When people asked how she was, she always replied the same way: "I'm alright."
But it wasn't right. It was wrong. It was all wrong.
Being back in the present was supposed to be everything they wanted. They would go back to the ARC (the old ARC, the one that was bright and open and full of Cutter's spirit - not that military fallout shelter), Danny would have found his way home using Helen's device, and Connor would delve into its workings with characteristic enthusiasm. Sarah would still be alive. They would find a new flat, rescue 'the kids' from those cells in the Menagerie, and have a proper home again.
She should have been able to rest now. The constant threat of predators was gone, and logic whispered that she didn't need to have her guard up all the time. So why did she feel like this world was just as dangerous as the one they'd left? It felt like she'd hidden some undefinable part of herself away in the Cretaceous. Something she hadn't needed at the time. Then they'd left too fast, she'd forgotten to pull it out of the pit in the back of their shelter, and now she could never retrieve it. It left a dull, relentless nagging sensation.
She tried not to think about the changes in their lives, because the denial was overwhelming. Their old world had died and been abruptly replaced by this horror.
Whatever the situation with the world they'd returned to, she should have been able to relax with Connor. She knew intellectually that she trusted him, that he was unequivocally on her side, and that he was utterly dedicated to her safety and happiness. And it depressed her to no end that she was so broken that she couldn't let him give her that. He wanted desperately to help her, and she really tried, but somehow she couldn't relax in the company of people.
In truth, the only time she felt some degree of normality was when she was in the Menagerie, as cruel as the place was. The irony didn't escape her; all they'd wanted was to get back here, away from the creatures who threatened them constantly, and now she only felt right when she was in the presence of them. She'd always felt most at home with her lizards, but this was something else entirely.
For the first time, she could understand how Helen could have gone as mad as she had. Living in the past was a challenge, but coming back was a million years away from simple.
Abby lay curled up in the over-fluffy bed with Connor molded to her back and snoring slightly in her hair. This insomnia was starting to wear at her. She alternated between periods of numbness and barely repressed panic. Even with Connor here, something wasn't right.
She couldn't help it when she started to cry. A few tears at first, and then great wracking sobs that she couldn't make stop.
"Abby?" Connor mumbled, rubbing her arm.
But she couldn't make them slow. She was hyperventilating and panicked and utterly out of control. It was terrifying.
"Abby," Connor tried again, more awake this time. "What's wrong?"
Everything, Connor. And it will never be right again.
She pushed herself to her feet and fled. Her sense seemed to have taken leave, but she at least acknowledged that, wearing just a vest and knickers, she could hardly go running out of Jess' flat into the cold night, so she went as far as she could. Her feet drew her without conscious thought to the living room, to the corner, to the tiny space between the couch and the wall. She wedged herself as far as she could and pulled her legs to her chest.
"Baby?" Connor asked, having followed her and crouched a careful distance away. He sounded scared. "What can I do?"
She just shook her head and rocked herself. God, how she hated feeling helpless, and she dreaded the embarrassment that would come the next morning when the attack had passed and she had rearview clarity.
"Abby, have a seat."
"What can I do for you, Lester?" she asked, perching on a red leather chair across from his desk.
"How are you doing?"
Now *that* was unexpected coming from him. "What? Fine. A little hungry, I guess."
Lester shook his head. "I mean how are you coping? Being back after what you've been through."
"M'fine," she lied. Then, to lend credibility, she added, "Takes a little adjusting to the new ARC."
Lester looked at his desk and took a quick inhale before speaking again. "You realize that my job includes looking out for the wellbeing of my team as much as anything else."
"What are you talking about?" she asked wearily. It was only 10 o'clock and she already felt she could use a break.
"I've lined up a psychotherapist to be available to the staff. She's been briefed as to the work we do here, and about recent events."
Abby's eyes narrowed. "What did Connor tell you?"
"He's concerned. Quite frankly, I am too. You haven't been yourself."
Unexpectedly, Abby's temper flared up. "Not myself? How would you even know who I am anymore? I've been gone for a year, and not just on holiday."
Lester declined his eyes in what Abby recognized as a pacifying gesture. It just fueled her anger.
"Look, you and Connor have been through a very difficult year, and I'm sure it's not any easier for you now with the new facility and regulations."
"It's a challenge. I'm doing fine. You can't expect me to be a ray of sunshine. And I certainly can't be enough sunshine for what those poor creatures need." Once she'd stumbled upon the outlet, she let the tide of her anger flow unchecked. "Rex needs to be able to really fly, the Mammoth - the creature that saved you - can barely move it's so cramped. Even prisoners get yard time. The ARC used to handle that appropriately. I see new management hasn't taken any lessons from what we already had working properly!"
"I've been working on another solution, and I would welcome any suggestions you have." Lester picked up a stack of papers and straightened them. He was uncomfortable. Lester was uncomfortable. "In the meantime, feel free to make use of the new resource I mentioned. Sometimes it can be helpful just to talk things through."
Connor was at work on his laptop on a desk nearby when she emerged. How dare he go behind her back like that? She shot him the most scathing look she had in her and went straight to the Menagerie. She'd let Rex out to fly in the room with her as she worked. He at least knew how to be good company, and didn't expect anything more from her than usual.
Leaning halfway over her in bed that night, Connor kissed Abby languidly. He had brought her chocolate in a peaceful gesture after her meeting with Lester, and Abby had uncharacteristically let her anger slide. Now, she found that it had been replaced by that same tense emptiness.
"Abby," he whispered into her neck, "relax."
She took a hesitant breath.
"We're safe here."
"I don't think I can relax. Nothing feels safe anymore. Nothing feels right."
"Not even…?" There was no mistaking the lilt in his voice.
"I'm not in the mood."
"I know," he replied soberly. "That's okay, but can I? Please?"
She rolled her eyes and gestured downwards. "Be my guest."
Connor smiled and moved downwards, stopping to tickle her briefly.
"Connor!" she squirmed, chuckling a little despite herself. "I thought you were trying to relax me."
But the tiny bit of laughter had, just a tiny bit.
And then he was between her legs and his mouth was on her, making long, slow strokes of her outer lips, and kissing her inner thighs. There was no insistence, he didn't even seem to be trying to stimulate her. This was something so unique about Connor; the way he took his time while going down on her was unlike any boyfriend she'd had before. With all the others, there'd always been the goal, the big O, the rush to get to the end… to the part where she'd reciprocate. But Connor always acted as though it was a privilege, and even if it led to nothing more, he was happy to be allowed to caress that most sensitive place. It wasn't just a sexual spot in Connor's eyes, it was a sensuous one.
So he used his mouth on her, and ran his hands along her body, tempo slow and undemanding. She felt as though she might drift off with his warm mouth enveloping her, and it seemed as though that may have been his actual goal. It was when sleep had just started to call to her, that he pressed his tongue inside her. Though just as undemanding as the rest of his movements, it had plucked a chord within her and her breath caught.
Noticing, he began to deepen his movements. Suddenly he was highlighting her clit, where it had been just a part of the whole a few moments before. Abby felt her eyes water. She hadn't been in the mood before, and she still wasn't really, but sensing her body's change, he had started coaxing her response from her. The man could be so clueless sometimes in so many ways, but he'd learned how to listen to her body over the last year, and he put that knowledge to good use. He was playing her artfully, building an unhurried crescendo. And when he directed one finger inside to press that precise spot, Abby's breath quickened until she was overtaken by the swell and tears escaped at her release.
His Abby had something broken inside of her, and Connor wanted so desperately to fix it. She'd sunk into this depression so quietly that it had taken her panic attack for him to take action, and even then he'd been too cowardly to approach her directly. Somehow he knew what her response would be to the suggestion that she had a problem, and he didn't know how to respond to that. So he'd settled on an unspoken method; make help available to her, be there for her when she eventually opened up, and do what he could to get her to relax.
And he'd finally succeeded in that third goal. It made him so very hard to watch her finally come undone, but at this moment, the pride that he could do this for her was so satisfying that he didn't want to disrupt either of them. It was far from solving her problems, but it was enough for right now.
"Connor?" she whispered into his shoulder after they'd settled back in the pillows.
"I'm not alright."
"I know. It's okay." When she opened her mouth to protest, he added, "No, I mean it will be. We're gonna get you some help."
Help. Yes. She could admit it now, she needed it. Abby nodded her head and let the hormones still lingering her system lull her to sleep in Connor's warm arms.