The psychologist gave him a look that was all too knowing by half, as she posed the question:
"Do you trust your team mates?"
Stephen wanted to say yes. To give an immediate and unequivocal answer, that would leave no doubt in her mind and – hopefully – convince her to finally sign off on his return to work.
Stephen wanted to say yes, but he knew – they both knew – that it wouldn't be entirely true.
"Things were... difficult, the last few months at work," Stephen said. "We're working on it."
That, at least, was true. The four of them, gathered together, trying to pretend that nothing had happened, or sitting in awkward silence because they couldn't forget that it had, but... it was something. They were trying. At least, Stephen thought they were.
Especially since Helen Cutter had come back into their lives and rained hell down on it again. She'd nearly killed them all twice over and it was only by dumb luck that she hadn't succeeded.
Stephen didn't think they could be expected to just bounce back from that.
Physically, his recovery had taken months and Cutter was only marginally better. It would still be a while before he could return to the field.
"Your work is dangerous," the psychologist said. Intelligent eyes – hazel, wide set, half-obscured, intentionally or otherwise, by a wave of dirty blonde hair – never leave Stephen's face. It was as if she was reading him like a book and he resisted the urge to bristle.
"Walking down the street is dangerous, if you think about it long enough," Stephen said. "The danger doesn't bother me. We do what needs to be done."
"But you didn't," she said.
No, Stephen admitted, at least to himself, they didn't. Helen Cutter had fractured them. Like throwing a rock at a mirror and pressing on the cracks. One loud bang and then everything else just splintered, slowly and irrevocably.
Stephen could only feel better that, like most people who played with glass, she'd got cut as well. Trying to kill Cutter had been one push too far. Stephen didn't think anyone would make the mistake of letting her go again any time soon.
But it didn't change the harm she'd already caused. Helen had smashed the metaphorical mirror and the cracks were so wide now, they might never be able to repair them.
"I think you're wrong." Cutter – who'd sat surprisingly silent beside him – spoke up for the first time, his voice rough, showing the edge of pain he was still feeling from Helen's bullet.
"In what way, Professor?" the psychologist asked, calmly turning her attention to Cutter.
Stephen shifted nervously.
"Stephen saved my life. After everything was said and done, when those creatures were going to escape, Stephen took my place. He didn't have to. No one would have expected him to. I didn't... but he did it. And I'd have done it too. To protect everyone else, yes, but, to protect my team, to protect the people I care about the most. We succeeded in that much. And I know we'd do it again."
Stephen didn't think he'd ever heard Cutter be so open with his feelings, feelings that were written plain on his face, as he spoke. Not since Helen had vanished and he'd been helped along in his honesty with a large dose of scotch each night.
"Stephen, what do you think about what Nick has said?"
"He's right. I'd do it again tomorrow," Stephen said. And there was no hesitation this time. He knew he'd step in front of any creature, any weapon, to protect these people.
And he believed Cutter when he said the same.
He believed him.
"I trust him," Stephen said.
Somehow, it was true.
Everything else would take time and it would never quite be the same again.
But maybe there was hope after all.