Title: A Professor and A Civil Servant Walk Into A Bar...
Characters: Nick, Claudia
Disclaimer: I don’t own them....Bugger... (although if anyone at Impossible Pictures wants to offer me a job that’d be great...)
Summary: It’s the most unusual ‘hello’ he’s ever had.
Author’s Note: Beta-ed with usual speed and diligence byfredbassett
The hotel bar was more elegant than the places he usually drank in, but Nick barely took any notice of his surroundings. He sat alone, having slipped away from Stephen and Connor, needing some time to himself. He didn’t hear the soft piano music that played and hardly tasted his drink. His mind was too full of other things. The possible meanings of their discoveries and stunning revelation that, after all these years, he was finally on to something as regards his missing wife.
It would be a lie to say that his marriage had been good before Helen had disappeared. Quite the opposite. Words like ‘separation’ and ‘divorce’ had been bandied around in ever more frequent arguments. But that didn’t mean he’d totally stopped caring and when she’d just vanished, had gone on that field trip and never returned, he’d felt definite guilt and a huge sense of loss. He’d dismissed the idea that she’d just decided to leave him, knowing that she wasn’t that callous. Instead, he’d always wondered if he’d been with her, as was originally planned, things would have turned out differently. It was a possibility that still haunted him.
Not that he could have known any more than she had about the monstrous creatures wandering around the Forest of Dean. Is that what had happened to her? Had she fallen foul of some vicious and unexpected visitor from the past? He took another sip of his drink as he contemplated what these new revelations might mean and where the creature could have come from.
Several feet away, sitting in one of the low chairs, Claudia Brown was barely listening to the man talking to her. It was better that way since his slurred, slightly drunken words were irritating her immensely. She vaguely heard him compliment how pretty she was, not that she paid any heed to it. Her attention was firmly elsewhere.
The man with sandy blonde hair had entered the room several minutes earlier, taking up a solitary station at the bar. He was the reason she was here. She’d found out from the security man at the depot that she wasn’t the first to make enquiries, that a Professor Nick Cutter and his friends had been curious about the creature too, asking him to contact them at the nearby hotel should he remember any more details. Back in her room, a quick search on the internet had brought up this Professor Cutter’s details and, more usefully, a photograph.
It didn’t really do him justice, she realised. He was more handsome in the flesh. Somehow slightly imposing as well, which is why she hadn’t rushed immediately over there upon spotting him. He gave off an air of someone who didn’t, by habit, enter into idle conversation nor generally let people get close and so she decided a more refined approach was needed.
She smiled to herself as she realised that she could simply solve two problems at once.
Nick looked uneasily at the photograph of Helen that he still carried with him. Some people would say it was daft really, eight years after her disappearance. It wasn’t as if they’d been getting on wonderfully well before she’d vanished and so holding on to a memento of her after so long seemed unnecessary. But he felt like he owed it to her somehow. Her shadow seemed to loom over him, still as dark as ever, stopping him from completely getting on with his life even if he desperately wanted to. If any good at all could come from his current investigation, at very least he might be able to finally draw a line under what had happened to her. Moving on at last sounded nice indeed.
He barely had time to form any impression of the woman who had spoken before her lips were on his, sharp, smart and utterly unexpected. Her hand rested on his shoulder in a gesture of easy familiarity, even though he was sure he’d never met her before, and warmth seemed to tingle from every point where he had contact with her. Whilst most of him was frozen in surprise, his lips suddenly felt startlingly alive and if she hadn’t pulled away so quickly, instinct might just have made him start kissing her back.
“Don’t panic,” she said with a smile that was part playful tease and part reassurance, “I just told that slime ball over there you were my boyfriend. One more sleazy chat up line and I was going to have to kill him.”
She was open and friendly, bold and brimming with confidence, yet seemingly sweet and pleasant with it. He liked her immediately. She acted almost like she knew him but he was certain they’d never met before. He hadn’t exactly been looking much in the past eight years but he certainly would have remembered such a beautiful face.
Pretty women didn’t exactly come up and just kiss him every day and so he took a moment to recover his wits.
“Well, I’m very glad I was here to help,” he said, trying to make it sound like he was taking it all in his stride, “I’m Nick Cutter.”
He assumed she was just a fellow hotel guest. He couldn’t however decide whether her explanation was the truth and she was just using him as a convenient escape, or if she perhaps fancied him and was in fact using this as an interesting way of chatting him up. He hurriedly silenced the part that hoped it was the latter.
Not abating in her ability to surprise him, she instantly blew both theories out of the water.
“Actually I know who you are...”, she said with a smile.
He looked at her curiously, briefly wondering why that was his reaction and didn’t feel more uncomfortably suspicious about it all. There just seemed to be something about her though that told him she was okay and on his side.
“Claudia Brown,” she introduced, “I saw you at the hotel. I’m hoping you can do me a favour Professor...”
She turned and reached for something in her bag.
“Another one?” he asked.
She laughed just slightly. He quite liked the sound.
Their conversation turned to more businesslike matters but there did seem to be something else to it. He was well out of practice but there was a definite undertone of flirtation to their interaction. He liked her, found her easy to talk to and mercifully willing to listen despite her wish to dismiss the sightings as a hoax.
He was the one to ask her whether she wanted to join them in the search. He strongly suspected had she not been so charming and pretty then he likely wouldn’t have been so keen to have a government official along. He even contemplated how warped, yet ironic, it was to be enjoying the company of a woman he’d just met when he was at last hopefully going to discover the fate of his wife.
It was daft really, a harmless flirtation, he supposed and nothing more, but it did make him feel a little better. Perhaps the idea of moving on was sitting more easily with him than he could have imagined.
She agreed to go with him and went back to her room to get her coat, saying she’d meet him in the lobby. Whilst he waited he couldn’t help but muse on the brief kiss they’d shared. Surely, she hadn’t meant it? In the end he was convinced it had just been a ruse on her part to put him off guard and make her job easier. But he’d liked it. His first kiss in eight years. His first kiss with anyone other than Helen in far longer. He’d forgotten the small tingle of excitement it could bring.
Part of him wished she’d do it again even though he barely knew her.
She smiled pleasantly at him as she stepped out the lift.
He nodded, politely indicating for her to lead the way.
“No,” she said, the ghost of a smile still on her lips, “I insist you go first. Especially if we’re likely to come across any dangerous monsters.”
He laughed. He had the strongest feeling that he was going to like this Claudia Brown.