faye_dartmouth: (chaos three musketeers)
[personal profile] faye_dartmouth
Title: The Ill-Divining Soul

Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: I’m fairly certain that this was inspired by [livejournal.com profile] sophie_deangirl when she wrote a lovely sick!Billy fic. This is my take on such a thing, which is mostly just a way to make Billy suffer. As if that’s a surprise. Beta provided by [livejournal.com profile] moogsthewriter, who basically wins at life. Also, I’m not sure when I began assuming that Billy had a penchant for disaster in my writing, but by now, it’s a fundamental building block in my understanding of the show :) So yeah. Do what that what you will.

Summary: They’re trained and skilled; to think their mission could be foiled by a common illness – it’s unthinkable.



-o-

The fever isn’t unexpected.

This is Billy, after all. He can charm his way out of any situation and he can pull off covers when no one else should, but if there’s a stray bullet to catch or a rampant illness to come down with, he’s the one who inevitably manages to suffer. Billy says it’s his Scottish fortitude that simply attracts maladies of all sorts; Casey just thinks it’s fate’s way of trying to even the balance as far as Billy’s luck is concerned.

So when he and Billy are stuck in Northern China, running surveillance for Michael and Rick, it’s really only a matter of time before something goes wrong, and Billy coming down with the local flu seems just about right.

It starts with a cough and within a day, Billy’s looking haggard while he sneezes. The next morning, Casey finds him shivering, blinking while he holds a gun and looks out the window of the rundown apartment they’re renting.

“You look horrible,” Casey snorts, though he can’t say he’s actually surprised. Things have been going too well; they’re due for something to go wrong, and a sick Billy is one of the worst possible complications Casey can imagine.

Sure, there’s no death, destruction, and mayhem in this scenario, but there’s germs, sniffling, and sluggishness. Plus, Billy’s such a slob that Casey has to contend with his DNA most of the time, but virus-infested snot rags all over the place call for Casey to go well above and beyond the call of duty.

Billy trembles a little, offering a wan smile in return. “I can’t be expected to always be in top form, can I? Sort of skews the entire concept.”

Casey grunts. “Don’t get me sick.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Billy assures him.

-o-

The fever isn’t unexpected, but that doesn’t mean it’s any more fun to Casey to deal with it.

Billy tries not to be a burden, of course, because again, he’s Billy. He likes to make a fuss and a scene when things don’t matter, but when he’s actually in need of assistance, he’s stubborn and stupid about it, pretending like he’s fine even when he’s clearly not.

This just makes him even more of a burden, because as he tries to go through the normal daily routine, he’s just slowing things down and compromising Casey’s health every step of the way. He leaves a trail of tissues, gets snot on Casey’s favorite gun, and every time they pick up a radio transmission, Billy manages to cough so hard that Casey can’t make out enough to translate the Mandarin.

When Billy almost falls asleep during his time on guard, Casey figures enough is enough.

“Go to bed,” he says.

To Billy’s credit, he doesn’t even flinch. Casey suspects that Billy’s been expecting this order for a while now. After all, the Scot is sick, not stupid. “I’m fine.”

Casey glares. “You’re sick,” he says. “Go to bed.”

Billy puffs his chest up, indignant. “I am fully capable of performing my duties.”

“No, you’re barely capable of sitting there without falling asleep,” Casey returns. “Now go to bed.”

Billy looks at Casey, wearily now. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not,” Casey says again, evenly this time. “Now get to bed before I drag you there myself. And you know I can do it.”

Billy frowns, brow furrowed.

“Now,” Casey says, the threat implicit in his tone.

“Okay, okay,” Billy relents, getting halting to his feet. “Though I do insist that my acquiescence is under protest.”

“Protest all you want,” Casey says as Billy walks back to the bedroom. “From bed.”

-o-

If there’s a good thing about Billy being sick, it’s that it’s finally quiet. In the six years since Billy’s been in the ODS, Casey’s had to learn to adjust to a certain level of background noise. He’s able to tune it out when he needs to, but he has to admit, sometimes listening to the incessant chatter can be aggravating.

Of course, as he sits in the silent apartment, eyes turned out to the street below attuned to any sign of possible disturbance, it suddenly feels very lonely. Because Casey’s been tuning out six years worth of chatter and while he sighs and complains and threatens, he’s never realized fully just how much he’s come to expect it.

He relies on it, even. He wouldn’t ever go so far to say he liked it, but the newfound silence in Billy’s absence is more disconcerting than he’d ever admit.

-o-

Casey’s always been okay with doing whatever the job entails. He understands that the vast majority of spywork is actually really mundane. It’s hours studying emails or poring over files; it’s meticulously putting together intel and spending years cultivating assets. It’s sitting in crappy apartments, watching, while his teammates do the hard work.

He and Billy have drawn that end of the stick for this one; Michael and Rick are the ones with the covers, taking down a high-ranking member of a terrorist cell setting up shop in China.

This is okay with Casey. He can do surveillance better than anyone. It would surprise Rick and anyone except Michael and Billy, who know him better than Casey would ever admit to, but Casey is actually surprisingly domestic, with nuance cooking skills and a flair for modern art.

So this mission hasn’t been so bad, even with Billy’s unexpected complication. Casey takes the extra turn in the morning and stops just long enough to put together a small meal for himself and a bowl of soup for Billy.

He takes the soup with a cup of hot tea into the bedroom on a tray and opens the door noisily enough to stir Billy from his sleep.

As Casey moves inside, Billy blinks awake, groggy but alert as he props himself up in bed. “’m up,” he says, words slightly slurred.

Casey smirks at him, setting the tray on the table by the bed. “Lunch,” he says. “And it looks like you could use it.”

Billy frowns, scowling in a way that makes him look a bit like a grouchy toddler. It’s a remarkable feat for a grown man, but Billy’s always excelled at such things. “I don’t need a nursemaid,” he says, more than a bit petulant.

Casey lifts his eyebrows quizzically. “You’re the one who’s been asleep in bed all morning, so I don’t think you get to make that decision.”

Billy manages to sit himself up, though it clearly takes a little work. He coughs throughout the process, which does nothing to prove his point, but he does get himself upright enough to glare with some vehemence.

It has no effect. Casey just glares back.

Billy starts to pout but it’s interrupted by a vicious sneeze.

“You were saying?” Casey asks, keeping his distance.

Billy mops himself clean with a tissue from the table. “A minor illness,” he says. “Nothing more.”

“Yes, well, your minor illness is trying to proliferate,” he says. “And though I trust my immune system to ward off most common ailments, I would prefer not to tempt fate. Not in China, at any rate. I’ll save such idiocy for you.”

Billy manages to roll his eyes somewhat, though he seems to be learning that minimizing his movements keeps the coughing at bay. “Well, I’m just a mere mortal,” he says. “Illness happens.”

“Not to me,” Casey says. “So when I say you need to eat, you should believe me.”

Billy seems to deflate a little, and Casey gets a glimpse of just how exhausted the Scot is. And he is exhausted. It’s evident in the circles under his eyes and the slouch of his shoulders. His breathing is just a little ragged as he pushes breaths through his mouth and his congested nose.

Still, he looks at the tray. “Soup and tea,” he says. “Why, Casey, you do care.”

This time, Casey rolls his eyes. “Don’t go getting sentimental on me,” he says. “This is a mere matter of practicality.”

Billy leans over with obvious effort, picking up the bowl of soup with care. “And could someone be protesting a bit too much there?”

“Keep talking like that, and I’ll give you a reason to protest,” he shoots back.

Billy seems to be unable to help himself; he grins. “Underneath that tough, hardened exterior, you’re all heart, Casey Malick,” he says, almost taunting.

Casey’s eyes narrow. “I’m not above hurting a sick man.”

Billy takes a tentative bite. “And that’s why you made me soup?”

Casey snorts, but doesn’t disagree. Instead, he says, “I have to go back and actually do work,” he says. “Try to eat it all so you can help me out with that sometime in the near future.”

Billy lifts his spoon, offering it in a mock salute as Casey retreats back to the front room.

-o-

If there’s something good about this situation, it’s that Billy’s picked a good mission to be sick. While the organization Michael and Rick are infiltrating is important, it’s also relatively low risk. Of course, there’s always the lingering fear of getting caught, disowned, and executed, but as far as missions go, this one is more likely to just fold up and leave them on a cold trail.

Still, they’re being careful, which is why contact between the two parties is limited to sparse phone calls on different burn phones. Michael and Rick are moving with the organization throughout the city; Casey and Billy are just supposed to monitor the heart of the traffic through the center of town from this dingy apartment.

Really, Michael’s got the harder job, but that doesn’t stop him from being concerned when Casey mentions Billy’s illness.

“If it’s the local bug, you need to watch him closely,” Michael says over the sound of traffic. He has to keep rotating his call locations to avoid any potential tip offs. “We’ve had guys get taken down all this week; it’s actually messed up several important businesses and one of the low level snitches even had to go to the hospital after spiking a fever.”

Casey tries not to let this bother him. Instead, he rationalizes. “The flu is one of the most common illnesses and leads to more hospitalizations per year than most of the feared contagions,” he says. “It’s a common, everyday killer. But Billy’s still fit, despite his better efforts to the contrary. He’ll be fine.”

“Just keep an eye on him,” Michael advises.

It’s apt advice, if redundant and totally useless. Casey can watch all he wants. He can even buy some fever reducer and ply Billy with liquids, but that’s really about it. They’re in China on false passports, after all. If the authorities get a whiff of anything suspicious, they’re screwed. That means no hospital visits; not even a clinic with the way Big Brother is so vigilant here.

“Just keep an eye on your six,” Casey advises back. “The sooner we can get this mission done, the sooner we can get the sick one on the first plane back home.”

Michael chuckles a little. “Will do,” he says. “Though it’s going to be a few more days, at least, before we have what we need.”

Casey sighs in dramatic fashion. “You’re going to owe me when this one is over.”

Michael laughs again as he hangs up.

Casey smirks at the phone and shakes his head. Putting it back in his pocket, he resumes his lookout while Billy sleeps in the bedroom.

-o-

It’s another few hours before Casey convinces himself that it’s safe to check on Billy. It’s less than ideal, but leaving the lookout vacant for a few moments is a necessary risk.

Besides, he hasn’t heard a peep from Billy all afternoon. He knows Billy is sick, but it takes something pretty extreme to render Billy mute for such an extended period of time. The silence is still grating at his nerves, so he tucks his gun in its holster with the strap undone and makes his way to the bedroom.

Inside, Billy is curled on his side, mouth open as he sleeps. The bowl of soup has mostly been eaten, though the tea is still halfway full. Billy’s only been camped out there for the better part of a day, but he’s already managed to make his area a total sty. His shoes are flung haphazardly across the room and his open suitcase has a pair of socks half hanging out of it, the pile of rumpled clothes inside an indistinguishable mix of clean and dirty. He’s already gone through the box of tissue and the wads are everywhere.

This is disconcerting to Casey, though Billy’s total disregard for cleanliness is always disconcerting to Casey. It’s mind boggling to him how the Scot can have such diligence in the field and total neglect for his personal life. For most of the mission, he’s humored Casey enough to keep his mess retained to his suitcase, but now that he’s sick, all bets seem to be off.

This might annoy Casey, but one good look at Billy, and it’s hard to muster up much conviction for it. Because the Scot honestly looks miserable. Even in sleep, he seems agitated, each breath a noisy proposition as it strains and pulls through his lungs and congested throat. His skin is pallid now, the rise of fever even more prominent in the pronounced hollows of his cheeks.

And he’s sweating now. His hair is slightly damp, and beads are evident on his forehead and pooling at the bottom of his neck, which is visible through his v-neck undershirt. His tall frame is hunched in, almost in a fetal position, as he sleeps fitfully beneath the thin sheet.

Sick or not, Billy’s still a damn good spy, so it’s not a surprise when he startles and opens his eyes.

Just that fast, his gaze locks on Casey. “We okay?” he asks abruptly, body tense.

“I’m fine,” Casey replies shortly. “You, on the other hand, look to be less than fine.”

Billy’s eyes are bright with fever, but the tension drains from his body at the pronouncement. “Ah,” he says. “I may be inclined to agree with that assessment.”

Casey pins him with a deadpan look. “You’re agreeing with me,” he muses. “Now I know things are bleak.”

Billy huffs a laugh, which quickly turns into a wrenching cough. His body is racked with it and when he’s finally done, he’s trembling, a little pathetic, on the bed. “Have you checked in with Michael?”

It’s something to note that Billy thinks to ask such a question in his current state. But it’s really not surprising. “A few more days,” Casey reports. “We just have to make sure that no suspicious activity arises and hold out until they get back.”

Billy’s mouth lifts into a fleeting smile. “So, just you and me.”

“And your germs,” Casey adds.

“I do look forward to this quality time together,” Billy says.

“If this is your idea of team bonding, then you need to think again,” Casey says. “Because having the flu in China while on a mission in the freezing cold is not my idea of promoting team camaraderie.”

Billy looks vaguely interested. “And so that begs the question: what do you deem ideal for team bonding?”

“Extreme physical training and real-world tests of endurance and discipline,” Casey replies without hesitation.

“With all due respect,” Billy says, “that sounds horrific.”

“Oh, and this is so much better?”

Billy looks sheepish. “Point,” he agrees.

Casey nods in satisfaction. “Do you think you can not die while I go run an errand or two?”

“I’ll do my best,” Billy says.

“You’ll need to stay awake,” Casey says.

Billy pulls his hand out from under the covers; he’s still packing. “Awake and ready if needed.”

This is also not a surprise. Billy may feel like crap, but he’s not one to put his own feelings above the needs of the mission. No matter how ill Billy is, he’s going to do everything he can to perform his duty, even if he were on his deathbed.

Which he’s not. This is the flu. A nasty one, but the flu nonetheless.

At least, that’s what Casey tells himself. He has to leave anyway; they’re low on food and with Billy’s illness, they’re going to need a few extra supplies. Casey doesn’t have a choice, and Billy will be fine for a few hours.

Casey explains this to himself, but it’s still hard to lock the door and walk away, leaving Billy alone.

-o-

There’s a market two buildings down; some seedy hole in the wall that seems unlikely to meet any health codes. However, no one seems concerned and since it’s the only market close enough to their rental to be safe for this outing, Casey settles for it this time around.

The man behind the counter is middle-aged and smiling when Casey brings up his wares to check out.

He adds up the amount – the food, the water, the fever reducer, the tea – and says, “A good man stocks up for his family.”

Casey wants to scowl and tell the man he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but he’s worried about being too memorable in case someone should as around later.

Instead, Casey smiles. “Of course,” he replies in perfect Mandarin before loading up his things and going back to Billy.

-o-

Billy’s still awake when Casey gets back. He’s propped up slightly in bed, tense, with the gun on his lap. It’s still a pathetic sight, though. Billy looks ragged around the edges, his beard fuller than usual and his eyes strained and red. His nose is raw and though his left hand is resting on the gun, the other is holding a used tissue. He looks like he is half asleep already, though Casey suspects Billy could handle a real threat much better than his demeanor suggests.

Casey figures it still warrants commentary.

“And to think, we’re the best and brightest the CIA has to offer,” he quips dryly.

Billy scoffs, but visibly sinks into the pillows. “Lesser men would be asleep by now.”

Casey doesn’t say that Billy looks like he’s already there; he doesn’t have to because Billy murmurs something unintelligible before his body goes completely lax and he’s asleep again.

Shaking his head, Casey goes forward and takes the gun from Billy’s lap, resting it on his nightstand. He lingers for a moment, then tentatively presses the back of his hand to Billy’s forehead.

The heat is almost surprising, and Casey finds himself frowning.

Stepping back, he reminds himself that Billy is strong, capable and resilient. He’s the only man Casey knows who’s managed to rightfully get kicked out of one spy agency only to make a better career with a second. He’s had to leave everything behind – friends, family, home – and still manages to come into work with a whistle and a smile.

It’s not necessarily Casey’s way of showing strength, but Casey recognizes the fortitude for what it is.

Plus, he’s seen Billy defy death more times than he cares to count. Gunshots, knife wounds, near-drownings, poisons – Billy’s got a penchant for injury. So the flu is nothing.

This flu is nothing.

Going back out to resume his post, Casey tells himself that much is true.

-o-

The day finishes without further excitement. He makes Billy eat and drink and plies him with fever reducer and even gets him to submit to a reading of his temperature.

Pressing the thermometer into Billy’s ear, the Scot shifts somewhat fitfully.

“You should sit still,” Casey admonishes.

“Not in my nature,” he says. “Besides, you sound like my mum.”

“She was right,” he says.

“She also liked to take my temperature but had a habit of throwing the glass thermometer all over the place when she tried to clear it,” Billy says. “We never did get to use one more than twice.”

Casey rolls his eyes. The thermometer beeps and he takes it out. 103.5.

His displeasure must have shown because Billy’s watching him critically. “I take it you won’t be letting me take my turn at watch tonight,” he surmises.

Casey turns it off. “I doubt you’d be able to think clearly enough to do it well anyway,” he says.

“But you’re going to need to rest, Casey,” Billy says with surprising clarity. “You are only human.”

“Who is well trained, steeled against sleep deprivation, and the only person present not dangerously close to delirium,” Casey counters.

“I can help,” Billy offers, a bit insistently this time.

“Yes,” Casey agrees. “By getting better.”

Billy looks ready to protest, but Casey wants nothing to do with it.

“Now,” Casey says, leaving no room for argument, not that Billy has the energy to offer one anyway. “Lay back down and get some rest and I’ll see you in the morning.”

-o-

The truth is, Casey’s tired. What he told Billy is also true, though. Staying up for over 24 hours is not entirely uncommon in his line of work, and he has gone four days without sleep in the past. It’s not fun, but he’s capable of such things while still retaining his functionality in the field.

And really, he’s fairly certain that he has the mental and physical capacity to go on longer – an entire week, if he had to guess – but he’s not keen on testing such a theory in the field without any prior experiences to back it up.

There’s nothing to be done for it, though. This is how it is in the ODS. They make plans, their plans fall apart, they create new plans, they get the job done. The new plans are never ideal but they’re always effective, and Casey figures that staying up multiple days while Billy fights the flu is probably par for the course.

Besides, it’s the flu. Billy’s fallen victim to many things, but the flu isn’t among them. They’re trained and skilled; to think their mission could be foiled by a common illness – it’s unthinkable. No matter how Casey may chide, such things simply do not compute.

Billy will be okay in the morning. Michael and Rick will get what they need, Casey will keep watch, and Billy will be okay in the morning.

-o-

Morning is long in coming.

Casey passes the night keeping guard like he’s supposed to. Activity on the street dwindles somewhat but doesn’t diminish entirely, which somehow annoys him. As the night wears on, Casey starts recounting obscure facts to his memory – listing major world conflicts through history, recalling moves in tae kwan do, conjugating verbs in Spanish – and he still has trouble passing the time.

When dawn has broken and Casey’s back is stiff, he gets up to check on Billy.

When he enters the room, the Scot looks like he’s passed out on the bed. He’s on his back this time, one arm flailed to the side limply. The rumpled sheet only half covers him, and it’s easy to see the rapid rise and fall of his chest as his mouth hangs open to breathe.

The sweating is more pronounced now, dampening his sleep shirt at the armpits and neckline and sticking in his spiky hair until the tufts are completely askew atop his head.

It’s almost comical in appearance, but the seriousness of it takes all the edge off the humor that might be derived. Instead, Casey inches closer, gently calling, “Billy?”

The Scot doesn’t move; doesn’t even flinch.

“Billy,” Casey tries again, somewhat louder this time.

There’s still no response.

Concerned, Casey gets right up next to him, pressing his hand carefully against Billy’s forehead. The fever there is burning, and now Casey curses.

At that, Billy startles, his eyes blinking open, somewhat muddled and shining. It takes him a minute to look up at Casey, and when he does, his body relaxes instinctively. “Casey,” he breathes, his voice garbled and strained.

“So,” Casey says, keeping his voice matter of fact because he’s definitely not afraid that Billy’s getting worse and not better. “You’re still playing the slacker today?”

Billy’s lips twitch into a semblance of a smile. “Just want to keep you…on your toes,” he says as he rasps for air.

“Uh huh,” Casey says. “I’m going to go get you something to eat and another dose of medicine. I expect you to be awake when I get back.”

He says it plainly, pretty much an order, though he understands that he’s probably asking Billy for quite a bit right now. He looks exhausted; despite the hours of sleep, Billy’s body seems worn and fatigued, the simple acts of breathing and talking almost too much for him.

Nonetheless, Billy nods his head. “Yes, sir,” he manages, a small hint of humor in the weary words.

Billy’s fighting; this is no surprise, of course, but it’s something for Casey to hold on to.

And he hopes it’s enough.

-o-

Casey’s primary job on this mission is backup and surveillance. He is and has been fully committed to this role; he takes it seriously. He knows if he doesn’t, there’s a chance that Michael and Rick could get hurt or worse. This is ample reason not to shirk his responsibilities, no matter how trivial they may seem.

However, a mission is never static. The end goal may stay the same, but things in the field often demand deviations from the intended course in getting there. A good spy knows how to work within the parameters of the mission while simultaneously improvising to compensate for unexpected turns in the events.

This is what Casey has to do now. The primary objective is still the same – provide backup so his team gets out in one piece – but Casey has to acknowledge that things have fundamentally shifted. Because Michael and Rick are undercover and therefore in inherent peril, but Billy fighting an increasingly dangerous fever in a mostly hostile area.

It’s still just the flu, and Casey knows this, but his earlier musing about the flu’s prevalence are now coming back to haunt him. People do die of the flu, especially those who do not have access to medical assistance when it’s clearly needed. Billy’s breathing is somewhat compromised by this point, the congestion seeming to stem directly from his lungs in a way that worries Casey more than a little.

In short, Billy needs attention. A doctor visit would be preferable, but since that is not possible – at least, not ideal – increased vigilance is the next best thing.

Which means that something has to give. Casey is skilled in many things and he’s fully aware of his near super-human capabilities, but he still hasn’t mastered the art of being in two places at once. No matter what Casey does, he simply cannot fully devote himself both to surveillance and to monitoring Billy’s condition.

The question is, of course, which one is more important. He has to acknowledge that both are actually matters of life and death. Probably not, but they could be, and Casey has no intention of putting any of his team at risk without proper consideration. The fact is, however, he will have to let one duty lapse to some degree, which is not an easy proposition for him to consider.

Casey knows that the men Michael and Rick are undercover with are dangerous. He knows there’s a chance that his failure to monitor could lead to their deaths. However, that would not be the expected response. A failure on this front would more likely lead to a failure in intelligence, undoing years of work that got them to this point. This is nothing to scoff at, to be sure, but Casey has to be realistic.

Especially since Billy’s condition continues to deteriorate throughout the morning. The fever reducer has no noticeable effect and Billy hardly has the energy to swallow. It’s a fight to keep him hydrated and Billy barely stays awake long enough to help Casey out at all.

It seems counter-intuitive, but Billy’s the one in more peril. Casey hates to leave gaps in the backup for Michael and Rick, but Billy’s the one who actually needs more assistance. Even when Casey sits by the window, he can hear the labored sounds of Billy’s breathing.

Looking at the quiet streets, listening to that sound, Casey makes the only choice he can, and goes back to Billy’s bedside.

Missions change; somehow, he knows Michael will forgive him for this.

Moreover, if something does happen to Billy, Casey is fairly certain that would be something much harder to forgive.

-o-

Casey’s compromise is to put his chair by the window in Billy’s room. The view’s not quite as good, but it’s not bad for their purposes, and he can still keep an eye on Billy while he maintains some semblance of vigilance.

This makes Casey feel somewhat better.

But Billy isn’t helping matters.

The Scot is steadily getting worse. He sleeps fitfully and Casey has taken to pressing cool compresses to his forehead. He does this without sentimentality, of course, and if he takes pride in getting the temperature just right and ensuring that the washcloth is wet enough to do the job without dripping into Billy’s eyes, that’s entirely for the personal challenge involved.

It doesn’t seem to help, though. Billy’s fever rages on, burning through the washcloths with regularity. Casey folds down the sheets of Billy’s bed even as he shivers. He knows Billy probably craves the warmth, but even the thin sheet is adding too much of a strain on Billy’s overtaxed and overheated body.

This is what Casey can do. He’s never been so foolish as to overstretch his expectations and he’s aware of his own limitations. But that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

Eyes on Billy, who shifts and shivers and mumbles, Casey doesn’t have to like it at all.

-o-

Casey is used to overcoming obstacles. He’s proud to say that there are few trials he hasn’t been able to endure, even when the odds have been stacked against him. This has included many feats in Casey’s career, and he’s aware that he’s regarded as one of the best human assets in the field that the Agency has to offer.

This, however, is a trial Casey struggles to endure. True, there is no physical hardship. There isn’t even an intellectual challenge. But sitting there, watching Billy suffer, is one of the hardest things he’s had to do.

It’s like being in the van with Martinez in South America. Casey’s good under pressure, but only when there’s something he can do. When he’s resigned to sit and wait and hope for the best, the futility is almost overwhelming.

And yet, Casey can’t yield. He has to sit here, has to keep doing his duty, no matter how meager it seems.

And Casey will pretend it’s okay. He’ll change Billy’s compress and rouse him enough to take some medicine and drink some water. He’ll take his temperature and watch the time, and mentally go over what next steps he can take, even if he knows none of them are viable.

Casey will persist. Casey will prevail. Casey has no choice.

It’s a waiting game now, he knows while Billy shivers and moans. A game to see what will break first – Billy or the fever.

-o-

When night falls, Casey steels himself against the inevitable onslaught of exhaustion. He consciously slows his body’s functions down, reducing his heart rate and putting himself in an extreme state of rest while still maintaining some awareness. His eyes are on the street, barely tracking the ebb and flow of traffic, and he’s listening to Billy breathe even as he rests as much as he is able under the current circumstances.

This isn’t ideal, he knows; his surveillance is less than optimal and he’s not really getting the rest he needs. But compromises are sometimes necessary in this line of work, and Casey’s not above doing what he has to.

This is why Casey hears the change right away, but why it still takes him a good few seconds to realize what’s happening.

Billy’s been mumbling on and off as the fever climbs, but this time the words are audible. In fact, as Casey rouses himself, he realizes that Billy’s almost yelling.

This startles Casey – only for a moment, but that’s enough. He jerks to his feet, moving to the bed in time to stop Billy from thrashing off and onto the floor.

Billy’s voice doesn’t abate though, and he yells even as Casey tries to restrain him. “We can’t just leave them like that,” he says. “We have to go back. It’s our job to go back.”

Casey’s trying to make sense of that when he realizes that there’s nothing to make sense of. He catches a sight of Billy’s face – twisted with pain and fear, eyes shining unnaturally with fever. He could be talking about any number of missions, none of which are relevant to the actual problem they’re facing.

Which is mostly that Billy’s delirious.

Casey’s often joked that Billy must be delirious to be as perpetually happy as he seems to be, but this is different. Billy’s skin is hot to the touch and his long limbs are flailing in a helpless attempt to do something. What, it’s unlikely even Billy knows at this point.

This knowledge doesn’t help him deal with the reality, though. Because Billy’s still yelling about assets and duties and missions and he’s trying with all of his meager strength to push past Casey and off the bed.

Casey’s strong, but Billy’s limbs are unwieldy. More than that, Casey’s keenly aware that he doesn’t want to hurt Billy.

But he’s also aware that he needs to shut the other man up – sooner rather than later. The entire point of being undercover is to be discrete and having a man yelling in English about top secret missions is hardly a good way to do that.

“Billy,” Casey says, trying to keep his voice under control – for the mission, not because he’s scared. He tightens his grip on Billy’s arms. “Billy.”

Billy twists and squeezes his eyes shut. Tears leak out and he shakes his head. “I can’t screw this up,” he says, a little desperate now. “Please.”

“Billy,” Casey says again, insistent now. “Look at me.”

Somehow, Billy hears him and obeys. His body is rigid and tense but his eyes flutter open and he stills.

There’s a moment, then. Billy’s eyes meet Casey’s and lock, and Billy’s look penetrates deep into Casey’s soul. He sees the desperation and the pain – and the very real fear. It would be easy to write this off as the fever, but Casey can’t help but think that he’s seeing a very real part of Billy, the part he’s always hiding.

And Casey can’t help it if his heart stutters in his chest.

Gently, Casey keeps them both steady. He holds Billy’s eyes. “You’re not going to screw this up,” he says, his words slow and even. “And if you do, it doesn’t matter because we’re doing this together.”

Billy blinks, hope flickering in his eyes.

“But you need to rest,” Casey continues. He hesitates, then adds, “For me.”

This is entirely a play to Billy’s emotions; a practical way to deal with a man who has been deprived of his natural senses. It’s not sentimentality in any way, even if Billy takes it as such.

And this is Casey’s version of the truth and since Billy won’t remember this later, it’s really the only one that matters.

It works.

Billy’s desperation softens and his body goes pliant as Billy allows Casey to ease him back onto the pillow. Billy looks up with such hope, such trust, that Casey can’t help but feel uncomfortable.

“I can’t screw this up,” Billy says again, quieter now even as his eyelids droop.

“I know,” Casey says, as soothingly as he can. “I know.”

He says that again and again until Billy’s eyes slip closed and sleep claims him once again.

-o-

Casey’s been on enough failed missions to know when things just aren’t working. It’s important to be able to identify the signs of impending failure, and sometimes admitting defeat is the only way of salvaging anything.

So Casey’s not stupid. Nor is he oblivious.

Billy’s not getting better. The medicine is having no impact. The cold compresses are only marginally effective.

The fact is, Billy actually getting worse. His fever is rising, hovering at dangerous levels while Billy’s body trembles, his mind locked in near-constant delirium. Casey does his best to keep administering water and medicine, but while he can force some water down Billy throat, having him swallow pills is actually impossible now.

This is hard for Casey to admit, especially since there’s nothing he can do.

Billy talks now – reliving missions, some Casey can identify, some he can’t – and the hours stretch on as the fever advances and holds its ground.

-o-

Casey gives up the window when Billy starts sobbing.

It’s a wretched, tired sound, and Billy’s entire body shakes with it. He’s too weak to thrash now, but Casey still goes to him and sits by his side, hands on Billy’s shoulders.

“Hey,” he says. “Calm down. You’re okay.”

This is a lie in the most outrageous way possible. Maybe that’s why this time, Billy opens his eyes and looks right at Casey.

It takes a moment, but Billy’s eyes focus and recognition dawns. It’s the first time in nearly two days that Billy seems to know who he is.

Casey will blame exhaustion later if anyone asks why he smiles. “I know this is difficult,” Casey says to Billy as earnestly as he can. “But you can fight this.”

Billy’s entire body shakes violently but his gaze doesn’t waver. “The mission,” he says, but the words are choppy and hard to understand while Billy’s teeth chatter.

“Is fine,” Casey says, not sure if that’s a lie or not. Either way, it’s not entirely relevant, especially not to Billy right now.

Billy knows him, though. Too well. Because even in his wavering lucidity, he shakes his head. “Can’t compromise it,” he says. “Not for me.”

It’s not clear to Casey exactly what Billy’s talking about, but he’s suffering from dehydration and a dangerously high fever, so this is probably to be expected. Yet, there’s something agonizingly certain about Billy’s words and although his eyes are burning with the fever, he seems cognizant in a way he shouldn’t have the strength for.

“I’m not worth it,” he says, his brow furrowing a little as he smiles.

Casey’s looking for something to say when Billy’s eyes roll up again, eyelids fluttering shut as he moans, body jerking with fresh vehemence.

It’s all Casey can do to hold him steady, to ease him back into a restless sleep.

“You are, though,” Casey says, his throat tight. He drops his head wearily to his hands and forces himself to breathe. “You are.”

-o-

Casey’s past the point of feeling his own exhaustion. He eats and sits half asleep by the window, but it’s all by rote. He’s in survival mode, plain and simple, his own needs completely secondary to the ever-pressing concern for Billy.

He’s still managing to get Billy to swallow some water every now and then, but he knows it’s not enough. He needs an IV badly. Billy has not been lucid again, and there’s no longer any feasible way to drag him to the bathroom, not that he figures Billy’s kidneys are actually producing much to pass anyway.

They’re passing a point of no return, and Casey knows it. If he lets things go on much longer, there’s a good chance Billy won’t survive this.

The hospital is an option, though Casey doesn’t consider it to be overly viable. It’s essentially career suicide, because he knows it’s likely the authorities will peg them for the spies they are. They will be disowned by their government and likely forced into an overcrowded jail for the rest of their lives.

It’s a classic example of a rock and a hard place.

And yet, Casey knows what decision he’ll make. He knows what he’ll do. If he doesn’t check Billy into the hospital, he’ll take him to a clinic and bribe anyone he can and hope for the best. Mostly, his career is a small price to pay for Billy to live.

His eyes linger on Billy.

A small price to pay.

-o-

Casey startles, and he realizes he’s been asleep.

His cheeks flush in embarrassment and shame, but the feelings quickly subside as concern flares up in their place. Falling asleep on the job hasn’t been a problem, not with Billy’s restless talking and intermittent twitching.

But it’s quiet now. Deadly still.

Looking to the bed, Billy’s still there but he’s not moving anymore. His body is splayed limply, arms loose at his sides and head turned motionless on the pillow. His mouth is open, lips parched and skin sickly pale.

He looks dead.

The thought almost makes Casey sick.

He’s on his feet without thinking, by Billy’s bedside without hesitation. His fingers brush Billy’s cheek, feeling the heat.

It’s not exactly reassuring, but Casey still sighs in relief. If Billy has a fever, then he’s not dead.

He’s not dead.

That’s something, at least.

Unfortunately, that’s all there is. Because Billy’s breathing is shallow and weak, and as Casey presses a hand to the Scot’s chest, he can feel the uneven cadence. He uses his other hand to feel Billy’s forehead, which is hotter than Casey thought possible and bone dry.

This is the end of things, Casey realizes. Billy’s body is past the point of sweating, past the point of delirium. He doesn’t even have the energy to hallucinate, which means his body is succumbing to a seemingly inevitable fate.

Billy’s dying.

His mind echoes with that simple realization as he tries to grapple with how to deal with that. Billy’s dying and Casey can’t just sit here. He can’t.

Michael and Rick are still a few days out – at least. But Billy can’t wait that long.

Billy can’t wait at all.

Casey has one move left to make, one chance to make this right – or it could cost him everything.

Looking at Billy, Casey hopes he does the right thing.

-o-

It’s all instinct.

Methodically, he strips Billy down to his boxers. It takes some work to maneuver the damp shirt over Billy’s head and it’s somewhat awkward to pull his pants down and off. He plucks the socks off – they’re red and ridiculous – and Billy doesn’t so much as twitch. He discards the clothing on the floor, though, and doesn’t let himself dwell.

Next, Casey goes to the kitchen, opening the outdated icebox. They aren’t exactly flush with supplies, but he’s grateful that Michael stocked them up with frozen vegetables, which seem to be the only thing their so-called fearless leader is actually capable of making.

Casey scoffs at the idea of frozen food in general – he prefers things organic and fresh because preservatives are dangerous to his peak physical capacity – but they’re exactly what he needs now.

He grabs them all and moves without delay back to the bedroom. Billy’s right where he left him, flaccid and pale on top of the soiled sheets.

Gritting his teeth, Casey knows what he has to do. Still, he almost wants to apologize as he takes the bag of corn and places it in Billy’s armpit. The peas go under the arm and he packs a bag of mixed vegetables in the crook of Billy’s neck.

He takes the last bag – broccoli – and mutters an apology as he places it carefully between Billy’s thighs.

“It’s nothing personal,” Casey assures Billy. “So don’t get any crazy ideas.”

The sudden shock of cold makes Billy jolt and within a few minutes he’s trembling again. When he moans, it sounds like genuine pain, but Casey doesn’t let it get to him. He can’t. Billy can be in pain, as long as he’s alive.

Casey sits, watches, and waits.

Watches, waits, and hopes.

-o-

Casey’s been going too long; when he falls asleep, he is physically incapable of stopping himself.

He dreams.

Of missions and training; of covert operations and filing reports.

Of losing Carson in an explosion in North Africa; of Rick bleeding in the back of a van in South America.

Of Michael, still plotting and planning.

Of Billy, cracking jokes and smiling.

“I’m not worth it,” he says.

And Casey looks him in the eyes and says, “You are.”

-o-

Then, he’s awake.

He’s leaned over, passed out on Billy’s bed. He blinks once and then twice before he comes fully into himself and remembers.

He looks over to Billy, suddenly fearing the worst.

Billy’s eyes are closed and he’s still. Jaw tight, he reaches over to feel Billy’s forehead when the Scot jolts.

His eyes open wide, surprised and startled, before they fix steadily on Casey’s.

Casey stares back.

Billy swallows with obvious difficulty. His face scrunches with pain. “What happened?” he croaks.

Billy’s weak and ragged; he looks more than somewhat worse for wear but his eyes are clear.

He’s alive.

More than that, he’s okay.

The fever has broken.

And Casey, almost drunk with exhaustion and giddy with relief, can only laugh.

-o-

From there, things get better. Billy is slow and weary, but steadily improving. He’s awake enough to eat and drink and start to take care of himself. By the next day, he’s up and out of bed. True, he can only shuffle, pausing frequently to lean against a doorframe or table to steady himself, but it’s still progress.

The fever abates quickly, and though the cough lingers, Billy’s showing signs of real recovery. Casey resumes his post at the window and they studiously do not talk about Billy waking up mostly naked with sopping bags of vegetables in his most vulnerable regions.

Billy jokes and Casey scoffs and things are getting back to normal.

Still, Casey can’t help it if he hovers just a bit. He brings Billy his food on a tray and sits at the window while the other man eats with shaky hands. He watches without looking as Billy tries to get into a new pair of clothes, settling down into the freshly made bed Casey made up earlier in the day.

As Billy settles beneath the sheets, he sighs, the weight of his ordeal still evident. Casey kills the light and stands a moment longer in the doorway as he listens to Billy breathe through still-congested lungs.

“Good night,” Billy says, no more than a murmur in the dark.

And Casey thinks it’s good indeed as he retires back to his post.

-o-

Casey’s dozed on and off against his will, so by the early morning of the fourth day since Billy got sick, he’s really pushing the limits of his endurance. He’s past the point of using caffeine as a stimulant. Now, it’s pure mental determination.

Still, in the early morning, he’s heavy with the desire to sleep and he’s so intent on keeping his eyes on the streets below that he doesn’t hear Billy until he’s sitting with effort in a nearby chair.

Casey blinks but gives no other indication of his drowsiness.

Billy breathes noisily and seems to know anyway. “I think I’m well overdue for my turn on watch,” he says.

Casey glowers. A little out of habit; a lot because he’s too tired to be friendly. “You nearly succumbed to the flu,” he reminds Billy, as if either of them has forgotten that point. “You need to get your strength back.”

“I’m not going to argue with you, mate,” he says. “I’m not at one hundred percent—“

“You’re not even at fifty percent,” Casey interjects.

Billy inclines his head. “Quite possibly,” he concedes. “But you look like you’re barely hitting twenty-five at this point.”

“I’m fine,” Casey snarls back.

Billy chuckles. “I seem to remember saying the exact same thing,” he says. “Pride does goeth before the fall. And I’m speaking from experience.”

He has a point.

More than that, he actually does look okay. Still a little pale and thinner than normal, but his eyes are clear and he’s sitting up of his own accord. Billy’s going to be okay.

And suddenly Casey realizes how exhausted he is. His body aches with it, his mind foggy and desperate. His eyes are dry and his movements feel weighed down.

Billy seems to sense this weakness. “Go,” he says. “Or I will take you there myself.”

Casey grunts. “I’d like to see you try.”

“Given your sleep deprivation and my weakened state, it would be quite an impressive matchup,” Billy says.

Casey considers this. Considers Billy. Considers doing the job and knowing what matters. Considers the fact that he doesn’t have to do this alone.

Sighing, he gets to his feet. “We’ll test that out tomorrow,” he says. “Don’t screw up.”

Billy nods at him, smiling. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” he says.

Casey finds himself half hobbling toward the bedrooms, the idea of sleep so pressing that he can almost feel the pillow under his head.

“Oh, and Casey?” Billy calls after him, interrupting his thought.

Casey turns, a little sluggish, to look back. “What?”

“Thank you,” he says, and he’s looking at Casey earnestly now. Intent.

The lack of sleep has his defenses down, so it’s all Casey can do to hold his composure. He wants to say he’s glad Billy’s okay. He wants to say that he’s grateful Billy’s alive. He wants to say how scared he was, how he never would have recovered if something had happened.

He wants to.

But he doesn’t.

Instead, he smirks and shakes his head. “Just don’t do it again, okay?”

Billy’s grin widens. “Okay.”

When Casey finally gets to his bedroom, he’s asleep before he lays down.

And it’s the best sleep he’s ever had.

-o-

When Michael and Rick get back two days later, things are mostly back to normal. Billy is cracking jokes and leaving his dirty laundry all over the apartment; Casey glares and meditates, and it’s no longer just an act when he grouses about Billy’s habit of singing when he’s on watch.

Mostly, they’re ready to go home.

Michael and Rick are, too, so as they pack up, they don’t spend much time belaboring the details. All’s well that ends well, after all, and they’re all going home together with the intel they need, so Casey can’t think to ask for more.

Still, it’s just like Michael to ask, “Everything go okay here?”

Billy looks at Casey expectantly. Someday Casey will tell the story over drinks when they’re trying to remember why they’re still doing this. Someday Billy will tell the story when everything has gone wrong and it seems like there’s nothing left. Someday.

But today Casey sighs, and he shrugs his shoulders as nonchalantly as he can. “Everything was fine,” Casey says, and he looks at Billy, who is just barely holding back a grin.

And if it’s not quite true, it’s still the only truth that matters, as far as Casey is concerned.

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