Pairing: Abby/Connor eventually
Spoilers: This is an AU from 2.04, so spoilers up until the end of that episode
Disclaimer: Primeval and its characters belong to Impossible Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. This is fanfiction, written solely for love of the show.
Author's Notes: Written for the Primeval Ficathon for temaris, whose prompt was part or all of the team are trapped when an anomaly closes, and they have to find a way home and who wanted a happy ending, action/adventure, Connor heroics, and Abby/Connor. The title - and quotes - are from 'The Sun' by Maroon 5.
the battle's almost won
and we're only several miles from the sun
The first step was the hardest. It always was, at least in Abby's experience, but this time it was hard both mentally and physically. Everything was wrong, off in a way she didn't want to think about. The sun was too bright and the air too hot. It tasted wrong, too, although Abby couldn't have explained what exactly what it that was wrong about it. It just felt thick in her mouth and each breath left her dizzy, settling into her lungs like treacle, choking her.
Or maybe that was just fear. Abby wasn't stupid and only an idiot wouldn't be scared right now.
She stumbled, her foot turning on a loose shard of rock. It caught her off guard and the fear lurched through her again before she could damp it down. Her heart was racing, her breath gasping and catching in her throat until she managed to hold off the fear again, push back the panic that prowled around the edges of her mind just waiting for her to lose her grip, to fall.
Connor grabbed for her, one of his hands seizing at her elbow while the other caught her hand, steadying her until she regained her balance. It was just as well, she thought bleakly. With her luck so far, she'd fall flat on her face, do herself an injury. She was shivering in spite of the heat; her clothes were still drenched and she'd spent hours in the cold water of the canal and the flooded basement, the chill seeping deeper and deeper into her as each hour passed until even her bones seemed to ache with it. There'd been fear then too, the weight of it crushing her until she thought that the fear would drown her before those things had a chance to.
It had to be that lingering cold now that meant she couldn't stop shaking even with the sun beating down on them. It was so bright that all she saw around them was white, her vision blurring at the edges until her eyes stung and watered. It was simply because she was still so very cold, that was all.
Telling herself that, the voice in her head sounding weirdly like her mother, didn't help much. That small voice sounded too much like her mother, who she'd fought with about anything and everything since she was fourteen, the mother she hadn't spoken to for two weeks and now she might never...
She fought back that too, feeling the panic closing in again and refusing to give in to it. All she could do was blink, trying not to breathe in too deeply, not when the air was wrong and her eyes still burned from the sun. If she breathed in too deeply it might come out as a sob.
Connor still hadn't let go of her and she was stupidly, selfishly grateful for that, leaning against him for a moment until she could breathe safely again. He was wet too, his clothes clammy against her skin where her body pressed against his. His hair was still plastered against his cheek, the tendrils dark against his too pale skin. He wasn't looking at her though; all of his attention was focused on where the anomaly... wasn't.
He swallowed heavily; she could feel the motion as it moved through his body, the gentle rocking as he wavered on his feet. She was no longer clear which of them was holding the other upright and braced herself, clutching at him, thinking that if one of them fell at least they'd go together and that... that was something, wasn't it? She wasn't capable of more than that, couldn't do anything but breathe and wait for a miracle.
He swallowed and she watched his throat move, his lips parting for a second then closing. He didn't look at her for long seconds and when he did, his eyes were scared but he still managed to give her what he probably hoped was an encouraging smile.
"It'll be back," he said, and that was typical Connor - the triumph of hope over experience. "You'll see."
She didn't answer him - couldn't - and he swallowed again, eyes leaving hers like he couldn't bear to see the look on her face, the one that would shatter the fragile hope he was clinging to.
"It went... It went when we were looking for it, me and Cutter." Only now did he look back, the expression on his face begging for reassurance she wasn't sure she had to give. "When we were looking for you. It went and then the detector started off again and..."
"And then you found me." Her voice was low and throaty, the dust or the salt in the air making her throat itch. Her nose too, which felt tight beneath her eyes. He tried another smile, this one wavering around the edges just like he'd swayed on his feet.
"Yeah." He watched her for a long moment before blurting out, "It'll come back, Abby. It will."
There must have been something in his gaze that convinced her, or something that made her want to believe in it for his sake, because she found her eyes moving to where the anomaly had winked out of existence as though it would magically reappear, just because Connor wanted it to. Weirder things had happened, and she'd seen a hell of a lot of weirder things since she'd first stumbled across the anomalies.
But the horizon stayed empty, nothing but rock and scrub, no glimmer of anything that could be their salvation, and she shivered again, moving closer to Connor. She might not have Connor's unquestioning faith in Cutter but she had enough - in Cutter and in Stephen both - to know that if there was a way to work miracles, they'd find it, and that they would be working on it.
She could only hope that it was enough and that they'd be fast enough.
"I lost the detector," Connor murmured; his voice was muffled, his face now half buried in her hair. She hadn't been the only one to step closer, and his arm had moved from her elbow to around her waist, holding her up or using her to hold himself up. She couldn't be sure but there was nothing in it but comfort, not this time. "I'm sorry, Abby."
Not your fault, she wanted to say, but the air was weighing her down and all she could do was squeeze his fingers, which were still wrapped around hers. He pressed back, eyes still focused on where their missing way home had been.
She swallowed, tasting the dust and the salt hanging in the air. "We'll see it," she said finally, finding the reassurance he sought from somewhere even if she couldn't say where. "If - when - it comes back, we'll see it, Conn."
He didn't say anything to that but his fingers squeezed hers again, tightly, as they both watched and waited for a miracle.
"We need to go back." Nick was repeating himself, over and over again, but Lester seemed determined to ignore him, as he had on all previous attempts. "D'you hear me, Lester? We need to go back."
Lester stopped abruptly, so abruptly that Nick nearly walked into the damned man. His expression, when he turned around, was his normal supercilious one and that did nothing to calm Nick down.
"Go back?" and he was seriously going to ram his fist down the man's throat, if only to wipe that look off his face. "Go back where, Professor? And for what?"
He tried to stay reasonable, for Abby and Connor's sake if nothing else, but he didn't need to be able to see the expression on Jenny's face, hovering behind Lester's shoulder now that the man was finally facing him, to know that he was missing it by a mile.
"Look. The anomaly could open again at any time. It opened when Connor and I were in the warehouse..."
"Yes." Lester tilted his chin, looking down his nose at Nick and punching him in the face was fast becoming appealing. "The warehouse. Which, once again, was nowhere near where you were supposed to be."
By now Nick had known Lester - even this version of Lester - long enough to recognise the need to head him off before he got going.
"We found the anomaly," he said, ploughing ahead over the beginnings of Lester's no doubt well worded tirade. "We found the boy..."
"And in the process, you lost two of your team."
It seemed as though Lester was beginning to recognise when to head him off as well and the words - both what he said and how he said it - stopped Nick in his tracks as effectively as a six ton Tyrannosaurus. "Look," Lester added, his voice softening a little, which meant it only grated on Nick's second last nerve. Lester had that pained expression he always got when it came to talking about anything other than logistics or budgets, as though he could barely stand to soil his mouth with the pleasantries that made up normal human interaction. The attempt at softening things didn't do anything to cushion the blow. "I realise that this isn't an easy thing to accept, Professor, but this isn't the first time we've lost some of our people and the best thing to do is put a brave face on it and carry on."
The words were meaningless, even more meaningless coming from Lester of all people. If he patted Nick on the arm Nick really was going to punch him out and damn the consequences. Not even Jenny's warning look would stop him. Thankfully, Lester appeared to think better of his momentary lapse into humanity and pulled sharply down on his jacket instead, snapping his cuffs like it meant something.
"Connor and Abby aren't dead." Nick's voice sounded hollow even to his own ears. It wasn't surprising to see Lester greet his statement with a sceptical look.
"Really?" As comebacks went, it wasn't one of Lester's better ones, but he was probably still labouring under the impression that he needed to go easy on Nick. It was disconcerting, to be on the other side of Lester trying to be reasonable if not pleasant.
"Lucian said that Abby was alive. They kept her alive like they kept him alive. Whatever those creatures wanted with her -"
"Probably as an entree."
He took a deep breath and reminded himself that punching Lester wasn't an option, not until he got what he wanted, needed. Then all bets were off.
"Connor went after her. He's probably with her right now."
"He's probably dessert." In spite of his words, Lester's look was close to sympathetic now, albeit it edged with his normal acerbic briskness, and that made it somehow worse. But he wouldn't have been Lester if his words didn't bite and bite hard, and it was like Pavlov's bell to Nick. It rang and his hackles went up.
"You don't know that." His voice was rising and eyes were turning in his direction. He didn't care. Abby and Connor were out there, trapped, and that was his fault. They were his responsibility, both of them, and he'd let them down. "You don't know that they're dead."
"And you don't know that they're alive." This was a Lester who was more familiar: pitiless and cold. It didn't make him any easier to deal with but it meant Nick could let the anger bubble up and block everything else out, at least until Stephen's fingers closed around his wrist, holding back the fist that was already starting to rise, keeping it - and Nick - steady.
"We have to try." Stephen's voice was calm, level, but his fingers dug into the tendons of Nick's wrist to the point of pain. "We can't give up yet. It's too soon."
'Too soon' implied that there was a point where they would give up, and Nick jerked his arm away from Stephen's grasp, refusing to look at his colleague even as he was peripherally aware of Stephen's head turning in his direction.
"They're not dead," he repeated, keeping his gaze locked on Lester as though it would make a difference. Jenny was just a blur behind Lester now; dark hair, pale skin and dark eyes, and utterly still. "I was right about the anomaly not being in the canal." Jenny would forgive him for appropriating her leap of intuition - Claudia would have and he could only hope there were enough similarities for it to hold true. She stayed still, watching but not commenting, not stepping in to smooth things over and shooting him a look that promised retribution the way she normally would. It sobered him and he took a deep breath, flexing his fingers and aware of Stephen hovering. "I was right about it being here. And I'm right about Connor and Abby."
Lester's gaze finally dropped as the man brought his fingers up to pinch the bridge of his nose, the gesture so typical of him when he was frustrated. If he was frustrated, so be it; Nick had no qualms about pissing him off, not any more. Never really had, not even in his reality, as Connor chose to call it. He doubted it had been much different in this one.
"Yes," and only Lester could make the admission sound like a victory instead of the concession it was. "You were right about it. You're very good at your job, Professor. Don't get cocky about it." He looked straight into Nick's eyes, his expression never wavering. "I'd hate to have to fire you twice in one day. The paperwork is such a pain. So let's hope you're right about Mr Temple and Ms Maitland." He paused for a beat, letting his words sink in, then continued, "Of course, maybe it would be better for them if they weren't given that they're currently trapped on the other side of an anomaly, and we have no idea when - or even if - it will reopen again."
"It will reopen." Nick kept his voice low, dangerous. It didn't impress Lester, who merely raised one eyebrow at his tome.
"Let's hope you're right about that too."
"I am. I told you..."
He broke off when dark clad figures began streaming into the warehouse behind Lester, their movements smooth and controlled. "What...?"
There went Lester's eyebrow again, along with the supercilious curl of his lip. "I'd say that was advice taken, wouldn't you, Professor?" And Nick was going to punch him, he was, whether Stephen stepped in or not. Would have done if Jenny hadn't taken a step towards them, her face creasing in a warning frown that was more irritation than fear.
"I take it that this will be more or less a permanent encampment," she observed in her cut-glass tones.
Lester straightened his cuffs again. Nick would have said that it was a nervous trait except that it was difficult to think of Lester as feeling nervous. Difficult to think of Lester actually feeling anything. "More or less," he agreed, eyeing Nick as though he were a particularly disagreeable specimen. "Very like the one in the Forest of Dean, as it happens. Which is, I believe, the only other regularly opening anomaly we have to date. Am I right, Leek?"
Leek oozed out of the dimness, coming to rest by Lester's side, one step behind as he always was. "I think you are, sir." That was a fairly typical response; it was the only type of thinking of which Leek seemed capable.
"You are... unbelievable."
Lester would never do anything as crass as smirk, but he came close. "At the risk of sounding trite, I believe that the operative term is something like 'we don't leave our people behind'." He varied his routine by straightening his tie, holding Nick's gaze with a rather jaundiced look. "And if you think the paperwork for firing someone is a pain, you can imagine what it's like to complete for missing persons. Two, in fact."
Nick nodded, not to acknowledge the point - or the cold blooded way in which it had been phrased - but accepting the rationale, which made sense in a purely Lester way. Acceptance was all he seemed capable of at the moment; he felt the energy drain out of him even as he watched the soldiers begin a sweep of the building. They wouldn't find anything, not now, but he appreciated the gesture anyway. Both from the soldiers and - hesitant though he was to admit it - from Lester.
The man didn't have a heart, or a soul, but Nick supposed that a sense of neatness occasionally worked on the same principles.
"If the anomaly opens again..." Far be it from Lester to concede the point for long. "... We'll be ready to move in. In the meantime, I suggest that Jenny and I decamp to the ARC, where Mr Temple's anomaly detector will no doubt be ready to let us know as soon as anything happens." He eyed Nick for a long moment, his head then turning towards Stephen and his expression managing to convey everything he thought about the condition of the pair of them. "And I suggest that the two of you decamp to the nearest available shower."
One of these days, he really was going to deck Lester. Just not when he was surrounded by heavily armed men.
Lester came close to smirking again, skirting around the edges like a pro, and then turned on his heel, nodding briefly at them before he strode towards the exit, Leek trotting behind him like the obedient lapdog he was. Jenny hesitated for a moment, eyeing both of them but somehow Nick didn't think it was their damp and muddy frames that had caught her attention. The thought was confirmed when she turned towards the rear of the building, where the anomaly had been before it had so suddenly closed, snatching the hope of getting Connor and Abby back from them. Her expression was torn.
"Do you really think...?"
"Yes." He didn't let any doubt into his voice but she turned back towards him, her dark eyes searching his face. He didn't know whether she found what she needed - compared to Claudia, she was sometimes frustratingly opaque - but if she didn't, she gave no sign of it, mimicking Lester's brief nod before she, too, headed towards the exit.
That left him standing in the middle of a nearly empty warehouse, Stephen a silent presence at his side.
"What are their chances?" Stephen asked after a long pause. When Nick stole a glance at him, Stephen wasn't watching him. His face was turned towards the soldiers, now clustered around their equipment as they conferred with one another and set up camp with the ease and efficiency of long practice. "Realistically, I mean."
He didn't want to think about it, but Stephen was right. They'd do Connor and Abby no favours if they didn't think about all of the potential scenarios, good or bad. "If the anomaly reopens fairly soon, and assuming that the flooding is tidal rather than being because it's underwater on the other side, then I think they have one." He had to think that, had to. It beat thinking about the future evolution of the shark, or exactly why those Walrus type creatures had grabbed Abby in the first place.
Stephen nodded but stayed silent, and he felt forced to add, "They're both smart, resourceful."
Another nod from Stephen, who was back to focusing on whatever the soldiers were up to. There was another one of those pauses, no longer as comfortable as they had been, at least from what Nick remembered. Maybe Stephen remembered differently. Maybe the distance between them that felt so strange and yet so unassailable to Nick was nothing new as far as Stephen - this Stephen - was concerned.
"Neither of them has survival training, though," Stephen offered, his tone a little too cool and calm for Nick's comfort. It felt like giving up, for all that Stephen hadn't suggested as much, at least not out loud. He'd feel better if Stephen looked at him, but instead Stephen's eyes tracked from the soldiers to the back of the warehouse, back towards the anomaly site. His expression was thoughtful but closed off and Nick had to remind himself that he wasn't the only one who'd lost two people he cared about, even if it was only temporary - and it was. He refused to think of it in any other way, especially not when he'd already given up on Abby once and been proven wrong.
"No," he agreed, the admission pained. "But they have each other."
As answers went, it wasn't much of one, but Stephen merely nodded again, not challenging him about it. Not this time.
"Let's hope it's enough," was all he said, sounding eerily, for a moment, like Lester.
"It will be," Nick said, and it came out sounding like a prayer. "It will be."
She must have fallen asleep on the sofa again - she was cold and stiff, lying on something with no give, not like her lovely soft bed. She hoped Connor hadn't turned the heating down again - her reptiles wouldn't like it and that meant she didn't either. She muttered something in Connor's direction, maybe even something about that, wondering why her eyelids felt like lead, but he was insistent, shaking her gently, murmuring her name again.
And then it all came rushing back, and she felt colder still. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, staring out of the entrance of the small cave they'd retreated to the night before, as darkness had fallen. As caves went, it wasn't much of one - more like a dimple in the rock - but it was the closest thing to shelter they'd been able to find.
No amount of staring now changed the view - it stayed too bright, too hard and alien. Nothing at all like home.
"Is it...?" She couldn't help the hope that crept into her voice as she turned to face Connor. Her voice came out as a croak and she had to swallow before she could get both words out. Her mouth was as dry as a bone, as dry as the rocks outside. She tried to ignore it but it was hard, so hard when her throat was rough and the thirst - and the fear that lurked behind it - seemed as wide and all encompassing as the barren vista spread out before them.
His face fell and his head drooped slightly. He refused to meet her eyes as he spoke but he needn't have bothered - the fact that he wouldn't look at her gave her all the answer she needed.
"No. It's... there's no sign of the anomaly. Sorry."
Like it was his fault. If she wasn't so tired and thirsty she might even have been able to put him right on that point, but as it was, all she could muster up was a wan smile that couldn't have done anything to reassure him. Saying anything more right then was beyond her.
It had been a long night. Too long. Neither of them had slept much, and even when they had they'd had to take it in shifts, too scared of what might be out there in the dark, ready for them to drop their guard. It could have been anything.
Not that watching for trouble would have done them much good anyway. They had no weapons, nothing to defend themselves against anything that came calling, and their neighbours weren't exactly friendly.
She took a deep breath, closing her eyes and holding it in for the count of two, three. Then she let it out again, slowly, finding her centre.
"Right," she said, swallowing again before she could get the word out and trying to inject a snap into her voice and into her spine at the same time. Her tongue felt swollen and awkward in her mouth, difficult to wrap around the syllables. "We need a plan of action."
Connor was looking at her like he thought she'd lost her mind, and she had to take another deep breath just so she wouldn't snap at him. It wasn't his fault, she reminded herself. Just one of those things and it could have been a lot worse. A hell of a lot worse.
She'd be here on her own if he hadn't followed her, and she didn't rate her chances if he hadn't been there to pull her up, out of danger and out of reach of those snapping fangs. For a second she'd thought it would be too much, that she'd be too heavy, but Connor - once again - had come through, finding the reserves of strength from somewhere.
They weren't talking about it, any of it. She'd thought about bringing up Connor's declaration the night before, when the darkness had loomed, big and far from empty and when even talking about that seemed preferable to thinking too much about the things that sometimes yelped and screamed out there. She'd thought about it but when it came down to turning thinking into action she was just too much of a wuss. There was a squirrelly little feeling, deep in her chest, that made her want to run when she took out those memories and looked at them closely.
He'd been willing to die for her. He'd followed her through the anomaly without a second thought, and he'd been willing to die for her. Somewhere, in that same squirrelly little place, she thought that maybe she'd known why even before he'd said anything.
She'd been willing to die for him, too, begging him to drop her rather than risk being pulled over the edge by her weight, and that scared her even more. She didn't know what that said about how she felt. There were things in that little, buried place that she wasn't ready to deal with yet.
Best to focus on getting through today and then maybe tomorrow, when there'd be an anomaly opening, a way back home. Each day, one at a time, and she wasn't going to give up hope. Wouldn't let Connor give up hope either.
Connor was still watching her, and she swallowed again. "We've got to assume that the anomaly's going to open again at some point, right?" He raised an eyebrow but didn't comment and she was grateful for that. She pushed herself upright, shifting her backside on the cold, rock floor, eyeing the soft sand that Connor was sitting on that was just a little too close to the entrance for her comfort. Moving didn't make her any more comfortable, and her tailbone twinged when she settled her weight back onto it, but it gave her the opportunity to avoid Connor's eyes for a moment. He may not have said anything but she wasn't entirely sure that even she believed it what she'd said.
"In the meantime, we need to..." She'd been thinking about it all night and yet now she couldn't seem to find the words again. She was tired, bone deep tired, the stresses of the day before catching up on her and the words were just skittering away from her, no matter how hard her tongue tried to catch them.
Somewhere outside something barked, deep and hostile and she couldn't help it; she flinched, staring at the entrance, part of her convinced that any second now, something would appear, something that spelled the end for her and Connor both. Her back hit the wall; she wasn't even aware that she'd been moving and swallowed again, but she had no spit left to moisten her mouth.
Connor was staring at the entrance too, but if he was as terrified as she was, he was hiding it better. His face was serious though, dark eyes intense as he turned back towards her and for a split second she resented that, the way he was looking at her like he expected her to come up with the answers.
It wasn't fair, but then when had life ever been?
She tried to recapture her train of thought. "We need to... check out what we've got, figure out what the priorities are."
"Shelter, water, food," Connor said promptly, still focused on her. It threw her off balance for a second, but it was obvious that she hadn't been the only one to spend the night thinking, weighing things up. It was an odd streak of practicality for Connor, but then Connor could be practical when she least expected it and weirdly impractical about the things she took for granted.
He seemed to take her silence as questioning rather than stunned, and his expression changed from serious to a little wounded. "Shelter, 'cause... well, it's not exactly a safe neighbourhood, yeah?" He gave her a little smile, which missed its mark by just enough to be worrying. "And water... water's more important than food. You can survive a lot longer without food, especially in this dry climate." Her stomach took that little observation poorly and, bang on cue, rumbled loudly. Connor's smile this time was a little more genuine although it was still strained around the edges.
"So," she repeated, missing that smile as soon as it disappeared again, Connor's face settling back into serious. "Shelter, water, food." She ticked them off one by one on her fingers, watching his face as she did so.
"Fire," he added, shrugging when she gave him a quizzical look. "Suppose that could fall under shelter, but we need some way of making it, and I left my lighter back home with my fags and booze."
"Fire," she repeated, rubbing her hands up and down her arms. It would help keep them warm if nothing else. She'd been cold last night but whether that was because there had been a drop in temperature or because it simply felt colder in comparison to the heat of the day, she couldn't say. It might even have just been her, still stressed or shocked from the events of yesterday. She didn't like to think of herself in those terms, of course - shocked or stressed. It sounded too girly, too much like one of those romance novels her mother lapped up, where the heroine spent half her time swooning into the hero's arms and the other half of the time flinging herself stupidly into danger. She didn't like the thought but she was practical and from a medical standpoint it was always possible that her body had reacted to things by protecting her core body temperature. It was easier to think of it in those terms.
Besides, if she swooned into Connor's arms, he'd either panic or drop her.
But he hadn't dropped her, had he?
Connor was still watching her and she shifted uncomfortably, not liking where her thoughts were going when there were more important - at least from a survival point of view - things to think about. It wasn't like Connor to be this quiet for this long but she supposed he was as out of his depth as she felt.
Maybe he was waiting for something, but all she could think of saying was, "You don't smoke."
"Not any more." And that was weird, to think that there was something about Connor she didn't know. Only, as it turned out, she hadn't known a really big thing, had she? The biggest. The elephant that was in the room and that they still weren't talking about. Knowing their luck, it would turn out to be a mammoth.
There was another slightly awkward silence, Connor picking idly at a loose thread on his trousers. She had to fight the urge to slap his hand away - they were the only clothes he had but pointing that out seemed defeatist. In the end, she was the one to break that silence first. "Fire, then. Any idea how?"
"Short of rubbing two sticks together?" His brow furrowed in thought. "Iron pyrite might work if we can find any. Anything that would create sparks, really, and I don't think we'd have much difficulty after that."
"Oh?" So she was a little sceptical. It wasn't unreasonable of her. Connor did have a habit of not thinking things through. Smart - unbelievably smart sometimes - but also, a bit of an idiot on occasion, even if she did... was fond of him.
She wasn't going to go there, not now, staying resolutely silent on the subject of the elephant.
"Yeah." Connor hadn't noticed anything amiss, staring back out into the sunlight, which was growing brighter by the minute. He didn't elaborate though, instead biting at his lip like he was mulling something over.
"We need flint as well," he said suddenly.
"You mean... like a tinderbox?" she asked, turning the idea over in her mind.
"Yeah." He nodded outside. "Might be luckier in that. It usually forms in sedimentary rock and what does that look like?"
"Chalk," she said slowly, thinking about it and leaning forward to get a better look. The sun had moved and light was now falling into their sanctuary, pale strips that would only grow as the day grew older until even Abby was warmed up. She was still cold but the light spilling into their refuge was enough to see Connor clearly now: the strips of dust and dirt on his face; the dark bags under his eyes. "Sandstone maybe... but chalk."
Chalk, made up of the skeletons of billions and billions of tiny creatures. She shivered again. None of the stars last night had been familiar, not to her and she suspected not to Connor. How many millions of years must separate them from home for even the Universe they were in to have changed beyond recognition? If those cliffs outside were chalk, it could be composed of species that hadn't even existed back in their own time.
She was used to feeling small in the face of nature, especially these days, but this was light years beyond feeling small. It was almost like being one of those creatures, confronted by those cliffs. An entire landscape made up of skeletons of their kind, stretching vastly into the distance, something utterly impossible to comprehend. 'Insignificant' didn't even begin to cover it.
Connor nodded again, still not looking at her. His fingers had now having moved from his trousers to push into the sandy floor, letting the grains pass through his spread fingers, but he wasn't building sandcastles. He was back to chewing at his lip and she couldn't help but feel like there was something she was missing.
She was too cowardly to push it. Not now.
"What have we got, then?"
He glanced over at her, eyebrows raised.
"We need to catalogue what we've got, remember, Connor." It came out more harshly than she'd intended, but she was still off balance, scared and flailing for something, anything concrete to hold onto.
For a second, it looked like he was going to argue but he seemed to think better of it, shutting his mouth with an audible snap and turning his attention to his pockets instead.
It made for depressing viewing when they put it all together. They had a few coins, which might be useful for generating sparks or using as weights, maybe for fishing; their wristwatches, Abby's already soaked beyond repair; Connor's phone, also looking like it wasn't going to recover from the soaking he'd had; some damp tissues from Connor's pocket, stained with the dye that had leaked from his jacket. Those were the useless things and they formed the biggest pile, which even then wasn't that big.
The other pile - the pile for the things that they could foresee a use for - was far smaller. There was some wire that Connor, for some reason, had in his other pocket, wound into a neat little bundle with the loose ends wrapped tightly around the body. Also, Connor had a small pocket knife. It was a good one, proper Swiss Army, but small enough to be legal, with a blade that she suspected might not last long when they were up against the elements. They'd have to nurse it, or find a way to sharpen it, and pray it didn't snap.
She didn't have anything to put on that pile. Her shoelaces, she supposed, if it came down to it and they needed something, anything that could tie things together. Both she and Connor were wearing Converse, which meant long laces at least.
But they had nothing that could be used as a container, assuming that they did locate any water, and nothing that could be used for a weapon.
She swallowed heavily, trying not to let Connor see just how scared she was when they totalled their resources and came up well and truly screwed.
"Not much, is it?" Connor muttered quietly. He stared dispiritedly at the smaller pile and the look on his face didn't do anything to soothe her own fears.
"It's a start," she whispered, reaching down to gather up what she could, even the tissues. She wouldn't have been able to explain why, but there was a weird superstitious feel to it, that whole 'just in case' feeling, like leaving anything behind, even the most useless of things, was just inviting disaster. She rose to her feet, pushing things deep into her pockets and checking each one two or three times, just in case. "Which way, do you think?"
Connor came to stand beside her, eyes tracking up and down the coast. They couldn't see a great distance in either direction, not with the way that the cliffs were curving away, and up, from them.
He shrugged and gave her a rueful smile.
"Flip a coin?"
Looked like they might be useful for something after all.
Nick scrubbed at his eyes tiredly but the letters in front of him refused to come back into focus. Maybe he needed glasses or something. He was getting too damned old, too damned fast and the world was refusing to slow down and accommodate him.
It wasn't fair to think that. He was barely past forty, but then Connor would have said something like it wasn't the years but the mileage.
Connor. Damn it.
He rubbed his eyes again but his vision stayed blurred.
"Have you been here all night?"
He jerked, caught by surprise and feeling vaguely resentful once the shock had worn off. That wasn't fair either; it wasn't as though Jenny had intended to sneak up on him. She wasn't exactly quiet in those heels, especially not on the hard floors of the ARC. The click clicking of her approach should have given him plenty of advanced warning, if he'd been paying attention.
He didn't seem to be paying the kind of attention he needed to these days.
"Um, yes." He shrugged, keeping his eyes focused on his paperwork as though it would help. "I didn't want..."
"You wanted to be here in case they found something."
She settled on the desk next to him, one black-stocking clad leg swinging gently. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine that her softly modulated voice was Claudia's, but Claudia's voice had never had that edge to it, like everything was worth mocking, even gently.
He still wasn't sure she wasn't mocking him but if she was, it didn't show in her face when he finally looked up and met her eyes.
"Yes," he admitted, which was big of him, of course.
Jenny didn't comment on that but nodded thoughtfully, her gaze straying down towards the large open floor of the ARC's centre of operations, where the Anomaly Detector sat mute, almost accusing in its silence.
"I take it that there's no..." She trailed off delicately and he pulled a face, smoothing it back out again when she turned back to look at him.
"No, there's... There's nothing. Not yet."
She nodded again, this time not looking away. Her face was unusually serious, for Jenny, who covered everything with a layer of mingled contempt and bravado. "Do you really think they're still alive?" And that was Jenny, refusing to pull any punches. There was a certain class of people, Nick had determined over the years, who thought nothing of asking the questions that no one else would dare. It was more than just thick skin; it was as though they believed that asking in a crisp, clear way somehow mitigated the offence.
They'd probably think they were speaking their minds. Nick tended to think that they were just lacking in bloody tact. Figured that Jenny would be one of their number; easing her way through the public with smooth and effortless charm but cutting through the rest of them like a bloody shark.
"I have to," he answered, aiming for honest rather than pissed off. "Helen... for all her faults, she survived eight years on the other side of one anomaly or another."
"I have a feeling," she observed rather acidly, "that if Helen came up against that shark thing yesterday, it would be cowering somewhere today, licking its wounds. Assuming it survived, of course."
He had to smile at that, no matter how serious the situation. "Possibly," he admitted. "If nothing else, she'd have made it entertaining."
"I'll have to make sure that the next time I'm swimming for my life from something determined to eat me that I put on a tutu. I'm sure that would be vastly entertaining as well."
"Only if you wore the tiara with it."
For a second, just a split second, it was almost like having Claudia back but then Jenny's smile turned a little shark-like itself, something Claudia had never managed. He braced himself, preparing for even more acid comments, no doubt wrapped up in the sort of artificial sweetness Jenny always seemed to manage, but she changed the subject on him rapidly. Or maybe she didn't from her perspective. She was nothing if not single minded.
It reminded him too much of Helen to be comfortable.
"So what is it, precisely, that you've found to keep yourself occupied all night?"
She nodded down towards the papers on his desk, not bothering to mask her inquisitiveness with anything. He glanced down, not entirely sure what to tell her. Not sure how much to tell her - she was still too close to Lester for his comfort, even with their momentary bonding following her close encounter with a future shark.
"I thought I'd see if I could figure out what had been happening in terms of anomalies in that area. Before the detector came online, I mean."
No one could ever have accused Jenny of being slow. Being a bull in a china shop, maybe, but never slow. She caught on fast, reaching out to move his papers around as she looked them over. He resisted the urge to slap her hand away, not entirely sure where the territorial feeling came from.
She caught on fast, but she wasn't a scientist and her field of focus was far too narrow to make her a good one anyway. After a few moments of frowning, brown eyes flickering from one document to another as she tried - and failed - to figure out the puzzle, she was back to looking back at him, her expression now exasperated.
"Would you care to enlighten me?"
He wasn't entirely sure what to say. He reached out and straightened the papers, trying to put them into the same order as they had been before Jenny had decided to meddle. It didn't help. It hadn't been much of an order anyway, no patterns leaping out to make sense to his tired brain.
Jenny was still watching him, with far more patience than he'd usually give her credit for. He owed her at least an attempt at an explanation, even if he wasn't quite sure what that explanation was going to be.
"These are measurements of the canal depth at various points," he said eventually, pointing at a chart. "It's not much. It's not exactly the kind of thing that's usually monitored, although we were lucky enough to stumble across a canal with an automated lock." At her look, he went on to elaborate. "Lots of electronic gizmos, all designed to make the life of the modern sailor a little easier. No more back breaking work, opening all of the locks by hand." He stirred the papers again with his forefinger. "There are some unusual blips in the measurements that there are, which don't seem to be explained by the locks opening at one end or the other."
She twisted around, peering at the charts with renewed interest. "When the lock opens at one end, the water comes in, and when it opens at the other end, the water goes out?"
"A little simplistic, but yes."
She raised an eyebrow, but let the 'simplistic' comment pass without comment. "And you have some depth readings that suggest the level of the water in the canal changed without either of those things happening?"
Okay, maybe she was a little less narrow in her focus then he'd given her credit for. "It seems so, yes."
"So you think that it's risen or fallen because of an anomaly under the water?"
She sat back and raised an eyebrow at him again, whether because she was impressed with herself and her deductive reasoning, or less impressed with him, he couldn't tell.
"Is that possible?"
He pursed his lips. "Wouldn't exactly be the first time." She kept looking at him, her expression growing more and more impatient the longer he kept looking back, at a loss for what she wanted. And then it clicked.
She hadn't been there. Not in this world, this reality, as Connor had occasionally referred to it.
Connor had been fond - was fond - of those little turns of phrase.
"We had... a mosasaur. In a reservoir, once. And a swimming pool, as it happens." He thought that her eyebrows were actually going to get lost in her hairline at that revelation. "And a basement."
"You had a mosasaur in a basement? And what exactly is a mosasaur?"
"No. No, that was something else, but they were all along the same sort of line, and all involved water." He tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the desk, ignoring her rather exasperated look, his mind ticking over. It was possible, he supposed, that there was a similar sort of scenario here. More than one anomaly, opening at different times, all along the same fault line.
It would be ironic if he and Stephen had both been right about where the anomaly was, or had been.
"You missed something," said Jenny abruptly. It startled him, dragging him away from his train of thought, and he started to pull the papers together, trying to spot what he'd missed and Jenny had seen.
"No," she said, still sounding a little impatient. "Not in there. Basements, you said. The last time, it opened in the reservoir and then in a basement."
He stared blankly at her, waiting for her to get to the point and rather surprised that she'd been listening, and she rolled her eyes. "Perhaps one of us should be talking to the local builders again? That area is ripe for development, lots of government grants going on to try and encourage industry back, and failing that, anything else that will put jobs on the map and the government in the good books. Someone else might be having some mysterious flooding that they'd like to complain about."
She'd more than earned the smug look she gave him. "Jenny," he said slowly, "I think I could kiss you."
She snorted. "I think my fianc might have something to say about that. But why don't you keep... looking at your water levels, while I go and do what I do best, hmm?"
He resisted the urge to make a smart remark. It wasn't Jenny's fault that she was so like Claudia and yet so different, in all of the ways that mattered. Instead he contented himself with a simple, and heart-felt, "Thank you."
The smile she gave him this time was genuine, lacking the brittle patina of her other interactions. "We'll get them back, you know," she said, although he couldn't tell whether she really, truly believed that or whether she was simply so used to telling people what she thought they needed to hear, what they wanted to hear, that she didn't even recognise when she'd gone into PR mode. She wasn't the sort to pat him comfortingly on the hand, though, which was a huge relief, and she simply contented herself with another nod in his direction before striding off purposely to do whatever it was that she did so well.
He stopped her before she was out of the door, and she looked back at him curiously. He wasn't even sure what he'd been about to say, but at least this time it had been the right name he'd called.
"Have you seen Stephen anywhere?"
He half expected her to come up with a smart remark of her own, some comment about not being Stephen's babysitter or some such, but perhaps at the moment, given that they'd lost - temporarily misplaced - the two junior members of their team, that might be considered to have been in too bad taste by someone of Jenny's background. Instead she tilted her head and gave his question some thought.
"He said something about Abby's lizards?" she said eventually, her voice rising at the end as though she couldn't quite believe that that had actually been what Stephen had been talking about. Nick nodded, more to confirm that, yes, Abby did have lizards than to confirm that Stephen would be dealing with them.
"What about them?" he asked, vague and uneasy suspicions forming in his mind. He didn't want to give voice to them, not yet.
Jenny shrugged, apparently already losing interest in the conversation, her mind obviously more focused on schmoozing the local pool of gentlemen builders. "Something about bringing them into the ARC, I think."
And then she was gone, one neatly manicured hand waving vaguely over her shoulder as she metaphorically girded her loins and headed off into battle.
Nick was left staring down at the scribbled pieces of paper, the charts and the calculations that seemed, at the moment, to hold his hopes. If Stephen...
If Stephen was already bringing Rex and the rest of Abby's pets into the ARC, where they could be looked after, didn't that mean that while Nick himself was clinging to whatever he could, whatever hope there was that they'd get Abby and Connor back, both of them, safe and sound, that Stephen had already given up?
The coin flip had them heading further away from the anomaly site, in the direction they'd headed the night before, when they'd been searching for something, anything that could pass for shelter.
Abby couldn't say she was entirely comfortable with that, but there was no obvious source of water - not drinking water at any rate - where they'd come through. Just rocks and spray and prehistoric mutant walruses who had, with the rising of the sun, started to stir, rending the air with their barks and moans. Under the water, they'd sounded almost melodic, like the old sailors' tales of sirens with their mournful songs. Out of the water, though, they were completely different, as harsh and treacherous as the terrain, full of violence and fury. Even now, threatening barks and the sounds of fighting drifted towards them, loud enough to carry even over the crashing of the waves. She shivered, suddenly happy to be heading the way they were, away from those blubbery nightmares.
She'd be happier, of course, if she could be sure that they weren't heading towards something worse.
Connor dropped the last rock with a grunt, nudging it into place with his foot and glancing over at her, searching for her approval. She mustered up a smile for him from somewhere, giving his handiwork a once over.
"Think it's far enough back from the tidal region?"
She glanced around, finding no evidence of watermarks or seaweed - or what passed for it - and nodded, turning her attention back to the rather crude arrow that Connor had formed out of by plucking rocks from the shore and settling them here, dark against the paler rocks that formed the cliffs.
"It should be okay," she said, shoving her hands further into her pockets. This time it was a comfort thing rather than because she was cold. If anything, the day was growing uncomfortably warm, even here where the ocean spray, carried in by the offshore winds, cooled things down.
She'd pulled her hood up, shielding the top of her head and her neck from the worst of the sun. Connor was going to burn. There wasn't a lot she could do about that, not when he'd, for once, not worn his hat before he'd followed her. That was typical of their luck; the one occasion when it might have served its purpose - a purpose other than one of simply being a Connorism - and he'd left it behind.
They'd have to stay in the shade as much as they could and hope that when Cutter and the others finally caught up with them, they'd brought the After Sun.
Connor's question caught her off guard. He was watching her again, his face still and serious, and it took a moment for her to find her smile, hiding as it was deep down inside her behind the fear and the despair, and pull it out again for him.
His mouth twitched, a half hearted smile of his own, and then he turned, trudging up the shore in the direction the coin toss had picked for them. After a moment she started after him, hurrying her first few steps until they were walking together, side by side. She had to fight the urge to reach out and catch hold of his hand - another comfort thing. Normally it would all be a little bit too Hansel and Gretel for her tastes but 'normal' didn't seem to count here.
However, she couldn't resist the urge to glance back over her shoulder, just to catch a last glimpse of the arrow pointing out the direction they were heading. She could only hope that their trail of breadcrumbs lasted a little longer than Hansel and Gretel's had. And that there was nothing lurking at the end of the path that wanted to eat them.
"Are ye giving up?"
As conversational openers went, it wasn't exactly the best one to go for, and Nick didn't need the sudden wary look that entered into Stephen's eye to tell him that. The other man didn't answer his question straight away, which did nothing to soothe Nick's ire. Instead Stephen straightened up slowly, wiping his hands on the cloth he held as he watched Nick, his expression giving nothing away.
It was disconcerting to be given that once over by Stephen; disconcerting and infuriating.
He didn't know how he held his temper in check but he managed, even if his fists clenched and unclenched convulsively by his sides. He doubted Stephen missed it, but still Stephen's calm mask gave nothing away.
But in the end it was Stephen who broke eye contact first, tossing the cloth to one side and folding his arms across his chest. It was clearly a defensive move - even Nick recognised it as such - but it didn't help to soothe his temper. Much.
"Of course I'm not giving up," Stephen said finally, watching one of the lizards move around its terrarium rather than meeting Nick's eyes. "But who knows how long Abby and Connor are going to be gone -"
"We're getting them back." He was spoiling for a fight but once again, Stephen wasn't going to give him the satisfaction. Not this time.
"I know." He hesitated, his gaze finally moving from the terrarium to Nick. "I'm just trying to be practical."
It didn't come out as a question and Stephen's eyes narrowed slightly. He still seemed unwilling to start something and that irritated Nick too, like Stephen thought that he needed to be humoured.
It wasn't fair of him, but then being fair never seemed to get him anywhere these days.
"We're getting Abby and Connor back. Whatever we have to do -"
"And what would that be?" It seemed that this time he'd hit a nerve; Stephen finally moved, his arms dropping down to his sides as he stepped forwards, moving into Nick's personal space, closer than he'd been for weeks. That easy camaraderie they'd once shared had gone, and Nick didn't miss it, not at the moment. "Have you finally figured out what causes the anomalies? No? What about how to create one, Cutter? Have you figured that out?"
Nick took a step too, moving in until they were only inches apart, the air between them bristling with everything neither of them were saying, all those festering little resentments on both side that seemed to have sprung up in the wake of Helen's revelation. But maybe Nick was wrong about that. Maybe this wasn't new, not in this through the looking glass universe. Maybe he and Stephen had always rubbed up against each other instead of rubbing alongside each other with the ease of familiarity.
"The anomaly opened and closed several times. We know that. We've got the readings that prove that, taken from the detector that Connor built. Connor, you know? The man we've got on the other side of that anomaly and we are not giving up on him. On either of them. Have you figured that out yet, Stephen?"
Stephen's eyes flashed dangerously and his voice dropped, but stayed hard. "There's a hell of a difference between giving up and accepting that there are things you can't change."
"And what does that mean?"
Stephen huffed, the anger draining from his eyes; it left something even harder in its wake. "I want to believe that Abby and Connor are both going to walk back through the anomaly any minute. Maybe they will. Maybe it will be tomorrow. Maybe next week. Who knows? I don't, and neither do you."
"So... so you're just going to what? Sit here and wait for it to happen? Wait and feed Abby's pets?"
He didn't know if it was something in his face, something in his voice, but Stephen took a step back, disengaging from him. There was exasperation in the other man's face, but it wasn't tinged with affection this time, not the way it might have been once. Instead, Stephen just looked tired, as tired as Nick felt, and Nick felt a sudden twinge of guilt about that, about making things harder for Stephen.
He needed to remember that Stephen had never been very good at putting things out there, at showing how he felt. He never had been, holding himself separate on some level from the things that had gone on around him. He'd known the man eight years or so, as a friend, maybe nine or ten if you counted the time Stephen had been Helen's student, on the periphery of the life he'd shared with his wife.
He'd just never known he'd shared his wife.
"Would you prefer it," Stephen asked dryly, "if I let them starve?" He folded his arms again, and leant back against the workbench, eyeing Nick over the top of them.
There was no comeback to that and Nick gave up, rubbing his eyes tiredly, the fight draining out of him as rapidly as it had in the warehouse, when Lester had wrong-footed him.
"It... it just feels like giving up, Stephen."
"Well, it's not." Stephen had softened his voice. "It's just... being practical. Let's face it, Nick. For all that I would love to charge in and drag Connor and Abby back to safety, it's not going to happen until that anomaly reopens."
"Which it will." Nick wouldn't let go of that point. Couldn't.
Stephen didn't argue. He just nodded seriously, his eyes now focused on Nick's face, not even leaving it when Rex chirruped behind him curiously, head tilted and also watching Nick, almost as though he knew what was going on. It was a rather ridiculous thought when you considered his cranial capacity.
Stephen shifted slightly against the workbench, the sound dragging Nick's attention back to him.
"Lizards... you know lizards can survive a few days without food."
Stephen's mouth twitched but there was no real humour in it, just a rueful acceptance of Nick's foibles, including, apparently, his inability to let anything go.
"Yes. But do you know when Abby last fed them? Personally, I'd rather not take the risk. She's small, but I'm pretty sure she'd pack a mean punch."
As an attempt at humour, it fell a little flat. Nick rubbed at his face again, the whiskers scratchy against his palms. "If the worst comes to the worst," he said, "they'll find their own way home." That may have been more to reassure himself than Stephen, who, once again, was giving nothing away. "They're smart and they're resourceful, and they'll find their way home. After all, Helen did."
Stephen snorted. "It took Helen eight years to find her way home."
"That's because it was Helen." He tried - and failed - to keep the edge out of his voice, and Stephen's look grew watchful and wary again. "She was having too much fun messing around in time to think about anything - or anyone - else."
Stephen's expression didn't change but he didn't disagree. He couldn't. That was probably why he let Rex distract him this time, turning away from Nick to feed the Coelurosauravus with a small sliver of apple, watching Rex nudge it around with his snout before taking a bite. Only then did he turn back to face Nick, his expression still smooth and bland and giving nothing away.
Nick tried a smile on for size. It didn't fit, uneasy on his mouth and sliding away at the edges. "Let's just hope they stay out of trouble, yeah? Don't want them walking into anything that they should be running away from."
Stephen's mouth twitched. "Think that's likely?"
"With those two?" Nick rolled his shoulders, feeling the muscles twinge, the tension tight throughout his whole body. He needed sleep, food. Maybe even a beer or two. He needed Connor and Abby back, even if they were bickering the way they had been for the last couple of weeks. "Who knows? We can hope though, yeah?"
Yeah. They could hope.
It was all they had.
The rain hit again, two or so hours after they'd set off. There was nothing gentle about it this time - it was loud and furious, utterly terrifying. Abby would have traded anything right then for what little shelter their not-quite cave had offered them. Anything was better than being stranded out in the open, nothing to shelter under and very little to shelter behind.
They did what they could, which wasn't much, crouching behind the largest of the scattered boulders on the shore. But it was useless to crouch behind something when the rain came down from the sky in sheets.
She closed her eyes and pressed closer to the little shelter she could rely upon - Connor. He was as soaked as she was, cold and shivering, but when she buried her face in the wet fabric of his jacket collar he wrapped his arms around her, tight, holding her steady against the raging storm. The rain pounded against her head and shoulders, stinging against her skin, and her fingers were frozen and nerveless. She could barely feel where they gripped at his shirt.
Another streak of lightning tore across the sky, and the whole world around them flashed white, bright and painful. There was no time to process that, no time to block out the aftermath, before the thunder was upon them, a solid wall of sound that rolled over them, pushing their bodies into the rock.
Connor was saying something but she couldn't make it out, not in the driving rain and with her ears still ringing. At least, she thought he was saying something - his lips moved against her wet skin, the sodden tendrils of his hair sticking to her face as she turned her head. She couldn't hear him, couldn't answer him. All she could do was tighten her grip and feel his grip tighten in return.
It wasn't enough. She left go of his shirt and slid her arms around his waist instead, pushing her body into his and ignoring the way that the buttons of his jacket cut into the skin of her chest. He was trembling - they both were - but the arms he had around her tightened anyway, pulling her closer clumsily. It was as close as she was going to get to comfort and it was Connor, which meant it came pretty close.
She closed her eyes and held on tight to him, waiting for the storm to end.