It started as something angry – a mystery to both of them why it should have happened in the first place. And it was still angry – a struggle between two people with nothing in common, and who clashed over anything and everything. But now it was something else too. Something that neither of them could quite identify, and which neither of them wanted to admit.
Nick couldn’t pinpoint the moment when it had all begun. Oh, he could remember the moment when he had first acted upon it – the moment when he had crumpled Lester’s suit in his hands and pulled him close as he crushed their mouths together. That was the moment when he had known he could do that without being pushed away, or punched, or sacked.
But when had he first known that he wanted to do it? He didn’t have a clue. Hell knew, to an outsider they, to all intents and purposes, appeared to hate each other. Probably still appeared that way, in fact. They had been careful to keep this thing quiet, knowing that no one else would understand it. Barely understanding it themselves.
Maybe it was because of what had happened. Losing Claudia to a world he didn’t know. Losing Stephen to a woman he didn’t know any more. There was no one who understood him any more. Connor tried, but he was a just a kid really – still in a little over his head. And besides, it wasn’t fair to burden him with all that.
Lester didn’t understand either. And Nick hadn’t tried to make him. But he had recognised something in the other man that he hadn’t seen before – a desire to solve things, to make things right. Even if he did go about it in a totally alien fashion.
But slowly his respect for the man had grown, and he had flattered himself that the feeling was mutual. And with that respect something else had blossomed. Something that Nick couldn’t put a name to. But he had seen it develop in Lester, too.
Oh, they still disagreed. They still argued. Lester still thought he was a crazy scientist, and Nick still thought that Lester was a stiff-necked civil servant. You couldn’t even say that they really liked each other. But they got along, and they got on with the job. And sometimes they got on with more than that.
It hadn’t progressed into a relationship of any sort. In fact, they never communicated outside of the project. Nick didn’t even know where Lester lived, and he doubted that Lester had ever even contemplated the fact that Nick might have a home outside the ARC. But they understood each other, and they both knew when they needed each other.
And with that had come a certain familiarity. Nick had seen a softer side to Lester, on occasion. And sometimes, Lester had even become ‘James’, much to the man’s annoyance. Nick was never ‘Nick’ – he was always ‘Cutter’, and would be right to the end. And quite frequently had been.
But Nick knew that the man was human, underneath the cold exterior. The incident with the predator had shaken them both, although Nick had been impressed with Lester’s ability to handle himself when he’d heard the story.
However, he would never fool himself that the man underneath ruled that cold exterior. Lester might show flashes of sympathy, hints of humanity but, as he’d demonstrated time and again, the project came first.
“The government does not negotiate with hostage takers.”
“Thirty seconds, then they kill him. Your choice.”
“James, don’t do that, I’m not important.” And even in that moment the flash of annoyance on Lester’s face at the informality had made Nick smile.
“Unfortunately, I agree with Professor Cutter. No individual’s life is more important than the protection of the public.”
Proof, if proof were needed, that Lester thought with his head, and nothing else.
They’d stopped after that. There was no blame. They’d both done what was necessary, and they both knew it. But by mutual, unspoken consent, they’d just…stopped. Nick was grieving, and Lester was…well, who knew what Lester was? Nick had seen more of the man than most, but even he couldn’t identify what Lester was feeling now.
Maybe the man had mellowed slightly. Maybe it was all in Nick’s imagination. Nothing had really changed between them. Nick still did what he wanted, and Lester still tried to pull him back from it.
But now they both understood why.