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From Shadow to Light

Dedicated to lena7142 for her birthday. Happy Birthday to my compatriot in deathfics!

Warning: Character Death

Summary: Horrific didn’t even come close to describing what they had found

Horrific didn’t even come close to describing what they had found.

It had been a month.

A month filled with purpose and determination, but for all the reasons that no one ever enjoys.

An agent was missing.

Billy had gone missing and every resource, every piece of technology had been put into play to find him.

For Rick, the search had become an obsession. It was the only thing he had wanted to focus his efforts. Driven by guilt, he was barely sleeping and eating. He read maps until his eyes glazed over so badly that they became just lines and garbled words. He drank cups and cups of coffee in order to keep awake to read and listen to every piece of Arabic intel that came through the wires. He tried to hear beyond the words, hoping for an inflection that would tell him who had taken Billy or where they were holding him so that he would have someone to exert all of his anger and guilt upon. It was that goal, almost to the exclusion of Billy’s rescue, that drove him. He had to make right missing the intel that Billy had caught and that had caused him to place himself as a substitute for Rick.

“It’s not your fault,” Adele tried to comfort as she placed her hand on the small of his back.

Rick looked up at her, his eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep and red rimmed from frustrated tears. She saw the grief in them.

“He knew the mission had gone sour. He tricked me, knocked me out and got captured in my place. It was supposed to be me, Adele. He’s being tortured if he's not dead already and it was supposed to be me!" Rick said, his voice cracking from feeling distraught.

“Listen to Adele, it’s not your fault. Billy read the situation and made a decision. He did what any of us would have done -” Michael tried to rationalize.

“Not me because I totally missed the tell!”

“We all did, you moron. Don’t take all the credit,” Casey interjected, angry at himself for missing the signs. “Billy did what he had to do. Now, we’re going to find him. That’s what WE have to do. And exact a little payback if we’re lucky.”

Rick heard the words, but no amount of blame shifting would take away the memory of Billy whispering into his ear, “sorry, mate, this one’s mine” and the effective and relatively painless way he knocked him out; a quick pinch to the right spot in his neck and he was out. Not even Casey’s relish for revenge could change that.

The shared guilt for all of the ODS members was palpable. Billy had known, had seen the red flags and took the proverbial bullet for all of them.

They just had to hope that it wasn’t an actual bullet and that he was still alive.

But it had been a month and hope dwindled with every day that passed without a valid and solid lead, without someone to interrogate, to thrash their anger upon.

Billy was their personification of hope. When there was no reason to feel positive about a botched mission or of just languishing in boredom in their offices, Billy was the one who had breathed life and positivity back into the deflated egos of his friends. Hope had been kidnapped from them along with Billy and the dark pall of failure drained them all; shadows draped every crag and feature on their weary worn faces as they continued on, sallied forth as Billy would proclaim with his Scottish accent, exaggerating it just enough to make it sound like a rallying cry worthy of William Wallace or at least Mel Gibson playing William Wallace. Their hearts weren’t in it as Billy would have wanted, but their rage and thirst for revenge was alive and ablaze which drove them even harder.

Finally, a tip had come through a trusted contact. Michael told Higgins that he could disavow them all he wanted, but they were going to get Billy and nothing he said would stop them.

Higgins didn’t stop them. It was one of those unspoken commitments that was just accepted in the Agency. You didn’t leave a man behind. Even Higgins understood that and would do all he could on his end. He had many a regret for lost lives in the name of the security and the protection of the country, but that devotion sometimes felt more ethereal in these less than certain times. There was something about rescuing a valued agent, an agent that even Higgins respected, that felt undeniably patriotic in a world that he felt was woefully bereft of it.

The ODS arrived in Iraq under covers of a contracted security detail. Love of profit over love of country was their motto. It hadn't been difficult convincing the Iraqi soldiers so they didn’t have to the sell the idea too hard, plus their IDs were solid.

They had arranged a meet with Assir, one of their moles, a trusted one who had helped them in the past. Trust was something you earned and he had with the ODS. High praise given their inherent distrust of everyone and everything. Rick knew that all too well first hand.

But when they had met him, something about his demeanor was off, there was fear which was normal, moles, if discovered were traitors and subject to the punishments of their home countries which were usually worse than anything the U.S. could inflict or so people thought. No, there was something more, something that gave each man of the ODS a chill.

“Assir, do you have the intel on Billy’s position?” Michael asked.

Assir paled, more than he was already drained of color, if that was possible. The signs were getting worse and the raised hairs on the back of each of their necks made them even more anxious.

“What is it?” Casey asked impatiently. “Is he alive?”

No one, but Casey could have asked that question so bluntly and without any emotion behind it, all matter of fact and focused on just the mission, but Michael and Rick knew that it was taking a Herculean effort on his part to hold back the rage as well as the need to find Billy.

“If you can call it that, yes, by all measures he is still alive, but...” Assir trailed off. “He may not stay that way for long.”

They all swallowed hard.

“What they did to him...I’ve never seen such atrocities...and yet he still lives...I would call it a miracle if it weren’t for the screaming. You must hurry to him.”

Rick shivered from the words Assir was using to describe Billy's predicament; “by all measures he is still alive”, “I’ve never seen such atrocities...” Rick knew that it should have been him. Billy had taken more than just the proverbial bullet for him. He had surrendered his body to monsters worse than Mengele to be inflicted with unimaginable torture. Billy would never break no matter how brutal the attack, but that knowledge only made the idea of his suffering that much harder to accept.

Michael’s pallor drained as well at the imagery Assir was painting of Billy’s current situation. Casey, on the other hand, flushed with blood thirsty intent, the nails on his fingers digging into his palms as he internalized his rising rage.

“Take us to him...now,” Casey said, his voice tinged with a growl.

Assir led them through a compound surreptitiously until they had reached an archway. It was then that they had heard something that would have led them there without Assir’s help. It wasn’t a scream, but laughter, tinged with pain, but laughter nonetheless.

“I do not understand how he could laugh being in so much pain,” Assir wondered.

Michael knew.

“It’s his way of overcoming the pain.”

Assir was speechless, unable to comprehend such a coping mechanism.

“Thanks for helping us. You’ve risked enough. We’ll take it from here,” Michael said as he pulled out his gun.

Rick followed suit. Casey just stiffened, already primed for confrontation.

“I hope your friend survives this. I have gained much respect for him,” he said as he slipped into the shadows again.

Rick could only smile slyly. Only Billy could glean respect from a foreign national just by his endurance for pain.

The three of them stealthily prowled the hallways and through the archways, grimly following Billy’s diminishing laughter which then turned into ragged breathing. The echoes of both had reverberated all around them and at first they had worried that they wouldn’t find him, but as they continued to creep through, the sounds of Billy’s breathing almost called to them in the chambers and much like bats with sonar, they zeroed in on the room where Billy was being held. The breathing got louder, more ragged the closer they approached.

When they walked into the room, they were riveted by the surreal sight in front of them.

Horrific didn’t even come close to describing what they had found.

Billy was propped up on what looked like a stainless steel operating table, bloodied instruments on a tray nearby. If that wasn’t traumatic enough for the men, what they witnessed on Billy’s body was beyond any kind of civilized comprehension and could only have been orchestrated by a sadist.

He was naked with the exception of underpants and they were soiled, likely caused by some kind of heinous torture that had caused him to lose control of his bowels. More frightening were the copious amounts of discarded syringes strewn on the floor all around him then there were the long dotted trails of track marks along what seemed every available vein in Billy’s arms and legs. Blood trickled from barbaric injections, some older wounds had clearly become infected and oozed pus. Bruises polka dotted his body, some were large hematomas.

Billy was thin and his chest inflated and deflated with labored breathing, the strain making his whole body tremble.

Rick felt the bile rise into his throat and tried desperately to keep it down.

Billy then opened his eyes, his lids languid and sticky with tears. He looked as if he were trying to focus them so he wasn’t immediately aware of what or who he was looking at. Once he was as clear visioned as he could get, recognition dawned and a deep intake of breath followed by a similar exhale from relief preceded a shaky smile.

“Ah, lads, you’re here...” he said, truly happy to see them, but in a strange and awkward way that seemed more like a welcome to a party rather than at being finally rescued. “I’m sorry...I’m not at my Sunday best...but I’m no less happy to see you...”

All three men were afraid that Billy had lost his sanity and as if reading their collective thoughts, he answered them.

“No, friends, I haven’t lost my faculties, least not that I’m aware. I know you’ve come to rescue me, but the joy at seeing you subsumed all other thoughts.”

Billy clenched his body as if seizing. He groaned and panted as he waited for the wave to pass or at least lessen. Rick was the first to approach him, trying to touch him to give comfort of his presence if nothing else. Billy retracted a bit, not from fear or revulsion, but from pain sensitivity.

“Don’t...lad...much as I appreciate the gesture, my skin, the nerve endings are quite ablaze, I’m afraid. Likely as a result from one of their many delightful cocktails, I’m sure,” Billy said, his words punctuated with grunts.

“Oh my god,” Rick uttered in shock, unable to hold it back.

“Look, we have to get you out of here,” Casey interjected, realizing that there was no time for mindless chit chat.

Billy shook his head slowly while continuing to manage the spasms rocking his body.

“Afraid not, mate...”

“What? We can’t worry about your modesty -” Casey complained.

“Modesty is the least of my problems...I...I can’t walk...another side effect, you see, but more urgently, I’m an IED,” Billy said as he gazed downward to a device rigged to his table.

“There hasn’t been an IED that I can’t disarm, “ Casey exclaimed confidently and dismissively.

“No, no, there's no time for that, my captors will be back soon. I’m afraid I’m buggered anyway you look at it and I won't have all of you taken as well. The idea of you being subjected to this is completely unacceptable to me. I won't have it," Billy insisted, his voice no longer jovial but grave and determined, his breaths catching in his throat from the anxiety of that thought."

“We’re NOT going to leave you!” Rick said less as a shout, but more as an emotional outburst.

"I'm afraid you're going to have to," Billy said, his voice softening a touch as he writhed.

He saw the raw emotion on Rick’s face, the tears welling in his eyes and like he had read that Rick was about to be captured so he saw the true nature of Rick's distress.

“This isn’t your fault, lad...I chose this life...this fate, I took it from you with free will and with no regrets,” Billy explained, clenching with every breath he took.

“You had no right...I was the one who screwed up, who didn’t read the tell, it should be me here,” Rick said, unable to hold back his emotions anymore.

Billy smiled shakily.

“You’re wrong, there, mate...I had every right...it’s what we do...Michael and Casey will tell you, the job is all about making choices like this. It’s why there are four of us, with our own special talents, you see? My gift is the reading of people, of having a sense of when things have gone off the rails...I’d do it again and gladly so don’t rob me of that right,” Billy said, as he moaned from another wave of spasms. "Going through what I have only convinces me that I made the right choice.".

Rick wanted to argue, needing to dispute Billy's heroic logic, but they needed to get out of there.

"We don't have time to argue. We're getting you out of here," Rick finally said.

"No, we're not," Casey interjected as he gave Billy a defeated expression after examining the IED, convinced he could disarm it, denying the impossibiliy of accomplishing it that Bily had insisted.

Now, after examining it, he hated to admit that Billy had been right. Not only was Casey unsure he could disarm it, but as Billy had pointed out, it would take more time than they had for Casey to figure it out.

"You know I hate it when you're right, don't you?" Casey said, failure reflected in his posture, despair hidden beneath it.

Casey did hate it when Billy was right, hated that Billy had already done all the assessing of the situation and had already come to the limited options afforded them.

"I know you do, mate," Billy said as he smiled widely, a strained laugh slipping out. "And I won't apologize for taking particular satisfaction that this one time, it will spare you from wasting your efforts."

Billy groaned and twisted with discomfort.

"What?" Rick practically screamed in disbelief. "Why not?"

"It has a sensor and laser trigger, any attempt to touch it or the trip wire will set it off," Casey said dejectedly.

"No, no, you're wrong!" Rick insisted again, his body quaking with bubbling rage and anxiety. "We didn't come this far to leave him behind -"

"No, quite right, you didn't, least wise not in the way you think," Billy said, a purpose in his voice that scared all three of them. "I'll not have all the risk you've undertaken to rescue me be for naught. I knew you'd come, counted on it really with the confidence imbued from years of service and friendship together. And you didn't fail me."

"But we did," Rick said sadness riddled through his voice. "I did. We took too long...I missed the tell, forced you to clean up my mess, salvage the mission and...made you take my place...this should have been me..."

"Rubbish, you didn't 'make me do anything...this is as it had to be. I don't have the time or the strength to argue with you about it, young Rick. Trust and believe me, lad, when I say that I am glad I spared you this and if you do nothing else, I ask you to respect my choice and not let it go to waste by feeling sorry for yourself for no good reason."

Rick relaxed his stance and though he wanted to keep resisting, to fight to save Billy's life, he knew in his heart that Billy was right about everything. There was no turning back the clock, no do-overs and regret would dishonor what Billy had done for him. Rick had to respect and honor him by living on and learning from someone he had considered more than just a friend. He'd been more like a brother.

Billy detected the reluctant surrender to his view in Rick's body language. He had no doubt that Rick would suffer long after his death and it gave him remorse, but he would have Michael and Casey to help him and whatever legacy he had given in the short time they had together. It would have to be enough. His time had come calling and he had no choice this time. He had to save his friends who had risked their own lives to rescue him as well as keep others from being subjected to the "creative" torture methods that had been exerted upon him. He tried to steady himself, the fiery flashes of his raw nerves electrifying through him threatened his resolve, but he told his body that soon the suffering would be over.

"I need to bring this operation to a swift and permanent end and selfishly, I might add, to end my captors fun at my expense," Billy groaned.

Michael and Casey understood even if the idea made them despair at the acceptance of Billy's plan.

"Toss your gun to me, Michael. I think I can muster one last catch."

Rick could only watch helplessly and sob. He also knew what was coming and the idea tore into him with an ache to his chest, making him swallow a breath.

Billy caught the gun if shakily. He cocked it with difficulty, smiling with satisfaction.

"Now, get clear, go, quickly. They'll be coming back any time now. They are an impatient lot and will be back for more foreplay," Billy said sarcastically. "And I plan to have a right bit of a surprise for them."

The glee on Billy's face reminded them of the jovial and optimistic man who in his last act was giving his friends one final bit of memory of him; not of a tortured wreck, but of a man who could still give hope when there was none to be found. He was drawing them out of the shadows and back into the light in the only way he could at that moment.

There was the inevitable hesitation, but Billy's smile gave them permission to leave him.

"It isn't leaving me behind if I'm asking you to go," Billy said gently and with somber gratitude on his face for his friends.

It was that permission that finally allowed the three men to leave their friend behind.

Once they were gone, Billy held the gun and waited. He heard the footsteps, slow and assured in their command of the situation. He mustered every bit of remaining strength and readied himself to face the end, his end, but he would also take his torturers with him.

Michael, Casey and Rick ran, weaving through the archways. It took everything in them to keep moving further away and for every stride a bit of their souls were being left behind with Billy.

They had just cleared the doorway to the compound when they heard gunfire. Gunfire was ubiquitous in their line of work so it seldom startled them, but knowing what it had meant then, twisted their hearts.

Billy took satisfaction in killing his torturers, but his mission wasn't done yet. He had given as much time as he could to his friends and had hoped that they would be clear. He knew that the IED had limited range, focused to kill him and anyone near him, but it would also set back any operations centered there. He would be satisfied with his small contribution to the effort.

Billy wanted his pain to end and he was ready for his last act. He cocked the gun again and pointed it at the trigger mechanism of the IED. His hands trembled with all the strain he was exerting into his compromised muscles, but he put his finger on the trigger and pulled it, a small smile on his face.

The explosion rocked the compound and the men not only felt the percussion, but their own collective hearts stuttered with loss as if the rhythm of their own hearts had been altered, never to beat the same way again.

Billy was dead, but he had done it on his own terms. It was a heroic end to a hero's life.

None of them could begrudge that fate to their friend even as they began their grieving.

Rick closed his eyes and vowed silently that he would live respecting Billy's act of sacrifice and for saving him, twice. He would live on for him and to do the work by Billy's courageous standards since he could no longer do it himself.

As they left the ruins of the building, bringing with them intel that would disrupt the network that had captured and tortured Billy, it felt like a Pyrrhic victory in the end, but one Billy still would have appreciated.

Shadows of grief would dog Rick for a time, but he knew that light, Billy's light, would never diminish or leave him, Michael and Casey wandering aimlessly in the dark. That thought comforted him and gave him the will to survive without Billy and to let go of his guilt. Leave it to Billy to replace it with newfound purpose. Rick couldn't help but smile.

FIN. Hope you enjoyed the read. Thank you for reading.

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Just had to say again how much I enjoyed this. :D Wonderful work!

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