Title: Hero (part 6 of 11)
Pairing/characters: Cutter, Connor, Lester, Jenny, Stephen.
Warnings: Occasional mild language
Spoilers: Anything up to ep 2.4
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: 4231 (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.
“So, am I right in the assessment that Temple Senior’s first introduction to an anomaly situation was not entirely successful?”
Lester leaned back and surveyed the two people stood in front of him, his eyebrows raised.
The debacle from earlier that afternoon was fresh in Cutter’s mind, and he was still wondering how best to put it when Jenny spoke.
“I think it has become clear that Mark is better suited to a more research based role than fieldwork.”
Cutter couldn’t help but admire her diplomacy. If it had been left to him, the answer might well have included phrases such as, ‘bloody liability’.
“Do you still think it’s a good idea to have him on the team at all?” Lester asked, directing his question at Cutter.
A very small, slightly selfish, part of him wanted to say no, to take this opportunity to get rid of the man for good. But he knew that wasn’t fair. Mark hadn’t really done anything wrong other than be overprotective of his son, and who could blame him for that? Away from dangerous field situations he seemed to be a perfectly reasonable, sensible man, and he did have useful knowledge that they could use.
“If he wants it, I’m sure we can find him something to do analysing all the data that we’ve gathered about prehistoric environments. He lived in one for a couple of months after all.”
“Cutter, I know I’ve given you a lot of leeway with your team in the past, and I appreciate this is a rather unique set of circumstances, but we’re not in the business of carrying dead weight. Especially not if the only reason you’re keeping him is for Connor’s benefit.”
“It’s not,” Cutter snapped.
“Good,” Lester said in a voice that indicated the matter was closed and he had far more important things to do all of a sudden. “In that case, don’t let me keep you from breaking the news to them.”
Cutter glanced at Jenny who just rolled her eyes at him with a smile. They both left the office, but before he could go in search of Connor or Mark, Jenny put a hand on his arm.
“Don’t be too hard on him,” Jenny said quietly. “I spent some time talking to Mark while the rest of you were waiting for the anomaly to close. He saw his son being chased by a dinosaur, that can’t be easy for anyone. But I think he knows he overreacted a little.”
Cutter wondered if Jenny was thinking at all of her own introduction to the world of anomalies and dinosaurs, and how it had taken her a little while to find her feet in the team. It occurred to Cutter that perhaps the fact that he had managed to surround himself with a team so ready to throw themselves into everything really was a surprising piece of luck, and was not, in fact, representative of how the majority of the population might respond to being put in such a situation.
“I won’t read him the riot act if that’s what you’re worried about,” Cutter said with a smile.
Jenny returned his smile. “Just try to be tactful, won’t you?” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
Cutter watched her as she walked down the ramp, aware that he was admiring the view, and that Jenny almost certainly knew that was what he was doing. She wasn’t Claudia Brown, but Cutter was starting to realise that that mattered less and less the more he got to know her. As she left the atrium by the big double doors, he spied Mark loitering by the ADD.
No time like the present, he thought.
“Have you seen Connor?” Mark asked as Cutter approached.
“No. But I actually wanted to speak to you. Let’s go find a meeting room.” When he saw Mark’s slightly worried expression he added, “Don’t worry, it’s just a chat.”
They headed in the direction that Jenny had just gone and swung open the double doors onto the corridor beyond. Cutter saw a blur of movement before something slammed into Mark, and he was thrown back into the atrium in a tangle of limbs and flying wheels.
“Sorry! Sorry, Dad. Are you okay?” Connor was the first one to recover as his skateboard slid to a halt halfway across the room.
“For god’s sake, Connor, watch where you’re going,” Mark yelled. “And what the hell are you doing on a skateboard in the first place? You’re not a bloody child!”
They stared at each other for a moment, the shock on Connor’s face rapidly turning to an all too familiar kicked puppy expression. Mark abruptly got to his feet and marched off down the corridor.
Cutter glared at Connor for a second longer and then followed after Mark, finally catching up with him at the break room.
“In here,” Cutter said, not waiting for an argument as he pushed the door open and held it until Mark was in the room.
“I suppose you’re going to stick up for him again, aren’t you?” Mark demanded, turning on Cutter the moment the door was closed.
“No, I wasn’t,” Cutter said. “If he’d run into me I’d probably have been pretty pissed off as well. But you can’t keep talking to him like he’s a kid, not at work.”
Mark abruptly took his glasses off and started rubbing the lenses on the hem of his shirt. Cutter had expected more anger and shouting, but instead what he saw was something far more raw. Mark looked lost. He looked almost exactly the same as Connor had when Cutter had dragged him out of that first reunion with Mark three days earlier.
“That’s the problem, isn’t it?” Mark said quietly, a brittle edge to his voice. “He’s not a child any more. I don’t know him. He may as well not even be my son.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Two months ago he was nine,” Mark said with desperation in his voice that matched the look in his eyes. “Two months ago I was still teaching him how to spell long words. How to ride a bike. I was the one sitting with him until he went back to sleep when he had a nightmare in the middle of the night. Look at him now. He’s all grown up and I’ve missed damn near every important milestone. I want my little boy back, and instead all I’ve got is this stranger.”
Cutter had no idea what to say. He almost wished Jenny were here, she was better at this than he was. But at the same time Cutter knew exactly how Mark was feeling, the disorientation of finding a world where everything was different to what you expected. Trying to reconnect with someone who had changed almost beyond recognition. He understood completely the frustration, the need to find something familiar just to reassure yourself that you hadn’t completely lost your mind. Again it occurred to Cutter that for all those reasons he might be the best person to help Mark adjust to the world again.
But there were a million other reasons why he could never share any of that with this man.
“I know it’s difficult,” Cutter eventually admitted. “But it isn’t Connor’s fault that he’s not the person you want him to be.”
“Do you have children, Professor Cutter?”
“Then don’t you dare try to tell me how I should deal with Connor.”
Mark sat down at one of the tables, still fiddling with his glasses and not looking at Cutter any more. Cutter waited a moment, and then went over to the coffee machine and poured two cups, and put one on the table in front of Mark.
“He doesn’t even need me, does he?” Mark said.
Cutter was momentarily surprised by the change of direction. “That’s not true. Connor does need you.” He suspected that was at least partly true.
“No he doesn’t. He’s smarter than me, he’s obviously successful in his work here. He’s got friends, a job he loves. He’s probably achieved more before he’s even twenty-five than I will in my entire life. And he’s got you.”
“Don’t look so surprised,” Mark said bitterly. “It’s obvious to anyone with eyes how much influence you’ve got over him. How much he looks up to you. All I’ve heard since I got here is, ‘Professor Cutter says this’, ‘Professor Cutter says that’, ‘Professor Cutter likes to do things this way’. Either you’ve brainwashed him or else he thinks you’re the bloody second coming.”
For the second time in the conversation Cutter had no idea what to say. He wasn’t entirely oblivious, he knew very well how hard Connor tried to impress him, and that the young man tended to follow his lead, usually without question. But there was a hell of a leap from that to using words like ‘brainwashed’. And yet he also couldn’t help a tiny glow of pride and satisfaction that he had had such an effect on his student.
Even so, this was another conversation that he had no intention of having with Mark Temple.
“That doesn’t matter. And anyway, Connor wasn’t the reason why I wanted to talk to you.” Cutter sat down opposite Mark. “I think we both know you’re not really suited to field operations but I was thinking maybe you’d like to work on some of our research projects. We’ve managed to bring back a lot of samples from prehistoric time periods, and we could do with another expert on the team.”
Mark eyed him over his coffee for a moment.
“Do I actually get a choice in this?”
“You have knowledge and experience that could be immensely valuable to the work that we’re doing here.”
“And it’s not like I can go back to my old job, or see any of my friends, or get my life back, right?”
Cutter couldn’t miss the bitterness in his voice.
The door opened and Stephen walked in. When he saw the two of them he paused, and then went over to the drinks machine and poured himself a coffee.
Cutter stood up, glad of the interruption. “Look, why don’t you think about it for a while? There’s no rush.”
“Yeah. I’ll have a think about it.” The sarcasm was obvious in Mark’s voice.
Cutter picked up his coffee and left.
Well, that could have gone better. Cutter wasn’t sure whether to be angry with Mark for his attitude, or to feel sorry for him. The man was obviously having a hard time adjusting (and Cutter was rather smugly certain that he hadn’t been that bad when he discovered that the world had changed on him), but he’d been surprised by the level of resentment that Mark apparently harboured towards everything and everyone. He had meant what he said about Mark having skills and experience that would be useful to the team, but he was also becoming rather uncomfortably aware that if Mark was anyone other than Connor’s father, chances were he would have quite happily let the man leave the ARC and start a new life by now. Lester had been right about that, at least; that fact that he was still here was mostly for Connor’s benefit.
Speaking of Connor.
Cutter suddenly realised that he had walked to the atrium on autopilot. Connor was hunched over the computer in front of the ADD, his back to Cutter, his skateboard tucked under the ADD console and out of the way, for once. He headed over to the young man, trying not to think about all the things that Mark had said about his relationship with his ex student.
Connor glanced up when Cutter moved into his field of vision. He looked worried, and Cutter assumed it was because of what had happened earlier.
“On a scale of one to ten, how much trouble am I in?”
“Depends if you’re going to keep using the corridors as a racetrack.”
“Sorry. Is my dad okay?”
“What? That little accident? Yeah, he’s fine.” Cutter wished he could say the same about Mark in a more general sense, but he knew he’d be lying.
“So, do you still want to get together and go through all the anomaly data?”
The abrupt change of subject caught Cutter unawares. Then a tiny, cynical part of him couldn’t help wondering if it was a coincidence that Connor suddenly wanted to work with him again now that he and Mark didn’t seem to be getting on so well.
“Yes. But maybe not today. Not unless you want to put in some more overtime, anyway. It’s gone six o’clock already.”
“I’ll look forward to it,” Cutter smiled.
Connor’s face suddenly broke into the huge enthusiastic grin that never seemed to be too far away, no matter what else was going on in their lives.
“Cool. I’ve been compiling readings from all the anomal-”
They both looked round to see Stephen standing in the doorway to the atrium. He looked angry.
Stephen glanced at Connor and then said to Cutter, “We need to talk.”
Cutter felt an all too familiar feeling of tension growing at the prospect of yet another ‘talk’ with Stephen. He looked down at Connor, who suddenly looked nervous.
“See you tomorrow, then,” Cutter said, and headed over to Stephen, who hadn’t made any move to come further into the room.
“What’s going on with Mark?” Stephen asked in a low voice.
“What do you mean, ‘what’s going on’ with him?”
“You’ve fired him.”
“No. He’s off the field team, that’s all.” It belatedly occurred to Cutter that he hadn’t actually told Connor this fact yet.
“Why? Because he screwed up today? It was his first time out, for god’s sake. Connor’s screwed up a half dozen times in the field and you haven’t kicked him off the team.”
He was right, but that didn’t mean Cutter was going to admit it, especially not when Stephen seemed hell bent on accusing him of... he wasn’t even entirely sure what Stephen was accusing him of, or why he was even angry about Mark being off the team. But that was beside the point.
“My team, my rules,” Cutter growled.
Stephen just shook his head, a gesture that seemed to convey frustration and cynicism in equal measure.
Cutter tried to rein in his temper. He could see this argument going the same way as all the others, and for once he didn’t want it to be the same.
“I don’t think he even wants to be out in the field anyway.” Cutter couldn’t help remembering the look of trepidation on Mark’s face when Connor suggested he come out with them, the fact that Connor had been the one who practically talked him into it.
“Has he actually said that? Have you asked him what he wants?”
“Have you?” Cutter snapped back.
“Damn it, Cutter, why don’t you listen to someone else for a change? Why are you so convinced that you’re always right about everything?”
“Why are you suddenly intent on questioning every bloody decision I make?” Cutter shot back, his temper finally starting to get the better of him.
“Stop it! Both of you just stop it.”
They turned to see Connor standing no more than a few feet away, staring at them. The look of shock on his face suggested he was as surprised as they were by his outburst.
Cutter’s first thought was how much of that had Connor heard?
Connor abruptly dropped his gaze. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I just... sorry.”
He pushed past them to the doors and disappeared down the corridor at a fast walk.
Cutter briefly shared a look of surprise with Stephen. Then, before he could decide whether or not to go after him, Stephen beat him to it and followed their youngest teammate, leaving Cutter standing there alone.
Connor made it to the locker room before Stephen caught up with him. Everything was spinning round in his head like a crazy fairground ride. His dad was off the team and Cutter hadn’t even bothered to tell him? Cutter and Stephen fighting again. As if today hadn’t been bloody bad enough already, now this as well?
He grabbed his jacket from his locker, trying very hard to ignore the fact that Stephen was standing right behind him. Connor didn’t trust himself to speak right then. Not if he still wanted Stephen to be his friend the following day, at least.
Connor tried to find a way to get past Stephen without having to acknowledge him. He barely made it more than three steps when Stephen grabbed his arm and forced him to stop.
“Connor! Are you... you’re not okay, are you?”
“I’m fine. Just leave it.” Connor couldn’t meet Stephen’s eye.
“You’re not fine. You just shouted at me and Cutter, and you look like you want to hit someone right now. Considering those are both things that you never do, I’d say that’s a pretty good sign that you’re not fine.”
“I’m sorry.” The words slipped out without Connor even consciously thinking about saying them. What the hell was he apologising for? He didn’t want to apologise. He didn’t want it to all be his fault again, same as usual. Not this time. But he couldn’t find the words to say any of that to Stephen; it was easier to just do what he always did. Connor wondered if he had used up all the rebellion that he had in him with that one outburst.
“I think maybe it’s me who should be apologising,” Stephen admitted.
Connor sighed, and looked at him for the first time since they had left the atrium. “I don’t think it’s me that you really need to apologise to, is it?”
Stephen’s expression suddenly became very closed.
Connor shuffled uncomfortably and looked down at his shoes. “Look, I know, it’s none of my business. I don’t want to get involved. But I just... I hate it when you two keep fighting, that’s all.”
“I’m not the one who won’t let it go,” Stephen said in a voice so quiet that Connor barely heard him.
Connor almost pointed out that Stephen’s confrontational attitude probably wasn’t helping, but he bit the words back before they formed. There was one thing that he didn’t want to hold back on though. Connor hesitated another moment to work up his courage and find the right words before he could look Stephen in the eye again.
“Stephen, can you do me a favour? Don’t use me against Cutter.”
“What?” Stephen looked honestly confused.
Connor swallowed, his mouth dry. “What you said about me, to make a point about how he was treating my dad.”
Stephen was silent for a moment.
“You weren’t supposed to hear that.”
“Yeah, well, I did. And I don’t want to get dragged into it. Please, Stephen.”
Stephen looked incredibly uncomfortable at that, and Connor wondered if he had hit a nerve. It was too late to take it back now, though. Then Connor realised something new. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to take it back. Just for once, it would be nice if someone acknowledged they had hurt him. Just once, he didn’t want to lie down and accept it.
“Connor, what I said about you, I didn’t mean it.”
That should have been enough. On any other day it would have been. Connor would have nodded, smiled, accepted it. Before he could do any of that, though, the slow burn of anger deep within him suddenly flared, and he turned on Stephen.
“Oh yeah? So that’s why you won’t let me have a gun? That’s why you all get that look on your faces every time something goes wrong with the ADD, or every time I get chased by a creature? Like you were just waiting for it to happen.”
Stephen looked shocked, but quickly covered it.
“No one thinks that. But you have to admit, the last couple of times that you’ve had a gun you shot a person, not the creature.”
“And you all remember that, but conveniently forget that I shot the raptor and saved your lives!”
“I haven’t forgotten that,” Stephen said quietly.
Connor turned away again, already regretting his outburst.
“Sorry. Look, Stephen, it’s been a bloody awful day. I didn’t mean... Can we just forget this conversation ever happened? I just want to go home, okay?”
“Do you want a lift?”
“No thanks. I’ll be okay.”
Connor wasn’t a fan of walking, but right then he wanted to be alone, and he suspected a walk might be enough to clear his head and give him time to calm down before he had to face Abby at home. She was one of the few people who he hadn’t had a run in with today, and he wanted it to stay that way.
He eventually made it out of the ARC, having successfully avoided everyone on the way. It had started to rain by the time he got outside. Somehow, that didn’t surprise him in the slightest.
The darkness clung to him, like the mocking vestiges of the nightmare. He flailed, fighting his way out of the duvet and reaching blindly for the bedside lamp. Something crashed to the floor before he finally found the switch, and dim light finally illuminated the room.
Connor shuffled to the edge of the bed to see what had fallen off his bedside table. Just a hand-held detector and half a chocolate bar, by the look of it. He lay back, pulled his arms within the safe cocoon of the duvet, and waited for the light to chase away the nightmare.
He couldn’t even remember the exact details of the dream any more, but images and voices still echoed. Why don’t you grow up, Connor? You always screw everything up, Connor. I don’t want you on my team, Connor. It’s all your fault.
Connor savagely wiped at his eyes with his hand and willed the voices away. He didn’t dare close his eyes, though. When he did, he knew the faces would still be there. The perpetual expressions of anger and disappointment from everyone who mattered in his life.
He knew it was just a dream, just his subconscious processing his own fears and the events of the last few days, but it felt so very real and vivid. His dad was back from the dead, that was supposed to be a good thing. It was a good thing. And yet everyone he cared about seemed to be fighting, arguing, blaming, and somehow Connor was caught in the middle of it all, his loyalties pulled in all directions, but unable to influence any of their decisions or behaviour.
His walk home had cleared a few things in his mind, but it hadn’t made him feel much better. In fact, he felt worse when he finally realised that he shouldn’t have taken it all out on Stephen like he had. Despite his comments about him always screwing up in the field, Stephen wasn’t even really the one who Connor was angry with right then. It was just that Stephen was there, and Stephen was someone who Connor actually dared to let his anger loose on, something that he knew was not the case with the two men who he really did want to shout at.
All of which meant that on top of all his bottled up feelings of anger and hurt, he now added guilt at having unfairly taken his frustration out on someone who really didn’t deserve it. He hated feeling so helpless. Oh, he was fine with anything involving computers or dinosaurs. Completely on top of the situation. It was just everything else, everything that was actually important where he was so completely unable to take control of his life.
Connor wiped his eyes again. In the days and weeks after his parents had died (at least, that’s what he’d believed at the time) his gran had cuddled him when he had nightmares, held him until he went back to sleep. Connor doubted very much he’d get the same from Abby. The best he could hope for was a nuzzle from Rex if he got up to make a drink. Although... there was one source of comfort that had always been there for him since he was small, no matter what had upset or scared him, no matter how many times something was needed to soak up his tears. One that he had barely thought about for a long time until a conversation that morning had reminded him.
Connor shoved the duvet aside and reached up to the shelf above his bed and tugged down Spike, the triceratops. More dirty grey now than blue, its fur ragged and threadbare, one eye inexpertly sewn back on by childish hands, it looked like it ought to have to been thrown away years ago. Connor crawled back under the duvet, steadfastly ignoring the fact that the bedside lamp was still switched on. He turned over so he wasn’t facing the brightest glow of the bulb, and curled into a ball. With his lifelong companion cuddled close to his chest, Connor inhaled the familiar scent of childhood comfort.
When he finally slept again, there were no more nightmares.