Series: Five Days, part 3
Title: Day Three: Alone
Pairing/characters: Connor, Ryan
Warnings: Occasional mild swearing
Spoilers: Anything through to episode 5
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: Approx 5200
Summary: Action, adventure and prehistoric peril.
Daylight leaked across the plain despite the best efforts of the dark clouds and the relentless downpour. Connor jerked awake, for a moment confused about where he was, or why he should feel guilty at having let himself slip into a doze, however light and short-lived.
Then he swore quietly. Ryan was still not back.
He pulled a page out of his notebook and scribbled a quick note saying where he had gone, on the off chance that Ryan managed to return first. Then he double checked first the compass, and then the Browning, before he set off.
The climb down from the shelter was the worst yet. The rock was wet and slippery, Connor was tense and tired, and Ryan wasn’t there to help him. Connor tried to imagine Ryan’s voice, reminding him where the footholds were, telling him not to panic and take it slowly. But all he could really hear was the sound of the rain and his own breathing. He had almost made it when he slipped, and skidded down the last few feet, scraping his hands and banging a knee hard. For a few moments he just sat on the ground, clutching his knee and swearing violently. He’d clearly been hanging around the Special Forces guys too much lately; he never used to know that many colourful expletives.
This was bloody stupid. What the hell did he think he was going to do? He couldn’t even get out of the campsite without incident, how was he supposed to find Ryan on his own?
Connor forced his doubts away and started heading towards the forest. He didn’t even stop to look at the sauropods, merely noted where they were so he could give them a wide berth. He was almost certain that he should have been doing this last night. Clearly something had happened to Ryan, and in the cold, damp light of day Connor suspected that his delay in searching for the other man would have consequences. Still, that was easy to say in the daylight, less so in the dark with no torch. Recriminations could wait until after he found Ryan.
If he found him. If there was anything left to find. The simple fact that Ryan hadn’t come back might not have been so frightening taken on its own. It would have been easy to construct a scenario where he got lost in the forest, and holed up somewhere overnight to return in the daylight. But there had been the noises as well. It didn’t take a genius to put gunfire and large dinosaur roar together and come up with any number of mental images, all of which ended with one mostly eaten Special Forces captain.
Connor reached the edge of the soaking forest, and tried to force the “what if…?” scenarios out of his head. It was darker under the trees, and the constant dripping and splashing of water on foliage meant the entire forest seemed to be making a long drawn out shhhhhhhhhhhh sound.
How was he going to find Ryan in there? Connor realised it wasn’t just the voice of his fears talking, it was the voice of practicality. He was looking for one man in a vast forest of ancient trees, and undergrowth that was almost capable of hiding a baby diplodocus from view. On top of the possibility that he would fail to find Ryan, there was a very real danger that he would get himself lost as well.
He looked around for inspiration, and saw the answer. The river. Ryan had been intending to check the net for fish, which made it the most sensible place to start looking, and the easiest way of finding that would be to follow the river. He paused for one more moment on the edge of the forest, then headed in.
It was less than twenty four hours since he and Ryan had explored along the banks of this river. They had been joking, discussing the best ways of cooking prehistoric fish. Connor recognised the tree where he had pointed out the most amazingly coloured lizard he’d ever seen. It was all new and exciting and full of wonder. That had been yesterday. Now, every movement, every sound was a threat, every dark shape a potential predator, or worse, a potential black-clad body.
Rain had turned the river banks into a quagmire, and the places where it sloped even a little were a slippery accident waiting to happen. By the time he recognised the stretch of river where they had placed the net, Connor was not only soaked, he was also spattered with mud up to his knees and down most of one side where he’d had a particularly nasty slip. He clambered cautiously round a tree and stopped to survey the scene.
What the hell had happened here?
Connor’s hand went to the Browning without him even consciously thinking about it. He didn’t draw the weapon, but for the first time the weight of it on his belt was a comfort, not a hindrance. Another difference since yesterday.
The net was a torn and tangled mess at the side of the river. Two dead fish were discarded near it, one barely visible from where it had been stepped on and forced into the mud. The ground was churned into a chaos of muddy prints, a lot of them quite obviously made by human boots. It was the other prints that made Connor stop dead and his heart start to pound. Only one thing in the forest made a print like that. The allosaur had been here.
Connor swore quietly. He had suspected as much from the noises last night, but seeing the abandoned fish, the churned ground, the allosaur prints superimposed on top of the human prints, all of that made it more real.
“Doesn’t mean he’s dead.” Connor spoke the words aloud, as if giving voice to the thought might convince him of its truth. It didn’t look good, that much he couldn’t deny. But Connor couldn’t bring himself to believe that Ryan was dead. Not yet. This wasn’t proof, and he couldn’t risk the possibility that Ryan might not be dead. He needed to know, one way or the other.
He slowly edged into the churned area, trying to watch everywhere at once. A lot of the prints were indistinct, filled with water, and a smaller creature had clearly been here more recently, and he saw that one of the fish had been chewed. His initial impression had been right, though – the allosaur prints were definitely overlaying the human ones. Connor went over to the net and was examining the rip in one end when he spotted something else. A scatter of spent gun cartridges led a trail into the trees, and in amongst the ferns there were more human footprints heading upstream. Connor was no tracker, but the crushed foliage suggested the allosaur had also gone that way, although not so close to the river. Perhaps the trees had been too close together for it to follow easily.
A sudden movement in the forest behind him dragged a terrified yelp from Connor’s dry mouth. He spun round, pulling the Browning and aimed it at the ferns, the trees, anything that even looked like it was moving. There was no sign of a creature of any kind. He backed up against a tree and stayed there, pointing the gun out in front of him, and slowly getting control of his breathing again as he came down from the adrenaline spike. It took him a long time to even notice that he had left the safety on.
Connor stared at the Browning incredulously for a moment, and then slid down the tree to sit on the muddy ground, and put his head in his hands.
He was no good at this. He was fine with spontaneous heroics. Batting creatures on the nose with improvised weapons like chairs and rowing oars was fine, because it was all gut reaction with no real time to think about it. This, Connor was starting to realise that this was something entirely different, and entirely worse. He didn’t know what to do any more. He was tired and hungry, he was lonely, and he was bloody scared.
Two days earlier he had barely known Ryan. He never would have believed that in such a short time the thought that the Special Forces captain was dead might be the worst thing imaginable. And not just because Ryan was his key to surviving here. That mattered far less than the fact that in the last two days Connor had genuinely started to like the man. And if there was even the remotest chance that he was still alive…
Connor wiped his face on his sleeve and pushed his hair out of his face as he stood up. There were still the tracks to follow. He had to at least try, he had to know.
One way or the other.
The footprints led upstream, always staying close to the river edge. Sometimes he lost them, and had to take a leap of faith to keep going upstream until he spotted something again. The trail left by the allosaur, where it was obvious, still seemed to be going the same way as well. Ahead he heard the rushing sound of one of the waterfalls. He shoved his way through a dense patch of foliage and saw the falls, a foaming white force broken by jagged rocks and churned into a white maelstrom, made even more impressive by the fact that a day of constant rain had made the river a swollen monster.
He glanced down at the mud to pick up any sign of boot prints again, and instead something in the water caught his eye. Something that looked black and metallic. Connor knelt cautiously at the river edge and hung onto a tree with one hand while he leaned down to scoop the item out of the water. It was right at the edge where it wasn’t too deep, and he grabbed it and dragged it out.
It was Ryan’s assault rifle.
“If I’m in a dangerous situation and this is more than two feet away from my hand then something’s gone wrong.”
Connor stared at the gun for a moment, hearing Ryan’s voice in his head again. Something had gone bloody wrong, all right.
The yell was more born of desperation than anything, but suddenly he wasn’t sure he cared what else might hear him. He slung the rifle across his back. Ryan would want it back if he ever found him. He looked up, and stopped dead.
Across the other side of the river, near the base of the waterfall, lying completely motionless, was Captain Ryan.
“Ryan! Ryan!” Connor scrambled to his feet and yelled across. Ryan was lying on his front, and Connor couldn’t see from here whether or not he was hurt, or conscious, or de-
“He’s not dead. He’s not bloody dead,” Connor muttered.
He took a long look at the river. Could he cross it? This far into the forest it hadn’t seemed too deep yesterday, but now after all the rain he couldn’t judge the depth. Stuff it, he was going to try anyway.
Connor slid down the bank into the water and started to wade. As soon as he got thigh deep he knew it was a mistake. The water was stronger than it looked, and while not necessarily deeper, the bottom was uneven and rocky, and he almost turned his ankle on an unseen obstacle. He stopped and steadied himself, and yelled across at Ryan again. There was still no response. It was obvious to Connor that he was never going to cross the river here, though, it was just too dangerous.
“Ryan,” he yelled again. “I’m going further upstream, okay? I’ll find another way across. Just stay there.”
As if he was going anywhere else.
Connor struggled back to the bank and dragged himself out, hanging onto an overhanging tree when he realised he couldn’t get a decent grip on the mud and plants. With one last look at the figure across the river, he headed upstream, clambering up the rocks at the side of the waterfall and following the river away from the dangerous rapids. He hadn’t been this far into the forest before, and it was starting to get denser and darker. The surface of the river was becoming more and more broken by rocks jutting up, and scatters of boulders, which on the one hand meant it was getting shallower, but it was also running faster where it was channelled around the obstructions. Twice Connor tried to get across again, and both times he had to turn back before he got hopelessly out of his depth.
He reckoned he must have gone at least another half a mile upstream before he found something that might work. The river had suddenly become wider, making the current calmer, almost a large pool. But more important were the jumbled mess of rocks that had clearly tumbled down from the sharply rising rock face on the opposite bank. Connor had been disappointed three times now in trying to cross, and he eyed the rocks carefully, tracking from one to the next, judging whether it was possible to reach each one from the one next to it. It looked almost too good to be true to find this array of potential stepping stones, and Connor didn’t want to get too excited. But there was a way across here, he was sure of it.
He picked his route out before he even stepped onto the first rock. The first few were easy, relatively flat, standing clear of the water. It was the fifth step that he had to stand and contemplate for a moment. It was low down, and a thin layer of water bubbled over the top of it. And it wasn’t a step away, more like a jump. He was near the middle now, and if he got this one wrong he would end up in the deepest part of the river.
“Just do it,” he muttered. He had a strong suspicion that the longer he thought about it, the more likely he was to bottle it completely. He moved to give himself a bit of a run up, and jumped. He landed on the stone perfectly. Then the stone wobbled, and Connor felt it tipping over beneath his feet. There was split second of lurching panic, and then he stopped thinking and just kept going. He leapt from one rock to the next until sheer momentum propelled him to the last mad lunge at the other bank, where he landed in a sprawled heap, gasping and laughing.
“Wow,” he panted, still absurdly grinning. He wondered for a moment if he might be becoming an adrenaline junkie. Then his brain caught up with the rest of him, and reminded him why he had just done that. Connor stopped grinning, got up, and started to head back downstream again, skirting the base of the rock face where it came close to the river edge. Eventually he arrived back at the waterfall, and carefully picked his way down the rocks on this side, trying to force himself to pay attention to what he was doing, and not to the body he could now see lying in the mud.
“Ryan?” He approached cautiously, suddenly unwilling to know. He dropped to his knees at the man’s side, and carefully rolled him over onto his back. “Ryan?”
Connor tried to remember the first aid talk they’d had in school that time. When they had all been asked to get a partner and try to find each other’s pulse, Connor had been so unable to find anything remotely like a pulse that he declared his friend Mike was actually dead. So he didn’t even try to find a pulse now. Instead he leaned close and put his hand against Ryan’s mouth. For a moment there was nothing. Then he felt the faint tickling of a breath.
“Yes!” Connor punched the air.
He gently shook the man. “Come on, wake up.” There was still no response, and Connor took a really good look at the state he was in. Apart from being completely soaked and covered in mud, Ryan also had what looked like a very nasty bruise on the side of his head, and his hands and forearms were scratched and bruised under the mud.
Fine, Connor thought. Bruises were fine. He had no idea how to check for broken bones, and vaguely remembered something about not moving unconscious people in case of spinal injuries or something. He tried not to think about the fact that he’d just been shaking Ryan, and continued checking for obvious damage that he could actually do something about. It didn’t take long to find it. Ryan’s right trouser leg had been torn open and even with the mud on black, Connor could see that something had been bleeding heavily. He couldn’t see exactly what it was, though, because Ryan’s belt was wrapped across the tear, holding a wedge of material in place over the wound. Which told him one very important thing – at some point Ryan had been conscious and lucid enough to treat a serious injury.
“Ryan.” He threw caution to the wind and shook him again. “Wake the hell up.”
“Mmmmnn.” Ryan’s eyelids flickered, but he didn’t come to.
“Hey! Wake up.”
Ryan tried to move, groaned quietly, and finally opened his eyes.
“You were expecting someone else?” Connor tried to keep his tone light, to disguise the low level panic that was still making every muscle tense.
Ryan rubbed his face with a hand, blinked up at Connor, and then frowned. “I thought I told you to stay at the cave?” he said.
“And I told you to be careful,” Connor snapped back.
Ryan closed his eyes again, ever so slightly smiled, and mumbled something that sounded like, “Touché.”
What was wrong with him? Was this blood loss? Concussion? Both?
“Hey. Stay awake,” Connor said. He realised he still had Ryan’s assault rifle slung across his back, and put it down. “Which pocket did you put the first aid kit in?”
“Bottom right. ’s supposed to be waterproof but I don’t know if it would have stayed that way after last night.”
Connor didn’t like the way Ryan was slurring, but at least he was actually talking, and his eyes were open again.
“Okay. How many fingers?” Connor held up three in front of Ryan’s face.
“What?” Ryan just sounded confused. “This is silly.”
“At least one person in this conversation probably has concussion. At some point when that isn’t you, then you get to decide what’s silly. Now, how many?”
“Good. What’s your name and what year is it?”
Ryan’s expression suggested he was trying to decide between humouring him or hitting him.
“Tom Ryan. About hundred million BC.”
“Actually more like a hundred and forty million, but close enough.”
Connor found the first aid kit, and contemplated its meagre contents.
“What happened to your leg, and what can I do about it?”
Ryan seemed to be becoming more alert with every moment, and he propped himself up on his elbows and looked down at the injury.
“Not sure if there’s anything you can do. Not here, anyway. It really needs cleaning before we try to do anything else. That was just an emergency measure to stop the bleeding. Must have worked, otherwise I’d probably be dead right now.”
Connor winced, trying not to think about the calm manner in which Ryan was talking about that subject.
“Well, we need some clean water, then. You still got that chemical purifying thing?”
Ryan didn’t respond, and when Connor glanced up he realised Ryan was staring at something over Connor’s shoulder.
“Connor,” he said in a very quiet voice. “Run.”
Connor didn’t want to look. He really didn’t. But he turned around anyway.
The juvenile allosaur was standing on the other side of the river, watching them. It tilted its head again, the same way it had when they had seen it on the first day. When it had almost seen them.
“Connor, just go,” Ryan whispered again. He grabbed Connor’s arm and pushed him to get up. Connor let the first aid kit drop, and stood, still staring at the dinosaur.
Please don’t let it get across the river, Connor silently begged. Let the water be too strong, please, don’t let it get across.
The allosaur took a tentative step into the water, and came towards them, its massive bulk steadying it against the current in all the ways that Connor’s small, light body hadn’t.
Ryan picked up his gun, and a sharp swear word a moment later told Connor it wasn’t working after being submerged in the river. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ryan try to stand. His leg buckled beneath him, and he collapsed back down, cursing.
The allosaur was in the middle of the river now, and showed no sign that the current was going to deter it. True, it was moving slowly, steadily, placing each foot carefully. But it was still coming. The fact that Ryan was telling him to run suddenly filtered into his mind. Not ‘come on,’ he was saying ‘go.’ Connor realised the full implications a second later. Ryan couldn’t even stand up, let alone run. If he tried to help Ryan, they would both be too slow. If he left him… No. No bloody way.
“Ryan,” he said, suddenly calm. “Shut up.”
Keeping his eyes on the allosaur, he moved to put himself between the dinosaur and Ryan. He blanked out whatever it was that Ryan was yelling. It wasn’t important. He drew the Browning, clicked the safety off, and aimed it at the allosaur.
Calm. Breathe. Aim. Wait. Check safety again. Wait.
Connor forced his breathing to steady, as he sighted the creature’s vast bulk along the barrel of the handgun. Its chest fell into view, only yards away now.
He fired. Missed. Fired. Blood sprayed in a sudden gout from the allosaur’s leg and it stopped, roared. Connor fired again. And again. And again. And again. He knew he was missing more times than he was hitting, but it was a big target and it was very close and the hits he was making were solid. Chest, leg, chest again, just because it was the biggest surface area facing him. The allosaur dipped its great head and roared again, and Connor aimed directly into its massive mouth, and fired. He missed, but only just, and a line of blood scraped along the side of the allosaur’s face past its eye. The creature roared again, but this time it wheeled away, turned around, and then it was retreating back across the water, staggering a little against the current. Connor continued firing the gun as the allosaur climbed the opposite bank and headed into the trees away from the noise and the bullets.
Everything went quiet. Connor didn’t understand why, he was still firing the gun, but after a few moments he could hear a repeated clicking noise. The sound was coming from the gun in his hand, and at first he couldn’t work out what it meant. He stared into the semi darkness of the trees and the rain where the dinosaur had vanished. The gun was still clicking, and he had to force his finger to stop clutching at the trigger.
He had just shot the allosaurus. He had shot a living creature. He had tried to kill it. He had wanted to kill it.
Connor’s legs suddenly gave way and he dropped to his knees, still holding the gun out in a hand that was shaking uncontrollably.
“Oh god. Oh god.” The world swam out of focus and he had a wave of nausea and a sudden urge to throw up.
He felt the gun being pried gently out of his hand. He held onto it for a second, unwilling to let go, but then the gun was gone and he clutched blindly at the warm, solid body next to him. A pair of strong arms wrapped around him, pulling him in. Connor’s breath caught for a moment, then he turned and buried his face into Ryan’s shoulder and let himself be held.
Connor lost track of time. He closed his eyes, and the constant patter of the rain became a lullaby, and he let his mind slowly retreat to a place where he didn’t have to think about the fact that he was tired, and soaked, and hungry, and still so very, very scared. Eventually he became aware that Ryan was pulling away, and he hung on, digging his fingers into the man’s equipment vest.
“We can’t stay here. We need to move.” Ryan’s voice was soft in his ear.
Connor reluctantly let go, and tried to wipe his face with his sleeve again. It didn’t help; his clothes were all as sodden as he was. It occurred to him that he should be feeling embarrassed at letting Ryan see him like this, but he didn’t have the energy to care any more. Strangely, Ryan didn’t seem to have any issue at all with his behaviour, and when Connor looked up the soldier was reloading the Browning with an expression of concentration. Which was odd, because Connor knew he could almost certainly reload the weapon with his eyes closed. He wondered if maybe the concentration was more to do with what Ryan was trying to avoid thinking about.
“Is the other one broken?” Connor asked. He was surprised when his voice sounded nearly calm and steady.
“It might be fixable. I’ll have a look at it when we’re back at camp.” Ryan held the Browning back out to Connor.
“No,” Connor said. After what had happened, he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to hold the weapon again. “Not till yours is fixed. Makes more sense.”
“I can barely stand up. As you so rightly pointed out, I probably have concussion. This is still yours until we get home.” He continued to hold out the handgun until Connor finally accepted it.
Connor holstered the weapon and stood up, retrieving the first aid kit from where he had dropped it. He held a hand out to Ryan, and tried to gauge just how seriously hurt he was as he got up. It didn’t seem as bad as Connor had feared it might be, but as they walked he quickly realised he was supporting a lot of Ryan’s weight.
Neither of them spoke much as they headed back upstream, taking time to clamber up the rocks beside the waterfall, and along to the stepping stones. Connor explained about the one in the middle, and when they got there he realised the stone had actually tipped over completely and wedged at a strange angle. A great deal of prodding with a branch suggested it was a little more stable in its new position, and Connor tested it by the simple expedient of jumping onto it and hoping for the best. It moved slightly, and then settled, and he waited for Ryan, grabbing and steadying him when he landed.
They avoided the treacherous mud of the riverbank on the way back, heading further into the forest. They passed close to the place where the anomaly had been, and Connor dug the compass out, just from force of habit more than anything. He didn’t expect to see it flicker any more.
When they finally reached the plain, Ryan directed them to the river, where they rested and refilled their water bottles and waited for the chemical purifier to take effect. Once they had clean water, Connor took the belt off Ryan’s leg and let Ryan talk him through treating the wound. It wasn’t pretty, but it also wasn’t as bad as Connor had let his imagination believe it might be. And more importantly, it didn’t bleed a great deal when he removed Ryan’s improvised bandage. The first aid kit didn’t have a lot, but it did contain some painkillers, and Ryan downed a couple while Connor finished bandaging the wound properly.
“Looks pretty good. You ever done any first aid before?” Ryan asked.
“No. I’m usually useless at stuff like that.”
“No you’re not,” was all Ryan said in reply.
The high rise rock shelter had never looked so inviting, and Connor realised as they approached that for the first time he wasn’t worrying about the climb up to it. This time, it was Ryan who had difficulty with the ascent, but he had more than enough upper body strength to pull himself up the steepest part and avoid putting too much weight onto his right leg. Connor settled down against the back wall of the hollow, and wondered exactly how a hole in a rock face could induce feelings of safety. It was starting to feel like home.
It was no later than mid afternoon, but they were both exhausted. Ryan stretched out and closed his eyes.
“I think I heard somewhere that you’re not supposed to sleep if you’ve got concussion,” Connor said.
“It’s okay,” Ryan said without opening his eyes. “Just prod me every hour or so and make sure I wake up.”
“What if you don’t?”
Ryan clearly intended to sleep, but Connor still had too many thoughts filling his head and he sat hugging his knees and watched the rain drenched plain and its fascinating menagerie.
“Connor?” Ryan spoke after a while.
“Thanks for coming to find me.”
“It’s okay.” Connor didn’t think there was anything particularly heroic about what he had done. He couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
“Do you remember what you said to me on the first night here?” Ryan’s voice was strange, and Connor glanced round at him. His expression looked almost embarrassed, and after a moment Connor assumed he must have read that wrong, because Special Forces Captain Ryan didn’t do embarrassed.
Which bit? Connor wondered. He seemed to remember saying quite a lot on the first night. He only nodded, trying to concentrate on the conversation that they were having, instead of the conversation that they weren’t having. The one that was in Ryan’s eyes, and hiding just out of reach in his own mind.
Connor looked at Ryan, completely confused by what he had just said.
“Of all the people who could have been thrown through that anomaly, I’m glad it was you, Connor.”
Connor stayed awake while Ryan slept. He was still smiling to himself when the rain finally stopped, and when, one by one, the stars appeared in the evening sky.