Title: Learning Curve
Characters: Claudia, Abby, Nick, Stephen, Connor, Ryan, Lester
Pairings/Ships: Nick/Claudia, Abby/Stephen and Abby/Connor.
Spoilers: Some from 1x01-1x05. Set in an imaginary larger gap between 1x05 and 1x06.
Disclaimer: I don’t own them....Bugger... (although if anyone at Impossible Pictures wants to offer me a job that’d be great...)
Short Summary: Abby is feeling increasingly frustrated with Stephen’s behaviour towards her, wondering if he cares for her as much as she hopes. Claudia is feeling increasingly frustrated by her lack of field experience, wondering if the others see her as a hindrance. Both problems pale into insignificance however when a large predator is on the loose and they find themselves lost and running for their lives.
Author's Note: Reposted due to changes to the first parts and now complete. A million thanks and many gold stars to fredbassett for being the most fabulous beta reader.
Stepping into the clinical environment of the Home Office department, Claudia couldn’t help but feel strangely at home. Yes, the place was generally cold and unwelcoming to most but she appreciated the feeling of control it gave her and that made her feel more at ease here than many others would.
Here she knew what she was doing, here things were simple and, quite frankly, less dangerous. Whilst she was getting more and more used to working in the often precarious field situations this assignment placed her in with alarming regularity, it wasn’t exactly something she’d trained for.
So far the others had been remarkably understanding. She came from a very different professional background to them and they accepted the mistakes she sometimes made because of that. Still, even though she would not admit it, it certainly had taken some adjusting to on her part. She was used to working in offices, going to meetings, writing reports and liaising with outside organisations, not traipsing through forests, tracking animals, being chased by dinosaurs and running for her life. She only hoped that she would one day find herself as at ease with it all as the others appeared to be but right now she was rather fed up of still feeling annoyingly out of her depth no matter how well she hid it. She realised that it wasn’t exactly her fault – they were all field scientists or at the very least had some similar experience or training. She’d gone from studying law straight to becoming a civil servant and the closest she’d ever gotten to an extreme field situation was a couple of the less charming student digs she’d stayed in. It already worried her that the others secretly looked upon her as a hindrance, someone who needed special treatment and extra looking after. The last thing she wanted to be seen as was a burden. The thought left her both annoyed and embarrassed.
“Any developments?” Lester asked, walking past her without stopping, just expecting her to follow as usual. She hurriedly fell into step alongside him.
“No,” she stated, already having met Ryan just ten minutes ago to get an update report on the anomaly found that morning in Epping Forest. It had been discovered purely by chance; a member of the public had phoned the police to report an unusual light show he’d seen whilst out walking his dog. Claudia had picked up on the report and had decided that the odd description was worth checking out. Her hunch had been right.
“Cutter and his team have been down there most of the day,” she continued, “but whilst the anomaly is active, the area on the other side seems to be deserted. They’re guessing that it’s some kind of dry season and the animals that would normally be there have migrated elsewhere.”
It was the second anomaly in a week to seemingly lead to the same place and time. Nick had found that fact particularly intriguing. It was further evidence to support his theory concerning temporal fault lines that fractured their way along points in space whilst remaining at approximately the same point in time, just the way they’d seen when they’d encountered mosasaur. It certainly was an interesting idea, although Lester seemed to be not particularly bothered by that right now.
“And the security?” he asked, making it clear as always what his top priority was.
“Captain Ryan has a unit there to seal off the area and monitor any changes in the anomaly.”
“Good. With a bit of luck this will be another quiet one.”
Part of her cringed, wondering if he’d just jinxed it.
“Perhaps,” she said, not quite sharing his optimism, knowing this job had a way of turning fortune at the drop of a hat, “Professor Cutter and the others have gone to continue some research they’re carrying out on the nature of the anomalies but Abby has stayed with the unit to advise, just in case.”
Lester finally stopped walking as he reached his desk and his office.
“Who?” he asked distractedly, flicking through the pile of correspondence awaiting him.
Claudia frowned a little.
It seemed he was no clearer.
Claudia sighed, wondering how he got away with it. Just how did he manage to stay quite so detached from the people risking their lives for this project? She knew she couldn’t do it.
“Slim girl with short blonde hair,” she explained, wishing that she didn’t have to.
“Right,” he said with a nod although she couldn’t tell if he truly remembered who Abby was or if he was just pretending that he did to shut her up.
“You know you could try to learn their names,” she pointed out bluntly, “These people are doing an awfully good job out there and they didn’t even have to get involved in the first place.”
Claudia had always found that rather admirable on the part of both Connor and particularly Abby. She herself was assigned to this project and had no choice, Cutter obviously had the issue of his wife to hold him to it and Stephen had been a friend of theirs too and so his reasons for staying were clear. Connor had no real reason as such but she supposed he simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to discover something so wonderful and nor, she suspected, would he want to miss out being in what almost amounted to a secret organisation. Abby, however, had no seeming ties to the project at all. She just wanted to help and Claudia respected that. Clearly a lot more than Lester did. He probably would have laughed at anything so sentimental.
Lester shrugged slightly, nose still buried in his paper work, “We didn’t force them to get involved. They did it out of choice. In fact, sometimes I rather wish some of them hadn’t.”
He looked almost wistful for a moment, perhaps imaging what it would be like to have a team of government experts on this instead. A team who behaved entirely as expected and did exactly as they were told.
“I want you to go out there and check on the situation for yourself,” he ordered, clearly having decided that he didn’t quite trust Abby to do things by the book and also likely not overly impressed with the unit’s ability to think before reacting either. He always had expressed a concern about soldiers being a bit too trigger happy in his experience. Although why he trusted her, Claudia didn’t know. Perhaps he thought that she cared enough about her career to not do anything to jeopardise it. Or perhaps he was simply still merrily oblivious to the number of times she’d disregarded what he’d said in favour of one of Nick’s plans.
“Fine,” she said with a nod, heading towards the door.
“And Claudia,” he added, causing her to momentarily turn back, “We’ve had quite enough deaths recently. Make sure we don’t add to the total. It’s becoming...difficult.”
She nodded again but said nothing, biting her tongue at the idea of someone’s death being a mere difficulty. Did he know that the deaths of the diver and Connor’s friend Tom were still playing on her mind? Or did he believe, as she sometimes did, that she was in charge out there and held some amount of responsibility for them?
“You don’t have to stay ma’am,” the soldier said as he handed Abby a Styrofoam cup full of tea, “We’ve got it covered.”
She smiled at him in thanks.
“Nah, it’s okay. You need someone here who knows about the animals. Just in case.”
Of course in truth, her knowledge of the actual animals they would likely face was limited. Having left university after a term to follow a more practical career path, she knew that she wasn’t an academic like Cutter or Connor and nor did she really have Stephen’s experience in the field. She had, however, worked with and studied reptiles for years and had a pretty good handle on their behaviour by now. So far, from what she’d seen, these creatures were maybe older, larger and often meaner but they still portrayed many of the basic traits and behaviours seen in their descendents today. She may not be a professor but she had practical experience a plenty and she knew that that counted for a lot in situations like these.
Besides, she’d rather be out here, freezing cold and quite frankly bored, than be home alone and sulking about Stephen.
In a way it was good that he could wind her up so much with the simplest of comments. Maybe it went some way towards showing him that she’d lied before; that it hadn’t simply been a case of her fancying him and she was now over it.
At first that might have actually been true. After all, why else would she - at a time when she was faced with a creature of impossible size that she knew couldn’t exist - pause to think that one of the men who’d turned up and seemed to know what was going on was actually a bit gorgeous? As she got to know him, however, she found out how passionate he was about what he did, how he felt so strongly about issues close to her own heart like conservation and extinction. She admired his adventurous side, his always wanting to try new things and never wanting to stay still. And she couldn’t help really but be attracted by his secretiveness. Some women might have been put off by his reticence to say anything about himself, wondering what he was hiding or if he was all he seemed on the surface but she only found him more intriguing because of it. She always had been attracted to the slightly dangerous ones.
Not mention that he was indeed a bit gorgeous.
Even when she had found out that he had a girlfriend she hadn’t been put off permanently once the initial surprise had passed. After all, they’d not seen each other in something like two years and when questioned about it he hardly seemed overjoyed that she was back. From what Abby could gather, the mystery woman had left again not long after she’d arrived and Stephen hadn’t spoken of her since. He hardly seemed besotted and Abby couldn’t help but remind herself that it was her he spent nearly every day working with, not some on and off again girlfriend. And it was also her that he’d asked out on a date, even if he was full of toxins and a bit delirious at the time. He’d even grinned when she’d said she’d stay for breakfast, clearly not at all minding the implication there.
No, there was no doubt in her mind that he did like her but something was clearly holding him back and she was determined to get to the bottom of it. Except of course on occasions like today when she could quite cheerfully tell him to go to hell instead.
He really ought to know better by now than to say stupid, moronic things like ‘you should go out with Connor, he’s nice’ and think she wouldn’t mind.
Yeah, because ‘nice’ was really what she was looking for.
It wasn’t that she couldn’t stand Connor or anything; she liked him well enough and he wasn’t repulsive to look at. He was in fact a sweet guy full of good intentions who was actually becoming a good mate. She wasn’t foolish – she knew that he fancied her – but she made it quite clear to him that she liked him a lot as a friend but nothing more. And Stephen was right, he was nice but ‘nice’ didn’t push her buttons and it annoyed her that Stephen thought it would.
A bit of light banter had quickly turned into an argument with her accusing him of not knowing a thing about her and storming off, even more annoyed when he failed to come after her and attempt to apologise. She was almost tempted to go and snog Connor there and then just to try to get some kind of reaction out of Stephen. She hadn’t though, knowing how unfair that would be on Connor, and so instead and simply ignored the irritating sod, being the first to offer when Cutter had suggested one of them stay behind at the anomaly.
Stephen had tried to talk her before he left but she had blanked him, annoyed by the fact that in some ways he was perfect and some ways he was the most frustrating person she’d ever met.
And by the fact that despite him making things so difficult for her she still liked him.
The soldier who had brought the tea to her nodded and walked off again without further comment. They weren’t exactly the chattiest bunch in the world and, if she was honest, it seemed like they’d be happier if she wasn’t around. They probably just saw her as another anomaly to deal with – something that didn’t fit very happily in their highly ordered world which could all too easily mess up the structure of the situation. To them she was just another thing to worry about that they could do without under the circumstances. It was a bit unfair really. She knew she wasn’t exactly SAS material but she was no damsel in distress. She could look out for herself well enough.
She took a sip of the tea, the comparison between the hot liquid and her cold lips demonstrating just how icy it was now the sun had long since set. The January sky was clear and she could see stars through the skeletal tree branches, the mist from her breath floating up to join them. A thin film of frost was already starting to form on the carpet of dead leaves and the whole scene had an eerie stillness to it. It felt like the world had frozen, shutting down until the first weak rays of dawn awoke it again.
It was the stillness of the air around her that allowed her to notice the subtlest of changes that the anomaly brought about. She frowned at first, wondering if it was her imagination looking for things in the darkness beyond the ring of floodlights the soldiers had erected. But no, she realised, glancing at the meter Connor had set up to measure the magnetic field being produced, seeing the needle angrily flicking from side to side, something was happening.
She stood, slowly and deliberately, looking at the anomaly with some apprehension although she wasn’t entirely sure why. She just had a bad feeling that was all. She was about to warn the special forces men when she realised that they must also have picked up on whatever she had, because they were beginning to stand too, holding their weapons, fanning out in front of the anomaly.
The one who had brought her the tea slowly stepped in front of her, pushing her back a little so that she was safety behind the line of armed men. She should have been grateful for his thoughtfulness she supposed but she was too busy staring at the anomaly for it to register.
She watched as it began to flicker and distort further, the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach growing.
It didn’t take her long to realise that there was a creature moving on the other side, stepping its way through.
It took even less time for the men to start firing when they saw what it was.
Tea man turned to her sharply, barking out a single order, clearly having already judged this a serious enough threat that he was not confident they could stop it.
Abby didn’t hesitate.