Title: Hero (part 7 of 11)
Pairing/characters: Cutter, Connor, Stephen.
Warnings: Occasional mild language
Spoilers: Anything up to ep 2.4
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: 4846 (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 a brittle atmosphere the following day, so much so that not even Cutter could fail to notice it. When he had seen Connor in the break room earlier the young man had seemed far more quiet and subdued than usual, and not even the reminder of their need to get together later and discuss the anomalies was enough to get more than an unconvincing smile, and an even more unconvincing, “Cool, see you later.” Connor hadn’t mentioned anything to do with Mark, or about his outburst the previous day, and Cutter hadn’t asked.
Cutter had spent most of the morning in his office, and when he heard a knock on the door he looked up, expecting Connor, so was slightly surprised to see Stephen.
“You wanted to see me about a report?” Stephen said, remaining in the doorway.
Cutter had to stop and think for a moment before he remembered sending an e-mail the previous day.
“Oh, that. Lester wants some stupid risk assessment for dealing with creatures. I could do with your input on what sort of weaponry and equipment we need to be most effective against as wide a range of creatures as possible.” Cutter smiled and rolled his eyes. “Like we can second guess what’s going to be effective against animals that no human has ever seen before.”
Stephen rolled his eyes as well, and for a second it was almost like the old days at the university. “Send me the details of what you need and I’ll put something together.”
Stephen looked like he was going to go, but then hesitated in the doorway and turned back to Cutter. He looked pensive.
“Cutter, we need to...” he paused. “This thing between us. It’s affecting the team now as well. After Connor shouted at us yesterday he even had a go at me about all the fighting.” He paused again and for a moment there was the trace of a smile. “Well, as close as Connor ever gets to having a go at anyone, I suppose.”
Cutter sat back and sighed.
“You’d better come in. And close the door.”
Stephen did so, and dragged a chair across to sit down across the desk from him.
Then neither of them spoke.
Cutter didn’t want to do this. Actually talking would involve acknowledging how bad things had got, and all the things that he had spent the last few months trying to forget, or if not forget, then lock away and try to ignore.
“Why are you suddenly so set on telling everybody the truth?” Cutter opted to start with the least difficult of the problems between them.
Stephen shifted on his seat, looking momentarily uncomfortable. Cutter wondered if they were both thinking at that moment of the one secret that Stephen hadn’t wanted anyone to know for so long.
“The anomalies are here, and they’re not showing any signs of going away. If anything they’re becoming more frequent and widespread. People are going to find out, whether we want them to or not. Maybe if the public knows the truth it might prevent innocent people getting hurt.”
Cutter shook his head. “I think telling people right now is almost guaranteed to get people hurt. We still don’t know what the anomalies really are, or what’s causing them. Until we know that, I think it’s madness to tell people. It’ll be a media frenzy, people will panic, or look for someone to blame.”
Stephen nodded. “Maybe you’re right, but I still think we have more chance of saving lives by letting people know about the danger rather than keeping them in the dark. All the people who stumble across anomalies or creatures and get hurt or killed because they don’t know what it is and try to investigate.”
Cutter could see Stephen’s point, but at the same time he thought that view was too idealistic. He knew, because it was a view that Cutter had held once himself, a long time ago in another world, almost literally. Since then some of his views on the nature of humanity had become rather more cynical.
“What about all the people who would try to use the anomalies or the creatures for their own selfish purposes? Or as weapons?” Stephen frowned, looking slightly surprised, and Cutter continued. “For every person like you and me and Abby and Connor, who just want to study the anomalies and protect people, there’s ten or a hundred people out there who would only see them as an opportunity for personal gain, and damn the consequences.”
“But you can’t deny that people have died or been hurt because they didn’t understand about the anomalies. People like Valerie, and Connor’s parents.”
“And what about people like Helen?” Cutter shot back.
“Helen didn’t actually do anything wrong. She just... disappeared.”
“You weren’t there, Stephen, you didn’t see what happened on that last trip to the Permian. Ryan and all his men died trying to protect us, and she didn’t give a damn. All she cared about was finding the anomaly to the future, that’s all she ever wanted. All that shit about wanting to help, and warning us about the future predators, it was all just a screen because she needed our help to find the future anomaly. And that’s on top of the fact that she was the one who led the predators through into our time to start with.”
“She what?” Stephen looked incredulous.
“Yeah, she wasn’t keen on telling people that part, was she? Okay, she didn’t do it on purpose, but the fact is if Helen hadn’t been there then the predators probably would never have come to our time, and a lot of good people would still be alive and I’d still be in a world where Claudia exists instead of Jenny.”
Now Stephen looked sceptical. Cutter hadn’t meant for that last bit about Claudia to slip out, and he quickly returned to the original subject that had sent him down that train of thought.
“Helen is just one person, and look how much damage she’s already caused. If more like her find out about the anomalies we could end up with hundreds of people gallivanting around in the past, causing god knows what damage to creatures, environments, changing the timeline again and again. It’s too dangerous. Surely you have to see that?”
Stephen nodded. “But the public is going to find out sooner or later. One day an anomaly will open somewhere that we can’t hide, and no amount of cover up story is going to persuade the public that they didn’t really see it.”
“Then we’d better hope that we know more about them by the time that happens. Because if it does then all hell is going to break loose.”
“Which is why it would be better to tell the public the truth in a controlled way, not because it’s forced on us,” Stephen persisted.
Cutter had to accept he may have a point on that one. For the first time in a long time he decided to tell Stephen how he really felt.
“When we first found out about the anomalies I thought like you, I wanted to tell the world. A part of me still does. I wish I could bring in all the greatest minds in palaeontology and physics and evolutionary sciences and share all of this. But right now we simply don’t know enough about the anomalies. We’ve been studying them for less than a year, we’ve barely scratched the surface. We’re not ready to tell the world, and the world isn’t ready to know. I sincerely hope that one day we will understand enough to be able to go public, and when that day comes I’ll be right there with you telling everybody.”
Stephen looked surprised at that, but quickly covered it. “But in the meantime we say nothing?” he concluded. This time there was no trace of the impatience in his voice that had always accompanied that type of statement before.
“Yes. I promise you, one day we will tell people. Just not yet.”
Stephen looked satisfied with that, at least. It took a few moments for Cutter to realise he felt better for having actually discussed this with Stephen, that they had actually voiced the pros and cons in a sensible manner. He had to admit, when he talked about such things with Connor, the young man tended to simply agree with him, and while that was undoubtedly good for his ego, it wasn’t the stuff of real academic debate. It didn’t force him to question his own thoughts and opinions and really think about it.
“Cutter,” Stephen said hesitantly. “About Helen.”
Cutter looked up sharply.
“The last time I tried to talk to you about Helen you said forget it, but it’s obvious that you can’t just forget it. So what do we have to do, Cutter?”
“You tell me. You’re the one who slept with someone else’s wife,” Cutter snapped, unable to keep the bite from his tone.
“I never meant for you to get hurt. You have to believe that, surely?”
“Should have thought of that before you slept with her and kept it secret all that time.” Cutter did not want to have this conversation. He could feel all the progress they had made in the last five minutes slipping away, along with his temper.
“It was a long time ago,” Stephen persisted. “Helen disappeared, there was no reason to believe we’d ever see her again. There was no point in causing you any more pain by telling you about it.”
“And what about when she came back?” Cutter shot back.
Stephen shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know. I thought... I never thought she’d tell you like that. Certainly not in front of everyone.” He paused and added in a quieter voice, “I really had forgotten what a bitch she was.”
So had I, Cutter thought to himself.
“Cutter?” Stephen prompted when Cutter didn’t reply.
“One step at a time, eh?” Cutter said, feeling a little like a coward for trying to put an end to the conversation so quickly. “We’ve dealt with the other thing, we’re talking to each other, that’s good enough for now. But it’s going to take time before it’s right between us.”
A look of frustration and disappointment flitted across Stephen’s face for a second and then he nodded. He stood up and was halfway to the doorway before he stopped and looked back.
“I don’t know what you expect me to do to make you trust me again, Cutter.”
Neither do I, was Cutter’s first thought. When he didn’t reply Stephen left without another word.
Cutter sat back in his chair and breathed a sigh of relief. Okay, maybe not relief. He did feel better for having dealt with one of the things that had been a constant source of tension between them for the last few months, but he still didn’t feel ready to let go of the real reason why their relationship had fallen apart. He had said it was going to take time, but so far the passage of time didn’t seem to have done much to dull the sense of hurt and betrayal every time he remembered that bloody awful day in the Forest of Dean. Even with all the anomalies in the world, Cutter wondered if there would ever be enough time passed before he could let go.
There was another knock at the door, and this time it was Connor who popped his head round. He had his usual smile in place, but his eyes held a slightly nervous look. Cutter suddenly remembered Connor’s outburst in the atrium the previous day. No doubt Connor had just seen Stephen leaving, and was probably expecting Cutter to be in a bad mood again.
Cutter made an effort to smile and beckoned him in.
“Have you brought that anomaly data?”
“Yep. Got it all in here.” Connor waved his laptop before setting it down on one of the few clear patches on Cutter’s desk. He grabbed the chair that Stephen had just vacated and dragged it closer, and angled the laptop so they could both see it.
Cutter was paying less attention to the laptop than he was to Connor, and he was relieved to see the nervous look disappear, to be replaced by his trademark enthusiasm almost as soon as he sat down.
“Okay, Connor. What have we got?”
“So,” Cutter leaned back in his chair and quirked a smile at Connor. “After several months of collecting data, several days of analysing said data, and...” he glanced at his watch, “Three hours of brainstorming, all we can conclude is that the appearance, location and longevity of anomalies is completely random and unpredictable.”
Connor raised his eyebrows and smiled back. “Yep. That about sums it up.”
“It might not be as bad as it sounds,” Connor said, looking as optimistic as ever. “We’ve only been collecting data for a few months. There might be patterns over a longer timescale that we just can’t see yet.”
“Maybe. But there just seems to be too many variables. Some anomalies are isolated occurrences, others recur again and again. Some stay open for hours, others days. Some move around, some don’t. And we’re still no nearer to having any idea what’s causing them.”
“We do know they all have a magnetic field that seems to give quite consistent readings across all known anomalies, no matter what. That’s something.” There was Connor’s optimism again.
“Magnetism,” Cutter pondered out loud. “Maybe that’s something to look at. What could create something with such a strong magnetic field?”
“Aliens?” Connor suggested with a wry grin.
“What sensible things could create something with such a strong magnetic field?”
“Stuff in space? Black holes?”
Cutter was about to make another sarcastic comment, but something fired off in his brain. ‘Stuff in space’ wasn’t necessarily such a stupid suggestion when he really thought about it.
“Sunspots,” Cutter mused. “The Earth itself has a massive magnetic field, and we know that fluctuates and even reverses itself over time.”
“Pulsars?” Connor threw in. “Supernova. Comets. Planetary alignments.” He was clearly catching on quickly to Cutter’s train of thought.
“Yes. Anything like that. See if there’s any correlation at all, no matter how unlikely it seems.”
“I’m on it,” Connor grinned. “I’ll add UFO sightings to the list as well.”
Cutter rolled his eyes, but decided there was no harm in letting Connor have his fun.
Connor closed his laptop and left, practically bouncing. Cutter suspected the young man was about to spend the next few hours in geek heaven with all that research to go at.
It was nice to see Connor back to his usual self again after the previous day. And if Connor was harbouring any ill feeling towards him regarding his father being off the team, it certainly wasn’t obvious.
Cutter just hoped that their work might actually start to provide some answers. After the promise he had made to Stephen, understanding the anomalies now seemed to be more important than ever.
Connor had to admit that his knowledge of astronomy and space phenomena (real space phenomena, as opposed to science fiction space phenomena) was limited. Nevertheless, what he lacked in specific knowledge he reckoned he could make up for with his ability to find practically anything on the internet. Now, after several hours of searching, he had managed to get hold of a lot of information on a variety of things, and the system was compiling it all into a usable format. Connor had no doubt that if Cutter was the one doing this he would want to go through all the information for himself, looking for links or correlations and using that almost supernatural intuition that he seemed to have. Connor, however, preferred to let the computer do all the hard work. All he had to do was feed it the right information in the right format, and then he could just sit back and wait.
As well as the raw data, he had also found several scientific and academic papers on the subject of sunspots and the Earth’s magnetic field, which seemed to be the most likely candidates from their speculative list. Connor had briefly skimmed through the reports, particularly looking for anything relevant to the effects on magnetic fields, and he was now downloading them for Cutter to read through properly.
Connor was the first to admit that he wasn’t the best person when it came to the theoretical side of things. He was more of a technical support and practical kind of guy. Cutter, on the other hand, seemed to be able to make intuitive leaps that others simply couldn’t see. Connor was sure that with the right information, Cutter would eventually figure out what the anomalies were and what was causing them, and Connor wanted to be the person at his side, helping him to do it.
He suddenly became aware of someone standing behind him, and spun round on his chair to see Mark.
Connor realised he hadn’t actually spoken to Mark since the skateboard crash the previous day, and immediately he felt guilty.
“Hi. Not interrupting anything, am I?”
“Not really. I’m just doing some research for Cutter.”
“Of course you are,” Mark said, with a flicker of something that Connor didn’t recognise in his expression for a moment. Mark glanced at his watch. “It’s gone seven o’clock.”
“It is?” Connor double checked and was surprised to realise just how long he’d been working. “Didn’t notice. I was pretty caught up in the work.”
Then there was an awkward silence, and Connor found himself trying to find something else to look at.
“I shouldn’t have shouted at you yesterday. I’m sorry,” Mark said.
“It’s okay,” Connor said immediately. He tried a tentative smile at his father, and was rewarded with an equally tentative one in return.
Abruptly Connor came to a decision.
“Come on, do you fancy going for a drink? The pub round the corner does pretty good pie and mash.”
“I don’t actually have any money,” Mark admitted. “Jenny was supposed to be organising an advance or something, along with my new identity, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
“Not a problem. I’ll get them. Besides, I bet you’re fed up of being stuck here at the ARC . You need to get out a bit. You know, in a non-dinosaur related way.”
“Are you sure it’ll be okay? Lester didn’t seem to want me to leave until the new identity is sorted.”
“It’ll be fine,” Connor said, waving a hand dismissively. “You’re with me, I doubt they’ll stop us leaving.”
“Okay. That sounds pretty good, actually.”
Connor quickly checked that everything was still running okay on his laptop, and then checked the ADD before he abandoned both.
Connor set the beers down on the table and sat down opposite his father. They had taken one of the quiet tables in the corner of the pub. It was near to the ARC, a cosy little place where many of the staff had been known to go for a few drinks after work.
“Food should be about twenty minutes.”
“Thanks.” Mark took a mouthful of beer, and closed his eyes with the expression of a man who had died and gone to heaven. “That tastes bloody good.”
Connor smiled and took a small sip of his drink. He knew he was something of a lightweight when it came to alcohol, a fact which Abby liked to take the piss of occasionally, and he didn’t intend to drink too much. Especially not after the discussion with the security guards on the way out in which he had basically agreed to take full responsibility for Mark leaving the ARC.
“It should really be me buying you a drink,” Mark said after a moment. “All those things I missed. Your eighteenth, your A Levels, graduating.”
“Maybe another time,” Connor said, starting to relax a little. “Besides, it’s not like it’s your fault you weren’t there.”
“I wish I had been there.”
Connor couldn’t help catching the regret in his father’s voice. He barely managed to control the waver in his own voice when he replied, “Me too.”
“You seem to have done all right on your own.”
Connor shrugged. “Yeah, but I missed you and Mum. Gran was great, but it wasn’t the same.”
Mark stared at his glass, fiddling with it a little. Connor recognised the fact that his father was considering carefully whether to say something or not. He knew that, because he did almost exactly the same thing himself when he was nervous. Connor wondered how many of his other habits might have come from his parents without him even realising it.
“Your mum would have loved all this. What you do with the anomalies and the creatures. She would have fitted right in with you and Cutter and Stephen.”
Connor wondered if he detected a faint hint of bitterness in his father’s voice, but he chose to ignore it. The fact that Mark was voluntarily talking about his mother stirred up something that he had been trying hard to bury for the last couple of days after the last time he had tried to talk to Mark about her.
“Yeah. Remember that time Mum and Gran had that big argument after I fell off the climbing frame at the park?”
Mark nodded, a faint smile appearing. “Your gran was always overcautious. Your mum thought a few little accidents every now and then was all part of growing up.”
That was putting it mildly, to say the least. Connor remembered sitting upstairs with his scraped hands and knees throbbing, listening to his mum downstairs shouting about how she didn’t want her son turning into a cry-baby who never took risks for fear of getting hurt. He hadn’t entirely understood what she meant at the time, but now Connor suspected that his mother’s philosophy had sunk into his psyche far more than he ever consciously realised.
Connor chuckled. “I think she thought the odd accident might knock some sense into me.” He paused and gave a self-deprecating smile. “I’m not entirely convinced it worked, to be honest.”
Mark remained quiet, and Connor wondered if they were both thinking of the incident with the protoceratops the day before.
“Your mum was a lot better at surviving in the past than I was. I don’t think I would have lasted long without her.”
Connor looked up sharply. This was another surprise – Mark voluntarily talking about what had happened in the Triassic. He held his breath, waiting to see if there would be more.
“Do you still want to know how she died?” Mark met his gaze, and there was both determination and pain in his eyes.
“Yes,” Connor said without thinking.
Mark winced, but nodded.
“It’s okay, if you don’t want to talk about it yet,” Connor suddenly blurted, feeling guilty before his father even started speaking. “It can wait. It’s okay.”
“No, you’re right. As someone pointed out to me yesterday, you’re not a child any more. You have a right to know.”
Connor had a second to wonder who had said that about him, and then Mark started speaking again.
“Every day we’d go out to the lake to get water, and find roots. We were eating the same things as the placerias. They tasted vile, but they weren’t poisonous and they seemed to be enough to live on. We always waited until after the herd had gone, tried to avoid animals as much as possible. We knew there was a predator around, we’d seen the remains of dead placerias every now and then, so we had to be careful.”
Mark paused to take a drink of his beer. Connor realised his mouth was dry as he listened. He was suddenly no longer a hundred percent sure that he wanted to hear this. He gripped the beer glass but didn’t drink anything.
“I wanted to stay together, safety in numbers, that kind of thing. I didn’t want either of us to be alone out there. Your mum kept arguing that we could cover more ground if we split up, that it would be less dangerous in the long run because it would mean we could gather food faster and not be out in the open as long.” He hesitated again, staring at his beer and not meeting Connor’s eyes any more.
“I think one day she just got tired of being overly cautious. She went out without me and by the time I realised...” He took another gulp of beer. “I heard her scream. I heard the sound of a predator. By the time I got there she was already gone.”
Connor tried to quell the trembling in his hands. His mind was filling in all the details that Mark hadn’t spoken of, his imagination that was so often a useful talent momentarily becoming a curse. It might simply be because it was so new and raw, but Connor was suddenly certain that he had preferred it when he thought it was just a car accident.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Mark looked up sharply. His dark eyes held a frighteningly familiar look of pain and guilt, something that Connor recognised immediately, because it was the same expression he had seen every time he looked in the mirror in the days after his friend Tom’s death.
“You didn’t... you have nothing to be sorry about, Connor. It wasn’t your fault she died.”
“It wasn’t yours, either.”
Mark winced, and drained his beer glass. Connor realised his was still practically full, and took another little sip.
“Do you want another?” Connor asked, indicating the beer.
Mark nodded. “Please.”
“Back in a moment.”
Connor got up and went to the bar again to get another drink, and more importantly to compose himself, and surreptitiously wipe his eyes. He suspected Mark might need a minute to do likewise.
He was on his way back to the table when he remembered something he had been meaning to do for the last several days, and kept forgetting. Or possibly, he suspected, intentionally putting off.
“I’ve been meaning to give you this. It is yours, after all.”
Connor lifted the ring from around his neck and passed it across the table, still attached to the cord he had hung it on.
Mark looked surprised, but accepted it. “I’m surprised you kept it this long, to be honest,” he commented.
Connor wasn’t sure whether to be offended by that comment.
“Of course I kept it,” he said.
“No, sorry, that wasn’t what I meant. I meant I’m surprised you wore it like that. Anyone else would have just thrown it into a jewellery box and shoved it to the back of a drawer or something.”
Connor shrugged. “I wanted to.” He gave a slightly embarrassed smile. “And I might have had the idea for wearing it round my neck after a Lord of the Rings marathon.”
Mark chuckled. “I did wonder about that. You finally finished reading the books, then?”
Connor’s mouth dropped open for a second. “Oh! You haven’t seen the films! We so have to get together and have a Lord of the Rings DVD marathon one weekend.”
“They made films? Um, yes, okay. That sounds good.”
Connor took another sip of his beer, finally starting to relax again after the earlier discussion. Mark seemed to be relaxing as well, and Connor realised there wasn’t the tension between them that seemed to have been present so much over the last few days.
“I don’t think we got off to a very good start, did we?” Mark admitted.
“It’s a lot to get used to. It’s fine, Da- Mark. Sorry.”
“So,” Mark said, with the air of someone who wanted to change the subject. “What else are you into? Apart from dinosaurs and computers?”
As fresh starts went, it was a little lame, but Connor was happy to take the opportunity he was being offered. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he had the feeling that something had changed between them, that Mark seemed more comfortable with the situation than he had been. Connor didn’t care what had caused the sudden change, as long as it meant that his father no longer seemed to be perpetually disappointed in him for reasons that he often didn’t understand.
“We could be here a while once I get started,” Connor warned with a grin.
Mark laughed. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Connor laughed with him and launched into a discussion of his favourite TV programmes and films and engineering projects. By the time food arrived, Connor realised they were both more relaxed with each other than he could have thought possible the previous day. Although, he couldn’t help a guilty pang when he caught himself wondering if this might all have been easier if his mum had returned from the Triassic as well.