Title: Hope In Darkness
A/N: Written for Faye Dartmouth, while the poor thing was laid up sick. She also kindly provided a beta - remaining mistakes are a result of my own poor typing skills.
Summary: Michael had been pre-med. Not that it mattered at all. Because he'd never made it to med school and he wasn't a medical doctor and he didn't know what to do when someone was really hurt or sick. Like now.
"So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light
Cause oh, that gave me such a fright
But I will hold as long as you like
Just promise me we'll be alright"
- Ghosts that We Knew, Mumford & Sons
Michael had been pre-med in college. Not that it actually mattered much. When his application to med school was rejected, he'd taken it as a sign. Med school had always been more of his father's dream for him than Michael's, anyhow. So he went to graduate school for his second major: psychology. Eventually earning a Ph.D. in psych, he'd spent a year or two in clinical work before switching to teaching classes. After that he was recruited as an analyst and ultimately, a field operative for the CIA. Psych had been his area of specialty. Pre-med had been an abandoned pipe dream. He only brought it up on occasion to make a point, or to bully medical officials who were in his way, or to jokingly reassure his team.
Michael had been pre-med. Not that it mattered at all.
Because he understood biology and he knew some of the basic theory, but he'd never made it to med school and he wasn't a medical doctor and he didn't know what to do when someone was really hurt or sick.
Because Billy was trembling and drenched in sweat despite his shivering, breaths fast and reedy as they whistled through his cracked lips. And there was nothing that Michael could do about it except wait and hope.
Michael had offered to go get help. After all, he'd been the one to run fifteen miles through Bolivia at night to get a doctor when Martinez had been shot. And they needed help – they were out in the middle of nowhere in Estonia and it was cold and dark and desolate.
But it had been impractical – he couldn't run: it was more than fifteen miles and he'd twisted his ankle earlier in the mission. Their only means of transportation had proven to be a slightly rusted but still functional motorbike in the shed behind the safehouse. It sat two, and between the lot of them, only Casey knew how to drive it. They'd talked about trying to get Billy on it to drive him to a clinic, but by that point he was too far gone to focus his eyes, let alone hold on to a bike. So Casey had gone and taken Martinez with him since they needed his skills as a translator to get help for Billy.
And Michael was left with no way to help. The cabin was quiet except for the crackling fire he fed to keep out the chill and the rattling sound of Billy's teeth.
With nothing to do, Michael had made things to do. He'd dragged the narrow cot as close to the fireplace as he dared, positioning Billy so he'd get the most of the warmth and avoid the drafts that creeped in through the crooked windows. The blankets he'd discovered in the closet smelled of mothballs and mold, but he'd piled them on to Billy nonetheless. And then he'd braved the freezing night to go out with a flashlight and locate the well, breaking the layer of ice away from the bucket to bring in water, which he now soaked a washcloth in to mop the sweat from Billy's brow.
He fussed. He fretted. He checked his watch, over and over again, watching the minutes pass and mentally charting how far Martinez and Malick had gotten.
If they didn't run out of fuel.
If the bike didn't break down.
If they didn't get stopped.
He shook his head, forcing himself not to think about it. There were too many things that could go wrong. Too many things that had gone wrong. There would be plenty of time later to agonize over the numerous operational failures that had led to this moment.
But none of it would help Billy, and right now that was all Michael wanted to be able to do.
The mission had gone to hell in a biological research lab that had been converted into a weapons facility. The men the ODS had been targeting were working on germ warfare, attempting to weaponize strains of viruses that had the power to wipe out swaths of the global population. When they'd gone in, it had been with the intention of a lengthy infiltration; they'd believed the research to only be at the theoretical stage. But when they found live cultures, the plan changed and their timetable became severely truncated.
Ultimately they'd managed to subdue and apprehend most of the staff and then blow the facility to bits, incinerating all the viral samples before things had gone too far and before the weaponization was complete.
Unfortunately, that hadn't been enough to keep an irate lab technician from stabbing Billy with a syringe before Michael had gotten a shot off.
The facility had been miles out. Their safehouse was ever farther. The ODS went to ground to lick their wounds and assess what intel they'd grabbed, hunkering down in the cabin in the snow to wait for contact from the Agency.
Then Billy started getting sick.
The data they'd been able to recover with the building in flames was meager, but between Rick's translations and Michael's vague memory of the biology courses he'd taken, they'd deduced that the sample Billy had been injected with hadn't been fully weaponized yet; it wouldn't spread, as the incubation period hadn't been accelerated sufficiently to outlive the host.
But though it might not kill millions, odds were good it would still probably kill Billy.
At first, Billy had seemed fine.
"Naught but a wee sting," he'd said, smiling and looking relatively unruffled, though Michael knew him well enough after seven years to tell that the Scot had been shaken by his encounter in the lab. "I've had vaccinations that smarted more."
The technician that had attacked him was dead and the writing on the tray was largely indecipherable, so Michael had little to go on. But for the remainder of the mission Billy'd appeared hale and hearty, and Michael had almost dared to hope...
Then, on the way to the safehouse in a stolen truck, Billy had started to grow pale.
"You're quiet," Casey had remarked. "Normally I'd celebrate this, but it's anomalous enough that I find it alarming."
"Just tired," Billy answered, despite the fact that he was looking quite peaky. A few miles later, he started to sniffle.
Then the truck broke down, and they were all stranded two miles from the safehouse with snow gently drifting down around them. Michael pulled out a crude map and a compass and they'd pulled their jackets around them, trudging through the snow, Michael limping on his bad ankle. Billy started coughing, clearing his throat often, though the snowfall deadened the noise, leaving everything oddly muted.
By the time they reached the cabin, they were all shivering. Casey dragged a few logs in from the stoop and Martinez had set about lighting a fire with skills Michael was fairly sure the younger operative had gained as a boy scout. Gradually they warmed up and began to plot their next move. Only Billy didn't stop shivering.
"Maybe you should lie down?" Rick suggested tentatively. "There's a cot in the corner..."
Billy nodded wearily. "Perhaps. I confess, I'm fairly knackered."
He curled up in the corner, hacking and sniffling miserably while Casey built the fire up and Rick procured an oil lamp from the cabin's small kitchen to let them better view the hard-copy files they'd recovered.
Rick pulled out the laptop he'd lugged with him in a backpack throughout the entirety of the mission, grimacing as he opened it. "Battery's half dead and there's no electricity."
"Then we go through it as fast as we can," Michael said, handing him the flash drive they'd snuck out. Glancing over at Billy, who was wiping at his nose with a sleeve, he wanted to get through the data and get out as soon as possible.
The snow had stopped, Michael noted as he peered out the window into the darkness. He tried to take some comfort in that - too much more on the ground and there was no telling if Casey and Rick would get mired in it. The bike had been a flimsy thing, decades old, and Michael doubted it was made for slogging through snow.
The chill remained, however, creeping in between the old, warped boards, edging its way beneath the door. Michael busied himself with stuffing towels and rags from the kitchen in between the cracks in what was probably a futile effort to block out the cold.
On the cot, Billy moaned and thrashed, tearing the blankets from his sweat-soaked body with a whimper, trembling. Michael pursed his lips together, then crossed back over to the cot, pulling the blankets back up to Billy's chin despite the other man's inarticulate protests.
"Easy, now," Michael murmured, not sure what else to do or say. He wasn't even sure if Billy could hear him, until Billy opened his too-bright eyes and stared straight back at him.
"Michael?" he croaked, coughing wetly.
"Yeah, I'm here." He forced a small smile. "I'm not going anywhere." Neither of us are, he reflected rather grimly.
Billy blinked several times, his eyes glassy with fever. He'd been going downhill fast, his condition worsening as his temperature climbed. His face was flushed now in the light of the fire, hair spiked with sweat and plastered to his temples. "Where're Casey and Carson?" he slurred, looking to the side.
Michael winced. "Getting a doctor for you. They'll be back soon."
"Oh," Billy murmured, eyelids drooping. "Tha's good..."
Good. Michael grimaced. It wouldn't be good until they had Billy in a hospital, on the mend, and he could stop feeling so damn useless.
But all he said was "yeah," as he gave Billy's shoulder a squeeze and watched as the other man's shallow breathing evened out as he slipped back under.
Billy slept in the corner while Michael and Casey and Rick sifted through the information. Michael looked up now and then to find Rick stealing worried glances over at the cot; he didn't blame him, and couldn't bring himself to snap at Martinez to focus.
Because they weren't just going through the intel for the sake of intelligence now. It was becoming clear that Billy was sick. And if Billy was sick, then it was almost certainly because of the injection. And if they wanted to do anything, they'd need to know what he'd been hit with.
Casey growled in frustration as he leafed through a singed file. "Do you remember the number on the tray in that lab?"
Michael closed his eyes and thought hard. In his mind's eye, he pictured Billy, grinning stupidly as he prepped one of the charges. Then one of the technicians they'd previously subdued slowly crept to his feet, reaching for a syringe and lunging forward even as Michael had raised his gun and shouted for Billy to get down –
– Too slow –
Michael squeezed his eyes shut harder. No, no that part wasn't what mattered now. The tray...
"A23 something," was all he could recall, opening his eyes again.
Casey stiffened, looking a bit grim. "I think I know what it was."
Michael took the file from Casey's hands. Then felt his stomach drop. "They were experimenting with Spanish Flu?"
Rick frowned. "Spanish Flu?"
Casey grunted. "You ever hear about the 1918 flu pandemic?"
Rick blanched in response.
Michael squinted at the notes. "It's heavily modified. Still unfinished."
"But still a strain of Spanish Flu," Casey murmured, looking over at Billy. "And an aggressive one."
Michael swallowed. A Spanish Flu outbreak could kill millions.
And Billy would be fatality number one.
"If it's just the flu though, shouldn't he be fine?" Rick asked. "I mean, I get it almost every year... and Billy's healthy."
Michael almost pointed out that unlike many influenza outbreaks, the flu pandemic decimated young, healthy adults. But a sideways glance at Billy silenced him; just because Billy was quiet and still didn't mean he wasn't potentially awake and listening. So all he said was, "We still need to get him to a doctor."
"We risk contagion," Casey pointed out with a worried look.
Michael shook his head, pointing to a data table in the file. "They accelerated the incubation rate, but not the time it takes to become infectious. And it looks like they were still working on making it airborne."
"So he's not infectious?" Rick confirmed.
Michael shook his head, trying to focus on the data. "Shouldn't be yet. By the time the virus is able to spread..." he trailed off. By then, Billy might no longer be a viable host.
"I'll go look out back. See if there's a truck or anything out in the barn or in the shed," Casey said, standing.
Michael nodded. Because if he was reading this right...
Billy was only going to get worse.
Michael had read it right: Billy kept getting worse.
And Michael was legitimately afraid.
He hated to admit it. Hated to think it or acknowledge it. The instant, fight-or-flight sort of fear had its use, of course. It prolonged survival. But this fear – the kind that settled in his gut, cold and coiled...
Billy turned and groaned again, then started coughing. It began as a weak, wet cough, then grew into a whooping hack as he desperately tried to suck in air through the sputum now filling his lungs. Michael helped roll him on to his side, then sat by helplessly as Billy coughed and coughed and kept coughing until he began retching, spitting up watery bile on to the floorboards in between ragged breaths.
When he finally rolled back with a whimper, Michael was there to wipe the spittle from his chin with a rag. "Hey. Hey, just hang in there."
"Hurts to breathe," Billy wheezed, surprising Michael with his lucidity.
"Kinda thought you were gonna cough up a lung there, so I'm not surprised," he answered.
Billy smiled faintly, then winced. "Where are we?"
"Safehouse," Michael said. "Rick and Casey are getting a doctor. You're gonna be fine."
It was a quiet word, said with tiredness instead of malice, but it still stung. Mostly because it was true. Michael wasa liar. He lied and twisted and manipulated for a living. He lied to Higgins and he'd lied to his wife and he sometimes even lied to his team.
But not now. He couldn't be lying now.
"It's just the flu, you big wuss," he returned. "You'll be up and at 'em in no time."
But Billy had drifted off again, and Michael was left alone with his lies and his fears.
It began to snow again.
Heavy, fat flakes drifted soundlessly down from the black, blanketing the world. Michael chewed his lip as he looked out the window at it. If Casey and Rick hadn't made it to a doctor yet –
No. They'd made it. It'd been hours, they had to. And they had to be on their way back now.
They had to be.
Michael nearly jumped out of his skin when Billy cried out.
The coughing had subsided somewhat, though Billy's breathing remained wet and ragged. His fever, on the other hand, had continued to climb, ravaging and wracking his body. Michael had given up on pulling the blankets back over him when he tore them off; his skin was papery and hot to the touch now, even as he shuddered and trembled. Instead, Michael wrang out and replaced the cold rag on Billy's forehead and, in the increasingly rare moments when Billy seemed vaguely cognizant, coaxed him to take sips of water.
But the fever raged.
And now Billy thrashed and shouted, convulsing with pain as tears ran from his open but unseeing eyes. The mild confusion had escalated, and now he was fully in the grip of delirium.
"Charges are se– no! No, run! No, get down!" Billy cried, lunging forward even as Michael reached out to push him back down on to the cot. "Carson!" he choked, before going limp and sobbing.
Michael looked away. Billy was the one suffering, but for Michael, it was torture.
"Shhh. It's okay," he murmured, replacing the cloth on Billy's brow.
Billy shuddered violently and whimpered, shrinking away from the touch, prompting Michael to draw back.
"I'm sorry," Billy moaned. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry, please..."
It was painful. To hear. To watch. To see one of the most capable and lively operatives he knew – his friend – reduced to this. And to be utterly unable to do anything to help.
Billy's mumbling continued, decreasing in articulation though he occasionally shouted and shook, the fever refusing to release him into peaceful sleep. Michael watched. Michael waited. And Michael hoped.
And when Billy wept and protested and begged forgiveness, Michael squeezed his hand until he quieted. And when once more, Billy murmured the words "I'm sorry," head lolling weakly to one side, Michael looked down at his feet and tried to ignore the tightness in his own chest as he replied:
When Billy moaned and pushed the blankets away, Michael mopped his brow. When he shivered, Michael pulled the covers back over him. When he screamed and cried, Michael squeezed his shoulder and spoke soothingly. And when he fell horribly still, his energy utterly spent as his body used the very last of its reserves to simply keep breathing through his fluid-filled lungs, Michael watched. And waited.
Billy had nearly nothing left.
And neither did Michael.
Billy's chest was only just rising and falling when Michael heard the sound of an engine and the crunching of snow outside. He reached for his gun, standing with his weapon raised, putting himself between Billy and the door.
Then the door opened, and revealed Casey and Rick.
And a truck. And a medic.
The pistol nearly slipped from his fingers in relief.
The motorcycle had run out of fuel half of the way out. Casey and Rick had trudged through the snow all night to get to the nearest town, their feeble jackets nearly worthless against the Baltic winter. Rick was pale and still shuddering nearly as hard as Billy had been, and Casey's hands were red and puffy as circulation returned. He winced at the effects of the frostbite, but said nothing of it as he explained how they'd found a local farmer who'd been willing to drive them to the nearest emergency clinic. The farmer's cousin was a local veterinarian who did some moonlighting as a doctor for locals, and had agreed to come along.
But through the details and explications, all Michael really heard – all he really understood – was that help had arrived.
Billy didn't even have the strength left to shiver as they bundled him up into the back of the truck. They wrapped him in the sweat-dampened blankets as the engine idled, then put out the fire, locked up the safehouse, and piled into the truck.
The drive was the longest of Michael's life.
Once or twice Billy went so still that Michael felt his heart leap into his throat in terror that he may have stopped breathing. But when he hovered his fingers just above Billy's lips and beneath his nose, he was reassured by the presence of breath, however weak.
Michael held on to Billy, squeezing his shoulder yet again. At this point, he wasn't sure who he was even comforting anymore. "Just hang on. Worst part's over," he murmured.
Billy didn't stir.
Michael hoped he was right.
Billy's lungs were filled with fluid.
That was all Michael was really able to get from the second-hand translation Rick was giving of the doctor's words. Billy's was pneumatic, and his body's immune system was overreacting by trying to flush the virus out with even more fluids, drowning him.
Billy had been wheeled away on their arrival, someone clamping an oxygen mask over his mouth while a broad-shouldered nurse began barking orders in a competent sort of way that would have been reassuring, if Billy's lips weren't turning blue.
Rick and Casey had walked. Michael had waited. They'd all ridden here and done everything they could.
It just needed to be enough.
Michael was exhausted. It was dawn when they'd arrived at the clinic. Billy was wheezing wetly, but unable to rouse from consciousness. The heat coming off of him from the fever had been terrifying, and Michael found that his nerves were shot. He hadn't slept since this mission started. He hadn't done a lot of things, now that he thought about it. He'd been powerless to do many more...
He put his head in his hands. Billy was in the doctor's hands now. But Michael wasn't a doctor, even if he had been Pre-Med once upon a time.
Not that it mattered now.
(Even if now was when he needed it to).
It was touch and go. Rick translated medical jargon as best he could, and the doctors made unhappy faces and Michael was too spent to feel anything but numb. Casey got his hands bandaged and scowled and Rick fretted and Michael stared at the wall, unable to get the rasping, choking sound of Billy's breathing out of his mind.
Until they let them see Billy.
And as the Scot took deep breaths through an oxygen mask, his exhalations fogging up the plastic as proof that his respiratory system hadn't failed yet, Michael felt hope.
Billy got better.
His fever broke. His lungs drained. Soon he woke and made feeble jokes, charming even the no-nonsense nurse. Gradually he recovered his strength. And the hellish night that Michael had spent holding vigil in the dark and the cold became a distant memory he could tuck away into the back of his mind.
Time passed. Weeks. Months. They planned and executed missions, and no one said a word about Estonia after the debriefing was through, apart from a few offhanded jokes about Billy taking overseas sick leave in the middle of a job. But Michael couldn't help but flinch, even at those jokes; his team were good spies, so they were observant - and knew how to be silent when it mattered.
Until one evening when Michael and Billy grabbed drinks at the bar after work. Casey had a rigorous workout planned for the evening and Martinez was taking Adele out, so that left only the two of them, sipping martinis after a long day.
"I never said thank you," Billy suddenly said, out of the blue.
Michael raised an eyebrow. "For what? I'm not paying for your drink–"
Billy scoffed. "You never have. No, I meant, thank you for Estonia."
Michael stopped, lowering his drink from his lips. "I didn't do anything in Estonia. Thank Malick and Martinez, they were the ones who hiked through a snowstorm to get a doctor."
"They did," Billy agreed. "And you stayed." He put his glass down with a small clink and looking at Michael meaningfully. "I'll admit, I was not at my most cognizant for much of that evening, and I apologize as that must have made me a rather dull conversation partner, but I remember that part, mate. I remember you were there and you held on when..." he swallowed uncomfortably, looking down. "I remember enough."
Michael stared down at his drink, wondering if he wanted to forgo it, or to chug it and order at least three more. "I was pretty damn useless."
Billy gave him a blank look. "You did more than you know."
Michael shook his head. "You know, I almost became a doctor. If I'd actually gone and studied–"
"–Then no doubt, you'd be a wonderful doctor right now, saving numerous lives, though mine would not be among them. You wouldn't be with the Agency and I probably would have been left to Casey's less-than-tender ministrations, and honestly, Casey as a nurse might be a funny mental image, but I doubt that in practice it would give me much will to live."
Michael snorted. "I dunno, he'd probably threaten to break your legs if you died on him."
Billy chuckled. "He probably would," he replied, sipping his drink. "But honestly, Michael. That was one hell of a long night. You stuck it out." He finished the martini then looked at Michael and gave a small and oddly honest smile. "So I did too."
Michael looked down. Then looked up. Then slowly, finally, allowed himself to smile. "Okay."
"Okay?" Billy grinned hopefully.
"Okay. You can thank me. By paying for this round."
Michael laughed as Billy rolled his eyes in outrage. "You cheap bastard, Michael Dorset!"
And as they ordered another round and ribbed on each other and told jokes until closing time, Michael felt a bit less useless in the grand scheme of things.
Michael had been pre-med in college. Not that it actually mattered much. Because he might have gone on to med school in another life to become a doctor.
But here and now, he'd found his calling as a spy. As part of the ODS. And that mattered more than anything.