Disclaimer: Canon characters are not mine and no copyright is intended. Dr Tom Reardon is the creation of Tay_21 and I am using him with her very kind permission.
A/N: This fic has been a long time in the writing... I really hope you enjoy the ride! If you do, please let me know. Quick warning, there will be a character death. I know that will automatically spin some people out of this, but I say - things are never quite what they seem, remember that I love timey-wimey twists and ... trust the writer!
It had been five days since Connor had gone to Vancouver – five days, four hours and sixteen minutes to be exact, not that Abby was keeping track of course. By her reckoning it was the longest they'd ever been apart and she was hating every single minute. Even during those long weeks when he'd moved into Lester's place they had at least seen each other at the ARC. This was killing her and she was finding it hard to settle without him.
She'd practically begged the ARC's medic, Tom Reardon, to clear her for the flight so she could go with Connor, but at just over 7 months into her pregnancy he'd said long haul flying was out of the question. Then she'd tried to persuade Lester that someone else should go and not Connor. His reaction was simply a sigh and "As much as I hate to admit it, Connor is the best man for this assignment. He has more knowledge than the rest of the team put together." He'd promised her that Connor would be back before the baby was due and that was it. Connor was put onto a flight to Vancouver the following day.
Abby had barely slept since he'd gone. If it wasn't the baby making its presence known by kicking her, it was her own anxiety that was keeping her awake. When the phone rang, it took only a moment for it to register in her mind what it was, even though it was 4am.
"Hi, is that Abby?"
It was the phone call that Abby had been dreading from the moment Connor had boarded his flight to Vancouver. The soft, male, Canadian accent was trying desperately to hide something, but he was failing. "What's happened to Connor?"
"There was an anomaly. Look, Abby, I managed to get hold of Matt Anderson before I called you, he's on his way round to you now."
"What's happened to Connor?" Abby demanded. She was already half out of bed, turning on the light and rummaging around for clothing that she could throw on. She was trying not to think about the millions of scenarios rampaging through her mind. None of them were good; they wouldn't be calling her at four in the morning for good news would they?
"We had a creature incursion in the swamps at Burns Bog, a small group of Ichthyostegos. Connor said they were pretty harmless, so our only issue was to try and get them home. The EMDs were working well and most of the group turned and went back, but one of the creatures wasn't responding, so Connor grabbed some branches from a tree and tried to get it to follow him through the swamp. He went through the anomaly and before we could do anything to stop him, it closed."
Abby closed her eyes and swallowed down her tears. She had to be strong. This was exactly why she should have gone with him. His mind was never on his own safety when it came to creature incursions and she could have reminded him of the need not to be so reckless.
"Abby? I know this is a bit of a shock and I'm sorry that I had to break it to you like this. I can assure you that I have a team monitoring the site and as soon as the anomaly reopens a rescue squad will go through and find him."
"If the anomaly reopens... it might be a one-off, or it could be years before..." The emotion was beginning to get the better of her, and almost as if it sensed something was amiss, the baby stirred inside her. She rested her hand on the bump for reassurance, though whether it was for herself or the baby she couldn't say.
"You shouldn't be alone. I'll stay on the line until Matt gets to you."
"Thank you... I don't even know your name, I'm sorry."
"Evan. Evan Cross. I'm the team leader."
Abby nodded. She remembered Evan from the video conference call about a month ago when the Canadian team made themselves known to the UK team. It was clear he was used to being in charge and was confident speaking to total strangers. He and Matt had hit it off straight away, and Abby had to admit there was something she liked about him too – until he mentioned his research. There'd been a collective intake of breath, and Connor and Matt exchanged concerned looks. She wondered if Connor had mentioned Philip Burton and explained to Evan what happened when the anomalies were interfered with.
Abby had put the phone onto loudspeaker as she sat on the edge of the bed to pull on a pair of oversized sweatpants and one of Connor's t-shirts. As she pulled it over her head, she caught a hint of the scent of the aftershave he wore and she felt tears in her eyes again. She blinked and fought them back, losing it now would be no use to anyone, especially not Connor or their unborn baby.
"These creatures, Evan. You said Connor thought they were harmless?"
"Yeah, they were kind of like lizardy fish things. Early forms of amphibians. Connor was giving us the old trivia thing but that was about all I listened to."
Abby felt a smile spread briefly across her face. She could picture it exactly. Whenever they encountered new creatures, Connor always seemed to know something about them as if he had a giant encyclopedia in his head that he could access in an instant. He'd once said that people used to think he was odd for remembering all of that stuff, but his knowledge had been invaluable. It was rare that he was wrong. Knowing that the creatures he had followed through the anomaly were harmless was a small comfort; at least he wouldn't be in any immediate danger. But where exactly in time was he trapped? She'd never heard of these Ichthyostegos before.
"Was Connor armed?"
"He had his EMD with him."
"Good." Abby blinked and tried to see the positive in that fact. They'd had no weapons at all when they got themselves stranded in the Cretaceous and they'd survived perfectly well. Connor had become incredibly resourceful in that time and could fashion spears easily. She'd also taught him some basic kick-boxing moves that had proved quite useful at times. All that was irrelevant now though. Survival wasn't just about being able to defend yourself. It was about keeping your sanity, and they'd only managed that in the Cretaceous because they were together. Connor was alone, stranded millions of years from home. How long he'd be able to keep himself sane enough to survive was anyone's guess.
Abby heard the sound of a car engine outside and she moved over to the window. "Matt's here," she called out to the phone.
"I'll stay until I hear his voice."
She was at the front door and opening it before Matt had even got to it. He followed her silently into the flat, closing and locking the door behind him. "Abby, are you OK?"
She simply shook her head and allowed Matt to wrap his comforting arms around her and pull her to his chest.
James Lester pinched the bridge of his nose then began to pace impatiently around the office. Jess was trying to establish a connection to the Vancouver team via the video phone whilst Matt was filling Becker in on the situation.
Abby had insisted on coming in with him. There was no way she could just sit around at home, wondering what they were doing to find Connor, and Matt knew he'd not stop her even if he tried. He figured not arguing with her was the best thing all round. She did look awful though, all this stress and worry couldn't be good so close to her due date. He had made a note to speak to Tom Reardon after the conference call and ask him to give Abby the once over. Maybe she'd listen to him if he told her she needed to rest.
The video screen began to flicker into life, and Matt and Becker settled themselves either side of Abby, with Emily just behind her. Jess perched herself on the edge of Lester's desk, and he stepped forward in front of the camera so that he could lead the call.
"Lester!" Evan's strained smile spoke volumes. He had dark circles under his eyes and looked as if he hadn't shaved or combed his hair in days.
"Cross. I appreciate you staying up to take this call, it must be the early hours over there?"
"2 am, sir. But I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway. I'm afraid there's no further news to report since we last spoke. My team are monitoring the site round the clock for any sign that the anomaly is going to reappear."
Becker swallowed and felt something twist in his stomach. This all seemed far too familiar. He recognised the look on Evan's face; he'd seen similar in his own mirror for months after Danny, Connor and Abby had disappeared. The guilt he'd felt at not doing more to protect them had weighed heavy for a long time, and then when Sarah got killed during a rescue attempt it had almost broken him completely. He supposed Evan would be feeling pretty much the same right now and he empathised with him.
Lester also knew this situation well. He'd been grateful that neither Danny nor Connor had living relatives that needed to be given a cover story to explain their disappearance. Abby's brother had knowledge of the anomalies anyway, so there was no point lying to him. He had to be kept calm and persuaded not to go public; getting him to sign the official secrets act had been a stroke of genius on the Minister's part. The threat of what the government could do to him if he told anyone was enough to keep him quiet. He didn't ask any questions, and that made things a lot easier to handle. This was a little different though of course. Abby knew everything and nothing could be kept from her. It somehow made it so much harder. Abby would demand answers and would not be simply fobbed off in the same way her brother had been.
"I had my guys do a little research," Evan continued. "This might help Abby feel a little less anxious. Those creatures are from the Devonian era. If the research is correct, the air is breathable for humans, there's plenty of fresh water and plant life, untouched forests and virtually no dangerous predators."
"Almost like a holiday," Jess said in an attempt to lighten the mood, but the looks she got from everyone told her to stop there. It would be far from a holiday for Connor. Abby leaned forward and squeezed Jess's hand to show she at least appreciated what she was trying to do.
"So what's your plan of action?" Becker wanted to know.
"I guess we sit and wait for the time being," Evan responded. "I'm sending Jess some of our readings from the black boxes. Hopefully there'll be enough to cross reference against previous anomalies and we can see if it matches others and predict when or if ours will reopen some time soon."
"Most of the anomalies we've encountered before have been one-offs," Matt said. "The chances of it reopening are slim, and finding another one that leads to the exact same time and place is highly unlikely. It's a waste of manpower to have them just sitting at the site. I can have Jess talk your Field Co-ordinator through setting up an alert on your ADD to let you know if an anomaly opens at those co-ordinates."
At that point, Abby stood up and pushed her chair back, making it scrape against the floor tiles. She practically ran to get out of the office. Matt was on his feet and went to go after her, but Emily stopped him. "Let her go," she said softly. "You know what Abby is like. She doesn't like to show any emotion in front of anyone except Connor. Give her a few minutes to herself and let her have a cry. She'll feel better for the release. I'll go and find her when we're done here."
Matt nodded and sat down again. Emily was incredibly perceptive when it came to people's behaviour and he firmly believed that if she'd had a modern upbringing, she'd have become a Psychologist or a Counsellor.
"We have to face facts," Lester said, addressing the group as a whole including Evan. "Short of some kind of miracle, that anomaly is not going to reopen in the near future and Connor is not coming back for a while. Our priority has to be taking care of Abby, and the baby when it arrives."
"You're giving up on Connor?" Becker said angrily.
"Captain Becker, you know better than anyone else here what happened before. There isn't anything practical that we can do to bring him back, other than monitor for anomalies that might take us to the right era. Then, and only then, will we consider mounting a rescue if it's safe. I can't risk any further life."
Becker's fists clenched, and Matt reached over and placed his hand on the Captain's shoulder. "Easy, mate. Save your anger for those that deserve it." He felt Becker's body become less tense and then turned to the camera. "Evan, can you send us your data from the black boxes as soon as possible, and can we schedule in a daily call to discuss any progress? Even if it's just you and I, I think it's important we communicate."
"Of course, Matt. Mac's already uploading it to the system, Jess should get it in an hour or so."
Lester ended the call and dismissed everyone, insisting it should be business as usual. Matt hung back until everyone else had gone so that he could speak to Lester. The two men exchanged a look of mutual understanding. "You haven't given up on Connor, far from it. And neither have I."
Lester sighed. "That man has an annoying habit of bouncing back no matter how hard he gets hit."
"Yes, he does. Let's not forget that." Matt smiled and left the office.
The cool breeze and the fresh air made Abby feel light headed. It was a relief to get out of that office; listening to them basically saying that they didn't think Connor would come back hurt, even if she agreed with them to a certain extent. She leaned against the wall to steady herself and placed her hand on the curve of her swollen stomach. The baby was kicking, as it usually did in the morning. Normally she'd be happy to feel it and Connor would be stood there with his hand where hers was now with a wide, silly grin on his face. Now it just reminded her that it was only weeks away from being born, and that it was likely Connor wouldn't be there at the birth like he'd promised he would be.
"How could you be so bloody stupid, Connor?" she sobbed out loud. "The rules are there for a reason! No-one goes through an anomaly, especially when your baby is due in a few weeks! Why couldn't you stick to the rules for once in your life?" The tears began to stream down her cheeks freely as she waited for an answer she knew wouldn't come.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something move. Wiping her cheeks, she turned to see what it was. It was just a shadow, a man with a large EMD. At first, she thought it was one of Becker's men, but then it moved and she recognised it. "Connor?" Her heart began to pound; he'd found his way home? Maybe all of that back there was a bad dream or a cruel joke and he hadn't gone through the anomaly at all?
"Connor?" She moved towards where the shadow was and turned the corner, hoping she'd see him, but there was nothing there.
"Abby?" It was Emily just behind her. Abby pulled herself together. Perhaps it was Emily's shadow she'd seen and her mind was playing tricks on her because she was so tired. "You look exhausted. When did you last eat a proper meal?"
Abby couldn't remember. "I'm not hungry," she replied.
"Well, I am. I'd like some breakfast. Jess says the new coffee place across the road does wonderful ham and cheese bagels. I'd love to try them, but I haven't quite got the hang of modern money and shopping yet. Come with me. You'd be doing me a massive favour." Emily smiled and held out her hand for Abby to take. Abby was no fool, she knew exactly what Emily was doing but she was too tired to argue.
"OK, maybe I could manage a bagel."
"Excellent! It's not far to walk, but if you're not up to it I can ask Matt to drive us there."
"I'm pregnant, not an invalid," Abby laughed. "Come on." As they slowly made their way over to the coffee shop, Abby tried to push away the fear of being alone that was slowly creeping up on her. She'd been on her own for almost a week, but whilst she had missed Connor there was always the security of knowing it was just miles separating them. This was different; there were millions of years between them now and the chances of seeing him again seemed incredibly remote.
The anomaly had closed without warning. It hadn't even flickered or given any indication that its strength was waning. If it had, Connor wouldn't have paused to take in the scenery after he'd coaxed the Ichthyostego through.
He stood staring at the empty space where the anomaly had been for a while, willing it to reopen. When it didn't he felt his stomach twist as the realisation dawned on him. He was trapped with no means to get home.
Perching himself on a rock by the edge of the swamp, he took out the dating calculator. It was still reading the date he'd taken when the anomaly opened, confirming that he was in the late Devonian era and he tried to remember the few facts he did know about this time. He recalled one of Cutter's lectures calling this the "Age of the fish" and it made him smile. At least he wouldn't be hungry; he'd become quite the fisherman during his time in the Cretaceous and fish had been their main source of protein. If he could find a decent lake close by, he'd be fine.
Then he shook himself. Why was he even thinking about that? Right now, Evan would be calling the UK and asking if there was a way to reopen an anomaly or force one open. They'd be telling him it wasn't possible, then Matt would remember Helen's device and ship it over to Vancouver and... His heart sank. Helen's device had been swallowed by the Spinosaurus that had followed him and Abby home, and it had activated inside its stomach making the creature and the anomaly implode and disappear. There really was no way home unless this was one of those rare anomalies that reoccurred. And even if it was, it could be months or years before it reopened.
"Come on, Connor. Time to think practically and not emotionally," he said out loud. Abby had drummed that into him a thousand times. If he was going to be stuck here for a while, he had to think about how he was going to keep himself alive. Water was obviously his first priority. It was quite warm here, almost humid, and dehydration would set in pretty quickly. The water in the swamp was thick with mud and slime and smelt almost like rotten eggs. Only a severely desperate man would drink it and Connor hadn't quite got to that point yet.
From past experience, he knew there had to be some kind of spring or stream feeding the swamp; in this heat there was no way it would stay so damp if there wasn't. Sure enough, about 20 metres away, Connor found a steady trickle of fresh, clean water filtering through a small crevasse in the rocks. The temptation was to gulp long mouthfuls down but again his experience in the Cretaceous told him to approach with caution. He cupped his hand and let the water fill it. He then wet his lips and his tongue and waited. This was something he and Abby did every time they found a new food or water source, guessing that they'd know if something was poisonous from a small amount in their mouth without actually ingesting it.
After a few minutes with no ill effects, he cupped both hands and filled them so that he could take a good drink. Thirst quenched, he then tried to decide what he should do next. Food shouldn't be much of a problem; there were some basic plants here with roots he'd be able to boil up and he was certain there would be fish further upstream. Trouble was, he was reluctant to stray too far away in case the anomaly did reopen. In the Cretaceous he'd made a very crude detector using the metallic objects in the backpacks both he and Abby had. They'd at least been prepared for the possibility of being stranded for a while then; all he had here was his mobile phone, a bunch of keys and his EMD. They would have to do.
He dismantled the EMD with ease and set about hanging the various components from vines on nearby trees. They'd clatter together if the anomaly opened and he'd hear them if he was a distance away and unable to see. It would at least give him a wider hunting ground.
It all seemed a little too easy. By the time night was beginning to surround him, he'd built a small fire, had smoked two small fish he'd caught and cooked another. His stomach felt reasonably full and he'd had enough water to drink. "You've turned into a proper Bear Grylls!" he said to himself, smiling briefly before slumping his shoulders and staring into the dying flames. The light was casting odd shadows in the surrounding area and in the corner of his eye he could have sworn he saw someone. He turned to look but couldn't see anything. Figuring it was just a branch swaying in the breeze, he sniffed and looked around for a soft spot where he could sleep.
It was only when he pulled his jacket around him for warmth and rested his head on a pile of soft moss that he stopped thinking practically and let his emotions take over. He was alone, millions of years from home and missing Abby. He reached into an inside pocket in his jacket and found his wallet. Tucked behind his British Government ID card was half a strip of passport photos of Abby. They'd been taken not long after their return. Both had had to get their ID and passports reissued, so they'd gone into town and used the photo booth in the supermarket. After taking the two serious photos she'd need, Abby had stuck her tongue out at the camera for the third and laughed for the fourth. It was those two photos that Connor was looking at now.
Tears began to roll down his cheeks as he pressed his fingers to the photos. "Abby! I'm sorry." A thousand thoughts filled his head – he'd never see her again, never know what their baby looked like. Would she wait for him, or would she move on with her life and find a good man to take care of her and the child? He hoped Matt and Becker would look out for her and make sure that anyone who came sniffing around her was worthy of her love. His last thought as sleep overcame him was that she was probably better off without him anyway if he was stupid enough to get himself stranded in the past when he should have been with her and preparing for the birth of their baby.