Connor became aware of two things immediately upon opening his eyes: he was surrounded by complete darkness and his head was killing him. He had no idea where he was, and that was the third thing he realized. And on top of that, he had absolutely no memory of what might have happened to put him there. Connor was never the most cautious of men but he'd been in his line of work long enough to know that waking up in a dark, silent place with no knowledge of where you were or how you got there was rarely going to end well. The harder he tried to concentrate and remember what had happened and where he was, the worse the pain in his head became. All right, he told himself, concentrate on the where. Save the how and why for later.
He extended a tentative hand outwards, trying to feel something, anything, that might give him some clues. It didn't feel like he was outdoors; no hint of wind or noise or outdoor smells. Connor considered that a good thing. If he'd managed to crash through some anomaly somewhere, he certainly didn't want to be stranded in who knew what time period in the middle of the night with no light or weapons. Even so, it didn't quite feel like he was indoors either. To be perfectly honest, he couldn't tell, and that was when he realized he couldn't feel anything. He couldn't tell if he was standing or lying down. There was nothing to orient himself by and he couldn't actually feel a floor beneath him and his reaching hands touched nothing. He was on the edge of complete panic when he heard...something. A whisper, barely even that, and he couldn't tell where it came from but he knew he'd heard it.
His voice seemed to trigger something, because the whispers started again, not just one but what seemed like dozens of them, coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once. The pain in his head got worse as the whispers grew louder. With the whispers came shapes in the darkness, moving just beyond his line of sight, slipping away whenever he tried to focus on one. The voices began to coalesce, and the pain was like a hot needle lancing through his skull.
* * *
Abby. Connor knew that voice. He wanted to call out to her but he was so tired and couldn't find the will to form the words.
"Connor, you're having a nightmare. Open your eyes."
Hardly daring to believe it, Connor slowly, cautiously opened his eyes. Expecting the darkness, the light in the room was too intense and he closed them again, shying away from the brightness. He heard a soft curse and footsteps.
"Okay, I've drawn the curtains, Connor. Can you try again?"
He didn't want to but honestly, he'd never been able to deny Abby anything. It was easier this time, as she promised. It took him a moment to focus and when he did, Abby was looking down at him. She was smiling encouragingly but it really did nothing to hide her concern. "That was a bad one," she said, brushing his hair out of his eyes. "How do you feel?"
"Like my head's been split open and a Gorgonopsid's been feasting on my brains," he said.
Abby frowned. "A Gorgon--what? What is that? Some stupid sci-fi monster?"
Connor stared at her for a moment, and then realized he didn't have an answer. "I don't...I have no idea? Must have been something like that."
"You watch too much telly," she said. She tucked her long hair behind her ears and smiled. "Do you remember what happened?"
"No," he said. "Not a thing."
She sighed. "The doctor said you might have patches of memory loss. You were trying to break up a fight. Some of your students, I think. Anyway, one of them apparently managed to knock you headfirst into a---NO!"
Abby's sudden shout hurt but he didn't have time to complain. Two solid, furry bodies came hurtling over the edge of the bed and landed squarely on top of Connor, pressing cold wet noses into his neck.
"Sid, Nancy, you little monsters, get down!" One of the dogs was lifted up and away but as soon as Abby put him down, he jumped right back up again. "These beasts of yours have me at my wits' end, Connor. It's been a nightmare keeping them out of here."
Nancy had settled down beside him, panting happily. Connor rubbed her ears and smiled. "It's all right, Abby. I don't mind. Leave them be."
Abby gave up wrestling Sid off the bed and let him settle on Connor's other side. She folded her arms and glared at them. "You're supposed to be resting, not playing with the dogs."
"We're not playing. We're lying quietly," he pointed out. "Now are you going to tell me what happened?"
"I hoped you'd be able to remember," she said. "You don't remember being in hospital at all?"
"It wasn't long but still. Anyway, you hit your head pretty hard. Professor Cutter called me at the zoo. By the time I got there they were ready to release you. You seemed fine, if a little disorientated."
Connor tried, he really did, but he couldn't remember anything she told him. Abby sighed again. "Well, the doctor said you should be back to normal before too long. Until then you're supposed to rest." She gave the dogs a significant look, then rolled her eyes. "I'm going to finish cleaning up and then I'll bring you your pain pills if you still need them...?" At his nod she continued. "Then I'll be in to bed. And Sid and Nancy have to leave then, okay?"
"Okay," he said.
She bent to kiss him. "I'll just be in the other room if you need anything. Now get back to sleep. And no more bad dreams, yeah?"
"I'll do my best."
* * *
The doctor was right, mostly. Connor did get back to normal pretty quickly. Within a few days he'd gone back to work. Professor Cutter and his other colleagues had welcomed him back with a decorated office and a seemingly endless supply of jokes about having some sense knocked into him. He bore it all with good humor, and was happy to resume teaching his classes. Abby threw herself back into her work at the zoo. Every day he woke and had breakfast with Abby before they both headed off to work. In the evenings they'd watch movies or go out with friends. Sometimes Connor would meet up with Tom and Duncan and they'd play video games or watch Star Wars, like they'd done so often as students. At night he'd fall asleep with Abby snuggled against him. Really, it was a perfect life.
And yet, something was off. Connor could never quite put his finger on it. It wasn't the memory loss, though he did sometimes find himself standing somewhere with no real memory of how he got there. The doctor assured him that those episodes would become less and less frequent and eventually stop altogether, although it seemed to Connor that they were becoming more common rather than less. It was small things. A strange twinge of sadness when he shared a joke with Professor Cutter or his wife Jenny. Sometimes he got the strangest sensation that the ground had shifted somehow, and everything was just a little off kilter. Once, he heard a man's voice calling his name, but no matter how much he searched, there was no one there. The only time he ever felt completely normal was when he was at home with Abby.
Connor never mentioned any of these things. Abby would only worry, and the doctor would just tell him it was lingering effects of his concussion and he shouldn't worry. Or he would make the doctor worry, too. The last thing Connor wanted was to tell his doctor he was hearing voices. He decided it really was just the injury playing tricks on him, and that it too would get better with time.
* * *
The first real indication Connor had that things might not actually get better at all was the soldier. He was walking through the halls towards his office after class--he didn't actually remember teaching the class that day but he'd grown accustomed to those lapses and paid them little mind. Less easily ignored was the black clad soldier standing in the middle of the hallway. At least, Connor hoped he was a soldier. He'd hate to see a regular person walking around with that much firepower strapped to their body. He was dressed all in black and seemed to be listening intently for something, turning in a slow circle as if he wasn't sure where the sound might come from. He wore a harness of some kind with a rope that trailed along the floor behind him and, impossibly, vanished through the wall. His eyes were blank and unfocused. On top of all that, there was something decidedly unsettling about the look of him. He was brighter than his surroundings, more vivid. His outline seemed sharp; Connor half thought if he reached out to touch him, he would bleed. It made Connor's head hurt to look at him.
"Connor?" the man said, "Can you hear me?"
Connor took a step back, startled. Part of him thought he should go for help, but he couldn't quite make himself do it. There was something familiar about this man that he couldn't put his finger on. He glanced around the empty hallway and took a tentative step forward.
The man whirled around, honing in on the sound of Connor's voice. "Connor! Finally! Can you see me?"
"Of course I can, you--who the hell are you?"
The man faltered a little. "I--it's Captain Becker, Connor. Don't you know me?"
Yes, Connor thought but he had no idea where the notion came from. He'd never met a Captain Becker. "No. Look if you need help or something--"
Captain Becker reached out a hand. "There's no time for this Connor. Take my hand."
"I can't see you. You have to do this. Come on, before it's too late!"
Connor's head was pounding so badly that he could barely see. Staggering backwards, he fled down the hall away from the mysterious Captain Becker.
* * *
He didn't tell anyone what happened. Abby was concerned when he got home -- not that he actually remembered getting home. One minute he was running down the hall and the next he was at his flat and Abby was asking him what was wrong. He waved her off, saying he'd probably been overdoing it and was going to lie down for awhile. And that was that. Days passed, and Connor had begun to convince himself that it was a hallucination of some kind, brought on by working too hard with an injury that wasn't quite healed yet. He convinced himself so thoroughly that the next time it happened it was almost as shocking as the first.
It wasn't the soldier, but there was no mistaking what was happening. The man wore jeans and a plaid shirt and when he called Connor's name his voice was decidedly less confident, but he was the same. Too bright, over saturated, sharp, painful to look at. Too there to be real. And this time they weren't standing in an empty hallway. This time they were in the middle of a cafe where Connor had stopped to get a coffee. The man was shouting his name but no one else seemed to hear him or see him.
"Stop," Connor whispered, and the man shouldn't have been able to hear him in the bustling cafe but he did. He turned and headed straight for Connor.
"Connor," he said, reaching blindly out. "Come on." He had the same unseeing stare that Captain Becker had, and as he came towards Connor, he stepped right into and through a chair.
Connor leapt to his feet and scrambled away, out of the cafe and down the street. This time he'd managed to get completely out of the building before the pain became overwhelming.
* * *
He began to see them everywhere. The only place that seemed safe was his flat, but he couldn't stay there all the time. Most of the time it was the soldier but sometimes it was the other man and once, a dark haired, terrified-looking woman. Connor very nearly gave in to her. She looked so frightened, calling his name in a voice that was barely more than a whisper. Something about her seemed so familiar, and her obvious fear affected him in a way that the others didn't. He glanced around, seeing no one who would notice if he was talking to someone they couldn't see, and approached her cautiously.
"Who are you?"
Her eyes widened and she looked so relieved he almost smiled. "Connor, oh thank God. You hadn't been responding to the boys, we were starting to think..." She shook her head. "All you have to do is take my hand, Connor."
"Who are you?" he asked again.
"It's Sarah, Connor. You know me. We work together."
Connor shook his head even though he knew, or thought he did, that she couldn't see it. "No we don't. I don't know you. You're not even real. It hurts to look at you."
Sarah reached out towards him and he stepped back, sure to stay out of her reach. "I am. I'm the only thing here that is real, Connor, you and me. You do know me. The museum, remember? We met at the museum. You thought you were cursed. It's where you started to figure out how to lock the anomalies."
Everything she said seemed familiar, like a dream that he could only remember in hazy snapshots. That only served to further convince Connor that he was losing his mind. "No," he said. "You're not real."
"Connor--" Whatever she was going to say was cut off abruptly when she stumbled backwards and vanished into thin air. Connor blinked at the empty place on the sidewalk where she'd been standing but there was no sign that she'd ever been there.
* * *
"Abby, I think I'm--I think something's wrong."
He was in the kitchen of the flat he shared with Abby. He didn't remember how he'd gotten there and combined with the strange visions he was having, those lapses were really starting to worry him. Abby was leaning against the counter, brow furrowed in concern. He didn't know quite how to tell her what was happening. How did you tell someone that you were seeing people that weren't there, and that you were starting to believe what they were telling you? Connor didn't know much about mental illness, except that he was pretty sure it couldn't be induced by a head injury, but it sounded an awful lot like one to him. He couldn't even imagine what it would sound like to Abby.
"Tell me what's wrong," she said.
"The memory lapses are getting worse," he said. "And I think I might be hallucinating. I don't think I'm getting better."
"Okay," Abby said. Her voice had taken on the soft, soothing tone she used when talking to skittish animals. It didn't make Connor feel any better. "What are you seeing?"
Connor shrugged. "People," he said. "They talk to me like they know me." He sat down at the kitchen table, rubbing his temples. "They hurt, Abby." He heard the chair beside him slide out and Abby was stroking his hair soothingly.
"They hurt you?"
"My head. It hurts so much when I see them. Like I did when I first woke up."
"Okay. Okay," she said, and Connor could almost hear her mind racing. "Why don't you go lie down. Try to get some rest. I'll call the doctor and make us some tea. Okay?"
Connor nodded. It was mid-afternoon and he didn't think more rest was going to do him any good but he was too tired of worrying to make any protest. Abby would take care of him, he knew that much. He left her in the kitchen and made his way to the bedroom. He pushed open the door and stopped cold when he came face to face with, well, Abby. Only it didn't look like Abby. She was dressed in faded jeans and a leather jacket. Like the others she wore some sort of harness around her middle. Her hair was shorter and kind of spiky, and she had heavier makeup than Abby tended to wear. Connor hesitated, glancing back towards the kitchen where he could see Abby moving around the kitchen, phone to her ear, and back to the other Abby, who was bright and jagged and made his head spin.
"Connor, where are you?" she said, and she might be a fake, imaginary Abby but she looked so worried and frightened that Connor couldn't keep from answering her.
She started walking towards him. "We're running out of time, Connor. That's the only reason they finally let me try. Apparently they thought I was too 'emotional.' Do you know me?"
Saying yes seemed like giving in. "No," he said resolutely. "You're not real."
"I am. You remember me, don't you?"
She laughed, though it sounded strained and she really didn't look like Abby was supposed to look when she thought something was funny. "Yes you do. Think. Remember when you first moved in and kept turning up the heat so I'd wear less clothes? You really thought I never caught on to that didn't you? And I almost threw you out because you were so stupid and left the window open and we almost lost Rex."
Connor shook his head. "No, I don't," he said, but even to his own ears he sounded weak and confused. The thing was, he did remember, at least in a way. Images were flashing through his mind faster and faster. Abby moved closer, arms outstretched.
"You do. Remember Caroline? How much I hated her and how much we fought because I couldn't understand what you saw in a girl like that. And you were so stupid and devoted to her. Remember when the mer creature took me and you came after me and saved me? It wasn't the first time. You do it all the time, but this time I'm going to save you."
Connor didn't realize that she'd been moving closer as she spoke until her fingers brushed his arm. She lunged forward at the contact and wrapped her arms around him, and at the contact the room around him vanished. Everything vanished except for Abby, who was clinging to him with everything she had. Where once there had been his home, Abby, his life, there was only the awful nothingness he'd hoped to never experience again. He wanted to struggle but Abby's hold was too strong, and in truth he didn't want to break away from her. Connor was too tired to fight whatever this was anymore. There was a lurch and one more searing pain behind his eyes and then a cacophony of voices, all of them too loud and all of them panicked. The last thing he heard before the darkness claimed him was Abby, telling him to hold on.
* * *
It was dark when Connor opened his eyes again, but this time it was the comforting darkness of a dimly lit room. He was in a bed at the ARC, that was really all he could sort out without moving, and Connor really had no desire to move at all.
Abby. He turned his head to find her sitting at the foot of his bed, chair turned so she could watch him. He gave her a tentative smile.
"It's about time, too. We've been taking it in turns to sit with you until you woke up, and I've been here for hours. I'm all stiff."
He reached out towards her but she was sitting too far away for more than a brush of his fingertips. "You're real," he said.
Abby looked taken aback, and she scooted closer to take his hand. "Well, of course I am. You still don't remember?"
Connor shrugged. "I'm not sure. Everything is all...jumbled up."
"Okay," she said, taking a deep breath. "You remember the alert? The anomaly we went to check out?"
Connor thought for a moment and nodded. "I think so."
"Yeah. And you got separated when we were searching for it and---"
"The anomaly!" he said suddenly. "Oh my God. It was white. The anomaly, not like usual."
"That's because it wasn't usual. We haven't figured out how she did it, or if it was just an accident that she was taking advantage of, but the anomaly, it didn't go anywhere. She knocked you out and pushed you through."
Abby smiled grimly. "Helen."
The breath seemed to leave Connor's body all at once. He remembered seeing the anomaly and reaching for his phone to call the others and then...nothing. "Helen. Knocked me out and pushed me into an anomaly that didn't go anywhere?"
"Yeah." Abby picked at a stray thread on the hem of her shirt. "She was going to shut it down and trap you inside. We caught up with her before she could."
Abby shrugged. "I guess she thought killing Cutter wasn't enough. She told us what the anomaly was but wouldn't tell us anything else. She got away, of course, before we could get much out of her anyway. We were all ready to charge in after you. Sarah calmed us down and made us figure out a way to make sure we could get back out again. If we'd all gone running in we'd all have been lost." She smiled, quick and sharp. "Turns out a rope works wonders."
Connor wasn't paying much attention. Somehow he'd forgotten that Cutter was dead. Connor had talked to him, touched him. He'd seemed so real.
"Cutter was there," he said. "It was like another life."
"The doctors said you'd be hallucinating," Abby said. "Some kind of defense mechanism to protect yourself from being literally nowhere. They said you wouldn't be able to keep it up for long. It was horrible in there. We could only stay a few minutes each time." She paused and shuddered. "What did you see?"
"Like I said, it was like another life, with everything I wanted. Except it seemed wrong. Things were off somehow but I just kept shrugging it all off. And you and the others, you kept showing up out of nowhere. And you didn't fit. I didn't think you could be real."
"Was I there too?"
"Of course," he said, and hesitated. Half truths were the safest, he decided. "We were--we shared a flat, same as now. And you didn't know what a Gorgonopsid was. To be fair neither did I. Or at least, I couldn't remember. You worked at the zoo. And Sid and Nancy were dogs."
"Dogs!" Abby laughed. "No dinosaurs? No annoying diictodons? No Rex?"
"They were still annoying," he replied, pleased to make Abby laugh. "They were just dog-annoying instead of rabid beaver-annoying. Rex was there. I think he was some kind of bird. I don't actually remember seeing him. And I was a professor. And Cutter was alive, and Jenny was still here, and...it was nice."
"Sounds like a perfect life," she said.
"I don't know. In some ways, maybe. I think mostly it was just easier." She was still holding his hand, and he gave it a gentle squeeze. "I don't mind this one."
"Well," she said after a couple of not-quite-awkward moments. "I should let you rest. They want you to stay for a night just to make sure you're okay, and I'll be by to bring you home in the morning."
Connor held on to her hand when she stood. "Thank you for coming for me, Abby. I don't think any of the others could have ever gotten to me."
"That's what everyone finally decided," she said, and after a moment of hesitation she bent to kiss his cheek. "Besides, you'd have come for me."
He couldn't argue with that, and so he let her fuss with his blankets and make sure he didn't need anything at all before she finally left. It hadn't been a lie. It might not be a perfect life, but it was enough.