Series: Three Years, part 6
Title: Catching Up
Characters/pairing: Ryan/Connor, Abby
Warnings: AU, occasional language.
Spoilers: Anything through to episode 1.6
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 4600
Summary: Out of the Jurassic frying pan, into the fire…
Links to earlier chapters in the Five Days/Three Years series can be found here.
Ryan was starting to regret their decision to use Avebury as a meeting place. The henge itself was huge, large enough that an entire village sat within the bank and ditch and its circle of standing stones. He couldn’t help being impressed with the sheer scale of the monument, but his military instincts didn’t like it at all. It was too exposed. Once they were inside the towering earth banks of the henge he felt cut off and worried that he couldn’t see the surrounding countryside, or people approaching from outside.
On the plus side, it was Saturday, and even in October that meant there were tourists wandering around the stone circle, and packing the little village, so two strangers hanging around wouldn’t attract much attention from the locals.
They had spent the last couple of days since they’d posted the letter moving around, heading cross country towards this part of Wiltshire. As soon as they had finished here, Ryan wanted to get out of this county and into somewhere more remote. It was too open, there weren’t enough areas of deep woodland, or decent places to hide out.
“Look. There she is.” Connor was practically bouncing with excitement. Ryan spotted the familiar blond figure heading towards them from the direction of the car park, and he immediately started scanning around for anyone acting suspiciously, or paying too much attention to her.
“Connor! What the hell is this?” Abby waved the letter at him as soon as she was near enough. “What is going on? Why all the cloak and dagger stuff?” Ryan recognised the look of part exasperation, part affection that she always used to get when talking to Connor.
“Abby, does anyone else know you were coming here?” Ryan asked before Connor could start. He had a suspicious feeling that once Connor got going it would be impossible to stop him.
“Just Stephen.” She glanced at the letter. “I had no idea who this was from. I had to tell someone where I was going, in case it turned out to be some nutjob who’d found out about the anomalies.” She focussed on Connor when she asked, “Why didn’t you just call, or come to the flat if they finally let you out?”
“Um,” Connor caught Ryan’s eye for a moment before he said, “They didn’t exactly let us out.” They had already agreed to tell Abby pretty much everything.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Do you know what’s been going on since we got back?” Connor asked.
“No.” She looked quite pissed off about that fact, as well. “I’ve been trying to get to see you ever since they dragged you off to London. I was calling Claudia nearly every day, but she just kept making excuses. She wouldn’t even let Cutter talk to you.”
“So you don’t know what happened on Wednesday?” Connor pressed.
“Wednesday?” There was definite hint of suspicion in her face at that.
“Hang on,” Ryan interrupted. “Before we get into this, let’s start walking. It’ll attract less attention if we’re walking round the stones like we’re tourists.” He set off, trying to keep his pace down to an amble. Connor and Abby followed him.
“Okay,” Connor said. “Short version: someone higher up than Lester doesn’t believe that we were really only gone for five days, and thinks that we know stuff about the anomalies that we’re not telling them, so they got violent, so we escaped and now we’re on the run.”
Ryan glanced round to see Abby’s patent ‘you have got to be kidding’ expression. She used to get that a lot around Connor as well, he remembered.
“You escaped from the hotel?”
“Wait. Who told you we were at a hotel?” Ryan asked, suddenly suspicious.
“Josh.” She looked slightly guilty. “I know he wasn’t supposed to, but he was on guard duty there so he kept seeing the two of you, and he knew how worried I was so he sort of told me stuff, just that you were both okay, really.”
Josh? That name was familiar. Then Ryan remembered. “You don’t mean Josh Barclay, do you?”
“Who?” Connor asked.
“One of my men.” Used to be one of my men. Ryan was still having trouble thinking in the past tense about some of the guys.
“Did you say you got away on Wednesday?” Abby asked. She looked worried. “I haven’t heard from Josh since Wednesday. He’s not answering his phone.”
Oh, shit. They had got to Barclay.
“Have you spoken to Claudia or Lester since Wednesday?” Ryan asked with a sudden urgency to his voice.
“No. But, I haven’t tried to speak to them. I gave up calling Claudia, I thought when you were finished with whatever they were doing then you’d probably get in touch anyway. Cutter might have seen her though.”
“Okay, listen Abby.” Ryan decided they needed to let her know exactly what the situation was here. It was only fair. “Barclay tried to help me escape, and now I don’t know what they might have done to him. Claudia tried to help us as well. Maybe she’s missing, maybe she isn’t, I don’t know. But if they find out that you talked to us, if they even think you’ve had contact, they might make you disappear as well. Do you understand?”
She didn’t look nearly as surprised as Ryan would have expected. She didn’t look happy, but Ryan got the impression that was more to do with what might have happened to the others, to Josh, than about any danger she herself was in. Abby nodded.
“All I’m saying is, if you want to walk away, now’s the time to do it. Just walk away and pretend you never saw us.”
“No,” Abby said in a tone that didn’t invite argument. “I spent three years thinking you were dead. Now I know you’re not, I want to know what happened, how you survived. I want to help.”
Nobody spoke for a moment. It occurred to Ryan that the last few minutes probably constituted the longest conversation he had ever had with the woman. He was starting to regret not knowing her better before all this.
“Okay. Just be careful, and keep your eyes open for anyone watching us.”
They started walking again, Ryan keeping watch all around and listening to Abby and Connor talking.
“What’s been going on, Abby? How has it turned out like this?”
“I don’t know,” Abby admitted. “It’s not like it happened overnight.” She paused and stared at Connor for a moment. “Were you really only in the past for a few days?”
“Do I look three years older?” Connor sounded more pissed off than he perhaps should have been. But after all the questioning they had been through since they got back, Ryan didn’t blame him for being touchy on the subject.
“No,” Abby decided eventually. “You don’t look older. But you do look, I don’t know, different somehow.”
“In a good way?”
Ryan resisted the urge to poke them both back to the important subject at hand, namely, what the hell had been going on for the last three years. The hopeful puppy expression on Connor’s face was something else Ryan remembered being a feature of Connor and Abby’s interaction before all this happened. For some reason he didn’t find it quite so funny now.
Abby shrugged. “I don’t know. Just different.”
“Abby,” Ryan interrupted before Connor could say anything else. “We need to know what we’ve missed. Please.”
Abby looked thoughtful for a while. “I suppose it started to really change a few months after you disappeared. There was this big crisis where a prehistoric big cat got loose in a shopping centre in Manchester and killed a load of people. Captain Thomson, the guy who replaced you, Ryan, he used it as justification for getting way more militant. I know you never looked happy when Cutter didn’t want to hurt creatures, but at least you were willing to listen, and compromise. Thomson isn’t. He just wants to shoot first and autopsy the corpse later.”
“But surely Cutter can talk Claudia round to his way of thinking,” Connor said. “And she’s in charge out in the field.”
“Not any more.”
Ryan wondered if his expression looked as surprised as Connor’s at that.
“Well, I mean, Claudia and Lester are still nominally in charge,” Abby explained. “But sometimes if they override Thomson and he really doesn’t like it, I think he goes over their heads. Then Lester gets a phone call and suddenly he has to back down. I guess Thomson’s got friends in high places somewhere.”
“Lester’s about as high up as you can get in the Home Office. Who the hell is Thomson in with to be able to pull shit like that?” Ryan asked. This didn’t sound promising in the slightest.
Abby shrugged. “I don’t know, I try not to get involved in the politics. Cutter hates him, but the feeling’s mutual there. Cutter nearly walked out on the whole thing a couple of times, but in the end he can’t, not when he knows what’s at stake.”
“Bloody hell,” Connor muttered. “It must be bad if Cutter wanted to abandon it.”
“What about the other soldiers? Thomson might be the officer in charge but he’s just one man. What do the other lads think about what’s going on? Has Barclay talked to you about stuff like that?” Ryan suddenly desperately wished he could talk to Robinson and get his old friend’s point of view on this.
Abby shrugged again, clearly uncomfortable talking about it. “Josh doesn’t think he’s a good officer.” She looked guilty at the admission. “He didn’t say that as such, he wouldn’t say that about his commanding officer, but I can tell from things he has said, and things I’ve seen. And I know Josh isn’t the only one of the Special Forces guys who thinks that.”
Ryan remembered the one time he had met Thomson. His overriding impression then had been that the other soldiers didn’t like the man.
“Tell me what he’s like,” Ryan said.
“He’s,” she hesitated, clearly not happy to talk openly about it. “He’s the kind of officer who lets his men do the fighting for him.”
“How did he get to be an officer like that?” Connor sounded incredulous. Ryan wondered if Connor really was that naïve, or if it was him who was just too cynical after years of being in the military.
“You’d be surprised where you can get with friends in the right places.” He turned back to Abby. “Go on.”
“Not long after you two went, there was an anomaly back to the Permian like the first one. Cutter and Helen and Thomson and a bunch of Special Forces guys went through. All the soldiers got killed except for Thomson. After that he replaced the lost men with a load of soldiers that he already knew, people who wouldn’t argue with his way of doing things. Since then there’s even been infighting among the Special Forces men. Nothing obvious, nothing that’s going to get anyone on disciplinary charges or anything. But Josh, and some of the guys who were there when you were in charge, they seem to end up with all the most boring, or dangerous, jobs.”
Shit, Ryan thought. It sounded a lot like he had been replaced by a dangerous bastard who played favourites. No wonder Barclay had been willing to risk so much to help him escape. Ryan felt another twinge of guilt at what might have happened to the young corporal because of that.
“Claudia said the anomalies were getting more frequent,” Connor said.
“They are. Before you guys disappeared it was maybe one a month or so. Now it’s more like one a week, sometimes even more than that. We don’t know why. All we can do is react, and every time we’re wondering if the next one will be the one that we can’t cover up any more, that’ll end up with a creature rampaging through the centre of a major city or something.”
That went a long way to explaining why almost everyone he and Connor had seen since they got back from the Jurassic had looked so tired and stressed.
“What about you guys anyway?” Abby asked. “What happened to you both? We thought you were dead. Cutter wanted to explore every single anomaly for weeks after you disappeared, he was convinced there had to be a way of finding you. It was ages before we eventually gave up.”
“There were loads of dinosaurs everywhere. It was brilliant.” Connor’s enthusiasm for all things prehistoric clearly hadn’t been dimmed by several near death experiences at the hands of said creatures.
Ryan scanned the faces of the tourists while Connor talked, tuning out the excited babble of words. Maybe his paranoia had been misplaced. There was no sign of anyone paying them any attention, or watching Abby. Still, he felt enclosed by the enormous earth banks of the henge.
“Listen,” he interrupted. “I’m going to take a look around outside the monument. If you guys want to stay here and talk, just keep your eyes peeled.”
Connor threw him a concerned look.
“Maybe nothing. I just want to make sure there’s no one hanging around outside. Seriously, it’s probably fine. But, be careful.”
“Yeah, you too.”
Ryan was aware of Connor watching him as he headed off towards the nearest path up to the top of the earth bank. In truth he was almost sure that they would be okay. The real reason why he had decided to go off on his own was that he felt like he was intruding on Connor and Abby’s reunion. Giving them half an hour or so wouldn’t hurt, and it might help Connor to have at least this contact with his friends.
“What was all that about?” Abby asked.
“He’s just being careful,” Connor said. Although he was a little confused by Ryan’s sudden departure, and for a while he tried to keep an eye on where the soldier was.
“What was it like being stuck with him?” Abby said. “He’s a bit scary.”
Connor wondered what he could say that would cover so much without giving anything away. “He’s alright when you get know him.”
“So apart from the dinosaurs, what was it like? Really?”
“Really?” Connor paused and thought about it. “Really? It was the most insane, terrifying experience of my life. I thought I was going to die. We got separated for a while, and I thought Ryan was dead, and I was so scared, being on my own in the past.”
He hadn’t meant to say all that, but suddenly the words were falling over themselves to be spoken. So much had happened since they had got back, and Connor started to realise that he hadn’t taken the time to process just how much they had gone through in the Jurassic. So many times when they had been trapped in the past, Connor had thought of all the things he was going to tell Abby when he got home, all the memories that he wanted to keep forever, and share with his friends. But now he couldn’t find the words to tell her about the fantastic experiences, it was all just too much to put into words.
Without warning, Abby hugged him. Connor had a second of surprise before he reacted and hugged her back, and he was even more surprised when Abby didn’t let go.
“I missed you,” she said, her voice muffled against his neck. “Somehow, things seemed less fun after you’d gone.”
“You too,” Connor said, immediately feeling the words were clumsy, but not knowing what else to say. True, he had spent a lot of time recently wondering if he would ever see Abby or any of the others again, but for him it hadn’t been three years of thinking someone was dead. Besides, what could he say? He had loved Abby before, well, okay, maybe not love, more like unrequited hormonal lust, but everything had changed now. She had moved on and it sounded like she had something with this guy, Josh. And he had this… this… whatever it was that he had with Ryan.
Besides which, Ryan had made it perfectly clear that just associating with Abby or Cutter or Stephen might put all of them in danger. This wasn’t a happy reunion. This was quite probably goodbye.
When Abby finally pulled away, Connor let her go and tried to smile, and bite back all the things he might never get the chance to share with his friend.
“Hang on a minute,” Abby said, as she took her phone out and started texting.
“What are you doing?” Connor felt a sudden flash of paranoia. Ryan was clearly a bad influence.
“Texting Stephen. I showed him the letter and he said I had to let him know I was okay, in case it did turn out to be some nutter who had found out about the anomalies and wanted to blackmail us or something.”
“If he was that bothered why didn’t he come with you?”
“He was going to. But at the last minute Cutter wanted him for something urgent.”
“Cutter calls and Stephen goes running. Some things don’t change,” Connor commented. He didn’t mean it unkindly, but it was a pretty accurate summary of the two men’s relationship.
“Not any more,” Abby said. Suddenly she looked up from her phone. “Oh my god, you don’t know, you weren’t here.”
“Um,” Abby put her phone away and seemed to be thinking about the best way to say whatever it was. “Not long after you guys disappeared there was this thing with a creature from the future, and after Thomson and Cutter and Helen got back there was this fight, kind of, and Helen told Cutter in front of everyone that she had an affair with Stephen.”
“I know,” Abby said. “We were all pretty stunned, but you should have seen Cutter. Stephen tried to say it was all over years ago, but Cutter just went mad.”
“I’m not surprised,” Connor said. He was still trying to get his head round the idea. It just seemed so unlikely. And the thought of Stephen and Helen, well, actually that was kind of creepy.
“For a while after that it was scary just being in the same room as the two of them,” Abby continued. “There was some talk of Stephen leaving altogether, but the way things were with Thomson and stuff, we needed everyone we could get on our side. I guess in the end they somehow managed to decide that eight years of friendship was worth more than a one night stand.”
“Still…” Connor said.
“Yeah,” Abby said. “Things are better now between them, but it’s not like it used to be. I don’t think it ever will be.”
“Wow.” It looked like he hadn’t been the only one living through interesting times.
“So, come on,” Abby nudged him, smiling again, but her expression seemed a little too forced into cheerful. “Tell me about the dinosaurs.”
Connor couldn’t stop himself from grinning as he started to talk. At last, someone who understood. Ryan had a lot of good qualities, he reflected, but unfortunately enthusiasm for dinosaurs was not one of them.
“So, another night in a cold tent in the middle of nowhere?” As soon as he spoke Connor suspected his voice sounded rather more whiney than he had intended.
“That was the plan.” If Ryan had noticed he gave no indication.
Connor glanced back the way they had come. The motorway service station was now far in the distance across several fields. It had been warm and bright and had hot running water. It was normal. And, of course, it had also been full of people and security cameras and Ryan had insisted they leave as soon as they had used the facilities and got cleaned up a bit.
After they left Abby they had headed cross country for a while before finally taking a risk and hitch-hiking in order to cover more ground. A talkative truck driver who seemed happy to have the company for a while had taken them as far as the services, and now they were on foot again, apparently heading in the general direction of the border with north Wales.
Ryan sighed. “Okay, what’s wrong, Connor?”
“You look pretty pissed off for nothing.”
Connor wondered if there was any way of saying it that didn’t sound like he was having a petulant strop.
“Where are we going?” he said carefully. “Not in a geographical sense. I mean, what’s our long term plan here? Because, yeah, I am getting a bit pissed off with all this outdoors survival stuff.”
“You lasted longer than this in the Jurassic before you threw a hissy fit,” Ryan commented.
“There were dinosaurs in the Jurassic. Besides, when we were in the Jurassic there was always the hope that we’d get home and everything would go back to normal.”
All this was nowhere near the normal Connor had been hoping for. Seeing Abby had only made him realise just how much he missed his friends, his home, all the little things, however silly, that made up his old life.
“We can’t go home, Connor. I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.” Ryan’s voice was more sympathetic than his words suggested.
Connor tried to finalise a few thoughts he had been having since the talk with Abby. He wanted to be sure he was making sense when he tried to explain it to Ryan.
“We don’t have to keep running away,” he said slowly. “We could take the fight to them.”
“What?” Ryan’s blunt, surprised expression was one that Connor was getting far too used to seeing. The man didn’t beat around the bush if he thought someone was talking crap.
“Think about it. We have information, important information, that the government doesn’t want the public to know about. The anomalies, this Section 42 stuff that you told me about. We could use that. We could go public, tell the world about everything. They wouldn’t be able to touch us then, we’d be far too high profile, and if anything did happen to us everyone would know who did it, so they wouldn’t dare. Or, maybe we wouldn’t even need to tell the public, we could just threaten to and that might be enough. It’d be like X-Files, where they wanted to kill Mulder all the time but they couldn’t because he was just too important and knew too much.”
When Connor finally looked up, Ryan’s expression suggested that he might have just been speaking Swahili.
“You are kidding? Please Connor, tell me you’re kidding.”
“How about the part where you signed the Official Secrets Act, for starters?”
“How about the part where they bloody tortured me, Ryan?” Connor snapped. “They lost the legal high ground right around that point as far as I’m concerned.”
Ryan didn’t reply, didn’t even meet Connor’s look. His face was abruptly set into a hard mask that he hid his emotions behind all too often. Connor knew him well enough to see that there was something serious going on behind the grey eyes, though. Connor waited, knowing there would be a response eventually.
“I do understand what you mean,” Ryan admitted in a voice that suggested he was choosing his words carefully. “But I can’t agree with you. I won’t go public. I… it goes against everything I believe.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Connor was honestly confused.
Ryan finally met his look and there a rare flicker of pain in his eyes. “Whatever else has happened, whatever they’ve done to us, I’m still a soldier. I still have a duty to protect the public and the interests of my country. If we exposed the anomalies and everything else it would cause a panic, and one way or another people would get hurt. I won’t do that, Connor. I’m sorry.”
Connor didn’t quite know what to say for a moment. Despite the fact that they had been sleeping together for the last few nights, Ryan still kept a lot of his emotions guarded. Maybe it was a military thing, or maybe it was just Ryan, but these moments of such raw honesty were rare enough to catch Connor off-guard. He was left with an odd feeling. Like he wasn’t sure whether to feel privileged or slightly dirty and voyeuristic for having witnessed it.
“I’m sorry,” Ryan said again.
“It’s okay. I get it,” Connor said. He realised his own anger had vanished in the face of Ryan’s personal conflict. “Like Claudia said, everybody draws a line somewhere.”
Ryan stopped walking and caught hold of Connor’s arm.
“So you understand?”
The look in Ryan’s eyes was so utterly unfamiliar that it took Connor a moment to find the right word for it. Vulnerable. For a second he wondered just what else was concealed behind the front of stoic discipline that Ryan wore like a Kevlar vest.
“Yeah. It’s okay. Really.”
Come on Ryan, you’re starting to freak me out a bit here, Connor thought.
Ryan suddenly pulled Connor close and held him. Connor put his arms around him, not entirely certain exactly who was comforting who right then.
“I know you’re frustrated with all this, Connor. It won’t always be like this, I promise.”
“No, it’s not,” Ryan said fiercely. He shifted slightly and pressed his forehead against Connor’s. “But stick with me, and we’ll figure something out.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Connor said.
Ryan managed a tiny smile. “Good. I don’t want to lose you.”
After another moment they broke apart and started walking again. Connor watched Ryan’s face, and saw the walls starting to go back up. If he wanted to pursue the conversation further, he suspected his window of opportunity was closing.
“So, this thing about protecting people? Is that why you became a soldier?”
“And I thought it was because you know you look good in black.”
Ryan laughed, and Connor realised the window had already closed.
Connor woke up in the darkness and realised there was a hand closed over his mouth. He panicked for a second and started to hit out.
“Connor, it’s me,” Ryan whispered. “Shush. I think there’s something outside.”
As soon as Connor stopped moving, Ryan moved away, and unzipped the tent as quietly as possible. His eyes were already getting used to the dark, and as Ryan slid out into the night Connor saw that the soldier was still bare-chested, and holding the pistol.
Oh shit, oh shit. His heart was racing at the thought they might be caught. Had they camped too close to the village? Had someone seen them entering the woods as it got dark?
Ryan had said something, not someone. Maybe it was just a fox, or a badger or something. Maybe Ryan was just being cautious. Maybe…
He heard Ryan swear quietly.
Connor grabbed his trousers and was half dressed when Ryan reappeared in the doorway.
“What is it?” Connor asked, trying to sound calmer than he felt.
“Well, I’m not exactly the expert,” Ryan said, “But I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s a bloody dinosaur.”