AN: This is totally because I've been reading back-fic on the LJ comm primeval_denial.
Jenny ranted about the need for a cell phone. Near her, Abby cradled poor injured Rex in her arms. Caroline sat a bit apart, looking somewhat dazed, like she'd been struck on the head.
Connor bounced lightly on his toes, unable to keep still. They'd come out of the ventilation shaft onto the roof of a two story building in the abandoned military complex. He could see the atrium where they'd entered. He even thought he saw the smilodon through the grimy windows of some double doors across the way. No doubt the entire complex was crisscrossed and connected by underground facilities.
Part of his mind mapped everywhere they'd been, inside, in relation to what he saw now. Years of memorizing complex role-playing video game worlds allowed him to create a virtual guidebook in his head, as good as any printed map. He realized he knew, absolutely knew his way around.
"Cutter is still in there," Connor pointed out flatly, cutting through Jenny's rant.
"Connor…" Abby started, but Conner waved her off.
"Go find a phone, call in back up. I'm going back for Cutter."
"No!" Jenny grabbed at him. "We'll call for back up and then–"
"There isn't enough time." His voice cut across hers with determination. He'd already noted the door on the roof of the building beside them, planned his moves. "I'm going," he announced, starting his run.
As he vaulted onto the top of the ventilation hood and up onto the neighboring building, he could hear all three women shouting at him, but he didn't stop. He wrenched the door open and slammed it behind him.
The alarm worked. Already they could see creatures snapping and snarling, pacing through the main pen. What Cutter didn't see was Stephen's incoming fist, slamming into his head and knocking him to the floor.
Cutter grunted when he landed, the sound masking the muffled thump of the electrical powered door sliding shut.
"Stephen! NO! Stephen, you open this door!" Cutter pounded his fists impotently against the steel.
Stephen Hart shook his head, his face sad and calmly resigned. "Tell Connor and Abby to stay out of trouble," he called.
From behind Cutter, another voice joined the shouting. "Professor!"
Cutter whirled to see Connor skid through the swinging doors at the other end of the hall and come charging towards him. Helen had vanished, of course.
"Stephen's trapped! You've got to open the door!" Cutter snapped at his student.
With only a brief wild glance through the porthole window, Connor grabbed the dented controller from where it dangled and pried the box open.
Stephen's eyes widened when he recognized Connor's face, and realized that if anyone could jury-rig the damaged external controls, it would be Connor. Slowly, he edged back towards the door. He'd been prepared to die, and die well, but if there was a chance to live, he'd certainly take it!
A future predator clambered down a wall beside the door, its head cocked as it clicked at him, judging him, judging the distance, probably judging if he'd taste good. Stephen paused, tensed, keeping his breath light and even, trying to keep his heart from racing. C'mon, Connor! he thought, one eye on the predator, one on the door, ears on the rest of the beasts jostling for dominance behind him.
In the next moment, three things happened at once. The predator leapt. Stephen dove forward, ducking under its leap. And the door sprang open.
Faster than thought, the monster spun, lunging after Stephen to dig a claw into his ankle. He shouted in pain as Cutter grabbed his arms, dragging him through the half-open door. Stephen kicked with his other leg once, twice, three times, and the predator let go of his ankle with an offended snarl.
"NOW!" hollered Cutter, and the door slammed shut in the predator's face.
For a moment, Stephen could only pant from the pain and adrenaline. Then he rolled over with a groan to look up at Connor. "Thanks, mate," he gasped.
"No problem," Connor groaned. Then the younger man tipped sideways and collapsed slowly to the floor himself.
"Connor!" Cutter reached for the boy. Connor twitched out of his grasp, but the motion wasn't deliberate. His breath was fast and shallow, his body jerking sporadically. The scent of charred meat reached Cutter and Stephen.
"Tools at hand," Connor moaned, waggling his hands weakly. His fingers were blistered, blackened and bleeding. It even looked like his fingerless gloves had melted to his skin.
"Shit, he's electrocuted!" Stephen cried, struggling to stand.
Cutter tried lifting Connor up. The student kept muttering through his irregular panting breaths. "Electric Shock…. human body feels one milliampere… currents near one hundred can be fatal….." Stephen dragged himself to the wall to pull himself up. He thought he spotted a broom he could use as a crutch. "Causes…..burns….. fibrillation…. neuropathy….." Connor continued weakly, like he was reciting something memorized long ago.
"Up you get, lad," Cutter encouraged him, lifting the young man up. "His heart's going a mile a minute!" He told Stephen.
Broom finally in hand, Stephen nodded. "Fibrillation. He needs a medic, now. Take him, I'll follow."
The three men made the best pace they could. Connor could barely stand, Cutter had to practically carry him. Stephen limped along behind, trailing drops of blood from his injured ankle. Just as they reached the exit, the doors burst open with a glare of sunshine containing half a dozen special forces men, locked and loaded.
"MEDIC!" Cutter yelled. Soon several hands lifted Connor, carrying him swiftly away. More hands helped Stephen. Both wounded men were quickly transported to the back of an ambulance. Connor had gone limp in the arms of the soldiers carrying him.
Female voices cried out their names as Jenny, Abby, and that Caroline person rushed towards Cutter.
"Keep clear!" the medics ordered. They divested Connor of his waistcoat, tee, and vest with remarkable speed, getting him strapped onto a gurney. "Defibs, now!" one shouted, and another leapt for the paddles and battery. "Clear!"
Abby cried out wordlessly as Connor's body arched off the gurney. The medic listened, checked, shouted "AGAIN!" The second time, Cutter had to wrap both arms around the petite blonde girl to keep her from diving towards her flat-mate. Jenny and Abby both had tears running down their faces, the other girl looked completely aghast. On the tail of the ambulance, Stephen didn't even notice as a third medic dressed his ankle, his pale face turned towards the gurney where Connor lay in mortal danger.
The first medic held up a hand, listening through his stethoscope intently. "Good, he's stabilizing. Let's go." In a coordinated move, they lifted Connor into the back of the vehicle. Stephen was also lifted in.
"Wait!" Cutter cried as the doors began to shut, though he knew they couldn't.
"I'll keep an eye on him!" Stephen shouted back as the second door slammed, and the ambulance roared away, bearing Connor and Stephen to the nearest hospital.
The sound of the sirens rang in Cutter's ears, a gristly counterpoint to the soft sobs Abby made in his arms. "What happened?" she wailed, twisting out of his embrace to stare at him accusingly.
Cutter barely registered Lester suddenly joining the group, appearing like a wraith at Jenny's elbow. No doubt he'd come with the military contingent. "We – Stephen, Helen, and I – we lured the creatures back into the pen area with the feeding bell. But… the door controls were damaged, on the outside. Stephen… he punched me. He punched me and went back in the room with the predators." Cutter's voice was weak, disbelieving, as if he wasn't hearing himself at all. "He would… they would have torn him to bits."
"Connor came for you." Jenny prompted softly, and Cutter nodded.
"I… I ordered him to open the door. The controls were damaged. I don't know what he did, but the door opened, and Stephen got out, and the door shut. He… Connor… He must have used his own hands to ….." He couldn't continue, but they understood. Connor had to have held the connections together with his bare hands to make the controls work, letting electric current travel through them. They all remember the amount of power in the system inside, the hum of the electrical pens. Abby sobbed, pressing her face against the green lizard still in her arms. Cutter took two uneven steps and sat hard on the pavement. He buried his face in his hands. "Oh god. I almost lost them both today. Both my boys." Jenny knelt beside him, her arm around his shoulder as he shuddered with delayed reaction. "Those two brilliant, idiot, daft, boys."
Cutter quite never realized before this moment how very important both Stephen and Conner were to him. They were completely different, from each other and from Cutter himself, and yet they were like brother and son to him, and the day's near misses gutted Cutter. There was also Abby, another bright and bonny young person who'd made a place for herself in his life. He'd watched her stare down a smilodon today – how easily that moment could have gone wrong would haunt him in nightmares as well. They'd already almost lost Abby once recently, and that too had been Cutter's fault. And Jenny – watching her superior sneer in the face of Helen's madness had made his heart leap with pride and affection. She became her own person in his mind in that moment – Claudia Brown would never have stood up to Helen so boldly.
That woman's voice soothed him now. "They're going to be fine, Nick. You heard the medic – Connor is stable now, and Stephen's just going to have to live with some crutches for a bit. They're fine." Not even 24 hours ago, Cutter had held a gun to her face, and now she comforted him.
"It was too close. Too, too close." Cutter shook his head. They'd all played fast and loose with their own lives. It had to stop. He had to stop risking the people he cared about.
"In this situation, I don't think a trip to the hospital for all involved would go amiss." Lester announced brusquely. He detailed a lieutenant to drive the remaining team-members.
Stephen paced in the A&E, or at least, paced as well as one could with a pound of bandages around one's ankle and a pair of crutches. He'd tried demanding to know Connor's status, and been soundly ignored by the purse-lipped nursing staff.
Finally, a doctor appeared through the double doors. "Anyone for Connor Temple?"
"Me!" Stephen swung himself forward.
"Are you family?"
"Yes," Stephen delivered a bald faced lie that was also instantly truth, "He's my little brother."
The doctor nodded, buying it. "Well, his heart rhythm and rate has stabilized, as has his breathing. He's still unconscious, though his optical responses appear normal. We'll wait until he wakes up naturally before trying to determine the extent of the neurological damage he may have sustained."
"Neurological? Like what?"
"I'd prefer not to speculate, however with an electrical shock like this, we could see anything from loss of sensation, to cognitive disorders. We won't be sure of the extent of the damage until he wakes up. In addition, we can't really test sensation in his extremities until the burns on his hands heal. He could have sustained nerve damage in his fingers simply from the burns."
The news settled like a lump in Stephen's stomach. In his mind, a pessimistic image of a vegetative Connor appeared. Sure, he'd always seen the kid as an annoying geek, but Connor was also smart, and energetic. The idea of Connor reduced to a still, damaged, shadow of himself was extremely disturbing.
"Perhaps you'd like to explain exactly what happened to your brother, Mr. Temple?" The doctor asked Stephen pointedly.
Before Stephen could even begin to frame a plausible lie, Sir James Lester's voice rang across the room. "I believe I can explain everything for you, Doctor." The government man appeared and smoothly pulled the physician away, his tones almost hypnotic as he calmly explained why no official incident reports would be filed for Mr. Connor Temple's 'unfortunate home improvement accident'.
The rest of the ARC team was on Lester's heels. Cutter immediately grasped Stephen's arm. "You're alright?"
"Yeah, fine. Some weeks in a brace, physical therapy, blah blah."
"Connor?" Abby asked, breathless with worry.
With a hard swallow, Stephen passed on what the doctor had told him, and the whole team looked grim with the dark possibilities. Abby in particular seemed horrified, but it was clear it wasn't simply from the difficulties of sharing a flat – it was from pure care and concern. Stephen wondered if this would be the final push that put Abby over the edge and into Connor's arms, where pretty much everyone except Abby expected her to land.
"The most important thing," Jenny reminded them all, "is that he's alive. He'll wake up. We'll deal with any injuries once we know what they are." She became the voice of calm and reason for the team.
"Nick – I'm sorry," Stephen blurted suddenly. "I should have trusted you. I shouldn't have listened to her." Cutter stared at him. It was the first time Stephen had simply apologized. "I was a stupid kid with stars in my eyes when we.. when she… "
Cutter waved a hand to cut him off. "She betrayed us both in many ways, Stephen. I shouldn't have let ancient history," he used the term wryly. "Pull the team apart like I did."
There was a moment of silence, and then Abby snorted softly. "They're not going to hug or anything," she told Jenny, "if that's what you're waiting for." Stephen and Cutter both chuckled, as Stephen reached out with one arm to wrap it around Abby's shoulders.
"Where's Rex?" he asked.
"In the car still, with Lieutenant Wilson."
"Abby threatened to unman him if he let Rex escape," Jenny said.
Stephen laughed. "She didn't!"
"Oh, she did," Cutter confirmed with a grin at the feisty blonde behaviorist. "She was very… vivid."
The team all laughed together, letting go of months of tension, though still worried for their last colleague. At least they were getting back on track. It might still take some time for the trust to rebuild, particularly between Cutter and Stephen, but they had all lived to fight another day
"Mr Temple?" a nurse asked, and it took Stephen a second to remember how he'd lied.
"Yes! Yes, that's me," he told her, ignoring the amused surprise on the faces of the team.
"Your brother's awake. The doctor is with him now, but you can see him shortly." That set off a general stampede, which made the nurse wave her arms at them. "One at a time! One at a time! He's still very weak."
Stephen hesitated, glancing at Cutter, then Abby. Abby gave him an encouraging nod, letting him maintain his lie with the hospital staff. Stephen swung himself down the hall after the nurse, following her to the observation room where they'd put Connor. The doctor was just leaving, his face a professional mask which told Stephen nothing.
The younger man in the bed looked as pale as the hospital sheets, his hair a slash of darkness across the pillow. His hands were heavily bandaged, and there were a number of wires and tubes leading from his body to various monitoring machines. The steady beep of the heart monitor reassured Stephen, despite Connor's unnatural stillness. Stephen moved closer, the crutches making uneven thumps against the tile floor. Connor's eyes fluttered open at the noise. He blinked once slowly, then gave Stephen a weak smile.
"Hey," Stephen said softly, smiling back. "How are you feeling?"
"Fried," Connor answered hoarsely, humor glinting in his tired face. Stephen snickered. Only Connor would joke about getting electrocuted twice. "You?"
"Clawed up, but only a little," Stephen joshed back. Connor chuckled softly. "Everyone is out in the lobby, worried about you."
"Yeah?" It seemed like Connor only had so much energy – even only a few words appeared to take so much effort. "They said my brother was here."
"That would be me," Stephen confirmed, and Connor's smile got a little wider.
"Mum likes me better," he said with a little sing-song note in his tired voice.
"I'm sure she does," Stephen laughed. "I'm going to let the others come in, one at a time, alright?" Connor nodded. "And Conn? Thanks again, mate."
"God I hope you don't mean that," Stephen said over his shoulder as he lurched his way out of the room and back to the lobby. When he reached it, he looked over the others. "Seems okay. Next?"
Abby leapt to her feet, beating Cutter by barely a second, and hurried down the hall. Stephen grinned at Cutter. "You snooze, you lose," he said merrily.
"How does he seem?" Jenny asked.
"Fine, actually. He was making jokes."
Jenny cocked her head. "But would he be honest with you?"
Stephen blinked. It never occurred to him that Connor would lie. Why would Connor hide his condition from them?
"Hey," Abby said softly as she laid her hands gently on Connor's arm. He smiled up at her.
"Hi. How's Rex?"
She wanted to yell at him. She wanted to shake him and scold him for running back into that building, with who knew how many predators running loose, and then using his own body as jumper cables. She wanted to vent all her fear for him through anger. She wanted to get rid of the terrible memory of his body arching off the gurney as the medics reset his heart beat.
Instead, she gave him a slightly watery smile and answered, "He's fine. Just nicked, really."
"Are you hurting?"
Connor winced. "Yeah. But the doctor said the muscle relaxers should help." She could feel his arm muscles twitching occasionally under her hands. Those involuntary spasms must be running through his whole body.
"Well, you should just relax and enjoy as much time off as you can get, yeah?" Abby joked lightly. "It's not like we get regular days off."
"Yeah, a break would be nice," he agreed.
Abby bit her lip, then rested one hand over Connor's heart as she leaned over him to place a light kiss on his forehead. "I'm going to go now and let Cutter come see you," she said quietly, relieved at the steady beat she felt under her palm. His smile was soft and affectionate for her, until she mentioned Cutter. Then he frowned.
"Um, actually, I think I'm going to fall asleep here," he said uncomfortably.
"You don't want Cutter to come in?"
"Nah, I'm just… wiped out, you know? Doctor says I should get lots of rest."
Confused, Abby nodded. "Okay. I'll tell the others you're asleep."
"I'll see you soon," she told him, giving his arm a last squeeze.
Back in the lobby, when told he couldn't go see Connor, for a moment a tragic expression crossed Cutter's face that made Abby sorry to see it. But the man schooled his expression a moment later. "It's probably for the best," Cutter conceded. "He'll need his strength for all the testing they'll want to do." As reasonable as he sounded, a note of disappointment threaded through his words.
"Just as well. I need you all back at base," Lester announced brusquely. "Our people are handling the situation inside the facility, but we need to determine what to do with the ahem.. giant turtle, which fortunately Lieutenant Smythe recognized as harmless. Right now they have it contained."
"Oh!" Abby remembered the scutosaurus. "Can't we put it in with… um… Fluffy?"
Stephen couldn't restrain his snort of laughter. She'd dubbed the mammoth Fluffy?
"We should keep them separate, just in case," Cutter said.
"We'll discuss options back at base. Shall we then?" Lester turned on a heel and left the A&E, Jenny quickly following on his heels.
Abby, Stephen, and Cutter exchanged glances. "You can go?" Cutter asked Stephen.
"Yeah, I'm stitched and bandaged, free to go. Maybe one of us should stay." They both looked at Abby, who shook her head.
"He's asleep. We can come back tomorrow." She didn't want to tell them that she had the sneaking suspicion that Connor had hidden something from all of them.
The doctor cleared his throat as he entered the observation room, and Connor turned his head to gaze at him. "Now that the relaxers have kicked in, let's try this again, shall we?" the doctor said, and Connor gave a resigned nod.
The doctor flipped up the sheets at the bottom of the bed to expose Connor's feet. "Tell me what you feel," he directed, as he took hold of one ankle, and pressed a wooden tongue depressor against the bare skin of Connor's foot.
"Nothing," Connor said with a sigh. The doctor moved to the other foot. "Nothing." He could see the doctor move to his calf, but couldn't feel it. "Nothing." The backs of his knees. "Nothing." Connor's voice turned hoarse with suppressed panic.
"Alright, I think that's enough for now." The doctor readjusted the sheets to cover the young man warmly and comfortably. "It may just take some time. Get some sleep, we'll check again in the morning, do some tests."
to be continued