faye_dartmouth: (stephen and cutter hot)
[personal profile] faye_dartmouth
A/N: I’ll apologize in advance for the ending of this chapter. But we did have to get to this part sooner or later...

Previous parts in the MASTER POST



PART TEN

-o-

They were a few miles out when the first call came. From the terse one-sided conversation he could hear, Stephen could only guess it wasn’t good news.

After a moment, Fredericks looked at him. He hesitated, then seemed to come to a decision. “ARC Special Forces has handled a good portion of the bunkers,” he said. “But in the interest of speed, MI5 forces are in charge of handling the few that are further out. Our first team is in position.”

At this point, Stephen had learned that asking questions generally did him more harm than good.

Fredericks made a face, brow creased with concern as he breathed steadily for a moment. “Our teams are well trained,” he said. “Among the very best in the world for efficiency, force, and stealth.”

This time, Stephen didn’t need to ask a question. “But not so skilled with prehistoric predators,” he realised plainly.

Fredericks looked mildly chagrined. “Given what we saw on the beach with the scorpion, we now have a better assessment of the threat,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean you have any idea what you’re doing, though,” Stephen concluded. “Trust me, I know the feeling. I’ve spent the better part of my life going up against the most ferocious creatures on earth, and none of it even compared. And if what you say is right about the project, then there’s a strong likelihood these creatures have either been bred or trained for maximum carnage.”

“Indeed,” Fredericks said. “And given your performance on the beach…”

The words trailed off, and Fredericks looked almost pathetic as he waited for Stephen to pick up his train of thought.

Then Stephen realised what the train of thought was. “You want my help,” he said, the realisation almost as humorous as it was numbing.

“We still want to keep you away from the action as much as possible and you are not to engage with any of the creatures or other participants,” Fredericks said. Then he hesitated before adding, “But some tactical advice might be appreciated for the first encounter.”

Stephen would have laughed were the situation not quite as dire as it was. It took him a moment to gather his bearings as he turned his tracker’s mindset back on. “What’s the location?”

Fredericks lifted his phone again. “I’m putting you on speaker,” he said, then pushed a few buttons and put the phone down again. The signal crackled as the speaker came to life. Then Fredericks continued, “Please relay the specifics of your location again.”

The voice on the other end was tinny but to the point. “A secured maintenance building near a popular recreational footpath. We’ve closed the area, but there are clear sounds coming from the interior.”

In his mind, Stephen tried to envision it. He considered the space available and the equipment inside. Not likely to be much perishable, so the creature would be hungry, and there would be enough equipment for it to make a mess, which could impede any kind of assault.

“What kind of creature does it seem to be?” Stephen asked, not waiting for an invitation to jump in.

“Appears to be a dinosaur,” the voice replied. “Intelligence gathered identifies it as some sort of therapod. From a distance, we gauge it to be moderate in size and fast.”

A hunter, ferocious in speed more than size. Similar to a raptor, but maybe larger. A deinonychus, perhaps. Either way, the profile was daunting. Something of moderate size could move quickly and hide more efficiently in the surrounding area. If it got into the wilderness, they’d have a hard time tracking it and a harder time capturing it before it caused damage.

“You’ll want to control the exits,” Stephen said. “Be sure to block the way you come in with plenty of firepower. If it escapes, then your problem becomes exponentially worse.”

“What kind of firepower should we use?”

“Nothing fancy,” Stephen said. “With a creature that fast, something that fires quickly is more important than sheer power alone. Aim for centre mass, though; these things move faster than you’re expecting, and if you take too much time lining up a shot, you’ll be dead before you fire.”

“Best approach?”

“When you have a shot, fire. Then keep firing,” Stephen said, and he spared a moment to hear Abby’s complaints in his head, to consider Cutter’s worry about the timelines. Both were moot points, though; the level of interference was all too expansive to control and they had no place to send this creature to. “If you have enough men, you should be able to get control of the situation quickly. Also, these things might take a few shots to realise they’re dead; keep shooting until they’re on the ground, just in case.”

“Copy that,” the voice said. Then, distantly, the voice called. “Ready for approach, formation beta. Send back-up teams to the alternative exits, but do not engage there. Stay together in formation, hold ground and shoot to kill.” The other advice was relayed promptly and precisely. There was the sound of movement for several seconds, then the voice came back on. “Team is in formation. Do we have permission to engage?”

Fredericks looked to Stephen, who could only shrug. Then Fredericks nodded grimly. “Permission granted.”

Just like that, the sound increased. “We’re clear,” the voice said. “Go, go, go!”

There was movement, the rustling of clothes and the sound of metal being broken. Then, for a brief moment silence. Stephen sat, feeling his nerves fray, and just as he was going to ask what was happening, the first shot was fired.

There was an inhuman squeal and more gunfire erupted. The bullets clanged – ricochets, Stephen realised, and could only hope the protective gear would prevent errant friendly fire – and there was a terrible scuffle. Voices yelled and the squeal intensified. The gunfire picked up pace and then it was over.

Thirty seconds, tops, but it had felt like a lifetime. Stephen didn’t breathe until the voice came back on. “We got it,” the voice said, a little breathless. “Repeat, we confirm that the target is down.”

“Do you have any casualties?” Fredericks asked.

“That’s a negative,” the voice replied. “Our approach was flawless and the mission was a total success.”

Stephen found himself smiling. Even Fredericks seemed to be holding back a grin. “That’s wonderful news,” the MI5 agent said. “Proceed with clean up and transport.”

“Copy that,” the voice said.

With that, Fredericks ended the call. He took a calming breath before meeting Stephen’s gaze. “Good job,” he said.

“I didn’t do anything,” Stephen replied.

“Your intelligence helped ensure a successful approach. Now that team can relay the information to other units and hopefully the mess will be cleaned up in no time,” Fredericks said.

“What if the creatures are different?” Stephen asked.

Fredericks shrugged. “It is a risk,” he said. “But I’m afraid we have bigger concerns now.”

Stephen was going to ask what could possibly be more important when he realised that the vehicle was stopping. Peering out through the tinted windows, it took Stephen a moment to orient himself. But he could recognise the place from Helen’s description alone: the abandoned Ministry of Defence site.

“We’re here,” he realised.

“Yes,” Fredericks said, already unbuckling his seatbelt. “And hopefully this will all be over soon.”

In the heat of preparing the team for taking down the predator, Stephen had been distracted. But there was no distraction big enough to make him forget what was really going on. More than predators, more than Leek and Lester, more than the ARC and its rogue offshoot. Inside that building was Billy. Inside that building was Helen. Inside that building was the team. Inside that building was Cutter.

Inside that building was everything left in this world that mattered to him.

He could plan for predators, but he didn’t know how to plan for that. All he could do was follow along, garner his willpower and hope for the best.

-o-

One of the advantages to a cover as Stephen Hart was that when he had no idea what he was doing, no one actually seemed to notice. Both Helen and Cutter were strong personalities, and mostly seemed to operate under the impression that Stephen either had no opinion of his own or just naturally deferred to their infinite wisdom.

There were some problems with this mindset, and when this was over, Billy might be inclined to offer Stephen a few tips about how to make people with leadership complexes listen. That assumed, of course, that Billy ever got around to telling Fredericks where he could stick his jokes and faux missions.

Still, Billy found himself mildly indignant on Stephen’s behalf. After seeing the results of Stephen’s performance on the beach, Billy knew the other man to be fully capable and skilled under pressure – it had only been the apparent death of his friends that had allowed him to cave to Billy’s plan to go after Helen alone. If he had the desire, there was no need for him to play second fiddle to either Helen or Cutter. However, as much as Stephen seemed ready to finally shed the burden of Helen, he rather seemed to like being Cutter’s right-hand man.

All of that was an issue for another day, though. For now, Billy was more than content to play the part, primarily because he had no idea what to do.

After all, there he was. Deep undercover, armed with a pistol, two bullets and a transmitter that may or may not be working, teamed up with a psychopath while scouring the bowels of a top secret facility which was designed to disrupt the entire evolutionary course of mankind. His purpose was, of course, to stop that, which had sounded well and good to him until he realised it involved herding vicious predators by using nothing more than a siren and locked doors.

All things considered, Billy was more than happy to let someone else do the heavy lifting at this point. He just needed to stick with Helen, keep Cutter safe, and wait for back-up. Once that happened, everything would be okay. This mission could be over and Billy could go back to being Billy Collins, chasing terrorists, and Stephen Hart could resume his tumultuous life hunting prehistoric creatures and nearly getting killed on a bi-weekly basis.

Or Stephen could retire and go and live in the countryside. Maybe go back to university, finish the degree he’d abandoned when Helen abandoned him and live overseas doing something utterly scientific to advance the cause of the human race in a positive way.

Billy didn’t actually care about the specifics as long as this was over.

Fortunately, Nick seemed just as keen as he was to get this done. He kept glancing towards Billy, short, careful looks, but they had a deeper sentiment. They were suddenly in tandem again, and though neither had apologised, the unspoken reliance said more than enough. There was still hope in this. Billy could salvage the personal side of his mission, too, for Stephen’s sake.

Helen led the way, winding through the building until they reached a room that had clearly been re-fitted. Its walls were thick enough to muffle sound, leaving the enclosed space impenetrable. Inside, the open area was set up with large yellow frames, clearly meant with some electrical purpose in mind.

The cage room, he realised. The cages were electric, only when the power had been affected, the cages had been rendered useless. This seemed like a careless oversight – who used electrical systems for this level of protection without having an untouchable failsafe in place? Had these people not taken Jurassic Park seriously?

His assessment was correct because Helen worked her way over to a network of hanging wires on the far side. Cutter moved ahead, clearly recognising this place. He reached the box, pressed a few buttons, and a loud alarm reverberated through the building.

Cutter turned around, looking to Helen. “It’s working,” he said. Then he glanced toward the door. “Let’s get out of here.”

That was apparently that. All the posturing, all the fretting, and they hit one button and it was over.

“I’ll seal the door,” Helen said, unusually helpful. “Nothing will get out.”

That was too easy. It couldn’t possibly be that easy.

Not that Billy was complaining. He just had his doubts. Spies were known for their inherent paranoia – it was less a flaw and more of a survival tactic in their line of work – but this mission warranted more than most. In fact, as far as missions went, he could only think that everything would seem easy after this.

Maybe it was a blessing in disguise.

Or maybe he could think about that later. Like when he was out of a room soon to be filled with predators.

Cutter shared a look with Billy, and Billy felt no desire to dally. Turning, they moved together toward the main door, which was also the only viable exit. There were other doors, of course, but it was then that Billy recognised the mechanics of the room. This part of the facility was entirely sectioned off. While other rooms were accessible from this room, there was only one doorway that led to the outer part of the building. On that side of the door, they would be safe and the creatures would be contained.

Which was why when the siren sounded, that was the one door that automatically shut. This ensured that none of the creatures escaped.

So leaving by that door was important.

Encouraged, Billy picked up his pace, darting swiftly. He was almost there when a raptor skidded into the room from an adjacent door in the room.

A raptor.

It was a bloody raptor.

Of course, it was a raptor. Because nothing about this mission could actually be easy.

He didn’t need to watch Jurassic Park, because he was living it. A mammoth, a scorpion, a sabre-tooth cat and a raptor. After this, nothing would surprise him. Billy was prone to hyperbole, but in this case, he thought it to be fairly accurate.

And highly motivating. Heart pounding, Billy made sure Cutter was in front of him as he started to run. He turned in time to see Helen coming, but there was a flash of movement and she went down just before the doorway.

Billy’s first impulse was to leave her. After all her lies. After all her manipulations. She certainly was as close to deserving a slow and painful death as any criminal Billy had had the misfortune of knowing.

But Stephen wouldn’t want that. Even after what she’d done, he wouldn’t want that. Maybe it was because he had loved her once; maybe it was because he wanted to remember her fondly. Maybe it was just because Stephen was a better person than he was.

Besides, it wasn’t Billy’s job to play God. It was his job to finish the mission. Helen was part of the mission. Thoughts of showing her unmerited compassion aside, she was a valuable source of intelligence. MI5 wanted her in custody in order to circumvent whatever else she had planned.

Cutter moved to act. This seemed uncanny to Billy. The man had seethed around Helen. He had glowered at her and ranted about her. But when things got hairy, he still valued her life. Was still willing to die for her. Was willing to throw away his best friend because of her.

Neither Cutter or Stephen understood: she wasn’t worth it. Perhaps this incident would finally be a lesson to them both. Maybe she didn’t deserve to die, but she wasn’t worth what was between them. What they had. What they could have if they just got their heads out of the arses and saw things plainly.

Helen was on the ground, Cutter wedged in the doorway, arms wrapped around her. The raptor was gnawing at Helen’s boot as she writhed. The door was still inching shut. Forcing back his fear, Billy manoeuvred his way into the door, freeing Cutter up to focus on Helen.

The raptor snarled, bearing down and Helen yelped as she was jerked.

Cutter held fast, and Billy felt the door shift and start to crush them all.

If given the choice between being crushed by a massive door or ripped to shreds by a raptor, Billy wasn’t sure what he’d pick.

Really, neither, but apparently the choice wasn’t his to make. As Helen struggled, Cutter lashed out as Billy braced them all, kicking at the door’s mechanism in an attempt to stop it and buy them some time to focus on Helen before they were snapped in two.

“Shoot it, Stephen!” Cutter yelled, not looking back to check if Billy was even armed. That was how it was with them, though. Even under stress and after everything, they knew each other.

The trust was enough to refocus Billy’s effort. Without thinking, he pulled the gun. Two shots left, he reminded himself. A raptor and two shots.

He narrowed his gaze, aiming carefully. The raptor was squirming, flailing in an attempt to rip Helen free. A missed shot would leave them vulnerable. Or worse, it would hit Helen. This required skill and precision.

Fortunately, Bloody James Bond had nothing on him.

Billy fired, once, twice. The raptor howled and fell away. Cutter pulled and Helen finally tumbled forward as they all retreated back through the doorway together.

Tucking his gun back behind his shirt, Billy tried not to notice how badly his hands were shaking.

“The creatures are almost here,” Helen said, as if the raptor’s attack hadn’t been obvious enough.

Billy didn’t need more incentive to leave. He was well on his way when he realised Cutter wasn’t with him. Helen paused next to Billy, looking back as well. “Come on, Nick,” she said, since apparently being part of the plot that nearly got him killed didn’t necessarily mean she wanted him to die.

Or something. This entire mission was one overly proud logical failure after another. These people made the paranoid spy world look downright sane and steady.

Cutter grunted, fumbling with the door. “I can’t close the door.”

For a long moment, Billy thought he’d misheard.

He really had to have misheard.

Because after everything, their lies and their traps and their overly simplistic last-minute plans, they were going to be foiled by a door?

An actual, literal door?

When Cutter had stopped it from crushing Helen, he’d apparently disabled it entirely. Saving Helen’s life was going to cost them everything. That was the worst kind of kismet, a cruel twist of karma, and just totally unfair.

This was like one of Fredericks’ bad jokes, only this time it wasn’t just office-wide humiliation or an unfortunate trip to Antarctica. At least that time, he’d got to see penguins for his trouble. This – the utter ridiculousness of it – wasn’t even good for a prolonged laugh because instead of laughing, they’d be dead.

Not to mention the fact that they’d be responsible for letting the predators escape above ground.

Details.

So many bloody details. Someone should have spotted this as a potential problem months ago, when the facility was being constructed. The flaw in the escape system could be so easily exploited and overturned. Really, it was a recipe for disaster.

A disaster that Billy was living.

“We need a way so they can’t get back out,” Cutter continued, turning back toward Helen and Billy.

The file had described Cutter as just short of brilliant. Under duress, Billy might dare to say he was somewhat less so when he started saying things like that.

“We can only do that from in there now,” Helen said, nodding toward the room. “The controls are on the other side but whoever does it will be locked in.”

She would know that since she was apparently integral in the construction phase. As if Billy needed more reason to hate her. Not only was her scheming bad for interpersonal relationships and national security, but she also lacked a fundamental attention to security failsafes.

Billy was so busy being entirely outraged at the stupidity of this complication that he hardly had time to dwell on the implications of fixing it.

Cutter, however, seemed to be thinking on that enough for both of them. His shoulders visibly slouched. “Then one of us has got to go back in.”

Billy didn’t hesitate. He looked at Helen. This was her mess, in more ways than one. Personal responsibility was a big thing amongst spies.

Helen, however, proved herself to be either amoral or a coward. Or both. She made no move to volunteer.

Cutter’s face finally went blank and he seemed to shrug as though it was a revelation. “I’ll do it.”

Billy’s eyes widened. Another point against him in the brilliant department. He shook his head. “You’ll never make it out.”

The bleak reality didn’t seem to matter, though. “Get out of here,” Cutter said, the shock fading to determination. He didn’t say it as a suggestion; it was an order. One he expected Stephen to follow, without question. Still, he came close, grasping Billy’s shoulder and letting his voice drop. “Just remember Lester’s not the enemy.”

The words were simple, but the meaning was so much more than that. It wasn’t just the intelligence revelation of such a comment – because if not Lester, then who? – but it was the intimacy of it. The transference of trust. Cutter was asking Stephen to continue his fight. Passing the torch, so to speak.

After everything, he still turned to Stephen, still trusted Stephen with this.

He’d still die for Stephen.

And suddenly, Billy understood. Not just about Lester or Helen, but about Nick and Stephen. It hadn’t been hate between them all this time; it was total devotion. They were two halves of the same coin, perfect complements who didn’t know how to exist without each other even when they thought they needed to.

Stephen and Cutter needed each other, plain and simple. That was why the revelation of an old affair mattered so much. Not because of that first betrayal but because the ones that hurt you the most are inevitably the ones you love the most.

The revelation galvanised him. This was what Billy had promised to save. This emotion, right there between them. Shared, unspoken in a touch, implicit in simple words.

This.

Billy couldn’t let Cutter go off and die. Not until he made things right with Stephen. Not until they had a chance to work it out, to realise what they meant to each other.

Billy couldn’t let this happen. Not to Cutter. Not to Stephen. Billy was the one who had signed on to die for his country, no matter what.

No matter what.

Helen was speaking, “Nick, please—“

Cutter turned and Billy saw his opening.

This time, he took his lesson from Stephen and didn’t hesitate. He lashed out, one steady, strong punch and Cutter went down. Before the other man could recover, Billy stepped over him and darted into the room.

On the inside, he found the control panel. At first, all the buttons looked the same, but then he saw the largest one and trusted his instincts. Pressing down, there was a click and then the gears on the door started grinding again. The massive structure resumed its course, clicking shut with a hiss of air and a resounding clang.

It was done.

Suddenly, Cutter’s face appeared in the porthole. He was wide-eyed, desperate as he realised how things had changed. “Stephen!”

Billy took a breath, finding his courage now that the choice was made. This was what it was to be a spy. To make a decision in the field and to trust it. This was what he’d never had before, this was the confidence he had lacked. This was what made James Bond the best damn spy in the world. Not the flashy missions and the hot women, but the certainty and the confidence.

Billy had that now. He leaned against the porthole and looked unflinchingly at Cutter. “Sorry, mate,” he said. “I’m doing this one.”

Cutter pounded hard on the other side. “No, open this door!” he demanded, relaying the orders like he always did. “Open it!”

“Can’t do it, Nick,” he said, remembering what Stephen had said. He never used Nick’s name unless it was serious, and this was as serious as it got. “Can’t take the risk.”

Not for the mission. Not for Stephen. Not for Cutter, even if he didn’t know it. Though he wouldn’t doubt it. They all knew this was what Stephen would do if he were here. It wouldn’t have even been a second thought.

“Stephen, open the door,” he said, even stronger this time, almost apoplectic at the notion that Stephen would defy him.

Billy took a step back, then another. He thought about Stephen and what mattered to him. “Tell Abby and Connor to stay out of trouble,” he said. He had come mainly for Cutter, but the others mattered, too. Billy had to keep his promises. Billy would keep his promises.

This time, Cutter had no response.

Not as the predators started to gather, circling him slowly but surely.

More raptors. Sabre tooth cats. Gangly creatures he could only vaguely identify as Future Predators from the file. They had come from all directions, blocking all his exits. There were no options left.

This was it, he realised.

This was really it.

It wasn’t just words on a mission report. It wasn’t just a joke played by his colleagues. It wasn’t just spy movies or undercover bravado, this was it. Grand ideals, heroic notions – they were all well and good, but this was the part all the movies and books got wrong. Such things weren’t a glorious crescendo to victory. They were the cold and hard prelude to disaster.

Heroes didn’t often live happily ever after. They often gave up everything so the rest of the world could live such happy endings instead.

Billy had locked himself in a room full of predators. In the name of his country. In the name of people he’d promised to protect.

Help was coming, though. Back-up had to be coming.

As he made his way to the centre of the room, he finally realised they might not be fast enough.

It had sounded grandiose to say he’d die for his country.

Standing with no means of defending himself while predators approached, it seemed less so. These predators had been called here to eat, and Billy was the only thing on the menu. He could hope they might turn on each other first, but somehow he didn’t fancy himself as lucky today.

They had made worms meat of him. Or, they would. There was an injustice to dying in someone else’s battle, but this was how it was. This was the fate Billy would accept. Had to accept.

It was time to prove himself, once and for all. As the spy he wanted to be. The spy he’d spent his life trying to become. As the spy he would be remembered as.

It didn’t matter if back-up came.

Billy sought to buoy up his faith.

It didn’t matter.

Holding back the inherent fear, his eyes met Cutter’s one last time.

He took a breath; his heart stuttered. For his country, for Cutter, for Stephen—

Then, one of the predators moved, rushing toward him.

No more time for grand ideals. No more time for promises. No more time for second thoughts.

There was searing pain, and there was just no more time.

NEXT

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