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Chaos/Primeval: Absolute Truths (1/4)

December 22nd, 2012 (06:25 am)
nauseated

feeling: nauseated

Title: Absolute Truths

Disclaimer: I do not own Chaos; I do not own Primeval. At this point, I’m not sure I own anything.

A/N: For eviinsanemonkey, with greatest thanks to sockie1000 for taking the time to beta this. This fic got wildly out of control, but here it is :)

Spoilers: Set Chaos post-series, no specific spoilers. Set vaguely in the later seasons of Primeval, with specific references mostly to S1-S3. I think you can get by without much knowledge of Primeval to understand the fic.

Summary: When anomalies appear in the United States, Michael learns that rifts in time aren’t the only secret that matters to his team.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR



PART ONE

Being a spy was an important job. Michael knew this; he lived it. He hadn’t joined the CIA for glory, but he’d never shirked his responsibility, not when it really got down to things. Michael dealt with the most important secrets his country had to protect, and he risked his life and limb for that intelligence on a daily basis.

It was work. Hard work.

Most of the time.

“Okay,” Rick said, eyes narrowed as he looked at Casey. He pursed his lips, furrowed his brow. “I’m going to say...you being born in Waukesha is a given. The other...when you kissed Becky Dalton in the third grade. That has to be the truth, because the idea that you first killed a man at the age of twelve is just a little too unbelievable, even for you.”

Casey glared. “Clearly, you don’t know me very well.”

Rick’s eyes went wide. “Wait, so you did kill a man when you were twelve?”

“I didn’t say that,” Casey snapped, and it was all Michael could do not to burst out laughing. As it was, the smile that played on his lips was impossible to hide.

Not that Rick was looking. He was too busy enjoying his short-lived enthusiasm. “So I was right!”

Casey snorted. “Of course not,” he said. “They were both lies.”

Rick frowned. “I’m not sure you understand the purpose of the game,” he said. “The whole point is to tell two truths and a lie.”

Casey shrugged. “That’s a stupid game.”

“It’s a get-to-know-you activity,” Rick argued.

“I don’t want you to know me,” Casey said. “I make it a point to never be compromised.”

“It’s a fair point,” Michael said, which was why he’d remained conspicuously silent while Rick had cajoled them into playing. “None of us actually volunteered to play this with you.”

Rick pouted, because he was still green enough to think that he’d had a chance at all. “None of you stopped me either.”

“And miss the chance to see you make an idiot of yourself?” Casey said with a smirk. “Never.”

Michael chuckled. He might not have put it so bluntly, but the minute Casey had answered Rick’s insistent question, he’d seen this outcome. His team was the best the CIA had to offer, but Michael knew them, inside and out. Two truths, one lie; all the truths and all the lies. It was Michael’s job to know. He didn’t guess.

He’d never had to, and he took comfort in that.

And some pleasure.

If it happened to be at Rick’s expense...well, Michael couldn’t say he was opposed. Things were slow around the office this week.

“Aw, never fear,” Billy said, rocking back in his chair as he grinned over at Rick. “I, for one, think it is a lovely idea.”

“So you’ll play?” Rick asked, eagerly.

Billy made a face. “Ah, well, see, much of my personal history has been redacted, I’m afraid,” he said.

“It’s just two truths,” Rick pointed out.

Billy winked at him. “With a life like mine, lad, that’s harder to come up with than you know.”

Michael was about to interject, about to refocus their efforts -- because of all the truths, this one mattered maybe more than the most: they had a job to do.

The ODS -- Michael and Casey and Billy and Rick -- were charged with protecting the country, the world. It wasn’t easy; it wasn’t predictable, even if some days it was kind of fun.

Then, the phone rang.

Michael glanced at it, curious. Eyebrows up, he lifted the receiver. “Yes, sir,” he said.

Rick’s eyes widened, and Casey and Billy exchanged curious looks.

“Dorset,” Higgins snapped. “I need your team in my office. Now.

“Sir, if this is about the microwave in the breakroom--”

“It’s a mission,” Higgins cut him off tersely. “Now, Operative Dorset. If you can’t find Malick and Martinez, that’s okay. But make sure Collins comes.”

Michael inclined his head as the phone went dead. He looked to Casey, to Rick. To Billy.

He grinned back. “News from above?”

“Higgins wants to see us,” Michael said, hanging the phone back up. He nodded to Billy. “You especially.”

Billy feigned a look of surprise. “If it’s the microwave, I contend it’s not my fault,” he said. “I may have inserted the object into the microwave, but I did not choose to cook it on high for thirty minutes--”

“It’s not the microwave,” Michael said. He frowned, furrowing his brows just a little. “Something you want to tell us?”

Billy shrugged. “You know me,” he said. “An open book.”

“But you just said--” Rick interjected.

Billy waved his hand. “Haven’t I told you I say a lot of things I don’t mean?” he said, getting to his feet. “Now let’s get this over with, shall we?”

Casey sighed. “I was winning at Minesweeper, too.”

Rick cocked his head. “Is that the truth?”

Casey smirked as he got up. “You’ll never know.”

Rick’s face fell.

Rolling his eyes, Michael took of his glasses and got up. “Some details are need-to-know, Martinez,” he said, glancing at Billy. “Let’s see what Higgins has for us this time.”

-o-

Being in the CIA, top secret was really just part of the job. Michael had been briefed on so many things that the average person would never know about that it had sort of lost its wonder and appeal. Just another day at the office.

Or so Michael thought.

This time, Higgins seemed nervous. He was on his feet when they arrived, pacing by his window and barely affording them a look when his assistant ushered them in.

“Hold all calls,” Higgins ordered, not looking back. “And lock the door.”

The man paused. “But, sir--”

Higgins turned sharply, eyes dark. “Now,” he said. “Or I will have security do it for you and escort you out of the building.”

The man’s mouth dropped open and he fumbled for a moment before exiting, hastily locking the door behind him. Michael raised his eyebrows, sauntering closer to the desk. “Not that I’ve ever found your assistant particularly helpful, but that does seem a bit harsh,” he said. “Should I be worried?”

Higgins turned to him, face drawn gravely. “Yes,” he said frankly. His eyes flitted to the rest of Michael’s team, who was hesitating just behind him. “You all may want to sit down.”

As if the shock might be too much. As if Higgins had something that Michael and his highly skilled team might not know how to handle. Higgins, for all that he seemed to understand, had never understood the ODS. He had never truly known them or appreciated them. Maybe he had once, but there was a reason Ray Bishop had fired him. There was a reason he’d made a better bureaucrat than a field operative.

There was a reason that after all these years, Michael was still the best. He knew his team; he knew this job.

There were no surprises left.

“With all due respect,” Michael said. “I’d prefer to know why we’re here.”

Higgins gave him a long look. Finally, he pursed his lips, reaching over to his desk and picking up a file. He held it out to Michael.

Michael eyed Higgins, then glanced back at his team. Casey looked bored, while Rick looked taut and ready. Billy just shrugged.

Looking back at the file, Michael opened it, scanning over the first page. He flipped to the second, looking at the picture.

And then he promptly sat down.

-o-

Michael thought he had seen everything. The worst crimes, the worst criminals; the craziest lies, the most outrageous schemes. He knew things that would make most people crazy. Nothing could surprise him.

Except this.

“I don’t get it,” Michael said, his voice flat as he stared at the file. “These are...what, interdimensional gateways?”

Casey leaned over his shoulder, scowling. “I’m a spy, not a science fiction enthusiast,” he muttered. “This looks like a poor man’s attempt to play with photoshop.”

Rick was peeking around the other shoulder. “Anomalies?”

“Yes,” Higgins said, face dour as he settled into his chair. “That’s what they’ve been called by the British government, for lack of a better term.”

The name was irrelevant. Michael was still trying to process what they did. “So they cut through time and space?”

“Things are a little fuzzy on that,” Higgins said. “The most advanced theories suggest that these portals go to different timelines, usually at different points in time.”

Michael found himself scoffing. “That’s impossible.”

“And mostly gibberish,” Casey said. “If there were open rifts in time, then we’d be leaving ourselves wide open to annihilation and total cross-contamination.”

“But that means...we could see the past?” Rick asked, more awed than anything else.

“And, in theory, the future,” Higgins confirmed. “I assure you, we’ve completely assessed the full potential of such anomalies.”

“And the full risks, I hope,” Billy interjected, speaking for the first time. He’d been unusually silent, but Michael had been too preoccupied to notice.

Until now.

Because the Scot wasn’t hunched over the files. He wasn’t confused or awed or even annoyed.

He was pale, that was true, face pinched and his entire body tense. It was almost as if this wasn’t a surprise to him, as if the idea of a rift in time and space made total sense to him.

As if he’d known what an anomaly was before Higgins had ever called the into the office and given Michael the file.

But make sure Collins comes.

Maybe Michael didn’t know Billy as well as he thought.

Looking at the file again, maybe Michael didn’t know anything as well as he thought.

-o-

Higgins’ smile was terse. “Indeed, Operative Collins,” he said. “That is why you’re here, after all.”

Rick and Casey finally seemed to be catching up with Michael. Casey’s eyes narrowed toward the Scot suspiciously, and Rick blinked earnest eyes at him in a total failure to comprehend.

Billy pursed his lips. “Then surely you know I’d only be interested in total containment,” he said. “These things are too risky--”

Higgins held up his hand. “We are well aware of the risks,” he said. “We’ve read the most recent reports. Apparently the anomalies have become even more common and unstable in the UK and now there have been signs of them popping up in North America, primarily in Canada. These photos are the first documented evidence we have of such incursions on American soil.”

Billy didn’t hesitate this time as he leveled his gaze at Higgins. “These will change everything,” he said. “This may be a house of lies, but the secrets involved with this...I’m not sure you fully appreciate the magnitude of what this will mean.”

“Indeed we don’t,” Higgins agreed. “Which is why we’ve turned to you.”

Michael’s ears perked up.

Higgins wet his lips, shrugging slightly. “There is no response team in place,” he said. “Although technically this seems to be more of an FBI matter, our contacts in MI6 sought us out as a temporary stopgap until something more permanent can be in place.”

Michael shook his head. “And why is that, exactly?”

Higgins offered him a wry smile. “Because the only person in the United States with any experience with these anomalies is right here in this room,” he said. His eyes turned to Billy. “And we need you now, Operative Collins. More than ever.”

-o-

It was an earnest plea. About as plaintive as Michael had ever heard from Higgins. No threatening, no cajoling. Just a plain, simple request. Because for the first time since Higgins had come to power, Michael could tell that the man was out of his league.

This might be cause for celebration, but Michael was out of his league, too. Hell, everyone was out of their league on this one...

Except Billy.

The Scotsman shifted awkwardly from foot to foot. “I don’t exactly have the best experience,” he said, voice taut and low.

“Maybe not,” Higgins agreed. “But you are here. And you have dealt with these things on more than one occasion.”

Billy seemed to let out a breath. There was a quiet, terse moment, even as Rick gaped and Casey worked his jaw in vain. “I assume you have a perimeter set up?” Billy asked finally.

“We have a SEAL team with top clearance surrounding the area,” he said. “We’re fortunate that it was a remote location in the Smoky Mountains. We’ve cleared that section of the park up to three miles, citing an increased activity in bear movement.”

“Widen it,” Billy said with surprising force. Billy was always more cautious in the field than one might suspect, but he wasn’t usually one to make over the top demands.

Even Higgins, as placating as he’d been, appeared ready to balk.

For his part, though, Billy didn’t relent. “Better to be safe than sorry,” he said. “Do we know what came through?”

“Signs of large game, but that’s all we can tell from the preliminary findings,” Higgins replied.

Billy nodded. “So we have no confirmation of creatures?”

Creatures. There was something in the way Billy said it, something in the implications. Creatures. From the past, from the future: Michael wasn’t scared of terrorists or criminals or dictators, but that single word sent a chill down his back.

Casey seemed to tense at the notion; Rick looked like he might faint from the shock.

“Just the tracks, I’m afraid,” he said. “We’ve briefed the men on what to expect.”

Tracks didn’t sound so bad.

At that, Billy’s smile turned up wryly. “That won’t be enough,” he said. “We’ll want to find whatever it is before it finds one of the men.”

That sounded a little more bad.

“Agreed,” Higgins said. “That’s why I want to send you.”

Normally, having Higgins ask for their help was a boon. Hell, usually Michael found it to be a generally enjoyable thing that he would happily milk and sufficiently gloat over.

But this was different.

This was very, very different.

Billy blanched. “I’ll consult, but I really don’t think--”

“There is no one else,” Higgins said, cutting him off flatly. “Simply put, you are our only hope.”

Billy looked visibly uncomfortable. “I’m not sure you know what you’re asking.”

“I do,” Higgins replied, unflinching. His eyes flicked to Michael and the others. “Which is why I’m prepared to offer you anything you need to make this happen.”

Laughing softly, Billy shook his head. “Guns,” he said. “Lots and lots of guns. And a few grenades while we’re at it.”

Michael thought Billy was joking, but the look on his face...

All the humor was gone. Billy was a different person, a changed man. He was hardly recognizable with his face set stiffly and his posture just slightly hunched. He seemed to have pulled in on himself, retreated deeper and dropped his patented self defense mechanisms. All that was left was calculating and even, calm and composed.

“Make a list,” Higgins said. Then his gaze turned to Michael again. “As for the rest of you, I expect you all to read up on these anomalies and come back for a final briefing. Do you have any questions right now that I can answer?”

Michael shifted, sitting up again and trying to regain his bearings. To right himself. This was his team, after all, even if he seemed to suddenly be superfluous to all decision making. “Just one for now,” he said. He glanced toward Billy, doing his best not to be suspicious of the man he’s mostly considered his right hand man for six years. “How the hell does Billy know any of this?”

Higgins inclined his head. “I do believe that is a story for Operative Collins to tell,” he said. “Not me.”

Michael looked at Billy, Casey and Rick staring, too. They hadn’t said a word -- had barely even moved. There was nothing to say, it seemed. When faced with the most shocking truth any of the had ever faced, the only pertinent response was silence at first.

And then the ODS would do what the ODS did best. Be paranoid bastards.

Even with their own.

“So?” Michael prompted.

Billy gathered a breath, then let it out heavily. “It’s sort of a long story,” he said with a rueful smile.

“You love stories,” Michael reminded him.

“Most of the time we can never get you to shut up,” Casey added pointedly.

“Please?” Rick asked.

Billy worked his jaw but nodded. “I’m afraid it’s not a very good story.”

“Try us,” Michael said, leaving no room for argument.

“Well,” Billy said. “It all began two decades ago in the Forest of Dean...”

-o-

In the almost seven years that Michael had known Billy, the Scotsman had told some pretty crazy stories. He never seemed to run out of them, dredging up tales from his turbulent childhood in Edinburgh or retelling fanciful stories from his days touring the world for MI6. He had silly stories and suspenseful tales; if there was an occasion at hand, Billy had the story to tell to perfectly accent it.

Of course, Michael knew that most of those stories probably were only partly true, but Billy told them with such vigor that it hardly mattered. It was always the spirit of the thing that Michael counted on for a kernel of truth, and the fact was, he was willing to handwave the rest.

But this--

This story was more impossible than the rest. There was no humor, no joking. Just a simple and hopelessly convoluted narrative that changed everything.

And not just about the world they lived in.

But about Billy.

“When I was at university, I had this...professor,” Billy began, clearing his throat and seeming to strive for calm. “Brilliant woman, but she had some of the craziest ideas you’ve ever heard. Spent entire class periods lecturing about the possibility of time travel and about how time is not as finite as we might think.”

“Sounds like a nutjob,” Casey scoffed.

“Aye,” Billy agreed. “And most people took her for that, but there was something about her.” He paused, brow furrowed as he looked at his hands. He took a breath. “At any rate, just about everyone had written her off when she disappeared.”

“An anomaly?” Rick asked.

Billy nodded. “Though none of us knew it at the time,” he said. “She was just gone, no trace, nothing. For eight years, we thought she was dead.”

Michael ground his teeth together, watching Billy carefully. This was what he did; it was how he assessed and understood. Fay had called him controlling; his team called him a paranoid bastard. Michael preferred to think of it as perception. The answers were always out there; he just had to look hard enough.

But the harder he looked at Billy, the less sense it made. There was no affectation, no nuance. None of Billy’s usual tells were there -- not even the ones Michael had taken years to notice. There was nothing to suggest Billy was lying.

Hell, there was nothing to suggest this was Billy at all. The Scot was usually larger than life, verbose and over the top. But he was subdued, pulled in on himself as he stood still. There was no fidgeting, no hand motions. Just the story.

Just the truth.

For the first time ever, Michael realized, the revelation settling coolly in his gut. He was used to mysteries. He was used to secrets. He lived and breathed lies, and he had no delusions that he knew everything about his team, but he’d thought he’d known something.

Apparently Michael had been wrong, though.

Watching as Billy shifted uncomfortably, Michael realized he’d been very, very wrong.

And Michael hated being wrong.

“I’m sensing there’s a but,” Casey said, and he sounded almost as displeased as Michael felt.

“Eight years later, some rumors started back up in the Forest of Dean,” Billy continued. “Sightings of large creatures. Normally it would be easy to write it off as fanciful exaggerations, but the Forest of Dean -- it was personal.”

Michael stopped at that, pushing through his doubt and denial and focusing on a new disparate piece of information that he realized made less sense than the rest. “For MI6?”

Billy looked at him, blinking plainly. “For everyone,” he said. “But I was working with her husband, and he would never rest until we checked the lead and cleared it.”

“And you found something,” Rick said.

“More than something,” Billy said. “Long story short, we encountered our first anomaly and realized that everything was true. There were rifts in time, and they allowed people and creatures to enter in and out at will. The discovery, needless to say, changed everything. We had to start from scratch, trying to figure out why the anomalies were occurring, how they worked. We formed a makeshift team to track and predict their occurrences while also working on containing any lifeforms that came through.”

Michael shook his head. “Wait,” he said, because Billy hadn’t answered the damn question at all. “This was MI6?”

Billy flinched, pressing his lips together for a long moment. He took a breath and held Michael’s gaze. “No,” he said. “I worked for the Home Office until they formed a new section of the government called the Anomaly Research Centre. Or the ARC.”

There was a lot to that. About the rifts in time, yes, but for some reason, that wasn’t what bothered Michael the most, even if it should. Because Michael could deal with mind-bending scientific revelations. They happened. He could even deal with time travel and alternate timelines and all that crap. Michael didn’t care about the science; he just cared about the practical concerns. About how to control the response, how to gauge the most effective counter measures.

All things that meant he had to know his team. That had always been the easier part of his job, the thing he could take for granted, and now not so much. “So wait, let me get this right,” he said, sitting up straighter and leaning toward Billy intently. “You didn’t work for MI6?”

A small, thin smile played on Billy’s face, strangely subdued. Michael might have expected a grandiose denial, a colorful distraction. What he got was coy, almost cynical. “I just told you a story of how we discovered that time was permeable and fractured, and you’re concerned about my resume?”

It was stupid. Michael knew it was stupid.

And still, it wasn’t.

He lifted his chin defiantly. “You’re a member of this team,” he said. “The only reason I gave you a chance was because of your extensive MI6 experience. If that’s not true--”

“What?” Billy said coolly. He arched an eyebrow. “You’ll sack me? Seven years of hard work and successful missions notwithstanding?”

Michael found his heart racing, his palms sweating. He became aware of Casey and Rick watching him, intent and uncertain. Even Higgins was eyeing him, careful and curious.

With effort, Michael swallowed. Gingerly, he sat back. He was a spy. A professional. He was better than this. He wasn’t stupid enough to think that his emotions didn’t matter, but he was good enough to know that they didn’t dictate his response in times of crisis.

In times where the entire natural order of things was suddenly in question.

Even if his team wasn’t who he thought they were.

He shrugged. “Just trying to make sure I understand.”

“Well, understand this,” Billy said, skirting the issue effectively. “The ARC may have the most experience in the world trying to contain these things, but even that wasn’t enough.”

“Their understanding of the phenomenon has advanced to some degree,” Higgins said.

Billy looked at him. “That doesn’t change the practical trials of dealing with a rift in time,” he said. “You never know what’s going to come out, and you never know if you can stuff it back in. You’ll want scientists to work on the science, but you’ll want tactical support on the ground to handle wildlife incursions.”

It was a typical Billy tactic. If he picked the conversation, he could avoiding talking about the things that made him uncomfortable.

This time, he was just fortunate enough that there were rifts in time to distract from everything else.

Michael collected a breath and let it out tersely. “And now that’s our job?” he asked, flicking his eyes to Higgins.

The Director nodded. “It is,” he said. “You will serve as temporary field leaders until we come up with a more formalized response. You’ll find more information about what we know and what we don’t know in your packets.”

“With all due respect,” Billy said. “The packets won’t make much difference. Out there, it’s just having a team you can trust. And some really big guns.”

Michael found himself snorting.

Billy looked at him.

He shrugged. “At least we know we can count on the big guns.”

Something wavered in Billy’s face, something vulnerable, something pained. But he didn’t protest, his blue eyes shining strangely bright, his expression unusually restrained. He had no comeback, though.

Suddenly self conscious, Michael sat up again. “Is that all we get to know?” he asked pointedly, with a look at Higgins.

Higgins inclined his head. “The rest of the pertinent details are in the file,” he said.

Michael chuckled bitterly, getting to his feet, Casey and Rick not far behind. “Somehow,” he said, eyes lingering on Billy who hadn’t moved from his perch on the table by the windowed wall, “I doubt that.”

-o-

Back in the office, things were awkward.

With a new mission, they all had plenty to do, and the file certainly did make for interesting reading material. But no matter how hard Michael tried to focus on the oversights of James Lester and the leadership of Nick Cutter, Danny Quinn and Matt Anderson, he found himself distracted. Not even the pictures taken by one Connor Temple and detailed accounts from zoologist Abby Maitland could thoroughly captivate him.

Because Billy.

He was over there at his desk, hunched over and entirely focused. Usually Billy worked with messy abandon. He would lean back, shuffling his papers intermittently. He was prone to making paper airplanes from pages he deemed less than interesting and never stopped moving or humming while they tried to focus.

Not today, though. At his desk, Billy’s face was taut. He was the very example of focus. He’d cleared off his desk, dumping the piles unceremoniously on the floor before laying out the papers orderly on his desk, methodically using his pen to tick through each one. Stranger still, he hardly seemed to notice Rick’s uneasy glances or Casey’s not-so-subtle staring.

It was weird; it was unsettling.

And Michael kept thinking about Billy’s story back in Higgins’ office. About how he’d known about these anomalies all along. That wasn’t really so surprising. Top secret was top secret. Spies couldn’t brag about their best conquests, and Michael had always known that Billy’s time in the UK was underwraps and pretty much off limits, no matter how hard Michael pried.

But he hadn’t even been MI6. He’d always suspected Billy embellished most of his stories, but to think that they weren’t true at all? He’d always known Billy was a liar...

Apparently that was the only thing he’d known.

-o-

The day was long.

Usually even busy days were passed with enough distraction to make things interesting. But, now that Michael thought about it, most of that was because of Billy. He would stop work intermittently to sing songs or write poetry. He would tease Casey and commiserate with Rick. When things were busy, Billy was always there to lighten the load.

This time, however, it was Rick who broke the silence. After three hours of focused study and silence, their junior team member got up and stretched. “I think I need a break,” he announced.

There was a pregnant, awkward pause during which Michael stared, Casey blinked, and Rick stood uselessly. Then Billy sat up, as if realizing for the first time since the meeting with Higgins that they were actually all in the same room. “What time is it?” he asked, sounding genuinely confused.

“Past lunch,” Rick told him, organizing his desk for a moment. “I’m going to pick something up and probably eat back here.”

“That’s unhygienic,” Casey said.

“But necessary,” Rick returned. He shook his head. “I can’t wrap my mind around half this stuff. I mean, dinosaurs?”

“It’s just another type of weapon of mass destruction,” Casey said. “From what I can tell, nukes are still more frightening.”

“Ah,” Billy said, smiling ruefully. “You’ll say that until you’re staring an ancient predator face to face. Nukes in the wrong hands are unsettling, I’ll grant you that, but the jolt of adrenaline--” He blew out a breath. “There’s nothing quite like it.”

The flair was back. Billy’s tells were reasserting themselves. He was lazing back in his chair, speaking grandly. He was trying to be Billy again, probably because he sensed the team needed it. Billy had always been unduly perceptive -- and far too attentive to the moods of others. His natural inclination had always been to placate people -- to believe in their inherent goodness and endeavor to protect that by any means possible. It was why he was so likeable, and Michael had always counted it in the man’s favor.

It felt hollow now. A learned, rote response. Over the years, Billy had crafted his responses and his demeanor. Michael had always known that, he supposed. But it bothered him.

A lot.

Rick smiled slightly. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

Billy’s facades wavered, and this time, his expression was more sincere. Resigned. “No,” he said. “But you joined this Agency to do hero’s work. And I can promise you, that’s what you’ll be doing on this mission.”

Rick seemed to consider that, before slowly nodding and moving toward the door.

After he left, Casey huffed and got to his feet. “The kid has a point,” he said.

“Pshaw,” Billy scoffed. “You? Afraid?”

Casey smirked. “No, about lunch,” he said. “Given the size of that file and the travel time to get to location, we’re not going to have much time to eat after this. We’re going to need to be at peak capacity to pull this off.”

“That we are,” Billy agreed. “I’m just going to finish up here and meet you at the breakroom, yeah?”

Casey made no further comment as he departed, giving Michael a small glance as he made his way out.

When the door closed, Billy lingered for a moment. He looked idly over his neat stacks of papers, studying them for a moment before speaking. “I can go to Higgins and tell him that sending a team would be pointless,” he said. Then, he looked up. “I came to America with every assurance that my history with these anomalies was just that -- history. It was never my intention to put this team in danger, and I fear that’s just what I’ve done.”

There was that, only Michael had been so obsessed with the lies that he hadn’t really thought about the consequences. He hadn’t really considered how this mission could cost them their lives -- he’d been too busy wondering if it’d cost them everything else.

Billy was looking at him, too earnest now. “If I had known--”

Michael cut him off with a laugh. “You’d what?” he asked. “You would have told me?”

Billy’s mouth shut, and his jaw worked.

“Because you and I both know that’s not true.”

“It was classified,” Billy tried to explain.

Michael just shook his head. “All your talk about MI6,” he said. “About being deported.”

“You know how cover stories work,” Billy said. “You, of all people, know.

He did know. But this was different. He wasn’t sure how; he wasn’t sure why. Except that this was his team. This was his domain. He wasn’t used to people making the secrets without him. He wasn’t used to the variables being outside his control. All the time he’d worked to keep an eye on the big picture, and he’d missed the most important details.

In all this, he had no right to be mad. Not as a spy. Not as the leader of the ODS. Billy hadn’t done anything wrong.

Even if it felt like it.

Michael offered him a lame smile. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess I do.”

Billy seemed to be waiting for something more, but Michael had nothing to offer him. After a few moments of uncertain silence, Billy got to his feet. “You coming to lunch?”

Michael glanced at his paperwork. “Yeah,” he said. “In a few minutes. I just want to check a few things.”

Billy’s smile returned. “Probably wise, all things considered.”

Michael tried to keep smiling, managing to look benign as Billy exited the room. When the door closed, Michael looked at the file. There was a lot there that warranted his attention.

But that wasn’t what he wanted to know.

He glanced back at the door, then chewed the inside of his lip. He tapped his foot on the ground.

Then he closed the file and picked up his phone.

-o-

For the last seven years, Billy had been the diplomatic one of the group. He was the natural liaison whenever people skills were required, if only because his effervescent personality seemed able to charm everyone without effort.

Things were changing now, though, and the fact was, Michael had always been more than capable of getting what he wanted from people. True, he had to work harder -- it took more than a wink and a smile for him -- but he had his ways. And he had his contacts.

He could get them intel when he needed it; he could create covers when he had to. He could cooperate with other organizations and schmooze with other departments.

He could even find the original copy of an agent’s file -- before it had been redacted.

“I’m going to need some time,” his contact said, sounding none too pleased.

“Take a day,” Michael said. “But this is sort of important.”

“I thought this guy was one of yours,” the man replied.

So did Michael. “I have my reasons,” he said. “But you’re sure you can do it.”

“Michael,” the man said, sounding disappointed. “The favor you’re cashing in is pretty big. I’m not going to skrimp.”

“The unredacted file?” Michael clarified.

“Complete with original notes,” he said. “Just don’t ask me how.”

Michael smirked. “I don’t care how,” he said. “I just want the information.”

“And information you’ll get,” he replied. “But this clears my ledger. We’re even.”

“You pull through on this, I’ll owe you one,” Michael promised.

“I may take you up on that.”

Michael had no doubt. The fact was, this was going to cost him more than he probably should spend. He’d been holding out on this favor for the better part of a decade.

But this would be worth it.

Hanging up the phone, Michael looked at Billy’s desk. The unruly pile on the floor was a stark contrast to the organized layout on top. Michael needed answers to make this parse. Michael didn’t tolerate uncertainty, not in the mission, not in his team. He would learn the full story behind Billy’s past life.

No matter what.

-o-

The thing was, no matter how strange the mission, it was still a mission. The details of the file were staggering in their scope, but not in their necessary response. They studied; they prepped; they briefed.

Then they were going to go.

The greatest irony was that for as mind boggling as this mission was, it actually required very little groundwork. After all, when it came to rifts in time, the only real response for a field team was to secure the site, track any creatures, and send them back.

No elaborate cover stories; no extensive personas to master.

In fact, Michael wasn’t really sure why a team of their caliber was needed at all. It seemed daunting in theory, but the more he thought about it, the less impressive it was in application.

It seemed, however, that he was the only one who found the entire thing disappointing.

“So, um, they are actual dinosaurs?” Rick asked. The junior operative had spent the afternoon fretting at his desk, looking bleak and terrified in equal turns.

“Did you even read the file?” Casey deadpanned back to him. “Most of the time, these rifts go back to eras that predate dinosaurs. The more appropriate term is creatures.

Billy had carefully stacked his files, and his normally chaotic desk was perfectly tidy. He glanced up, smiling wryly. “I tend to like mincing the details, but I reckon it won’t make much difference who’s right or wrong on this one,” he said.

“Of course it makes a difference,” Casey said. “Because I’m always right.”

Rick was too pale to actually be offended.

Billy looked sympathetic. “Don’t let him bother you, lad,” he said. “When we’re in the field, neither of you with give nary a thought to who’s right and wrong.”

The words seemed to calm Rick somewhat.

Then Billy shrugged. “You’ll both be too busy running for your lives and scrambling with your guns to care,” he added.

It was a joke, said with typical Billy inflection. The perfect Billy quip.

Casey scoffed. “I think it’d be interesting to try hand to hand,” he mused.

Billy inclined his head. “Hand to claw, more like,” he said. “And I reckon it’d only be interesting for the creature.”

“Seven years, and you doubt me?” Casey asked.

Billy’s look was rueful. “There is no person on earth who can stand against you,” he said. “But this...”

“So basically this is suicide,” Rick interjected. He shrugged, a little despondent. “We’ve been assigned a suicide mission.”

Billy’s brow furrowed. “There’s no telling what may come through,” he said. “And even the largest creatures have their weaknesses. We just have to find it.”

“Or we just have to bring bigger guns,” Casey suggested.

“Besides,” Michael said, weighing in carefully. “It can’t be suicide if Billy’s seen it and survived.” He turned steady eyes to Billy. “Right?”

Billy’s expression wavered, something hard to trace shifting behind his eyes. There was a flicker of darkness, of regret -- of something -- before his face smoothed over with a smile. “I have found that in the face of impossible odds, there is a distinctively human capacity to overcome,” he said.

“So you think we’ll be okay?” Rick prompted. He sounded young and needy, though Michael supposed this time the kid deserved a pass.

Billy’s pretenses seemed to fall again, just a little. “I’m going to do everything in my power to ensure that is the case,” he said, the words solemn, his expression serious.

He meant it. Billy said a lot of things he didn’t mean, and in all the lies Michael had realized in the last day, he’d started to think Billy wasn’t capable of the truth.

But that much was real.

That much was true.

It just wasn’t quite as reassuring as Michael would have hoped. In fact, it wasn’t reassuring at all.

“You think that’ll be enough?” Michael asked, unable to stop himself.

Billy didn’t flinch. He met Michael’s gaze. “I’m afraid it’ll have to be.”

-o-

It was a short flight over.

Due to the sensitivity of the mission, Higgins had procured military transport, which made things easier by far. Sitting in the back of a cargo plane -- which was fully outfitted with more guns and weaponry that Michael had seen amassed in one place -- it was almost like old times.

“The notes haven’t changed,” Casey said, looking at Rick with mild disdain.

“Oh, so you have them memorized?” Rick asked.

“No,” Casey replied. “I retained the pertinent information, gleaned a working knowledge of the rest.”

“In other words,” Billy offered lightly. “He was being lazy. Do not let him mock you for your diligence.”

Rick still looked vexed. “So you have it memorized, too?”

Billy laughed. “The file is absolutely worthless.”

Rick frowned.

“But we all need something to do,” Billy told him with a wink.

Rick worried; Casey groused; Billy joked.

Michael listened; he observed and tried to plan.

He found it difficult, though. Not just because there were variables he couldn’t control and secrets he wasn’t aware of. But because he was struck with the strange sense that something was changing, now. In the way he understood the world, in the fabric of the team itself. What he’d thought he’d known for sure, wasn’t certain at all.

Things would be different after this. Before this mission was over, nothing would be the same.

When they landed on the airstrip, lurching to a stop, Michael looked at his team. At Casey, at Rick, at Billy.

Nothing was the same at all.

-o-

Still, there was a lot to do. Michael couldn’t afford to sit around moping about what he’d lost or what lies he’d been told again and again and again.

They still had a mission, and Michael was still a professional. Skilled and capable and competent.

On the ground, he armed himself and made sure his team did the same. He took a few extra weapons, just in case, and made sure that every man was ready to go.

They worked in silence, the hush before the storm, and when they clambered into the Jeep to go to the remote location where the anomaly was situated, Rick looked downright nauseous. Even Casey looked a little twitchy.

Billy’s face was blank and stony.

When the Jeep finally stopped, Michael was the first to climb out.

His eyes went wide, his mouth went dry.

Because there, twinkling amongst the trees, was the anomaly.

-o-

In some ways, it was underwhelming. Michael wasn’t sure what he had expected, but in all honesty, he’d seen movies with better special effects. Rifts in time were apparently nothing more than blurred, refracted lights, hovering and oscillating in mid-air. It looked out of place, that much was certain, but the general strangeness of it did not suggest that it was a universe altering phenomenon.

Of course, that didn’t mean that Michael didn’t want to go through. He wasn’t necessary curious in the purest sense of the word, but with his desire to control life, he didn’t like to leave any nook or cranny unexplored. An anomalous grouping of sparkling lights warranted attention because things Michael didn’t have experience with were things he couldn’t necessarily compensate for and were, therefore, bad.

Or at least, not good.

Either way, Michael was more annoyed by the anomaly than anything else, and he cast a not so subtle glance at Billy. True, it wasn’t the Scotsman’s fault that such things existed, but Michael still couldn’t help but feel like the other man was at least somewhat responsible for Michael being so badly out of the loop right now.

Billy, for his part, looked stiff. He engaged most things with boyish wonder or trained uncertainty. Of all of them, Billy liked to play it safe. Sure, he hid it well, but he was never happy when Michael concocted missions that involved explosions, gunfire and general near-death possibilities. He was the one always looking for ways to make things safer. If there was a least invasive route, he was all over it.

Michael had always figured that was just years of experience at play and a deportation notice weighing him down. Watching Billy now, though, Michael had to wonder if this were responsible. As if somehow, the sparkling lights had changed Billy. Not in some metaphysical way, of course, but things like this -- things that defied logic and normalcy -- had a way of making things complicated. People were at risk; people were compromised. People got hurt.

Given Billy’s apparent dread, Michael wondered what it had been like for Billy the first time he’d seen an anomaly. Because this certainly wasn’t the first -- not even close. Billy looked like he’d seen more anomalies than he cared, too.

Which didn’t exactly make Michael feel any better. About anomalies.

Or Billy.

Next to Billy, though, Rick was positively gaping. The kid wasn’t exactly green any more, but he was still too ennobled with the idea of making the world a better place to take most things in stride. Rick believed so firmly in the rightness of the world, that things like this would naturally be harder for him to take.

Plus, Rick wasn’t a jaded, cynical, paranoid bastard. He knew how to be awed.

Watching him, Michael was almost envious. He couldn’t quite remember what it felt like, to feel wonder, to be amazed. He might miss it were he not so busy being annoyed.

Casey was the first one to move. He made a face, pulling his mouth into a frown. “That’s it?” he asked, clearly unimpressed.

Rick shook his head, still transfixed. “This is impossible.”

“It’s twinkling lights,” Casey said. “I’ve been more impressed by Christmas displays.”

Michael smirked. “You hate Christmas displays.”

“Exactly,” Casey said. He nodded toward the anomaly. “So this is unimpressive.”

This time, Rick stopped to look at him. “This is a rift in time,” he said. “Do you know what that means?”

“Yes,” Casey said. “It means I’m babysitting a poor man’s Northern Lights.”

Rick’s jaw dropped further. “This changes everything,” he said emphatically. “If people knew...”

And there was the rub, of course. This was why the CIA was called in, not local police. This was why Billy hadn’t told them -- hadn’t even hinted -- about them for his entire tenure at the CIA. This was top secret, classified, need to know.

In some ways, that should have made things easier. No press; no curious civilians. With something this top secret, there wasn’t even much red tape. They could do what they needed to do and as long as no one knew about it, everyone was happy. Easy.

Standing there, though, nothing seemed easy at all.

Michael didn’t even know what to say.

Breaking the silence, Billy look at them, shaking his head. “The twinkling lights have been the subject of much study and intrigue back home,” he said. “Hordes of scientists have devoted their lives to it. Some of the brightest people I know have tried to figure them out, used different frequencies to understand how they develop and where they occur.”

Casey raised his eyebrows. “I’m still not sure I’m impressed.”

Billy laughed softly. “Well, truth be told, most of the science is above my head,” he admitted. He looked at the anomaly again. “But it’s not the anomaly that will impress you.”

Michael rocked back on his heels, regarding Billy carefully. “Then what?” he prompted.

Billy glanced at him, face grim. “It’s what comes through.”

Comments

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: January 12th, 2013 07:43 am (UTC)
James and Cat


Wowsers! I love how an anomaly in the US 'outs' Billy!

Love the mix of reactions when the Chaos boys are viewing the anomaly and their reactions to Billy having such a secret past.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 3rd, 2013 01:44 pm (UTC)
billy content

Someday I'll post the prequel to this fic though I do like using the Chaos setting better. I'm more comfortable with it.

Thanks!

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