To Nick, the world is a harsh and bitter place. He runs his fingers over Stephen's skin as he sleeps and wonders how this ever happened and when it's going to end.
To Stephen, this is what he's always wanted and what Helen was never able to give him. Nick doesn't play games, he doesn't leave at the end of the day to go home and he doesn't manipulate until Stephen has lost all perspective of right and wrong.
The building was supposed to be empty. Helen wasn't supposed to be there, but as Nick walks in the front door, he finds himself disarmed and Helen pressing him up against the wall. Her eyes gleam as she presses a knife against his throat.
"I've figured it out," she says, her voice a low hiss. "I can fix this future. If I change you, the future will also change."
Nick doesn't understand; he stopped understanding Helen a long time ago. "Stephen!" he shouts but she just laughs.
"He's too far away to hear you," she says as she runs the tip of the knife down his face.
Nick struggles but it's no use. Helen traps him in the machine. The restraints clap around his wrists and every movement he makes just makes them tighten. She clamps a device around his head and electrodes dig into his brain. The world's flooding around him like an empty lake. It all looks white, white, white.
He can see the past now but it doesn't seem right.
He and Helen are happily married. She never slept with Stephen. She never left him. She smiles across the breakfast table at him, a peaceful expression in her eyes and her hand is on her stomach where a gentle swell tells him that he's going to become a father. It's what Nick has always wanted, but what Helen never seemed to have time for. She leans across to kiss him when...
The device is yanked away from his head and Stephen is standing over him, wild-eyed and panting. "What did she do to you?" he asks, the words frantic, tumbling out of his lips, but all Nick can think of is Helen.
Stephen watches Nick toss and turn at night. Every now and again, Nick reaches out an arm and whispers, "Helen." The word rips through Stephen.
Helen's manipulations are like falling through liquid honey. At first, it's sweet as it fills your mouth but then as it rises, rises and rises, you gasp for air as it encloses you in its embrace. It's sticky, so even as you try to run, you take some with you, trailing behind you as you try, in vain, to escape. It clings to your clothing, to your skin, to everything.
Stephen has only just wrenched himself out of Helen's grasp. He's only just managed to escape from the cloying smell of honeyed words but now he watches, helpless, as Nick falls into her trap.
At work, Nick sits around dreaming of a world where Stephen's still his student and he's still married to Helen and there are no such things as anomalies. He knows that it's false. He knows that bitter reality is all around him but it doesn't stop the memories from pouring into his mind, obscuring everything around him.
He sees Stephen's jaws clench as he tries to explain the impossible one more time. "Helen planted those memories. You're not married to her. We're in a relationship."
But that can't be true. It just can't. The truth in Stephen's eyes and the way Nick feels his own body react belie what he remembers but Nick can't bring himself to believe Stephen's words. He turns away; he cannot bear the disappointed expression in Stephen's eyes. "I need more time," he says.
Stephen watches Nick and hopes. He knows that deep down, Nick remembers because he refuses to believe that Helen's manipulations may have finally worked. He knows that all he needs to do is trigger the memories and then he'll have Nick Cutter back, not this simulacrum. They were always friends, even before they became lovers. They always understood each other and Stephen hopes that Nick remembers that.
Lester sends them home with a roll of his eyes. "Neither of you are much use to me here while you're moping."
As Stephen leads Nick into their house, he hopes to see a flash of recognition, but it's not there.
Nick simply shrugs and goes to sit by the kitchen table. "Do I still drink coffee?"
Stephen grits his teeth and goes to make Nick's favourite coffee. The smell of it reminds him of last week. It reminds him of the last time Nick had made the coffee. He had wrapped his arms around Nick, meaning to kiss him lightly on the neck, but they had ended up shagging on the kitchen floor. With a sigh, Stephen looks down at the exact spot. "Why won't you believe me?" he asks.
"I believe you," Nick tells him with a sigh. "I just don't feel it."
Somehow, this hurts more. Stephen pulls back a chair and sits down. He reaches over to touch Nick lightly on the arm. "Do you feel this?"
Nick's eyes show his confusion.
"Let me remind you," Stephen said softly. He leans forward.
Nick wrinkles his nose as Stephen's lips touch his own. This is his friend. It feels so strange, yet, as the kiss deepens, he realises that it also feels familiar. Nick closes his eyes as Stephen draws him closer. The feeling of Stephen's tongue against his own sends shivers of electricity through him and suddenly, like a dam breaking, the memories come flooding back. They drown him in their intensity and he suddenly sees everything clearly.
Drawing back, Nick looks at Stephen. "I remember," he says. Not all the memories are back, but enough are for him to see clearly for the first time in several days.
Nick pins Stephen down onto the bed. He doesn't say I love you but it's in every movement he makes, it's in the way he bites Stephen's lip, it's in the way his fingers wrap around Stephen's wrists, it's in the way he whispers in Stephen's ear (words, any words, except the ones he truly wants to say) and it's in the way he makes Stephen gasp, moan and scream every time.
Stephen relishes the bruises on his skin, the ones only just hidden by his clothing, the way that Nick whispers in his ear when he thinks that he's asleep and everything about Nick Cutter.
"I love you," Stephen says softly.
Nick's fingers tighten imperceptibly.