Spoilers: up to ep2x01, plus Season 3 cast spoilers
Summary: Written for the Top 40 Titles challenge at ARC using The Fray's “How To Save A Life” as inspiration. AU. Claudia stills exists, but what about Nick?
A/N: Thanks to fififolle for betareading.
She sits at the circular table, immaculately turned out, more so than usual, make-up acting like war paint on her face. She counts to ten, an odd pause for those waiting for her to talk and then when she feels she can wait no longer – because there is no prepared for this - gives a report on “the incident” to the team. Not to her team, but the others, the team back at the office, the team who stay out of danger, who don't really know quite what it all means, the team she used to think she belonged to more than the one she joked to them was full of wannabe action heroes.
Lester is rather conspicuously absent, his assistant taking minutes that Claudia guesses he probably won't bother reading because he doesn't need to know the details, he was there on site when the recovery team came back through. He was the second person to see the reconnaissance photos they'd taken in the Permian as they'd approached the location. There'd been bodies, blood, destruction and, a baffling complete lack of Nick Cutter. The quick remark he'd been ready to make at her no doubt gaping expression had died on Lester's lips as he'd surveyed the photos himself. Unlike her, his composure had been retained however. When Claudia had glanced back, watching the photos being handed round, Abby had looked like she'd wanted to cry but had simply clung to Stephen, who was silent and stoic. Connor had dropped the photos after seeing the third or fourth in the pile – probably the bloody close-up of one of the Special Force Lieutenants someone had neglected to remove, it was impossible to tell who though – and he'd been the first to ask it out of the team.
“Where's Professor Cutter?”
It's a question she's still working on six months later, even after Lester had had Nick's status changed to “Missing in Action” and finally, declared legally dead. Claudia clings to the hope that coming back from the “dead” is an odd Cutter trait, that he really is just missing, that Connor isn't being foolish to suggest these otherwise outlandish theories that Lester accuses him of taking wholesale from his favourite TV shows.
Officially there's no more to be done and she has a tough enough job as it is, but she dedicates every spare moment to solving the mystery and Lester turns a blind eye as much as possible to them using the resources and “wasting” the time of the government. The memo disbarring official use of conference room 12 by unauthorised staff, for no defined reason, is perhaps the most helpful because anyone else not involved in their investigation simply presumes they're not on the list. No one ever asks what goes on, few care until it can't be hidden.
Twelve months later and she has a partial answer. She's found Nick Cutter once this week, sat across an interrogation table from him, only to find he is not the same man she lost. Same trademark coat, same vaguely charming Scottish accent, but not the same man. He doesn't understand why they're still at the Home Office – he wants to be taken to the ARC, he wants to speak to Oliver Leek (who checks out as a Grade 1 civil servant working in Birmingham who's never had anything remotely to do with this department nor the project) and he stares at her coldly and says he's never heard of her before in his life. He says he wants to be polite but he has his demands and doesn't wish to sit around all day answering questions that won't help either of them. After all this time spent searching and it's him who think she is wasting his time.
Lester comes calling to view the curiosity.
“I heard you had a raving lunatic babbling about events from the bible.”
“The ARC – anomaly research center. It exists in his universe but not ours, not yet. “
“Catchy. So he's not the right Cutter? How unfortunate. Nevertheless he should be useful, maybe we can learn a thing or two from him.”
“He doesn't know of any Claudia Browns where he's from”
“But he's heard of me hasn't he? Isn't that enough?”
Sometimes she despises Lester's often cruel sense of humour.
Connor finally gets clearance and has a field day. Nick knows Connor of course, Nick spills all to him and about the only decent outcome of this encounter is that she verifies that all the hard work was not foolishness or naiveté. Oh and the method for traveling between realities came in handy. Cutter – she prefers to call him that because he's not Nick to her – told Connor, trusts him to be the same or as near as. Evidently Connor trusted him too, enough to go against Lester and spring him from the building. She imagines Cutter is long gone, in another reality by now.
She's watched the videotapes and read Connor's hastily typed up reports. That Nick had been to a dozen realities and never found his own, occasionally he'd found an ARC existed but the most promising one had already had their Nick and strangely no Stephen, that was as good as it had got for him.
Claudia really hopes she'll do better, she has a team assembled already, men she trusts to get her though whatever danger might lie ahead. She still misses Captain Ryan but she believes in Becker and his pick of their Special Forces personnel. If anyone can get them there and back again she has faith it's them – some of them knew Ryan and so they can appreciate what it is to lose someone. Except she doesn't believe their Nick Cutter is dead. Lost in time isn't necessarily much of an improvement but it gives them a second chance.
The lists are drawn up, risk assessment, procedures for if they don't check back in to this reality in four months – everything is ready, her plan simply awaits authorisation. Claudia's been ready for this too long and it's not a moment too soon when they step through the anomaly, the same anomaly Nick had never come back through.
It's her first mission, it's the first time she's held a gun, it's so many firsts including plenty no one else in the world has ever experienced, but all that matters to her ultimately is it's the first step towards Nick and the rebuilding of her world as it should be.