faye_dartmouth: (stephen and cutter)
[personal profile] faye_dartmouth
A/N: I think it may be time for a reunion in this chapter, but I can’t promise it’ll be a happy one.

Previous parts in the MASTER POST .



PART TWELVE

-o-

It wasn’t hard to track. The sound of voices had diminished, and he still heard intermittent volleys of gunfire, so winding his way through the building was all instinct. He ducked through doorways with his gun drawn, skidding through corridors, barely pausing long enough to stop and listen to reorient himself.

He rounded a corner, hearing the voices more clearly now, and picked up his pace. He had to get there, he had to see, he had to know.

After everything, he had to know what had been lost. What was the price of his mistakes? If it was Helen, then maybe this could finally be over. He didn’t want her to be dead – he didn’t want to believe this was her idea – but sometimes when you made your bed, you had to lie in it. Stephen had learned that the hard way.

If it was Billy, then his blood was on Stephen’s hands. This was Stephen’s debacle, and he’d let Billy walk into it. The man had volunteered, but that didn’t matter. He didn’t deserve to die on Stephen’s behalf. He didn’t.

If it was Cutter….

It couldn’t be Cutter. Stephen refused to think it.

He turned, following the scent now. Fresh gunfire, burned out explosives. Blood.

The doorway ahead of him was lined with men, guarding the charred entryway. The door itself seemed to be off the hinges, sitting precariously askew in the narrowed passageway. The men lifted their guns, on alert, and Stephen barely had time to put his hands up before he was thrown roughly against a wall, hands pressed above his head while someone disarmed him and another soldier put a gun to his back.

“I’m with Fredericks,” he said, trying to explain. “I’m with Fredericks!”

There was chatter – a fast-paced back and forth between the soldier and his radio – and then the pressure eased and he was released. “Sorry, Mr Hart,” one of the soldiers said. “You’re to stay here—“

But Stephen wasn’t listening. He pulled away from them, moving toward the doorway. Inside, he could hear more voices, and he had to know. One casualty. One male recovered.

“Mr Hart,” the soldier said again. “You need to stop.”

Stephen shook his head and kept walking.

“Mr Hart!”

“Shoot me if you have to!” Stephen yelled back without so much as another glance, picking up his pace and ignoring further protests as he skirted the last of the men and made his way inside.

He’d been so set on finding his way in that he hadn’t allowed himself to fully think about what to expect. The room was large and industrial, the cavernous walls stripped bare and the electrical work secured but visible. The yellow frames throughout the room gave it the feel of modern art, all bedecked with abstract pools of blood.

Stephen had seen vicious predators in action, so he was no stranger to blood. But never before, in all his years in the field, had he seen something like this.

A literal bloodbath.

The carcasses were strewn about, several heaped near each other. Stephen was able to recognise a few – the marred pelts of sabre-tooths and the alien limbs of the Future Predators – but most were destroyed. Where they weren’t ripped apart – apparently from fighting with each other – they were riddled with bullets, leaving their carcasses gory and mauled.

Teams of men were huddled about, seemingly in an attempt to clean up the mess and check for any signs of life. These soldiers were trained and hardened, but Stephen could still see the looks of shock on some of their faces. The largest group seemed to be circling towards the centre of the room.

One casualty.

Stephen’s throat tightened and he started moving again. The men inside generally ignored him, and he had to fight his way through the crowd, trying to get a glimpse, trying to see.

He caught a flash of blond, heard a rough Scottish accent. “No, I’m going with him!”

Cutter.

Cutter was talking and coherent. Stephen caught a flash of movement, Cutter being hauled back to his feet, fighting all the way.

“Get your bloody hands off me!” Cutter insisted.

Defiance. Resistance.

Stephen felt the knot in his chest unfurl just slightly. But then he remembered. If Cutter was okay, then…

The men in front of him shifted, moving forward to restrain the still bucking Scotsman and Stephen got his first look at the figure on the ground.

At first, all Stephen could see was blood. It was puddled on the floor, staining everything. The body was awash with it, the ragged tears in the flesh angry and weeping. But Stephen could recognise the lanky frame and the mussed hair. Billy.

The MI5 agent was on a stretcher, and a pair of medics were steadily bandaging the wounds. His shirt was gone, cut away and in tatters on the ground, exposing the deep gashes across his torso. In the short time Stephen had known Billy, the other man had displayed the restless energy of a schoolboy. Now, however, he was still, unmoving under the ministrations. Someone had hooked him up to oxygen and another medic was hanging an IV drip.

“Okay,” one of the medics said. “We need to move him out.”

The crowd parted further, and Cutter was pushed back even as he protested, thrashing almost violently. “No, I need to be there—“

The men weren’t listening, and the two medics hoisted Billy’s stretcher into the air, carrying him swiftly between them. Stephen stared as they passed, looking down at Billy’s lax features.

That could have been him. It should have been him.

The reality was numbing, and Stephen found himself immobile as they whisked Billy away.

Numb, Stephen blinked and tried to swallow. He looked up, dazed and didn’t realise who he was looking at until Cutter’s familiar blue eyes blinked back at him.

Cutter looked ragged, blood all over his shirt, although it didn’t appear to be his own. Still, the gash on his temple was real enough, and Stephen wished he could have been there for Cutter for all of it. As it was, all Stephen could do was stare.

They stood like that for a long second, eyes locked in shock. The colour drained out of Cutter’s face, and Stephen felt light-headed.

Finally, Cutter shook his head. “No,” he said, voice barely there. “It’s not…it’s not possible.”

Stephen startled just enough to come back to himself. “Cutter—“ he began.

Nick just shook his head again, body going ramrod straight. “It’s not possible,” he repeated, a bit more vehemently this time. The shock was tinged with horror and anchored by total disbelief.

And Stephen realised why. Cutter had just seen Billy get ripped to shreds. If the state of his clothing was any indication, he’d just held Billy until the medics arrived. He thought it’d been Stephen, though. He thought he’d seen Stephen almost die, and now, here Stephen was, alive and healthy and none of that would make any sense.

Most of it didn’t make sense to Stephen, and he was living it.

Given the betrayals, given the subterfuge, Stephen needed to be honest now. “I can explain,” he began, stepping forward.

Cutter stepped back defensively. “Explain?” The question was harsh and incredulous. “Is this one of Helen’s experiments?”

Stephen frowned, the reference unexpected. “What experiments?”

“Oh, like you don’t know,” Cutter said, eyes narrowed now in fresh distrust. “She’s done this sort of thing before.”

“It’s not like that—“ Stephen said, feeling his face flush.

“Who are you?” Cutter demanded, the shock giving way to growing ire.

“I’m Stephen,” he said, gesturing to himself. “I swear.”

“I don’t believe you,” Cutter said.

“I met you in university,” he said slowly. “I was with you on the trip to South America, when all the tents leaked and there were these leeches—“

“You’re lying!”

The words were as desperate as they were angry.

“Cutter,” Stephen said, his heart almost breaking now. “I know the way you like your coffee. I know you still think about Claudia Brown. It’s me.

“Then who was that?” Cutter asked, his voice cracking on the words as he pointed in the direction Billy had been taken.

Stephen worked hard to find some calm, taking a deep breath. “I can explain—“

“Just like you can explain why you were with Helen?” Cutter asked, the words laced with incredulity now.

The distrust was evident; so was the malice. It hurt, and Stephen reminded himself how this had to look from Cutter’s point of view. More than that, Stephen probably deserved it. No matter how much Cutter had known or suspected, Stephen was still the one who had lied. “Just listen to me—“

Cutter shook his head, wavering a little on his feet. “I just held your bleeding body,” he said. “I just watched you get devoured.

Stephen shook his head, willing Cutter to see him. “It wasn’t me,” he said.

Cutter’s expression continued to darken with suspicion. “So you sent, what, a clone in your place?” he asked sharply. “I knew Helen was up to no good but I hadn’t thought of cloning. And I hadn’t thought you would be involved.”

The implications were too much. If Cutter had suspected Helen’s capabilities, he should have said something. If he thought so little of Stephen to now think him culpable…

Not that he’d given Cutter many options. He needed to explain everything. Now.

He held his arms out. “I wasn’t,” he said. “This, me – him – it has nothing to do with being in league with Helen.”

“Then what?” Cutter asked, voice rising precariously. His eyes were wild and with the blood, he looked half mad.

“It’s an MI5 operation,” he said, blurting out the words before he had a chance to think them through. He knew he’d signed paperwork, he knew he was sworn to secrecy, but Cutter had seen too much. And Stephen would go to prison if he had to if it meant explaining the truth to Cutter once and for all.

Cutter blinked, face blank. “MI5?”

Stephen nodded. “I went to them for help,” he said. “Helen started showing up—“

“So you had been seeing her?” Cutter interjected harshly.

“A few times, yeah,” Stephen conceded. “But—“

“And you didn’t tell me,” he said.

“I didn’t want to make things worse!”

“So you lied!”

“I thought I could handle her,” Stephen said. “There was no reason for you to know.”

“Except that she was my wife,” Cutter roared. Some of the soldiers around them looked tense.

Stephen took a stuttering breath, trying his best to retain his composure. He stepped forward, dropping his voice. “I didn’t know who to trust,” he admitted. “I didn’t know what was real any more. I didn’t know how to sort out any of it.”

“So you decided you could work it out on your own?” Cutter asked.

“No,” Stephen said. “I decided that I needed to get someone with more resources than me. Which is why I went to MI5. To get help. To protect the team, to work out—“

Cutter shook his head vehemently. “That still doesn’t explain who I just saw get ripped apart.”

“His name is Billy Collins,” Stephen said.

“And he just happens to look like you?” Cutter asked, his doubt evident.

“Yes,” Stephen said. “Trust me, I was just as surprised—“

Cutter snorted, a bitter, harsh laugh.

Stephen stopped short, swallowing painfully. “There wasn’t time to ask a lot of questions about it,” he admitted earnestly. Cutter had always appreciated honesty; it was all Stephen had left to offer. “But the similarity made it seem like a good fit.”

Cutter scoffed. “A good fit?”

Stephen shrugged, barely hiding his own hurt. “No one even noticed the switch.”

It took a moment, a long, uncertain second, but Cutter realised the implications. “How long?”

“The last day or so,” Stephen replied.

There was another pause. “That means…”

“It was Billy. He baited you before, back at the ARC after the mammoth. He had to get close to Helen—“

Face screwed up, Cutter shook his head, interrupting. “You knew?” he asked. “You were watching?”

“I wanted to be able to give feedback—“ Stephen began.

“So you let this happen,” Cutter concluded with renewed vigour.

Stephen shook his head, the denials clogging his throat. “I didn’t let anything happen,” he tried to explain.

But Cutter wasn’t slowing down now. He inched forward, eyes blazing. “You let me believe someone else was you,” he said. “You plotted to leave us all vulnerable so you could do what you thought was important. And not even that, you sent someone else to do your dirty work.”

The venom in his voice was pointed, and it hit Stephen hard, right in the heart. He had trouble catching his breath, eyes burning but he didn’t know what to say.

Cutter stepped forward again, shoulders squared and face going red. “Just the same old Stephen,” he said. “Lies by omission are still lies.”

It was happening all over again. Stephen was standing in the Forest of Dean while Helen revealed all his worst mistakes. He was 22, not sure how to say no when all Helen wanted to hear was yes. He was wrong and he didn’t know how to fix it. Didn’t know anything at all.

He was trembling when he spoke, but he had to try. This time, he had to try. “I didn’t know who I could trust,” he said. “I just knew I needed to do something.”

“You should have trusted me,” Cutter shot back.

Something inside Stephen broke. “Like you trusted me?” he asked, the pain of it almost too much. “I tried talking to you for months, but no one even wanted to look at me.”

“Because you lied to me!” Cutter exploded. “You slept with my wife and you lied to me!”

“It was a mistake, Cutter!” Stephen yelled back. “One I made and one I regret every day of my life! Do I ever get a second chance?”

“Will you ever earn it?” Cutter snapped. “You’re doing it all over again. And to think, I was grieving for you.”

“I wanted to tell you about Helen—“

“Really?” Cutter asked, eyebrows raised. “Were you just going to wait another eight years?”

It hit Stephen like a blow to the stomach. “That’s not fair.”

“Not fair?” Cutter repeated. “I’m standing here with your blood on my hands, and you’re the one saying it’s not fair—“

“Nick—“

Cutter’s jaw clenched, his posture going rigid. His expression was furious. “No,” he said, voice quiet and seething now. “You don’t get to say that. You don’t get to talk to me now. You don’t get to come here looking to make amends. You don’t get to.”

The anger drained out of Stephen, and the loss quickly replaced it. “But—“

“But nothing,” Cutter said roughly, tone unyielding. “You’re a liar and you’re not worth the effort. I was right to fire you before, and I’ll do it again. You’re fired. That goes for you and any other incarnation you can think to bring about.”

Each word was a weight, piling on Stephen so hard that he almost couldn’t breathe. “Nick—“

Cutter shook his head, expression deadly. They were close now – close enough to touch – but they had never been further apart. “Get out,” Cutter said, the words definitive and certain.

Stephen’s throat constricted, and his head went light. This was what Cutter hadn’t said in the Forest of Dean. The thing he’d been scared of ever since he met Nick Cutter.

“If I ever see you again, it will be too soon,” Cutter said, the anger so palpable that Stephen could feel it. “Far, far too soon.”

Stephen wanted to protest. He wanted to explain. He wanted to apologise and beg and plead. He wanted to prove himself. He wanted Cutter. One more chance. One more chance.

But he’d lost that chance. He’d lost all his chances. No matter how much he hated this, he deserved it.

There was nothing more he could do anyway. Cutter’s face was hard and unforgiving. There was nothing left. Nothing left to fight for. Nothing left to save.

Nothing.

It was over.

It was finally, irrevocably over.

Sucking in a harrowed breath, Stephen reined in his tears. Slowly, he turned and carefully he took one step after another until he’d left Cutter far behind.

It wasn’t until he made it back outside and Fredericks’ men herded him back into a car that Stephen bowed his head and cried.

-o-

Billy came to with a gasp as sharp pain dragged him out of unconsciousness. He blinked, bewildered, trying to make sense of the two figures above him. They were focused, though, and although they seemed to be unduly fascinated with Billy, they weren’t even vaguely concerned with his confusion.

Confused, he tried to move, but found that to be an even less appealing prospect. Pain blossomed and he tipped his head up off the ground to look down his body.

His clothes seemed to be gone. In their place were swathes of white gauze. Or, once-white gauze. They were bloody now, saturated and dripping and—

So much blood. The sight of him made his stomach turn. He’d never been squeamish, but he’d never seen so much of his own blood before.

Agony spiked again, and Billy convulsed. His heart started pounding in his ears as he worked to breathe but found it to be a losing battle.

Desperate, he tried to speak, to ask what was happening, to be heard, but no sound came out. Just a small, keening noise as tears came to his eyes and he had no power to stop them.

Then, another figure came into focus. Serious and too formal and generally not the last person he wanted to see if he was dying.

Trust Fredericks to try to screw that up for Billy, too.

Still, Fredericks seemed to come closer, eyes intent on Billy’s. “Not the cleanest first mission I’ve ever seen, but we can sort that out,” he said, surprisingly earnestly. Fredericks’ eyes flickered away toward the other people, his face carefully composing as he looked down at Billy again. “So hang on. Just for a bit longer.”

Billy didn’t know whether to be reassured or afraid. Fredericks was being nice. He was being supportive. Either Billy had done something right or he was actually dying.

White hot pain ripped through him again and he found himself convulsing. So maybe it was both.

“Damn it,” someone yelled. “Looks like we’ve got a punctured lung!”

Pneumothorax, Billy thought idly. Whether from a broken rib or a set of claws or—

The thought cut short, as he struggled to breathe.

“We’re going to lose him—“

Billy’s vision started going dim as he flailed.

“Pressure is bottoming out—“

“He’s getting cyanotic—“

Fredericks straightened. “Then do something,” he said, insisting it now. “Don’t just stand there while he dies.”

Funny, it sounded like he cared. After all the pranks and the bad jokes, Fredericks cared. Trust could be earned, it seemed. Bought with blood.

Funny, Billy was dying. His first mission. His last mission.

Funny.

Billy strained to no avail, and as the monitors started wailing, Billy wondered, if this was all so funny, who was actually laughing.

NEXT

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