Title: Hero (part 4of 11)
Pairing/characters: Cutter, Connor, Jenny, Stephen, Abby.
Warnings: Occasional mild language
Spoilers: Anything up to ep 2.4
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: 3317 (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.
“They’re a bit more sandy coloured,” Mark said. “Sort of reddish with paler sandy shades on their underside.”
Connor quickly typed in the changes to his creature database as Mark sat at his side watching. Before the ADD had started to occupy most of his time, one of Connor’s jobs had been to upload the prehistoric creature database from his laptop onto the ARC computer system as a reference available to all staff. Now, whenever he got time, Connor tried to keep it updated with new information for the creatures they encountered, particularly things like appearance and behaviour, and any other features which didn’t show in the fossil record. In the current absence of them finding anything better for Mark to do, they were making use of his knowledge and observations from his time in the Triassic.
“Like that?” Connor checked when the new profile picture for placerias appeared on the screen.
“That’s close enough,” Mark agreed.
Connor saved the changes, and then flexed his left hand. It felt good to have finally got the cast off, but his wrist was starting to ache a little after all the typing he’d been doing.
“Need to take a break?” Mark asked, looking concerned.
“It’s fine. Just need to rest it a minute or two.” Connor pushed his chair away from the keyboard and took a sip from his coffee, grimacing when he realised it had gone cold while he worked.
“You never lost that interest in dinosaurs, then?” Mark commented with a smile. “A lot of kids grow out of dinosaurs when they get a bit older.”
“Not me. That’s why this job is so brilliant.”
“To think it all started with a few fossil ammonites and a stuffed toy dinosaur. Do you remember that, Connor? You used to take that triceratops everywhere with you when you were little.”
“Spike. Yeah, I remember.” He glanced about to make sure no one was walking near where they were sitting in front of the ADD, and lowered his voice. “Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve still got him. He’s a bit ragged and threadbare now, but he’s sitting on a shelf in my room.”
Mark’s smile got even bigger, and a slight dimple appeared in his cheek. Connor was starting to see why his gran had always told him that he looked so much like his father.
“What happened to my fossil collection?” Mark asked. “Don’t tell me it got thrown away.”
“No, it was put into storage. After Gran had to go into sheltered housing and I was a student neither of us had room for it, but I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it entirely. Once you’ve got sorted with a place of your own we should go and get it.”
“Did you add anything to it after I’d gone?”
“I didn’t really get chance. You know what Gran was like with her bad leg. We didn’t go on holiday much, and even when we did go to the seaside, clambering around on the cliffs wasn’t high on the to-do list.” Connor shrugged. “That’s kind of why I ended up spending so much time on the computer. It was something that meant I could be in the house and be around if Gran needed help.”
“Probably a good thing,” Mark commented with a teasing smile. “You weren’t exactly the best at climbing, were you? Do you remember when we went to Dorset and you got stuck on top of those rocks and refused to come down again? I had to come up and get you and carry you down.”
Connor squirmed slightly at the memory.
“I hadn’t realised how high up I’d climbed,” he said defensively. “It was a long way when I turned round and looked down.”
“You didn’t stop crying until I bought you an ice cream.”
Connor suspected he was going red, and was glad no one else was around to hear this.
“Dad, I was about six at the time.”
Connor pouted and stretched his wrist again to avoid saying anything else, in the hope that Mark might change the subject.
“So, have you got a girlfriend then?”
That wasn’t quite the subject change that he had been expecting. Connor felt himself becoming embarrassed again and shuffled nervously.
“Not at the moment. There was someone, a girl called Caroline, but it wasn’t really working so I sort of dumped her.”
“Oh? I got the impression that you and that short girl, Abby? That there was something going on there.”
Connor choked on air for a second.
“Me and Abby?” He paused for a second. “Why? Did you think we looked like a couple?” he added hopefully.
“You just seemed quite close.”
“Yeah, we are, I suppose. But Abby’s just a really, really good mate. Well, more than that, actually. I... well, I think I’m in love with her, but I don’t think she likes me like that and I don’t want to push and I’m not good with making first moves. Or, you know, even second or third moves, to be honest.”
Connor realised he was babbling and stopped to take a breath, certain he was blushing even harder than ever. He wasn’t even sure why he had told Mark all of that. So far he had only told Stephen about his little declaration of love when he had gone into the future after Abby, but as yet he had utterly failed to act on Stephen’s advice of making the next move and being confident.
“Looks like you do take after me in some ways at least,” Mark said with a chuckle. “I spent so long dithering about it your mother had to be the one who asked me out, otherwise we’d never have got together.”
This was the first time that he had heard Mark voluntarily talk about his mother since their conversation the previous day. Connor didn’t reply, partly because he didn’t want to push the subject again, and partly because he was savouring even this one small, intimate detail. It was only now that he was really realising all the things that he had missed being able to talk to his parents about when he was growing up.
“Afraid I’m probably not going to be much help in that department,” Mark said. “If you did want my advice about woman, of course,” he added hastily. “I’m sure you’ve got that covered yourself. You seem pretty confident with Abby.”
“Well, I’m not sure about that, but it’s okay. Stephen’s pretty good for that sort of advice.”
“Good. Good. I’m glad you’ve got friends like that. You were always so quiet and introverted when you were little.”
“I think I must have grown out of that.”
Mark seemed to look him up and down for a moment and his smile faltered a little.
“Yes, I suppose you did.”
Connor sensed the change in mood immediately and quickly pulled up a new page on the database.
“So, any more creatures you remember seeing?”
This was going to be okay, Connor tried to convince himself as they worked. They were getting on better already. Granted, there were a few weird moments here and there, and he was rapidly learning which topics of conversation to avoid, but they were doing okay.
All he had to do now was convince everyone else of that.
Cutter headed for the break room, intent on getting another caffeine fix before he started on the latest report that Lester was demanding. Actually, there were two reports that he ought to be working on, but he had been avoiding both of them, mostly because one required some degree of collaboration with Stephen, and the other needed Connor’s latest data about the anomalies. He supposed he could just get the data and come to his own conclusions, but Cutter had been rather looking forward to an ever-so-slightly-geeky brainstorming session with Connor, and the thought of ploughing through all that information by himself wasn’t overly enticing.
Jenny was already at the coffee machine when he walked in. Cutter hesitated, and then decided to take the bull by the horns, so to speak. He wandered over and stood next to her, waiting for his turn.
“Look, Jenny. Sorry about yesterday. You caught me at a bad moment.”
Jenny stopped stirring her drink and gave him a curious look for a second, and then reached out and placed her hand against his forehead.
“Hmmm, no temperature.” She narrowed her eyes and gave him a mock glare. “Where’s the real Nick Cutter and what have you done with him?”
Cutter chuckled. “I have been known to admit that I might possibly have been in the wrong. Occasionally.”
Jenny laughed. “How magnanimous of you. I think I’m going to mark this day in my diary: ‘Nick Cutter admits he might be wrong’!”
“Well, don’t get too used to it. Probably won’t happen again for a while.”
He could feel Jenny’s eyes on him as he poured himself a coffee, and waited for her to say whatever it was she was clearly thinking about.
“Stephen cares about Connor as well, you know. I’m sure he wouldn’t have said anything if he thought it was going to hurt Connor.”
That hadn’t been what Cutter was expecting in the slightest.
“It’s done now, just forget it,” he muttered, hoping to shut the subject down without saying anything that he might feel the need to apologise for later. Once in a week was quite enough.
“And yet you still aren’t talking to him,” Jenny pointed out.
“I’m not ‘not talking to him’, I just haven’t had anything that I need to talk to him about,” Cutter lied.
Jenny’s expression suggested she had seen straight through that excuse.
Cutter sighed. “What do you want me to say?” he demanded. “That I can just... what? Forget about everything that’s happened and we can all be bosom buddies again? If he wants me to trust him again, he’s going to have to earn it.”
“I think Stephen would be more than happy to try to do that, but you need to be willing to give him the chance to earn it,” Jenny observed.
Sometimes Cutter hated the way she wasn’t afraid to get to the heart of things like that.
“I’m not saying he isn’t in the wrong,” Jenny said softly. “And after what happened you have every right to be angry with him. A lot of people in your place would have just thrown him off the team outright, but you didn’t. That implies that in some way you don’t want to give up on him entirely.”
Cutter grunted something noncommittal.
Jenny drank some of her coffee, watching him carefully over the top of her cup. Apparently she decided to give him a break because when she next spoke it was another complete change of subject.
“Have you spoken to Connor’s father yet?”
“No,” Cutter admitted.
“I know Connor is stuck to him like glue right now, but I’m sure the novelty will wear off soon enough.”
“Probably sooner than you think,” Jenny said. “There are reasons why it’s not necessarily a good idea to work with family, especially parents.”
Cutter turned that thought over in his mind as he sipped at the poor excuse for coffee that came out of the ARC machines. It hadn’t actually occurred to him until Jenny mentioned it, and a moment later he felt a touch guilty that his first thought had been to use that fact as an excuse to keep Connor working with him, and have Mark assigned to a different part of the ARC operation.
Because he absolutely wasn’t jealous or territorial at all.
Yeah right, as Connor would probably put it.
Cutter sighed and sipped at his coffee again.
“Well, no time like the present,” he said, pushing himself away from the table that he had been leaning against.
“I take it you’re going to start with Mark rather than Stephen?” Jenny said with only a slight teasing tone to her voice.
“Who says I’m not just trying to get away from you before you start probing into my inner psyche again?” he replied with a knowing smile.
Jenny laughed again. “In that case, please don’t let me stop you in your escape.”
Cutter was still smiling to himself as he walked out and down the corridor in search of Connor and Mark.
It turned out they weren’t very hard to find. In fact, they were in exactly the same place they had been when Cutter last saw them; sat in front of the ADD. As he approached, he heard them both laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
They both swung round to face him, and Cutter saw Connor start to flush a deep shade of red.
“Just talking about something that happened when Connor was little,” Mark explained.
Cutter threw Connor a wicked smile. “Don’t suppose you’d share any embarrassing stories with me, would you?” he asked Mark.
“I’ll swap you for some of his embarrassing drunk student stories,” Mark said with an equally mischievous smile.
“Oi!” Connor protested from between them.
“Seriously, Mark, I did need to talk to you,” Cutter said, trying to suppress a chuckle at Connor’s outraged expression. “I know you said you were just an amateur palaeontologist, but I need an idea of what you’re good at to know how best to fit you into the team. What did you do professionally?”
“I was a librarian. And I studied archives and museums at university.”
Cutter wasn’t entirely sure what he had been expecting, but he wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years. ‘Action Librarian’ wasn’t a post he ever thought he’d have to accommodate. It occurred to Cutter that he possibly ought to have asked these questions before agreeing to let Mark join the ARC team, but he had let himself be swayed by Connor’s insistence that his father was knowledgeable about prehistory, as well as having the practical experience of having survived in the past for two months.
He was saved from making any decisions because at that moment the ADD siren blared into life, making them all wince this close to it.
Connor quickly did his thing, whatever it was that ‘his thing’ actually involved when it came to the ADD, and within moments the main screen was zooming in on a street map.
“Not too far away, looks like a school,” Connor said. “Good thing it’s half term, eh?”
God yes. Cutter didn’t want to think what might have happened if it had been a school day.
“Come on then,” he said, clapping Connor on the shoulder. “I know you’re dying to get back in action now that cast has come off your arm.” He was in the middle of turning to go when Connor interrupted.
“Can Dad come?”
Cutter stopped and turned round again. He glanced from one to the other, seeing some degree of trepidation in one face and puppy-eyed hope in the other.
“Do you think you’re ready?” he asked Mark. “It’s okay if you need a bit more time.”
“Come on, Dad. It’ll be fine.”
Mark still didn’t look entirely convinced but it seemed that Connor’s pleading puppy eyes worked on him as well, because after a pause he nodded.
“Great. Let’s go.”
Connor jumped up and bounded off, grinning broadly, leaving the two older men to follow in his wake.
“So, have you made the next move with Abby yet?” Stephen asked with an amused smile as they unloaded the weapons from the back of the car at the anomaly site.
“Not exactly,” Connor admitted.
Stephen just continued to look amused until Connor elaborated.
“Okay, no, I haven’t made any move yet. But it’s not that easy, is it? I just keep thinking, what if I ask her out and she says no? It’ll get all weird, won’t it? I don’t want to spoil the friendship that we do have.”
“What if she says yes? Then you won’t have to worry about that, will you?”
“I dunno,” Connor said quietly. “I want to, obviously. But if she says no... How do you stay friends with someone who keeps rejecting you all the time?”
For a moment Connor could have sworn he saw Stephen glance over in Cutter’s direction with something of a wistful expression. Then the moment was gone, and Stephen said, “You just have to keep trying.”
Connor felt momentarily uncomfortable, and tried to pretend he was busy with one of the weapon crates. He’d been as shocked as everyone else when Helen made the announcement about her affair with Stephen, and he could understand why Cutter and Stephen’s friendship seemed to have broken down in the face of that. Connor also felt a tiny little bit guilty that he might have in some way contributed to that breakdown, because he knew that all the attention and trust that Cutter was now showing him was at Stephen’s expense. But at the same time, he still liked Stephen a great deal, despite Helen’s little bombshell.
Sometimes Connor just wished they would work it out and things could get back to the way they were before, but he wasn’t naive enough to think that was likely. The best he could hope for was that hostilities didn’t escalate, and that he didn’t get caught up in the middle of it, or be forced to choose between them.
“So,” Connor eventually said, trying for light-hearted. “Don’t suppose I can have a gun this time, can I?”
Stephen finished checking the tranquilliser rifle that he was holding and glanced at Connor with a sceptical expression.
“Didn’t think so,” Connor sighed.
Even that, and the moment of discomfort, wasn’t enough to dampen Connor’s mood for long. He was finally back in the field after four long weeks of being confined to desk duties at the ARC, and the phrase ‘raring to go’ didn’t begin to cover it. The fact that Mark was with them as well just made it even better, and while he partly wanted it to be a quiet one to ease Mark in gently, in some way Connor was also hoping he’d have a chance to do something that would really impress his father.
As the ADD had shown him, the anomaly had appeared in the middle of a school playing field. The fact that it was half term was lucky because it meant the school was empty. Equally luckily, the school buildings shielded the anomaly from view of the main road, and walls and trees around the border hid it from all but the most determined nosy neighbours in the houses to either side of the school. Even so, Jenny was with them, just in case.
“No sign of any creatures,” Connor commented to Stephen.
“Maybe. But I’d better make sure,” Stephen said. “Do me a favour, Connor. I’m going to look for tracks. Don’t follow me, and don’t let anyone else come trampling all over the field until I’ve had chance to look properly.”
Connor watched as Stephen headed out towards the anomaly, trying not to feel too envious of his quick, graceful movements and obvious confidence in his abilities. Stephen occasionally stopped and crouched to look at the ground, but he didn’t seem to have found anything interesting and kept moving on towards the glittering light.
Connor looked around to see if anything else interesting was going on. The small group of soldiers were loitering by the vehicles, all parked round the back of the school buildings so they weren’t obvious from the road. Abby had arrived in the other car with Jenny and Cutter, and was only just selecting her tranquilliser weapon of choice.
Connor wandered over to where Mark was standing.
“Looks like it might be a quiet one,” Connor commented.
Of course, that was the moment when the situation went decidedly pear-shaped.