Characters: Nick, Claudia, Helen, Stephen, Ryan, Lester, Connor, Abby
Pairings/Ships: Nick/Claudia, hints at some unrequited Helen/Nick and Helen/Stephen.
Spoilers: Season 1 and 2
Warnings: One use of strong language
Disclaimer: I don’t own them....Bugger...
Summary: Nick is content to just let Helen go, knowing she can cause no more trouble and not wanting her in his life any more. The Home Office however has different plans, placing him and Claudia on opposing sides of the argument. But has Nick underestimated how far Helen will go to save herself?
Author’s Note: This follows on from two other fics ‘Hope Guides Me’ and ‘Home’, neither of which you have to really read to understand this (there’s enough explanation here). Re-posted for the self-rec at primeval_denial . I would have pointed people to the original, but the formatting has become all screwed and it's simply easier to re-post.
Nick had maintained all along that Helen was neither evil nor purposely callous for her own entertainment. Back when it had all started, when they had first found the anomalies, he had been defending her, not willing to believe that the woman he’d fallen in love with so many years ago could be capable of the things the others accused her of. Over time he began to see her more clearly and his attempts to make the others understand her better became more about trying to stop them from labelling her so simplistically and underestimating her. He certainly didn’t like her, but she wasn’t evil nor was she, as Connor often suggested, completely insane. In fact she was utterly sane and completely calculating. It was those traits that made her what she was and made her do all she did.
He hated to admit it, but there were hints of genius in her ideas and plans, her projects and experiments all based upon sound reasoning and a desire to learn. Unfortunately, she had also, quite obviously, become totally detached from reality along the way, her sense of priorities warped beyond repair. She had no qualms about playing with history and in consequence ruining a life because, in her mind, the life she was playing with simply wasn’t as important as the discoveries she could make. It was neither moral nor humane reasoning, but there was reasoning there nonetheless and to think otherwise was to misunderstand her. Her sense of self preservation was extremely high too, no one in the end being more important to Helen than herself.
Which was exactly why Nick no longer deemed her a threat. She’d been the cause of the massive instabilities in time they’d encountered not so long ago and it was her who’d come to him, asking for his help to put right the changes she had made and undo the damage done by her experiments. He might not have believed her had it not been clear that, for the first time in years, she was genuinely afraid and no longer confident that she was utterly in control.
Of course he’d wanted it too. Not only the possibility of saving the world from disaster but also a chance to restore both Claudia and Stephen in the process, and so an uneasy partnership had been formed between him and his former wife. Now, months later, it was all over and Helen was left well aware now that her meddling put her own existence at risk as much as anyone else’s. He was content to let her slink off and explore the past as much as she liked, knowing her days of experimentation were over. No amount of discovery would tempt her into letting things get so far beyond her control again.
Perhaps it was naive. Part of it certainly was selfishness. He just felt better with the notion that she wasn’t even in the same era as him, because her presence made him angry and was an all too bitter reminder of what he’d been through. All she did was pollute his clean start, trying to push her way back into his life where she didn’t belong, and so he was happy to have her gone.
There was even a small amount of consideration for her on his part. He still remembered how, back in the bunker, she had told Leek not to kill the others, some humanity still left in her. And also, whilst her motives for helping him had been selfish, if it wasn’t for her then he never could have fixed things. He supposed that he owed her her freedom at least. Had he betrayed her then and turned her over to Lester he would have been no better than she was. Not to mention that the thought of having to see her again, of her being a captive of the government and perhaps forced to work alongside them in their investigation of the anomalies, made his head hurt.
His life was good now and he refused to make her a concern of his anymore. The friendship between him and Stephen had been fixed, and he and Claudia were happily...well he supposed ‘dating’ was the correct term even if it did make them sound like a couple of teenagers.
Nick would be utterly content if he never heard of or from Helen ever again.
He should have known it wasn’t to be. She seemed to almost make it her secondary mission to ensure that his life was as difficult as possible.
He and Claudia had been away for the weekend, their first time off in a long while. A nice hotel, peace and quiet, plenty of time to themselves and, most importantly, no prehistoric creatures to worry about. He could happily spend many more of his weekends like that. His mind had even drifted, on occasion, to the idea of getting married again in the future. He certainly couldn’t deny the appeal in the notion of ‘Mrs Claudia Cutter’, even if it was far too soon to even contemplate asking.
Monday morning came all too quickly. Claudia had driven him to the university and was just saying goodbye when the call from Lester came. The happy, content expression she’d worn all weekend finally faded and she looked grim at the information she‘d been given. She’d brushed off Nick’s questions however, saying it was simply an operational problem that she had to deal with. No rest for the wicked, it seemed.
He could tell when she was being evasive though and his stomach lurched in uneasy anticipation as she gave him a quick kiss and left, somehow knowing that nothing good was going to come out of whatever meeting she’d been called to.
Claudia made her apologies as she arrived later than she’d anticipated.
“Appalling traffic,” she explained when she saw Lester’s questioningly raised eyebrow.
He sat in his chair, studying her as she stood on the other side of the desk. Being summoned to Lester’s office often felt annoyingly like being hauled before the headmaster. The only saving grace was that she was becoming more convinced that he actually respected her and her work. He was her superior but she had a feeling he no longer looked down on her quite so much.
“Of course,” he said lightly, brushing the matter of her lateness aside in favour of more pertinent issues, “As I said on the phone, we need to discuss Helen Cutter.”
Claudia winced inwardly at his use of the name and instantly hated herself for it. She really shouldn’t let it bother her, but it did. Why couldn’t he just call her ‘Helen’? Or if he really insisted on being so formal, why not use ‘Ambrose’, her maiden name? Anything but ‘Cutter’. After all, she had been legally declared dead a long while ago. They could call her whatever they liked now. Claudia always refrained from thinking of anything too vile, determined not to be that kind of woman. Besides, her dislike of Helen mostly came from the woman’s actions and she didn’t want the others to think it was simply jealousy or insecurity.
Nick was quite obviously a sore point between them though. Every time they’d met, Helen had rubbed her nose in it; Nick was her husband and she’d got there first. Claudia was just the usurper, some silly little girl who he didn’t really love. She’d learnt over time how untrue that was but it still irritated her, annoyed by the fact that she was being expected to justify herself. Not to the mention that Helen’s manipulations had been the direct cause of so many problems for the anomaly project. Calling her ‘Helen Cutter’ always seemed to tie her to him in a way she’d rather forget.
Although, on the bright side, at least everyone had stopped calling her ‘Cutter’s wife’.
“What about her?” Claudia asked, coolly, determined not to let him know that the other woman affected her in any way. Lester already seemed to not like the fact that her and Nick’s relationship had gone beyond the professional, perhaps wondering if it would inevitably affect her ability to do her job.
“The project review board has been meeting,” he announced simply, “and they’ve decided she’s too much of a risk to be allowed to keep her freedom.”
Claudia eyes widened slightly in surprise. She had no idea that the board had been even contemplating the matter, letting alone that they were actively meeting and discussing it. Still, whilst she was in charge of the field operations, she was well aware that there were many behind the scenes machinations in the project that she knew nothing about.
“Really?” was the only response she could muster.
“Yes,” Lester said with a nod, pressing the tips of his fingers together as he leant back slightly in his chair, “Unsurprisingly, they’re uncomfortable with the idea that a woman with access to potentially lethal creatures and an uncertain mental status is on the loose. I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly reassured by the fact she’s running around in our past either. I’d hate to wake up tomorrow morning and find myself working in a supermarket or something.”
She knew that little jokes like that were his way of being friendly, of showing someone that he liked them enough to be more than cold and officious. And there were times when his flippant manner did make her smile, even if he did usually end up sounding like an uncaring snob.
Now wasn’t one of those times though, the matter at hand too serious.
“Nick says that’s impossible,” she immediately ventured, having once brought the matter up with him herself, “He says that time wouldn’t support such changes, that it would become highly unstable. He believes that Helen’s already worked that out for herself.”
“Well,” Lester reasoned, as always quick at thinking matters through, “whilst I’m sure Professor Cutter is utterly confident in his assertions, it doesn’t mean he’s right. Helen always has been one step ahead of him in regards...well, everything. Do we really want to take the chance?”
Claudia thought about it for a brief moment. There was only one answer.
“What do we do then?”
“Captain Ryan and a large contingent of his men are already preparing to leave,” Lester stated, clearly ordering her rather than wanting her opinion on the matter, “You’ll accompany them and bring her back. Alive is preferable but dead is acceptable if you have no other choice.”
Claudia tried to brush aside those options and their implications, instead focussing on more practical matters.
“And how exactly do we know where to find her? She quite literally could be anywhere.”
“Stephen,” he explained simply, “He came to see me yesterday. Apparently Helen has been in contact with him. I assume he would have normally spoken to Cutter about it first but with the two of you otherwise engaged, I suppose I was the only other sensible option.”
Lester was clearly much more astute than she gave him credit for.
“How does that help us find her?”
“She left him a message. Said she wanted to meet him on the other side of an anomaly. This afternoon.”
“And instead of Stephen, I’ll turn up with a group of soldiers?”
It sounded all far too easy. Probably because it was. She had enough experience of field work now to instantly think through the possibilities and dangers, not to mention that, in her opinion, Helen was utterly untrustworthy. She wouldn’t put it beyond the other woman to have known exactly what Stephen would do with her offer of a meeting.
“And if she knows?” she pressed, wondering if Lester had even considered the possibility, “If she’s guessed that’s what he’ll do and it’s a trap?”
“Hence, the group of soldiers,” Lester replied smoothly, “You’ll be quite safe. They’re a chivalrous bunch.”
He was joking again but the way he said it put doubt in her mind and she became defensive at the implication that it was only her own safety she was concerned about.
“That wasn’t quite what I meant-”
“They signed up for this,” he reminded her, at once brushing aside her fears that he’d misread her words and making it quite clear what he thought about the dangers involved, “It’s their job. No more risky I should imagine than what they’d be doing if they were posted elsewhere.”
She paused. There was no real arguing with him there. She didn’t like the idea that they could be walking into danger, but they were elite military men and it was a chance they knowingly took.
Still, one question bugged her.
“Why me? Why not send the soldiers alone?”
Again, it wasn’t as if she was afraid to go but more worried about his reasons. Was this some sort of test? Seeing how much her personal feelings were affecting her job?
“You’re good with people,” he explained, clearly believing he had the measure of her, “Maybe you can talk her into coming peacefully.”
Claudia couldn’t tell if he was being oblivious or if that was his idea of a joke.
When Claudia had arrived back at his office so soon, Nick smiled in pleasant surprise. The smile soon vanished however when he saw that she had got changed from her suit into something more practical and went on to immediately explain why she had been called away in the first place.
“I thought you ought to know,” she said quietly, clearly ill at ease, “I didn’t want you thinking I was sneaking around behind your back or anything.”
And he did appreciate that. She didn’t have to tell him after all. They could pick Helen up, dump her in some government facility somewhere and he’d never know until they needed him to. But it wasn’t like she was asking for his input or assistance. She was telling him what she and her superiors were going to do and it didn’t sit well with him.
He had no true loyalty to Helen, whatever happened to her was consequence of her own selfish actions and she would have to deal with that, but his gut just told him that this was a very bad idea. How exactly was he supposed to explain that to Claudia though without making it sound like he still had feelings for the other woman? Or that he was defending her?
Helen’s shadow had hung over him for too long and the last thing he wanted was for her to be a constant factor and consideration again. He’d stopped feeling anything warm for her a long time ago. All she was now was a painful reminder of the hurt she’d put him through. It wasn’t a reminder he wanted to live with on a day to day basis.
Nor, if he was truthful, did the plan sit well with his sense of right and wrong. She wasn’t a threat and the idea of imprisoning her regardless troubled him; what kind of people was he really working for here?
“I think it’s a bit over the top,” he said, unable to hide his discomfort, “You’re treating her like she’s some kind of murderer.”
He meant ‘you’re’ as in the government organisation she represented, but he was sure by the slightly stung look on her face that she interpreted that as her personally. Inwardly, he sighed. This was exactly what he hadn’t wanted; the mistaken impression that he was somehow pitting one woman against the other. That he was defending poor old Helen from the unreasonable new woman in his life.
“I don’t think she’s some sort of sociopath that kills for the fun of it,” Claudia reasoned, her professional tone like a slap in the face. She never normally used that voice around him anymore. “But, you have to admit, people have a habit of ending up dead around her.”
Yeah, he knew that more than well enough, the image of the other Stephen’s brutal end still burned into his mind.
Claudia shook her head in concern, “It’s just...she doesn’t seem to care who gets hurt as long as things work out her way.”
Now that wasn’t totally fair. Helen was more calculating than that, more attune to the risks and benefits of her actions. He still couldn’t forget how she’d told Leek not to kill the others. She’d accept death if it was deemed necessary to her plan but she’d never yet slaughtered people simply because it was easier to do so.
He said nothing however, knowing that the whole matter of the other reality was still an unknown to anyone but him and Helen, and remembering that he’d promised himself it would stay that way.
“Anyway,” Claudia added, “I have to say for once I’m in agreement with Lester. I’m not particularly fond of the notion that a woman with such a superiority complex and a reckless disregard for others is running around in our history. Goodness knows what she might change.”
Nick almost winced at that but kept his face calm.
“She can’t,” he reassured, “She can’t change anything.”
He’d told Claudia that once before and she’d believed him without question then. He couldn’t help but wonder what was different now. Had Lester got to her? Had he said something that she wasn’t telling him? Or was she simply starting to have doubts of her own?
“Prove it,” she challenged.
There was a long silence.
That was precisely the problem. He couldn’t. Not without revealing to them all that had happened. He couldn’t tell them that Helen had already learnt her lesson about meddling in the world’s past when her changes had nearly brought reality crashing down on them. And, even ignoring the possibility that they probably wouldn’t believe him if he did try to explain, he’d sworn that he’d never tell. They didn’t need that hanging over their heads.
They should just let her go off and do her exploration, hopefully never seeing her again. The idea of effectively starting a war against her felt unnecessary and dangerous. If she felt threatened enough, could that push her to start investigating more risky possibilities again and damn the consequences? What would she be capable of to try and save herself?
“So,” he said, admitting defeat on Claudia’s previous point, “Is it government policy now to send a large battalion of heavily armed men after one woman?”
That came out far more protective than he intended. He’d only meant to ask on the basis that going after her in such numbers might force her hand into more drastic action, but again, he feared Claudia got the wrong impression of his meaning.
“I fully intend to bring her back in one piece, if that’s what you’re worried about,” she said, a definite edge to her voice, “But we don’t know what dangers we might be facing over there. Besides, she’s given us the slip once before and who knows when we might get another opportunity like this?”
He desperately wanted to explain his reasons, to tell her how worried he was about what this might do to the fragile truce of sorts he had with Helen. How she might take risks she would otherwise avoid if she thought her freedom was in jeopardy. He knew too painfully the consequences of her playing with time. But he couldn’t tell Claudia that his biggest concern was her suddenly disappearing from existence again without her thinking he was being ridiculous, a scaremonger or without having to explain to her what he knew.
“It’s not just about protection either,” she continued, clearly trying to justify herself to him and probably annoyed that she felt the need to, “She’s clearly discovered some way of predicting these anomalies even without the technology we have. She seems to know precisely where they’ll lead. Information like that could be invaluable if she could be persuaded to give it up.”
He couldn’t exactly tell her that he in fact knew all that too, that he’d learnt it in the other timeline and that he was drip feeding them information so they didn’t get suspicious about how he was managing to so suddenly coming up with things.
“She never will,” he reasoned grimly, seeing Claudia’s point but knowing that she was hoping in vain, “Not without a guarantee of her freedom. And you and I both know the government won’t give her that once they’ve got her.”
There was an uncomfortable silence between them.
“I understand,” Claudia said, coolly, picking up her bag, “You object. That’s fine. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a job to do.”
She left and was long gone by the time he’d thought of something to say that could have made her stay. Instead, he sank into his chair, desperately worried and not sure how to prevent what he could only see as a disaster in the making.
Stephen hurried up to Claudia as soon as he saw her arrive at the anomaly scene, barely giving her time to get out of her car. He’d been talking to Ryan unsuccessfully for the past twenty minutes, the solider repeatedly telling him that he didn’t have a problem with what Stephen wanted but that it wasn’t actually his call. Stephen would have to ask the lady in charge.
He wasted no time in doing so, falling into step alongside her as she walked towards the soldiers.
“I want to come with you,” he said bluntly, making it sound like, as far as he was concerned, there was much no argument in the matter.
Claudia looked him momentarily, her professional facade giving away nothing of what she might be thinking. Then she glanced across to where Connor and Abby were standing, watching proceedings at a distance.
“And if I say ‘yes,” she asked, carefully, “are they expecting to come too?”
Stephen admired her usual astuteness even if did make things slightly more difficult for him. Still, he’d always found it best to tackle Claudia with reason.
“You might need us,” he suggested, “You don’t know what, apart from Helen, you’re going to find over there.”
She looked at him a moment longer. She probably knew that wasn’t the only reason why he wanted to go. In the end however she seemed to decide that she had enough faith in him to be sure that, whatever his motive, he was on their side and no one else’s.
“Fine,” she relented, “But you do as you’re told and let Ryan and his men get on with their jobs, okay?”
Stephen grinned at the way she ordered him about with no qualms or hesitation. It was only their safety she was thinking of and he couldn’t be cross with her for that.
She smiled a little at that too, aware she was being unnecessarily officious with him.
He peeled off, heading towards the others, before she called him back.
“Stephen? Why do you think she contacted you?”
He couldn’t blame her for wondering. He was pretty curious himself, it was a big part of the reason he wanted to go. That and the fact he really didn’t like the idea of Helen running around in their past in case she got any funny ideas about playing around and changing things to her advantage. He certainly wouldn’t put it past her.
He shrugged. “Maybe she’s fed up of being alone and I’m just her next best option...”.
Not that he would consider taking her up on such an offer. He valued Nick’s friendship more than anything he’d ever felt for her. Besides, she wasn’t the woman he’d thought she was. She was actually, as he had told her himself not so long ago, quite the heartless bitch. It didn’t mean he had lost any and all feelings he’d had for her but he now knew where his priorities lay. He had no interest in being used anymore.
The thought brought another issue to his mind, one he should have considered earlier.
“Have you spoken to Cutter?”
He was well aware that Nick had little fondness left for his former wife and what with Claudia on the scene he had quite clearly moved on. He didn’t want the other man to get the impression they were all keeping secrets however. He had a right to know even if he didn’t really care. Stephen would have told him himself but the matter of his and Helen’s affair no longer being a secret made the topic a hard one to broach. It was just one of those things they were better off not talking about.
“Yes,” she said, a little awkwardly, “I went to see him. He’s not coming.”
Her reaction caught Stephen slightly off guard. Had Nick not been so unbothered by the idea after all? Whatever had happened, it was clearly a sore point and he let it be, instead making a note to talk to Nick later and ensure that the other man went and made his peace with Claudia. They had something too good to let Helen ruin it.
Claudia watched him momentarily as he walked off, likely going to tell Connor and Abby the good news. Well, good for them perhaps but it only gave her another thing to worry about. Still, he was right, they may need their expertise. And besides, if she left them behind she would only waste more time arguing with them before they left and then couldn’t be entirely uncertain that they didn’t just sneak through somehow anyway. At least this way they would be where the soldiers could keep an eye on them.
She could understand their want to be involved too. Stephen clearly felt a need to be there and she hoped she was right and it was from a desire close that chapter of his life once and for all. Connor and Abby, she supposed, just wanted to support their friend and didn’t like the idea of others going off on potentially dangerous missions without them being there to help.
“Are we ready, Captain?” she asked upon reaching Ryan.
He nodded sharply, “A dozen men ready to leave when you are.”
“A dozen? That seems a little excessive.”
“Unknown territory, ma’am,” he reasoned, simply, “We don’t want to take any risks. Besides, I don’t trust Dr Cutter.”
That threw her for a small moment until she realised he had said ‘doctor’ not ‘professor’ and she realised who he was referring too. She shook the unpleasant feeling in her gut away, determined to concentrate on her job.
“I want two men to stay back on this side,” she ordered, as she and Ryan walked towards the assembled soldiers, “To guard the anomaly. No one is to be allowed through.”
Ryan glanced at her questioningly.
“I think we’re putting enough people at risk here,” she explained, “I don’t want anyone else to walk into trouble, no matter what their intentions.”
He nodded and headed off to make the necessary arrangements.
She briefly wondered if that ‘anyone else’ might be Nick, if she should perhaps call him and ask once more if he wanted to be involved. But she pushed the idea aside. They didn’t need him here after all, it was more a matter of her wanting him here, giving her his blessing to do this as such. No, it was probably better if he didn’t come.
Ten minutes later, Nick pulled up at the anomaly and hurried out of his car. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t just sit there and wait for them to come back. Maybe he couldn’t stop them going and he still thought it was a massive mistake, but the least he could do was be there and hope that his presence somehow helped.
The area was almost empty and he knew at once they must have already left. Still, he might be able to catch them up.
One of the armed SAS men stepped in front of him as he approached the anomaly.
“Sorry, sir,” he said, his tone more perfunctory than actually apologetic.
Nick frowned, “Sorry? Sorry for what?”
“Ms Brown, sir,” the man explained, “She gave strict orders that no one was to be allowed through.”
Nick shook his head in firm denial. He’d made the decision and didn’t have the strength to go back on it again now. He had to be there and make sure everything went okay.
“No. I have to go through. I have to help.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the man repeated, “My orders were quite explicit. No one goes through.”
“Look,” Nick said crossly, taking his worry out on the other man even though he was aware that the guy was only doing his job, “I don’t think you realise-“
“I’m gonna ask you to step back now, sir,” the soldier interrupted, firmly. Then he softened with some amount of understanding, not that he would be budged regardless. “Please. There’s no need for this.”
Nick paused for a moment, contemplating his options before nodding and backing off with a sigh. What else could he do? He couldn’t exactly try to dodge them and run through, even if he had momentarily considered it. No matter who he was they probably wouldn’t hesitate to shoot him, even if they would only aim to wound.
No, his hesitance had cost him. Now he would have no choice but to wait until they returned and hope that all hell didn’t break loose in his absence.
To Part Two....