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Primeval fic: Squirrels and Social Norms (Second Life verse)

November 8th, 2012 (09:19 pm)
discontent

feeling: discontent

Title: Squirrels and Social Norms

Disclaimer: I do not own Primeval; feral Stephen was created by lena7142

A/N: This is part of the Continued Adventures of Feral Stephen. This ficlet is about a barbecue and I tried to double check some of the terms but if I still mangled the UK lingo, I apologize. Beta given by lena7142

Summary: Stephen learns to fit in; Cutter learns to let go; and Sarah has a barbecue.



-o-

“I’m having a barbecue.”

They were four simple words. Really, they were happy words. Friendly words. Spoken in invitation from one friend to another. In a job that dealt so readily with life and death, truth and deception, the idea of a simple barbecue really was nice.

“And you’re invited,” Sarah said, holding out the invitation. “Tomorrow night.”

Cutter blinked, looking at the invitation blankly for a moment. Then he remembered himself. “Oh, yes,” he said, taking it. “That sounds nice.”

Actually, it sounded a bit stuffy. Cutter had never been one for social gatherings with his coworkers, unless there was a copious amount of alcohol involved. Preferably scotch. He didn’t think himself to be antisocial, but would acknowledge that he was easily bothered by people, and he really did have too much work to do.

Sarah’s smile widened. “Great,” she said. “I think it’d mean a lot to everyone if you came. With what we do in the field, we need to make sure we’re close.”

Damn perceptive woman. She had been one of the newer additions to the ARC, and Cutter had to admit, she made a valuable contribution to the team. Unfortunately, that meant that she also had keen skills off the field as well. Even now, with her simple invitation, she knew he wanted out and she found one of the key ways to get him to do what she wanted by appealing to the betterment of the team dynamic.

He’d never given that much thought before, but with Stephen...

Well, team dynamic wasn’t something he could take for granted.

Resigned, Cutter resisted the urge to sigh. Instead, he offered her a weak smile. “Can I bring something?”

“If you want to bring a side or something, that’d be great,” she said. “See you then!”

With that, she left, and Cutter looked at the invitation again and shook his head. “Barbecues,” he muttered before getting back to work.

-o-

Throughout the day, he heard other people discussing their contributions. Connor was planning a secret snack that apparently was, in his not so humble opinion, a must for everyone (though Cutter reckoned that meant that it was a must to avoid more than anything). Abby talked about making her seven-layer cake, which Cutter had tried at the first (and last) ARC picnic. He hadn’t liked the picnic, but the cake hadn’t been half bad. When he heard that Becker planned on bringing beer, he thought that perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Then he saw Sarah handing an invitation to Stephen.

The feral member of their team had managed to sneak into lunch undetected, as he was wont to do. Although he seemed to have managed to eat a sandwich in three bites while no one was noticing him lurking on the wall, Sarah had spotted him on the way out.

His animal magnetism, the girls liked to say. Cutter might attribute that to the man’s bed-hair and intense blue eyes but sometimes he half wondered if Stephen had picked up some type of pheromone after so many years in the wild.

All that was neither here nor there as Stephen took the invitation, looking at it critically.

“Bring yourself and a side!” Sarah said enthusiastically, brushing out of the room before Stephen could reply.

Stephen watched her go, a bit baffled. Then he looked at the invitation, brow furrowed. When he looked up again, he met Cutter’s eyes and somehow Cutter knew that this had become far more complicated all of a sudden.

-o-

It wasn’t that Cutter didn’t trust Stephen.

He did trust Stephen -- with his life and a lot more. He trusted him in the lab, he trusted him in the field. And it wasn’t even that Stephen was completely incapable of marginally acceptable human interaction. He could carry on a conversation. True, he rarely initiated speech, but he remembered enough about civilisation to at least attempt normal contact with others.

But it was just that he didn’t trust Stephen.

The man was capable -- more capable than most of the team combined in the field. He could track anything and was often the one to take down the beasts with as little fuss and gunplay as possible, subduing the creatures without even breaking a sweat.

But he lacked a certain social sense. He’d spent nine years in the Permian, and quite frankly, it showed. He could maintain a conversation, but his natural response was still to grunt, and from time to time, conversing actually looked painful for him. Cutter had also noted, on occasion, that Stephen had an expression of genuine hatred when engaged in mindless small talk, and Cutter had prepared himself to intervene should Stephen revert to his more basic instincts and lunge for the talker’s throat instead of nodding politely and leaving.

In essence, the man was so focused on survival that he was entirely blind to social norms. His lapses in judgment were as trivial as they were important, neglecting everything from personal hygiene to social convention.

And besides, he’d had to walk Stephen through the process of wearing clothes. He still couldn’t convince him to use forks. Shaving was beyond them, and Cutter had already watched as Stephen had nearly succumbed to the flu, got hit by a car and fell off a roof. The man had just got his cast off from that latest debacle as it was, not that he’d let it slow him down much.

So he really didn’t trust Stephen, and Cutter felt fully justified in that. He didn’t trust Stephen to make friends, and he didn’t trust Stephen to worry about the ferocity of a dinosaur before jumping on its back with nothing more than a blade.

And Cutter wasn’t entirely sure he trusted Stephen at a barbecue.

After all, there was so much that could go wrong. Stephen could decide that their fire wasn’t big enough and set the lawn furniture ablaze. He could decide he had to use the facilities without going inside and water Sarah’s bushes in full view of the female ARC staff. He could decide they needed more fresh meat and try to barbecue Connor over an open flame.

Unlikely? Perhaps. But they were talking about Stephen Hart, the man who had survived in the Permian. Unlikely was pretty much par for the course, and Cutter had finally learned to accept that. Moreover, he had learned to anticipate it as far as Stephen was concerned. He had seen Stephen hurt enough in his lifetime -- and he would much rather spare Stephen and himself any more such turmoil, be it physical or emotional.

It was time to start pre-empting problems before they started. That was the smart, sane thing to do.

Which only worried Cutter more. Because nothing was smart or sane with Stephen.

Still, Cutter had to try. And just hope against hope that he (and Stephen) survived the effort.

-o-

He found Stephen in the armoury.

It was one of Stephen’s favourite places in the ARC. The labs were too busy for him, and the normal break areas were all too noisy. Stephen said he liked the quiet focus of the armoury, and Cutter often found him practicing gun assembly in his spare moments.

Carefully, he walked inside, trying not to disturb Stephen. As he approached, Stephen said, “You list just slightly to your left. Injury or natural defect?”

“Injury,” Cutter said, not surprised. Stephen was nearly impossible to catch unawares, and his ability to detect a presence had long since stopped unnerving Cutter. “Broke my ankle at university.”

“It healed just somewhat shorter,” Stephen mused, glancing up at Cutter rounded to the front. “You should learn to compensate.”

Cutter shrugged. “It’s unique, at least, right?”

Stephen lifted his brows. “It’s too definitive,” he said. “You lack stealth.”

“Ah, well,” Cutter said. “I’m still alive.”

Stephen appeared to reign in a snort, eyes going back to the gun he was putting together.

Cutter grinned, a little sheepish. “A bad ankle but a good team,” he said. “It evens out.”

To that, Stephen had no reply, his long fingers easily working over the gun with a careful precision. In his youth, Stephen had been a sharpshooter, and those skills were still there -- that much was clear. But after so many years of surviving with knives and spears, this Stephen seemed to still be getting his bearings around more sophisticated weaponry.

Cutter pressed his lips together, and reminded himself that this wasn’t an idle conversation. “So Sarah invited you tomorrow,” he said.

“Yes,” Stephen said. “A barbecue.”

Cutter hesitated. “Are you planning on going?”

Stephen shrugged. “I’ve got nothing else to do.”

It was a plain answer, simple and to the point.

Cutter cleared his throat. “Are you sure about it?”

At that, Stephen looked up, clearly a bit confused. “You always encourage me to seek out normal social situations,” he said. “This seems perfect. Very normal. Very social. Why shouldn’t I be sure about it?”

Hedging, Cutter shrugged. “There’ll be a lot of people there.”

“There are a lot of people here,” Stephen said.

“I know, and you often hide out in the armoury to cope,” he said.

Stephen’s face darkened a little.

“I’m just saying, it’ll be like a party,” Cutter said. “Lots of talking and eating. Noise and conversation. I’m not sure it’s really your kind of thing.”

Really, Cutter expected Stephen to take the out. It was usually like pulling teeth to get Stephen to do anything; it certainly seemed feasible that the other man would rather just stay at home and organise his knives than making idle small talk while eating horderves.

But Stephen looked at him, a curious stare. “You don’t want me to go,” he realised.

“I didn’t say that,” Cutter amended quickly.

Stephen shook his head, not backing down. “You don’t want me to go,” he said again, more certain now.

“I’m just making sure you understand what it’s going to be,” Cutter said with as much patience as he could muster.

“I’ve been to barbecues before,” Stephen said curtly.

“Not in almost a decade,” Cutter reminded him.

Stephen’s eyes flashed dangerously. “I still remember them,” he said. “Besides, becoming part of the group is important. Isn’t that what you’ve been lecturing me about? Survival is all about adapting to your situation, learning the intricacies of the culture around you. If I can handle prehistoric creatures, I think I can handle humans.”

By the end, Stephen’s voice was too loud. His eyes were bright and his face was set. He was angry. More than that, he was hurt.

Because Stephen wanted to go.

He growled and huffed and stalked, but he wanted to go.

Wonders never ceased.

Part of Cutter was proud. Stephen’s desire to initiate friendships was an important part of his acclimation to normal life. This was a positive sign, a step in the right direction.

Part of Cutter was also nervous. If Stephen wanted to be accepted, that would just make his struggles more difficult to endure. What if it went poorly? What if he had his feelings hurt? Cutter had spent so much time worrying about Stephen offending others that he had thought much less about them offending him -- and now that the possibility became real to him, it was actually a bit terrifying.

“It’s just...a lot to take in,” Cutter said. “We can have a smaller get together at some point--”

Stephen stood up abruptly, putting the gun back in place. He shook his head, looking at Cutter tersely. “What,” he said. “You’re afraid that your latest find in the Permian won’t be socially acceptable? Maybe that he’ll frighten the tourists? Maybe that I’m still not housebroken--”

“Well, you did try to go in the hallway last week--”

“I was just stopping to look at a scuff on the wall, I told you--”

“But you were lingering--”

Stephen sighed. “That’s not the point!” he exploded. “It’s a barbecue, Cutter. I promise to be on my best behaviour, okay?”

“That’s not what I’m worried about,” Cutter tried to explain.

“Good,” Stephen growled. “I’ll see you there, then.”

And with that, he stalked off, disappearing out the door and down the hallway. Cutter could only sigh. Stephen wanted to go. So Stephen would go.

Cutter could only hope to avert any impending disaster.

-o-

The rest of the day was awkward, to say the least. The next day wasn’t much better. While the rest of the team and other ARC staff members chatted about their plans for the evening, Stephen studiously kept his distance, ignoring Cutter at every possible turn.

Cutter accepted that warily. At the end of the day, Cutter offered to give Stephen a lift, but the other man had snarled at him, which Cutter could only take to be a rejection. Part of him hoped that without a lift, Stephen might never make it, but as he and Claudia mingled, he couldn’t stop from watching the house to see if Stephen was going to make his way through.

Claudia sighed. “You know, you sure know how to make a girl feel special.”

Cutter nodded. “Mmm,” he said. Then he startled. “What?”

She rolled her eyes. “You haven’t looked at me all night,” she protested. “You just keep watching that door, looking for Stephen.”

“I’m not,” Cutter lied.

Claudia snorted. “You’re just lucky I’m not the jealous sort.”

Cutter sighed. “I’m just worried about him, is all,” he admitted. “He’s not good at social situations.”

“I’m aware,” Claudia replied. “I’ve had to explain his behavior away to more than one unfortunate witness, including one who saw Stephen dismember a charging scorpion.”

Cutter frowned. He’d blocked that one out. “That’s what I’m saying,” he said. “Stephen thinks he’s ready for this, but he’s not.”

Claudia gave him a look. “Oh please,” she said. “He’s a grown man.”

“Who just spent most of a decade in the Permian,” Cutter reminded her.

“A decade he survived, by the way,” Claudia said.

“But he doesn’t know much about modern life.”

“He’s not stupid,” Claudia said. “He’s had to adapt, but he’s doing pretty well.”

“Pretty well,” Cutter said with a snort. “But he still has a ways to go.”

“And he’ll get there,” Claudia said impatiently. “Really, this barbecue is a great thing for him.”

“Until he something happens,” Cutter said. “And with Stephen something always happens.”

“He can cope,” Claudia insisted. She shook her head. “The question is, can you?”

Cutter’s brow furrowed. “What?”

“You heard me,” Claudia said, matter of fact. “Stephen’s a grown man. He doesn’t need a minder.”

“He fell off a roof,” Cutter said. “And got hit by a car.”

“So, by all means, help him in the field,” Claudia said. “But stop trying to micromanage all parts of his life.”

“He didn’t wear clothing for three weeks!”

Claudia glanced around and Cutter noticed for the first time that others were looking at him. She pressed her lips together, edging closer. “And now he does,” she said. “He can learn.”

“He needs help,” Cutter argued.

“Help, not smothering,” Claudia said.

“I don’t want to lose him,” Cutter said.

“But you will lose him if you don’t let go just a bit,” she said. “Stephen needs friends, not parents. If you treat him like a child, he’ll stop trusting you and you’ll lose him all over again.”

Cutter was going to tell her that was rubbish; he was going to tell her she was wrong. But then Stephen walked in and made the point for him--

For better and for worse.

-o-

Stephen was dressed in the same clothes from work. He was standing awkwardly, something in his hand by his side, on Sarah’s patio, smiling through teeth clenched.

Sarah went up to him, greeting him warmly. “Stephen,” she said eagerly, reaching out to hug him. Stephen resisted and she settled for an awkward pat on the arm. “I’m so glad you came.”

Stephen nodded, swallowing convulsively. “Me too,” he said. Then he frowned. “I mean. Thank you for inviting me.”

Cutter could only stare, half in horror, waiting for the other shoe to fall. But Stephen was being entirely proper, stunted but appropriate. Maybe Claudia was right, maybe this would be okay...

And then Stephen held out the dead squirrel. “I brought something to share,” he said.

Sarah yelped and the crowd seemed to part, stepping back from Stephen in automatic shock. The thing was limp as Stephen held it by its tail, its beady little eyes open and staring in death.

The minute he held it out, Stephen realised his mistake. He seemed to remember that bringing a side dish probably didn’t entail freshly killed rodents. His face went pale, features tense and eyes burning. He breathed, heavily through his nose, lips pressed together, body composed like he was about to run.

This was what Cutter had been scared of. True, a dead squirrel wasn’t actually going to hurt anyone.

Anyone but Stephen, that was.

The man wanted friends and acceptance; a dead squirrel would keep him alienated and set apart. He needed help.

Cutter was moving forward to intervene, when Sarah swallowed and forced a smile.

“I’ve never had squirrel before,” she said, blinking at Stephen earnestly. She moved closer again. “I’m not quite up on my skinning skills, though.”

Stephen’s face wavered, coming precipitously close to falling.

But Sarah just kept smiling. “I don’t suppose you could help me with that, do you?”

Stephen’s face lit up. “Sure,” he said, reaching in his pocket with his other hand and pulling out his pocketknife. “I just need a clean surface.”

Sarah nodded readily. “Well, then,” she said. “We’ll see what we can do.”

As she led Stephen off, the crowd started talking again. Claudia leaned close and said smugly, “I told you so.”

Cutter was still too amazed by the look of hope on Stephen’s face to disagree.

-o-

The night went well.

Abby’s cake was delicious and Connor’s finger foods were actually edible. Sarah was good on the grill, and Becker brought enough beer to share. Lester made an appearance, and the game of charades was unparalleled in its humour.

Stephen skinned the squirrel quickly and efficiently, and joined in for the games. He was still awkward, and growled a few times at Connor’s attempts to cajole him into a singalong while roasting marshmallows, but he still fit in somehow.

And Cutter had to admit, the entire night was good.

Even the squirrel kebabs.

Comments

Posted by: goldarrow (goldarrow)
Posted at: November 9th, 2012 03:51 am (UTC)

Oh, that had me on the edge of my seat.

Poor Stephen, still finding his way, and blessed Sarah, so naturally kind!

Loved the last lines!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 02:50 am (UTC)
stephen and cutter

I love Stephen's social ineptitude; it makes him even more endearing for me :)

Thanks!

Posted by: freddiejoey (freddiejoey)
Posted at: November 9th, 2012 05:59 am (UTC)
Stephen - hero

I love this to bits. Nick being all concerned for Stephen and the squirrel and now I'm wondering what Lester did during the charades.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 02:51 am (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

LOL, Lester and charades would have to be its own fic entirely.

Thanks!

Posted by: flaccidduck (flaccidduck)
Posted at: November 9th, 2012 06:51 am (UTC)
Stephen inscrutable

Sarah's a star here and so is Claudia. Hell, they all are.

Great chapter all round.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 02:52 am (UTC)
stephen up

The girls sometimes have more sense. The boys should try to learn that someday.

Thanks!

Posted by: lukadreaming (lukadreaming)
Posted at: November 9th, 2012 08:39 am (UTC)
Stephen bruise

Fabulous chapter - and I want to hug Sarah very hard (and Stephen as well, though he wouldn't like it!) There's a perfect mix of funny and really very sad ...

In UK English, giving someone a ride has a smutty slang meaning! You want giving them a lift.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 02:53 am (UTC)
stephen and cutter

LOL, Stephen might respond badly to a hug, but he probably deserves one anyway :)

And heh, thanks for the heads up. I imagine some readers might not mind that blunder...

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: November 9th, 2012 08:40 am (UTC)
Hair!


The poor squirrel!!

Apart from that, lovely - poor Nick being so paranoid and Sarah adapting so well to Stephen's surprise (I think she'd really handle him well *G*)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 02:55 am (UTC)
stephen smiles

I know you mourn that squirrel :) But the thing died for the greater good of Stephen's social life. Does that count for anything?

Thanks!

Posted by: reggietate (reggietate)
Posted at: November 9th, 2012 09:01 am (UTC)
stephen-nick-m25

This is fabulous :-) I alternately howled and awwwed my way through it. Props to Sarah for being a good host and not embarrassing her awkward guest, and Claudia for telling Cutter what he needed to hear. And yay! for Stephen learning to fit in. I'm glad he didn't barbecue Connor.

It's just full of great lines and character moments, a thoroughly enjoyable addition tot he series.

(BTW, I think you meant squirrel kebabs *g*)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 02:57 am (UTC)
stephen hair

So glad you liked it! It's been fun trying to get Stephen to integrate better. And as much as Cutter cares about Stephen, he's not always objective :)

Thanks!

(And that must be a US/UK thing!)

Posted by: fredbassett (fredbassett)
Posted at: November 9th, 2012 03:19 pm (UTC)

Oh dear, the poor squirrel! But at least he brought something.

This was funny and touching at the same time. It's interesting seeing Stephen striving for acceptance.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 02:58 am (UTC)
stephen's eyes

At least the squirrel's death had a purpose -- Stephen's social life advanced greatly :)

Thanks!

Posted by: natchris (natchris)
Posted at: November 9th, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
The Team

Fabulous fic!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 02:59 am (UTC)
stephen goodbye

Thank you!

Posted by: knitekat (knitekat)
Posted at: November 9th, 2012 08:43 pm (UTC)

Poor Squirrel.

Loved it, Go Sarah and Claudia.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 03:00 am (UTC)
stephen wary

Poor squirrel indeed. But it died for a good reason -- Stephen found some social acceptance with it!

Thanks :)

Posted by: 47eleven (47eleven)
Posted at: November 10th, 2012 02:11 am (UTC)
Ferret

Aw and lovely and your Stephen stories touch the heart

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 03:01 am (UTC)
stephen hair

So glad you liked :)

Thanks!

Posted by: joshinator (joshinator)
Posted at: November 10th, 2012 02:32 am (UTC)
Stephen

Precious and lovely.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 03:02 am (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

Thank you :)

Posted by: nietie (nietie)
Posted at: November 12th, 2012 12:58 pm (UTC)
Stephensmile

LOL at the squirrel kebab (Sorry, squirrel. Sorry, Stephen)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 03:04 am (UTC)
stephen up

Indeed. The squirrel served a greater purpose in the end :)

Thanks!

Posted by: lsellersfic (lsellersfic)
Posted at: November 12th, 2012 08:31 pm (UTC)
Primeval:Sarah

Bravo for Sarah!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 03:04 am (UTC)
stephen cutter distance

It's been fun bringing some S3 characters in to change the dynamic :)

Thanks!

Posted by: clea2011 (clea2011)
Posted at: November 16th, 2012 08:01 am (UTC)
Stephen beach colour

Great installment, I guessed from the title what Stephen was going to bring but the anticipation just made the reveal funnier. I don't suppose for one moment it was road kill as this is feral Stephen we're talking about and he probably chased it up a tree!
And Sarah was great with him.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 20th, 2012 12:55 am (UTC)
stephen skeptical

Heh, for some reason the idea of Stephen chasing a squirrel up a tree just amuses me :) But road kill would be rather messy and not nearly as good for sharing...

LOL, assuming that any squirrel is good for such things!

Thanks :)

Posted by: Evil Insane Monkey (eviinsanemonkey)
Posted at: November 18th, 2012 07:23 pm (UTC)
PE: Danny Quinn

awww, this one's great!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: November 20th, 2012 12:55 am (UTC)
stephen skeptical

Thank you :)

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