Title: Everything Changes
Pairing/characters: Stephen, Cutter, Jenny, Abby, Connor (Stephen/Cutter if you really squint)
Warnings: Angst, occasional mild language
Spoilers: general series 2. Set not long after episode 2.3
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 4400
Summary: The anomalies become public knowledge, and everything changes for Stephen.
AN: Written for the spring ficathon for Taricha
Based on the prompt – the anomalies go public and the team become instant celebrities.
AN2: Thanks to fififolle for the beta.
“Are you happy now?” Cutter demanded.
He slammed a newspaper down on the desk in front of Stephen and gestured at it. “Is this what you wanted?”
Stephen stared in horror at the front page. Under a headline that read, ‘Heroes’, there was a huge picture of what was clearly the corpse of an allosaurus, and standing around it, wearing varying expressions of anger, shock and surprise, were himself, Cutter, Connor and Abby.
“How the hell did this get published?” Stephen managed to ask. He suspected his current expression mirrored the disbelief he could see in his own eyes on the page.
“Damn good question,” Cutter shot back, glaring.
Stephen glanced up and abruptly he saw what Cutter was not so subtly hinting at.
“What? You don’t think I had anything to do with this?”
“You’re the one who kept saying we should tell the public.”
Stephen felt his own anger rising.
“There’s a difference between wanting to tell people and leaking a story this big to the press. How the hell did Jenny let this happen? She was supposed to be covering this up.”
That wasn’t fair, and Stephen knew it as soon as he spoke. It had been a full grown dinosaur in the middle of a street with several witnesses. They had all got so used to Jenny providing cover stories for everything, but even she had her limits.
“Don’t you dare lay this on Jenny,” Cutter snarled. “Jenny can deal with the public, she would have had even this under control somehow. The question is, how the hell did the press get there so damn quickly? Members of the public we can deal with. Reporters are something else.”
Stephen stood up and glared right back. “Why don’t you just say it, Cutter? Why don’t you just come out and accuse me of tipping them off?”
The two men stared at each other for another few moments. Stephen’s heart was pounding, and he knew it wasn’t just the argument with Cutter that was causing it. Everything had just changed.
Cutter turned round and walked out.
Stephen waited until he heard the footsteps receding down the corridor. Then he collapsed back into his seat, his legs shaking. He stared at the paper, his mind whirling.
The anomalies had gone public. Everything had just changed.
“Insurance! They wanted me to be on their advert for home insurance, for god’s sake,” Cutter was complaining to Jenny when Stephen walked into the break area for a cup of coffee.
“Maybe they wanted to go with the whole new angle of getting your home covered in case of dinosaurs,” Jenny said, smiling lightly at Cutter.
Stephen poured himself a cup of coffee in silence. In the two weeks since everything had blown open, he had been approached by at least ten different groups wanting him to appear in adverts for anything from sports drinks to designer clothes. He hadn’t mentioned this to any of the others, to be honest he had been faintly embarrassed by it all. Needless to say he had refused all the offers, despite the amount of money they had been offering.
Lester and Jenny had done as much damage control as possible, and tried to keep as many ARC personnel out of the public eye as they could, but the simple fact was that Cutter and his team had become the mostly unwilling public face of the Anomaly Project when it had become clear that they couldn’t kill the story any longer. To Lester’s credit, he had managed to pull enough favours to get the right backing and spin on it, and despite some calls for public inquiries and the understandable public fears, somehow they had come out of the situation looking like the heroic good guys battling to save the country against the forces of nature.
The ironic thing was, Stephen had never felt less like a hero. Although he hadn’t said anything since their initial argument, Cutter still seemed vaguely distrustful of Stephen, possibly still believing that he had been the one who tipped the press off in the first place. And the pressure of being suddenly thrust into the public eye hadn’t sat well with either of them.
After a reporter somehow managed to track down his home address, Stephen had taken to spending as much time as possible at the ARC. He knew Cutter was doing the same, he had seen the light on in Cutter’s office until late on several occasions, and he suspected it was for the same reasons. And yet the two of them were unable to talk about it, to share any camaraderie in the face of a shared problem. Right then he so very much wanted to just sit down with Cutter and Jenny and have a laugh and a joke about being asked to advertise ridiculous products, and fight plastic dinosaurs for children’s TV. After a moment of hesitation, though, he walked out of the break room without exchanging a word with either of them.
One of the strangest things about being famous was the concept of having fans. At first Stephen had been faintly bemused by the idea. Once or twice he heard Abby and Cutter laughing together about receiving fan mail, but he didn’t quite feel able to join in their conversation, much as he wanted to. He had thought it was quite sweet when he got the first few letters. But now, four weeks into their sudden celebrity status, Stephen was both embarrassed and worried by it. Some were okay, the ones that just wanted to tell him that they thought he was brave and handsome and doing a wonderful job. But there were others, mostly from what appeared to be pubescent girls, which were pushy and far too intimate and gave him a very uneasy feeling. At the extreme end, Stephen was starting to worry that he might be gaining his very own stalkers.
He wished there was someone he could discuss it with, but at the same time he was embarrassed by it all and hoped that the others never found out the kind of thing he had been receiving. His inability to talk to his teammates was only exacerbated when Connor discovered the online fansite. When Connor further discovered that the vast majority of the female fans were far more interested in Stephen than they were in him, the young man had practically pouted and sulked for at least two days. As far as Stephen was concerned, if Connor wanted the fans he could have them. Stephen didn’t like having his private life discussed so intently by complete strangers on the internet. He didn’t like the feeling that he had suddenly become public property. He didn’t like being labelled as ‘the handsome one’, as if that was the only thing of value that he contributed to the team. And more than anything he was worried that sooner or later it was going to impact on their ability to get the job done.
He was right.
It started as a normal anomaly situation. Granted, a bit more problematic than usual because it was near the centre of a town, but a pre-rehearsed cover story of a bomb alert was usually enough to clear populated areas with a minimum of fuss. Thankfully Jenny had managed to stay out of the spotlight, and so her ability to deal with the public and emergency services remained as professional as ever.
The anomaly was in an alleyway round the back of a Chinese restaurant, and it wasn’t hard to tell that a creature of some kind had already come through. The bins had all been tipped over and food remains were scattered and trampled. Stephen was examining the debris for any evidence of tracks that might identify it, and half listening as Connor enthused at Abby about his latest discovery.
“Guess what I’ve heard,” Connor said in a conspiratorial voice as he fiddled with his hand-held detector. “They’re saying they might be making a film.”
Stephen rolled his eyes.
“And guess what else I’ve heard. There are rumours that they’re getting Ewan McGregor to play Cutter. How cool would that be! The guy who played Obi Wan playing Cutter.”
“Who are they getting to play you?” Abby asked.
Stephen could hear the teasing amusement in her voice, even if Connor wasn’t picking up on it.
“I dunno. It’d have to be someone young, good looking, kinda cool.”
“More like that gawky kid who plays Merlin,” Abby muttered under her breath.
Stephen smirked, but quickly became serious when he spotted three deep rents that could only be claw marks scored down the side of a bin. And judging by the spacing of the marks, it wasn’t a small animal.
“Looks like we’ve got something,” he announced.
“Can you tell what it is?”Cutter asked. They were still talking to each other when they were actually working, even if not at any other time.
“Don’t know yet. But I think there’s a trail. Let me follow it and see what it leads to.”
“Fine. Call us if you find anything. I’m going to look at the CCTV footage of the main road.”
Cutter turned and headed off to a waiting car.
“Do you want some backup?” Abby asked, loading a tranquiliser pistol as she spoke.
Stephen considered it for a moment. He had no idea what was out there, and of all of them, he trusted Abby to be stealthy enough to come with him without alerting any creatures. But at the same time, that would leave Connor alone with the anomaly. And they had all learnt from experience that there was nothing quite as guaranteed to cause chaos and trouble as Connor left to his own devices in a potentially dangerous situation.
“No, I should be okay. I’ll let you know if I find anything that needs backup.”
Stephen turned and walked out of the alleyway in the opposite direction to the one Cutter had taken, and once again he was alone.
Truth be told there wasn’t much of a trail to follow. One of the downsides of being in a built up area meant that the ground was largely tarmac, which meant very few tracks. Stephen followed the alleyway round the block until it met the main road without seeing any trace of a creature. There were no other ways that it could have gone, though, so he only started to seriously scrutinise the area when he came out onto the road. Whatever it was, it wasn’t being overly subtle or stealthy. Stephen saw scratches down the sides of cars to the right, and another bin overturned, and he started to follow the trail again.
It was strange tracking a creature in the deserted streets. Somehow it seemed more surreal to imagine prehistoric creatures in amongst the trappings of modern humanity than it was out in the countryside. Stephen knew that a police cordon had been set up with as wide a perimeter as they could feasibly handle, which at least meant there was no danger to the public unless the creature was exceptionally curious.
There was a sudden loud crash up ahead. Stephen immediately ducked down into the cover of parked cars along the road, and sprinted forwards, keeping low. He heard a squawk from an alleyway on the opposite side of the road, and he slowed, and carefully peered over the top of a car bonnet once he had a decent line of sight.
It was a bird. An insanely huge bird. At first its head was ducked low so that it could rummage around in an overturned bin for food, and Stephen could only get impressions of a huge feathered body and tall, strong legs, like the Schwarzenegger of the emu world. It was only when it stood up to its full height that he saw the huge, powerful beak, and the fact that it had to be at least eight feet tall. He didn’t have Cutter or Connor’s encyclopaedic knowledge of prehistoric creatures, but Stephen remembered reading something about giant South American ‘terror birds’, and if anything fitted the bill, this sure as hell did.
Stephen very slowly brought his rifle up, and sighted the creature down the barrel. The giant bird remained apparently oblivious, and Stephen hoped it would stay that way until after he had hit it with at least one tranquilliser dart. At that size, he was under no illusions about how dangerous it could be.
He was still taking aim when he heard another sound. A scuffling from round the corner just ahead of him. Another one? This one was much closer, and if he fired on the first one now he might not have time to reload before the second creature reacted. Another scuffling, a squeak, and then what was unmistakeably a giggle.
What the hell?
Stephen ducked down below the car again, and then, keeping low once more, he ran to the corner and looked round it. Several flashes simultaneously went off, blinding him momentarily until he realised that he’d just had his picture taken by a camera and two mobile phones. Two of the three girls holding said camera and mobiles abruptly burst into hysterical giggles, while the other had slightly more composure and the presence of mind to keep taking pictures.
Stephen shoved the camera away from his face and desperately waved the three of them further back from the corner, making quiet shushing noises. The girls, none of which could be older than fourteen, weren’t paying attention, and one of them thrust a black marker pen at him.
“Will you sign my t-shirt, Stephen?” she asked, before promptly bursting into giggles again.
“Shush!” Stephen said urgently. “You can’t be here. It’s too dangerous.”
How the hell had they got past the police cordon?
“We wanted to see you in action,” one of them said, putting enough innuendo into her words that the other two burst into howls of laughter.
At that, Stephen finally turned away from them and pulled out his radio.
“Abby, I need backup. There’s a giant predatory bird on the main street, and we’ve got civilians in the way. I can’t deal with both on my own.”
“I’m on my way.”
“Oh my god,” one of the girls suddenly shrieked.
Stephen looked round, knowing before he saw it what had happened. The terror bird had stalked out of the alleyway and was standing in the middle of the main road staring at the group with its cold, menacing glare.
“Stay still,” Stephen said quietly to the girls. “If you run it will chase you.”
He slowly brought the rifle up and took aim for a second time, hoping that it would stay where it was long enough for him to take the shot.
The bird gave a loud squawk and lunged towards them. Stephen fired. The dart hit home, but not before two of the girls screamed and ran. The bird’s sharp eyes tracked the movement and changed direction to follow the girls. Stephen knew he didn’t have time to load another dart. On instinct, he raced out to intercept the bird, waving his arms and shouting.
“Hey! Hey! Over here!”
The bird’s head snapped in his direction, momentarily distracted from the running girls. Stephen ran at the bird, and at the last moment he ducked low and swung the rifle at the bird’s leg. It almost worked. The creature’s leg buckled and it squawked again and almost fell. At the last second it kicked out and righted itself, and its huge beak snapped down at him. Stephen heard fabric tear, and then a flash of pain in his shoulder. He rolled out of the way and scrambled to his feet again, holding the rifle like a club. He and the bird stared at each other warily. Stephen was peripherally aware that the two girls were now far down the street and still running. He had probably bought them enough time to get away. Now all he had to do was wait for the tranquilliser to do its work.
A flash suddenly reminded him of the third girl. The bird’s head snapped round to stare in the direction of the bright light, and there were another series of camera flashes in quick succession.
“No!” Stephen yelled.
Too late. The bird emitted a terrifyingly loud shriek and charged at the remaining girl. Stephen charged after it, yelling.
He knew immediately he wasn’t going to be fast enough.
The girl was still cowering against the wall when the bird dived on her. Its huge, powerful beak ripped through clothing and she started to scream, trying to protect herself by curling up and covering her head with her arms. The bird’s beak was already splashed with blood when Stephen caught up with it. He grabbed the bird around its neck and tried to physically drag it away from the girl. In a second the bird switched its attention to the new threat, and it twisted in his hands. Stephen was eye to eye with it for a second, before it lunged at him, knocking him off his feet. He tried to scramble away, throwing his arm up to cover his face while he swung the rifle with his other hand. He felt the beak close around his arm. There was a snapping sound, and Stephen jabbed the rifle into the bird’s face as his world erupted with pain.
He heard someone yelling his name, and kicked out at the bird’s legs. There was a sudden sound of gunfire, and the bird shrieked again, letting go of his arm as it did. Stephen collapsed onto the street and tried to shove himself backwards away from the bird, but his right arm didn’t seem capable of co-operating any more. Another gunshot sounded and the bird gave one final squawk before it toppled over.
Stephen tried to stand, but the world was spinning around him, and when he looked at his right arm all he could see was blood. He let his head fall back and he just lay still for a moment.
Abby’s worried face appeared in his field of vision.
“Stephen? Stephen? Are you okay?”
“The girl? Is she okay?” he tried to gesture in the appropriate direction with the only hand that was still working.
“Connor’s with her. He’s calling an ambulance already. Looks like she’s alive.”
“Guess I owe you one,” Stephen said. Abby was becoming blurred and he tried to focus on her. Tried to smile. He didn’t manage either.
“Just hang on. The ambulance will be here soon. Just hold on, Stephen.”
He was still trying to reply when he blacked out.
Stephen had been in hospital enough times to recognise one when he woke up there. He had no idea how much time had passed, but he was aware that the lights were dimmed and the curtains closed.
His right arm felt heavy, and he shifted slightly to see that it was encased in plaster from his hand to above his elbow. Even that small movement made him gasp as pain shot through his shoulder, and Stephen quickly stopped moving.
“Stephen?” Cutter’s voice sounded worried in a way that Stephen suspected hadn’t been directed at him for a long time. He glanced to the side, careful to only move his head and not his body. Cutter was sitting next to his bed, and the expression on his face mirrored the concern in his voice.
“How’re you feeling?” Cutter asked gruffly.
“Like a giant prehistoric bird tried to rip my arm off,” Stephen said, trying hard to clear the post-unconsciousness fog from his brain.
There was brief smile of amusement before Cutter became serious again.
Stephen’s memories started to come back as he became more alert.
“Is the girl okay?”
“Yeah. She’s only being kept in overnight, she’ll be fine.”
Stephen didn’t reply.
“There was just the one bird,” Cutter said. He sounded uncomfortable, as if he was trying to fill the silence to avoid acknowledging it. “It didn’t survive. Abby’s pretty upset about the fact that she killed it, but she told me it was the only way to stop it killing you. Far as we’re all concerned she made the right choice.”
Stephen snorted back a bitter laugh. “Nice to know I still rate higher than a prehistoric killer bird on your list of priorities.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Cutter blustered.
Stephen glared at him briefly.
“Come on, Cutter. We haven’t been right for a long time. Connor’s your new golden boy. The only reason you keep me around is so that you have someone to shoot the creatures so that you and Abby don’t have to feel guilty about doing it yourselves.”
He saw the look of shock on Cutter’s face, but Stephen wasn’t done yet. He felt more fire and anger welling up, and for the first time since Helen’s spiteful revelation he no longer made any effort to hold it in check.
“Admit it, Cutter. You don’t want me around any more. You hate me because of what happened with Helen. You blame me for leaking the anomalies to the press. And you can’t handle the fact that I finally started standing up for my own ideas, instead of just following you like a bloody sheep. Well fine. I’ll save you having to pretend with me any more. I quit.”
The two men stared at each other in equally shocked silence. Stephen hadn’t even known what he was going to say until the words started pouring out, and suddenly he had been unable to stop himself. Was quitting a step too far? He didn’t want to leave the anomaly project, far from it. But now that he had said it, now that there was no going back, Stephen realised that it didn’t bother him as much as he had expected. It would mean he didn’t have to put up with the so called ‘fans’ any more. He wouldn’t have to deal with the wreckage of his relationship with Cutter. He realised, for the first time, that his reasons for staying no longer outweighed his reasons to leave.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Cutter said eventually. There was more surprise than anger in his voice.
“The press will want a scapegoat after the girl got hurt. You can blame it all on me. It was my fault anyway. They were there because they wanted to see me. Get photos. One of them wanted my bloody autograph, for god’s sake. If it hadn’t been for me they wouldn’t have been in danger, and she wouldn’t have got hurt. If members of the public are prepared to do things like that, then I’m a liability to the team. How long before someone gets killed just because they’re trying to get a picture?”
“Stephen, what happened to that girl was not your fault. She has already admitted to the police that they knowingly sneaked past the cordon to try to get pictures of the team. And she also said you were the hero that saved her life.” Cutter sounded exasperated, but he was also being serious.
Stephen carefully met his eye.
“Even so. That doesn’t change the other reasons.”
Cutter looked away for a moment, and when he looked back there was a raw pain that Stephen had only ever seen on a few occasions. Occasions such as when Helen had first disappeared. The night after Helen’s funeral. The day when Helen had told Cutter about the affair.
“You’re right. I was angry. I still am. But I don’t want you to go.” Cutter took a deep breath. “Stephen, you slept with my wife. That’s not something I can forget overnight. But at the same time, you’ve been my friend for a long time, and I don’t want to lose that, and I don’t want to lose you from the team. I don’t think I properly realised that until today when I saw you lying in the street covered in blood.”
He sighed. “And for what it’s worth, I don’t really believe you leaked it to the press.”
Stephen’s mind was whirling as Cutter’s words echoed in his head. He wanted to believe his old friend, he wanted to believe it more than anything, but he didn’t dare. Cutter had said he couldn’t forget what had happened with Helen, and that meant their relationship would never be what it once was. Stephen wondered if he could live with that, knowing that he could never have that back. Or whether making a clean break would be for the best despite Cutter’s apparent change of heart.
Almost as if Cutter could read his mind, the man spoke again.
“Stephen, you’re right about one thing. Things haven’t been right between us, and that’s as much my fault as yours. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but if you stay, I promise I’ll at least try to meet you halfway.”
Stephen felt himself nodding even before his brain had fully decided what he wanted to do. He didn’t want to go running back at Cutter’s beck and call like he had so often in the past, but if there was even a chance that things could be put right between them, he knew he couldn’t walk away from that chance.
“Okay,” he said eventually. “I’ll stay.”
Cutter’s brief smile was grateful, before he covered his emotions with his usual controlled facade.
Stephen wondered what his own expression showed, whether Cutter could tell that he was afraid of the next step, afraid of finding out whether or not he and Cutter could ever really be friends again, and more than anything afraid of how much of their personal lives might get ripped to shreds by the media if any of this ever got out.
The anomalies going public had in so many ways been the worst thing that could possibly have happened for all of them. But if, as it now seemed, it was inadvertently responsible for giving him a second chance with Cutter, well, Stephen was prepared to believe it was worth putting up with almost anything the public could throw at them.
Except, perhaps, a film with Ewan McGregor playing Cutter.