Title: Learning Curve - 9 of 9
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...)
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.
The walk back to the camp wasn’t long and Claudia insisted on doing it, even though Nick tried to dissuade her. Ryan and Reynolds had stayed with the dead creature and Stephen was sitting with Abby, who was definitely in pain but not seriously injured. A medic and an ambulance were on the way to pick her up.
Claudia needed the time to gather herself though, needed the crisp cool air in her lungs and needed the exercise to clear her head. She also needed to get rid of some of the nervous energy still flying through her muscles.
She was lost in her own internal world as she walked until she felt a sudden warmth and realised that Nick had draped his coat around her shoulders.
“You look cold,” he reasoned.
“I’m alright,” she insisted, brain still running mainly in automatic.
He raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
For once she didn’t argue.
Most of the rest of the journey continued in silence and she was grateful for his understanding. After a few minutes he slipped his hand wordlessly into hers and didn’t let go until they were back at the camp.
Abby sat up in bed, pillows propped behind her and let out a bored sigh as she looked around the sparse room. A couple of hours ago she would have given anything to be safe and sound in a bed, and now? Now she was remembering how mind numbingly dull hospitals were.
Still, it could have been worse. Her ankle wasn’t broken which was a massive surprise because it certainly felt like it. But no, the x rays had shown nothing and so the doctor had said it was simply bad soft tissue trauma. Apparently she also had a bruise the size of her fist on the side of her head, not that she’d really notice anything, assuming that her headache was just a result of the car crash. She had several cracked ribs as well but nothing too serious and they’d said and long as the head trauma showed no signs of getting worse then she could go home in the morning if she was feeling up to it. She knew she would be. Nothing would keep her here longer than necessary.
She was just becoming resolved to lying down and attempting to sleep away the time until she was allowed home, when there was a short knock on her door and she looked up to see Stephen there, smiling warmly at her.
“All right,” she said, trying not to let her face beam with a grin that was way too obvious.
“How you feeling?” he asked, taking a couple of paces into the room but still staying a noticeable distance from her bed.
She tried to ignore that, telling herself he was still just feeling a little sheepish after their stupid argument earlier in the night. After all, he’d been fine when they’d been sitting in the forest waiting for the ambulance. He’d even put an arm round her shoulders. She guessed it was only now with the crisis over that he remembered their cross words and probably felt bad about them.
“Better,” she said with thanks, “Pain medication is a wonderful invention.”
He nodded and an awkward silence. He seemed to teetering on the verge of saying something and she was trying to decide whether she should push him into just doing it or start chatting about something else entirely to make things more comfortable when he spoke again.
“Look, Abby, about what was said earlier-“
Already prepared for that, she held up her hand to interrupt him. “On the basis that you saved my life, I think you get automatically forgiven for anything daft you said. And the same applies for at least the next twenty four hours as well.”
Stephen smiled but only a little, “Well that’s nice to know. And I didn’t mean to offend you or anything. It’s just, I get the feeling you like me and I want you to know that-“
Whatever he was about to say Abby didn’t discover because at that moment Connor shot into the room with all the excitement of a kid going for his toys on Christmas morning. He went straight over and flung his arms around her in a big, clumsy hug, obviously remembering she was sore but still enthusiastic all the same.
She couldn’t really be angry at him for being so delighted to see her even though he’d just ruined a potentially important moment. Whatever Stephen had to say she was sure it would just have to wait a little while longer. And besides, she reminded herself, the chase was half the fun. Not to mention that she’d rather he was chatting her up when she looked a bit less of a state.
Stephen, stepped back, giving Connor room as the younger man dragged a chair up, obviously planning on staying a while.
“Look, I’ll come and see you in the morning, yeah?” he said, making his excuses to leave, “Ryan’s heading back to the anomaly site soon and I said I’d go and help him keep an eye on the place until it closes.”
Abby beamed a grin at him.
As he reached the door, Stephen turned and watched Connor almost bounding around Abby, promising her that when she got home the next day he’d be her willing slave, that he’d have everything all nice for her, that he’d cook her all her meals and do all the tidying up...
It saddened Stephen to see that she didn’t really see how smitten Connor was with her. She’d be so much better off with a nice guy like that.
In the end Stephen knew it didn’t matter how much she liked him nor how long she waited for him to say what she wanted to hear. It wasn’t to be – his heart was firmly elsewhere. If only he could pluck up the courage to tell her that.
Claudia winced slightly as she experimentally fingered the stitches in her forehead. Her palms were still stinging as well after been cleaned properly just to ensure that none of the myriad of scratches there got infected. And her body was aching all over. She was sure she’d be covered in bruises come the morning. The doctor had said that apart from a few superficial injuries she was fine but, with the bang to her head being a concern, she would need to stay in for a couple of hours observation anyway just in case.
Nick had been with her ever since he had come to her rescue in the forest, first walking back to the camp with her, then sitting with her in his car and only briefly leaving to get a blanket to wrap around her shivering shoulders. He’d then crouched in front of her and had taken her hands in his, trying to warm them whilst at the same time being careful of the multitude of scratches. He’d driven her to the hospital too when she’d stated so firmly that she didn’t want to go in the ambulance and that it was Abby, not her, who needed the medical attention. He’d sat with her whilst she was checked over and had her head stitched, saying nothing but being a calming presence in the room all the same.
He’d finally gone now, to check up on how Abby was doing and he’d said he’d be back soon. She was beginning to wish that she’d insisted on going with him because the sterile, empty hospital room was giving her too much time to think. She was grateful when her first interruption arrived.
It was Captain Ryan, apparently having been in to visit his injured men briefly before heading back out to the anomaly site. She was rather touched that he would think about checking in on her too.
“Glad to see you in once piece, ma’am,” he said with a genuine smile after knocking courteously on her door and being invited in.
She nodded gratefully. “Thank you. Did you find your missing men?”
She’d managed to get most of the details about what had actually happened from Nick as he’d driven her to the hospital but she was still annoyingly in the dark on some things.
Ryan’s face was instantly grim and he shook his head. “Search team found one body and some...remains.”
She lowered her gaze to the floor, “I’m sorry.”
“Could have been much worse,” the captain pointed out, “We were lucky in the circumstances.”
Moments later he left, saying that he had to get back to the still active anomaly.
Her second visitor wasn’t nearly so welcome.
Lester enquired briefly after her health when he arrived although whether from a genuine concern or social politeness she couldn’t tell. She was feeling weary and particularly ungenerous though, so she attributed it to the latter.
He was apparently tired and in no mood to play nice. Not that he generally did ‘nice’ anyway. His questions started off innocuous enough, basic queries about what had happened. Then he threw in an offhand sounding comment that immediately got her hackles up.
“Of course that’s two more deaths to add to the total. I think we’re going to have to have a closer look at how field operations are being run...”
She glanced up sharply, having only paid perfunctory attention to him up until that point. Was he really trying to suggest that this was somehow her fault?
In hindsight Nick might have just saved her job by turning up when he did. Tired and slightly emotional she might actually have slapped Lester if that line of questioning had continued. Fortunately, Nick took one look at her stony, offended face and set quickly to action.
“Cutter,” Lester said brightly, “I was just-“
“Leaving,” Nick finished, ushering him very effectively out of the door and closing it.
Claudia almost laughed but smiled instead.
“That’s the second time you’ve rescued me tonight. It’s becoming rather a habit.”
“Not a problem.”
“How’s Abby?” she asked, as he sat himself next to her on the bed. She’d refused to get changed and get in it, reasoning that she had no intention of staying here any longer than necessary.
“Fine,” Nick said with a nod, “Connor’s doing an excellent job as nurse maid by all accounts.”
Claudia did laugh a little this time.
“How’s your head?” Nick continued, almost subconsciously reaching up and brushing her hair away from the stitches as though checking all was still well.
“Feels like someone’s trying to drill their way out of it,” she admitted, too tired to feel embarrassed by the intimacy of his action, “They think I might be concussed but I’m assured it isn’t going to explode or fall off at any moment so that’s a blessing.”
“Good. You look much better with your head attached...” he paused a moment, wiping the gentle humour from his face before becoming a little more serious, “And how are you?”
She knew what he meant.
“Recovering,” she settled on after a moment’s thought, “There’s only so many times you can nearly die in one night before it leaves a bit of an impression.”
“You’ll get through it,” he said with blunt honesty, “You’re a strong woman, Claudia Brown.”
She bit her lip and looked straight ahead, almost uncomfortable with the praise.
“Look,” she said, after a moment, “You don’t have to stay here...”
She didn’t want to be a burden nor want him to stay simply because he thought he ought to. It was only fair to give him a get out clause.
“I know,” he said dismissively, “But I want to. Now let me make myself useful. Is there anything you want?”
“Well, since coffee and wine are off of the menu I could at least do with a cup of tea,” she said gratefully, “Decaffinated, obviously. I don’t need any more reasons not to sleep.”
He smiled as he stood, “You never know, if you’re lucky there might just be some chocolate in the offing too.”
“My hero,” she teased.
He paused before leaning across and leaving a lingering kiss her on the forehead before he left.
The next morning was bright and sunny and left her feeling far removed from all that had happened the previous evening. If it wasn’t for the stitches on her forehead she could barely imagine it had actually been real. That and the fact she’d had the unenviable duty that morning of visiting the families of the dead men with Captain Ryan to offer their condolences and false explanations as to what had happened. Dangerous animal escape, they’d said.
She’d arrived at work by train and a short walk but by lunch time another car had already been assigned to her. Not an Aston Martin unfortunately but an identical replacement SUV. She took immediate advantage of it and in the early afternoon drove herself over to the university. She found Nick, unsurprisingly, in his office.
“How’s the surveillance plan going?” she asked once he’d offered her a seat and his enquiries about how she was feeling were out of the way.
“Nothing so far,” he admitted, “I’m sure I’m right but proving it is going to be problematic.”
“Well, we’ll just have to keep trying,” she insisted, sitting back in the chair, far more at home in the room than she probably should be, “The more information we have about these anomalies the better. If we can predict them then we can keep people safe more effectively.”
She was still trying desperately hard not to let Lester’s words get to her although she couldn’t help but have some doubts. Maybe the way she handled things at times was causing unnecessary problems. Maybe she wasn’t focussing hard enough on prevention rather than cure when it came to these anomaly incidents. She didn’t really think it would be possible to stop them but at very least they needed a greater understanding about how, why and when they were likely to occur. She supposed the best she could do with Lester’s comment, if she couldn’t forget it, was let it make her more determined to do her job as well as she could.
Nick studied her from across the desk for a moment before speaking and she wondered if somehow he had an idea what she was thinking.
“Abby was very complimentary about you, you know?”
“She was?” Claudia asked, wishing she didn’t sound quite so surprised.
“Yeah. She said you handled yourself admirably out there.”
She began to tuck her hair behind her ears, self consciously, brushing his praise aside with a shrug. “Well, beginners luck, I guess.”
Nick wasn’t having any of that.
“You got her safely back,” he said, rather solemnly, “I’d say it was more than luck”. Then he smiled and added, “We might make a field officer out of you yet.”
She smiled as well but said nothing, although she couldn’t help but be secretly pleased. Maybe she wasn’t going to be such a hindrance to them after all. She wasn’t the expert many of them were but she was learning at least.
“Look,” she began, talking hurriedly before she lost her nerve, getting to the real reason why she had made herself come here, “this may be a little....well, I was thinking...when I was out there I made myself a promise that I would ask you this and I was just wondering if perhaps you’d like to-“
She stopped as Stephen suddenly entered the room, smiling warmly at her.
“You all right?”
She nodded, her confidence suddenly gone.
“Actually,” Nick said with a smile, “Claudia was just about to ask me something...”
From the way he looked at her she had a suspicion that he’d got an idea of what that was.
“Another time,” she suggested with a small smile of her own.
He nodded, obviously content to wait.
Tomorrow, she promised herself. Barring no disasters in the meantime she would ask him tomorrow.