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 stumbled into a tree, sending a jolt of pain up his arm. He swore, and then used his free hand not holding the assault rifle to feel exactly where the tree was and which was the best way round it. Before he managed to carry on he was hit by another wave of nausea and retched, even though his stomach had long since emptied its contents. His head was spinning, the blurred shades and colours that now constituted his vision were twisting around each other, fading in and out like some crazy kaleidoscope. Ryan closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the rough surface of the tree truck, and waited for the orange and yellow shapes to fade into darkness.
How the fuck had he got into this situation? Ryan could cope with being injured. He could deal with being sick. What he hated was his current feelings of helplessness, and more than anything he hated being afraid.
Nothing seemed to be moving near him, so Ryan carefully turned around and slid down to sit on the ground, his back against the tree. He kept his eyes closed; the darkness was better than the alternative, and less disorienting.
With hindsight he was beginning to question his decision to move away from the site of the attack. He now had absolutely no idea where he was, and that meant practically no way of finding his way back to the anomaly, even if his sight did return to normal. It would also make it harder for the rest of the team to find him as well. They had a good idea of where he and Connor had gone when they had all split up to search for the lost sheep, but Ryan now wasn’t sure how far he had gone away from that area. Stephen might be able to track him, but that would take time, and Ryan honestly wasn’t sure how much of that he had left. Even if his condition didn’t get any worse, the chances of him continuing to fight off the creatures were limited, and he knew it.
The other reason why he shouldn’t have moved away was entirely more personal, though; Connor. No soldier liked to leave someone behind in a combat situation, dead or alive, but Connor was far more than just a comrade, no matter how much Ryan tried to separate his personal life from his work. If he had stayed put the others might have been able to see something that he couldn’t, they might have been able to retrieve Connor’s body. But now he doubted his ability to find the location again, or to tell them how to find it. The thought of leaving his lover here as carrion for fuck knows what prehistoric creatures betrayed every promise he had ever made, and he felt empty, ripped open and raw.
Harsh as it was, he didn’t want to think about Connor. He needed to stay focussed on his own survival until help arrived. If help arrived. If his radio message had got through. Ryan had faced death many times in his career, but this was not how he had ever envisaged it happening. He wanted to go down fighting, doing his duty. Not cowering helplessly in some fucking prehistoric world.
Ryan slammed his fist into the soft ground. Get a grip, Captain. He needed to stop wallowing and come up with a plan. He needed to think. He needed his head to stop pounding like his brain was trying to explode through the front of his fucking skull.
Stay put. Trust that whether or not they had got the message, the rest of the team wouldn’t abandon him here without at least trying to search for him and Connor. Trust that Stephen was a good enough tracker to find him. All he needed to do was keep fighting until backup arrived. It wasn’t a good plan, but it was better than stumbling aimlessly through the swamp until he ran into another pool, or another creature. Of course, everything was going to go to hell if the anomaly closed, but that was one variable that none of them had any control over so it was pointless worrying about it.
Ryan breathed deeply, the simple act of deciding on a course of action doing more to steady him than even the ever-present feel of the assault rifle in his hand. Now that he had stopped Ryan took a few minutes to examine the assault rifle as best he could. People sometimes joked about soldiers being able to assemble their weapons blindfolded; the truth was it wasn’t actually a joke, and Ryan knew without being able to see it that his gun was not going to be firing again in the near future. He might be able to clean out the worst of the mud and silt, but after the way he’d been using it to fight off the creature, and then banging into what felt like every damn tree in the swamp, he thought it felt damaged beyond what he could fix in the field.
He still had his pistol, and he took that out and checked it over. It didn’t feel like the mud had got into this one, safe in its holster, and Ryan was almost certain it would fire properly if necessary. But that didn’t change the fact that he couldn’t see to aim, and somehow the feel of a melee weapon in his hands was more comforting than the smaller handgun. He put the pistol away again. At least it was there as a backup.
He opened his eyes, readying himself for the onslaught of lights and colours. He knew it was going to make him feel dizzy again, but if he didn’t intend to move from this spot then that wasn’t so much of a problem. Besides, he thought that the shapes he could see, however distorted, represented real things that were in front of him, and that was better than no vision at all. He guessed it had to have been caused by something from the amphibian in the water, and he was starting to wonder if his initial assumption about the dark fluid being blood had been wrong. Was everything in this time period poisonous? First the spiders and the centipede, now the amphibians as well?
Slowly the flashes of light coalesced and stopped shifting around so much. There were the tall, looming forms of trees, and smaller lumps and blotches low to the ground that were perhaps large patches of ferns?
Ryan suddenly wondered if he would recognise the team if they came close to him. Even if he couldn’t see them, he’d be able to hear them, right? Or would he? The last few times he had spoken out loud, mostly swearing, his own voice had sounded strange and distorted. He hadn’t dared to try the radio again since he had climbed out of the water; the screeching had been too painful to stand on top of everything else and even Ryan’s pain tolerance had its limits.
But still... surely he would know the difference between a creature and his team? He had to believe that, at least. He didn’t dare to believe otherwise.
Connor trudged carefully through the mud, pausing occasionally to sniff and check whether his nose was bleeding again. By the time the bleeding had finally stopped his blue scarf had been sodden red, and Connor had discarded it. If nothing else, it would serve as a marker that they had come this way if the others came looking for them. It occurred to him a while after he had dropped it that it might also serve as a lure to predators, but by that time it was too late to go back.
His thoughts were mostly occupied with what he was actually going to do when he did find Ryan. Connor had run the scene of the attack through in his head several times over, trying to find some clue to explain Ryan’s behaviour. In the end, all he could focus on was that blank stare right before Ryan had started to hit him. For some reason, Ryan hadn’t known it was him. Connor refused to let himself believe that Ryan would have knowingly attacked him, not for any reason, so that meant that he hadn’t known.
Connor’s mind kept coming back to one possibility – that Ryan was infected with something similar to the parasite that had killed his friend, Tom. Something that was making him behave aggressively and not discriminate between friend and foe. But if that was the case, what else was it doing to Ryan? No matter how hard he tried not to think of it, Connor’s thoughts kept returning to that moment in the football stadium where Tom had died in his arms.
No. He wasn’t going to let that happen to Ryan. He was going to find him and talk him down from whatever was making him act like this. And then... well, Connor wasn’t entirely certain what was going to happen after that, but the important thing was to find Ryan before it was too late. He could work out the rest from there.
A voice yelled out loud, sending unseen things scurrying through the undergrowth. Connor jumped, and looked around. It had sounded like it was somewhere to his right, but he couldn’t immediately see anyone. But he knew that voice.
Connor started to run towards where the sound had come from.
Something landed on his shoulder.
Ryan gave an involuntary yell and swiped at the weight as he scrambled to his feet. It was still clinging on somehow, and Ryan smashed it with his assault rifle, not caring that he was hitting himself as much as... whatever it was.
But he knew damn well what it was. He could feel the legs clinging to his shoulder and chest and, horrifically, his bare neck. He didn’t want to touch it but it was on him. He managed to get a hand around something long and spindly and ripped it as far away from his body as he could and hurled it to the ground. His heart was racing, he could practically feel the blood rushing through his veins. It was right there on the ground in front of him, he could make out a blur of movement, and he suddenly realised it was righting itself. It was coming for him again.
Ryan didn’t even think about what he was doing. He swung the assault rifle by the barrel and smacked the giant spider with the butt of the weapon. The spider abruptly started to scuttle away from him, but Ryan went after it, swinging the rifle down repeatedly until the squealing stopped and he couldn’t see any more twitching movement from the orange blur. He wanted it dead. He wanted it utterly destroyed; it, and everything that it represented about this fucked up time and its giant insects and dangerous atmosphere.
He almost didn’t see that something else was coming towards him. Maybe it was a moment where he saw something shift in a way that didn’t fit with the kaleidoscope vision, or maybe it was his innate combat reflex, but he was suddenly aware that there was something else nearby. Something big.
He took a step back from the dead (dead, please God it’s dead) spider, trying to see what was there amongst the towering trees. Something. Something was there, but it didn’t appear to be coming closer. He could hear noises, but the sounds didn’t make sense, like he was hearing them underwater.
For a moment the thought occurred to him that it might be one of his teammates. It didn’t seem to be attacking him, but that could mean anything. Besides, if they came looking for him there would be more than one person, surely? It didn’t make sense, nothing about this fucked up situation made any sense and he felt the world spinning violently around him.
Ryan took a step backwards, still brandishing the rifle like a club. Whatever it was still didn’t seem to be following him. He took another step, and his foot caught on something in the undergrowth and he fell. The assault rifle was jolted out of his hand as he hit the ground and Ryan swore and reached out for it, his hand grazing across the ground in search of the weapon. He felt something odd under his fingers. It wasn’t mud, it was something else. Something sticky. Something that clung to him.
He had fallen into a huge spiders’ web.
Ryan yelled out as he scrambled to his hands and knees. Something screamed behind him, the sound drilling into his brain. He had almost forgotten about the other thing. Then all other thoughts were driven from his mind when something heavy landed on his back. Something with entirely too many fucking legs.
After a second of sheer panic, Ryan twisted and threw himself onto his back, intending to crush the spider beneath him. The manoeuvre was only partially successful. The spider moved too fast and he could feel its front legs scrabbling at the side of his head while its back half was trapped beneath him. Ryan screamed and rolled away, right into another web, the sticky fibres coating his face and tangling in his hand. He tried to push himself upright, and his hand sunk into the soft ground. The entire fucking ground seemed to be moving.
Ryan screamed again.
Connor finally understood. It wasn’t that Ryan didn’t recognise him; Ryan couldn’t see him. His blank stare had been somewhere slightly off where Connor was actually standing, and his slow, careful movements spoke of a fear and hesitation that Ryan never usually possessed. Ryan was afraid, and in that moment Connor had wanted nothing more than to go over and wrap his arms around Ryan and hold him close, but he didn’t dare.
Then Ryan tripped and stumbled backwards, falling to the ground. Connor heard a hastily stifled cry of pain, and saw Ryan squeeze his eyes shut for a moment. The urge to just run over and hold him was becoming almost overwhelming, but still he held back. The crushed, battered remains of the giant Carboniferous spider were more than testament to Ryan’s current state of mind.
Then Connor saw something moving in the tree fern above Ryan. A huge black spider dropped out of the tree and landed on Ryan’s back. Connor was frozen to the spot for a second. Ryan was the first one to react, and he threw himself over onto his back and rolled away from the monstrous arachnid. Connor saw that it was still moving, and without thinking he raced over and kicked the spider as hard as he could. It flew through the air, its legs wriggling (and Connor was almost glad Ryan hadn’t seen that), and landed in a patch of ferns a little way off.
He was still watching the ferns for any sign of it coming back when Ryan took his legs out from under him and Connor hit the ground hard. His ribs screamed, and Connor’s breath was ripped from his lungs, leaving him gasping. Ryan’s next kick caught his knee. Connor knew he didn’t have time to get to his feet before Ryan hit him again, so he shoved himself backwards using his hands, his backside sliding in the mud.
Oh God, not again, please not again.
Then he heard something else, another voice in the swamp.
“Cutter! Stephen! We’re here!” Connor yelled. The others had finally found them. Everything was going to be okay now. He continued to scramble backwards until he thought he might be far enough away, and then clambered to his feet, trying to ignore the pain.
Ryan was also trying to stand up but he wobbled precariously, his legs utterly uncoordinated.
“Ryan, just stay still, okay? It’s going to be okay, you’re safe now. Just stay there, please.”
Connor held his hands out like he was trying to ward Ryan off, when in truth he wanted the exact opposite.
Cutter and the others raced into sight.
“Stay back,” Connor shouted at them. “Stay back there. There’s something wrong with Ryan, he keeps attacking stuff. I don’t think he knows who we are.”
“Oh my god, Connor. What happened to you?” Abby gasped, staring at him while everyone else’s attention seemed to be fixed on Ryan.
Ryan had made it to his feet, and now his gaze seemed to be flitting between Connor and the new arrivals. He had dropped the assault rifle when he fell, and now he was half crouched, as if preparing to defend himself again. Or preparing to run again.
“Ryan, it’s okay,” Connor tried again. “I don’t know if you can understand me, but I’m just going to keep talking, okay? It’s me, Connor, I’m not going to hurt you.”
He risked taking a step closer. Ryan moved back away, and again he wobbled, but this time stayed on his feet. As if he suddenly decided that running wasn’t an option any more, his hand went to his belt and he pulled out his pistol.
“Connor, get back,” Cutter shouted out.
The two soldiers quickly aimed their rifles at Ryan, one of them yelling something about putting the weapon down.
“No! Don’t hurt him!” Connor yelled at the soldiers.
Ryan fired into the air once and then brought the gun down and aimed it at Connor.
There was a quiet hiss, and suddenly a small dart appeared in Ryan’s neck. He groped at it drunkenly, his aim with the pistol wavering. Another pistol shot fired and Connor’s heart stopped until he realised it had gone wide. Ryan stumbled slightly, then his legs gave way and he collapsed to the ground. Connor looked round and saw Abby still pointing her tranquilliser gun at Ryan, her face a rigid expression of fear and determination.
Very slowly, very carefully, Connor approached the slumped body. He ignored Cutter’s warnings and got close enough to kick the pistol out of Ryan’s hand and into the ferns.
Ryan was unconscious, his skin pale, his limbs still twitching slightly. Connor dropped to his knees beside him and after a moment’s hesitation he carefully tugged Ryan’s head onto his lap and stroked his lover’s hair. He was still whispering words of comfort when Abby came over and gently put her arms around Connor and held him.
Ryan had been properly conscious for several hours before they let him have visitors. The doctors had spent most of that time poking and testing and explaining what had happened to him. Phrases like ‘neuro-toxin’, and ‘visual and auditory hallucinations’ were still floating around in his brain like scattered pieces of a jigsaw on a pond. The words seemed barely adequate to describe what he had experienced, but Ryan was well-practised in relating nothing more than the facts without revealing his own thoughts or emotions that went with those facts.
He still had a lingering headache, but apart from that the doctors seemed to think he was responding well to treatment, and after a day of slipping in and out of consciousness while they pumped him full of drugs, the toxin was finally gone from his system. His sight and hearing had returned to normal, and he could keep liquids down without any accompanying nausea or vomiting. Nobody had died, and all was well in the world.
Except for the part where he had apparently attacked Connor.
Ryan had barely been able to contain his reaction when he found out that Connor was actually alive. His happiness hadn’t lasted long, though. None of the doctors had seemed able to look him in the eye for several minutes when he asked if Connor was okay. Eventually they had told him the full truth of what had happened. That almost certainly explained why he had been strapped down and handcuffed to the bed when he first woke up, and why there was an armed guard in the room. They had been taking precautions in case he turned violent again.
Despite that, Ryan wasn’t surprised when his first visitor was Connor.
“Hi,” Connor said with a smile as he lingered in the doorway. Ryan couldn’t help but notice the smile was a pale imitation of Connor’s usual grin, and it wasn’t reflected in his eyes at all.
Being told that Connor was alive was one thing, but he almost hadn’t let himself fully believe it until he saw the truth with his own eyes. The emptiness he had felt since the moment when he thought Connor had died was gone, but it was replaced by a sharp, aching guilt. He wanted to get up and pull Connor into the tightest hug ever and never let go, but he wasn’t even sure he had the right to do that any more.
Connor was a mess. His nose was badly swollen, both his eyes were bruised black, and his cheek was bruised and the skin split. He was limping slightly, and from the way he was holding his body Ryan guessed there were some nasty injuries hidden under his shirt. Some of it may have been from the creature attack, but Ryan got the distinct feeling that most of it wasn’t.
That thought hurt almost as much as the neuro-toxin had.
“They finally let me come and see you,” Connor continued, sliding into the room and closing the door behind him. “I’ve been trying to get in for ages, but they wouldn’t let me.”
Ryan nodded. He already knew that. The ARC med bay walls were good, but they were nowhere near good enough to have shut out the sound of Connor arguing loudly with the doctors on at least four separate occasions since Ryan had woken up.
“Are you okay?” Connor asked. He came a little closer, but didn’t sit down.
“They told me what happened, what I did,” Ryan said, his voice quiet. “Connor, I’m sorry.”
Connor nodded but didn’t reply.
“I didn’t know it was you. Please, believe me.” Ryan knew how utterly inadequate the words sounded even as he said them.
“I know,” Connor nodded again. “The doctors told me the same thing, but to be honest I’d worked it out for myself back there in the Carboniferous.” Despite what he was saying, Ryan couldn’t help but notice that he was still standing at least four feet away from the bed.
“Are you... are you okay?”
Connor hesitated. “I’ll live.”
“That wasn’t what I asked,” Ryan said softly, his heart breaking a little.
Connor’s gaze skittered around the room, stopping for a moment on the security camera in the corner, before he finally looked at Ryan again.
“Ryan, I know it wasn’t your fault. I don’t blame you.”
Ryan waited for the ‘but...’. When it didn’t come, he said, “You know I’d never deliberately hurt you. You know that, right?”
“Yeah, I know that.” Connor hesitated again and Ryan saw a flicker of determination in his eyes for a moment. “But you scared me. Not the attack, not really. But, I don’t quite know how to explain it. I’ve seen you kill stuff, creatures and stuff, and it’s never bothered me. Because when you shoot a creature you’re calm and professional and you only do what’s necessary. But back there in the Carboniferous, it was different. It wasn’t calm, it wasn’t professional. It was... I’ve never seen you so, so... aggressive. Violent. That’s what scared me, Ryan. And right now I don’t know how I feel about that.”
Ryan had no idea what to say. He understood exactly what Connor was saying, and he knew there was absolutely nothing he could say that could make it right. Not without lying. In the end he opted for the only thing he could think to say.
Connor nodded yet again. “I know. You already said that. You don’t have to keep saying it. And you never answered my original question.”
Ryan’s confusion must have shown in his face because after a moment Connor added the clarification, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Still a bit of a headache. That’s it.”
“Good. I mean, good that you’re okay, not good that you’ve got a headache, obviously.”
In any other circumstances, Ryan would have smiled indulgently at Connor’s babbling. Now it just emphasised the fact that Connor was too far away for Ryan to be able to reach out and hug him, or ruffle his hair, or any of the multitude of other little gestures of affection that he tended to use when Connor was being... Connor-ish.
“I thought you were dead,” Ryan blurted out without really thinking about what he was saying or why he was saying it. “I thought the creature killed you. I told Cutter that I’d lost you. I... I thought...” Ryan felt a sudden lump in his throat and had to look away and swallow back his emotions. He didn’t want Connor to see how badly it had affected him, and he certainly didn’t want it to look like he was playing for sympathy or forgiveness.
“Oh.” Connor’s voice sounded strange. When Ryan finally managed to look back at Connor, he saw that the young man was watching him closely, for once the expression in his dark eyes unreadable.
Then the moment was gone and Connor’s brow furrowed in confusion. “I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I think you distracted the creature or something. Long enough for me to get away, anyway. So, I guess, thanks for that. So it’s not all bad, at least.” This time he did smile, but it was still nothing more than a ghost of his usual smile.
There was a somewhat awkward silence for a moment. Ryan wasn’t surprised when Connor was the one who broke it.
“What was it like?”
“What was what like?” Ryan countered, confused again.
“When you were hallucinating. The doctors said that’s what happened, but I don’t really understand what was happening to you, or why it made you act like that.”
Ryan thought about it carefully. Eventually he decided to give Connor the absolute truth.
“It was pretty bad. I thought I’d lost you. I was in pain, I couldn’t see or hear anything properly. It was like lights that kept moving, shapes and shadows. Things kept lunging out of the darkness at me, things that either weren’t really there at all, or weren’t what I thought they were.” Ryan paused, and then let his instinct tough-guy defences drop completely and admitted the truth. “I was fucking terrified. There was a lot going on, but mostly what it all boils down to is that I felt lost and helpless and scared.”
Connor nodded again, but this time the gesture conveyed real understanding, not just an automatic reaction to being spoken to. His hand twitched, as if he was about to reach out to Ryan, but then he didn’t.
“Fear makes people do crazy things,” Connor said.
He held Ryan’s gaze for several seconds and then purposefully dragged the seat closer and sat down within arm’s reach of the bed.
“I don’t want to be afraid of you,” he said with a new determination in his voice. “There’s a hell of a lot of things in my life right now that scare me, but I don’t want you to be one of them.”
“Do you know what I’m most afraid of right now?” Ryan asked before he had time to talk himself out of saying it.
Connor shook his head, looking slightly worried.
A brief look of surprise crossed Connor’s face.
“Me too,” Connor said. Before the moment had chance to become awkward again, a sly smirk touched Connor’s mouth. “Although for a moment there I thought you were going to say the thing that scared you most was that huge spider in the corner of your bathroom.”
“What huge spider? You said you’d got rid of it,” Ryan spluttered.
“Um, it sort of got away,” Connor said, looking both sheepish and amused at the same time. “I’ll try to catch it again when we get home.”
Ryan didn’t miss the significance of the last comment. Even if neither of them were ready to say it yet, he hoped that maybe they really were going to be okay.
Then Connor reached out and stroked his hand, and Ryan knew they were going to be okay.