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Chaos/Primeval: When We Collide 15/16

July 23rd, 2012 (06:47 am)
frustrated

feeling: frustrated

A/N: Time for characters to start moving on, one way or another. Special thanks to lukadreaming for her particular work in making this chapter up to par with UK living :)

Previous parts in the MASTER POST .



PART FIFTEEN

-o-

Stephen woke with the sun. It filtered in through the windows, filling the small room with its warmth and life. He lingered in bed just a moment, just to appreciate the day.

Getting up, he quickly made the bed, pulling up the duvet and arranging the pillows neatly. After going to the bathroom, he grabbed his iPod and threw on his running clothes. Slipping out the front door, he locked it behind him before setting out in the brisk daybreak.

The sun was rising in the sky, but the morning was still young. Stephen had only lived here for two months, but already the intricate trails through the woods felt like home. The woods were quaint, laced with babbling brooks and old country lanes. He had come to count on the familiar landmarks – the fallen log, the makeshift dam in one of the streams – as he improvised the path for his daily run.

He used to keep track of exactly how far he’d gone and how long it took him, but there didn’t seem to be much need any more. Running was as much about the freedom as it was the exercise.

On his way back, he always made his way through the village, nodding a hello to the farmers along the way and waving cheerily at Lucy, who ran the coffee shop and was setting up for the morning crowd.

And then he made his way home.

The notion of it was still a bit odd to Stephen. His old flat had done its job, but it didn’t feel nearly as comfortable or as good as the place he was now. At first, he’d been uncertain – when MI5 had shown him pictures of a cosy cottage, it had seemed like a bad fit. But since moving in, he’d found it small and practical and perfect for his needs.

It was situated just outside the village, on a small lane off one of the main roads. There wasn’t much traffic in the area, and the wooded grounds gave him ample solitude without isolating him too much. The house had come with a nice parcel of land, with plenty of space to do whatever he might see fit.

The house itself was older, with a stone exterior and aged wooden floors. It had needed some repairs when he moved in, but he found that fixing the windows and nailing in the roof tiles had helped him take ownership of the place. He’d only intended to do the basics, but once he got started, he didn’t see reason to stop. He stripped the cabinets and stained them, then found the time to plaster the walls and give everything a fresh coat of paint.

The furniture that had come with the house was old and nondescript. He beat the cushions until the dust had come out, and he’d taken the time to polish up the rest of the furniture as best he could. Scrounging around, he found some pieces to repair in the garage, and he took to rearranging things until the layout was more usable for his daily routine.

He hadn’t brought much with him. Fredericks had offered to collect some of his things, but most of the memories weren’t ones he wanted. He’d asked for the statue of the dolphins as a token of his parents, but reckoned the photos and artefacts would hurt more than comfort. The books, magazines and music were all replaceable, so he’d willingly foregone the rest.

This left the place a bit vacant, so he began shopping locally for anything to keep it from being barren. He found he liked simple, rustic pieces, so the few items he started to amass did more to create a homey ambiance than his plethora of modern décor back at his flat. The bedroom was bright, and he’d opted for a quilt for the bed, setting the dolphins by the window as his one indulgence of who he’d been.

The kitchen and bathroom were both old but functional. Each had benefited from a deep clean and the stripped cabinets housed his scant collection of dishes. He kept the cupboards stocked with ample dried goods and filled the refrigerator with local produce when he could. His dining table could seat four, and he ate there every morning and night, always in the same chair by the dining room window.

The living room was small, and he bought a TV with the allowance he’d been given. He’d set up an office in one of the spare bedrooms upstairs, putting a new laptop on the desk he’d salvaged and stacking the few books he’d requested from his flat. At first, it had seemed empty, but once he discovered the local bookshop in the closest town, he quickly found other means to fill it.

And not just science or history. But everything. Fiction to home remodelling and beyond. Helen had always said he was a good student, but now that he was his own teacher, he discovered that his interests were vast and varied. Besides, it kept him busy. And Stephen needed to be busy. Thinking about his latest project was better than thinking about what he’d left.

He didn’t miss the ARC necessarily, but sometimes he still woke up in the middle of the night with his heart racing. But there were no predators. No calls for an anomaly in a public place. His life, for once, was entirely his own.

After his morning run, he made himself some breakfast, sipping coffee while he read the latest book he’d bought. It had some landscaping ideas, and he had the notion that he might build a patio out the back. It wasn’t necessary, but he thought it might be nice to eat out there sometimes, take some tea in the evenings, relax and watch the stars.

At the very least, bricklaying was one of the few things he hadn’t tried yet since moving here, so he reckoned he should probably give it a go.

Besides, he was running out of other projects. He wasn’t quite sure what else to do with himself if that happened.

That was a concern for another time, though. Glancing at his watch, he knew it was time to really get the day started. Because MI5 had given him a new life, but he still had to earn a living.

He showered and dressed, pining briefly for his orange cargo pants. When he’d asked for them, Fredericks had refused, saying that the whole point of witness protection was not to stand out. “Trust me,” the agent had said, “I’m doing you a favour.”

Stephen wasn’t sure about that, but he’d managed to buy a whole new wardrobe for himself, consistently mostly of jeans, t-shirts and button-up shirts. Nothing too formal or distinctive, all in neutral shades of blue and brown, so everything seemed to go together without even trying. It wasn’t exactly professional attire, but fortunately, no one seemed to care.

He had a car that he’d been given along with the house, but he only used it for shifting things. When it came to the day to day things, he usually jogged or rode his bike. It took a bit more time, but the best part about his new life was the plentiful fresh air. He took his time on the ride, studying the countryside. When he got into town, he went down one of the alleys, dismounting and pulling out his keys. Unlocking the back door to the building, he pushed the bike inside, parking it by the back door.

The area was small, enough for a small storeroom, an employee bathroom, and a tiny office, but he didn’t need much more than that. Besides, behind the scenes, there wasn’t much to do. He spent most of his time up front.

Moving to the front, he flicked on the light. After two months, he knew the place well, but it still somehow surprised him every day.

To think, after everything he’d done, everything he’d been through, he’d wind up here, managing the Outdoor Store.

The name wasn’t particularly creative, but when MI5 had procured it for his new life, they apparently hadn’t given much thought into marketing. He appreciated the thought that had gone into the career choice, though. The Outdoor Store was more or less what it sounded like. The shop featured a wide range of outdoor equipment, from camping supplies to tools.

All of which pertained to Stephen’s skills and interests. In fact, it was a much better fit than the ARC in many ways. He’d actually never fancied himself as a man of action or an academic. He’d ended up in both fields because of Cutter.

But Cutter was a thing of the past, and the simple routines and back to basics nature of this new life had a definitive appeal. He knew the products he was selling and was knowledgeable enough to know what to recommend to his customers. He never would have reckoned he’d be one for a social job, but after finding himself on the blacklist at the ARC, the pleasantries of this new position certainly had their perks.

In fact, most of the time, he found he enjoyed it. He didn’t mind getting up in the morning. Most of the time, he was as happy as he had been in quite some time.

As happy as he would probably ever get, all things considered.

The back door clanged noisily, and chatter filled the building. Stephen remembered his routines and set about readying the shop for business. As he was starting up the rest of the lights and the cash register, the voices neared and a friendly greeting sounded, “Hello, Liam.”

“Morning, Mr Carney,” the second voice said.

Liam Carney. That was the alias he’d been given, and it was still hard work trying to acclimate himself to using it.

Still, Stephen smiled. “Morning, Rose,” he said, nodding toward the matronly sales assistant. She’d been the only employee who’d been retained after Stephen acquired the place. Her knowledge of the outdoors was sometimes hit or miss, but she knew the town and she knew the customers, and that was good enough for Stephen.

He smiled at the other employee. “Good to see you up and about on time today, Jack.”

Jack was younger, just out of school and entertaining his options at a nearby college. Stephen had hired him on out of necessity when he’d found that with a little attention, business had skyrocketed. Jack had more practical knowledge than Rose, but he was somewhat less reliable.

Generally, they made a good, if unexpected, team.

And really, this was generally a good, if unexpected, life.

Bustling about, Rose started tidying the shop while Jack set out the daily deals. They continued chatting while Stephen counted notes into the cash register, half-listening to their conversation.

“Well, I don’t know what he thinks we’re going to do with it all,” Rose was saying.

“Freeze it,” Jack said. “Fish lasts. Even thaws well.”

“I know,” Rose said. “But he filled the freezer up the last time he went out to the river! I can’t afford another freezer, not unless Liam fancies giving us a payraise.”

Stephen grinned. “Fine with me, if you can up the profits of the shop.”

“And milk more money out of the local crowd?” Rose balked. “I think you’ve already done the best you can until the tourist season picks up a bit more.”

“Then you’ll have to fight Jack for extra wages,” Stephen recommended.

Rose clucked. “Can’t do that,” she said. “Not if we ever want to see him move out of his parents’ house.”

“Have you tried any new recipes?” Jack asked, apparently still stuck on the fish.

“You breadcrumb them and fry them,” Rose said. “Not much else to it. I should just have a barbecue and show you all how it’s done.”

“That sounds nice,” Jack said.

“Thinking with your stomach, boy,” Rose chided. Then she paused. “Though it would help me get rid of it all. What do you reckon?”

“I’d bring a salad,” Jack offered.

“Splendid,” Rose said. “What about you, Liam? Do you want to come and eatw some fish? Tonight after we close. We’ll make a party out of it.”

It was so casual, so friendly. Almost natural.

Almost.

She could be including him to be polite, but he knew Rose better than that. She wanted him to come, to fit in. He could fit in. In some ways, it’d be easy.

But then, he thought of Abby and Connor and Jenny. He thought of late nights at the ARC, joking while filling out paperwork, eating pizza while swapping stories about prehistoric breath. He remembered Connor’s choice of music in the car, Abby’s face lighting up whenever she saw a creature, Jenny’s high heels clicking the ARC floor.

And Cutter.

Always Cutter.

No matter how far he went or how much time went by, there was still Cutter.

This life was good. This job was satisfying. These people were friendly. Stephen could almost be happy if not for Cutter.

“I think I’ll pass this time,” he said, shrugging as casually as he could. “Still lots to do around the house.”

“Pity,” Rose said, before turning her attention to a proper list of drinks and desserts for the meal.

Stiffly, Stephen stopped listening and went about his work, thinking how Rose would never know just how much of a pity it was.

-o-

When Billy started at MI5, he had been content to do the grunt work. He’d told himself that real spies weren’t like James Bond. Real spies put in the long hours and did the paperwork and fought the good fight even when it was less than spectacular. He had found contentment in this; a satisfaction that he was doing what was needed, which was as much as James Bond could ever say.

And then, with one tumultuous mission, everything changed.

Billy wasn’t just sitting in an office any more. He was James Bond. Running around, doing important and heroic things, taking the lead and generally having the time of his life. It was an uncanny difference. He’d gone from the office joke to the bona fide golden boy of the agency. His presence was coveted on missions; blokes at the office fell over backwards to do his paperwork, and women kept swooning.

This was something of a revelation to him. It was a surreal sort of thing to speak and have people listen. He found that he didn’t much miss doing the paperwork. As for the women, he was flattered, though he still had his eye on the sweet Mara.

Those were just the perks, though. The real satisfaction was what he actually did. Stopping terrorists. Catching gun smugglers. Saving the world.

Or, if not the world, at least the security of his country and the overall well-being of his countrymen. Now when his mother asked him what he was doing, he could at least tell her quite honestly that it was quite thrilling even if he were not at liberty to say.

This was why he’d pursued a career in MI5. All his toil and all his sacrifices had paid off. It was a perfect, downright blissful life. So much so that he barely had time for regrets, barely had time to think at all about things outside his glorious and invigorating career.

Until one day when his phone rang.

Not his work phone, but the other one he kept. The secure line he kept in case of emergencies. The number he’d given only a select number of people. Fredericks and his mum and…

Billy frowned, pulling it from his pocket curiously.

“Hello?” he asked.

There was a hesitation, a small intake of breath. “Billy?”

The voice was familiar, though not one he had actually expected to hear. “Nick Cutter,” he realised, with more than a little shock. “Fancy that. To what do I owe the honour of this call?”

There was another pause as Cutter seemed to swallow. “Do you remember that you said I could phone you?” he asked. “For anything?”

Billy nodded readily. “I was under the influence of some rather high grade medication when I made the promise, but I do believe the vow still stands,” he said.

“Good,” Cutter said, before cutting off lamely. He hesitated again. “I mean… Well, I was hoping…”

Billy rocked back in his chair, shrugging nonchalantly. “It can’t be so bad as to warrant such uncertainty,” he said. “After all, I have already willingly thrown myself to the beasts on your account. What more could you possibly ask?”

“Well,” Cutter said haltingly. “I just. I didn’t know—“ His voice cut off, choked. “I didn’t know who else to call.”

The grief was still raw for Cutter, the emotion aching even after all these months. It had been the better part of a year since the mission in the bunker of creatures, and Billy had not forgotten but finally learned to let go. As the missions had piled up, the failure to secure a happier ending for Cutter and Stephen was something he hadn’t had time to dwell on.

Though, he wouldn’t say he’d ever accepted it. It was still there, the looming failure that made the rest of his success always marginally bittersweet. He could foul up no other mission as profoundly as he had that one, and every person he saved, he saved because he could not save those two from their own self-defeating ways.

“Is it something with the ARC?” Billy asked, his mind going over the possibilities. Maybe Helen had contacted him; maybe there was another mole.

“No,” Cutter said quickly. “I mean, not really.” He sighed. “I don’t know. It’s a lot of things.”

This wasn’t the Cutter whom Billy remembered. That Cutter had been sure and confident. Even by Billy’s bedside there had been no such deep-rooted self-doubt. This Cutter was uncertain and wavering. No matter what Cutter had told him, losing Stephen had been hard. Harder than he had wanted it to be. There was still raw emotion there, a grief he probably didn’t know how to conceptualise.

The man was lost. He was calling Billy on an emergency line without any clear reason for doing so.

The problem was, of course, that as for as MI5 was concerned, Cutter and the ARC were no longer Billy’s concern. Intelligence had reported that Helen’s activities were picking up again, though MI5 had no further information to act on as far as Billy knew.

Not that he would know. Given Stephen’s choice for witness protection, Billy could never be allowed near the project again for fear of risking Stephen’s cover and Billy’s identity. Billy was allowed to be on any case he wanted – except that one.

Even talking to Cutter was a breach of protocol.

But Billy had promised Cutter, and Stephen before him. It was a promise that Billy hadn’t kept. And it was one part of the mission he’d never been able to count as a success. Losing Helen had been a major operational failure on his part, but failing to get Stephen and Cutter to work out their difference had been the lapse that he still regretted most.

It wasn’t just about the glory for Billy. It was about doing the right thing.

Helping Cutter was the right thing. He’d earned enough clout to take the risk.

Billy took a breath and nodded. “Okay, then,” he said. “I’m listening.”

-o-

Of all the things in Stephen’s life, learning how to live again was probably the hardest.

Still, day by day, he worked on it. He put up his unwavering front, let people believe he was happy and fulfilled, and over time, he came to believe it himself most of the time.

It was easy to believe, really. His life was good. He had a job he enjoyed. He had hobbies to fulfill him. He even had friends, when he let them close enough. It was hard not to. It had started with Rose and Jack, but soon there were others. John, who liked to fish in the nearby river. Stuart, who frequented the hiking routes in the area. Alan, who ran the cafe next door.

And Lucy.

Stephen had never understood women, nor had he been good at interpreting their advances. His experience with Abby had been proof of that, although he still couldn’t quite work out how he’d got his signals so crossed when it had come to her. He’d always liked her, but apparently his delusional self wanted him to take chances that his rational mind actually didn’t want.

Dating Allison had been an easy sort of thing, mostly because they’d got together right before she’d left and been pen pals much more than an actual couple. He’d broken up with her when she’d come back, because he couldn’t bear the thought of lying to her and he knew he didn’t want to be with her the way she wanted to be with him.

He had never really wanted to be with anyone after Helen. That had been his first real relationship as an adult, and with all the lies and coercion, he couldn’t say that it left a good impression of how such things should go. Helen had changed everything for him, and after all these years, he could finally see that it wasn’t for the better. Everything she’d put him through, and his affections and defence of her had been totally in vain.

In short, it was time to move on.

If only it were that easy.

Which is why things with Lucy were so complicated.

She was the friendly sort, but over the months, Stephen had come to realise she was more friendly with him than the rest. She lingered at his table after serving him coffee; she gave him free muffins just because she could. She started to drop into the store, making chitchat about taking up cycling, which had seemed natural until Rose scoffed, “That girl has all the cycling equipment she’ll ever need, except apparently a good companion.”

She liked him.

This made Stephen uncomfortable. He had never known what to do with undue attention, and while he liked spending time with Lucy, he didn’t want to give her the wrong impression.

Of course, he wasn’t sure what the right impression was. Or even what he was holding out for. There was no Helen. There was no Abby. There was no Allison. There was just Stephen, and a quiet life that was totally his own to fill.

So when talking at work became talking at home, he didn’t fight it. When friendly conversations, turned ever so slightly intimate, he willingly obliged her. Until one night, they were sitting together on his couch and she leaned over to kiss him.

He was surprised, in truth, that she’d waited this long. He’d been expecting it earlier, even considered pre-empting her, just to be polite. But as her warmth pressed against his, suddenly he couldn’t.

Closing his eyes briefly, he pulled away.

Lucy startled, looking at him a bit horrified. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought – I mean – I just thought—“

She was turning beet red, fumbling for her words.

Stephen shook his head. “No, no,” he said, trying to assure her. “It’s not you.”

That didn’t seem to help. “I just thought—“

“I know,” Stephen said. “And you’re amazing. Beautiful and nice and sweet.”

Lucy’s brow furrowed. “But?”

Stephen sighed. “But I don’t want to lead you on,” he said. “I’m just not ready—“

Not ready to move on. Not ready to let someone in. Not ready.

He might never be ready.

Because he could change his name. He could leave his life behind. But there were some things his heart couldn’t quite let go of.

“There’s someone else?” Lucy asked. “Someone from your mysterious past?”

Stephen’s jaw worked. If he could let go of Helen and Abby and Allison, there was still Cutter. There had always been Cutter. He wasn’t always sure what that meant, but Cutter was still the one who knew him best. The one who would always know him best.

He swallowed painfully. “I’m sorry.”

She laughed, tears burning slightly in her eyes. She scooted to the edge of the couch, wiping absently at her cheeks. “Well, then,” she said. “I’d best be going.”

“Lucy—“

On her feet, she turned, shaking her head. “It’s okay,” she said. “Really. I always knew you were holding back. I just thought maybe I had a chance. Whoever it is you’re holding out for, they’re very lucky. I hope they know that.”

Stephen’s heart clenched. He knew Cutter was lucky. Lucky to never have to see Stephen ever again.

Lucy smiled. “Still friends?”

“Of course,” Stephen said, getting to his feet. He reached out, wrapping her in a hug. It was the first physical contact he’d initiated since moving here.

Lucy hesitated, then hugged back. “Good,” she said, pulling away after a moment. She took a breath, smiling again. “Because I want to hear all about them.”

“It’s not that simple,” Stephen said.

She scoffed. “Nothing is for you, is it?”

Lucy had no idea.

-o-

After his so-called success with the ARC mission, Billy had not been subjected to the toils of extensive research. In fact, in the year that had elapsed since he’d been cleared for active duty, he’d barely had the time to sit down and do much of the behind the scenes work at all. He was always being sent out on one mission or another, tracking potential terrorists and foiling bomb threats or something equally thrilling.

In truth, in short six months he’d become the golden boy of MI5. Now he was so busy that he rarely had time to miss his bookish ways, but after talking to Cutter, he’d found that his skills had come back quickly enough.

There were certainly people who would do such research for him, but considering the sensitive nature of Cutter’s request, Billy had thought it prudent to do the poking about himself.

Part of the problem was, of course, that Cutter wasn’t even sure what his request was. He’d expressed his regret and doubt, telling Billy that he couldn’t go on without Stephen. In some ways, this revelation was better late than never, but it certainly was more inconvenient this way. Because Stephen’s relocation was settled; the files were sealed. There were few people who were granted knowledge of his identity for obvious security reasons.

Fortunately for Billy, one of those people was Fredericks.

A funny thing had happened with Fredericks. Somewhere in the midst of nearly dying and apparently saving the mission, they had become friends. True, they had always shared an office space with a smattering of other teammates, but where Billy had previously been left behind, he was now Fredericks’ go-to man. This had many benefits, the least of which was that it gave Billy easy access to Fredericks’ desk and files.

The fact that Fredericks tried to keep the top secret ones locked up hardly gave Billy much pause. MI5 locks were no more impressive than any other.

Finding Stephen’s new identity, therefore, was rather elementary. It was right there, filed properly, and easy enough to peek at without causing any harm. That really would have been that except that then Billy saw the file under Stephen’s.

He wasn’t sure what piqued his interest in it. True, Billy had an innate curiosity, but something still beckoned him. He saw the photo of a dinosaur peeking out, and decided a wee bit of a glance couldn’t hurt.

He’d only intended to look, but one look wasn’t enough. Not when he saw what it was about.

Not just the ARC this time, but Helen. In detail.

In his short time with Helen, he’d come to know her as devious and manipulative. She’d seduced him while still pining for her husband and then conveniently left him to die a painful and horrific death. Letting her slip away was his second biggest regret.

Glancing over the file, he began to wonder if he could correct that oversight along with absolving his biggest regret. Reunite Stephen and Cutter while simultaneously foiling Helen. It was a win-win.

Except that it wasn’t his file.

But Billy had come too far to back down now. For Cutter and for Stephen. For himself and the scars he carried and the nightmares he endured.

At the very least, it warranted a conversation. Fredericks would listen to him, at any rate, even if he didn’t agree.

So when Fredericks came back, he was ready, perched in his chair and staring at the door. He’d left the file on Fredericks’ desk, seeing no value in hiding his action.

Fredericks gave him a funny look, moving to his desk curiously. “I’m fairly certain your mum would disapprove of the staring,” he said, sitting down. “Last I checked, it was rude.”

Billy shrugged. “No more rude than keeping pertinent information from a friend,” he said.

Fredericks raised his eyebrows. “We work with national secrets,” he said. “Pertinent information is always need to know.”

“Not when it involves Helen Cutter, it isn’t,” Billy said.

The humour faded from Fredericks’s face immediately. His eyes darted to his desk, visibly trying to discern if the pile of files had been disturbed.

“My mum would also say it’s bad form to keep your things in a mess,” Billy said. “Makes it too easy for things to get misplaced.”

Fredericks swore. “You can’t go looking around my files like that,” he said. “Did you pick the lock on my filing cabinet?”

Billy ignored the obvious question, and went for the heart of the matter. “Why? Are you hiding more things from me?” he asked pointedly.

“Of course I am,” Fredericks said. “And with good reason.”

“Helen Cutter and the ARC will always be my concern,” Billy said plainly.

“Your concern, maybe,” Fredericks returned. “But not your jurisdiction.”

“The woman nearly got me eaten alive,” Billy protested.

“Yes, I recall,” Fredericks said banally. “Which is one reason why this mission will have nothing to do with you.”

Billy sighed. “But you found her,” he said.

“A while ago, yes,” Fredericks confirmed.

Billy stared, thinking there should be more of an explanation. “And you’re just going to let her dally about? Plotting her next effort to inflict destruction?”

“You know how this is,” Fredericks said. “We’re waiting for intelligence we can act on.”

“She’s got bloody clones,” Billy said.

Fredericks paled. “You really did read the whole file, didn’t you?”

“Enough,” Billy said. “I got to the part where she’d managed to clone Cutter.”

That bit, more than the rest, had been what had motivated him to have this conversation. Helen would always be plotting, he was sure, but she had mastered cloning technology. More than that, she had actually managed to clone Cutter. If the photos were any indication, she had managed to clone him very successfully.

“Billy, you really can’t know that!” Fredericks hissed, sitting up and leaning forward. He let his voice drop to a fervent pitch. “This is classified.”

Billy leaned forward, looking back with equal intensity. “All of the stuff we do is classified.”

“You don’t know what our objectives are,” Fredericks said.

“I know more about this than anyone.”

Fredericks shook his head. “Not any more.”

“I know that having a positive location for Helen’s experiments and concrete evidence of genetic manipulation is surely something that can be acted on,” Billy said. “I mean, have you even told Cutter? Don’t you think he deserves to know there is a double of him walking around somewhere? And what about Lester? Does he know Helen’s up to some new tricks?”

Fredericks shook his head, eyes blazing. “You have to trust me on this,” he said.

“Have you even told anyone at the ARC?” Billy pushed. “Are they remotely prepared for a resurgence of Helen’s plans?”

“I’m serious,” Fredericks said, intent on sidetracking Billy. “You don’t know what you’re working against here.”

“So tell me,” Billy said, almost pleading now.

“You know I would if I could,” Fredericks said. “This comes straight from York, though.”

Billy’s frustration flared. “But Cutter deserves to know!”

Carefully, Fredericks got up, moving closer. He lingered by Billy’s desk, eyeing him earnestly. “We’re not having this conversation,” he said. “I’m not putting my career on the line so you can indulge some fancy you have to finish up your first mission. I like you, Billy. I’m telling you this because I like you: back off.”

There was no playful give in Fredericks’ face. There was no yielding in his tone.

Billy hadn’t expected it to be easy, but the sudden stonewalling caught him off guard more than he thought it might.

Fredericks straightened. “You’re the best MI5 has to offer,” he said, picking up the file and tucking it under his arm. “I don’t want to see you throw it away, not over something like this.”

With that, Fredericks turned, stalking out without looking back.

Billy stared after him, considering the weight of his words.

Before all this began, Billy would have heeded such blunt commands. He wouldn’t have even thought twice.

But he’d been through so much since then. He’d been on missions. He’d almost died in the line of duty. He wasn’t just a spy in his mind, but in actual reality. Such things required finesse, knowing when to bend the rules.

Knowing when to break them.

He’d finished many missions, but that first one still lingered. MI5 had counted it as a win, but Billy still knew there were loose ends. Helen and Cutter and Stephen.

He’d made promises.

He intended to keep them.

Chewing his lip, Billy knew Fredericks had a point. The division of duties, top secret files – these things existed for a reason.

But friendship, loyalty, love. These things superseded the rest.

So when Billy sat back and chewed his lip, he committed himself to seeing this one through, no matter what.

-o-

This life was good. Stephen told himself this every morning when he woke up. He thought about it every night when he went to bed. He was lucky for this second chance. He was fortunate to have another opportunity. To discover himself, to redefine himself. He was a better person here, a much better friend than he’d ever been in the aftermath of Helen’s manipulations.

He had purpose. He was fulfilled.

He was happy.

And yet, he still woke up at night waiting for a call that never came. An anomaly opening in a school playground, a giant insect burrowing through the motorway. He wondered what headlines Jenny had forged in the morning news, what creatures Abby was coddling at the ARC. Had Connor ever told Abby how he felt? Did Lester hire more back-up?

Was Helen still lost in time? Did Cutter still hate him or neglect to remember him at all?

They were questions that didn’t matter. Answers he’d forfeited the right to know.

He tried to forget. He tried to move on. He tried to believe this could be his happy ending. He walked the rooms of his house, organised the books on his shelves, cleaned the kitchen cupboards and scrubbed the floor, and tried to just forget.

Because this life was good.

Still, Stephen couldn’t help but think sometimes that if he could go back, trade it for what he’d had, he would.

God help him, alone in his house while the night hovered indefinitely, he would.

-o-

“I don’t like it,” Cutter said.

Billy resisted the desire to groan. Cutter, it turned out, was infinitely knowledgeable and entirely controlling. His hard-headed nature and utter faith in his instincts would have made him an excellent spy were he not so utterly difficult. To think, this man was at the helm of a team responsible for national secrets more pressing than Billy’s pay grade.

Of all the elements of this mission, he had never quite counted on Cutter’s somewhat contrary disposition to be his biggest problem.

Well, maybe not the biggest. This was a rather ambitious mission, after all.

Patience was required. Fortunately, thanks to his early time at MI5, Billy had such patience in spades.

He smile sanguinely. “And what, may I ask, don’t you like this time?”

Cutter shrugged. They were in a hotel room that Billy had booked under one of his aliases. It had become their de facto place of meeting while piecing together the bits of the mission and hashing out the endgame. “How about the fact that there are two of me?”

“Ah,” Billy said. “Well, technically that’s not so much my idea as it is one of the underlying factors with which we have to work.”

“Still,” Cutter said. “She cloned me.”

“Maybe take it as a compliment,” Billy suggested. “She was so fond of you that she decided to replicate you.”

Cutter stared.

“Right,” Billy said, clearing his throat a little. “Then maybe just consider the sweetness of using her own devious plotting against her.”

Cutter seemed mildly intrigued by that interpretation.

“I mean, consider the fact that said replica was quite willing to work with us once we managed to talk to him,” Billy reminded him.

And that was a key detail and a major operational victory. Billy had used the location MI5 tracked down and staked it out. Once Helen had left, he’d managed to circumvent the security and get inside. The clone had resisted, but once Billy explained the situation, he’d been somewhat keen on listening.

It had been a risk, to be sure. That first contact could have foiled everything.

But Billy had offered the clone the one thing every one of them wanted: freedom. The ability to determine his own life.

Needless to say, the clone had jumped at the opportunity.

“Sure,” Cutter said, jutting his chin just slightly in the semblance of defiance. “But you’re asking him not only to betray Helen but also to imitate me. That’s a tall order.”

“But entirely doable,” Billy said. “I successfully enacted such a ruse and not one person suspected.”

Cutter’s brow darkened.

“Besides, it is a short-term act,” Billy reminded him. “Once Helen makes her move, our friendly double agent will contact us and organise a substitution, just playing the part long enough to help me stop her and take her in. Then, he can be debriefed, quit your job, and start his life anew as Nick Cutter, doing whatever it is he pleases.”

“But what if Abby or Connor try to contact me?” Cutter asked.

“Not to be overly harsh, mate,” Billy said carefully. “But you haven’t exactly been on your most friendly behaviour lately. Everyone knows you’re still grieving.”

“I’m not grieving,” Cutter snapped. He hesitated. “Stephen’s not dead.”

“Aye,” Billy agreed softly. “But you miss him all the same.”

To that, Cutter had no response. He shifted on his feet and looked down.

“If we follow through with this, you will see him,” Billy said. “Soon.”

Cutter looked back up, a little hopeful. “What if Helen brings the clone along?” he asked.

“She’s never even let him leave the house,” Billy said. “He’s her getaway plan by her own admission.”

“According to the clone,” Cutter said.

“And all the information I’ve gleaned from MI5,” Billy reminded him. It hadn’t been easy, but Billy had never needed things to be easy. He’d managed to find out what he needed to know, peeked enough glances at enough locked files, and worked his own surveillance on the side. Helen was definitely planning something, and she’d been amassing an army of so-called Cleaner Clones to get the job done. But Cutter she kept separate, and Billy had quickly ascertained why. It was the same reason she’d been so preoccupied with Cutter’s punch before seducing him at Stephen’s flat. She still cared about Cutter.

Or at least, she still cared what he thought.

Cutter sighed. “I still don’t see why the clone has to go in at all,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be safer if he just stayed away?”

Billy had considered this, but there was one salient point he kept coming back to. “Helen can’t get away this time,” he said. “Our clone knows things we don’t. He knows Helen in a way we don’t. We can ask questions all day long, but that doesn’t change the fact that he understands her plans far better than we ever could. If we want to take Helen in and end this thing once and for all, we need the clone.”

They had had this conversation before. More than once. Cutter was not easily won.

And it wasn’t without reason. The plan was complicated. It was dangerous. Billy had his own uncertainties and questions, but ultimately, it was the right thing to do. MI5 was choosing to be idle for some reason, and Billy couldn’t afford that. Not with Helen’s plans, not with his promise to Stephen and Cutter. He had to act.

This was action.

“Come on,” Billy said, softer now. “It’s your one way back to Stephen.”

That was the crux of it. The selling point that mattered.

Finally, Cutter nodded. “Okay.”

Billy’s face broke into a grin. “Fantastic,” he said, rubbing his hands together with certainty. “A happy ending for everyone!”

-o-

It had been a year.

Stephen marked the anniversary quietly and did his best not to look back. He never forgot of course, but the ache of what he’d given up had receded just enough. Over time, forced routines had become comfortable, and Stephen stopped thinking about who he’d used to be. It was easy to get lost in this life, easy to consume himself with new hobbies and new tasks. His job was fulfilling; his spare time was meaningful. He was friendly with people, and had started to discover new ways to fit in.

Lucy was an ideal best friend, and they biked together and he taught her how to fish while she taught him about the town. She knew the way he liked his coffee during the lunch hour rush, but had also learned how to make him laugh, even when he was trying his best not to. Rose seemed to adopt him, as the only son she didn’t have to chide and badger to do the right thing. For this, she doted on him, mothering him when it became apparent he had no one else to fulfill such a role.

As such, she had discovered his previously unknown fondness for apple fritters and seemed determined to fatten him up. Jack was as much a younger brother as Connor had been, seeking his advice on the best places to travel abroad and life in general. As for the rest, Stephen had become the go-to person for hiking, camping and hunting advice, and his simple shop was soon the refuge for outdoorsy types from the entire county.

His little house had been almost transformed. He’d finished the attic, put new insulation in the roof and planted abundant greenery in the garden. The patio had turned out better than he expected, and when he found himself entertaining, it had seemed only natural.

Still, when people asked about where he’d come from or what he’d done before, he gave answers that let them think he was sharing more than he was. It was a trick he’d learned from Jenny. Mostly, he just told them as honestly as possible that it was a different life. One he missed but one that he had made peace with leaving behind.

In short, Stephen was at home. Or at home as he ever would be.

More than that, he was happy. It wasn’t the happiness he’d thought he’d have or even the life he’d have chosen for himself, but it was good enough most days.

Then, one morning while checking his email, he happened across a section of national news on a website. Most of it was the same old boring stuff – budget debates and political posturing – but the headline toward the bottom caught his eye.

Professor killed in robbery gone wrong

It was hard to say what made him click the link, other than the fact that it sounded like one of Jenny’s cover stories just by looking at it.

And as the page loaded, he could hardly believe it.

Because it was Cutter. The picture was familiar, but nearly five years old. It was the one Stephen had submitted for him to the faculty website at the university. Nick had complained about the choice – something about the unprofessional state of his hair doing nothing for his image – but since Cutter never managed to do anything on his own, the picture had stayed.

Then, Stephen read:

A robbery at a research lab in London late last night resulted in the death of Professor Nicholas Cutter. Cutter is presumed to have been working late at the time of the robbery; he suffered a single gunshot wound to the chest and died at the scene. Authorities have yet to apprehend the culprit, though a city-wide manhunt is being carried out. Police suspect that the break-in was motivated by the recent rise in research equipment on the black market. Anyone with information about the break-in and subsequent shooting is strongly encouraged to contact the Metropolitan Police. A vigil will be held for Professor Cutter at the university this Friday...

He had to stop when his eyes started to water, blurring his vision.

Because Nick was dead.

Nick was dead.

Cover story or not, the facts were plain. Nick had been killed. Robbery or incident at the ARC, the result was the same.

The shock left him gaping, but it gave way to denial. Then, the cold reality settled over him, and the grief took hold.

He sucked in a breath desperately, his chest hitching with the sob. The tears welled up and he couldn’t fight it. Wouldn’t fight it. Not when Nick was dead.

The tears came faster now and the sobs shook him as he mourned the life he’d just lost all over again.

NEXT

Comments

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2012 12:36 pm (UTC)
Blurred


There is SO MUCH happening in this chapter that I don't know where to begin in my complimenting...

**Getting up, he quickly made the bed, pulling up the duvet and arranging the pillows neatly.**

I've always wanted Stephen, but after that I want him even more! ;)

I love the idea of Stephen in a cottage, and him doing it up and making more of a home of it than his London flat. Meep over what he decided to leave behind - apart from LOLing at the orange cargo pants, which even national security draws the line at!

And the angst and happiness of Stephen now having to learn how to live his life for himself. Having him manage an outdoor store was an inspired choice, and I love how it made him more social. Liam! Hee

Glad that Billy is having such a great time, but with pangs about N&S, and yay for Nick calling him and admitting that he needs his Stephen!!

**He’d always liked her, but apparently his delusional self wanted him to take chances that his rational mind actually didn’t want.**

That's a great explanation for Stephen's 1.02 behaviour.

**He’d been expecting it earlier, even considered pre-empting her, just to be polite. But as her warmth pressed against his, suddenly he couldn’t.**

*sporfles* As Fred once said, Stephen is such a boy scout when it comes to women! That's lovely that Stephen and Lucy then become great friends.

Ooo for the clones and Billy hatching a plan...

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 08:14 pm (UTC)
stephen and cutter

This chapter did have a lot to get through. I'm still relieved that my interpretation of Stephen's life away from the ARC is plausible. It was actually one of the hardest parts of the fic! LOL, besides the part with Cutter's clone...

And the N/S is all for you, LOL. So I'm glad you like the build!

Thanks!

Posted by: nietie (nietie)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2012 01:05 pm (UTC)
Nick/StephenBW

LOL at the orange cargo pants and at Liam Carney.
Stephen's new life sounds idyllic, but there is also something/ someone missing in his life.
And then of course something has to happen to Nick. Waah!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

The orange cargo pants deserve representation :) And I'm glad you appreciate the Cutting It shout out :)

We shall see what's happened to Nick in more detail. Still one part left!

Thanks!

Posted by: freddiejoey (freddiejoey)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2012 01:33 pm (UTC)

I'm in awe of this chapter and everything that happens in it

And now I'm in pieces over Nick.......

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter

Aw, thanks! We'll get more answers about Nick in the last part :)

Posted by: scwlc_fic (scwlc_fic)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2012 02:04 pm (UTC)

Oh, Stephen. Didn't even know *himself* well enough. The decoration of the cottage just goes to prove that one.

I do love how you're weaving this into canon so that it all *fits*.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter distance

Indeed. Poor Stephen. He needed to break away in order to figure out who he was. And one of my main goals was to do a rewrite that didn't actually deviate from canon -- which was harder than I expected!

Thanks!

Posted by: goldarrow (goldarrow)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2012 06:04 pm (UTC)

"He showered and dressed, pining briefly for his orange cargo pants. When he’d asked for them, Fredericks had refused, saying that the whole point of witness protection was not to stand out. “Trust me,” the agent had said, “I’m doing you a favour.” "

LOL! The OCP! You mentioned the dreaded OCP! *hides*

---
“I was under the influence of some rather high grade medication when I made the promise, but I do believe the vow still stands,”

Dear Billy!

---
"So when Billy sat back and chewed his lip, he committed himself to seeing this one through, no matter what."

*Meep*

---
"He had purpose. He was fulfilled. He was happy. "

Um, the gentleman doth protest too much, methinks? *reads on* Yep. Thought so *g*

---
Billy: “I successfully enacted such a ruse and not one person suspected.”

Ouch! Below the belt but well deserved IMO!

---
"It wasn’t the happiness he’d thought he’d have or even the life he’d have chosen for himself, but it was good enough most days."

*sniffle*

---
The last paragraphs! oh oh oh...
*wails*

still one more part still one more part still one more part

This is super-great!

Posted by: x_tremelylost (x_tremelylost)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2012 11:54 pm (UTC)

YOU ARE BRILLIANT!!!!!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 08:18 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

The OCP are amazing :) I'm sort of sad he left them behind...

And yep, still one part. And quite a bit to happen. Both good and bad...

Thanks!

Posted by: goldarrow (goldarrow)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 11:33 pm (UTC)

I'm actually not bothered by them, either. Would like them a little tighter, though... *eg*

"Both good and bad..." You evil woman!!!!!! *grins*

Can't wait!

Posted by: knitekat (knitekat)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2012 09:01 pm (UTC)

Wow, this has a lot going on.

LOL over the orange cargos. Yay for Billy helping out and love Stephen's new life. Eek, poor Stephen thinking Nick is dead.

More.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
stephen skeptical

Yeah, this chapter ended up a bit longer than the rest -- there was just a lot to get in!

Thanks :)

Posted by: lukadreaming (lukadreaming)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2012 10:09 pm (UTC)
Stephen looking up

I think this is probably one of my favourite chapters of the whole fic. There is so much going on that advances both the story and provides brilliant character points. I didn't quite know whether to snivel at or to fall in love with Stephen's new life. And Billy as the super-spy. And Cutter needing a good, hard slap around the head!

And I am still smiling at Liam Carney!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

I'm relieved it wasn't boring! And I hope I got the changes in. LOL, I still remember the multitude for this chapter :)

And I'm glad you liked the Liam Carney bit. I figured since I was already crossing two of JM's characters, I might as well go for three. (LOL, now I'm thinking I should have made Stephen an investor in a hair salon/academy and made his potential hookup named Melissa....)

Thanks!

Posted by: flaccidduck (flaccidduck)
Posted at: July 24th, 2012 02:22 am (UTC)

Wonderful stuff.

"Because it was Cutter. The picture was familiar, but nearly five years old. It was the one Stephen had submitted for him to the faculty website at the university. Nick had complained about the choice – something about the unprofessional state of his hair doing nothing for his image – but since Cutter never managed to do anything on his own, the picture had stayed."

Love the reference to Cutter's hair.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
stephen goodbye

I do have an affinity for Cutter's hair :)

Thanks!

Posted by: natchris (natchris)
Posted at: July 24th, 2012 02:36 am (UTC)

This is a great alternate version of Primeval history - love all the details.

But oh Nick........

*dissolves into weeping*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

I'm glad you're enjoying it! More answers on Nick in the next bit.

Thanks!

Posted by: reggietate (reggietate)
Posted at: July 24th, 2012 08:58 am (UTC)
worriedstephen

Oh, noes! It can't be Nick! (But if not, it's our poor clone *meeps*). Just when it looks like thins might work out, you throw an almighty spanner in the works I like!

Can't wait to see how this is resolved *clings to Billy in hope*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 08:23 pm (UTC)
stephen up

Well, at least with only one part left, I can't torture these characters too much more...

Thanks :)

Posted by: fredbassett (fredbassett)
Posted at: July 24th, 2012 09:23 pm (UTC)

This is a hell of a story!!!

Loved all the developments in this, particularly the details of Stephen's new life.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 25th, 2012 08:23 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

I'm really glad you're enjoying it. And that Stephen's new life seemed plausible. Thanks!

Posted by: Cordelia Delayne (cordeliadelayne)
Posted at: August 15th, 2012 11:26 pm (UTC)
[primeval] blue background stephen

Oh, poor Stephen. What a lonely life for him. I trust Billy knows what he's doing! And eek to the end!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: August 29th, 2012 03:37 am (UTC)
stephen cutter distance

Yeah, it'd be a bittersweet thing for Stephen. There's a lot good there, but not what he wants.

Trusting Billy is a good and bad thing...

Thanks :)

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