I was going to post this yesterday but I went out very early to see my brother's band practice and take some pics and video for them, then went out with them in the evening to watch the return of our favourite Guns N Roses cover band. Decided therefore to watch the last episode of the show and see if any of the assumptions I've made here were ruined and needed changing.
I have to say the force is clearly strong with me. And I must thank the writers for the reveal about the nature of Stephen and Helen's relationship because it has actually given this fic (which is from a totally unsuspecting Nick's pov) an element that I hadn't even considered but works really well! :D
Title: The Right Thing (Part 2 of 2)
Characters: Nick, Claudia, Stephen
Pairings/Ships: Nick/Claudia, hint at Stephen/Helen
Length/Word Count: 4189
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.
Nick had certainly been right about one thing he realised as he exited the building and headed over to the truck parked in the now almost deserted car park; Stephen was waiting and he definitely didn’t look very happy about it.
Jogging over to make it look as if he had at least tried to make an effort at hurrying up, he opened the door and slipped into the passenger seat an apology at the ready.
“Sorry I took so long. I just popped in to see how Claudia’s meeting with Lester went.”
He expected a bit of eye rolling, maybe a mildly irritated comment but certainly not what he actually got.
“I didn’t realise you and her were seeing one another.”
Stephen’s response was blunt and full of accusation and it threw Nick off guard for a moment.
“We’re not,” he began, fumbling slightly with his words, realising that that sounded annoyingly like a guilty protest and wasn’t completely true either. No, she wasn’t his girlfriend or anything but he’d be lying if he didn’t admit that the more he got to know her, the more he liked the idea that she could be.
“I mean, I kissed her but...”
He paused, struggling to explain, finding it hard to put into words something he wasn’t quite sure about himself yet
“It’s a bit complicated”
He frowned as a realisation hit him.
“How did you know?”
“I saw you,” Stephen said with clear condemnation, “Just now in her office.”
It was Stephen’s tone more than anything that put Nick on the defensive. He was a grown man after all and perfectly capable of deciding how to run his own life whether Stephen liked those decisions or not. He didn’t expect nor want the third degree on how and what he did.
“Oh so you’re spying on me now, is that it?” he challenged a little sharply, annoyed at suddenly being put on trial in such an unquestioning manner.
“Are you forgetting Helen’s still out there?” Stephen asked tersely in return, ignoring that last remark in favour for what seemed to be bothering him.
“That’s hardly bloody likely now, is it?” Nick snapped back, his voice tight, trying to temper his anger by remembering that Stephen was his good friend. This shouldn’t be an argument they were getting into and nor were they issues he was willing to face just yet.
“So what?” the other man pressed, his words with a bitter twist, continuing to question despite Nick’s clear preference not to talk, “You just don’t care?”
Nick sighed in annoyance and frustration, wishing he could make Stephen see things from his point of view. It was hard enough to come to terms with his own feelings without having to explain them to someone else. Especially someone who wasn’t exactly unbiased in all of this.
“I do,” he explained, trying to make Stephen understand, “Of course I do. But things are different now. I grieved for that woman, Stephen. I let her go a long time ago. It’s hard to come back from that. And she isn’t the Helen I used to know any more.”
“Yeah,” the other man replied darkly his gaze fixed out of the windshield, “I can see how thinking like that would make it much easier for you.”
The irony was that it didn’t, not really. When he’d first realised that there was a chance she may still be alive he’d been quite frankly too confused to feel anything with much clarity. It wasn’t really the desire to see her that truly drove him, although he couldn’t deny that that was there, it was mostly a want for answers. After the initial rush of relief and hope, doubt had begun to settle in; if she had been alive all this time why had she let him go on believing she was dead? How could she have knowingly put him through all that?
He had tried to think the best of her, wondering if perhaps she had been trapped by the anomaly and, by the time she had returned, had for some reason decided it would be too painful to just reappear in his life so suddenly. Maybe it had been her misguided attempt to somehow protect him.
That first face to face meeting with her in the prehistoric landscape had shattered that illusion though and had proved to be much more painful than he had been prepared for.
‘I am dead as the person you knew. My old life ended eight years ago.’
Did she have the slightest clue of how much those words cut to the quick? That their sharp message and their blunt delivery was a gut punch? The hardest thing in the world it seemed was to find out that someone you’d cared so deeply for didn’t feel so much for you. That there was something so much more important to them that they could knowingly put you through hell in order to achieve it.
He knew that like many who had lost someone, he was guilty of idolising their relationship once he thought she was gone. Truth was that things weren’t so good between them in the months before she disappeared. Her obsession with work was getting in the way of their marriage and they were arguing a lot. She only seemed interested in career and success and was getting increasingly frustrated by her inability to discover the amazing, new things she craved. In contrast he wasn’t so bothered by such things. He wanted an interesting job, which he already had, but also a family and a home to go back to every day. She however only seemed to care about the former and it was becoming an increasingly sore point between them. That was probably why he’d supported her more wild theories so much. He’d secretly hoped that if she did find something then she’d finally be satisfied and could start living the rest of her life with him.
He had always gotten the feeling that he was increasingly becoming of secondary important to her work but he never realised just quite how far that had gone until they had met again after all those years.
Even if she could never give him adequate explanation for what she did, he would have hoped for an apology at least and some sense of remorse for her action but she really didn’t seem to care. She’d almost scoffed at his hurt, even all but blaming him for her decision. Not that he hadn’t spent the last eight years already blaming himself to some degree, knowing that perhaps if they hadn’t had that argument and he had gone with her on that field trip as planned, none of this may ever have happened. It was a burden he had learned to live with over time but for her to say it was his fault that she decided to just vanish? That went too far.
She said she wanted him back but at the same time she seemed so...cold. As much as there was a small part of him that would have liked to have gone with her, to try to rekindle what they once had, there was no way he could live her life of not caring. Nor could he throw his lot in with someone who could toss him aside so easily. He’d be a fool to do so. And so he had given her the opportunity to come back with him instead, reasoning to himself that if she wanted him as much as she said she did then she’d agree to his offer. But she had turned him down making it once more painfully obvious where her priorities lay.
All his dealings with her since that meeting had been tinged with anger on his part. He wanted his answers although he wasn’t sure she had any more to give. As much as he didn’t like to believe it, it seemed that she had simply found something she cared an awful lot more about than any feelings she had for him. He found it hard to consolidate that with any positive emotions he still had for her. He both wanted her to stay and wished she was out of his life for good. Sometimes he even wished that she’d never come back at all. He was beginning to think that he’d have been happier with his rose tinted memories rather than the blunt truth.
Even when she did appear to be cooperative she’d in fact lied to him about the threat, only too eager to get away once more. She said she wanted him but her intentions were at best selfish. He had to wonder whether it him she really wanted or would anyone have done but she just thought he would be easiest to persuade?
One thing he was becoming increasingly certain of though was that despite appearances, he hadn’t gotten his wife back. This woman was colder and harsher and he knew that whilst she wasn’t as callous as the she first appeared (after all, she had saved Claudia’s life just a few days ago even though she had no reason to do so), he didn’t really like her all that much. He couldn’t understand why she would refuse to give over any knowledge she had, knowing it might help and nor could he trust her like he once could. And if that was so, despite any lingering emotions or regrets he might have, he had to start resigning himself to the fact that there was no future to be had there. That the woman he had once fallen in love with was finally gone.
And then there was Claudia. Someone his head told him he never should have trusted in the first place. She clearly had her own agenda – or at least those she worked for did which she was there to enforce – and he should have been cautious of her motives. Yet he couldn’t help but believe her when she said that her main priority was public safety and that she only wanted to do what was best for the people who would be affected by this. Hell, she even made the cover up sound like a good and charitable idea. He didn’t profess to know her as well as he might but she was a good person, he was sure of that much.
The memory of how she looked after he kissed her, the slightly dumbstruck, little taken aback look made him smile. He’d always been a bit of a romantic at heart and it had been a long time since he’d felt so fondly about anyone. The warmth he had for her was something he forgotten he could feel and was so much better than the loneliness and isolation that he’d gotten too used to over the last eight years.
He still felt something for Helen he couldn’t deny that, but that was the old Helen. The memories of her he had. This woman he was confronted with now seemed to be devoid of any part that had once made him fall in love with her. All he still knew he felt for certain was an obligation, a want to ensure that she was okay and that she was safe, but even that and the memory of how she’d once been was enough to stay his hand with Claudia. Or at least make him cautious. But he was well aware that it was growing attraction that he was fighting against and to be honest he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue to do so for much longer.
He was trying desperately to do the right thing and not really making a very good job of it. His rational mind told him that he never should have kissed Claudia in the first place even if he had thought there was a possibility that they might die and had decided that he didn’t want to go without at least having an inkling of what it might have been like between them. A harmless bit of flirting was one thing but with his feelings still so conflicted about Helen it wasn’t fair to take it any further. He knew it would be for the best for everyone involved if he didn’t increase the complication by falling in love with Claudia but it was territory he was starkly aware that he was skirting dangerously close to.
Up until now he had just thought it was a basic attraction. She was very pretty after all and there was something he liked about her confidence and sometimes playful manner. But he’d felt surprisingly protective of her back at the golf club hotel, wanting to stay until she woke up - despite the medic assuring him that she would be fine - and leaving Stephen to deal with the pteranodon even though he should really have been there himself. He smiled briefly whenever he remembered how he’d tried to play doctor, an attempt at cheering her up and making her feel a bit better. Then he got an altogether different feeling when he recalled what it felt like to stand so close to her, to feel her breath on his face or his fingertips brushing her soft skin as he pushed her hair back. There was a tenderness in their interaction that he had missed in his life.
Most surprisingly though was the fear that had swept through him when he thought she’d been caught in the explosion. Even momentarily believing that something had happened to her filled him with such a gut wrenching, sickening horror that it had shown him more clearly than anything that his feelings for her were a lot stronger than he had realised. And that had shaken him. It was somewhere he didn’t think that he should be going for his own sake as much as anyone else’s.
It was just too quick, too much. He had shot through every emotion via hopeful, relieved, happy, confused and angry as regards Helen and at the same time matters were further complicated by growing feelings for someone else entirely.
No wonder he was confused.
He simply needed time that was all. He needed an opportunity to let things settle, to sort through his feelings slowly and decide how he should act. What he certainly didn’t need right now were the pressures and accusations put on him by a supposed friend.
“Oh come on, don’t do this,” he half pleaded to Stephen, “I’m having a hard enough time with this as it is.”
“Yeah,” Stephen replied, genuine anger over riding any concern for Nick, “It looked like you were really struggling to not kiss her.”
Without further comment he opened the truck door and got out, slamming it viciously shut. Nick followed, truly riled himself now too. Since when was it Stephen’s place to judge him anyway? Wasn’t a friend supposed to support you, not make you feel worse?
“You want the truth?” he snapped out, slamming his own door and following Stephen across the car park, “Fine!”
When he failed to stop, Nick grabbed the retreating man by the back of his shirt, turning him round to face him. If Stephen was going to spit out accusations at him like that, the least he could do was listen to the explanation properly.
“I have no idea what I’m doing, okay?” he said, his anger tinged with hurt, “Half the time I’m glad Helen’s okay and the other half I wish she had stayed dead. I don’t understand why and how she could have done this to me and quite frankly I don’t think I want to because every happy memory I have of us is being ruined by what she did.”
Even though Nick still had a firm grip on the front of his shirt, Stephen didn’t struggle to get himself free. He stood, listening with a concerned frown beginning to form on his face.
“And as if that isn’t enough,” Nick said, half disbelieving the irony of it himself, “as sod’s law would have it, along comes this beautiful, intelligent, lovely woman who I can’t seem to stop caring about even though I keep telling myself that it’s too already complicated and I shouldn’t.”
He suddenly released his grip on Stephen’s shirt, throwing his hands up in frustration, almost asking the world ‘what the hell do you expect me to do?’
“I don’t know what the right thing to do is or what’s the right thing to feel, okay? I don’t even think there is a right thing. I know I like this woman and I am fed up of being on my own. But I can’t do anything about it because I feel bad about Helen.”
He sighed, almost admitting defeat as he sat down on the low wall nearby, shoulders slumped, head in his hands.
“So I’m being a complete coward and doing nothing. And if you’re so bloody smart then you tell me what I should do because I’m damned if I know.”
At least that seemed to calm Stephen a little, apparently genuinely taken aback by Nick’s outburst. He clearly hadn’t comprehended the complexity of what the other man was going through behind his usually composed demeanour.
“You do the right thing,” Stephen said quietly, a trace of sympathy in his voice now, “Whatever you decide that it?”
Nick looked up at him smiled a little bitterly.
“The right thing for me? Or for everyone else?”
Stephen walked over and sat next to him, looking out into the dark streets opposite and not at his friend.
“Why did you feel the need to keep this all a secret? Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked calmly, finally seeming to take into account that Nick was as much the victim in this as anyone else was.
“Why do think, Stephen?” Nick replied with harsh exasperation, “Did you see how you reacted?”
Stephen smiled just a little, perhaps slightly ashamed of his outburst.
“You think Helen should have chosen you?” Nick asked, looking at him expectantly, knowing the underlying cause of all this even if Stephen didn’t want to admit it, “Is that what this is about? Is that want you want me to say? That you’re the better choice because you would’ve wanted back no matter what?”
Stephen had come to work with Helen whilst he was a final year student, accompanying her on one of her expeditions abroad. He’d been young, adventurous and fascinated by the discoveries that lay ahead, seemingly thrilled to be working with someone of Helen’s zeal and enthusiasm. And he’d fallen in love with her, not realising that she had a husband back at home.
It had never really been a problem though. On the few occasions that Nick had met Stephen, the guy had seemed nice enough. He even had no problem with him continuing to work for Helen. He trusted her implicitly and Stephen was a good man who wouldn’t knowingly pursue another’s wife. He’d had no clue about how deeply the younger man’s feelings went though. And if Helen did, she certainly didn’t let on, quite happily laughing and brushing it off whenever Nick teased her about the students getting crushes on her.
It wasn’t until after she’d disappeared and then been officially announced as dead that Nick had ever been angry with him over it. He didn’t think Stephen had any right to mourn her the way he did. Stephen was away abroad on an unrelated expedition when she went missing and had angrily confronted Nick when he had returned a month later, demanding to know why he hadn’t told him what had happened, cursing himself for not being there. Nick hadn’t liked that, telling Stephen that it wasn’t his place, feeling somehow like the other man was stealing his own emotions and he was the one who had the right to feel them.
After that angry confrontation it wasn’t until a chance meeting at an academic conference two years later that he saw Stephen again. A calmer, more rational Nick had felt the need to apologise to the other man. He explained that he understood that Stephen had cared for Helen too and that it was wrong of him to belittle that. For his part Stephen was understanding and apparently held no grudge. It was still much to his surprise though that as time went on Stephen had become a friend. That they actually could get on very well - so much so that Stephen had quickly ended up working for him.
Stephen’s friendship was the only consolation to come out of Helen’s disappearance and it seemed a pity that her reappearance was throwing a spanner into that.
The other man looked at him carefully now. There’d been an unspoken agreement between them that any differences they had over Helen were to be buried along with her and he clearly wasn’t comfortable with Nick bringing up those old issues again now.
Part of Nick couldn’t help but wonder if that was exactly what Stephen had been thinking all along though. That he wouldn’t treat Helen in this way, that he would have accepted her back no matter what.
“I want you to say that this isn’t right,” Stephen said quietly, “At least not to do it behind her back. It’s like you’re betraying her.”
Nick scoffed a laugh.
“Oh she could tell you a thing or two about betrayal.”
“You can’t do this to her...” Stephen stated, making it clear that his sympathies were not tainted by her past conduct.
Nick’s reply was terse.
“After what she did to me I think I can do what I bloody well like.”
“So why don’t you then?” Stephen challenged, “What’s stopping you?”
Nick gave him a pointed look, “You try having your wife return from the dead and find out she left you on purpose, see how clearly you can feel about things...”
Stephen nodded a little, accepting that.
There was silence for a moment.
“She asked me to stay with her, on the other side of the anomaly,” Nick confessed, having not told anyone of the contents of their conversation or the offer she had made him, “She told me to leave all you behind. Leave this behind.”
He wasn’t entirely sure why he felt the necessity to reveal that now. Perhaps he was trying to show Stephen that she didn’t quite deserve the rose tinted view he still seemed to have of her. Perhaps he was trying to remind himself that he couldn’t be with someone who would ask that of him or who would even consider he’d do that.
Stephen managed to hide any surprise he felt at that revelation well.
“Did you consider it?” he asked evenly.
“Not for a moment,” Nick said resolutely before an interesting thought struck him, “Would you?”
Again there was silence as the other man contemplated his answer.
“I’d like to think I wouldn’t...” he admitted eventually.
Nick couldn’t help but wonder why Stephen seemingly felt so much more strongly about this than he did. Perhaps it was because he had been content to back off when he knew Helen was already married. Nick guessed that Stephen must have always believed that he really did love her and now he was having that view challenged and it was making him question everything that had gone before.
Not to mention that he supposed it was easier to care for someone when it wasn’t you they’d betrayed.
Glancing up from the floor, Nick caught sight of someone moving in the distance and a frowning moment of concentration confirmed that it was indeed Claudia, getting into her car, accompanied by a briefcase no doubt full of papers but otherwise alone. It was a feeling he could sympathise with.
Stephen had clearly seen her too although he declined to say anything.
“I like her,” Nick admitted softly, “And I think she likes me.”
The other man looked at him for a long moment before smiling just a little, perhaps finally seeing in Nick’s face that that was very much true and deciding that he should be supporting rather than lecturing.
“Then just take your time,” he advised simply, “Do things properly. Then maybe no one will get hurt.”
Admirable sentiments to be sure.
Nick frowned a little though, taking a moment to watch as she drove away, clearly not having seen them across the distance of the car park. It did seem like a sensible thing to do. He needed to sort things out with Helen first if he wanted to avoid hurting Claudia. He needed to finalise things once and for all. But how long would it take him to do that? And just how long would Claudia wait when he couldn’t give her any promises or guarantees? She’d already nearly been married once and, in his experience, it wasn’t long before some lucky man came along for a woman like her.
“No”, he said softly, praying that whatever answers he was looking for he found them soon, “No one except maybe myself”.