The end is in sight! Thanks to everyone who has read and commented on this fic, thanks for sticking with it. I'd been saying for a long time that I wanted to write something that explored Cutter and Connor's onscreen canon relationship, and this fic was the realisation of that aim. It just took rather longer than I'd expected to do it!
Title: Hero (part 11 of 11)
Pairing/characters: Cutter, Connor, Jenny.
Warnings: Occasional mild language
Spoilers: Anything up to ep 2.4
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: 2605 (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.
Connor winced and tried to find a position that was comfortable without involving the heavy plaster cast on his right forearm in any way coming into contact with the big patch of gauze padding covering the stitches in his side. The hospital bed wasn’t helping at all. Were these things designed to be as uncomfortable as possible? At least Lester (he presumed it was Lester) had managed to wangle him a private room, but Connor was already desperate to go home, and he’d only been in here a day.
There was a knock at the door, and Mark stuck his head round.
“Can I come in?”
“Yeah, course you can.” Connor grinned and tried to shuffle into a slightly more upright position as Mark came in and closed the door behind him. He only managed to get comfortable when Mark moved his pillows for him and propped them up so he could sit upright.
“How are you feeling now?” Mark asked as he sat down in the chair next to the bed.
“Okay.” Connor suspected the painkillers he’d been given an hour ago probably had a lot to do with that, although he was definitely feeling a lot more alert than the last time he had seen Mark earlier that day. Mark had been sitting at his bedside when he woke up, and Connor had a nasty feeling that he may have said some faintly embarrassing things while he was in a drug-induced haze. Although he did remember quite a lot of hugs, which he felt made up for any embarrassment.
“Good.” Mark nodded. “Good.” He took his glasses off and started cleaning the lenses again. Connor wondered briefly if they were the cleanest glasses in the word after all the times he had done that during his earlier visit.
Connor frowned. “Are you okay, Da- Mark?”
Mark avoided his gaze for another moment, and then jammed his glasses back on and finally met Connor’s eyes.
“I’m leaving the Anomaly Project, Connor.”
“I think we both know I’m not cut out for this job. I’ve already been to see Lester and told him I don’t want to be part of it any more. He agrees it’s probably for the best.”
“No, Dad. You’re doing okay. You can help, you know stuff about dinosaurs. You went to get help and saved me and Cutter.”
Connor remembered what he had said to Cutter the previous night about how he didn’t think he worked well with his father. Had Mark found out about that? Was he angry? Connor suddenly realised that no matter how awkward he found it working with his father, he didn’t want to see him go.
“Please. There has to be something. Maybe if you don’t want to do the field ops you can work on the research side. I won’t be out in the field for ages again now, we can work together on stuff. Please Dad.”
“Don’t, Connor. I’m sorry, I wish it could have worked out better, and I really appreciate you trying so hard to make me part of the team. But this is your life, Connor, not mine. I’m not like you. I can’t do this job.”
Connor thought he heard his father’s voice starting to crack.
“I can’t be at the ARC. When they pulled you out of that place last night and I saw the state you were in, I lost it. I thought that you’d died. I can’t go through that every time the ADD goes off. Even if I was just in the labs, I couldn’t keep working, knowing that you were out there putting yourself in danger. I can’t just sit there every time, waiting to see whether you come back in one piece or not. I just... can’t.”
Connor swallowed and nodded. He knew exactly what Mark meant. He had felt it himself for a moment when he had realised that Mark had been on his own with the coelophysis.
“Do you understand?”
Connor nodded again, not quite trusting himself to speak.
Neither of them spoke for a few minute. Eventually Connor decided his voice was probably steady enough, and asked, “Where are you going to go?”
“There’s a job in Whitby Museum, Lester says he’ll pull some strings and try to make sure I get it.” He forced a laugh. “I think I’m better with fossils than I am with the real things.”
“Whitby?” He had only just got his father back, and now Mark wanted to move halfway across the country? “Can... can I come and visit, maybe?”
Mark stared at him in shock.
“God, Connor, of course you can! That wasn’t... I didn’t mean... I want to get away from the ARC and the anomalies, not you.” The look of relief on Connor’s face must have been all too obvious, because Mark dropped his gaze and made a frustrated sound. “I’m not doing this very well, am I?”
“It’s okay,” Connor said. He paused and then added, “Maybe once you’ve got a flat sorted I could come up for the weekend and we could go fossil hunting? Like we used to?”
Mark nodded. “I’d like that.” He looked up and met Connor’s eyes again. “I am proud of you. You know that, right?”
Connor nodded, unable to speak again. Maybe it was the medication, but Connor was suddenly sure he was about to burst into tears if this conversation went on much longer. For once, Mark seemed to understand what was going on in his head, because he abruptly stood up.
“Well, I should go. Lester has about a thousand different forms and disclaimers that he wants me to sign before I can go, and you know what he’s like.”
Connor nodded again. “Yeah. Yeah, you should...”
Mark hesitated and then leaned down and wrapped an arm around Connor in a somewhat awkward hug. Connor tried to get the arm that wasn’t in plaster around his father, but Mark pulled away before he could untangle himself from the bed sheets.
“I’ll come back later, if you want.”
Connor waited until Mark had left before he sank back into the pillows, blinking rapidly and willing the room to stop being blurred. Everything was almost back in focus when there was a second knock and this time Cutter was the one who came in, not waiting for a response before he opened the door and limped over to Connor’s side.
“Just thought I’d stop by and see how you were doing,” Cutter said.
“Fine,” Connor lied, hoping his voice didn’t sound as close to cracking as he thought it did. “You?”
“Yeah, fine. Few stitches, that’s all.” Cutter already sounded grumpy about that, and Connor suspected he was going to be like a bear with a sore head until his leg healed.
“So, Mark talked to you?” Cutter asked, with his usual bull in a china shop approach to tact.
Connor looked away. He didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to cry in front of Cutter, again.
“Connor? Are you okay?” Cutter asked, sounding concerned.
The floodgates broke and Connor couldn’t stop the tears. He ducked his head and tried to hide his face with his one good hand, knowing it was pointless, but doing it anyway. He felt the bed dip and suddenly Cutter was pulling him in, wrapping his arms around Connor and holding him close to his chest. Connor buried his face in Cutter’s shoulder and sobbed, his good arm curling around Cutter and hanging on tight. He could hear Cutter making quiet soothing noises, feel Cutter’s hands gently rubbing his back, and he finally let himself feel safe and wanted in Cutter’s solid, gruff, comforting presence.
“You’ve told Connor, then?” Jenny said. She was waiting in the corridor after Cutter had gone in to see Connor, and caught Mark on his way out.
“You don’t have to go, you know.” Jenny fell into step with him.
Mark glanced at her. “You’ve changed your tune since yesterday. Thought you’d be glad to see me go.”
“What I said about earning respect, I think after last night you’ve done just that.”
Mark stared at her, obviously surprised.
“You had useful knowledge that helped us deal with those creatures, and you got help for Cutter and Connor when they needed it.”
Mark gave a bitter snort of a laugh.
“No, I didn’t.”
Jenny gave him a quizzical look.
“Do you want to know what actually happened last night?” Mark said. He sounded angry, all of a sudden, although Jenny was fairly certain that anger was not directed at her.
“I hid.” Mark paused and then turned to look at her. “I saw them fall and I heard them shouting, telling me to get help, and I saw the dinosaurs still prowling around and going down into the cellar, and I hid. I should have got Stephen and Abby a lot sooner, but I thought if I ran the dinosaurs would come after me. Even when I knew they’d gone down into the cellar where Connor was, I couldn’t bring myself to move until I was sure they had all gone.”
Jenny had no idea what to say. It was a hell of an admission to make, and she wasn’t entirely certain why she was the one who he had decided to tell.
“It’s not even the first time,” Mark continued, not looking at her any more as they walked.
Jenny waited for him to elaborate.
“I wasn’t entirely truthful in my report about what happened in the Triassic. What happened to my wife. She... it wasn’t that I couldn’t get to her in time when I heard her scream. I didn’t try to get to her at all. I hid. I ran to our shelter and I hid until the predator was long gone.”
He took a deep breath and turned to meet Jenny’s shocked look.
“I’m not like Connor. He’s a hero. I’m just a coward. My cowardice got my wife killed, and yesterday it almost got my son killed as well. I think it’s safer for everyone if I stay as far away from the anomalies as possible, don’t you?”
When Jenny had no answer for him, Mark turned and walked away, the self-contempt all too clear in his eyes.
Jenny felt a sudden wave of sympathy for the man as she watched him go. She suspected that admission was quite possibly the bravest thing he had done in a long time. She also hoped he would never decide to tell anyone else.
There were some things that Connor did not need to know.
Cutter limped into the atrium, unsurprised to see Connor hunched over the computer in front of the ADD, despite the fact that most of the day shift had gone home over an hour ago. Abby and Stephen and Jenny were on their way back from a thankfully uneventful anomaly, and all was quiet, for a change.
“Any luck with those sunspots, yet?” Cutter said, more to make conversation than because he was particularly interested in the results at that moment.
“No.” Connor looked up at him with a smile that Cutter now recognised to be entirely fake. He had been missing the real smile for the last few days since Connor had come back to work, far too early in Abby’s quite vocal opinion.
“We’ll find something eventually,” Cutter said.
“Yeah. It’s just a bit harder to write analysis programmes with only one hand. And my off-hand, at that.”
Connor waved his left hand to demonstrate the point. His right arm was still supported in a sling, although Cutter was aware there had already been some debate amongst other members of staff about whether that was entirely necessary, or merely a bid for sympathy. Cutter actually agreed with Abby that Connor probably shouldn’t even be in work yet, but at the same time he understood the need to be doing something, just to avoid sitting at home and wallowing. It was something he had done enough times himself.
“Come on,” Cutter suddenly decided. “What do you say we pack up for the night and go for a drink at that pub you were telling me about?”
Connor stared at him like he had announced that Lester had spontaneously given them all a day off.
“What, do you want to discuss the sunspots some more?”
“Well, we can if you want, but I was thinking of getting a pint and something to eat, and just seeing where the conversation goes from there. Unless you have any objections?”
“No, that sounds great.” Connor flashed the first genuine smile that Cutter had seen since before they had fallen into the cellar on the building site. It was gone in a second, but it was there, and it was real.
Connor quickly logged off and switched off his computer, and they headed out together.
“Can we see if the others want to come as well?” Connor asked. “They’ll be back soon.”
For a moment Cuter almost said no. He had wanted this to be about him and Connor, to have each other’s undivided attention for a while without all the distractions of the ARC. He hadn’t had much chance to talk to Connor alone for the last few days, especially not with Abby hanging around him like an overly protective mother bear.
Then he saw the hopeful look in Connor’s eyes, and relented. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt them to spend a little time relaxing together as a team. There would be other times for him and Connor. Besides, Cutter knew that really, Connor wasn’t the only one that he needed to talk to.
Even amidst all the chaos and adrenaline, it hadn’t entirely escaped Cutter’s notice that when it all went to hell, Stephen was the one he wanted. Stephen was the one he instinctively thought of. And he hadn’t been the least bit surprised when Stephen was the one who had made the first kamikaze leap into danger to save them.
He knew there was still a long way to go, but maybe working on that trust thing wasn’t going to be as difficult as he had thought.
“Cutter?” Connor prompted, pulling him out of his thoughts.
“Yeah, all right, then. Let’s give them a call once we get to the pub.”
“Cool.” There was that smile again, and Cutter couldn’t help smiling back.
He held the door open for Connor, and let his hand briefly rest on the young man’s shoulder before they fell into step side by side.
What Connor had said in the cellar before he lost consciousness had, by some unspoken agreement, been consigned to the list of things they didn’t talk about. Cutter wasn’t even sure whether Connor remembered saying it, although he suspected he did, if some of the embarrassed, awkward conversations between them in the aftermath had been anything to go by. Cutter had spent a lot of time thinking about it over the last few days and was rapidly coming to the conclusion that the reason why he had felt so awkward was the residual feeling that Connor was his student, and that he needed to maintain a professional distance. But the university was long gone now, and Connor wasn’t his student any more.
And, all things considered, Cutter was inclined to agree with the last thing he had ever heard spoken by someone else who he’d had less than professional feelings about. In the words of Claudia Brown - stuff professionalism.