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Chaos/Primeval: When We Collide 16/16 COMPLETE

July 26th, 2012 (06:25 am)
optimistic

feeling: optimistic

A/N: And now let’s go back in time to see what happened to Cutter, shall we? Here’s hoping it all makes sense! More notes at the end! Also, please note the time shift at the start of this chapter, which takes us a week in the past from where we left off...

Previous parts in the MASTER POST .



PART SIXTEEN

-o-

One week earlier

Billy had always liked poetry, but he had often assumed that Robert Burns had never been a spy. The best laid plans of mice and men didn’t have to go awry, as far as Billy was concerned. Not with the right planning, the proper execution, and the precise dedication to get the job done.

It turned out, however, that Billy might owe Mr Burns something of an apology. Because Billy had thought his plan was actually pretty good. Ambitious, maybe, but entirely within the realm of possibility. And things had gone pretty well, right up until they didn’t.

And they really, really didn’t.

Because the ARC was smoking. Helen had escaped. And Connor was pulling Cutter’s dead body out of the burning building while the entire mission just fell apart.

Needless to say, none of that had been part of the plan.

Sneaking around to the back, Billy glanced at his watch and winced. He was even late for his rendezvous. Timeliness wasn’t exactly a virtue he regarded highly, but considering the scene, it might send the wrong message.

Still, stealth had to come first, since the place was swarming with ARC soldiers and Billy had no technical jurisdiction whatsoever.

Creeping along, he blended in sufficiently with his mock-up black uniform. By keeping his hat low and the bandana tied over his face, it would require a real second look to ascertain that he didn’t in fact belong and that he was the spitting image of the technically deceased Stephen Hart.

He slowed, checking carefully before darting across the grounds toward the back fence. With the commotion, his presence was overlooked, and he eased his way through the hole in the fence that he’d created earlier before the mission began.

On the outside, he straightened quickly, seamlessly unzipping the front of his black overalls. Carefully positioned behind the nearest bushes, he stripped off the black clothes, leaving them with the black hat in the bushes. He traded it for a blue hat, lifting the collar of the jacket he had underneath to quickly blend in with any other surrounding pedestrians he might pass.

Eyes wary, he checked his route, finding it clear. There was no one following him; no suspicious action in any direction. He navigated quickly, moving at a fast clip without looking like he was hurrying in particular. He counted the streets, numbered the buildings and ducked around the corner to the nearby hotel.

The room was at the back, on the first floor. Pulling out his key, he slid it in and waited for the beep. When it went off, he gave one last look before slipping inside.

Where he was promptly greeted with a fist.

Billy saw it coming, and dodged it, using the attacker’s lack of balance to grab his arm and twist it, shoving the man roughly into the wall.

“You’d best stick to dinosaurs, Professor,” Billy said. Then he let go, stepping back and catching his breath. “Because hand to hand does not seem to be your forte.”

Cutter turned, moving away from the wall with a barely subdued wild look in his eyes. “You’re late,” he said. “I was getting worried.”

“Which is why you tried to punch me?” Billy asked. “We need to work on your ability to express emotions properly. Though I do suppose that’s what got us in this mess to begin with.”

Cutter seemed too distressed to rise to Billy’s general baiting. Instead, he stared at Billy intently. “So how did it go?” He looked nervous, twitching slightly. “I heard sirens.”

Billy’s bravado faltered. That was a fair question. Really, it was the only question.

And it was not an easy question to answer.

Cutter’s expression fell. “It went poorly,” he realised. When Billy didn’t deny it, his eyes went wide. “How poorly?”

Billy took a few more breaths, clearing out the smoke from his lungs as best he could. “Helen doesn’t just want power,” he said. “She has her sights set much higher than we anticipated.”

Cutter frowned, shaking his head. “I don’t understand.”

Billy sighed, running a hand through his hair in genuine frustration. “Neither do I, really,” he said. “But she came with the intent of destroying the ARC. She wants to stop the project – to stop mankind. We tried to stop her…”

His voice trailed off and he swallowed hard, the shock of the events still hard to process.

Cutter watched him. “The clone,” he said with fear and understanding. “Something happened to him.”

The clone. Billy had thought having a duplicate Cutter would solve all their problems. It had, in some ways. In others…

Billy worked his jaw but finally nodded. “There were a few other things we didn’t anticipate,” he admitted.

Nervous, Cutter shifted. “Like what?”

Billy felt reticent, the reality building up the guilt in him. “There was more than one.”

Cutter made a face. “More than one what?”

“Clone,” Billy said. “Obviously we knew she had the technology, but I had no indication she’d made more than one of you.”

The incredulity on Cutter’s face was evident. “There was more than one?”

“As far as I could tell, she had two in total,” Billy reported. “We always knew that she intended our double agent to be her companion, but she created another to get her into the building by pretending to be you.”

Cutter’s eyes bugged. “She had two clones?” he clarified.

“Even our double agent was surprised. Helen had been keeping secrets from everyone,” Billy said. “But you’d be proud. Our friend played it exactly like you would. Acted shocked. Brought up the question we had, about whether or not she’d done this to Stephen.”

Cutter blinked.

Billy’s face softened. “She hasn’t,” he said. “And considering everything else she’s admitted to today, I think we’re safe on that front.”

For a moment, Cutter looked relieved. But then he remembered the dire news Billy seemed to be bearing. “So what happened?” he pressed. “To the clones.”

Billy took a breath and knew he couldn’t avoid it any longer. “Helen didn’t just use the second clone to get inside. She wanted him to blow up the ARC.”

Cutter gawped for a long moment. “She blew up the ARC?”

“It could have been worse,” Billy said. “Our double agent managed to convince the second clone, the one we hadn’t known about, to let as many people got out before he detonated a bomb.” He paused. “I tried to look, but there was nothing left of him to find.”

Cutter took that news almost stoically. “And our clone?”

Therein was the rub.

And what a rub it was.

Helen had moved faster than Billy had counted on, and with Cutter indisposed off site during the initial attack on the ARC, Billy had been scrambling to get their double agent into place while arranging for a safe place to hide the real Cutter. The result was a situation too complex for Billy to manage, leaving their double agent to fend for himself while Helen and the second clone enacted their plan.

Denying it would be foolish now, though. Billy held his head high and grim. “He’s dead.”

Cutter kept staring in disbelief.

“Helen shot him,” he said. Billy had tried to move into position the minute things started to go badly, but ultimately, there had been too many fires to put out. Literally. After dragging countless staff to safety, he’d been too late to stop Helen from firing the shot. He’d arrived in time to see that last confrontation, but the burning debris had made it impossible to get close enough to stop it. By the time he’d found an alternate route, the clone was offering Connor genuine last words before the young man had hauled him out.

“She what?” Cutter asked, clearly shocked. “Did she found out he’d turned on her?”

“No,” Billy said. “There was never any indication she realised he was a clone at all.”

Cutter’s face paled as he suddenly realised the implications. “That means…”

Billy nodded grimly. “She intended to kill you,” he said. “Her plans – they’re getting increasingly complex and unmanageable. What she wants is far beyond what we knew before. She’s creating people, destroying things, travelling through time.”

To this, Cutter seemed to be at a loss. “She really tried to kill me?”

Billy sighed. “She’s likely not the woman you knew any more.”

“And she didn’t even know it wasn’t me?” he asked, sounding almost young in the question.

“Don’t take it personally,” he said with as much comfort as he could muster. “She had other things on her mind.”

“But she was married to me,” Cutter said. He gestured helplessly. “And she made him.”

“And she made the other one,” Billy said. “And really, she had no reason to suspect that our noble double agent wasn’t you. He was good – damn near perfect. We trained him well and apparently, he comes from good genetic stock. And she had always intended our clone to stay in her safe house as part of her getaway plan, remember? She may put things together when she escapes—“

“Wait,” Cutter said, holding up his hand as the shock gave way to anger. “She got away?”

“I know it’s less than ideal—“

Cutter rounded on him, moving up close and getting in his face. “Less than ideal?” he said. “You let Helen get away. Two clones died because of our choices. And the entire team thinks I’m dead.

Billy knew it. Knew it better than Cutter did. He knew the weight of the operation’s failures. He knew the consequences of his choices. Knew that he had cost MI5 months of work and preparation. His choices had been an abysmal failure, in all ways but one.

With that in mind, Billy didn’t waver. “The risks were always there,” he said. “Missions rarely go the way we think they will, and everyone involved knew that, even the clone we worked with. The fact is, he died willingly. He died free. Helen created him for her own purposes, but he died doing his own good deed. Ultimately, the ARC was saved today, though not as much as we had hoped. It was saved by not one or two but three Cutters, including yourself.”

Cutter held his gaze. “And only one of us is walking away.”

Billy flattened his lips. “Aye,” he said.

“That can’t be worth it,” Cutter said. “We should go back—“

“And do what?” Billy asked. “If you go back, then all of this is for nothing. You’ll never get to see Stephen again.”

That was the salient point. Cutter stopped, eyes glistening. “At what cost, though? How selfish do I have to be? They think I’m dead.

“And they will grieve you immensely,” Billy said. “Much the way Stephen has grieved for your absence and the way you grieved for his.”

Cutter didn’t quite look ready to believe Billy.

Billy didn’t back down. “Remember why we started this,” he said. “Remember what you’ve lost already. What Stephen has lost. We can’t make this happy for everyone. Helen has guaranteed that. So you have to decide. This is your last chance. If not for yourself, then for Stephen.”

The indecision was still there. “But what about you? This was a disaster. Won’t it go poorly for you?”

Billy shrugged with as much nonchalance as he could muster. “I’ve earned a few favours,” he said.

“But—“

Billy shook his head. “I made my decision a long time ago,” he said. “This is a promise I owe to Stephen as much as to you.”

Cutter’s shoulders fell, and he sighed heavily. “I just don’t know how to leave it behind,” he said. “Connor and Abby. Jenny. Even Lester.”

Billy leaned down, making sure the professor was looking at him. “Then don’t think of what you’re leaving,” he said. “Think of what you’re going towards.”

It took another long moment, but the uncertainty left Cutter’s face and he nodded, increasingly resolute. “Okay.”

Billy nodded back. “Okay,” he said, a slow grin spreading over his face. “Then let’s go and get you that happy ending, shall we?”

-o-

Present

To everyone else, nothing had changed.

To Stephen, the world was irrevocably altered.

His house, his job, his friends: these things were still the same. He maintained his routines, went on his run and rode his bike to work. He opened the store, got coffee over at Lucy’s, smiled and talked but it wasn’t the same.

It would never be the same.

Lucy and the others seemed to know something was wrong, but Stephen couldn’t bring himself to even try to explain. Not that he could. Because how could he properly mourn a life that was no long his own?

He had given up Cutter when he’d agreed to witness protection, but his best consolation had always been the idea that the other man was still alive and happy and well without Stephen. Stephen had left for Cutter’s sake, and that sacrifice had been the one thing that made all the rest worth it.

Now Cutter was dead, and that sacrifice didn’t mean anything. Nothing had any meaning. Cutter was dead.

The days had no meaning. The daily tasks had no value. Life was empty. Stephen was empty.

Then one day, when he got back from work, something was different.

It was hard to pinpoint, but even after being out of the field for a year, Stephen’s instincts were hard to ignore. It was the slightest shift, the subtle change that set him on alert.

Carefully, Stephen steadied himself. He kept his eyes open, senses alive. The air was still – almost too still. Nothing was visibly different, but he could feel it nonetheless. The faintest breeze. A soft hum in the air. A magazine, just slightly askew.

Maybe nothing. But Stephen had spent too many years trusting his instincts to believe that.

Two metres in the front door, he went to the fireplace and picked up the fire poker, just in case. He kept his fingers tight around it, moving one foot in front of the other soundlessly.

He edged through the rooms, avoiding the squeaks in the floor. He checked the kitchen and dining areas, but found them undisturbed. He waited by the foot of the stairs, listening for tell-tale movement in the half-renovated attic, but it was silent. The bathroom was empty, and his bedroom clear.

That just left one room. The small office, at the back of the house.

Cautiously, he inched forward, lifting the poker higher in anticipation. He slowed his pace, moving each foot as quietly as possible. The door was slightly ajar, and from what little he saw, there was no movement. But that didn’t necessarily mean anything.

Another step and Stephen held his breath. Another step and he hesitated. He waited a beat, then two, before opening the door, poker raised and body on alert.

His eyes focused quickly, but nothing he saw made sense. Because he saw himself. Himself and Cutter, standing there, plain as could be. Cutter looked wide-eyed, but he watched himself smile.

“You know, this was far less weird in my head,” the other version of himself said.

Poker still in his hands, Stephen couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. Cutter was dead but Cutter was here and that wasn’t himself, that was someone else and how could any of this be his life?

Cutter stepped forward, concerned. He frowned. “Stephen?”

Stephen heard his name, the familiar sound of Cutter’s voice, and the blood drained from his head.

“Are you all right?” Cutter asked.

Stephen blinked, and wanted to answer, but he didn’t even know what the answer was.

“I think he’s going to pass out,” his other self said.

Stephen was going to look at him, was going to answer, when the world faded and he dropped to the ground hard and fast.

-o-

In retrospect, Billy probably should have predicted that the reunion might have a hitch or two. He was actually pleased to see Stephen approach a potential threat with due force, but he had failed to anticipate the level of shock the other man might feel upon seeing himself and Cutter.

As it was, Billy’s quick reflexes were the only thing that kept Stephen from hitting the ground, kicking the fire poker away while he lowered the man.

Cutter scrambled to help as Billy carefully navigated Stephen to the ground, putting him out in the recovery position.

“Is he okay?” Cutter asked, voice hushed as his hands ghosted over Stephen, not sure what to do.

Billy pressed steady fingers into Stephen’s carotid artery, then sat back on his heels. “Seems to just be the shock,” he said.

Cutter looked nervous. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”

Billy looked up sharply. “It was a bad idea to let him go in the first place,” he said. “Come on, man. The mere sight of you has him keeling over like a veritable damsel in distress. He plays hard to get, but he needs you.”

Cutter swallowed guiltily, studying Stephen’s unconscious features. “He looks different,” he said. Then he glanced around. “Almost happy.”

“Yes, well, second chances can be quite freeing,” Billy mused, noting with some satisfaction that Stephen’s new place was far homier than the impersonal flat he’d seen before. Stephen had flourished, by all accounts. It was more than Billy had dared to hope when the other man had opted for witness protection.

“Freeing,” Cutter said. “And maybe he’s better off without me after all.”

At that, Billy stood up abruptly, and Cutter followed him. Eyes narrowed, Billy shook his head. “He may be free and he may be happy,” Billy said, “but he’s not complete. He could never be complete because of all the things he left unsaid. You know that. You avoided talking about your feelings long enough and it nearly cost all of us everything. I will not let you make that mistake again. Do you understand?”

Cutter was pale, but he looked down at Stephen.

“He needs you,” Billy said, less harsh this time. “I’ve done my part. The rest is up to you.”

Cutter hesitated, then took a breath. He nodded, looking back up at Billy with resolve. “I’m nervous.”

Billy chuckled. “So is he, I reckon,” he said, gesturing to Stephen. “But look at it this way, you made him swoon. That has to be a good sign.”

Cutter laughed hoarsely.

On the floor, Stephen moaned, starting to move.

Billy took that as his cue. He reached out, squeezing Cutter’s arm. “Tell him I wish both of you the best,” he said.

Wide eyed, Cutter looked at him. “You’re not staying?”

Billy tilted his head, grinning. “I have a feeling I’d be something of a spare prick at a wedding,” he said, twitching his eyebrows.

Cutter frowned.

Billy just laughed. “You know how to get hold of me,” he said. “But this time, I really hope you don’t have any need to.”

At that, Cutter returned his smile. “Yeah,” he said. “Me, too.” Then he stuck out his hand.

Billy grasped it.

Cutter shook it vigorously. “Thank you,” he said, then his eyes darted to Stephen. “For everything.”

This time, when Billy walked away, there was no need to look back. Smiling, Billy lifted his collar and headed out with the satisfaction of a job finally well done.

-o-

Awareness came back to him slowly, the buzzing in his ears abating as he blinked away the fuzziness. The fading daylight filled his vision, and in the brightness, there was Cutter.

He was sitting next to him, blue eyes intent, blond hair dishevelled and much longer than before.

Cutter.

Stephen’s heart clenched and he swallowed back tears. The other man reached down, a gentle hand on Stephen’s shoulder. The touch was so real, so painfully real, that Stephen had to close his eyes, choked with emotion.

Cutter’s hand pulled away, and Stephen felt the absence acutely. He opened his eyes, half-expecting the Scotsman to be gone. When he was still there, Stephen had to grin in total relief.

With effort, he said, “Am I dead?”

Cutter’s lips quirked into a smile. “Technically, yes,” he said, sitting back a bit further. “But then again, so am I.”

The dreamlike quality of the moment faltered, and Stephen remembered. Remembered who he was – not Stephen, Liam – remembered the truth. Cutter was dead.

Fresh worry welled within him, and he sat up abruptly. “You were shot,” he said.

Cutter frowned in reply. “But how did you know?”

“I read the article,” Stephen said, the cold horror of the memory coming back to him. He looked at Cutter with fresh awe. “It said you’d been shot in a robbery gone wrong.”

Cutter managed to look chagrined. “That sounds like Jenny’s work.”

“I know,” Stephen agreed. “But that doesn’t explain how you’re here.”

Cutter took a breath and seemed to be rallying himself. “It’s sort of a long story.”

Stephen stared. “I’m living in witness protection after an MI5 agent assumed my identity, destroyed my life and nearly got killed,” he said. “I know a thing or two about long stories.”

“You have a point,” Cutter relented, shifting awkwardly. “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. I mean, the plan was to see you, but things didn’t work out quite the way I’d intended.”

“Which is how you ended up dead?” Stephen asked, feeling the overwhelming disbelief start to thaw the initial shock.

Cutter looked stricken. “It wasn’t suppose to get so complicated,” he said. “I contacted Billy because I had to see you—“

Stephen turned, searching the room. “That was Billy before, wasn’t it?” he asked, the hazy memory suddenly making sense. “Where is he?”

“He left,” Cutter said. “The mission to get me out was a bit more complicated than he intended, and I think he’s probably used up more time than he should in getting me here safely. Trust me, he’s already done more for me than he should.” He stuttered. “More for us.”

Stephen looked back to Cutter, brow furrowed in confusion. “But – how?”

“Billy used his connections at MI5,” he explained. “We found out some of Helen’s plans and used those to stage an exit.”

“How does that lead to you being dead?” Stephen asked.

Cutter took a breath in an apparent attempt to steady himself. “She had clones.”

The words were plain enough, but Stephen’s mind had trouble making sense of it. “She had clones?”

“Helen,” Cutter clarified. “She’d cloned me.”

Stephen’s breath caught and then he let it out almost in a laugh. “I knew she was a little crazy, but…”

“But we had no idea,” Cutter agreed. “She’s not the woman we knew.” Then he settled back awkwardly. “Though I’m not sure I ever did.”

Stephen shook his head, still trying to wrap his mind around it all. The after-effects of his trip to the floor wasn’t making it any easier. “That still doesn’t explain how you ended up here.”

“The plan was to use one of the clones to impersonate me,” Cutter explained. “He could assume my life, help us catch Helen, leave the ARC and then do whatever he wanted.”

There was some logic to this, but the fundamental question still wasn’t answered. “But why?”

Cutter’s rambling fell short. He studied Stephen, almost helpless. “Because I couldn’t imagine a life without you,” he said. “I didn’t want to hurt any more, and there are people I’ll miss, but not like I missed you. And I didn’t mean for things to happen like they did, and I never imagined that Helen would go so far, and Billy had to risk so much—“

Cutter was talking with uncharacteristic uncertainty, the words falling out too fast and too furious. The emotions were evident – disbelief and grief and fear – and gone were the feelings of distrust and betrayal. And Stephen had questions – the makeshift story of clones and Helen and the ARC hardly made sense – but suddenly, it didn’t matter.

He’d find out the whole story soon enough. But for now, Cutter was alive. Cutter was here, sitting so close to him. And nothing else mattered at all.

Stephen had wanted this for so long. He’d envisioned it so many times. He’d hoped and wanted and yearned even when he had no right to hope. And Cutter was here. He was here next to Stephen, as if that was just the way it was supposed to be.

“—and Helen tried to kill me and I hate that they think I’m dead, but I had no choice,” Cutter was still trying to explain.

“Cutter,” Stephen said, watching the other man as his lips moved as his hands flailed in an explanation he couldn’t quite pin down. This was how Cutter got when he was excited, when he was teetering on the cusp of innovation and he just needed one last push to be tipped in the right direction.

“—and maybe it’s wrong and maybe it’s selfish, but I swear, I didn’t do it just for myself,” Cutter said. “At least, not entirely. I just, I was sorry for how I acted and felt stupid for letting you go and I needed you to know that I forgave you—“

Stephen’s breath caught. Cutter forgave him. He’d wanted to hear that for so long. It was the absolution he’d craved since Helen had seduced him all those years ago. Just like that, the rest of his doubts and insecurities fell away. The grief and pain and loss was suddenly worth it. The pieces of his life came together perfectly and there was nothing else in this world he would ever want.

“—I should have worked this all out sooner, and maybe things would have gone better, and maybe Helen wouldn’t have done the things she did—“

“Nick,” Stephen said this time, his voice cutting through Cutter’s rambling. Whenever Cutter had needed a push, Stephen had always been there to provide it. Now would be no different.

And Nick stopped, staring with his mouth open.

“Shut up,” Stephen said, eyes not leaving Nick’s. He said it firmly, because he was finally certain of things once again.

“But,” Cutter tried to say, shaking his head in bewilderment, “there’s so much I need to tell you.”

“I know,” Stephen said, because there were still so many questions and so many answers. “But there will be plenty of time for that.”

It took Cutter a long moment to process that, and another moment to understand. “Oh,” he said. Then he grinned. “Oh.”

The shock of it all was gone, and in its place a new feeling was growing. Something new and familiar all the same. There was still so much to say. There were apologies and regrets and feelings they didn’t quite know how to admit. Feelings Stephen wasn’t sure they could deny any longer.

But these were things they ultimately didn’t need to say after all. Things they didn’t need to say because they already knew. They had never needed words before, and that familiarity was coming back to them again. Maybe they had known all along and it had just taken this much to make them see.

Stephen did see now, though. Sitting there, close enough to touch, their eyes locked and they both already knew. It was like nothing had happened. Like everything had happened. Like none of it mattered. Like all of it mattered.

But nothing mattered more than the two of them.

Just the two of them.

This was how it should have been all along.

Stephen reached out, a hand on Cutter’s arm. Cutter didn’t flinch, didn’t pull away. The smile on Nick’s face widened, and he seemed to lean in gratefully. They were perfectly matched now, and the bitter resentments had fallen away. Just the two of them.

And this was how it would be from here on in.

-o-

Billy wasn’t surprised to find Fredericks at his flat when he got back. The older man was seated at Billy’s kitchen table, helping himself to a bottle of Billy’s alcohol. There were two glasses, and while Fredericks nursed one, the other was sitting across from him on the table, already filled.

Putting down his keys, Billy shrugged out of his suit jacket, tossing it on the mess in his living area. Loosening his tie, he pulled out the chair across from Frederick with a flourish, sitting down and picking up the glass and taking a long swig.

He swallowed it bitterly and put it back down. “It’s usually customary to await an invitation before breaking out a man’s drink,” he said. “Or coming inside at all.”

Fredericks took another drink of his own. “Normally I’d agree,” he said, putting his glass down and eyeing Billy warily. “But I’m afraid this isn’t a social call.”

Billy offered him a self-deprecating, apologetic smile. He was tired – too tired, really – but he had known too well that he wouldn’t escape the aftermath of this mission unscathed. “I didn’t imagine it was,” he said. “And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting it.”

“You made a real mess of things, Collins,” Fredericks said, sounding disappointed. The use of his surname was a jolt, a sobering reminder of the situation.

Billy kept himself composed, sloshing back the drink without giving away anything. “I saw an opportunity,” he began, because he had rehearsed this countless times on the way back. He had memorised his list of reasons, fully explored his delineation of justifications. He still had reason and cause, and those would work in his favour.

“You have no idea what you saw,” Fredericks returned.

Billy sighed. “Helen had an entire operation planned,” he said. “Which you would have known if you’d bothered to get close enough to make sense of the intel.”

“You mean like you did?”

“Well, someone had to,” Billy retorted. “The woman is toxic. She’s not to be trusted. She’s not even to be watched fretfully from afar. She had to be stopped.”

“And tell me,” Fredericks said. “How did that go for you?”

Fredericks point had merit. Billy nodded. “I will admit, it went less than I’d hoped—“

“It was a disaster,” Fredericks cut him off gruffly. “You let her waltz in and blow up the place.”

“If you were tracking here, why didn’t you stop it?” Billy asked.

“Because all our intel was compromised the minute you inserted yourself into the situation,” Fredericks said. “By hiding things from Helen, you were hiding things from us, too. Changing one variable affected our entire ability to gauge the situation. We were flying blind because you co-opted our radar.”

Billy felt the weight of the words.

Fredericks shook his head in disgust. “And now, in case that wasn’t enough, she’s walked off with heavens knows what and she murdered the very man you set out to save and others.”

Billy’s breathing hitched and he gritted his teeth to hide it. The operational failures were obvious and painful, but they didn’t know about Cutter. They believed the clone to be the Scottish professor. At least that objective had been salvaged.

Fredericks shook his head. “It’s a disaster,” he said again, disdainfully now. “Lester is all riled that he wasn’t informed, and we have to deal with the fact that we lost civilians on an unauthorised operation. What the hell were you thinking anyway?”

“I was thinking about doing the right thing,” Billy shot back. “I joined MI5 to make a difference, not sit idly by—“

Fredericks raised his hands in frustration. “You don’t even know what you’re talking about!”

“Don’t I?” Billy asked. “You had an entire file on Helen and there was no operation planned? What does that sound like to you?”

“A plan,” Fredericks snapped. He pulled a file from his coat and threw it on the table. It was earmarked with an even higher clearance than the one Billy had snagged from Fredericks’ desk. “It was a plan.”

Billy hesitated, regarding Fredericks warily, but he opened the file and started reading. With each sentence, his stomach sank and nausea swelled.

“We’d tagged the clone,” Fredericks said. “Managed to catch him when Helen was off gallivanting. The goal was to track her movements through him, but instead, he got destroyed in the explosion.”

“I didn’t cause that,” Billy said, but his own words sounded hollow.

“No,” Fredericks agreed. “But you did influence the clone, correct?”

Billy shifted in his seat.

“And you were working with Cutter, were you not?”

Billy drew in a breath and held it, letting his silence speak for him.

“And you’re going to try to deny that the clone’s knowledge didn’t change the outcome of the proceedings? Or that Cutter’s knowledge of Helen’s plans didn’t affect the outcome of the mission?” Fredericks pressed.

Billy shook his head. “This isn’t their fault.”

“No,” Fredericks agreed. “It’s yours. You compromised this mission. You not only informed a civilian of top secret information without authorisation, but you also compromised a key MI5 asset by contacting the clone. Your actions led to the death of both the clone and Professor Cutter. These actions are tantamount to murder and treason, both of which carry the possibility of life imprisonment.”

Billy had been prepared to accept a tongue-lashing. He’d anticipated a fine, a reprimand, even a demotion. He’d been prepared to serve his due penance. He’d come equipped with apologies and rationalisations and promises to never act in such a manner again.

None of it was going to be enough.

The realisation was numbing. He’d known he’d screwed up, but he hadn’t realised just how badly. He hadn’t realised…

Fredericks sighed, his expression softening. “I’ve talked York out of pressing charges,” he said.

Billy felt relief flood through him.

Then Fredericks continued. “There is a condition, though.”

Billy brightened. “Anything,” he said. “I promise to be a picture of reticence. Anything you ask or say or need—“

“You have to leave,” Fredericks said, cutting him off.

This stopped Billy short. He tilted his head uncertainly. “MI5?”

Fredericks looked him steadily in his eyes. “The country,” he clarified.

Billy stared, trying to remember how to breathe, how to think.

“I’m sorry, Billy,” he said, even softer now. “You’ll be decommissioned and deported, effective immediately.”

Decommissioned. Deported. So much for James Bond.

So much for anything.

Feeling lost, Billy looked up. “But where will I go?”

Fredericks pulled out another paper. “I pulled some strings,” he said. “The US has agreed to take you. I have a contact in the CIA – Michael Dorset – and when I mentioned your background, he was interested, to say the least.”

Billy stared at the paper, eyes blurring. He laughed breathlessly. “So that’s it?” he asked, looking up at Fredericks again. “It’s all over.”

“Maybe,” Fredericks replied. “Or maybe it’s just beginning. You’re a good spy, Billy. One of the best I’ve ever met. I hate to lose you, but if you play your cards right, you can still have a career.”

“Just not at MI5,” Billy concluded.

Fredericks didn’t deny it.

“And I can never come home again,” Billy realised.

“No,” Fredericks said. “But with your mum, how bad can that be?”

Billy couldn’t help it; he laughed hoarsely, the gruff sound truncating a sob. He took a breath, letting it out slowly and rallying his strength.

Fredericks sighed and finished the last of his drink, setting the glass heavily on the table. “For what it’s worth, I really am sorry,” he said. “If there was any other way…”

Billy shook his head. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Fredericks shrugged. “All the same,” he said.

Billy took a long drink, and found his strength again. Glass on the table, he reached out his hand. Fredericks took it, and they shook soundly. “Thank you,” he said. “For everything.”

Fredericks tweaked an eyebrow.

“Except maybe Antarctica,” Billy amended.

Fredericks laughed. Then he pushed his chair back. “I’d say I’d see you—“

“But it seems I have a plane to catch,” Billy said, lifting up the paperwork ruefully. “If you’re ever across the pond.”

“I’ll know who not to call,” Fredericks quipped.

With that, Fredericks left. Billy sat at the table and finished his drink. He poured himself another, looking over the paperwork again.

His flight was tomorrow. There was no time for goodbyes. Hardly any time to pack. Everything he’d worked so hard for was gone. Everything he’d ever hoped for was gone. He had nothing left at all.

It was a harsh, bitter truth, and alone in his flat, he would be a liar if he said he didn’t cry and mourn for the life he’d forfeited. But these choices were his, and if Billy could do it in one place, he could do it again. Maybe not like he’d wanted, but he could still do something that mattered.

Alone in his flat, he thought about Cutter and Stephen. He thought about the things they would finally say. The relationship they would finally repair. Billy had lost everything, but they had gained so much more than that.

That was why he’d chosen this path. That was why it was still worth it, consequences and all. He’d give up his happy ending to let someone else have theirs. That was what being a spy was all about.

James Bond had his fast cars and his women, but Billy had the fairytale. And for the first time in his life, Billy really pitied poor James Bond.

-o-

Officially, Nick Cutter and Stephen Hart are dead. Billy Collins is in exile in America. The ARC speaks the names of Nick and Stephen with reverence. Most people tell the story of Billy Collins as a moral tale of how to fall spectacularly from grace.

As head of MI5, York has never commented, on or off the record. If Lester knows anything, he keeps it such a secret that no one suspects. The soldiers all prefer not to know the details. As for Fredericks, he corroborates the official story, but he’ll tell anyone asking that Billy Collins was the best damn spy he’d ever met. If Helen has told anyone what she knows, there’s nothing they can do about it, and everyone involved knows they’ve wasted too much time on Helen Cutter as it is.

Nick and Stephen don’t see themselves as heroes. They know the mistakes they made. They know what they almost lost. They know the price of their second chance, and they know that the official story could have been true far too easily. This is something they’ve learned from, something they thank Billy for as often as they can.

Billy doesn’t mind his reputation. Sometimes he misses life back home but he knows now that it doesn’t matter where he works or who knows what he does. Being a spy is about doing the right thing even when there is no glory to be attained. Even when it costs you everything. Of all the missions Billy has completed, the ones with the ARC still matter the most, even if he can’t tell a single living soul about them.

The official story is one of tragedy. It’s one of loss. It’s one of sacrifices and freedom that comes with a price.

The real story has its tragic bits, but for those involved, it’s still something of a fairytale. The real story has the happily ever after and that’s more important than saving the world and protecting national security. That’s more important than everything.

Officially or not.

-o-


I still believe it’s you and me ‘til the end of time


-o-

A/N: So much thanks to lukadreaming for all her work on this one. This fic would sound horribly off if not for her beta’ing skills. Also, again thanks to kristen_mara who inspired this in the first place and was the best cheerleader imaginable. I hope it lives up to your awesome standards of saving Stephen and giving him the happily ever after he deserves. Also thanks to lena7142 who pretty much made sure I stayed sane enough to post this. Lastly, thank you to everyone who read and reviewed. It’s been awesome in every possible way. I’m humbled and flattered and giddy.

A/N 2: The quote at the end is from Biffy Clyro's song, "When We Collide." Which, obviously is still the title of this fic.

A/N 3: I think kristen_mara will call me out anyway if I don’t mention that there is some talk of continuing this fic in a sequel of sorts. We’ll see how long it takes my muse to get there :)

Comments

Page 1 of 2[1][2]
Posted by: flaccidduck (flaccidduck)
Posted at: July 26th, 2012 11:53 am (UTC)

Bravo

*ecstatically waves pom-poms*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:20 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter

Aw, thank you! I've appreciated your consistent reviews!

Posted by: nietie (nietie)
Posted at: July 26th, 2012 11:59 am (UTC)
Nick/StephenBW

Brilliant how everything comes together now.
Yes, Stephen and Nick are still alive AND a couple! Yay!
And we now know the reason why Billy got decommissioned and deported.

Gorgeous fic!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

It took me a long time to get there, but I did try to sort out everything in the end. Even if Billy didn't quite get a happy ending, at least we know he's got a bright future ahead of him at the CIA :)

Thanks!

Posted by: lukadreaming (lukadreaming)
Posted at: July 26th, 2012 12:01 pm (UTC)
Billy approves

I shall lead the demands for a sequel! I've enjoyed this fic tremendously - the crossover is so damn clever and has kept the spirit of both shows and the characters. And yay for such a neat fixit.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

I'm so relieved it worked out! When I was writing the part about Cutter's clones, it got a little insane. But I was insistent that the "official" story would stay true to both canons, at any expense!

Thank you again for your diligent work beta'ing! This story is so much better for your help!

Posted by: fredbassett (fredbassett)
Posted at: July 26th, 2012 12:09 pm (UTC)

Fabulous story. I've been rivetted to this all the way through.

I love the way you fix Nick and Stephen and provide the perfect backstory for Billy as well.

Really great stuff, thanks :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
stephen hair

I'm really glad it held your interest to the end. Thanks!

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: July 26th, 2012 12:17 pm (UTC)
Whisper


I can see Helen creating a spare clone to do the dirty work while she has another to carry off through the eras. Three Cutters... I think I need to sit down for a minute, hee.

Poor Stephen, thinking of how he'd done everything for Nick, only for Nick to die. YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY for the reunion and for Nick admitting important things to Stephen, and them finally being back together - and finally together without their burdens. They'll make a lovely home together there in the cottage, and it is a very happy ending and awesome quality Saving Stephen, utilising canon so well.

Don't worry, Billy - as you find out in the epilogue, you end up in the right place, despite the hiccups *G*

There is definitely going to be a sequel - you ain't seen nothing yet when it comes to my cheerleading ;) And we have to have the sequel to reveal what Nick's new identity is! (Starts going through Dougie's list of character names...)

Thanks so very very much for my wonderful birthday present, the size, scope, effort, and happy ending that sets N&S on their destined path and Billy on his!!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:23 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter distance

LOL, I just hope the whole clone mess finally made sense. That wasn't really a big focus of the story but it took me forever to write it.

And there you go, a happy ending. This surely lets me off the hook for death drabbles, right? *winks*

It was a pleasure writing for you. I'm thrilled you liked it! Thank you!

Posted by: freddiejoey (freddiejoey)
Posted at: July 26th, 2012 12:19 pm (UTC)
pic#117539008

Yeah, it's been wonderful all the way through.

Thank you for keeping me enthralled

Edited at 2012-07-26 12:19 pm (UTC)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:24 pm (UTC)
stephen goodbye

Thank you for reading and reviewing! It's been awesome to get feedback!

Posted by: scwlc_fic (scwlc_fic)
Posted at: July 26th, 2012 01:30 pm (UTC)

Well, you've managed to fit everything into canon beautifully without once resorting to crack, which can be an achievement in itself.

Wonderful piece of work!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:24 pm (UTC)
stephen skeptical

Ha! Yeah. My desire to keep this true to canon was a bit of a headache toward the end when I started coming up with multiple clones, so I'm glad it worked out!

Thanks!

Posted by: knitekat (knitekat)
Posted at: July 26th, 2012 06:58 pm (UTC)

Brilliant end to a great fic.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:25 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter

Thank you so much for reading and commenting throughout!

Posted by: reggietate (reggietate)
Posted at: July 26th, 2012 10:07 pm (UTC)
prettyboys

Bravo! That was a brilliant ending, with everything slotting into place. I love the way you had both clones make a sacrifice as free human beings, even if it meant they both died, and the reunion of those two stubborn buggers Nick and Stephen was perfect :-)

Do please write a sequel someday!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:26 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

I'm really glad it worked out okay! The thing with the clones gave me fits while I wrote, but it was the only way I could think of actually getting Nick and Stephen off and alone and legally dead.

And the sequel is on my to do list. But my to do list is also frighteningly long!

Thanks!

Posted by: joshinator (joshinator)
Posted at: July 26th, 2012 10:22 pm (UTC)
pic#117847743

*claps and cheers*

Awesome ending - and I'll miss it now!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:27 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter distance

Aw, thank you. That means a lot!

Posted by: goldarrow (goldarrow)
Posted at: July 27th, 2012 01:07 am (UTC)

*sniffles*
Beautifully bittersweet ending.

Nick realizing that Helen would have no compunction in killing him, Stephen realizing that the sacrifice he made for Nick was in vain (and wow that hurt!), and Billy losing everything.

On the other hand, Nick and Stephen finding each other, and Billy getting a new, if different, life.

Great way to pull the stories together.

But, still, *sniffle*.

Wonderful story :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

I'm glad that the ending was satisfactory after everything I put those guys through. I've so appreciated your steady reviews! It's made posting so enjoyable!

Thank you!

Posted by: natchris (natchris)
Posted at: July 27th, 2012 03:52 am (UTC)
pic#117536540

There's no more yet?

But it was awesome......

*flails*

*starts petition for sequel*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter

Yeah, that's it. For now. LOL, the sequel is on my list of fics to write. It's just that that list is really long!

Thank you!

Posted by: judithjohn (judithjohn)
Posted at: July 27th, 2012 04:09 am (UTC)
pic#117847135

It's been a brilliant crossover!!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:29 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter

Thank you so much!

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: July 27th, 2012 03:47 pm (UTC)
Dodo

Definitely new headcanon :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 09:29 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

Haha. It is definitely less depressing than Primeval canon!

Thank you!

Posted by: lsellersfic (lsellersfic)
Posted at: August 14th, 2012 06:52 pm (UTC)
Primeval:Nick/Stephen

Great story!

I really liked Billy, I'm hoping I will get to see some Chaos at the next Primeval meet up!!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: August 29th, 2012 03:34 am (UTC)
stephen broken

I do hope you get to see some! It was a fun show :)

And I'm glad you liked the fic! Thanks!

32 Read Comments
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