Disclaimer: The canon characters don't belong to me and no copyright is intended. Eric, Lauren, Ben and Sally are mine.
A/N: Thank you for all the lovely comments you've been leaving... I'm glad so many have been reading and enjoying this. I hope you're not disappointed with this conclusion. As always, reviews and comments are welcomed and help feed the muse to write more.
For a brief moment before she answered the phone, Abby had been annoyed. Connor had clearly forgotten the time difference and not realised that she'd been tucked up in bed for hours. Then, as the call connected, her annoyance turned into concern. He didn't speak but she could hear his faltering breath and sniffs. He was crying; something was terribly wrong.
"Talk to me, Connor," she said softly. She'd never felt so helpless in her life.
"Lauren's dead and it's my fault!"
Abby vaguely recalled Danny mentioning a Lauren and knew she was one of the Scientists working on the Vancouver team. "I'm sure it wasn't your fault. Try to calm down and tell me what happened." She sat up in bed and switched on the lamp at the side. She could almost picture Connor trying to compose himself, struggling to fight back his tears. He'd always been the one to wear his heart on his sleeve and she could read him like a book now, even when she couldn't see him.
Over the next few minutes, Abby managed to establish that Lauren had been killed by a creature at an anomaly call, and that Connor had blamed himself because the team weren't adequately prepared. He'd garbled on about not having the locking device finished, "If we'd locked the anomaly when we got there, those creatures wouldn't have come through at all." Then he said it was his fault that the creatures hadn't been shot because he'd insisted on doing things his way. Abby saw little point in arguing with him about it over the phone; once Connor had a bee in his bonnet about something it was difficult to convince him otherwise. There was only thing she could do.
"Come home, Connor. You don't have to be there."
"I do, Abby! At least until I've finished building the detector and a locking device. They can't do this without the proper equipment; today's shown that." Connor sounded thoroughly miserable. Truth was, the only thing really stopping him from getting on the next plane home was the fear of Abby not wanting him once he got there.
"I understand. You have a job to do and you must do it." Abby knew he would only feel even more of a failure if he didn't complete the task he'd gone out there to do, despite how unhappy he was. "Have you eaten yet? It must be late evening there."
"No... my stomach's in knots, Abby."
"You have to look after yourself, Connor. Promise me that once you put the phone down you'll go and get something to eat and drink – even if it's just a burger?"
"OK" Connor felt deflated, too tired to argue.
"And then try to get some sleep so that you're fresh and ready for tomorrow. You'll be no good to anyone if you're tired and cranky. Perhaps things won't seem so bad in the morning."
Connor smiled to himself. He almost hadn't called her, but now he was glad he had. He'd needed to hear her voice more than anything, but he realised that he also needed her straight talking and no nonsense attitude. It was that attitude that had kept him grounded whilst they were in the Cretaceous and was probably the reason they were both still alive. "Maybe you're right."
"Of course I'm right, Connor." Abby forced a laugh, suddenly realising that Connor wasn't the only one fighting tears. She thought she'd lost him forever with her stubborness, but here he was turning to her in a moment of need. Danny was right; she couldn't lose her chance of building a family with Connor because of her brother who only ever thought of himself.
"I'm going to hang up now, Connor," she said, pulling herself together. "It's nearly 4am here and I can hardly keep my eyes open."
"Oh god! I'm so sorry! I forgot..."
"Don't apologise. I'm glad you called me. Focus on finishing what you have to so that you can come home." Abby took a deep breath. "The flat's too quiet without you... I miss you."
"Miss you too." Connor's voice was barely audible. "Goodnight."
Abby whispered goodnight back and ended the call. There was another word on the tip of her tongue that she desperately wanted to say, but it wouldn't be fair on Connor if she said it now. He would be torn between his commitments in Vancouver and her... and she couldn't do that to him. He'd be home soon enough, and then they'd have all the time in the world.
When Connor arrived at the Science department the following morning, there was a weird silence. Word had spread quickly about Lauren's death and the sense of shock and disbelief was obvious. Connor paused for a moment by the door to her office before going into his own. He closed the door and stared at the half finished detector on the desk. This was the reason he was here and he had had no business trying to tell Eric how to run things. He decided he'd stay clear now and do what Abby had suggested – focus on the task and then go home to London and face up to whatever was waiting for him there; or not waiting as the case could very well be.
Ben had seen him arrive and poked his head around the door after a few minutes. "You OK?"
Connor nodded. "You had an eventful first day."
Ben walked into the office and pulled up the spare chair, sitting down to watch Connor. "I had thought Eric was kidding when he said this job involved dinosaurs."
"You still want in? Wouldn't blame you if you wanted to back out after yesterday."
"If I can do anything to prevent another person dying like Lauren did... I'm looking into getting hold of some tranquilliser guns and darts, and sourcing a reliable supplier of Rompun and Ketamine... Just wish I knew how much I'd need."
Connor knew someone who would be able to help in that regard. He scribbled a number on a post-it note and gave it to Ben. "Abby will be more than happy to advise you. Tell her I gave you her number."
Ben nodded gratefully then shifted awkwardly. "Have you spoken to Eric since yesterday?"
"He went with... Lauren's body... to the hospital, and then said he would go and speak to her parents. Don't envy him that." Connor bowed his head, remembering the look on Cutter's face when he returned from informing Stephen's family of his death. That event had been a game changer for them; it made them all wake up to just how dangerous this work was... and if something good was to come from Lauren's death too, Connor hoped Eric would wake up to the same fact. It seemed Ben had, and he was already planning for the next anomaly.
The two men parted to allow each other time to get on with their jobs. Connor welcomed the time alone and with no distractions he began to make good progress on the detector. It was beginning to look like his original one that he'd built under Cutter's guidance. The design had undergone a few changes since then, but it was essentially the same basic idea; picking up activity on the radio frequency of 87.6 FM. When they combined it with the technology they already had here, the detector would alert them to any new anomalies within moments of them opening.
After several hours, Connor yawned and stretched. He hadn't eaten all day yet again and his stomach growled. It was only 4:30 pm but it seemed much later. He decided he'd work for another hour or so and then call it a night. As he picked up his soldering iron to complete the part of the circuitry he'd been working on for the last hour, there was a knock on the door. He closed his eyes briefly, praying it wasn't another anomaly. "Come in, it's open!"
A student appeared, smiling awkwardly. "Sorry to disturb you, Professor Temple... you have a couple of visitors. They insisted that you would want to see them."
Connor smiled. He'd never actually been introduced to Eric's students as Professor Temple, but they'd all assumed that he was as Eric had said he was a Scientist from the UK and he'd never had the heart to correct them. The student stepped aside to allow the familiar, and very welcome, figure of Danny to enter the room.
"Danny!" Connor leapt to his feet and hugged his old friend. "What are doing back here? I thought Matt and Becker would have you rounding up creatures by now."
Danny swallowed and his face turned serious. "I heard about what happened with Lauren. It sounds like you could do with some help around here."
"Do we ever! I'm just not cut out for making tactical decisions in the field like you are." Connor's relief was almost overwhelming; if anyone could pick up the pieces after yesterday's mess it would be Danny – he'd pulled the UK team back together after Cutter's death after all. Then Connor realised the student had said 'visitors'. Danny wasn't alone. He peered around Danny's shoulder and the sight that greeted him made his heart leap for joy.
"Abby!" He let his tears fall unashamedly as Danny moved aside. Without a word, she flung her arms around him, holding him tighter than he'd ever been held before. Neither of them heard the office door click closed as Danny left them alone.
Ben filled Danny in on the main details of what had happened, although he did already know most of it. Abby had called him in the early hours after she'd spoken to Connor and told him. She was desperate to help Connor but hadn't known where else to turn. Between them they'd decided the best way to help was to get the next flight over to Vancouver and be there in person. Lester hadn't liked Abby going off at such short notice, but couldn't argue with her because he knew she'd go anyway, regardless of whether he gave permission or not. He'd told Danny to make sure that neither Abby or Connor did something they'd regret and got straight on the phone to the Minister to make emergency arrangements for Abby and Danny. Luckily, there was a flight from Heathrow just after mid-day and two seats in business class. Ten hours later, they had landed in Vancouver and came straight to the University.
"Where's Eric now?" Danny asked.
Ben shrugged his shoulders. "No-one's seen him since yesterday. Connor and I have been here all day and there's been no sign; not even a phone call or an email."
Danny almost felt sorry for Eric; he knew how it felt to have the death of someone on your conscience, especially someone you were supposed to be responsible for. Back in his days on the Met police, he'd been partnered with a young rookie officer who'd been a little over enthusiastic. His recklessness got him killed, and Danny had blamed himself for not reining him in and taking a proper lead. Even if Eric's intentions for the anomaly project were not what they should be, he certainly didn't deserve to lose a member of his team under his care. "I have to find him," Danny said. "Do you have an address for him?"
"Personnel probably have his address, I just have his cell phone number," Ben said. "I hope you can talk him round."
"I'll try," Danny said.
Danny wasn't one for pulling rank, but he did like the power that having British Government ID seemed to have. The University personnel department had been reluctant to give him Eric's address, even when he tried flirting with the girl on reception. It was only when he flashed his ID at them that they gave up the information he needed. He found himself in what he considered to be a rough area of town, and had to ask three people to check he was in the right place. It didn't feel like the kind of place he'd expected someone like Eric to live.
He climbed three flights of stairs before he found Eric's apartment. The policeman in him told him to be on his guard and watch his back; it felt like someone was watching him and waiting to pounce on him. He shook his head and tried to put it to the back of his mind – this was not the criminal underworld of London that he used to patrol.
Apartment 423 was Eric's. Danny knocked loudly and waited. There was no response, so he knocked again.
"OK already!" Eric's snappy voice came from within the apartment. Danny heard footsteps approaching and then the door opened. "Danny. I didn't expect to see you again. Thought you'd gone home?"
"Can I come in?"
Eric stepped aside and motioned for Danny to come in. "I wasn't expecting a guest, so you'll have to forgive the mess."
"That's OK, this isn't a social call." Danny sat himself down on the sofa and looked at Eric sternly. "I was sorry to hear about Lauren. She seemed a nice girl."
"She didn't deserve to die like that."
Danny watched Eric move towards the kitchen area and switch on the kettle to make a drink. His demeanour had definitely changed since he'd last seen him. He was a man that had given up. "It wasn't your fault," Danny finally said.
"How can you say that? You weren't there. Connor was right; we were ill prepared and had no organisation because all I was thinking about was exploiting the situation to get funding for my research."
"Maybe her death could have been prevented, but believe me, dwelling on who is to blame is counter-productive. You just have to take stock, learn a few lessons and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Eric turned away, his back to Danny. "It won't happen again. It's over."
"I didn't have you down as a quitter, Eric. I'm disappointed." Danny stood up and joined Eric, picking up the kettle to pour hot water in the mugs Eric had got ready. "Thing is, you can't just walk away from this now you're involved. It's a part of you, and you'll not be able to rest until you've found closure. You'll always have Lauren's death on your conscience until you've done something positive."
"I'm out of my depth, Danny. All I know is my Science; I'm not a fighter and I'm not a leader... not like you." Eric sighed. "All I saw was an opportunity to try and get more money for my department; I was a fool. Those things are dangerous and best left to the experts to deal with."
Danny added some milk and sugar to his coffee and leaned against the counter. "There are no experts... just people who've learnt the hard way what these things can do to you. Take young Connor; he was just a Palaeontology student interested in conspiracy theories and weird creature sightings when he got dragged into this. Since then he's lost a friend, several colleagues and spent an entire year trapped millions of years from home – do you think he asked for any of that? If Connor had just walked away when someone died, we wouldn't know half the stuff we do about the anomalies... He's not a quitter; he wants to make a difference and try to prevent other innocent deaths."
Eric scowled. "Then let Connor handle this. I don't want anything else to do with the anomalies."
"I don't believe you."
"Then I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave. This discussion is over." Eric glared at Danny, and Danny knew this was an argument he couldn't win at the moment. Events were too raw for Eric at the moment and he needed time to digest them. He left without a word, wondering what his next move should be. Vancouver had an anomaly problem, and someone had to deal with it. Ben seemed keen to continue, there were a couple of enthusiastic students... he had Connor and Abby...
"Guess it's down to me then," Danny said out loud to himself. Suddenly, he realised that he'd found where he fitted in at last; for the time being anyway. He wasn't entirely sure he liked that thought but if he didn't do this, then who else would?
The team were gathered in Connor's office the following morning, wondering what was going on. Danny glanced around at them – the two students he'd given a few shooting lessons to were there, looking a little nervous and trying to work out if they should be there or not. Ben was leaning against the edge of the desk, flicking through his thick notepad where he'd been scribbling notes from various phone calls he'd made the previous day. Then Danny caught Abby and Connor's eyes. They looked tired, thick dark circles around their eyes. For a moment he was concerned, but their smiles and the occasional loving glance at each other told him that their apparent lack of sleep was not down to being awake all night arguing; far from it.
"OK... Since Eric isn't here, someone has to take charge," Danny said, trying to look stern but with a twinkle in his eyes Abby and Connor knew well.
"And that someone is you?" Connor asked.
"For the moment. How's that detector coming along?"
"Almost there, I should..."
"Almost isn't good enough, Connor. I need it online now... and we need one of those locking devices, have you even started on one yet?"
Connor shook his head, his eyebrows knitting together with worry. "They're easy enough to make, we practically mass produce them now. It won't take me long."
"Couldn't we just get Matt to send us one of the spares over for now?" Abby said. "If we use a courier, we'll have it by tomorrow afternoon."
Danny nodded. "Can I leave that with you, Abby? Connor, you must have circuit diagrams with you?... get onto the electronics engineering department here and recruit a couple of students to help you out. You'll need to train someone how to maintain and use them anyway, unless you intend to hop on an aeroplane every time something goes wrong?"
"Aye aye, Captain!" Connor laughed, grinning from ear to ear. He squeezed Abby's hand and disappeared off in search of the engineering department; a spring in his step. It felt good to be working under a proper leader again, although his good mood was somewhat helped by the presence of Abby.
After Connor had left, Danny turned his attentions to Ben. "Did you make much progress yesterday?"
"Found a few potential suppliers, but without knowing the sort of quantities I'll need... I did try calling Abby yesterday," Ben grinned.
"Sorry," Abby smiled and felt herself blushing. "When I speak to Matt about getting a locking device sent, I'll ask if he can get Jess to forward all my notes from the menagerie by email. I've been keeping records pretty much from when we started."
"Excellent! I'll leave you two to it then whilst I take Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee here off for a few more lessons in handling firearms." Danny nodded at the two students. "It's Glenn and Scott isn't it?"
"Yes, sir," one said. "Can't wait to get started!"
Neither could Danny. The day seemed to pass quickly with everyone engaged in activity. Scott and Glenn were quick learners and soaked up everything Danny said like sponges, but Danny couldn't help being concerned. They were certainly enthusiastic, but they reminded him of the young rookie he'd been partnered with. They lacked proper experience; the sort of experience you'd only get these days if you were in the Army or the Police. If this team was going to be taken seriously, then he'd need to try and recruit a couple of men or women that were ex-military or police somehow.
Connor believed he'd finished the detector, but couldn't be certain it worked until there was an anomaly. Until then, he would have to keep checking the satellite readings that Eric's students were sending him. He'd found a very helpful Post-Grad student over in electronics engineering who had taken Connor's circuit diagrams from the locking device and said she'd set a couple of students onto it during a tutorial – bribe them with extra credit towards their degree for doing it. Sally had asked no questions about what it was for, and she'd made Connor turn several shades of scarlet when she commented that his English accent was cute. She could be incredibly useful to the team.
Abby and Ben had also had a productive day. They'd managed to secure a good supply of a couple of different tranquillisers as and when it was needed, and they'd also been to visit the Greater Vancouver Zoo and made a few contacts there. Abby had insisted Ben would need their help from time to time; she'd certainly found her old friends back at Wellington Zoo had been an incredible source of information. She just wished that Ben would have the benefit of the Menagerie like she did. What he was going to do with any creatures he couldn't get back through an anomaly hadn't been thought about yet, and Abby couldn't see how they could do it unless the University had some dis-used buildings that could house the creatures.
As Danny was preparing to close everything up for the evening, the door opened. "I was hoping you'd still be here, Danny." It was Eric.
"We've had a long day. I was just getting ready to leave."
"Can we talk? I'll drive you to your hotel." Eric was quiet, and clearly had barely slept since Danny had spoken to him yesterday.
The two men walked slowly out to the car park in silence. Danny sensed that Eric wanted to say something but was struggling to find the words. He didn't know if he should just keep quiet until Eric was ready, or if he should try to kick start a conversation. It was more than a little awkward; did he tell Eric that he'd taken over his team?
It was only after they'd pulled out onto the main highway that Eric cleared his throat to speak. "I've been looking at some possible new premises for us today."
"Premises?" Danny was puzzled.
"I had a long think about what you said yesterday. You're right; I can't just walk away from this. I've been going about it all wrong.. I understand now why there's a need to keep the anomalies secret, and I should be using my expertise and knowledge to assist, not hinder."
"Agreed. Apart from the mass hysteria and the general danger to life, there are people who want to use these things for financial gain. The data from your weather satellites alone could be very useful to someone like Connor in helping to understand how they work."
"There's an old warehouse just outside of town, just a few minutes drive from here. It has a few offices and a large open space that we could divide up into animal enclosures," Eric said.
"Sounds like you have it all figured out?" Danny smiled. It was all slotting into place nicely. Finally, Eric was understanding what he was getting into and what he needed to do.
"I'm getting there. I've a meeting set up tomorrow and I'm going to put forward a proposal. We need our own version of your ARC, with the backing of our government. I need you to be at that meeting; maybe convince them that we can liaise with the UK team?"
"I think you already are." They glanced at each other and laughed. The Vancouver branch of the Anomaly Research Centre had just opened for business.
The departures board was reading that the flight for Heathrow was boarding. Danny gave Abby a final hug and sighed happily. Not so long ago he'd have been longing to go back with Abby and Connor, but now he was more than happy that he was staying. Lester had rushed through his application for a work visa – he'd be here for at least 6 months as the field leader for the Vancouver team, whilst Eric lead the research side of things and Ben took care of the creatures. They were slowly moving into the new premises, and with Connor's guidance had set up a whole computer system and the ADD.
"You will come over for the wedding, won't you?" Abby said.
"Try stopping me! Next weekend yes?"
Connor nodded and squeezed Abby's hand. "Can't believe it's happening!"
"Did you sort out everything with your brother?"
Abby's face creased into a frown. "I don't know. I've told him when and where, and that I want him to give me away. If he doesn't turn up, then it's his loss. You were right; I need to think about the family I will have when I marry Connor. I'm going to ask Lester if he'll be on standby to give me away."
Danny couldn't help thinking that Lester would be extremely flattered that Abby would even consider him for such an important role in their big day. He tried to give the impression that he didn't care, but deep down he thought of his younger members of staff like his own children. He'd be standing in the church like a proud father regardless of his involvement on the day.
The tannoy boomed out the final boarding call for the Heathrow flight and Abby tugged Connor's hand. "We'll see you next week!" she said, kissing Danny's cheek and turning towards the departure gate. Danny watched the pair of them enviously. Holding hands, in love and facing a future together...
As he turned, he heard Connor's voice. He'd come running back and handed Danny a piece of paper with the name 'Sally Howell' and a phone number. "I almost forgot!" Connor gasped. "She has copies of all the circuits for the locking device and the detector. If anything goes wrong, she can help you."
"Thanks, good to know there's a Tech head nearby. Now go! You'll miss your flight!"
"She has a thing for English accents, especially London ones... and her favourite food is Mexican." Connor ran to catch up with Abby.
"Why do I need to know that?" Danny called.
"You're taking her out for dinner tonight! Meet her at the University clock tower at 8.30!" Connor then disappeared through the security barrier to board the flight.
Danny shook his head. Connor, of all people, had set him up on a blind date! He glanced at his watch – three hours to get ready. He had a good feeling about life for a change.