goldarrow: (Stephen-Ryan)
[personal profile] goldarrow
Title: It's About Time
Author: goldarrow
Word Count Total: 2056
Characters/Pairing: Stephen Hart, Team, James Lester, Tom Ryan (pre S/R)
Rating: 15
Warnings: none
Disclaimer: Primeval belongs to Impossible Pictures, not me. I will return them when I’m done, slightly mussed but in superb spirits.

Unbetaed, all mistakes are my own...

For the Monthly Challenge, September 2016
Ye Gods! Annihilate both space and time,
And make two lovers happy.
---- Alexander Pope

It's About Time

The Forest of Dean. The Permian anomaly.

The same fucking anomaly in the same fucking place that had vomited up a fucking Gorgonopsid (and Stephen still got a headache when he remembered that night), and then followed it up by shoving fucking Helen Cutter into their midst to sow her seeds of spite and dissention.

Yes, Stephen thought. My mental language is deteriorating boringly, but I really hate having to watch over this thing. Bad shit always happens here.

Granted, things were starting to clear up between Cutter and him after Jenny handed Cutter a few home truths about advisors and students and the correct behaviour of said advisors in cases of certain types of power dynamics. It had taken her lecture a few days to sink in, but after it finally trickled through the tough bone of Cutter's cranium, he and Stephen had got rip-roaring drunk together, fought verbally and very slightly physically (since both were so pissed they could barely aim, let alone put any power behind the punches), and then woke up in the morning horribly hung over but with clear memories of the night before and their agreement that Helen Cutter was a bitch of the first water and deserved the creatures she was spending her time with now. Whether the creatures deserved Helen was another matter entirely, but one that they didn't feel qualified to hold an opinion on.

After a quick glance at his watch, Stephen turned to the anomaly with his compass held out. Wishing that they could come up with a better way to track the strength of an anomaly's magnetic field than simply watching how fast the compass arrow spun, he timed the revolutions for the third time in the last hour. With a team on the other side, he wasn't going to take any chance that it was going to close on them.

He looked back and forth between the compass in his hand and the anomaly in the middle of the clearing. The compass movement was strong, but was the anomaly itself a little paler? Blast, he was right. He timed the compass against his watch. The needle's swing was slower, and he could see the tree behind the anomaly a little more clearly through the circling shards.

"Guys," he called to the Special Forces soldiers watching the anomaly warily from the side. "It's getting weaker. We need to get the team back soon."

"Right, sir." The Lieutenant (Owen, was it? Stephen wasn't sure of many of their names yet, Ryan and Lyle being the only two he'd had much direct contact with) signalled to one of the men. "Finn, go through, call them in."

The sharp-featured young soldier nodded and stepped up to the anomaly as Stephen made a mental note of his name, but before he could enter, it shivered and disgorged three men.

Stephen stiffened as the soldiers raised their weapons. Only two men had gone through. Without actually looking at the third man, Stephen turned with a sigh to pick up his radio to call it in. At least the third one was male. Stephen swore he'd be having a coronary right now if Helen Cutter had come through again.

He didn’t get the chance to turn the radio on. The ARC's Hilux pulled up with Cutter behind the wheel and Jenny sitting beside him, talking rapidly. And wonder of wonders, Cutter was actually laughing. Though the amusement dropped from his face when he looked past Stephen to the men standing in front of the anomaly. In fact, Stephen thought Cutter looked as if he was going to faint. He'd never seen such a look of horror on the professor's face, even the day that he and Helen had returned from the Permian and Cutter had called out the name of a woman none of them knew.

Spinning around, Stephen felt his own breath suddenly clogging his throat. Standing in front of them were Lieutenant Lyle with a huge smile on his face, and one of the other soldiers (again, Stephen felt awkward not having a name for the green-eyed man), looking just as pleased. Between them, staring around, was Captain Ryan, who'd been lost weeks ago, dead millions of years in the past but somehow now with them again. The captain looked tired and thin, and he had a vicious scar down the edge of his cheek and across his neck, but he was standing, alive, right there in front of them.

"Fucking hell," Stephen muttered, turning to Cutter. "Nick, what?"

Cutter walked slowly forward and stuttered. "He was dead. I swear to you, he was dead. I buried him myself!"

Ryan blinked at him. "No, Professor, that Gorgon-whatever-it-was knocked me down the cliff, I passed out and never saw what happened after that, until I woke up and the anomaly was closed. I've been sticking around the area hoping that it would open again."

Cutter shook his head. "No, it can't be. I wouldn't have left you. I…" He turned to Jenny, who was watching him closely with an analytical expression on her face that made Stephen a little nervous.

Stephen gathered his scattered wits. "Cutter, you asked for someone we didn’t recognise when you came back." He turned to Connor. "Conn, could something have happened? His Ryan, our Ryan, his – Claudia, was it? – our Jenny?"

Connor's eyes widened with excitement. "Maybe – the anomalies already mess up time, maybe they can mess up space, too?" He beamed at them. "Captain Kirk said it – 'In a different reality I could have called you friend' – oh, no wait that was the Romulan Commander to Kirk… Never mind, it doesn't matter. I'll bet that funny pulse the anomaly gave just before you and Mrs Cutter came back meant that something happened, and everything really is different." He looked around eagerly and his face fell.

Stephen sympathised. He thought his own face might be completely blank as he tried desperately to parse Connor's words for some sort of relevance and sense. Looking around, he couldn't help but grin. Everyone in the clearing had a slightly glazed expression in their eyes.

Lieutenant Lyle was the first to recover. He shook his head slightly. "It doesn't matter anyway. We have Ryan back, we think." He grinned at the captain, who returned the look with a sour one of his own. "And now we just need to make sure. C'mon, boss, let's go put you through the wringer."

Ryan sighed and nodded. "I'd really like something decent to eat before anything else. And a shower. A nice hot shower. I haven't felt this shitty since my SERE training." He headed for the truck, but stopped and turned a little paler when he saw Stephen. "Oh, thank fuck," he whispered. "At least you're still here." He reached out and pulled Stephen in for a strong hug.

Nonplussed, Stephen returned the embrace, giving everyone the same wide-eyed expression over Ryan's shoulder that they were giving him.

Lyle rescued him, the grin on his face promising a bit of piss-taking later. Stephen didn't care. The sense-memory of Ryan's embrace still had him rocking a bit.

Three hours later, sitting in the conference room, he was feeling even rockier, as were all of the other members of the team.

This was Ryan. There was no doubt about it. This was Ryan. But this wasn't their Ryan.

Lester's sigh upon receiving that bit of information was a thing of beauty. Perfectly timed, with flawless volume and faultless duration, it told everyone in the room that he was extremely displeased but too much of a gentleman to tear them into tiny little pieces and toss them over the fence to make a feast for the carrion crows. "So, you're telling me that someone else is now saying that things have changed? Lieutenant Owen, please do let me know if there is some sort of exotic prion disease rampant in the area affecting everyone's brain. I would hate to learn that we are subject to the whims of some sort of malevolent deity."

Owen grinned from the other side of the table. Stephen did his best to keep his eyes on the medic, but he found his gaze constantly drifting over to where Ryan was sitting, looking confused, angry and very unhappy.

"Unfortunately, I think it's more likely the latter, sir," Owen replied. "We've tested both Captain Ryan, and with his permission, Professor Cutter, and they're both exactly who they say they are. The only difference is that their memories don't match." He held his hands wide. "We have no idea why."

Lieutenant Lyle spoke up. "We've notified the Directorate, and they're sending down a team to verify everything – sorry, Boss – but as far as anyone can tell, we have Captain Ryan back, mostly hale and fairly hearty."

Lester turned to face Ryan, eyebrow raised. "Captain, I would be the first to welcome you back, but I trust that you understand that under the circumstances I cannot take any chances with the security of the ARC. You will need to remain here until we have proof positive that you are no danger to us."

Ryan nodded. "I understand. Ditzy's set up one of the rec rooms for me."

"Excellent." Lester stood. "I will hope for good news in the next day or so, then. Good afternoon." He started for the door before turning back for a moment. "I do hope that someone is still watching that bloody anomaly. I'd hate for something else designed to make our lives difficult to come prancing through it without warning."

Most of the soldiers exited behind him, leaving Stephen, Cutter and Ryan still sitting at the table with Ditzy waiting by the door. Cutter nodded at Ryan and stood. "I'm bloody glad for whatever did this, Captain. I was pretty gutted when we lost you." His face turned wry. "It was just losing Claudia at the same time sort of overlaid everything. I'm glad you're back." He stepped back, leaving Stephen facing Ryan, wondering about the intent look on the soldier's face.

"Stephen," Ryan whispered. "I was beginning to think I'd lost you forever." He reached out to touch Stephen's face. "I missed you." He stepped closer.

Stephen wondered just what the expression on his face was when Ryan's mouth twisted and he stepped back again.

"Captain, I'm sorry, I don't know…"

"Fuck." Ryan turned to Cutter, who hadn't quite made it to the door yet. "Professor, wherever I am I'm fucking well not home. I need to get back to the anomaly. I need to…"

Horrified beyond what he knew was sensible, Stephen grabbed his hand. "No, you can't. You have no idea what or when or how you've ended up here. Cutter's here, and he's stayed. Nothing has changed in all the times he's gone through anomalies since then. You'll just get lost. Cutter, tell him!"

"Stephen's right, Ryan," Cutter said, reluctance obvious in every word. "I tried to get back to my own place. It doesn't exist anymore. Just like yours doesn't exist. I'm so sorry. This is where you are, this is where you need to stay."

Ryan's face crumpled as he dropped back to lean on the table. "So, I've lost him. The thing that kept me going for all those weeks, and I've lost him anyway, even though he's standing right in front of me."

Stephen stared for a moment, unable to believe he was hearing what he thought he was. It was only Cutter's poke in his side, exasperated expression and head twitch toward Ryan that got him moving. It seemed that Stephen hadn't been as subtle in his crush on the Special Forces captain as he'd thought. Never mind. He had a second chance, maybe. If Ryan could see past his lost Stephen to the Stephen in front of him.

"Um, maybe not," he muttered, moving to stand in front of the soldier. "I've been nursing an unrequited crush for a while, now. I know I'm not your Stephen, but I'd love to … Mmmph."

Stephen didn't hear Cutter's chuckle nor the door closing behind the professor and the medic. Every one of his senses was concentrating exclusively on what Captain Ryan's lips and – wow – his hands were doing.

Maybe the Permian anomaly wasn't so bad, after all.

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