Title: Broken Pieces
Warnings: Mild language. Is ‘excessive angst’ a warning?
Spoilers: 2.4, 2.7
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 1900
Summary: If you kick a man down enough times, sooner or later he’ll stop getting up again.
Abby hated the nights like this. When sleep never came, and every waking moment sent her mind spiralling into a cycle of questions and hurt. She was staring into the not-quite darkness when she heard the click of a light switch from the room next door, and then the sound of Connor padding quietly downstairs. Abby knew he had been sleeping about as badly as she had lately. She glanced at the clock. 2.53AM.
Abby got up and pulled on some underwear and a dressing gown, and headed down after him.
“Sorry. Did I wake you?” Connor mumbled when she found him in the kitchen making a drink.
“I was already awake.”
Connor got a second cup out of the cupboard and seemed to be making coffee on automatic pilot. Abby watched him, wondering exactly when in the last few months the sight of him wandering around the flat in just his shorts and t-shirt had stopped being annoying, and become just another part of their daily lives. Probably around the same time that his incessant chatter about life, the universe and everything had also blended into the background and become another part of the soundtrack to her life.
Only... there hadn’t been so much of that recently. The chatter. Like now, and Abby had a moment to wonder why they were both just standing here in the kitchen without saying a damn word to each other. Why Connor had barely even looked at her since she joined him.
“There you go.” Connor handed her a coffee and when they finally looked at each other Abby saw the same questions, the same sleeplessness, the same unshed tears that she knew were in her own eyes. For a second he looked like he was going to say something, but then he just went through to sit on the sofa.
This wasn’t the Connor that she used to know. She wondered briefly about evil alien clones until a tiny, tight smile found its way onto her face. Maybe she hadn’t tuned out all that chatter as well as she thought she had.
Abby followed and curled up next to him on the sofa.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
He smiled a little too brightly and looked away a little too fast.
“Yeah. Just... you know.” He shrugged.
“I miss Stephen as well,” Abby said quietly.
Of all the unspoken things between them lately, Stephen’s death was almost certainly the biggest. Abby thought maybe it was time those things stopped being unspoken.
“I still can’t believe he’s dead.”
“Yeah,” Connor said again, staring at his drink.
That was all, just, ‘yeah’. Somehow Abby was still surprised, even now. Ever since Stephen’s death his usual enthusiasm had seemed muted, as if he were just going through the motions of what people expected from him, and he occasionally drifted into these spells of becoming practically monosyllabic.
“I know it’s always been a risk, but you never think it’s actually going to happen. Not to one of us.” Abby wasn’t certain she was making much sense, but tonight she just wanted to talk, no matter how hard it was. “I know we’ve lost soldiers and stuff before, but this was the first time it’s been someone we really knew and cared about.”
Abby abruptly stopped talking when she saw Connor flinch and turn away. It took her a few seconds to work out why, and when she did she wanted to crawl into a hole. Tom.
“Oh god, Connor, I’m sorry.” She trailed off when he just shrugged again, still looking away.
But it wasn’t okay. It wasn’t okay in the slightest, and Abby was torn between wanting to somehow make up for her insensitivity and not wanting to hurt him any further by talking about it.
“Do you want to talk about stuff?” She eventually asked.
Abby was startled; the blunt rejection was so unexpected. She reached across and gently stroked the back of his hand.
“It might help-”
Connor snatched his hand away, stood up and rounded on her.
“It’s got nothing to do with bloody Stephen,” he shouted, eyes blazing not with grief but with fury.
“Connor.” But Abby had no idea what to say.
“Not everything’s about Stephen,” he said, the words coming fast and angry. “Except it is, isn’t it? Everything’s about Stephen because that’s the big important thing. Everything else just doesn’t compare to that. Only it does. All that stuff with Caroline, am I just supposed to forget it? Pretend it didn’t happen? Just get over it? Because I can’t. It might not matter to anyone else, but it matters to me. What she did. I... I feel stupid, and betrayed, and it bloody hurts, only I’m not supposed to say anything because if I do it’s like I’m being selfish because Stephen being dead is so much bigger, so much more important than Caroline, and people will think I don’t care or something if I’m thinking about my love life before other stuff and then I feel guilty as well as every other bloody thing. And I’m sick of it, Abby. I’m just sick of it all.”
The silence that followed was absolute.
Abby had never known he was capable of such anger, not even when they had been arguing about Caroline. For all that Connor normally displayed his every emotion so blatantly, Abby honestly had no clue about how much Caroline had hurt him, and she felt suddenly guilty for not having thought of it sooner. But then, this was the first real emotion she had seen since his initial reaction to hearing about Stephen’s death. Since then, Abby realised, it was as if he had become closed off, careful with his emotions, guarded.
She stood up and gently took the coffee cup out of his hand and put it down beside her own. Connor was silent after his outburst, but his entire body seemed to be trembling, and Abby realised just how tightly wound he was. If it had been anyone but Connor she might have been a little afraid of getting close, but this was Connor, her friend, probably her best friend, the one man she trusted completely with her life. Abby slid her arms around him and just held him close. If anything his tension only increased, but then Abby gently wrapped a hand around the back of his neck, and tugged his head down onto her shoulder.
“Connor, it’s okay,” she whispered. “You’re not selfish, and you’re not stupid, and this is not your fault.”
For a moment she thought he was going to pull away, but then the fight drained out of him, and he tentatively slipped his arms round her waist and just breathed deeply against her neck.
Abby sighed. This, being in Connor’s arms, it felt... right. And not just in a platonic way. Not any more. Abby wasn’t entirely certain she wanted to think about the word ‘love’, not just yet, but she knew that what she and Connor had went beyond simple friendship, and after everything else that had happened lately she was suddenly very sure that she didn’t want to wait any longer to explore what that really meant. Maybe she could be the one to pick up the broken pieces left behind by that bitch Caroline.
Abby tentatively threaded her fingers into his hair, and turned her head slightly until her lips ghosted across his cheek. Connor almost physically jumped, and only her hands around him stopped him pulling back. When he lifted his face the expression there was just so bewildered, so full of all the raw emotion that he had been hiding lately, and Abby couldn’t stop herself leaning in and kissing him. Something squirmed and twisted in her chest when she felt his mouth open slightly beneath hers. She kept it slow and sweet and tentative, just the way that she had imagined it would be with Connor. And she had imagined it, so many times, almost as many times as she had imagined what it would be like to lose him. Abby didn’t want to think about how screwed up their lives were that love and death seemed so inextricably entwined. Right then she didn’t want to think about anything other than Connor, just Connor right here in her arms.
His hands moved until he was holding her hips, and then he held her in place as he slowly stepped backwards away from her.
“Abby. Don’t,” he pleaded in a voice that had absolutely no strength.
What the hell?
“Connor? What? I thought you wanted...?” Abby suddenly felt cold where his body was no longer leaning against her.
“But you don’t want. You’ve never wanted.” He paused, but his eyes never left hers. “Abby, I can’t take any more lies. Please, don’t do this unless it’s real.”
In that moment Abby swore she could see every single rejection reflected in his expression. Every mocking comment. Every ignored advance. Every denial of the truth between them.
Apparently Caroline wasn’t the only bitch who had screwed him over.
It was that realisation that stunned Abby into silence. When Connor hadn’t found his answer within a few moments he let go of her and took another step back. He looked like he was going to say something else, but then he turned and headed for the stairs, taking them two at a time going back to his room so fast he was almost running.
Abby crumpled back onto the sofa. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. She had always imagined he would be happy, had expected that surprised grin that made his whole face light up. She had assumed he would say yes. She had become so used to the fact that he was so open with his emotions, so eager to offer his heart even when a man with less optimism and more common sense would have given up long ago. It had just become another constant in her life, like his chatter. Just as her rejections must have become a constant in his life. Even after he had said... those words. Even then she hadn’t given him anything, she had only pushed him so that she could hear the words again, pushed him to give everything while she still held back. There had always been an excuse not to show him how she felt. Caroline. Rex. Stephen. All just irrelevant excuses to avoid admitting the truth.
Well, look where that had got them.
He had finally reached the stage where he had been kicked in the teeth once too often, and now he was reluctant to get back up, afraid to be hurt again. His heart was closed, even to her.
Abby didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the irony. The only thing she did know was that she was going to have to tread carefully if she wanted Connor to open up to her again. And she did want that, she wanted it more than anything. No, that wasn’t true; more than anything she just wanted to see him happy again. That would be a good enough start. Then she could work on the rest.
For the first time Abby understood that Connor’s love was no longer a given. If she wanted him to trust her with his heart again Abby knew she was going to have to earn that trust.