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Title : Silk and Steel, Part 93
Authors : fredbassett & munchkinofdoom
Fandom : Primeval
Characters : Lester/Ryan, Thomson, Connor, Nick, Stephen, Abby, Ditzy
Rating : 18
Disclaimer : Not ours, no money made, don’t sue
Spoilers : None
Summary : The Forest of Dean anomaly is open and Nick is able to return to his own world.
Warning : Slave!fic.
A/N (1) : The links to all previous parts can be found HERE. Captain Thomson appears by courtesy of [ profile] deinonychus_1.
A/N (2) : This is it, folks, the final part of what has been a story that has spanned three years of writing time and now runs to something over 250,000 words. Including the prequels and other unnumbered pasts, there are in the region of 100 chapters. Thanks to everyone who has encouraged us and stuck with us through thick and thin. It’s been a fantastic journey with you all, and this is the end we’ve always had in mind for the series. Thanks again, guys!
A/N (3) : Many thanks to [ profile] lsellersfic for the fabulous book cover (under the cut) and matching icon.

The anomaly spun slowly in the air, wreathed in the low cloud that covered the forest like a shroud. The ground was soft under foot and the leaden sky held the prospect of more rain but for now, a slight break in the cloud cover allowed a single, slanted beam of light to shine through the trees and sparkle on the broken fragments of time.

Lester watched as Thomson spoke briefly to the four wet, cold, tired soldiers that had now been in duty for something over 24 hours without relief and sent them off for a change of clothes and something to eat.

Once the men were out of sight, the rear doors of the black transit van opened and the science team led by Connor promptly set up instruments to measure the magnetic field and take various other readings. A brief foray through the anomaly by Stephen and Ditzy had confirmed that it still led to the Permian and, more importantly, that they could see another anomaly a mere kilometre away, shining like a beacon amidst the dark sands of the past.

Ryan stood at Lester’s side, dressed in full black combats, carrying the same Bergen he’d brought with him to the ARC in what now seemed like another lifetime. Before they had left the ARC, Lester had handed his lover an envelope containing the photographs of Ryan’s daughter that he’d taken during the awful job of clearing his lover’s personal possessions from his room. Ryan had blinked away tears and stowed them in his pack without a word.

They’d spent three all too brief hours alone in Lester’s rooms, not talking, simply holding each other and taking what comfort they could get from soft kisses and gentle hands. They had said their goodbyes on the morning of Ryan’s execution and now there were no more words.

Lester stood to one side as Nick said his goodbyes to the team he had worked with since his arrival in their world. The professor embraced Stephen and was hugged hard by both Abby and Connor.

Nick turned to his counterpart and extended his hand. “Look after them,” he said quietly. “I wouldn’t have lasted any time in this world without their support.”

Cutter nodded and shook the other man’s hand firmly.

Nick stepped up to Lester and shook his hand as well. Neither of them spoke. They’d gone from antagonists to allies as Nick had finally come to understand some of the ways of a world that he had hated with every fibre of his being. But for all the changes Nick had undergone, Lester was still deeply thankful that when it came to containing the fall-out from Helen Cutter’s machinations, he now had at his side a man who knew exactly how this world functioned. Lester had never envisaged a coalition consisting of himself, Cutter, Leek and Thomson, but that appeared to be what he’d ended up with and between them they would do everything in their power to ensure that the Anomaly Research Centre would rise like a phoenix from its own ashes for a second time.

But this time there would be no Captain Tom Ryan to stand at his shoulder the way Lyle was now no doubt standing beside Oliver Leek, in another quirk of fate that no one would have once anticipated.

“Goodbye, James. Thank you for not having me shot in the head and buried in a bunker.”

Nick’s words managed to draw a laugh from him. “You’ll never know how close you came to that,” he acknowledged. “If I’d realised quite how extensive Norman’s underground kingdom is I can assure you I would have found it hard to exercise restraint.”

Nick grinned at him. “I’ll remember that when I’m driving your counterpart to distraction.”

Nick turned and made his way to the anomaly, wearing the same clothes he’d been wearing when he’d arrived in this world and taking nothing away with him. With a final smile and a wave of his hand, Nick stepped through the anomaly.

Lester turned to Ryan.

His lover was still wearing the steel collar that he had fastened around his own neck the morning they had said what they had both believed to be their last goodbye.

Lester drew the small unlocking device from his pocket. “Tom?”

Heedless of the presence of the others, Ryan dropped to his knees at Lester’s feet and bent his head forward, exposing the back of the collar. Lester inserted the key and opened the lock, gently drawing the warm metal away from Ryan’s neck. He rested the backs of his fingers on Ryan’s skin, feeling the slight callus that that he knew so well.

“Stand up, Tom,” Lester murmured. “You’re a free man now and no one will be able to take that from you again.”

As Ryan stood, Lester drew back his arm to hurl the collar into the ball of fractured light, but Ryan stopped him, taking the slim band of metal out of Lester’s hand and gripping it firmly against the magnetic pull of the anomaly.

Ryan bent his head to cover Lester’s lips in a final kiss.

Lester fought the natural urge to close his eyes as their tongues touched and he gave himself over to sensations rather than conscious thought. He wanted to commit every moment that he had left in his lover’s company to memory. Ryan’s eyes were as grey as a winter sky but held warmth and offered comfort. As they kissed, Lester reached up and ran his fingers down the stubble on Ryan’s jaw, wanting to preserve the memory of touch as well as sight and taste. When they finally drew apart, Ryan stepped back, the collar still held in his hand. He shouldered the Bergen, giving no sign that the weight pained him.

Ryan hesitated for a moment and opened his mouth to speak but Lester shook his head. There was nothing more to be said but there was one thing left that had to be done.

He captured Ryan’s right hand in his and drew it to his lips, pressing a kiss into Ryan’s palm the way Ryan had so often done with him, then Lester stepped back and smiled, holding his emotions in check with the same iron resolve that had stood him in good stead in what felt like a lifetime of political machinations.

Ryan returned his smile and then turned and stepped up to the anomaly, pausing for a moment to exchange a brief embrace with the man who had risked his life for him.

Lester heard Ditzy’s murmured words, “Good luck, boss.”

Without looking back, Ryan stepped into the anomaly.

Lester watched time take his lover from him and let out a long, slow breath. What mattered was that Ryan was alive and would find a home in another world rather than face a lingering death at the end of an executioner’s whip or a lifetime in hiding.

He stared at the anomaly flickering in the sunlight and realised that the grey clouds had parted slightly more to reveal a hint of blue in the sky. Lester tried to picture the world that Ryan had just stepped into. He’d read countless reports but had very little real idea of what lay beyond the rips in time that the teams dealt with on an almost daily basis. On impulse, he stepped up to the anomaly, waving the others back with an imperious gesture.

“Tell me if it appears to be closing, Lieutenant, but otherwise I would appreciate some time alone.”

Without waiting for a reply, Lester held his breath and stepped into the anomaly, exchanging the watery sunlight and soft, reddish earth of the Forest of Dean for the harsh glare of the Permian sun and the coarse-grained black sand that crunched under the soles of his shoes. He took two paces away from the anomaly and blinked in the light.

He was standing on the side of a low hill that sloped gently down into a wide valley. The only vegetation consisted of low, scattered bushes, bright flashes of green in a dark, volcanic landscape. As had been reported, high on the opposite slope of the valley, an anomaly hung in the air like a broken diamond. The anomaly that would take Nick Cutter and Ryan into a world that Lester could barely imagine.

A world without the system of Indenture.

He watched as Nick and Ryan made their way down into the valley and then up the final slope. Neither of the men looked back. It took them just under ten minutes to reach the twin anomaly. When they did, Nick walked through with barely any hesitation, but Ryan stopped, no doubt thinking that he was alone at last in an era that held the bones of a man he had never known. The other Tom Ryan whose place he was about to take.

Slowly, Ryan turned around and, seeing Lester on the opposite hillside, lifted one hand in a gesture of farewell. Lester did the same and for an all too brief moment they were alone again and nothing else mattered other than the simple fact that Ryan was still alive.

The pain of loss would return later, but it was better this way than any other.

They held the moment for a heartbeat longer and then Ryan followed Nick Cutter out of the past and into a new world.

Lester waited long enough to bring his heartbeat back under control and then he too left behind the bright sunlight of the Permian for a greyer, damper and altogether emptier world.

As he stepped away from the anomaly, Lester realised that it was already starting to fade, and he could see the look of relief on Connor’s face at his return.

Lester stopped and stared at the rapidly diminishing light. He stretched out his hand, opening his fingers to reveal the key to Ryan’s collar. The magnetic pull of the anomaly was still strong enough to snatch the small piece of metal from his palm and drag it into its depths.

The anomaly winked like a distant star and was gone, leaving behind nothing but footprints that led to nowhere on this earth.

Lester wondered if the key was now glinting in the sunlight on the black sand or whether it had been swallowed up by time itself.

Either way, Ryan was now free.

And that was how Lester would remember him.
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