Characters: Nick, Claudia, Stephen, Helen, Lester, Connor, Abby
Genre: Romance, Future fic
Warnings: Non-explicit sex
Disclaimer: I don’t own them....Bugger... (although if anyone at Impossible Pictures wants to offer me a job that’d be great...)
Summary: For Nick, finally putting things right is just the beginning...
Author’s Note: A sequel of sorts to ‘Hope Guides Me’ but you don’t have to have read that to read this. Beta read by fredbassett.
Nick had never been more scared in his life than in the moment he’d stepped back through the Permian anomaly. And, considering some of the experiences he’d had in the past year, that was saying something. But this was it; months of work and danger and hope, all leading to this moment. If he hadn’t managed it, if he’d made a mistake and things weren’t right again, then he didn’t know what he’d do. He might not even have a chance to do anything at all – he’d met his future self once and the other Nick had basically told him that he either put it right or the world would fall apart. No pressure.
His first steps towards the anomaly were fast and eager but he seemed to become bogged down the closer he got. He took the last step painfully slowly, his throat dry and a nervous shake in his body as his mind began to race. He didn’t know what exactly he’d find on the other side, even if he had sorted it out. Would things continue from where they had been, leaving him in the right place but still utterly confused? Or would he step back to that fateful moment where he’d realised that everything had all gone so wrong?
There was only one way to find out.
The glow of the anomaly teased him, making the moment seem much longer. With one last step, the fractured view of the world that it gave cleared and he could at last see the scene awaiting him.
And there she was. Right where he’d left her, like she’d never gone at all. Same clothes, same hair. Auburn again, like it should be.
It was the sweetest moment of his life.
“Oh thank god,” Claudia said, letting out a sigh as if she’d been holding her breath in nervous anticipation ever since he’d gone through.
She had no opportunity to say any more however as he strode over to her, put his arms around her and pulled her mouth to his, acting entirely on instinct. She seemed stunned for a moment but quickly recovered, kissing him back as though she’d missed him terribly, lips tender and relieved. If it wasn’t for the fact that he needed to breathe at some point, he might never have stopped.
When he finally pulled away he took a moment to look at her, remembering her eyes and her freckles. Trailing his fingers lightly through her hair. Recalling the way she could seem both shy and bold at the same time.
All things he thought he’d forgotten but deep down never had.
“Steady on,” Connor said jokingly, sounding as uncomfortable as if he’d caught his parents kissing.
“Oh, he’s just an old fashioned romantic at heart,” teased another voice.
Nick closed the distance in quick paces, embracing his friend firmly, the memories of what had happened in the bunker suddenly seeming no more than an awful dream with the man himself alive and well in front of him. Stephen hesitated, confused for a moment, before accepting the embrace and hugging him back. Then Nick hugged Abby and Connor too; Abby smiling warmly at him and Connor seeming slightly ill at ease.
His Abby and Connor, not alternatives changed by different circumstances.
He had his team back again. He even smiled at Lester although a hug was out of the question there.
“Is there some sort of bar on the other side of the anomaly?” Connor asked, perplexed.
“No,” Nick said with a grin, “I’m just very pleased to see you, that’s all.”
“Are you all right?” Claudia asked, stepping up next to him.
He realised that in their eyes he was probably acting very odd indeed, but in that moment it really didn’t matter.
“Fine,” he said, letting out a sigh of utter relief, his body seeming to relax for the first time in months, ”Everything’s fine.”
He couldn’t help but reach and take her hand and even if it was a tad unprofessional, she didn’t let go.
“Well, if this is turning into some sort of love in, I’m going,” Lester said, sounding distinctly unimpressed. “I assume the mission was a success?”
Nick nodded, eyes still on Claudia and the others. “Yeah.”
“And Captain Ryan and his men?”
The smile that had been plastered on Nick’s face suddenly faltered. That had been his only failure. He’d tried to find a way to stop it happening but it was no good. As far as he could tell, it had happened before the time line had changed, before the damage was done. If he interfered in that then he was changing things too, not resetting them as he had to. It was a risk he couldn’t take, not even for the life of a good man.
“They didn’t make it,” he said solemnly.
Lester nodded, digesting the news before he left.
If Nick had had his way he would have stuck to Claudia like a limpet for the rest of the day. But, the last thing he wanted was for her to get suspicious and, he reasoned, she was quite safe now. She wouldn’t be disappearing again.
So, he had said his goodbyes as she’d headed back to the Home Office and he and Stephen had returned to the university.
His office was another welcome surprise he’d forgotten would be awaiting him. He’d no longer had it in the other place, apparently having long since moved completely into the clinical confines of the ARC. The clutter here was warming in comparison. The knick knacks, artefacts and fossils familiar and welcoming. All just where he’d left them. Like he’d never been away. Although in reality, he reasoned, he hadn’t. No more than a few hours. Part of him wished he could believe that, wished he could forget all he’d been through. But he knew it was important that he remember. Someone had to, so the same mistakes weren’t made again.
Looking out of his window over the university grounds, he caught his reflection in the glass. He didn’t imagine he looked much different from when he’d left. Just more weary, that was all.
Stephen confirmed that suspicion.
He walked back into the office, handing Nick a mug of coffee that the professor accepted with a nod before sitting in his chair. Just as worn and comfortable as he remembered it. Stephen sat himself in the seat opposite.
“You look like hell,” he said, bluntly, “If I didn’t know better I’d say you’d been gone for months.”
Nick almost laughed at that.
“It’s been a hell of a day,” he agreed, taking a sip of his coffee.
That was something else he’d forgotten; no one made coffee like Stephen. Lord knows how he managed to put art into ground beans and hot water, but he did. Nick always joked that, with Stephen’s allegedly fine cooking and his slight penchant for clothes and male grooming products, he’d make someone a wonderful wife some day.
Nick was aware that Stephen knew him well enough to tell when he was being evasive and often, when he was in those moods, Stephen left him alone, assuming he must have a personal reason to want to keep things private. But the younger man was astute too, he knew when something was wrong and his curiosity wouldn’t just let it lie.
“What was up with you at the anomaly today?” he asked, making the enquiry sound casual although he didn’t fool Nick. “You’re never that friendly, even when you are drunk.”
“I am a melancholy drunk,” he agreed.
“Grouchy bastard is nearer the mark.”
Nick smiled slightly over the top of his coffee. He’d missed this friendship too. And that had died a long time before Stephen had.
“Seriously,” the younger man pressed, obviously not entirely comfortable with just letting things go, “What happened over there?”
Nick had already rehearsed what he was going to say should this issue come up.
“Helen said some things,” he replied, the white lie as close to the truth as he was prepared to get, “About how we could do things that could change time and...well, I suppose it scared me. I couldn’t help but wonder what I was coming back to.”
Stephen’s frown of concern was instant.
“You don’t think she would, do you?”
“No,” he reassured, “She’s not stupid. The danger’s too great. She might be willing to play with all our lives but not at the risk of her own.”
That much was certainly true.
“Still,” Stephen said, not convinced, “Maybe we should think about whether we really want her running about in the earth’s past if those are the kind of thoughts she’s having...”
“Maybe,” Nick said evasively, not being able to say any more on the subject without giving too much away.
The conversation was interrupted by Claudia, fortunately, who knocked politely on the door before coming down to join them. Stephen stood up, offering her his seat and some coffee, both of which she accepted.
She seemed to relax into the soft chair as though she belonged there and in Nick’s mind she did.
“I’ve been in contact with Ryan’s family,” she said as Stephen passed her a mug, “The funeral’s next Friday and we’re all invited to attend.”
Stephen nodded grimly as he perched on the edge of Nick’s desk. “Did we get the body back?”
“The anomaly closed shortly after you all left,” she stated with a sad shake of her head.
The news cut Nick a little. He really had wanted to bring Ryan back, to give the man a decent burial at least. But he knew better than to meddle with events; Captain Tom Ryan’s body was found, by them, buried in the Permian. The chain of events was vital and he couldn’t mess with it no matter how much he wanted to.
“Look,” Claudia said, as a moment of mournful silence between them finally passed, “I’ve been thinking. Creatures from the past are one thing, but the future is an entirely different prospect. At least with the past we have a vague idea what to expect from these animals. But we saw how dangerous that future predator was. What if there are more out there like that? What if there’s worse?”
Nick smiled grimly, seeing her point.
“Oh, let’s look on the bright side and hope that’s as bad as it gets, eh?”
“The Home Office doesn’t do optimism,” Claudia replied, and it was clear she wasn’t joking, ”not when there’s vicious monsters involved, anyway. We need to do something more concrete about these anomalies before more people die.”
“Stopping them completely would be nice,” Stephen said wistfully, obviously aware that that was a pipe dream.
“Yes,” she agreed, “But in the meantime...Nick, you said yesterday you had some theories...”
Yesterday? He supposed it had been yesterday really. For them at least. So much longer for him though. He remembered that conversation, remembered how she’d been such a charming combination of sweetness and professionalism. How tired she looked but at the same time how she teased him about him kissing her. More than anything he remembered just how easy talking to her had been. It had surprised him at the time.
Still, if there was any good to have come from all he’d been through at least he had brought back some useful knowledge with him.
“I’ve been thinking about that,” he said, trying to make his theory sound slightly uncertain even though in reality he knew from experience that it would work, “I have an idea about how we can detect the anomalies.”
Stephen and Claudia stared at him in surprise, clearly interested.
“I’ve got a few things to sort through,” he added, not wanting it to sound all too easy in case their suspicions were aroused, “I’ll put something together and I’ll tell you more tomorrow.”
“No, you won’t,” Claudia said simply, a small smile on her face, “You have the day off tomorrow. Lester’s explicit order. I think he’s worried about legal action in case you’re suffering from some kind of post traumatic stress. Either that or he just doesn’t want to risk getting hugged.”
Nick slept in late the next day, the first proper night’s sleep he’d had in many months. He’d got so prone to waking up in the middle of the night with sudden ideas, scribbling them down whilst the sleep his body undoubtedly needed was simply forgotten. In truth, much of the time he hadn’t got out of the ARC at all, even though it had begun to feel like a prison and symbol of a world gone wrong. Rarely had he make it home at night and even more rarely had he got to bed, often falling asleep at his desk as he’d studied anomaly data for patterns whilst putting his theories together like a man possessed. It was only now, with things put right again, that he realised how utterly exhausted he was.
It didn’t seem to stop the nightmares though.
His eyes flew open wide in shock and he lay there, frozen to the bed, heart thudding in sick fear. Then he forced himself to calm down, glancing at the clock, realising it was half past ten and that he didn’t want to waste the whole day.
He rolled out of bed and trudged to the bathroom. His reflection in the mirror told him that the nightmare hadn’t quite left his system yet. It wasn’t as if it was anything new, he’d had plenty of horrifying dreams about Stephen’s brutal death and losing Claudia. It was simply going to take a while yet for brain to process his success and realise that all those things were now relegated to just nightmares, things that had never truly happened thanks to his actions. Even if he had lived through them.
But he still remembered how hard it had been, letting them both go, burying Stephen and scattering her image to the wind. It had been even harder to start believing that he could get them back again, not daring to think it was true for so long.
It was almost too much to realise he’d actually achieved it and he splashed his face with cold water, waiting for his nerves to settle.
He spent the rest of the day trying to return to some semblance of normality. Opening his post, tidying a bit, shopping to fill his shockingly empty fridge. When he felt ready he sat at his desk, writing down all he could remember about the anomaly detector, everything he recalled the other Connor saying. Anything that might make the building of it quicker, although how he was going to explain his sudden technical knowledge, he didn’t know. He’d have to try to be subtle, try to nudge his Connor in the right direction whilst still making it look like a lucky chance.
Spending the day alone wasn’t exactly what he wanted but he knew he needed the time to gather his thoughts and so he resisted the urge to pick up the phone.
It was very late by the time he’d finished writing, a dozen pages all filled with his scrawling hand, everything he could remember about his theories regarding the anomalies and, even more importantly, how to detect them.
He settled onto the sofa, enjoying for a moment the feeling of lightness that came from pressures being lifted from his shoulders. Saving the world certainly drained a man. The TV was full of nonsense but he didn’t even attempt to go to bed. He’d all but collapsed into the duvet, exhausted, the previous evening but now his brain couldn’t be silenced. How could he sleep after all he’d achieved? Not two days ago he’d been all but alone in a world falling apart at the seams, and now? Now, his life was the very definition of a second chance. He needed time to get his head around it all.
The knock on his door was a surprise but it turned out to be a pleasant one when he opened it to see Claudia standing there, smiling softly at him.
He smiled back and invited her in, offering her a drink which she declined.
“So, to what do I owe this pleasure?” he asked, all good humour, a manner he’d almost forgotten he was capable of.
She glanced around her surroundings for a moment, never having been in his house before and clearly interested.
“I just wanted to see how you were doing. After yesterday that is. You must admit, you were acting odd, even for you.”
He shrugged as he indicated a seat to her before sitting himself. “It’d been a long day. And after what happened to Ryan...I was just glad to see you all.”
“Obviously,” she teased, apparently remembering the force of his kiss.
He took a moment to look her, really look at her so he could wipe the memories of more makeup and darker hair away. He’d come to like and respect Jenny in the end, but there were too many differences, however small, for him to ever feel for her what he had for the woman she’d replaced. She’d somehow felt it too, an overwhelming sense that things had gone wrong. It was her determination to find out what had happened that had helped lead him to this moment and he was grateful to her for that. But he couldn’t say he exactly missed her, not when the alternative was sitting in front of him.
He also wondered why she was here, sitting in his lounge. Not temporal reasons this time but the personal one; why had she come to see him? If she’d really wanted to check he was okay, she could have just phoned. There had to be more to it.
They chatted for while, topics light and unimportant. He found her as easy to talk to as ever but there was an undoubted underlying tension to them both. Like they were both aware that there was something they should be talking about but neither quite had the courage to bring it up.
It was Nick who folded first.
“Before I went through the anomaly,” he said, out of the blue but with a hint of a smile, “You kissed me. On the lips.”
His heart was thudding slightly but for the first time in a long while it was with nervous excitement rather than fear, wondering what she’d say and how she’d react. He knew it was childish really, he wasn’t some awkward teenager after all, but he liked the feeling.
Claudia grinned at her own words being used against her.
“Yes...” she said, annoyingly unforthcoming.
“Didn’t you say something about sexual harassment being a serious offence?” he joked, determined now not to let the matter go.
“Only if you’re in the civil service. And you’re not.”
He smiled. This was Claudia. All sweet smiles but still a flirt when she chose to be. He’d missed this.
Something else had happened before he’d walked through the anomaly he recalled with a sudden jolt of memory. It was something that, for the longest time, had eaten at him inside and he needed to get it off his chest.
“I should have listened to you,” he stated with a shake of his head, the happiness of the previous moment washed away, “You told me not to go. That you had a bad feeling about it all. You were right.”
More right than she ever could know.
She frowned in concern. “What happened to Ryan and those men wasn’t your fault.”
Of course that wasn’t quite what he’d meant but he found the confession cathartic all the same.
“We should have been more careful,” he confessed, eyes fixed to the carpet so she couldn’t see that he wasn’t telling her the whole truth, “We could have caused a disaster.”
And then, his mind distracted by bitter thoughts, her fingers were unexpectedly under his chin, lifting his face up to look at her as she knelt on the carpet in front of him, eyes full of soft sympathy.
“We didn’t,” she said, solemnly, “I did have a bad feeling. It felt like I was never going to see you again. But it didn’t happen.”
She would never know how wrong she’d nearly been.
Her words tipped him over the edge and his lips were on hers in a moment, crushingly hard, over a year of desperate sadness trying to all come out at once. She let out a small gasp of surprise, the second time he’d caught her off guard in such a manner, before kissing him back with a passion he’d always known existed under the cool exterior of a professional.
He was breathless by the time he pulled back and he could only watch, entranced as she stood and then sat over his lap, knees either side of his hips. Her hands caressed the side of his face and ran back through his hair. Her kisses in comparison to his were soft and gentle. Loving and lazy kisses that seemed to clench right at his heart.
He pushed the jacket from her shoulders, his hands running down her body properly for the first time. He would have been inhuman if he hadn’t reacted to her pressed so close to him. It had been a damn long time after all.
The look in her eyes was a silent agreement. A small part of him wanted to be the gentleman and disagree. Say that it was too soon and that they’d never even been on a proper date yet. But he loved her, he’d had enough time to realise that. And a desperate man who’d thought he’d lost the woman he loved, who had let her go so painfully, was in no position to say ‘no’.
He had no idea how they made it to his bedroom. He certainly didn’t remember stopping kissing her at any point. Not even when he undressed her and dropped her to his bed, nor as her hands worked on his own clothes, sending his mind and body racing.
Her body was so different from the last one he’d been with. Not lean and hard from intensive field work, but soft and feminine, alluring in a way he’d never experienced. He didn’t think he’d adored anyone more.
His eyes took all of her in as he ran his fingers over her body, learning her, committing the feel of her to memory before ever getting near where she wanted him. Too many times he’d regretted not kissing her sooner, not knowing her as well as he would have liked. He would not waste the opportunity now. He took it slowly, wanting to watch her writhe against his bed as her hair fanned on his pillow, almost as much as he wanted to be in her.
He barely gave her moment to recover before his body was over hers and he was inside. It was the intimacy of it that nearly finished him, the way her legs wrapped so closely around his and her hands alternated between skimming up and down his back and squeezing his backside to urge him on. Her kisses were longing and needy, instinctive passion in her lips.
Right now, everything he’d been through was worth it to get to this moment.
He lost himself in her gasps and pleasured moans, in how she felt around and beneath him. It was so easy to forget that anything else had ever happened at all.
The way she said his name was the most erotic thing he’d ever heard. He only stopped kissing her when she came, body tensing beneath his, dragging him with her.
Then, as he caught his breath, he kissed down her throat and the bare skin of her shoulders, each press of his lips a thank you to the world at large that he’d got her back.
Soon he was lost to sleep. Peaceful and dreamless.
He awoke early, whilst it was still dark outside, to find the soothing warm press of her body gone. He frowned. It wouldn’t be like Claudia to just leave.
He got up and pulled on a pair of loose trousers. He didn’t have to look far for her. Padding softly out into the hallway he saw the bathroom light on. The door was open and she was at the sink, splashing cold water onto her face. Wearing his tee shirt he noticed.
“You okay?” he asked, walking up behind her and leaning against the door frame, not wanting to startle her.
She smiled softly at him in the reflection of the mirror.
“More bad dreams,” she said, almost embarrassed. ”Still, I suppose when you spend your life being chased by monsters the odd nightmare is to be expected, hmm?”
He could tell her a thing or two about nightmares but he really didn’t want too. They should be in the past. For them both.
He stepped up behind her and dropped a kiss into her tussled hair, his arms around her in a way he’d already become almost alarmingly used to. She would hate to be soothed or molly coddled and so he gave her nothing more than solid reassurance.
“You know,” she said thoughtfully, eyes still fixed ahead of her, “Every time I’ve looked in a mirror the last couple of days I’ve seen one of those bloody anomalies. I was starting to wonder if I was going mad.”
He stilled for a moment, ice water running through his veins, sending a cold chill deep into his spine.
“But it’s gone now,” he guessed, trying to relax from the momentary shock.
“Good,” he said, taking her hand and leading her back to his bed.
“Going home in the same clothes I wore yesterday,” she joked as he showed her to the door much later the next morning, “What will people think?”
“That I’m incredibly lucky,” he said with a smile, unable to resist kissing her. He wondered if the urge would ever leave him.
She smiled as well as they parted, “I’ll see you later, yes?”
“Yeah. And after work I’m taking you to dinner,” he stated.
“Oh,” she said, raising an eyebrow, “So you don’t cook then?”
“I wouldn’t want to subject you to that quite yet,” he said with a grin, “I believe my colleagues described my cooking as ‘experimental’. I never did pay much heed to recipe books.”
“Sounds horrifying,” she admitted, with a grin of her own.
One last kiss, which was meant to be a quick one yet his arms wrapped around her waist and he pulled her closer, lips lingering far longer than he’d intended. Then she was off, into her car and driving away.
Nick smiled warmly as he watched go, feeling a peace he hadn’t known in years, since long before Helen had left.
He turned to head back indoors again, knowing he now had little time to get himself ready for work, but hesitated as something caught his attention. Then his grin turned a little smug.
The woman in question stepped out from behind the hedge separating his front garden from his neighbours. She did not look pleased.
“Well, you didn’t waste your time, did you?” she pointed out bluntly, no patience for small talk as usual.
“No time like the present,” he agreed, knowing she’d pick up on the double meaning there.
He couldn’t help but feel triumphant at her displeasure. After all she’d put him through she deserved at least that.
“So what?” she asked, “That’s it now? You’re going to marry her and live happily ever after?”
She spoke as though the whole notion was distasteful, like he was doing himself wrong if he gave any heed to such a silly notion. That was always Helen’s problem though – she was so enamoured of the wildest wonders life could bring that she never stopped to find fulfilment in the small things. So convinced was she that she was meant for great things that she never saw what she was missing. He almost pitied her.
He briefly remembered the meeting with his future self, a smile gracing his lips.
“Apparently, yes. You got what you wanted. Stephen’s alive and we prevented the apocalypse that you nearly caused.”
Working with Helen to restore the past, to undo all the damage she’d done, had been an unfortunate necessity, one he was glad to be finally rid of. It almost made him laugh inside to think how the tables had turned, how he’d become so good at manipulating her. He supposed he should be more sad at the fact that the love and passion they’d once shared as students had degenerated to this. But, in truth, he would give up every one of those early days with Helen if it meant more time in the here and now. She had a great capacity for destroying things.
She blocked most of what he said, her selective hearing at its most effective.
“I wanted you too, Nick,” she pressed, a last gasp effort, “I always did.”
He snorted a bitter laugh, not believing that was the whole truth. “Maybe. But you never stopped to think that I didn’t want you.”
At last she was silenced. Perhaps she finally realised that he meant it this time because the idea of her disappearing from his life for good was more than a little appealing and the blunt venom in his words quite clear. He shook his head, bored of her and her games. He had no intention of playing ever again.
“Just go,” he said dismissively, “Disappear through an anomaly and don’t come back.”
“You’re letting me go?” she asked, hands on hips, genuinely surprised.
“Call a parting gift or whatever you like,” he said with a shake of his head, “Truth is, I know everything you do now. About the anomalies. About how to predict them. We don’t need you. And you’re well aware of what happens if you start meddling with things again. I don’t think you’d risk your own existence, even to get back at me.”
That was true enough. It was she who’d approached him after all, genuinely scared by the damage she’d done and desperate for his help to put things right. He’d cautiously believed her and even when he’d discovered she was telling the truth he had, quite sensibly, never fully trusted her.
“Still chivalrous, eh Nick?” she said with a bitter smile, “Although, perhaps not so much, since I suppose this means you win.”
For him it had never been about winning and losing but they were the only terms she seemed to understand anymore.
“Yes,” he said with a nod, “I suppose, it does.”
And he shut the door. It felt like the wisest thing he’d ever done.
An hour later, he was at work, telling the others about this brilliant new idea he’d had for an anomaly detector using radio frequencies. Most of them were nodding in vague, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ approval. But Connor was excited, the kid utterly convinced that it would work.
Nick just smiled at him in thanks.
Next came a meeting with Lester. Apparently the incident with the Future Predator had scared some suits into giving them more funding, including their own research centre. Connor was all for calling it Alpha Base One. Or possibly the batcave.
Nick suggested Anomaly Research Centre. The ARC. The name went down well.
By the afternoon they were all in a field just outside the city, looking at some very confused cows that did not seem to like sharing their grass with a bunch of Eocene herbivores who had wandered through.
“Shall we get to work?” Claudia said brightly after they all contemplated the situation for a few minutes.
She wasn’t feeling quite so bright half hour later when they were all covered in mud from running around the field, trying unsuccessfully to round the creatures up.
“This is hopeless,” Abby said, looking grumpily at the state of her shoes.
“I say we train Connor as a sheepdog,” Stephen joked.
Connor glared at him.
“What do we do?” Claudia asked, her cheeks pink and her trousers mud splattered.
“More running around the field seems appropriate,” Nick said with a smile, “How about this time instead of catching them we try to just herd them back through the anomaly? Close them in and force them back through?”
The other four grumbled as they set off to do just that. And even though they ended the afternoon filthy and exhausted, Nick felt like the pieces of his existence had finally fallen back into place and he couldn’t remember ever having felt so at home.