Title: It’s the Little Things That Kill
Fandom: The Invisible Man
Disclaimers: I’m what you call judgment proof, though that doesn’t lessen the fact that I mean no infringement and can claim no profit from this endeavor. Think of it as self-satisfying. They belong to the Sci-Fi folks, of which I’m well aware, having managed to beat back those nasty delusions of world domination after a successful course of psychotropic medication.
Archiving: It’ll be at www.realmoftheshadow.com/harper.htm Anyone else, should you be interested, drop me an e-mail and let me know. Thanks.
Summary: Claire takes it upon herself to help Alex get over the loss of her son, yet again, to Chrysalis, bringing about an understanding between the pair.
A/N: I can’t say that I know a lot about the canon of this show, nor that I’m a particular expert on the characters, so forgive any inconsistencies if you please. This is un-beta’d, so expect some mistakes since I haven’t quite got the hang of that perfection thing yet. Your comments are more than welcome. I’ll be at Xfjnky2@yahoo.com.
The water from the faucet felt cool against her overheated flesh, though it did little to combat the redness of her eyes or the tired, drawn look pulling at her skin. The quiet was nice though, something that she’d alternately had too much and too little of today, though this time she was grateful for it. Too many overly solicitous eyes, too many pitying looks, and she was tired of all of the whispered murmurings that were following her around. She wasn’t a saint, wasn’t a martyr, and the sooner that things returned to normal around here the better.
The soft snick of the door opening alerted her that her moment of solitude had been interrupted, and Alex turned around slowly, green eyes catching on concerned blue, and it was all she could do to stifle a sigh.
“I thought everyone had gone home,” she muttered, snatching a papertowel from its holder, scrubbing off the excess moisture still coating her skin.
“Oh, well, I don’t really go home, you know. Sometimes I do, of course, but for the most part I just crash here.” The slang sounded bulky with that clipped British accent wrapped around it. Resisting the urge to push past the slightly taller blonde, once again separating herself from a humanity that just didn’t seem to want to leave her alone today, Alex forced a brittle smile over her features.
“Crash? Been spending time with Darien again, haven’t you?” The words sounded chipper enough, and from the slightly chagrined look on Claire’s face, at the very least they’d hit their mark.
“Well, nasty bits of slang do tend to work their way in, no matter how vigilantly I guard against them,” the scientist admitted, and Alex saw a bit of a blush work its way up those fair cheeks. Personally, she didn’t think that her words merited any embarrassment, but Claire had always been someone who she didn’t quite understand to begin with.
“If that’s the worst you’ve picked up, then you need to get out more,” the agent observed, tossing the papertowel into a nearby trash can. A few more exchanged words, and she could escape without looking too rude. Not that she’d ever really worried about that before, but for some reason she didn’t feel like hurting the somewhat gentle scientist tonight. Of course, it might also have something to do with the fact that her emotional walls had taken quite a beating, leaving her unable to summon the rancor needed to cut the other woman short, though that was clearly the less attractive postulate.
“How about tonight?” Alex looked at the other woman in confusion. The reply had taken so long that she figured Claire had decided to let her comment pass.
“How about tonight what?” she questioned, feeling her brows draw together in puzzlement. There was something here that she was missing, and it seemed to be a fairly important part.
“Why don’t I get out tonight, and why don’t you go with me? Dinner maybe, or a nice smoky pub where we can drown our sorrows?” Claire’s tone was light, almost joking, as she tried to make her proposition as non-threatening as possible.
“You and I go somewhere together?” Alex sounded amused by the prospect, and the blonde tried not to look disheartened by the words. She’d been carrying around a secret infatuation with the tough as nails covert agent almost since the first day she’d arrived at the agency. Not that she was looking to actually make a move on her now, of course. It would be at the height of bad taste to take advantage of her emotional state. No, this was only an invitation between friends, an acknowledgement that she was here for the other woman, offering a shoulder available for crying on.
“Like I mentioned earlier, I actually do leave here on occasion.” Claire tried to inject a bit of hurt into her tone, a low-level manipulation of the conversation. “Is it so unthinkable then, the thought of you, me, and a pint?”
“I just never figured that for your scene,” came the wry reply, and with a barely audible sigh, Claire began to accept that she wouldn’t meet any of her objectives tonight. Those being, of course, a strictly cheerum’ up mission.
“I wasn’t aware that you figured anything for my scene.” With rejection came the return of an edge of coldness to her voice, the taciturn scientist once again returning to her shell.
“I’ve seen your scene, Doc. It involves a white coat, latex gloves, computers, and enough medical equipment to cause a coronary for a HMO.” Alex was somehow aware that she’d done something wrong though honestly, in her current state of mind, she didn’t really care. The prospect of Claire out and about on the town, however, was intriguing, and not one to want to wallow in self-pity, she made her move.
“Alright then. Want me to pick the bar, or do you have one in mind?” The startled look that shot across pale features was almost worth the thought of having to try and dredge up conversation with this woman that she didn’t have much in common with. Clearly the lanky scientist hadn’t expected her to acquiesce.
“Please, lead the way. I’m not too terribly familiar with any of the local nightlife high spots, so I’m sure you’d do a much better job than I.”
The other woman was still wearing the low slung black pants and sleeveless black knit shirt that she’d had on earlier, a thin line of tan flesh bared at her midriff, and for a moment, Claire wondered if she should somehow convince the other woman to let her go change. She felt dowdy in her jeans, in her plain button-down shirt, with her sensible brown shoes and her hair pushed messily behind her ears. As compared to the exotic beauty of her companion, for a moment she gave in to the thoughts of a lifetime that labeled her as homely, as plain, as unsexy.
“Shall I wear this then?” There was a hint of anxiety in her voice, and Alex unsuccessfully tried not to smirk. In her opinion, the other woman looked just fine, the worn cloth of her jeans molding across a flat belly and the blinding white of her shirt highlighting fair features.
“For a simple night out, I would think it’d be fine,” she replied, leading the way out of the lab, rolling her eyes at the uncharacteristic bout of womanly pride and apprehension that she’d just been subjected to.
Alex’s car was sporty and fast, and she drove in apparent appreciation of those facts, winding her way between the other cars with a careless ease that seemed to disregard the reality that they were moving entirely too fast for the maneuvers to be completely safe. Though she gripped the door handle so tightly that her knuckles glowed white in the dim interior of the car, Claire refused to say a word. She wasn’t going to present the front of a shrinking violet, wasn’t going to play to the image of boring desk jockey that she felt the others had of her. Tonight, she was going to give as good as she got, proving to herself at least that she wasn’t as dull as the journal articles that she poured over in search of the latest innovations.
“Do you really sleep at that place?” The words broke the silence that had descended over the car’s interior, coupled with a quick lane change that found them mere feet behind the back of a large truck before yet another lane change allowed them to pass the vehicle.
“Sometimes. If it gets too late, then there doesn’t seem to really be any need to leave, knowing that I’m only going to be back again in a few hours. There are showers there, and probably half of my wardrobe is down in the lab. I’ve thought on occasion of just moving in completely, of changing one of the spare rooms into a little sanctuary,” Claire admitted, cringing to herself even as she heard the words. Someone like her, someone content to spend her days with her nose in a book, never really seeing the light of day, could never attract someone like Alex. No, the other woman lived on danger and excitement, and Claire was about as far away from the both of those as she could get.
“Like I said, you really need to get out more.” The words rankled against Claire’s nerves. Yes, she was well aware of just how boring her life might seem to some, but truly, she did enjoy her work. Unlocking the mysteries of the human body and its design was just as thrilling as chasing down ever-elusive foes. Well, perhaps in its own special way it was. It just took a little more effort to understand that if it didn’t come to you naturally, but the adrenaline rush that came from a new discovery had to be as high as any to be found with your hand wrapped around the butt of a gun.
“And I’m getting out now, aren’t I? Surely there are wonders untold that you can show me.” She hadn’t meant to sound so bitter then, but as the words spilled across the darkened enclosure, she realized that her feelings on the matter had been clearly projected to the shadowed figure sitting to her left.
“I don’t know about wonders untold, but at the very least, I can show you the Joint. We’re here, Doc.” The words preceded the squealing of tires as the agile car whipped into a parking place, and for a moment Claire sat in the darkness, calming the racing of her heart.
“The Joint? Sounds like an upscale establishment,” she drawled finally, reaching down to depress the button holding her seatbelt in place. As the strip of unyielding fabric disappeared back into its compartment, she reached for the door handle, wondering why she had ever thought this was a good idea.
“I wasn’t aware that you were looking for class tonight,” came the droll reply, the words slightly muffled as Alex climbed out of the car. Soon they were both standing outside of the tiny collection of metal and bolts, the flickering light from an overhead florescent bulb giving them both a bit of a yellowish tinge. “Should I have picked something else?”
From the lack of inflection in Alex’s tone, Claire surmised that she didn’t really care what the scientist thought and was, in fact, only baiting her. The laconic amusement that she often heard in the other woman’s voice had returned, and once again it was as if all those in her realm had simply been placed there for her entertainment and weren’t to be taken seriously. The thought that she was no more than a co-worker and acquaintance to Alex bothered Claire immensely, though a more objective part of her brain argued that she was simply in a state of heightened emotions here in the company of her secret desire, reading more into every word and phrase than was ever intended.
“No.” The word was clipped, harsh, and was followed by her departure from the maze of cars toward the recessed door of the bar. It was one doorfront in a long line of doorfronts, and she could hear the muffled timbre of music ebb and flow as patrons entered and exited. Despite the fact that she was thoroughly enjoying reveling in the snit she’d managed to work herself into, Claire felt a bit of excitement shoot through her now that they had actually reached their destination. Behind those battered oaken doors lay an adventure.
“Ditching me already?” Alex was at her side within the space of a few long strides, and Claire struggled to bring her unwieldy thoughts into line.
“Is this a place you frequent?” She ignored the question, unsure how to respond to it. For a moment, she cursed her inability to answer such things blithely, cursed her lack of wit and charm when the situation called for it most. Any situation that could potentially result in her embarrassment seemed to be just one of those where she wished such suaveness would appear. It hadn’t yet though, and she wasn’t holding out any hopes that it would do so in the near future.
“I’ve been here a few times, yeah.” Green eyes cut her way slyly, and Claire wondered just what it was she was supposed to infer from that. Personally, she was unfamiliar with the place. Not that she should be familiar with it, she mused. It wasn’t like she frequented bars for the most part.
The bouncer at the door, a rather imposing woman who looked as if she was more than prepared to handle any recalcitrant customers, waved them through. For a moment, Claire felt a pang of loss for the days when she still looked youthful enough to prompt an inspection of her identification, but ruefully admitted that those days had been short anyway. She’d always looked a bit older than she really was, with her intense gaze and the heavy air of intelligence that seemed to follow her.
The interior of the bar itself was unremarkable. A semi-circle of scarred oak jutted out from one wall, and two women made their way around to the mass of patrons clamoring for their attention from behind it. A vast array of liquor adorned a stainless steel counter behind them, and hard stools played host to a variety of patrons. A few booths lined the walls, and a line of pool tables took up much of the remaining space. The music she’d heard was blaring from a jukebox, the thing a mass of neon and metal, and Claire noted with surprise that it seemed to be interactive. Bars certainly had gotten a bit more technological than she remembered.
The harsh strains of a classic rock song cut through the air, making conversation a bit more difficult. Ozzy Osborne or Aerosmith or someone like that, she assumed, because the guitar chords seemed somewhat familiar. Unfortunately, music trivia wasn’t an area in which Claire excelled, preferring to listen to whatever struck her fancy whenever it came on, and rarely digging further than that.
She was surprised when warm fingers wrapped around hers, tugging lightly so that she fell in behind the slightly shorter figure in front of her, but Claire certainly wasn’t going to protest the movement. Even if it simply was a way for Alex to ensure that they didn’t part ways in the crowded bar, she was thrilled at the contact. The broad palm pressing against her own was softer than she’d imagined, though she could feel the beginnings of a callus underneath the index finger. Her trigger finger, she surmised, smiling with no small amount of amusement at the thought.
Sooner than she’d anticipated, they were at the bar, having slid into a space recently vacated by a woman carrying an armful of drinks. Claire had barely escaped being drenched as the less than sober woman pushed away with her prize, but a strong arm had wrapped around her waist, pulling her back into the lean form behind her, and for a moment she reveled in the contact, in the soft press of breasts against the broad muscles of her back.
“So, what’re you drinking?” Alex had caught the eye of the bartender, and the woman was looking at them expectantly, wiping her hands on a towel hanging from the waistband of her tight leather pants. For a moment, the scientist was too caught up in her perusal of the woman in front of her to answer. A barely there tank, leather molded to slim hips, a long fall of straight honey blond hair, amused brown eyes looking out at her from a face that couldn’t have belonged to someone older than her mid-twenties, and she’d have to be dead to not want to take in the sight.
“Uh, Guinness draft,” she finally croaked out, vaguely aware of the smile cracking its way across Alex’s features.
“Two,” came the husky tones of the agent, and Claire felt a shiver run down her back. She couldn’t help the fact that she was quite susceptible to visual stimulation, and when not focused on her work, easily distractible. Long ago she’d learned that a beautiful woman could distract her more quickly than anything else, and she felt her cheeks burn with the embarrassment of having been caught.
“I though you were a Brit, Doc,” Alex observed, turning so that she was leaning up against the bar, her body turned toward the now nervous figure beside her. “Guinness is an Irishman’s drink.”
“Yes, well, to the perpetual embarrassment of my prim and proper parents, I developed a fondness for the stuff at University,” Claire admitted, looking down to the bar where her fingers were fidgeting with a splinter of wood they’d pried loose.
“Not too upset with my choice of bar now, are you?” Alex continued on, well aware of her companion’s discomfort. “After all, not only do they have your favorite drink, but the scenery’s not so bad either.”
Claire flushed bright red at the words, but thankfully was spared a comeback by the arrival of their drinks. Alex had slapped a twenty down on the counter before she could move, and soon she found herself following the straight set of the other woman’s shoulders over to a booth. Sliding across the worn vinyl opposite the agent, Claire let her eyes roam around the confines of the room, slowly becoming aware of something she realized she should have noticed immediately.
“There aren’t any men here,” she said slowly, a note of puzzlement in her voice.
“I shouldn’t imagine so.” Alex sounded amused with her once more, and Claire couldn’t help shooting an irritated glance toward the other woman. “The Joint tends to cater strictly to the ladies.”
“So a lesbian bar then,” Claire said sharply, cutting away any vagueness.
“You might say that.” She could see the glint of apprehension in the other woman’s eyes, as if she were holding her breath in anticipation of Claire’s reaction. The only problem was that Claire imagined that she was rather hoping for a scene of some type, not dreading one.
“And you couldn’t have seen fit to tell me this before now?” She couldn’t help sounding cross. If there was anything that Claire hated, it was being slow on the uptake.
Alex didn’t answer for a moment, choosing instead to take a long draw of her beer. Then, bright green eyes leveled with blue, and she raised a brow in question. “Does it bother you?”
“Not especially, but I don’t like looking the fool.” Claire didn’t see any harm in admitting it. No one liked looking like a fool, and she wasn’t one to mince words and try to dance around the issue.
“Yes, well, after the way you ogled the bartender, I didn’t think that it would be a problem,” Alex commented dryly.
“I do not ogle,” Claire shot back, aware that Alex had known what she was doing but irritated that she had brought it up.
“If you insist.” The words were coupled with a smirk, and Claire turned her glass up to escape the other woman’s perusal. It took quite a while to finish the whole thing, but she slogged through it, wanting to hide from those cutting green eyes as long as she could.
“Impressive,” Alex noted when she slammed the now empty glass down on the table. “Unfortunately, you’ve got a foam mustache now that takes away from the grandeur of the accomplishment.”
Blushing to the roots of her fair hair, Claire immediately brought her hand up to her mouth, wiping away the traitorous coating of foam she found there. By the time she’d finished, she looked up to find herself alone in the booth. Looking quickly around the enclosed confines of the bar, she found the figure she was searching for once again speaking to the bartender. Moments later, Alex returned to their booth, carrying a new glass in hand.
“Thank you,” Claire murmured as the dark-haired agent slid the offering onto the tabletop between them.
“No thanks to me. Thank Lisa up there, who just might give you her phone number if you go and fetch the next one yourself,” Alex drawled, amused to watch the blush that had almost faded reappear with a vengeance at the words.
“Alex…” she started warningly, only to trail off, vividly aware that nothing she could say would threaten the other woman.
“It appears that she likes leggy blondes,” the other woman continued on, the corners of her lips fighting a losing battle against turning up.
“She’s a leggy blonde herself,” Claire muttered, dropping her eyes to the table.
“And what does that say about her, I wonder. Narcissistic, I would imagine,” Alex observed, taking another sip of her drink. Personally, it was a little thick for her taste, but then again, the object of the night’s exercise wasn’t getting drunk.
“You’re awfully cavalier about it.” Claire looked up, straightening her shoulders. She wasn’t going to spend the rest of the night blushing if she had anything to do with it, nor would she willingly provide any more amusement for the woman sitting across from her. Though, to be truthful, her embarrassment did seem to be doing a good job in keeping Alex’s mind from the events of the day, from the loss of her baby.
“I brought you here, Claire. Are you expecting me to be shocked by something other than the fact that she’s never asked for my number, though not for lack of flirting on my part,” the other woman muttered, and Claire felt her eyes widen.
“So you’ve an interest in the bartender?” she asked, trying to sound casual though a bit afraid that she’d failed miserably.
“Just in certain parts of her,” came the muttered reply, and Claire could feel the beginnings of a scowl.
“Looking to notch your bedpost, then?” There was a touch of censure in the words that she couldn’t keep out and for a minute she was embarrassed by that. Who was she to judge how anyone else lived?
“Do you think she’d be looking for a long-time relationship with you?” Alex threw back, slightly miffed by the disapproving tone she’d heard.
“I’m sorry,” Claire finally said on a sigh. “I guess that I’ve just been out of circulation for a while, and I forgot what a meat market the world really is. Everyone just using everyone else for their own ends, though you’d think that that particular principle would be one that I would be intimately familiar with, considering the amount of self-serving manipulation that we see.”
“I have no desire to get into any philosophical discussions about life in general or mine in particular tonight, so leave the office at the office if you don’t mind,” Alex said sharply in reply, the words startling Claire.
“Right then. All conversations that might touch on anything of shared interest are strictly verboten. Feel free to keep me in line,” she replied before thinking, hastily bringing her glass up to her lips and taking a long drink when she realized just how the words might be interpreted. Really, she was here to comfort Alex tonight, certainly not to antagonize her. But, thankfully, a low laugh was all her comment garnered, and soon Claire felt herself relax again.
The opening chords of another old song she favored cut their way across the bar, and the blonde scientist looked to up to find Alex grinning at her.
“What?” she asked self-consciously, running a hand over her upper lip to make sure that she wasn’t sporting another coating of foam.
“Do you play pool?” Alex asked, a somewhat sharkish grin baring her teeth.
“A bit. Why? Fancy a game?” Claire questioned, watching the other woman cock a brow in the direction of the tables.
“Let’s go.” Grabbing her still half-full pilsner glass, Alex stood and moved toward a table that was just opening up, trusting Claire to follow along behind her. She edged out a rather fierce looking woman for the honors, shooting a deadly glare at the encroacher. It was extremely effective, no doubt because there was something behind it that let others know that Alex was well equipped to back up with action any promises her look might make.
Claire made a short stop at the bar to refill her glass, which seemed to once again be empty, before joining her companion. Thankfully, the bartender that appeared to want her number was busy with another patron, allowing her to extricate herself from a potentially sticky situation before it even occurred. It had been a long time since Claire had had to deal with anyone’s advances, much less those of someone no doubt a decade younger than she was, and wasn’t necessarily interested in receiving a refresher course at the moment.
“Ready to lose, Doc?” Alex asked as she made her way over to the table, already using the small blue cube to chalk the tip of her cue. Standing there, with her hip leaning against the wooden edge of the table, arms raised as she worked the chalk back and forth over the tapered tip of the wooden cue, she looked utterly delectable, especially to the eyes of a slightly inebriated Claire. It’d been a while since the scientist had done any real drinking, and the potent brew was making its way rapidly to her head.
“Don’t be so self-assured, Alex,” she replied, walking over to the rack of cues hanging on the wall, choosing the best of the bunch. “Pool, after all, is all about angles and geometry, which are part of my specialty.”
“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong. Pool is an art, not a science, and all your calculations won’t mean a damn,” was the cocky reply. Shaking her head, snagging a free piece of chalk, Claire motioned to the table.
“Then please, do feel free to break. I’m interested in seeing how your art compares with my science.” Alcohol had taken away a bit of the self-consciousness that she usually found herself with, and Claire didn’t even try to hide the way her eyes caressed the lean lines of her companion’s body as it bent low over the pool table as Alex focused on the cue ball, one hand splayed out on the table supporting the cue and the other extended far behind her to the base of the stick. She was bent almost in half, her body parallel to the green felt, and with a sudden movement, she sent the white ball careening down the table to impact with the tightly packed triangle of colored balls waiting there. Three fell, two solids and one stripe.
“Solids for you then?” Claire asked, figuring from the configuration of the balls that they were playing 8-ball.
“Stripes. Never did like to back down from a challenge.” Alex was already moving around the table, sharp eyes assessing her next shot. Claire was content to let her run the table if she was capable of it. After all, if Alex’s attention was firmly on the game, then it left her free to explore the slim figure without fear of detection.
Unfortunately, after sinking another two shots, Alex found herself in an untenable position and Claire was forced to rouse herself from her spot. Pushing away from the wall that she had been supporting, the tall blonde let her only slightly blurred normally sharp scientist’s eye survey her potential shots. After running through the potential outcomes in her head, she chose her move, feeling a sense of pleasure wash over her as she watched her intended target roll neatly into the corner pocket.
Another two balls later and she shanked one, scowling as the ball shot off in an entirely unintended direction. Alex laughed at the look of consternation on her face, and not soon thereafter lined up a winning shot, sinking the 8 ball with no problem.
Unwilling to bow out after a single loss, Claire challenged Alex to another game, and after another trip to the bar to refill her glass, they got underway. Unfortunately, the combination of those low-slung black pants being pulled tight across a shapely rear and the effects of more alcohol than she’d had in her system in quite some time combined to find her on the losing side of a best of five, and as it grew harder and harder for her to stand without swaying, Claire acknowledged that she wasn’t bound for billiards greatness that night.
“See, an art,” Alex said close to an hour later, smiling at her clearly intoxicated friend. The more beer Claire put away, the less discreet her glances became until she was out and out leering at Alex, though in truth the brunette didn’t mind. She didn’t know whether to be amused, flattered, or interested, though some part of her was clamoring for the last one. It’d been a while since she’d had someone in her bed, and Claire was certainly an attractive and, apparently, willing woman.
“Bollocks. I’m just at less than my best tonight,” the scientist slurred, doing her best to fit her pool cue back into the appropriate slot. It was being uncooperative though, and it wasn’t until Alex took the piece of wood from her that it slid easily into place.
“Use whatever excuse you feel you have to in order to assuage your pride,” the agent said magnanimously. She enjoyed this more playful side of Claire, though doubted it would have ever emerged had it not been for a bit of help from the Irish.
“We’ll play again, and next time I won’t let you incapacitate me with drink,” Claire promised. Alex’s hand had wrapped around hers once more, and without her permission her fingers squeezed those threaded through them tightly.
“If you say so,” came the low reply as Alex tugged the drunken scientist toward the door. Claire kept up a litany of similar promises all the way out into the parking lot, until finally Alex had her safely strapped into the passenger side of the vehicle.
“Are you sure you’re safe to drive?” the scientist asked, her voice soft and slow, as Alex backed out of her parking place.
“Quite,” the other woman replied sarcastically. She hadn’t even seen the bottom of the glass of her first Guinness, and found it ironic that her friend, who was well and truly plastered, would question her sobriety.
“I don’t want to return to the office,” Claire stipulated, her head lolling back at the words.
“Then where do you live?” Alex waiting for a few moments for the reply to her question. When one wasn’t forthcoming, she snuck a glance over to her passenger, unsurprised to find that Claire had apparently passed out. With a sigh, she turned toward her own apartment, resigned to letting the other woman stay the night with her. Not that she’d be completely adverse to it in other circumstances, but since it didn’t appear that any of the lustful gazes that had been sent her way would be followed up on, that left her only with the prospect of dealing with a drunken friend. She hated drunks, and fervently hoped that the scientist didn’t feel a need to become melancholy or to throw up.
Her complex was relatively secluded, which meant that she was able to find a parking place almost at her doorstep. But, though she could open the passenger side door and unbuckle Claire’s seat belt without any help, that was about all she could do. Well toned muscles notwithstanding, she just wasn’t strong enough to cart the other woman’s dead weight up the stairwell.
“Claire… Claire, you’ve got to wake up,” she prodded, slapping the other woman’s cheeks lightly in an attempt to bring her around. Wide blue eyes fluttered open, focusing slowly on her, and Alex smiled.
“Alex,” the scientist breathed, immediately caught by sparkling green eyes.
“Have I ever told you how beautiful I find you?” Claire replied, somewhat surprised that she hadn’t stumbled over the words. Some part of her drunken mind was protesting, not at all certain that she should have made that comment in the first place, but another part was happy that she’d done so, glad to have her intoxicated self take care of something that her rational self couldn’t.
“I don’t believe you have,” Alex replied with a grin, gratified by this turn of events. While usually not one to take advantage of another’s drunkenness, if Claire pursued something between them, she wasn’t going to stop it. Especially not tonight, with her emotions already in tatters around her, some part of her psyche crying out for the comfort that could come only from human contact.
“Well, you are. Quite beautiful.” Their faces were so close together that if she only reached up a few inches, Claire could capture those full lips with her own. Straining, pushing herself up off the back of the seat, that’s exactly what she did. The touch was soft, just a simple press of flesh on flesh, but she smiled as she fell back to her seat, happy with herself.
“Let’s get inside.” Alex couldn’t help the raspy timbre of her voice. Pulling the unsteady blonde out of the low vehicle, she helped her to her feet. It was a task getting her into the apartment, and then up the stairs to the upper level where her bed was situated, but with a little bit of effort, she managed. Of course, all of the effort ruined her plans for any seduction that night. No matter how badly her body was crying out for the comfort of Claire’s, if she took advantage of her friend in this condition she’d be no better than a rapist. Or, at least, that’s what she told herself as she eased the other woman back against her mattress, fingers moving to the buttons on her shirt. She’d already pulled off shoes and socks, and was now planning on easing Claire out of her clothes, well aware of just how uncomfortable it could be to sleep in them.
Bright blue eyes that hadn’t peeked out of closed lids since the car suddenly flew open as she maneuvered the other woman out of her shirt, and Alex cocked an eyebrow in question.
“Are we going to have sex?” Claire asked, moving so that it was easier for Alex to pull the garment from unresisting arms. The agent took advantage of the sudden period of cooperation and undid Claire’s pants as well, tugging them down slim hips.
“Do you want to have sex with me?” she questioned, curious.
“Oh, God yes. I’ve wanted you for months,” Claire replied, her voice a bit distracted. It was getting increasingly harder to think straight, though she tried valiantly.
“Months?” Alex prodded, a bit stunned by that proclamation. Usually she noticed when someone was interested in her, but apparently Claire had managed to sneak in under her radar. Maybe it was because she hadn’t really even considered the possibility until she caught the other woman eyeing the bartender earlier. After that, the constant perusal of her form by hooded cornflower eyes became much more clear.
“Hmmm, yes. Do you mind?”
“Mind?” Alex laughed lightly. “Not at all. But no, we’re not going to have sex tonight. If and when we do sleep together one day, it’ll be when we’re both in full control of our facilities.”
Claire pouted at the words, though not for long. With a vague noise of disappointment, she turned her face into the pillows, burrowing down into the softness of the sheets. Shaking her head in consternation, Alex stripped out of her uncomfortable clothing as well, pulling a tee-shirt out of a drawer in deference to a desire for less awkwardness the following morning before slipping into bed beside the now sleeping scientist.
Turning her face into the pillow, comforted by the warm body beside her and the rhythmic puff of soft breath passing through unconscious lips, Alex felt the first of a torrent of hot tears course down her cheeks, dampening the cloth beneath her.
“Bloody hell.” Not only did her head ache, but her mouth was dry and her body sore, no doubt a side effect of the rather bad case of dehydration she was currently suffering. Rubbing her hands over bleary eyes, Claire slowly pushed herself up from where she was laying. Peeking through her fingers, trying to readjust herself to the all too bright light assaulting her, she suddenly became aware that she wasn’t quite sure where she was.
The soft bed beneath her was unfamiliar, as was the room it was housed in. Slowly, the muffled sounds of water on tile filtered into her consciousness and she realized that whoever she was with was in the shower.
“Alex?” she whispered softly, looking around for traces of her friend. She didn’t remember much past losing that last game of pool the night before, but was fairly certain that the agent wouldn’t have let her go home with some stranger. That didn’t explain her current state of undress, though. To be honest, she really didn’t think anything had happened. As sore as her body was, it wasn’t sore in that particular way that followed a night of lovemaking, and that familiar satisfying stickiness was absent as well.
No one answered her query, and after a few minutes, she struggled to sit up further, catching sight of her clothes. They were resting on the seat of a nearby chair, neatly folded. Jumping out of bed as well as she could with her hangover, she shrugged into her shirt and pulled wrinkled jeans up long legs. Her fingers had just managed to do up all her buttons when the sound of water stopped in the bathroom, and moments later the door opened, emitting a billowing cloud of steam into the room, followed shortly by the nearly naked figure of the apartment’s owner.
Alex had one cream towel wrapped around her body, another rubbing excess water out of her hair. Green eyes noticed the empty bed and swung around the room, finally catching sight of Claire standing in the corner, slack-jawed, one hand poised on the top button of her blouse.
“I see you found your clothes,” she said, her tone indifferent. Morning-afters were always horribly uncomfortable, even if there really wasn’t anything that had happened the night before to engender uneasiness, and she had a feeling that the less than cosmopolitan scientist would be more than unhappy with the situation. She wasn’t particularly concerned about a problem at work since the two didn’t really cross paths all that often, but it still would be nice to nip any potential awkwardness in the bud.
“Uh, yes… yes I did. Thank you for… uh, leaving them out for me.” Claire wasn’t sure that she’d made a lot of sense with that one, but unable to think of anything better to say, she stumbled through the cumbersome thanks.
“It was no problem. Sorry if you think it was presumptuous of me, but I thought you’d be happier this morning if you didn’t spend the night sleeping in less than comfortable nightwear.” Alex was moving around the room now, pulling a pair of slacks out of the closet, thumbing through her collection of blouses. Finally deciding on a selection, she laid the clothes out on the bed, moving over to a bureau to select some undergarments.
“I’m, uh, sure that it was a wise idea. I think I’ll just go downstairs and leave you to dress in peace.” Trying not to stare at the long expanse of tanned, toned leg bared to her at the moment, Claire slid past the other woman, moving carefully down the stairs. A quick glance in the fridge unearthed a small bottle of Gatorade, and she eagerly broke the seal on the top, downing most of the refreshing liquid in one gulp. Feeling marginally better, she took a moment to survey the inside of the apartment.
Claire hadn’t really ever seen the agent’s habitat before, and was impressed with the cool colors and modern look. Not that she would have expected anything else, she supposed. Alex didn’t strike her as the kind of woman to surround herself with antiques or garish pieces of art. She was a woman of clean lines and understated beauty, and that had extended itself to her living quarters.
The sound of shoes clomping down the stairs let her know that the other woman was on her way down, and Claire did her best to straighten her shoulders and look presentable. She didn’t know exactly what had transpired the night before, but as long as she didn’t look nervous then perhaps she could manage to bluff her way out of the situation and back to her comfortable place in the lab. There she could give in to whatever insecurities might plague her mind, but she didn’t want to give voice to nor hint of her uneasiness around the self-confident figure now walking toward her.
“I’m about to head in to work. I can take you by your apartment if you’d like,” Alex offered in cool tones, green eyes giving away nothing of what had transpired. She could see the tension in Claire’s slim shoulders, but wasn’t exactly sure what she could say to ease the other woman’s mind. Having decided that it was safer to remain silent, and thus avoid any unintentional self-incrimination, she planned to wait until a question was asked of her before volunteering any information.
“No. I’ll head into the office as well. My car is there, and I have a few spare changes of clothes. I’ll do just as well there as anywhere else.” And, she added to herself, I won’t be all alone, with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company.
Moments later, Claire found herself once again folded into the front seat of the small sports car, speeding through traffic on her way in to the office. The quick motion made her already queasy stomach rebel, but she resolved not to mention anything about it.
“I, uh, didn’t do anything to make a fool of myself, did I?” she asked finally, the question burning on her brain until she couldn’t keep it back.
Alex smiled over at her, hooded green eyes hiding any hint of emotion, and Claire felt her discomfort grow.
“Do you mean other than confessing to an attraction to me? I guess that depends on whether it was something you’d planned to do or not.” Maybe it was cruel to bring that back up, but Alex was curious. Had the words simply been the ramblings of a drunken mind, or was the blonde scientist really interested in her?
“Oh my, did I really do that?” Claire asked, a little taken aback. She’d been so determined when they’d left the night before that she wasn’t going to burden the other woman with her attraction, well aware that Alex had far more important things on her mind without the addition of a knowledge of her crush.
“Not in so many words. Well, maybe in so many words, though not exactly those,” Alex teased lightly, though she doubted that the other woman would see any humor in the situation.
Claire remained silent for so long that Alex imagined that she wasn’t going to get an answer from her. But, only blocks away from the office, the blonde turned in her seat, focusing apprehensive blue eyes on the figure of the woman sitting behind the steering wheel. “Does it bother you?”
“That you’re attracted to me?” Alex asked, pushing just a little bit. She wanted to hear the other woman admit to it.
“Yes,” Claire breathed, somehow daunted by the admission in the light of day.
“No, I’m not bothered by it. I can’t say that I have a next step in mind, but I’m certainly not going to allow your admission to affect our working relationship, so you don’t have any worries there,” she replied, not taking her eyes off the road. Honestly, she wasn’t even sure why she was delving into this. The way she’d talked made it seem likely that she’d be amenable to a relationship, or at least to taking things further. Which, in some ways, she was. A physical diversion certainly wouldn’t be unwelcome at the moment, but anything more than that didn’t really figure into her plans. She wasn’t really a relationship kind of woman, preferring the love’em and leave’em lifestyle and her independence and freedom more than the stability of knowing that there was someone there waiting for her at the end of the day.
She wasn’t all that certain that Claire would fit well into that type of liaison. She seemed more along the lines of a commitment kind of gal, which meant that Alex should steer well clear of her. But, for some reason, she couldn’t find it within herself to dismiss the other woman out of hand.
Claire, on the other hand, was feeling a little more uncertain. Alex was being a bit blasé about the whole thing, and she certainly hadn’t admitted that she returned the attraction. An assurance that she wouldn’t bring it into the workplace didn’t mean anything more than what it was on the face… a promise not to let a potentially one-sided attraction interfere with their relationship on the job. It didn’t imply anything more than that, and to the blonde, with her lurching stomach and her aching head, it didn’t sound promising at all.
In fact, as soon as they reached the office building, she was out of the car without another word, making her way quickly down to her lab in the basement. Digging through her medical supplies, she pulled out an IV bag, popping the needle into a vein in her arm with practiced ease, hoping that the infusion of fluids would help alleviate the nasty side effects of dehydration much more quickly than any other method would.
Leaning back in her chair, feeling her body slowly start to return to normal, she closed her eyes, trying to recall some of the events of the night before. Unfortunately, she’d never been one to hold her alcohol well, and wasn’t sure why she’d felt the need to imbibe quite as much as she had. Probably just an attempt to calm her jangled nerves, though she wasn’t sure that it had been all that effective.
“Claire?” Wincing, the sound of Darien’s voice drifting through the doors, pulling her from the comfortable near sleep state that she’d managed to fall into, the blonde pulled herself upright in her chair, running a quick hand through her hair in an attempt to look more presentable.
“In here.” Her voice was a bit less starched than usual, and she could tell by the puzzled look in his always near vacant eyes when he peeked through the door that he immediately recognized her less than put together appearance.
“Something wrong, Doc?” he asked, taking in the IV and the wan look on her face.
“No, just feeling a bit under the weather.” She hadn’t realized just how thin her voice was until she forced out that longer sentence. God, but she hated hangovers.
“Oh, well, I was going to run out for some coffee and doughnuts. You in?” The though of all that sugar nearly caused her stomach to expel its nonexistent contents, and she shook her head fervently.
“Coffee maybe, but keep it black. And its injection time for you when you get back,” she added, ignoring the face of distaste that he shot her way. If they wanted to keep him sane, then he’d have to comply with the periodic administration of a counter-agent. As devastating as a needle-prick might seem, it was certainly far better than the alternative.
Shaking his head in confusion as he wandered back up the hall, running a hand through already messy hair, Darien pondered what he’d seen. Not quite sure that he’d ever before seen the Doc at less than her best, the sight of her slumped down in a chair in her lab, IV drip hanging from a nearby coat rack, wearing yesterday’s rumpled clothes was quite disconcerting. Yeah, he’d known her to go on a quite a few benders down there, hunching over test tubes far longer than should be healthy for anyone, but she’d never quite worked herself up to a state like that.
A flash of brown out of the corner of his eye distracted him, and he realized that he was about to walk out of the office without seeing if Alex wanted something. It was clearly a move that he didn’t want to make around the somewhat volatile woman, especially since she was in what he considered to be a fragile emotional state. So, backtracking quickly, he hung his head around the doorframe of the agent’s office, offering a bright smile.
“Hey… going for coffee and doughnuts. Get you anything?” he asked, resisting the urge to smooth down his shirtfront. Alex might not have shown any real interest in him yet, but Darien was sure that with a little time, his boyish charm and good looks would win her over.
“No,” was the short reply, and he jumped back as if burned.
“Yeow, bad day all around in this place. Doc’s down in the basement looking like she’s about two feet away from owning her very own casket, and you’re up here… well, being your usual charming self.”
“My self-esteem thanks you for the gracious pick me up,” Alex replied coolly, arching a slim brow in an attempt to speed up Darien’s departure. All she wanted to do was get back to work. She didn’t want to socialize, didn’t want to chat, didn’t want to worry about her co-workers. No, all she wanted to do was a little paperwork.
Yeah right. Her curiosity was pricked now, and cursing herself all the way down to the lab, she went nonetheless.
“Claire, you in here?” She wasn’t sure why she felt the need to announce her appearance, nor did she know why she’d even asked that slightly inane question. Of course Claire was in the lab. When was she not in the lab?
With a groan, Claire opened her eyes. Great, this was all she needed. Couldn’t people just let her suffer in peace? Was this some sort of crisis intervention day that she hadn’t been made aware of?
“In here,” she called back, pleased with the steady timbre she accomplished. Pulling out the IV quickly, reaching for a band-aid that she’d laid out earlier, she tried to make herself look as presentable as possible. Which, she realized, wasn’t all that presentable at all. Couldn’t she at least have time to take a shower before facing Alex again? Really, it was the least she could ask.
Alex didn’t necessarily look hesitant standing just inside Claire’s door, but she didn’t look like her overly-confident self either. “Darien said you looked like hell,” she said simply, and Claire nearly cringed at the words. Yes, how wonderful… now she felt much better about things.
“I can’t imagine that I look any worse than I did 20 minutes ago when you dropped me off,” she replied sharply, wishing that she could take the words back as soon as they were out of her mouth. It was a comment that wouldn’t bring about any good, whether through a resulting involved conversation or through bringing the events of the night before back into focus.
Alex couldn’t help but nod at that. “True, you don’t. Look, I know that I said that I wasn’t going to let this get in the way of our working relationship, but I just wanted to make sure that… well, that you were okay with things.”
Closing her eyes briefly, hoping to draw some sort of fortification from the less than sufficient gesture, Claire sighed. “Yes, well, you needn’t worry about me. I won’t force my attentions on you nor will I mention what happened.”
It wasn’t actually the reassurance that Alex was looking for, and crossing her arms over her chest, she scowled. “First of all, I didn’t think you were planning on forcing anything on me.”
Jaw tightening in an attempt to quell her rapidly rising anger, well aware that the way she felt physically wasn’t going to help things, Claire spoke slowly, elaborating on her statement. “No, I was merely trying to assure you that I am well aware of your non-interest and let you know that I won’t push the issue.”
For a moment, Alex was speechless. “Non-interest?” she repeated incredulously. “Just what gave you that idea?”
Claire fumbled, now not quite as certain that her assumptions had been correct ones. “Well, you didn’t say anything this morning and I just thought…” she trailed off, growing increasingly self-conscious as a broad smile spread across the other woman’s lips. “So I can assume that you are… interested?”
“Oh yes,” Alex smirked. She’d started forward, intent on showing Claire just how interested she was when the door burst open and a smiling Darien appeared, a half-eaten doughnut hanging out of his mouth and steaming styrofoam cups of coffee in each hand.
“Ready doc,” he mumbled, spewing crumbs as he made his way over to the counter, laying his burden down.
“Yes. Right then. I’ll see you later, Alex?” she asked, the question in her tone suggestive of just what, exactly, she was interested in seeing later.
“You can count on it.”
As Claire watched the other woman’s retreat, she couldn’t help but stare at the enticing sway of hips that had teased her for months. Yes, she was quite good at that comforting thing after all, wasn’t she.
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