He hadn't been expecting anyone to visit and was more than a little surprised when there was a knock on the door. He called for them to come in, though, because he wasn't doing anything important. Just more of that deep thinking he'd fallen into the habit of since his injury.
It was Cutter. "I brought coffee," the professor said gruffly. "Connor was right, though; it tastes like stale water. Not even hot."
"How can water be stale?" Stephen asked, accepting the coffee. He took a sip and pulled a face. "Ah. I see what you mean."
"Yep." Stephen looked up at Cutter as he leaned against the desk, staring at the opposite wall. It wasn't all that easy to digest the fact that a man who had been missing for the past three years had suddenly appeared out of a rip in time. He was glad Cutter had returned, though. He was especially glad that he appeared to be in the dark about himself and Helen.
"You all right?" Stephen asked quietly.
"Nope," Cutter replied.
They were silent, falling easily into the old routine. Stephen wouldn't push; if Cutter wanted to open up, he would. Eventually Cutter drained his coffee and put the empty cup aside. "Claudia told me about her fiancé this morning."
"Ah," Stephen said. He watched Cutter wrestle with his thoughts for a while.
"She didn't exist, in the alternative timeline," he said at last. "She had never been born. Nobody knew who she was, and nobody believed me when I tried to tell them about her. I thought something we had done in the past had wiped her from history. I lived with that knowledge for a year."
Stephen only nodded. There was nothing to say.
"Have you considered a prosthetic?" The sudden change in topic was another thing Stephen remembered well about the professor; if something too difficult came up, he would simply stop talking about it.
"I didn't really see the point," Stephen said bitterly. "There's such restriction of movement involved, it'd be just as bad as being wheelchair-bound. Learning to walk again would be... humiliating. With every step, I'd be reminded that I was crippled. It's just easier this way." He gripped the handles of the wheelchair hard for a moment, then relaxed with a sigh.
More silence. Neither of them were excessive talkers; it made the friendship work. "Claudia told me she gave you my things," Cutter said after a while. "Before they sold the house."
"Oh, yeah. A few photos, the books you always kept by your bedside. You didn't really have that much personal stuff. Most of your work from the university is in storage downstairs, but the rest is back at my place. I can bring it tomorrow if you want."
"I don't have anywhere to put it," Cutter said bluntly.
"Come by and stay for a while, then."
Cutter hesitated, looking at Stephen oddly. "All right," he said eventually. "Thanks."
"What did you think I was going to do, make you sleep on the street?" Stephen was struggling a little bit, trying to judge the strength of their friendship after all those months. Cutter was definitely more reserved, which was saying something for a man who had always been on the taciturn side. Maybe he'd struggled more in the alternative timeline than he was letting on. "Look –" Stephen began, but he was interrupted by the sounding of an alarm.
"What's that?" Cutter asked.
"The ADD," Stephen replied. "There's an anomaly."