Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 2500
Summary: Home was closer than Nick had thought.
AN: Birthday fic for telperion_15. This fic was inspired by the film Under the Greenwood Tree. It’s a very bad film, but it does feature a lot of James Murray in period costume doing manual labour work and getting wet; something that seemed to go down rather well with most of the Denial ladies at the last get-together...
The view over the valley looked like a Christmas card picture. Stone cottages huddled together in the little village, plumes of smoke curling up from chimneys, and a blanket of soft snow covered roofs and the cobbles of the village square. The river that meandered along the bottom of the valley past the village was almost frozen over, and the ducks that normally inhabited its banks the rest of the year looked particularly disgruntled.
It was idyllic. But it wasn’t home.
Their house was further up the valley slope away from the main village, and there was no shelter from the biting wind. Nick wrapped his coat tighter around himself, cursing the itchy shirt for the millionth time. What he wouldn’t give right now for a proper pair of jeans and a decent t-shirt. They still had their old clothes in the house, well hidden, of course, and just for tonight Nick was tempted to dig them out and be comfortable, instead of spending the entire evening fiddling with his shirt in a way that both amused and irritated Stephen in equal measure.
Speaking of Stephen... Nick turned around to look back at the house. Stephen was standing outside their little outbuilding chopping logs for firewood. Despite the cold he had obviously worked up a sweat and had stripped to just a shirt, and Nick couldn’t help standing and admiring. He preferred this view to the one of the village any day.
Stephen must have felt himself being watched, because he stopped and leaned on the axe and looked up at Nick.
“You could help, instead of just watching,” Stephen commented, although there was a smile touching his mouth as he said it.
“What, and miss a prime ogling opportunity?”
Stephen smirked and made a show of raising the axe above his head before bringing it down onto the next log. “Ogle all you want, but if the fire dies in the night and we both freeze to death it’ll be your fault,” Stephen said, grinning.
Nick eyed the pile of firewood.
“I don’t think we’re going to run out. Bloody hell, Stephen we need wood for one night, not the next ice age.”
“Not all for us,” Stephen replied. “I said I’d take some extra down to Mrs Harrison and check on her before it gets dark.”
Nick nodded. Mrs Harrison was an old lady who lived on the edge of the village about five minutes walk from them. She had slipped on the snow and injured her knee a couple of days earlier, and most of the village were rallying round to help in one way or another. Like most of the ladies in the village, Mrs Harrison had a soft spot for Stephen, and Nick wondered what sort of pie or cake she would try to give him this time.
“Well, you’d better hurry up, it’ll be dark soon,” Nick commented, glancing in the direction of the setting sun even though he knew it had remained stubbornly hidden behind white, snow-filled clouds all day. “I’ll get dinner on for when you get back.”
He headed over and took an armload of wood into the house while Stephen put his coat on and piled some of the chopped wood into a sack for Mrs Harrison. When Nick came back out to collect the rest, Stephen was already walking down the slope towards the village, the sack slung over his back like a nineteenth century Santa, minus the costume, and infinitely sexier.
Once all the wood was inside, Nick stoked the fire and fed it until it was blazing, and then went round and lit candles at strategic points around the house. By the time Stephen got back it would be toasty warm, no matter how much the wind howled outside. But it still wasn’t home.
They had been here for almost eight months now. Granted, it was better than being trapped in the Carboniferous forever, but neither of them had bargained on being forced to make a life for themselves in a remote Somerset village in 1843.
For the first few weeks they had loitered in the vicinity of the anomaly, hoping that it might return and that they might be able to find another way home. But as time went on and the batteries in their hand held detector ran down, they finally had to admit that they needed a long term plan.
Nick had wanted to go to a city, somewhere they could have access to libraries and research, but the need to remain relatively anonymous, and a desire to stay close to the original anomaly site, had won out in the end. The villagers had initially been suspicious, but when both he and Stephen proved to be willing workers at any number of manual labour jobs they had slowly been accepted. Especially after Stephen had rescued young Jimmy when he fell in the lake. That, more than anything, seemed to have been the point when they were finally accepted as part of the community, and not just those two strangers who had moved into the abandoned house up the valley.
They were still keeping a close eye on the anomaly location, and keeping an ear open for any reports of strange animals, but as time wore on they had found themselves slipping into a routine of life and work that Nick would never have thought he could be happy with in a million years. Somewhat surprisingly, Stephen had settled to their new life remarkably easily, and the lifestyle seemed to suit him. Nick sometimes wondered if it was simply down to the friendly community spirit here. It was all a million miles away from the politics and backstabbing that had existed in the university, and which had followed them to the ARC.
Nevertheless, if they were still here after the snows had gone, Nick was hatching a plan to write Connor a letter detailing exactly what had happened to them, and then travelling to London to have the letter kept in a safe deposit with instructions of exactly where and when to deliver it. He had no idea if Connor would be able to do anything to find them, but it was worth a shot, at least.
In the meantime, he supposed it could be a lot worse. They had a house, they had work and money, and they had each other.
Nick started to prepare their evening meal while he waited for Stephen to return. It was a particularly uninspiring vegetable stew, but it was hot and it was filling, and they had some nice fresh bread to go with it, at least.
Once the stew was simmering away, he left it and went and sat in the warmth of the living room to write his journal. It was something he had started doing when they moved into the house, once they had accepted that they would probably not be going home any time soon. He wasn’t even very sure why he was keeping it, somehow it just seemed important that some record should remain. If the worst happened, if they never found an anomaly that would take them home, then maybe he could leave the journal with the letter for Connor. Then at least the rest of the team would know what had happened to them. In amongst the notes about how they had settled down and were living here, he was also writing down any thoughts or theories about the anomalies, anything that might give him an idea for how to get home, or else something more to pass onto Connor so that Nick’s own work wouldn’t die here with him.
He became so engrossed in his work that it was only when the smell of burning stew filtered through from the kitchen that he suddenly jumped up and ran to stir it and take it off the heat. A few experimental pokes told him it was still okay to eat, although they should probably avoid scraping the bottom of the cooking pot too enthusiastically unless they wanted the burnt bits as well.
That was when it occurred to him that Stephen was late. Even given Mrs Harrison’s ability to talk for England, Stephen should have been back in time for food.
Nick went to the front door and peered out into the darkness, looking for a familiar figure coming up the path. There was no one there. He wasn’t entirely sure whether he wanted to be annoyed or worried, but either way, he was letting all the heat out of the house so he closed the door and went back to the simmering stew and stirred it unenthusiastically.
It was another twenty minutes before he heard the door bang.
“It’s about bloody time, the potatoes have damn near dissolved into nothing already.”
There was no reply, and more to the point there had been no gust of cold air indicating that the door had been opened. Nick went to investigate, opened the door, and Stephen collapsed at his feet.
Nick swore loudly and dropped to his knees at his friend’s side.
“Stephen? Stephen, what the hell happened? Are you all right?”
Stephen didn’t reply, his expression seemed as frozen as the rest of his body, and he could only shiver violently as Nick gathered him up and dragged him away from the door so he could close it against the night air. Then he pulled Stephen to his feet and half carried him into the main room to deposit him in front of the fire.
“Stephen, what happened?” Nick asked again. His hands roamed all over Stephen’s body looking for signs of injury, but there was no obvious blood. What was obvious, however, was that Stephen was utterly soaked to the skin, every item of clothing was sodden and beginning to stiffen as the water froze.
“Slipped... fell... stream,” Stephen managed to gasp out.
Christ, if he’d fallen into the stream and then walked all the way back up to the house in this weather it was no bloody wonder he was frozen.
“Why the hell didn’t you go to one of the nearer houses in the village, you idiot?” Nick muttered as he started to strip the wet clothes off him. Stephen was still shivering too hard to be able to help with this task.
“Damn stupid stubborn sod,” Nick muttered, stripping away the coat and shirt and dumping them on the floor. Suddenly Stephen all but fell onto him and wrapped his arms tight around Nick’s chest.
“Gah!” Nick gasped at the sudden cold against his body. Then, without hesitation, he held Stephen close and rubbed his hands up and down Stephen’s naked back.
God, what if he had hypothermia? There was no hospital within easy reach, no modern medicine. Of all the dangerous creatures they had faced together, he couldn’t lose Stephen like this.
He lost track of how long they stayed like that in front of the fire. A little colour started to seep back into Stephen’s skin, enough so that eventually Nick let go and pulled back. Stephen tried to follow him, and Nick had to push him away.
“Stay here. I’ll get you some dry clothes and blankets. I’ll be back in a minute, I promise.”
Stephen nodded and hugged his arms around his chest. Nick ran to their bedroom and gathered up as many clothes and sheets and blankets as he could possibly carry. Once back in front of the fire he helped Stephen to take off the rest of his wet clothes and then rubbed him dry with one of the sheets, before wrapping him up in three layers of sheets and blankets and propping him up in front of the fire.
“Feeling any warmer yet?”
Stephen nodded, although he was still shivering desperately.
“I’ll get you some food, that’ll help.”
Nick ran into the kitchen and served up two great big steaming bowls of stew. Then grabbed the bread and put them all on a tray and carried them back to where Stephen was huddled.
“Get this into you.” Nick shoved one of the bowls to Stephen and watched until he had managed to get a spoonful into his mouth. Stephen grimaced.
“I know you’re a bad cook but you’ve excelled yourself this time.”
Nick chuckled. Stephen was definitely recovering if he could complain about the food.
“Yeah well, it wouldn’t have been so overcooked if you’d been home on time.” He prodded the bowl again. “Eat,” he urged.
Nick thought he caught Stephen muttering something about Jewish grandmother, but he could tell that Stephen was looking better by the minute. Nick tried a mouthful from his own bowl of stew. Then he tried very hard not to mirror Stephen’s grimace. It was hot. Admittedly that was probably the best thing that could be said about it, but it was certainly hot. He broke off a big lump of bread and pressed it into Stephen’s hand before breaking off another chunk and dipping it into his own stew. He chewed carefully, his gaze never leaving Stephen as he ate.
“Why are you watching me?” Stephen said eventually. He glanced up and the firelight seemed to reflect in his eyes.
“Making sure you’re alive,” Nick admitted. He hoped the heat of the fire was disguising the fact that he had probably just gone rather red in the face.
Stephen’s eyebrows rose slightly. Then he went back to eating his dinner.
They both ate in silence until the last of the stew and bread were gone. Then Nick shoved the bowls to one side and settled down behind Stephen and pulled the younger man into his arms, blankets and all. Stephen snuggled against him and Nick wrapped his arms around him again. Even through the layers Nick could tell that Stephen was warmer now. The colour had returned to his skin, and the shivering had finally stopped altogether.
“Don’t do that to me again,” Nick whispered. “You scared the hell out of me.”
Stephen responded by twisting his head so he could nuzzle Nick’s jaw. Nick turned until their lips met, and then they shared a long, slow kiss until the need for oxygen finally became an issue. They cuddled for a while, Stephen occasionally wriggling in Nick’s arms.
“I think I twisted my ankle when I fell,” he said after a while. “By the time I was halfway up the hill I thought I’d never make it back.”
“Well, you’re home now so don’t worry about it.”
Stephen wriggled again, and then turned to look at Nick with a curious expression.
“That’s the first time you’ve called it home.”
Nick paused for a moment. Stephen was right.
“Humph. Maybe,” he admitted.
Stephen smirked and leaned close for another kiss. Nick indulged him, holding him even closer. Stephen was here with him, and as far as Nick was concerned, wherever they were, that meant they were home.
Oh, and to feed your other favourite pairing, have a jigsaw as well