This is a very, very, very late birthday fic for the wonderful munchkinofdoom. Sorry it's so late, the bunny looked all fluffy and inviting back in January, and then as soon as I started writing it buggered off and played hard-to-get for several months. Hopefully the fact that it's extra long and contains excessive amounts of Ryan-whumping might make up for the lateness.
Warnings: language, violence.
Spoilers: 1.2, 1.4
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 8000 in total (split into two parts)
Summary: When a search and rescue mission goes badly wrong, Ryan is faced with a situation straight out of his worst nightmares.
AN: Extremely late birthday fic for munchkinofdoom
AN2: Thanks to fififolle for the beta.
AN3: It’s technically Ryan/Connor established relationship slash, but it’s actually largely gen.
Ryan’s hand snatched out in time to grab Connor’s elbow as the young man’s foot slid out from under him again. Connor gave a startled yelp, and wobbled, but didn’t fall this time.
“Thanks,” Connor muttered once he’d got his balance.
“Watch out. It’s slippery,” Ryan commented with a teasing smile.
Connor glared, and then set off tromping through the swamp again. Ryan followed, keeping one eye on the tangles of undergrowth, and the other eye on his accident-prone lover.
“I don’t think the sheep came this way,” Connor said after another couple of metres.
“I think you might be right,” Ryan admitted. He moved to stand next to Connor and carefully scanned the environment around them in a full 360 degree circle. The huge trees (according to Connor they were ferns, not real trees) and dense, dark green undergrowth restricted his view to twenty or so metres in almost all directions, but the only sign of invaders from the 21st century were the footprints he and Connor had left in the ankle-deep brown sludge underfoot.
“Maybe they didn’t even come through the anomaly to start with,” Connor continued, something of a petulant whine starting to creep into his voice. “I mean, look at it. Why on earth would a sheep want to come here? It’d poke its little sheepy nose through the anomaly, realise it wasn’t in Kansas anymore and there was no tasty grass, and toddle off back home again.”
“We had to check,” Ryan said. “Besides, I thought you loved getting the opportunity to explore the past? All this exciting prehistory should be right up your street.”
Connor looked pointedly at the stagnant pools that surrounded their little area of high ground, and the mud that caked his boots and trousers and even his sleeve after a particularly nasty slip.
“Yeah, Ryan, you take me to all the most romantic places.”
Ryan smiled indulgently at him before turning his attention back to their surroundings. A headache was starting to nag at him, throbbing right behind his eyes and making him blink far more than usual. He’d noticed Connor doing the same for the last five minutes as well, and that as much as anything persuaded him it was probably time to do one last sweep and then call it a day and head back to the anomaly. Cutter had said this was the same time period as had been beyond the anomaly in the underground, and Ryan remembered all too well the side effects of that atmosphere seeping through. Now, after he’d been tromping around in it for almost half an hour, it was making its effects known even more fiercely.
Something scuttled out of the undergrowth and Ryan leapt backwards, dragging Connor with him. A huge black spider as big as a cat darted across in front of them and into cover again, the rustle of ferns the only indicator of where it had gone. Ryan shuddered and kept his eyes glued on the undergrowth for long after it had vanished.
“Wow. Wouldn’t want to find that one in the bath,” Connor commented, looking more intrigued than frightened.
“That’s not funny.”
Ryan still had the occasional nightmare about those bloody things from the underground, and he couldn’t help looking up and around to make sure they weren’t about to be descended upon by more of the bastards.
“Come on, let’s start heading back,” Ryan muttered, trying to suppress the creeping feeling up and down his spine.
Connor glanced at him with a slightly amused expression, and opened his mouth, then closed it again. Ryan wondered if it was possible that Connor had finally learned that making fun of Ryan’s rather embarrassing phobia was not conducive to good moods and cuddles, even if Connor was the one who usually removed any offending arachnids in the house. Or maybe even Connor had to admit that spiders that large were worth worrying about.
The creature came out of nowhere.
Ryan leapt back from the edge of the pool, his boots sliding in the slick mud. He snatched a hand out to drag Connor with him, but this time he wasn’t fast enough. Wide gaping jaws clamped onto Connor’s leg and he was yanked off his feet and into the water. Connor screamed, his hands flailing for something to hold onto, and Ryan lunged for him and grabbed hold of Connor’s wrist. Their eyes met for a second and Ryan saw the fear, the pleading, ‘don’t let go!’ in Connor’s eyes. There was momentary tug of war, and then the creature dragged them both into the pool and under the water.
Ryan came up spluttering, dragging in a lungful of the oxygen-rich air.
He was chest deep in murky water and for a moment there was no sign of Connor or the creature. Then something broke the surface further out into the middle of the pool. Connor flailed wildly before he was dragged back under again.
Ryan ploughed through the water in that direction, his assault rifle ready for the second he had clear sight of the creature. All the thrashing around was stirring up vast amounts of mud and silt making it impossible to see anything in the water, and Ryan didn’t dare fire for fear of hitting Connor.
Abruptly the huge creature broke the surface again. Ryan’s first impression was a crocodile, but that wasn’t right. It was shorter, stubbier, its skin smooth rather than scaly. He remembered Connor saying something about amphibians in this time, but this was like no amphibian that Ryan had ever seen. The creature reared up and flicked its body upward, catapulting Connor’s limp body into the air and throwing him several feet away to crash down into the water again. Ryan was forcibly reminded of seeing a nature documentary with killer whales doing much the same thing with seals as they hunted, and an involuntary cry was ripped from his throat as he opened fire on the creature.
A cloud of inky fluid bloomed from the creature and it dived back under the water. Ryan tried to track its movement but it was a dark shape in an increasingly turbid swamp. He felt something waft past his legs and opened fire into the water again. Another cloud of black fluid gushed out and then his legs were ripped out from under him and Ryan was pulled under.
He couldn’t see a fucking thing. Ryan lashed out with his rifle as he tried to right himself again. Everything around him seemed to be moving, and he couldn’t help swallowing a mouthful of the water. His rifle impacted on something solid and he whacked it again with the butt of his gun. Suddenly it was gone and Ryan realised he was swinging at nothing. He struggled to get his feet under him, his lungs screaming for air. Where the fuck was the surface? He was utterly disoriented, he had no idea which way was up or down. His head was spinning. His boot hit something solid and Ryan pushed hard away from it, hoping to god it was the muddy bottom of this swamp.
The rich highly-oxygenated atmosphere had never tasted so good, and Ryan choked and gasped in several huge breaths as he finally managed to get his feet on the ground again and stand up. His eyes were stinging and there was a flash of yellowish orange light. Ryan wiped his sleeve over his face before forcing his eyes open. Another flash of orangey light, this time brighter, more vivid. The stinging felt more like burning now, the pain so bad he was fighting to keep his eyes from spasming shut. Fuck. Ryan rubbed his eyes again and forced himself to look around.
There was nothing but darkness and those bloody flashes of yellow and orange. He couldn’t see anything.
His voice didn’t sound right. He ignored that fact for a moment and stood still, listening for any reply, any sound of movement around him. There was a splash, but it sounded far off. Water lapped gently around him. At the very edge of his hearing there was the buzzing of insects. But no Connor.
Ryan buried his emotions as far down as he could, and let his training take over. He had to get out of the water. He turned slowly in a circle, fighting the spinning sensation in his head and the increasingly urgent need to throw up. In one direction he thought he could make out tall shapes in the darkness. Trees? He started to move in that direction, holding his assault rifle out ahead of him. He was aware of the water becoming shallower, and eventually his rifle hit something solid, and he reached out and felt rough bark under his fingers. Ryan grabbed the tree fern or whatever it was, and hauled himself out of the water and onto the sludgy mud of ‘dry’ land. He crawled on his hands and knees until he was well away from the edge of the water. Then he threw up.
Ryan had never felt this sick in his life. His stomach was churning and he continued vomiting until there was nothing left and he was just spitting and gagging. All the time the pounding in his head got harder, even as the burning in his eyes calmed to a low simmering pain. But he still couldn’t see anything except those intermittent flashes of colour, bright shapes moving suddenly, fading into the darkness as soon as he tried to focus on them.
He finally managed to sit upright and thumbed the mic control for his radio.
“Is anyone receiving?”
The answer was a loud screeching whine in his earpiece that drilled through his skull. Ryan grabbed the wire and ripped it out of his ear, crying out in pain. What the fuck was wrong with it? It was supposed to be able to withstand getting wet, but maybe all the mud and silt had done something to it? The earpiece continued to whine until he hit the control to speak again.
“I don’t know if anyone can hear me, I can’t hear you. I need backup. I’m injured. There was a creature.” He paused. His own voice sounded too thick, muffled somehow. He forced himself to carry on talking, even though he didn’t want to acknowledge what he had to say next.
“There was a creature. It took Connor. I think... I think he’s dead.” Ryan paused for a moment, trying to clamp down on his emotions again. “I couldn’t find him. I can’t find him. I need backup. Professor, if you can hear me, I’m so sorry. I lost Connor.”
The earpiece in his hand screeched at him again and Ryan switched his radio off. They had either got the message or they hadn’t, there wasn’t a hell of a lot he could do about it right at that moment. He knew that thought should be galvanising him into action; he was a soldier, for fuck’s sake. But there was only so long that he could continue to ignore the fact that his lover had been killed right in front of him. That he had failed to save Connor the time when it mattered the most.
There was a flash of movement on the periphery of his vision and Ryan snapped round, staring into the confusion of colour and shade, trying to see what the hell was going on. In a blur of orange light, something large lunged at him out of the darkness. Ryan threw himself backwards and scrambled to his feet, bringing his assault rifle round to meet the creature. It shrieked at him, loud and piercing, the sound drilling through his brain and making him wince in pain. It was close. It was too fucking close. Ryan pulled the trigger, and heard a dull click. The creature screamed at him again, and Ryan whipped the rifle round and slammed the creature with the butt of the weapon. He felt rather than saw it back off, there was too much movement around him, flashes of light, it was utterly disorienting.
In a split second decision he followed the creature and swung his rifle again, feeling the impact as he hit it hard. It was big, whatever it was. His mind flashed back to the centipede in the underground. That had been able to rear up like this. He took another swing and this time the creature went down. Ryan rammed the butt of his gun down again and again, putting his full strength behind every blow. The sound of impact was softer than he expected. Shouldn’t it have all that armour plating? He didn’t know. Didn’t fucking care. Connor was dead, and fire and pain were raging through every inch of his body. Ryan poured that pain back into the creature as he bludgeoned it again and again until the world spun wildly around him and he staggered backwards away from it.
He hit the rough surface of a tree before his legs gave way, and he righted himself for a moment as everything continued to spin. He couldn’t tell if the creature was making any noise any more, his own breathing was too harsh and loud in his ears. Ryan braced himself against the tree with both hands and squeezed his eyes shut, willing the dizziness to subside.
He had to get away from here. It was the first clear thought that had entered his head since he switched the radio off. His survival instinct was switching from fight to flight, and no matter how much he hated the thought of running away, he knew he had to move. Whether the creature was dead or simply wounded, he had to get away before it attracted more predators.
Ryan opened his eyes again, tried to make the shifting colours coalesce into something he could recognise, something he could work with. Eventually he thought he could make out another tree. Ryan stumbled towards it until he could feel the surface of the bark, then lurched towards the next tree, and then the next, putting as much distance as he could between himself and this part of the swamp.
Connor didn’t move for a long time. He wasn’t even sure he physically could move, so he stayed very still, curled into a tiny ball, whimpering quietly. The thing that finally forced him to get up was when he became aware of the sharp taste of blood at the back of his throat, and started to cough and choke on it. He made himself roll forwards, get a hand braced on the ground and push himself up a little so that he could lean forwards and let the blood pour out of his nose rather than down his throat. He coughed and spat blood, and then watched as the thick red fluid dripped and dribbled out of him and pooled on the muddy ground.
It felt like every part of his body hurt, and a headache was pounding right behind his eyes. Connor wasn’t sure if it was because of the creature attack, or just the cumulative side effect of breathing the Carboniferous atmosphere for so long
Or maybe he was still in system shock from the fact that Ryan had just tried to kill him.
Already the assault was beginning to blur in his mind, especially so close after the creature attack. For a moment he wondered if he had imagined it, if he was still perhaps lying in the mud where he had finally managed to drag himself out of the water, and he’d fainted and dreamed the whole thing.
The arm that was holding him up started to shake, and Connor shifted position to take some of the weight off it. Pain throbbed along his forearm where he had held it up in a futile effort to protect himself from Ryan’s onslaught.
Ryan had just tried to kill him.
That thought by itself was almost enough to make Connor curl back into a ball and whimper until someone or something found him and made the entire situation go away, one way or another. Instead he forced himself to concentrate on breathing through his mouth and waited to see if the blood dripping out of his nose was going to stop by itself, or whether he was going to have to stem the flow somehow. Although, Connor wasn’t entirely certain he wanted to touch it at all; he had a suspicious feeling his nose might actually be broken. The only reason the ribs down his left side hadn’t gone the same way was probably the multiple layers of clothes he was wearing, although Connor was fairly certain even without looking that there was going to be some pretty spectacular bruising.
One thought kept circling around in his head: what the bloody hell had just happened?
Connor had thought the worst of it was over once he had crawled out of the water and got away from the amphibian. He had heard gunfire while he was still struggling in the water, and by the time he was able to look back he had seen Ryan heading for dry land as well. But Connor had come out on the opposite side of the stagnant pool and had to walk around it (keeping well away from the edge, this time) to meet up with him again. And then... that was where things started to get confused in Connor’s mind. No, that wasn’t entirely true. There were a couple of things he remembered. He remembered Ryan pointing his assault rifle at him. He remembered the gut-turning second when the gun clicked instead of ripping a hole in his chest. Most of all, he remembered the hard, empty look in Ryan’s eyes as he had stared at Connor for those few seconds before the attack really started.
That was the part that terrified Connor the most.
His nose was still bleeding. Connor got to his knees, tugged his scarf off and folded it into a wad that he pressed, rather gingerly, to his nose. It didn’t hurt quite as much as he’d expected, so he applied a little more pressure and decided it probably wasn’t broken after all.
Ryan hadn’t recognised him.
Connor frowned slightly as he turned that thought over in his mind. It seemed obvious now he had thought of it. But why? What the hell could have happened in such a short time to make that possible? And even if it were true, it didn’t explain why he had lashed out so violently.
Connor looked up and around. There was no sign of Ryan now. The Carboniferous swamp was quiet again, as if nothing had happened. As if he hadn’t just nearly been killed twice in less than ten minutes.
He knew he should go back and try to find Cutter and the others. Put a search party together and then go after Ryan. Connor didn’t have a radio or a weapon. He hadn’t needed one; he was with Ryan, and Ryan had those things. He knew something was obviously very wrong with Ryan, he needed help. Connor had no idea what good he could do even if he did find Ryan on his own.
But he also knew that his partner was out there, alone, in trouble.
Connor stood up and set off deeper into the swamp to find Ryan.
Link to part 2