("The truth will set you free")
Written for Primevalathon Spring 2010
Prompt: Set after/during 2.04 - In the flat at the end of the day, Connor tells Abby what he said holding onto her on the cliffs (that he loved her). She doesn't believe him right away and thinks he just got caught up in the moment. Happy ending, please! :)
They both climbed the spiral stair to their flat as if they had ten pound weights on their ankles. The familiar surroundings were a balm on their souls, though Connor had to suppress a shudder as he remembered the grim few hours he'd spent there alone with Rex, thinking the worst.
He made a small sound, a cross between a sigh and a groan as he rubbed at his face, the salt in his skin not entirely due to the heavily salinated water that had poured out of the future anomaly. He glanced over his shoulder at Abby, who looked even more waterlogged than he did, her clothing filthy, her makeup smudged and messy. She never looked more beautiful to his eyes. She was here and alive, and he'll take that miracle over posh frocks and perfect styling any day.
Connor gave Abby a wry smile. "Maybe you should have a lie-down," he suggested. She looked tired, and he didn't blame her at all. He certainly couldn't have tread water for hours on end, then kicked mer-creature arse, and climbed a cliff-face. Just more proof to what an awesome person Abby Maitland was.
"Yeah…" she sighed. Her eyes tracked up to his face. Abby contemplated him for a moment. Connor's grin when he'd first seen her, in that flooded warehouse basement, had lit up the room. Looking back, Abby realized she'd seen his relief then. When the giant mer-creature had swatted him, she couldn't have suppressed the scream that was torn from her. Abby had been sure the creature had broken his neck. It had swept her up and carried her through the anomaly, and though Abby wouldn't admit it now, the whole time she had been sobbing with grief, thinking that her friend was dead. When she'd wriggled free on the other side and run, it had been only instinctual to try to save herself, though her heart had already been broken. She couldn't remember when Connor had become so important to her. She only remembered the way her chest had ached over losing him. Hearing him call her name had been like a miracle. And what he had said to her, when he refused to let her fall and save himself….. "Connor?"
His eyes, as warm as ever, gave her a questioning look.
"Back there, on the other side of the anomaly… You said something." She decided she ought to let him off the hook, give him the chance to retract what he said. After all, he couldn't truly love her, that was ridiculous, and of course he had a girlfriend. They were mates, the best of friends, and as the saying goes, 'familiarity breeds contempt'. The way they lived in each other's back pockets all the time, there was no way he could still fancy her. And then there was Caroline, who Abby rather thought was a step up from herself. Conn couldn't possibly want Abby when he had a girl like Caroline now.
Connor's expression had turned a little frightened at her words. A little 'deer in the headlights', she thought. No doubt he was worried she'd call him on his sentiments. And she expected he didn't want to hurt her feelings. Connor would never hurt anyone's feelings deliberately. He was just sweet like that.
"Yeah… I said a lot of things, didn't I? Mainly 'aaaahhh'…" he joked weakly.
Abby nodded a little to herself. Just as she thought, heat of the moment. "Maybe I didn't hear you right." But before he could confirm her error, she heard herself adding, "I thought you said something about how… you felt about me." That wasn't at all what she'd meant to say!
"Did I?" His voice went soft and a little hoarse. Connor remembered clearly what he said. For all that he'd said it to explain why he had to save her, why he couldn't let go, couldn't face another minute thinking she was gone, it was no less true. Connor felt he truly loved Abby. The gaping hole in his chest he'd suffered that day when he thought she was drowned and dead only confirmed how far he'd fallen. He'd known for ages that he cared for her, wanted her, and would do anything for her. His headlong rush into danger to save her today was simply proof. "Abby, I –"
"Connor!" Caroline's voice preceded her presence only by seconds. The trendy young woman bounded up the stairs with a bright smile on her face. "You're not even dressed!" she exclaimed with dismay. Abby froze, shoulders hunched, unable to face Connor's no-doubt totally cool and put-together girlfriend.
Thrown, Connor blinked in confusion. "Not dressed? What do you mean?"
Caroline's voice was full of fond exasperation. "The theatre, remember?"
"The theatre. Right. Um…" Connor's gaze flicked to Abby, who wouldn't meet his eyes, and suddenly a sense of steel shot through his spine. "Caroline… hang on." He jumped down the steps from the living area, but as he passed Abby, he touched her arm lightly. "I'll be right back," he whispered. He hustled Caroline back down the stairs.
Abby crossed to the kitchen to grab the kettle. She turned on the faucet, the noisy rush of water drowning out the sound of any conversation.
Until she heard Caroline's voice raise into an affronted shout, followed by the distinct smacking sound of a palm meeting skin, and the slam of the door.
Abby stared at Connor as he came back up the stairs, left eye watering and left cheek flushed with the imprint of a hand.
"She bloody hit me," he whined.
Speechless, Abby wet down the washcloth in the sink and handed it to him. He pressed the cool fabric against his face, sighing a little.
"Why did she hit you?" Abby finally asked.
"Because I broke up with her," he mumbled back.
"You – you broke up with her? Why?"
Connor's face was turned to the floor, but he glanced up at her from beneath his lashes. Color rose in his face to match the flush of Caroline's blow. "Can't be seeing one woman after telling another I love her, now can I?"
The aluminum kettle bounced and spilled water all over the floor when Abby dropped it. For a moment, she just looked at him in shock, and then her defenses kicked in.
"Don't be stupid, Conn," she snapped as she picked up the kettle and tossed a dishtowel to the floor to soak up the spill. "You didn't mean what you said, I know that. It was just the… excitement… of the moment. Now go on; if you hurry, you might be able to catch Caroline and get her to forgive you." She turned away to refill the kettle.
"Abby… Abbs… I did mean it," he said to her back, and she shoulders stiffened involuntarily. "I meant what I said. All of it."
"Shut up, Connor. You don't know what you're talking about."
"Abby!" He grabbed her arm and pulled her around. She averted her eyes, not wanting him to see, but Connor had learned to read her pretty well by now. He saw stubborn anger in her face, but knew it for denial. "I know exactly what I'm saying," he told her firmly. "I love you."
Abby let out a huff of air. "As mates, fine." She wished he'd just concede to the reality of the situation and let it go. She was willing to admit she cared for him, that she'd been frightened for him, even that she considered him her very best friend, but she couldn't believe he really felt what he said.
"Not just as mates," he countered. "Yeah, you're my best friend, but I really love you too, Abby."
She shook her head. "You couldn't possibly, Conn."
"Because!" Abby waved her free hand about. Didn't he see it? She wasn't the type. She'd never been the type for love and romance and stuff. Oh, she could do the girly thing when she wanted, but it was just a façade used for fun. Abby Maitland was not, and had never been, the relationship type. She'd always gone in for flings, fun and laughs, a bit of a romp, but no strings, no attachments. She didn't have what it took to make a man devoted to her like that, and she knew it. She didn't have the qualities needed to be loved.
Connor cocked his head as he looked at her. He let go of her arm. Maybe he was misreading her after all. He'd thought maybe her hostility over Caroline had been jealousy. That subconscious suspicion had given him hope, and the terror of losing her over that cliff had led him to admit his deepest feelings for her in desperation. But now, her vehement denial of his feelings rocked him back. Telling her how he felt was the hardest thing he'd ever done in his life, but clearly she was utterly repulsed by his affections. He'd somehow found the courage to admit the truth, here when it was just the two of them, not a life-threatening situation, and she didn't even care enough to let him down easily. "Alright. I'm sorry."
Something of his heartbreak must have shown in his face, because Abby's eyes flicked to him, away, and back again. Instead of fleeing, she stood exactly where he'd left her. Tense silence filled the air between them.
"I love you," he said once more, quietly, his voice deadly serious. "It's the truth. But I'll shut up now." He left her then, dragging his weary body up to his loft room. Alone, he collapsed onto his bed with a deep groan. Every part of him hurt. His feet, his legs, his torso torn up from the rocks, his arm almost pulled from its socket, hands sore and raw, his head pounding with Caroline's slap and Abby's dismissal. And his heart throbbed and ached in his chest. He shut his eyes and curled up into a ball, trying to will all his hurts away.
Abby wrapped her arms around herself. At first, she was just angry. How dare he? she thought. How could he lay this bullshit on her? Fine friend he was, playing head-games like this.
Her anger warmed her, gave her the energy to clean up the spilt water, dump the kettle, and bang around the kitchen putting things away. Then she stomped to the bathroom. She'd take a shower, which she desperately wanted, and use up all the hot water too. See how he liked that.
Unfortunately, as she peeled off her rumpled, salt-crusted clothing, her mind started to replay the events of the day. She remembered his face, full of joy when he saw her alive. She remembered her grief when she thought him killed by the mer-creature.
Most damning of all, when she stood under the steaming shower, letting the water pound on her back, she remembered the flare of hope that filled her when he'd said those words.
I lost you once, Abby. I'm not losing you again.
I can't…. I love you. I'm not leaving you here.
She choked on a soft sob, letting the water pouring over her mask her tears. Abby knew Connor better than she knew anyone on this earth. She knew he was sweet, and kind. She knew he was brilliant and funny, and warm, and sometimes foolish, but remarkably really quite brave. And he never lied, never.
That meant he really thought that he loved her.
But she knew she didn't deserve him. Letting herself accept Connor's love could be the breaking of her. She'd always guarded her heart, because she learned a long time ago that the people who were supposed to care always hurt you. So it was safer to not care – don't care about others, don't let them care about you. Then nobody got hurt. Even this moment fit the pattern, because she knew she'd hurt Connor just now, because he cared about her.
She vigorously scrubbed at her face, washing away ruined makeup and tears. She attacked her own skin, as if by rubbing herself raw she might scrape away something else entirely, though whether that was Connor's love, or her own fears and insecurities, she didn't know. Flushed pink, she wrapped herself in her robe and ran for her room. She dressed in comfortable clothing, yoga pants and a tee shirt and a hoodie. In soft slippers, she scuffed her way back out to the kitchen, intent on a hot cup of tea.
In the great room, she hesitated, listening. She couldn't hear any sounds from Connor's room. For all she knew, he'd slipped away while she'd been showering.
Suddenly guilt tore through her. Of course, Connor being the type of guy he was, he probably blamed himself for her rejection. He couldn't know that it was her, her walled and protected heart that kept her from accepting what he offered.
Quietly, she crept up the stairs and peeked into his room. To her surprise, he laid curled up on his bed, back to the doorway. He hadn't even changed out of his filthy clothes.
She listened a moment. She could tell he wasn't asleep, and she knew he knew she stood there.
"You can't," she said softly, trying to explain. "You can't love me, Connor. I'm not…. I'm not the right sort of girl for you. You deserve a nice girl, someone pretty. Someone smart, and into sci-fi and things like you are. And sweet like you are. I'm not sweet. I'm not even kind. I'm rough and I'm all raw edges and pointy bits. I'm broken, Connor. And you deserve someone better than me."
He rolled over to look at her, and his eyes were bright and wounded. "You're not, though," he contradicted her quietly, his voice still ragged. "Is that what you see, when you look at yourself? Because that's not what I see at all."
"Connor.." She tried to stop him, but he swung his legs of the bed and sat up.
"I see a woman who's gorgeous and shining, like the sun," he said, standing. He crossed to her, a step at a time as he went on. "You're brilliant and passionate. You're strong, so very strong. Powerful. You're dedicated and committed and compassionate and wise. You're witty. You're beautiful."
Abby shivered at his words. He'd come to stand within inches of her, and she could feel the heat rising from him and the puff of his breath against her skin.
"There couldn't possibly be a woman better than you, Abby," he told her with conviction. His hands came up, hesitated, and then cupped her face. When she didn't move away, he brushed his fingers gently over her brow, smoothing back her hair, and tracing light designs over her skin. His expression was almost reverent. She looked up into his eyes, and saw that he believed her to be something special, something wonderful, something remarkable.
In that moment, she believed him. Tears sprang to her eyes. He really did love her, and he taught her how to see herself the way he saw her.
"Abby," he sighed. His eyes flicked to her mouth, and one thumb gently rubbed across her lower lip. Involuntarily, her tongue flicked out to follow it, and his eyes darkened with want. His hands held her face still as he dipped his head to kiss her.
It was soft and warm, loving and yearning. Her hands flew up to grip his arms, and before she realized it, she was pulling him closer. His fingers carded through her hair over her scalp and down her neck and back as he wrapped his arms around her. She let her mouth fall open, and darted her tongue out to touch his lips, encouraging him to deepen the kiss.
He obediently complied, allowing her access to him, tongues tangling, their breaths mingled. Connor moaned into the kiss and tightened his arms. Abby's hands left his arms, to slip around his waist and up his back under his battered shirts. He shuddered at the feel of her hands against his skin, and Abby smirked against his mouth, suddenly enjoying the effect she had on him.
Their lips parted, and for a moment they only stared into each other's eyes. A smile of happiness and wonder crept across Connor's face, lightening his expression and bringing out his dimple. Abby loved his smiles. Her lips curved up in response, pleased with herself for making him happy. She ducked her head to lean against his chest, tucked under his chin.
She swallowed hard, but it was the truth, she realized, because somehow he managed to see her in a way no-one else ever had, in a way that made her want to be a better person for him. She wanted to live up to his image of her. It made her heart swell and fill with him, this gentle, wonderful man who saw only the best in her. It was only fair that if he was brave enough, she should be brave too.
"I love you too, Conn."
For a moment, his whole body tensed against her, he didn't even breathe. Then with a sigh, he seemed to curl around her, holding her even tighter than before. Had she seen his face in that moment, she'd have seen an expression of such joy and contentment on Connor's face, that it wiped away the heartache and exhaustion of the day completely.
Long minutes passed as they just held one another.
"I guess I was wrong," Abby said suddenly.
"When I told Lucien you weren't my boyfriend. I was wrong."
He chuckled. "You were right then."
"But not now." She leaned back to look up at him. "Don't get used to it; I'm not wrong very often."
"I don't know Abbs, you were wrong a lot today," he teased. "About me not being your boyfriend, about not falling, about me loving you, about you being wonderful." He gave her an extra squeeze on that last, and she actually found herself giggling. "There might be a trend going on here."
"Nope, sorry. I don't concede the point."
"Give me one thing you were right about today."
Abby's grin turned wicked. "You need a shower."
Connor blinked, then laughed. "Alright, you have a point." He let go of her to run his hands through his hair. "Did you use up the hot water?"
"I might have, sorry. Go on then, I'll make us some tea." She kissed his cheek before heading down the stairs.
Connor followed, pausing to watch as she filled the kettle yet again. His smile was warm and fond and slightly foolish.
"What?" she asked.
"You know what," he answered cheerfully. I love you, his expression told her.
Abby blushed, suddenly filled with a giddy sort of happiness. "Go on," she laughed. Connor smirked and went into the bathroom to shower.
Abby got the kettle heating and the tea ready. Her gaze fell on the washcloth left forlorn on the table. She picked it up, and her fingers curled around it as she spared a brief moment of sympathy for Caroline. The poor girl had had the most wonderful man in the world, and lost him. Then Abby chucked it into the sink with a grin.
Abby had somehow gotten the most wonderful man in the world, and she vowed never to forget it.