Series: One Day at a Time, part 2 (part of the Connor/Ryan series)
Characters/pairing: Ryan/Connor, Cutter, Abby, Stephen, Claudia, Thomson (OC)
Warnings: Occasional language, reference to non-con.
Spoilers: Anything through to episode 1.6
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 4650
Summary: Ryan had thought he could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Until he realised it was just the headlights of the oncoming train.
Links to previous chapters in the Five Days/Three Years/One Day at a Time series can be found here.
Connor tried to take in everything at once as Cutter led the team through the new building. All sterile white walls and huge glass windows and fancy science labs, it was a world away from the ad hoc base of operations at the Home Office.
“Welcome to the Anomaly Research Centre,” Cutter said with a smile that he directed mainly at Connor. “Or as we prefer to call it, the ARC.”
“Cool,” Connor commented. “And this is all ours?”
“Yep. Dedicated research centre, with all the facilities we can possibly want and the budget to buy any that it doesn’t already have.” Cutter had clearly had a little longer to get used to the idea, and he didn’t seem fazed by the new developments, but Abby and Stephen both looked as surprised as Connor felt. “Eventually we’ll be getting more staff to deal with the research and admin side of things, but effectively the four of us are going to be in charge of all research and development, and all anomaly field operations.”
“And Lester agreed to that?” Stephen asked sounding sceptical.
“More or less,” Cutter said with a wry smile. “Of course, he added plenty of caveats about Special Forces and chain of command in the field and such, but really it’s going to boil down to much the same as how things worked before, just with more resources and the ability to delegate anything that we can’t handle between the four of us.”
Connor wasn’t entirely certain how he felt about the possibility of having other people working for him. He was still adjusting to the fact that he had dropped out of university and was now working on the Anomaly Project as a full time job, and getting paid a quite scary amount of money for doing so into the bargain. Cutter, Stephen and Abby had likewise quit their jobs, some more reluctantly than others, and Connor couldn’t help feeling that there was a new sense of urgency and pressure, like it had all suddenly got a lot more serious.
“You said there were animal holding facilities?” Abby asked. Like Stephen, she seemed slightly less impressed with the new building, and Connor guessed it was because neither of them liked working in such a sterile, boring environment. Personally, after spending the last six months pretty much living rough in a variety of mostly hostile environments, Connor couldn’t wait to get set up in a proper office with all the computing power he could get his hands on. And after he had poked his head into the main computer lab earlier on the tour he had damn near started drooling at what he’d seen.
“Come this way,” Cutter led them further down the main corridor to a set of double doors that opened onto a massive room with a ramp leading up to glass walled offices above their heads. “This is the Atrium. There are a variety of animal holding facilities off this room, most of them on the floor below for smaller creatures. For anything really big we’re in the process of converting a couple of rooms directly off this one.”
“Although personally I’d rather we didn’t need to bring anything that large back here in the first place,” Claudia said loudly as she headed down the ramp towards to group. “So, what do you think?” she asked when she reached them.
“Can we see the animal holding rooms? How many people are we going to have available to take care of anything that we need to keep?” Abby said.
“And how exactly are we supposed to get live creatures back here?” Stephen added.
“Why don’t I show you two the holding rooms and the armoury?” Claudia said smoothly. “The Special Forces team will have exclusive access to the main armoury, but I believe there is also a large amount of non-lethal weapons and equipment that you are all free to make use of. Anything that you aren’t sure about, talk to Captain Ryan in the first instance. If you feel you need something more powerful, Stephen, I’m sure he can arrange access to appropriate equipment.”
Claudia led Abby and Stephen away, leaving Connor standing with Cutter.
“This place is cool,” Connor said for about the fifth time. He knew he sounded like a kid in a sweet shop, but he couldn’t help it. The ARC was a serious step up, a massive investment of time and money, and he couldn’t help feeling the buzz of being involved in something this big from the beginning.
“Come on,” Cutter laid a hand on his shoulder and steered him back out into the corridor. “I’ll show you your office.”
“I get my own office?”
“Well, you’re sharing with Abby and Stephen. I get my own office,” Cutter smiled.
Cutter took him to a room on the next floor up that had three desks already set up with computers and filing cabinets and assorted generic office equipment. Connor instinctively went for the desk that was facing the door, and it wasn’t until he had sat down and surveyed the room from there for a few moments that he realised he had been scoping out the exits, the potential routes of approach, and chosen the position that gave him maximum visibility of his surroundings. He had caught himself doing that a lot since he had got back from those six months with Helen. Connor sometimes wondered if that was what it was like for Ryan, always subconsciously viewing things from a strategic point of view rather than just as rooms and buildings.
“What do you think?” Cutter asked, leaning against one of the other desks.
“Looks pretty good. What made Lester agree to this lot?”
“To put it bluntly, you did. The information you brought back about the future, the fact that with all your knowledge about the anomalies we can really make a serious attempt to study and understand them instead of just reacting to whatever comes through. This is down to you, Connor.”
“No pressure, then?”
He tried to brush it off, but Cutter’s words actually scared Connor a little. So much expectation now seemed to rest on him, and Connor wondered if he really could live up to it.
Cutter seemed to sense his worry and smiled at him. “Don’t panic, Connor, we’re a team, and what we do here is a team effort by all of us. In fact, I was hoping the two of us could work together on a few things. You said that in the future I’d worked out how to predict the anomalies to a limited extent. Now we know what to look for, and with all your experience with Helen, I’m hoping we can make the same progress a hell of a lot faster.”
Connor tried to cover his discomfort at Helen’s name. That was the last thing he wanted to talk to Cutter about.
“Yeah, that’d be great,” he said, faking a smile of enthusiasm. Hopefully Cutter would never know that was another skill that Connor had learned pretty fast during his time with Helen.
Cutter hesitated, staring at his shoes for a moment. Then he looked up at Connor. “How was Helen? You never really said much about her when you talked to me and Lester. Is she doing okay?”
Connor squirmed in his seat, and dropped his gaze to the desk. “She’s okay. She was hurt, but she’s healed now.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Cutter said. “Connor, you’ve seen more of my wife in the last six months than I have in the last eight years. The fact that she helped you to save Ryan, and that she shared some of her knowledge with you gives me hope that she’s not turned into a complete monster, but...” he trailed off, and Connor couldn’t help looking up when he heard the poorly disguised pain in Cutter’s voice.
“She’s not a monster,” Connor said quietly. “She’s just been alone for far too long.”
“I want to believe that. I really want to believe that. But I don’t know if I can forgive her, for a lot of things.”
“You mean what happened with Stephen?” Since Connor had returned Abby had filled him in on everything that he had missed, including the news about Helen’s revelation of her affair with Stephen.
“Yeah. That.” Cutter sighed. “But not just that. She used me to try to find an anomaly to the future, and a lot of soldiers died because of that. I sometimes wonder if she even cares about anyone other than herself.”
Connor struggled to find something truthful that he could say to comfort the husband of the woman who had damn near raped him one night in the Oligocene. His mouth was suddenly too dry and he couldn’t meet Cutter’s eye when he finally spoke.
“I think she does care about you. And Stephen. But she’s been alone for so long that she doesn’t know how to trust anyone other than herself any more.”
“Thank you,” Cutter said in a voice so quite Connor barely heard him. “I know you had your own reasons for doing it, but you stayed with her when she needed someone. Thank you.”
Connor shrugged and couldn’t quite bring himself say, ‘it’s okay’.
Neither of them spoke for a while, and Connor tried to gauge how long he should give Cutter before he tried to change the subject. Before he could, Cutter looked at him with an apprehensive expression.
“What about you, Connor? Did she treat you all right?”
Connor licked his dry lips and managed to meet Cutter’s eye when he lied.
Cutter’s eyes seemed to be searching his for a moment, and then he simply nodded. If Cutter sensed the lie then he clearly didn’t want to press further. Connor felt an odd mixture of relief that he had got away with it, and resentment that Cutter hadn’t shown more concern for his welfare.
There was a slightly awkward silence, and Connor was still trying to find a suitable change of subject when he heard footsteps in the corridor outside. He glanced up on instinct, and his heart stopped.
Captain Thomson was standing in the doorway to his office.
“Hello, you must be the famous Connor Temple.” Thomson smiled at him and walked in, barely acknowledging Cutter and heading straight for Connor. He held his hand out across the desk to Connor. “I’m Captain Thomson.”
Connor just stared, his mind racing. That posh, newsreader accent had plagued his nightmares for far too long, the mere sound of it enough to trigger all of his worst memories. Thomson was smiling. The bastard was actually smiling at him, like they were going to be friends. Like they hadn’t tried to kill each other the last time they were in the same room.
But they hadn’t. That hadn’t happened, not in this time, and Thomson had no memory of it. As far as he was concerned, this was the first time they had ever met.
Thomson’s smile started to falter as Connor stared at the extended hand, not moving, not speaking. Connor realised he had to do something, and stood up. He forced himself to reach out and shake the hand that had pulled the trigger and killed Abby.
“Sorry, I was miles away,” Connor said. “You’re the head of security, right?” Ryan had filled him in on the situation as soon as he knew about it, but the knowledge sure as hell hadn’t come close to preparing him for actually seeing the man again. When Thomson let go Connor had to resist the urge to wipe his hand on his trousers.
“That’s right.” The smile was back again. “I’ve heard a lot about you. Quite the intrepid explorer, by all accounts. I’ve read the report, of course, but I’d love to hear more about your travels through the anomalies. Must be quite a story.”
“Um...” Connor glanced at Cutter and saw that the professor was watching Thomson with a wary expression. “It’s all in the reports. If you’ve read those then there’s not a lot else to tell.”
Thomson didn’t seem particularly put off by the obvious avoidance.
“Well, I look forward to working with you, Temple. See you later, no doubt.”
He acknowledged Cutter with no more than a nod as he turned and walked out. Connor waited until the sound of footsteps was far down the corridor before he sat down. He was shaking.
“You okay?” Cutter asked quietly. He came closer, looking concerned.
Connor took a moment to compose himself. Then he looked up at Cutter.
“Yeah, fine,” Connor lied again.
The first thing Ryan noticed when he opened the door to his flat was the smell of cooking. He took his jacket off and headed for the kitchen. All the available work surfaces were covered in discarded wrappers, knives, spoons, chopping boards, and general mess. In the midst of all this, Connor was standing at the cooker over a huge stir-fry pan, alternating between stirring that and the saucepan behind it.
“Hi,” Connor said without looking round.
“What’s all this?”
Ryan moved to stand behind Connor and slid his arms round the young man’s waist. Connor briefly leaned against him, and then went back to stirring the contents of the saucepan again.
“Variant on the end of term stir-fry.”
“You know. The end of term ‘everything you’ve got left in the fridge that you need to use or else it’ll go off’ stir-fry. Weren’t you ever a student?” Connor paused and then added, “Although this is actually a rather more expensive version, with less studentiness.”
Ryan chuckled. “It smells great. Looks a bit strange, though.”
“Oh, thanks. It’s got the rest of that bacon that was on its way out, the last of the mushrooms, I bought some onion and peppers on the way home, and there’s some mixed veg from the freezer to bulk it out. Oh, and you’ve run out of noodles so I’m doing rice instead.”
Ryan snuggled closer behind Connor and smiled. “Smart, sexy, and he can cook as well. How come you never got snapped up by anyone before now?”
Connor shrugged. “I expect people were too distracted by the extreme geekiness to notice.”
“Their loss, my gain. Anything you want me to do?”
“No, I’ve got it under control.”
While Connor had his hands full stirring food, Ryan took the opportunity to nuzzle his ear, gently breathing on it in a way that Connor always complained about but Ryan suspected he secretly enjoyed. Connor’s only response was a half-hearted wriggle and a tiny sigh.
“Connor? You okay?”
Connor hesitated just long enough for Ryan to not believe him when he said, “Yeah, fine.”
He let go and moved to lean against the worktop so that he could see Connor’s face.
“You’ve got your deep thoughts look on again. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I saw Thomson today at work.”
Ryan tensed for a moment, and then willed himself to relax. He’d known this was going to happen sooner or later, and he suspected the last thing Connor needed was him getting angry about something that wasn’t Connor’s fault.
“What happened?” Ryan asked.
Connor shrugged. “Nothing. That was the really weird thing. He just turned up and introduced himself. He was friendly. He was normal. I was the one that was acting weird and freaking out.”
Ryan nodded. Something very similar had happened to him as well. Thomson had sought him out at the ARC and introduced himself. All very brief and formal, no more than a courtesy to a fellow officer working on the same secret project, but it had left Ryan feeling unsettled, and he’d been glad that Dan Robinson wasn’t far away down the corridor, if only for the moral support afterwards.
“Are you okay now?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah. It wasn’t like he did anything to me. Cutter was there, anyway, so even if he wanted to do anything threatening he couldn’t have.” Connor shrugged again, concentrating on the stir fry and not looking at Ryan.
“Well, just be careful,” Ryan said quietly.
Connor glanced up at him with a wary expression. “Ryan, don’t get mad at me, just listen for a minute. I’ve been thinking.”
Don’t get mad? Bloody hell, what had Connor been thinking about if he felt the need to start off with that?
“I’ve been thinking about Thomson all afternoon.” Connor’s voice was hesitant and yet determined. “About how he just seemed like a normal guy. And I’ve been wondering if maybe we’re wrong to judge him for something that he hasn’t actually done yet. Something that he might never do if we really have succeeded in changing the timeline. Maybe he’s part of what we have to change. Maybe if we work with him instead of everyone making him feel like an outsider then maybe he won’t end up working against Lester and everyone like he did. Does. Whatever the tense is.”
Ryan had no idea what to say. Absolutely no clue. Whatever he had thought might have been on Connor’s mind, this sure as hell wasn’t on the list.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong,” Connor continued. “I know even now Cutter and Abby and your men and everyone all say Thomson’s a complete arsehole, but there’s a difference between being an arsehole and being the murdering, treacherous bastard that we met three years from now.” He gave the stir-fry a particularly violent poke with the spoon. “I don’t know, Ryan. I don’t know what to think, or how I feel about this. I’m just thinking aloud, trying to make sense of it. When I see him my gut reaction is hate and fear, but in my head I’m starting to wonder if there’s a better way of dealing with him.”
Ryan thought hard before he replied. He spent so long thinking, in fact that it was only when Connor threw him a worried glance that he realised he was supposed to be saying something.
“I don’t even want to pretend to get my head round all this time paradox stuff, Connor. That’s your department, not mine. Philosophical arguments about what he did and didn’t do in which timeline are all very well, but all I know is what I saw. And I saw the after-effects of what he did to you, and what he did to Abby. I saw him shoot you. And I can’t forgive him for that. And I can’t trust him, ever.” Ryan paused and took a breath. “But that’s me, that’s the way I think. I can’t tell you what to think or feel, Connor, you need to work that out for yourself.”
“You’re not mad?” Connor still looked slightly nervous and surprised.
“No, Connor, I’m not mad. You’re making my head spin with all this temporal stuff, but I’m not mad. Not at you.”
Connor looked relieved and turned his attention back to the food. “Well, this looks like it’s nearly done. Could you stick the kettle on for some tea, and I’ll serve the food up.”
Ryan could tell that while Connor was less tense than he had been earlier, there was still a lot on his mind. He wondered if he should try to get Connor talking again later after they had eaten, or if he should just go for the more traditional physical approach to distracting him from his thoughts. Either way, he decided a little extra physical reassurance right now probably wouldn’t go amiss, so he paused on his way to the kettle and enclosed Connor in another hug, and nuzzled and kissed his jaw for a moment.
Connor wriggled a little more enthusiastically this time.
“What was that for?” he asked when Ryan finally let go and moved to fill the kettle.
“Nothing. Just because you’re being you.”
“That’s not something that people usually want to encourage,” Connor commented with a raised eyebrow.
Ryan smiled at his lover. “Like I said; their loss.”
Ryan knew the moment he woke up that something wasn’t right. He could hear Connor mumbling in the darkness beside him, and when he tried to move he realised the duvet was a tangled mess around Connor’s legs and arms.
Ryan shifted enough to turn onto his side, and as soon as his eyes had adjusted to the dark he could see what he already suspected – Connor was dreaming again.
“Connor.” He gently reached over and touched Connor’s shoulder. “Wake up, mate.”
It wasn’t the first time this had happened since Connor had returned, and Ryan never quite knew whether to wake him or whether to let him sleep and come out of the dream naturally. This time, however, he was in no doubt that it was a bad one. Connor’s face was screwed up in an expression of fear and panic, and he was periodically kicking the duvet.
“Connor?” He tried shaking him a little harder. Abruptly Connor was awake, and he lashed out wildly at Ryan.
“Hey! Hey, it’s okay, it’s me. It was just a nightmare, Connor, you’re okay. You’re safe.”
Connor stared at him in the darkness for a few moments before recognition seemed to kick in. Then the fight drained out of him, and Connor just curled up against Ryan, making a sound like a tiny whimper. Ryan put his arms around Connor and started gently stroking his hair and murmuring nonsense words of comfort.
Eventually Connor breathed in deeply and sighed, his breath tickling against Ryan’s chest.
“Sorry,” Connor said quietly.
Ryan pulled back far enough to kiss his forehead. “Want to tell me what you were dreaming about?”
“It might help.”
“You don’t want to know, Ryan.”
“I don’t want to know, or you don’t want to tell me?”
Ryan continued stroking Connor, keeping his touch gentle and soothing, and trying to conceal his frustration.
When Connor had first returned the nightmares had come with frightening regularity almost every night. Ryan sometimes wondered if that was part of why Connor was so insatiable when it came to sex, apart from the simple fact that he was a twenty three year old male, of course. That maybe it was as much about him wanting to exhaust himself into a dreamless sleep as it was about their relationship. But as time had passed the nightmares had been happening much less frequently, almost to the point where Ryan had thought they were gone and that Connor had settled back into his normal life and everything was fine.
Apparently not. And this was quite clearly a very bad one, as bad as the worst of the dreams when he had first got back.
Ryan hesitated. Connor’s body had lost none of the tension yet, despite his efforts, and Ryan didn’t want to upset him further, but he was starting to believe that Connor needed more help than he could provide.
“Connor, have you thought about talking to someone? I know you don’t want to tell me, and I’m not going to push, but maybe you should see a professional counsellor or something. It’s not something you need to feel embarrassed or ashamed of or anything. I’ve known plenty lads in the forces who talk to counsellors after traumatic incidents. And with everything you’ve gone through no one would blame you for needing a bit of help to deal with it.”
“Yeah. There’s a good idea. And when I’ve explained about the time travelling and the dinosaurs then I can get sectioned.”
There was no anger in his voice, just a weariness that didn’t sit right on such a young man.
“Maybe Lester can get someone with appropriate security clearance.”
“So everything I tell the counsellor can get reported back to Lester until he has enough ammo to throw me off the project? And that’s assuming that it’s even Lester that he reports back to. What if it’s not? What better way for Section 42 to get the information they want than to have me pouring it all out to a counsellor who’s working for them?”
Ryan wasn’t sure what to say in response to that. He felt strangely uneasy about the idea now that Connor had mentioned it, but it wasn’t the possibility of Section 42 agents so much as the way Connor had clearly already thought this through in some detail. He couldn’t help remembering that when they had been on the run in 2010 he had wished that Connor would stop being so naive about what they were up against. Now he almost wanted to have that naivety back again. It suited Connor far better than this level of paranoia.
“Well what about Abby? She’s your friend, you trust her, don’t you?”
Ryan was so shocked he stopped stroking and pulled away until he could see Connor’s face.
“You don’t trust Abby?”
Connor looked confused for a moment.
“What? No, that’s not what I meant. Of course I trust Abby. I meant no, I’m not going to talk to her. I don’t want her to know that she died in that timeline.”
“You need to talk to someone, Connor, believe me. You can’t keep going on like this with the nightmares and everything. Abby’s your friend. If you won’t tell me then she’s got to be the best option. Besides, if she knows everything about Thomson and Section 42 then she could help in a more practical way. You live with her, you share an office with her. If Thomson tries to do anything to you then she’s more likely to be around than I am. If she knows to look out for danger then she can keep you safe, or at the very least raise the alarm if anything looks suspicious.”
“I don’t need half the bloody building to protect me, Ryan. If that’s what you think, why don’t you just assign a couple of your men to be my personal bodyguards or something, eh?”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it. Stop overreacting.”
Connor sighed and wriggled closer, and Ryan slid his arms round the young man again.
“Sorry,” Connor mumbled. “I know you just want to protect me, but you can’t this time. I’ll find my own way of dealing with Thomson.”
They were both silent for a while. Connor was right about one thing – Ryan did just want to protect him. He wanted to wrap Connor up and keep him safe from everyone and everything that might try to harm him. Ryan also knew that was impossible, and it hurt almost as much as Connor’s continued refusals to accept his help.
Eventually Ryan decided they weren’t going to get anywhere talking, and it was probably time to give up, at least for now.
“Anything I can do to help you get back to sleep?” he asked.
His hand trailed downwards until he was stroking Connor’s backside, his finger tracing down the crack. He felt Connor suddenly become very still and tense again and Ryan immediately stopped. What the hell?
“No,” Connor said in a very quiet voice.
Ryan pulled his hand away, his heart racing and his stomach twisting inside him. Connor never said no to sex. Before his mind could go into overdrive trying to work out what was going on, Connor sighed again and curled up against him and slipped an arm around Ryan’s waist.
“Can I just have a hug?” he whispered tentatively.
“I think we can manage that,” Ryan said. He hoped that his voice didn’t give away any of his fears.
He pulled Connor close and held him in his arms until his lover relaxed. Even so, it was a long time before sleep finally found them both again.