"Kate!"

Somebody was calling her name. It was distant, but getting clearer.

"Kate!"

Now, she could make out a second voice.

Was she dead? No, she couldn't be. She could obviously hear, smell the cold winter air. But she didn't feel anything and she was afraid to open her eyes. Then a hand moved to her neck and just when the fingertips touched her skin, the pain rushed into her body, burning through her veins like boiling water. She needed to get rid of it. Now. Her hands tightened around the wrist, ready to defend herself. But the pain didn't go away. Instead, she heard the voice once again.

"Kate. It's me. Billy. You are safe."

Billy.

Panting she looked up, a hunted look in her eyes, only to find the sniper hovering over her. His face was pale, but his eyes were sparkling in their most beautiful blue nuance, it calmed her instantly. Billy stroke back her hair as she blinked a few times, returning to the here and now.

"Are you alright?"

She nodded slowly and released his hand, trying to get up, groaning with pain as she felt where Silva's bullet had hit her. Luckily, it hadn't gone through the vest she'd been wearing ever since she'd left the hotel, but her ribs were hurting like hell and she couldn't breathe properly. Her entire body was aching. It was an unpleasant yet forceful reminder that she was alive. She tried to get into a sitting position, but she had no strengths left.

"Hey, easy." Billy said and effortless he shifted her so that she could lean against his knees while looking at him.

"What happened?" she asked faintly. Everything felt so slow and blurred and she had trouble putting the events into the correct order. Billy helped her, briefly recalling the latest events.

"You fought with Silva. He sneaked up to you from behind, you struggled, he fell and you both pulled your weapons…" he trailed off.

Kate took in a deep breath as she heard she tremble within his voice. It had been a close call.

"It's over. Let's get out of here." somebody spoke the exact words she'd been thinking.

Kate turned her head only to see Hale kneeling next to her as well. She gave him an agreeing nod and got to her feet, supported by Billy who was half embracing her, half helping her to stand. With one last look at the enemy, she turned and limped towards the helicopter.

They made their way across the gravel riverbed of the lake and Kate's eyes caught sight of Silva's dead men. Their bodies were pierced with rounds from Hale's and Gunnar's guns and she couldn't help but feel a grim satisfaction. She saw another body, smaller than the other ones. Her brown hair was splayed around her head, her face pointing to the ground. A single hole was coloring the grey fabric of her jacket in dark crimson.

Hale, how'd followed her gaze, said: "We had to take her out, she was quite a bitch."

She looked to Billy, astonished that he hadn't killed her and now realized that he was bleeding from a cut on his lip and a black eye was starting to color the left side of his face.

"You really need to cut the gentleman-crap." she muttered as their eyes met.

Billy shot her an amused look and smirked.

"Let's get you home, Evans."

The wind produced by the rotors made it hard to approach and she stumbled a few times, having no strength left after the fight with Silva. She was so drained she had to be pulled up into the aircraft by Gunnar and Yin who settled her between themselves. Sitting between the two mercenaries and took in the sight of the familiar faces, not quite believing her eyes. She was like in a bubble. Everything happened with her participating and somehow not participating in it. The helicopter rose into the air and it took her a few moments to process that she and Billy were finally safe.

She looked at Billy who was probed up against some boxes installed into the aircraft. His blue eyes were a mirror of her thoughts. The humor from just seconds ago had vanished, replace by incredulousness as he reciprocated her look. He rose and wordlessly, he and Gunnar swapped places. Sitting down next to Kate, he put an arm around her and she leaned her head against his shoulder and took in a deep breath. She could feel Billy placing his chin on top of her head.

"We did it, huh?" she murmured as she watched the forests of Novi Pazar shrink underneath them.

"Yeah…" Billy hummed against her hair. Feeling her next to him was all the assurance he needed. They were safe, they were finally safe. He closed his eyes for a second and while the helicopter carried them back to the city, he thanked God that they'd survived.


The flight to the small airport where they'd left their plane, the boarding and the takeoff passed in a haze for Kate who had no strengths left to keep her eyes open. She barely remembered being supported by Billy while walking to Barney's plane and sitting down letting Hale check on her injury and renew the dressing Billy had put on. She was asked questions from each of the Expendables but even though she could hear each of them clearly the words didn't reach her mind. She realized that Billy was answering a few of them but at some point he stopped them to give her time to rest and recover. As soon as she had sat in her seat, her head leaned against the cold metal wall, the humming and the vibrations of the rotors lulled her into an exhausting sleep.

When she awoke an unknown amount of time later, she found herself lying, her head in Billy's lap, his hand loosely draped across her shoulder. His even breathing told her that he was sleeping so she closed her eyes once more and enjoyed the comfortable resting position and the peace of this moment. She would have to face the events of the past days soon enough. A few minutes passed before she felt the change. Billy had woken up. He took a deep breath and squeezed her shoulder lightly.

"You're awake." he mumbled, still quite groggy.

Kate sighed. She should have known that she could not fool her sniper. She swung her legs on the ground and got into a sitting position with a helping hand of Billy.

"How are you holding up?" he asked as he watched her stroking back her hair. While he had washed the dirt and blood from his face and changed his jacket and shirt for clean clothes, she still looked tired not to mention filthy and quite a bit roughed up from her fight with Silva's men and the guy himself. But as a smile crept onto her features and he silently sighed with relief.

"I'm good. Nothing a hot shower and a long nap couldn't cure."

"Not to mention a detour to the doctor." he added with a hint towards her arm. "Hale says this has to be treated."

Kate glanced at the bandage which was soaked with blood again.

"Yeah, probably not a bad idea." she winced as she tried to flex her arm.

They sat in silence for a few moments and for the first time, Kate took notice of her environment. Hale, Gunnar and Yin were sitting opposite of them, trying not too obvious to stare in her direction. They all looked tired, but now they smiled at her.

"Hey guys." she said still a little sleepy. "Good to see you."

"Glad to have you back in one piece." Gunnar said kindly and earned a nod from Hale and Yin.

The pang of guilt knocked the air out of her lungs for a second time that day as the words sank in. Kate knew they hadn't meant it in the way she'd picked it up, but there was a fact nobody could deny: she and Billy were back, but Toll never would come home.

"Hey, take it easy." Billy said, as he watched her getting onto her feet insecurely.

"I'm fine."

The decisiveness in her tone earned her an astonished look from Yin, Gunnar and Hale, but Billy merely shrugged. He knew her well enough to foresee what was coming up next. He watched her walk over to the cockpit where Barney and Lee were speaking in low voices. As she reached the doorway, the Brit turned and gave her a warm smile.

"How do you feel, Love?" he asked her, the concern and sympathy in his voice genuine.

"A lot better now that I am back with you guys." she gave him a small smile and shot a look in Barney's direction. "Can you give us a minute?"

Lee nodded and rose. Kate let him pass and sat down at his vacant seat. For a few moments she remained silent, sorting her thoughts as she watched the clouds pass by. Then as she was about to start her speech, Barney suddenly spoke up.

"Don't you dare apologizing for Toll's death." he merely said, his voice calm and free of anger or rage.

Kate's head jerked up.

"But he is dead because…"

"He is dead because gave his life so that you could escape. He made himself expendable for the life of his team member."

With the last word, she turned, looking directly at Barney. For the first time he really faced her, giving her just the tiniest of smiles.

"And you have proven to be a real Expendable too, Kate Evans. You were willing to do the job, because we couldn't and you kept Billy safe when he wasn't able to fight."

It took her a few moments to let the words sink in. Ever since she'd awoken on the lake's edge everything seemed to happen a little bit too fast for her head to keep up with. Absentmindedly, she wondered whether she'd suffered a concussion or something was wrong with her ears. Barney Ross was actually appreciating her work and thanking her for what she'd done. It was as much as a compliment she would get from the Expendables' leader. Recalling his words, she wondered how he knew about Billy's breakdown, but there were more pressing matters on her mind.

"We had each other's backs. That's what anyone would have done. But I will take full responsibility for Toll's death. Just give me the word and I am leaving." she said calmly, surprised how much the words actually hurt her.

Once more, she would be forced to leave the men she'd become so accustomed to be around.

Once more, she was forced to give up a job she'd started not only to like but to love.

Once more, she would be forced to leave Billy and God knew when she would see him again.

"You will not do that." The finality in Barney's confused her even more. "You've proven yourself out there beyond every expectation. As much as I hate saying that: We need people like you. And besides…" a smile curled his lips "… Billy would kick my ass if I let you go."

Kate gaped at him, not able to hide her blush. Now, she was certain. She had suffered a concussion. But Barney merely smiled at her. They sat in silence for a few moments, Kate wound up in thoughts, unable to process the consequences of this mission.

"Get some rest, Evans." he said softly as he sensed it.

"Yes, Sir." Kate simply replied and rose, glad that somebody was calling the shots for her. She turned and was about to pass the doorway that separated the cockpit from the rear of the plane when she paused. She took in the sight of the five men looking at her. Lee was saying something to Hale what made him shake his head in agreement. Yin was his usual reclusive self, eyes directed to the opposite wall of the plane, not paying much attention to the conversation next to him. And Gunnar was sharpening the blade of a ridiculously huge knife with such devotion; Kate could not help but smile.

She thought back to the day when she'd met them for the first time, back in New Orleans in the small bar. They'd been so hostile and distant. But while they formed a quite peculiar group of people, they all had the same goal: to hunt down bad guys. And when Barney had offered her to be part of the Expendables, she felt proud.

Her gaze wandered to Billy who reciprocated her look with an imperceptible jerk of his head. He knew what she and Barney had spoken about, the second she'd left her place. She gave him a small nod and couldn't help but roll her eyes as she watched his expression was telling her: 'Told you he wouldn't kick you out.'

She returned to her seat and plunged down next to him. She would think about the consequences for herself and her life later. There would be some changes, it was without a doubt. But all she wanted now was to get some rest. Real sleep without the fear of being ambushed at any second. They exchanged one silent look before she leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes and for the rest of the flight she dozed away.


She didn't wake up until they landed on the small airstrip next to Barney's farmhouse. Having almost no gear left, Kate exited the plane and took in a deep breath of the familiar air. It smelled like home. She gazed to the farmhouse and to the barns which had been her home for the past few weeks. It seemed ages ago that they'd left. She entered the house and sat down at the old kitchen table to watch the bustle around her. Weapons were carried back into the storage, duffle bags unloaded and beers popped open. It felt strange, ordinary, and Kate realized that the time would come when she had to face the memories of the recent events. But it was not time yet.

"Take these, they'll help you."

Billy's voice roused her from her stiffness. Her gaze dropped to the small box of painkillers in his hand. Mechanically, she took two pills, washing them down with a glass of water.

"Thanks." she said looking up with a small smile. By now she realized that his bulletproof vest was gone as well as his guns and other gear. He looked different and all the same at the same time.

"Come." he said softly, offering her a hand to get up. She shot him a confused glance. "Barney's got a friend in town who will patch you up. It's a surgeon who asks no questions. Come on, Evans. It doesn't get any better if you sit around here." he tried to lighten her mood as he heard her groan.

"Why? Why do you keep me dragging around, Billy Timmons?" Kate complained teasingly but complied and followed him to his car.

The short drive to the doctor was quiet; both either caught up in thoughts or too exhausted to speak. They stopped in front of a small white house in the outskirts of the nearby town. Billy helped Kate out of the car and led the way to the entrance. By the second ring, the door was opened. An elderly man with grey hair appeared in the doorframe and greeted them with a friendly smile.

"Ah, Mr. Timmons. Barney called. How are you doing?"

"Fine. Thank you, Sir." he replied with the sort of politeness he'd learned when being in the Army. "Kate Evans this is Dr. Martin Ryan." Billy introduced the medic as they shook hands. It was obvious that they knew each other and the way they interacted, showed her that this must have been the man who had treated Billy's injuries he'd suffered in Albania. Now, the doctor greeted her as well and led them through the living room and his study to a small room which could easily have been in a surgery. Kate wondered how Barney and Dr. Ryan had met.

"Let's have a closer look." he said; his voice deep and calm as he indicated her to sit down. Kate stripped off her jacket and Dr. Ryan removed the dressing before turning to her arm.

"How long since you procured this injury?"

Kate thought for a moment. "48 hours. Maybe a little less."

"It's quite a gash you have here." He turned her arm examining the wound closer. "You're going to need a few stitches."

That was not what she wanted to hear. She longed for a hot shower and her bed and had hoped that this appointment would be over more quickly.

"Can't you just glue it or something?"

"The gash is too long, it could re-open. I'll have to put in several stitches to keep it closed, as well as some tape over that. I've got some local anesthetic that should dull the pain."

"It's not that bad."

"Don't argue with your doctor." Billy inserted as he sat down beside her. Kate rolled her eyes at him and got a shrug in reply. He knew that she wanted this to be over as fast as possible, but it was necessary that somebody treated her injury.

"This is going to sting." Dr. Ryan warned her before dousing the cut in alcohol.

The pain came out of nowhere. Kate barely suppressed a scream. This was worse than she'd expected. Billy saw her body tense and reached out to grasp her hand. She held on tightly for several moments before her grip loosened a bit.

"This is almost more painful than actually getting slashed." she remarked, trying to sound casual about it.

"I'm sorry I couldn't get there sooner."

Looking into his face she was a little surprised to find an expression indicating his deep regret. He was still beating himself up over the fact that he hadn't kept it together when they'd been at the helicopter wreck and Kate knew it would take him some time to get over it.

"You came, that's the main thing." she told him softly but the look in his eyes wouldn't fade. She watched the doctor preparing the syringe for the anesthesia and the supplies he would need to close the wound. Then he started working on her arm.

"Hey, don't watch, look at me."

Billy held Kate's hand in both of his own. He had seen people get stitched up before, but this time was different. Her slender arms and soft skin seemed too fragile to be putting a needle and thread through. She tried to glance over while the medic worked, but again Billy gave her hand a gentle squeeze to get her attention.

A couple tears slid down her face, Kate couldn't manage to stop them. The sheer magnitude about what had happened to them became evident as the medic patched her up. They'd cheated death this time and every inch of that scar would remind her of that. She took a few deep breaths to steady herself and tried to focus on something else.

"Okay, we're almost finished." Dr. Ryan announced after a couple of minutes, looking up to her with a reassuring smile. "I'll just bandage your arm and you'll be good to go."

Kate nodded gratefully and turned to Billy.

"Thanks for sitting here with me."

"It's the least I can do." he said quietly.

Kate searched for his eyes. His calm manner was soothing her instantly and she wondered how he managed to be that composed after all they'd been through. She'd thought that the long hours of sleep would help her, but when she couldn't hold back the tears while being stitched up she realized how emotionally drained she was.