Title: Hero (part 9 of 11)
Pairing/characters: Cutter, Connor.
Warnings: Occasional mild language
Spoilers: Anything up to ep 2.4
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: 3394 (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.
Cutter heard a muffled whimper, and opened his eyes. It took him a moment to realise that he was lying on top of Connor, and he quickly rolled off to the side, hissing quietly at the pain in his knee. Other than his knee, and what felt like an extensive collection of cuts and bruises, Cutter decided he was probably okay. He had a horrible the suspicion that the reason for that might be because he had landed on top of Connor rather than on what appeared to be a hard packed dirt floor beneath them, and the young man had, however inadvertently, broken his fall.
“Connor? Are you okay?”
Connor whimpered again and shuffled onto his back and levered himself into a sitting position, the movement accompanied by a small gasp of pain. It was immediately apparent that there was something wrong with his right arm, and Connor carefully manoeuvred it until it was cradled across his chest.
“Are you okay?” Cutter asked again, trying not to wince in sympathy.
“I only just got the other arm out of a plaster cast,” Connor whined, staring dejectedly at his arm.
Cutter reached out to examine it, but Connor immediately pulled away, trying to protect the injury with his other hand.
“Ow,” he repeated, possibly in case Cutter hadn’t already realised how much it was hurting.
“Anything else injured?” Cutter asked, doing a quick visual survey of Connor for himself, although it was even darker down here and he had no idea where his torch was any more.
“My side hurts.”
“Probably fractured a rib or two,” Cutter decided. “Try not to move around too much.”
He looked up and around. They seemed to have fallen into a large cellar, maybe fifteen feet deep. Above them, the roof had mostly collapsed on this side of the cellar, and the only light was coming in from the gaping hole to the open air. They were surrounded by collapsed rubble and beams and planks and masonry. It was a miracle they hadn’t both been killed.
“You shouldn’t have come after me, Connor.”
Connor just glared at him until Cutter relented.
“Okay, yeah. If it had been you in trouble I would have done exactly the same thing. Thanks for trying, even if we are both stuck down here now.”
Cutter heard a creaking sound, and then a low, mournful call coming from what he had taken to be a pile of rubble. The placerias.
“Stay here, I’ll go take a look at it,” Cutter said, patting Connor’s shoulder gently.
Connor nodded, his worried gaze fixed in the direction of the sound.
Cutter carefully picked his way around and over the debris, his knee protesting at every movement. He suspected he had twisted it trying to free his trapped leg, but there was nothing he could do about it now, and at least it wasn’t broken.
The placerias was lying on its side amongst the fallen masonry. It gave the same low call when it saw Cutter, and Cutter saw something frothing at the creature’s beak, although it was a little too dark to tell whether it was drool or blood, and he didn’t want to get too close to the injured animal. Its back legs seemed to have given up entirely now, and its breath was coming in laboured, rasping gasps. For once, Cutter wished he was carrying a weapon, even just a tranquilliser gun. The placerias was dying, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to help it, or to put it out of its misery. He could almost see Abby’s disapproving expression as he turned away from the creature and looked around at the room again.
Over towards the other side from where he and the placerias had fallen in, the roof was still relatively intact. At the point where the roof beams had broken and fallen, there were some beams that were still partially attached to the roof, but bent and trailing down into the room. Cutter briefly entertained the idea of climbing them, but quickly dismissed it. On closer inspection none of the beams looked stable enough to take either his or Connor’s weight, and even if they were, there would be no way that Connor could climb with only one hand. Actually, Cutter doubted his own ability to climb it, even with two good hands.
“Oh, god,” Connor suddenly called out. “Dad! He’s up there with those dinosaurs.”
Cutter quickly skirted round the placerias, silently hoping that it didn’t suffer for too long, and made his way back to Connor.
“Dad!” Connor yelled, trying to stand up. “Mark!”
“Connor, keep still,” Cutter ordered, steadying Connor when he wobbled dangerously as soon as he was upright. “He’s probably gone to get help. He’ll be fine.” Cutter hoped that he was right about that, for all their sakes.
“But he’s on his own, and those dinosaurs.” Connor’s eyes were wide with panic, and Cutter was suddenly forcefully reminded of the scene on the docks when they thought they had lost Abby.
“Connor, listen to me. Your dad’s a smart man, he’ll have seen what happened to us and gone to fetch help. Stephen and Abby will be here any minute with a plan to get us out, and they can deal with the dinosaurs.”
“But what if the dinosaurs got to him first? Cutter, he’s alone up there and he hasn’t got a weapon and he can’t do the action stuff like we can.”
Cutter had a momentary mental image of Mark fighting off the two dinosaurs with a piece of two-by-four, and his stomach turned when he realised that he entirely agreed with Connor’s assessment – that Mark probably couldn’t deal with such a situation on his own. Intellectually, Cutter knew that wasn’t entirely true. After all, the man had survived in the past for a while on his own after Connor’s mother had died. But he still couldn’t shake the feeling that Connor was right.
He also knew that was the last thing Connor needed to hear right at that moment.
“You’d be surprised what people can do when it comes to the crunch,” Cutter said, choosing his words carefully. “And he knows you’re in danger, that’s a hell of a motivation for him to do whatever it takes to survive and get help.”
The look in Connor’s eyes told Cutter that he desperately wanted to believe him, but the fear remained.
“Connor?” a tentative voice came from above their heads. They both looked up, but all they could see was the dark sky through the hole in the roof.
“Connor? Are you okay down there?” the voice called again, so quiet they could barely hear it.
“Dad!” Connor yelled. “We’re here. We’re okay. Dad, you have to get away from those dinosaurs. Can you see where they are?”
There was a pause, and silence stretched out. Cutter didn’t dare let go of Connor, and he tightened his hold around Connor’s shoulders when he suddenly realised that he could feel the young man shaking.
“Mark?” Cutter shouted. “You have to go and get help. We can’t get out of here by ourselves. We need you to go and get Stephen and the others. And warn them about the dinosaurs.”
There was still no response. Cutter hoped that meant Mark had done what they had asked and gone for help.
Connor wobbled and leaned heavily against Cutter, the movement accompanied by another quiet gasp of pain.
“Come on,” Cutter said, supporting Connor and helping him to sit down where he could lean back against a sturdy looking pile of rubble. Cutter sat down at his side, watching Connor to make sure he really was okay. His eyes were screwed tight shut for a moment, his face twisted into an expression of pain that eventually faded and Connor breathed a somewhat shallow sigh.
“He’ll be okay,” Cutter said softly.
Connor was quiet for a while, and his eyes remained closed as he apparently concentrated on breathing slowly and steadily.
“Sorry,” Connor eventually mumbled.
“What for?” Cutter asked, trying to keep his tone light.
“I’m not being very useful right now.”
“You got hurt trying to save my life. I don’t think you have anything to be sorry for,” Cutter said.
Connor opened his eyes and managed a small smile.
“What do you think those dinosaurs were?” Connor asked.
Cutter was momentarily thrown by the abrupt change of subject, but he had already been unconsciously thinking about it, even while he was busy doing other things in the last five or ten minutes.
“There weren’t that many theropod dinosaurs in the Triassic. At least not contemporary with the last of the therapsids. I’m thinking coelophysis, perhaps.”
Connor nodded. “Weren’t they some of the earliest ever dinosaurs?” His forehead crinkled in thought. “Yes, that fits. They were the right size, anyway.”
“They didn’t look very powerful individually, but I expect if they’re pack hunters they might give you a bad day,” Cutter mused.
“Dad never saw any of those when he was in the past. I suppose that means this anomaly goes to a different time in the Triassic.”
“He did say the placerias looked different to what he remembered.”
Connor was silent for a moment.
“I was thinking,” he said eventually. “When we realised this one went to the Triassic as well, I wondered if it was maybe like the anomaly in the Forest of Dean to the Permian. Recurring to the same place. If, maybe, it opened to a time earlier than the one in Yorkshire.”
Cutter realised what Connor was getting at as soon as he mentioned the Permian anomaly.
“You wondered if there might be any way to go through and change the past, to save your parents.”
Connor nodded, refusing to meet Cutter’s eyes.
“You can’t change the past, Connor, no matter how much you might want things to have happened differently. Claudia Brown vanished from existence because of something we did accidentally. I don’t want to think about what might happen if people start trying to deliberately change the past.”
“I know,” Connor said, his voice thick. “But, Mum...”
Cutter slipped an arm around Connor’s shoulders again. “I know how much you must want to save her. But even if you could, even if this anomaly led to a time that would let you affect what happened to them, you don’t know that you could save them. You might have been able to get your mum back, but then your dad died instead.”
Connor swallowed. “I know. Just thoughts, that all.”
Cutter squeezed his shoulder gently and let the conversation die to allow Connor a moment to compose himself. He didn’t blame Connor in the slightest for his thoughts. Cutter knew how strong that urge could be to use the anomalies to change things. He had almost done the same himself in the aftermath of the timeline changing around him, somehow hoping that he might be able to find a way to get Claudia back again, even though he barely understood what they had done or how they had done it.
Sometimes, even now, he occasionally lay awake at night, wondering what he might do if presented with an anomaly that would allow him to return the timeline to its original state, or to prevent Helen from ever disappearing in the first place. But then, if he had stopped Helen from going it was possible that he might never have discovered the anomalies himself, and so might never have met Connor, or Abby... or Claudia. Just as if Connor did somehow manage to change time and save his parents then he might never have grown up to become Cutter’s student, and the ARC and everything they were working on now might never have existed.
It made his head spin to think too hard about all the ‘what ifs’, and Cutter had eventually come to the conclusion that there were just too many unknown variables involved, and that no one should be allowed to meddle with the past, no matter how brave or noble the reason.
“I think you might have liked my mum,” Connor said suddenly.
“I don’t really remember, but Dad says she was the more adventurous type, like you and Stephen. She was the one who wanted to investigate the anomaly when they found it.”
So did Helen, and look how that turned out, Cutter thought bitterly.
He glanced at Connor and realised his eyes were closed again.
“I’m okay,” Connor said, but his voice was quiet. He forced his eyes open and met Cutter’s look. “Just a bit cold. And it hurts to breathe too deep.”
Cutter shrugged his jacket off and draped it over Connor like a blanket, trying not to touch his injured arm as he did so.
Connor managed a slightly lopsided smile.
“Abby’s going to take the piss that I managed to get injured again. And Lester’s probably going to give me the health and safety lecture again.”
Cutter still remembered a conversation with Lester only a week or so earlier, after Mark had returned, and Cutter couldn’t help but wonder exactly how much real concern for his staff there was lurking behind Lester’s long-suffering facade.
“You do seem to be having more than your fair share of accidents recently,” Cutter said.
“All part of the job, I suppose.”
Connor sounded surprisingly unbothered by that fact, and Cutter found himself thinking back to try to work out how many times people had been seriously injured as ‘part of the job’. How many times it had happened to Connor, particularly. Suddenly, he heard Mark’s angry voice in his head. “You might not ask him, but by the sound of things you never bother to stop him throwing himself into danger.” It was true, he had never asked Connor specifically to do anything that they knew was going to be dangerous, but things did often have a habit of getting out of hand, and the more he thought about it (and he had been doing a great deal of thinking about it over the last week) he had a horrible feeling that Mark had been right about something else – that Connor’s desire to impress him was partly what led to him throwing himself into danger so often.
Cutter didn’t want to think about that for a variety of reasons, not least because there was a stubborn part of him that argued Connor was a grown man, and was perfectly capable of making his own decisions about what risks were worth taking.
“Sorry,” Connor mumbled again, interrupting Cutter’s thoughts.
“What for this time?”
“My dad. I know it’s not working out, and I know I was the one who talked you into letting him on the team in the first place.”
“He’s still adjusting,” Cutter said. “Give him time.”
“That’s what everyone keeps saying, and that’s what I thought at first. But he’s not...” Connor paused, and Cutter glanced over to see him frowning with concentration. “He’s not fitting in, is he?”
“Connor,” Cutter said, wondering even as he spoke whether he ought to be saying this. “Do you still want him to be on the team?”
“Yes!” Connor said, louder and more forcefully than Cutter was expecting. Then he winced and subsided again. “Yes, of course I still want him around. But I think maybe not on the field team.”
Well, that explained the less than ecstatic reaction in the atrium earlier when Mark had asked to be let back on the team.
“I know that sounds horrible,” Connor continued. “I know it’s selfish. But I’m not sure how well we work together.”
“It’s not necessarily selfish,” Cutter said. “Jenny said it’s not always a good idea for people to work with close family. Personal relationships can have a habit of getting in the way of working relationships.”
“It’s not jus’ that,” Connor said, his voice starting to sound a little slurred. “I don’t know, I think... I think maybe I forgot about the bad stuff. After I thought they died, I didn’t want to remember all the times that he was disappointed with me, or irritated ’cause I was asking too many questions, or angry ’cause I didn’t think before I acted. I just wanted to remember the good stuff, the good times. I wanted him to be a hero.”
Cutter didn’t say anything. This all sounded uncomfortably familiar to him, because he knew he had done exactly the same thing after Helen disappeared – papered over the cracks and repressed all the unpleasant aspects until the memory of his lost wife bore little resemblance to the real Helen Cutter. He shifted and stared at his hands, hoping that Connor wouldn’t realise what he was stirring up.
Connor took a deep breath that was cut off with a sharp gasp and another wince. Then he started talking again.
“He’s not... I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s my dad, an’ I love him. But he’s not how I imagined him, you know? All those years, thinkin’ about what he was like, remembering, wondering what it’d be like if he an’ Mum were still around. An’ now he’s back, an’ it’s great, it’s really, really great. But he’s not...” Connor paused again, and sighed quietly. “I just... I don’t know. I guess I thought... I hoped he’d be more like you.”
And there it was, Cutter realised. The entire bloody problem. The thing he had been avoiding for so long because he had no idea what to do about it, or how to handle it. The unspoken trust and expectation between them that spoke of more than simply a student and teacher relationship, even though that was all it ever could be.
“Connor,” Cutter started, with absolutely no idea what the hell he was going to say next.
Connor suddenly seemed heavy against his shoulder, and when Cutter moved, Connor slumped against him.
“Connor!” He shifted round and shook Connor’s shoulders, aware that his eyes were closed again and this time he wasn’t reacting. “Connor!”
What the hell was wrong with him? Cutter pulled away his own jacket and let his eyes scan over Connor’s body a second time, this time paying more attention to detail. There was nothing obvious until he remembered that Connor had complained of a pain in his side. What if it wasn’t a fractured rib? Cutter very gently moved the injured arm out of the way, supporting it as best he could with one hand while he tugged Connor’s jacket aside with the other. Connor moaned quietly, but didn’t move.
There was a spreading patch of darkness on his t-shirt underneath where his arm had been cradled.
“God, Connor why the hell didn’t you say something?” Cutter demanded. He gently shifted the young man until he was lying down, and laid his injured arm on the ground to the side, and then pulled the t-shirt up and out of the way.
Dear god, there was a lot of blood.
“Stupid, stupid boy,” Cutter mumbled, quickly wadding his jacket into something he could use to try to stem the bleeding. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me it was this bad?”
Connor moaned quietly in response to Cutter pressing down hard on the bleeding wound, but otherwise showed no sign of being aware of what was happening.
Cutter heard the sound of timber cracking, but barely spared a glance over in the direction of the placerias. He was too afraid that the creature was no longer the only thing in this room that was dying.
“Damn it, Stephen, where the hell are you?” he muttered. What was taking them so long? They should have been here already if Mark had gone to get them.
Debris suddenly moved and fell across the other side of the room. Cutter looked up, all the time keeping the pressure on the improvised wadding under his hands. He could see something moving around in the darkness over there, beyond where he knew the placerias was lying.
A long, narrow head poked out of the darkness and into the faint light coming in from above. The snout wrinkled, and deliberately sniffed the air twice. Then a pair of sharp eyes turned to look directly at Cutter and Connor.
The coelophysis were back.