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Last Christmas by alyse [Reviews - 6]
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Category: Primeval > Slash and Femslash > Slash
Characters: Nick Cutter, Stephen Hart
Rating: PG-13
Genres: Character Study, Friendship, Pre-slash
Warnings: None

Summary: The first Christmas after Helen disappeared, Nick bought her presents anyway.

Pairing: Nick/Stephen



Story Notes:
Written as a treat for Claire for Yuletide 2009, who wanted Primeval and Nick/Stephen. I hope you enjoy it, Claire, and Merry Yule!

Many thanks to A for the beta.


The first Christmas after Helen disappeared, Nick bought her presents anyway.

It was stupid of him in more ways than one - she'd never really been one for celebrating Christmas, not in the traditional way anyway. Christmas pudding and Christmas carols were alien to her - she was too wild, too pagan to do the staid, expected thing. It didn't help that she'd had no patience for the commercialisation of it, along with everything else in the world; too much arrant, conspicuous consumption for her taste, and too many people.

But then, for Helen, Christmas Day wasn't about family either; it was about solitude, for sleeping, sprawled out on their bed with her hair all tousled. If she could persuade Nick to stay there with her, then all the better. If she couldn't, she was more than prepared to sleep on her own.

Nick had still bought her gifts, little things that caught at his attention, making him think of her and smile. He'd still tried to cajole her awake to open them and keep her up for Christmas dinner. She'd tolerated it, more amused than touched, stretching like a cat at his petting and, like a cat, above it all.

He bought things for her now but they didn't make him smile. They made something in his chest tighten and clench. They sat under the fake Christmas tree set up in his office and stayed there, untouched, until the middle of January when he finally packed them away.

-o-

The second Christmas after Helen disappeared, Nick threw himself into his work, burying himself under paperwork as though he could pull it over the top of him like bedcovers and hide underneath from the dark.

It didn't help. The streets - when he ventured out - were bustling with people, all buying gifts for their loved ones, gifts that would never really be appreciated but were the done thing. The more time passed - the more crowds he had to deal with when his patience was worn thin - the more he appreciated Helen's point of view of the whole thing.

The more he appreciated Helen, and mourned what he'd lost.

He bought her a gift anyway, a necklace he'd spotted one day when he'd detoured through a market; on his way to somewhere else in a hurry, as usual. It caught his eye: an ammonite, polished until it shone, on a silver chain.

He didn't bother with the tree this time, not even in his office. The present went on the mantelpiece at home and stayed there, gathering dust. Just like the others.

-o-

The third Christmas after Helen disappeared, there were no presents for her under any tree or on any mantelpiece.

Instead, Nick got drunk on Christmas Eve and didn't sober up until Boxing Day.

-o-

Life moved on, as life had a way of doing. Changing. Adapting. Evolving. Never staying still.

Nick's work had stopped being refuge, some place to hide in when the grief grew dark and bitter in his heart, and became a passion again, something he threw himself into to explore and learn and grow. There was joy in it, and even that changed, evolved and grew less muted as time passed.

And time always did.

-o-

The fourth Christmas after Helen disappeared, Nick had every intention of spending it alone again, locking himself away for the duration of the festivities in what had been first their home and was now just his. He turned down all of the invitations issued by friends and family, whether out of sympathy or kinship, and stocked up on whiskey and the staples.

This year, at least, there was a small, fake Christmas tree in one corner of his lounge. The cards he propped up on the mantelpiece were addressed to 'Nick' and not, as they had been in the first year before everyone far flung and distant could be told about Helen, to the pair of them.

He'd tucked Helen's presents under the tree, more an act of remembrance than an act of hope. His heart didn't twinge as hard as it had when he looked at it and, he supposed, on some level that meant something.

The something didn't mean he wanted company, though. He was happier still separated from the hordes of humanity for the time being; that was something of Helen's - like her presents - that he still held onto.

Fate, of course, had other plans. Largely because Stephen did.

-o-

When the doorbell dragged him out of his reverie on Christmas Eve, he figured it was the postman working very late or a delivery, something from someone determined to make his Christmas. He didn't figure on being greeted by a large turkey.

"You know," came a familiar voice from behind it. "You're a very hard man to track down."

Nick blinked at Stephen's face as it appeared around the - was that a twenty pounder? - turkey and smiled at him, that little twitch of the mouth that passed as a grin for Stephen. "I live here, Stephen. I have lived here for a number of years now. So I don't see what's so hard about finding me."

"Yeah," said Stephen, shifting the turkey to one side and looking at him pointedly. "But I thought that you'd still be at the office."

"And I thought you were supposed to have tracking skills?" Stephen rolled his eyes at that, and Nick continued, a little more defensively, "It's Christmas Eve." Stephen gave him another pointed look. "I wasn't in the office on Christmas Eve last year."

"No." As always, Stephen was a master of communicating a lot in very few words and Nick, twitched, looking away.

"What are you doing here, anyway?"

Stephen tilted his head, simply looking at him for a beat before he hefted the turkey up, steadying it in his arms, and said, "Well, I appear to have this turkey."

"So you do."

"And I may have miscalculated as to how big a turkey I needed."

In spite of himself, Nick felt the corner of his mouth twitch. "You don't say."

"Yeah. So I was thinking, who do I know who might be free this Christmas and who would appreciate sharing a good turkey?"

Nick's mouth twitched harder. "I'm more of a roast beef man, myself."

Stephen gave him the look, the one that said Nick was being an idiot, and Nick's smile became full blown as he pulled the door open more widely, to accommodate Stephen and the turkey both.

"What happened to Alison?" he asked as he followed Stephen down the hall, Stephen making his way unerringly to the kitchen.

The turkey landed on the worktop surface with a thump, rocking there as Stephen rubbed his hands together before giving up and blowing on them.

"She's in Borneo."

"Still?"

"Yeah." Stephen shrugged. "She's enjoying herself. Pointless coming back for Christmas."

Nick wasn't quite sure how to take that. He'd never really been one who'd been good at the whole sympathy thing - giving or taking it. But Stephen, as always, seemed to read his mind.

"It's fine," he said, calmly. "Alison and me... we've been over for a while."

"Oh. I'm sorry. I hadn't realised. Wait... didn't you go out to see her last month?"

Stephen shrugged, occupied with shrugging his jacket off. "We're still friends, Nick," he said, a slight tone of disapproval in his voice, as though he thought that Nick should have figured that one out already. "Friends with benefits sometimes, maybe. But still friends."

Nick snorted, moving around Stephen to fill up the kettle. Stephen automatically started to pull the cups down from the cupboard. "Is that what the kids are calling it these days?"

That earned him a snort from Stephen, a weird synchronicity with his own. "Because, of course, you'd never do anything like that back in the day, when you were young and before you reached the advanced age you are now. Remind me, Nick. Was that the Jurassic or the Cretaceous?"

"There's an easier way to quit your job, you know?"

"Yes, but it wouldn't be as much fun."

Nick smiled again before he sobered. "What are you really doing here, Stephen?"

Stephen shrugged, avoiding his interrogative look. "We're both on our own. And it's Christmas. There's no reason it should have to be like that." His tone was matter of fact, as though it was the most logical, unquestionable of decisions.

"I'm fine on my own. I've been on my own for -"

"Three years." There was sympathy in Stephen's voice this time, the kind of brusque, unforgiving sympathy that said he understood Nick's feelings on the matter but he was quite prepared to be a kick up the arse if Nick needed one. "Don't you think that's long enough?"

Nick's fingers tightened on the handle of the kettle; sympathy was the last thing he wanted. He'd never asked for it, and been bad at accepting it when offered. If Stephen thought he could just wade in now...

"Plus," said Stephen lightly, as though Nick had already acknowledged the irrefutable nature of his arguments, "I've got to admit I've got no idea how to cook a turkey, and I was kind of hoping you did."

When Nick turned around, the kettle still clutched in one hand, Stephen was smiling at him, and it wasn't the one that barely registered as a grin. It was warm, understanding. Sympathetic without the pity.

He laughed. He had to, even if it was quiet and subdued. Stephen had that effect on him, whether he was being understanding or kicking Nick's arse. And maybe he did need an arse-kicking. He plugged the kettle in before turning around to eye the turkey where it lay on the counter, then poked it tentatively.

"I hate to tell you this, Stephen, but I'm pretty sure that if we're going to cook this monster, it shouldn't still be frozen at this time on Christmas Eve."

"Ah," said Stephen, wandering over to stand next to him and examine the turkey, too. "Think putting it in hot water will help?"

"Not sure."

"Think any take-aways will be open tomorrow?"

Nick snorted. "I'm pretty sure that the answer to that one is 'no'."

"Ah." Stephen's face scrunched up in thought. "I think I have a question you might have an answer to I'll like."

"Yes?"

"You got any whiskey?"

Nick slapped his hand against Stephen's shoulder. "You're right. That one I might be able to help you with."

-o-

Stephen had always struck him as being remarkably contained, never needing or wanting anyone else. It was strange, then, to watch him making himself at home. He'd been to Nick's house before, of course - how could he not have when the pair of them worked as closely as they did, and Nick would be a fool if he didn't admit that over the last three years, since Stephen had first introduced himself as Helen's grad student, the pair of them had become friends. But even so...

He'd recognised the grief in Stephen then, a paler reflection of his own. Maybe that was why he'd ended up offering Stephen the job of being his lab assistant and general student wrangler when Stephen had showed no sign of wanting to continue with his PhD with Helen gone. Or maybe he'd just seen something else in the man, some kinship that was more than just the connection they both had with a woman long lost.

Whatever it was, he couldn't regret it now, not even with Stephen intruding on his self-imposed retreat from the human race. Not that Stephen was intruding, or at least, it was difficult to think of it like that when Stephen was here, looking perfectly at home.

Stephen flicked on the lights to the Christmas tree, smiling in their glittering glow, and for the first time, Nick was glad he'd made the effort, even if at first it had been nothing more than that sliding back into conformity that Helen had mocked him for.

"Nice," said Stephen, moving across the room towards it. "Very... small."

That earned him another snort as Nick moved across to the drinks cabinet, pulling out his finest single malt. It felt right to make that big a deal of it, like there was something - anything - to celebrate. "It's as big as it needs to be to get the point across, Stephen."

"Do you say that to all the boys?"

And Nick had to laugh at that; it was startled out of him, unexpected but welcome. "Only the ones who've been very, very good."

When he turned back to Stephen, Stephen was grinning at him - a proper, grin, wide and delighted and Nick had to grin back, feeling warm and - for the first Christmas in a long time -happy. At least until Stephen turned back to the tree, examining both it and the presents that were under it.

He expected it to hurt when Stephen reached out with one careful finger to slide open the gift tag on one of them, reading the message inside. He expected to have to explain it all, already anticipating the defensiveness he'd feel. But it didn't come - none of it came, not the grief or the guilt - and Stephen said nothing, not for a long moment.

And then: "That reminds me." Stephen's voice was calm and it wasn't the carefully maintained calm he presented when Nick was on a tear, ranting about one student or faculty member or another. It was the kind of calm that said Stephen saw nothing wrong with the world, for once. The kind of calm that drew Nick in and made him at home, too. "I'd better put this here, as well."

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, neatly wrapped gift.

"I... I didn't get you anything." He hadn't thought. Gifts for the last three years had been about trying not to forget the past, not about giving but about grieving. It was strange to think now that this was what other people did, people who weren't him and who weren't Helen.

"That's okay," said Stephen with a small shrug, not looking at all put out. His eyes, when he straightened up fully and looked at Nick, were still warm, still understanding. Peaceful. Home. "You can make it up to me next year."

-o-

The fifth Christmas after Helen disappeared, Nick spent most of it curled up in bed. At least until Stephen dragged him out of it to help with the turkey.

The End






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