The bright morning sun streamed through the open drapes, bathing the room in warm golden light, the faint sounds of birds chirping and calling out to one another making their way through the lightly insulated walls. Sighing softly, Edwin Steen rolled to his side, tugging the light blanket over his shoulders as he did so.
He’d stayed awake long after Billy had finally drifted off, his dark eyes intent on the other man’s face as he replayed everything that the Marine had told him over in his mind. Edwin knew he was taking a terrible risk, not only with his career, but with his life, in aiding Billy; but the more he thought it over, the more he was sure he was doing the right thing. A couple of hours later, sleep finally claimed him; and without realizing it, he simply slid down on the bed next to the Marine and pulled the blanket that he’d dragged with him around himself and fallen asleep.
It was Billy who woke first, feeling like he was having the worst hangover of his life. But that wasn't the first thing that smacked into his awareness. Somewhere during the course of the night, a second body had found its way into the bed -- a warm body. Billy's eyes snapped open although he remained perfectly still on the bed, both surprised and not to see Lifeline laying there.
Edwin hunched down a bit as the sunlight slanted over the bed. His face was completely relaxed, the normally serious look smoothed away by sleep. He's a nice guy...way too nice to be dealing with the likes of me, Billy thought to himself as he slid as slowly and as quietly as possible from the bed. His head spun, and his stomach lurched, but he gritted his teeth against it.
Lifeline shifted slightly at the small movement, his hand sliding under the pillow as he clutched it tighter. Billy was still for a few minutes more, until Lifeline relaxed again before slipping away from the bed and heading off to the find the bathroom. When Billy managed to find it finally, he spent a few minutes voiding what meager contents were still in his stomach before washing his face with freezing cold water, and slapping a soaked hand towel over the back of his neck. He felt like hell, he looked worse, and he was still trying to figure out what to do next.
The sun continued to stream into the large room, its warm rays falling across the bed and Edwin’s still, sleeping form. Used to rising at dawn, it was unusual for the medic to still be abed that time of the morning and it wasn’t long before his body started to prod him towards wakefulness. He became more aware of the birds outside, their calls pulling him further from slumber and into the waking world. The sun’s rays were warm on his blanket-covered body, causing him to push the fleece-like material down from his shoulders.
It was the faint sound of running water that finally pulled him to complete wakefulness. With a small sigh, the medic rolled onto his back and opened his eyes, only to throw his arm over them almost immediately as the bright sunshine hit them. Lifeline laid there for a few moments, waiting for the fog of sleep to clear his brain before he lowered his arm and slowly opened his chocolate brown eyes, letting them adjust to the light little by little. As usual, everything seemed just a bit hazy without his glasses and automatically he reached over to the nightstand, his fingers scrabbling on the wood veneer surface but finding nothing.
Frowning, Edwin lifted his head and looked over, his frown deepening as puzzlement settled in. It took a few moments to recall where he was and even longer to register that he was no longer on the couch where he had intended to sleep. Rubbing his hand over his face, he sat up and looked around with an expression of obvious surprise as he realized where he was.
it didn’t sink in immediately that there was something missing, so
Lifeline’s brain focused on trying to figure out how he’d gotten
into the bed Billy had been sleeping in. It took him a minute to
collect his thoughts and he remembered starting to fall asleep as
he’d sat watch over the sleeping Marine and realized that he
must’ve just sacked out next to him.
Billy! Edwin’s eyes immediately went to the empty side of the bed before scanning the room. Feeling alarmed, he hurriedly climbed from the bed. “Billy?” he called out.
"Yeah?" came the Marine's voice, drifting out of the bathroom.
A sense of relief flooded over the medic. “N-Nothing...just, uh, wondering where you were.” Lifeline could feel himself blushing.
"Right where I left me, and craving a shot of whiskey or a cigarette...."
“Not exactly the breakfast of champions there, Coen.” Edwin yawned and ran a hand through his hair as he shuffled his way to the small kitchenette. Searching through a few cupboards, he found the coffee that he’d brought with the other supplies and went to work at getting the coffee maker started.
"Doesn't mean it doesn't sound good," Billy shot back, unable to help but smiling a little.
“So does a scone dripping with cream, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.” The medic took down a pair of plain coffee cups and put them on the counter.
Billy shuddered. "That sounds deadly right now, actually," He said, dropping the towel in the sink and staggering into the living area again.
“We did this mission in Scotland once, helping build up a dike before a lake overflowed its banks,” the medic turned to face Billy, leaning against the counter. “Man, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Scones that melted right on your tongue the minute you took a bite.”
"Nice to know you have some vices, Doc," Billy replied with a slight smile.
“A couple, not many; and I don’t indulge them very often.” Edwin glanced down at the coffee pot. “Got to stay in shape you know. The Joes are pretty strict on that.”
"I know what you mean. I've only got a few myself, they're just pretty hardcore ones, y'know?"
“I suppose we all do.” Seeing that the pot was full and appeared done, Lifeline removed it and poured himself a cup. “Coffee?” He asked Billy, holding the pot up.
"Yeah, thanks," Billy replied with a nod, smiling just a little.
Edwin handed the other man the mug he’d just poured before filling the other for himself. After replacing the pot, he picked up his mug, cupping it in his hands as he blew on the hot liquid a few times. “Ahhhh...” he closed his eyes as he took a sip. “Couple more cups of this and I might feel alive.”
"Then you're in better shape than me," Billy replied, taking a sip of the drink himself, closing his eyes as he waited to see what happened when it hit his stomach.
“This is my cigarettes and whiskey,” Lifeline said, his eyes on Billy. “Just as bad, but I can’t function without a few cups of caffeine coursing through my system.”
"Coffee I'm used to....still missing the smokes, though," Billy said, then shrugged. "Just bear with me...it's been a couple days since I've had one..."
Lifeline nodded, “If you get really bad, I can always drive up the highway and pick some up; but you’re better off without them, trust me.”
“Which translates to, ‘Shut up and don’t lecture me’,” Edwin said with a slight smile. “I know the drill. I remember Lift Ticket threatening me with a machine gun once if I said one more thing to him about not smoking.”
Billy tried not to smile at that and failed miserably. "Are you serious?"
The medic took a sip and nodded. “General Hawk was on this anti-smoking kick a couple of years ago and was trying to get all the Joes that smoked to quit. Of course Doc and I got stuck with doing all the outreach type stuff; and man," he shook his head. “You’d think we were asking them to give up a kidney or something. Some of the guys didn’t take it well at all. After about a month we gave up.”
"It's a stress relief. And a lot safer than blowing someone's face off, in general."
“A couple of them did eventually give it up, but it wasn’t because of anything we did. One had a child that was diagnosed with asthma; and the other got engaged to a girl who didn’t like it either and asked him to quit before their wedding.” Edwin took another drink. "But I know how you feel. I’d probably bite the head off anybody who told me I couldn’t have my coffee first thing in the morning.”
"I've been smoking since before I started my time in the service....hell, since I was around seventeen."
Reaching for the pot, Lifeline refreshed his cup. “My father used to smoke.” He put the pot back on the burner. “Probably why I don’t really care for it.” Putting his mug to his lips, he took a sip.
"Yeah maybe..." Billy took another sip of his coffee. "I've tried to give it up a few times....I know how bad it is..."
“I think things like that, you really, really have to want to do it for it to work.”
"Pretty much. Of course, having my supply cut off will probably help..."
Edwin stepped closer to Billy and put his hand on his shoulder. “If you threaten me with bodily harm, or start to get the shakes, then I’ll get you some, I promise.” Slipping his hand away, he walked past the Marine and out into the main part of the room towards the couch. Sitting down, he put his mug on the arm and reached over to retrieve his glasses, settling the frames on his face.
"If it's just the shakes, don't worry about it. Fuck, that might be the meds at this point. Threatening with bodily harm....yeah, if I hit that point, smokes would be a good thing."
“Duly noted, soldier,” Edwin gave Billy a small smile before raking his hand through his dark hair.
"Yes, Sir," Billy replied with a tiny salute, before he abandoned his coffee in favor of lying down again.
Frowning slightly, Lifeline rose to his feet and crossed over to the bed. “Still not feeling too hot?”
“Here let me take a look at you,” Edwin sat down on the bed next to Billy, his hand going to the Marine’s face to steady him as he peered into Billy’s eyes. “Your pupils aren’t dilated anymore.” He took his hand away. “How does your head feel?”
"Like it wants to split open....I think those drugs left me with kind of a hangover..." Billy said, unable to maintain eye contact with Edwin for very long. Been a long time since somebody looked me in the eye like that...
Reaching out, the medic pressed two of his fingers to the pulse in Billy’s throat. “Are you having any trouble concentrating? Any disorientation?” Seemingly satisfied, he drew his hand back.
"A little trouble concentrating, but I blame the headache. No disorientation.”
“Hmmm . . .” Edwin sat back. “I was afraid they might have given you an anti-psychotic mixed in with the sedatives. But I don’t think so.”
"I dunno...." Billy said, closing his eyes against the throbbing in his head.
“You’d really be disoriented, maybe even staring off in space..." Lifeline considered for a few moments. “I can give you something for the headache.”
"If it's all the same to you, I'll take my chances on letting my head fall off..."
Edwin frowned a little, but nodded his head. “It’s up to you.”
"All things considered, I'm not a big fan of medication."
“It’s not all bad, but I understand.” The medic nodded once again.
"Just let me lay here awhile, and maybe I can try to fight something into my stomach later....I imagine that's part of the problem, too."
Edwin rose from the bed.
Jumping lightly over the fallen log, Lifeline never slowed his pace as he started his second circuit around the glistening lake. The medic routinely rose with the sun for a morning run and this morning had been no exception. Although he was used to the indoor running track on base, he still preferred doing cross country whenever he could. Despite there being no clear track through the woods, Edwin didn’t find navigating the leaf-strewn ground to be much of a problem. He couldn’t help the small smile that framed his mouth as he broke out of the tree line and into the bright morning sunshine of a small clearing.
Not too far behind him, Billy was keeping pace as best he was able. Like Edwin, he'd never really given up on having some kind of set morning routine, and it had been a damn long time since he'd been able to run through the forest recreationally. A full week to recover and sleep had done the Marine a world of good. His stomach was still a little uneasy at the prospect of food, but the debilitating nausea was finally gone. All in all, things were looking up a bit.
Lifeline chanced a quick glance behind him, checking to see how the Marine was making out. He’d been a bit surprised when Billy had asked to join him, but pleased as well, hoping that maybe the exercise would help clear out the last of the drugs that were more than likely still coursing through his body. When Lifeline glanced back at Billy, the former Marine smiled briefly.
Edwin returned the smile with one of his own before turning his attention back to ground in front of him as he once again entered the shadowed trees, this particular stand of forest slightly denser than the one they had just left. The medic breathed in a deep lungful of air as he ran, soaking up the clean pine smell that surrounded him. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, he’d always loved the mountains and forests of his native Washington State, and had taken every opportunity that he could get to leave Seattle to hike and camp. Those were the times that he didn’t have to worry about living up to his father’s image of what he thought he should be, or having his father berate him constantly for one thing or another.
Eventually, Billy caught up to the medic, and fell into step with him as they continued running. The Marine hadn't spent nearly as much time as he would have liked camping when he was younger, having grown up in Arizona, but he'd always loved to run. In high school, it had been track and cross country, and his physical training had been one of the easiest aspects of his boot camp experience. Not really much of an academic, the width and breadth of Billy's knowledge had been hands on experience. The former Marine didn't consider himself very book-smart at all, but physical work and exertion was second nature. Which meant a run like this was akin to heaven.
Lifeline glanced over as Billy joined him, the copse of trees once again thinning out a bit before the pair bounded into the bright sunshine once more. Looking ahead, he could see the cottage, the small pale building still some yards away and he slowed his pace a bit. Billy did the same, reaching up and running the back of his hand across his forehead. "You okay?"
Edwin nodded his head, “Just pacing myself a little, been a while since I’ve done serious cross country.” Grabbing a corner of the towel that was slung around his neck, the medic lifted it and dabbed away some of the perspiration that glistened on his face.
Billy nodded. "Not so long ago for me, but the circumstances are a little different this time, thankfully."
Lifeline’s only reply was a small smile before suddenly darting ahead of the Marine and veering off towards the cottage. Billy blinked as Lifeline took off, and shook his head. With a smile, he quickened his own pace to try and catch up with the medic. As he drew nearer to the cottage, Edwin turned his head. “Come on soldier, move those feet! You call that a run, looks more like my grandma on her way to bingo!” The medic chuckled.
"Whatever!" Billy shot back with a laugh, and poured on a bit more speed until he'd matched Edwin's pace again.
Lifeline was still chuckling as the Marine joined him, but the smile slid from his mouth however when he suddenly stumbled, tripping over an unseen stone hidden by the long grass. With a small cry, the medic pitched forward to the ground, landing hard on his shoulder. Billy was at his side in a moment, kneeling, his own expression serious. "Shit, are you okay?"
Edwin winced a bit as slowly sat up, his hand immediately going up to shoulder. “Yeah...just jarred it pretty good I think.” He winced again as he probed a bit with his fingertips. “That’s what I get for not paying attention.”
"If you're sure...." Billy shook his head. "Let me help you up," He said more softly.
Lifeline hesitated for a moment before he took the offered hand and allowed Billy to pull him to his feet. “Thanks.”
"No problem," was the former Marine's soft reply as he dusted Lifeline off, and knelt to pick up the man's glasses.
“Leatherneck would be rolling on the ground laughing himself silly right now,” Edwin said with a half-hearted laugh as he took his glasses from Billy and settled them on his face.
Billy chuckled. "Well, I can, if it would make you feel better," He joked.
“Do it and you’ll be sleeping outside with the racoons.”
"At least they don't snore."
“I don’t snore!” Edwin replied indignantly.
"The hell you don't!" Billy said with a grin, unable to help poking fun at the medic. Even as he did, however, the man couldn't help but marvel at how comfortable with Edwin he had become. They were comrades now, at least in Billy's mind.
“How would you know anyway? You were out like a light. I don’t even think a gunshot could’ve woken you up last night.”
"Says you. I was up and down all night."
“You were?” Edwin started walking towards the cottage, his hand once again straying to his injured shoulder. “Every time I checked on you, it looked like you were sleeping like a baby.”
"It was right around three or four a.m. when I started waking up." Billy smirked as he fell in step with Edwin again. "You were the one out like a light."
The medic blushed slightly. “I was supposed to be keeping an eye on you, not the other way around.”
"Hey, you've done a lot for me already. I'm not going to hold it against you."
Edwin felt his blush deepen even further and was relieved when they arrived at the front door of the cottage. Trusting that they were safe, he’d left it unlocked. He immediately went to the small kitchen upon entering.
"Sheesh, what's with the blush?" Billy said, raising an eyebrow as he followed Edwin in.
“I’m not blushing.” Lifeline said, not looking at Billy as he pulled open the freezer and removed the two ice trays inside.
"And I'm Mary, Queen of Scots," Billy replied wryly.
Edwin spread a dishtowel out on the counter top before unceremoniously dumping the contents of one of the trays into the middle of it. “Nice to meet you, Your Majesty. Such beautiful weather we’re having, don’t you think?” He looked at the small mound for a moment before adding half of the other tray to the frozen pile.
Billy laughed at that. "Well holy shit, you do have a sense of humor."
“Just don’t go spreading it around, you’ll kill my reputation.” Lifeline folded up the towel before holding it to his sore shoulder.
"Now would I do that?"
“Nobody would believe you,” Edwin said with a small smile as he stepped out of the kitchen and into the main living area. “It’s a widely held belief that I’m a clueless dork.” Chuckling slightly, he sat down on the sofa.
"And it's widely believed I'm a homicidal psycho," Billy replied. "Guess it's a good thing we both know better, huh?"
Lifeline laughed and smiled, “Yeah, I guess so.”
Removing the iced towel from his shoulder, he set it aside for a moment while he removed his glasses and put them down on the coffee table. Reaching for the hem of his t-shirt, he pulled it over his head and off. After dropping the garment to the side, he picked up the makeshift ice pack and resettled it on his shoulder. Billy watched the medic for a few moments, before he caught himself staring and walked over to a window to stare outside. A blush was trying to force its way to the surface, but he beat it back savagely. Christ, Coen... he thought to himself. Get ahold of yourself....He's a guy and you're not that desperate.
Seemingly unaware of the other man’s scrutiny, Edwin settled back against the couch and closed his eyes, hoping that he hadn’t done more than jar his shoulder. He’d dislocated his shoulder once before during a mission, and luckily the pain he was feeling now was nothing compared to that.
Billy eventually headed out onto the front deck again, wanting to be left alone with his own thoughts. He was getting antsy without anything to do, instincts drilled into him over the last five or so years leaving him with the constant need to be moving. On the other hand, there was a kind of peace to the little place that they were staying in, and Billy could easily see himself staying there for a good long time.
Hearing Billy moving about, Edwin opened his eyes in time to see the Marine’s slightly fuzzy form go back outside. The medic’s dark eyes lingered on the open door for a few moments, his attention only pulled back when the ice-filled towel shifted a bit off his shoulder. As he resettled the pack back in place, his eyes caught his cell phone lying on the table nearby. Reaching for it, he flipped it open. Glancing at the screen, he frowned slightly before retrieving his glasses and resettling them.
Returning to the screen, he saw that he had several messages, most of them from Bree Van Mark which caused him to sigh slightly. Edwin and Brittany Van Mark had met years earlier when he had saved her and her industrialist father from drowning after their yacht had been attacked and sunk by Cobra. The young heiress had become fixated on him afterwards, sending him expensive gifts and professing her love for him. The two of them had even fended off a Cobra attack when Bree had spirited him away to her family’s ski lodge in the Rockies. Since then, the two of them had continued an on again/off again relationship that seemed to go nowhere, yet neither one of them had the courage to end it. Starting from the earliest message, Edwin read silently.
After awhile, Billy wandered back into the house, settling on the floor in front of the couch, stretching his legs out on the floor and crossing them at the ankles. He remained silent, not wishing to disturb Edwin.
Bree’s first message was about how worried she had been when she had heard that Lifeline had been taken hostage, and wanting to know if he was alright, imploring him to call her right away. As he scrolled through the text messages, the tone changed noticeably and Edwin shook his head slightly. Bree’s moods changed with the wind sometimes. One minute she could be going non-stop about one subject, only to make a one hundred and eighty degree change and suddenly start on something else. The last of the messages included an invitation to join her for a week in the Caribbean, reminding him that was where they had first met. Sighing softly, he deleted the messages and closed the phone. At the sigh, Billy looked back at Edwin. "Everything okay?"
“Huh?” Lifeline had been so engrossed, that he hadn’t even noticed Billy’s return. “Oh, yeah.” He returned the phone to its place on the table. “Just some messages from somebody I probably should have called when I got back on base.”
"A wife or something like that?"
Edwin shook his dark head. “No, no. Just a friend.”
"I see...are you married?"
“No,” the medic shook his head once again. “Never have been.”
"I'm kinda surprised."
“What’s surprising about that?”
Billy couldn't help but smile a bit. "Guess you just struck me as kind of a family man. I dunno..."
Edwin looked down at his lap. “I never saw myself that way.”
“After I signed on with the Army, I just kind of figured I’d make it a career out of it. Then once I got the call up for the Joes...somehow it just didn’t seem fair to ask somebody to accept the possibility that I might go on a mission and not come back.” Lifeline’s voice was soft.
"It's not easy...on a spouse..."
Edwin glanced up at Billy. “I read in your file that you were married.”
Billy nodded. "Yeah. When I was twenty. But it was hard for her, having me called away at all hours of the night, not being able to tell her where I was going or when I'd be back."
“I don’t know how Alpine and some of the other guys do it – having families and staying in the Joes.” Lifeline’s eyes drifted back to the cell phone on the table. “Although there are plenty of them that couldn’t make it work – Mainframe, Lift Ticket...I’m sure it’s even worse for Scarlett and Lady Jaye. They’d probably have to choose one over the other.”
"Depends on who you end up with, I guess....A couple guys in my unit, their wives were military too...and they made it work." Billy's voice became hushed as he talked about his former teammates.
Edwin nodded his head slowly before falling silent for few moments. “I don’t know, maybe deep down I’m just afraid. Afraid that I’ll end up being the kind of father mine was.” The medic’s voice was very soft, his gaze focused on a spot on the carpet without seeing it.
"I won't pry," Billy said softly. "But if you want to talk about it, I'm willing to listen."
Lifeline shrugged. “Same old story; some men just weren’t cut out to be fathers; and let alone have to be a mother, too.”
Billy only nodded. "I...never saw a lot of my dad. He drove long-haul, so he was only home every once in awhile...."
“My father just worked – 50, 60 hours a week. He never took a break and he never gave anyone a break, least of all his own flesh and blood.” Unconsciously, Edwin’s lips thinned a bit.
Sensing they were touching onto a sore subject, Billy started steering the conversation back away again. "For what it's worth, I think you'd be a good father."
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Lifeline smiled faintly as he looked at Billy.
Billy's smile was warm as he returned it. "Anytime."
“You have a son, don’t you?” The medic inquired.
"Yeah, my son Robby....he'll be eleven this year."
“Almost a teenager,” Edwin removed the makeshift ice pack from his now numb shoulder. “I don’t envy you that,” he said with a slight smile.
"I don't envy his mother that," Billy corrected softly, shaking his head. "God only knows what he must think of me....all he's got about me at this point is what gets broadcast on the news, and what his mom tells him...And that's hardly been flattering, I can guarantee."
“Once you get cleared and the truth comes out, I’m sure he’ll come around.”
"I...guess we'll see...I feel bad, being gone for so much of his life..."
“You were doing something important – protecting him and everyone else in this country.” Edwin scooted forward a bit on the sofa. “Once we get the proof of what really happened in that village and expose Umbrella for what they really are, then you’ll be a hero.”
"Do you really think the government's going to admit they were wrong?" Billy said, his own tone making it clear that he didn't.
“With the proof right in front of them, what else can they do? What happened to you was wrong; and what Umbrella is doing is even worse. We signed on to protect this country. What good are we if we can’t even protect it from itself?” Lifeline looked down at the Marine. “If they get away with doing it to you, what’s to stop them from doing it to someone else?”
"What bothers me is worrying about who'll take a fall in clearing me so they can cover their own asses..."
“They’ve got to be exposed, Billy, at any cost. Especially if Cobra is involved.” The medic’s voice was firm as he spoke. “I don’t even want to think about that virus in Cobra’s hands. “
"Yeah, you're right," Billy said softly, then sighed heavily. "Sorry....I just get to thinking about lost time and..." The Marine caught himself again. "And I start rambling..."
Edwin reached out and put his hand on the Marine’s shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said, giving Billy’s shoulder a slight squeeze. “You’ve had a part of your life stolen from you. I just want to see that you get it back.”
"I just don't want them in danger," Billy said, shaking his head. "I'm scared for them, Edwin, and I don't mind telling you that."
"I'll talk to Mainframe and Gung Ho and see if they can set something up. We won't leave them defenseless." The medic gave Billy's shoulder another reassuring squeeze.
"Thank you," Billy said softly. "I...don't know if I’m ever gonna be able to pay you back for everything you've done for me."
“There’s nothing to pay back,” Edwin said as he looked down at Billy. “I’m just doing my job, which is protecting this country; and helping out a friend in the process.” Lifeline smiled faintly.
Billy smiled back. "Thanks."
Edwin’s smile widened just a fraction before he slid his hand from Billy’s shoulder. “Tell you what, if you can put the coffee on, I’ll take a quick shower and make some breakfast.” Picking up the now-sodden dish towel, he rose to his feet. “Afterwards, I’ll call headquarters and get the ball rolling with Mainframe.”
"Sounds like a plan."