Pairing: Mostly gen, but with hints of Abby/Connor
Spoilers: Season 2 and vague references to Season 3 casting spoilers
Disclaimer: Primeval and its characters belong to Impossible Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. This is fanfiction, written solely for love of the show.
Warnings: No specific warnings, but it might be considered a bit creepy.
Author's Notes: Written for the primevalathon Primeval Ficathon as a pinch hit for temaris, whose prompt was Connor and Abby are monitoring an anomaly late at night -- nothing seems to have come through, but first the power goes out, and then they lose contact with the others....
Of course, she also wanted a happy ending. I suppose this could be considered 'happy'. For a certain value of 'happy'.
Sorry it took so long, sweetie. I kind of freaked myself out a bit ::g::
Many thanks to aithine for the beta services.
They were heading into winter, and darkness was falling earlier and earlier every day. When they'd first arrived at this abandoned building - the whole area less than welcoming, even without the weather - it had been raining, the blustery, miserable showers of autumn. But that, at least, had given way to watery sunshine while they'd unpacked the truck. It wouldn't last long, but it had been the only confirmation that Abby had needed then that, while winter was heading for them, it hadn't quite hit them yet.
But down here, in the basement, it was difficult to tell the difference. Evening had already started falling as they'd tracked the anomaly through the empty building. Creeping shadows had filled the rooms they'd both passed and passed through, one by one, but down here, in the basement, it was full on night. Abby couldn't track the time when there were no windows to let in what remained of the sunlight, staining the horizon purple against a washed out sky.
The only light down here came from the fluorescent strips that hummed and flickered above her, and from the ever-flexing, ever-changing anomaly in the corner.
It was growing colder by the second and Abby shivered, hands shoved deeply in her pockets and her shoulders hunched. She stopped pacing and stared at the anomaly for a moment, feeling the colder air roll over the floor, settling heavily around her feet and ankles until the goose bumps rose on her legs in spite of her thick jeans. Perhaps it was snowing on the other side of the anomaly, winter no longer heading but hit. Perhaps the landscape stretched out, crisp and white for miles and miles once you stepped through, with nothing there to disturb its pristine vista; a blank slate, still and peaceful.
Serenity was something she could use, but she couldn't tell if she was right; the mirror like shards rotated around one another, swooping in and out, twisting and glittering and giving nothing away. If she moved closer, peered through it like Alice through the looking glass, maybe she'd see the world it hid. But the glimpses she did catch were dark and still, a counter-point to the brilliance of the anomaly itself, and she shivered again, staying where she was, not moving a single inch closer.
Another shiver ran through her and she took a step back, covering it by glancing across to where Connor was crouched, his laptop balanced precariously on an upturned crate in front of him. He was frowning at the screen, one finger tapping impatiently at the keyboard, but every now and then his eyes flicked upwards, over the top of the screen to where the anomaly continued to pulse.
There was something in his look that she recognised; something that spoke of the same cold unease that was shivering its way up and down her spine. It was stupid, of course - there was nothing to be afraid of except her imagination, and she prided herself on never giving in to that. Cautious, yes - there was no telling what could come through or from when, and if she was ever at risk of forgetting that, the losses they'd suffered and the hole in the team they'd left behind would serve as a reminder. But she'd never been afraid of the anomaly itself before now. Awed, yes, but not afraid. And so far, it seemed, there didn't seem to be anything on the other side to fear either.
Connor muttered to himself, poking at the keyboard again, and she sauntered over to him - sauntered not scurried, no matter how it felt.
He didn't answer her at first, still frowning down at the screen, and she moved closer still, until she could feel the heat rising off his body, inches from her leg. She was close enough now to peer down over his shoulder to see what had upset him so much. The screen flickered in front of her, static lines charging up and down the screen before it steadied again. The lights flickered too, sending shadows scurrying over the walls, wave after wave of them.
She shivered again and edged even closer to Connor, her leg bumping against his back. She didn't apologise, not even when he looked up at her, twisting his neck to glare impatiently. It was a momentary irritation, his attention swinging back almost immediately to his computer, but she didn't move away.
It might have been her imagination - or it might have been Connor's precarious balance - but for a second she thought he'd leant into her, too, seeking the same kind of confirmation she sought as his fingers began tapping away at the keys.
"Interference," he said shortly, and it took her a second to remember the question she'd asked. "Don't know what's causing it."
She leant in again, taking comfort from his closeness, his warmth. The lights flickered overhead, more noticeably this time, and she glanced up uneasily as they buzzed, darkness rippling along their lengths. It must have been her imagination, it must have been, because it almost looked like the ripples started, and ended, at the anomaly, a quick flurry of shadows back and forth along their length.
Connor was still tapping away and she gave herself a mental shake, her brain feeling as cold and sluggish as her fingers. It was a struggle to get it back on track, to take on board Connor's observations and to try and make a meaningful contribution.
"Magnetism?" she asked. "From the anomaly?"
He shrugged. "Shouldn't be this strong this far back. I mean, I know they're magnetic and all that." Known and demonstrated more than once with keys and pens and compasses, to his glee and her amusement. "But I shielded the hard drive, and besides the data seems fine. It's just..."
He didn't elaborate on the 'just'. He just went back to frowning at his screen, as though that would do any good. Under other circumstances, she might have made a sarcastic comment but...
It was growing colder by the second, but it wasn't just the temperature that was sending shivers up and down her spine. She could feel the hairs standing up on the back of her neck, tingling in a way that wasn't pleasant. Her hind-brain was screaming at her and she couldn't resist it - couldn't resist looking behind her, every nerve on edge, balanced between fight and flight, and flight would win.
There was nothing there but shadows, shifting again as the lights flickered and the anomaly pulsed gently in the opposite corner.
She was being stupid. She was, even if she was too stupid to see it. She turned back towards Connor, swallowing heavily as the shadows shifted in the corner of her eye and feeling like she was eight again, scared of the dark and hiding under the covers.
The dark wasn't something to be scared of, not when there were real monsters. Right?
Connor glanced up at the anomaly again, his tongue darting out to lick at the corner of his mouth the way he always did when he was nervous, and she reached down to place her hand on his shoulder, to steady him or maybe herself. He swayed slightly under her touch, balanced as he was on the balls of his feet, and this time when he settled himself there was no doubt that he was leaning against her slightly.
She would have objected, once, if she hadn't needed the feel of his stiff woollen jacket under her fingers quite as much. If there wasn't the constant nagging fear in the corner of her mind that one day she might lose him, too. The laptop's backlight glowed in front of him, reflecting him back to her and she frowned. It shouldn't have been that noticeable, not even down here in the dark. Not with the lights.
The lights were growing dimmer and she swallowed.
"Yeah," he said, reaching out to adjust the angle of the screen, still frowning. "I think..." He frowned again, his face taking on a blue tinge in the light from his screen, "I think maybe the interference is affecting the electrics too..."
Connor might have considered it an interesting conundrum, but she knew it wouldn't last. Not once the lights went out. And they would - Connor's laptop, despite running on its souped up battery, was also growing dimmer. He didn't seem to have noticed, but it wouldn't be long before he did and she'd bet Connor wasn't any better in the dark than she was.
Her rucksack was on the floor next to him and she reached for it, reaching around him rather than moving in spite of the awkwardness of the position. It meant she didn't have to move away from him, her body pressing against his as she leant over him.
If the lights went out, he'd be right there, next to her. She'd like to believe that was for his benefit.
She'd have been lying to herself.
The lights overhead weren't flickering now. They were too dim to flicker, the light slowly dying. It had already faded from the middle and now the ends were growing dark. Abby swallowed heavily, her hand desperately rooting around in her rucksack for the torch she knew was in there. Unless Connor had borrowed it again and not put it back - in which case she'd kill him. Slowly.
Assuming nothing else did first.
She pulled it out just as the lights finally died, the only illumination now coming from Connor's laptop and the anomaly glittering in the corner. "Shit," Connor murmured and even that soft sound was high-pitched, running along the edge of panic. She reached for him again and he met her half way, his fingers catching hold of her sleeve even as she struggled to grab hold of him and switch the torch on at the same time.
In the end, she settled for the torch, almost sobbing in relief when the narrow beam shot out, dancing over the ceiling. She twisted the end, widening it so that the light spread out around them, and only then did she look at Connor.
His eyes were wide and dark in the dim light, pupils big and round like a cat's. He swallowed, his eyes travelling over her face and his fingers still holding tightly onto her sleeve. She wanted to call him on it, telling him not to be so silly, that there was nothing in the dark to be afraid of, but her mouth was too dry, her tongue sticking to the roof of it.
"You okay?" he asked, and she nodded, him echoing the move as though he needed that - her nod to let him he was okay, too.
"What...?" she began but didn't finish. Her voice echoed strangely in her ears, over the buzzing of her fear, replacing the buzzing of the light.
Connor took a deep breath - she felt it rather than saw it as he moved closer, the torch beam bobbing again as his body pressed up against hers, huddling into her.
She huddled back.
"I think... I think maybe it's some kind of radio wave, maybe?" he began, answering the question she hadn't managed to ask. His voice was rising as though it was a question on his part as well now, and if it was, it was one that she had no idea how to answer. This was his field of expertise, not hers. "Something that's interfering with all of the electronics, the lights, too?"
His laptop screen was growing dimmer still, she noticed, but unlike the lights it hadn't died completely. Maybe that held some hope for the torch. Their battery life would be longer anyway, and she didn't know what she'd do if that went out completely.
She shivered again as the cold rolled over her. Connor was warm against her side but it wasn't enough to fend off the chill entirely, whether that was down to the temperature of the air or the fear that was threatening to tighten its grip on her. Connor's arm came around her and she leant into him, grateful for his warmth but more grateful for his presence.
"We should..." His voice broke again and he cleared his throat, the sound startlingly loud against her ear. She flinched and the involuntary motion had him clutching at her, pulling her closer to him as though that would do either of them any good.
She didn't object, not when her heart was pounding the way it was or ice was sliding down her spine.
"We should," he began again, his voice wobbling, "call Cutter or... or... Captain Becker, maybe?"
Yes. She should have thought of that - would have thought about it if she wasn't being such a pathetic, stupid excuse for a girl, afraid of the dark and useless because of it. Her fingers fumbled for the headset Becker insisted they all carry now that he was the one in charge of their safety, although apparently his new regime didn't extend to not leaving she and Connor alone by the anomaly, in the dark.
Stephen wouldn't have, and the thought was a treacherous one, unfair when Becker was only trying his best, even if it wouldn't ever be good enough.
The anger, though, was good; it kept her going at least long enough to figure out, by touch, how to turn the blasted headset on. But the fury fizzled out when she heard nothing but static in her ear, a rolling, pulsing sound that mimicked the movement of the anomaly in the corner. Fizzled out and left her shaking and scared.
Connor was watching her, eyes still wide and his arm wrapped around her waist, as though he couldn't bear to let her out of reach.
"Static," she said shortly, her voice trembling on the word in spite of the way she bit at her lip and straightened her spine. He nodded, jerkily, in response, so close to her now that the movement of his body against hers sent the torch beam dancing over the ceiling again, shadows creeping and crawling in its wake.
She watched it, her mouth dry and her brain empty of ideas. Connor was still shaking, his fingers twisting into the gap between their bodies and it took her long moments until she realised what he was up to, what he was after. She shifted, just far enough away from him to let him pull his mobile free, and then moved back as soon as he had, until there was no space between them, not even for the cold to swirl into. Not even for a breath.
Connor seemed to have no more luck than she had. She could hear the phone on the other end ringing, the sound hollow and echoing but no one picked it up.
Cutter didn't pick it up.
"Maybe he can't hear it," Connor murmured, his warm breath stirring her hair. She leant into him again, feeling the cold creep in behind it, a contrast she could have done without. "Maybe..."
"Interference?" she murmured back, willing her voice to stay steady this time. He didn't seem to have an answer to that, simply huddling closer to her as the cold air swirled around them and the light danced, remote and just as cold as the air, on the ceiling.
Abby took a deep breath, and then another, feeling the icy tendrils dipping down into her chest. Her breath stuttered for a moment, catching on that feeling, before she could push it out, pull it back in again, just as cold.
It was stupid. It was stupid to sit here, in the dark, like frightened children. It was stupid to let the cold freeze her brain, and her heart, until all she could do was sit here, with Connor.
If there was snow on the other side of the anomaly, well, at least that was an explanation for the ice that still crept up her spine. If there was interference, well, that was logical and scientific and rational, even if she couldn't entirely understand Connor's answers or even frame the questions in a way that made sense.
What didn't make sense was sitting here.
It didn't make sense at all.
It still took her long moments to pull away from Connor and the comfort he offered and push herself upright, to her feet, the torchlight dancing again, small against the vast dimness pressing in on them.
"Nothing's come through," she said, and she was right. She had to be. Nothing had come through but cold air and shadows, and she clung to that. "So... that means that there's either nothing on the other side of the anomaly or..."
Connor didn't answer her at first, and she fumbled with the torch until the beam swung in his direction, suddenly terrified that he'd been snatched by something, a nameless something that lived in the dark like the monster under her childhood bed.
He blinked at her, his face pale and shadowed in the torchlight, and raised his hand up to shield his face from the brightness.
She could have throttled him for scaring her like that, when more fear was the last thing she needed right then.
He blinked again, dazed, then shrugged, his face a little slack, with cold or fear. She couldn't tell which.
"So?" he answered finally, his voice a little hoarse. "We... go looking for Becker and his men, for Cutter?"
Abby bit at her lip, another concern - another fear - to add to the many. What if she was wrong? There'd been no sign that anything had come through when they'd first arrived, or Becker - with his brisk military attitude - wouldn't have left them here while the building and its surrounds was swept. They were keeping a low profile, sure, so it wasn't all guns blazing and soldiers around every corner, but even so...
If they were wrong, if they let their irrational fears get the better of them and left, and something did come through...
"We need to see what's on the other side," she said quietly, turning towards the anomaly, the focus of her torch drifting away from Connor's face as she did so, shrouding him again in shadows. She was talking more to herself now than him, not waiting for an answer. Not until, "What if... What if there's something there, Connor?"
Connor swallowed. She could hear it in the darkness and it dragged her attention - and her torch - back to his face. He blinked again, squinting his eyes as he turned his face so that the beam didn't shine straight into his eyes. She should move it, slide it away again, but she didn't want - couldn't leave him in darkness again.
She needed to be able to see his face, to see that he was there, with her, right in front of her, with an intensity that surprised her.
"Maybe..." he said, chewing his lip, which was bloodless in the harsh light of the torch. He glanced towards his bags, and then shuffled over towards them. Abby made sure the torch followed him, watching silently now as he unzipped the largest of them and, muttering to himself all of the time, pulled something out.
After Leek, Lester had upped the research budget a little, recognising Connor's expertise in that area at least. And Abby recognised the outcome of it, even if she hadn't seen this particular model before - Connor hadn't pinched her hairdryer to make his mini-robot this time, and it was smaller, much neater and more compact.
Connor gave her a little smile, shaky around the edges.
"It might not work," he cautioned, his fingers fumbling with the connectors as he tried to get it up and running. "I mean, it's just another prototype, and if the battery dies the way the rest have..."
"It will be fine, Connor," she said, trying for reassuring and probably missing it. He smiled anyway again, and it was the only warmth left in the room.
"Got nothing to lose, right?" he asked, and she really wished he hadn't phrased it like that. He put the small robot on the floor, fishing the remote out of his bag. He wasn't muttering this time, his fingers steadier now that he had something - some aim - to focus on, and she took another breath, feeling the chill of it seep into her.
That was when she heard it, a faint sound behind them. It hadn't come from the anomaly, still glittering coldly in the corner of the room.
It had come from the stairs.
She turned her torch towards them, taking the focus of it away from Connor and leaving him in the darkness. He didn't protest, didn't move, didn't say anything but instead froze right next to her, his stillness screaming at her the way that a flurry of movement wouldn't have. Maybe he'd heard it, too, or maybe he was freaked out more by her than anything else.
Maybe she'd imagined it, letting the eeriness of the place get to her, overwhelm her common sense.
Maybe she hadn't, and she stayed still, the torch beam focused on the far wall as she strained to listen.
It came again, and the spit dried in her throat; she couldn't swallow and the light, once again, danced over the wall as her fingers shook.
There was another sound to the right of her, Connor finally shifting closer, and when she glanced over, there was enough light - or her eyes had adjusted to the dimness enough - to see that he'd pushed himself up onto the balls of his feet and was crouched next to her, ready, his face grim and terrified both at once.
It steadied her, and the torch beam stopped dancing, settling on the blacker rectangle of the door.
It was met by another beam, stronger than hers and bouncing down the steps rather than shaking, held in a firmer hand than she could manage. The breath in her body escaped in a gasp of relief, the sound closer to a sob, as Becker's black clad body finally hove into view.
The beam from his torch caught her straight in the face and she winced, turning her head away just as Connor had earlier, and raising her hand up to shield her eyes. Becker clattered closer, his beam swinging around to Connor and his footsteps solid on the stone floor. He didn't seem to feel the cold, not the way that she and Connor did, but then he was still a little bit of an unknown quantity. For all she knew, it could have been machismo. Or it could have been that the blood that ran through his veins was already as cold as ice.
She'd yet to see the man smile, although, to be fair, none of them were smiling much at the moment.
"You two okay?" he asked, his voice as brisk, as solid as his footsteps, in spite of only being around Stephen's age... the age Stephen had been.
Abby nodded, at a loss for words. Connor, however, piped up, "We couldn't get hold of you." He probably hadn't meant for it to come out accusing - not knowing Connor, who usually saw the good in everyone - but Becker's eyes flickered towards him anyway. Towards him and then back towards the anomaly, his face as cold and empty as the room.
Abby shivered again.
"Connor thinks that there's some interference," she offered, moving closer to Connor. It wasn't an intentional taking of sides, and it wasn't until she was right next to him, facing Becker, that it occurred to her that maybe it would be seen that way. But even if it was... sometimes if felt like it was Connor and her against the world, especially these days, and Becker would simply have to learn to deal with it.
But maybe not today. His eyes flicked between them and then back again, towards the anomaly, giving nothing away.
"Some form of radiation," Connor added, rising to his feet and moving closer to her, a warm steady presence by her side. "Maybe?" he offered again off Becker's sharp look, the word 'radiation' seeming to finally attract his attention.
"Is it dangerous?"
Connor looked to her first, although she had no answers for him, and then he shrugged, his mouth opening and then closing again before he finally said, "There's a whole spectrum of radiation. Even light's radiation, and heat, too, I suppose, if you look at it in certain a way." He didn't say anything else, didn't expound on his theory, and that wasn't Connor.
Abby shifted closer, a minute movement but one that didn't seem to be missed by Becker's sharp eyes. His gaze flickered between them again, giving nothing away, and then dropped down to the robot by Connor's feet, the light from his torch tracking across to it.
"We were going to send it through, make sure there was nothing before we came looking for you," Abby said, hating the way that she felt she needed to explain herself to Becker of all people, when he was the new kid on the block. Stephen wouldn't have had to have it explained to him. She wished...
Wishes were for kids, like being afraid of the dark, and she cut the thought off, abruptly, instead adding, hastily, "Cutter and you," when it came out sounding like they needed Becker to hold their hands when they didn't. His gun, maybe, but it was difficult to imagine Becker being the comforting sort. He seemed to lack Stephen's empathy, brisk where her friend had been smooth, and the contrast jarred. Even Ryan, with his easy good humour and quiet strength, had fit better.
Becker nodded, his face suddenly seeming drawn, although that might have been an effect of the dim torchlight. It washed him out as it washed out everything else, throwing the world into a series of sharp contrasts, darkness and light, bright and shadow. His gaze flickered back to the anomaly again, but there was something in it, something that she thought she recognised...
Something like the same unease she'd seen in Connor, and felt crawling up her back, inch by goose pimpled inch.
Whatever it was, it disappeared in a flash and his gaze dropped back down to the robot. He nodded suddenly, a decisive move, and then swung his torch back up to shine straight at them.
"Let's do it, then," he said and he smiled. It wasn't a comforting smile in the dim light, and his eyes were shadowed, too, dark pits in his pale face, but Abby snatched at the weak comfort it offered, giving him a slight smile in return before her focus was on Connor again, where it belonged.
It wasn't Becker's fault that he didn't fit, not yet. She owed him a chance, at least.
Connor picked up the controller, cradling it in his gloved hands as he sent the small robot careening over the floor. She tracked it with the torch beam as it went, moving even closer to Connor so that the sleeve of his jacket brushed against her every time he moved his hand on the stick. His laptop screen was showing what the camera on the robot saw now, the anomaly reflected back from there as well as being right in front of them, and she watched it, the lines of static intersecting it as it spun on the small screen.
It was eerie and beautiful, even at one remove and distorted like that, and she shuddered again, resisting the urge to grab hold of Connor's hand. It had to be the cold that was making her shake; she'd never felt this chill in the presence of any other anomaly.
The robot rolled closer and she turned her attention back to it as it finally disappeared into the spinning shards of fractured time.
She should look at the screen again, but now that it came to it she was frozen, dreading seeing what lay beyond the anomaly, the hairs rising on the back of her neck again.
Connor moved around her, one gentle hand pressing into her back, easing her out of the way even as he kept his other hand wrapped around the controller. She moved to let him pass but stayed close to him, the dread of losing him in the dimness worse than any fear of seeing what lay on the other side of the anomaly.
The change in position meant that she could see the laptop screen completely now and at first she thought that the same thing that had affected the lights, the phones, had now finally affected the laptop, too. Or maybe it had just affected the small robot on the other side, draining it of any juice before it had had a chance. And it was stupid to be worried about that.
But then Connor fiddled with the contrast, and the screen leapt into sharp relief again, full of shadows.
There was no snow, no bright whiteness, just shades of grey and black and the landscape was still, dead. What may once have been trees, now petrified and turned to stone - or ancient spires of rock that had always been rock, dead and lifeless - twisted up into a sky that was paler than the earth but just as washed out. Nothing moved; there was no life here, nothing scuttling in the shadows, nothing swooping across the sky. Nothing stirring in the picture except for the static that flickered, now and then, across the screen.
Even that didn't distract from the harsh, eerie deadness of the world beyond.
Abby swallowed, her fingers twisting the fabric of Connor's jacket as she leant closer, both attracted and repulsed by that vista. There was something about it that was just wrong. The earth should never be so lifeless, so still.
The earth had been about life, even microscopic life, for billions of years. And now this... Somehow she knew that if the robot managed to bring back a sample, the dust would be sterile.
She swallowed again, and Connor's free arm came around her even as he tried to both hold the controller and manoeuvre the robot with one hand.
The picture on the screen changed, shadows flickering across it as the robot turned, and then it, too, dimmed and died, the dark shadows being the last thing to remain before the screen went black entirely.
There was silence for a long moment as the three of them stared at the screen, and then Becker cleared his throat. It sounded loud in the silence, and Abby jumped, Connor's arm tightening around her.
"Are we sure that there's no radiation coming through from the other side?" Becker asked, his voice harsh. The fear in it now was understandable, but he was wrong about the reasons for the dead world. Abby knew it in her very bones, but it was Connor who answered.
"I don't think it's that. What you think it is." He swallowed. "I mean, that world... it ... it feels old."
Becker looked at him blankly, but Abby knew what Connor meant. Knew it and felt it, too.
"There'd still be life," she said quietly and Becker's attention turned to her, harsh and hawk-like. "If you're thinking a Mad Max, post-apocalyptic scenario. There'd still be life. Maybe not life we'd recognise, but life anyway. You only have to look at Chernobyl to know that." Off his look, she added, "Life's teeming around there. Doing better now that there's no people in the area to hunt or to kill things."
"It's old," Connor repeated, almost as though he hadn't heard her. He was still staring at the screen, even though it was dark, and the arm he had around her had gone slack. "I dunno... Maybe the sun's gone out. Maybe the world has drifted from it, or it's a red giant or white dwarf but it's not giving off enough heat. It just felt... cold. And dead. And old."
Becker stared at him a moment and then huffed, the sound dismissive. But his eyes, Abby noticed, flickered across to the anomaly again and there was no mistaking the uneasiness in them this time.
He cleared his throat again and said, "If nothing's coming through, there's no reason to stay down here. We'll move upstairs, shut the door. You two can wait up there while I track down Cutter, see where the hell the man's got to."
And that was a familiar complaint, one eerily reminiscent of Ryan. Maybe that was something they taught all of the military contingent assigned to the ARC - the ability to pack that much exasperation into a few, short words. There was no real enmity in Becker's tone, though. For all that his words were brisk, the tone underlying them stayed uneasy, on edge, and Abby's gaze darted around the dim room again as she held everything at bay - the panic within her, the ice cold tendrils of fear curling their way up her spine - through the force of sheer will.
Becker went up the stairs first, looking as though he was trying hard not to run and, even if it seemed that Connor didn't notice, Abby didn't miss that. She also didn't miss the fact that Connor only paused to pick up his laptop and his shoulder bag - the rest of the equipment stayed where it was, to be collected when the anomaly closed, when it was warmer down here.
When it was safer.
Unlike Becker, Connor let her precede him up the stairs, and she couldn't resist one last look over her shoulder as she placed her foot on the first step, strangely reluctant to turn her back on the room. Nothing but the shadows shifted behind her, dark and deep, as the anomaly still spun and glittered chillily.
It was a little warmer in the room above the basement, warmer still when Becker waited until they were through and closed the door behind them. After a moment, he pulled an abandoned, battered chair across, wedging it under the door handle before looking at them, his face now almost defiant and looking a lot younger than at any time in the few weeks since he'd become part of the project.
Abby didn't say anything and Connor, it seemed, hadn't noticed, for all that his attention was focused on the door. Instead, Connor leant against the wall then slid down it, his arms wrapped around his knees.
"Stay here," Becker said, unnecessarily. Perhaps he just needed the sound of his voice, steady and sure, to convince him that so was he. She wasn't going to comment. Instead she slid down the wall next to Connor, watching silently as Becker headed out, casting one look back over his shoulder before he disappeared into the room beyond.
He looked at the door, not them.
There was light here, too, as well as warmth, drifting in through the windows. The moon was up now, but it wasn't full. It was a thin crescent in the night sky, half hidden by the clouds. It was still better than down in the basement, and she placed the torch, end up, on the floor, so that the light spread up to the ceiling, almost like a campfire, and then she crept closer to Connor, closer until their legs touched. She was still cold, could still feel the icy tendrils of something sliding along her spine.
"Are you scared?" Connor asked, his voice dropping to a whisper even though the question was pointless. That made it worse, somehow, doing nothing to settle her unease. It was as though there was a point to whispering, like there was something out there in the gathering gloom that could overhear them. She didn't answer him, not at first. She wasn't sure how to answer him, not when she could still feel the shivers running through him like they were running through her - fear or cold, she couldn't tell. "I am," he continued, unnecessarily. "But..."
His voice trailed off in a plume of fog she could see shimmering in the torchlight. She licked her lips, feeling the sting of it as the cold air bit, even up here, and he shifted, bringing his arm around her without the overly dramatic 'just stretching' routine he'd used in the past.
This wasn't about romance, not this time. It was about them and the cold and the creeping shadows.
"It's... stupid," he finally said, his arm tightening around her, and she leant in again, resting her head on his shoulder. "I mean... it's just..."
"It's just the dark," she whispered back and he nodded his head then changed his mind abruptly, shaking it instead.
"No," he whispered. "Not just the dark..."
His voice trailed off and she swallowed, not wanting to hear it but needing to anyway.
He leant in closer. "I was thinking... what if it's not just radiation - radio waves," he corrected himself, as though she'd have the same instinctive reaction to the word as Becker had had. "What if other things were coming through as well?"
He paused, obviously turning it over and over in his mind. "I remember reading something about the way in which sounds can affect animals. People, too, I guess, since we are, you know, mammals and all that."
Warm-blooded, and she pressed closer, shifting on the cold floor until she was curled entirely into Connor.
"Harmonics," he said, the word rolling out of him but without his normal relish for science. "You know, sounds that might be too high pitched or low pitched for us to hear normally, but which we're picking up anyway, on a sub-conscious level, like dog whistles or something, and it's making us..."
"Scared?" she asked.
She gave that some thought, relieved in some ways that there could be a firm, scientific explanation for the sense of being watched, of being terrorised by the things in the dark that was still plaguing her. Except...
"Connor," she whispered, closer still, almost sitting on his lap now she was so close. "If there are sounds coming through... wouldn't that mean there was something on the other side making them?"
He had no answer for that, but his arm tightened again.
The silence stretched out between them, uneasily. It seemed to stretch out longer and longer as more time passed until it finally snapped, and she was forced to ask, "Think Becker's found Cutter yet?" more to hear the sound of her own voice than because she expected an answer. Connor shrugged, his chest moving under her fingers, but he said nothing, not at first, and all she could hear were the echoes of her own voice as they were slowly swallowed in the gloom.
"Maybe," he said, finally, his own voice sounding hollow, and she didn't remember the room being that big, the shadows shifting outside of the ring of torchlight. "Maybe they'll be back soon."
She could hope. They both could, even as they sank back into that cold, strange silence.
She didn't think she dozed - couldn't imagine daring to close her eyes in the gloom - but it seemed like time skipped for a second and it wasn't until she heard a sound through the door that... Becker had disappeared through that she looked up again.
She must still have been groggy, because the thought felt wrong as it drifted through her mind, as though she was still hanging on the cusp of sleep and the dreams were still lingering. She shook her head, sitting up and moving a little away from Connor as the sound came again.
A dark shape came through the doorway and moved towards them, footsteps echoing strong and sure on the concrete floor. Abby blinked, rubbing the cold or the sleep (had she slept? really?) from her eyes and leaning over for the torch.
Her fingers were stiff with cold and panic and the torch beam spun for a second until she finally managed to aim it in the right direction, her heart beating rapidly in her chest and Connor stirring groggily beside her.
For a second she couldn't make out who it was, the form seeming to waver in the too-bright beam as her eyes adjusted to the dark, to being awake (but she hadn't been asleep, had she?). Then Stephen blinked back at her, his eyes glittering in the beam and the rest of his face shadowed by the arm he'd raised.
"Everything okay, Abby?" he asked, and his voice sounded hoarse, like he hadn't used it in too long. Her mouth was dry again, gummy with sleep, with fear, and she swallowed, not answering him for long moments as her waking mind tried to catch up with... him.
The torch wavered, skittering over the skin of his face as he lowered his arm and turned his head, slow and lizard-like, towards her. He blinked at her again, his eyes opaque, and now...
Yes, now she could see it, the faint tracing of a thin scar on his pale skin. It snaked up from below the collar of his jacket, winding its way up the side of his neck into his hairline and seemed to glitter silver in the torchlight.
Stephen. Who had almost.
"Abby?" he prompted, taking another step closer and she blinked, scooting back a little until she bumped into Connor, her heart racing for no reason, for some stupid, stupid reason she couldn't put her finger on. Connor's hand settled on her shoulder and she jumped, the shadows skittering as her torch bounced.
Connor's voice sounded weird, groggy and vacant, and maybe he'd slept as well. Dreamt as well. She wondered if he'd dreamt the same things she had. She wondered if she'd remember them now she was awake.
dark earth and dark wood and grief and white flowers and the sound of rain
It was raining again, like it had when they'd first arrived, and the clouds were drifting across the sky, blown by the wind that had picked up. Abby blinked as the moon - almost full - came out from behind one of them and flooded the room with dim light, sending the shadows retreating back into the corners. It was quickly hidden again, and the shadows stretched out again, long and slow.
She watched them, not Stephen. Not Stephen who was still watching her.
"You guys ready to move out?"
Stephen's voice drew her attention back to him and she watched as he turned away from her. The shadows covered his eyes now, turning them from something that glittered in the dimness to dead, dark pits and she shivered. He was looking back to the door he'd come through. The door...
The door he'd left through. She remembered that now.
How could she have forgotten?
"Yeah," said Connor, close to her ear, his voice a warm breath against her skin. He was standing next to her now, and she leant back against him, seeking out that warmth when everything was so cold.
"The anomaly's closed," Stephen said, turning to face them again, his face washed out, pale white in the beam. Abby couldn't help it; she looked back over her shoulder, back towards the door to the basement and the stairs leading down to it.
The door swung slightly in the breeze, the stairwell gaping, dark and empty. Stephen was right. No light glimmered up from the depths to show that the anomaly was still there.
Stephen was right. They should... leave.
"You ready?" he asked again, and even as he turned away, moving back towards the door, she knew who was there, who'd followed Stephen back from wherever he'd come from.
Ryan's scars were dark in the light of the torch, not silvery like the one that marked Stephen. The raised, puckered flesh cast shadows of its own and, when he smiled at her, his face twisted slightly but his eyes were dark, watchful. They didn't glitter like Stephen's, although his skin was washed as pale in the night.
They were lucky, so lucky he hadn't died, back in the Permian. Weren't they?
"We should..." Connor stuttered to a stop, his face creasing in confusion. "The interference... It..." He looked to her for support, maybe, or the answers that were hovering on the tip of his tongue, lingering in the corners of her mind.
She couldn't find them for him, couldn't pull them clear from the cold and the fog. All she could do was reach out and tangle her fingers with his.
His touch was cold as he squeezed back, looking down at their clasped, intertwined hands rather than at Stephen. When he looked up again it was to meet her eyes, not Stephen's. Not Ryan's.
His face was set, somehow as grim, as scared, as it had been earlier. When...
It lingered, the idea, never fully forming.
"We should call... Cutter."
Connor's voice stumbled over the name as well, and she remembered now, remembered why Cutter wasn't here and Stephen was, even before Stephen's voice, patient on the surface, drifted back to them in the gloom.
"Cutter made his decision, Connor." The words were firm and they sank into her, bringing the knowledge of Stephen's next sentence with them, settling into her marrow even before he spoke. "He left the project six months ago. You can't keep running to him every time you have a question."
No. But somehow, Abby knew that Connor would - Connor, who could be brave and loyal to the point of stupidity sometimes.
And she'd be with him, all the way.
"Coming?" Stephen asked again, now a darker shadow against the door, Ryan - as always - by his side.
Yes. They would go with their team, because Stephen, and Ryan...
It was cold and Abby shivered, Connor's hand in hers, even as cold as it was, the only warmth she could find in this place. Stephen and Ryan had disappeared into the darkness beyond the door, now, and Connor started to follow them, tugging at her hand as he moved off. She resisted at first until he looked back at her, his eyes warmer than his fingers even if he was shivering with the same cold that gripped her. He smiled for a second before it slid away from his face, leaving a blank look behind for a moment, one she recognised.
One she felt.
Stephen and Ryan would be waiting for them. They should hurry, join the rest of their team, and Stephen and Ryan were their team. Now.
Her legs were stiff with cold and she stumbled a little in Connor's wake, thankful when he slowed his steps so that they matched hers.
Stephen and Ryan were waiting for them, and she shook off the remnants of her dream, her steps becoming steadier, more focused the closer she moved to the door, Connor by her side.
By the time she'd reached it, she'd shaken off her fugue state entirely, her mind more active, more focused now, everything settling firmly into place, as solid and real as the feel of Connor's hand in hers. Only one thought lingered as she stepped through to the room on the other side, ready to leave this place.
Be careful what you wish for.