Hour of Darkness

Chapter 4:

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.

The horrific mission that was Morovia was finally accomplished. The ODS could finally close the door on it and walk away, but they wouldn't walk away from it whole.

All of them had to be hospitalized for the injuries they had incurred while imprisoned before they could go home. Rick had the worst of it with broken ribs, fractures in both of his legs, a concussion and other bumps and bruises. Still, all in all, it could have been worse.

They all knew that Billy had incurred much worse in his first brush with Morovia.

In his second brush, he had been beaten, but nothing had been broken, still he had been injected with a substance that had stopped his heart. Michael had the presence of mind to grab the syringe and between the Company chemists and ransacking Tsykalov's office files, they had determined that the fluid that had been injected into Billy was a chemical cocktail, the base of which was adrenaline and potassium chloride. Between Casey's frantic yet precise CPR and the medical team, they were able to keep Billy alive and stable. Still, he was once again, unconscious in a hospital and the men who were his friends were once again desperately waiting for some sign that he would be waking up.

Rick wheeled himself to Billy's room every day, unable to rest himself until he checked in on him.

Casey's visits were as much guard duty as they were ways for him to affirm that Billy was still alive. Psychologically, Casey was the one on the shakiest ground. He kept berating himself that he should have prevented their capture when they had sought to end the mission in Morovia. Billy's rescue attempt then subsequent recapture as well as his torture revisited just piled on more emotion than Casey could handle all at once, but with Billy back among them, he was slowly coming to terms as only Casey could, systematically, one emotion at a time, one percent at a time.

Michael felt the weight of all of his men, both their physical and psychological injuries. He felt that he had failed them all on one level or another, sitting by Billy's bedside yet again only magnified the weight.

Rick wheeled in while Michael was on vigil.

"You can go home. I can take over now," Rick offered softly.

"Go home to what? To a hotel room where I can't sleep anyway. No, I think I'll just wait here."

Rick nodded. Michael looked over at Rick and sighed.

"I'm sorry, kid."

"For what?"

"For letting them torture you like that, for not being able to do more."

"There was nothing you could have done. I understand that. I'm glad you didn't give in. I admired that."

Michael grimaced at the compliment he felt he didn't deserve.

"Maybe I couldn't do anything for you then, but there was a lot I could have done...no, that I should have done to prepare you, to make sure you knew that you could break and I'd still be there for you," Michael said almost dreamily. "That we'd all be there for you."

Suddenly, Rick wondered how much of what Michael was saying was directed at him and how much of it was towards Billy.

"I do know that. Billy does too."

Michael laughed.

"Does he? Billy should have known that, but he...he didn't because I didn't..."

Rick had never seen Michael so precariously close to crying. Every one's nerves were on edge, but it seemed that the mission to Morovia had taken a piece out of every one, a piece that they knew they could never get back.

"I've been down this road so many times...too many times. It's the worst part of this job, making life and death choices for someone other than yourself. Don't get me wrong, I know what I signed up for and I take full responsibility for those decisions, but there are times when...I do question whether...I do enough...whether I did a good enough job of telling all of you that I would be there...no matter what."

Michael trailed off feeling either too cowardly or too arrogant or both to admit his insecurity, asking Rick for his confidence...hoping that Billy had that same confidence.

"I understand. Would it make you feel better to know that it's not always about you?" Rick said, without recrimination.

Michael, though, vulnerable at that moment, nodded his head quickly and grimaced at making his admission at a time like that. He was truly a bastard in every sense of the word.

"Right, I get it, pretty selfish of me," Michael said hurriedly, hoping to brush the conversation under the proverbial rug.

Rick realized it and shook his head in retraction.

"No, no, that's not what I meant. I can't speak for Billy, but I'm almost positive he feels the same way," Rick said sympathetically. "It's not that you or even the rest of the CIA could question our loyalty or as Billy once put it poetically, our devotion to good, it's about self-doubt, that we wouldn't be able to trust ourselves again, that we'd disappoint you and the agency. You didn't put that there so you don't have to take responsibility for it."

Michael listened with apt respect for someone so young who understood so much about life as a spy and had possessed the necessary compassion to see both sides.

"Thanks, Rick," Michael said. "We're all proud of you. I hope you know that, but it bears saying. You came out the other side of darkness whole."

Rick smiled.

"Billy will too. I know it."

"He's lucky to have you, you know."

Rick flushed slightly with embarrassment.

"At the risk of sounding maudlin, I think we're the lucky ones. Billy's taught me that you can overcome anything if you have friends."

Michael smiled then they both gazed over at Billy, helpless against the uncertainty that filled their chests.

Over the following few hours into the next morning, Billy's vitals began to strengthen and stabilize. He emerged from unconsciousness able to breath on his own, if still weak from the drug. He awoke to find friends surrounding him and he couldn't help but smile.

"Ah, like Lazarus I rise once again to fight the good fight another day, aye? Thought I'd used up all of my lives by now," Billy said teasingly.

Billy saw Rick in the wheelchair, looking tired himself, but with a bright smile returning back at him.

"How are you doing, lad?"

"Good. Better now that you're back."

His enthusiasm warmed Billy's heart.

"How are you feeling?" Michael asked.

"A bit knackered, I admit."

"Should we leave to let you rest?" Rick asked.

"No, no, being amongst your friendly faces gives me comfort. If I happen to nod off, I hope you'll forgive me."

"Granting forgiveness is a waste of energy. You either always have it or you don't," Casey blurted.

Everyone turned their gazes toward him and if Casey knew how to blush, he would have been blushing bright red.

Billy smiled jovially.

"Quite right, mate. I heartily concur. Does that mean I have your implicit forgiveness for every transgression that I've committed towards you and from here hence?"

Michael shook his head. Leave it Billy to receive Casey's reluctant inch and take a mile from it.

Casey glared, but you could see behind it a sense of relief, that the rapport that had been MIA for over a year was back again. Casey was a man of routine and regime so it stood to reason that he had been off kilter, struggling to regain his balance that was the seesaw of their lives after Billy had been found barely alive after three months of captivity. There had been days when he had come off completely callous and cruel, but it was the only coping mechanism he knew. He had to either let Billy go or grasp onto him as if he were a lifeline to his own sanity. For that year, Casey rocked back and forth on that seesaw unable to find his stoic center because Billy's voice was lost to him. For all of its annoying qualities, Casey had missed Billy telling him not to take things so seriously so that he could argue back the complete opposite.

"Right, I've overstepped then," Billy said with a fading smile as his eyes began to flutter in exhaustion.

Michael noticed.

"All right, with that, we'll let you sleep."

"Michael? May I have a word?" Billy asked.

"Sure."

The others left, leaving Michael and Billy alone.

"What is it?" Michael asked.

"I haven't had a chance to thank you."

"For what? I owe you one. You saved our lives and I know how hard it must have been for you to go back there, to face what happened to you there."

Michael looked away contrite. Billy's esteem for his friend and leader only grew as it did for Casey and Rick.

"You don't owe me anything, Michael. None of you do. What you did for me the last year, being there for me through all of my battles? Don't think I didn't know how badly it had gotten. Lesser men would have written me off without a moment's hesitation and I know you thought about it. I know that Casey had to disengage in order to keep himself centered and I don't fault him for that nor would I have you and Rick neither if you both had done the same. So all the more important for me to tell you that I don't think I can ever do or say enough to show my gratitude for all you've done, but I wanted you to especially know how much it meant to me that you stayed with me during my hour of darkness."

Michael was humbled and surprised by Billy's words.

"Billy, I -"

"I'm sorry you had to witness how far into despair I had ventured."

"You had reason," Michael admitted.

"No, that's the point. I didn't. I know I blamed you, but I was wrong to do that. I see that now..."

"No, you weren't -"

"Yes, Michael, I was. You tried your level best and I should have understood that, known in my heart how much all of you struggled in your pursuit to find me. It's hardly fair to expect a timetable for rescue, is it? Illyich set me up. I virtually disappeared, no clues for you to trail my movement yet miraculously, you rescued me and that's all that should have mattered. I had lost hope, yes, but not because it took you three months to find me. I was in so much pain and I had to face some harsh truths about myself..." Billy said as he sighed and let the sentence die.

"I watched an innocent man die right before my eyes and that's what eventually did me in. Tsykalov did a right thorough job of breaking me down. He found the right pressure point and exerted upon it with merciless ferocity. He killed an innocent person whom he carefully crafted to make me believe was him...some one I thought I was befriending...helping through the nightmare of imprisonment...I thought I had caused..." Billy took in a breath. "No, I did cause that man's death in the end and that drove me under. I didn't care what happened to me anymore at that point. I stopped resisting. I was done for."

Michael had no words. He was left speechless in the wake of Billy's humility. He would always feel responsible for letting Billy down, but he couldn't deny that hearing Billy absolve him gave him a relief he hadn't allowed himself to feel. Billy had given him that and as he listened, he realized that the rescue was about Billy needing to face his fears in order to move on with his life.

"You needn't worry anymore. I may not be the man I once was and I fear it may take time to fully feel I can trust myself in the field again, trust myself with your lives in my still trembling hands, but I want you to know that I don't want to die. I didn't when you found me that horrific day and I don't now. I've come through the darkness."

Michael nodded in understanding unable to grasp the right words, his worst weakness, not being able to express his appreciation to his men, to his friends, but he knew that with Billy, he didn't have to.

Billy knew. He always knew. Even at his worst and darkest moments he knew.

The next day, Billy awoke feeling someone holding his hand. At first it left him feeling confused, but when his vision cleared, he saw that it was Adele.

When she noticed that he had awakened, she stood up to look at him eye-to-eye. Her smile was beaming at him and it gave him confirmation that he was truly back home.

"Deputy Director, to what do I owe the honor of your visit?" Billy asked tiredly, but with his usual impish grin.

"I just wanted to make sure you're all right," she said, but Billy could tell she was on the verge of tears.

"I'm quite all right. You needn't have worried."

Adele then couldn't hold back her tears. He felt the need to squeeze her hand in reassurance, but he was also worried.

"What's wrong? Has something happened to Rick?"

"No, no, I'm sorry," Adele said as she wiped her tears. "He's fine. I just saw him. He's getting better every day."

"A reason to be joyful, yeh? Why the tears?"

"Thank you..." Adele said quickly.

"For what?"

"For going back...for getting Rick and the others out...for risking everything because I asked. I know it was wrong of me to ask you, but...I couldn't..."

Billy felt a lump in his own throat seeing Adele so grateful and so upset.

"There, there, love, it wasn't wrong at all. Far from it. It was the right kick in the arse that I needed," Billy squeezed her hand again. "You gave me a reason to face my demons. I owe you my sanity and so much more for doing that. If you hadn't asked me and they had died without my lifting a finger to help them, I would have surely ended my life. That would have been the final blow. You saved me."

Adele looked into his eyes and saw the sincerity in them. She then leaned in gently to hug him.

"I'm glad you're back," she whispered in his ear.

He tentatively stroked her back.

"You and me, both," Billy said as he smiled while they disengaged. "You and me, both."

ChaosChaosChaos

Rick wheeled in later, relief still cascading over him at seeing Billy awake and getting better. Billy heard him, looked over and smiled.

"Ah, young Rick. How are you faring?" He greeted.

"Getting better. I have a lot of PT in my future, but all in all, I'm glad to be alive...thanks to you," Rick acknowledged.

Billy demurred at the recognition.

"I take no praise for your guts, nerve and grit under such horrific pressures. That, is to your credit."

It never ceased to amaze Rick how humble Billy was.

"But I will be by your side every step of the way as you recover. I fear Casey will be relentless and push us both to our limits. He will consider it his mission to make us tip top so this never happens again."

Billy smiled, but noticed that Rick seemed unusually quiet.

"Is something wrong?"

"No, nothing's wrong...I..." Rick stuttered.

"Clearly something's bothering you, mate," Billy said though his instincts suspected what it was.

"I'm scared..." Rick blurted, his voice and posture a mix of trembling, nervous laughter and of being on the verge of tears. "I've been having nightmares..."

Billy took in a long breath and gave him a sympathetic look.

"After all you risked to save us and all I can feel is afraid. I feel so guilty for pushing you before...now I understand and I feel like a hypocrite."

Billy nodded, his empathy for his friend powerful.

"You needn't feel guilty, lad. You have every right to feel as you do. You've been subjected to things that no one should ever have to endure and I'd give anything if you didn't have to feel that fear, but don't deny yourself by thinking it's a weakness. It isn't. And just as you were there for me, so I will be there for you to see you through it."

Billy saw Rick's trembling hands and it gave him an ache in his chest.

"More importantly, though, is that I will remind you of the courage you showed, the heroic attempts at protecting me, it's these that you should always remind yourself and when you falter in that endeavor, I shall be there to do it for you. There is no arrogance in that. I'm proud of you, mate and beyond that, I am grateful to you...to all of you."

Rick looked into Billy's eyes and they were clear, unwavering, and fearless with friendship. The sight brought relief to him.

"I'll be there for all of you. You will never be alone in your hour of darkness, Rick. Never."

FIN - Thanks for hanging in and reading. I hope you enjoyed the read.