Their escape from the Cobra bunker seemed like a blur, Lifeline and Snake Eyes all but carrying their injured teammates as they and the others fought their way through the troopers that the Baroness had alerted. The medic had reluctantly relinquished the care of the black case carrying the virus vials to Gung Ho, being unable to hold on to it and carry Billy’s unconscious body at the same time. Bypassing the underground path that the team had originally taken, they thankfully did not meet up with any more of the mutated Umbrella creatures as they made their way upward, blasting through the door of what appeared to be the bunker’s hangar after a short firefight.
It was already deep into the night when the group finally hit open ground and broke for the surrounding tree line. Without pausing, the small group made their way to the prearranged rendezvous point for pick up, Snake Eyes sending the signal from his wrist communicator.
As they waited for the choppers to arrive, Edwin took the first aid kit that Low Light had been carrying and tended to Billy and Scarlett as best he could before seeing to the minor injuries that he and the others had also sustained.
Once the choppers had arrived and everyone had been safely loaded on-board, Lifeline settled down next to Billy’s unconscious form, wrapping an olive green blanket around his bare upper body. It wasn’t long before the medic drifted to sleep, not waking until the aircraft touched down at Joe Headquarters. Even then, Edwin was only vaguely aware of being ushered to the infirmary, where he was immediately put into bed and promptly fell back to sleep.
Billy, in the meantime, was rushed into the OR, the Joe medical team working frantically to try and save the former soldier's life. The wound, in the end, wasn't fatal, but it was quickly determined that it would leave a rather ugly scar. But Billy was alive.
They were all alive.
With a start, Edwin sat bolt upright in the bed, his hand going to his chest, to feel his heart racing. His dark head falling forward, he took several deep breaths. It...it was just a dream...
Lifeline couldn’t suppress the slight shudder that ran down his spine as the vision in his dream returned to him – the veins in his arm writhing under his skin as the Umbrella virus was pumped into him, the fingers on his hand growling longer and twisted.
After several minutes, he raised his head, finally getting a look at his surroundings. His dark gaze settled on the bed next to his. Sliding out of bed, the medic lightly padded over once he realized just who was next to him. Billy was still very much unconscious, his breathing shallow, but mostly regular. His skin was still pale from blood loss, his torso heavily bandaged, a strip across his nose to help it heal properly from the jolt it had taken earlier. Still, for all that, there was a very faint smile on the dark-haired man's lips. It was as if, even in his deep slumber, he was feeling a sense of pride for what he had done.
Edwin stood there silently for several long minutes, as he looked at Billy. Reaching out, he lightly brushed his fingertips over the unconscious man’s brow. Lifeline’s hand lingered on the side of the Marine’s face for a few moments before it slid away. The medic then took a few minutes to look over the bandages before moving to pull a chair over next to Billy’s bedside and sit down. Billy stirred, just a little, at the touch to his face, and by the time Edwin had drawn the chair over, the Marine had forced open one blue eye. Hazy from the drugs, it was clear he was still heavily medicated against the pain.
Lifeline mustered up a faint smile, “Hey there soldier.” The tiny smile on Billy's face grew a bit as his other eye fought its way open. “Looks like you’re gonna make it.” The nod the Marine gave Edwin was very slight, but the tiny smile didn't fade a bit.
“Thanks,” Lifeline said, his voice hushed. “Thanks for coming to get me.”
Billy shook his head at that, and smiled a little bit more. "...No big...deal..." he whispered softly, wincing a little in pain as he did.
Rising to his feet, Edwin stood over Billy once again checking the wrappings. “You need to rest.” His dark eyes were focused on the Marine’s pale face.
"...Okay...Doc..." was the gasped out response before Billy closed his eyes, his breathing slightly labored from the pain.
smiled faintly, this one tinged with a bit of sadness however.
Lifting his hand, he was about to reach out to towards Billy again
when he pulled it back. Closing his eyes for a moment, he sighed
before returning to his bed.
Billy grew steadily better as each day passed. He slept a lot, and was kept fairly heavily medicated. But within a week, he was able to remain conscious, and even communicate for a time, provided he was able to speak quietly, and not do anything to strain his wound. Edwin was a daily visitor, having been released the day after their arrival back at Joe Headquarters. The medic stopped in several times a day, clad in his trademark red and white uniform, usually during lunch and in the early evening. Gung Ho even stopped in to check up on his fellow Marine, filling Billy in on the extent of Scarlett’s injuries.
The only other visitor was Duke, the hard-eyed leader of the Joe team. The blond man had already received reports from all the Joes involved in the rescue mission – all of them having nothing but positive things to say about Lieutenant William Coen and his conduct. Even Scarlett had given the Marine glowing words of praise. Duke had questioned Billy on aspects of the mission and also about his court martial and the events leading up to it. While the team had been gone, he’d looked over the information that Mainframe had gathered and made some discreet inquiries of his own. After leaving Billy, he’d gone back to his office and written up a report for General Hawk.
It was past dinner time, and quite past the usual time that Lifeline came when the medic finally appeared, knocking lightly on the frame of the open doorway before entering. Billy was sitting up, reclining back slightly, in a half-doze. But at the knock on the doorway, his eyes opened and he smiled a little. "...You're late..." He murmured quietly.
“A little crabby this evening aren’t we, Mr. Coen?” Edwin gave Billy a smile as he stepped into the room and made his way over to the Marine’s bedside.
"Nicotine withdrawal," he replied, his smile not fading in the slightest.
“Ah...infirmary rules.” Rather than taking his usual seat, Lifeline stood next to the bed.
The difference in behavior wasn't lost on Billy, who raised an eyebrow. "So...what kept you?"
“I got pulled into a meeting,” the medic replied. “I can’t stay very long.”
Edwin shook his head, “Quite the opposite. Mainframe managed to break the encryption on that disc that was in the case with the Umbrella virus. It’s all on there Billy – all the information on the virus that Cobra’s managed to collect, their plans for it...”
Billy smiled a little at that. "We stopped 'em in their tracks..."
The medic smiled as well as he nodded. “Pretty much. The virus is on its way to the C.D.C. in Atlanta.” Lifeline fell silent for a few moments. “There were plans on it – plans to infect a remote village in Indo-China as a kind of test. Some of it – some of it sounded a lot like what happened to you Billy.”
There were several moments of silence as Billy let his mind process that. "...Jesus Christ..." he finally breathed, a haunted look coming to the man's eyes as he thought about his own experiences. "...They were going to try to set up some other poor bastard?"
“I don’t know, but there’s enough of a coincidence that it’s raised a lot of eyebrows with the top brass.” Edwin replied as he looked at the other man. “The Corps is going to re-examine your case, Billy.”
Billy shook his head sharply, not quite certain he'd heard Edwin correctly. "They're...what?"
“They’re going to re-open the case against you – the transcripts of the court martial, everything.” The medic smiled a little. “The truth will finally come out.”
The hint of a smile tried to touch Billy's lips, but didn't quite make it. "So...there's a pretty good chance I won't be headed for the Chamber or the Chair when I get outta here..."
Lifeline’s smile widened a bit. “Not if any of us Joes having anything to say about it. You’ve become rather popular.” That drew an honestly surprised look from Billy. “What’s with that look?” Edwin chuckled. “Gung Ho gossips worse than an old woman. There’s not a Joe on base who hasn’t heard about you and what you did inside that Cobra bunker.”
Billy shook his head. "Wasn't that big a deal, Edwin," he said dismissively. "I was just doing my job..."
Lifeline gazed down at Billy, his manner turning more serious. “It’s a big deal to me, Billy. I know that agreeing to put yourself back in custody afterwards wasn’t an easy thing to do and I really appreciate it.”
Billy smiled a bit, the expression softening his icy blue eyes. "I told you before, I don't really care what happens to me...I just want Umbrella exposed."
The medic nodded. “We’ve got enough information to get the ball rolling on that. General Hawk ordered Mainframe to forward everything to the Attorney General’s office.”
"Good. So you're safe, Umbrella's exposed, and maybe I won't end up dead by the end of the week. Things are looking up."
Edwin shook his head and chuckled. “You have such an eloquent way of putting things.”
Lifeline sighed dramatically, “What am I going to do with you?”
"Go fishing with me, once I'm healed up and the weather's nicer."
“Deal.” The medic nodded and smiled before glancing down at his watch. “I gotta get back. I just wanted to stop by and let you know what was going on.”
Billy nodded, and relaxed back into the bed again. "Thanks for filling me in....say hi to the guys for me?"
“Sure thing. Oh, by the way, the MPs have given the okay for you to stay in our custody until everything gets resolved one way or the other.”
“I thought that might be okay with you.” Edwin smiled once again. “I’ll try and stop by in the morning if I can.”
"Okay. See ya later, Edwin."
Mainframe gave the nurse at the front desk a wave and smile as he passed by. Stopping at the closed door several feet away, he lightly rapped on it. Billy set aside the magazine he'd been reading, a little confused as he glanced at the clock on the wall. None of his medications were due, and Lifeline usually came later. "Come in," He called out, as loudly as he was able, which wasn't very loud at all, given his injury.
Hearing the slightly muffled reply, the computer tech pushed open the door and stuck his head inside. “Yo, Lifeline?”
"You're a little early to catch him," Billy said quietly.
“Oh...sorry then. I just figured I’d look here first.”
"It's all right." After a moment, Billy smiled a little. "I'm glad you stopped by. I wanted to thank you."
“For what?” Mainframe asked, slightly puzzled.
"For actually talking to them for me...giving me a chance to try to get them to take me along."
The tech shrugged, “I didn’t really think they would, but...well, it all worked out.”
“You’re welcome.” Mainframe pushed the door open a bit more and stepped inside. “So how’re you doing? Enjoying our four star accommodations?”
"Beats the hell out of some of the places I've stayed in the last few years....it's been nice."
“I bet. Although knowing Lifeline, he probably has everybody giving you the extra special treatment.” Mainframe took a few steps closer.
"You really think so?"
The computer specialist nodded his head. “Probably; but then again, after what’s been going around about what went down at that Cobra base, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t have a few new friends around here. Me included.”
"Aw hell...you guys are making this out to be way more than it is..." Billy said, actually feeling a little embarrassed.
“Maybe; but if Scarlett is saying good things about you, then you must’ve been damn impressive. She’s a tough one, but one of our best.”
"Thanks...but it really wasn't anything that extraordinary," Billy replied for what felt like the millionth time, still moderately embarrassed.
Mainframe nodded his head a bit before falling silent for a few moments. “I hear you’re gonna be with us for a while,” he said, his eyes on Billy.
"Yeah. I guess they're letting me stay here until they're done reevaluating my case."
“Lifeline’s doing.” The tech said. “He went to bat pretty hard for you.”
Billy shook his head, smiling a bit. "I shoulda guessed he had something to do with it."
“I was kinda surprised they agreed, especially considering how they laid into him for taking you from that hospital and then hiding you. He’s pretty lucky all he’s going to get is an official letter of reprimand in his file.”
"No kidding..." Billy shook his head. "I...can't believe he's gone through all of this for me...I don't deserve it..."
Mainframe looked at the Marine. “He must have his reasons.”
Billy nodded, and then smiled a bit. "Yeah, you're probably right. So what did you need to see him about, anyway? Or am I allowed to know?"
“Nothing major, I just wanted to check out that GPS chip in his watch. I just figured I’d probably be able to catch him here.”
Billy glanced up at the clock and smiled faintly. "Give it a few more minutes, and you may just."
“No biggie,” the tech said with a slight shrug. “I can always catch up with him later. He’s usually hanging around until late.”
Billy only nodded, unsure what else to say. Mainframe fell silent as well for a few moments, his eyes on the injured man. “I uh gotta be getting back,” he said, hooking his thumb towards the door. “Glad to see you’re alright.”
"Thanks. Take care," Billy said, smiling a bit.
too, man.” The computer specialist, moved towards the door.
Lifeline silently counted the reps to himself as he watched Billy. There was perspiration on the Marine’s brow, his face set in a look of determination as he continued the curls, the weights on the end of the strap lifting and sliding back down noiselessly. The medic couldn’t help smiling a bit as he watched his friend work. Billy had already surpassed his initial prognosis, pushing himself during his physical therapy sessions so that his progress was just short of amazing.
Marine's penchant for pushing himself had caused his physical
therapists no end of concern at first, until they realized that the
man always stopped himself short of aggravating any injuries. And, in
spite of the rumors that circulated wherever Billy went, most of
those personnel who had come to know him over the weeks of his
recovery all agreed that he didn't seem the sort to murder
twenty-three civilians in cold-blood.
Standing between Scarlett and Duke, Lieutenant Colonel Jonothan Farver watched Billy thoughtfully. "Certainly stirred up a lot of trouble, this one has. He's had the upper brass sweating for a good long time now."
“He’s been very cooperative since he was brought in, Sir.” Scarlett’s blue eyes settled on Billy as she spoke. “He’s followed every order and rule without question.”
Duke nodded his agreement. “I’ve had nothing but good reports on him, from the doctors and nurses, all the way down to the orderlies. “ The blond’s icy blue gaze also settled on the two figures on the other side of the observation glass.
"I heard rumors that he went on a mission with you and a detachment of Joes. I suppose the fact that he's still here says something about his character."
“Yes sir, “Scarlett nodded her head as she turned her attention to the Lieutenant Colonel. “And I don’t mind saying that his demeanor was exemplary. I wouldn’t mind having a few more like him. His knowledge of the Umbrella creatures was invaluable.”
A very small smile crossed Farver's lips as he nodded once. "That seems to be the general consensus regarding Lieutenant Coen." Then he looked over at Duke. "You spoke with Coen at one point, I seem to recall being told. What were your personal impressions of him?"
Duke’s gaze shifted slightly to the man in question, watching Billy as he continued the therapy workout.
"Professional...respectful...he had an eye for detail when I questioned him about the mission.” The Joe team leader turned to look at Farver. “He didn’t strike me as a psychopathic killer if that’s what you’re getting at. Believe me, the Joes have met their fair share of psychopaths, and I can tell you that Billy Coen most definitely is not one.”
Farver's eyes turned toward the glass again, and he watched Billy quietly for a few more moments. "We're at a little bit of a loss on this one, Duke, I don't mind telling you. Even if we clear his name on the records, this isn't something we can go to the press with. A fuck up of this caliber would have the entire American population screaming for blood." A wry smile touched Farver's lips. "We're not supposed to make mistakes, after all."
“Duke and I have been thinking about that sir, and we think we might have a solution.” Scarlett glanced at the blond Joe as she spoke.
"I'm all ears."
It was Duke however, who spoke. “Give him to us.”
Farver quirked an eyebrow.
“You’ve seen his file,” Duke said in response to Farver’s look. “He was recommended once for the Joes, and he certainly proved his worth as part of Lifeline’s rescue team.”
Scarlett nodded her head. “Plus, as a member of the Joes, his whereabouts and personal information become top secret.”
Duke once again took up the explanation. “You can clear his record and say that it was all part of an undercover operation to expose Umbrella and Cobra after some details about the massacre came to light. Coen was picked to go deep inside to get enough evidence to prove the connection between the two and that they were responsible for what happened in that village. I know it’s not exactly ethical, but it would keep the press off your back. If they ever catch wind of it, that is.”
"And leave you with one of the best, to boot, so we both win," was Farver's thoughtful reply. "I can't speak for the upper levels, but I'm certainly in favor of the idea."
“Good. General Hawk has already okayed it on my recommendation, which just leaves it up to one person – Coen.” Both Duke and Scarlett turned their gazes back to the window, their eyes falling on Billy. "None of this is going to work unless he agrees.”
"Let me make a few phone calls, and make sure no one on my end is going to explode if we go ahead on this, and then we'll speak with Coen. Give me twenty minutes. I'd rather not get anyone's hopes up."
The blond Joe nodded. “You can use the phone in my office.” Duke gestured towards the door with his hand, indicating that Farver should precede him. Giving Billy and Lifeline once last look through the glass, Scarlett followed the two men out of the room.
Twenty minutes and a few phone calls later, Farver set down the phone and gave a little triumphant smile. His eyes flicked over to Duke and Scarlett and he nodded once. "I've got the okay on it from my end. They should be faxing whatever paperwork to General Hawk shortly. All we need now is Coen's agreement."
Scarlett couldn’t help the very faint smile that played on her lips at the news as she glanced at Duke. The big blond nodded his head. “No time like the present. He’s probably finishing up his therapy session by now.”
"Lead the way then."
With Scarlett still in tow, Duke and Farver retraced their steps back to the infirmary wing, heading straight for the physical therapy room where Billy was indeed just finishing up his session.
"Well, that didn't go half-badly," Billy remarked, before looking over as Duke, Scarlett, and a high-ranking officer he didn't know stepped into the room.
Farver stopped a few feet from Coen, snapping to attention. Unthinkingly, Billy did the same, and saw for the first time the rank insignia on the man's uniform shirt. A Lieutenant Colonel?
“I don’t think you should have moved up to the heavier weight yet...” Bent over, his back to the door while he reset the weight machine, Lifeline was unaware of the new arrivals.
"At ease, soldier," Farver said, smiling a bit when Billy relaxed. "Before you strain something."
Hearing the unfamiliar voice, Edwin immediately straightened up and turned around. A slightly puzzled look crossed his face when he saw his fellow Joes with the unknown man. The medic’s eyes honed in on the bars pinned on the man’s uniform, causing him to snap to attention as well and salute him. Farver barely managed not to chuckle as Edwin snapped to attention, and nodded in acknowledgment. "At ease, the both of you," He amended.
“Yes Sir,” Lifeline dropped his hand and relaxed his stance. Behind the lenses of his glasses, his eyes darted to Scarlett and Duke questioningly.
As if in answer to the medic’s unasked question, Duke took a step closer. “This is Lieutenant Colonel Farver with the Department of Defense,” he introduced Farver with a wave of his hand towards the uniformed man. “Lieutenant Colonel, may I introduce our chief field medic, Lifeline.”
Edwin, gave a slight nod of his head, “Sir.”
“And this,” Duke said, his hand gesturing towards the man next to Lifeline, “this is Lieutenant Billy Coen.”
"It's a pleasure to meet the both of you," Farver replied with a smile. "Especially you, Lieutenant Coen. I've heard a great deal about you in the last few weeks."
"Sir," Billy replied, tone neutral, still guarded.
“The Lieutenant Colonel came down to check on your progress, Coen.” Duke’s icy blue gaze settled on Billy as he spoke.
"The docs say I'm shaping up pretty well," Billy replied, draping the towel in his hand over one shoulder.
"I'm very glad to hear that, Lieutenant," Farver said. "Very glad indeed."
"With all due respect, Sir," Billy said, tone cautious. "Just what's all this about?"
"This is about the reassessment of your trial, Lieutenant Coen."
Edwin’s dark eyes widened slightly as they darted back towards his team mates. Before the medic had a chance to open his mouth however, Scarlett unobtrusively raised her hand a bit, signaling him to stand down. Frowning slightly, he turned his gaze towards Farver.
Billy said nothing, not trusting what might come out of his mouth if he spoke, and he only nodded. Farver nodded once, confirming something to himself. "We've had a devil of a time trying to figure out what to do with you, Lieutenant. It's obvious you were wrongfully accused and convicted. After reading reports on your mission with the Joes, as well as speaking with several people who've had contact with you, that's been made abundantly clear. But I digress. First, let me congratulate you, Lieutenant. You're a free man."
Edwin immediately snapped his attention to Billy, his face showing obvious signs of surprise, while across from him, Scarlett gave Coen a small smile of her own. Billy's own expression shifted from extreme surprise to a tentative smile. A moment later, the expression faded just a little and a tiny, thoughtful frown creased his brow. "So...what now?"
It was Duke who answered, the big blond man stepping forward a bit. “That depends.”
Farver stepped aside slightly, silently willing to let Duke take over from there. Billy only raised an eyebrow. "On what, Sir?"
“On whether or not you’d be willing to take on a new assignment.”
"With all due respect, I don't see how my opinion makes a difference," was the Marine's cautious reply, clearly perplexed.
“It does this time, soldier,” came the reply. “We don’t take anyone who isn’t totally committed.”
Billy blinked, was still a moment, and blinked again. "You mean....assigned....here?"
Duke nodded his head, “That’s right Lieutenant. We’re offering you a place here, with the Joes; but it’s entirely up to you.”
Lifeline’s mouth fell open in surprise, his gaze from Duke to Billy and back again. He’s serious!
After another instant of shock, Billy got a firm grip on his composure, and smiled a bit. "Sir, it would be an honor."
Behind Duke, Scarlett’s smile widened as she looked at Billy. Standing next to the Marine, Lifeline broke out into a broad smile of his own as he reached out and clapped Billy on the back.