Title: The Right Thing (Part 1 of 2)
Characters: Nick, Claudia, Stephen
Pairings/Ships: Nick/Claudia, hint at Stephen/Helen
Length/Word Count: 2939
Spoilers: Episode 5
Disclaimer: I don’t own them....Bugger...
Short Summary: Despite Helen’s return, an increasingly conflicted Nick finds it difficult to ignore his feelings for Claudia and Stephen doesn’t like it.
Claudia let out a long relieved sigh as she sat down heavily in her office chair, leant back and stared up at the ceiling, revelling in the blissful moments of peace. It was the little things in life that made it bearable at times like this. Kicking off her shoes, she swung her legs up onto the desk wiggling her aching toes and undoing the clip holding her hair in place to let it swing mercifully free. She didn’t care right now how unprofessional she likely appeared, she simply wanted to forget about this job with its anomalies and dangerous creatures and James bloody Lester, and just relax for five minutes. Surely that wasn’t too much to ask?
Picking up the can of Diet Coke she had gotten on her way back, she pressed it gratefully to her forehead, closing her eyes and enjoying the coolness against her slightly throbbing head. Personally she would have preferred something a little stronger right now but since the management hadn’t had the foresight to install a white wine machine it would have to do.
“Well I was going to come and find out how it went,” came an easily recognisable voice from the doorway, “but I’m almost afraid to ask.”
She smiled a little as she opened her eyes to see Nick standing there. He did have a remarkably instant ability to cheer her up, she had to give him that. There was something oddly reassuring about his presence although she could never quite figure out why.
“Oh it was marvellous,” she said with a huge trace of sarcasm.
Without feeling the need to be invited he entered the room, pushing the door shut slightly and perching on the edge of the desk nearest her.
“That bad, eh?” he asked with some degree of sympathy.
“No, just the usual,” she replied with a weary, annoyed sigh, “I stand there and try to explain things to an obstinate man who refuses to listen to my reasoning whilst he berates me, tells me how foolish and completely unimportant I am and makes me feel about this big.”
She brought her arm up, holding her thumb and her forefinger half an inch apart.
Mostly she didn’t let Lester get to her. Sometimes he could actually be fairly reasonable but much more often he was a cold hearted, obnoxious little bureaucrat and she’d met enough of those in her career to know that they weren’t worth getting wound up about. But it had been a long, stressful week and she was tired and not in the mood for being belittled by someone who thought he knew better and, in her opinion, certainly didn’t.
“I’m sure we can find something willing to eat him if you want,” Nick suggested lightly.
He shifted slightly closer to her, the warmth of his leg pressing against hers as he did. She didn’t mind in the slightest and was too fed up to consider what was proper and so she let it continue without question, enjoying the warmth of another person and allowing herself the moment of indulgence.
“Tempting, but no,” she said regretfully.
“Too much paperwork?” he guessed.
“Exactly,” she replied, her smile a little grim, “And who knows, we might get someone even worse.”
“Now come on”, Nick joked, “You know that’s not possible.”
She leant back a little more firmly in her chair, eyes scanning the ceiling once more as a frustrated sigh escaped her lips. She knew she was a junior officer and as such it was her lot in life to be put upon and do a lot of work for little credit. It was the years of penance every employee of this organisation went through before they reached the higher echelons of office. But these were exceptional circumstances and whilst chance had thrown her into them, Lester had always seemed quite happy to let her stay there so why wouldn’t he take more heed of what she said? She was the one out there on the front line so to speak. He should be using that knowledge not scoffing at it and wanting things done only his way.
“I do wish he’d bloody listen to me for once, that’s all.”
“He’s just a very foolish man who’s too involved in his own business to appreciate what a good job you do,” Nick explained as though it was the simplest thing in the world.
And it was really but it didn’t make her feel any better about it.
“Of course,” he added a little jokingly after a moment of silence, “I’m entirely sensible so I listen to you all of the time.”
“Of course,” she replied, giving him a rather withering look which seemed to amuse him.
It had been only three days since the incident with the pterosaur and she really should be taking doctor’s orders and be at home resting. After all, a concussion bad enough to cause temporary blindness certainly warranted a day or two off. But then, rather unsurprisingly really, reports had started to come in that people had seen the pteranodon flying over the London skies and Lester had stated quite firmly that he didn’t care if she was half dead, she was to get herself back to work and organise a cover story right away. Twenty four hours later, the incident was blamed on a student prank with a remote control bird, a device quickly put together by the technical team so that the police had it to show to the public when they announced that it had been confiscated and the students in question given an official warning.
Despite that apparent success she had still found herself called into Lester’s office in order to explain how she had allowed the creature to escape from the golf course in the first place. When she had pointed out that it was in fact very difficult to contain a flying creature he had demanded to know why therefore she hadn’t given the order to shoot it on sight and had risked tranquilizing it instead. She’d lied of course, saying that she had entirely agreed with Professor Cutter’s suggestion that shooting the creature was a bad idea, deciding that there was no point in dragging Nick over the coals too by revealing that he had scuppered her order in the first place. She’d stated that she’d done what she’d thought best and had then had to endure a ten minute lecture on how it wasn’t her place to ‘think’. She had orders, she had to follow them, end of.
Had he even been outside the office in the last ten years? When was the last time he had had to make decisions in the field? He had rattled on and on incessantly about how she had jeopardised the secrecy of the operation and she had angrily snapped that her first priority in this was public safety not deniability. Noble sentiments perhaps but definitely a mistake as she had to suffer an extra ten minutes of his most patronising talk about the importance of the security of this project.
Seeing her slightly distracted look, Nick nudged her leg lightly, bringing her back to the here and now.
“Hey,” he reassured, his levity from before gone, perhaps sensing that she was more wound up by this whole thing than she cared to admit, “You did the right thing the other day. We did the right thing.”
She nodded but uncertainty about the nature of her own actions wasn’t her problem.
“I know. But it’s a shame I can’t make him see that,” she replied, almost a warning, trying to get Nick to understand the seriousness of the situation.
That was the thing with Cutter. He was seemingly quite happy to ignore the behind scenes machinations that went on around him as long as it didn’t interfere with his work. When things weren’t going the way he liked he was more than willing to stand up and shout his cause, but he seemed to have little comprehension of the day to day battles she increasingly went through in order to keep this thing running. Like, for instance, keeping the committees informed just enough to keep them happy but at the same time not giving them enough information about what really went on as to alarm them. Or perhaps ensuring their funding by trying to make those in charge of the purse strings fully aware of the possible consequences should this matter be ignored. Or the constant arguing time and time again that Cutter and his team were vital to this project and under no circumstances was it to be turned over entirely to the government. The endless struggle to convince teams of officials that these people could be trusted even when they did things stupid like go out on hunting missions unaccompanied or keep prehistoric lizards as pets.
As much as she didn’t always like him she was well aware that they needed Lester on their side and incidents like what had happened with the pterosaur didn’t help. Problem was, the more she began to see that Nick was right, the less able she found herself to do what Lester ordered. And when he was one holding the strings over this whole project that was a dangerous route to take.
“Well we’re grateful for all you do even if he isn’t,” Nick said softly.
She glanced at him with genuine surprise, not really having expected such a sentiment from him. Maybe he wasn’t so oblivious to it all as she thought. She hoped that he understood enough to tread carefully at least. She didn’t like to think of this project without him.
“I know you have to take a lot on trust with us,” he added sincerely, “and I appreciate that.”
She nodded her thanks.
“I just wish I could do more. I feel like my hands are so tied...”
Truth was, despite her level of involvement and constant fighting in their corner, she had a feeling that should the government choose to go this alone she would have no power to stop them throwing Nick and his team off of the project entirely. It was a constant, niggling worry that she just couldn’t shake, making her feel awful simply for the fact that she could do nothing about it.
“It’s okay,” he reassured, perhaps trying to tell her in his own way not to take so much of the responsibility onto her own shoulders, “You were right, you shouldn’t take sides. After all we don’t want to give him any excuse to have you taken off of this project , do we now? We need you.”
She had a sneaking suspicion from the look on his face and the implication in his voice that ‘we need you’ also meant ‘I need you’ and it made her the slightest bit uncomfortable, her response turning to a joke to lighten the tone once more.
“Oh I don’t know. They might replace me with some leggy blonde.”
He smiled slightly, seemingly aware of what she was doing.
“No, that wouldn’t be any good now, would it?” he replied with mock seriousness, “No one could boss me around like you do.”
“Oi,” she protested, poking him in the leg admonishingly with her foot, “I don’t boss you around... Much...”
“I’ll have you know that was a compliment,” he pointed out, declaring his innocence.
She laughed a little. “Oh so you like bossy women?”
“Of course. Huge turn on.”
She held his gaze for a moment and she wondered if, like her, he was thinking of the kiss they had shared the other day. Something that had so far led no further but seemed as if it intended upon doing so whether they were ready for it or not.
“Do you want to go and get a drink?” he asked quietly, “You look like you could do with one.”
That was clearly the way he wanted to play things right now. Act as friends and consider something more. Bearing in mind what was happening with Helen she could understand that. It must be hard for him. It wasn’t exactly easy for her either. She was supposed to be keeping a sense of detachment and of authority here. She didn’t think it’d work so well if she was seen going doe eyed over the team leader.
Still, it was a pity that she had to turn him down. A quiet drink with him would have been nice.
“Another time, yeah?” she said regrettably, trying to ensure it didn’t sound like an outright rejection, “I still have some reports to finish if I want to even contemplate getting some sleep tonight.”
Speaking of which...
She swung her legs off of the desk, slipping them back into her shoes and ignoring the fact that she missed the warmth of his leg against hers as she stood up to crossed to the filing cabinet. A moment later she returned with a folder.
“Just have a quick glance through this and sign it, would you? It’s the incident report for the pterosaurs.”
He nodded, flicking quickly through the pages. He would never actually read it of course. He trusted her enough to have put down a reasonable account of everything.
There were a few moments of silence as she crossed back to the filing cabinet once more, tucking her long hair behind her ears as she searched through the papers with a frown of concentration. Distracted by one of the many little things she knew she had to do but which had somehow gotten brushed aside, she almost forgot he was there for a moment.
“Are you okay?” he asked, watching as she then busied herself flicking through yet more piles of paper on her desk, “You look tired.”
“I am tired,” she reasoned.
She didn’t bother mentioning the nightmares she’d been having or how she was finding it hard to get much sleep even when she had the opportunity. She supposed it was fairly normal in light of what had happened and that they would soon subside given time. Besides, what would she expect him to do about it? Come round and keep her company at night?
The unwitting thought made her blush slightly and she hurriedly pushed it from her mind, wondering what it was about this man that made her regress to a shyness she’d thought she’d thrown off as a teenager. How come she could be so confident at everything else but not about how she felt for him?
He frowned a little as a thought struck him, “Does Lester know about your concussion?”
“Of course he does,” she said bluntly, picking up one of the files and scanning the contents, “He read the report. Knowing about it and actually giving a damn are two entirely separate things though.”
Lester did have a remarkable ability to dehumanise those he came in contact with, seeing them as pieces of equipment to be rearranged and used how he saw necessary rather than actual people. As far as he was concerned she was utterly replaceable if needs be. She often had a suspicion that he only wanted her kept around for the sake of convenience. It was simply easier to have someone who was fully briefed and used to his way of working.
“Well I do give a damn,” Nick stated firmly, leaving his perch on her desk and wandering around to stand in front of her, his tone half way between joking and serious. “And as your Professor I order you to take it easy, okay?”
She didn’t respond, her gaze still buried in the file.
“Claudia, are you even listening to me?” he asked a little exasperated.
She glanced up from the file clearly completely oblivious to a word he’d just said.
It was almost in frustration that he kissed her. That and the fact that there was something rather adorable about the bewildered, distracted look on her face that he just couldn’t quite resist.
Within a few stunned moments she was kissing him back, the file dropping to the floor as her hands settled on his chest, his working their way through the length of her hair.
When he pulled away she stood completely still for a second, eyes closed, lips slightly parted, taking a moment to return to the real world.
“Are you listening to me now?” he asked quietly.
“You have my complete attention,” she said, opening her eyes slowly and looking straight at him, the palms of her hands still pushed flat against his chest so she could feel the slightly more rapid rate of his heart beat.
“You dropped your file,” he pointed out in an easy, conversational manner as though he hadn’t really just kissed her at all.
“I know,” she said, although her distracted voice seemed to suggest that she didn’t care.
“Look I have to go. Stephen and I only came here to pick some things up from the lab. He’s probably sitting in the car wondering where I am.”
“Yes,” she said softly, “And I need to-“
“You need to finish your reports,” he concluded, “I know. I’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t work too hard.”
He tilted her chin up, pressing his lips to hers slightly in a tender moment that she wasn’t sure she should let him have but couldn’t seem to stop.
Just outside the partially open door, Stephen came to a shocked halt as he took in the scene in front of him. He frowned grimly before turning and walking back to the car.