faye_dartmouth: (stephen shocked)
[personal profile] faye_dartmouth
A/N: I’m so glad people are still reading! Things are about to get more complicated…

For previous parts, see the MASTER POST



PART SEVEN

-o-

Billy had always secretly resented the fact that his job had to remain top secret at all times. He felt as though he was missing the prime opportunity to share his antics, that the loss of his ample stories would somehow be a detriment to future generations. It was often with bittersweet understanding that he signed away his right to talk for the good of Queen and Country.

In this case, that secrecy was something he was particularly glad of. What he’d done with Helen Cutter had been imperative to the mission. He did not regret that.

He also never intended to talk about it again.

Ever.

Even after showering, he still felt numb and a little dirty. So when Helen had been purposefully vague with him about going to meet a so-called reporter “friend,” he ultimately let it slide. His initial reaction had been scepticism, of course, but if he pushed too hard, he was fairly certain she’d start to suspect his motives. It probably wasn’t the best for the mission to let her go off alone, but there hadn’t been much choice and after what had just happened, Billy really needed some time alone.

Not that time alone existed while undercover, but having her out of the flat was a decent place to start.

Still, he was somewhat reluctant to reestablish contact with Fredericks. Billy talked a good game and prided himself on wearing a smile more often than not, but this mission was taking him places he’d never quite envisioned. It was a bit much to grapple with, as was the notion that Fredericks knew.

Well, it was mortifying.

However, there was no way around it. If he slunk around like a lost puppy, he’d undermine his own credibility with his colleagues, and after how much effort he’d put into gaining said credibility, he was going to be damned if he let Helen bloody Cutter take that away.

Knowing how to put on a good show wasn’t just an asset for undercover work, after all. Billy was quickly ascertaining its value in everyday life. Fredericks was just starting to look at him with the inklings of pride, so Billy wasn’t about show his uncertainties or his weakness.

With that in mind, he pulled out his phone and headed to the bathroom. He removed his watch again, putting it neatly on the counter as he sat on the closed toilet seat and dialled.

While the phone rang, he turned on the water. There was no indication that Helen had bugged the place, but Billy had been a spy long enough not to take the chance.

Fredericks picked up quickly. “You should be wearing your radio mic,” he said.

Billy smirked. Only Fredericks would revert to orders, as though Billy had been slacking off and not getting the job done – and Helen would attest, he had really got the job done. “I’m afraid it got lost a bit in the shuffle of things,” he said. “Next chance I get, I’ll bring it back down to the office and see if they can put it back in. They made this one so damned tricky. I nearly had to rip my eardrum out to dislodge it.”

“That’s the point. We wanted it to be secure and undetectable. You never should have taken it out,” Fredericks told him, mild disdain in his voice. “That violates protocol.”

“Well, I’m not sure what part of protocol covered any of that last portion of the mission,” Billy said ruefully.

Fredericks made a noise. “Just make sure you’re using your head,” he said. Then he paused. “We’re here to work, after all.”

“Ah, all business and no pleasure,” Billy quipped, pulling up a carefree façade as naturally as he could. “No wonder you’re such a sour one.”

Fredericks sighed, long-suffering and overly dramatic. “Her story about going to the reporter,” he said, changing the topic to more pertinent intelligence. “Do you believe her?”

Billy’s cockiness eased and he shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I know she’s going to meet someone, but the story didn’t sound right and she certainly didn’t sell it very well.”

“Yes, her ability to lie seems to have been somewhat…compromised,” Fredericks agreed.

The insinuation made him blush, but he didn’t let it trip him up. “Do we have a tail on her?” Billy asked. “She’s definitely meeting someone, and if she’s actively working with the mole, then I would say that’s a good bet.”

“I agree,” Fredericks said. “She’s too good at losing a tail, though. The file says every time we’ve tried, she’s managed to give us the slip or lead us on a pointless wild goose chase. She seems to act as though she’s being followed at all times.”

“She does have an unduly developed sense of duplicity,” Billy agreed. “We should have got a tracker for her.”

“And you should have never let her walk out of the flat alone,” Fredericks said. “Things are moving along a bit faster than we anticipated, but we’re working to track her on CCTV and other surveillance footage but it’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

“Seems like an ambitious task,” Billy said, and he would know. In addition to paperwork, he had often performed grunt work such as scouring endless footage for a mark that may not be there at all. He didn’t pity the blokes saddled with the task, and found it odd indeed to be on the other side.

“Yes, well, that’s why we have you,” he returned. “I never would have imagined: the future of national security, riding on the shoulders of Billy Collins.”

Billy’s self-doubt spiked and he fought against it with an equal measure of denial. “I know what I’m doing.”

“I hope so,” Fredericks said. “We really are without any other options. If our lead with Helen doesn’t pan out, we’ve got nothing.”

“It’ll pan out,” Billy said with certainty.

“Truthfully, I’d feel better if she hadn’t left,” Fredericks said.

Billy stiffened, mustering up his certainty. “She’ll be back,” he said, and he was quite certain about it. “Trust me.”

“Trust is hard to earn, Collins,” Fredericks told him.

“Perhaps,” he relented. “But more than power or control or anything, I think I’ve made it quite clear that I have what Helen Cutter wants.”

And then some.

-o-

Stephen listened to Fredericks talk to Billy. It seemed silly to keep protesting about the details, and the truth was, he didn’t know if he could say anything to Billy at the moment. Not after he’d just joined the not-so-illustrious I-shagged-Helen-Cutter club.

Time would only tell if having one’s life completely destroyed by the encounter was standard admission fare or if Stephen had just got unusually unlucky.

Still, when Fredericks hung up, Stephen was having trouble shaking his doubts. It was plainly obvious that Helen had lied to Billy, and if their suspicions were correct, she was going to meet with the mole. Giving her free rein for that did not seem like the smartest move, and it bothered him more than a little to think of them all sitting on their arses while Helen went off and did whatever she wanted.

He still couldn’t quite believe she had truly nefarious intentions, but he was unable to deny the fact that her motives were entirely self-serving. Why else would she seduce Billy while so clearly still pining for Cutter?

With these growing suspicions and doubts, Stephen was ready for action.

What he was seeing, however, was the complete opposite. He watched futilely as Billy roamed around his flat before he turned to stare blankly at Fredericks, who was still making notes, seeming to cross-reference a few files.

After several moments, Fredericks twitched. He didn’t look at Stephen, but kept writing while asking, “Something you wish to talk about, Mr Hart?”

“I’m just wondering how this is part of the plan?”

Fredericks took a small breath, but kept writing. “You sitting there being difficult or Collins’ improvisational skills?” he asked.

Stephen was not shut down by the blatant sarcasm. “Helen could be off doing anything,” he said.

“Yes,” Fredericks agreed. “Rather disconcerting, isn’t it?”

Stephen gestured widely. “So shouldn’t we at least try to follow her? I mean, you’re bloody MI5!”

At that, Fredericks looked up. “I realise that it must be comforting to think of MI5 as an omniscient presence, ever-present and ever-capable. But we’re just another governmental organisation, limited by budget and resource constraints and staffed by people. People are imperfect. People have limitations. You should know, since you have many yourself.”

Stephen bristled.

Fredericks continued. “Collins has managed to set this mission up in a generally satisfactory way. We’ve got a solid lead and we’ve managed as best we can given our present intel to protect innocent members of the ARC staff who you yourself deemed not a threat and in need of protection.”

Stephen still waited for more. “And that’s it?” he said. “That’s all you can offer me?”

Fredericks sighed, genuinely weary. “Too many people think that spies are men of action,” he said. “I’ve read your file. I know you much prefer getting out and doing things yourself. But spying is just as much about putting effort in over the long haul.”

“Waiting could be a risk, though,” Stephen said.

“And acting too soon could fold the whole house of cards,” Fredericks replied. “If we act too soon, we may spook Helen and she may go back to ground. We could send the mole deeper undercover. We could get Collins’ killed. We might push forward the endgame, whatever that may be, and total chaos could break out. We don’t know. And that’s why we always wait until we have solid intel, why we sometimes err on the side of caution.”

He had a point, and Stephen knew it. But Fredericks was missing something imperative in it all. Steadily, Stephen maintained eye contact. “I know all about caution,” he said. “I spent eight years living cautiously because I didn’t want to disrupt things. Sometimes action does need to be taken. That’s why I came here. Because I’d waited too long.”

“Yes, well, let’s hope we have a little time left, shall we?” he asked, quirking his eyebrows.

“I’m not sure you’ve given me much other choice,” Stephen said.

Fredericks smiled ruefully. “No,” he said. “I don’t suppose we have.”

-o-

This time around, if truth was told, Billy was rather glad for the wait. Today had been a whirlwind and while he was still quite pleased to be out of his dingy little office with his never-ending stack of paperwork, fieldwork was tiring.

From setting up a cover to seeing a mammoth, it was exhausting.

Or really, maybe it was just Helen Cutter who was exhausting.

Not that Billy was thinking about that.

Which meant that Billy was thinking about everything else. He started with the mission, mentally recalling everything he could from the files he’d read to see if anything stood out differently now. They hadn’t gained anything particularly concrete, despite all that had happened, although it had been important to identify Helen not only as a viable access route but as a likely source of the problem.

Everything she said was suspect. The fact that she agreed that the traitor was Lester made Billy all the more certain that it wasn’t Lester at all. From the file Billy had read, Lester might fit the bill, but Helen wasn’t one for the obvious route. If she wouldn’t tell Billy the name of a reporter, then she wasn’t going to tell him straight out who the mole was.

She did know the mole, however. Considering how readily she manipulated Stephen into siding with her, she probably was the reason the mole had turned in the first place.

Not that Stephen was ready to see that, necessarily, but Stephen was an interesting case. More and more interesting the longer Billy stayed in his flat.

He had started out pacing, just to keep his critical thinking skills on edge, but as the mission details began to repeat, his attention drifted to the flat itself. Homes were interesting places, always ripe with information. To know someone, the best place to start was where they lived and worked. Usually Billy was good at reading people, but he had to admit, the more time he spent in Stephen’s flat, the stranger it seemed.

It was staunchly minimalistic in everything from décor to organisation. The open shelves in the kitchen were unduly neat and orderly, everything lined up and hung just so. The worktops were spotless, nary a dirty dish in sight. Even the fridge was well organised though primly packed; Stephen saw no need to plan ahead.

It didn’t stop there. The rest of the flat shared the same simple touches, with bland modern art and generic potted plants. It might be stylish to some were it not so utterly clichéd.

At first, this didn’t seem to fit, but the more Billy thought about it, the more it made sense. Stephen didn’t come across as sentimental – at least, apart from Helen – so the lack of personal keepsakes probably was fitting. Though he had a TV and an iPod, there seemed to be a dearth of quality entertainment options, which suggested that Stephen didn’t actually spend a great deal of time here. The DVD collection was horribly outdated and the table football was covered in a layer of dust.

The wardrobe was also sparse, save for unusually hardy items and numerous hiking boots. Coupled with a nice pair of running shoes by the bed, Stephen’s desire to be out and about was plain.

Still, while those details made sense, the overall coldness of the place didn’t seem to fit the man he’d met back at headquarters. Stephen had been reserved but still deeply passionate for the people and the causes in his life. Yet, there was little expression of that in his stylistic choices.

In the bedroom, Billy looked curiously at the mirrors. The choice was distinctive and, despite all evidence to the contrary, were not likely to have been chosen for sexual endeavours. No, the symbolism was actually quite obvious. They were a reflection of Stephen. The entire place was a reflection of Stephen. Not necessarily who he was, but who he thought he should be.

Stephen didn’t want people to see his passions, probably because he didn’t want them to see his fears and his doubts and his mistakes. Stephen Hart had trust issues, plain and simple.

And having met Helen, Billy was fairly certain he knew where they came from. Stephen wasn’t just hiding from others, he was trying desperately to hide from himself. After all, this wasn’t a flat set up to entertain. The uncomfortable furniture, the sparse decorations: Stephen wasn’t prone to opening himself up to others, no matter how much he wanted to.

The small things gave Stephen away, though. Billy noticed several smaller items scattered throughout the flat. Keepsakes and mementoes, a picture or two. The dolphin figurine clearly had importance – a family heirloom maybe? Stephen’s file had made no mention of parents; orphaned made sense, especially if the parents had died when Stephen was old enough to understand – possibly in college, which could explain Helen Cutter’s sway. If he’d just lost his parents, found himself alone and lonely, then it was certainly plausible he’d redirected his love to the first interested body who seemed like they cared for him.

There were other things, artifacts and fossils, probably from digs and expeditions. They were each small, clearly chosen with care. They showed no obvious sign of value and with no connection thematically, Billy suspected they represented moments more than style – possibly with Cutter. Maybe Allison, the girlfriend Stephen had broken up with shortly after she’d got back from South America, though girlfriend was a generous description of the long-distance relationship they’d shared.

The pictures were even fewer. Some looked like family. Most were of Cutter, the two of them laughing and smiling, hunched over an exposed dinosaur skeleton, crammed in a tent. In so many ways, those pictures were the only thing that actually stood out at all. The only things that seemed to matter. The apartment was cold and dead, but Cutter gave it life.

And Billy had purposefully destroyed that. He really was a right bastard, good intentions or not.

Weary, Billy made his way back toward the sofa and sat down heavily. Shifting, he tried to get comfortable but quickly found that Stephen hadn’t selected it with comfort in mind. Or style. Maybe he had at least got a good deal on it. Making a face, Billy did his best not to mutter, remembering keenly that he was still being listened to through the device in his watch even if he hadn’t replaced the radio mic to hear a two-way connection.

Still, Billy could support a good bout of self-flagellation, and Stephen certainly had cause. But the man was torturing himself with the most uncomfortable couch in the world.

Feeling a bit resentful, Billy continued to lay there, even though he knew he should tidy up a bit. Stephen was apparently a tidiness freak and even though Billy’s inclinations were totally toward the contrary, he knew how to play up the cover.

But cover be damned. If Stephen was going to make him endure this couch while biding his time, he would have to settle for a few belongings lying about askew.

Though the discomfort was an effective means of helping him sulk appropriately, which he reckoned Stephen would be doing in earnest if he were in this situation. Losing his job, alienating his friends, sleeping with the one woman he’d probably promised himself he’d never touch again – yes, some sulking was definitely in order.

He’d make it up to Stephen when it was over. Besides, he reckoned the other man would rather have his friendships in order, not his flat. Billy was no maid but he would help sort out the rest of Stephen’s life.

On the couch, Billy started going over the intel again, formulating possible endgames. Helen was no doubt off gloating about her latest conquest, though it did beg the question why she needed Stephen at all. If Stephen’s story was accurate, her initial inclination had been Cutter but when that had failed, Stephen had been an adept back-up.

There was probably another advantage to Stephen, one that may not have occurred to Helen until faced with Cutter’s rejection. Billy had seen her when Billy had confronted Cutter. He’d seen her eyes light up at the idea of Cutter punching Stephen. She liked the conflict. She enjoyed the notion of two men fighting over her. She seemed to take a particular pleasure in pitting the two of them against each other, if only for the sake of her ego.

In this, she had overplayed her hand. Stephen wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, but he wasn’t a complete idiot. Helen had humiliated him, and he knew it. Her continual attempts to seduce and control had been a large reason why Stephen had ended up at MI5 in the first place.

All of this explained why she had chosen Stephen in particular but not what her need for someone else on the inside might be. She was playing Stephen by saying the anomalies needed to go public, and there was an argument to be heard for that, whether or not it was ultimately right or not.

Helen didn’t strike him as altruistic. What did she gain by having the anomalies go public? Power? Control? Was she arranging people inside the ARC in order to give her an in when things finally did go public?

What could she possibly offer, though?

Control, Billy considered. The timing of the anomaly call and Helen’s appearance was somewhat coincidental this morning, and the file had said that she’d been reported missing for eight years. She could have been doing many things in those years, and if some of the anomalies went to the future, there was a strong possibility she had been there herself.

If so, what had she discovered? What technology had she procured? Was she able to control the anomalies? Connor was already working on ways to predict and control them, and his experience was far more rudimentary than Helen’s might be. She’d long ago established a means of finding them via radio frequencies, so it was entirely possible that her capabilities were much more advanced.

So if Helen could get the anomalies to go public, then she could position herself as a useful asset to a ramped up ARC, thereby giving her access to a wealth of facilities and power.

To do what? She’d had the opportunity to play nicely with others and shirked it. It could just be a power trip, Billy knew, but Helen didn’t quite seem the type. She liked power and control – Billy knew that too well now – but she had her motivations. She had reasons. She was a scientist, after all, and there were still hints of that left inside her. There was a reason Stephen wasn’t ready to cut ties with her; she might be onto something.

Or she might not.

The entire thing was giving him a headache and all he could do was lie here on an uncomfortable couch and do nothing.

Then, just as Billy’s restlessness was reaching a breaking point, the phone rang.

The sound of the ringtone surprised him, notably because it wasn’t his phone. It was Stephen’s phone. He’d been using a secure phone for official transmissions, but he’d had Stephen’s with him as part of the cover. Until now, it hadn’t rung, though, and Billy realised that he wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

Picking it up, he glanced at the number. Lester.

Well, that was unexpected. The would-be mole of the ARC, calling Stephen, the disgruntled employee who had just gone down in a spectacular show of flames.

Frowning, he answered it. “What do you want?” he said, estimating Stephen’s likely indignation as best he could.

“Listen, Stephen,” Lester said with no pretence. “This is no time for sulking. People are dying right now and many more will die unless you do something.”

This caught Billy’s attention. He’d willingly cut his ties at the ARC to protect people. And now he was getting a call from Lester himself with dire proclamations? It hardly made sense.

Unless…

Billy’s stomach churned. Lester’s disaster and Helen’s absence were a bit well timed. But why would she elicit Stephen’s help and then leave him out of things? Maybe she was right, maybe Lester was the source.

“Look, we need you,” Lester said, his voice turning almost earnest now. Billy didn’t have to know the man to know that such plain honesty was not considered normal for his rank. “There’s been an attack at a beach. We think it’s a Silurian scorpion. We can’t get hold of Cutter.”

That was a lot to take in. An attack. A beach. A scorpion.

Probably a giant, prehistoric scorpion ready to ravage innocent beachgoers.

And Cutter was potentially missing. That much was possibly not as dire as it sounded. If Cutter thought he had something on the mole, he could have gone to ground. He probably should have if he thought it was pressing enough, though it didn’t really seem to fit his file and Billy couldn’t deny the pang of concern it elicited from him.

None of that made any sense. Cutter wouldn’t be missing, not after his reaction to seeing Stephen go AWOL on a call that morning. Helen off, Cutter missing, a giant scorpion loose, and James Lester, head of the ARC, was calling Stephen? On the day he’d been fired?

Suspicious, yes. Though Billy didn’t have enough information to readily determine anything more. Sitting forward, Billy quelled the growing trepidation. “How can I trust you?”

“Well, why shouldn’t you trust me?” Lester replied with what Billy gauged to be actual surprise. As though he couldn’t fathom it. Not the reply of a traitor – but then, what else made sense?

Nothing. Nothing made sense.

“Look,” Lester continued, “we haven’t got time for this.”

Therein was the crux of the problem. There probably wasn’t time for this. Lester’s call made it readily apparent that something was happening. With Helen, with Cutter, with the ARC. And a scorpion. Because the rest really wasn’t enough.

What was Billy to do? He couldn’t tell Lester no – not for the sake of the mission and not for the sake that he might actually be telling the truth. If there was a scorpion and there was no one to deal with it, then Billy had a responsibility to attend to it.

Even if there was no scorpion, Lester’s call was suspicious enough to warrant investigation.

At the very least, he had to go to the beach and ensure that it was secure. Then it was time to hopefully find Helen again, move back toward the ARC and make a more aggressive approach if needed. Especially if Cutter was missing.

“All right,” Billy said, his decision made. “Tell me what’s going on. But if I help you, I do it alone.”

If it was a set-up, then his threat wouldn’t mean anything. If it was a legitimate request for help, Billy didn’t need to compromise MI5 personnel in the effort. Because Billy would go and deal with the scorpion – by calling in tactical support. He was a spy, not suicidal.

“You’re going to need backup,” Lester said, almost sounding vaguely like he cared.

“No,” Billy insisted, because containing the problem was still key. “If I so much as catch sight of one of your men, I’m out.”

With his cover, Billy worried that it might be in more ways than one.

-o-

Stephen was on his feet as soon as Billy had confirmed the details from Lester. Fredericks looked at him, eyebrows raised. “And what do you think you’re doing?”

Stephen refused to be cowed. “Going to help,” he said.

“Have you forgotten the fact that leaving this building will greatly compromise Collins’ cover and probably jeopardise the mission?” Fredericks reminded him.

It was the same banal tone Fredericks had directed at him all morning. Condescending and dry and annoying. Stephen had put up with a lot of things in his life, and had endured much from the likes of Cutter and the team, but they were his friends. Or, used to be, but ultimately that didn’t matter to Stephen. MI5 agent or not, one of the good guys notwithstanding, Stephen was not about to sit there and take it any longer.

Not with lives on the line. Not with Cutter missing.

He shook his head. “The mission is already jeopardised,” he said with strong inflection. “You don’t know where Helen is, you lost all your leads in the ARC, and now there’s a scorpion on the loose with no one skilled to handle it.”

“It’s a scorpion,” Fredericks said. “I hardly think—“

“That’s pretty obvious by now,” Stephen shot back. “And it’s not just a scorpion. It’s a Silurian scorpion, and I’ve dealt with these things before. They’re nothing to be trifled with and they’re far beyond what you’re equipped to handle.”

Fredericks’ expression flickered just for a moment with surprise as he seemed to reassess Stephen and the threat he posed to the overall mission. “I assure you, we have people—“

“Who don’t know what the hell they’re up against,” Stephen said. “I’d tracked down every major predator on the planet but nothing prepared me for coming face to face with one of the creatures that came through the anomaly. They’re unpredictable and they’re deadly and most of the time you can’t just blast them down with sheer firepower alone. Not if you’re going to maintain the secrecy everybody in this bloody place seems so keen on keeping. You need me.”

Fredericks looked vaguely impressed, but he still didn’t get to his feet. “We do need you, Mr Hart,” he agreed. “To sit down. The entire ARC project is a disaster waiting to happen because everyone runs around without any discipline and doesn’t stick to mission objectives. Honestly, it’s remarkable you’ve managed to keep it a secret at all, given how prone you all are to haphazard planning.”

“You can’t plan for rifts in time or prehistoric creatures,” Stephen insisted. “That’s the point, and that’s why I think it’s stupid that we’re even trying to hide it at all.”

“Then why did you come here?” Fredericks asked with more than a whiff of accusation. “Why not just trust your lover and leak things to the press?”

“Because I don’t know who I can trust,” he said, anger rising. His heart picked up its beat and he felt himself fuming. He’d worked so hard to keep his temper in check. He hadn’t let himself get angry at Helen or Cutter or anyone. He’d played along with other people, kept taking the hits for and from the team because he thought that was the least he could do. Maybe that he even deserved it for what he’d done with Helen and the truths he’d kept hidden.

But that was stupid, and it was just going to get more people killed. Stephen wanted to protect people – he wanted to protect his team – and everyone else seemed too intent on playing games and keeping secrets to look at the big picture. Helen, Cutter, bloody MI5 – no one wanted to compromise. No one wanted to admit they were wrong. No one wanted to work together to do what really needed to be done.

And Stephen was tired of it. He’d had enough.

He shook his head, more adamant now. Fredericks was still watching him, and Stephen straightened, setting his jaw stiffly. “Present company included.”

The barb registered on Fredericks’ face with something resembling bemusement. “I strongly suggest you sit down, Mr Hart.”

Stephen shook his head. “No.”

Fredericks didn’t look away. “You really need to sit down.”

“No,” Stephen said again, more loudly now. He pushed his chair back and walked around the table. “I’m going.”

Fredericks didn’t rise to stop him, and Stephen opened the door, set on his departure. He was already thinking about what he’d need – he’d have to go back to his flat, try to pick up some weapons and gear to appropriately meet the threat since Billy had his car and the cache of weapons there. Maybe Lester’s men would be helpful – not that he could necessarily trust that.

The train of thought was cut off abruptly when he stepped into the hallway. Two agents, as plain and generic as Fredericks, were there. Stephen was about to step around them, when one of them pulled his suit jacket back and revealed a gun.

Stephen frowned, confused. One of the men took him by the arm and Stephen tried to pull away.

There was nowhere to go, though. From behind him, Fredericks called, “Take him to the secure room, please. Give him something to keep him entertained; he may find waiting difficult.”

The men nodded. The one who’d shown him the gun inclined his head. “This way, Mr Hart,” he said.

The other one kept his grip tight. “Quickly, please.”

Stephen considered fighting, but he quickly realised there was no point. There was no point. Because now Stephen didn’t even have the choice to leave or stay or even watch as his life imploded without him.

-o-

Billy had to learn to be a bit more careful what he wished for. Not that he regretted being part of the action, but he was willing to admit that he was woefully unprepared for a cover that involved giant scorpions.

On his way to Stephen’s car, he found himself shaking. His fingers were sweaty as he started the ignition and he waited until he the engine was humming to risk a phone call.

Fredericks answered on the first ring and didn’t wait for a greeting, “The team is reorganising. The beach is out of the area we initially established, so response time is limited. Current intelligence suggests we have some time to get prepared since the area has already been evacuated and local police have set up a generous exclusion zone.”

“What should I do?” Billy asked, content for once to let someone else make the definitive choices.

“Report back to headquarters,” he said. “We’re delaying a dispatch until we’ve properly scouted the location, and we need you to be properly briefed before we send you back in.”

“Not that I’m complaining about the action, but netting scorpions is a bit outside of my area of expertise,” Billy said, hoping that his fear didn’t show.

Fredericks just sounded focused. “I need you on site in order to maintain your cover,” he said. “You asked Lester not to show up, but we don’t know who will be watching. How far out are you from HQ?”

Billy glanced out the window, trying to better assess his location. “I’m still at Stephen’s flat,” he admitted.

“Get creative, Collins,” Fredericks said. “Time to show what you’re really made of.”

Grimly, Billy killed the call, tossing the phone onto the passenger seat. Putting the car into gear, he swallowed the bitter uncertainty in his throat, and pulled the car away from the flat to speed away.

-o-

If Stephen had known all those years ago that this was how he’d end up, he really might have put up more of a fight against Helen’s advances. He’d been so overwhelmed by her interest that he’d let his common-sense desert him. It had been one night, one mistake, and he was still paying for it.

Cutter hated him, Abby and Connor were disappointed in him, the team was vulnerable and innocent people might die all while Stephen was locked in a benign room within the bowels of MI5.

His new guards had actually been rather polite about it once they got going. They offered him food and drink – anything he wanted – and promised this would all be over soon. Oh, and they were very sorry for the stress and fuss. Orders and protocol. It was for Stephen’s own good, really. They wanted to keep him safe.

When Stephen had refused all their offers, they’d assured him they’d be right outside. No doubt ready to appease his wayward whims while simultaneously keeping him inside.

Miserable, Stephen couldn’t even muster up the energy to pace. Instead, he sat on the bed and stared blankly at the wall, trying to remember why any of this was worth it.

If the team was safe, if the public was safe, if Cutter was safe…

But Stephen might never know. And it might all be for naught.

The bitterness of the reality was almost numbing, and he was so lost in thought, that he jumped to his feet in genuine surprise when the door opened again.

At first, he thought it was one of his guards, so he was taken aback to see Billy there.

The other man still looked remarkably like Stephen. Clad in identical clothing with his hair tousled, the resemblance was still somewhat unnerving. But now he had a scrape on his cheek and his eyes were wide. “I can’t believe they locked you up,” Billy said, shaking his head. His accent was Scottish again, and he sounded a little breathless. “What did you do?”

“Nothing,” Stephen said. “Just told them I’d deal with the problem.”

Billy lifted his eyebrows. “The scorpion?” he asked. Then he smiled briefly. “You are the heroic type, aren’t you?”

“I just know what it’s like to go up against these creatures,” Stephen said reasonably. If he had any chance of getting out, Billy was it.

Billy nodded in ready agreement. “And I wish you could be there with me,” he said.

Stephen’s eyes widened, and he shook his head. “You can’t possibly go out there,” he said. “A mammoth was bad enough, but a scorpion – you’re not likely to see it coming. They like to burrow in the ground and are keenly attracted to any vibration. You won’t see it until it strikes and by then, it’ll be too late.”

Billy’s grin widened. “That’s what I needed to know,” he said. “So thank you for that.”

Stephen shook his head. “That’s just the start of it,” he said. “A little information isn’t enough to go on. One mistake and you’re dead.”

“Which is why once I’ve relayed this information on, we’ll have a group of Britain’s finest men on their way to deal with the problem,” Billy said, far too jovially. He held up his wrist, pointing to the bare skin. “I’m even getting the watch refined to enhance the imagery. I think the boys upstairs are quite eager to see one of these things in action. They want to fully fit me out with a fresh radio mic and other tactical gear, just to be safe.”

A group of armed men was a bit more Stephen’s style than the way the team had been tackling anomalies of late, but they still had no experience with this type of creature. People without experience made stupid mistakes. Stupid mistakes got people killed. If anyone was going to die for this mess, it was going to be Stephen, not soldiers, and definitely not Billy.

The operative was talented and skilled – Stephen had been impressed with his work so far – but he didn’t know what he was getting himself into. Too much was at stake; Stephen had come to MI5 to take responsibility, not abdicate it.

For a moment, Stephen gauged the other man. Billy was distracted – no matter how much confidence he put forward, this made him nervous. That could be disastrous in the field.

It could be disastrous here, Stephen realised.

Two men, identically dressed and perfectly matched in appearance. Two such men, alone in a room. One was allowed to come back out; the other wasn’t.

The two guards on the outside might not ever know the difference. After all, Billy had fooled everyone all day, from Cutter to Helen. It could work. Of course, the room could be monitored, but considering that he’d slept and changed here, he rather hoped not.

Even so, it was the only chance he had. At the very least, it was worth the risk.

Billy was nodding to himself, as if to rally his courage. He bucked himself up, grinning widely at Stephen one more time, but the effect wasn’t as encouraging as Stephen knew it was intended to be. The other man looked worn and tired, the bruise on his cheek a stark reminder that he’d been through his share of difficulties today.

“Well, then, I’ll try to talk Fredericks into letting you out of solitary so you can watch again,” Billy said. He leaned in conspiratorially. “The man’s a prick, if the truth be told, and I could certainly do with your advice out there. A veritable angel on my shoulder. Or devil, if you prefer.”

Stephen edged closer. “That’d be appreciated,” he agreed. He hesitated, taking another step and offering his hand. “Whatever happens, just know that I respect what you’ve done for me.”

Billy cocked his head, a bit confused. He was about to reply when Stephen struck.

The first punch was hard and straight, and Billy just barely dodged it. Still, it caused the Scotsman to stumble and Stephen was too committed to back down now. He charged forward, unprepared for how quickly Billy recovered. He lashed out with a quick punch, and Stephen saw stars as his cheek throbbed.

He expected a quick follow-up, but Billy stood back, panting. “I know how you feel,” he said. “But this is how it has to be.”

Stephen gritted his teeth, looking up with renewed determination. To Billy, that was that. He’d subverted Stephen’s plan and was going to leave him there.

No doubt, Billy could lay him out with a single punch, but he didn’t want to. Billy liked him; Billy wanted to help him. But he was underestimating Stephen; underestimating his capabilities, underestimating his determination. Just like everyone else.

And that was the one advantage Stephen had and this time he intended to use it.

He pulled himself to full height but kept his head ducked in what he hoped was submission. As he got close, he looked up and briefly met Billy’s eyes. “I know,” he said, and this time, Billy never saw the punch.

Stephen swung hard, using his right fist to throw the other man off. The hit wasn’t Stephen’s hardest but it connected cleanly, hitting Billy squarely in the cheek. Boxing had never been Stephen’s sport of choice, but he could hold his own, and Billy crumpled to the ground without so much as a cry.

Stephen’s hand stung but he ignored it. He hesitated for a moment, looking down at the agent, lying prone on the floor. Guilt welled within him, but he swallowed it back. “I really am sorry,” Stephen said and he bent over, rolling Billy carefully into recovery position.

He lingered, checking Billy’s pulse and finding it steady and even. Convinced that Billy was generally unharmed, he reached down, pulling his keys out of Billy’s pocket. It would be a chore to find the vehicle, but it was what he needed to do. Then, he retrieved his phone out of Billy’s pocket and reclaimed his wallet, just in case. Looking inside, he found Billy’s ID card tucked away, which was the best ticket out the front door he’d have.

Finally, Stephen stood up, finding the last reserves of his courage as he looked down at Billy apologetically. “But this one is my fight, not yours. Trust me.”

With that, he took a breath, straightened his shirt, and threw caution to the wind as he headed out to face his destiny.

NEXT

Date: 2012-06-25 12:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kristen-mara.livejournal.com

*runs around flailing madly at all the events in this chapter*

I love how Helen being (cough) well-sexed hinders her ability to sell a story ;)

Meep - Stephen wondering if Helen would destroy Billy's life too...

I want to feed Fredericks and his smarmy comments to Helen, and then see how he feels! Yay for Stephen standing up to him.

**the table football was covered in a layer of dust**

Nick hasn't been around to play it with him *sadface*. I love Billy's observations about the flat and about Stephen. Typical Stephen; if there's dying to be done, he's not going to let anyone else do it. And his thoughts about being underestimated.

I hope the listening devices give MI5 some insight into what's going on in ARC land!

Date: 2012-06-27 11:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
I forgot to give you some credit for the details on Stephen's flat. Your post was quite helpful when I was writing this bit up. But it really was great to give an outsider POV of Stephen, especially through Billy :)

Anyway, more flailing to come.

Thanks!

Date: 2012-06-25 12:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scwlc-fic.livejournal.com
And for a moment I'd thought I'd get to see Stephen riding to the rescue of a flailing Collins. Could have been entertaining. Then again, I'm overly predisposed to humour and would probably have had a ten-minute comedic chase scene of a flailing Collins followed by post-traumatic follow-Stephen-like-a-puppydog Collins who was still scared something was going to kill him.

In other stuff, I knew it wasn't just me that there was nothing in his flat! That bothered me when I saw it and I am glad it is not just my imagination.

Excellent cliffie and very awesome.

Date: 2012-06-27 11:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
Ha! That would have been amusing. The scorpion is just the start of the troubles to come, though. Poor Billy may have to face some things yet.

Thanks!

Date: 2012-06-25 05:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lukadreaming.livejournal.com
Eeek! Thumping Billy and making a run for it is so Stephen.

And I particularly like the way you show Stephen through Billy's eyes.

Date: 2012-06-27 11:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
It did seem appropriate for Stephen to make an attempt to take back control. How that works out for him is yet to be seen.

Thanks!

Date: 2012-06-25 05:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] goldarrow.livejournal.com
Ouch: "Time would only tell if having one’s life completely destroyed by the encounter was standard admission fare or if Stephen had just got unusually unlucky."

Analysis of Stephen from apartment - brilliant! "Stephen didn’t want people to see his passions, probably because he didn’t want them to see his fears and his doubts and his mistakes. Stephen Hart had trust issues, plain and simple."

*sniffle* Poor Stephen: "Because now Stephen didn’t even have the choice to leave or stay or even watch as his life imploded without him."

OMG on Stephen taking over - Bloody Hell the man has an immense talent for getting himself in trouble...

And ouch for Billy - he's going to have fun explaining that one!

Would like to smack Fredericks upside the head for his sarcasm - jerk.

Still wow!

And growl on the cliffhanger... :)

Very glad I won't have to wait too long for the next chapter!

Date: 2012-06-27 11:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
Stephen really does seem to have a desire to get himself into all sorts of messes, doesn't he?

And yeah, Billy's going to have a headache in more ways than one.

Thanks!

Date: 2012-06-25 05:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nietie.livejournal.com
Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Date: 2012-06-27 11:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
LOL! It can't go TOO badly with the scorpion. We're not even to the cage room yet....

Thanks!

Date: 2012-06-25 07:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fredbassett.livejournal.com
That was a great chapter! I'd been wondering which of them was going to go after the scorpion. *g* I love the way this works so perfectly with canon.

Date: 2012-06-27 11:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
Making it fit seamlessly with canon was one of my biggest goals (and therefore one of my biggest headaches! Especially later!).

Thanks :)

Date: 2012-06-25 07:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] freddiejoey.livejournal.com
*balances excitedly on edge of seat*

cannot wait to see what facing his destiny means

*topples, flailing, to the floor*

Date: 2012-06-27 11:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
The fic is only about half over, so there's lots left to happen :)

Thanks!

Date: 2012-06-25 07:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flaccidduck.livejournal.com
Terrific chapter.

I'm bouncing for more Billy and Stephen.

Date: 2012-06-27 11:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
More will be up tomorrow.

Thanks!

Date: 2012-06-25 10:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] knitekat.livejournal.com
Brilliant chapter. Eek!

Date: 2012-06-27 11:53 am (UTC)

Date: 2012-06-26 01:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] judithjohn.livejournal.com
Loving all the character insights and the plot developments

Fabulous!

Date: 2012-06-27 12:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
I'm glad it's still got your interest! Thanks!

Date: 2012-06-26 01:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] joshinator.livejournal.com
Utterly love this fic.

Awesome crossover indeed.

Date: 2012-06-27 12:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
Thanks so much :)

Date: 2012-06-26 08:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] reggietate.livejournal.com
I was wondering about that scorpion! ;-D I had a feeling Stephen might want to go after it himself.

*flails more*

Date: 2012-06-27 12:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
Stephen's been stuck in a room long enough -- he's a bit too much of a man of action to stay there forever. Of course, we'll see how that goes...

Thanks!

Date: 2012-07-04 11:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cordeliadelayne.livejournal.com
*flails a lot*

Date: 2012-07-05 12:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] faye-dartmouth.livejournal.com
And it's just going to get worse!!

Thanks :)

Date: 2012-07-12 04:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lsellersfic.livejournal.com
I can't decide whether to Meep! or not - because Billy really wasn't up to the scorpion.

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