Title: Hero (part 1 of 11)
Pairing/characters: Cutter, Connor, Abby, Stephen, Jenny.
Spoilers: Anything up to ep 2.4
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: 4312 (total 44,591)
Summary: All Connor wanted was a positive paternal role model. Was that too much to ask?
AN: Big thanks to fififolle for the beta. Written for the Big Bang fic challenge. Also sort of incorporates Era of the Month: Triassic.
AN2: This fic is set in the latter half of series 2, a while after 2.4, and ignores canon after that point. Also appears to ignore the existence of Leek.
Connor paced restlessly. The ADD was still flashing and signalling an active anomaly, but he had silenced the alarm a long time ago. No point pissing Lester off even more than usual.
He wanted to be out there. He needed to be doing something. Stupid broken arm.
The anomaly was a lot further north than any they had encountered before, and Connor had felt a brief moment of unease when he had pinned down the exact location. He had grown up in that part of the Yorkshire Pennines, the area had a lot of memories for him, and, like anyone remembering their childhood, not all of those memories were good.
That was part of why he hated being stuck here, forced to do nothing but watch the ADD and wait. The inactivity gave him far too much time to think, and right now that was something Connor didn’t want to do.
He sat down and pulled out his phone again.
“The anomaly’s going to be gone by the time we get there,” Stephen muttered.
Abby saw Cutter’s expression tense for a moment, but he remained quiet. Abby turned away from them both and looked out of the car window at the steep hills and valleys that they were driving through. It had been an uncomfortable few hours in a confined space to start with, and the tension between the two men was not helping to make the journey any easier. Abby almost wished Connor was here with them. She had no doubt he would be annoying as hell to travel long distances with, but anything had to be better than this silence.
Abby’s phone rang for the fifth time since they had left London.
Speaking of Connor...
“Hi Connor,” she spoke into the phone with an exaggerated sigh.
“Are you there yet?” Connor asked in the tone of voice more normally reserved for small, excitable children.
“No!” Abby said, snapping more than she had intended.
“You’ve got to be close by now,” Connor said, unperturbed by her abruptness. “Don’t tell me you’ve got lost.”
“I think we’re nearly there,” Abby said, checking the co-ordinates Connor had given them against the GPS and the Ordnance Survey map that was spread out on her lap.
“I grew up round there,” Connor told her for what had to be the third time since the ADD had alerted them to the new anomaly. “Wish I was there with you.”
Abby could imagine him rubbing at the plaster cast on his fractured wrist as he spoke. He had been going stir crazy stuck at the ARC and barred from field ops for the last few weeks. The cast was due to come off in three days time, but Lester had not budged on the subject despite Connor’s pleas to be allowed out. Abby was fairly certain that Lester’s refusal had more to do with insurance issues than any concern for Connor’s safety.
“I wish you were here as well,” she said with a smile.
“Really?” Connor sounded pleasantly surprised.
“Yeah. We could do with having a native to translate broadest Yorkshire into something intelligible.”
“Hey!” Connor laughed.
“Guys. Heads up,” Stephen interrupted as his hand-held detector started whirring.
“Got to go, Connor. Looks like we’ve picked up the anomaly.”
“Okay.” Abby could have sworn she heard him add, “Be careful,” as she took the phone away from her ear. As she ended the call it occurred to her that Connor was acting weird. Okay, weirder than usual.
They pulled onto a grass verge at the side of the road and Abby couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. A dry-stone wall ran along the edge of the road, and on the other side of the wall a grassy slope plunged down into a wooded area, and Abby thought she could see a stream or river flickering in the evening sun through the trees. Although, given what they were looking for, it might not have been the sunlight that was flickering.
Cutter leaned over the wall with her.
“See anything?” he asked.
“Nothing obvious from here.”
“That works in our favour, at least,” Jenny said as she strolled towards them from the van she had arrived in, along with the military backup. “If it isn’t obvious then maybe no one else has stumbled across it before we got here.”
“There’s definitely an anomaly down there somewhere,” Stephen said as he unloaded the tranquilliser rifle from the back of the car.
“So let’s get moving.” Cutter climbed over the wall, dropped down on the other side, and started to scramble down the slope. Stephen followed him, and the soldiers who had travelled with Jenny spread out and kept the two men covered as they headed towards the trees.
“He’s eager,” Jenny commented, watching Cutter skid and fall on his backside on the grass.
“I think he’s just glad to be out of the car,” Abby said. “I don’t know what was worse, those two not talking or Connor phoning every five minutes and not shutting up.”
Jenny gave her a knowing smile. “Why do you think I went in the other car?”
Abby glanced down at Jenny’s high heeled shoes. “Maybe you’d better stay here.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve come prepared.” Jenny went back to the van and changed into a pair of flat shoes. Abby gave her a hand over the wall and then they carefully picked their way down the slope and into the trees below.
The anomaly hung partially over the bank and half over the water of the small river that wound its way gently through the bottom of the valley. When Abby arrived, Stephen was already checking for tracks and the soldiers had fanned out and formed a loose cordon around the area. Cutter was standing with his hands on his hips just looking at the anomaly.
“Any sign of creatures?” Abby asked. They knew the anomaly had been open for hours; anything could have come through in that time.
“No tracks that I can see,” Stephen replied, standing up and moving away from the anomaly. “Unless something came through and fell in the water.”
Abby had a brief mental image of a dinosaur flailing in mid-air before plunging into the river, and tried to hide her amused smile.
Abruptly, something tumbled out of the anomaly, flailed in mid-air, and plunged into the river.
Everyone seemed to be shouting at once. The soldiers all snapped round and aimed their assault rifles at the anomaly and the thing in the water. Stephen had his tranquilliser rifle trained on it for a moment, but he was already dropping the weapon when Cutter shouted, “It’s a man!”
Abby darted forward along with Cutter and Stephen and they managed to grab the man as he splashed and tried to regain his footing. The river was apparently only waist deep here, and Stephen and Cutter got hold of the man’s arms and helped him haul himself up the bank and onto the grass.
“Are you okay?” Cutter asked as the stranger coughed and spluttered.
Jenny came closer and took one look at the man, and immediately despatched one of the soldiers to fetch a blanket and first aid kit from the cars.
“Why don’t you come and sit over here, and get your breath back?” Jenny ushered him over to a flat piece of ground away from the anomaly.
Abby noted that his clothes were dirty and torn, and there were what looked suspiciously like dried blood stains peppering his shirt. She wondered what he had encountered on the other side to end up like that in just a few hours.
As Jenny talked quietly to the man, Abby turned her attention back to the anomaly, noting that Stephen was doing the same. The man had obviously been running when he emerged from the anomaly, and Abby couldn’t help wondering what he might have been running away from. Everything seemed quiet now, and Abby thought that maybe the anomaly was starting to fade a little. Typical, they had driven for hours to arrive at the point where it closed.
After a few minutes the sound of raised voices alerted Abby to the man becoming agitated.
“I want to see him!” he all but shouted.
“All right, all right, just wait here a moment while I speak to my colleagues and then we’ll see what we can do to get you reunited with your family.” Jenny had her best ‘placating the scared public’ voice on, and she left the man sitting huddled in a blanket and came over to where Abby, Cutter and Stephen were standing.
“We may have a slight problem,” Jenny said.
“Oh?” Cutter prodded when she paused a little too long.
“Firstly, he says he’s been trapped on the other side of the anomaly for two months. And secondly, he says his name is Mark Temple, and he is demanding to see his son. Connor.”
Cutter’s first thought was, ‘huh, small world’. Then he noticed several things at once. Firstly, he noticed the way that Abby’s face had crinkled into a look of suspicion. Then he took a proper look at the man for the first time, and realised that under the slightly ratty beard, the man couldn’t be older than his mid thirties, if that.
“Coincidence. It must be,” Cutter said.
“It’s not a very common surname,” Jenny pointed out.
“Connor said he grew up around here. Maybe it’s a local family name. Hell, maybe this man is Connor’s distant uncle or cousin or something. Look at him, he’s not old enough to be our Connor’s father.”
“He can’t be,” Abby spoke quietly. “Connor once told me that his parents died when he was a child.”
“Well, there you go then.” Cutter felt oddly relieved. After his own experiences, he felt distinctly uneasy about the anomalies spewing out anything even remotely personal. A second later it occurred to him to wonder why he had never known that fact about Connor before now.
“Perhaps you’d better talk to him,” Jenny suggested. “Whoever he is, he certainly seems to know a lot about the time period on the other side of the anomaly.”
Cutter and Jenny approached Mark, and Cutter was aware of Abby and Stephen hanging back not far behind him, no doubt as curious as he was.
“Hi. I’m Nick Cutter.” He crouched down to be on eye level with Mark, who was watching him through wire-rimmed spectacles with a guarded, suspicious expression. This close, Cutter could see that his initial impression had been right – this man was barely older than Stephen, even though grey was already starting to show in his dark hair.
Mark briefly glanced around at the soldiers and then back at Cutter. “Who are you people?”
“We’re the people who deal with situations like this. Do you want to tell me what happened when you went through the anomaly?”
“Anomaly?” He looked confused for a second before the penny dropped. “Oh, you mean the portal? You’ve seen one before?”
“A few,” Cutter commented with a slight smile, trying to put Mark at ease.
Mark hesitated, his gaze flickering between Cutter and the anomaly. Eventually he seemed to come to a decision and focussed his attention on Cutter.
“It’s a time portal that goes to the Triassic.”
“The Triassic? You know that for sure?” Cutter was intrigued at Mark’s certainty. In his experience, most members of the public wouldn’t be able to tell difference between the Triassic and any other time period in the vast prehistory of the Earth.
“Unless the fossils and reconstructions are wildly wrong, I’m pretty sure I spent every morning of the last couple of months watching a herd of placerias drink at the lake. Mid to late Triassic, I believe.”
“You’re a palaeontologist?”
Mark shook his head. “Just an enthusiastic amateur. Look, Cutter, I appreciate you have to investigate this and I’ll answer all your questions, but please, I need to see my son. He’s only nine, and we’ve been missing for so long. God knows what he thinks has happened to us.”
For a moment Cutter was reminded of a far too familiar pleading look in Mark’s dark brown eyes, but his mind was obviously playing tricks on him. He didn’t have time to give it any more thought because at that moment something clicked about what he had just said.
“Us? There was someone else with you?”
“Is she still in the Triassic?”
“She died,” Mark said, staring at his hands.
“I’m sorry,” Cutter said quietly. He was uncomfortably aware of the memories this conversation was stirring up, and tried not to think about Helen.
“Listen, we should really get back to London,” Jenny said in her best ‘someone has to be practical and organised’ voice. “If it’s been a few months then no doubt your son is being cared for by relatives or care services, so while we get you checked over by a doctor and start your debriefing, we can be locating your son at the same time. I assure you, as soon as we find him you can be reunited, but there are procedures to be followed in this sort of situation.”
Mark eventually nodded and stood up. Then he paused for a moment and stared at Cutter.
“You’re not Doctor Nick Cutter are you? Of Central University?”
Mark looked confused for a second. “I read your article on evolution burst cycles.”
Cutter had to think for a moment before he recognised what Mark was talking about.
“Thanks. Although I’m surprised you remember it. That was published ages ago.”
“It was only last year,” Mark commented as he started to follow Jenny up the slope towards the cars.
Cutter stopped dead and stared at the man as things started to click into place in his mind.
“Whoa, hang on a minute,” he said.
Mark stopped and looked back at him. Jenny did the same, a curious expression on her face.
“What was the date when you went through the anomaly?”
Mark stared at him as if he couldn’t believe Cutter was asking him that question, but then a new idea seemed to occur to him. An idea that made him tense and nervous, and he glanced round at the soldiers again.
1993? Fourteen years? More to the point, Connor was, what? Twenty-two? Twenty-three? So in 1993 he would have been...
He would have been about nine years old.
Cutter’s stomach began to turn flip flops inside him. He saw a brief look of shock flit across Jenny’s face as she no doubt did the same maths he had and came to the same conclusion.
“Come on, let’s go,” Jenny said, gently touching Mark’s arm and tugging him up the slope again. A couple of soldiers went after them, leaving Cutter, Abby and Stephen at the rapidly weakening anomaly.
As soon as they were out of earshot Cutter turned to Abby.
“How old was Connor when his parents died?”
“I don’t know, he didn’t say.” Abby sounded worried.
“The timing fits,” Stephen commented. “And he’s been saying all day he grew up around here.”
“Do you want me to call Connor?” Abby asked.
“No!” Cutter snapped more sharply than he intended. At their surprised looks he lowered his voice again. “No, we can’t tell Connor yet. Not until we know for sure.”
“What?” Stephen didn’t look happy about that in the slightest. “You can’t keep this from him, if that’s who we think it is.”
“And what if it’s not who we think it is? What if we get Connor’s hopes up and then it turns out to be some insane coincidence? We have to be certain before we tell him.”
“How are we supposed to be sure without asking the one person who could give us that answer?”
It was a good question, and one that Cutter didn’t have an immediate answer to. But every part of him was screaming that they had to keep this from Connor until they were absolutely certain. Cutter had spent eight years jumping at every false hope about Helen, and every single letdown hurt as much as the last, no matter how much time had passed. There was no way he wanted to let Connor go through that after fourteen years.
Cutter pulled out his phone and called the ARC.
“Ah, Cutter,” Lester answered with his usual level of faux charm. “So, is it, as they say, grim up north?”
“We found the anomaly. It’s closing. I need you to give me everything you can from Connor’s personnel file about his next of kin. Specifically his parents.”
There was a brief moment of hesitation on the end of the line.
“I’m going to assume you didn’t just say what I think you said,” Lester replied sounding rather less smug than before.
“I know this is going to sound crazy, but we’ve got someone who has been stuck on the wrong side of this anomaly for a long time, and there is a chance that it might be Connor’s father. We need to verify his identity.”
“Forgive me for asking the obvious, but why don’t you just ask Connor?” Lester’s tone was aiming for long-suffering, but Cutter had known him long enough to recognise that his interest had been caught.
“Because the last time they saw each other Connor may have been a child. There’s a good chance they wouldn’t even recognise each other if they passed in the street. And I think it’s best we don’t involve Connor until we’re sure.”
“I can’t just go giving out personal information to anyone, you know,” Lester pointed out.
“No, but I’m not just anyone. And this is important.”
He heard a sigh from the other end of the line, and Cutter could imagine Lester rubbing the bridge of his nose and his ‘give me strength’ expression.
“Fine, wait a moment.” Without waiting for an answer, Lester put Cutter on hold, and he was subjected to the worst of the government’s selection of hold music.
Cutter tried to avoid looking at his companions as he waited. He could feel the hostile tension radiating from Stephen, and Abby’s restless energy as her gaze darted between himself and the anomaly.
Abruptly the hold music stopped.
“Yeah, I’m still here.”
“I’m afraid the records don’t hold any information on his parents other than their names and the fact that they are deceased.”
“So what are their names?” Cutter almost didn’t want to know the answer.
“Gwen and Mark Temple.”
Cutter’s heart sank a little further.
“What about next of kin? There’s got to be someone who is listed as the emergency contact.”
“According to his file Connor’s only relative is an elderly grandmother who, unfortunately, lacks the mental capacity to make informed decisions. In the event of medical emergency you are listed as having power of attorney. Don’t tell me you don’t remember signing the form?”
Cutter was about to protest he had never signed any such form in his life, but then remembered that this wasn’t his timeline. Maybe at some point in this timeline he had agreed to take on that responsibility. The more he thought about it, the more it started to scare the hell out of him, although he wasn’t entirely certain if it was the fact that he didn’t remember doing it, or the fact that Connor apparently trusted him so much, that he found the most worrying.
“Fine,” Cutter sighed. “We’re bringing him in to the ARC. If you can find out anything at all about a Mark Temple who went missing in 1993, it’ll help us get this mess sorted out.”
He didn’t give Lester time to make any sarcastic comments about being asked to do the dirty work, and hung up.
Behind them, the anomaly suddenly winked out of existence. Far from signalling the end of the problem, this time Cutter had a feeling that the hard part was about to begin.
Connor was starving by the time the others got back. He knew the anomaly had disappeared not long after they had arrived on the scene, he had been monitoring the signal on the ADD, and since then all he’d heard was a text from Abby saying, ‘Anomaly gone. No creatures. Don’t wait up for us.’ It was getting late, but despite Abby’s text he had no intention of going home until they were back. It was partly because he felt guilty about not being there with them, and partly because unless he waited for a lift from Abby he’d have to pay for a taxi to get home.
He spun round on his chair to see Abby striding across the atrium towards him. She didn’t look happy.
“I thought I told you to go home.”
Connor shook his head. “No. You said ‘don’t wait up’. Not the same thing.”
“Come on, let’s go.”
Abby practically dragged him off the seat and Connor stumbled to catch up.
“Hey! What’s the rush? What’s up, Abby?”
“Nothing. I’m just hungry and I want to go home.”
Abby didn’t even pause at the locker rooms, and Connor wasn’t entirely sure he dared to suggest waiting for him to grab his jacket. They passed Stephen in the corridor, and the expression on his face suggested he was extremely pissed off about something as well.
What the hell had happened out at the anomaly site?
“Hi Stephen,” he called, throwing his friend a smile as they raced past.
Stephen didn’t reply, but Connor felt the other man’s gaze on him until they turned the corner at the end of the corridor.
Abby didn’t stop until she was sat in the car. Then she finally took a breath and looked at Connor sitting next to her.
“Sorry,” she said. “It’s just been a hell of a long day with that endless journey and everything. I really just want to get home.”
“Okay,” Connor said. He smiled at her. “How about Chinese tonight, on me for a change?”
Abby gave him a proper smile at that, but there was still something a little off about her behaviour. Connor couldn’t put his finger on what, and wondered if maybe Cutter and Stephen had been arguing again.
Abby was starting the car up when Stephen came racing towards them across the car park. He skidded to a halt next to Connor’s side and opened the car door.
“Stephen, we’re leaving,” Abby snapped.
“What’s up?” Connor was honestly confused and starting to worry about his friends.
“No, Connor,” Abby said, her voice angry, but wavering slightly. “We’re going.”
Abby tried to reach across and pull the door shut but Stephen was already leaning down into the car.
“Connor, what do you remember about your parents?”
“Stephen, no!” Abby practically shouted.
Connor’s patience finally snapped.
“Look, will somebody just tell me what the hell is going on here!”
Nobody spoke for a moment. Connor tuned to look at Abby as she shook her head, still staring at Stephen. When he looked back at Stephen, the older man looked angry.
“Please, you two are really starting to freak me out here. What on earth do you need to know about my parents for?”
“Someone came through that anomaly today,” Stephen said, ignoring Abby, his gaze never leaving Connor. “Someone who had been missing a long time.”
“When your parents died, did you see them? Did you see the bodies?” Stephen pressed.
Connor’s stomach twisted horribly. Why was he bringing up the past like this? What the hell was Stephen trying to say?
He tried to remember everything about those few days that he had spent the last fourteen years trying to forget. Eventually he shook his head. “No. My gran told me they were dead.”
Stephen continued to watch him. His eyes seemed to be willing Connor to work it out for himself. Connor looked round at Abby for help, because Stephen couldn’t be saying what it sounded like he was saying, could he?
Abby placed her hand on his arm, her eyes pleading.
“We don’t know for sure, Connor. Just wait, yeah? Just wait until we know for sure. Let me take you home until we hear from Cutter, please.”
Connor’s eyes flickered between his two friends for another moment. His mind was whirling with childish hopes and dreams that had stopped haunting his nights a long time ago. What if?
Abruptly he shook Abby’s hand off and unclipped the seatbelt. He ignored Abby’s desperate grab for him as he dived out of the car and past Stephen, and started running back into the ARC building.
He pelted down the corridor until he recognised one of the soldiers who had gone out to the anomaly.
“Where’s Cutter?” he gasped.
The soldier shrugged. “Meeting room, I think.”
“Thanks,” Connor shouted back as he sprinted off again, the plaster cast on his arm catching painfully against his chest.
Like most of the rooms in the ARC, the meeting rooms all had large glass windows onto the corridors, and Connor saw Cutter standing in Meeting Room 2 almost at the same time as he saw the soldier standing guard in the corridor.
“Cutter wanted me,” Connor explained quickly. Before the guard had time to argue, he shoved the door open and burst into the room.
Lester was sitting to one side, his chair angled towards a table. Cutter seemed to have been pacing the room and he stopped and stared, a look of anger quickly appearing on his face when he saw Connor. But Connor’s attention was entirely focussed on the man sitting behind the table with the ragged clothes and the ratty beard and the same dark eyes that Connor saw every morning when he looked in the mirror.