Series: Three Years, part 9
Title: The Illusion of Control
Warnings: AU, language.
Spoilers: Anything through to episode 1.6
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 4300
Summary: Out of the Jurassic frying pan, into the fire…
Links to previous chapters in the Five Days/Three Years series can be found here.
Ryan ducked back into the thick undergrowth as the two soldiers jogged round the edge of the brambles towards him. There wasn’t time to make a run for it, the soldiers would see them. He glanced back the way they had come, but there were already the sounds of voices cutting off their retreat.
He glanced at Connor. The kid was staring at his blood covered hands and shaking so hard there was a fine shower of rain coming off his soaking hair and clothes. Ryan knew he couldn’t expect any help from him right now.
The soldiers were almost level with him, and Ryan gripped his pistol, and swiped the rain out of his face. But the truth was he didn’t want to fight them. Quite apart from the fact that this time he really was hopelessly outnumbered, he didn’t want to have to shoot any of these men, especially the lads who used to be in his squad. He started to wonder what his chances were of a peaceful surrender, or if Thomson or Harper would just shoot him anyway.
Without warning, Connor threw up again. The sound was loud enough that the soldiers stopped, looked round, and saw them. Ryan’s gaze locked with Robinson’s, and the two men stared at each other.
Robinson was still looking right at Ryan when he spoke into his radio.
“No sign of him here, Sir. He must have doubled back.”
Ryan barely dared to breathe. Robinson glanced at Lewis, and after a second of hesitation the younger man nodded.
“We’ll keep this side covered, make sure he doesn’t come out,” Robinson spoke into the radio again, and he indicated Lewis to carry on ahead. Robinson then turned around and headed back the way they had come. Both soldiers were very obviously looking the other way when Ryan got a tight hold of Connor and made a run for it.
Connor made no sign of protest or resistance as Ryan pulled him, slipping and sliding on the sodden ground, down the hill and out of the woods. The car was still there, and Ryan dumped both their rucksacks into the back seat and pushed Connor into the passenger side. He noticed as he set off that Connor hadn’t put his seatbelt on. Rather than argue, Ryan just reached across and did it for him.
“Are you hurt?”
Because clearly ‘are you okay?’ was a ridiculous question right then.
Fuck, are we back to this again? Ryan thought.
“Connor, are you hurt?” he asked more forcefully.
Ryan wasn’t entirely certain he trusted the answer even when he got it, and he did a quick visual check himself. Apart from Abby’s blood on Connor’s hands, there didn’t seem to be any obvious signs of injury.
Abby. Shit, why did it have to be Abby? Ryan had feared the worst when he heard the gunshots. He felt a moment of guilt when he realised that his initial reaction had been relief that it wasn’t Connor.
He knew as soon as he’d seen her that Abby was already dead. He had seen enough gunshot wounds to know when one was immediately fatal, and when it was worth trying to get someone to a medic. Given where the blood was, the bullet had almost certainly hit her heart or lungs, and even if Tait had been around Ryan doubted it would have made a difference. At least it had been quick, she had probably died in seconds. He knew, however, that none of this was going to be any consolation to Connor, because she was still dead, and it was still his fault.
“They were trying to shoot me,” Connor said suddenly.
His voice was an object lesson in bewildered shock.
How can he still sound so fucking surprised by that? Ryan thought. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t had ample warning of what would happen if he got seen.
“They were trying to shoot me, and they shot her instead.”
Ryan hadn’t been close enough to see exactly what happened, but that statement pretty much confirmed what he had suspected.
Connor clenched his fists and glared out of the windscreen, refusing to meet Ryan’s eyes. “Go on, say it,” Connor challenged, his voice suddenly harsh and angry. “Say ‘I told you so’.”
God, how much of a heartless bastard do you think I am? Ryan might have been thinking ‘I told you so’, but there was no way he was going to say it out loud, not now.
“You’re right, though,” Connor said. “It’s my fault. I killed her.”
“No.” Ryan hadn’t been prepared for how quickly Connor had turned the blame onto himself.
“I killed her.”
“Were you the one holding the gun? Did you shoot Abby?” Ryan snapped.
“Then you didn’t kill her,” Ryan cut him off before he could start to rationalise too far.
Connor didn’t say anything, and Ryan wondered what the hell was going through the young man’s mind. He may not have killed Abby, but Ryan was almost certain that Connor was the one who had got Abby killed. He also suspected that was a subtle distinction that Connor probably wouldn’t appreciate in his current psychological state.
They drove in silence for a while. Ryan had been fully intending to really lay into Connor about the whole disobeying orders and running off business, but was there really any point now? Abby’s death had probably achieved in a few seconds what he could never achieve in a week of yelling and arguing. That didn’t mean he wasn’t still angry, he was, but he also knew that Connor was suffering enough without that as well, and Ryan had no intention of making this any worse for him than it already was.
“We’re running again, aren’t we?” Connor’s voice was unreadable
“Abby’s dead. Helen and Stephen have been taken. All hell’s broken loose, and we’re just running away.”
Don’t start this, Connor, please don’t start this now, Ryan thought. Like when they were leaving London, he only wanted to put distance between them and this place so that he would have the time and space to deal with Connor and work out what they were going to do next. What he didn’t need right now was a blazing row here in the car.
“Same as bloody always,” Connor muttered, and turned to stare out of the window.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Ryan couldn’t stop himself from snapping back.
Connor didn’t reply. He dragged his fingers through his sopping hair, trying to control it in some way, or at least just get it out of his face. When Ryan looked at him again, there was a smear of blood on his face where his hand had wiped.
Neither of them spoke again for a long time. Ryan turned the air conditioning on and set it to as hot as it would go. They were both utterly drenched, and he knew the air-con wasn’t going to put a dent in that, but they may as well be warm and wet instead of cold and wet. He headed deeper into the countryside, looking out for somewhere suitable to stop and change into dry clothes. Deal with the practical stuff, the easy stuff, first. Ryan was beginning to wonder how much longer he could deal with all the other stuff as well. The more unhappy Connor got with their situation, the more he seemed to be fighting against Ryan, and that was only going to make everything so much harder.
Ryan had thought Connor was strong, tougher than he looked, certainly tough enough to deal with this, and intelligent enough to understand the severity of the situation. Now he was starting to wonder if he had overestimated the young man. What if Connor couldn’t cope? Ryan had meant it when he told Connor he didn’t want to lose him. He would almost certainly never admit it out loud, but having Connor along with him in the Jurassic, and for the last few days, had made everything so much more bearable. But there was a world of difference between a partnership with a strong, independent Connor, and being stuck with a wreck who needed constant care and supervision.
Give the guy a break, Ryan told himself. One of his closest friends has just died, been killed, right in front of him. Of course he’s going to be a mess. He was like this after the business in
Yet more and more questions were forcing themselves to the front of his mind, demanding to be answered. What if Connor hadn’t got over being tortured? What if he’d only buried it? What if he really couldn’t deal with any of this? Where would that leave either of them? Ryan realised he didn’t have the answers, and for the first time since they had left
Ryan eventually spotted somewhere that looked useful, and made sure there were no other cars on the road when he turned up a broken, pitted track to what was clearly an abandoned farm cottage and its associated buildings. A large part of the roof had collapsed on the cottage itself, and Ryan parked the car under cover in what used to be a large brick barn. It was still pouring down outside, and the barn appeared to be the only building left with an entirely intact roof.
“We should stay here for a few hours, maybe even overnight. If the rain carries on like this the tent’ll be more hassle than it’s worth.”
“Whatever,” Connor said.
Ryan forced himself to stay quiet and just give him time.
“We should get changed into something dry. Try to keep warm.”
Connor shrugged, but opened the car door and got out. Ryan got out as well, and dragged both their rucksacks out from the backseat. By the time he looked up, Connor was already walking away, completely ignoring his bag.
“Connor? What are you doing?” Ryan tried to keep his voice neutral, but didn’t think he managed to entirely disguise the impatience.
What the hell was that supposed to mean?
“Come on, mate. Get yourself cleaned up and dry.”
Connor suddenly spun round and Ryan saw the fury in the young man’s face.
“Stop it! Stop being so practical. Stop being so fucking reasonable,” Connor shouted at him.
“One of us has to be,” Ryan snapped back.
“Yeah, because you’re such a great leader. You’re doing such a great job of this, aren’t you?”
“What?” Ryan hadn’t expected this.
“Look at us, Ryan. What the hell are we doing? Where are we going? You don’t have a plan. All we’ve been doing since we left
“I needed time to think. Have you got a better idea?”
“Yes. I’ve had loads of better ideas. You won’t listen to any of them.”
“I always listen.”
“Yeah, and then you ignore them. You ignore me. You’re happy enough to have me along as your fuck-buddy, but you don’t want to listen to what I’ve got to contribute.”
“That’s not true and you know it.” Fuck-buddy? Christ, was that really what Connor thought their relationship was about, or was that just his anger talking?
“Yeah, whatever you think, Ryan, same as always.” Connor’s words were soaked in bitterness.
“Because your plan worked so fucking well today, didn’t it?”
Ryan regretted the words as soon as he said them. Connor’s hands clenched into fists, and he closed his eyes.
“That’s the first honest thing you’ve said to me in the last hour.”
“Connor, I didn’t mean-”
“Yes, you did,” Connor interrupted. “And you’re right. I killed her.”
“Your being there may have got her killed, yes, but it’s not the same thing. You didn’t kill Abby.” Please, Connor, please understand the difference, Ryan begged silently.
When Connor opened his eyes they were full of desperation.
“I was trying to help them. I only wanted to warn them.”
“I know.” Ryan slowly moved towards Connor. “Maybe you were right. Perhaps if I’d gone with you, we could have… I don’t know. Maybe we both screwed up.”
Connor shook his head, and wrapped his arms around his chest.
“Connor, listen to me.” Ryan tried very hard to keep his voice calm. “If it’s seemed like I wasn’t listening, or that I was ordering you around, that wasn’t what I meant to do. I just… I’m trying to protect you. I’m trying to keep both of us alive in the only way I know how.”
“I don’t need your protection.”
“Yes, you do.” Today had more than proved that point. “When we’re not under pressure then we can talk, argue, disagree all you want. But if we’re in a dangerous situation and I tell you to do something, I need you to do it, whether you agree with me or not. Because otherwise, things like this happen, and... and,” Ryan ran a hand through his hair, trying to find the right words. “Shit, Connor, when I heard the gunshots and the shouting, I thought it was you. I thought they might have killed you. I don’t want to go through that again.”
“I can’t do this any more, Ryan.” Connor’s voice was so quiet Ryan almost didn’t hear him.
“Just give it time.”
“No.” Connor looked up, and there was anger in his eyes again. “I can’t do this any more. I can’t live like this.” He waved his arm in an all encompassing gesture that took in the rucksacks, the stolen car, the barn.
“I don’t like it either, but we don’t have a choice right now.”
“I want my life back. I want to go home. I want Abb-” he stopped, his expression full of desperation and pleading.
Before Ryan could say anything, Connor suddenly turned and kicked the brick wall of the barn. One kick turned into another, and suddenly he was pounding the shit out of the wall, little clouds of brick dust spraying out with every blow. Ryan didn’t move until he saw Connor’s hand becoming a fist. He reacted instantly, and wrapped his arms around Connor, pulling him away from the wall before he could hit it.
“Don’t. Please Connor, stop trying to hurt yourself.” It wasn’t an order, it was a quiet, desperate plea.
Ryan almost expected another fight. This was what had happened the day they left
Come on mate, get it out of your system, Ryan thought. Break down. Cry. Grieve. I’m here, I’ll help you as soon as I know you’re starting to deal with it. Just give me something that I can work with.
“I’m sorry about Abby,” Ryan said in a very quiet voice. “I really am so sorry.”
He tugged Connor closer, tried to turn the hold into a hug. Connor didn’t respond, didn’t try to return the hug or even acknowledge it.
“I’m going to kill the bastards who did this,” Connor suddenly said in a cold, determined voice that sent ice through every inch of Ryan’s body.
No you’re not, Ryan thought, but he didn’t say anything out loud. If there was one thing he was certain of, it was that
He felt Connor breathe deeply, and then a shudder rippled though his body. He finally leaned a little against Ryan’s shoulder, and a single tear escape from his closed eyes.
Please don’t break on me, was the only thing Ryan could think as he held Connor close.
It was instinct rather than a conscious thought that suddenly had Ryan awake and staring into the darkness.
Connor wasn’t lying next to him any more. Ryan assessed the situation for another two seconds, detected no immediately obvious threat, and sat up.
It was dark, the rain was still hammering on the corrugated roof and splashing in the mud outside the open front of the barn. A soft light over the other side illuminated the inside of the car, where Connor was sitting in the front seat. Ryan got up and walked over to him.
“I’ve been thinking.” Connor didn’t even look at Ryan when he spoke. He appeared to be concentrating on a page of scribbled writing that rested on his knee.
It’s nearly three in the morning, Ryan thought. Out loud he said, “What about?”
“I’ve got a plan.”
“I can fix all of this.”
“What?” Ryan couldn’t disguise the confusion in his voice.
“We’re going to change time so that none of this happened. Happens. Whatever the tense is.”
“We’re going to go back to 2007 and change time so that none of this happens like it has done.” Connor finally glanced up at Ryan, and his voice was almost offhand, dismissive when he added, “Don’t say ‘what’ again, Ryan, it makes you sound like an idiot.”
Another ‘what’ died on Ryan’s lips. He struggled to find something that he could say, because either Connor was talking about something really obvious and he was being an idiot, or else the young man had completely lost it.
“I thought you said we couldn’t change history?” Ryan finally asked. They had talked about this on their first day in 2010, and that was what they had decided, right?
“I said we shouldn’t change history. It’s not the same thing.”
No, Ryan thought. In many ways it’s worse.
Nobody spoke for a while, and Connor went back to scribbling notes. Ryan took a moment to clear his head and wake up properly.
“We can do this. I think we can really do it,” Connor said eventually. He put the notes on the dashboard, and twisted in the seat so that he was sitting sideways, his legs hanging out of the open car door. For the first time he actually appeared to be giving Ryan his full attention. “Everything that has gone wrong is because we came back to the wrong time. If we go back to 2007 then none of this will happen. We can stop it from happening just by being there, by existing in that time. You heard what Abby said, it all started going crazy when this Thomson guy took over from you. If we get home then he’ll never have to replace you, so that won’t happen. And all this stuff with Claudia and Abby’s new bloke, whatshisname? John?”
“Yeah, him. None of that will happen because we won’t be here so they won’t need to help us escape. Well, actually, this entire timestream of events won’t happen, so we don’t need to worry about that.”
He went on for a while, talking about preventing certain tipping point events, like the big cat in the shopping centre that both Claudia and Abby had mentioned. He talked about taking back knowledge of major anomaly events so that the team would be pre-warned, and better able to deal with it when it happened. He never said it out loud, but the undercurrent to every word out of his mouth was simple: Abby won’t be dead.
Ryan actually understood what Connor was talking about, which some part of his mind found slightly worrying. But that was a tiny concern compared with his sudden fears for Connor’s state of mind. On the day when they had got back from the Jurassic and they had first talked about this temporal physics stuff, Connor had been excited, animated, an enthusiastic font of geeky speculation. There was no sign of that now. His voice and his eyes, normally so full of emotion, held a clinical detachment as he talked through his theories, his ideas about what he referred to as ‘the temporal ramifications of changing time’.
In his line of work, Ryan knew grief. He had seen enough of it, and he knew the various ways it could manifest. He recognised Connor’s need to do something in response to the situation, the need to act in some way just to avoid the feeling of helplessness. It was a reaction he saw all too often in his men when things went badly. With Connor, Ryan had been prepared for tears, he had been prepared for recriminations, and even anger. He sure as hell hadn’t been prepared for this.
He didn’t like it in the slightest.
Ryan waited for Connor to finish talking through all his ideas. He wished it could be as straightforward as Connor made it sound, but he suspected someone needed to play devils advocate here, and since there was no one else around, that job was going to fall to him.
“I want to believe you Connor.” He paused. “No, that’s not what I meant. If you say it can be done then I do believe you. But you said it yourself, just because we can, doesn’t mean that we should.”
“Why not, Ryan? Give me one good reason why we shouldn’t do it.”
“Because…” Ryan struggled to find the words that expressed his unease with the whole scenario. There had been so many occasions in his life when Ryan had wished he could hit a big red button and go back and do it over, but the universe just didn’t work like that. Somehow this felt a little too much like playing god. “Connor, I know you’re upset about what happened to Abby, but we can’t go around changing history just because something terrible happens.”
“My men have died,” Ryan snapped back. “Good men who have died working on this bloody project. Why is it different just because it’s Abby?”
Connor stuttered to a halt, and for a moment Ryan saw a flash of something in his eyes, something that looked a lot like guilt. Ryan came closer, crouched in front of Connor and held his hand.
“I know you want to fix things,” he said gently. “I know how much it hurts. I wish it could be as simple as you say it is, but I’m just not convinced this is the best way of dealing with it.”
“It is different because it’s Abby,” Connor said. “I don’t mean that to sound callous, like your men don’t matter. But it is different. Abby died because of us, because we were in the wrong time. If we had got back to 2007, where we were supposed to be, then none of this would have happened. That’s why it’s different. It’s our fault that it happened. That’s why we have to do this. To fix it.”
Ryan closed his eyes for a moment. This wasn’t working, and he just didn’t know what might work any more. He wished he possessed a fraction of Connor’s eloquence, because he had no idea what words to use that would bring the young man back from this. Although, if he was really being honest, in some tiny part of his mind he wasn’t sure he really did want to talk Connor out of it.
“If it helps, don’t think of it as changing time,” Connor said. His voice was soft, persuasive. “All we’re doing is going home. All the changes would just be a side effect of that. That’s what you wanted, right? You were the one who first asked if there was an anomaly that would get us home.”
Despite his unease, Ryan wanted to believe it. He wanted to be convinced that it was not only possible, but that it was right. Because he wanted to go home just as much as Connor did. But he knew that Connor wasn’t being truthful about his intentions. If it really was just about going home, then he wouldn’t be talking about deliberately trying to change the way events played out over the previous three years. Going home was one thing; going home with information of the exact time and location of impending anomalies was something entirely different.
“I don’t know, Connor. It just doesn’t seem right.”
“Ryan, we have the opportunity to save lives. To protect people. We both want the same thing here, Ryan. We just have different ways of doing it. This is my way. But I need your help.”
Ryan knew he was being manipulated. He also knew it was working.
“Connor, even if we wanted to go back, how? How would we do it? How would we find the right anomaly?”
Connor hesitated, and the first flicker of uncertainty crossed his face.
“I haven’t quite worked that bit out yet,” he admitted. “I think I need Cutter. When I heard them talking in the woods it sounded like Cutter had managed to predict the time and location of an anomaly. He has three years worth of research and knowledge that I don’t have access to. If we can get him to help us, we can figure it out. I can figure it out.”
Ryan’s legs were starting to ache from crouching and he stood up, stretched, and leaned against the side of the car. He felt a smile start to form as he realised the obvious fact that Connor had missed.
“We don’t need Cutter. At least, not that Cutter.” He hesitated. “I can’t believe I’m actually about to say this. If we’re seriously talking about going back in time, I think we need to jailbreak Helen Cutter.”