of pace, which is why Casey suddenly found it unnerving. “Okay?” he asked, just to be sure. Michael felt responsible for this kid, and Simms had taken a liking to him. If Casey let something happen to him, they wouldn’t be happy.

Plus, he’d probably have to do double the paperwork and attend an extra briefing. Casey hated chatty teammates, but he hated bureaucratic nonsense more.

Collins nodded again. “Okay,” he said. “Just one last question.”

Casey groaned. Collins always had one last question. One last comment, one last quote, one last everything until Casey found himself wishing the Scot would take one last breath and put Casey out of his unending misery.

“Just wanted to double check about the fence,” Collins said. “It’s electric?”

“Yes,” Casey said with exasperation. “And it’s also disabled, remember? That was what Michael and I took care of yesterday.”

Collins took a breath. “Of course,” he said. “Can’t fault a man for being sure, though, eh?”

“Sure I can,” Casey replied. “Now shut up and run and whatever you do, do not stop.”

-o-

Casey took off first, cutting a straight line through the most obscured portion of the compound. He was technically in charge and with his extra training, leading this kind of exit was to be expected. But although Collins had a lot to learn about being a spy in the CIA, Casey had to give credit where it was due: the kid could run.

It was the long legs, no doubt, and as the Scot pulled in front of him, Casey cursed his body’s limitations.

Cursed them, and proceeded to run faster.

Collins dodged a fallen tree and Casey jumped it. Somewhere, a monkey howled. The rain started to fall, hot droplets on his face. Not much longer, then just the fence, and freedom.

Then, Casey’s attention shifted. There was a sound. Something he hadn’t counted on nor could he readily identify. It buzzed, but stronger and more monotonous than an insect. Almost electrical.

But this far from the compound—

Casey’s heart skipped a beat.

It couldn’t be. They’d taken out the electric grid in a scouting mission yesterday. The fence was cold – they’d check then, and Casey had rechecked before slipping inside this morning – and all intelligence reports had suggested that it would take a week to fix it – easy.

Suggested,
Casey made a mental note. That didn’t mean anything.

Not with a possibly electrified fence and two operatives running headlong toward it at full speed. Casey pulled himself up sharply. “Collins!” he called. “Stop—“

But Collins’ legs were too long and he had too much momentum. He glanced back just as he approached the fence, reaching out with one hand—

The warning was right there on Casey’s lips. He was going to say it, but he was too late—

Collins’ hand touched the fence, and it sprang to life. There was a crack and a hiss, and Casey didn’t have time to blink as Collins’ body flew back and all Casey could see were sparks.

-o-

Casey stood.

His entire body was taut, heart pounding loudly in his chest and blood rushing in his ears. The fence was still live. Their so-called obvious escape wasn’t so obvious anymore, because the fence was on.

This operational failure was significant, but as Casey grappled to understand it, he realized he had to grasp its full implications first. Not just for escape, not just for protecting the intel, but for Collins—

Blinking again, Casey reminded himself that he was trained for all types of combat situations. When a man went down in the field, assessing the damage was the first priority. After the initial assessment, he could modify the escape and work to salvage the mission.

The mission. It was about the mission. Casey wasn’t scared because fear had no purpose in the field. It had no value in his life. It would only distract him. Casey didn’t believe in fear.

He believed in action. Mistakes happened; the manner of fixing said mistakes was what made the difference.

He was trained. He was skilled. He was prepared. He didn’t need odds. He just needed to stick to the plan, use his wits and go.

Turning, Casey went. He followed Collins’ trajectory and saw the matted plant life. The air smelled burnt, and Casey started to move.

He was only a few feet from Collins, who was sprawled, spread-eagled on his back. The smell was stronger here, and the palm of Collins’ hand was still smoking and black. His clothing was singed, and his spiky hair seemed to be standing up more than usual, though it was really sort of hard to tell.

It wasn’t hard to tell that Collins’ eyes were open, though. His blue eyes were dull and pale, staring up at the jungle above. His face was lax, mouth still open.

Because Billy was dead.

-o-

Billy was dead.

It was a simple biological fact, and one that had been an inevitable result of touching a highly electrified fence. Casey had seen Collins touch the fence, had heard the discharge. A visual check verified the presumptive outcome.

Billy was dead.

Yet, with all that and Casey’s infallible logic, none of it made any sense. Because of all the times that Casey had wanted to kill Collins, he had never actually wanted Billy to be dead.

The kid was annoying and difficult. He talked too much and had no sense of personal space. He was messy and he flirted. He ate horribly and never showed up on time. He was the bane of Casey’s existence, and everything Collins did made Casey want to poke a pencil in his eyeball to make it stop.

But he didn’t want the kid to be dead.

This was something of a revelation. It wasn’t just that Carson would kick his ass or that Michael would ream him out. It wasn’t even the paperwork. It was that Billy Collins was his teammate, for better or worse, and he had done his job well. More than that, he had trusted Casey, and Casey had let him die.

Which wasn’t acceptable.

Of course, coming to that conclusion now was a bit late, since Collins was lying on the ground, eyes open, hair smoking and heart not beating.

It wasn’t acceptable.

Casey defied all the odds. He had honed his body into a weapon. He had trained his mind to perfection. There was nothing he couldn’t do when he committed himself.

And he would commit himself to this: Billy Collins wouldn’t die. Not today. Not on Casey’s watch.

With that decision made, Casey didn’t waste any more time. He went to his knees, thankful for the thick brush that would buy them a few more minutes. He pulled Collins just slightly out of the thicket, pushing the kid’s arms to his side so he could get close enough. Then, he adjusted Collins’ head, propping the airway open just so, before pinching off his nose and blowing in two breaths.

Collins’ chest moved, but when Casey straightened up again, the kid’s blank eyes were still staring at nothing.

As if he hadn’t been motivated enough.

He started compressions with no further hesitation. Finding the precise spot was easy enough, but the clinical act was far too human in the field. He pumped in even, vigorous motions, down and up, down and up—

Ribs moved. Collins’ body jerked. Still, he didn’t blink, didn’t breathe.

The odds were against him, Casey knew that much. CPR was more of a stopgap than a solution, and the chance of a good-hearted terrorist happening by an AED was unlikely, to say the least. He only had a matter of minutes to attempt resuscitation. Once the enemy realized they had a breach, it wouldn’t take long to find this location and Casey wasn’t about to get himself killed.

All of this meant that Collins was probably a lost cause. The chances of bringing him back in this manner were slim. The minimal timeframe, the lack of medical support – it was a grim reality.

And Casey had always considered himself a realist.

But as he pumped harder, as his arms ached, as he looked at Collins’ unseeing eyes, he decided that reality was made for lesser men. Casey defined his own reality; he made his own certainties. He wasn’t inhibited by the limitations most people resigned themselves to. He was good enough to mold a reality to his pleasing, and he was not subjected to the fickle fates otherwise.

Not now.

He looked away from Collins’ glassy blue eyes.

Not now.

There was always a choice, Billy had said. Casey chose his training above all else. He chose to ignore Collins most of the time. He chose to see extraneous behavior instead of a capable operative. He chose to be aloof instead of giving someone a chance. He chose.

And now, when it counted, he was choosing not to give up. He was choosing for Collins to live.

In the distance, Casey heard a yell. Then another.

He pressed hard, faster.

There were more voices, footsteps.

“Breathe, damn it,” Casey seethed, pushing furiously now. “If there’s a damn choice in any of this, choose to come back now.

But Collins didn’t move, his body still and heavy and dead. The voices were closer now – the security forces would be on them and Casey was out of time—

He was going to fail. That fact infuriated him and then terrified him, which just infuriated him even more. He wasn’t going to fail. Not with this, not with Collins’ life on the line.

The frustration surged, and he lashed out, slamming his fist into the kid’s chest with enough force to make his knuckles ache. He connected with a meaty thud, and Casey was not going to fail. He was not going to fail

Fingers clenched harder now, he slammed his fist down.

This time, Collins spasmed, jolting off the ground with a ragged breath, and the choice was made.

-o-

One breath was followed by another, and Casey moved quickly, rolling Collins to his side, rubbing a hand along his back to ease his gagging breaths.

“Easy, easy,” he said, voice hushed as he leaned close.

Collins’ face was still grey, the bluish tint in his lips just starting to fade as he gasped for air. His eyes were wide but seeing now, even as his hands scrabbled uselessly at the brush.

“Just breathe,” Casey ordered.

For once, Collins obeyed without comment.

It took a long moment before Collins calmed himself, swallowed convulsively as he started to tremble and tentatively pushed himself upright.

“Wha’ happened?” he asked, blinking his wide eyes up at Casey in shock.

“Remember the electric fence that was supposed to be shut off?”

Collins blinked at him, a little dumbly. The kid had just been fried, so Casey was willing to give him a pass on it. Finally, Collins nodded.

“Not so off after all,” Casey concluded.

Collins stared a moment longer, struggling through the basic comprehension. “Oh,” he said. Then his brow furrowed. “But—“

“But nothing,” Casey cut him off. “I know you’re one for idle chitchat, but do you think you can move?”

“Well, I—“

“Good,” Casey said, flinching as the voice approached. He grasped Collins’ wrist and hauled him up before the other man could complain. When Collins stumbled, the was a report of gunfire and Casey cursed.

Collins tripped again, nearly taking them both down with his greater height.

Gritting his teeth, Casey glowered. He had come too far in this ridiculous mission to be tripped up now – literally.

As Collins flailed a bit trying to find his footing, Casey bent over. “I know this is less than ideal,” he muttered, pulling Collins even as he resisted, over his shoulder. He stood up tentatively, finding his balance with Collins’ weight bearing down on him. “But I’m pretty sure this is just as awkward for me as you.”

Collins squawked, but Casey had never had a better reason to ignore him. Instead, he oriented himself. The voices were coming from behind, and he mentally mapped out the area. The checkpoint was their only viable exit, unless Casey wanted to risk another run in with an electric fence. Since that was less than preferable, an armed gate would have to do.

Casey could combat a few armed men and break through metal. An electric fence was apparently a foe he hadn’t quite mastered. At least that gave him something to figure out when he got out of this mess.

When he got Billy out of this mess.

Starting to run, he held onto Collins tightly, hands secure on the Scot’s wrist and thigh as he jumped over the brush. Gunfire broke out again, but they were out of range, and Casey kept himself veering in order to avoid giving a sharpshooter a stationary target.

It wasn’t a long run, but with the gunfire and Collins’ added weight, it seemed to take years. As he approached, he saw a fresh wave of guards approaching from the gate, even as new men poured from the building’s front.

The exit was looking less ideal. That many armed men and an injured teammate didn’t work the odds in his favor.

But he was trained. He was skilled. He was prepared. He didn’t need odds. He just needed to stick to the plan, use his wits and go.

And when that failed, sometimes he got lucky.

The truck nearly ran him over, and the driver was so surprised to see Casey that he stupidly didn’t think that running him over might be the best course of action. As it was, he stopped and stared, which was just long enough for Casey to act.

Swiftly, he dropped Collins, who hit the ground with an oof. Casey wasn’t sorry though, and he didn’t have time to coddle the kid. Instead, he made his way to the door.

He had it open just as the man inside was fumbling for his gun. Casey yanked him by the arm, shoving his hand upward into the man’s nose. Blood spurted and the man flailed, even as Casey promptly jerked him from his seat and let him fall to the ground.

The man groaned, still moving, but disabled. Without wasting another second, Casey went back to Collins, who had flopped onto his back. He stared up at Casey in wonder.

“You dropped me,” he said, clearly still stupefied by the electric shock.

Casey grunted, hauling him up again. “And I’m picking you up again,” he said curtly.

Collins yelped, but could offer no further protest as Casey manhandled him into the seat. He didn’t have time to make sure Collins was situated. Instead, he slammed the door closed, put the car in gear and slammed on the gas.

It wasn’t a plan that had much finesse, and Casey had to admit, he usually preferred to be a bit more of a perfectionist in his approach. But at this point, he’d settle for getting the job done.

And driving an armored vehicle at full speed would certainly get the job done.

Guards fired and the windshield splintered. Bullets pinged off the side, but Casey just pressed down harder. Men fled from his path. He bared down. The checkpoint broke and the gate crunched, the metal flying over the vehicle and landing in a jumbled mess behind them.

And then there was nothing but open road.

-o-

They were a mile in the clear when Casey finally let himself relax. His fingers ached from gripping the wheel so tight and the tension in his shoulders had left him rigid. He remembered one of his breathing techniques to release the tension, breathing in and out, easy and slow, until he regained some semblance of calm.

With calm, came control. With control, came Casey’s status quo.

It was another mile when he finally trusted himself to look at Collins.

The younger man was crumpled in the passenger seat, slumped awkwardly and pressed against the door. His eyes were wide, but a little vacant, singed hand cradled in his lap as he lay loose limbed where Casey had tossed him.

None of this was a particularly good sign, but what bothered Casey the most was his silence.

To think, all the months he’d wanted the man to just shut up, the minute he got his wish, it scared the hell out of him.

“Hey,” he called, voice gruff.

Collins didn’t flinch.

“Hey,” Casey called again, louder this time. Then he reached out a hand and touched Collins’ arm.

At the contact, Collins recoiled, jolting hard and banging against the seat. His wide eyes cleared, looking wildly at Casey in total confusion.

Casey raised his eyebrows. “You okay?”

Collins sucked in a harsh breath and blinked rapidly. He twitched, brow furrowing as a tremor shook his body. “I—“ he tried to say but the words seemed to get garbled. He frowned. “I died?”

Casey kept a keen eye on the road, stealing glances at Collins as he drove. “Technically, yes,” Casey confirmed.

Collins’ eyes seemed to get even wider to the point where his expression was almost comical. “You saved my life,” he said, almost in wonder.

Narrowing his eyes, Casey felt the tension start to build in his shoulders again. This was getting dangerously sentimental and Casey had only asked one basic question. He preferred to do his job without fanfare. He didn’t need thank you’s or accolades. Shadow warriors thrived in the dark. People didn’t gush or bond or offer effusive thanks in the dark.

The dark was for hiding things. Deadly assassins, super spies, honest emotions. Casey wasn’t picky. He preferred them all to be hidden.

And there Collins was, in broad daylight, looking at Casey with unbridled gratitude. If he hadn’t worked so hard to save Collins’ life, he would consider chucking him out the door to prove the point that sentimentality and spywork simply did not mix.

He didn’t, though. Instead, he trained his eyes on the road, adjusting his grip on the wheel. “The CIA frowns on letting operatives die when other measures are available,” he said.

Collins blinked again, and it seemed painfully obvious that there was minimal comprehension going on. Just Casey’s luck. Collins had managed to fry his brain along with his central nervous system. He could jumpstart the kid’s heart but apparently it was going to take a bit more time for the rest of his systems to come back on track.

And Casey had to admit, this placid, zoned out version of Collins was disconcerting. Not that Casey liked his effervescent persona, but the languid behavior was indicative of possible complications. Michael would not be pleased. Neither would Carson.

Then, to Casey’s horror, Collins smiled. “You care,” he said with undue adulation. “Casey Malick has a heart. And I lived to see it!”

It set all of Casey’s hackles on edge and he bit down so hard that his teeth hurt. “Standard procedure,” he gritted out, staring at the road. “It was all standard procedure.

“A choice,” Collins said. “We all have a choice.”

A choice. Casey made a lot of choices. He chose to keep Collins at arm’s length for his sanity. He chose to not stop and double check the fence before sending Collins headlong at it. He chose to put Collins’ life ahead of the mission. And he chose to stare at the road ahead because that was the easier thing to do.

Casey didn’t look for the easy way out; he just did the thing that made sense. It didn’t make sense to get emotionally attached to other people. It didn’t make sense to be friends with someone who was just as likely to get killed as he was to come back alive. It didn’t make sense.

Yet, here he was. Having feelings.

Collins had pissed him off, annoyed him, frustrated him and scared the hell out of him today. Because Collins was a part of his team. Collins was part of his responsibility. Collins was a part of his life.

He sighed. “Look,” he said, turning his head back toward Collins.

Collins was staring at him, face suddenly blank again, his eyes fixed on some unidentified point.

Casey frowned. “Collins?”

Collins blinked, recognition dawning. “I died?”

Casey’s frown deepened. “I thought we just covered that.”

Collins’ face brightened in genuine shock, fresh awe spreading across his features. “And you saved me.”

Casey groaned, shaking his head and looking back out at the road. “That short circuit better be temporary,” he grumbled.

In the passenger seat, Collins cried in half wonder, “Casey Malick, you have a heart!”

And Casey needed no more incentive to drive faster.

-o-

At the hospital, Casey was relieved. He’d contacted Michael en route, so Michael and Carson were already there when Casey pulled into the emergency entrance. Carson nearly tripped over his own feet as he worriedly rushed to the passenger’s seat and dragged Collins out. The doctors weren’t far behind, guiding Collins to a stretcher while the kid blinked and said, “I died!”

Carson was shushing him even as the doctors started hooking up their equipment while trying to move the stretcher inside.

Collins, never one to practice the art of silence, called out, “And he has a heart! An honest to God heart, people! Wonders and miracles!”

Casey sighed.

Next to him, Michael clapped him on the shoulder. “You look like hell.”

Casey snorted. “I just watched the kid get himself fried,” he said. “It’s a good thing my CPR certification is up to date.”

Michael nodded, as if in commiseration. “You did good,” he said. “You got him here in time, so you don’t have to worry.”

At that, Casey looked at him. “I’m not worried.”

Michael lifted his eyebrows.

“I’m exhausted,” Casey continued. “I thought he was annoying most of the time, but apparently he gets even less coherent following a near-death situation. I had to drive fifteen miles.”

Michael rolled his eyes, shaking his head. “The kid’s right,” he said. “You’re all heart.”

-o-

Inside, Casey was left to his own devices. Michael had gone to check on Collins, and when Casey walked by the examination room, he’d caught sight of Carson’s flailing hands as he insisted for a doctor with more experience and a nurse who wasn’t a sadist while Michael tried to run some sort of interference.

Amongst it all, Collins was stretched out on the table, stripped down to his boxers. Someone was wrapping his burned hand and Casey got just close enough to see that the kid was trembling, and the slight blips of his heartbeat seemed just slightly out of sync.

But then the kid laughed. “Wait!” he called to no one in particular. “Did I actually just die?”

And Casey decided the waiting room was really the best place for him.

-o-

In the waiting room, Casey tried to read a magazine but it was dated from two years back and was in a foreign language so he finally decided against it. He then proceeded to stare down a wheezing old man who kept coughing in his direction. It took a good ten minutes, but his increasingly refined laser eyes finally made the man harrumph and project his phlegm toward the pregnant woman across the way.

Casey felt no guilt. It wasn’t his fault that other people lacked enough situational awareness to fend for themselves.

And it wasn’t his fault that Michael decided to recruit some idiot reject from the UK. It wasn’t his fault that Carson was so lonely that he decided to take Collins under his wing like some kind of demented mother bird. And it certainly wasn’t his fault that Collins wanted approval and acceptance and other things that Casey was not intending to give him now or ever.

It wasn’t Casey’s fault.

It wasn’t even Casey’s fault that Collins got zapped. He’d disabled the fence. Michael had been there. They’d checked. He’d rechecked.

But Collins had asked. He’d sought verification and Casey had mocked him but that didn’t change the facts. This wasn’t Casey’s fault.

So he didn’t feel guilty.

Not even a little.

Then, a little girl with the sniffles came in, two pigtails down her back. She settled herself primly across from Casey with a large smile before promptly sneezing.

Narrowing his gaze on her, he embraced it once again: no guilt at all.

-o-

When Michael finally came out, the waiting room was mostly empty. Casey wasn’t going to take credit for that, though his methods were more effective than the ungainly service of the hospital staff.

At any rate, it afforded him some privacy.

Michael sat down heavily next to him, sighing. “They’re getting him settled into a room,” he said.

Casey looked at him.

Michael looked back. “He’s fine, by the way,” he said. “They’re watching him but his heart rate has started to settle down and he even stopped telling us how much of a heart you’ve got after about an hour.”

Casey snorted.

“The burns on his hand were pretty bad, but they think it narrowly avoided any nerve damage. He’s going to be sore,” Michael continued. “Especially his chest. You smacked the hell out of him.”

“Well, I was trying to save his life,” Casey pointed out.

“Yeah, I heard,” Michael said.

Casey snerked for a moment, but the humor faded. “So do you want to tell me what happened?” he asked.

Michael looked somewhat surprised. “Isn’t that my line?”

“You’re the one who had intel on the fence,” he said. “You’re the one who knew how to disable it and said it would take a week to repair.”

“And that intel was good,” Michael said.

“Tell that to Collins and his sore chest,” Casey returned.

Michael scrubbed a hand through his hair. “It’s one of those things,” he said. “We can’t control everything. Maybe they got lucky, found some way to jury rig it. Maybe someone had a spare part lying around. I don’t know.”

“It’s your job to know,” Casey said, the lightness gone now.

“And it’s your job to check,” Michael shot back.

Casey stiffened.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Michael pushed on. “You didn’t even stop to check the fence? You just told him to run right into it?”

“Because it was disabled.”

“Yeah,” Michael said. “Tell that to Collins and his sore chest.”

The point was valid.

Casey sat, not sure who he hated more. Himself or Michael. Or Collins, for that matter. This was a mess for all of them, and the problem was, the more Casey shifted the blame, the more he had to put it on himself.

He should have checked. If he had, Collins wouldn’t have died and Casey wouldn’t have done CPR and he wouldn’t be sitting in a waiting room feeling a sensation that too much resembled guilt to actually acknowledge it at all.

Guilt was a useless emotion.

Too bad there was nowhere to channel it to create rage. Just himself.

Michael sighed again, pushing back to his feet. “Come on,” he said.

Casey looked up.

Michael jerked his head away from Casey. “I thought we’d go see Billy.”

Casey frowned. “Why?”

Michael rolled his eyes. “Because he died, and you saved his life,” he said. “And I know you don’t like to admit it, but you really do have a heart.”

-o-

Casey did not condescend to humor Michael’s statement with an actual reply.

If he showed up in Collins’ room a short time later, it was entirely coincidental. The little girl had come back and this time she’d cried instead of smiling, and Casey found nothing more annoying than crying children. Not even Collins.

Still, when Casey finally got to the room, he quickly reevaluated his choice. Because Collins was sitting up and awake. He looked worse for wear, still pale and hair standing a bit on end, but his face lit up when Casey came inside.

“Ah, my hero arrives!” Collins crooned, sounding far too chipper for someone who had nearly just died.

Carson was seated by the kid’s bed, and Michael made his way to the window. “I see you’re ignoring the doctor’s advice to rest,” Michael said.

Collins jittered. “I know, and generally I do like to defer to people who have such profound understanding of the human body, but I found it to be an impossible task,” he said. “I know I tend to speak in hyperbole quite often, but I think I really do have electricity running through my veins right now!”

Carson patted the kid on the arm. “You still need to rest, man,” he said. “Because you’re going to crash hard here.”

Collins blinked, a little too rapid. “Aye, I actually suspect you’re right,” he said. “But I think I’d rather suffer the slings and arrows of my outrageous fortune for now. Especially since Casey’s here!”

“Just to make sure my hard work isn’t going to waste,” Casey said, lingering purposefully by the door. If anyone told him he had a heart, he wanted to make a fast exit to prove them irrevocably otherwise.

“Your hard work is safe and secure,” Collins promised, far too earnestly. “Singed perhaps, but I prefer to think of that as a well crafted reminder of the weight of your efforts. A trial by fire, of sorts, and we prevailed. Together.”

Together.

He was right.

Which was just annoying.

Casey glared at him. “Maybe you should shut up before I start to regret my decision,” he said.

“Never fear,” Collins said. “I wouldn’t dream of putting a dent in your flawless façade. After you saved my life, I do owe you that much.”

For that, Casey was actually relieved. He let himself relax just slightly.

But then Collins grinned. “Because I know, underneath it all, you have a heart to rival any of ours.”

And Casey was ultimately grateful. For his team. For Collins’ life. For his own skills.

But mostly for his spot by the door so he could leave before things got worse than they already were.

-o-

Collins fell asleep fairly quickly, and Casey was relieved. There was only so much small talk in confined spaced that he could stomach in one day, and just because Collins had defied the odds and lived through the day didn’t mean that Casey was about to endure torture to keep him company.

In the hall, he was making a beeline for the snack machine when Carson fell into step next to him.

“Leaving already?” he asked.

Casey shrugged. “I didn’t realize there was more I needed to do.”

“Well, I figured we’d stay the night,” Carson said. “Keep the kid some company.”

“He’s asleep,” Casey returned.

Carson pulled up short, and Casey knew him well enough to understand he was expected to do the same. Casey obliged him, but pinned him with a withering glare.

Carson, frustratingly, was not bothered. “It wouldn’t kill you to show some concern,” he said, imploring Casey with what he could only imagine to be guilt.

The tactic was ineffective. Casey shrugged. “And, what?” he asked. “He needs a hug? That’s really more your territory, I think.”

Carson stared him down. “The kid almost died today.”

“I recall,” Casey said. “Since I was the one performing CPR and driving him to safety. What more do you want?”

“Some compassion!” Simms said, throwing his arms wide. “He’s still new to this place and this team, and you can hardly give him the time of day. He’s your teammate, and it’s about time you started acting like it.”

“We work effectively in the field,” Casey replied. “And compassion is superfluous to that.”

Carson shook his head, disgusted. “And that’s it?”

“As far as I can tell.”

“You’re a cold hearted bastard, Malick,” Carson told him.

“And you’re too weak-hearted for spywork, Simms,” Casey returned.

Carson rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah,” he muttered. “I’m going to go sit with the kid. You go do whatever it is you think is more important.”

With that, Carson walked away. If he was actually expecting Casey to follow, then he didn’t know Casey very well at all. As it was, Casey found the vending machines, bought an energy bar and went back to the motel. He ate alone in the dark, drank two glasses of water and got ready for bed.

He didn’t spend much time thinking about Collins. Carson was there; Michael, too. Plus, all the doctors and nurses. He was safe there; much safer than in the field, apparently.

Casey had done his job.

Now Collins would do his and get better.

End of story.

-o-

One of the drawbacks of working with a team was that sometimes Casey didn’t get to pick the ending. When he was done, ready to move on, sometimes one of his teammates wasn’t. He had gotten used to the rhythm provided by Michael and Carson, but he still found himself struggling to predict Collins all the time.

In his cynicism, Casey was inclined to think Collins did that on purpose. That he made a point to set a pattern just to break it, for no other reason than to completely mess with Casey’s solid worldview.

At any rate, he had counted on being up and packed up by 0800. But when he arrived at the hospital, Collins apparently had other plans.

“It’s not his fault,” Carson said, clearly exasperated while Casey sulked.

“Of course it’s his fault,” Casey shot back. “You really think he didn’t want to make us late?”

Carson looked apoplectic. Michael gave him a withering stare. “I was sitting there,” Michael reminded him. “Billy’s good, but I highly doubt he can control his own heart beat enough to give himself a minor arrhythmia.”

“It’s entirely possible,” Casey told him plainly. “A little focus and the body will do anything you ask.”

Carson threw his arms out. “But who would want to do that?” he asked. “Besides you, in your infinite insanity!”

“Oh, and Collins is so sane?” Casey shot back. “He can’t be. No one is as happy as he is without some kind of severe psychological deficit.”

Carson turned away. “I give up,” he said. “I give up, man. Totally give up.

Michael seemed to be trying not to smile. He slapped Simms on the arm. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go check with Billy’s doctor and see just how long we’re looking at.” He glanced toward Casey. “Can you go sit with him? Just until we get back?”

Turning back, Carson snorted. “You sure he won’t try to kill him while we’re gone?”

Casey narrowed his eyes. “Killing him wouldn’t get us out of this hell hole any faster.”

Shaking his head, Michael started pushing Simms down the hallway. Looking back at Casey, he said, “He better still have a heart beat when we get back.”

Casey rolled his eyes.

-o-

Inside the room, Casey lingered at the door. He was good at entering spaces without making any noise, sneaking up on people without their notice. It rarely worked with Collins, though, probably because the kid was just as much a spy as the rest of them.

This time, however, Collins didn’t stir. He was asleep on the bed, rumpled sheets pulled over his stomach. His head was turned toward the window, mouth just slightly open as he breathed.

For a moment, Casey stood there, assessing. First, he noted the machines. The heart monitor was turned on mute, but it still showed Collins’ rhythm. Casey studied it, watching the steady blips. No sign of further arrhythmia. No matter how much it annoyed him, Casey knew that such things were a common side effect of severe electrical shock. The body was entirely reset, and it sometimes took a while to get back to normal. The prognosis was usually good, though.

Usually.

Casey wasn’t sure he wanted to think about the possibility that it might not be. He knew it didn’t take much for a spy to lose their field clearance. Any disability, no matter how seemingly minor in the normal world, could end a career, just like that. Any long term arrhythmia might make Collins unfit for duty.

In short, Casey’s negligence could have cost the kid his job.

But as Casey watched, the rhythm was strong and sure. The odds were that it was a short term problem, that by the time they got back to the States, Billy Collins would be back to his typical, annoying self.

He stood a moment longer, eyes drifting to Collins himself. The kid’s hair was still on end and greasy now; he was clearly in need of a shower, dirt still smudged on his face from their trek to the compound the day before. His stubble was more overgrown than usual, but even with all that, he looked somehow younger than Casey remembered. He was still the kid of the team, and probably would be until some other poor schmuck had to come along, but Casey had never taken the time to actually think about what that meant.

Collins had barely been in the game long enough to establish himself, and he’d already been in two different agencies. Of all the things Collins talked about, he never talked about that.

And Casey had to wonder what else the kid never talked about.

Or not. Because Casey didn’t care. He was not standing there having some kind of asinine bedside vigil. If he’d known the kid wasn’t cleared to leave, he never would have shown up at all.

But the fact was, Casey was here. Collins was here. And there wasn’t anything Casey could do about that.

From the bed, Collins shifted. Without opening his eyes, he breathed heavily. “You know, it’s not polite to stare.”

Casey glowered. “I wasn’t aware that we were concerned with pleasantries.”

Collins rolled his head toward Casey, opening his eyes and offering a tired grin. “I’m always concerned with pleasantries,” he said. “I find it makes things, I don’t know, more pleasant?”

“So insightful,” Casey muttered. “And here I thought you were the witty one of the group.”

“Ah, so you admit I have value!” Collins said, sitting up and brightening.

Casey’s frown deepened. “You’re putting words in my mouth.”

Collins grinned. “You can glower and pout, but I can still read your true intentions.”

“I don’t pout,” Casey said.

“But I can still read your intentions,” Collins said mischievously.

Casey sighed a little. “I’m only here because you were supposed to be released.”

At that, Collins winced, settling back into his pillow. “A minor setback, I promise you,” he said. “I told Michael not to change our flight out.”

This should have made Casey happy. It was mostly what he wanted to hear.

But…

“You shouldn’t push it, you know,” he said, almost begrudgingly.

Collins lifted his eyebrows in surprise. “Do I hear a hint of concern for my well being?”

“Concern for my handiwork,” Casey retorted. “That beating heart is all my doing.”

Collins looked down, grimacing. “Yes,” he said, quieter now. He looked up. “I suppose I owe you a bit of thanks, then. For saving my life.”

It was genuine gratitude. The kid was lying in a hospital bed, thanking him.

Which was the last thing in the world he wanted. It was an unnecessary display of emotion. Of course Casey was going to save his life. Casey was a human weapon and a bastard but he wasn’t entirely heartless.

Which just meant – damn it, Collins had been right.

Casey did have a heart.

The revelation made him scowl in earnest.

Then he did the only other thing he could do to cope with the situation. He said something unnecessarily cruel. “I also nearly killed you.”

Collins stared at him.

“The fence,” Casey reminded him. “I shouldn’t have sent you straight into it without checking. You trusted me, and I nearly killed you.”

For a second, Collins blinked. Casey felt his heart skip a beat with an emotion that felt too much like guilt to fully acknowledge. This wasn’t an attempt at absolution; it was a mere fact. Necessary to temper any future displays of gratitude.

Then Collins’ furrowed his brow, nodding seriously. “Well, there may be truth to that,” he said.

Casey waited. For some kind of indignation. Outrage. An I told you so. A quip. Anything. “And that’s all you have to say?” he asked.

Collins shrugged. “You were looking for something in particular?”

“I just said I nearly killed you,” Casey reminded him pointedly. “And you said there may be truth to that.”

“Well, I don’t think it was an intentional act,” Collins said.

“Of course not,” Casey agreed.

“So, I’m not sure I see it as anything noteworthy,” Collins continued.

“Me nearly killing you isn’t noteworthy?” Casey asked.

“Well, what happens to one of us, happens to all of us,” Collins said. “That includes accidents and miscalculations. Even lesser emotions such as guilt, grief and gratitude.”

“I feel none of those things,” Casey said, matter of fact.

“Of course not,” Collins agreed. “Which is just to say, all is well. I’m alive. You’re alive, and I would venture to say that we’ve learned a few things we’ll carry with us, yes?”

Casey eyed him suspiciously, but finally he nodded. “Yes,” he said, slowly but surely. Because he didn’t want to admit it, but maybe, just this once, the kid might finally be right about something.

-o-

Collins was cleared from the hospital after a few hours. All tests came back clean; he was up and chatty for the flight home.

Casey scowled and sulked the whole way back.

But if he stayed awake, watching Collins while he slept, it was only because the air was too recycled to breathe normally.

Nothing more.

And certainly nothing less.

-o-

Back in the States, Collins went back to his usual antics. Casey learned to accept that, for better and worse. Billy was a part of the team, after all.

At home, Casey dedicated himself to continued self-improvement. After all, he needed to be trained. He needed to be skilled. He had to be prepared. He wasn’t about to stick to the odds. He was going to tip them in his favor whenever and however he could.

Electrical shock. An uncontrolled element. He remembered the way Billy had been sent flying through the air, the scalding scent of burned flesh, the unseeing eyes. He didn’t remember that because he was dwelling; he remembered it so he could make sure it didn’t happen to him.

He rigged a wire, sent the current through his body. It jolted him. He did it again.

And again. And again.

It might take years, but Casey would build up his immunity to these shocks. It was a choice he intended to make. He’d become impenetrable. Nothing would get to him.

And, if in the meantime, he inadvertently became immune to the annoyances of an overly verbose Scotsman in the process, that was a side effect he would simply have to accept.

January 2016

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