Title: A Quiet Break In The Country (4 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
Connor felt triumphant as he looked at his cards. Finally, a full house. Three lovely ladies and a good pair. Of aces, that was. Queens over aces. Let her beat that.
Which she did, of course. Four of a kind and kings to boot.
If he didn’t like her so much he’d hate her.
He supposed he’d got what he’d asked for though, having suggested the game in the first place. He should have known she’d be brilliant at it. Their backsides having been thoroughly whipped at pool, Stephen had declared he was off to bed, joking that he’d better go before she stole the shirt off his back too. Abby had barely raised a smile at that comment, when she probably would have used it for flirting purpose until recently, and it’d cheered Connor up no end before he’d remembered that Stephen was meant to be his friend.
Still, he couldn’t exactly say he was disappointed that Stephen went, even if the though it did make him feel uncharitable, and he was conversely quite ecstatic when Abby accepted his invitation to play poker in her room instead.
Unfortunately he hadn’t banked on Abby being a poker whiz too.
Misspent youth, she joked.
“It’s a good job we’re not playing strip poker,” he said with a grin, as she raked in the match sticks they were wagering with, “I’d be naked five times over by now.”
“Don’t worry,” she pointed out, “I would have stopped when you got down to your underwear...” His face almost fell before she added with a cheeky grin, “Well, at least when you got to your last sock.”
They continued to play relatively quietly for a few minutes, chatting about nothing much, before his mouth blurted out something it probably shouldn’t have.
“So, it’s all over between you and Stephen then?” he said, sounding cheerful almost to the point of callousness. He’d meant it to sound casual, like chatty conversation, but it certainly hadn’t come out that way.
Mortified, he went to apologise but she spoke first.
“There was nothing to be over,” she explained, with a rueful smile, not sounding at all annoyed by his clumsiness, “There wasn’t anything between me and Stephen.”
He frowned. That wasn’t what he’d expected. He’d at least have thought she’d be cross with him for bringing the subject up so tactlessly.
“But you fancied him, right?” he asked, confusing preventing him from dropping the matter when he probably should have. He’d been so convinced that there must have been something going on between them. It’d seemed so obvious.
“Then you liked him.”
“Fancying someone is a long way from going out with them, Connor.”
“Yeah, but maybe it can be a start....sometimes.”
He knew from personal experience that it could certainly be the start of deeper feelings.
“Yeah, sometimes,” she conceded, clearly believing the matter was an awful lot more complicated, “But you’ve got to know someone. Just fancying them doesn’t make a very good relationship.”
She smiled a little. “Course.”
A sudden doubt struck him. Was that the problem? Did she not fancy him? The idea had never really crossed his mind, to be honest. It wasn’t like he considered himself to be utterly repulsive or anything. He was no Brad Pitt, sure, but he believed he had his qualities. But what if that was why she didn’t seem overly interested in him? What if she really liked him deep down, loved him even, but couldn’t bring herself to think about him like that?
So desperate was he to know that he almost asked her, a moment of embarrassment only saved by a pounding on the door.
Stephen had quickly retrieved his bag, a rifle and the box containing the tranquilizer darts from the car before hurrying back inside, slipping in and out of the patio door to avoid walking past Buckland at reception and having to waste time answering awkward questions.
He was half way up the stairs, trying to decide on his primary and secondary plans, unsure of the best course of action if the creature couldn’t be easily tranquilized, when a thought struck him.
These rooms ran on key card locks. With Nick and Claudia trapped on the balcony, how on earth was he supposed to get in?
Sod it, he instantly decided, he’d just kick the door down. Dramatic, and god knows how they’d explain it to Buckland but he didn’t see that he had another option. He had to get in their fast, the others might be in trouble.
Room 38 was right at the end of the first floor corridor, making it one of the grander rooms the hotel had to offer. Stephen had got the feeling that Buckland was rather taken with Claudia, much to her and Nick’s discomfort.
Hey, his mind told him, maybe Nick’ll thank you for the damage you’re about to cause.
Unlikely, he thought, as he raised his leg. Nick could be a sulky bastard at times but he wasn’t quite that childish. Besides, he disliked Stephen more than he did Buckland right now. He’d probably take the other guy’s side.
Using that thought as extra leverage, Stephen kicked the door hard and square just below the handle, knowing that would be the weakest point.
The damn thing didn’t budge an inch. The hotel was old and grand, and the doors were thick and heavy but this was quite ridiculous. He slammed it once with his shoulder just to see how much give there was. None, as it turned out. He didn’t know whether to be frustrated by the problem or impressed by the construction.
Bracing himself, he raised his leg again, kicking as hard as he could at the weak point, hoping to hear the frame snap. It shuddered but there was no splintering of wood and his only reward was the sharp pain that shot up his leg, causing him to bite his lip.
Maybe, in such an old building, the fire regulations were more strict and these were extra strong doors. Whatever the reason, it was clear that it wasn’t going to yield easily.
Why was there never an axe around when you needed one?
He turned sharply at the sound of a door opening behind him. One of the other guests, a man in his fifties, had obviously come out to see what on earth all the racket was about.
“Sorry,” Stephen said, awkwardly, “Tripped.”
The man frowned at him and went back in his room. Stephen really hoped that he wasn’t phoning reception to complain about the madman on the first floor.
This was no good, the door wasn’t going to budge and he was just drawing way too much attention to himself.
With a frustrated sigh, cursing under his breath, he turned and hurried back down the corridor and to the stairs again. He left his equipment just out of sight in the stairwell. There was no point in alarming Buckland unnecessarily and, besides, Claudia would be likely to want this incident kept between the five of them if possible. The less publicity the better. They certainly didn’t want to risk causing a panic that might lead to people getting hurt.
“Hi,” he said, forcing a casual manner as he reached the front desk, “Miss Brown sent me down. She wants a spare key card for her room.”
He hadn’t really expected Buckland to just hand one over, no questions asked, and so he wasn’t surprised when the other man frowned at him.
“Because she needs one,” Stephen said, drumming the surface with his fingertips and trying not to look agitated.
Despite his best efforts, suspicion was still etched on the other man’s features.
“Well, I’m sorry,” he intoned politely, “but I can only give cards to the room occupant. She’ll have to come down and get it herself.”
Stephen should have known this wasn’t going to be easy. After all, when had customer service ever actually been helpful?
“Look...it’s her birthday,” he lied, the first thing that came to his head, “We wanted to surprise her.”
Buckland either didn’t buy it or didn’t care, his cool professional manner not budging.
“I’m sorry, sir. I really can’t, under any circumstances. Security and guest safety, you understand.”
There was an insinuation there that Stephen didn’t like.
“Look, I’m not trying to rob her or molest her or anything!” he said shortly, barely reeling his temper in as he wasted more time, “I just need to get into her room.”
“There’s one of those things in there,” Stephen interrupted in exasperation, seeing no other choice but to tell the truth and hope that Buckland had the good sense to keep it under wraps, “One of those scorpions that we found in the grounds.”
His reaction was a little unexpected. The man looked momentarily startled before suddenly stiffening up, as though he’d been offended.
“Nonsense. There are no monsters under the bed in my hotel,” he stated hotly, pleasant facade slipping to show the stress Stephen had suspected lay underneath, “Now, excuse me.”
And he disappeared into an adjacent room, shutting the door sharply behind him.
Stephen slammed his hand on the desk in annoyance. Because, yes, Mr Buckland, the ‘bury your head in the sand’ method always worked really well. So much for having his complete cooperation.
All he wanted was to get into a room; how could this be so damn difficult?
Seeing no other choice, Stephen turned and sprinted back upstairs, grabbing his equipment on the way.
Two corridors down, he banged on Abby’s door with his fist. Twice, because she failed to answer immediately. When she opened up, he stepped inside without waiting to be invited, freezing for a moment when he saw Connor there.
He forcibly pushed away the questions his brain came up with, concentrating on the matter at hand instead.
Abby’s cross look at the clearly unwelcome interruption faded when Stephen explained the situation.
“But they’re okay, yeah?” she asked, with concern, “Claudia and the Professor?”
“They’re fine,” Stephen reassured, “But we have got to get into that room. Connor, I’m assuming you can figure out pretty quickly how to work one of those machines for setting up the cards.”
The young man snorted a derisive laugh, “It’d be like hacking a calculator.”
Stephen took that as a ‘yes’.
“Abby,” he instructed, “You need to distract Buckland. Get him up here somehow.”
“Excuse me?” she asked, indignant at the implication before even giving Stephen a chance to finish.
“Tell him something’s wrong with your room and that you demand he comes and looks for himself,” Stephen elaborated.
Abby only appeared slightly happier at that, “And what exactly am I supposed to say?”
“I don’t know, improvise,” he offered unhelpfully before grabbing Connor by a handful of tee shirt and pulling him out the room, not waiting for further protest from either of them.
He and Connor went down the stairs, out the patio doors again and around to the front of the building, crouching low by one of the lobby windows so that they were ready to go in as soon Abby had done her thing and lured Buckland away.
“It’s almost like spy work this, isn’t it?” Connor whispered with a thrilled grin.
Stephen gave him an odd look. He really didn’t get how that kid’s mind worked sometimes. It was almost like he didn’t live in the real world at all. He didn’t know whether it was a good thing that Connor worked with this project, allowing all his little conspiracy fantasies to come true, or whether it would have been better for him to work somewhere more mundane, and not feed the beast.
Stephen heard the sound of footfalls and risked peeking through the window, seeing Abby arrive and hurriedly begin the spiel that she’d obviously been working out on her way down the stairs.
She would have made a terrible actress, he decided. It was just a good job that Buckland was so eager to keep his guests happy that it meant he wasn’t able to dismiss her claims out of hand as nothing more than a silly joke.
“Ants?” Stephen could hear the other man saying, a mixture of scepticism and surprise, “But isn’t it too cold for them at this time of year?”
“Outside, yeah!” Abby said, sounding almost comically irate, “That’s probably why they moved in here! Now I demand you come and do something about it!”
She slammed her fist on the desk for dramatic effect.
“Ants?” Connor queried with a frown, “Couldn’t she come up with something better than that?”
Stephen grinned. “Well, if I’d left it to you then you’d probably have said aliens,” he joked, “At least her excuse is plausible.”
“Oh, you’re really funny,” Connor snipped back before returning to the matter at hand, shaking his head, “Why are we doing this anyway? Surely you can just kick the door in or something.”
“I tried,” Stephen said, concentration fixed on Abby, “It didn’t budge.”
Connor sniggered. “Your powers are weak, old man.”
Stephen’s glare was enough to shut him up. Well, for a few moments, at least.
“He’s not going to fall for this though, is he?” the younger man reasoned, “He’ll know it’s a distraction.”
But obviously he didn’t because moments later Buckland left the desk, following Abby up to her room.
Stephen wasted no more time and he and Connor hurried inside. Within sixty seconds Connor had a card for Claudia’s room all ready, brandishing it in triumph. Mind focused elsewhere, Stephen barely mumbled a ‘thanks’ as he took it.
Dashing upstairs, he hoped that Abby had the good sense to hold Buckland long enough so that they didn’t meet him coming the other way. Seeing him here would only arouse the manager’s suspicions further.
Fortunately it seemed she was smart enough because they saw no sign of the man.
Outside Claudia’s door, Stephen tossed Connor his bag, the younger man barely catching it before it hit him in the face. Then Stephen set about loading the gun, practiced fingers setting up a dart of the fastest acting drug they had.
“When I say so,” he instructed Connor, slapping the card back into the younger man’s hand, getting the weapon into a ready position, “Open the door.”
“And once I’m inside, close it behind me and stay here.”
Stephen rolled his eyes, not having time to argue. If Connor wanted to walk into the danger zone then that was his choice. Just as long as the kid didn’t get in his way.
“Fine, then stay behind me.”
The response had sounded almost automatic, like the other man hadn’t thought it through.
“Connor, I have the gun,” he pointed out.
He hesitated for a moment.
“Good point,” Connor conceded with a nod, “I’ll stay behind you.”
“Are you okay?” Nick asked for the at least the tenth time as Claudia still shivered in his arms.
She smiled secretively, “Sort of. I may die of cold but this isn’t all so unpleasant”.
He smiled too as she gripped his tee shirt tighter, shuffling her body even closer to his, whilst he wrapped his arms further around her, enveloping her a little more. He could see what she meant. These weren’t exactly the best circumstances, but having the opportunity to just hold her close was certainly nice.
“You were going to ask me something earlier,” she probed, looking up at him.
He shook his head, “I’ll ask you tomorrow.” He didn’t know why, it just felt right. He didn’t want to ruin such a lovely moment with his blundering attempts to ask her out.
She nodded in acceptance. He had the distinct impression that she knew what it would be about but was content enough to wait.
She settled her head onto his shoulder and he could feel her breath against his neck, making him shudder more than the cold air could.
“Lester keeps hinting that I’m too close to you,” she said quietly, minutes later, “He thinks you cloud my judgement.”
“Probably,” she admitted, “but in a good way. I don’t think anyone would care so much about these creatures if it wasn’t for you and the others.”
She sounded impressed, clearly intending a compliment. He couldn’t help but remember her other words though.
“And do you agree with Lester?” he asked, fingertips of one hand gently in her hair, “Do you think you’re too close to me?”
She smiled warmly as she looked up at him once more.
“More like, not close enough.”
To lean in and kiss her in that moment felt utterly natural, not something that he had to plan for or worry about. It was just right. Which was why he was so disappointed that their lips never quite met as she suddenly pulled back at the last moment with a frown on her face.
“Did you hear something?”
Stephen and Connor found the room in almost total darkness, the only light coming from the moon shining through a gap between the drapes. Connor reached for the light switch but Stephen shook his head.
His trained eyes scanned the area, checking for any sign of movement. Nothing.
Suspicions aroused, he walked slowly over to the dressing table, picking up the wooden block that held the room service menu. He removed the paper and dropped the block to the floor. Being careful to stand far enough back so that he could get a decent shot off, he kicked it and it slid along the smooth floor and under the bed.
He tensed for action but it proved to be a wasted effort. Nothing came running out as he had expected.
“Where is it?” Connor whispered, nervously, having reached the limits of his patience in the circumstances. Maybe he was beginning to think that joining Stephen so directly in the hunt hadn’t been such a good idea after all.
Stephen didn’t respond, too busy trying to concentrate.
He didn’t think it would be able to climb the smooth walls but he looked up just in case. No, not on the ceiling. And the bathroom door was shut tight. There weren’t many other places something of that size could be in a single room.
Sighing, knowing it was a stupid idea but having no choice, he dropped to the floor, lying on his stomach so he could take a proper look under the bed. He really did expect it to come flying out at him and so when nothing appeared he frowned, curiously.
Standing, he signalled for Connor to stay put and took careful steps over to the balcony door, opening it. It was the first time in weeks that Nick had looked even vaguely pleased to see him. Although from the way his friend had his arms wrapped around a half frozen Claudia, he was sure Nick wouldn’t have minded staying out there a little longer.
“Did you get it?” Claudia asked, immediately breaking away from Nick.
Stephen shook his head, “No sign of it. Are you sure it was in there?”
“We didn’t both imagine it, Stephen,” Nick snapped, “And unless it’s the Houdini of the scorpion world I’d say it didn’t escape from a locked room.”
Connor interrupted what would have been a slightly offended come back from Stephen.
“Look, guys, we don’t need four of us searching here, right? I’m going to go let Abby know you’re okay. Help her get rid of Buckland.”
But their words came too late. He’d already opened the door.
Somehow, from a small gap behind the wardrobe that Stephen really hadn’t considered it would be able to squeeze itself in to, the scorpion shot out, heading straight for the door. It dashed through a highly alarmed Connor’s legs, the young man swearing loudly in shock.
“Oh yeah, I’m fine!” he called sarcastically after the others as they ran past him and out the room, “Don’t worry about me!”
Still, despite his annoyance, he didn’t hesitate to follow them.
Stephen caught glimpses of the creature as it raced ahead, darting quickly down the corridor. It certainly could move.
“Where’s it going?” Claudia called.
“Somewhere it feels safe,” Nick suggested.
Stephen wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. He just hoped that it wasn’t heading to a nest of its friends.
Its route took them back passed Abby’s room. Fortunately, she and Buckland didn’t leave the doorway in time to see the scorpion hurtle by. Unfortunately, the manager did come out in time to witness Stephen, Nick, Claudia and Connor dashing down the corridor.
“I don’t know,” Abby was saying apologetically as she stood in the threshold, scratching her head, “I’ve always had a bit of a thing about bugs since I was a kid. Maybe it was just a bad dream...”
Buckland had no time to assure her that it wasn’t a problem and that he was just pleased he could help put her mind at ease, instead he had to flatten himself against the wall in order to avoid being knocked over by the rest of the team.
“What the hell is going on?!” he shouted after them but none of them stopped to explain.
Stephen had a feeling that the man was following them but there was nothing they could do about that. They couldn’t afford to lose the scorpion.
The creature hurried down the stairs. Stephen probably could have shot it, could have got off a good enough attempt to take it down, but instinct told him it’d be useful to see where it went first. To see if it led them to a bigger problem that they might not have discovered otherwise.
His instinct was right.
He assumed that he and Connor must have left the front door open because it dashed out of the gap there. They followed it around the side of the building, and were just in time to see it disappearing through a grate.
“What’s down there?” Claudia demanded from Buckland, as they all stopped to catch their breath.
“Just the cellars,” the man said, looking confused. No doubt he’d seen what they’d been chasing.
Back inside, he led them hurriedly to a locked door in the back room, behind the reception area. Beyond it was darkness, and Stephen was the first to reach for the light switch. Half a dozen industrial looking lights illuminated steep, concrete stairs leading down. They moved quickly at first, slowing when they came out from the narrow stairwell into a more open area, no handrail to stop them from falling off. Stephen wasn’t quite sure how Buckland had got the place past health and safety.
The building was old and the cellars large, a good ten to fifteen feet deep. They were built at a time when they would have held all the supplies for an opulent household, with a floor that would have once been storage to the finest goods of the age.
And if there were any modern day equivalents down there now then they’d be utterly ruined.
About half way down the stairs was a large concrete platform, the remains of a system for lifting heavy barrels and a half collapsed set of railings still at one side. They all stopped at that point, having no further to go.
Carry on a few more stairs and they would be in the water. The place had filled up like a swimming pool.
And shining, caught by the lights high overhead, was the cause; the anomaly shimmering teasingly below the water’s surface. There was other movement too, shadows gliding along. There were creatures in there.
They all surveyed the area, stunned for a moment.
“What do we do?” Connor whispered unable to tear his eyes from the sight in from of him.
“Well,” Claudia suggested looking at their generally inappropriate attire, sleepwear for the most part, “Getting dressed first might be a good idea.”