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Primeval fic: Fixed Points (2/2)

December 23rd, 2013 (03:06 pm)
weird

feeling: weird

Split to make LJ happy. Visit Part One.



-o-

They eat a simple dinner, and then Stephen shows him the rest of the facility. Beyond the labs and the containment areas, there’s a living facility. It’s in good condition but abandoned, and it feels a bit voyeuristic shifting through pieces of other people’s lives.

“Your life,” Stephen reminds him. “You helped build this place. You were its heart and soul.”

Cutter frowns. “That hardly sounds right.”

Stephen laughs at that.

Cutter raises his eyebrows. “I was only in it for the science.”

“Which was exactly the point,” Stephen says. “You were brilliant, and that made you a natural leader. You never doubted anything, not for a second. You made decisions, and people could love it or hate it and that never changed you. You were committed.”

“That made me blind to a lot of things,” Cutter muses regretfully.

Stephen shakes his head. “No one’s perfect,” he says. “But there always should have been more people so committed to doing good. If there had been, this world might have ended up very differently.”

“If not for me, this world might have been much safer,” Cutter points out. “My device helped destroy it.”

Stephen shakes his head. “Possibly, in the long run,” he concedes. “But it was never so much the device as its abuse. And I realized too late that if Helen hadn’t started messing things up, you probably could have fixed it all before it got to this point.”

Cutter watches him, suddenly feeling skeptical. “I think you’ve forgot,” he says. “I was wrong about a lot of things.”

Stephen’s expression wavers. “Not as much as I was.”

“It’s not a contest, Stephen.”

Stephen seems to shudder at the sound of his name. “Still,” he says, voice gruff. “I’m sorry.”

Cutter sighs. “For what it’s worth, so am I.”

“It’s worth a lot,” Stephen says, starting to smile again. “More than I think you’ll know.”

-o-

They end up on the roof, where the fences are secure but the view is spectacular. The city is nothing but a ghost town now -- if there are people out there, Stephen doesn’t know and isn’t sure -- but there are signs of movement from other creatures. Helen’s plan, it seems, was to take humans out of the evolutionary chain.

“It still blows my mind,” Cutter says. “That with all the changes, there’s still a place where everything is constant.”

“It all starts somewhere,” Stephen says. “Our sense of time is so limited. It’s linear. Once you realize that the past and future coexist, the present matters so much more than it used to.”

Cutter turns to study Stephen. “What has happened to you since you left my timeline?”

Stephen makes a face. “That’s hardly worth talking about now.”

“But this is our chance--”

“I know,” Stephen says. “We both know the past, though. And now we know the future. Right now -- I don’t know.” He shrugs. “Right now I just want the moment.”

The moment.

Cutter and Stephen.

He sighs, settling back. There are definitely worse moments to have.

-o-

That night, they don’t go back down to sleep. With the city so quiet, the stars are alive, and Cutter lays back against the cement and just stares, Stephen stretched out at his side.

They talk about university. They talk about Connor and Abby. They talk about Lester and Claudia and all the rest.

They talk about what they remember. They talk about the things they loved most. Here, Stephen is different. He is open in a way Cutter doesn’t expect, honest in a way he doesn’t totally understand. He’s fuller, more real, as though the person he’d been at university was just a shadow.

Cutter wonders now how he’d ever hated the man, no matter what he’d done.

Finally, as the night deepens and Cutter feels himself growing tired, Stephen says, “Thank you.”

Cutter hums slightly under his breath. “For what?”

“For everything,” Stephen says.

Cutter chuckles. “I got you killed.”

Stephen shakes his head. “You can’t blame yourself for my choices,” he says. “I should have told you…”

“You were young,” Cutter says. “And Helen--”

Stephen shakes his head again, more adamant. “I should have told you a lot of things.”

Cutter turns to look at Stephen more fully. “Why didn’t you?”

Stephen sighs. “At first I think maybe I was trying to protect you,” he says. “But then I never wanted to disappoint you, and I knew that everything I’d done was a disappointment. I knew I’d have to leave if you knew the truth about me.”

“I might have responded poorly, it’s true,” he says. “And I don’t know what would have happened if you had told me sooner. But for what it’s worth, I understand now. And it’s not like you did everything right, but none of us did. In the end, you’re still trying make it right. And I respect you for it.”

Stephen holds his gaze for a long moment. Finally, he nods. “Thank you.”

Cutter grins at him. “Thank you.”

And together, they look back up at the sky -- and everything that was and is.

Everything that still will be.

-o-

They sleep on the roof.

When the sun breaks over this empty world, Cutter is stiff and cold. Stephen looks worn and old.

A lot has changed; they’re not the men they once were. There are regrets; there are lessons learned. There’s still hope, though. For a better future. For a fixed past.

Standing in the first light of the last day, they’re both ready.

-o-

Stephen makes breakfast, but Cutter hardly eats it. His stomach is jittery, and his nerves feel frayed. His certainty from last night seems foreign now, and as he looks over the research, he wonders if maybe he dreamed it.

Maybe this is still a dream.

But as they stand in front of the machine and Stephen takes off the control panel, it’s just too real.

“Okay,” Stephen says. He looks at Cutter. “Should we?”

Cutter takes a breath and nods. “Let’s do this.”

-o-

The preparations aren’t complicated, but they do take some time. Cutter works carefully, shifting the wiring and rerouting the circuitry. Stephen is there for every movement, getting the tools and parts Cutter needs before he has the chance to ask for them.

As he works through the last circuit, he finds that his hands are shaking.

He stops, trying to force himself to breath. He blinks hard to clear his vision. This is crazy. This is more than crazy; it’s mad. It could be a mistake. This could all be wrong.

“Cutter,” Stephen says, his voice breaking through Cutter’s thoughts.

Cutter looks over to him, and finds his blue eyes steady and certain. A fixed point.

“We can do this,” he says. “We have to.”

It’s strange, he thinks. He’s the teacher; Stephen’s the student. He’d always been the leader, and Stephen was his right hand man.

But now they’re equals, somehow. He sees something in Stephen he never saw before. Maybe it’s always been there, and he just didn’t want to see it.

Now, he doesn’t know how he missed it.

“Okay,” he says, looking back to the device. “All the circuits have been rerouted, but this is a pretty major power shift. We’re going to need a bump of sorts--”

Stephen nods, as if he’s already thought of this. “That’ll be easy,” he says. “We can just cut the power and reboot the system.”

“That probably would work,” Cutter agrees. “Where’s the switch?”

“The switch here is a kill switch to the device, not the power source,” Stephen explains. “To flood the system with energy, we’ll have to go all the way to the control room.”

“Where’s that?” Cutter asks.

Stephen smiles. “Back on the roof,” he says.

Cutter makes a face of disgust. “Seems a bit out of the way.”

“That was how you wanted it,” Stephen says. “You think you can find your way there?”

“You’re not coming?” Cutter asks, a bit surprised.

Stephen shrugs. “One of us should stay,” he says. “Just in case.”

“Well, it’s my device,” Cutter begins.

“All the more reason that it should be you,” Stephen explains. “Besides, I’ve babysat these systems long enough. I know when one of the wires is about to blow.”

“But I thought…” Cutter starts, but doesn’t know quite what to say. “I thought we’d be together...in the end.”

“Once we kick the power back on remotely we’ll still have to do a manual restart here,” Stephen says. “I’ll wait for you.”

“Okay,” Cutter says because it sounds reasonable. It is reasonable. He has no reason to doubt, and yet he finds himself uncertain. “You promise me you’ll wait.”

“Cutter,” Stephen says, simple and emphatic. “I’ve waited this long. I can wait a little longer.”

Cutter smiles, cheeks turning a little red. “Reckon dying has made me sentimental,” he jokes.

Stephen grins, smile so wide that it almost looks like it hurts. “I’m glad,” he says. “It’s a part of you I always wanted to see more of.”

“No time like the present, eh?” Cutter quips.

“That’s right,” Stephen agrees, and he sounds different somehow. The man he knew, the student he saw grow up. His best friend. “No time at all.”

-o-

Cutter moves quickly.

Time isn’t quite of the essential, but there’s still a sense of urgency about it all. Cutter isn’t one to procrastinate, at least not with the things that actually matter.

The world, he knows, matters.

Stephen matters, too.

On the roof, he jogs over to the utility room, which is mercifully unlocked. Apparently Stephen hasn’t thought much about security at the end of time. Inside, the room is still alive with energy, and it takes Cutter a moment to get his bearings. But the organization is intuitive -- he did design it himself, after all -- and the kill switch doesn’t take him long to find.

He stands, poised and ready, even as he hesitates.

This isn’t like him, to think twice. This isn’t like him to second guess.

Though, if he had, maybe he wouldn’t have ended up here at all.

Gritting his teeth, he hits the switch. Everything whirs and buzzes, drawing down to hush as the lights go out. Cutter breathes for a second in the silence, then hits the switch again. There’s a low rumble and a hiss, and things shake for a moment. But then the lights blink and the buzzing starts again.

Cutter grins.

Another step done.

Just one thing left.

Opening the door, he starts back to Stephen.

-o-

He’s all but running as he gets back inside, taking the stairs two at a time as he descends down back to the main-floor laboratory. He’s almost there, skidding around the last landing on his way down when he sees a figure ahead.

And almost crashes into it.

His heart is pounding from his exertion, and he’s so set on his goal that he barely recognizes the figure at first.

But his breathing quickens, and his eyes narrow as a cold chill goes down his spine. The future is unsettling in many ways, but nothing is more unnerving than this.

Standing in front of him, smirking with her arms crossed over her chest, is Helen.

-o-

“You,” he seethes. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Her smile is taut. “Good to see you, too.”

Cutter is still breathing heavily as he approaches her. “You have some nerve, Helen--”

“For checking up on my husband?” she asks coyly.

“You just shot me!” he yells.

Her eyes widen for a moment. “What?” she asks. Then she seems to remember. “Oh, yes. That was ages ago, though.”

“Not for me,” Cutter spits.

“After all this, surely you know that time is relative,” Helen says. “That was never personal.”

“Oh?” Cutter asks scathingly. “So why are you here? To come back to finish the job?”

She rolls her eyes. “Typical,” she says. “You still think it’s all about you.”

“Well, why else are you here?” he asks, the healing scar itching on his abdomen.

“Contrary to your belief, the universe doesn’t revolve around you,” Helen says.

“I suppose you think it revolves are you and whatever insane plan you have this time,” he hisses.

“No,” she replies simply. “As it turns out, the universe revolves around Stephen. And it’s up to me to stop him.”

-o-

At first, Cutter is too stupefied to speak.

Then, he laughs.

Helen doesn’t flinch. “You think I’m joking.”

Cutter tries to catch his breath. “It’s just something,” he says. “To hear you act like Stephen is the bad guy in all of this. And you’re what? Just trying to do your civic duty?”

“Surely you’ve learned by now,” Helen says, expression darker now. “You can’t always trust what Stephen says.”

“And I can trust you? After you put a bullet in my gut?”

“I was trying to stop this,” she exclaims, gesturing around. “You created a disaster!”

“Which is what Stephen and I intend to fix!” Cutter lashes back.

“All the wrong way,” Helen insists. “I mean, if we destroy the device, we lose control of everything. Whatever happens next, we’ll have no idea. It might kill us all.”

“Murder has never bothered you in the past,” Cutter remarks coldly.

“All I’ve done,” Helen says. “All I’ve ever tried to do is to understand the way time works and create the best future possible.”

Cutter raises his eyebrows. “Look around you,” he says. “You’ve done a great job of that.”

“This isn’t me!” she insists. “This is you. You and your team of misguided do-gooders. You and Stephen.

“Stephen’s the one who saved my life and brought me here,” Cutter says. “Why else would he do that?”

Helen rolls her eyes. “You still haven’t worked it out yet, have you?”

Cutter wrinkles his nose. “Worked what out?”

“Stephen,” Helen replies. “You still don’t realize why he’s here.”

“Someone pulled him out of time,” Cutter says. “Just like he did with me.”

Helen shakes her head. “Not just like you,” she says. “Not like you at all.”

Cutter hesitates, and he starts to feel guarded again. “You’re insane--”

“And you’re naive,” she says. “You’re thinking about the Stephen you think you know, but that’s not Stephen at all.”

“Helen, your lies and tricks--”

“Don’t matter here,” Helen says. “This is the truth, Nick, and if Stephen won’t tell you, then I will.”

Cutter sighs in exasperation. “Tell me what?”

“That Stephen isn’t from the past,” she says. “In fact, you never even met the real Stephen until you woke up here.”

“What are you talking about? Stephen was my friend, my student--”

“He was none of those things,” she says. “I’m not the only one who’s tried to alter the timeline.”

Cutter’s chest clenches, and his stomach flips.

Helen knows him well enough and sees his hesitation. She steps closer. “In fact, Stephen Hart doesn’t really exist. Stephen Cutter, on the other hand--”

Cutter shakes his head.

Helen nods. “That’s right, Nick,” she says. “Stephen’s not your student. He’s not your lab assistant. He’s not even your best mate. Stephen is your son.”

Cutter’s breath catches, and his vision goes gray about the edges.

Helen smiles, dark and malicious. “And he’s been a very, very bad boy.”

-o-

This time, Cutter doesn’t laugh. He shakes his head, and tries to move past her. “You’re a liar--”

She whirls, backing into the door before he can get there. “Of course I am,” she says. “But why would I lie about this?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Cutter snaps. “To make me stop, to make me hesitate. Because you want to take control here--”

“You don’t want to admit it, but you know it makes sense,” Helen says. “You’ve always felt a connection to him because you recognize part of him in you.”

“That doesn’t even make any sense!” Cutter says. “He had an affair with you, so you can’t be his mum!”

Helen’s eyes widen and then she laughs. “You think--? Oh, my!” she says, laughing again. “He’s not our son, Nick, though I’m flattered at the thought.”

Cutter’s face screws up. “But--”

“Claudia Brown,” Helen says. “Remember this is a timeline where she still existed? You two got married and had Stephen not long after this facility opened.”

Cutter finds himself gaping. He shakes his head. “No,” he says. “It’s still not possible--”

“It is possible,” Helen says.

“If he’s my son -- if he’s from the future -- then why do I know him from the past?” Cutter asks.

“Because he’s been trying to fix things just as much as I have,” Helen explains.

“How is he even still around if you reworked time so Claudia doesn’t exist?” Cutter asks. “If Claudia and I aren’t together, then how can we have a son?”

Helen sighs. “I would have thought you’d be quicker about this,” she murmurs. “Stephen is still unchanged the same way I am. We’re fixed points in the universe because we come from where it ends.”

Cutter shakes his head. “You, I understand, but Stephen--”

“Oh, Nick,” Helen says, sounding almost sympathetic. “Stephen was your son, but he always loved me more.”

Cutter’s heart skips a beat.

Helen’s smile widens. “In every timeline there is, he’s always picked me first.”

“I shouldn’t listen to this,” Cutter says, but it’s half hearted. Helen is still in front of the door.

“What?” Helen asks, feigning innocence. “You mean you don’t want to hear about how your little boy grew up to hate you? He loathed you, resented you with every fiber of his being. He could never live up to your standards, and I was always the one who listened to him. It was your loss, really. He never inherited your brilliance, but he had your tenacity and stubbornness. Once he made up his mind to help me, he didn’t look back. He didn’t even leave you a note when we first went back in time. He didn’t think twice, not once during our journey.”

Cutter feels sick. He is sick, hot and cold and nauseated all at once.

Helen doesn’t stop. “He was going to rub it in your face, tell you how foolish you were,” she says. “Until we came back and he realized what had happened.”

Cutter can’t speak, won’t speak. He can barely breathe.

“All of his rebellion, he never meant for it to happen, you understand,” she says. “And to be fair, I didn’t at first either. But when we came back, everything was different. You were dead; Claudia was gone. His entire support system had vanished, just like that.”

Cutter’s chest aches now, and his head starts to hurt as pressure builds behind his eyes.

“If it helps, he was horrified at what he’d done,” Helen says. “We had a falling out then, and he refused to go with me anymore. Instead, he stayed and pouted like the child he is, trying to fix things remotely while I went and tackled the real issues.”

“The real issues?” Cutter asks, his voice sounding small.

“Mankind,” Helen says. “You were the one who built the damn machine, but if you hadn’t someone else would have. Stephen was a petulant child; he just wanted his family back. I had bigger concerns.”

“He was trying to keep the timeline from destabilizing,” Cutter says, defending Stephen even if he doesn’t know how. Even if he’s not sure what’s real anymore.

“He was naive, just like you are,” she says harshly. “And that’s when he took up cloning, which he learned from me, by the way.”

“Cloning?” Cutter asks.

“Oh, yes,” Helen says, as if it should be obvious. “That’s all you really met back then. The student at university was just a clone Stephen created, and a pretty poor knockoff at that. I can’t believe I ever let myself be smitten with him.”

“Wait,” Cutter says. “You’re telling me the Stephen I know is a clone?”

“The Stephen you knew,” Helen corrects. “You did get him killed.”

“And you knew?” Cutter asks, incredulously.

“Not at first,” Helen says. “When he first showed up in my classroom, I had no idea. But surely you know that the woman who came back from the past is not the same woman you married.”

“But how--”

“Time travel only makes sense when you’re living it,” Helen says. “That’s what Stephen forgot. That’s what he’s forgetting now. We can’t fix things by stopping. We have to fix things by staying with it.”

“So you’re saying time isn’t going to end?” Cutter asks.

“Not if we can go back and find the right timeline,” Helen says.

“But the energy build up--”

“Can still be diverted,” Helen says.

“But if it doesn’t,” Cutter says. “We could still destroy the universe.”

“It’s possible,” Helen agrees. “But if we follow Stephen’s plan; if we invert the flow, then we have a even higher risk of that.”

“Or it sets everything right,” Cutter says.

“We won’t know, though,” Helen says, impassioned again. “Just think about it, Nick. Think about what you’re risking. If this works, you’ll never get your Stephen back. You won’t get the student; you won’t get the best friend. You might not even get a son who loves you. You might not even get a son at all.”

Cutter shakes his head, but it’s hard to think about. It’s hard to imagine, a universe where everything he knows doesn’t come to pass. His years with Stephen mean more than he ever thought they would; his friendship made Cutter a better man.

And they are the only memories he has of his son.

His son.

It could still be a lie, Cutter knows, but he always trusts his gut. And his gut knows better. Because he can see himself in Stephen. He can see Claudia. Cutter never took new students, but he couldn’t say no to Stephen.

His Stephen.

Gone forever.

The thought of such loss is devastating.

The thought of not even realizing what loss he’d suffered was even worse.

“I know you, Nick,” Helen says. “You’re a man of reason and logic. You don’t put things outside of your control, and with Stephen’s plan that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. If we work together, we can save the future -- and you can save your relationship with Stephen. It’s a win-win, Nick. For everyone.”

Cutter swallows. He doesn’t trust Helen, not even close.

But her promise is tempting.

At the very least, it warrants a conversation.

“Come on,” Cutter says, nodding toward the door. “We need to go talk to Stephen.”

Suddenly, down the corridor, there’s a whir and a thud, the entire facility shaking.

Cutter stumbles, righting himself against the wall. When he looks up, Helen is horrified. “He’s done it,” she says. “He’s restarting the device--”

“Come on,” Cutter says, pushing past her and opening the door. “We need to hurry.”

-o-

Helen is moving fast, but Cutter quickly outpaces her. He almost skids past the door, but grabs onto the handle and opens it before stopping short.

The device is thrumming now, louder and stronger than before. The epicenter is glowing brightly, momentarily blinding Cutter as he holds an arm to his face and tries to move inside.

“Stephen!” he yells, taking a step inside. There’s a pull in the room, and things start to fly -- the electromagnetic charge is unlike any he has felt before in all his time with anomalies. It’s stronger, sucking in metal and everything else, almost like a black hole. “Stephen!”

It takes a moment to see, but Stephen is holding onto one of the counters, still pressing buttons. “I’ve almost got it!” the younger man yells. “Just a little bit more--”

“Stephen, no!” Cutter yells back, feeling the pull more strongly now as he braces himself against the door to support himself.

“It has to be done!” Stephen screams back. “It has to be--”

“No!” Helen yells from behind. She presses against Cutter, and her weight throws him forward. He stumbles, skidding across the floor. He tries to stop himself, but the force is too strong. The anomaly is eating the room, eating time itself -- and Cutter knows that in a few short seconds he’ll be gone to it as well.

Helen falls next to him, kicking and fighting as the force pulls her. For a moment, they catch on one of the stools, but the machine wines and metal starts to bend before they’re falling again.

Cutter’s eyes grow wide as he falls, and he’s ready to close his eyes when something firm grabs his arm and stops his descent. He looks up, surprised to see Stephen, braced against the counter, fingers locked tight around Cutter’s arm.

A fixed point.

Helen yelps, fingers grappling at Cutter as she slides past him. She catches herself for a moment, hand around his leg but it’s too much.

As he reaches down for her, she’s gone, lost into the cortex.

Lost in time.

Then, slowly, Stephen is hauling him up, dragging him back. First to the counter and then to the open door. It’s a monumental effort, and Cutter feels his energy being dragged out of him, every cell in his body being burned alive as the crush of time is brought to a pinpoint and destroyed nearby.

It’s exhausting.

It’s probably lethal.

And still, Stephen pulls him. To the door.

Out the door.

Stephen’s still fighting.

If Stephen’s fight--

Then so is Cutter.

Grimacing, he reaches back, snagging the knob with his hand and wrenching. At first nothing happens, but as Stephen pulls them forward step by step, Cutter pulls the door shut behind them, inch by inch until it seals.

The force drops off considerably -- reinforced doors, Cutter muses absently -- but he’s too tired to do much of anything except collapse and focus on breathing. His proximity to the device has cost him dearly, and he doesn’t know if he’ll ever catch his breath again.

If he’ll live through this.

That is the point, though. None of them are going to live through this. Closing the door has bought them mere seconds. As the pressure builds, they’ll be sucked into, too.

It’ll be over.

It’ll be gone.

Tears burning in his eyes, Cutter flops on his side and looks to Stephen.

The other man is splayed on the floor, not far away. He’s still, face turned toward Cutter, ashed and blank.

Cutter’s stomach turns so hard that he almost can’t handle it. His limbs feel like jelly, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t feel much of anything as he scrambles over on his hands and knees.

“Stephen,” he calls urgently, shaking the other man’s shoulder. “Stephen!”

He doesn’t stir. With the racket in the next room, Cutter can’t focus enough to see anything except his best mate, probably dead.

His son.

He breaks at the thought. The tears start, and he doesn’t care about sentiment anymore. He scoops the limp body up and cradles it in his arms.

He doesn’t remember this, but still somehow he does. He thinks about holding a baby, soothing a toddler. He thinks about kissing scraped knees and ruffling his hair. He thinks about a child with bright eyes and a hopeful future.

He thinks about a student, quiet and withdrawn. He thinks about a steady presence that Cutter never doubted.

He thinks about Stephen.

Who they were, who they never got to be.

“Stephen,” he murmurs, tucking the man’s head against his chest. “You can’t leave me now. Not when I’ve just found you. Please.”

Then, there’s a movement against his chest.

Startled, Cutter looks down, flabbergasted when he sees Stephen looking up at him. He’s still pale, and he can’t lift himself, but he’s looking at Cutter.

And smiling. “I was worried,” he says haltingly. “That I wouldn’t get to say goodbye.”

“You should have waited,” Cutter says, voice thick.

“I’m impulsive,” he says.

Cutter grunts. “You must take after your father.”

Stephen’s eyes widen.

“I know,” he says. “Helen told me everything.”

Stephen blinks rapidly. “I thought it’d be easier--”

“If I didn’t know you were my son?” Cutter asks. “Or you knew I wouldn’t let you do it?”

Stephen shakes his head. “You always did the right thing,” he says. His face contorts. “I was worried I wouldn’t -- I wouldn’t follow through.”

There’s a crash from the next room, and everything in the corridor is shaking. Cutter pulls Stephen closer. “We could have found a way.”

Stephen shakes his head. “It’s better this way,” he says.

“The best eight years of my life--” Cutter begins.

“Will be nothing compared to the lifetime you’ll get to have,” Stephen promises. “You were happy here. You and mom, you always loved each other. And Connor and Abby -- they looked up to you. You had them over for dinner every week. You were the godfather to their girls.”

“Girls?” Cutter asks.

Stephen smiles. “Three of them,” he says. “Brilliant and funny. Drove Lester crazy, but mom says that’s how he liked it.”

“I can’t believe he stayed so long,” Cutter says.

“He was family,” Stephen explains. “We all were. Even Helen, in the beginning. We all worked together.” Tears slip down his cheeks. “Until I screwed it up.”

“Stephen,” Cutter admonishes.

“I was foolish,” Stephen says. “I didn’t understand. I thought I’d just go away with Helen and when I came back, you’d see me as a man. I thought we’d be equal.”

Cutter’s eyes keep filling, and he lifts a hand, brushing Stephen’s hair back. “We are equal,” he says. “You’re a good man.”

“Only because of you,” Stephen says, and his chest is hitching unevenly now as the ceiling starts to crack. “Only because I realized that when it was too late. I was too late, Cutter. I was too late--”

“Hush,” Cutter says. “We’re here now. We’re together now. It’s okay.”

Stephen smiles, tremulous and pained. “I’m sorry,” he says. “For what I’ve done. For what I’ll do.”

“Just stop now,” Cutter says, the emotion almost too much. “It’s okay.”

Stephen’s gaze starts to get glassy as plater falls around them. His breathing is shallow, his body going limp again. “This is what kept me going,” he says. “This is what I missed. You and me and mom. When we were family.”

Cutter pulls him closer, pressing Stephen’s face to his chest. “We’re here now,” he soothes. “We’re together now, son.”

The corridor roars; the ceiling falls. The device rages, and time slows.

And it’s okay.

Cutter holds Stephen, and together they’re a fixed point in time.

The last fixed point.

Until time stops altogether.

-o-

Time expands.

There is infinite time, infinite space. The beginning is the end is the beginning.

Somewhere a baby is being born, naked and squalling. His mother cries in relief, holding the baby pressed against her chest. His father bends down and cups the back of his delicate head. “Hello, Stephen.”

A child grows; a teenager rebels. Someone lies; a boy falls in love. A choice is made -- again and again -- and it cannot be undone.

People die. A lot of people. But amid all the chaos, Cutter stands at the door, looking through with shock. All he wants is another chance; all he wants is to hold Stephen one last time, before it’s too late.

These are lives they’ve lived, lives they haven’t lived. These are choices they’ve made, still enduring through the sands of time.

Cutter holds tighter, hefting Stephen closer. He’s his best friend; he’s a dying man; he’s giving himself to save Cutter; he’s walking away without looking back.

He’s a baby being born.

He’s part of Cutter.

Maybe the most important part.

Everything changes, but that stays the same.

That will always stay the same.

-o-

Cutter opens his eyes.

For several moments, he stares into the darkness, his heart still pounding in his ears. Something is different; something is off. Something…

In the darkness, something stirs next to him, a body rolling closer. Hot breath brushes his arm.

“Nick?” Claudia asks, murmuring into the stillness of their bedroom. “You okay?”

Cutter blinks, looking down at her. In the dimness, he can see the soft curve of her face. Her hair is mussed with sleep as she curls on her side closer to him. “Yeah,” he says. “Just a dream.”

She rouses a bit, opening sleepy eyes to meet his. “Again?” she asks with a bit of concern. “What was it this time?”

Cutter forces a smile, reaching up to smooth the hair on her head. “Nothing important,” he says. “But I’ve been thinking.”

Claudia groans, propping herself up a bit. “Of course you have,” she says. “You never can get your best ideas during the daytime like a normal person.”

“It’s not about work,” he says defensively. “I mean, not in the way you’re thinking.”

She raises her eyebrows.

He wets his lips, shrugging. “I just keep thinking maybe we’re doing the wrong thing.”

“You mean with the approach?” she asks. “Connor seems to agree with you and Helen’s research--”

Cutter grunts.

Claudia lifts her eyebrows higher. “You’re the one who said you two were amicable.”

“I know,” Cutter says with a sigh. “And it’s not that I think there’s anything overtly wrong, and it certainly does all make sense…”

“But?” Claudia prompts.

“But it just doesn’t seem like the best idea,” he says. “I mean, all this talk of time travel and controlling the anomalies. Who are we to think we can do that anyway? Who’s to say we won’t make things worse?”

“Well, who’s to say we won’t make things better,” Claudia says. “The anomalies are real. And we have to do something about them.”

“Do we?” Cutter asks. “Do we really?”

Claudia stares at him. “I can’t believe you’re saying this,” she says, shaking her head. “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?”

Cutter wets his lips. “It’s crazy, I know,” he says. “But we’re moving so fast. Too fast. We don’t even know where Helen got her research or what the implications of trying to control the anomalies are. She was gone for eight years and comes back right as this gets started, and I want to trust her, but I think maybe I need to trust my instincts more.”

“Well, your gut is rarely wrong,” Claudia agrees. “But this is your life’s work.”

Cutter shakes his head. “That’s the thing, though,” he says, moving forward. “It isn’t.”

“Oh?” Claudia says. “Have you been leading some double life I don’t know about?”

“No,” Cutter says. “But that’s what I keep dreaming about -- the things that matter. All this time I’m spending at work; all this talk of time travel; and I’m missing time right now. I’m missing everything. Because what good is saving the world if I can’t be here for you.”

He smiles, placing a hand on Claudia’s growing belly.

“Both of you,” Cutter says.

Claudia beams. “I’ve never asked you to choose between your work and family.”

“I know,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make the choice.”

Claudia laughs. “I think you’re delusional.”

“Maybe,” Cutter says. “But I’ve never felt anything this strongly before.” He grins, tweaking her stomach again. “I think it’s this little guy. He’s already changed everything.”

Claudia chuckles. “He is quite a handful,” she agrees. “But still. If not the ARC, then what? What do you really want, Nick?”

“I haven’t a clue,” Cutter admits. “But at work, we’re chasing silly dreams. We don’t need all of time at our fingertips.”

“Really?” Claudia asks.

“No,” Cutter says, wrapping an arm around her. “We just need a lifetime together, as a family.”

Claudia laughs, and Cutter holds her. The baby kicks, squirming inside.

Cutter doesn’t know what the future will hold.

Right now, he doesn’t care.

He just wants to take this moment.

And so the story goes.

Comments

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: December 24th, 2013 09:05 am (UTC)
Stephen Clouds


**the universe revolves around Stephen**

I agree with that!

Intriguing twists *G*

And Helen actually told the truth? Eeeek! Or part of the truth

SonStephen awww! He is a nice mix of Claudia and Nick, and it seems that time and Nick's choices will run better at the end. Love the idea of N&S together being a fixed point.

Helen will give the cortex a major belly ache...

Thanks very much!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 16th, 2014 01:52 am (UTC)
stephen goodbye

LOL, the universe DOES revolve around Stephen, right?!

I started this fic with the notion from JM about Stephen being a clone. And somehow that evolved into Stephen being Nick's estranged son trying to make everything right from the future. Or something.

LOL. At least it's different?

I'm so glad you had a nice Christmas!

Posted by: nietie (nietie)
Posted at: December 25th, 2013 02:31 pm (UTC)
Nick/Stephen

“So this is where we can make it right again.”

I can so understand Cutter's confusion. But Stephen guided him wonderfully.
Beautiful, bittersweet story.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 16th, 2014 01:52 am (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

I'm glad it made sense, actually. I was worried readers would be as confused as Cutter. I'm not great with timey plots so this was out of my depth!

Thanks :)

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: December 30th, 2013 05:23 pm (UTC)

Wow! What a great twist! I didn't see this coming at all and I loved the idea! There is something truly amazing about it, that Stephen would be working to achieve the most important thing in life: family, belonging. When Helen appeared, I was so afraid and angry that she would ruin things and I was so glad that Cutter chose Stephen, that Stephen saved him. Just a wonderful twist!!

Fave part:

Cutter’s eyes keep filling, and he lifts a hand, brushing Stephen’s hair back. “We are equal,” he says. “You’re a good man.”

“Only because of you,” Stephen says, and his chest is hitching unevenly now as the ceiling starts to crack. “Only because I realized that when it was too late. I was too late, Cutter. I was too late--”

“Hush,” Cutter says. “We’re here now. We’re together now. It’s okay.”

Stephen smiles, tremulous and pained. “I’m sorry,” he says. “For what I’ve done. For what I’ll do.”

“Just stop now,” Cutter says, the emotion almost too much. “It’s okay.”

-- *sob! So poignant!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 16th, 2014 01:53 am (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

LOL, yeah I actually didn't see the twist coming either until I wrote it. I'm not quite sure how I got it to this point, but I'm glad it made for a decent read :)

Thanks!

Posted by: goldarrow (goldarrow)
Posted at: January 13th, 2014 03:56 am (UTC)
Stephen Smug

*iz dizzy*

That was completely unexpected! Totally unique and very very well thought out!

Love how it had a happy ending, even if a different one than is normally used. Kudos.

And, yep, the Universe does revolve around Stephen! *wipes up drool*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 16th, 2014 01:54 am (UTC)
stephen wary

I have to admit, I was trying to find a new way to write the same fix it, and was coming up blank. So then this idea came to mind and I went with it, for better or worse.

And I certainly think the universe revolves around Stephen :)

Thanks!

Posted by: reggietate (reggietate)
Posted at: January 13th, 2014 03:48 pm (UTC)
worriedstephen

Oh, that was a splendid story, with a very unexpected twist! Maybe this time it really will all come out right :-)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 16th, 2014 01:55 am (UTC)
stephen skeptical

I like to think things will be much better this time around :)

I'm glad the twist made sense! I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but I knew I had no choice but to write it :)

Thanks!

Posted by: lsellersfic (lsellersfic)
Posted at: January 16th, 2014 07:57 pm (UTC)
Primeval:Nick/Stephen

Making Stephen Nick's son is a very clever idea. I'm not sure I've seen it before thought I'm slightly surprised at that because it's a great way to explore their dynamic!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 9th, 2014 03:31 am (UTC)
stephen angsty

It is hard to find something new when it comes to these two. There has been a lot of interesting stuff done with them. I wasn't sure if I could pull this off, but I'm glad it seemed to work :)

Thanks!

Posted by: knitekat (knitekat)
Posted at: January 16th, 2014 09:02 pm (UTC)

Lovely timey-wimey fic and great idea to make Stephen Nick's son.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 9th, 2014 03:31 am (UTC)
stephen cutter distance

Timey-wimey is hard to write sometimes, so I'm glad it worked.

Thanks!

Posted by: aelfgyfu_mead (aelfgyfu_mead)
Posted at: January 20th, 2014 05:04 pm (UTC)
Nick & Stephen

Wow—I didn't see a lot of that coming! Very interesting.

“Contrary to your belief, the universe doesn’t revolve around you,” Helen says.
“I suppose you think it revolves are you and whatever insane plan you have this time,” he hisses.
“No,” she replies simply. “As it turns out, the universe revolves around Stephen.

Haha!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 9th, 2014 03:31 am (UTC)
stephen happy

The universe totally revolves around Stephen :)

Thanks!

Posted by: fififolle (fififolle)
Posted at: May 25th, 2014 06:27 pm (UTC)

Aw, that was great! What a good read :D

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 02:26 am (UTC)
stephen hair

Thank you :)

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