Part of the 'Alternatives' series. The stories aren't connected unless otherwise specified.
An AU take on events pre-series.
Disclaimer: I do not own Primeval, and I am not making any profit with this work.
Change of Focus
The voice was a very unwelcome distraction, and Nick looked up from his specimen with an irritated frown, demanding: "What?" in a voice usually reserved for idiots.
Oh. Wait. The Head of Department was an idiot. Well, that was alright then.
"Just wanted to check you got my little email about your new grad student."
Normally, that would have been a stupid reason to come visiting, but Nick was famous for not checking his email regularly, and so close to the beginning of the academic year, it was a wise precaution.
"No," Nick said bluntly.
"Well, you'll have to alter your lists for the PhD students. You've got six now."
One was too many for Nick's liking, and he scowled at having it upped to six.
"One of them is changing his focus on the research and dissertation levels to the Triassic period. More in your line of study than Helen's, so he's been switched to you."
"Brilliant," Nick snapped. The difference between himself and his wife was that Helen rather liked the grad students. They all worshipped her (and sometimes Nick wondered if the rumours were true) and she enjoyed that kind of power over other people. But Nick didn't like them: they were slow and inexperienced and asked stupid questions.
"His folder's on your desk somewhere," the Head of Department said, eyeing the messy study a little dubiously. "Stephen Hart. I'm sure you'll find it somewhere. Ask my secretary for another copy if you've...if you can't find it."
"Mm," Nick said, not really listening any more, and he heard the door click shut some moments later.
When he got his PhD students together for the first time once the first term had started, Nick was, in retrospect, rather glad that this Hart had changed his focus on the dissertations. Because even if Nick didn't want to believe that Helen would cheat on him, even he could recognise that Hart was not only Helen's type, but the type of practically every woman on earth.
Including the only female grad student, Sandra, judging by the way she was staring at him through the whole meeting.
Ironically, though, Hart didn't seem to notice.
In fact, over the next year, Nick noticed that Hart barely noticed people at all. Every human being in the university with two X chromosomes thought he was a sign that God was blessing them all for something, but he seemed unaware that such a gender existed in the first place. He was so focused on his work that even Nick thought there was something wrong with him.
Okay, so Nick was focused too...but not at twenty-two, twenty-three years old. At Hart's age, Nick was also preoccupied with alcohol, football, clubbing and trying to get a girl from his evolutionary biology classes, Helen Patterson, to go out with him. But Hart didn't seem to notice the social scene, the girls, or even the boys. Just work.
It was a little eerie.
When Hart came to Nick with his first list of questions (rather than popping in and out of his office at all hours, which Nick found surprising and refreshing), it was just before Christmas. Nick put the sheet of questions under his computer keyboard and frowned at Hart.
"So you're not taking even a short break for Christmas?" he questioned.
"Neither are you," Hart replied, looking a little surprised that Nick was even bothering to ask.
"I will be," Nick said. "I suspect you won't be, though."
"Take a break. Go away, stay away for two weeks, and do no work. If I found out you did work that is even remotely related to pre-history, I'll mark you down on your mammalian evolution modules."
"You can't do that," Hart said, but he still looked alarmingly stoic about it.
"I'm your professor, Hart. I can do whatever I like," Nick snapped, and shooed him out of the office.
By that Easter, 'Hart' had been upgraded to 'Stephen', and he was quite easily Nick's favourite PhD student. Mostly because he didn't take everything Nick told him at face value. Often he did, but there had been a few loud arguments over a particular researcher's viewpoint. Enough that Nick had taken to making Stephen wait until they were in a pub and he could hopefully get enough beer down Stephen to make him shut up again.
Because really, he was scarily thorough with his research. Almost like Helen, in fact.
Stephen was a very quiet drunk, though. Sometimes, Nick thought he was morose about it, and after probing a little one night, realised that Stephen was stand-offish because he'd had his heart broken.
"Bitch," Stephen had called the woman - Rachel, or something like that - and Nick had agreed with him just for the sake of sympathy. After all, he sort of knew how Stephen felt these days.
Even after Stephen got his PhD, he stuck around. Nick had wrangled money out of the Dean to pay for a research assistant, and Stephen was the one to land the job. And everyone had seen it coming, even the admittedly not that observant Stephen.
Although, really, his job was more to keep Nick's teaching career going, rather than to keep Nick's research going. Nick could keep his research going in his sleep, but he was an...inept teacher. Putting it nicely. Stephen kept his timetable going, covered for him for morning lectures where he simply hadn't turned up yet, and even resorted to marking first-year papers once.
But only once. And Nick had had to pay for the takeout for a week.
It was as Nick's research assistant that Stephen met Helen for the first time, when she crashed into the office with a bundle of papers and launched straight into a slanging match with Nick about some theory of hers. Stephen had stayed in the corner, sending out emails to the third years reminding them of their now overdue coursework papers, and the very real possibility of zeroes on them, and had tried not to listen.
But a slanging match with one participant holding a strong Scottish accent is not something you can ignore.
When Helen stormed out again, Nick had sworn a bit longer, then swept the papers she'd left off the desk and onto the floor.
"Sorry," he said eventually. "Helen and I don't get on these days."
Stephen hummed something and didn't give much reply.
"She would have been your professor, if you hadn't changed your topic at the last minute," Nick continued blithely. "You would have gone deaf."
"Your Scottish singing in the evenings when you're building that skeleton isn't great for the ears either," Stephen commented.
Nick scrutinised him for a moment, then something clicked and he asked incredulously: "Have you ever met Helen before?"
"No," Stephen said truthfully.
"Bloody hell," Nick said thoughtfully. "You must be the only student in the department."
"Because I took the Permian module for my masters' degree," Stephen said, "so I didn't need to take it this time."
"Lucky you," Nick said.
"Mm," Stephen agreed. Secretly, he thought instead of Daniel Cooper, one of Helen's students, who'd proudly bragged in the student bars several times that he was shagging the Helen Cutter, and felt glad that he wasn't in Daniel's place.
He wouldn't want a woman like Helen getting a foothold over him.