Stephen didn't go home after the incident with the future amphibian things. It crossed his mind that they probably needed to decide on a name for them, in case they ever ran across them again. Future amphibian things didn't exactly roll off the tongue. After the incident, once Abby and Connor were safe, he went to the pub, partly because he was a little afraid that if he went home he'd find a naked Helen Cutter in his bed. He really didn't want to deal with her right now, but mainly he went because he wanted to get absolutely stinking drunk.
Nick had said to forget about everything that had happened, but they hadn't. Connor was starting to come around, but Abby still looked like he'd betrayed her personally whenever she looked at him, and Nick ... Nick was a stranger. Part of it was probably because he wasn't exactly the same Nick Stephen remembered, but mostly it was just that they'd lost the easy connection they'd always had. From the first time they'd met, they'd just clicked and when he'd found out that Helen was Helen Cutter he'd felt horrible, but the affair had been petering out anyway by then and then she'd vanished into thin air and he'd only been hurt by that because he'd seen what it had done to Nick.
Since Helen had dropped her little bombshell everything had changed. The banter between them was strained, the instinctive trust they'd had almost completely destroyed. He'd honestly thought Nick had let the raptor attack him deliberately and then there was today's little drama ... Before – he was starting to think of his life in terms of before Nick stepped into that anomaly with Helen and after he came back – they'd have found a way to explore both their theories. Now, they just fought over them and then Nick sneaked off with the rest of the team, leaving Stephen behind and then he'd taken the opportunity Lester had presented and taken over. He liked leading, he'd admit that, but it hadn't been the same. Abby had been dead, as far as they knew, Connor and Nick weren't there ... there was no pleasure in leading a group of people who had no idea what it was they were hunting. He'd kept wanting to turn to Nick and talk about the creature's behaviour and how it compared to other animals, but Nick hadn't been there and the soldiers wouldn't have known what he was talking about. The minisub had been fun though... until he'd seen Nick facing down one of the monsters, apparently alone.
Diving into the water and swimming through the drain had been insane. Hell, the technician hadn't even thought the sub would fit through the opening and he'd tried to fit a fully grown, 6' 1" man with a gun through it. He'd been lucky he hadn't got stuck. He'd been lucky he hadn't damaged the bloody gun for that matter. But none of the hundred and one things that could have gone wrong had occurred to him. The only thing he'd been thinking about was that Nick needed him and this was the only way he could get there in time.
He wanted to think that Nick had been pleased to see him for reasons other than the gun he was carrying, but he doubted it. He'd have been just as happy if any one of the soldiers had turned up to shoot the monster before it had eaten him. And that was the problem. The only reason he seemed to be still around was he was the best damn marksman they had and when you're dealing with very large, very well designed killing machines, that's a pretty important skill to have. But it wasn't enough for him. He wanted his friend back. He wanted all of them back as they were before Helen shot her mouth off, but mostly he wanted Nick back.
He knocked back his fifth whisky of the night, or was it six? He'd lost count. Didn't matter; however many it had been, it wasn't enough. Not yet. Not when he could still see the look on Nick's face as Helen destroyed their friendship with a few cruel words. He should have shot her. Sure they'd probably have shot him if he had, but it would have been worth it. She was an evil, callous bitch. She'd abandoned Nick without a word because she didn't want to share her little playground with the world and then she'd come back to stomp all over him again and she'd used Stephen to do it.
He signalled the barman. "I want another," he said, his voice almost steady, proving once again that he definitely wasn't drunk enough yet.
"No, you don't." The words were spoken in a very familiar Scottish accent from somewhere over his left shoulder.
He spun around and regretted it when the room wobbled ever so slightly as he came to a stop. "What are you doing here?" Why the hell did Nick have to walk into this particular pub? It wasn't even anywhere near his house, there was no reason at all for him to be here.
"The barman called me," Nick told him. "Apparently you've done this before, although I don't remember it." He looked around. "I remember picking you up off the floor of a bar occasionally, but I've never been here before." He shrugged. "Obviously in this timeline I have. You'll have to tell me all about it someday. For now, I'm here to take you home."
"Don't wanna go home," Stephen said, pouting slightly.
Nick chuckled. "Has anyone every told you you sound like a five year old when you're drunk?"
Stephen frowned. "Not drunk. Not yet. Give me an hour or so, though, and I will be."
"No you won't," Nick told him firmly. "Because we're leaving now. I'm going to take you home and put you to bed and then tomorrow morning you're going to tell me why you're letting Lester upset you so much." He started steering him towards the door and Stephen wanted to protest. He wasn't going home; he was staying here and getting drunk! But Nick had an arm around his shoulder and it felt comfortable, familiar. They'd done this before. Sometimes with Stephen drunk, sometimes Nick. But one of them always stayed sober and picked the other up before he could do something stupid and took him home. He liked familiar. Familiar was good. Even if it did only mean that Nick would rather spend an hour finding him and driving him home than dealing with Lester the next day if he got into trouble.
"Don't wanna go home," he said again. Leaning towards Nick, he tried for a conspiratorial whisper, that was probably a lot louder than he'd intended. "Might find naked Helen in my bed again. That would be bad."
"Naked Helen?" Nick asked when he'd recovered from the shock. He manoeuvred Stephen to lean against the car as he opened the door.
"Mmm," Stephen said, sliding into the seat without his normal grace. "Shhh, it's a secret."
"Yes," Nick said neutrally. "I rather think I'm the one you were trying to keep that secret from, Stephen." He slammed the door harder than he meant to, irritated that she was already back and messing with them. "You haven't been there long enough to get this drunk," he said. "When was the last time you ate?"
"Breakfast," Stephen said. "Before we found the shark."
"That was yesterday," Nick pointed out. "No wonder you're so loopy. I'm going to take you home and put you to bed and tomorrow morning I'm cooking for you. Make sure you actually eat something."
"Don't wanna..." Stephen started.
"Yes, yes, I know," Nick snapped. "You don't want to go home. You know you're becoming repetitive, Stephen." He sighed. "I'm taking you to my place. There's very little chance of naked Helen there so you should be safe."
"'K," Stephen said happily. "I like your place. I feel safe there. Haven't seen it since you came back." He sighed sadly. "Don't want me around any more."
"Oh, Stephen," Nick said, glancing over at him. "I always want you around, I promise. And God, I hope you remember this whole conversation tomorrow because you're going to be as embarrassed as hell." He parked the car and walked around it to help Stephen out, laughing as the normally graceful man staggered as he tried to stand on his own. "Come on, let me help," he said softly.
He managed to get the door open without letting go of Stephen and steered him down the hall to the spare bedroom, dropping him on the bed a little more heavily than he meant to and chuckling again as Stephen bounced slightly.
He fetched a large glass of water and some pain killers. "Come on," he coaxed. "Drink this for me."
Stephen pouted again but took the pills obediently. "I'd do anything for you."
Nick smiled softly. "Well, that's nice to hear. You are so drunk. You'd rather shoot yourself than be this sappy normally. It's very cute." He put the glass safely on the bedside table where Stephen would be able to reach it tomorrow and pulled his shoes off, lifting his feet up onto the bed. "Try and get some sleep," he said. "You're going to feel like shit in the morning."
Stephen fumbled at the fly on his jeans and Nick rolled his eyes. "OK, OK, let's get these off you as well then. And then you can sleep. Because I want to go to bed and I can't until I know you're going to be a good boy and stay here." He tugged the slightly damp fabric off Stephen's legs. "You could have gone home long enough to change. You're going to catch your death wandering around in wet clothing."
"'m always good," Stephen said with a smile. "Very, very good. Could show you ..." He trailed off and smirked up at Nick.
"You know if you flirt this badly with women it's a wonder you ever get laid," Nick said, with a grin.
Stephen took advantage of his distraction and grabbed him, pulling him off balance so that he landed on top of him and then kissing him before he could react.
Nick couldn't stop himself from responding; even drunk Stephen was a good kisser, but then he pulled back, shaking his head. "This is a really bad idea, Stephen. You're too drunk to know what you're doing." As he said it he knew it wasn't entirely true. Stephen said and did some things when drunk that he would never do sober, but they were always things he meant, things he wanted to do on some level. He was a very honest drunk.
Stephen pouted again, pulling Nick to lie next to him. "Love you, Nick," he said softly. "Even when you hate me."
Nick stroked his hair gently. "I don't hate you, I promise," he reassured him, but Stephen was already asleep.
He watched him for a few moments and then slid back out of the bed, heading for his own room deep in thought. "Well, that was new," he mused. "Tomorrow morning should be interesting."
The first thing that Stephen noticed when he woke up was that his head was pounding, closely followed by the fact that he was still half dressed and that this wasn't his bed. He struggled to sit up and saw the glass of water and the painkillers. Taking two of them he rubbed his head. Now, what did he remember? There was the fiasco with the amphibian things; Lester; going home alone; the pub, and then it all sort of went fuzzy. He had a vague memory of a Scottish accent. Had Nick come and got him? And then there was the sensation of lips and tongue. Oh God, please say he hadn't kissed Nick.
He pulled himself out of bed and staggered into the bathroom, hoping a shower would clear his head and bring his memories back, although past experience said that this was a pretty vain hope. It did make him feel a little more human though and borrowing Nick's toothbrush and razor at least made him look a bit more human as well. He couldn't hide in here all day though. He had to go and find Nick and ask what the heck happened last night.
He wandered downstairs and into the dining room, smiling as innocently as possible when Nick turned and saw him. He was in the middle of cooking a pretty comprehensive fry up from what Stephen could see and his stomach rumbled. He blushed. "Uh ..."
"You haven't eaten since the day before yesterday apparently," Nick told him. "Sit down. This is nearly done. If you're a good boy and eat the whole thing, I might even help you fill in the blanks from last night." His eyes twinkled. "Although according to you, you're always good. 'Very, very good'," he added. "You offered to demonstrate."
"Oh God, shoot me now," Stephen groaned, lowering his head to the table and banging it a couple of times, which just made his headache worse.
"Not until you've answered a few questions," Nick told him. He put a full plate in front of him and then served himself. "Eat first."
Stephen tucked in to his with relish. In general, Nick was a terrible cook. He tended to forget things and let them burn. But give the man a frying pan and he could produce the most wonderful breakfast you'd ever tasted. Stephen could almost feel his cholesterol count rising as he ate and he'd probably have to run an extra couple of miles this week to work it off or hope for another raptor to come through an anomaly, but God it was worth it. He could remember dozens of mornings like this, usually without the hangover, when they'd been up all night working on something and had managed to drag themselves back to Nick's place in time for a fry up and then they'd collapse into their respective beds and sleep till mid afternoon. He missed having times like that with Nick and he wanted them back more than anything, but it didn't seem likely any time soon.
When they were finally done, Nick made two large mugs of coffee and gestured to the living room with his head. "Come on, might as well get comfortable." He grinned again. "I suspect you're going to want to be sitting down when I remind you of the details you've forgotten."
Stephen couldn't figure out what was going on. Some of that might have been a result of the pounding in his head, but mostly it just didn't make sense. Nick didn't act like this around him any more and if he had kissed him last night, he should be even more distant, not back to the friendly banter they'd shared before Helen's revelation.
Nick settled himself on the couch and waited for Stephen to sit down at the other end before he started. "So, want a quick recap before I start asking for explanations?" he asked calmly.
Explanations? Plural? Oh God, he'd obviously been on rare form last night. He must have been drinking whisky. He never got this stupid on beer. He nodded tentatively, not entirely sure he wanted to know, but he probably should.
"So I got a call from the barman at a pub I don't remember ever having been to, which was an interesting experience that I could have done without, to come and pick you up," Nick told him. "When I got there you'd just finished your sixth whisky and were starting to get a little unsteady on your feet. You'd also regressed to about five years of age, complete with pout," he said, with a grin. "You were adorable."
Stephen groaned but okay, he could handle being an adorable drunk. It was being a talkative one that usually caused him the problems.
"You told me you didn't want to go home," Nick said. "You were very insistent on that fact. Apparently, you were worried about finding my wife naked in your bed. Again. You then informed me I should 'shhhh' because it was a secret."
"Oh God," he groaned. "I can explain, I swear."
Nick waved him off. "I haven't finished."
"Oh," he said in a small voice. You mean there was more? He really wished Nick had taken him up on his request to shoot him.
"You said naked Helen was bad so I said I'd bring you here," Nick carried on. "Then you told me you felt safe here and you got all maudlin because you haven't been here since Helen left and you claimed I don't want you around. I had to promise that I always want you around."
Stephen slid further down the couch and covered his face with his hands. This was so embarrassing and Nick was having far too much fun with it.
"When we got here you told me you'd do anything for me," Nick said. "You made me take your jeans off because you didn't want to sleep in them and then you told me that you were 'very, very good' and offered to demonstrate. Which you did, quite effectively. I was quite impressed how good you were at kissing, considering you weren't coordinated enough to stand on your own two feet. You topped it off by telling me you loved me and lamenting that I hate you and then you fell asleep before I could tell you I didn't."
Stephen peeked out from behind his hands. "You've finished now, right? I didn't do anything else monumentally stupid like ... well actually, I can't think of anything more stupid than telling you about Helen and then mauling you, but I'm confident I could have found something."
Nick chuckled. "No, that was pretty much the extent of your stupidity." He smiled to soften the words. "Now do you want to start with 'naked Helen' or the declaration of love?"
He groaned again. "Well, the advantage of starting with Helen is that you're going to shoot me and then I won't have to deal with the other thing." He took a deep breath. "She just turned up one day, let herself in, not sure how, maybe she has lockpicks. Anyway, she was badly cut from an encounter with a dinosaur so I patched her up and let her use the shower and then she decided to take a nap, in my bed, naked." He pulled his hands away from his face and looked at Nick seriously. "I swear I didn't do anything but patch up her leg. I told her to be gone when I got home and she was."
"And you decided to keep this to yourself because?" Nick asked.
"Because I didn't think you'd believe me that she just turned up without me looking for her and I thought you'd assume I was sleeping with her again," Stephen said. "It's not like you have any reason to trust anything I say any more."
Nick sighed. "I would have believed you, Stephen. I would have been pissed that you were helping her, but I would have believed you if you'd told me the truth. She's probably hoping you won't, just so she can reveal it herself at an inopportune moment and cause more trouble."
Stephen looked down at the couch. "Yeah, I know. I couldn't just let her bleed though. I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier."
"No more secrets," Nick said firmly. "If we want to get through this as a team we have to be honest with one another. And talking of honesty ... you love me?"
Stephen looked stricken. "I was really, really drunk."
"Yes, I know," Nick said. "But you're an honest drunk. You say things you don't want to, but you never lie."
He groaned. "I wish you didn't know that about me." Taking a deep breath, he looked up at Nick again, not wanting to see the pity in his eyes but knowing this was a conversation he had to have with Nick, not the couch cushions. "I know you're not interested in men and I've never tried to get you interested. Partly because of Helen. But yes, I'm in love with you, have been for years. It doesn't matter. It's not something new, so it doesn't have to change anything. Just forget it. Please."
"It is something new," Nick insisted. "It's new because I know about it now. You should have told me before." He sighed. "But with your guilty secret about Helen, I can see why you didn't."
He reached out and brushed a lock of hair out of Stephen's face. "Is that why you were getting drunk last night? I thought it was because of what Lester said. I didn't realise it was my fault."
"It's not your fault, Nick," Stephen said. "My feelings are my problem and I've been dealing with them for years. It's only a problem now because after Helen made her little speech you, quite rightly, don't want me around any more."
"I always want you around, Stephen, I told you that last night," Nick said.
"You don't trust me." He shrugged. "I don't blame you, but you can't pretend nothing's changed. Before when we disagreed, we'd have found a compromise or a way to look in both places. You took the team and went off without me." He smiled sadly. "I'm on the outside now, looking in, and I don't like it. But it's my own fault. I don't really have any room to complain."
"I'm sorry," Nick said. "I shouldn't have excluded you. I do trust you. I was just being vindictive because you wouldn't listen to my hunch."
"Nick, it's fine," Stephen said. "I'm not going to fall apart on you or make a habit of getting drunk. It was just a shock, being left out like that."
"It's not going to happen again. You're part of the team, Stephen, and you're going to be treated like it. And despite what you said last night, I do not hate you. I could never hate you." He smiled. "We've been friends too long for even Helen to tear us apart, I promise." He slid closer. "You were drunk last night and no matter how honest you are, I wasn't going to let you do something you'd regret. You're sober this morning ... Do you still want to show me how good you are?"
Stephen blinked at him, convinced he'd misheard or misunderstood or something because he could not be sitting here, listening to Nick Cutter offer him a chance to drag him off to bed and make him scream. "What?"
Nick chuckled. "You're a bit slow on the uptake when you're hung over." He leaned in and brushed his lips against Stephen's gently before tilting his head so he could kiss him properly. For a moment Stephen just held onto his arms and sat there and then his brain caught up with what was happening and he kissed Nick back, sliding his tongue into his mouth and moaning as he got to taste him for the first time, well the first time he remembered, anyway.
When they eventually broke apart, pulling away slowly, both reluctant to let go, Nick smiled at him. "You're right. You are very, very good," he teased. "I've wanted to do that pretty much since the moment I met you. Would have done it back then if I hadn't been married but by the time she left we were already friends and I didn't want to rock the boat."
"Really?" Stephen asked. "How the hell did you hide that from me? I never had a clue you even looked at other men, let alone wanted to act on it."
Nick shrugged. "You're not the only one who can keep a secret, Stephen. But since we're being honest now ... I want you. I want you in my bed and in my life and I want to be the only one. Just us. No flirting, no dating, no other people."
Stephen laughed and then smiled happily. "I believe I told you last night I'd do anything for you. Not that I'd have said that sober. God that was sappy." He kissed Nick again. "What would you like me to do first?" he asked with a flirtatious look, the one Nick had watched him use on dozens of women and had always wanted to see directed at him
Nick smiled and kissed his nose. "Right now I'd like to take you back to bed. Your head is hurting, I can tell. You have pinched lines around your eyes from the pain. You need to sleep it off."
Stephen pouted. It was much more effective and looked much less like a five year old's pout when he was sober and Nick shivered slightly.
"Don't use that look on me," he said. "When I finally get to have sex with you, I want to know that every sound you make is from pleasure, not pain. So you're going to come to bed and take a nap and then when you wake up, we can see what happens." He stroked his cheek with the back of his hand. "There's no rush, Stephen. We've waited this long; a few more hours won't make a difference."
"What if there's another anomaly?" Stephen said. "We should take the chance when we have it."
"If there's an anomaly, we'll deal with it and then, when it's over, we'll come back here and start again from wherever we left off," Nick said firmly. "Now stop your fussing. You know you need more sleep and I'll even stay with you as an incentive."
Stephen sighed. "Okay, you're right again. My head is killing me. Stay with me though? I don't want to wake up and find I'm back in my flat and you've turned into Helen."
Nick laughed. "I promise, I have no intention of turning into anyone but myself and I don't think I'm going to let you go back to your flat, other than to pick up some more clothes, for at least a week. It's going to take that long to do everything I want to do to you."
"Only a week?" Stephen teased. "You don't have much of an imagination, Nick. I can think up at least a month's worth of things we can do. Don't worry; I'm happy to teach you anything you need to know."
Nick slapped his shoulder gently. "You are a lot more adorable drunk than sober, Stephen," he complained.
"You should be used to me now after nine years," Stephen pointed out.
"I'm never going to be used to you, not if we live to be a hundred," Nick said. "You keep me on my toes. I like it. Now come on, let's get you to bed so you can sleep off your hangover and wake up ready to play." He smiled softly. "I have plans for you, Stephen Hart. Long term plans."