Unsung Heroes: Mission Zero

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Chapter Eleven

The next couple weeks passed in a blur of paperwork and physical therapy for Billy, before he finally found himself being set loose for a two-week long Leave of Absence to get his affairs in order. Both Duke and Billy knew it wasn't nearly enough time, but Billy hadn't complained. After all, with his current assignment tethering him to a base in Utah, it wasn't impossible to drive into Arizona and see his family.

Needless to say, his first few items of business, once the military offered him up a certain amount of back pay, involved purchasing a truck for himself, a few new changes of clothes, some camping gear and a pack of cigarettes, before packing up the truck and heading to Lake Havasu State Park. The park offered camping, as well as some pretty good fishing. The best part of it was that he was only a relative hop, skip and jump away from Parker, Arizona, and that meant he was damn close to not only his family, but his son.

The next couple of days revolved around Billy visiting the rest of his relatives, a few at a time. Over and over, he told them the story that Farver and Duke had agreed upon, and finished the tale with a brief explanation of his new assignment. And while he thoroughly enjoyed seeing his family again, and being able to walk up a city street without fear, it was always a kind of bliss to come back to his campground at the end of the night, stretch out in front of a fire, and relax. Once he'd finished visiting all of his other relatives, he'd given his ex-wife a call, and arranged to see his son.

Seeing Robby again had come as a nasty shock to Billy, although it was as welcome as it was startling. At eleven years old, the boy was nearly as tall as his father. Billy had taken both Robby and Heather out to lunch, and explained as best he could what had happened. Robby seemed to mostly accept the story. He at least understood enough to know that his father hadn't been around because of events honestly beyond his control, and that the news stories that made up most of Robby's knowledge of his father were essentially false.

Heather had only looked at him in a long-suffering manner, especially at the end of the tale, when Billy told them about his new assignment with the Joes, but how the information needed to be kept quiet. When they'd finally parted, Billy had gotten a hug from his boy, and had exchanged a quiet goodbye with Heather. He'd promised to keep in touch, and told Robby he'd visit whenever he could. If Robby had been angry at such a vague promise, it seemed to be overruled by the fact that his dad was officially among the best of the best the military had to offer. Who couldn't be impressed by that?

In Billy’s absence, Lifeline found himself getting back into the routine of life in the Joe’s. During Billy’s convalescence, the medic had worked his schedule around visiting his friend and helping him during his physical therapy sessions. Before the Marine had left, the two had made plans for Edwin to join Billy for a few days of fishing as promised, Duke having given the medic permission to take a long weekend.

Packing up his things the night before, Edwin had met Wild Bill at dawn, the helicopter pilot having agreed to give the medic a lift to Arizona. As the two flew, Lifeline couldn’t help thinking about Billy, wondering how he was. He knew that the Marine was planning to visit his family, including his son and estranged ex-wife. Billy had been a little unsure about seeing his boy again after such a long absence and Edwin hoped that everything had gone well.

Giving Wild Bill a wave of thanks, Lifeline shouldered his gear and headed towards the car rental office, having reserved a vehicle for the rest of the journey. The drive to Lake Havasu didn’t take long, and after checking in with the park office, the medic headed towards Billy’s campsite.

The campsite wasn't all that hard to find. Billy's truck was very plain, a black Dodge 4x4, but already it was picking up little touches of Billy's -- like the USMC bumper sticker some assorted family member had affixed to the tailgate.

The man in question was lounging in a camping chair, cowboy hat over his face, feet crossed at the ankles. He seemed to be asleep. Edwin parked the Wrangler next to Billy’s truck, a smile playing on his lips as he climbed out and made his way towards the Marine. Casually dressed in a pair of well worn jeans and an olive green t-shirt, Lifeline had also traded in his regular glasses for a pair of prescription sunglasses. “Up and at’em, soldier. Officer on deck.”

There came a muffled chuckle from under the brim of the hat, and Billy stood with a stretch, rolling his neck. "Was wondering if you'd gotten lost or something," He said with a grin, favoring Edwin with a quick but precise salute.

Edwin couldn’t help smiling. “Wild Bill decided to take the scenic route.”

"That explains it, then. Want something to drink?"

“Sure,” the medic said as he closed the distance between them, joining Billy.

Gesturing to a second chair next to his own, Billy made his way over to the ice chest, pulling a couple sodas out. Settling himself into the chair next to the one that the Marine had been occupying, Lifeline stretched his legs out in front of him. “Man, this place is great.”

"Isn't it? Feels like forever since I was out here last," Billy replied, tapping off the ice sticking to the cans and resuming his seat, holding out one of the sodas.

Reaching across, Edwin took the offered beverage. “You looked like you were feeling right at home when I pulled up,” he said with a smile as he popped open the tab on the can and settled back into the canvas chair.

"Yeah, my family and I used to come out here once a year. It was usually a big family get together. We'd rent three plots and go nuts. Those were simpler times..."

Lifeline smiled at the wistful tone in his friend’s voice. “My dad was never really into vacations. The mother of a friend of mine invited me to go up to Canada for a couple weeks with them, I think she felt sorry for me.” He took a sip from the can. “It was probably one of the best times I've had in my life."

"Guess that just means I'll have to try harder to drag you out with me, when possible. I grew up camping and hunting and loving the outdoors." Billy was thoughtfully silent for a few moments before he spoke again. "I never really started traveling out of the country until I joined the Corps."

“I was back and forth before I joined the Joes. It was Antarctica and the Australian outback during my first month in,” Edwin said with a chuckle. “The Joes don’t waste time when it comes to getting your feet wet.”

"That's going to be a good thing, I think."

“All ready to jump right in, huh?”

Billy nodded. "Pretty much. Too much idle time is a bad thing for me, I've found over the years."

“You usually don’t get much of that. If we’re not out on regular missions, then we’re training or making humanitarian trips. We do a lot more than just chase after Cobra.” Edwin took another drink before settling the can in the built-in beverage holder. “Even after all this time, I still think it’s the best job I could’ve ever had.”

"I hope I like it half as well."

“I hope so too,” the medic said with a small smile.

Billy smiled back. "I owe you a hell of a lot, you know."

Lifeline shook his head. “You don’t owe me anything, Billy.”

"The hell I don't," came the soft but firm reply. "You've risked a lot over me. I appreciate it."

The medic felt the faint blush that crept across his cheeks, suddenly feeling a little uncomfortable. “So uh...how uh, how did things go with your family?” He asked, changing the subject.

"Had its ups and downs. Found out my parents passed away about two years ago. But my aunts and uncles and the slew of cousins are all doing really well." Billy smiled. "I heard a lot of reassurance that they didn't think I'd done anything wrong. Except for Aunt Elizabeth, but she never liked me."

“I’m sorry about your parents.” Edwin resisted an urge to reach over and put a comforting hand on his friend’s arm.

Billy looked over and gave Edwin a weak smile. "Thanks...I wish they could have known the truth...but they always believed I was innocent...I guess that'll have to do."

“Did you get a chance to see your son?”

"Yeah...yeah, I did." The dark-haired man shook his head. "He's...really grown. Smart, too. Way smarter than his old man. He's started playing guitar, and he's singing with the school choir."

Lifeline smiled faintly as he looked at Billy, hearing the slight note of pride in the Marine’s voice. “Did you tell him about the Joes?”

"Yeah, I did." Billy chuckled. "You'd have thought I told him I was a superhero in disguise or something, judging by his reaction. He was a little bummed out he'd have to keep it quiet, but he understood why. Like I said, he's smart." The Marine's expression sobered a little. "His mother, on the other hand...."

“Not good, huh?”

"It was the same look she always gave me." Billy sighed. "The one that reminds me that she really doesn't understand why I do what I do."

“Maybe she will one day,” Edwin said hopefully.

"I doubt it." Billy shook his head, then offered another slight smile. "But that's okay. Robby does....and he's the one who really got cheated."

"You won't be too far away that you won't be able to visit him; and Duke isn't such a hard-ass that he won't let you have time off when you ask for it, unless something big is going on." Lifeline looked thoughtful for a moment. "You know, you might even be able to give him a tour of the base."

"You serious?"

The medic nodded. “Scarlett’s father and brothers got one when they came to visit her last year; and Bree has been inside a half dozen times. All you have to do is get permission.”

"I may have to do that, then," Billy said with a grin. "He'd love it I think." That said, the Marine settled back into his chair, his expression gradually shifting to a more shell-shocked expression as his brain was still trying to put together the image of the young man he'd seen, and the small child he'd left behind.

Edwin took up his soda again, taking a few good drinks from the still cold can. His eyes glanced at the man across from him behind the dark sunglasses, noticing the change that fell over his friend’s face. “You alright?”

"I will be...it's just....shit, Edwin, he was just a kid when he and his mom left....now he's a young man...it's startling." This time Lifeline did reach over, straightening up in his chair so that he could put his hand on Billy’s arm. Billy looked over at the touch and smiled a bit. "I lost a hell of a lot of time....."

The medic nodded his head a little. “Now you at least can try to make up for some of it.” He gave Billy’s arm a slight squeeze before taking his hand away. “And if that’s the only good thing that comes out of all this, I’d say it was worth it.”

"It's not the only good thing."

Edwin tilted his head to side a bit, his dark brows quirking together in puzzlement.

With a chuckle, Billy leaned back in his chair. "I met you, after all. I'd say that counts."

Lifeline blushed once again, looking anywhere but at the Marine. Billy smiled at that, watching Lifeline from the corner of his eye. "So," he said, "how does grilled steak sound for dinner?"

The medic turned his gaze back to Billy, his face still faintly flushed. “Sounds pretty good to me, although I was expecting trout considering you came here to fish.”

"Haven't gone fishing yet. Wanted to wait 'til you got here."

“Ah...well let me get my gear out of the Jeep and I’ll give you hand.” Edwin started to rise to his feet.

Billy shook his head. "Don't worry about it. Just sit back and relax."

“Yes Sir,” Lifeline said with a smile as he sat back down.

With a sigh, Edwin settled back into the camp chair, wiggling a bit until he was comfortable before stretching his jean-clad legs out in front of him towards the blazing fire. Despite his numerous offers to help the Marine with dinner, Billy had waved them all off, insisting that the medic just sit and relax. While Billy bustled about, Lifeline couldn’t help but find his gaze lingering on the other man.

Ever since his rescue, he’d found his feelings for Billy growing, even as he tried to deny them. When the Marine had left the base to visit with his family, Edwin couldn’t help but worry about him. He’d been so anxious to see Billy that he’d barely slept the night before. Driving up to the campsite that afternoon, it wasn’t just Billy’s relaxed pose that had made him smile; it had also been the opportunity to see him again. The thought of getting to spend the next three days with the Marine brought a faint smile to his lips.

Billy finished washing the last of the dishes, laying them out to dry before grabbing a couple beers from the cooler, and walking over to hand one to Edwin. As he did, his gaze swept over the medic, and it was all the Marine could do not to stare. Since his physical therapy had started, he'd been afforded ample time to be with Edwin in a comfortable environment. It was nice, not dealing with the uncertainty that had plagued them before Edwin's kidnapping. Still, his convalescence had given Billy time to do a lot of thinking, and he was finally forced to admit to himself that he was feeling something for Edwin. The only nagging doubt in his mind had been a feeling of betrayal to a wife who'd been his world for so long, even if she had left him.

His recent visit had alleviated that final barrier.

Lifeline took the offered beer, smiling up at Billy in thanks. When dusk had started to fall, the medic had replaced the sunglasses for his more familiar wire frames, the flickering fire reflecting on the lenses.

Well shit, Billy thought, staring at the fire himself as he tried to find some topic of conversation. It wasn't as if the situation were uncomfortable, but now that the sun was setting, it would be hard to keep his mind from depressing, if not dangerous musings.

Edwin closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath of clean cool air. “I wonder if I could get permanently assigned here.” He opened his eyes and looked over at Billy. “What do you think my chances are of convincing the big wigs that we need a satellite base out here?”

Billy chuckled softly at that. "About as likely as them sending me to the moon."

“You never know,” the medic chuckled as well.

"I suppose stranger shit's happened."

“I’ll agree with that,” Edwin’s voice was light as he opened the beer. “You should go up to the Cascades if you get a chance, its beautiful – Canada, too.”

"One of these days, I'm sure I will."

Lifeline raised the beer to his lips and took a drink, his eyes on Billy. “There’s a place I always stay when I go up there, nobody around for miles.”

Billy glanced at Lifeline out of the corner of his eye. "That right?"

“Some of the best hiking and fishing anywhere,” the medic took another drink.

"Sounds nice."

“Yeah.” Edwin fell silent, his eyes on the fire, the dancing flames reflecting off the lenses of his glasses.

"You look real relaxed right now." Billy smiled a bit to himself. "Looks like this place is starting to work its magic on you."

Lifeline glanced up at the other man and smiled faintly. “As much as I love what I do, free time can be far and in-between sometimes.”

"I can imagine. It's gotta be hard, doing what you do."

“You’ll see for yourself pretty soon,” the medic said quietly. “But even as hard as it is sometimes, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

"I know what you mean...." Billy was quiet, frowning a bit. "I mean, I really did like the work I used to do. It just meant spending a lot of time in jungles...I'm not too fond of them."

Edwin smiled a little. “One good thing with the Joes is that they choose the best people for specific missions.”

"Think they'll put me back in black ops, then?"

“I don’t know,” came the reply. “They’ll probably spend the first few weeks evaluating you, seeing where your strengths are and having you work on whatever they think you’re lacking. Basic training, Joe-style.”

"Hey, I survived Marine boot camp, the Umbrella Training Facility, and a near-death injury. I can handle this."

“They never would’ve asked you if they didn’t think so, we don’t take just anybody, you know.”

"I know. And I'm flattered beyond belief, trust me."

Edwin titled his head a little as he looked at the man across from him. “Did you know that you were once recommended as a Joe candidate?”

That brought Billy's full gaze to the medic. "Are you serious?"

Lifeline nodded his head. “It got squashed by one your superior officers, apparently he didn’t want to give you up.”

"Explains why I never heard about it...wow."

The medic smiled. “Somebody thought a lot of you, even if it didn’t go through.”

That brought a smile to Billy's lips, and he leaned back into his chair again, taking a swallow from the bottle in his hand. Twisting the cap off his own beer, Lifeline raised the bottle to his lips and took a drink as his eyes returned to the fire. It felt so good to be here like this with Billy, talking and enjoying each other’s company; but all that would change once they returned to headquarters and the Marine became engulfed in life with the Joes.

Billy found his gaze shifting between the fire, and the man sitting next to him. This silence was comfortable to him, and yet there were so many things that felt like they needed to be said. Billy opted to let them go unsaid for the moment, finding himself studying how the firelight played over Edwin's skin, glinting off the man's glasses. He looked good like that, cast in the warm light, his expression almost serene.

All through the drive to meet Billy, Edwin had spent the time thinking – thinking about the Marine and his growing feelings towards him. It had been so long since he’d had any thoughts regarding a member of his own sex. He’d always thought that those few months in college had been nothing more than youthful experimentation – a one-time thing – and he’d filed them away, until he’d met Billy. It didn’t help matters that the Marine had a wife and child, even if they were divorced; and the medic couldn’t help but feel guilty. Maybe it’s good that we won’t get to see a lot of each other once we get back, Lifeline thought to himself as he took another drink.

The subtle shift in Edwin's expression didn't go unnoticed, and Billy raised an eyebrow. "What's on your mind?"

Lifeline was jolted out of his thoughts by the sound of Billy’s voice. “Uh...oh n-nothing,” he said shaking his dark head slightly.

"Uh-huh. Try again?" Billy said with a slight smile. "You don't stutter when it's nothing."

“Really, it’s nothing.” Edwin said, feeling a bit uncomfortable under the other man’s gaze.

"C'mon, Edwin. We're in the middle of nowhere, and there's no one to hear us for miles. Talk to me."

The medic’s dark eyes glanced at Billy. After several long minutes, Lifeline opened his mouth to speak before reconsidering and lowering his gaze to the bottle in his hand. Billy set aside his beer and turned to face the medic more fully, expression concerned now. Edwin was well aware of Billy’s eyes on him. Nervously he raised the beer to his lips once more and took another drink. He held the beer in his mouth for a few moments before swallowing it slowly as he thought. Maybe I should...get it over with now before we get back...at least if there’s a scene we won’t have an audience. There were some motels down the road...

The prolonged silence did little more than cause the concerned furrow in Billy's forehead to deepen, but he held his tongue. He was wondering just what all this was about. Not that he didn't have his guesses, though. Edwin's behavior was mimicking what they'd been through not long after he'd ended up admitting he'd been with another male, and Billy wondered if this current bout of silence might be for the very same reason.

Settling the bottle in the cup holder, Edwin pushed his glasses up onto his forehead and rubbed his dark eyes. “I shouldn’t drink...”

"Couple beers never hurt anybody."

“I don’t have much of a tolerance,” the medic resettled his glasses.

"It's not like you're going to have to drive anywhere."

“Maybe I’m just tired...” Edwin finally glanced back up at the Marine.

"Yeah, maybe...." Billy met Edwin's gaze, and offered a tentative smile.

Lifeline quietly looked at the other man for a few moments before he spoke again. “You’re really a decent guy, Billy.”

"Thanks," Billy replied with a smile. "I...do my best."

Edwin gave the Marine a small smile of his own, this one tinged with a bit a sadness however as he rose to his feet. “Think maybe I’m gonna turn in, want to get an early start on those fish in the morning.”

Billy stood as well, and clapped a hand on Edwin's shoulder. "All right," He said, offering another small, tentative smile and giving Edwin's shoulder a little squeeze before heading for the cooler again.

Edwin watched the other man for a moment before turning away and heading towards the tent. As he heard Edwin start to walk towards the tent, Billy couldn't help but look over his shoulder, watching the man silently and cursing his own lack of courage to say anything at all.

Letting the canvas flap fall closed behind him, Edwin let out a weary sigh as he rubbed at his forehead with his hand. God, I’m pathetic... Moving towards where he left his gear earlier, he paused only to turn up the lantern hanging from the top of the tent. Crouching down, he unzipped the olive green duffel bag.

As he changed his clothes, the medic couldn’t help thinking about what had happened only moments before. Edwin had never been good at expressing his personal feelings to people, having learned to suppress them to keep his father’s anger at bay when he’d been growing up; and also to keep from getting emotionally involved while treating patients. Even with Bree, who had no qualms about saying exactly how she felt, he’d never been able to completely open up. After pulling on a pair of flannel pajama bottoms and stowing the clothes and boots he’d been wearing away, Lifeline sank down onto his sleeping bag, not quite ready to sleep despite what he’d told Billy earlier.

It was a long time before Billy finally slipped into the tent, slipping off his boots once inside, and stretching out on top of his sleeping bag. The man's movements were slow and silent, in deference to Edwin, who was supposed to be sleeping. Having heard the Marine’s approach, Lifeline had set his glasses aside and closed his eyes, one hand coming up to rest across his stomach which was now covered by a heather gray t-shirt bearing the words “Medics do it with TLC”, a Christmas gift from Bree the previous year.

Billy stared at the ceiling of the tent, listening to the man next to him, before daring a glance at him in the darkness. The moon outside provided little illumination, but it was enough to let Billy see Lifeline's silhouette. After several minutes, Edwin opened his eyes, the stillness leading him to believe that Billy had fallen asleep.

Billy remained still, hearing the slight difference in Edwin's breathing, but making no sign. The medic stared up at the dark and, to his sight, slightly fuzzy roof of the tent for a bit before he started to feel a little restless. Turning onto his side towards Billy’s apparently slumbering form, he pillowed his head on his arm.

Watching Edwin roll toward him, the Marine frowned slightly to himself. He wanted to speak, but wasn't sure where to start. He didn't know how to proceed. With a female, it was easy. He'd wined and dined his wife before they'd been married, after all. But faced with interest in a male, he wasn't really sure what to do.

His eyes on the slightly indistinct form across from him, Lifeline sighed faintly.

"Y'know, Doc," Billy whispered, not sure if the man was awake or not, but needing to say something. "You're really something....I've never felt this way about another guy..." Edwin’s entire body froze, except for his eyes, which widened in obvious shock. "It's not the kinda thing I was ever allowed to think about...not at home and sure as hell not with the Corps....But then I met you...I tried tell myself I wasn't interested, or that I was misreading things...." the whispered words went on slowly, in spite of the lack of response.

The medic closed his eyes for a moment. Opening his mouth to speak, he found that it had gone dry. Licking his lips, he then swallowed. “D-Don’t Billy...you – you don’t have to try to be nice about it. I – I understand... I – I never expected anything...” Edwin’s words stuttered out, his voice soft.

"But I wasn't," Billy pressed on in spite of Edwin's words. He knew that if he didn't, he likely never would. "And I had a damn long time to think about just how I really felt while I was stuck in that bed, trying not to split myself in half if I coughed wrong."

A slightly pained expression passed over Lifeline’s face. “You –you don’t have to say this, okay? I – I don’t want you thinking that you owe me anything, especially – especially that.”

"I don't....Edwin, I wanted to say something before all that shit happened.....Try to explain...but I don't always voice my feelings well...." The medic was poised to protest yet again, but closed his mouth, his eyes on the Marine. "You...went out on one hell of a limb, telling me what you did....you deserved to know about this... I don't expect anything from it, and I know you don't either.... I just...wanted you to know how I felt about things...."

As Billy spoke, Edwin quietly pushed himself up to a sitting position. He remained silent for several long moments after the Marine finished speaking. Billy propped himself up on one elbow, but said nothing more, waiting to see how Edwin would react.

Lifeline’s voice barely above that of a whisper when he finally spoke, “I – I appreciate you t-telling me. I...I wish that I’d had the guts to – to say something to you earlier, but...I uh, I don’t always express how I feel very well either. I value your friendship a lot and – and I...I didn’t want to lose it because you thought I was coming on to you.”

"We're both products of our raising, I guess," Billy said quietly. "So like I said...I don't expect anything....but...if you're willing to be patient...I'm not unwilling, either." Even if it does kinda scare the hell out of me... he concluded silently.

Edwin blinked, once again caught off guard by the Marine. “Somebody once told me I had the patience of a saint.” The medic smiled a bit as he looked at Billy, the other man still a bit fuzzy to his sight.

"Well, you've put up with me this far, so I think I'd be inclined to agree..." Billy said, a grin trying to tug at his own features. He was bound and determined to try and lighten the mood somewhat.

Lifeline’s smile widened just a fraction. “I think I could put up with you for a good long while, Billy Coen.”

"Then I think you may just be stuck with me awhile, Edwin Steen."

Lifeline tucked the last of his things into the duffel before taking a quick look around to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. Not immediately seeing anything, he zipped up the bag and set to rolling up his sleeping bag. His fishing gear was still outside where he’d dropped it after he and Billy had returned from the lake earlier. The pair had risen with the dawn and put in a few hours of fishing before returning to the campsite with several good sized trout between them.

Edwin had contacted Wild Bill the night before and arranged to have the chopper pilot pick him up at a later time so that he could spend more time with Billy before having to head back to the base. Taking the duffel and sleeping bag, he carried them out of the tent so that he could load them into the back of the Wrangler. "Get everything?" Billy asked as he walked over to help Edwin with the awkward load.

“Think so,” the medic smiled his thanks at the Marine. “Although you know where to find me if you come across anything.”

Returning the smile with a grin of his own, Billy nodded. "I sure as hell hope so," he said with a laugh.

Chuckling, Lifeline let Billy take the sleeping bag while he shouldered the duffel bag and continued on to the Jeep. Circling around to the back of the vehicle, he pulled the keys from his pocket and unlocked the back window, pushing it up before hefting the olive green bag into the back cargo area. Unloading the sleeping bag, Billy leaned against the back of the Wrangler. "So what time're you supposed to meet Wild Bill?"

Edwin glanced down at his watch. “I’ve still got about three hours before I absolutely have to leave,” he said, gauging the driving time between the campground and the small airport where he’d be meeting the pilot.

"Cool, so we've got some time, then."

Lifeline smiled a bit as he looked up at the Marine. Billy's grin hadn't faded, his stance relaxed as he leaned easily against the Wrangler. The last few days had gone well, the tension between them having evaporated completely since that first night. The medic raised his eyebrow slightly. “You look like you’ve got something on your mind. Do I want to ask what it is, or am I better off not knowing?” Edwin’s tone was light and slightly teasing.

That drew a laugh from the other man, and Billy shook his head. "It's gonna be way too quiet here once you're gone."

“Like I’m the life of the party,” Lifeline said with a snort.

"Like I'm asking you to be," Billy replied with a chuckle.

Edwin shook his head and let out a rather dramatic sounding growl of frustration. “You are a Marine, you’re impossible.”

"Impossible? Me?" came the immediate reply, in as innocent a tone as Billy could muster without breaking into a laughing fit.

“I think I liked you better when you were sedated and lying in a hospital bed.”

"Liked having me at your mercy, did you?"

“Actually it was that hospital gown with the open back. Quite a nice view.” Edwin retorted, surprising himself even as he felt the blush that crept up his face.

The reply caught Billy completely off guard and he coughed out a sound that was almost a laugh, his own cheeks reddening a bit. The medic couldn’t keep himself from chuckling at the other man’s reaction. “God, three days with you and look what I’ve degenerated into already...” He put his palm to his forehead and shook his dark head slightly, feeling the warmth of his still flushed skin.

Billy began to laugh. "I'm impressed. It takes a lot to catch me off-guard anymore."

“I don’t believe I said that.” Edwin was still shaking his head, feeling embarrassed.

"I'm proud."

“You would be,” came the reply as Lifeline dropped his hand, his cheeks still a rather nice shade of soft pink.

"You bet." Billy just grinned, his own blush already faded and gone. "Besides, I looked like hell."

“Yeah, you did.” The medic’s voice was soft. “I was really afraid you weren’t going to make it. You lost a lot of blood.”

"It was...scary. That was the worst injury I've taken in combat..." Billy smiled a little. "But I wasn't too worried...I knew you wouldn't let me die."

Edwin looked at Billy. “I didn’t feel as confident as you at the time.”

"But I'm still here, which means my faith, such as it is, was well placed."

“I hope I won’t ever have to do that again,” Lifeline said.

"I hope you don't ever have to either, thanks," Billy agreed with a nod. "That's a whole level of pain I don't ever want to see again."

“No guarantees in our line of work, but we Joes watch each other’s backs like you wouldn’t believe. It’s rare that any of us get as seriously injured as that.”

Billy nodded and smiled some. "I'd believe it."

“We’re kind of like a family. We watch out for each other. Of course we sometimes get on each other’s nerves too, but when it’s all said and done, we back each other up.”

"Sounds....a hell of a lot like my old unit," Billy replied softly. "I've missed that feeling."

Edwin reached out and clapped the Marine on the shoulder. “You’ll have it back soon enough.”

With a nod, Billy hesitated only a moment before pushing away from the Jeep and draping an arm across Edwin's shoulders. "So just how did we wanna kill the rest of your weekend here?"

Lifeline was a little surprised by the move and found a faint smile tugging at his lips. “I’m open to suggestions.”

"So'm I..."

The medic glanced at the man next to him, suddenly feeling shy for some odd reason. “We uh could cook those fish we caught this morning, or uh . . . uh, I don’t know, uhm . . .”

"We probably should...." Billy said. "I'd like you to be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor."

“I already am,” Lifeline remarked cryptically before slipping away from the Marine and heading back towards the camp.

The remark just made Billy blink before he followed the medic back. Edwin knelt down in front of the separate cooler where Billy had put the trout earlier after cleaning and filleting them. "Did you want to grill it? Or wrap 'em in foil and bake 'em?"

“Maybe bake,” the medic replied as he turned to look at the Marine. “We grilled last night.”

"We can do that. I think that foil's in the back of the truck. I'll go get it."

Lifeline nodded his head before turning back to the ice chest to get out the wrapped fillets. Rising to his feet, carried them over to the grill, where the cooking utensils were. The trip to the truck and back wasn't a long one, and Billy laid the box down. "Is there anything I can do to help? Or should I just get out of your way?" He said lightly, smiling.

“I wouldn’t mind a hand.” The medic said with a faint smile as he glanced up at the Marine.

"Just tell me what you want me to do."

Edwin handed one of the fillet packages to Billy. “You do those and I’ll take care of these.”

Billy nodded. "You got it."

Quietly, Lifeline and Billy prepared the fillets, liberally sprinkling them with seasoning before closing up the foil wrapped around them. “I’ll let you do the honors,” the medic said pushing the prepared packages towards the Marine.

With a nod and a smile, Billy carefully pushed aside the fire they'd let burn down into embers before carefully nestling the packets into the warmth to cook. While Billy was busy doing that, Edwin went to the other ice chest and pulled out a couple of beers. Bringing them back to the fire pit, he leaned over the Marine’s shoulder to offer him one of the cold brews. Billy looked back and smiled, taking the bottle and nodding his thanks as he stood slowly. "Thanks. They should be fine on their own for awhile."

Lifeline smiled a bit at Billy as he took a few steps back so that the other man could stand. Once standing fully upright, Billy stretched some, rewarded for the effort with a soft popping sound that brought a purr from him. Then he twisted the cap off the beer bottle and took a swallow. Edwin’s dark eyes watched Billy, taking in every move almost as if he wanted to memorize it until he was able to see him again. "We're....gonna have to keep this whole thing to ourselves once we get back," Billy mused softly, shaking his head. "Y'know...anything that develops between us, I mean..."

“I know,” the medic said with a slight nod of head, Billy’s voice pulling his attention back. “I’m sure we’ll work it out. I, uh, I have a place off the base. I don’t really stay there a lot. We could meet there, a place to hang out or whatever.”

"Sounds nice. Work is all well and good, but I think I'll enjoy spending time with you when you're not having to be my superior officer."

“Yeah, there is that too . . . fraternization . . .” Edwin said softly.

"Mmhmm...." Billy nodded. "Not to mention, I have no idea how often we'll see each other. Especially if they put me back into some kinda black ops."

“This isn’t going to be easy, is it?”

"Probably not..." Billy admitted, seeing no reason to try to hide the truth. "...But...I think it may be worth it."

That made Edwin smile, albeit faintly. “Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, or so they say.”

"That's very true," Billy agreed with a nod and a tentative smile of his own.

The medic was quiet for a few moments, his eyes on the Marine. “Billy...” he started hesitantly, his voice soft. “I know this isn’t your kind of...if you change your mind...I just want you to be upfront with me. It’s okay, I’ll understand.”

"Don't worry. I'm not going to keep you in the dark, Edwin," Billy replied quietly, trying to be reassuring. After a moment, he gave a little smile. "I'm just kinda lost. Women...I know how to handle. Something like this is totally new."

“I’m far from being an expert myself. In a way it’s kind of new to me too. Before, with . . . well it just kind of happened.”

Billy nodded. "Then we just take it slow....no reason to rush, after all." Lifeline nodded his dark head in response, favoring the Marine with a faint smile. "Now, c'mon. Let's go relax and wait for those fish to cook."

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