Unsung Heroes: Mission Zero

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Chapter Five

Lifeline glanced nervously at the two men on either side of him as the elevator car continued its slow ascent. He’d taken a huge gamble spilling everything to Mainframe, Gung Ho, Mutt and Lift Ticket. It hadn’t been easy and he could tell that they were skeptical, but in the end Gung Ho and Mutt had agreed to help him since Mainframe was unable to leave Joe Headquarters due to some sensitive computer installation work that was going on and Lift Ticket had been called out on a mission.

The medic had also asked Mainframe to dig up what he could on Billy’s service record and the charges that had been brought against the Marine resulting in his court martial. The four of them had looked everything over, including transcripts from Billy’s trial. Apparently the transcripts had been more than enough to convince Gung Ho and Mutt that Edwin wasn’t delusional and that something fishy had definitely been going on.

Lifeline had a harder time however with Duke, the Joe’s mission commander, when he’d returned to headquarters. The blond man had been relentless in his questioning; and despite Edwin’s readily rehearsed story that he had managed to escape unharmed from Coen and return to the base, Duke had made his displeasure known quite well. The medic had left his commander’s office red-faced, having never received such a verbal dressing down from a fellow officer in all his time in the army.

Through Mainframe, Edwin had discovered that Billy was being held, under close guard, in a private room at a local hospital near where he’d been arrested. The former Marine had taken a bullet during the standoff that had ensued so that Lifeline could make his own getaway from the scene. It was during a newscast reporting on Billy’s capture that Edwin had began to formulate the plan which he, Gung Ho and Mutt were now undertaking. Lifeline knew it was risky, knew that it could cost him his career and land him in the brig with a court martial of his own, but he couldn’t leave Billy to the mercy of the authorities; or worse, Umbrella and Cobra.

Once again with Mainframe’s help, he now carried forged transfer papers ordering the local authorities to surrender Billy to military custody, and as the car arrived on the designated floor, Lifeline closed his eyes and prayed silently that he wasn’t just about to step out and into a whole lot of trouble.

Within his room, Billy was floating on a haze of pain and painkillers. The hospital staff had been trying to keep him pretty heavily sedated since he'd been admitted to the hospital. Since his wound wasn't completely debilitating, they'd also been keeping him in a straight-jacket, and that fact alone was enough to make the Marine realize in some corner of his mind that it was a damn good thing he was sedated. He'd probably have gone half out of his mind if he hadn't been.

However, he was also not nearly as heavily drugged as the hospital staff would have liked, which meant he could hear and remember everything that was going on, even if he was lethargic as all hell and having trouble concentrating on any conscious line of thought very long. The only thought that kept sliding through his mind was the vague wondering as to whether or not Lifeline had gotten away safely.

Junkyard made a small whining sound, the Rottweiler looking up at his handler as the door to the elevator slid open. “It’s alright Junk,” Mutt said, patting the dog on the head before stepping out, his eyes automatically darting to and fro as he waited for his companions to disembark. Gung Ho followed, the big bald Cajun tugging irritably at the sleeves of the MP jacket that Lifeline had cajoled him into wearing. Just as Mutt had done, Gung Ho’s eyes quickly scanned the near deserted hallway before moving his large frame to the side so that the third member of their party could exit.

Edwin took a deep breath as he stepped out of the elevator car, the forged transfer papers clutched in his hand. He also wore an MP uniform, “borrowed” from headquarters by Mutt. The door to the elevator was just closing behind them when they were accosted by a police officer stationed in front of a door several steps to their right. “This floor is off-limits,” the uniformed man said, his hand resting on the handle of the gun at his hip.

Trying to quell his nervousness, Lifeline stepped forward. “We’re here to take custody of Lieutenant Coen.” Edwin tried to keep his voice as steady as possible as he brandished the papers at the officer. “Here is the official transfer request from the Department of Defense.” Almost non-nonchalantly, Gung Ho and Mutt moved on either side of Edwin as he spoke to the officer.

“What? What transfer? Nobody said anything to me about it.” The officer’s hand tightened on the handle of his gun.

“Lieutenant Coen is a military prisoner, therefore he’s our responsibility.”

The police officer looked at the trio, and Edwin could see that he was unsure. “I think you’ll find the paperwork is all in order,” the medic said, his tone crisp and professional.

The officer took the papers from Lifeline’s outstretched hand and looked down at them for a few moments before looking back up, his eyes darting to the trio once again. “It looks like everything is complete,” he stepped away from the door. “He’s in there. They’ve got him sedated and secured.”

Edwin nodded his head. “Mutt you stay here. Gung Ho, you’re with me.” Without another word to the police officer, the medic stepped towards the door and opened it.

Billy's eyes swung lazily over to the door as it opened again. Normally, he wouldn't have bothered, but it seemed too early yet for the doctors to be seeing to him.

Lifeline’s dark eyes widened behind his glasses as they fell on the Marine and it took all he had not to rush forward. “Sergeant close the door,” he instructed Gung Ho, aware that the police officer was watching them. Without a word, the big Cajun did as he was instructed, leaning against the closed door as his eyes fell on the man in the hospital bed.

What the hell? Billy thought, and blinked slowly, unable to let himself believe what he was seeing. There were two MPs standing in the room now, and one of them sounded an awful lot like Lifeline.

“What...th'hell..are you doing here?" he managed to murmur, the words thick and slurred. "You're...not supposed to be here...no MP..."

Edwin put a finger to his lips in warning as he stepped closer to the bed. “We’re here to get you out,” he said softly as he stopped at Billy’s bedside, his eyes flicking over Billy’s bound form. The sedated Marine looked at Edwin like he was speaking a foreign language, his eyes narrowing as his brain struggled to put together the image of this "MP" with the man he'd met before.

Lifeline peered closer at Billy, taking in the dilated pupils and incoherency. “What have they got you on?” Turning away from the Marine, he moved to the end the bed searching for the chart should be hanging there and frowning when he didn’t find it.

Moving back towards Billy’s side, he looked at his pale face. “C’mon Coen, you’re going to have to pull yourself together so we can get out of here.” He said, watching as, with an effort, Billy nodded. While coming up with his own thoughts was a near impossibility for the Marine at the moment, following the orders of a superior was second nature and clearly required no cognizant thought.

“C’mon, Lifeline, we ain’t got all day.” Gung Ho shifted impatiently.

Edwin gave Billy a small smile. “It’ll be okay as soon as we get you out of here.” The medic’s hand reached for the handcuffs that were attached to the belt of his uniform and hesitated.

“Don’t look like you’re gonna be needin’ them,” Gung Ho said from his post at the door. “He looks pretty whacked out as it is.”

Lifeline thought for a moment before nodding his head. “Maybe just the leg restraints then.”

The bald man removed a set of leg irons from his own belt and tossed them to the medic. “Be quick about it, ‘fore that cop out there starts gettin’ suspicious.”

Edwin caught the restraints in his hand and nodded his head in understanding before turning back towards Billy. In spite of the straight jacket, Billy had actually managed to move into a sitting position, and was staring at the floor. How much of what Edwin and Gung Ho were saying was being understood was hard to say. But when he saw the restraints in Lifeline's hand, his eyes widened just a little. Lifeline caught the look. “I know you don’t like it, but it’s just until we get out of here, okay?”

Like I could stop you right now, Billy thought bitterly, but nodded again.

“Move it along, Lifeline,” Gung Ho said impatiently, his ear cocked to the door.

“I’m moving, I’m moving,” the medic said as he pulled back the sheet covering Billy and began to fasten the restraints on the man’s ankles. Once they were securely in place, he moved and slipped his arm around Billy, helping him to stand.

Billy closed his eyes as he got to his feet, fighting off the lack of equilibrium as it seemed like the room took a few seconds to catch up with him. He groaned softly as the movement also made his shoulder ache, the pain not entirely killed by the sedative still in his system. Lifeline held onto Billy. “Just stay quiet and do whatever I tell you to, okay?”

"Yessir..." Billy slurred, nearly throwing himself off balance when, in his incoherent state, he tried to salute on reflex.

We’re going to get caught, I just know it. Edwin sighed to himself before starting to move the bound and sedated Billy towards Gung Ho and the door. “Gung Ho, you’re going to have to take his other arm, there’s no way he’s going to be able to walk on his own.”

With a slight grumble, the big Cajun took Billy’s other elbow as he reached for the door handle. “You sure about this, Lifeline? I mean, we can still give it up.”

“We’ve come this far, Gung Ho, we might as well go the rest of the way.” Lifeline’s voice was resolute as he looked up at the big man. “If anything goes wrong, it’s all on me.”

Nodding silently, Gung Ho opened the door.

Billy kept his head down, watching where he put his feet. He was starting to get pissed at the lack of coordination. The state was helping him overcome the effects of the sedatives somewhat. He was terrified of being left behind, although he'd have never spoken those words aloud.

Both Mutt and the police officer both looked up as the door opened, the K9 specialist automatically snapping to attention as his two companions and their “prisoner” stepped out into the hallway.

“Everything is secure officer, so we’ll be taking him off your hands now.” Edwin once again assumed the image of authority. “If you’ll just sign one of those copies, we’ll be on our way.”

“Hopefully you lot will be able to keep a hold of him this time,” the officer muttered as he pulled a pen out of his chest pocket and scrawled his name on one of the papers. “Having psychos like that loose just makes our job harder.”

Edwin tried his hardest not to frown. “Don’t worry, he won’t be escaping Uncle Sam’s hospitality anytime soon.” The medic reached and took the signed page from the man. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

With a scowl at Billy, the officer nodded his head.

“Mutt, you and Junkyard take the point,” Lifeline instructed, wanting to get away as soon as possible.

“C’mon Junk.” Mutt turned back towards the elevator, the dog following him obediently. Gung Ho and Edwin followed, each guiding Billy.

The cop's words stung Billy badly, and he closed his eyes again to keep from saying something, or reacting in any way that might draw more attention to himself as they headed for the elevator.

Mutt pressed the button for the elevator, his gaze going from one end of the hallway to the other. The door slid open moments later and he took a step inside, checking it out, well aware that the police officer was watching them and wanting it to look good. “All clear, Sir” he said, turning to look at Lifeline. Holding the door with his hand, he stepped aside so that the other three could enter.

Lifeline and Gung Ho maneuvered Billy into the car, his sedated state and the leg restraints making it a slower process than Edwin would have liked. Once the others were inside, Mutt signaled for Junkyard to follow and let the door slide closed once the dog was inside. Without being told to do so, he pressed the button for the ground floor. Billy sagged a little in Edwin and Gung Ho's grip as the elevator began to move. He was sobering up slowly, but his medication still left his emotional defenses low, and he was currently trying to remind himself that disappearing wasn't an option just yet.

Edwin tightened his grip on the Marine’s arm. “Just hold on a little longer until we get to the car.” His voice was soft as he leaned in closer to speak.

A tiny nod was the only reply.

Gung Ho glanced up at the floor indicators over the door, wondering if they would have a welcoming reception waiting for them when the door opened. True, the police officer had seemed more than willing – and happy – to hand over custody of Coen to them, but the Cajun would be willing to bet that now that they were gone, he was probably having some second thoughts.

Junkyard made a small whining sound as he sniffed at Billy. “It’s okay boy,” Mutt reached down and petted the dog’s head.

Edwin felt like he had butterflies in his stomach, still convinced that they were going to get caught. When the elevator car stopped on the ground floor, he couldn’t quell the flutter that he felt as the door slid open. Mutt and Junkyard moved out first, the K9 specialist’s dark eyes darting around in the lobby before stepping to the side to make room for the others.

Lifeline pulled Billy out of the elevator, aware that every person in the lobby had stopped whatever they were doing to stare at them and he could feel a faint flush on his neck. Billy wasn't completely unaware of it either. In his peripheral vision, he saw people leaning close to one another, pointing and talking. Some hissed curses at him under their breath, while others spoke their opinions less subtly. He had a feeling that if he heard "butcher" or "psycho" one more time, he was going to be ill. It was like reliving his original trip into custody all over again, a painful, sharp memory that left him numb and aching.

“Mutt, clear a path and keep these civilians back for their own safety.” Edwin made sure his voice was steady and loud enough to be heard over the whispering that had started in the lobby.

“Okay, People, move back. We need to keep the hall clear.” Mutt moved ahead of the others with Junkyard, signaling for people to stay back. “You’re not in any danger...stay calm and stay back . . .”

Gung Ho scowled and put his hand up to block a shot by a young man who had pulled out a small digital camera. “No pictures! Now stay back!” The large man’s voice boomed out in the lobby.

Unconsciously, Edwin picked up their pace until he and Gung Ho were almost dragging Billy between them and towards the automatic doors that led outside. Billy didn't mind. If he'd been able to, he'd have been just as happy running full-tilt out of the building. If he'd died in that instant, the Marine was pretty certain he'd shake the Reaper's hand and thank him.

Mutt and Junkyard were waiting for them at the automatic doors, which were open and waiting. Stepping in front of the group, they once again took the lead outside and towards the non-descript dark sedan that was parked out front.

“At least they didn’t tow it.” Gung Ho grumbled as they stepped out into the growing dusk of early evening. “I told Mutt not to park in a fire lane.”

“Just move it, Gung Ho,” Lifeline urged, sighing in relief as they neared the car.

Mutt opened the passenger side back door before moving to unlock the other doors. It took some assistance to get Billy into the car; and once inside, Billy tilted his head back and closed his eyes, gritting his teeth hard as he tried to keep his composure under control. He was irritated with himself for even starting to give in to depression, and clung to that anger with everything he currently had.

Once their “prisoner” was safely ensconced in the back seat, Gung Ho climbed into the front passenger seat and closed the door. “C’mon Junk, in ya go, boy.” Mutt patted the empty seat next to Billy, the dog giving a short bark before hopping into the car. Closing the door, Mutt walked around to the driver’s door and climbed in. Once everyone was in and secure, he started the car and put it in drive.

Edwin closed his eyes and let out the breath he had been holding as the car pulled away from the hospital.

Billy’s thoughts had drifted back to his original arrest, and his heart constricted painfully. "...didn't kill them..." he whispered to himself, unaware he'd spoken the words aloud. "...set up...."

“Piece o’ cake,” Gung Ho said from the front seat as unbuttoned the top two buttons on his shirt, unaware that Billy had spoken.

“You were the one who kept saying we’d never get away with it,” Mutt retorted as he turned the car out onto the main road.

Lifeline however, had heard Billy’s whispered voice, and he turned his dark eyes on the Marine. “No you didn’t, and I’m going to do what I can to prove that, Billy.” The medic’s voice was soft, unheard by either of his teammates in the front seat.

Shaking his head, Billy's glazed eyes opened and stared at the roof of the car. "...doesn't matter...not now...no one...would believe..."

Edwin’s eyes softened and he reached and put his hand on Billy’s straitjacket-covered shoulder. “C’mon Coen, don’t lose it now. It’s just the sedatives talking.”

The eyes closed again. "...Maybe..."

Lifeline gave the Marine’s shoulder a squeeze before sliding his hands away. “Gung Ho, give me the key.”

“Huh?” The big man looked back over the seat at his teammate.

“The key for the leg restraints.” Edwin said with an exasperated sigh.

“I ain’t got it.”

“What do you mean you don’t have it?” The medic sat up in the seat, his eyes on the bald man.

“Just that – I ain’t got it. You got it.”

Lifeline shook his head. “No, I don’t. You had the restraints!”

Billy tilted his head forward again, fastening as deadly a glare on Gung Ho as he could muster. "Where's...that fucking key...." he growled.

“Boy, my mama would be washin’ your mouth out with soap if she heard language like that.” Gung Ho said, nonplussed.

“C’mon, Gung Ho, this isn’t funny.” Edwin pressed the palm of his hand to his forehead.

Billy's arms strained against the straight jacket, but between it, the seatbelt, and his suddenly protesting injury, he didn't get far. "...prick..."

“Give’em the key, Gung Ho,” Mutt said as he turned the car to the right down another road. “Don’t you think the poor guy has been through enough already?”

With an exaggerated sigh, the bald man searched in his pockets for a few moments before pulling out a small key. “Man, you guys ain’t no fun. It’s like being stuck with Flint and Beach Head.” Gung Ho handed the key back to Lifeline.

“Thank you,” the medic said sourly as he took the key. Sliding down off the seat, he set to work at removing the leg restraints from Billy’s ankles, leaving them on the floor once he was done. Sitting back on the seat next to the bound man, he unfastened Billy’s seatbelt. “Turn towards me so I can get that – that thing off you.”

With a slight nod and a few moments of gathering his wits, Billy turned toward Edwin as he'd been ordered, almost frantic to be out of the straight jacket. Lifeline went to work on the buckles, his nervous hands slipping once or twice before he finally managed to get them undone and started working the jacket off Billy. Once the Marine was free, Edwin dropped the straight jacket to the floor of the car almost disdainfully.

Billy shuddered as the straight jacket fell away, cringing away from it a little as if it were a scorpion or something equally distasteful. He rubbed his arms slowly, the effects of the sedatives becoming less pronounced as time wore on. "...Thanks."

Edwin nodded, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “No thanks to Gung Ho.” The medic put an emphasis on the Cajun’s name as he shot the bald man a glare.

“Don’t go gettin’ your undies all in twist, Lifeline.” Gung Ho said from the front seat, his hands behind his head lazily.

“I’d prefer to leave my ‘undies’ out of this, thank you.” Lifeline replied curtly.

“Will you two give it a rest already?” Mutt asked, his eyes going up to the review mirror for a moment as he looked in the back seat. “You’re giving me a headache.”

Listening to the banter, Billy relaxed back into the seat and let his eyes fall to studying the landscape passing by the window. The dialog between the three made him think of his own unit, and the memories that came to the surface were bittersweet. Curled up on the seat next to Billy, Junkyard craned a bit to sniff at the Marine’s hand.

“By the way Lifeline, where are we going?” Mutt asked, his eyes once again darting up to the review mirror to glance at the medic.

“Oh,” Edwin dug into his pocket and pulled out a yellow sticky note. “Here’s the address.” Leaning forward he handed the note to Mutt.

Looking over at Junkyard, Billy slowly lifted a hand, offering it to the dog, dimly hoping he wasn't about to get bit. The Rottweiler sniffed at Billy’s fingers. “He won’t bite ya,” Mutt said after taking a quick glance over the seat at Billy. “He won’t attack unless I give him the command to.”

"...Okay," was the murmured reply as Billy gently stroked the dog's muzzle with a few fingertips.

Junkyard rubbed his head under Billy’s hand, trying to encourage more attention from the man. It was a distraction Billy welcomed whole-heartedly, and he gave his full attention over to petting the dog, a very faint smile on his face as he did. Mutt chanced another glance back at his dog and Billy, smiling. “You can’t be all bad if Junk likes you. He’s got a sixth sense about people – can feel a snake a mile a way.”


Lifeline couldn’t help smiling as he watched Billy and Junkyard for a few moments. “We should be coming up to the turn,” he said to Mutt, his attention drawn to the signs flashing by on the roadway.

“Already there,” the K9 specialist said as he turned the wheel, the car veering off to the right.

The car bounced a little as it left the well maintained asphalt of the highway and onto the less maintained side road. There was very little see as the vehicle wound down the narrow road which was covered on all sides by trees and brush. Billy was tossed around just a little by the bouncing, closing his eyes as his balance fought to keep up. Once he'd found his equilibrium again, he resumed his earlier attention to Junkyard, finding the dog to be a soothing distraction, and one that he wasn't willing to give up just yet.

“You sure you know where you’re goin’, Mutt?” Gung Ho inquired as he looked out the window. “Looks like a whole lotta nothing out here.”

“Yeah, I’ve been out here before. Me and Junkyard were down near here a couple of years ago fishing.” Mutt answered, his attention on the winding road.

“We should almost be there. The directions said that the turn would be half a mile from that billboard that we passed.”

Mutt slowed the car down a bit carefully looking for the turnoff. He had started to think that maybe they had missed it when he saw a large marker bearing several numbers just ahead. Stopping in front of the marker, he saw the partially hidden drive. Glancing down at the note that Lifeline had given him, he turned the car onto the dirt road.

Billy finally looked back out the window then, one eyebrow rising curiously at their surroundings. The sedan bounced along slowly, jostling its passengers whenever it hit a particularly deep rut and it seemed like an eternity before the lane widened slightly and the trees thinned out to reveal a small building silhouetted by the encroaching twilight. By the end of this road, Billy had fallen into a light doze, exhausted from the drugs they'd been keeping him under, and the events of the day.

“There’s a Jeep parked alongside.” Mutt said, stopping the car several yards away from the building.

“It’s okay, Mutt, I left it here earlier.” Edwin leaned forward, his forearms on the back of the seat separating them.

“I thought yours got totaled?” Gung Ho asked.

“It did. It’s a rental.”

Mutt put his foot on the gas and inched the car forward, parking it behind the Jeep. Billy started awake when the vehicle came to a stop, eyes darting around, tense as a bowstring as his eyes searched for something familiar in his musings. Shit! When did I drift off? Where the hell am I now?

Gung Ho and Mutt were already climbing out when Edwin looked over at Billy, his hand raised as if to shake the other man awake. “Oh, you’re awake.”

The sight of Edwin was enough to help Billy mellow slightly and he nodded a little. "Yeah..." he said, as Junkyard stood up on the seat, the dog looking out the window for its master.

“We’ll get you inside and you can crash out there.” The medic smiled slightly as he spoke.

Mutt walked around the car and opened the passenger side door, Junkyard bounding out as soon as he could. Turning away, he followed after the dog as it put its nose to the leaf strewn ground and started to move away from the car. Gung Ho meanwhile, was making a circuit around the small cottage-style building, his trained eye taking in everything and missing nothing.

Billy moved carefully out of the car, leaning against it heavily, his body just not quite willing to support him without aid yet. Sighing in frustration, the Marine leaned against the car. Lifeline scooted across the seat and slid out of the car next to Billy. “Here, lean on me,” he instructed as he put his arm around Billy’s waist and draped the other man’s arm over his shoulders.

The Marine almost protested, but he knew better. His already over-abused ego wouldn't be able to handle it if he fell flat on his face; and so he leaned on Edwin, and tried to remind himself that he'd be moving under his own power as soon as the drugs wore off.

Lifeline carefully maneuvered them to the front door, stopping momentarily to unlock the door and push it open. Reaching around inside the doorway, his hand found a switch and flipped it, lighting up several small lamps.

The inside of the cottage was rather rustic and sparsely furnished, and seemed to consist of one large room. There was a sofa and chair against one wall, a small kitchen nook nestled in one corner and in the other, a queen-sized bed; and it was to the bed that Edwin guided Billy once they entered.

Billy sank into that bed gratefully; his body screaming for rest, his brain for more info, and his emotions just begged him to take it easy for awhile before he did something very un-Marine-like. Like cry.

Reaching for the folded blanket at the foot of the bed, Edwin shook it out and spread it over Billy. “Try to get some rest and sleep some of those sedatives off. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Had the circumstances been any different, Billy might have resented the mothering. As it was, he simply curled up under the blanket, finally giving in to the need for sleep.

“You ready Lifeline?” Gung Ho stepped into the open doorway, his eyes glancing around at the inside.

“Oh...I’m going to stay, you guys go on ahead.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah,” Lifeline nodded. “It’s okay. I got some time off to ‘recover from my ordeal’,” he said with a small smile.

Gung Ho raised an eyebrow.

“Really, it’s okay. I’ve got my comm if I need anything.”

“Okay,” Gung Ho said with a nod. “We’ll fill Mainframe in.”

“Thanks,” Edwin said. “I really owe you guys big for this.”

“Don’t’ sweat it, man. We all saw that file too, remember? Besides, I couldn’t go lettin’ a fellow Marine get railroaded like that and you know it.”

“Still, I really appreciate it, Gung Ho.”

“Like I said, no problem.” The big Marine turned to go. “Keep in touch and let us know if you need anything.”

“Will do.”

With a wave of his hand, Gung Ho disappeared into the gloom of the night. A few moments later Edwin heard the doors of the car slam and then the engine rev up. As he moved to close the door, the headlights of the sedan flashed over him and he waved his hand at the two departing Joes before closing the door.

Blood. The scent of it clung to everything, a living thing that crawled into every pore. It left the stench of death behind, so deeply embedded that it couldn't be washed away, no matter how hard one tried. He was soaked in it, his hands darkly stained with gore, a throbbing in his head as the combined scents of death, blood, and wet heat all smacked into his senses.

Billy hadn't been ready for this particular flash. If asked, he couldn't have even explained what had triggered it. Maybe it was the traces of chemicals still running around in his body; perhaps it was a lack of those same chemicals. All in all, it didn't really matter. Something had triggered the demons, and now they were running amok, leaving him trapped within his own mind. They whispered words of the people in the hospital provided an eerie soundtrack to the gory vision, and a shudder went through Billy, his eyes wide and staring at nothing, his breath escaping him in short bursts as sweat poured down his face.

Gradually, Billy fell asleep again, and found rest. But it wasn't to last. At first, it was only a soft, strangled sound that escaped the Marine, his visions shifting from events that actually happened, to phantasms created by his own mind, half-truths that wrapped themselves in terrifying emotions and sent the Marine from his sleep with a cry, his eyes darting around, not recognizing his surroundings and panicking when he didn’t.

Curled up on one end of the couch and wrapped in a spare blanket, Edwin was fast sleep. He’d extinguished all the lights in the cottage except for one, its feeble light barely reaching out from the kitchen nook. However, Lifeline’s dark eyes snapped open at the sound and he sat up. Immediately, he looked over towards the bed, squinting to see without his glasses. “Billy?” he called out as he swung his bare feet to the floor and stood up.

The Marine couldn't hear him. He was trembling, sweat pouring off of him as if he'd been running a marathon. His breathing had been reduced to frantic pants, his body straining to bring in enough oxygen to keep him awake. The adrenaline coursing through his system was keeping him hyper-alert, but he wasn't fully conscious. It was an odd, and frightening, limbo.

In the dark stillness, Edwin could hear the panting breaths coming from the bed and he frowned. Inching forward, he swore softly as he tripped over his shoes, kicking them out of the way as he crept towards the bed. “Billy?”

"God...." was the only reply, the Marine crumpled onto the bed."...make it stop...please..." he whispered frantically.

The blanket trailing behind him and still pulled around his shoulders, Lifeline reached Billy’s bedside, sitting down on the edge of it before reaching out towards the dark-haired man. “Billy?”

When the medic's fingertips came in contact with Billy's skin, the tattooed Marine jerked away as if he'd been shocked. Edwin's voice and touch had broken the flashback's hold and a soft, strangled sob escaped him. "I don't want to remember anymore..." he whispered. “I swear to god I didn't kill them.....I tried to stop it..."

Edwin squeezed his eyes closed for a moment, a pained expression passing over his face at the tormented sound in the other man’s voice. Opening his eyes, his hand slid down to take Billy’s and held it tightly. “I know, I know you didn’t . . .” The medic’s voice was soft as he spoke.

"They won't leave me alone...." he whispered brokenly. "No one would believe me.....not the doctors, the therapists....not that fucking panel of judges....The fuckers crucified me for a massacre I had to watch!"

Lifeline closed his eyes again, Billy’s hand still gripped tightly in his. Edwin was at a loss as to what to say or do, his training focusing more on physical wounds then emotional ones.

Long moments later, Billy forced himself to sit up, pulling himself together through an effort of will alone. "Fuck....hey, I"m sorry," he whispered softly, sharply aware of the hand holding his. "You don't need to be dealing with me like this...."

“It’s okay,” Lifeline said softly, Billy’s face looking slightly fuzzy without his glasses. The medic was neither uncomfortable nor embarrassed to be holding another man’s hand, as he’d done so on many occasions with severely injured soldiers. “You’ve had a rough time the past few days and being doped to the gills probably didn’t help matters. There’s nothing to be sorry about.”

"Yeah..." Billy's reply came exhaled on a breath, and he slumped back into the bed, though he didn't release Lifeline's hand. As much as he didn't want to admit it, and didn't like the implications, there was something soothing about Edwin's presence; and calming influences were in short supply in Billy's life.

“If...if you want to talk about it...sometimes just being able to get things out helps . . .” Lifeline’s voice was soft and hesitant. “It’d be just between the two us...”

A silence fell across the two men for several long moments before Billy began to speak. He told Lifeline everything, the words coming hesitantly at first, but pouring out faster and more emotional as the story spilled out. He talked about his units deployment in Africa, the "enemy camp" they'd been directed to. He explained the "camp" had in fact been a civilian village. Then, his voice dropped as he spoke of his commanding officer rounding up the villagers, his own attempts to stop the massacre, and finally, the inevitable result. His voice became hard and angry as he talked about his court martial, the time in prison, and his eventually being committed to an institution for study. By the time he was finished talking, he was staring sightlessly at the ceiling, tears streaming down his cheeks, the hand in Edwin's tremoring slightly. He'd never told the entire story to anyone. Not even Rebecca, who'd only heard about the mission itself.

Edwin sat silently, his own emotions welling up as he listened to Billy. More than once, he felt a lump in his throat and found it difficult to swallow down. When the Marine finished, Lifeline’s dark eyes closed as well, a pained look on his face as tears beaded on his lashes. Unconsciously, his grip on Billy’s hand tightened slightly as he covered their joined hands with his other one.

"I guess....this explains a lot, huh?" Billy whispered.

Lifeline opened his eyes and looked at Billy. “I understand why you don’t trust the military, or really anyone for that matter.”

Billy nodded, just a little, his hand in Edwin's tightening. "...Yeah."

“But you trusted me, which means a lot.” The medic smiled faintly.

"I'm not sure why I do, to be honest," Billy murmured back. "...Why did you come back for me?"

Lifeline looked down, his eyes falling on their joined hands. “I...I’m not entirely sure myself, other than...I just – I just had this feeling that whatever it was that you’d been accused of, it couldn’t be true. I mean, if you really were some insane killer, you would’ve taken me out right after I found you or let that Tyrant thing have me. Plus you risked yourself so I could get away. It just didn’t seem right to leave you.”

Billy shook his head. "I did that to get you out of trouble," he said softly. "Now you're risking getting into it even deeper."

“That’s my choice.” Edwin said, his voice sounding much firmer than before. “I want to help you clear your name, Billy. What you went through...nobody deserves that. “

"No...but I don't want to drag anybody else down with me."

“You aren’t exactly dragging me if I’m willing to go, now are you?”

Opening his mouth again, Billy only sat there a moment or two, before collapsing back into the bed. "I...guess not."

“Although maybe I’m jumping the gun since I haven’t really asked you if you wanted my help. I’ve just been going with the idea that you’d want to expose what happened and clear your name.”

"I'll be very honest with you, Edwin; I don't care about what happens to me...not anymore. But I want Umbrella exposed."

Lifeline nodded his head in agreement. “Nobody should be allowed to play with human beings like that. It goes against everything that medicine stands for; and I especially don’t want any of their work in Cobra’s hands.”

Billy nodded. "Then it looks like you're stuck with me...at least for awhile."

Edwin gave the Marine another faint smile. “So far I don’t have any complaints.”

"...Good to know."

“Well, since you’re up...do you want anything? Something to drink? Eat?” Lifeline unconsciously slipped into medic mode once again.

"No. The last thing I am right now is hungry....too many drugs in my system, Doc. I'll be better in the morning," Billy replied, unable to repress the smile that snuck across his lips.

Edwin nodded his head. “I wish I knew what they had you on, but there wasn’t a chart in the room.” He frowned a little. “But you’re right, a lot of times it’s just getting it worked out of your system.”

Billy nodded. "Pretty much. If I eat anything, I guarantee I'll be up all night..."

“The best thing you can do is just rest. Get some uninterrupted sleep.”

"That's usually the challenge..."

“I know it sounds kind of childish but...but if you want, I’ll sit here until you fall asleep if you think it might help.” Edwin felt the slight blush that crept over his cheeks, grateful for the dim lighting in the room.

"You're really a piece of work, Doc," Billy said with a chuckle, "But it might make us both feel better...."

Lifeline felt his blush deepen and he dropped his eyes back down to their joined hands.

Once again, under normal circumstances, Billy would have pulled away and gone to sleep. However, he found that he just couldn't bring himself to do it, clinging to Lifeline like his namesake. His eyes slid closed eventually and he fell asleep, his hand loosening in Edwin's as he did.

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