Title: A Quiet Break In The Country (1of 8)
Pairings/Ships: Nick/Claudia, Abby/Connor.
Spoilers: Season 1
Disclaimer: I don’t own them....Bugger... (although if anyone at Impossible Pictures wants to offer me a job that’d be great...)
Summary: Never mind anomalies, the boys are having enough problems dealing with the troubles in their personal lives...
Following the revelations about Helen, Nick is trying to move on but is finding he’s rather out of practice in some areas and doesn’t enjoy the scrutiny of making his mistakes in public.
Stephen is trying to repair the fractured friendships with both Nick and Abby, unsure of how to make up for past mistakes.
Connor meanwhile is quite happy to admit that he fancies Abby but the thought that he might be falling in love with her is a bit more daunting.
They’re almost relieved when an unusual, dead creature is discovered in the grounds of a luxury country hotel. They should have remembered though how quickly things can turn dangerous.
Author’s Note: How a series two episode might have gone if it wasn’t for that pesky timeline change...Beta read by fredbassett
Connor nervously fiddled with the box still resting safely in his jacket pocket. He knew that couldn’t be a good sign. If he felt this uncomfortable about even getting someone else’s advice on the matter, then actually taking the plunge and handing them over...well, he’d probably have a heart attack before he managed it.
Still, he had to do something and this was a hell of a lot easier than just telling her outright. It was a subtle gesture. It could be taken either way. It was safe. If she seemed uncomfortable then he could laugh and joke and brush it off, telling her that she’d got the wrong impression. They could easily just continue being friends, she’d be none the wiser and he wouldn’t be embarrassed. And, yes, he would then have to try and carry on the way he was right now, which wasn’t going to be easy, but at least he’d know.
And if she didn’t seem uncomfortable? If she smiled and flirted and did all the things he hoped she would? Well, that was almost even scarier to contemplate and so he decided not to.
He hated feeling so ill at ease around Abby. Things would be so much easier had his feelings stalled at ‘she’s a bit fit’. That way he could gawk at her to his heart’s content and never be bothered that he was being blatant about it, even when she threatened to whack him in the nose for it. But starting to actually fall for her? Hiding all these feelings? Well, that was bloody frightening.
He kept trying to tell himself that falling in love with her would be such a bad idea, that things would inevitably go wrong and he’d ruin everything. He’d lose a friend and on top of that he’d no longer have a place to live.
He was an idiot for even considering it.
But he couldn’t help it.
Ever since she’d saved him from the future predator, not even thinking about her own safety in the process, she’d been on his mind more and more. He kept trying to remind himself that any one of them would have done the same thing because they were friends and colleagues, and it certainly didn’t mean that there were any deeper feelings at work. If Claudia had been the one to save him he wouldn’t have even considered that she might fancy him or anything. But it was different with Abby. The idea that she might have saved him because she possibly liked him more than a friend seemed to not want to leave him alone.
It disturbed him when he remembered how much it’d stung that the first thing she’d done afterwards was throw her arms around Stephen, using the moment to push herself closer to him again.
Connor couldn’t help but ask himself a painful question; why would she want him when she could have the likes of Stephen? How could he compete with a good looking action man?
He didn’t know if it was testament to a tenacious nature or simply idiocy that he wouldn’t let the matter drop completely. Her birthday was coming up, only a few days away now, and he decided to test the waters in the safest way possible. Get her something really nice and see how she reacted.
Not that he was utterly convinced that his version of ‘really nice’ was the same as Abby’s. Or any woman’s for that matter. He never really did possess the knack of handling them. Which was why he’d made his way to the Home Office, even though it was his day off and he should have been studying. He only knew one other woman well enough to ask such advice, even if he was a bit intimidated by her. He tried to tell himself that it was because she was capable of ordering men with guns around but he suspected it wasn’t just that. She just always seemed so in charge of everything and he found women in power somehow daunting.
Claudia was in her office and she looked surprised, although not unpleasantly so, when Connor knocked on her door.
“Claudia,” he said, trying to sound bright and offhand, but it didn’t come out quite how he’d intended, “You’re a woman, right?”
She gave him a very funny look. Not the best of starts.
“Not that it’s not obvious or anything,” he justified, hoping he hadn’t somehow offended her, “I mean you’re clearly a woman, you’ve got all the bits.” He realised that didn’t sound much better either and hurried to qualify his statement, “Not that I’ve been looking. Not that you’re not nice to look at, of course. I mean any bloke would want to look but-”
“Connor,” she interrupted, taking pity on his rambling and looking mildly amused, “Did you want something?”
“Yeah,” he said, grateful that she’d stopped him, “Some advice actually.”
“The hat looks ridiculous,” she said in an instant.
“It’s not about-” he began, before realising what she’d said and frowned, subconsciously reaching up to his head, “What’s wrong with my hat?”
“I’m joking,” she assured him, with a warm smile, obviously trying to make him feel more at ease. It sort of worked. “How can I help you?”
He hurriedly fished the box out of his pocket before he changed his mind and chickened out, fumbling fingers failing to keep hold of it and it tumbled to the floor.
It stopped rolling when it hit her shoe and she bent down curiously to pick it up.
“Just wanted to know what you thought,” he explained, nodding at her to confirm she was welcome to open it, hands shoved in his pockets, “I got them for Abby, for her birthday.”
He took another look at the earrings himself as Claudia carefully opened the box and peered inside. He’d spent so long studying different pairs that he’d almost forgotten which ones he’d brought in the end.
She considered them carefully for a moment and his nervous mind couldn’t stop him from babbling some more, doing a poor job at hiding how important this was to him.
“I know she doesn’t wear much jewellery,” he reasoned, “But I thought, if she did, on special occasions or something...would she like them?”
To his great relief Claudia smiled.
“They’re quite beautiful,” she said, her voice sounding so soothing he wondered if she could tell how much it meant, “I’m sure she’ll be very touched. They look expensive.”
He sheepishly scratched the back of his head, hearing the implication in her voice and not ready to face it.
“S’nothing,” he brushed off.
He wasn’t sure she believed him but she said no more.
Instead, she laughed slightly as she handed him back the box which he hurriedly pocketed. “God, for a moment there I thought you were going to ask her to marry you.” Then she paused, frowning, as though she was suddenly concerned she’d given him a thought. “Don’t by the way. Very bad idea.”
He totally agreed with her. It’d be an utter disaster. Which is why he was so worried by the fact that, for the tiniest moment at least, he’d actually considered it. Maybe, he’d reasoned, in a fit of insanity, if he was wild and impulsive and gave her a big, grand gesture then she’d forget all about Stephen. But no, he might be an idiot but even he didn’t go that far.
One of the assistants stepped in then and Connor was grateful to her for the interruption, not wanting his brain to go back in that direction in case impulse overwhelmed reason. It already had done that once today when he’d spent a small fortune on earrings.
“Miss Brown?” the assistant said politely, holding out a sheet of paper, “This report just came in for you.”
Claudia took it from her, her face falling to a frown when she read. Connor’s curiosity left him desperate to know what it was about but he had a feeling he would know soon enough, with no need to ask.
Nick tapped his pencil on the piece of paper in front of him, not seeing the words written there even though he was trying to concentrate. He really did need to get something down. The Dean was on his back to get something published. An article, a paper or a report, it didn’t matter what it was as long as he showed that he was doing something to warrant maintaining his job. His post was meant to be a research one after all and there was precious little evidence that he’d done any of that over the past few months. The Dean apparently didn’t care if he was busy working on a top secret government project or not. If he wanted to keep his position at the university then he needed to justify it.
Not that he really needed the job, he supposed. The anomaly project had quickly turned from a consultation gig into a proper post with a real wage and so he didn’t have to worry about anything like that. He’d be sad to leave the university however, always having felt at home there, and so he was willing to at least try and jump through some of the hoops they demanded in an effort to save his place.
He only had to write a short article of a few thousand words after all and he had plenty of theories he could discuss. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them were classified and the rest he had no proof for. Well, no proof that he could show anyone. On top of that hurdle, his mind was far too occupied with other things for him to concentrate properly which was why, even after an hour, the sheet in front of him remained all but empty.
The world outside was sunny and warm and it seemed to bathe the office in an inviting glow, a feeling that only increased every time he thought about her. Which was often.
It was silly really. He wasn’t some young kid in the flush of first love. At least he wasn’t supposed to be. It was undignified at his age.
Still, that didn’t stop him from sitting there and contemplating once again how precisely to go about the business of asking Claudia Brown out, even if he did have others things he should be worrying about. He kept telling himself that there hadn’t been the right moment or that there hadn’t been the time, but that was a lie. He just hadn’t managed to pluck up the courage yet.
The annoying thing was that he always so confident when he was alone, deciding he’d ask her to dinner the next time he saw her, knowing exactly what he’d say. And then she was in front of him and his courage seemed to make a swift exit out of the window. He’d never been nervous around her before and he didn’t like the feeling. It wasn’t like he was normally completely useless around women either, generally having enough confidence to talk and flirt without becoming overbearing the way some men did.
So what was it about this particular woman that sapped all his confidence away?
Maybe it was him? He kept telling himself that she was too young and too pretty, and that a woman like that wouldn’t really be interested in a guy approaching middle age with enough baggage to overload Heathrow. But it was clear that she was interested. She had kissed him after all.
No, he suspected it was more likely to be the fact that everyone else’s eyes were on him that made him so nervous. It was the weight of expectation. They’d all seen the kiss, seen the way she’d abandoned professionalism for a wild moment and how, overcoming his shock, he had grabbed her and kissed her back, knowing at last how right it was. Now it was like everyone was looking at the pair of them, waiting to see what happened next. He didn’t like it. He wanted his personal life to be just that - personal. Instead, he felt somehow exposed whenever he spoke to her, like others were watching him and judging him, and that made him nervous and hesitant.
For her part Claudia seemed remarkably, and almost annoyingly, at ease. Or at least she managed to keep a friendly, professional air in their work dealings. When they were alone she was sweet and even flirty, but she said nothing obvious, clearly leaving it for him to make the next move. He supposed it was his turn after all; he’d kissed her, then she’d kissed him, the ball was back in his court again now. He just hoped that she didn’t get bored with waiting or begin to think that he wanted nothing more. It was that fear that fed his determination to make a move sooner rather than later, even if his nerves did try to stop him.
It would have been nice to talk to someone about it really, not to get some advice exactly but just to get it all off his chest. To laugh and joke about how pathetic he was being, making him see that it was better to ask her outright. But it wasn’t exactly a conversation he’d feel comfortable having with just anyone. The two people he was closest to were Claudia and Stephen. He could hardly talk to Claudia about this dilemma, and Stephen? Well, things had been undoubtedly frosty with Stephen since Helen’s little revelation and it was all that he could do to maintain civil conversation, let alone have a jovial chat.
He wanted to forget what had happened, to say it was in the distant past, that things had changed since then and that he accepted the sincere apology Stephen willingly offered. Yet he couldn’t help but feel that they’d made a fool of him. It made him wince inside to think that they’d been carrying on behind his back and while he’d been oblivious. One of the things that hurt the most was that he’d confided in Stephen, wanting his advice on saving his marriage and the man had sat there, pretending to be his friend when all the while he’d been sleeping with his wife. They’d humiliated him, abused all trust, and it wasn’t a nice feeling nor one he could dismiss so easily.
He was grateful when Claudia walked in, breaking into his thoughts and pulling them back to more pleasant things.
She smiled warmly as she made her way down the stairs and sat in the chair opposite his desk. She’d always seemed comfortable in his office. He liked that.
“Busy?” she asked, nodding towards the paper in front of him.
He smiled back at her. “Trying to save my academic career and not get shot for breaking the official secrets act at the same time.”
Her smile turned sympathetic, “I suppose it isn’t exactly easy to persuade people of your new and exciting discoveries about extinct animals if you can’t tell them how you know.”
“No,” he repeated, knowingly monosyllabic answers would sound neither friendly nor welcoming to her, but his mind was too busy elsewhere. He should ask her now, while no one else was around. No pressure then.
But how should he broach the subject?
‘No, this work is in fact very difficult and I’m probably going to lose my tenure, therefore I think you should go out to dinner with me.’
Hardly the stuff romantic dreams were made of and he so wanted to do it right.
“I suppose you’re busy too,” he said. “What with...all the things you do.”
He could work it into the conversation that way; say that she clearly deserved a break and that he was going to take her to dinner.
She looked at him curiously, unfortunately for him picking up on something else entirely. “Do you even actually know what I do when I’m not running around with you lot at anomaly sites?”
“Of course I do, you-” he began, before coming to a sudden halt, realising that he actually couldn’t finish that sentence. “No, no I don’t,” he admitted.
She rolled her eyes, although she didn’t actually seem cross.
“No,” she said, with a hint of teasing sarcasm, “I do nothing but wait around all day for dangerous animals appear so I can be at your beck and call and tend to your every whim.”
He shifted uncomfortably his chair as his mind suddenly pondered the thought of actually having her tend to his every whim, quickly scolding his brain for even going there. She was gorgeous and he couldn’t deny that he thought about her in that way, but he wasn’t some horny adolescent. He somehow felt that he shouldn’t be day dreaming about her like that. At least not until they’d had one proper date.
Maybe he should just go for the grand gesture; sweep the stuff off his desk, lay her on it and kiss her. After all, they did seem to communicate most effectively in kisses.
“Anyway, this isn’t just a social call,” she said, breaking into his thoughts and passing him an envelope, pleasantries clearly over, “I received this earlier and I think you’d better take a look.”
Deciding that she probably wouldn’t take well to him brushing work related matters aside he resigned himself to defeat for now and concentrated on business instead.
He took out the contents of the envelope and looked at it. It was a photo and its subject drove anything else from his mind.
He frowned, standing up and holding it up to the light for a better look.
“It was found in the grounds of a luxury country hotel in Kent,” she explained, walking up to stand beside him, close enough that he could smell her perfume, “Dead, fortunately. The manager called the local vet’s surgery, who called the police, who called us. I assume it isn’t native.”
“No,” Nick said, shaking his head, still starring at the image, “Definitely not.”
The creature in question was, at first glance, clearly a scorpion. However, there were a couple of things that instantly told anyone who looked that this wasn’t just an escaped pet or zoo exhibit. Firstly, it had two pairs of claws. A longer, more delicate pair and a short, stubby, thicker pair closer to its face. Second, and far more alarmingly, was the size. There had been a tape measure laid next to it which clearly showed the creature to be almost a meter long.
“So what is it then?” Claudia prompted when a response wasn’t immediately forthcoming.
“I’d guess it’s likely a brontoscorpio,” he said, with relative certainty, shaking off his fascination to concentrate on the practical, “Found in the Silurian era. About four hundred and twenty million years old.”
“So,” she reasoned, “unless you think there’s any chance we’ve had a secret population of them living in Britain all that time then I guess it means we have an anomaly to find.”
“I’d say most definitely.”
“And since meter long scorpions running around the English countryside are the sort of thing we try to avoid, I’d say we leave as soon as possible,” she concluded with a decisive nod, heading for the door. She paused at the top of the steps, looking back. “Would you like me to contact Stephen?” she asked delicately, not particularly wanting to bring the matter up but knowing they’d need the other man’s help.
Nick shook his head, appreciating the gesture but realised that he shouldn’t let his personal issues affect the job. “No, it’s okay. I’ll do it.”
Once she’d left, he went to pick up the phone but hesitated, eventually deciding to go with a text message instead. It was less personal that way and, for now at least, it was better to try and keep their dealings as short as possible.
Message sent, he headed to the storeroom, knowing that they’d need some more specialised equipment and wanting to be ready to leave the moment Stephen arrived. For now, he realised, his academic career would have to wait, abandoning the paper he’d made so little progress on.
He was just going to have to hope that he still had an academic career to come back to when this matter was dealt with.