Hour of Darkness

Chapter 1:

Inspired by and dedicated to Faye_Dartmouth and her co-author, lena7142. None of the characters are mine, but I was so moved by their story, Rack and Ruin, this one wrote itself with my own very Pollyanna twist to it. I highly recommend you read their story, it's a wonderful read.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

-Let it be by The Beatles

Everyone had left except for Rick.

He knew that Billy had said he didn't want him there, but unlike Michael and Casey, he couldn't leave him. It's not that they were cruel, but perhaps just a little more jaded and maybe Rick was just that much more stubborn in holding onto his high expectations. He knew that they would come around. He believed that friendship would trump the shock they felt. And Rick, he was still new ("far too new at this game to be considered smooth") to be cynical, not yet jaded and had been nurtured enough by Billy to know that he may think he wanted to be alone, but Rick knew that he needed the complete opposite.

He had been alone for three months.

Too long alone and because of what he had done, he now he believed he deserved to be alone for the rest of his life. Billy pushing everyone away was Billy punishing himself by depriving himself of the much needed human contact that he felt he didn't deserve because of his betrayal, but Rick saw through it.

Rick understood, but wouldn't let that belief settle and take root in Billy.

Billy needed to know that they, out of everyone, would forgive him so that he could, then, forgive himself. Still, having committed the ultimate cardinal sin of the spy craft in his eyes, Rick knew Billy felt too ashamed to ask it of them, that he felt he didn't deserve it from them. Maybe he even felt a little angry that he would be expected to ask it of them, beg it from them to rescue his sanity; that a small part of him felt that they owed it to him for enduring as long as he had, for believing as long as he had, for hoping as long as he had.

Rick believed that Billy had a right to be angry. They had let him lose faith in his rescue, in his friends. Where was the punishment for that sin, he wondered? For someone as positive as Billy, belief in that rescue was everything so for him to lose his grip on that, to feel that he had been truly abandoned by his friends how could they blame him for questioning that faith? Rick wondered if they deserved Billy's silence, his anger, his abandonment of them?

Maybe it was really about feeling what it would be like to be abandoned by him, to be without him.

Rick sat in a chair in the darkened bedroom, listening to Billy's sobs. He didn't say a word, hoped that Billy knew he was there, that he wasn't alone this time and that if he needed to talk, Rick would be there to listen to him.

It was the least he could do.

Billy was right. They had taken too long, had left him crumbling to pieces literally and emotionally into a darkness no man should ever fall into, had him face abandoning his hope that they would rescue him, a hope so unshakable that for Billy such a crisis of belief was unconscionable and it would be the only way any torturer would be able to crack a stalwart constitution like Billy's.

They had left him alone too long, too long to ponder that maybe they had left him behind, to allow that doubt to fester in his pain wracked mind. After so much time passing, for Billy, seemingly endless, forever, an eternity, what else could he have been expected to believe?

Even Billy's rock solid faith could be broken.

Rick would have thought that was impossible months ago.

But even Billy's resolve could be squashed under the boot heel of doubt.

Rick didn't believe Billy had limits.

But given enough time, too much time, even Billy, funny, positive, Billy could be cracked open like an egg and devoured, leaving the shell of that man to suffer more self-inflicted torture; self-doubt and self-recrimination, the worst kinds, the kinds of torture that never left you because those tortures, the self-flagellation that always comes with a feeling of failure, came at the hands of oneself and that was one torturer you couldn't walk away from.

Though Billy hadn't said it outright, he had revealed that he had made a similar promise to a fellow prisoner there, that he would be rescued too, had bestowed that unwavering faith in his friends to that person as well so they had not only broken a promise to Billy, but he was sure to Billy's mind, he, himself, had broken his promise to the only company he had who had kept him sane while he had waited for them.

Billy never made promises he didn't keep and never would have conceived that the promise he was making to his fellow compatriot in captivity would never be fulfilled. Rick sighed. He shouldn't have counted on other, less reliable, people to make his promise come true, but Rick knew that Billy hadn't believed he was deceiving that person. It would have been better if he had, all the more painful that they had let them both down.

Billy may have wanted to be alone, both from despair and anger, but Rick had been taught by another teacher in his life, his mother. She had instilled in him that forgiveness was everything, asking for it, giving it, accepting it and you didn't give up until you did one of those things or did everything in your power to receive forgiveness. Only then could wrongs be righted.

So Rick sat and waited. When the sobs went silent and a stuffy wheeze of breathing replaced it, he took in a breath and allowed himself to relax. Billy had finally fallen asleep.

Later that night, though, he had been startled awake by Billy's scream. Loud, piercing, heartbreaking, desolate. In the short time that he had known Billy, he had never heard sounds like that from him. He had only heard joy, laughter, silliness; poetic recitations from poems written by his own hand as well as others and most certainly from his favorite source, Shakespeare.

But never screams, not even from the most severe pain, at least pain he had witnessed. Still, Rick hadn't been there when he had been beaten, burned and crushed under the weight of torture performed by professionals for three long months. Perhaps he had screamed like that then. It gave Rick a shiver of fear.

Rick went over to the bed and held him. He fought off Billy's flailing, tried to soothe his hyperventilated breathing and just held on to him.

"GET AWAY FROM ME! DON'T TOUCH ME! I broke, don't you get it! Are you THAT DENSE that you don't understand what that means? Have I not taught you ANYTHING?"

Billy protested, trying to pry away from Rick's hold, but he was too tired and too weak to compete with Rick's strength.

"You taught me so many lessons, Billy. You taught me how to be a better operative, but even more important than that, you taught me how to give compassion, to have an unwavering belief in your fellow operatives," Rick said, swallowing down his own pain, "...that you never leave a friend behind, and those were just some of the lessons...I let you down –"

"RUBBISH! Don't you DARE try to compare what I did to –"

"To what? Leaving you there in that hellhole for three whole months? No, Billy, I did fail you. I broke the single most important rule. I made a promise to you that I would never leave you behind and I did. WE did. It doesn't matter that we got you out eventually three months LATER. That's just the excuse we tell ourselves. You should be angry. You should feel betrayed. You should hate me; hate all of us. You, who had already been betrayed by one country, by your friends there, by Carson, SHOULD feel betrayed. You have more right than anyone," Rick said, out of breath from restraining Billy and from his declarations, feeling the rush of emotions he'd been trying to contain for Billy's sake finally being released. "And…I'm sorry, Billy…so, so sorry. I know I could say it a hundred times and it wouldn't be enough or make any difference, but like it or not, whether you forgive me or not, I'm here now and I'm not leaving you."

Billy's protestations stopped as he saw and heard the sincerity in Rick's pleas for his apology. Suddenly he felt humbled by the admission and all he could do was put his face into his hands and softly sob. He had heard the words and it had meant everything to hear them at that moment.

It had meant salvation.

He looked back up at Rick and released a sigh that seemed to reverberate throughout his body, a shudder that allowed a modicum of calm to settle into his muscles. Rick felt then that it was safe to let Billy go.

"I don't know if I can go back, Rick…it's not because of the ridicule, not even because of the doubt I'll see in every one's eyes. I've faced that and worse when I was exiled…it's none of that…it's worse than that...I…I don't think I can trust myself anymore. I can't risk the three of you after what happened. I've looked into the heart of darkness. It stared its steely unfeeling eyes back into me and robbed me of my soul," Billy said, his voice craggy from yelling, rubbing his face in despair.

"No, Billy, it didn't take your soul," Rick said. "All it took was your confidence. As for trust, I'd trust you with my life without hesitation over anyone in the Agency. That hasn't changed because of what you went through. You didn't break because you were weak. You broke because you were tortured, driven beyond human endurance, even a rock solid one like yours, by experts."

Rick sighed.

"Your torturers didn't break you, Billy. WE did by letting you down. Did you really expect me to believe that you were invincible, without any fear at all? You know what you taught me? That feeling fear is natural and human, that 'it reminds us that we're vulnerable…fragile even' and those words keep me going whenever I feel like I can't do or face something. If you need forgiveness, then consider it yours without any reservation from me, but you didn't lose your soul. Far from it, if anything, what happened to you just proves to me how truly strong you really are. I heard what they did to you and my God, Billy, hearing it all almost made me break. No one, not even Casey could have withstood all that and…"

Rick choked back emotion, "…lived."

He took in a few breaths to calm himself again.

"I know you wished you hadn't lived, but I'm glad you did and it also tells me that you really didn't want to die in there either, because if you had, you would have made it happen…pushed them to end you," Rick swallowed as his jaw trembled.

Billy shook his head tiredly.

"Doing that would have ended your pain...your disappointment in us, but you held on to hope, Billy. You held on to it for as long as you could, but we broke our promise."

Billy listened with apt appreciation for Rick's apology and analysis. He had lost all perspective on what had happened to him as well as any ability to look at the circumstances objectively. It was almost comforting to hear Rick's evaluation. It would be a nice delusion to think that he had any presence of mind to believe his will to live would overcome his desire to die. He wasn't convinced any of that had been there. To his mind, it was just dumb luck that he had survived it.

"I know that you would NEVER have broken if you hadn't lost faith that we were coming to rescue you. I KNOW that in MY soul. You would NEVER have broken if we hadn't let you down first, if we hadn't taken that hope away from you. I KNOW you. I know the man you are. Nothing you can say will convince me you're not that man anymore. WE failed you, Billy. We drove you to this and I'm so sorry."

Billy listened and a sense of relief fell over him. He was far from well bodily and especially psychologically, but hearing Rick tell him that it was okay to feel betrayed and lost allowed him to forgive himself if only a little and to impart forgiveness in return for it.

"It's all right, Rick," he said barely as a whisper.

"No, it's not, Billy. It never will be. For all you went through, it will never be all right, but I want you to know…no, I need you to know that it doesn't change our friendship, it will NEVER change that, not for me anyway."

Billy admired Rick's ability to separate the man from the spy. It's often lost along with trust in the business.

"Thank you, mate," Billy breathed tiredly.

"For what?"

"For reminding me that there are still men like yourself who live by their principles and have strength of character."

Rick straightened with the compliment.

"You gave me that, Billy. You taught me that."

"I hardly think so…you came in through the door with those qualities, yeh? Don't ever compromise them. Like I did…"

Billy closed his eyes, the rush of emotion still strong like the ebb of a tide influenced by lunar forces. He slid back down onto the bed, exhausted.

"Billy, you didn't –"

"Aye, lad, I did. I betrayed not only you, but other operatives as well…I can only hope to God that Higgins called them all back in time, that no lives were…"

Billy rubbed his face in a mix of despair and frustration.

"You were tortured –"

"No, Rick! You talked about excuses, well, that's also just an excuse to hide my cowardice. I cannot abide that anymore. Do you hear me?" Billy said, his body curling into a ball, his knuckles white with fists, veins and tendons stark through his still papery skin. "I gave up. It's as simple as that. I wanted it to end, you see? The interrogation, the torture. I knew that the only way I could speed up the process was to make myself no longer worth anything to them."

"Billy…I don't believe -"

"Believe it, lad. I KNEW painfully well what I was doing. I wanted it all to stop. What you call my will to live, to not commit suicide through my captors is a farce. My last vestige of hope was that I wouldn't cause any deaths from my cowardly act …" Billy's face then transformed from pityinto anger. "BUT for a traitor to hope like that…in the end, that was the ultimate cowardice. Truth is, a quick death would have been too merciful. I lived so I could truly understand the heinousness of my betrayal. That's worse than death. "

Rick listened, but he didn't hear a coward, he heard a man who thought he had no more to give and it scared him.

"I don't believe you."

"Believe me or don't believe me, think whatever you like, but I know it to be true."

"Why are you doing this to yourself?"

Billy then sprang up, his body rigid with frustration.

"Why are you holding such high esteem for someone who put you and the others in dire peril? You've placed me on quite a lofty pedestal, there, one I never aspired to nor deserved, mate and now, now you understand how steep a fall from that grace can be when you forfeit your principles like I have, when you believe that nothing is more welcoming then being put to death so that the pain can stop."

Billy tried to control his anguish, but he knew it was to no avail, the pain that came with it was now a part of him. He couldn't shed it off as if it were a second skin no matter how much he wanted to do that. His posture then deflated.

"Rick, you are a FAR better man than you give yourself credit for and for which you give me too much credit in forming. I can never measure up to that. Michael and Casey, they know the truth about what I've become. I don't blame them. You must align yourself with them and leave me behind once and for all."

Rick sighed and shook his head.

"Talk all you want about your failings…we all have them, you know, but make no mistake, I learned the best things about being a spy from you. Nothing you say now will diminish that. And I don't mean becoming a paranoid bastard or a human weapon or just a charmer. None of you are the sum totals of your 'job descriptions', but you taught me that I didn't have to compromise my principles or who I was, to be a spy. I made plenty of mistakes because of my overinflated idealism, but only you told me to hang on to it, that it wasn't wrong to feel that way. You can't take that back or anything else you told me and tell me you didn't mean any of it," Rick was on the verge of tears. "You can't sit there and say that you're no longer that man because I will NEVER believe that. They may have broken your body and maybe even your belief in yourself, but don't expect me to play along because I won't. I know better. I know you better than you do apparently."

Billy listened, heard the tears and found his throat clogging up with the conviction behind those words.

"I don't know if I'm that man anymore, Rick," Billy said solemnly.

"Well, I do and if Michael and Casey think less of you then I don't want to align myself with them. Call me idealistic. I know it won't be easy but I believe that you will defeat your demons. You can do this and I will ALWAYS be here to make sure you're never alone again."

Billy could only smile. Rick was throwing his words back at him. He had told Rick that he could control his fear, use it and that he believed in him, that he could kidnap LaRouche.

"Throwing my words back at me, are ya? Mighty treacherous of you, there," Billy said with a smile and a sigh. "Bold words for the new guy, perhaps it's because of that, you can say them with such conviction."

"All I ask, Billy, is that you don't surrender. It's all I want from you."

"It's a bit of a tall order, you know."

"Maybe, but I know you can do it."

Billy wouldn't commit to a promise to Rick. He was done doing that. He could no longer hold himself up to that standard anymore.

Rick had to be content with the silence as he watched Billy curl up and fall asleep again, nightmares intruding, making peaceful rest impossible.

Rick watched helplessly, but stayed by Billy's side.

"I believe in you, Billy."


He had never been claustrophobic yet he found himself unable to catch an even breath. The corridors felt as if they were alive, whispering to him, daring him to continue walking through them, threatening to entrap him like they had before, reclaiming him as their prisoner. Snickers and giggles echoed from them.

"We broke you here..."

"You became a traitor here..."

"Why are you back?"

"You should have stayed cowering, huddled in a fetal position in your room..."

"Or do that here like you had all those months..."

"When your friends never came...when they abandoned you...and yet you're here again, risking your sanity and your freedom to save them...Why?"

"You're going to fail and they will die just like you should have. Only their deaths will be on you and you alone."

Billy clenched his eyes closed, hoping to somehow block out the voices. He had to get to Rick. "Foolish lad," Billy thought to himself. "Heart of a hero...I knew it all along."


Adele had been panic stricken when she had arrived at his place. He didn't want to answer the door, didn't want any more sympathy and comforting. It was all too much to bear because he didn't deserve any of it. But then she had said, "Rick and the others, they went back to Morovia! They've been captured! Please help me, Billy!"

It was then that he opened the door, hearing her pleading and telling him that his friends had been captured, compelling him to answer her. She rushed in, desperation in the tears streaking her face, her fear for the man she loved gleaming through her eyes.

"Adele? What is it? What's happened?" Billy asked, his deadened spy senses coming alert after a year of dormancy.

"Rick and the others, they were trying to trace the leak that caused your capture and the other prisoners..."

Billy blanched for a moment at the reminder both of his imprisonment and of his betrayal.

"The last communication we had was that they had found him. It was Illyich. He betrayed you and now..."

"He's sent the rest of them to..."

Billy couldn't even utter the words, still he bowed his head in defeat.

"But what do you want me to do, love? I'm as good as decommissioned. Besides -"

"Stop it!" Adele yelled, her desperation only escalating.

Billy flinched, but understood her anger.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she cried.

"No need to be sorry. The man you love is in danger -"

"And you have to help him! Please!"

Billy turned his gaze away, ashamed to deny her face-to-face.

"I can't. I'd only put them in further peril and perhaps even get them killed. I can't live -"

Adele took in a few breaths to gain some control over her hysteria and her expression turned stern.

"You HAVE to help them. You're the only one who can. You know the situation, the assets, and the players. You know Illyich -"

"But I've been compromised. They know I've been broken. No one will trust me with their intell now," Billy explained as much from logic as from a lack of confidence.

"Before they went dark, Rick got the intell that revealed the traitor...I told him not to go it alone, but he...and the others...they were going to the facility where they held you...they were going to take down the commander...but they've been dark for too long, Billy."

Billy felt Adele's anguish and his heart enlivened against the lost purpose he had been harboring for the past year. Suddenly, he realized that he had to step out from his darkness, not for himself, but for his mates, for Rick and for the woman who loved him.

"All right, darling. I'll go back. I'll extract them," Billy said his usual confidence wavering, but his obligation steadfast. He'd have to hope it would be enough to shore up his courage. "Do you have the information?"

Adele brightened and handed him the files without hesitation. Billy could only grin.

"Mighty confident, weren't ya?"

"Rick's not the only one who believes in you," she said, her shaky smile buoying Billy's uncertainty.

Billy swallowed as he took the files from her.

"I hope to live up to that belief," he said, a little solemnly.

Adele began to tear up again, but this time from a sense of relief.

"The only person you have to convince is yourself because I know you can save them," she placed a hand on his chest. "I never would have asked you if I didn't believe that."

He took in a deep breath and nodded.

"Fay and I got you the necessary clearance. Your plane's waiting on the tarmac."

He shook his head, an impressed smile on his face.

"So it's the two of you who's ganging up on me now, is it?"

Adele just coyly smiled as she wiped her tears away.

"And dare I ask, how is Higgins with all this?"

"Has been at a conference," Adele smiled slyly.

Billy's own smile grew at her mischievousness.

"You would make a right brilliant ODS operative, love," he complimented.

She threw herself into his arms.

"Thank you, Billy. I know what I'm asking is a lot, I know that I'm being selfish..." she said, her tears flowing again. "But thank you."

Billy allowed himself to hug her in return, placing his hands softly on her back, trying to absorb some strength from her confidence in him because all he was truly feeling at that moment was complete and utter terror at what he was heading to face. Her words were so heartfelt and so filled with expectation. He felt the weight of responsibility of bringing Rick back, of bringing them all back safe and alive. He wasn't sure at all that he had it in him to accomplish it. Still, he knew he couldn't let her know that and so he marshaled his ability to lie and deceive with this charm, shaky as it was, to put on a brave front.

"It's all right, love. I understand and I promise I'll bring him back to you," Billy said, cringing at already breaking his vow to never make another promise again.

"Or die trying," he thought to himself because there was a part of him that knew that he couldn't fail, that he would die, if necessary, to free them.

He could never go on if he lost the only men he respected, if he let them down.

He boarded the awaiting plane. He tried to keep his hands from trembling the entire flight. How far he had fallen he thought to himself. His arrogance had been veiled in the humor he had used in order to keep people guessing, even his friends. Where was that arrogance now? Broken along with his bones, his spirit, his resolve and yet there he was, back in Morovia, about to perform an extraction that he didn't think he could pull off. As expected, Adele and Fay had admitted that there were few operatives left in the region and those that were still there weren't willing to risk their lives, to entrust their lives to a tainted agent. Billy couldn't blame them.

He was alone. Just like he had been when he was last here, but suddenly, there was anger and betrayal infusing his determination.

He had one shot and Adele was right, he knew exactly where to go.

He arrived at Illyich's shop and without bothering to announce himself, he pulled out his gun and kicked in the door. There was satisfaction in appying violent force upon it. Casey would be proud, he thought.

Illyich had been startled and he tried to reach for his gun, but Billy had been quicker even being so woefully out of shape and out of practice. It was a revelation that despite all the abuse and the extensive recovery he had gone through, both physical and mental, his mind and body could still call up skills instilled in him at a moment's notice as if they were reflex. He felt like Jason Bourne without the amnesia. Oddly, though, he found himself wishing for that as well. Not knowing what he had done, to be able to wipe out those memories, memories that still plagued him as if they were still happening to him would have been a welcome relief.

But no luck there. Instead, he'd have to make do with using all of the intell he had gleaned as a prisoner to save his friends, to make those memories work for him, as opposed to having them destroy him. So he poured all of his energies into getting to his friends before it was too late, to spare them the fate that he had lived through, had barely survived through. It was all he had left to offer them now.

Billy had stopped Illyich with a quick grab and twist of his hand and palm as well as just the right amount of pressure on his thumb to subdue him. He then jabbed the barrel of his gun into Illyich's throat. He enjoyed the edgy eagerness it brought to the surface, the power driven by the rage that filled him felt satisfying, felt right, felt owed to him.

"Billy! You are back, yes? What a lovely surprise! It's good to see you friend," Illyich said nervously.

"You can bugger off the niceties, Illyich. I know what you are. I know what you did to me and even worse for you, I know what you did to my mates."

Billy's voice was laced with a hoarse growl of contempt, his tone was icy cold and unforgiving.

"Wait, wait, I can explain -" Illyich tried to squeal.

Billy pressed the barrel harder into his throat and Illyich made a choking noise.

"Nothing you can say will save you now, you traitorous git," Billy spat out. "You're going to tell me where my mates are or I will snap your windpipe like a twig and leave you to suffocate slowly."

"If you kill me, you won't find your friends, yes?" Illyich said, thinking he was making a valid point.

"Oh, you have no idea how I wish I could just end your miserable life right now, you bastard, but killing you would be much too easy for you. No, first you're going to help me find my friends because if you don't, I'll make sure you experience the fullest extent of what I learned from my lovely little incarceration at the hands of the people you sold me out to or even better, I'll just hand you over to them myself, tell them you betrayed them too. Double agents are worse scum than your average, garden variety traitor, yeh? How'd you like that, aye?"

"No, no, they will -"

"They will what? Torture you? Pummel you until you feel like a tenderized piece of meat? Smash your hands until you can't even grasp the bloody spoon they give you to eat the slop they toss at you just to keep you marginally alive so that they can start all over again, aye? OH, but my favorite was the adrenaline. I must say, that was a mighty creative touch, didn't see that coming, kept me from passing out, you see, from escaping every exquisite piece of pain they inflicted. Sounds like a right vacation, don't it, Illyich?"

Illyich could only listen and tremble as he heard a thread of madness in Billy's voice, the lack of compassion in it, more revealing, the lack of humor which was Billy's gift. Billy worried as well at how much he was enjoying seeing the terror in Illyich's eyes as he threatened him.

"Oh, and don't know if you've heard, but they broke me, they tore me to shreds, you see? Funny thing that, though, you see, you should be dead at their hands as well, since I gave you up just like you did me, and yet here you are still breathing, not a scratch on you. Here I was feeling guilty about doing that to you. How does that work, exactly, Illyich? Hmmm? Perhaps it was because you could still be useful to them? That they needed you to bring them others, aye? After all, look at how easy it was for them to rip out information out of me, turn me into a right proper Benedict Arnold, yeh? Maybe they were hoping you would sell out others for a good price. Others like MY FRIENDS! IS THAT IT, ILLYICH?"

Billy shoved Illyich into a chair, then he pressed the barrel to his temple.

"Please, please, I had to. They would have killed me! I had no choice!"

Billy clenched at the memory of his breaking, spilling everything he knew in the hopes of ending the pain. Could he be no different than Illyich now?

Analyzing it wouldn't change the past, his past. He could blame Illyich for selling him out, his torturers for the pain they inflicted, his mates for not coming soon enough, but in the end, it all came down to him. He broke, he gave in. There was no undoing that or the eradication of whatever was left of Billy's conscience. The only thing he had left was the rescue of his friends. He had no expectations for redemption.

"None of your excuses matter anymore. You better have enjoyed the thirty pieces of silver you got for me, yeh? Because it will be your last. I'll make sure of that one way or another. Must've turned quite a tidy little profit for yourself when I broke, aye?. The others, they won't break so easily and not at all if I have any say. I won't let them suffer like I did."

Illyich could only continue to tremble in terror because the once affable man that he had dealt with before was gone. All he saw in the steely blue eyes boring into his was emptiness, there was no empathy for him in them, only revenge.

"You're going to tell me where they took my friends, better yet, you're going to show me and help me get in. I'd do it without you because frankly, your company disgusts me, but I was knocked out then drugged when they snatched me so you're going to have to take me there. Lucky you, yeh? You're going to be my bloody tour guide."

"No, no, please -"

"SHUT UP! You ARE going to take me there, you hear me? This isn't a choice. Just like you gave me no choice. And if you're lucky, I might have a mind not to kill you when it's all said and done."

Billy shook with frustration, rage, and were all warring for dominance.

At the root of all of it was an overwhelming desire to make himself worthy again, worthy of rescuing his mates, worthy of rebuilding his reputation, and supreme above anything else he could achieve in his now shattered life was being worthy of his mates' trust again. How he ached to regain that from them for only in doing that would he be able to seal the desolated hole where his soul used to be, the void that had been created by the surrender of it to the foolish lie he had told himself, that once relinquished, he'd be freed from the pain. Instead, he had traded one form of torture for another, had abdicated his belief in rescue, more heinously, his belief in his friends in the pursuit of that freedom. That pain was worse than all he had suffered in that cell. He had to get to his mates before they, too, lost hope for rescue, before they lost hope in him completely, in his full recovery for only in saving them could he save himself.

"But if my friends die, I guarantee you, I will make you pay with maximum prejudice. Nothing will save you if that happens," Billy said, surprising himself at the lack of compassion in the threat.

So now he found himself stalking through the very corridors he had been dragged through to and from his cell for what seemed like an interminable period of time. He forced himself to remember as much as he could about the hallways and as many of the details of the place that would help him find the others. He had to separate himself from the emotions of those memories and act indifferent as if he were just on another mission. It took much more willpower and concentration than he had anticipated and occasionally flashes would seize him and he'd have to take a minute to clear it before it overwhelmed him.

Illyich had led him to the compound, giving him all the access codes he knew, but he also told him that he would have to get a key card from one of the guards, that much trust was denied him.

Billy couldn't risk Illyich alerting anyone while he infiltrated the compound so he had knocked him unconscious, gagged him, tied him up then placed him into the trunk of the car they arrived in, parking it just outside of the grounds. He had to hope that it would give him enough time to rescue his friends. Though he had feared the impulse of wanting to kill Illyich, had expected to lose control once at the compound, something in him had reminded him that if he let himself kill Illyich, he would become no better than the men who had tortured him, who had killed Tsykalov before his eyes. He wouldn't be able to regain himself, to look his mates in the eyes again. He'd then be as good as dead. Something of his former self that was still alive in him was telling him that there was enough left of that man to salvage. It emboldened him to keep going.

He tapped in the entry codes that Illyich had given him to gain initial access. He pulled his gun and based on his directions moved along the hallways towards the cells.

One thing he knew without Illyich having to tell him, his friends were below ground, away from sunlight, away from hope. All of the dirty work was done where no one could hear the screams, see the wounds; where the smell of blood, urine and feces could be contained and continue to haunt and decompose whatever vestige of spirit that still clung to each prisoner for eventual rescue. Even the optimistic ones. Billy knew that once he was down there, every memory would reveal itself in living color as well as in 3D sound and smell. The assault would likely send his sensory recall into overload. It would take a monumental force of will not to succumb to the helplessness he had felt while he was being held captive there. The thought of preventing his mates from enduring anymore time there continued to keep the overrides in check. He just had to hope they would hold.

He traversed swiftly through, watching, and listening. His spy senses sparked again and it had happily surprised him. He had worried that they would never come back again or that he wouldn't be able to access them when he had challenged them upon arriving at the prison, that being there would paralyze him. It gave him the much needed confidence that he could rescue his friends.

He came toward a corner and heard voices, Russian, and footsteps moving away. He craned his head around the corner and watched two guards walk away, laughing.

It gave Billy both a shiver at the indifference and a resurgence of the rage at wanting them to pay. He was certain that they had probably dragged him in and out of his cell at some point in his captivity.

Once the guards had left, Billy looked around and found a doorway with a card reader beside it. He knew that just as Illyich had said, in order for him to go any further he would have to subdue one of the guards.

He felt that he was far from the shape he had been before his imprisonment and uncertainty crept in about his ability to subdue a well-trained, physically imposing guard. Illyich was an old man, hardly a challenge, but he had remembered the strength of the guards when he had ceased to be able to walk and they had dragged him to his cell and back with relative ease, especially the more weight he lost. He clenched his eyes closed and took a breath to erase the recollection. Still, contrary to Casey Malick's assumption that nothing is better than thrashing someone into submission, Billy would have to employ more subtler methods, not only because of his own compromised physical condition, but to keep stealth still working for him. A loud commotion would hardly serve his cause or work in his favor. Suddenly he had wished he had done, at least, some of his obligatory PT exercises - who knew he would be back in Morovia doing a one-man extraction of his friends? Casey would never have caught himself unprepared. Hindsight was lovely, Billy thought to himself.

He ducked into another small hallway, watching, listening, calculating.

He didn't have as intimate a knowledge of the routine on the upper floor. He had been unconscious when he had been captured and Illyich was no spy. His visits here were more of the ass-kissing variety, like he had been towards him and the others, all fluff and effusive declarations of friendship. He was too busy smiling and complimenting to notice the rotation of the guards and where they were placed. Still, Billy could make assumptions based on his observations at that moment.

There weren't many guards here. Since every access to the prisoners were underground, all the security on this floor was for show and it worked to their advantage not to look too conspicuous to the random observer. Guards watching an innocuous compound would raise suspicions and questions. So for now, the only physical subjugating he would have to do would be to one guard to get his key card. With that card in hand, he had the key to the kingdom. He had to count on that and he knew that once subdued, he would have to then tie up and hide the guard to make sure that he wouldn't be found immediately to alert of his presence.

Billy reached for his belt buckle. He had to smile. This was Michael's technique for hiding anything contraband. Even Casey had adopted it. Michael used it for SIM cards. Billy had a couple of small hypodermics with just enough drug in each of them to knock someone out, hopefully for several hours. He only had the one attempt at overcoming the guard with the shot so the margin for error was non-existent

He watched, he listened.

He had to admit that it felt good to be back in the game again even with the new uncertainty that dogged him. Perhaps it was just. He had gotten too comfortable, things were going too well for him. He had become the fool that he had warned Rick about not becoming before he had kidnapped LaRouche. He had to, once again, appreciate the edge that fear provided. He had lost the necessary understanding of his own vulnerability, the knowledge of the fragility of life which kept operatives sharp and safe and he had paid dearly for it.

Perhaps a little humility had been in order, but he would have given anything not to have gotten that lesson the way that he had, not because of his own pain and suffering but because of the pain and suffering he had caused others. That he could never wish away.

He heard the footsteps. Single set. One guard. He held the needle in his palm. He had to wait for the right moment to achieve the necessary angle in order to plunge it precisely into either the jugular or carotid for the quickest effect.

He only had one shot at it.

His heart raced, his hand trembled a bit. It harked him back to his early days as an agent in MI6, young, naive, patriotic, and eager. He wouldn't recognize that man, jaded and ruined as he was now.

The guard walked past oblivious to Billy's presence. Billy took his shot and plunged the needle in. Simultaneously, he grabbed the guard's head, cupping his mouth to silence him until the drug took effect. Thankfully it had been so swift that Billy didn't have to fight against the guard's struggle. Ah, the Agency's chemists were geniuses.

He took the key card from the guard's pants pocket, opened a nearby door with it, and found a storage room. Perhaps mercurial fate was on his side after all. He dragged the guard into it. Billy tied him up with whatever was available in it and crept back out again.

He took in a few rapid breaths, both adrenaline-induced as well as fear-induced. The rush he felt was intoxicating. He was acting purely on instinct and it felt good to feel the switch turn on, a sense of auto-pilot engaging.

Key card in hand, he headed for the doorway he had spotted earlier, slid it through the card slot quickly, saw the flash of the green light indicating clearance and opened it. He ducked through it.

It was a stairway as he had surmised. Satisfied that there would be less traffic on the stairs as opposed to a nearby elevator, he traversed down them, ever vigilant about listening for other footsteps or doors opening.

Billy moved quickly, but quietly, taking a glance through every door window at the landings of each floor. He was still in unfamiliar territory. He didn't know which floor contained the prisoners so he had to carefully check each floor for any kind of evidence or familiarity.

A couple more flights down, he spied through the latest door window and saw two guards dragging an unconscious prisoner likely back to his cell. Observing the emaciated condition, Billy felt empathy for the man's plight, understanding it all too well. He had looked that way once, depleted of nourishment and hope.

He stiffened against the wall, closed his eyes and panted to keep panic from seeping into his body.

He had found the prison floor.

He felt his courage seeping out of him. It was one thing to be in an unfamiliar place, he could keep his dread in check.

Now that he had found where he had lived for three months in degradation, real terror was now settling into his body. And he despised himself for the almost overwhelming alarms going off in his mind.

All he had wanted to do was turn back, run away, call Fay and Adele, tell them where to find the compound and leave it to others to make the rescue, but then he heard it. Someone whimpering in the hallway, begging to be let go, bargaining with the guards that he would do anything if they would just let him die.

Billy had wished for that as well and he knew that the man would be sorely disappointed. His pleas would go unheeded.

He closed his eyes and thought about his friends, facing the same debasement and he knew that he had no choice, that it was the right choice, the only choice. A choice that he wanted to make happen, to overcome the potentially paralyzing anxiety he knew was just within his reach if he chose to surrender to it. He forced his spy skills to push away the anxiety if not the fear and strategically thought out his next moves. He had to analyze the situation.

The good news was Michael, Rick and Casey hadn't been prisoners long. At best, Adele had gotten to him as soon as they had gone dark. At most, five days. Not exactly comforting, but short enough of a duration that Casey would still be viable as long as there weren't any broken bones, always a possibility if Casey had encouraged his innermost weapon and fought back with his usual zeal, a full-on thrashing the reward for his rebellion.

Rick was the one Billy worried about the most. He was still young and idealistic. Those qualities could be double-edged swords in these situations. At least he wasn't alone. He had Michael and Casey to help him navigate, but Billy worried nonetheless that at the end of this experience, Rick would be scarred psychologically that much more quickly. Torturers didn't play by patriotic rules. There was no Geneva Convention here. The love of the ruble over the love of the motherland that he had pointed out in Volgograd played out here in stark brutality. The price for having broken a spy was in of itself priceless. It removed yet one more impediment to the more sinister machinations of greed and opportunity and it would serve as an effective morale breaker, showcasing how fragile a man's ego, a man's loyalty were. It was a win-win.

So, first thing to do was to set in motion the tactics he employed in those early days of his captivity before the torture began to wear down his resolve. He was concentrating and focusing on all of the nuances that went on around him. Guard shift changes, the changes in direction they made as they led him down the hallways, how many of them were patrolling the hallways and their intervals, the number of steps from his cell to the torturer's den of iniquity. His concentration had been vivid and razor sharp for several days, maybe even weeks, even after bones had been broken and copious amounts of blood had been spilled. He had left no detail unrecorded. He had worried though that by the end of it all, all of that valuable intell would have been washed away with the anguish of betrayal, but trying to rally his focus at that moment, he was relieved and pleased to find them easily recalled.

It was time to leave his insecurities behind. They had no place where he was going and what he had to accomplish.

"Right then," he said. "Once more onto the breach, shall we, aye?"

TBC – Thanks for reading