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Primeval fic: Our Beginnings Never Know Our Ends (1/1)

December 18th, 2012 (09:53 pm)
exhausted

feeling: exhausted

Title: Our Beginnings Never Know Our Ends

Disclaimer: I do not own Primeval.

A/N: For kristen_mara. Beta provided by lena7142. Apologies for any Americanism and general sappiness :)

Spoilers: Pre series spec.

Summary: It was time to let go of the past, Cutter told himself, and hold onto the future.



-o-

There was always work to do. Cutter made sure of that. He’d been left cleaning up Helen’s mess, and the fact was, he’d always had more than enough of his own. The Dean had given him a wide berth since Helen’s disappearance, but he couldn’t get any of his lab assistants to stay on for long and his students had started avoiding him.

This was a bad thing, Cutter knew, but he wasn’t sure how to care.

Of course, he wasn’t sure how the hell he was going to dig himself out of this mess, so caring was most irrelevant. Helen could disappear into thin air; Cutter would take death by paperwork.

Or scotch.

Whichever did him in first.

Once he missed this deadline, the Dean would have no choice but to take action. The idea of being fired probably should have scared Cutter, but he was done being scared.

He was done pining.

Cutter was mostly just done.

-o-

He hadn’t meant to fall asleep -- if he was going to go down, he was going to have it look like it was a struggle -- but when the knock came at the door, he jolted awake. He blinked, bleary-eyed as it opened.

He stared for a moment, wrinkling his nose. “Yes?”

The kid stared back, expectant. “Got the results back that you wanted, Professor,” he replied.

Cutter furrowed his brow, blinking away the sleep and the vestiges of the alcohol. “Thank you,” he said, trying like hell to remember the lad’s name. “Hart.”

The kid seemed to relax, brightening a little. He put the papers down, then hesitated. “Um, did you need anything else?” he asked.

Cutter almost laughed. He needed to get sober, throw away the mess on his desk, finish his report, turn in his grades and find his wife.

The lad shrugged. “Because if you did, I have some time to help tonight.”

Cutter scoffed. “Son, you wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

The boy raised his eyebrows. “How do you think your wife got her grades in on time?” he asked. “And you don’t really think she wrote all her grant proposals by herself, do you?”

Cutter blinked, and realized the implications. Helen was brilliant, but she wasn’t one for bureaucracy. Yet, as Cutter had fumbled to stay up with his paperwork, she’d breezed through, always finding time to explore her other pursuits. He’d attributed it to her multifaceted talents...

Perhaps he had overestimated her.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

“Okay,” Cutter said, because at this point, what did he have to lose.

-o-

They worked through the night. The lad -- Hart -- was better than Cutter had hoped for. He was organized and efficient, he was intuitive and quick. He asked questions and took orders, and he knew what was needed before Cutter had realized he needed it at all.

By morning, Cutter’s grades were finished, his paperwork was done, and his job was safe. He’d been ready to throw it away, to let it go, but now that it was his again, he suddenly wanted it with a voracity he hadn’t known he had. It was unexpected, to say the least, but it was good.

When he turned it all in to the Dean, no one was more surprised than Cutter himself. It was very good, indeed.

-o-

He grabbed some coffee on his way back to the office, and he was whistling when he walked back in. Hart was still asleep in the chair, startling when Cutter walked in.

“Everything okay?” Hart asked, blinking away the sleep from his eyes.

“Old bastard looked almost disappointed,” Cutter reported, a little gleeful as he took a drink. “Looks like he won’t be rid of both Cutters like he’d hoped.”

Hart smiled vaguely. He got to his feet, lingering awkwardly. “Well. Okay, then.”

Cutter’s triumph was palpable, but he hadn’t done it on his own -- and suddenly that mattered to him. “Hey,” he said.

The lad looked back.

Cutter shrugged. “Thank you.”

Hart smiled, a little wider now. “Any time,” he said. “I’ve found myself with a lot more time on my hands.”

There was a pointed sadness in that, and Cutter realized the implications. If Hart had been Helen’s student, he was just as much adrift as Cutter was. Without an advisor, he’d be bumped to whoever could take him, most of whom would be outside his specialty and already overworked. He’d be lucky to graduate on time -- if at all.

Unless...

Cutter sighed. “How about tonight?”

Hart blinked at him.

Cutter shrugged. “You said you were good with grants.”

Hart nodded. “Never got one rejected.”

“Then come back tonight,” he said. “And we’ll see if you’re as good as you say you are.”

Hart grinned as he ducked his head and left.

Cutter sat back in his chair, taking another sip, enjoying the prospect of the day for the first time in a long time.

-o-

Cutter did his work.

It was remarkable what he could get done with a clean desk. By noon, he found himself with nothing left to do.

Bored, he starting through Helen’s files, and then he found it.

Hart, Stephen.

He was a graduate student, still new to the program. Good grades, but nothing stellar. The samples of his work were solid if predictable. Helen had heaped no praise upon him, but still, had hired him.

It seemed odd.

But there was something about Hart, something that wasn’t captured in his grades or his academic writing. Something tangible.

Helen’s choice to hire him was one of the few things that made sense to Cutter at all.

-o-

Hart -- Stephen -- came back. Promptly, ready.

But he looked like hell. He was pale, deep circles under his eyes, and when he sat down, he promptly sneezed.

“Didn’t you sleep today?” Cutter asked.

Stephen sniffled, reaching for a tissue even as he looked through the grant paperwork. “Yeah,” he said, a little distracted. “Most of the day.”

He coughed and Cutter found himself cringing. “Sounds like you need more.”

Stephen hacked again, but shook his head, even as he swallowed painfully. “Once we get this done.”

Cutter wanted to argue, but looking at the grant paperwork, he realized he wasn’t in much of a position to do so.

Stephen had already started to write, in neat, left-handed scrawl. He was on the second page when Cutter decided that Stephen needed this -- almost as much as Cutter did himself.

-o-

They worked hard. The night stretched on, and Cutter put on a pot of coffee. Stephen’s cough got worse, his nose raw from wiping. By morning, they were almost done and Stephen was slumped over the table, pen still in hand as he wrote.

They just had a little ways to go.

But Stephen had nothing left to give.

Cutter’s stomach churned guiltily. It’d been easy to take Stephen’s help, but now that he’d worked the lad to the point of exhaustion, he realized he might have to extend some help of his own.

“Come on,” he said finally, pulling the papers away.

Stephen startled, lifting his head. “Hmm?” he asked. “Just a few more pages....”

Cutter rolled his eyes. “I can get those myself,” he said.

Stephen shook his head. “The last ones are the most important,” he protested. “They look--”

He broke off with a violent, whooping cough that nearly curled him over. It was punctuated with a painful sneeze, and it left Stephen red-eyed and spent.

Still, he continued, “They look at those the most carefully.”

Cutter nodded, pulling the lad up by the arm. Stephen allowed it, and his skin was hot to the touch. Frowning, Cutter put his hand to the boy’s forehead. “Good Lord, son,” he said. “You’re burning up.”

Stephen didn’t argue. “Just a few more pages.”

“When you’re better,” Cutter said, resolute and firm.

“But--”

“But nothing,” Cutter said. “Or I will be forced to fire you.”

Stephen stopped, eyes struggling to meet Cutter’s, more than a hint of confusion in the clouded blue. “Do you mean--?”

Cutter sighed. “I reckon I could use a lab assistant,” he said. “But only a healthy one.”

Stephen smiled.

Cutter clucked his tongue, pulling Stephen by the arm. “Now let’s get you home.”

-o-

By the time Cutter got to the address Stephen had specified, the lad was already asleep, slacked-jawed in the passenger’s seat. Cutter let the engine idle, but the boy didn’t rouse, face flushed with fever, each breath sounding slightly more wheezy than the last.

Cutter sighed.

He hadn’t been looking to keep his job. He certainly hadn’t been looking for a lab assistant.

And now he was apparently taking in sick students.

If Helen could see him now.

Lips pursed, Cutter put the car into gear and headed back to his house.

-o-

When they arrived, Stephen was slow to rouse. Cutter had to haul him to an upright position, and even then, he had to drape the lad’s arm over his shoulders to get him moving. Navigating the stairs was even more difficult since Stephen seemed inclined on going back to sleep right where he was, without nary a thought of cracking his head on the pavement if Cutter’s grip slipped any more.

It was a tiresome and unwieldy process, and when they crossed the threshold, Cutter was breathing nearly as hard as Stephen. Sweating, he lugged the younger man a few more feet to the living room, half dropping him on the first chair he saw with a sigh of exhaustion.

Of course, that was when Stephen finally decided to wake up. He blinked groggily, taking a few long seconds to get his bearings and look up at Cutter with wide-eyed wonder.

“Where are we?” he asked, sounding far too young. He looked too young, too. Nothing more than a boy, impressionable and needy. It made Cutter nervous.

It also made him guilty. He was the one who had worked Stephen so hard. He should have made Stephen go home, get some sleep.

It was too late for that now, though. Really, it was too late for a lot of things.

He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “My place,” he said, shrugging a little.

Stephen’s brow furrowed, clearly disconcerted. “But--”

“But you can’t even walk by yourself right now,” Cutter said, cutting him off.

Stephen shook his head, trying to stand. “No, I shouldn’t be here,” he said, the words rushing together as he fumbled, almost pitching forward. He righted himself. “I have to go.”

He made it one staggering step before a cough shook him. One cough brought another and he would have fallen over entirely if Cutter hadn’t reached out and grabbed him roughly by the arm and manhandled him back to the seat.

When Stephen was done, his face was red and his eyes were watery. He was panting as he looked up at Cutter forlornly.

Cutter ground his teeth together. “You were saying?” he asked pointedly, daring Stephen to argue with him now.

Stephen looked pathetic, blue eyes like a lost puppy, before he curled over with another cough, which was really answer enough.

-o-

It didn’t exactly get easier. Even when Stephen stopped coughing, he looked like he was about ready to fall out of the chair. Rather than scooping the lad off the floor later, Cutter coaxed him to the spare bedroom while he was at least still marginally conscious.

Still, the trek was laborious and strained, and Cutter was huffing by the time he finagled Stephen on top of the covers. He had to push a stack of books off hastily, frowning at the mess he’d managed to accumulate since Helen had disappeared. This had been her space, after all. She’d used it for her studies and her various artifacts, but without her around to pick up, Cutter had used the space as a catch-all.

Broken toasters, stained clothing, the stray piece of equipment.

And now, apparently, fevered students.

Sighing, Cutter stood back to look at Stephen again. He hadn’t moved from where Cutter dropped him, sprawled half on the bed with his legs dangling down, blinking lazily at the ceiling.

That wouldn’t do.

Of course, Cutter wasn’t exactly sure what to do about it. He had been open to the idea of children at one point -- he had thought they’d be cute and inquisitive -- but Helen had pointed out all the practical considerations he’d failed to neglect. The time consuming care, the selfless hours of attention. Doing all the little things -- making beds, cooking meals, ensuring their well being. The portrait she’d painted had been so dire that Cutter had not brought up the topic again.

Which was to say he was woefully unprepared for a houseguest, especially one who was apparently quite sick.

Shuffling, Cutter furrowed his brow. “I’ll, um, get you some medicine,” he said.

Stephen’s eyes blinked, his head turning toward him. “Okay,” he said.

Cutter looked back, then looked down. “Okay,” he said readily, ducking his head and leaving the room.

-o-

In the bathroom, Cutter finally stopped. Hands on the counter, he dropped his head and remembered to breathe.

This had been a bad idea, he thought. Bringing Stephen here. He hardly knew the young man. This wasn’t something Cutter did, and dropping the lad off at home would have been sufficient. What was he going to do for him here? What could possibly be gained?

Why had Cutter let him help anyway? He could have bought more time with the Dean. Hell, he could have just quit and been done with it. He wasn’t sure he wanted the job anymore, not without Helen...

He sucked in a breath, letting it out.

Helen was gone.

The days had become weeks and there were months now. Months.

Helen was gone, and Cutter was here, whether he liked it or not. He’d been spending his time alone and miserable, but suddenly, he wasn’t alone.

In truth, Cutter wasn’t sure if he should be grateful for the intrusion -- he was indeed not grateful for the feverish young man laid out in his spare bedroom -- but sometimes he had to take the good with the bad. Sometimes he had to live up to his commitment. Sometimes other people mattered. When no one else had come back, Stephen had. Cutter had to think that counted for something.

Besides, the quickest way to get Stephen out was to get him better.

Resolved, Cutter shuffled through the cabinet before he found the bottle of fever reducer and went back to the bedroom.

-o-

When he made his way back, he found that Stephen had managed to get himself further up on the bed. The sheets were drawn down and the pillows neatly arranged. The books on the floor had been stacked and he was lying half-curled on his side.

Cutter hesitated.

“I can go home, you know,” Stephen said, though he made no effort to move.

“I’m sure you can,” Cutter told him. Then he leaned forward, holding out the pills. “Here. These should help.”

Stephen looked at them for a moment before snaking his hand out and accepting them. His bright blue eyes were on Cutter as he popped them in his mouth, swallowing dry.

Then, he smiled. “Thank you,” he said.

Cutter was fumbling for an answer when he realize there was no need -- Stephen was already asleep, mouth just slightly open as he wheezed in the early morning sunlight. He looked younger there, too young maybe.

Vulnerable.

The sight of it was unsettling.

Busying himself, Cutter grabbed an armful of books and headed back out, leaving Stephen to get some much needed sleep.

-o-

The day was mercifully quiet. He received a surprised email from the Dean, complimenting him on his paperwork and expressing gratitude that his grades were actually in on time.

It was strangely gratifying, actually. Receiving positive feedback from administration was such a rare feat; Cutter scarcely knew what to make of it, except that it did make life exceptionally easier. It seemed Stephen Hart was even more useful than he’d suspected.

In fact, Cutter was feeling so magnanimous, that he scrounged together some soup for lunch, making two steaming bowls and carrying them in on a tray with toast to the bedroom.

As he settled it down, Stephen roused, blinking a few times before pushing himself up, clearly feeling out of place.

Cutter chuckled, pushing a few things off of the desk chair and picking up a bowl of soup for himself. “Just relax,” he said, settling himself down. “I’d invite you to the kitchen but I’m afraid that’s even more of a mess than the bedroom.”

Stephen’s eyes flashed uncertainly, and his posture was tense.

Cutter took a spoonful of soup and shrugged. “Besides, I’ve done enough carrying you about for one lifetime, I think,” he joked.

Stephen blushed -- though it was a little hard to tell. His cheeks were still flushed, although he was more alert than before, sitting up and watching Cutter with clear if wary eyes. “Soup?” he asked.

Cutter nodded. “Made straight from the can,” he said.

At that, Stephen grinned. “Good,” he said, reaching over to pick up the other still-steaming bowl. He sounded somewhat congested, but he looked better. “I was worried there.”

Smirking, Cutter shook his head. “I may not be the best with grants and grades, but I can take care of myself.”

Stephen took a bite, but looked duly skeptical.

Cutter shrugged. “Least I know how to call for carry-out.”

Stephen laughed, a little wetly as his lungs worked. “One of my friends works for the Indian place near campus,” he said. “They said they have an entire button for you on the cash register, you order so often.”

It was Cutter’s turn to blush. “I’ve got other things to think about,” he said defensively. “These past few months haven’t exactly been easy.”

Cutter hadn’t intended to say it like that, but it was true, and Stephen of all people would know it. Helen had a dynamic impact on everyone she met. Not everyone loved her, but no one could forget her. Husbands and students alike.

At that, Stephen’s face fell, his shoulders slouching just slightly. He took a few more bites in silence, having to clear his throat intermittently.

Cutter took another bite of his own, watching Stephen carefully. There was something about the young man, something guarded in his disposition that Cutter couldn’t place. Helen had been charismatic, but she’d never been particularly patient with students. Though the ones she did take an interest in had always flourished. Helen didn’t talk about any of them, so it was no surprise to Cutter that he’d hardly heard of Stephen and only met the man in passing.

But it was a surprise to see how profoundly her disappearance seemed to have affected him.

Then again, Cutter had been too tied up in his own confusion and grief and frustration to consider that anyone else even had feelings on the matter. Helen’s parents were dead; she had no siblings. All of their friends on the faculty had been alienated years ago by Helen’s increasingly eccentric ways. Even Cutter had found that he’d barely known her in the end. She’d spent more time in this room -- or in her lab -- than she had in their shared bed. They’d both let their marriage take the backseat and while Cutter had never thrown around the word divorce, he had never doubted that they were living very separate lives.

Not so for Stephen Hart, though. He knew Helen’s work -- he knew it better than Cutter did. While they’d been grading papers and filling out paperwork, Stephen had been able to answer every question Cutter had had -- not just about the proper university procedures, but about Helen’s courses and her work. She had clearly entrusted him with quite a bit. By all appearances, the lad had probably spent more time with his wife than Cutter himself.

Now she was gone.

And here they were.

“How long did you work for Helen?” Cutter asked finally.

Stephen glanced up, surprised. “Just two years,” he said. “I took one of her courses as an undergrad. It changed my entire academic career. I changed majors and enrolled in her graduate program the first chance I got.”

Cutter had to smile. “That sounds like Helen.”

Stephen shifted, uncomfortable. He coughed a few times, holding himself carefully as he tried to control it.

“She had that incalculable presence,” he said, a little wistful. “One look, and you’re smitten. No turning back.”

Stephen seemed to pale, wiping his nose awkwardly.

Cutter chuckled, shaking his head. “Talk you into changing your future,” he said. “If it makes you feel better, she got me to propose after about a week. Of course, she then took six months to decide, but that’s Helen. She gets what she wants, no questions asked.”

Stephen took another bite, swallowing with a pronounced wince. “She was...hard to resist,” he said finally, murmuring the words into the broth as he spooned more into his mouth.

“Aye,” Cutter said. “And damn near impossible to live with. It was always her way.” He stopped himself, looking at Stephen again. “Though I imagine as her student, you knew that just as well as me. At least for you, it was never supposed to be an equal sort of relationship. Probably made her orders easier to take.”

Stephen seemed to grimace, coughing once more with force. Then, he seemed to conjure a smile. “Not always more right, though,” he said.

Cutter nodded. “I reckon that’s true.”

There was an awkward silence, spoons clinking on the bowls for a moment before Stephen said, “Thank you for the soup,” he said. “And the rest. I should be able to get up and maybe catch a taxi--”

Cutter waved his hand in the air. “Just stay,” he said.

Stephen shook his head, putting the bowl down and levering himself up further. “I’ve been too much of a bother--”

Cutter made a noise in the back of his throat. “It’d be more of a bother worrying about you passing out halfway home,” he said. “Besides, you seem to know Helen’s work better than me.”

Stephen looked uncertain.

Cutter gestured to the room. “Maybe when you’re feeling better you can help me make sense of all this,” he said. “I can’t just let it sit here forever, but I can’t make heads or tails of what to keep or what to get rid of.”

“And you want me to help?” Stephen asked, clearly skeptical.

“Consider it payment for the soup.”

Stephen offered a rueful smile. “The soup’s not that good.”

At that, Cutter laughed. “I reckon not,” he said. “But maybe you’ll take pity on me.”

The words were soft, but Stephen stiffened. He coughed, sniffling a little as his nose started to run. “Okay,” he said.

Cutter’s eyes widened.

“I’ll help,” he said. He started to get up.

On his feet, Cutter moved toward him, putting a hand on his shoulder to keep him down. “After you rest,” he said. “I reckon you still got a fever.”

“It’s not so bad,” Stephen protested, but his words were cut off by another cough, one that shook him and nearly gagged him.

When he was done, he looked up pathetically.

Cutter stared him down. “You were saying?”

-o-

The afternoon passed even more uneventfully than the morning. Cutter dozed on and off, but the periodic coughing fits from the bedroom made real rest impossible. Stephen was sounding even more congested than before, the hacking sounding like it was being torn out of the lad’s lungs with undue force. Cutter paused in just long enough to drop off a new box of tissues before scuttling out to avoid the next deluge of phlegm and snot.

Stephen did seem to rest, though. Aside from the coughing, there was no sound of movement other than the occasional trek to the bathroom. After a few hours, even the coughing seemed to settle. By dinner, the house was so peaceful that Cutter didn’t even want to disturb Stephen with supper, and as he started through the mess in the living room, he found himself half-sprawled on the couch starting to doze.

A little rest wouldn’t hurt, he reckoned. He was long overdue.

After everything, he was really very overdue.

-o-

He woke with a start.

Slumped over on the couch, Cutter had a moment of disorientation as he tried to remember what he had been doing before. It seemed like he was supposed to be doing something, like there was something important to remember. He often woke with the pressing need to find Helen, but with his heart pounding and a cold sweat on his forehead, this was different.

Something was...wrong.

Cutter blinked, getting his bearings. He wasn’t missing a class, because the semester was over. He’d turned in his grades and got in his grants and...

Stephen.

The student was sick and asleep in the spare bedroom. Awkward, perhaps, but no pressing concern. There was no reason for panic.

Yet, Cutter glanced at the clock. It was late evening now. Stephen should have been up by now, looking for something to eat. The lad had wanted to go home, and unless Cutter had been more asleep than he thought, he would have heard the movement.

It wasn’t concern, he told himself; it was natural curiosity. After all, he did have a relative stranger sleeping in his house, so he a bit of interest was warranted. Plus, given the coughing and sneezing from earlier, it seemed more than a little odd that everything was so quiet.

Still, really. The entire place was still.

It was the eerie quiet he’d had trouble getting used to when Helen disappeared. He’d likened it to living in a haunted house, a place of the dead.

Cutter’s stomach roiled and he got to his feet, picking up the pace as he moved down the hall to the spare room. The door was still slightly ajar, just as Cutter had left it hours ago. The floorboards creaked as he approached, and he slowed, standing right outside as he pushed it open to peek in.

And there was Stephen, still asleep on the bed. His body was sprawled limply under the sheets, face lax as he breathed heavily in sleep.

Cutter nodded to himself. Stephen was just sleeping, probably getting over the worst of the illness. He’d looked spent this afternoon.

But as he loitered, he looked closer. Because Stephen’s face was flushed, his hair damp with sweat. Each breath he took was pronounced and as Cutter edged closer, he could hear the wheezing, intensifying with each breath.

Slowly, Cutter moved closer, wincing as the floorboards continued to herald his presence. On the bed, however, Stephen didn’t move. Didn’t even flinch, not even when Cutter stood over him, staring down.

Curious, Cutter reached out to grab the young man’s shoulder. As his fingers settled, though, he could feel the heat of the fever, worse than before.

Much worse.

Cutter cursed under his breath. “Looks like you’re not going anywhere tonight,” he muttered to the recumbent student.

No, it didn’t look like either of them was going anywhere any time soon.

-o-

Sick as Stephen was, Cutter wasn’t entirely sure what was to be done for it. He’d never been charged with someone’s care before. When he’d fallen sick himself, he’d worked through it doggedly. And he honestly couldn’t remember Helen ever getting sick, so such measures had really never come up at all.

Uncertain, he started with another round of fever reducer, getting a fresh glass of water to help wash it down. Back at Stephen’s bedside, the movement had made the younger man rouse, blinking blearily up at him.

“Cutter?” he asked with a frown.

Cutter was a little relieved. “Unfortunately,” he said, holding out the pills. “Here. Take these. It’ll help your fever.”

It wasn’t entirely clear if Stephen understood what he was saying, but the lad didn’t protest even as he grabbed at the pills clumsily. He put them in his mouth, but when Cutter offered the water, he nearly dropped it. Cutter steadied him, but felt stupid as he held onto Stephen’s elbow, and he pulled away at the last minute while Stephen jerkily took a drink.

With that feat done, Cutter took back the glass, settling it on the bedside table. He felt rather pleased with the accomplishment until he looked at Stephen again.

This time, the young man was looking back. He smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry to be a bother.”

Cutter made a dismissive noise in his throat. “It’s not your fault.”

Stephen coughed, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment while the spasm passed. “It is,” he said. “You have no idea.”

“You can’t control the flu,” Cutter told him, matter of fact.

Stephen opened his eyes again, lids drooping even more than before. “I reckon not,” he murmured. “‘m sorry.”

The lad was drifting now, clearly falling back to sleep, exhausted by the mere act of talking. Cutter wasn’t sure what to say, any more than he knew what to do. So instead he watched as Stephen’s eyes shut and his wheezing evened out.

Then he sighed, rubbing a hand through his hair. He wasn’t sure how he’d got to this point -- playing nursemaid and friend -- but it’d be wrong to bail out now. He had no choice but to see this through. When Cutter made commitments, he kept them. Maybe he’d failed with Helen, and it wasn’t something he was eager to repeat.

Not even with one of her former students.

Especially not with that.

Pulling up a chair, he settled down, picking up a book and trying to get comfortable. He had a feeling it might be sort of a long night.

-o-

The fever came in cycles. It peaked in violent phases, leaving Stephen thrashing and frantic. Afterward, Stephen was left limp and exhausted, sleeping deeply for long stretches. During the fits, Cutter had taken to applying a damp washcloth at first, but it kept falling too low over Stephen’s eyes and he had to give up on it altogether.

Beyond that, there wasn’t much to do. He’d thought about calling a doctor, but the hour was late and Cutter had had all together enough of civic servants doing their jobs. The police had tried to be helpful, but now that they’d officially let Helen’s case lapse, Cutter was not eager to entangle himself in public works again.

He’d call if he had to. If things got bad enough....

Instead, he helped Stephen turn on his side when the coughs got too violent, he helped him with the glass of water when he looked too spent. He sat nervously on the edge of his chair, watching as Stephen’s fever climbed, each bout taking a greater toll on him than the last.

Mostly, he watched, idle and useless, as Stephen got worse.

-o-

In the night, Cutter couldn’t help but doze, falling asleep with his head propped up on his hand, chair tipped against the wall. It wasn’t comfortable, and really, it seemed rather pointless, but he still felt better for it.

At least, until Stephen woke up -- sobbing.

The sound was so wretched and desperate, that at first Cutter mistook the keening for an injured animal outside. But when he realized it was Stephen, he stared half-horrified for a long moment.

On the bed, the young man was thrashing, pulling in futility at the sheets, his body trembling as he shook his head back and forth and moaned. At first the noises were incoherent, but then Cutter started to hear words through the slurred sounds.

“‘m sorry,” Stephen said, almost begging the words, pleading them against his subconscious. He whimpered. “‘m so, so sorry.”

He broke off with a sob, tears tracking down his cheek and sliding back into his already wet hair.

Cutter’s throat was tight, his stomach in knots. Uncertain, he found himself on his feet, going to Stephen, hovering next to him and reaching out with a tentative hand to his forehead.

The heat was palpable -- almost shocking -- but Stephen showed no signs of feeling his touch. Instead, he bucked weakly.

“I never should have--” he started, the wheezing almost strangling him. “If I’d known, if I could go back--” He cried miserably again, shaking his head, face contorting with obvious grief. “I wish I could go back--”

He broke off again, this time with a tremor that shook him so hard that he nearly fell off the bed. Cutter swallowed convulsively. This was more than a fever. This was more than the simple flu. Stephen was sick -- very sick -- and Cutter was nothing but an absent minded professor who accidentally took in a stray. This was above his paygrade.

He needed to call for help.

It felt foolish calling for emergency, but it felt even worse standing there watching Stephen writhe and cry.

But as he made to go for the phone, Stephen’s voice hitched and his eyes opened, wide and frantic. His breathing was fast and desperate as he flailed, as if he was looking for something.

The younger man was half out of bed when Cutter realized that was probably a bad idea. He almost tripped over his own feet, stumbling back to the bedside to placate him.

At first, Stephen didn’t seem to see him, and the hand on Stephen’s shoulder did nothing to quell his panic. Cutter finally found himself sitting on the bed, fingers entwined with Stephen’s when their eyes finally locked and there was a moment of surreal clarity, even as the fever ravaged Stephen’s body.

The younger man took a hitching breath, eyes bright with tears, the fever burning brightly in his cheeks. “I’m sorry, Cutter,” he said, words airy and strained, but disturbingly clear. “I’m so sorry. Please. I’m sorry.”

The apology was so earnest, so desperate, that Cutter found himself gobsmacked for a moment.

Then Stephen’s face crumbled. “I shouldn’t be here,” he said, sucking in a wheezing breath as he started to cry again. “I shouldn’t -- I’m sorry -- I’m so sorry--”

He dissolved again, curling in on himself as the sobs started up with such force that he nearly choked. It broke into coughing, and Stephen nearly passed out from the effort.

The apologies. Always the apologies. Cutter didn’t know what the young man had done or what debt he thought he needed to repay, but it was heartbreaking to watch. Whatever he had done, it couldn’t be worth this.

Stephen was a good student; he was a good person. He’d been there for Cutter when Cutter hadn’t deserved it. Cutter didn’t know what Stephen had done, but thanks to Stephen, Cutter had a second chance. If he could grant the same to Stephen, he would.

He squeezed Stephen’s hand, leaning down to look into the hazy blue eyes. “It’s okay,” he said. “Whatever you’ve done, it’s okay.”

Stephen shook his head pathetically. “You don’t know.”

Cutter scoffed. “I don’t need to,” he said. “We’ve all made mistakes, me more than most. Whatever it is, it’s done now. No one has to be punished forever. It’s time to let go of the past, Stephen. It’s just time to let go.”

Stephen swallowed with effort, eyes still huge and full. But after a long, tremulous moment, he nodded, letting out a slow, shaky breath as he settled back into the pillows. Cutter stayed there with him, holding his hand as the tremors eased, as his eyes slid shut and he sank back to sleep.

It was time to let go of the past, Cutter told himself. Time to let go of Helen. Time to let go of all that--

And hold onto the future.

Fingers still laced with Stephen’s, he would hold on with all he had.

-o-

The night was long. The seconds felt like hours, and Cutter could feel Stephen’s pulse throb rapidly against his grip. But he didn’t let go. He held on through the dark.

And when morning came, Stephen’s fever had broken, and the daylight crept through the blinds, glaringly bright as Cutter’s fingers unfurled and the knots in his stomach eased.

Time to let go, indeed.

-o-

It was several hours later when Cutter was dressed and washed and making breakfast that he came back to the room to find Stephen awake.

More than that, he was making the bed.

Cutter stood in the doorway, eyebrows up. “Going somewhere?”

Stephen startled, turning so abruptly that he nearly toppled over. He caught himself, though, smiling sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to stay the night,” he said apologetically, tugging up the comforter and fluffing one of the pillows. “And I didn’t mean to make such a mess.”

Cutter scoffed. “Look around, lad,” he said. “An unmade bed is the least of my concerns.”

Stephen looked around. He was still pale; still shaky; but alert. Coherent. The glass of water, which had sat mostly unused through the night, was empty and Stephen’s hair was sitting in awkward tuffs on his head, but it was no longer soaked with sweat.

He was getting better.

And with his returning health, came his apparent sense of self.

Which meant, Stephen was embarrassed. “Still,” he said, reaching down to feebly adjust the sheets one more time. He swallowed, not looking at Cutter. “I’m sorry.”

Cutter sighed, rolling his eyes. “You do like to apologize,” he muttered.

Stephen looked up, a bit wide-eyed.

“That’s all you did last night,” Cutter informed him, not sure how much the young man remembered. “Apology after apology.”

Stephen’s brow furrowed. “About that,” he said, shifting from one foot to another. He seemed to gather himself before looking Cutter squarely in the eye. “I need to tell you something.”

Cutter waved his hand in the air. “I meant it when I said to forget about it,” he said.

Stephen shook his head. “You don’t understand--”

“I was a horrible husband and a horrible teacher,” Cutter blurted. “My marriage was in shambles, and for all I know, Helen didn’t disappear, she just left because I stopped trying to understand her years ago. And my job -- it was a joke. I would have probably been fired if you hadn’t come along, and then who knows where I’d be.”

Stephen listened without comment, his breathing still heavy and a little wet. He shook his head. “Cutter--”

“The point is,” he interrupted, refusing to stop now. This much talking wasn’t natural for him; this many feelings were hard to pinpoint. If he didn’t get it out now, he might never say it, and he didn’t want to stop, not when he was finally making sense of it all. “The point is that we’ve all made mistakes. I don’t know what you’ve done, and I promise, you only know the start of what I’ve done. I don’t want to know the details. I don’t want to dwell on any details. I just want to move on. The past is a bloody mess.”

Stephen was watching him, face going stark white as he listened. When Cutter was done, he stood still, rigid and tense and uncertain for a long, long moment.

There was hesitation; there was possibility.

Then, Stephen’s disposition wavered before breaking entirely with a smile. “So says the evolutionary biologist.”

Cutter snorted. “That’s the point, though, isn’t it? Rebuilding the past to better understand the future?”

Stephen dropped his gaze, nodding finally. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I reckon it is.”

“Good,” Cutter said, clapping his hands together. “Now, if you’re feeling up to it, I’ve got breakfast in the kitchen.”

When Stephen looked up this time, his expression was one of concern. “You mean actual food?”

“I handled the soup all right, didn’t I?”

Stephen lifted his eyebrows. “I wasn’t sure if that had been part of my delusions or not.”

Cutter scowled. “If you’d rather stay here and be hungry--”

“No, no,” Stephen said. “Food sounds good. Actually, it sounds great.”

“Good,” Cutter said, marginally mollified. “Now stop with the whinging and let’s go.”

His movements were still slow, his pace guarded, but Stephen made his way to the door. Cutter led the way, Stephen a step behind, as they went to the kitchen for breakfast. The eggs were overcooked, the coffee was bitter, and the toast was burnt, but somehow it worked.

Sitting there with Stephen, somehow everything finally worked.

Comments

Posted by: reggietate (reggietate)
Posted at: December 24th, 2012 02:31 pm (UTC)
bestmates

This is a splendid story, and I'm sure Kristen will adore it - I certainly do :-)

Wr don't get as much pre-series fic as we useed to, so this is very welcome. I always love stories of Stephen rescuing Cutter from his own disorganisation.

The eggs were overcooked, the coffee was bitter, and the toast was burnt, but somehow it worked.

Yay!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:23 am (UTC)
stephen skeptical

The backstory of Cutter and Stephen is just so fascinating to me. We saw the end of their friendship on the show, so it's only natural, I think, to wonder about its origins.

Thank you!

Posted by: freddiejoey (freddiejoey)
Posted at: December 24th, 2012 02:35 pm (UTC)
Nick -sally

This is fabulous.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:23 am (UTC)
stephen cutter distance

Why, thank you :)

Posted by: nietie (nietie)
Posted at: December 24th, 2012 03:10 pm (UTC)
Hurt/comfort

Wonderful fix-it. I'm so glad Stephen was ill (and not just because I'm a huge hurt/comfort fan *g*)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:24 am (UTC)
stephen up

LOL, I wouldn't blame you if it was just the fact that you were a huge h/c fan. I'm clearly the same way!

Thanks!

Posted by: fredbassett (fredbassett)
Posted at: December 24th, 2012 04:07 pm (UTC)

This was very believable! I love guilt-wracked Stephen and poor Cutter, blundering through life not really caring any more.

They go so very well together. I loved this.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:25 am (UTC)
stephen broken

It's just so interesting to think about how the two of them got started on their headlong course toward disaster.

Thanks :)

Posted by: goldarrow (goldarrow)
Posted at: December 24th, 2012 06:54 pm (UTC)

I loved this!
Brilliant character study of the both of them.
*g* And a good reason for Stephen to have stayed quiet on the subject of Helen for all those years.

Great, great, great!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:26 am (UTC)
stephen broken

I'm so glad it resonated so well with you :) And I like to think that Stephen would have at least tried to tell Nick at some point, but over the years, it just got harder and harder until Helen came back and solved the problem. Or, rather, broke everything.

Thanks :)

Posted by: goldarrow (goldarrow)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:37 am (UTC)

Yeah, the longer he waited, the more he would have opened himself up to the "why didn't you tell me earlier" demand.

Which always derails the discussion. :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 4th, 2013 01:11 pm (UTC)
stephen and cutter hot

LOL, yeah. Pretty much there was probably no way for that conversation to ever go well. If Stephen had told him upfront, they probably never would have been friends at all. And clearly, by waiting, things didn't go a whole lot better.

It makes me hate Helen a lot.

Posted by: goldarrow (goldarrow)
Posted at: January 4th, 2013 04:16 pm (UTC)

Me, too. *g*
She messed up both their lives pretty thoroughly, and quite heartlessly.

Posted by: knitekat (knitekat)
Posted at: December 24th, 2012 11:01 pm (UTC)

Lovely fic.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:26 am (UTC)
stephen goodbye

Thank you :)

Posted by: natchris (natchris)
Posted at: December 25th, 2012 06:34 am (UTC)
Stephen blue

A brilliant read

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:26 am (UTC)
stephen shocked

So glad you liked it! Thanks :)

Posted by: flaccidduck (flaccidduck)
Posted at: December 25th, 2012 07:23 am (UTC)
The S2 team

Love this fic completely :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:26 am (UTC)
stephen smiles

Aww, thank you!

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: December 25th, 2012 12:39 pm (UTC)
Blurred


Squeee! Thank you for the hurt/comfort and Nick's speech near the end!! And how N&S click, especially at the end.

I love how this can either be read as a great explanation for why Stephen kept quiet or as things changing to create a better relationship between them right from the start. And how it could be the secret as much as the fever that is burning away inside Stephen.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:28 am (UTC)
stephen up

I'm so very glad you enjoyed it! Though writing Stephen h/c is always fun, so this was no chore.

And yeah, I sort of see this as a possible canon -- a reason why Stephen didn't confess (even if he probably still should have). Cutter had no idea just what a secret Stephen was keeping!

Thanks!

Posted by: Cordelia Delayne (cordeliadelayne)
Posted at: December 28th, 2012 01:37 am (UTC)
[people] sarah parish and james murray

A lovely story!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:28 am (UTC)
stephen broken

Thanks :)

Posted by: athene (deinonychus_1)
Posted at: December 30th, 2012 02:55 pm (UTC)
nick/stephen black & white

Lovely hurt/comfort!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 1st, 2013 03:28 am (UTC)
stephen up

I do like writing h/c :) Thanks!

Posted by: lsellersfic (lsellersfic)
Posted at: January 4th, 2013 10:06 am (UTC)
Primeval:Nick/Stephen

Lovely story!!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 4th, 2013 01:11 pm (UTC)
stephen hair

Thanks :)

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