Lester never expected to see Nick Cutter again because the man was dead. He had attended the funeral and watched the burial with a heavy heart far too soon after the empty coffin funerals of Stephen Hart and Captain Ryan. Too many funerals, too many losses, and no end to it in sight. He had respected Captain Ryan and he had liked Stephen, but Cutter's death had hit him hardest. They had started out confrontational, each pushing the other to see how far they could go before the other man snapped, but it was amazing how a good single malt tended to mellow out a relationship, especially after a tough day.
They had endured plenty of tough days over the months that followed.
It was finding out about Stephen and Helen that stopped Cutter's single-minded pursuit of his now ex-wife, realizing she was not the person he thought he had married. Maybe she had been once, before some change in the timeline took her down a darker path. Maybe they had all been different once, just as Jenny Lewis had replaced someone seemingly identical called Claudia Brown. In a different timeline he might have been Sir James Lester but in this one, just as in the dark apocalyptic future he had left behind only an hour earlier, he was likely still ordinary James Lester, a bureaucrat on the fast track for a knighthood and perhaps a more noticeably prestigious posting in the Foreign Office.
That prestigious posting and the knighthood no longer held the same shine as he stared across the clearing at a familiar sandy-haired scientist, feeling his heart thumping hard in his chest with both shock and joy.
"James!" Cutter strode towards him, and the laser-focus of those blue eyes was directed right at him.
Cutter didn't stop until he had grabbed hold of Lester, pulling him into a bear hug as if he had been the one buried in the cold, hard ground for too long. Warm lips pressed against his cheek and Lester only meant to turn his head a fraction to pull back but those lips were now sealed against his own. It was everything he had wanted; everything he had dreamed of having in the darker days following Cutter's death, and far more besides, drawing the ice of loss from his frozen heart, and melting him almost boneless against Cutter - against Nick - until they seemed to be holding each other up. They only pulled back when someone cleared their throat loudly beside them.
"You're scaring the children," Ryan stated, head flicking towards the soldiers standing uneasily around the clearing. "Good to have you back, Sir."
Lester reached out and gently patted Ryan's arm. "Good to be back, Captain."
Hours later Lester admitted he wasn't the same man Nick Cutter had been expecting. In both timelines they had bonded over the senseless deaths around them but they hadn't been together before the James Lester of this timeline was killed in the ARC by a future predator let loose by the ambitious Oliver Leek, along with Stephen Hart. Lester pinpointed it to a single moment, a single choice he had made one night when he went home alone instead of taking up Nick's offer of a nightcap in a more private setting than his office in the ARC.
Nick nodded solemnly before his blue eyes twinkled and he smiled. "Then I'll just have to win you over again," he murmured. "And you should note I can be a very determined man."
"As usual you're a little behind the times, Cutter," he stated pompously, softening his words and tone with a smile. "You already have."