Title: Quick Thinking
Author: Erin (erinm_)
Characters, Pairing: Stephen, Natalie, Natalie's ex and some random OCs
Rating: PG
Summary: One has to be quick on their feet working at the NIH
Warning: post-series *Written for Prompt Challenge 01 at stephen_natalie on LiveJournal. Prompt 02-06: Hall
Disclaimer: The original characters belongs to NBC and their respective actors.

Natalie was sitting at the bar when he walked in: the last person she ever expected to see in the last place she ever expected to see him. She just wanted a beer; now she had a beer and her ex-husband.

Her ex-husband who still made her heart flutter. How could he still have that effect – or any effect, for that matter – after everything? She knew that she should just clear out, but he smiled. And she smiled.

The man could charm a snake.

Problem was: He knew it.

She'd never been so uncomfortable – and she'd been in some pretty uncomfortable situations- but she didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing he was right about her: married to the job, not him. Of course, he was the one who left. Blaming her job was pointless, as she'd only started staying at work because he was never home.

And, when he was, they barely spoke.

She often wondered why she'd married him. Maybe it was because he was a musician. Or his charm. Or that, for whatever reason, he wanted her.

She really wanted to leave. Get out of the bar. God knew where the conversation would go and she feared that she might end up saying – or worse: doing – something very stupid.

Why had she left the comfort of her room?

"So, I bought the place," Michael said, giving her an 'I'm going to look embarrassed but I'm really not' look. She forced a smile in return and reached for her pilsner, giving it a look and trying to remember the key points of the presentation she'd attended a few hours before.

She really hated conferences. She forced another smile as he described the view from the front porch and found herself matching his expressions without hearing what he was saying.

Maybe she could blame an early flight.

The sound of a group near the door drew her attention away for a split second and her breath caught. Stephen had just walked in. Stephen would rescue her... if she could get his attention. Without looking like she was trying to get his attention.

"Sounds lovely," she responded, half-listening to Michael's description of watching the sun rise over the mountains. Stephen had stopped at the table to talk to the group and she sighed and then reached again for her pilsner.


Stephen laughed at a joke between two of his colleagues – they always tended to meet up at these events and would catch up over drinks. He glanced up as one of them asked what he was drinking and spotted Natalie at the bar.

He saw her nod to a man sitting near her and, before he could register much past that sight, he noticed that she was twisting her glass slowly in a circle. As long as he'd known her, this was one sign he knew well, whether Natalie knew she did it or not.

Natalie Durant was extremely uncomfortable.

"Give me a few minutes, guys," Stephen said, clapping one of them on the shoulder. They all nodded and went back to telling stories as Stephen moved along the length of the bar to where Natalie was sitting.

As he neared, Stephen took in the man. For a guy, he didn't look half bad, and probably knew it. He wasn't exactly the picture of Natalie's 'type' in Stephen's mind, but he had really never considered what her type might be.

But it wasn't this guy.

'Be the boss or be Frank?' he asked himself and as Natalie held up a finger to the man and turned to him with a smile. Seeing relief, he smiled back. 'Frank.'

"Hold that thought, Michael," she said, seeing Stephen moving toward her in her peripheral. She turned toward Stephen and smiled before leaning toward him, hand outstretched. "There you are," she said, placing a hand on Stephen's arm. 'Save me,' she mouthed. He took a step closer and she gave him a look before pulling him toward her, kissing him quickly.

For about seven seconds, Stephen Connor's brain shut down.

"Sorry," he replied as Natalie pulled back. "Got sidetracked," he added with a nod toward the group at the table. Throwing a glance between Natalie and the mystery man, Stephen gave him a polite nod, entertained by the man's sudden discomfort.

"Michael Laurents-" Natalie nodded to Michael, then to Stephen, who reached for her pilsner and finished it off with one swig. "Stephen Connor." Stephen set the pilsner down and held out his hand. If Natalie Durant needed rescuing, he'd go all out.

"Nice to meet you," he said with a smile. As Michael took Stephen's hand, Natalie forced a smile to Stephen.

"Michael is my ex-husband," she said with a raised eyebrow. Stephen forced himself not to blink – or break the man's arm – as they shook hands.

"Well, I've heard nothing about you," he said cheerily. It was half-true, anyway.

"Likewise," Michael replied, pulling his hand back. Natalie had a sheer rush of glee at the sight of Michael now the uncomfortable one, but forced herself to remain neutral. Stephen took a deep breath and looked down to Natalie.

"We should get going. We'll just make it," he stated, giving his watch a glance for effect. Natalie reached for his arm to give the watch a look and nodded, pushing up from the chair.

"Michael, it was good to see you," she said politely. He nodded and watched as she got up, noticing that Stephen's hand moved to her back.

"You, too, Natty." She smiled again and moved around Stephen, who gave Michael another nod and followed Natalie out. As they passed by the table, Stephen's friends all made faces and he rolled his eyes. They all knew Stephen and Natalie worked together, and they'd all played the 'savior' for a coworker at least once.

As Stephen pushed on the door of the bar, he smirked. "Natty?"

"I hated it then and I hate it now, Stevie." The smirk became a grin and he dropped the subject. Once they were in the hallway, Natalie turned and her hands moved to her head. "God, I..." She took a deep breath and looked up to Stephen.

"I am so sorry, Stephen." Shaking his head, Stephen gave her a smile and pointed toward the lobby. "No," Natalie said, throwing up a hand. "I'm going to barricade myself in my room. Go back to your friends."

Stephen raised an eyebrow. "I just left with you. If I go back in there, what will Michael say?" Natalie blinked. Of course: that would let Michael know that she was pathetic. And she's taken Stephen from his friends.

"Oh, Stephen, I'm sorry. I didn't-" she said with a frown and closed her eyes, letting her chin fall to her chest.

"It's okay, Natalie. We tell the same five stories every year. You were more important," he said quietly.

"Why did he have to be there?" she asked with exasperation. "And what is wrong with me? There I sat, making cow eyes over an ass..." She took a deep breath and slumped against the wall. Glancing up to Stephen, she added: "It's pathetic."

Stephen placed a hand on either of Natalie's shoulders and leaned down to her eye-level. "You are far from pathetic, Natalie." She frowned and the reflection in the mirror next to her caught his eye. His eyes moved to Natalie and he lurched forward, wrapping one arm around her waist and the other hand went to her neck, pulling her toward him.

He pressed his lips to hers a bit more forcefully than he'd intended, but he had to move fast before Michael reached the door. He'd seen the reflection of Michael talking to the bartender in the mirror behind the bar, by way of the mirror next to them.

Some part of him knew this wasn't the best idea, but another part of him simply acted. Natalie was always the one to back down and, while he didn't know all the details of her divorce, he also knew that he didn't like her ex. Regardless of having just met the man.

He had a definite alpha-male attitude and he needed to know that Natalie Durant didn't need him to survive.

Well, Stephen hoped she didn't.

He kept one eye on the mirror until Michael neared them and figured it would serve Michael right; he was stupid enough to let Natalie Durant go. As Michael stepped into the elevator, Stephen watched for the doors to close and the floors to begin lighting up. He knew they were in the clear the moment the door closed, but he wanted to wait a second or two, just in case.

Now, however, he was simply kissing Natalie Durant because he could.

Neither of them knew how long they'd been in the hallway and, frankly, neither of them cared. Whether it was because neither of them had been in that position for a very long time or because they were finally in that position after all this time, they didn't know.

Finally, Stephen's brain told him to stop and he pulled back. Natalie focused on the top button of his shirt and didn't know what to say. "Michael came through," Stephen said, slightly flustered and nodded toward the elevator. "Didn't have time to get away," he added with a shrug.

Natalie nodded, but didn't let her disappointment show. 'Of course,' she thought. 'Stephen, ever the knight in shining armor.'

"Come on," he said, pulling Natalie away from the wall. As they passed the elevators, Stephen tilted his head toward hers. "I think it's time you tell me about you, Doctor Durant." She gave him a look and he smiled as the stepped into the lobby.

His hand found hers and he squeezed, giving her another smile and she glanced from their hands up to him. Doctor Durant's heart skipped a beat and she realized she didn't have to worry about the effect Michael had on her ever again.

It was Stephen Connor who would bring about her demise.