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Primeval fic: The First Step (1/1)

November 21st, 2013 (05:56 am)
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feeling: blah

Title: The First Step

Disclaimer: I do not own Primeval.

A/N: Written based on an AU idea by kristen_mara but then it completely did its own thing. Beta by lena7142. I’ve actually got more fics written to follow this one, so it’s really just the start of something that ended up taking things in a different direction. Fills my parting ways prompt for hc_bingo.

Warnings: AU for 2.01. Starts with those events and goes in an entirely different direction. Canon ships. Beta'ed but not Brit-picked.

Summary: Too much has happened. We can’t go back to the way it was.



-o-

“I’m leaving,” Stephen blurted, filling the awkward silence with the only thing he had left -- the truth. He faltered, feeling his cheeks redden. “I’ve already told Lester and handed in the paperwork.”

Across from him, Cutter blinked, looking vaguely confused.

Feeling uncomfortable, Stephen looked away, playing with an errant mark on his pants. “It’ll be better this way,” he said. “Everything has been wrong lately, and if I go, that will only help things get back to normal.”

Cutter’s mouth opened. Then closed. His brow furrowed.

Stephen shrugged. “I probably should have done this awhile ago,” he said. “Could have saved us all a mess of trouble.”

“Stephen--” Cutter began.

Stephen shook his head, looking up again. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry,” he continued without slowing down. “For everything.”

“Stephen,” Cutter interjected.

“I know it’s a little late for that,” Stephen said.

Stephen,” Cutter said, emphatically now.

Stephen stopped short, more nervous apologies on his lips.

Cutter held his gaze for a moment, his blue eyes inscrutable. He shook his head after a moment, almost in disbelief. “You can’t think that this is still about Helen, do you?”

Stephen stared back. It was his turn to be surprised. “Isn’t it?” he asked. “If I hadn’t slept with her -- if I hadn’t lied about -- then who knows what might have happened. Too much has happened, Cutter. We can’t go back to the way it was.”

Cutter was almost incredulous now. “And what do you think you’re going to do?”

Stephen shrugged. “Lester agreed to get me a transfer someplace outside the ARC,” he said. “It won’t be much, but it’ll pay the bills until I can figure something else out. I talked to Allison, and she thought after enough time passed I might be able to get on with her conservation team. Fieldwork was always my favorite.”

“Is Allison going to help you, then?” Cutter asked pointedly.

Stephen’s jaw tightened. “As a friend,” he said. “That’s really what we’ve been for years. She knew, though. About Helen.”

Cutter snorted. “So you could tell her....”

“Cutter, there was never any reason to tell you--” Stephen began.

“Except that you were my friend,” Cutter replied, voice suddenly sharp again, the way it always was when Helen came up.

“And Helen was gone,” Stephen told him, just like he had a thousand times in his head. They’d avoided this conversation. At first, there hadn’t been time. Now, when they had nothing but time, Stephen had never been able to say it. But at this point, time was running out. He literally had very little left to lose.

Cutter was watching him, eyes wide. To his credit, the man hadn’t left in the aftermath. He’d have been within his rights to walk away, but he’d stayed. Maybe that was a testament to their friendship. Maybe Cutter hated Helen enough to give him a second chance. Maybe the man just felt guilty.

Stephen didn’t know. Not anymore. Which was why this was so important. “The affair happened before I even knew you,” he explained. “It was over just as fast. She had told me that the marriage was over, when I found out you still cared about her...I didn’t want to take the memory from you.”

Cutter’s face hardened. “Those are all convenient reasons,” he said. “Nothing like avoiding personal responsibility.”

Stephen sighed. “I’m not telling you I was right.”

Cutter grunted with an air of righteous indignation.

“I’m just explaining why this is something I still need to do,” Stephen said. “You can’t even look at me anymore--”

“That’s not true!”

“Fine,” Stephen said. “You can barely stand to look at me. And the fact is, Abby and Connor -- they need you. The ARC needs you. I’m a distraction. This entire thing with Helen is a distraction. I can’t be here anymore.”

“And you think it’s that easy?” Cutter asked.

Stephen smiled ruefully. “Nothing is easy about it at all,” he said.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Cutter asked, sounding almost apoplectic now. He gestured to Stephen in the taut silence that followed. “Like the fact that you lost your foot?”

Stephen looked down over the side of his wheelchair where his pant leg stopped vacantly. He swallowed, still feeling a trace of phantom pain as he flexed the toes on the foot he still had.

As if he could ever forget.

-o-

When it first happened, Stephen had been too shocked to even understand. There had been no pain -- in fact, at first he’d just been relieved to no longer have a raptor trying to rip his foot off. It hadn’t been until Connor and Abby tried to pull him to his feet and he put his leg out to steady himself that he realized something was different.

Something was wrong.

It had been Abby who screamed. Connor almost dropped him. Cutter ripped open his pant leg, shaking his his head and muttering, no, no, no, no.

It wasn’t until he’d been taken to the hospital that he’d realized the full implications of what had happened.

His foot was gone. Trapped millions of years in the past. At least the raptor had probably eaten it and hopefully digested it as to not mess up the fossil records.

After the initial shock, Stephen had barely had time to feel grieved. He was carted through scan after scan and probed by a dozen or so doctors and specialists. Sometimes, he wanted to rail against it, but really, there didn’t seem to be much point. He couldn’t open the anomaly back up. He wasn’t getting his foot back.

It was just gone. Much like many other good things in Stephen’s life.

To Stephen, it had all been rather symbolic. He’d lost part of himself to the past. It had literally sneaked up behind him and grabbed hold, taking him down almost without a fight. He’d saved his life, but at great personal expense.

Stephen had never been particularly good with literature, but he’d have to be totally daft not to see the parallels.

In one case, it’d been a raptor, coming to on the other side of an anomaly. He’d run as hard and fast as he could, but he’d been too slow. It got him by the foot and dragged him back. His friend had fought for him when it counted, and they almost saved him -- but not quite. When the anomaly closed, Stephen’s foot had still be on the other side, severed cleanly by the break in time.

In the other, it was Helen, coming out of nowhere and dragging the mistakes of his past with her. She teased him and titillated him, before laying bare his secrets at the worst possible time. Cutter said it was in the past, but it wasn’t. And Abby didn’t look at him anymore. Connor didn’t turn to him for advice. They’d saved his life, but their pity was one of obligation.

Given the choice, Stephen would pick the raptor every time.

-o-

Cutter took the news of his impending departure poorly, but Stephen wasn’t tempted to change his mind. In fact, it had been the only option that made any sense from the beginning. In a sense, losing a foot just made it easier to justify.

Without a foot, after all, he couldn’t even do his job. He couldn’t go on anomaly calls in a wheelchair, and he would be more of a liability than he was worth. He’d take the role of protector fairly seriously, and without that, he simply didn’t have enough expertise to be employable.

That was his official line, anyway.

The truth was, no one trusted him since the revelation of his affair about Helen. He was a distraction. No one would pin him with a Scarlet A now, all things considered.

Maybe that was because the universe, when it closed the anomaly on Stephen’s ankle, already had.

-o-

It was Connor who made the most compelling case. Connor had always been the heart of the ARC, as far as Stephen was concerned. He was the one with the passion to pursue the impossible, even when everyone thought he was crazy. He’d never been able to say no to Connor.

Until now.

“We’re a team, though,” the younger man said, sounding somewhat like he was begging. “We’ve been here from the start.”

“Things change,” Stephen said, pushing lazily around his hospital room. He was due to be discharged soon, once he was ready for outpatient therapy.

“I think we all know that,” Connor said. “Which is why it’s so important that you’re still there.” His shoulders fell. “Come on, please. I don’t want to do this without you.”

Stephen gave him a look, feeling a swell of gratitude and pity. Connor cared -- genuinely -- and Stephen appreciated that. But Connor didn’t understand -- probably hadn’t understood from the beginning. Which made it all the more important for Stephen to go. Connor wanted a friend, but he didn’t want one like Stephen -- even if he didn’t know that.

“You haven’t needed me from the start,” he said. “None of you have. If anything, I just make you feel guilty now, and that’s not a distraction you need.”

“But it’s our fault,” Connor said, despairing slightly now. “If you hadn’t gone back after Cutter--”

“He only went back on his own because of the truth about Helen,” Stephen pointed out reasonably.

“But if we’d pulled harder,” Connor objected.

Stephen sighed. “I made my choices, Connor,” he said. “Some good. Some bad. Some downright terrible. And those are consequences I have to live with.” He paused, letting the words settle. “Alone.”

Connor was crestfallen. “But--”

“But you’ll be fine,” Stephen said, waving a hand. “A little more practice with a gun will serve you well, but I’m told they’ve already brought up a good replacement. Someone from Special Forces. Who hasn’t slept with the boss’s wife.”

“But it won’t be the same,” he said.

“No,” Stephen agreed. “But you might be surprised to find that it’s better.”

“I don’t believe that,” Connor said.

Stephen just smiled sadly. “I think you will someday.”

-o-

Connor meant well, and he had been the easiest company since everything. He was goofy and awkward, but he was the only one who didn’t look at him with disappointment. Maybe Connor was too young to understand betrayal; maybe he was just more forgiving. Whatever the case, there were moments he believed that he and Connor could actually stay friends.

No lies. No work. No expectations.

But there would be questions. Connor would tell him about life at the office. Abby and Cutter might feel compelled to keep in touch. That wasn’t fair to any of them.

Stephen didn’t deserve friendship anyhow.

-o-

Besides, it wasn’t as if Stephen didn’t have plenty to do. Even though his medical treatment had been surprisingly easy, it still required most of Stephen’s attention. Most amputations were traumatic, leaving bone exposed and ragged ribbons of skin and muscle. Stephen’s wound, however...

Well, the doctors had never seen anything quite like it. The surgeons had been quite excited at first, wanting to take pictures and document the procedures, but when Jenny Lewis showed up with paperwork regarding the Official Secrets Act, the whole thing became far less scintillating.

Even so, they marveled at it. The wound had essentially been cauterized, the cut even and clean. No debridement had been necessary, and no further surgery had been needed to treat the wound. There were absolutely no signs of infection, and the future prognosis of using a prosthetic was remarkably good.

All in all, Stephen was lucky. About as lucky as his doctors had ever seen.

Funny thing, that. Stephen didn’t feel lucky at all.

-o-

It was a testament to Abby’s character that she came every week like clockwork. It was so methodical that Stephen knew it was forced, but he still found the gesture to be sweet.

The easy flirting was over, though. Not that it had been easy for long. In fact, the only time it’d been easy at all when Stephen was almost dying. He was permanently impaired, but in no risk of any kind of immediate peril, which just made things uncomfortable.

Or maybe it was just the fact that he’d slept with Cutter’s wife. She’d been starting to overlook his near-death date request while still technically dating another woman, but apparently adultery had sullied his reputation.

Still, she came.

“You’re looking better,” she said with an earnest nod, the same way she did every week.

“I’ll be going home in a few days,” he said amiably.

She nodded, chewing her lip for a moment. “How’s therapy going?”

Stephen shrugged. “Not too bad,” he said. “When I’m out of here, I’ll probably be able to get around on crutches for the most part. At least until they can get me fitted for a prosthetic.”

Her eyes lit up with something like hope. “I hear they’ve made great progress with those lately,” she said. “I imagine it won’t slow you down that much.”

Stephen smiled faintly, feeling his leg twitch slightly. “Maybe I need to slow down,” he said.

Another silence loomed, and Abby studied her nails. Finally she said, “So you’re really leaving?”

The question wasn’t easy to hear, but every time he had to answer it, he was more certain than ever that he was making the right choice. “It’s better,” he said. “For a lot of reasons.”

She looked at him now, expression full of regret. “You don’t have to, you know,” she said. “You’re going to be back on your feet.” She stopped with a wince. “And the team--”

“Won’t even miss me,” Stephen finished for her.

She opened her mouth to object.

“Abby,” Stephen cut her off. “Trust is earned, and I lost it.”

“Yeah, but you can earn it back,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s easy, but we don’t want you to go.”

“That’s the guilt,” he said. “It’s like when someone dies and no one remembers all the bad things they did. I lost my foot, Abby. It doesn’t change anything.”

Her expression faltered. She drew a ragged breath. “I’m sorry for that,” she said. “We all should have gone with you. If we’d pulled harder--”

“Don’t start with the what-ifs,” Stephen said ruefully. “I know how they work, better than you ever will.”

She was quiet for a moment before nodding. “Okay,” she said, getting to her feet. “I’ll call you. When you get out. We’ll have lunch. Talk about things. You know. Keep in touch.”

Stephen smiled politely. “I’d like that.”

Her smile widened for a moment, before she reigned it in. “Anyway,” she said. “I should--”

“Yeah,” Stephen nodded.

“Okay,” Abby said. “Well. This is it, I guess.”

“This is it,” Stephen agreed.

“Bye,” Abby added awkwardly, before heading for the door. She hesitated, and kept on walking.

Stephen watched her go, but Abby didn’t look back.

-o-

Physical therapy was the highlight of Stephen’s days. He looked forward to it all morning, sitting restlessly in his room before it was finally his turn. At first, finding his balance was tricky, but he quickly learned how to compensate for the missing foot, almost like it had never been there at all.

His upper body strength was harder to account for. He’d spent most of his workouts in the past on cardiovascular exercise, so the temporary need to pull and push himself with his arms was exhausting to say the least.

It was also invigorating. If the therapist asked for ten pull ups, Stephen did eleven. When he was asked to walk twice down the length of the parallel bars, he always insisted on a third time.

When he missed a step and faltered, his therapist reached out to steady him, half catching him. “Easy, Stephen,” she coached. “You don’t need to push yourself so hard.”

But Stephen wanted to push himself. He wanted to work, to push, to persevere. He’d always loved the sound of his heart pounding in his chest, the feel of sweat dripping between his shoulder blades. Ever since the reality of his situation had become clear to him, he’d been struck by a pervasive numbness. The pain and exhausted of therapy reminded him that he was still alive.

And maybe, just maybe, there was still something worth living for.

Determined, he pushed away, righting himself. He was shaking from the exertion, muscles burning as he gritted his teeth. “No,” he grunted. “I can do it.”

He would do it.

Stephen’s life was one of failure and regret, but each step he took now was good and right and earned.

He’d get there -- no matter what.

-o-

It wasn’t always easy, though. Therapy left him worn, and when he collapsed into the bed, he slept heavy and listless. He often woke suddenly, blinking rapidly into the dimness, his breath caught in his throat as he reached instinctively for his gun.

There was no gun, though. There was no anomaly. Connor wasn’t there, spouting obscure scientific facts. Abby wasn’t there, eyes wide with wonder at the creatures. Cutter wasn’t there giving orders, and Helen didn’t show up just to make his life worse.

It was just Stephen.

Alone in a hospital bed.

He’d never go out in the field again. He’d never see the twinkling lights of an anomaly or feel the thrilling rush of a predator charging. He’d never stand on his own two feet. Everything in his life was over now.

The anomaly had taken more than his foot. It had taken his friends, his livelihood, his life. He’d wanted things, once. He’d loved Helen; he’d wanted to get his degree. He’d wanted to go with Cutter to all corners of the world; he’d wanted to save people, to make a difference. He’d wanted to fix things with Cutter, to explain, to earn back his trust. He’d wanted so many things...

Things that would never happen now, not when Stephen was nothing but a crippled liar with no leg left to stand on.

Stephen had spent years hiding his emotions, but he realized now there was no one left to hide them from as he cried, alone and incomplete, in his hospital room.

-o-

“Well,” Jenny said, flipping through the papers. “It looks like that’s that.” She looked up, smiling primly at Stephen. “Your transfer is official, and you’ll be able to start work as soon as you have clearance from your doctors.”

Stephen smiled back. “Shouldn’t be long,” he said. “Honestly, they’ve kept me here more as a precaution than anything else. I’m fine.”

“I’m sure,” she said, putting the signed papers back into her bag. “But there are some psychological considerations and other adjustments.”

“I’ll be better off with something to do,” Stephen said. “And the wheelchair’s not hard to use.”

“You are perhaps the most well adjusted person I could imagine in such a situation,” she said. “It’s impressive.”

“Not really,” Stephen replied. “There’s nothing else to do but accept it.”

She nodded. “As I’ve said, impressive,” she told him. She hesitated. “If you don’t mind, can I ask you something personal?”

Stephen shrugged.

“It’s not really any of my business -- I know we’re virtually strangers -- but why not come back,” she said. “I’ve looked at your file. You’d still be an asset in the lab. And your prognosis is excellent, I must say. I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t be cleared for the field--”

Stephen sighed.

Jenny stopped. “You’ve heard this before.”

“They’ve all been by to talk me out of it,” Stephen said.

“Then why not?” she asked.

“I assume you’ve read the rest of my file, too,” Stephen said, nodding toward her bag. “There are other factors.”

“Yes, but those have no bearing--”

“Ms. Lewis,” Stephen interjected. “The fact that I had an affair with Helen Cutter has a lot of bearing.”

“But Nick Cutter is one of the most vocal proponents in having you stay,” she said. “If he truly blamed you for the affair, why would he do that?”

Stephen had to laugh, shaking his head. “Because Nick Cutter wants everything on his terms,” he said. “Just because he doesn’t want me to leave doesn’t mean he forgives me.”

“But he wants to work on it,” she said. “You wouldn’t be in the field at first, anyhow. You’d have time--”

Stephen kept shaking his head. “Cutter won’t get over it, even if he says he wants to,” he said. “He may not blame me, but he doesn’t trust me. This is Cutter’s project. His and Connor’s and Abby’s. Not mine. You can find anyone to shoot a gun.”

“Cutter’s being quite stubborn about a replacement,” Jenny admitted.

Stephen smirked. “That has less to do with a replacement, and more to do with Cutter,” he said. “In some ways, the anomaly did us all a favor. A clean break.”

Jenny nodded. “I can certainly respect that,” she said before getting to her feet. She stepped forward, offering Stephen her hand. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you. Good luck, whatever you end up doing.”

Stephen took her hand, shaking it firmly. “Thank you,” he said. “But I think you’re the one who’s going to need the luck.”

Jenny chuckled. “Somehow I think you may be right about that.”

-o-

Physical therapy was his favorite part of the day. His daily talks with the staff psychiatrist were his least favorite. It was a required part of his therapy, though, and psychiatric approval was essential to being outfitted with a prosthetic.

Still, if upper body pull-ups were exhausting, a hour talk about himself left him entirely depleted.

“If you get a prosthetic foot,” the psychiatrist asked one day, “what do you want to do?”

That was the question, then. The question that mattered. Stephen had spent the last eight years looking at the past. Now, that past was gone, over -- as final as the closing of an anomaly.

There was nothing to look back to.

There was only the future.

He smiled faintly. “Honestly?” he said. “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

She studied him, pen poised to write.

Stephen’s smiled broadened as the idea of it settled over him. “But I think I’m ready to find out.”

-o-

The doctor unwrapped his leg, looking carefully over the stump. It still looked strange, to see his leg just end. Sometimes, when he woke up, he swore he could still feel it. Sometimes, he could actually feel his toes wiggle.

It was all in his head, though. His flesh and bone were gone.

But it didn’t have to stay that way.

“There are a number of good choices in a case like yours,” the doctor explained as he made some final measurements. “You’ll be able to pick one that is well tailored to your lifestyle.”

Stephen tried not to flinch as the doctor’s hands ran over his thigh and calf. “I just want something that will let me get around.”

“Oh, they all do that,” the doctor said with a smile. “But some are focused more on the aesthetics, giving you a more realistic look. But if you’re hoping to be especially active, there are also some choices that will give you an incredible range of motion.”

“So I’ll be able to walk again?” Stephen asked, looking over the almost healed-skin as the doctor started wrapping it again.

“Well, it’ll take some time,” the doctor said, jotting something on the chart. “You’ll have to keep up with your therapy and make all your follow up appointments. Adjustment to a prosthetic can be painful and slow, and you can expected to be frustrated from time to time.”

“But if I get past that,” Stephen said, more insistent now. “I will walk?”

The doctor chuckled. “Walking is just the start,” he said. “Many people are able to run, jump, play sports.” He stood back and gave Stephen an encouraging smile. “I know losing a foot can seem like the end of the world, but it doesn’t have to be. Especially not in your case.”

Stephen couldn’t help but smile. “Thank you,” he said, certainty starting to grow in his chest. “I hope you’re right.”

-o-

It felt like years had passed, but the few short weeks were a lifetime in and of themselves. But Stephen’s leg showed no signs of infection; his progress had been exceptional. He was cleared for release in the morning, with a full litany of at-home care instructions and a follow up appointment to be fitted for his prosthetic already on the books.

For the first time since he’d been admitted to the hospital, Stephen found himself too anxious to sleep. He tried doing a few of his exercises in his room, but even that left him restless. He was packing his sparse belongings into his travel bag when a knock came at the door.

Stephen looked up, surprised to see Cutter there.

The other man hadn’t come back since Stephen had told him he was leaving. In truth, Stephen wasn’t sure he’d expected him to come at all.

Cutter pressed his lips together, loitering awkwardly in the doorway. “I heard you’re going home tomorrow,” he blurted finally.

Stephen nodded. “That’s the plan.”

Cutter nodded, scooting in a step or two. “And everything looks good?”

Stephen shrugged. “As good as they can for a man with no foot,” he said lightly.

Cutter paled. “Stephen--”

Stephen shook his head. “Cutter, don’t--”

Face scrunched, Cutter said, “Don't what?”

“Don’t do this,” Stephen said. “I know you feel like you have to, but you don’t.”

“This isn’t obligation,” Cutter said. “You’re my friend.”

“You’re not even sure you believe that,” Stephen said. “Or do I need to bring up Helen--”

Cutter’s cheeks reddened. “This isn’t about her.”

“This is about her,” Stephen said. “It’s about her and the eight years I spent lying to you.”

With a deep breath, Cutter seemed to be looking for a way to keep control of himself. “I won’t say it doesn’t hurt, but I’m not so blind as to think it was all your fault,” he said. “You were her student. And we both know Helen--”

“I’m not looking to be absolved,” Stephen said.

“Well, then what are you looking for?” Cutter half exploded. “If you want me to apologize, I’m here to apologize. If you want me to beg, then okay, I’ll beg. Don’t go, Stephen. We don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to go.”

It was more than Stephen had expected. More than he’d ever imagined. And it was tempting. Like the possibility of a dream come true, Stephen wanted it.

But dreams weren’t real. They were the phantom sensation of wriggling toes. Beautiful and alluring -- and just not meant to be.

Cutter wasn’t lying -- he meant what he said -- but he was making promises he couldn’t keep. And neither of them would ever know now -- if they were friends because they liked each other or if they were friends because Stephen lost his leg and neither of them wanted to accept what had happened.

Stephen let out a heavy breath. “It’s not your fault.”

“This isn’t about feeling guilty--”

“Yes,” Stephen interrupted. “It is.”

“I told you in the shopping centre--”

“And you were still ready to stay in the past,” Stephen pointed out. “I’m a part of the problem. And I can’t fix a lot of things, but I can fix that.”

“You lost your foot for me -- and you would have been willing to lose much more,” Cutter said.

“That still doesn’t make it your fault,” Stephen said. “It was dumb luck. And if it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine. I didn’t run fast enough. I didn’t come back armed. If I had told you the truth about Helen eight years ago, you wouldn’t have been so distracted as to go back through by yourself anyway.”

“But when I thought I might lose you, I realized that it didn’t matter,” Cutter said, his voice turning earnest now. “There are more important things.”

Stephen nodded. “There are,” he said. “Which is exactly why I’m leaving. I’m not the only one who needs time to get over this.”

“I’m perfectly over it,” Cutter said indignantly.

Stephen gave him a withering look.

Cutter looked chagrined. “I will be, anyway.”

“And maybe I will be, too,” Stephen said. “We’ll never know if we throw ourselves back together like nothing happened. If there’s anything good about not having a foot, it’s that we can’t hide that something’s different. And it changes everything.”

Cutter’s face was hard for a long moment as he studied Stephen. “And this is what you want?”

“What I really want is to go back eight years and never take Evolutionary Biology,” Stephen said. “But since that chance is gone, I think this is what I need.”

Finally, Cutter nodded. “Okay, then,” he said. “But this is for you. And when you’re ready to come back, we’ll still be here. There’ll always be a place for you.”

With a deep breath, Stephen pushed himself up, using the table to steady himself as he stood. Cutter rushed forward to help him, but Stephen held his hand out, shaking his head until he was balanced on his foot. Then, he lifted his head and looked Cutter in the eyes, holding out one hand while he balanced himself with the other. “Thank you,” he said. “For everything.”

Cutter hesitated, looking from Stephen’s hand to his leg before looking him in the eyes again. Then he took Stephen’s hand, shaking it. “Thank you,” he replied.

Stephen nodded, releasing his grip. “Goodbye, Cutter.”

This time, Cutter shook his head. “Not goodbye,” he said gruffly. “You know how to find me.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Until then,” Cutter said with one last nod.

Stephen smiled. “Until then.”

-o-

That night, Stephen didn’t sleep. He was up early, cleaned and dressed. He was in his wheelchair by the door when the nurse finally came, bringing the last of the discharge forms with her.

No one came to see him home. No Abby in a dress. No Connor with awkward jokes about taking his iPod. No Cutter. No one.

Allison was flying back to town next week, and she’d agreed to stay with him while she was there. She was on furlough, doing a bit of work fundraising before going back into the field. It would be nice to have someone on hand to drive him to therapy, but he had never been one who needed company. Besides, he was cleared for crutches now, though his physical therapist had recommended that he keep a wheelchair on hand just in case.

Stephen had smiled politely but made no plans for that. His physical therapy was slated for another month before he was fitted. He planned to finish in half that.

He was starting to plan a lot of things. The doctor had encouraged him to take another week or two at home, but Stephen saw no reason to sit around the flat being lazy. If he could start earning a paycheck again, he’d could save up a little more money to help cover any remaining costs. When Allison was back, he wanted to ask her about her next project and the ones after that.

He wanted to read more about the prosthetics, not from the literature but online testimonials. He wanted to know which one was best, which one would let him live his life whenever, however he wanted. He knew there would be a period of adjustment, but he’d spent the last eight years in limbo. He didn’t have both feet on the ground, but at this point, one was a pretty good start.

“Well, Stephen, I’d tell you good luck,” his nurse said with a wink, “but I don’t think you’ll actually need it.”

Stephen just grinned, shouldering his bag before picking up his crutches. It was slow going, and he could still feel the rubber chafing under his arms. The anomaly had taken his foot -- and a whole lot more. He’d never be the same after this, but as he took each hobbling step, he had to wonder if maybe that was a good thing.

Outside the hospital, the day was bright and warm. Somewhere, there was probably an anomaly. Cutter was probably planning the best way to contain it while Connor found ways to track it. Abby was taking care of the creatures, and there was no doubt a Special Forces team on hand to do Lester’s bidding while Jenny Lewis smoothed the whole thing over. They wouldn’t miss him.

And Stephen didn’t miss that. Maybe he’d miss the thrill of tracking; maybe he’d miss the rush of pulling the trigger. He’d miss standing steady on two feet, trying to make sense of the past. But life was more than that.

He had to think his life was more than that. Balancing himself, Stephen limped toward his cab. He was going forward now -- and he wasn’t about to look back. He knew all about the past. Now it was time to find out what the future held.

One step at a time.

Comments

Posted by: reggietate (reggietate)
Posted at: November 21st, 2013 04:23 pm (UTC)
stephenonthebeach

Oh, *meep*

That's heartbreaking, even though I can see why Stephen might want to do leave. And I love the unexpected twist about the foot, bravo! But I fear for the rest of the team without Stephen's protection, especially Cutter, even with a new SF guy lined up to step in.

Very much looking forward to seeing where you take this.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 10th, 2013 03:35 am (UTC)
stephen and cutter

Hopefully I'll get organized and manage to get another bit posted sometime before everyone forgets that I wrote this. We'll see :)

Thanks!

Posted by: fredbassett (fredbassett)
Posted at: November 21st, 2013 05:08 pm (UTC)
PriWriMo - Stephen - 3k

We're going to need a third foot in Sanctuary now, to play with Connor's feet! That was a great twist, I really hadn't seen that coming at all.

And I'd been expecting a fix-it at the end, so it was nice - if a little heartbreaking - to see it going in another direction.

Very nicely done :)

Posted by: reggietate (reggietate)
Posted at: November 21st, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC)
stephenonthebeach

The one he lost in my 'Freckles Don't Wash Off' series will make a nice pair with this one, when it finds its way back from the past ;-) Better tell Dave to start knitting some Stephen-sized socks!

Posted by: fredbassett (fredbassett)
Posted at: November 21st, 2013 06:41 pm (UTC)

They'll have a whole football team at this rate!

Posted by: reggietate (reggietate)
Posted at: November 21st, 2013 06:46 pm (UTC)
stephenonthebeach

LOL :-D

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 10th, 2013 03:35 am (UTC)
stephen's eyes

LOL, I haven't read the one with Connor.

The plot idea came from kristen_mara (who else?!) but Stephen sort of did what he wanted to after that. He just wasn't ready to fix it. He's got a lot of issues!

Thanks :)

Posted by: goldarrow (goldarrow)
Posted at: November 21st, 2013 05:11 pm (UTC)

*sniffle*
That was both terribly sad and nicely hopeful at the same time. I hope that Stephen finds his way back to them in the end. *prods for sequel* :D

Loved the way you segmented the story. The last line in each section really packed a punch, and separating them like that really gave extra emphasis.

Given the choice, Stephen would pick the raptor every time.
*meep*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 10th, 2013 03:34 am (UTC)
stephen goodbye

Yeah, it's counterintuitive to think that chopping of Stephen's foot could be hopeful but it certainly ended up that way. As for the sequel, it is written (I might have two or three written actually -- I honestly can't recall!). I just need to be better organized about my life :)

Thanks!

Posted by: knitekat (knitekat)
Posted at: November 21st, 2013 08:28 pm (UTC)

*meep*

Poor Stephen, although I can see why he wants to leave. Hopefully when he comes back, things will be better. *pokes for sequel*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 10th, 2013 03:33 am (UTC)
stephen up

LOL, the sequel is written but I just have to get myself organized to revise it :) But I can't promise that everything turns out perfectly for everyone involved.

Thanks :)

Posted by: knitekat (knitekat)
Posted at: December 10th, 2013 09:12 pm (UTC)

Yay for the sequel.

Posted by: nietie (nietie)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2013 12:22 pm (UTC)
Nick/StephenBW

He’d lost part of himself to the past. It had literally sneaked up behind him and grabbed hold, taking him down almost without a fight.

Poor Stephen. But he made the right choice for himself. Kudos for him for sticking to it.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 10th, 2013 03:32 am (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

In a lot of ways, what Stephen needed most in the show was to just get away. As much as I wanted him to work stuff out with Nick, he was a mess around them.

Thanks!

Posted by: aelfgyfu_mead (aelfgyfu_mead)
Posted at: November 24th, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
Primeval

Very true to the characters. I hope Stephen can find his way in a new life and maybe ultimately be comfortable with his old friends again. He's right here: Nick thinks he can put it behind him, but he can't.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 10th, 2013 03:31 am (UTC)
stephen cutter distance

Yeah, I really do think Stephen needs to find himself before he can ever make sense of the people he's around. He seems to have stagnated in his past somewhere, and it gets him killed in canon. Which I can't stand!

So it's hard to think of this as a happier ending (to lose his foot and leave the team) but in a lot of ways, it is.

Thanks.

Posted by: lsellersfic (lsellersfic)
Posted at: November 24th, 2013 08:26 pm (UTC)
Primeval:Stephen

That's very sad, but a great alternative take on the Stephen situation.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 10th, 2013 03:30 am (UTC)
stephen hair

Stephen definitely did his own thing in this fic. Sometimes, when I think about him, he just so clearly needs to live a life away from the Cutters. For all that he cares about them, they really are his downfall.

Thanks :)

Posted by: Cordelia Delayne (cordeliadelayne)
Posted at: November 25th, 2013 11:01 pm (UTC)
[primeval] abby/connor

That was beautifully done. Especially the conversations between Stephen and Cutter.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 10th, 2013 03:29 am (UTC)
stephen cutter

Thank you! Stephen and Cutter have a lot they should have said to each other in the series, and you have to wonder if there would have been a catalyst to get them to say stuff. If there had been, maybe it wouldn't have gone so horribly wrong.

Posted by: fififolle (fififolle)
Posted at: November 29th, 2013 06:46 pm (UTC)
Primeval - Stephen stare heart

Oh goodness! How moving. I'm glad he's going to try and make his own path, but I wish he could come back one day.
Great fic.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 10th, 2013 03:28 am (UTC)
stephen cutter

Yeah, I was working with the prompt parting ways, but Stephen apparently wanted to take that very literally in this fic.

Thanks :)

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