Catalyst

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)


Author's Notes: For kaly, of course. I like being evil. You can be evil too! *cackles maniacally* *clears throat* Right. Anyway, thanks for the beta, bunny spawning and Billy bits, babe! Okay, so there weren't really any Billy bits involved. Unless you count teasing me horribly with bits of fic! *grin* Anyway, I just got carried away with the B's. *grins* Right. Did we say we didn't have a list to scare? Look, ma! A list! *evil laughter echoes off the walls*

Um. Right. Still with me?


"Alan, are you sure you're okay?" Ellie leaned over her kitchen table and placed a cup of coffee before the paleontologist. He wrapped his hands around it immediately.

"You've asked me that half a dozen times since the marines picked us up," he commented, and took a careful sip from the mug.

"That's because you haven't answered yet!" she said, exasperated.

"I'm fine."

"That's not an answer."

"It's a perfectly good answer!" Alan snapped, and winced.

Ellie sighed and settled herself in the chair across from him, one leg folded underneath her. "It's not a 'perfectly good answer' when you're still trembling just a couple of days after the rescue, when you won't meet my eyes, when you flinch every time you snap at someone. What's wrong, Alan? You weren't even this shaken up after getting off Isla Nublar. What happened?"

Alan let out a long, shaky breath. "Billy almost died."

"And?"

Alan's head snapped up, eyes meeting hers for the first time with a hard, angry gaze. "Isn't that enough?"

"Alan," Ellie said softly, "I can tell when you're not telling me everything."

He attempted a smile and failed miserably. "It's...I...do you know what my last words to him would have been?" He stood and paced for awhile, as if to force the words out. Ellie waited. When at last Alan brought himself to speak he stopped and dropped into his chair as if exhausted. "I told him 'You're no better than the people who built this place.'" He paused, struggling to hang onto his composure. "Ellie, how could I have said something like that? No better than them... He was better than any of us."

"What did he do?" She was calm.

Alan rubbed his hands over his face tiredly. "What do you mean?"

"He must have done something to prompt a comment like that. What did he do?"

Alan hesitated to condemn his prot‚g‚ but reluctantly answered. "He stole a pair of raptor eggs."

"And brought the pack down on you?" Ellie asked incredulously.

"He was trying to help!" Alan protested. "The dig is almost bankrupt Ellie..."

"Alan," she sighed, "all I'm saying is, you had a right to be upset. And they weren't your last words to him. You can still apologize."

"'I'm sorry' is supposed to make it better?" He choked back a hysterical laugh and set the coffee down so hard it splashed over the side of the cup. He cursed and shook the scalded hand until Ellie passed him a damp tea towel. "You don't understand," Alan shook his head, eyes on his hands. "After I said that to him, we all headed down the stairs. He stayed behind. I wondered why. He was putting on the parachute. I think...I think he looked out that window and knew what we were heading into. I think he knew, and he prepared himself to do what he had to, if someone got snatched." Alan raised tortured eyes to his old friend. "What if I made him think he was expendable? What if he thought he had to prove himself to me? He could have died, Ellie. He could have died and it would have been my fault."

"Alan," Ellie came around the table and dragged a chair over to sit next to him. She put an arm around his shoulders. "Alan," she said again, but comforting words just wouldn't come. Instead she pulled him into an awkward embrace with the other arm and let him shake, dry eyed, on her shoulder.

After a long moment he pulled back and managed an honest smile for her. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," she smiled, hesitated, then went on. "Sometimes...it's the people that we love the most that have the most potential to harm us. With anger, with misunderstanding...with disappointment." Suddenly Alan couldn't meet her eyes anymore. "Alan," she sat up straight, "you did tell him, didn't you? Before you left?"

"Everything happened so fast! I was hardly back at camp before the Kirbys arrived... There wasn't time."

"Oh, for goodness sake!" Ellie stood and ran a hand through her hair. "You had two plane trips - one to Costa Rica and one to Isla Sorna! How long does it take to say three little words?"

"We weren't alone!" Alan protested.

"Who cares?" she sighed heavily and sat back down. "Listen, I told you the last time you were here that you needed to tell Billy how you felt, and you swore you would. Alan, I know you're scared, but you're never going to know if there's something there unless you say something."

"How can I tell him, Ellie?" he asked, staring into the murky brown coffee bleakly. "He's twelve years younger than I am. He's smart, charismatic. Attractive. I don't even know if he's even interested in men. Not-" he cut her off, "that he wouldn't have better prospects if he is."

"Stop being so fucking self-denigrating, Alan!" Ellie snapped. "You are smart, and attractive, and charismatic," he snorted at that, thinking of his last lecture, "and twelve years is not an unreasonable age difference."

"Ellie," he shook his head, sighing.

"You're the most stubborn man I know," she shook her head. "Why is it any different telling him now than it was before?"

"It's different," Alan swallowed the last mouthful of coffee and stood, "everything is different. I'm sorry, Ellie. I have to go."

He left the coffee cup on the counter.

***

It took Billy a good minute to limp over to answer the door when the bell rang. He opened it to find his visitor turning away.

"Dr. Sattler! Come on in. I'm sorry it took me so long to get to the door - I'm not so fast on one leg." He stepped back and waved her into the living room of his apartment. "I never did get to thank you for calling in the cavalry."

"No thanks necessary," she smiled and perched on the edge of an easy chair, "I've been there."

"Well, I'm grateful all the same." Billy paused, lost for words, and escaped the silence by carefully settling himself onto the couch.

Ellie took a long look around. The walls of the apartment were painted a fading green. Chips were peeling off along the dingy white molding. The furnishings were decent, but sparse. The walls were decorated with bright, smiling pictures of Billy. Most were obviously taken at one dig or another. A few documented more casual excursions. The professional version of the Kirbys' "adventure trips", she supposed.

"Isn't this place a little low end?" She stopped abruptly. "I don't mean to be rude, but..."

"Nah, it's okay." Billy looked around his home with a rueful smile. "Alan told me before we even got started that if we had to choose between my salary and another week on the dig, my salary would be taking a hit."

Ellie studied him keenly. "And that was okay with you?"

"I told him if my pay meant sacrifices on the project that I'd work for free," he grinned. "It's a good thing he didn't take me at my word. God knows where I'd be living now."

Ellie didn't think he needed to worry about Alan leaving him homeless, but she didn't say anything. Not yet. "I can't imagine you didn't have better offers. Really the only downswing in paleontology has been for the dinosaur specialists. You're working on your Ph.D.?" He nodded.

"Well, that's not too late to diversify."

Billy shook his head decisively. "Of course I had better offers. There weren't any worse offers, money wise. But I didn't get into this for the money. I...I had a dream, Dr. Sattler-"

"Ellie. Please."

"Ellie. I've always wanted to be a paleontologist, and I always wanted to dig up dinosaurs. Not many people seem to understand that, but Alan does," he smiled softly. "It's the most incredible feeling to find someone who shares a dream like that. Especially now that there are real live versions wandering around on those islands. Suddenly all the dinosaur enthusiasts are biologists instead of paleontologists."

"But not you?" Ellie had always assumed that Alan retreated to his fossils out of fear. Not a very flattering opinion, but one she couldn't help. She'd retreated out of fear, and her specialty had been plants... Somehow knowing all the things she'd worked so hard to understand were available for the picking - literally - had taken the fire out of her work. Having a family suddenly became a much higher, much more attractive priority.

"No. If I'd wanted to chase animals around the forest I'd have been a biologist from the beginning. I knew about Isla Nublar before I started my masters, you know." Billy leaned forward and started to gesture with his injured arm before wincing and bringing it closer to his body. Nevertheless, his eyes shone as he spoke. "I chose to be a paleontologist because I love the puzzle presented by the bones, and because I believe in Alan. There are a lot of things we'll never get close enough to those dinosaurs to learn. There are a lot of species that were never recreated by InGen. And there are a lot of questions raised by the substitution of amphibian DNA that we have to answer."

"You sound like him," Ellie smiled, "only more excited and less defensive."

Billy slowly leaned back in his chair. "The past couple of years have been hard on him. No one ever asks him anything about his research anymore. Where once he had half a dozen grad students and reliable funding, now there's just me and a girl trying for her masters, and I don't see her sticking around long once the dig goes under."

Ellie leaned forward, leaning her arms on her thighs. "And you will?"

"Of course I will. There's no one I'd rather work with. I-" Billy cut himself off. "I'm sorry, I've been rambling. What did you need? You came to see me."

"About Alan," she nodded firmly. "He's angry at himself. He feels terrible about what he said to you on the island."

Billy blinked. "He does? Jesus, it was my fault! I shouldn't have-"

Ellie cut him off with a wave of her hand. "That's not important. What is important is how you feel about Alan. Really feel."

"Haven't we covered that already?"

"No," she said bluntly. "And I'd like to start with whatever comment was going to come after 'There's no one I'd rather work with.'"

"I don't understand." Billy drummed his fingers on one knee.

Ellie leaned forward and stilled the nervous tic with a gentle hand and a gentler smile. "You understand just fine."

"Weren't you and he...?" Billy trailed off hesitantly.

"We gave it a shot. It didn't last long. I'm not what Alan wants and he's not what I need. I've got a husband now, Billy, and two children. I haven't worked in the field for almost five years. I want him to be happy. I think you can give him that...if you want to."

His fingers started drumming again. "I didn't think he'd want...me."

Ellie smiled. "Alan isn't very good at asking for things. Particularly not when the request makes him vulnerable." She let that sink in for a while. "If you go to him, I promise you won't be turned away." He hesitated. "Billy. You can trust me."

***

The doorbell rang twice before Alan realized he ought to answer it. The whole world seemed to be moving in slow motion lately. The trip to Isla Sorna had changed little, in the grand scheme of things. His dig was still rapidly running out of money. He still had no prospects for funding on any project in his area of research. He still couldn't bring himself to talk to Billy.

Soon, the young man would be moving on to greener pastures.

When he opened the door and found Billy on the other side of it, he couldn't have been more surprised if he'd been greeted by a velociraptor.

"What are you doing here?"

Billy didn't look all that encouraged by the abrupt greeting, but he didn't leave. "I have it on good authority that you've been taking a guilt trip of epic proportions."

"Ellie," Alan sighed, and stepped back to allow Billy into his home. He couldn't help but wonder what else she'd told the younger man... He trusted Ellie completely. He knew she'd do anything to help him, but her conception of help didn't always agree with his.

Though she did usually turn out to be right.

"Yeah," Billy confirmed. "She came to see me a couple of days ago. She's worried."

"I know." They were silent for a long time. Finally, Alan screwed up his nerve. "Billy, I'm sorry."

He looked surprised. "Why?"

"For what I said," Alan said, and half turned away. He ran a hand through his hair. "I shouldn't have said that. I was angry...scared. I didn't-"

"Alan, stop," Billy put a hand on the other man's arm. "It was my fault. I should have known better."

"That doesn't excuse-"

"Alan. I didn't come here for an apology." Billy smiled to reassure him.

Alan shook his head. "But I need to apologize. It...it killed me to think that those were my last words to you."

"They weren't," Billy said softly. "I'm here."

"But for how long?"

"Hey," Billy said, stepping in front of Alan. "Did you think that when the dig shut down I'd just take off?" He left his hand where it lay on Alan's forearm. "I'm not leaving you, Alan," he said quietly.

Alan caught his breath, unsure what to say, if there way anything to say. In the moment he paused, hopeful but uncertain, Billy leaned forward and pressed warm lips to his. The kiss was slow and sweet, only growing more so as Alan responded, first tentatively, then with increasing enthusiasm.

They broke apart slowly, lips clinging together. "I love you," Alan whispered, eyes closed. Billy caught his breath, not expecting those words so quickly. He responded with a longer, more passionate kiss, wrapping his one good arm around Alan's waist, and was enfolded in a similar embrace.

When the second kiss ended, Billy drew back, clasping Alan's forearms in his hands. "I love you back," he said, and smiled.

--End--