First in the 'Alternatives' series. The stories aren't connected unless otherwise specified.
An AU take on the events of 1x02.
Big spoilers for 1x02.
Disclaimer: I do not own Primeval, and I am not making any profit with this work.
Take the Fall
When Nick saw his crumpled form on the grimy floor, his heart rate elevated sharply and he found himself beside the younger man without quite knowing how he got there. He dropped the torch - thankfully not far - and cupped Stephen's head, forcing him to look at him. The sluggish, shivering motions weren't doing anything to alleviate his panic, and Nick had a horrible feeling that he knew what had happened.
He asked anyway: "What happened?"
"A-argument with the bug..." Stephen stammered, before swallowing sharply and adding pointlessly: "Bug won."
And just looking at him, Nick knew what that meant. It was just like the other victim, which meant that Stephen...shit.
"Where is it now?" he demanded. Stephen swallowed again, his Adam's apple bobbing, but he didn't respond, and Nick groaned to himself. "Alright, let's get you out of here."
When he began to move, Stephen shuddered violently and hissed, "Hey."
Nick glanced back at him sharply.
"No feeling in my legs," Stephen explained, but the shivering was getting worse and, honestly, Nick didn't want to hear about the worse symptoms. The fact that he'd been poisoned was bad enough: he didn't need this too.
"Yeah, that's shock," he said firmly, and started to get them moving.
The wait for the ambulance outside was horrifying. Nick couldn't believe that they hadn't thought about summoning one on standby beforehand. They had known that there was a potentially poisonous prehistoric creature down there, and none of them - himself included - had just stopped for a moment and wondered 'what if...?'
If Stephen died...
They set him down on the pavement, lying him flat down again, trying to keep the circulation - and thus the transportation of the poison - to a minimum. Nick threw his jacket over him and cupped his face again, trying to get him to focus properly.
"Stephen," he said firmly. "Was it the centipede?"
Stephen murmured an affirmative, his eyes beginning to roll in his head.
"God, Stephen!" Nick vaguely heard Abby's cry as they crowded round, but he ignored her, barking out commands instead.
"He's been bitten by the arthropleura. Same wounds, same symptoms as the first controller," he said.
"We need a sample, then," Claudia guessed, and Nick nodded.
"If that thing goes back through the anomaly then Stephen will die," he said emphatically, and he immediately heard the order issued to the soldiers to guard the thing. He knew he needed to be professional right now, but Stephen's trembling and sweat-glossed skin kept him where he was, stroking comforting hands over the younger man's face.
"M'dying?" Stephen queried, but they both knew it wasn't a question.
"We'll get a sample," Nick assured him. "You'll be fine."
Stephen cracked him a faint smile as they heard the sirens approaching. As the vehicle skidded to a halt on the tarmac, Nick nodded to Abby.
"Go with him," he said, and got to his feet. He had to find that creature.
When, hours later, Nick got the sample of the venom to the doctor, he found Abby sitting in a plastic chair in the corridor outside the ICU, shivering and wearing the jacket he had draped over Stephen earlier.
"How's he doing?" he asked.
"He's unconscious," she mumbled, chewing on her thumbnail. "Delirious. Babbling...oh, nonsense. And then he went into convulsions...they said it was in his nervous system..."
Nick flinched. It could wreak permanent damage there. They could already be too late.
"It's Stephen," he said instead. "He'll be fine. He's hardy."
Abby gave him a tiny smile, but didn't say anything.
They sat in a companionable silence for a while, both ignoring the furore that was probably still going on out there. Nick kept running the scenario over and over in his head. Stephen had seemed like he wanted to tell Nick something, but Nick couldn't imagine what it was. And they didn't know, really, how fast that venom killed something. The wait for ambulance could have meant Stephen's death - hell, Nick turning left instead of right in his little exploration of the tunnels could have caused Stephen's death.
If Stephen died, Nick didn't care how fascinating the anomalies were. He wasn't losing anyone else to palaeontological research. He'd lost Helen after their arguments over her theories, and now he could lose Stephen because of those same theories, though in a different way.
Nick was sick of losing people already.
"He'll be alright," he told Abby again, but it was hollow, and they both knew who he was trying to convince.
It was two days before the doctor could give them any updates on Stephen. The convulsions had stopped almost immediately after they'd given him the antidote, but he stayed deeply unconscious and unresponsive for two days. Technically, he was comatose, but Nick didn't like to think about that.
In those two days, the anomaly had closed and they had disposed of all the remaining creatures. Which was only two enormous spiders and the carcass of the arthropleura. Nick didn't like killing the creatures, but he'd felt a little vindictive pleasure at that one. If it killed Stephen, then he would kill it. Simple as that.
It was on the second day when Abby called him from the hospital that he was finally able to get news.
"She won't talk to me," Abby said. "She's really insisting on you."
Nick had agreed - Abby was only young, the doctor probably didn't want to give her anything but miraculous news. And even if Stephen was going to be fine, he wasn't exactly going to be leaping out of bed ready for the next adventure. He had excused himself from the meeting he'd been in and hurried over to the hospital.
It was a shock, actually. Stephen had Nick down as his next of kin. The doctor had looked at him a little funny when he'd queried it and asked:
"Do you want to know, or should I call somebody else?"
"No, no, it's just a surprise. How is he? What's going on?"
"He regained consciousness briefly this morning, though he keeps slipping in and out. We had him long enough to run a few tests," she sighed heavily, then said: "There seems to be some partial paralysis."
Nick swore. Loudly.
"We haven't seen this type of venom before - we're lucky the antidote worked, it was for the closest equivalent poison we know of - so we were worried about the lasting effects. We have no idea if it's permanent or temporary either..."
"Where? What's he lost?" Nick managed.
"The left arm is almost completely useless," she said bluntly, "and he couldn't feel his legs at all. His right side, apart from the leg, seems to function well enough, and he can move the entirety of his head, face, neck and chest."
It was a start, Nick supposed. If he'd been entirely paralysed, he wouldn't have been surprised to have walked in there to a request from Stephen to shoot him, then and there. Stephen was such an active man, this was going to crush him.
"Like I said, Mr. Cutter..."
"Professor," Nick corrected automatically, numbly.
"Professor," she said dryly, "we don't know if this is permanent or temporary, and he hasn't been conscious long enough to give us any more of an accurate impression."
"Could he completely regain mobility?"
"We don't know. Once we know more, we'll refer him to the physiotherapy department to regain what he can. I would say that he could regain the use of the arm as the wound heals, but again, don't hold me to that."
Nick nodded, dry-washing his face with his hands, and looked to the door of Stephen's room: "Is he awake now?"
"No, but you could sit with him," she shrugged. "He's asleep now, not comatose. He's just recuperating from the stress of the poisons on the body."
"Thank you," Nick managed, heading for the ward.
"Professor Cutter," she said, "be grateful. Antivenoms are toxic in their own right, and the original poison he was administered by the...whatever...was bad enough. I honestly did not expect him to live this long."
"But he will live."
"He should, yes," she nodded, and let him go.
Stephen was asleep, looking white and ill against the hospital sheets. The gauze that peeked out from under the hospital gown was clean and fresh, but thickly padded and Nick wondered how bad the wound looked now. There was an oxygen mask over the young man's face, but the tremors were gone, and he certainly wasn't having convulsions.
He was...safe. Damaged, but safe. And for the moment, Nick would take that as a blessing.
Of course, he would also probably have to tell Stephen what the doctor had said about his legs and arm.
The biggest problem that Nick was having was that he suspected Stephen had been down there with the intention of protecting him. Stephen had a bit of a martyr complex when it came to Nick. Nick remembered, after he had lost Helen, how Stephen had always been there - covering for him at work, making excuses for him, driving him places when Nick had had too much to drink to drive himself, spending the night at Nick's house to look after him after a bad day...
Through the worst of it, Stephen had been there, and now...
Now, he had almost died for Nick.
Nick hoped - prayed, even - that he was totally wrong. Prayed that Stephen had just wanted a look, or that somebody else had ordered him down there. But not that he would be so willing to put himself in harm's way for Nick.
He reached out gingerly and wrapped his fingers around Stephen's right wrist. There was an IV port in his hand, but the wrist seemed safe territory. And he could feel a gentle but steady pulse in the veins there, and it made that knot in his gut loosen a little, to a more bearable level.
It might not be pretty, but Stephen would live.
He gave the wrist a little relieved squeeze and Stephen stirred, fingers clenching the sheets slowly before dulled blue eyes flickered open and met Nick's.
But before either man said a word, a look of horror entered Stephen's eyes and he jerked to stare in disbelief at his left arm.
Nick closed his eyes and took a deep breath. They were both going to need all their strength now.