Series: Five Days, part 4
Title: Day Four: Another
Warnings: Slash, occasional mild language.
Spoilers: Anything through to episode 5.
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 4600
Summary: Action, adventure and prehistoric peril.
Author note: sorry for the delay on this chapter. It turned into a complete bastard to write and edit, for no apparently obvious reason.
Connor felt like crap. At the point when he realised it was morning, he was feeling stiff, sore, and still tired enough to suggest that he hadn’t actually slept at all.
“Was starting think you’d never wake up,” Ryan said in a conversational tone.
“Ow,” Connor grumbled, slowly picking himself up and trying to find a sitting position that didn’t hurt.
When he finally looked round, he saw that Ryan had the disassembled parts of his assault rifle spread around him, and seemed to be methodically cleaning one of the internal components.
“Can you fix it?” Connor asked.
“I’m not Bob the bloody Builder,” Ryan laughed.
Connor just glared. Ryan was in a strangely happy mood, but at that moment he finally caught on to the fact that Connor wasn’t.
“It should be okay,” he amended. “Wasn’t broken, just got mud in the workings.”
Connor studied the rifle parts. They were all now so clean they might have come fresh out of the box. They were, however, the only things in the rock shelter that were clean. Despite their attempts to wash off the worst of the mud yesterday, both he and Ryan looked more than a touch grimy, and whatever colour their clothes had been before, nearly everything was now a mottled shade of mud, sweat and blood, with the occasional green smear of chlorophyll. The only other exception was the bandage on Ryan’s leg, which stood out with an almost gleaming whiteness.
Connor rubbed angrily at the slightly itchy stubble on his face. Right then he would have quite happily traded in his complete Star Trek magazine collection in exchange for a shower and a shave. And an entire bottle of shampoo. For the first time since he was fifteen, Connor was seriously considering the merits of short hair. He glanced across at Ryan feeling vaguely resentful. Despite the bruises and everything, he looked surprisingly good. On Ryan, three days worth of stubble came off as manly. Connor was fairly certain that on him, it just made him look like he’d been sleeping in a ditch for a week.
“You okay?” Ryan asked. He paused in the gun cleaning exercise to give Connor a slightly worried look.
“No.” Suddenly he couldn’t care less about trying to put a brave face on the situation any more. “No. I feel like shit. I haven’t eaten or slept properly for three days. My clothes smell like, like, I don’t even want to think what they smell like. And everything hurts.”
Ryan gave him a very odd, searching look for a long few seconds. Eventually he said, “Same here,” and then went back to cleaning the rifle.
Apparently he wasn’t doing sympathy this morning, Connor thought. Although, to be fair, Ryan was the one who had almost died the previous day, and so probably hurt a hell of a lot more than he did. If he wasn’t feeling so sorry for himself, Connor might have felt guilty for taking his mood out on the other man.
He fidgeted in a futile attempt to get comfortable. At least his clothes were drying out now that the rain had stopped. Although if that was the only positive thing he could find about the day it wasn’t a good sign.
Ryan finished his gun maintenance and reassembled it with such speed that Connor would have been impressed if he wasn’t in such a foul mood. He refused to meet Ryan’s look, knowing he was being childish but not really caring.
Ryan put the gun aside. “Connor, come here.”
Ryan sighed. “Because we’re on a ledge over twenty feet up and you look like you’re on the verge of a major hissy fit. Call me paranoid, but that’s not a combination I like. Now get over here.”
Connor shuffled closer, still trying to avoid actually looking at Ryan.
Connor wasn’t certain if that was meant to be an order or an invitation. He did it anyway.
“Take your shirt off.”
Ryan chuckled. “You heard me,” he said in a voice that could only be described as amused.
Connor suspected he was being played with. Or teased. Which hurt, because although he was more than used to both, he hadn’t expected it from this man. He wrapped his arms around his knees and refused to co-operate.
“Have it your way then,” Ryan sighed.
Although he was now deliberately not looking at Ryan, he was aware that the man was moving round behind him. Connor wasn’t sure what he expected. Although if he had made a mental list of what he did expect, it almost certainly wouldn’t have included Ryan putting his hands onto Connor’s shoulders and starting to gently massage his neck.
Connor jumped, and tried to stifle a yelp.
“Relax,” Ryan said, as his thumbs worked downwards from Connor’s shoulders to either side of his spine.
Connor tried to obey, but this was just too unfamiliar and unexpected. Ryan’s hands moved lower and Connor couldn’t help it, he arched his back and tried to stretch his shoulders. Ryan continued what he was doing, his thumbs seeking out every tight, knotted muscle, and slowly starting to work back up again towards his shoulders.
The feel of his shirt against his skin was suddenly too rough, and Connor wished he’d listened to Ryan’s suggestion about what to do with it. When Ryan’s hands reached the base of his neck again, Connor tried to shrug his collar further back to expose his neck properly. Ryan chuckled.
“I told you it would be easier without the shirt.” He slid his hands under the collar and started rubbing again. “You can quit being stubborn now, if you want.”
Connor fumbled his shirt buttons open, a small part of his brain insisting that this wasn’t really happening, or if it was then it was actually some great joke at his expense. But right then, as long as Ryan just kept doing that thing with his thumbs at the base of his neck Connor didn’t care if the entire world was laughing at him. Ryan paused long enough to slide the shirt off when the buttons were finally dealt with, and Connor tried not to think about why he suddenly felt self-conscious. It never usually bothered him if Abby or Stephen saw him around the flat in his underwear. Then Ryan started working down Connor’s back again.
The feel of skin to skin contact was different, unfamiliar, and entirely better. Connor closed his eyes and this time he didn’t try to stop the quiet moan when Ryan pressed hard on his ribs.
Neither of them said anything for a while. Ryan was as thorough and methodical about this as he was about nearly everything else he did, and slowly Connor felt his stiff muscles starting to lose their tension. He didn’t want to break the mood, didn’t want to do anything that might prompt Ryan to stop, but after a while he felt the need to say something.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. “About the hissy fit.”
“To tell you the truth, I’d been expecting something like that for a while. I’m actually impressed you lasted as long as you did.”
Connor frowned, tried to turn round to look at Ryan, but the man chose that moment to drag his thumbs along the base of Connor’s ribs, and Connor arched against the movement again, gasping at the sensation, part painful, part immensely, satisfyingly good. He suspected Ryan may have done that on purpose to avoid eye contact.
“All I meant was, you’re a civilian, an academic. You’re not trained for anything remotely like this. And as survival situations go, this one’s a bastard. Ever since the first night here I’ve been wondering when you’d hit breaking point.” Ryan hesitated, his fingers kneading Connor’s spine just above the top of his trousers. “You surprised me, Connor, and that’s rare. You’re a hell of a lot stronger than I thought you were. And after yesterday, I’m bloody grateful for that.”
Connor had no idea what to say in reply, or even if a reply was needed, or appropriate. He didn’t feel strong. But at the same time the despondency that had crept up on him that morning was lifting. Enough that after a while he felt he should voice the thought that had been growing in his mind for the last few days.
“The anomaly isn’t coming back, is it?” He phrased it as a question, but Connor meant it as a statement of fact.
Ryan paused what he was doing, and Connor gave an involuntary whimper. Ryan resumed, and when he spoke his breath was close to Connor’s neck.
“It doesn’t look likely,” he admitted in a very carefully controlled voice.
Spoken out loud, acknowledged, it was far less intimidating than Connor had thought it would be. Even if Cutter had been right about it being another fault-line anomaly, the last time they had all opened within a day or two of each other. From what little they understood about the anomalies, the more time that passed, the less chance there was that the one they wanted would re-appear.
It was almost a relief to have accepted the fact that they would never get home, and even the possibility that the rest of his life was numbered in days or weeks rather than years didn’t bother him as much as he had expected it to. And really, if he was going to spend the rest of his life with only one other person, right then he could think of a lot worse people to be with than Tom Ryan.
“Doesn’t mean we give up,” Ryan said, his hands returning again to Connor’s shoulders. “We just have to find another way home. Helen Cutter’s been navigating these anomalies between the past and the present for eight years. She’s proved that it’s possible. We just have to find out how she does it.”
“I didn’t plan on being here for eight years,” Connor said.
“I didn’t plan on being here at all.”
Ryan’s hands suddenly stilled on his shoulders, and he leaned forwards until Connor could feel his breath again.
“Connor, what’s that?”
Connor had absolutely no idea what the other man was talking about.
Ryan’s arm snaked over his shoulder and pointed out across the plain. Connor tried to follow where he was indicating, but the morning sun was still in that direction and he had to squint.
“There. The hills on the horizon.”
It took another few moments of searching before Connor spotted what Ryan was talking about.
“Smoke? What is it? A forest fire?”
“No, not like that.
The massage had relaxed more than just Connor’s body, and it took his mind a few seconds to catch up with what Ryan was saying.
“People? Someone’s made a campfire or something?” He suddenly felt the excitement creeping through his tired limbs. “A rescue party. They might be trying to signal us or something. Maybe the anomaly’s moved over there.”
He felt Ryan shake his head. “No. It’s not our lot. If they were looking for us they’d be sending up flares, not lighting campfires.”
Connor twisted round so he could look at Ryan. The look of mild distaste told Connor exactly who Ryan thought it was.
“I can’t think of anyone else it could be.”
Connor didn’t like to point out that it could be anyone who was unfortunate enough to stumble through an anomaly and somehow manage to survive.
Ryan started to gather his equipment up. “Whoever it is, there’s a good chance that there’s an anomaly over in those hills. We have to get moving.”
Connor stared back out across the plain.
“It’s a long way,” he pointed out.
“Not really. I’d guess maybe fifteen, twenty miles.”
“That’s a long way,” Connor insisted.
“Which is why we have to get moving. Now. Take what you need, leave anything else.”
Connor emptied the pockets of his coat and stuffed everything into his bag. The coat was too heavy to carry, and too hot to wear. He dithered for a moment about whether leaving it behind would affect the timeline in any way, but then decided that after the two of them had been traipsing around shooting creatures and everything else, a coat probably wasn’t going to do any more damage.
They climbed down from the shelter and Connor felt a momentary urge to take a picture of it, just to add to his Jurassic memories. Although in many ways, he hoped he would never see the place again.
“Stop,” Connor gasped. “Just… stop… for a minute.”
Connor leaned on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Ryan did stop, and Connor took the opportunity to sit down on the ground.
“Connor, we have to keep moving.”
“Just a minute. Please.”
Ryan shook his head, but then admitted defeat and sat down next to him.
They had been walking for most of the day. Despite the fact that he was the one with an injured leg, Ryan had set a fast pace, and Connor was struggling to keep up with him now.
If it had been as simple as heading in a straight line towards the hills, they might have been there already. But for most of the morning they had tried to follow close to the river to make it easier to re-supply their water bottles. It was only when the river finally turned off to the north that they had to leave it. And there had been at least two detours to avoid herds of sauropods.
Now it was early evening, and Connor was absolutely exhausted. The humidity wasn’t helping, and it was only that single column of smoke getting ever closer over the day that had kept him going.
“I think my shoes are dying,” Connor commented. The seam was starting to split on at least one of them.
Ryan didn’t say anything, and Connor glanced up in time to notice him trying to cover up a grimace as he shifted his right leg. Ryan had been insisting that he was fine every time Connor asked. Connor was starting to not believe him.
“How’s the leg?”
“Hurts,” Ryan finally admitted.
“Which by anyone else’s standards would probably involve screaming for an ambulance.” Connor had meant that as a joke, but regretted it immediately.
“I’m a soldier, not a robot. I still feel. I just do a better job of dealing with it than most people.”
“Anything I can do to help?”
“No. I’m fine.”
Liar, Connor thought, but he didn’t say anything else on the subject. If they found an anomaly home at the end of this trek it wouldn’t matter anyway.
Connor turned his attention to their destination. From here he could see that the hills ran in a north – south range, rising steeper beyond the forested slopes in front of them. The column of smoke seemed to originate from somewhere in that forest, but he had seen no other evidence of human presence here.
Neither of them spoke for a while. Eventually Connor said, “Is it a bad sign to be fantasising about pizza?”
“Depends what you’re fantasising doing with them.”
Connor looked round to see the entirely suggestive expression on Ryan’s face. He whacked the soldier’s arm.
“Food. I’m starving. I’ve been thinking about this for days. When we get back the first thing I’m going to eat is an extra large pizza with everything. And I do mean everything.” He paused, gave it some more thought. “And extra toppings of everything.”
“You’ll throw up if you eat that on an empty stomach.”
“I don’t care.” Connor grinned at the thought of real food. “So what’s the first thing you want to eat?”
Ryan was quiet for a while. Eventually he said, “Bacon butty. With ketchup, and a fried egg. And chips.”
“Come on, we have to get moving.”
Ryan was already standing up, and Connor dragged himself up after him. He had no spare breath for talking as they walked, and it was strange after the past few days, when walking and exploring this world had almost always been accompanied by conversation. But there was something else. The closer they got to the forest, the more he sensed a growing nervous tension radiating from Ryan. He seemed more jumpy than usual, and, if it were possible, far more alert. Connor wondered if it was the memory of his experience two nights ago, whatever that had been. Ryan hadn’t talked about it, and Connor hadn’t yet asked.
“Take a compass reading on that smoke,” Ryan ordered when they were almost at the edge of the forest. “We need to be able to find it in the trees.”
Connor did as he was told, and they plunged into the dense twilight of the forest. Ryan took the lead, and now his hand was on his assault rifle at all times. He occasionally paused to check with Connor for course corrections, but apart from that he was silent, and Connor got the distinct impression that any unnecessary talking was going to earn him a pointed glare. And possibly violence.
Connor suddenly realised he could smell smoke. At that moment, Ryan put a hand out to stop him.
“Stay here. Get down,” he whispered.
Connor wanted to ask why, wanted to know what was making him so jumpy, but he didn’t dare. He slid as quietly as possible into a patch of ferns and tried to follow Ryan’s progress as he moved off through the undergrowth.
Ryan was gone for a good ten or fifteen minutes. Connor kept having to will himself to relax, but the longer he crouched there, the more a paranoid tension skittered up his neck making him turn around every few moments. He was certain he was being watched.
There was movement in the undergrowth to his left, and he drew the Browning and aimed it at the noise. Ryan stepped into view, and stopped dead when he realised there was a gun aimed at him. Connor breathed again, and put the gun down.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “Didn’t know it was you.”
Ryan offered him a hand up. “There’s a campsite. But whoever was here, they’re gone now.”
Ryan led him to a small clearing where the remains of a campfire smouldered. A stream babbled down slope to the right of the clearing. But it was otherwise empty.
“The fire hasn’t been put out for long. We should search the area. Even if whoever it is has gone, maybe the anomaly is still somewhere close.”
Ryan was still on edge, and so Connor didn’t argue with him. He checked the compass, but there was no sign of a magnetic disturbance. They searched the immediate area until it was too dark to safely continue, but there was no anomaly. There were tracks, human footprints in the still damp ground that crossed and re-crossed the area around the campsite, but neither he nor Ryan were experienced trackers and they lost any sense of a trail not far outside of the clearing.
When they finally arrived back at the abandoned campsite, Connor glared at the remains of the fire. He was certain it was mocking him.
“Where have they gone?” Connor demanded. “That fire’s been going all day, we saw the smoke. Why would they abandon it now when it’s getting dark?”
“Maybe it’s a trap. Maybe it was supposed to lure us here.”
“That’s totally paranoid,” Connor said. “Who would want to do that? Why?” He realised his voice was louder than necessary, but he couldn’t stop it.
“Connor,” Ryan said with a low warning to his tone.
“No. What the hell’s going on here Ryan?” He turned round, looking at the edges of the clearing on all sides. “Hey!” he yelled. “Hey. We’re here. Can you hear me? We’re here.”
“Connor.” Ryan grabbed his arm. “Stop that. We have no idea who made that fire, or why.”
“So what?” Connor rounded on him. “It’s got to be another human, right? So why wouldn’t they help us? Why wouldn’t they want to find other people in this place? Why wouldn’t they be glad to see another human being?”
“Exactly. Why? Why aren’t they here now? That’s why we don’t want to advertise our presence.”
“So what was the point coming here then?” Connor was still yelling. He shook Ryan’s hand off his arm.
“I’m not panicking,” Connor yelled right in Ryan’s face. “I’m bloody pissed off. We just spent all day walking here and what have we achieved? Nothing. In fact, we’ve achieved less than nothing, because now we’re still stuck here with no help, and no idea where to find an anomaly, and we’re even more knackered than we were before.”
He turned his back on Ryan and walked off. He wanted to hit something, but since the only things around here he could hit was a tree or Captain Ryan, he decided not to. He wasn’t sure which one would end up hurting more. Connor stopped at the stream and stared at it without really seeing it. He didn’t care any more. Everything just felt too tired, too numb.
It was a few minutes before he heard Ryan approaching. He stopped right behind Connor, and the man’s arms folded around him; not a hug, just holding him.
“Remember that conversation we had about reaching breaking point this morning?” Ryan said in a quiet voice.
Connor didn’t reply, didn’t move.
“I know how you feel right now because I feel the same. I’ve asked a lot of you the last few days, I know. But I need to ask one more thing. I need you to hold it together for just a while longer. Because if you really break I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep it together for both of us.”
Connor closed his eyes. He didn’t want to hear that. He wished Ryan would lie to him, tell him everything was fine again. Because if Ryan was as lost as he was, then they were both in a hell of a lot more trouble than he had thought. He had no idea what he wanted any more. He was sick of being the weak one, the one who got scared. But he had become so used to Ryan being cool, calm, and completely in control of everything that, even after what had happened yesterday, Connor didn’t think he could cope with being the strong one either. Everything had gone to hell, and Connor had no idea how to fix any of it.
“We’ll find another way,” Ryan said quietly.
Connor felt a sudden, unexpected surge of anger. He broke out of Ryan’s hold and turned on him.
“No we won’t. There isn’t another way. And even if there is, we’ll never find it. We’re going to die here, Ryan.”
“We’re not dead yet,” Ryan said. “So don’t you dare give up on me. I need you, Connor.”
Ryan reached out again and pulled him into a hug, and this time Connor hugged back. He remembered the time when Cutter had hugged him after his friend had died, but this was so very different. This wasn’t about comfort. This was about fear, and desperation, and need, and god, Connor didn’t want to admit that he needed this, but he didn’t want the moment to end. Being held like this gave the illusion of safety, and it was easier to convince himself that was all it meant, because admitting anything else was just too dangerous and confusing right now. Something with a sharp corner in a pocket on Ryan’s equipment vest was digging into his ribs, and Connor shifted and when he did he felt Ryan’s breath catch against his ear. Despite his exhaustion, or maybe because of it, Connor felt himself becoming hard, and he had a moment of panic. He tried to pull back so that Ryan wouldn’t know, but the man didn’t let go, dragged him close again, and suddenly Connor was very, very aware that Ryan was as hard as he was.
They both became absolutely still for a moment.
Caught, was the single, terrified thought that drove everything else out of Connor’s mind. The illusion of safety skittered off into the encroaching darkness. It was a mistake, it had to be. Connor frantically tried to decide if there was any possible way that he could deny what Ryan now certainly knew, somehow pretend he hadn’t felt anything.
Connor knew Ryan was trying to look at him, but he didn’t want to meet the man’s eye. He couldn’t. Ryan’s fingers found Connor’s face and forced him to look up. Connor was still trying to form an apology when Ryan kissed him.
Connor’s mind stumbled to an abrupt halt. For a moment he was confused about exactly what was happening, or what he was supposed to do, because this did not happen to him. With anyone. Ever. And then instinct kicked in, and he opened his mouth and started to kiss back. At first it was tentative, slow, testing. Then tentative became insistent, and Connor was acutely aware of the sensation of stubble against his face. He broke away for long enough to breathe, and Ryan’s expression suggested surprise and need in equal measure. Somewhere in the back of his mind Connor decided that meant he wasn’t about to get punched out, so he slipped a hand round the back of Ryan’s neck, and pulled him close and kissed him again.
This time the kiss was harder, and Connor became aware of just how much they had been holding back the first time. And how much they were both still holding back. His free hand skittered across Ryan’s equipment vest, trying to find something to hold on to. He brushed against the assault rifle, hanging loose from its strap, and for a second the feeling of the hard metal acted as a wake up call. They shouldn’t be doing this. Not here. Not now. Not like this. Ryan must have felt his hesitation, and pulled back, a questioning look on his face.
Connor didn’t want to talk or explain. And if the next word out of Ryan’s mouth was any form of apology he was sure he would hit the man. Suddenly he didn’t care what they should or shouldn’t be doing. He didn’t want to have to deal with what any of this meant. He stopped Ryan from saying anything else by kissing him again. He finally found a pocket to grab hold of, and without thinking he pushed Ryan backwards. The soldier stumbled for a second, and then let himself be pushed until Connor backed him against a tree. Ryan might have been the one who started this, but at some undefined point Connor had taken charge, and for some reason that seemed to be okay. Confusion was rapidly being overtaken by exhilaration, even though this kiss tasted of fear and desperation and all the things they hadn’t been talking about since the moment when the anomaly had closed behind them. He was still aware enough to know that this was neither safe nor sensible. He was just a little too far gone to care any more.
Suddenly Ryan grabbed him and shoved him away. This time Connor was the one who stumbled, his stomach lurching at the certainty that he had screwed something up entirely. But Ryan was going for his gun and aiming at something behind Connor. Connor looked round, expecting a dinosaur.
“Don’t stop on my account, boys. It was just starting to get interesting,” said Helen Cutter.