Title: Hero (part 3of 11)
Pairing/characters: Cutter, Connor, Lester, Jenny, Abby.
Warnings: Occasional mild language
Spoilers: Anything up to ep 2.4
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: 4370 (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.
“Come on, you’ve got to admit it’s a good idea. So, what do you say?”
Connor was giving them his most hopeful smile, and Cutter suspected the young man was deliberately aiming to make a good impression by wearing the most sedate and sensible looking selection of clothing that Cutter had seen on him for a long time.
Lester leaned back in his chair and eyed Connor.
“He hasn’t been back in this millennium for more than five minutes, and you want him to join the team?”
“He’s spent months in the past. He knows loads about prehistoric creatures. I bet he could really make a difference on the team. Don’t you, Cutter?”
At the last question, Connor turned his attention to Cutter, again flashing that hopeful smile. Cutter hesitated before he said, “Well, it can’t hurt to have an extra person on the team who can identify creatures.”
If Connor picked up on his less than enthusiastic endorsement, he gave no sign of it. Lester’s eyebrows suggested that he, at least, had noticed it, but he chose not to comment.
“And your father actively wants to join the team, I suppose?” Lester asked.
Like Cutter had, Connor hesitated a fraction too long before he replied.
“Yeah, he’s cool with it. Besides, it’s not like he can go back to his old job or anything, so this way everyone’s a winner.”
Lester looked to Cutter with a sigh.
“Your team, your call, Professor.”
Cutter found himself being treated to the hopeful puppy expression again. He still felt inexplicably uneasy about Mark Temple, but he could think of no particularly good reason to refuse what seemed to be a perfectly reasonable argument.
“I’ll need to talk to him first, find out what particular skills he’s got to contribute, but yes, if he wants the job I don’t see why not.”
The hopeful smile instantly transformed into the hundred watt light-bulb smile.
“Brilliant! This is going to be so cool. You won’t regret this, Cutter, I promise.”
Cutter mumbled something non-committal, but Connor was oblivious as he bounded out of Lester’s office and down the ramp.
“Forgive me for saying so, but you don’t sound terribly convinced about this,” Lester observed.
“I barely know the man,” Cutter said. “But Connor trusts him, and I trust Connor.”
“I think we both know that Connor’s judgement on the matter is more than a little impaired right now.”
Cutter couldn’t argue with that, and simply nodded.
Lester leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers.
“Well, for what it’s worth, all the tests seem to confirm that Mark is who he says he is. The ID he had on him checked out, and the paternity test gave a 99% likelihood that he is a close blood relative of Connor Temple.”
“Who else did you think he might have been?”
“A plant. A spy. Someone trying to infiltrate the ARC by getting close to a key member of staff.”
Cutter chuckled. “Do you ever trust anybody?”
Lester raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t get where I am today by trusting people. Particularly not people who appear out of nowhere claiming to be long lost relatives. It’s all a little too... soap opera for my liking.”
Cutter sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.
“It’s not ideal, but what else are we supposed to do with him? Connor’s right, he can’t go back to his old job, and he can’t associate with any of his friends or family apart from Connor because there’s no way to explain why he hasn’t aged. I don’t know, maybe working here with us will help him to make sense of what’s happened. Maybe he really can help.”
Cutter knew even as he said it that he was clutching at straws.
“I’ve got Jenny working on creating him a new identity to fit with his apparent age,” Lester said. “Until then he’s not going anywhere without supervision.”
“I think the chances of Mark going anywhere on his own are practically non-existent,” Cutter said. “Connor hasn’t left him alone since he got here.”
“Yes, by ‘supervision’ I meant someone other than Connor.”
“Well, I suppose I’d better go talk to him,” Cutter said with about as much enthusiasm as if he was contemplating a trip to the dentist.
He was almost out of the door when Lester said, “Cutter? Keep an eye on him. In fact, keep an eye on both of them, please. Much as I hate to admit it, Connor does occasionally have his uses. I’d rather he didn’t become too distracted.”
Cutter met Lester’s eye and for a moment could have sworn he saw something like worry in the man’s face. Then he simply nodded, and left the office.
Ten minutes later he was still standing on the ramp outside Lester’s office, leaning on the railing and watching the scene in the atrium below. Connor was apparently demonstrating the ADD to Mark, his words falling over themselves in their haste to be spoken, his fingers flashing across the keyboard as he brought up screen after screen of computer code and graphics and simulations. He seemed oblivious to the fact that Mark looked utterly bewildered by the entire thing.
Now that he could see them together Cutter wondered how he could have failed to notice the similarity between them as soon as he met Mark. Admittedly, at the time Mark had been a bit of a mess, but now he’d had a couple of days to rest and get cleaned up and have a shave, the resemblance between father and son was striking, especially in their eyes. Apart from the glasses and a few signs of premature grey hair, the only other difference was that Mark was rather taller and thinner. So much taller, in fact, that he’d had to borrow some spare jeans and shirts and t-shirts from Stephen, because the clothes that Connor tried to lend him didn’t fit.
It occurred to Cutter that he, of everyone in the building, might be able to sympathise with Mark better than anyone. It was only a few months ago that he had stepped through the Permian anomaly and discovered he was in a different world, which was probably pretty much exactly what Mark was feeling right now. And yet, there was something about the man, something that eluded Cutter, but which made him feel uneasy, and meant that he wasn’t quite prepared to extend a hand of friendship to him just yet.
Cutter jumped, so lost in his thoughts that he wasn’t aware of Jenny until she appeared at his side and leaned against the railing.
“I have no idea what you mean,” he countered after a moment too long of hesitation.
Jenny gave him a kind, but knowing, smile.
“Oh come on, you know exactly what I mean. Not too long ago you were the one who Connor was trying so hard to impress.”
Cutter had no reply for that observation, so he stayed silent.
“Are you sure you’re not a tiny bit jealous that you’re not the centre of his attention any more?” Jenny continued with a teasing tone to her voice.
“Did you want something, Jenny?” Cutter snapped rather more sharply than he had intended.
Jenny’s smile faded a touch.
“Well, I had been intending to ask if you wanted a coffee.”
Cutter took one more look down at the two men sat by the ADD, and then pushed himself up away from the railing.
“Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve got work to do.”
Before Jenny could say anything else he left, and headed towards his office.
By the time he was halfway there he was already regretting rejecting Jenny like that. He still wasn’t entirely comfortable in her company, but that was no reason to snap like he had. The truth was, her observations about his relationship with Connor had been rather closer to the mark than he’d liked, no matter how much he didn’t want to admit it.
No, that wasn’t entirely true either. It wasn’t the attention he was missing, it was Connor himself. Since he had come back to this strange world Cutter had found himself turning to Connor more and more, first for help in understanding the changes, and then later simply for the company. Connor was someone who he could spend time with, someone to bounce ideas and theories off, and someone he could rely on to listen without judgement.
All the things that were missing from his relationship with Stephen now.
Cutter reached his office and closed the door before he sat down.
If anything, things with Stephen had become even more frosty than usual over the last two days since Mark Temple had arrived at the ARC. As long as they were talking about work they managed to keep it professional, but every time Stephen had tried to broach any subjects even remotely related to their personal lives, or to Connor or his father, Cutter knew he had brushed Stephen off as quickly and completely as possible. He was still angry with Stephen for telling Connor the way he did, but that anger was already becoming tangled up in all the other resentments that he was harbouring towards Stephen, no matter how much he tried to pretend that things were okay. Cutter knew there was a part of him that was quietly wishing to have his friend back, but the louder, more stubborn, more hurt part of him, wasn’t ready to forgive, or to forget, just yet.
All of which meant that he had found himself increasingly shut away in his office for the last couple of days, repeatedly going over Mark Temple’s report, trying to tease out facts about the Triassic and the anomalies that had both stranded him there and brought him back again. He wasn’t talking to Stephen, Connor was too wrapped up in the excitement of his father’s return, and even Abby had seemed somewhat quiet and standoffish since he had shouted at her. And now he had alienated Jenny into the bargain.
Cutter sighed and ran his fingers through his hair again, knowing that it was probably sticking up now, but also knowing that no one would comment on it any more, not in the way that Stephen or Claudia used to.
It suddenly occurred to Cutter that he was supposed to have been talking to Mark. That was going to have to wait a while now; he had no intention of going back to the atrium just yet, not least because he didn’t want to have to endure Jenny and Lester’s expressions when they witnessed his about-turn after storming off like that.
The day, Cutter reflected, was not going at all well.
“And that,” Connor finished with a flourish, “Is the ADD. Pretty cool, eh?”
“It is quite impressive,” Mark said. “And you built all this?”
“Designed and built by me, yeah.”
Connor knew he was grinning like an idiot, but he couldn’t help it. Today was the first day that he had been allowed to talk to his father without Cutter or Lester or Jenny or a soldier lurking nearby. They had talked in the last couple of days, but not about the really big, important things, and Connor had been wary of embarrassing himself in front of the others again like he had when he had seen Mark for the first time. He wanted to hear all about his father’s Triassic adventures, but, perhaps even more so, he wanted to tell Mark everything that had happened to him since he was nine years old, everything he had achieved.
“And what is it that you actually do when you detect these portals? Sorry, anomalies, you call them, don’t you?”
“We go out and investigate to see if any creatures have come through, cordon them off so the public doesn’t get too close, and if there is a creature incursion we either try to catch them and send them back to their own time, or else kill them if they’re too dangerous and there’s no other option. But Cutter really doesn’t like killing them.”
“Is that how you broke your arm?” Mark indicated the plaster cast still encasing Connor’s left arm.
“Yep. It was a bit stupid, actually, I was running away from a giant terror bird and fell off a wall. Good job Abby and Stephen weren’t too far behind me with tranq guns.” He was smiling about it now, but Connor could still remember with alarming clarity the moment when he had tumbled off the top of the wall onto the pavement below and felt something give as he put his hand out to break his fall.
“Stupid? It sounds bloody dangerous,” Mark said, pushing his glasses back up his nose.
Connor felt his smile slip a little.
“Well, yeah, but most of the time it’s not like that. Or at least, some of the time it’s not like that.”
“But I don’t understand why you have to be in danger. Surely that’s why you’ve got all these soldiers?”
“They’re just backup mostly. Cutter likes to do things for himself, we all do. We can’t study the anomalies or the creatures if we don’t get a bit up close and personal occasionally. Really, I know it all sounds a bit scary but it’s fine, Dad, honestly.”
“You wouldn’t be saying it was fine if you got yourself stuck in the past somewhere because you decided to get a bit too ‘up close and personal’,” Mark snapped.
Shocked by the sudden outburst, Connor couldn’t hold his father’s angry glare and his eyes dropped to stare at his plaster cast.
“Sorry,” Connor said quietly.
After a slightly awkward silence, Mark said, “I know this is your job, and I’m impressed at what you’ve done, I really am. But after what happened I just can’t get as excited about it as you.”
Connor looked up again, and asked the question that had been occupying his thoughts for the last two days.
“What did happen? How did you end up in the Triassic? What...” he hesitated. “What happened to Mum?”
Mark didn’t reply for such a long time that Connor was starting to think that he wasn’t going to say anything at all. He was on the verge of backtracking when Mark finally spoke.
“We were coming back from Tony and Kate’s party, it was late at night, and something ran across the road in front of the car. I have no idea what it was, but it was too big to be a fox or a badger. It came out of nowhere. I swerved, and we skidded on the slush from the last snow and went straight into the wall. The next thing I knew we were crashing down the hill into the valley bottom, the car ended up nose first into the river.”
Connor nodded. He knew the car had been found partially in the river. That was why everyone had assumed that his parents had died; after the snows the stream was nearly overflowing its banks and more dangerous than usual, and the police must have believed that they had managed to get out of the car and been swept away. That was no doubt their explanation for why there were no bodies, although Connor hadn’t been told that part at the time.
“And then you found the anomaly?”
“Your mum saw it first. A light in the trees by the stream. I thought she was seeing things, she’d had a bit to drink at the party. I thought maybe she’d hit her head in the crash. But she insisted it might be someone in trouble, maybe we’d hit someone else in the crash and they’d fallen down the hill as well and we couldn’t leave them there at that time of night. So we went to have a look and saw the portal, sorry, anomaly. It was just there, like a big Christmas tree decoration in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to call the police, but your mum wanted to see what it was. The next thing I knew she’d vanished.”
“She went through the anomaly? And then you went after her?”
“Not at first.” Mark shoved his glasses back up his nose again and was looking at the ADD screen rather than at Connor. “I was about to call the police when she reappeared and started talking about another world. I thought she was mad, I thought she was making it up because she was drunk. But then she dragged me through as well to show me.”
Mark paused, and for the first time since he had started to relive the memories, his expression briefly reflected a fraction of the awe and wonder that he must have felt when he stepped through the anomaly for the first time and realised it was the past.
“I don’t even know how to describe it, it was just so strange. One minute we were in a dark, cold, snowy wood, the next in bright daylight surrounded by scrubland and animals that haven’t existed for 200 million years.”
Connor nodded again. “I know how it feels. I went through an anomaly for the first time not so long ago. It was to the future, though, that was really weird.” Although, to be perfectly honest, Connor barely remembered much about the future world that he had seen; he had been too concerned with finding Abby to pay attention beyond his initial impressions of rocks and too-bright sunlight. But still, that moment of going through the anomaly itself, the sudden transition from one environment to another, he could remember that clearly enough. The shock, the moment of disorientation, the wonder of having just done the impossible.
“You went to the future?” Mark looked stunned. Connor realised this may have been the first Mark had heard about anomalies going forwards as well as back. He had seemed quite shocked when they told him that his anomaly to the Triassic was only one of many, and was not in any way unique.
“Yeah. Abby got taken by some weird future creatures and I had to go after her to save her.”
Mark looked even more shocked at that. “But, you had backup, didn’t you? You didn’t just run into an anomaly by yourself, knowing there were things from the future there?”
Connor wasn’t entirely sure what to say for a moment. The thought of waiting for backup or not going after Abby had never entered his head for a second.
“Well, Abby was in danger, there wasn’t time to wait. Besides, Cutter and Stephen came after us as well, they were just a bit behind.”
Far from being impressed, Mark looked horrified, and Connor shuffled rather uncomfortably under his stare.
“Anyway, what about you and Mum? What happened next?”
“The anomaly disappeared. We were trapped,” Mark replied bluntly.
When he didn’t continue, Connor ventured quietly, “Must have been pretty scary.”
Now Mark was the one who looked uncomfortable, and he took his glasses off and started fussing with them, not meeting Connor’s gaze.
Connor waited, and when nothing more seemed to be forthcoming he pressed again on the one thing that was really bothering him.
“Dad, what happened to Mum? How did she die?”
Mark continued to focus his attention on his glasses, wiping the lenses on his shirt. “A predator killed her,” he eventually said in a quiet voice.
“How did it happen?”
“Does it matter how it happened? Do you want to know all the gory details?” Mark snapped suddenly, glaring at him.
“No! No, that’s not... I’m sorry,” Connor stammered. “I just, I spent so long thinking you died in a car crash, I wanted to know the truth, that’s all.”
“She was killed by a predator. I didn’t see it. We were separated and I didn’t see what happened.”
Mark still sounded angry, but there was a hint of something else in his voice as well that Connor couldn’t identify. Connor was starting to wish he hadn’t asked, and his stomach was turning uncomfortably at the thoughts that were now going round in his head; images of how his mother might have died at the hands of a giant Triassic creature.
“Sorry,” Connor said again, his voice quiet.
“Can we talk about something else?” Mark said abruptly, his tone of voice making it clear it was an instruction, not a request.
“Yeah, of course. Sorry.”
There was a sudden an extremely awkward silence. For once, Connor couldn’t think of a single thing that he wanted to talk about.
“I’m sorry, Connor,” Mark said quietly. “I didn’t mean to shout at you.”
Connor glanced up and was surprised to see that the anger was completely gone from Mark’s face. Instead he just looked sad and a tiny bit guilty.
“I just don’t want to talk about it yet,” Mark continued. “You’ve had years to grieve and move on. I haven’t. It’s still too soon for me.”
“Okay,” Connor said. He wanted to reach out and hug his father, but stopped himself. Somehow, he didn’t think the gesture would be appreciated in a place as public as the ARC atrium.
Neither of them said anything for a minute or so. Eventually Mark put his glasses back on and gave Connor his full attention again.
Whatever he was about to say was cut off as the door swung open and Connor looked round to see Abby striding towards them across the atrium.
“Hi, how’s it going?” Abby asked them both.
“Connor was just showing me the ADD. It’s very impressive,” Mark said.
Connor couldn’t stop himself grinning at the praise.
“Are you settling in okay?” Abby directed the question at Mark this time.
“It’s all a lot to get used to, but yes, I think I’m getting there, thanks.”
Abby shifted her attention to Connor. “I just came to let you know I’m going, so if you want a lift home with me you’d better get your stuff sorted.”
Connor glanced at his watch, startled that it was so late. “No, it’s okay, you go. I want to stay here and talk to Dad a bit longer.”
“You should go with Abby,” Mark said, standing up. “There’s no point missing your lift and having to get a bus or taxi later.”
“I don’t mind about the lift. I’d rather catch up on more stuff for a bit.”
“Connor, just go,” Mark snapped suddenly.
Connor’s grin dropped away immediately. When he glanced at Abby she looked just as surprised as he was.
Mark shoved his gasses up his nose again. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout. Again. It’s just like I said; a lot to take in. I’d like to spend some time just assimilating everything before I get bombarded with any more information.”
Connor stood up and quickly returned the ADD back to its usual settings.
“Okay, it’s fine. I understand.” He didn’t understand in the slightest, but he didn’t want to argue with Mark, or make himself look silly again.
“See you tomorrow, then,” Mark said to both of them. He hesitated, and looked like he was going to say something else to Connor. Instead of speaking, he just looked awkward, and then walked away towards the corridor leading to the ARC bunk rooms where he was currently staying.
“What was that about?” Abby asked as soon as he had gone. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Connor said, doing his best to cover his shock and disappointment. “He’s probably just tired, that’s all. Come on, let’s go.”
All the way home in the car Abby kept glancing sideways at him. Connor couldn’t help noticing her pensive expression. Normally he would be ecstatic at the attention, but right then he rather hoped she didn’t say anything.
He had been immensely grateful to Abby the last couple of days. On the day that Mark had returned she had eventually taken Connor home and sat him down with multiple cups of tea and a packet of biscuits and listened while he talked for hours about what he remembered about his parents, and how he had been raised by his grandmother after they disappeared. More than once he had choked up and had to wipe away tears, and every time that happened Abby had given him a brief but firm hug until he had calmed down again.
This time, when they got home Connor made sure he was the one who made the cups of tea and ordered the Chinese takeaway, hoping to repay his friend a little. Abby seemed to appreciate the gesture, but she remained unusually quiet all evening.
Eventually, Abby spoke up as he was finishing off the last of the prawn crackers and sweet and sour sauce.
“Connor, do you really think your dad is settling in okay? He still seems a bit, I don’t know... overwhelmed by it all.”
Connor didn’t meet her look while he tried to decide how to answer.
“Well, like he said. It’s a lot to take in all at once isn’t it?”
“He was a bit off with you earlier,” Abby pointed out, surprisingly tentatively.
Connor bit back a sharp reply, and turned to face her.
“I’ll admit it’s not easy for him. It’s not easy for me either. I just need people to give him time. To give me time to make this work. Please Abby, just give me a chance to do this.”
Abby studied him carefully for a moment before she nodded.
Connor managed a smile for her. “Thanks.” He started to gather up the takeaway debris. “So, how about another cuppa? And maybe some trashy films for the rest of the night, eh?”
“Yeah, we can do that.” Abby smiled back at him and helped him to clear up.
Ten minutes later they were curled up together on the sofa with yet more tea and a suitably heckle-worthy film and Rex attempting to snuggle in between them seeking warmth and attention. Connor let himself properly relax for the first time that day, and if Abby threw the occasional worried glance in his direction, well, she was just being a good friend, right?