Word Count: ~2600
Spoilers: End of series two
Author's Notes: Written for the Primeval Ficathon for moonlettuce who asked for Nick/Stephen, series two fix it.
Summary: Nick's life has become filled with impossiblities.
"I'm not interested in anything you have to say," Nick said, pushing past his estranged wife and heading for the door to his house. When she'd taken to hiding behind hedges, he had no idea.
"I have Stephen."
Her words brought him up short, and Nick pivoted on his heel, facing her. "Stephen's dead."
"And you used to know Claudia Brown." Helen tilted her head as she said it, and Nick wondered, not for the first time, how he'd ever found her false vulnerability attractive.
Stephen. It was impossible. But Nick's life consisted almost entirely of impossibilities. "Take me to him."
Helen flashed him a grin. Nick ignored it and strode past her, waiting next to his truck - Stephen's truck - for her to catch up.
Aside from directions, Helen was surprisingly - and mercifully - silent. But then the one thing Helen had always possessed was a healthy sense of self-preservation.
She directed him to a coffee shop not far from the CMU campus. It had been a favorite of Stephen's, especially the tables at the front of the shop, with the large windows that let him pretend to watch the world pass by while thoroughly engrossed in whatever reading material he had at hand.
A woman in a blue Opal was backing out of a space in front of the shop and Nick flashed his lights, letting the driver know it was safe to back out, silently telling her to hurry the fuck up. The Opal finally pulled away and Nick turned into the space. Turning off the engine with the truck angled across the spot in a manner that would have provoked a wry comment about Nick's failure to grasp what lines were for if Stephen had been with him. But Stephen wasn't with him. Stephen was--
Stephen was sitting in the coffee shop, hand curled around a white ceramic mug, a newspaper spread across the table in front of him.
Nick forgot to breathe.
"Nick," Helen said, her voice softer than it had ever been when they'd been together.
"How?" His voice came out harsh, choked, nothing like his own.
"I wanted to make amends."
Nick barely heard her. He'd already fumbled the door open. He slammed the car door shut behind him, cutting off whatever Helen had been saying, his eyes focused on the impossible.
Stephen turned as he approached, looking up at Nick, his eyes the same unforgettable blue they'd always been. Stephen rose and Nick stopped just inches away.
The corners of Stephen's lips started to turn up, then faltered, straightening out again. "Hi."
The voice was definitely Stephen's but he sounded like he had when Nick had first known him, back when they'd lived in a world that made sense. A world where you didn't fight raptors in bowling alleys, or chase dodo birds in kitchens, or watch --
Nick shook his head, trying to clear it of the images that played on a never ending loop in the back of his mind, moving to the forefront whenever he closed his eyes. "You're--" He never finished the sentence, because his arms had apparently taken over control from his brain and they were reaching out, wrapping around Stephen, pulling him close, squeezing him as tightly as they could.
Nick knew he was shaking. He could feel it. It didn't matter, because he could smell Stephen. Smell him and feel him. "Tell me this is real."
"It's real, Nick," Stephen said, his own arms tight around Nick's shoulders. "It's real."
He was pretty sure the rest of the people in the coffee shop were watching them. Some of them undoubtedly knew him from the university. It didn't matter. "How?"
"I'm a clone."
Nick nodded as though that was a perfectly reasonable explanation.
"We should probably get out of here, go somewhere more private," Stephen suggested softly, patting Nick's back.
"All right," Nick said, unclenching his arms, making them let go, forcing himself to take a step back.
Stephen tilted his head toward the door, and Nick took a step toward it, taking a second step only after Stephen's hand came to rest on the small of his back.
The early autumn sun had become blinding during the brief time he was inside and Nick squinted against it.
"You know, Cutter, you're the only man I've ever met who could parallel park a tank, but can't manage to get into a parking spot."
"I got into it."
"At an angle that would make a protractor proud."
It took every ounce of strength of he had not to sink to the curb and put his head between his knees. Instead he opened the door and climbed into the truck. Helen was nowhere to be seen, but he wasn't surprised, and he didn't particularly care.
"Are you okay to drive?" Stephen asked, settling into the passenger seat and pulling his seatbelt across his chest.
"I will be. Just give me a minute." Nick turned to look at him. Stephen really was sitting there. A clone. A clone who looked like Stephen and sounded like Stephen. Smelled like Stephen. Frowned like Stephen.
"Take as many as you need. It's not like I have anywhere to be."
Nick wanted to hug him again. Wanted to punch him for what he'd done, for being so damn stubborn, for saving Nick's life at a cost that couldn't be calculated. Wanted to just sit here and look.
Putting the key in the ignition, he turned it. Nick eased the truck out into traffic and headed for the ARC.
Abby was staring, her mouth open, every so often she'd close it, only to have it fall open again. Connor was standing behind her, staring as hard as she was, but with the corners of his mouth turned up. Connor always was eager to believe the impossible.
Jenny had her arms folded across her chest, while Lester had his hands in his pockets.
They were all looking through the window into the infirmary where Dr. Weiss was examining Stephen, who was sitting on the edge of the bed clad in a pair of light blue scrubs.
Dr. Weiss started toward the door, and they all took a step back giving her room.
"Well?" Lester asked.
"I'll need to analyze the DNA samples, but he does appear to be a clone of Stephen Hart."
"How do you know he's a clone and not something else?" Jenny asked.
"He doesn't have a navel," Weiss replied. "And his x-rays show no trace of any of Mr. Hart's broken bones."
"The scars are missing too," Nick said. They all turned to look at him and Nick said, "The arthropleura scar is missing."
Weiss nodded and started toward her lab.
"This would seem to be as good a time as any," Lester said, stepping into the room. Nick and Jenny followed, Abby and Connor coming after them. Taking a position a couple of feet in front of Stephen, Lester said, "Would you care to explain how you made it back among the living?"
"Helen grew me," Stephen said, apparently non-plussed by Lester's attitude, which was exactly how Stephen would react.
"In a vat. Just like her helper, the cleaner. As far as I could tell, she's made two dozen copies of him."
Two dozen. Nick tried to imagine seeing that many copies of himself.
"How many of you?" Lester asked.
"Only one, as far as I know."
"You're not really him," Nick said, the reality of what this man was finally sinking in. "You may have been grown from his DNA, but you can't have any of the things that made Stephen, Stephen, his memories, his knowledge, his skills. Those things aren't stored in DNA. They aren't transmissible."
Not-Stephen nodded. "I know." Stephen locked his eyes with Nick's, uncertainty in his gaze, nothing like the look Stephen had given him before he'd taken those last steps backward. "But I have his memories."
"I don't know. Helen wouldn't tell me. She said I didn't need to know."
"Everything?" Nick asked, thinking of the things he wished he didn't remember.
"I never knew she could be that cruel."
Stephen snorted, a shockingly familiar sound. "I did."
"Would you care to enlighten us?" Lester asked, looking back and forth between them.
"He remembers dying," Nick said, turning away because if he looked at Stephen's face any longer he was going to hit something.
"Did Helen tell you anything about her plans?" Lester asked
"No. Just the usual."
"Come join me. Together we'll experiment on the human race, change the future of mankind. And if we don't like it, we'll change it again. No specifics." The look on Stephen's face made it clear what he thought of Helen's megalomania. To think Nick had once believed him capable of helping her.
"Why did she let you go?" Jenny asked.
"Once I refused to help, I became a hindrance. She had to have someone watching me all the time."
"Why create you in the first place?" Connor asked and everyone turned to look at him. "She had to know you wouldn't help her," Connor said to Stephen.
"Obviously she didn't," Abby said, catching Nick off-guard. He'd thought Stephen's death had been a balm to her anger.
"Maybe we should let Stephen get dressed and continue this in the conference room," Jenny said, before the conversation could go where it was so clearly headed.
They reconvened in the conference room without Connor and Abby and with coffee. Nick sipped at his, not wanting it, but needing something to do while they waited for Stephen.
Once again clad in jeans and long-sleeved blue t-shirt, Stephen walked in and took the chair opposite Nick's. Lester, who'd been standing at the window, turned and took the seat the head of the table with Jenny between them, a couple of empty seats away from Nick.
"What am I going to do with you?" Lester asked, eyes studying Stephen in a way that sent a chill down Nick's spine.
"I should take him home with me," Nick said.
"He's not leaving the ARC, until we've ascertained if he's a threat," Lester said.
"He's not a threat."
"You don't know that," Jenny said.
Nick answered without taking his eyes off of Stephen. "Yes, I do."
"No, you don't," Stephen said. "They're right. I could have programming I'm not even aware of."
"Programming? This isn't one of Connor's science fiction stories."
"Isn't it?" Stephen said.
"Helen has lost all sense of perspective," Jenny said. "You know that. She could try anything."
"She said she wanted to make amends. She wouldn't use Stephen to hurt me." She wouldn't. Helen would do a lot of things, but she wouldn't... Not that.
"She's done it before," Stephen said quietly.
His words cut through Nick like a lance. He hadn't thought of the affair that way, had directed his anger inward, blaming himself for what had become of his marriage, had never considered that Helen had wanted to hurt him, only that she'd wanted Stephen, wanted to manipulate them both.
"He stays in the ARC," Lester said.
"I'm staying too," Nick said, unable to take his eyes from Stephen's face, from the regret a clone shouldn't have.
"I never thought otherwise," Lester said.
Resting the boxes against the wall next to the door and holding them in place with his knee, Nick knocked. A moment later Stephen opened the door. Taking hold of the boxes with both hands, Nick walked past Stephen into the small room and placed the boxes on the bed.
Coming up beside him, Stephen removed the lid from the box on top. "My clothes."
"There's more. I kept meaning to donate them."
Moving the top box aside, Stephen opened the one beneath it, reaching inside to remove a particularly worn volume. "You kept my books."
Stephen was like Nick: his books were part of who he was. Not knowing what to say, Nick turned to sit on the bed.
"I--" Apparently not knowing what to say either, Stephen sat on the other side of the boxes. "I don't know what to say."
"That makes two of us." Nick searched for a safe topic, for something that could make it past the lump which had taken up residence in his throat. "Do you remember the anaconda?"
Stephen smiled. Nick was certain it had been a lifetime since he'd seen that smile. "Yes. Do you remember the thunderstorm?"
They'd seen a lot of thunderstorms together, but only one qualified as the thunderstorm. "Yes." Nick smiled too. "The elephant?"
Stephen laughed. It was all the answer Nick needed.
"I'm sorry," Nick said. "I should have known you weren't working with her."
"I listened to her. I shouldn't have."
No, he shouldn't have, but when it came to Helen, Nick was the last person who could cast stones. "It wasn't your fault. She's good at getting people to do what she wants."
"Yeah," Stephen said, and Nick inwardly kicked himself. For once, he should have left it alone.
"What did you want?" Nick asked, which wasn't leaving it alone, but it was already out there, and maybe not talking about it was what had gotten them here. Before today, he'd never wondered why Stephen had slept with his wife, assuming the answer was as evident as Helen's curves.
"I--" Stephen looked at Nick, then away. Rising from the bed, he crossed to the window his back to Nick as he answered. "Helen once came to see me after the two of you had... She tasted of you. I went down on her until my jaw ached."
Nick stared at him, at his broad shoulders and the curve of his ass, but his mind was turning Stephen's words over and over again. Him. Stephen had wanted him. "You never said--"
Stephen turned just enough to give him a disappointed smile. "I'm not your type, remember."
"You died for me."
Stephen turned away again.
"You loved me." It was the obvious conclusion.
"And you were obsessed with her. With her memory. With the mystery of her disappearance. And when she was alive--"
"I was married." And unlike Helen, he'd kept his vows.
What an idiot he'd been.
He crossed to the window. The sun was setting, turning gray skyscrapers a warm red. "I've always thought the most interesting thing about human sexuality was its flexibility." Feeling Stephen's eyes on the side of his face, Nick continued. "We have more non-procreative sex, in more combinations than any other species. Except maybe bonobos."
"Imagine if bonobos had developed leather."
The image caught him by surprise and Nick snorted out a laugh. He turned to look at Stephen, brave, handsome, clever Stephen. "Show me."
Reaching up, Nick pressed his palm to Stephen's cheek. "You... You're..." Nick was never at a loss for words. "You're the only good thing Helen has ever given me."
"We don't know that yet."
"Yes, you're some sort of Manchurian lab tech."
Stephen turned, breaking the contact with Nick's hand. "I don't want your guilt."
"I always thought you were beautiful."
Stephen's gaze was sharp, appraising.
"I liked watching you move, smile, mutter to yourself while reading."
"I don't mutter to myself while reading."
"You do when you're reading Dawkins."
"The selfish gene is reductionist reasoning at its worst. You agree with me."
Nick grinned. Then he pressed his lips to Stephen's. Stephen stiffened. Nick moved his lips over Stephen's, asking. After a moment, Stephen granted permission, answering Nick's movements with his own. It was the sweetest kiss Nick had had in years.
Pulling back, Stephen stared at him, breathing fast. Nick didn't think a nuclear explosion could've made him look away. "You're serious."
"I've never been more serious."
Stephen closed his eyes, blocking Nick's view of that impossible blue. He breathed deep, his chest lifting. Opening them, he said, "Give it time."
"Okay," Nick said. "Okay." He could give it time. Time was something he had in abundance.
Edging closer, Stephen pressed his shoulder to Nick's. Nick pressed back.