Title: A Quiet Break In The Country (3 of 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
The hotel really was as nice on the inside as it looked on the outside so it surprised Nick that during dinner he saw so few other guests. But maybe the early spring was just a quiet time for the hotel trade. It wasn’t an area he was an expert in.
Dinner was good, even with the tension amongst certain members of the team which they’d tried to negate by subtly arranging the seating. He mused on the fact that it might be nice to come back here with Claudia in the future, just the two of them, when there weren’t any anomalies to worry about and when they were somewhat more prepared for the occasion. As it was, Claudia had instructed them all to bring an overnight bag, just in case, but they’d only packed sleeping things and practical clothes for traipsing around outdoors. They all looked amusingly out of place in jeans and casual tops whilst seated in such luxurious surroundings. The manager didn’t seem to mind though. Nick got the feeling he was just grateful for the custom.
After dinner they headed for the bar while Claudia went back to her room, saying she had to call Lester to update him on their progress and that she’d be back shortly.
Connor and Abby seemed unduly excited at the sight of a pool table and a team challenge was laid down; Abby and Nick verses Stephen and Connor. Nick was grateful to Abby for picking the teams that way and she gave him a knowing look, clearly understanding his feelings.
Besides, it turned out that Abby was pretty good at pool. Decent enough that she barely needed Nick’s help. Which was why he felt no guilt in leaving her on her own against the boys when Claudia re-entered the room. He was sure that even without his assistance she’d be richer by the end of the night and Connor and Stephen would be the losers.
“You’re not playing?” Claudia asked, as he walked over and joined her at the bar.
“Have you seen Abby? I think I’m just a hindrance.”
“Pity,” she sighed, with dramatic disappointment, “I was looking forward to watching you bend over a pool table. Those jeans are rather tight, after all.”
He laughed and, even if she was teasing, he was secretly rather pleased by her comment.
“That’s a very good point, actually,” he mused, “Why don’t you get over there and join in for a while yourself? I’ll happily sit here and watch.”
“Oh, I’d be useless,” she assured him, “I’d end up poking someone’s eye out.”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
She laughed. It was a sound he could really grow to adore.
As he brought her a drink, a large glass of rosé, he caught a glimpse of Abby watching them, pretending her attention was on Connor making a hash of his shot, even though it clearly wasn’t. It made him feel uncomfortable for a moment but he firmly pushed the thought away.
Why should he care what they thought about the whole thing? Why did he need to feel like he was being judged? Claudia was the only one he needed to impress and so far he’d had no complaints.
Their surroundings reminded him of the bar in which they’d first met, right down to the nondescript piano music playing in the background. As they continued to chat lightly, his mind wandered to the way she’d kissed him then, how her mouth had seemed to spark life back in to his startled lips. Maybe he should do the same now and damn what the others might think.
If they’d had some privacy he might have done just that but, as it was, he settled instead for slipping his hand across the bar and resting it on hers, thumb caressing her skin lightly. He thought he felt her shiver a little but that might just have been his wishful thinking.
“I never get to stay in nice places like this anymore,” she commented, glancing wistfully at her surroundings. “Not unless it’s related to deadly creatures anyway. And I distinctly remember that the last time we all went somewhere nice I was temporarily blinded, then nearly got eaten by flying monsters and almost blown up for good measure.”
He smiled slightly, “The day wasn’t all bad though, surely?”
“No,” she admitted, looking at him over the top of her wine glass, “There were some more pleasant parts.”
He briefly recalled the wild impulse of that kiss before pondering the fact that his mind nearly always seemed to wander to kisses where Claudia was concerned of late. He really did have it bad. Which he found both pathetic and thrilling.
“Well,” he continued, trying to clear his head, “Can’t say I’ve ever really stayed in a place like this before. Doing field work you’re lucky if they splash out for a Travel Lodge rather than just throwing a tent in your direction.”
“I’ve never been camping,” she admitted, sounding amused at the notion.
“Oh, I’ve been too many times to count. My father used to love it. Every summer. Always seemed to find the worst weather for it too.”
“My father’s philosophy is ‘why sleep on the floor when there’s a perfectly good bed?’”
“Typically soft Englishman,” he scoffed, in mock antipathy. “Always taking the easy option.”
“Actually,” she said, with grin, “My father’s Scottish. Originally anyway. He was born in Edinburgh but moved down to London when he was eighteen to study law.”
Nick grinned too.
“I knew there must be a reason why I liked you,” he said, with a decisive nod.
Maybe it was the whisky he’d drunk, a fine, strong malt, which gave him sudden courage, but a voice in his head demanded that he stop arsing around and just get on with it. Ask her out man, it was telling him, what the bloody hell are you waiting for? A sign? Divine intervention?
“Look, Claudia,” he began, annoyed at his nervousness but unable to quell it, “there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you...”
Silence reigned whilst he tried to think of just the right words. Whatever they were.
“Yes...?” she prompted slowly, when it seemed like nothing more was forthcoming.
What the hell. He took the plunge.
“Well, I was just wondering if you’d like to-”
“Good evening, I trust everything’s to your satisfaction.”
Nick resisted the urge to say, ‘no it’s not, now sod off’ to the manager. It wasn’t really his fault he’d walked in at just the wrong moment. Although it was clearly a sign. A sign that someone up there was having a bloody good joke at Nick’s expense.
“Just perfect,” Claudia said, professional charm switched on like a light, her hand sliding out from where it had rested so comfortably under Nick’s. But, he noticed to his satisfaction, her manner was all an act and nothing like the sweet and flirtatious way she had with him.
“Good,” the manager smiled, “And I’m so glad you decided to stay”.
Buckland, Nick vaguely remembered, the man’s name was Peter Buckland. A youngish guy who’s manner held a mixture of easy charisma, tainted with underlying stress. Probably the sort who worried way too much about his job.
“Oh, the pleasure is all ours, I assure you,” Claudia continued pleasantly, likely realising they had to keep him on side, “You have a beautiful place here.”
“It is charming, isn’t it?” he said, before something in his customer service smile altered slightly, “It’s just a pity that all we really get are worn out businessmen and not more beautiful women like yourself.”
That definitely threw Claudia and Nick couldn’t say he felt exactly thrilled either.
“Umm...thanks...” she said, not knowing how else to answer, cheeks turning slightly pink with embarrassment.
Was she pleased by the compliment? Or uncomfortable because she didn’t like someone so openly flirting with her in front of Nick, especially when she couldn’t tell the bloke to go jump?
He really hoped it was the latter.
“Ah,” Buckland continued with a sage nod, “You see, to me, a woman who blushes at a compliment clearly doesn’t receive enough of them.”
And like something from a cheesy movie, he lifted Claudia’s hand and kissed the back of it.
Nick didn’t really take too much notice of the rest of their conversation. He was too busy wondering if he could feed Buckland to any scorpions they found and make it look like an accident.
Claudia had soon retired to her room, commenting that she found Buckland’s attentions a little too full on for her liking and that she should go before she gave in to the urge to punch him.
Nick had jokingly offered to do it for her and she’d just smiled, kissing him good night on the cheek before she left.
Not long after he’d headed upstairs too.
Now, he sat in his room, having changed into a soft pair of trousers and a tee shirt. He was on the bed, Connor’s laptop across his thighs and scrawled notes scattered beside him. He’d wanted to check that there wasn’t anything about brontoscorpio that he was missing and Connor had offered his database, always eager to help. Nick had also wanted to look up the Silurian era in general too, reminding himself of what else they might come across if the anomaly was still open or if some creatures had remained trapped on this side.
He had to admit, the database was a very impressive piece of work. Connor could probably make a small fortune from selling it to the academic world or putting it on line. Not that the idea was likely to have crossed the younger man’s mind. That just wasn’t the way Connor thought.
Nick searched his way through the dozens of articles, photos and video clips, noting down anything that might be useful. One video showed a brontoscorpio scuttling across land, speculating how long they’d be able to remain out of water. Nick scribbled that onto a piece of paper. Definitely worth remembering.
By the time he looked back to the screen the video had stopped.
So why could he still hear scuttling?
He froze, holding his breath, all senses on high alert.
Surely it was just his imagination playing tricks on him? That couldn’t have really been the sound of hard legs scrambling across the wooden floor of the room.
Even though he tried to convince himself it was only paranoia, he very carefully edged across the bed, creasing the paper he’d been writing on, not trusting his luck.
He was right to be so cautious.
His fingers groped at the nearby dimmer switch, turning the ceiling light up to full brightness and instantly something shot out from under his bed as though it had been struck. It hurried across the room, a blur of motion, heading through the gap between the open French doors and out onto the balcony.
Heart thudding and adrenaline shooting through him, Nick sat stock still, shocked for a moment before he recovered and rushed after it.
He got out there just in time to see a tail disappear between the railings and the creature fall out of sight. He looked straight over edge, expecting to see it on the ground two stories below. It was only then that he remembered that the balconies were staggered, the one beneath overlapping his.
He just caught sight of the shadow of creature as it disappeared inside, again through slightly open doors.
A chilling thought instantly struck him.
That was Claudia’s room. He remembered because she’d joke about coming to kill him if he snored too loudly in the one above hers.
Without a second thought, mind immediately made up, he climbed over the railing and began to carefully lower himself onto the balcony below. It would take him too long to get down there on foot, he reasoned, and besides, he couldn’t remember her room number. What if he wasted precious minutes knocking on the wrong door whilst she was in trouble?
And this wasn’t really that dangerous, he assured himself. He only had a few feet to fall to the balcony.
As long as he didn’t manage to do something daft like miss it.
Fortunately, he wasn’t quite so clumsy.
He landed with a soft thud, bending his knees to absorb the impact. Without hesitation, he headed straight through the doors. Then he instinctively slowed as he cautiously took a few steps into the dark room, his eyes taking a moment to adjust from the bright moonlight outside. There was Claudia, sleeping peacefully. No sign the creature.
Carefully, he walked over to the bed, checking for any danger. He didn’t want to come to her rescue only to end up being injured himself. It wouldn’t be very helpful not to mention the embarrassment factor.
He found nothing. But the main door was obviously shut and he was sure the creature hadn’t doubled back past him, so it must still be the room somewhere, hiding. Scorpions tended to be quite shy creatures, fleeing from confrontation if at all possible. They’d normally only attack as a last resort if boxed in to a corner.
He had no idea how poisonous a sting from a brontoscorpio would be, but he didn’t want to find out the hard way.
Keeping one eye on the rest of the room, he knelt on the bed, gently shaking Claudia, leaning close enough to whisper to her. Worrying about her and himself at the same time was dangerous for them both. She needed to be alert and another pair of eyes would come in handy.
Besides, sneaking around her room whilst she was asleep bordered on creepy.
“Claudia....Claudia. Wake up.”
She did so with a small start and he quickly clamped his hand over her mouth as she went to cry out in alarm, eyes wide with surprise. He pressed a finger to his lips, signalling the need to be silent and after a moment she nodded, trusting if concerned. He took his hand away and looked up, distracted by a noise before he could explain things to her.
Listening carefully, he could hear it. The scuffling noise of hard legs. He had a sudden, horrible suspicion where it was.
“Stay still,” he instructed in a whisper.
He placed his hands on the edge of the bed on the other side of her and began to cautiously lean forward, trying not to take too much notice of the fact he was now lying across her, deciding it wasn’t the time to get distracted by the wrong sort of thoughts. Slowly, he leant further and further forward, edging towards looking under the bed, his brain trying to tell him that this was a very bad idea.
It was right.
No sooner did he get a look underneath when the creature flew at him, an angry mass of claws. It was only his quick reflexes that saved his face. As he dived backwards off the bed he wrapped his arms around Claudia’s waist, dragging her with him, before carefully placing her on her feet and then pushing her protectively behind him. The creature was now in plain view on the other side of the bed, hissing, its tail raised defensively, claws ready to attack.
“What the hell is that?” Claudia demanded, sounding a mixture of annoyed and shocked. He had a feeling she knew full well what it was but she certainly hadn’t expected to find one under her bed.
“A big, angry prehistoric scorpion”, he pointed out, simply. “Look, we should shut the doors and get out of here. We need to keep this thing contained.”
She nodded rapidly. He could feel her heart thudding as she stood so close to his back.
He turned, slowly closing the French doors, pulling the drapes back slightly so they weren’t plunged into total darkness.
The scorpion was still hissing and swaying but it didn’t make any further moves towards them.
“Right, stay behind me,” he instructed, grabbing at her hand as he carefully began to walk to the door, eyeing the creature warily.
It would be okay, he tried to assure himself. It would rather let them go than attack.
Except this one was turning out to be a particularly vicious bugger.
As soon as it saw them approaching it became even more defensive, scurrying over to block their path, tail swinging threateningly.
Nick tried the slow and steady approach, hoping it would see that they were trying to back off and let them. Didn’t seem it was that trusting.
Two more paces and it charged.
He shoved Claudia ahead of him, opening the doors and pushing her out onto the balcony, quickly shutting them behind him again. He listened in apprehension for a moment to hear if the creature would try to break through. It didn’t. It wasn’t hunting them after all but protecting itself. As long as they were out of its sight it wasn’t going to pursue them.
“And what do we do now?” Claudia asked, still sounding a little cross.
But Nick was already on that. Fortunately his phone had been in his pocket.
The other man answered in under three rings.
“Stephen, there’s a brontoscorpio in the hotel....I don’t know, do I? I just found it. We’ve got it contained in Claudia’s room, downstairs, number....”
He looked at her in askance.
“Thirty eight,” she confirmed.
“Thirty eight,” he continued, “We’re trapped out on the balcony and I don’t really fancy climbing down...Yeah, we’re fine....No, there’s no need for that, we’re okay. Just go to the car and get something to deal with it....I don’t know! Think of something! Get Connor and Abby if you must.”
And he hung up.
“So,” Claudia said, drawing a calming breath, “We just wait then?”
“He won’t be long,” Nick reassured.
“Good, because getting hypothermia wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for this weekend.”
Somehow he’d failed to notice what she was wearing. Or, more accurately, what she wasn’t wearing. A small pair of bed shorts and a vest top, that was it. No wonder she had her arms wrapped around herself and was bouncing on the spot. She must be bloody freezing.
“I suppose it could be worse,” she joked, “At least I don’t sleep in the nude.”
He utterly refused to let his brain go there. Instead he walked over, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her flush against him. He rubbed a hand up and down her back, trying to encourage some warmth into her.
Minutes passed in silence. The hand up her back became less vigorously practical and more tenderly indulgent. He really should stop his mind wandering before the situation became embarrassing. Being so aware of her chest pressed against his and remembering the sight of some rather lovely legs wasn’t helping.
“Exactly how did you get in my room?” she asked curiously, breaking the silence. He wondered if she suddenly felt what he did; startling ill at ease yet at the same time mildly excited. Maybe she was trying to distract herself as well.
He smiled wryly, “Oh, I just dropped in.”
She frowned at him before she followed his gaze to look up at the balcony above.
“My hero...” she teased.
She was doing it again. Flirting.
And his brain was wandering back to the issue of kisses.
After all, wasn’t the hero supposed to kiss the girl?