Title: Hero (part 2 of 11)
Pairing/characters: Cutter, Connor, Lester, Abby, Stephen.
Warnings: Occasional mild language
Spoilers: Anything up to ep 2.4
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: 4314 (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.
There was silence in the room for a long moment. Connor held his breath, trying to convince himself that this was real.
“Who the hell are you?”
The words hit him like a slap.
“What? What do you mean? It’s me, Dad.”
The man, no, his dad, he was sure of it, glared at him, and then at Cutter.
“What the hell kind of a sick joke is this?”
“All right, let’s calm down for a minute,” Cutter interrupted. He gently tried to push Connor back towards the door. “Connor, just give us a minute. We were still trying to explain about how much time had passed.”
Connor let himself be pushed for a few steps, and then realised what Cutter was trying to do and shoved his hands away.
“What? What do you mean, ‘how much time has passed’?”
Connor couldn’t help staring at the man behind the table and suddenly he realised what was wrong. Connor’s memory of his parents was hazy, but there had been pictures, photo albums that he and his gran had sat on the sofa looking at together on so many evenings when he was young. And the Mark Temple sitting in this room didn’t look any older than the last of those photos, from their last Sunday day out to Whitby.
He looked at Cutter, trying to understand how this was possible.
“It’s only been a couple of months for him,” Cutter said quietly.
Before Connor had time to digest that piece of information, Mark slammed a hand on the table.
“Just what the hell do you sick bastards think you’re playing at? Do you think this is funny? I want to see my son, now.”
“That’s what we were trying to explain,” Cutter said before anyone else could speak. “It’s 2007 now, not 1993.”
Cutter’s hand was still on Connor’s shoulder, holding him back. Connor didn’t even try to fight him off. His mind was racing again, trying to put it all together. It was simple when he thought about it. The passage of time on one side of a recurrent anomaly was not necessarily the same relative to its opposite side. They had seen it happen in the Forest of Dean anomaly to the Permian, it must have happened again here.
Connor opened his mouth to try to explain all that, but Mark got there first.
“2007? I’m supposed to believe that, am I? All I have is your word for it. It was two months at most.” He glared at everyone in the room, daring them to disagree. “My son is nine years old.”
“Not any more he isn’t,” Lester said in a voice entirely devoid of his usual sarcasm.
“Dad, please,” Connor tried again.
Mark turned on him, still glaring.
“Stop calling me that.”
“It’s me. Please, just look at me. I know this is weird for you to understand but you have to believe me.”
He tried to approach the table but Cutter’s hand on his shoulder held him back. Connor tried to push past him but Cutter wasn’t having any of it.
Mark stared at him. Really looked for the first time since Connor had burst into the room, and Connor met his eyes, willing his father to see something that he recognised, no matter how much time had passed.
“No.” Mark shook his head, but now his voice held a tone of denial rather than anger or confusion. “No. Nononononono. This is not possible.” He put his head in his hands, still shaking his head.
“Connor, why don’t you give us a minute,” Cutter said quietly, trying to push him back towards the door.
“No.” Connor pushed back, not taking his eyes off Mark. “No, I’m not going.”
“Connor, you have to let us explain this so he understands. Right now you’re not helping, you’re just making everything more confused.”
“Let him stay,” Lester interrupted, surprising both of them. “He’s already here, we may as well see if we can get this bloody mess sorted out.”
“I can prove it,” Connor suddenly said.
He pushed Cutter’s hand off his shoulder, slightly surprised when Cutter let him, and went over to the table.
“Look. Look at this. This will prove I am Connor Temple.”
Mark looked up at him, and Connor held out the ring that he wore on a cord around his neck. Mark looked at it for a few seconds until recognition appeared in his eyes. Recognition was followed swiftly by anger.
“That’s my wedding ring. What the hell are you doing with my wedding ring?”
“Gran gave it to me on my fifteenth birthday. She told me it was yours, and that she’d been keeping it for me until I was old enough.” He hesitated and his voice dropped. “It’s about the only thing of yours that was special, that was personal, that I got to keep.”
Mark continued to stare at the ring, and Connor realised he was avoiding making eye contact. God, why couldn’t his dad see the truth? Why was this so difficult?
“You... you could have got that anywhere. You could have got it in a pawn shop or anything.”
This time Connor was the one who slammed a hand onto the table in frustration.
“Why? Why would anyone go to all that trouble just to mess with your head? How would we even know that you were going to appear through the anomaly to have arranged such an elaborate joke?”
“Connor.” Cutter’s voice held a warning, and his hand touched Connor’s shoulder again. Connor shrugged him off.
“Do you want me to tell you how I got this ring? Why you weren’t wearing it the day you disappeared. Will that be enough proof for you?”
Connor could feel himself getting angry, and he tried to keep it under control.
Mark nodded, his gaze briefly skittering up to Connor’s face before he went back to focussing on the ring.
“You weren’t wearing it the day of the car crash because it was at the jewellers being repaired. Because I had broken it.” Connor paused, suddenly realising what he was about to say in front of Cutter and Lester. Hell, he’d started it, there was no going back now.
“You’d taken it off because you were doing something in the garden, and I was playing in your room, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to. And I knocked into the dresser and everything fell off, and the loose drawer fell out and landed on all the stuff and smashed Mum’s perfume and bent this ring out of shape. And I got so scared of what you were going to say when you found out that I ran away.”
A look of horror was creeping into Mark’s expression, and Connor knew he was getting somewhere.
“I didn’t get far, though, did I? You and Mum found me hiding in the Watson’s tree-house three doors down the road. And you were yelling about the broken stuff, and Mum was yelling about the running away, and I was grounded pretty much forever. And... and when I was getting out of the tree-house I slipped and fell and cut my arm open and there’s still a scar.”
Connor held his left arm out, and closed his eyes as he looked down at it and realised his mistake.
“A scar which you can’t see because it’s underneath the plaster cast right now. But trust me, it’s there.”
Connor tried to collect his thoughts. Surely that would be enough? Surely Mark had to see the truth now?
“Anyway, the ring was getting repaired when you died-” Connor stopped as he realised what he said. Mark’s head snapped up and he met his look properly.
“Sorry,” Connor said quietly, trying to keep his voice from breaking. “But we thought... they told us...” He closed his eyes against the memories. “What the hell were we supposed to think? There was a wrecked car half in a flooded river and you never came home and they told me you were dead.” When he opened his eyes again they were heavy with tears that he did not want to shed in front of any of the men in this room. “The ring was being repaired, and Gran must have gone and picked it up and kept it for me.”
Nobody spoke again for a while. Mark eventually dropped his gaze back to the table and said under his breath, “Shit.”
“You believe me, don’t you?” Connor knew he sounded like he was begging, but he was starting to not care.
“This can’t be possible,” Mark mumbled.
“It is,” Lester said. “Now you can either choose to believe Connor and the weight of evidence he can provide, or you can wait for the results of the DNA and paternity tests that are being run as we speak. I suspect the end result will be the same.”
Connor was about to protest they needed a sample of his DNA as well to prove anything, but immediately realised he had been in and out of the ARC infirmary enough times for them to have collected more than enough information on him. Although they must have worked bloody fast to get samples from Mark already. Probably disguised it as a medical check or something.
“What is RH135?”
Connor realised the question had been directed at him, and that Mark was staring at him again, this time with a challenge in his eyes.
“If you were really my son you’d have known what that was,” Mark demanded.
“Hey, come on,” Cutter protested. “You have to remember it’s been fourteen years for Connor. You can’t expect him to remember every obscure fact.”
“No, it’s okay,” Connor said to Cutter. He could feel himself smiling because after a moment’s thought he had known the answer. “It’s a fossil vertebra from a marine reptile. We found it at Robin Hood’s Bay.”
Mark’s eyes were wide, but he nodded. “And? Why would I ask that specific one?”
Connor’s smile turned into a grin at the memory. “Because it’s the first one that I found on my own that wasn’t just a boring ammonite or belemnite. And when we got home you let me clean it up and label it myself and everything.”
“And you had to write the label three times because you kept mucking it up.”
“Vertebra is a hard word to spell when you’re nine!” Connor gave a wry grin. “Come to think of it, it’s a hard word to spell full stop.”
For a moment a smile appeared on Mark’s face, and Connor almost leapt for joy. As suddenly as it appeared the smile dropped away, and Mark buried his face in his hands.
“Oh shit. It’s real. This is actually bloody real.”
Connor’s stomach lurched and his own smile disappeared as well. He tentatively reached across the table.
“Don’t!” Mark snapped. “Don’t call me that.”
Connor’s hand dropped and he stood there in mute horror. He had more than proved the truth, so why was Mark acting like this now?
Cutter moved up beside him and put an arm around Connor’s shoulders.
“Come on,” Cutter said quietly. “Let’s just get out of here for a minute.”
Connor felt himself nodding, and he let Cutter gently steer him out of the room and into the corridor without protest this time.
Lester waited a full two minutes to see if Mark Temple was going to pull himself together. He felt uncomfortable watching the man sitting there shaking his head, mumbling denials over and over to himself, but as the seconds ticked by Lester was also becoming angry. He held no particular affection for Connor Temple, but neither did he take any enjoyment from seeing the kicked puppy expression on the young man’s face as rejection piled upon rejection. It had almost been a relief when Cutter had taken him away before the arrival of the tears that Lester had been sure were threatening throughout the conversation. Despite what some of his political opponents might think, he had no desire to see grown men cry.
Eventually Mark sat back and took his glasses off and started rubbing the lenses on the hem of his shirt. When he finally put them back on he glanced around the room before he met Lester’s look.
“This isn’t possible,” Mark said. He looked utterly bewildered, so bombarded with impossible information that his brain was simply refusing to deal with it.
“I think you know it is,” Lester replied.
“He can’t be my son. He can’t be. You can’t expect me to accept that I’ve missed fourteen years of his life. That everybody I knew and cared about has moved on and grown up and thinks I’m dead.”
“I’m afraid that’s exactly what we’re expecting you to believe.” Lester was already envisioning the pile of paperwork situation this was going to entail, and couldn’t help momentarily wishing that Mark hadn’t come back through the anomaly at all.
Mark looked like he was going to argue again, and Lester cut him off before he could start.
“Can you honestly look Connor in the eye and tell him that he is not your son? Do you really believe that, now that you’ve seen him, and talked to him?”
Mark opened his mouth, probably to protest again, but then abruptly stopped. He glanced up at Lester, the hurt and confusion in his dark eyes so very, horribly reminiscent of the look in Connor’s eyes as he had left the room. Mark finally gave a tiny shake of his head.
Lester almost breathed a sigh of relief, but not yet, though. Getting Mark to accept the truth was one thing, getting him to admit it to Connor was likely to be something else.
“But... but he’s... I mean, he’s not...”
“Not what you expected? Not what you wanted?” Lester asked gently. “Trust me, children never are. That doesn’t stop them being your children, though. And it certainly doesn’t stop you being Connor’s father, however old he is.”
Mark put his head in his hands again.
Lester briefly closed his eyes, and waited. He rather hoped Cutter was having more success with the son than he was with the father.
Cutter took Connor into the nearest empty office and closed the door. Connor stood in the middle of the room looking utterly lost.
“Are you okay?” Cutter asked.
“It’s him, Cutter. I know it’s him.”
“I believe you.”
“So why doesn’t he believe me?” Connor cried out, pointing back towards the room they had just left.
“Shush, it’s okay,” Cutter reached out to the young man. “He just needs a bit of time, that’s all. It’s a hell of a shock for him.”
“Where’s Mum?” Connor suddenly asked.
Oh, shit. This, this was precisely the reason why he had wanted to keep Connor away until they had sorted all of this out.
“Is she here?” Connor demanded. “Or weren’t you going to bother telling me about that either?”
“No, she’s not here.”
His eyes were wide, so many emotions vying for dominance that Cutter almost couldn’t hold his gaze.
“Where is she then?”
“Connor, your mother died in the Triassic. I’m so sorry.”
Connor stared at him for a moment, and then walked over to the nearest chair and sat down, his head down, his arms resting on his knees.
Cutter wasn’t sure whether to go over and sit with him or to give him space. He was still trying to decide when Connor spoke again.
“This is stupid. She’s been dead for fourteen years. I’ve known it for fourteen years. So why the hell does it hurt so much hearing you say that?”
Cutter picked up another chair and put it down beside Connor, and sat down.
“Because you got your hopes up. You wouldn’t be human, you wouldn’t be you if you hadn’t.”
“What happened?” Connor asked in a hollow voice, his head still down.
“I don’t know. I don’t know how she died, I’m sorry.”
“No, not that. How did they even end up through an anomaly to the Triassic? My gran told me they died in a car crash. But there can’t have been any bodies so they can’t have been sure what happened. Why? Why would she lie to me about that?”
At the last question he did look up, and Cutter saw that his dark eyes were still full of unshed tears.
Cutter thought about it for a moment. He so badly wanted to just hug Connor and tell him anything that would make him feel better. But at the same time he had too much respect for the young man to be able to fob him off with platitudes.
“I don’t know. Maybe... maybe your gran was trying to protect you.”
“What?” Connor sounded honestly bewildered.
“You were a child, Connor. If your gran had told you that your parents had gone missing, what would you have done? You’d have wanted to believe they were still out there somewhere, that’s what. You’d have spent the rest of your life wondering where they were, why they disappeared, maybe even trying to find them. Or, maybe you would have felt angry with them for abandoning you. I don’t know. But you know what I think? I think your gran was trying to protect you. I think she had good reason to believe that you would never see your parents again, and so by telling you they were dead, she saved you from a lifetime of wondering, and not knowing the truth. What she did allowed you to get on with the rest of your life.”
“But it was all a lie.”
“It was a lie that saved you from fourteen years of pain, Connor. Trust me. I know exactly what it feels like to not know what happened to someone you loved. I know how much you want to believe, and how much it rips you to pieces every time another hope turns out to be false. Your gran might have lied to you, but in truth, I think she did the right thing for you.”
Connor’s eyes widened.
“God, Professor, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to remind you of Helen.”
“It’s okay.” Cutter rubbed Connor’s shoulder and gave him a reassuring smile. He hadn’t meant to talk about himself like that, but the words had escaped before he’d even thought about what he was saying. It occurred to him a moment later that he hadn’t really talked about Helen at all since the timeline had changed. The only people he had ever been able to talk to about her were Claudia and Stephen, and now neither of those were options any more. He had trusted Connor with more and more since arriving in this changed world, but not that.
Cutter couldn’t help wondering if that was about to change with this latest development.
Connor turned away again and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. Cutter continued rubbing his shoulder, silently offering support.
“What’s going to happen to him? Is he under arrest or something?”
“No, not really. Lester’s going to want to get a full report on what happened and how he ended up stuck in the past, but as long as he co-operates it’ll be fine.”
“It’s like the Permian anomaly, isn’t it? Relative time on either side of the anomaly moves differently when the anomaly isn’t open.”
“Something like that, yeah.” Cutter found himself being oddly amused that at a time like this Connor’s brain could still find time to ponder the temporal physics of the situation.
“And it’s only been a few months for Dad?”
“That’s what he says, yes.”
Connor seemed to be thinking about this for a moment. “He doesn’t look much older than the last photograph I have of him. In physical terms, there’s only about ten years difference between me and him now.” His forehead creased a little. “Wow. That’s going to be weird.”
“That’s one word for it.”
Cutter felt another smile tugging at his mouth. It never ceased to amaze him how Connor seemed capable of bouncing back from even the most traumatic of emotional upheavals in such a short time. Unless... unless the young man was a hell of a lot better at hiding his emotions than Cutter thought he was. If that was the case, Cutter wondered if they might not have more in common than he had ever appreciated.
“Do you think it’s okay to go back yet?”
“Are you ready?”
“Yeah. I think so.” Connor met Cutter’s eye and he nodded.
“That’s good enough for me.” He knew he ought to check and make sure the others were ready for them first, but after the way that Mark Temple had treated Connor, Cutter wasn’t feeling particularly inclined to put the other man’s needs above Connor’s.
Connor stood up first, but he let Cutter lead the way back to the meeting room. Cutter saw Stephen and Abby lurking down the end of the corridor and quickly looked away. He thought he had a pretty good idea which of them had told Connor, but right then he had more important things to deal with.
He knocked on the meeting room door and then opened it and ushered Connor in. He resisted the urge to squeeze Connor’s shoulder again. Lester’s raised eyebrows held a question, but he didn’t try to stop them coming into the room. Mark glanced up at them both and then focussed on Connor. The man looked exhausted, but his anger seemed to have dissipated.
“Fourteen years?” Mark asked.
“Yeah,” Connor said. His voice was steady, and Cutter felt an unexpected surge of pride.
“That’s a hell of a lot of catching up we’ve got to do.”
There was a pause for a moment.
“You... you mean you believe me?” Cutter didn’t need to look to know there was a familiar hopeful smile forming on Connor’s face right at that moment.
“Yes. I believe you.”
Lester stood up and walked past them to the door, pausing on the way to say to Cutter in a quiet voice, “I suggest we give them a moment alone. Coming?”
This time Cutter did gently squeeze Connor’s shoulder before he left. Once he and Lester were in the corridor and had shut the door, he glanced back through the window and saw the two men hugging, Connor’s face buried deep into his father’s shoulder.
“What did you say to him to change his mind?” Cutter asked Lester.
Lester just raised his eyebrows again, and looked enigmatic as he sauntered off down the corridor. He paused long enough to turn back and say, “Do let me know when the Jerry Springer Show in there has finished. I’d like to at least make a start on the paperwork before I leave tonight.”
Cutter laughed, shaking his head fondly. That was the Lester he was used to, not this version who supported Connor and showed compassion for the young man when he was obviously upset.
Cutter’s gaze fell on his other two team members again, and this time he walked down the corridor to them, his anger building.
“Is Connor okay?” Abby asked quickly before Cutter could speak.
Cutter ignored her.
“Which one of you told Connor his father was here?”
“He had a right to know,” Stephen said.
“Yes. When we knew for certain that it really was his father. What if it hadn’t been?”
“But I’m guessing from what you’ve just said that Mark is his father.”
“That’s not the point,” Cutter all but shouted.
“Connor is not a child, Cutter. He doesn’t need to be protected. He deserved the right to make his own decisions about this.” Stephen’s voice was still low, but there was barely concealed anger in his tone.
“Yes. When we’d had time to prepare both of them for seeing each other again. Mark wasn’t ready to handle the fact that his little boy had grown up. You have no idea how close that came to... to screwing up everything!” Cutter was shouting now, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself.
“I’m sorry,” Abby said in a quiet voice.
“It’s not her fault. I was the one who told Connor,” Stephen said immediately.
“Yeah, I’d guessed that much,” Cutter snapped back. He tried to rein in his temper. “Just get out of my sight. Both of you.”
Abby looked like she was going to say something else, but then she turned and walked away. Stephen stayed where he was, glaring at Cutter for another moment.
“You might think you have final say over what we tell the public, but you have no right to keep information like that from your own team.”
Before Cutter could reply, Stephen turned and left as well.
For a moment Cutter almost went after him, but then he leaned against the wall and looked back toward the meeting room. From here he was too far away to see through the window any more, and he wondered how the reunion was going.
He hadn’t wanted to lie to Connor, but at the same time he was convinced he had been right to try to protect him from finding out before they had chance to properly prepare everyone. He couldn’t help his mind wandering back to his own reunion with Helen in the Cretaceous. Look how well that had gone! He just wanted to spare Connor some of the anger and disappointment that he had felt when all the hopes and memories he had been holding onto for so long had been destroyed by the reality of seeing his wife again after eight years. Was that such a bad thing?
He ran his fingers through his hair, and waited in the corridor, trying to ignore the feeling that this was all going to go horribly wrong for Connor.