[identity profile] you-legwarmers.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] wl_fanfiction
Title: Ten Days (Day 9)
Rating: R overall for language, violence & general shenanigans
Genre: Drama; friendship
Characters: Colin, Greg, Ryan, Brad, Wayne, Jeff
Pairings: Colin/Ryan; Greg/Jeff
Summary: Surviving for ten days in the wilderness is hard for one person. Can it be possible for six?
A/N: Good lord, I can't believe this story's almost finished! The conclusion will be big, bad and bawl-worthy. It's been quite the trip for the boys. :)

That night was the worst of all. None of them were able to sleep for even a minute; either they were too anxious to wait any longer now that they had a possible chance to find safety, or they were filled with dread at what could happen to the still-missing Jeff in the span of one night.
It was cold again, bitterly cold. Wind assaulted the men's bodies, chilling them down to the core and rendering them almost immobile.

Colin and Ryan had never held each other more tightly, and the freezing air was only half the reason. Unspoken were the many, many possible outcomes of what was going to happen when the sun came up, but very few of them were positive. This could be their last day in these woods, but that didn't necessarily mean they'd be rescued.
Either way, it was preferable to die trying than to stay like animals caught in snares waiting for nature's final strike to finish them off.

They all knew the plan. Once there was enough light, they'd get up and start walking.
All of them, together.

Part of the reason they were waiting until morning was to conserve what little energy remained in them.
Ryan almost didn't care about walking on his sprained leg anymore; he just had to get the hell away from this "camp".

What everyone was really concerned about was how Greg would fare. It was a gamble for him, this whole plan. They didn't really know what was wrong, so they didn't know how to help... or if it was too late to help at all. But regardless, they'd all go. Nobody would be left alone.
Finding Jeff was their main priority. Their first priority. It was pointless go anywhere until they found him. Once that was taken care of, it was mostly up to Brad and Wayne for navigation. Around their little spot near the steep cliffs, Wayne had discovered something incredible.
There had been a narrow little path, unused for what looked like years. It lead, he'd discovered, to the bottom of the valley between the cliffs. Faded blue markers indicated the direction of the trail, and there'd been enough of them for Wayne to decide that this was the chance they'd been waiting for.
Because although none of them knew for sure where that unfortunate lone hiker from the day before had come from, it was safe to say that they might be closer to rescue than they thought. If he hadn't been traveling on that exact path, then it could have been another nearby one. The more trails there were3, the better the chance of civilization, of people.

Was it a long shot? Maybe.
Were there perils in climbing down the rocky cliff's long-forgotten path? Undoubtedly.
But whether it was a certainty or not, somebody, somewhere had created a trail here once. They'd marked it for people to use. And every trail had to lead somewhere. With any luck, this one would lead them to rescue.

This was their last chance.

--------------------------------------------------------------

"I don't care if it stays on. Let's go." Greg's protests were in vain; Colin ignored him until he had finished meticulously fixing the last bandage they had with them so it would cover-- and hopefully protect-- Greg's wound.

"Does it hurt?" Colin asked him.

Greg grimaced. "Yeah. It always fucking hurts. But that's as good as it's going to get." That was good enough for him, anyway.

Ryan made it to his feet, supported mainly by Colin. He didn't dare to look in his eyes; right now, the warmth and concern inside would melt him, and he couldn't afford that. He had to block this emotion out as best as he could.
"I've got it," he gritted through his teeth.

Colin reluctantly eased the weight of Ryan off his shoulders. "You sure you can make it?"

"No," laughed Ryan bitterly. "But let's get the fuck out of here while I'm still on my feet."
Walking sent bolts of pain through his ankle. It felt as if a boulder were slowly grinding the bones in his leg into dust. Not that he'd let on to Colin or anybody else how much it hurt. Would he be the one to slow the whole group? Not a chance.

"Jeff went this way when he left," Greg said, already ahead of the group, guiding them through the first cluster of trees.
It was strange to see him up and walking around after the past several days of uncertainty, after those stretches of hours when he could barely sit up. But as it turned out, he was the one leading the way. Occasionally he had to stop to cough. The desperate, rasping sound reverberated around the forest.
Colin wasn't sure, but he thought he could see Greg wipe a few dots of blood off his hand before anyone noticed. Against his better judgement, he let it slide. It wasn't that he didn't care, but there was nothing that could be done about it now.

Brad tried to boost morale by vocalizing his optimistic predictions for the day's outcome. He didn't even know if he believed himself or not, but eventually he took the hint and shut up. It was tiring.

"Warmer out here now, at least," Ryan observed after a long silence. Colin was watching him carefully, and it was obvious how much pain he was in. And how badly he was trying to fake his strength.
Colin took his hand, clutching tightly. It was to reassure himself more than anything. Of course, Ryan didn't mind it either. He immediately felt stupid for thinking he could hide anything from Colin, and then guilty for not being honest.

"Great, this is like the opposite direction of where the trail is. It'll take twice as long to get there now," Wayne muttered to no one in particular. Greg shot him an annoyed look, which he ignored. Okay, he knew that comment wasn't helpful. How was it fair, though, that everyone else besides him seemed to have a free pass to complain and lash out?
Wayne figured they expected him to be the team cheerleader, which he guessed was a good thing, but it pissed him off anyway.

A bottle of water was passed around to give them something else to focus on for the moment. None of them bothered to guess how long it had been. An hour, maybe? Enough time for the sun to completely rise and warm up the air. Enough time that there was no chance of turning back to the camp.
But apparently not long enough to have found Jeff. For all they knew, he was still walking around-- or even better, back at the camp wondering where the hell everybody had gone.

Greg snorted suddenly, pointing into the distance where they could just barely see the blackened tips of trees that had been destroyed by the forest fire. The very thing that had started this catastrophic visit to hell. It was sort of funny in a way, but not funny enough to warrant an actual laugh.

"Somebody must've put it out. Guess they just missed us," said Brad.

Greg gave Brad a "really?" look complete with a condescending eyebrow. "It rained, Brad. It rained twice. I think that probably did the job."

Brad scoffed, trying to think of a snappy comeback to salvage his pride. "Yeah? Well...I'm taller than you."
Even he had to admit that wasn't his best retort, but nobody commented on it. Mostly, the guys were ignoring him. Maybe that was better.

The next thing they knew, Ryan had stopped and was bending over, rubbing his leg gently. Sweat dripped down his face from the strain. "Shit. I need to sit down for a second."

"Oh, Ryan," Colin said quietly. He gave his arms for support as Ryan slowly sank to the ground. "You've already pushed yourself too far." Colin cursed himself silently for not insisting on waiting longer. Or doing something, anything at all to stop this from getting any worse.

"No," Ryan insisted. "I'm okay, I just need a minute." His face contorted in pain when Colin carefully prodded his leg, looking for any particularly nasty swelling.

Greg grimaced impatiently. "Should we go on or what?"

A fiery glare in response from Colin surprised everyone. "No. We agreed not to split up anymore," he snapped.

"What we agreed on was to keep going until we found Jeff," argued Greg, blatantly ignoring the hint to keep quiet. He was an adult, damn it, and he wouldn't take orders from his friends.

"We will keep going," Ryan told him. "I'm not quitting." He began to stand up, but Colin held him in place.

"No! You don't know what you're doing. I'm not letting you hurt yourself like this," Colin said, words filled with panic and frustration. How had everything gotten so out of control? His anger at Greg swelled for no valid reason.

Keeping his voice calm, Ryan answered, "You know it's not up to you. I told you guys, I'm not going to be the one to slow everybody down." He returned his eyes to Colin's. "Trust me, everything's going to be okay." After all, if Colin believed it, then so would he. "Help me up?"
Colin did, and he held on for a few seconds more than necessary, savoring Ryan's longing touch around his shoulders.

"Before we do go any further," Wayne broke in suddenly, "can I just point out that we have literally no idea where we're going? I mean, I can't be the only one who notices that."

Greg rolled his eyes. "No shit. What's your point?"

"My point is, we're going to waste another day if we keep doing this without any direction. So here's what I think. We should go back in the direction of the camp--"

"No," Greg snapped, cutting him off.

"Just hear me out," said Wayne. "We go back to the camp and I'll find the trails for us. We start where we already know there's something to follow. Then we'll have a better chance at being found and they can look for Jeff instead of us wasting our time and energy."

"No way," said Greg decidedly. "You think we're wasting our time? That's great to know. But we're not going back until we find him."

Colin spoke tactfully. "I don't know, Greg. It's a plan, and that alone is better than what we've been doing so far."

Greg fumed, shooting Colin a dirty look. "I don't care. Do whatever the fuck you want, but I'm not going back."

"Come on, you're acting childish," Colin pointed out, losing patience with Greg. "If Ryan can sacrifice his own comfort for the group, so can you."

"Leave me out of this," Ryan said, throwing his hands up.

But Greg was voicing his own thoughts. "Of course! Because I'm just being selfish, is that it? Looking out for Jeff is selfish? Wanting to be loved is selfish? You two have it so good, all you can see is yourselves. You don't know what it's like to not have each other! Well, fuck off. Some of us have to fight for it."
Having stunned the four men into silence, Greg stalked away, calling Jeff's name.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

With their bodies growing weaker by the minute, there wasn't much time left. Reluctantly they'd all followed Greg, left with no choice.

"We're close," Greg declared in a low, breathless voice. He was on the verge of collapsing, but his eyes were bright with the adrenaline from the journey.

Wayne and Brad, who hadn't witnessed much of Greg and Jeff's bonding over the last several days, exchanged skeptical glances.
Colin and Ryan just nodded in acceptance, understanding. The truth was, Colin felt badly about comparing Greg's strength to Ryan's. It hadn't been fair, especially since neither were exactly in top shape. He'd apologized to Greg, who had brushed it off in his nonchalant way.
What Colin hadn't told him was that he knew exactly how it felt to feel "not good enough" for the person you loved. Ryan knew him better than anyone, and vice versa, but they were far from perfect. Greg had to know that. He had been there from the beginning.

"This is it!" exclaimed Greg, stumbling for a few steps as he rushed over to a wide shady spot under one particularly huge tree. Jeff was here, he could feel it.

Cautiously Colin motioned for Brad, Wayne and Ryan to follow him. They approached Greg, afraid of what they'd find and not knowing whether they actually wanted Jeff to be there or not. If he was there, he could be all sorts of injured and there was no telling how it might turn out.
If he wasn't, then the clock on their lives continued ticking like a detonator. Precious time wasted, and on a purely instinctive feeling, no less.

"Greg?" Ryan called apprehensively, staying a few steps behind. Greg stood facing away from his friends, making no acknowledgement of their presence. So no one made the first move, dreading whatever waited for them just out of sight.

"He's here," Greg managed to say at last, barely audible. "Yeah. He's here." He let out a long breath and kneeled down beside Jeff's unmoving form. For a moment he just looked at him, a thin and defenseless heap on the ground. Dark hair, sticking up at all angles. Angelic was the one word that came to mind.
Greg touched his shoulder. No response.
He managed to lift Jeff's good arm and ran his fingers up the pale wrist, terrified of breaking something so fragile. There it was. Definitely a pulse. Breathing shallow but frequent. That was all Greg needed to see.
"Jeff," he said hoarsely, clearing his throat with a cough. "I'm here. Look at me."

A rustling behind him reminded him that he wasn't alone and needed to keep his composure. There were Colin, Ryan, Wayne and Brad just behind him, standing hesitantly with worried expressions.

"So is he--" spoke Brad at last.

"He's alive," Greg answered flatly, still looking for a response from Jeff. "Come on, wake up. Please."

Colin held out the last bottle of water, which Greg snatched without a word and immediately opened to pour a little bit on Jeff's lips.
God, this hurt. Nothing had ever pained Greg this much, to watch while feeling so useless. And out of breath. Dizzy. Shit. Was that his blood?

"Damn it," said Colin, weary rather than angry. "You're bleeding, Greg. Put pressure on it."

"Doesn't matter," Greg told him dismissively. He knew it was the wrong answer, that it would be better just to listen to Colin's advice.
So what? Everything would be fine. Jeff would be fine. "Please, Jeff. Wake up. I need you--"
The coughing and gasping returned at full force this time, as if his lungs had sensed that he'd reached his goal and now it was all right to attack.

"Oh my god," Wayne said in alarm. He hadn't seen this the first time it had happened. How fast could everything fall apart, unraveling right before their eyes? Health, intact bodies, food, water, everything they'd taken for granted. All gone. Death was looming closer every day, something none of them even thought would be a possibility for at least another twenty years or so.

"Make--it--stop--" Greg choked between rasping, pitiful breaths. Tears clouded his eyes. Red strings of blood hung from his mouth, but he didn't bother to wipe them away.

"Do something!" Wayne finally shouted, unable to stand it a minute longer.

"What the fuck do you expect us to do?" demanded Ryan. "You think we like watching this?"
And then it was worse.
Everything happened in split seconds, but suddenly there was absolute silence in the air. For a moment it brought relief, but then the impact slammed them when they realized what had happened.

"Oh fuck!"

"God, no!"

"Greg, don't do this..."

--------------------------------------------------------------

Greg. Jeff's voice. Jeff? Don't do this. Where was he?

Dark. But not the frightening darkness. This was fuzzy, hazy somehow. Greg could dimly hear shouting around him, but it didn't register one bit.
I better not be fucking dead, Greg answered. After a second's thought: You better not be fucking dead either.

No way, Jeff said. I've been here all day, though. Thanks for finally showing up. He was teasing. That was comforting in itself.

This is how you led me to you? Greg asked, knowing the answer already.

Yep. A pause. Then, Greg, you do want to live, don't you?

Stunned, Greg ran the options through his mind. As long as you do.

No. Even if I died, would you want to live? The lack of response told Jeff the truth. You know you can't do that, right? You can't live for me. That's not how it works.

Well, you can't just fucking die when we just barely started this...thing, Greg retorted with guilt underneath the defensive manner. Not fair. Leaving me alone and shit.

I wouldn't do that. I waited for you, and you came. You found me here. That says a hell of a lot about you. Jeff's words seemed to glow with tenderness.

At that moment, Greg would have done anything Jeff asked of him. And he knew what he wanted. Speaking of waiting, they're probably worried about us up there. Out there. You know what I mean.

We can't leave them alone either, the younger man agreed. They'd be lost without us.

They're lost with us, kitten, Greg pointed out. Shall we?
Together, they emerged from the dark haze into the painful and welcoming arms of consciousness.

---------------------------------------------------------------

It was easier to breathe somehow. How did that happen? Greg opened his eyes with a soft groan, alerting his friends that he was indeed still alive. Everything rushed back; sights and voices overwhelmed him. It had been probably less than a minute since he'd lost consciousness, but it might as well have been a year.

"Goddammit, Proops," said Ryan with more than a hint of relief, "never pull shit like that again." His eyes were softer than they'd looked all day.

Colin handed him the water. "Here." He grinned sheepishly. "I'd like to come up with something better to say than 'gosh, I'm glad you're not dead'. But, you know, I am glad." Not the most eloquent speech, but it radiated more emotion from Colin than the average person could see.

Wayne and Brad gave similar sentiments. Greg, who hadn't gotten a word in yet, said simply one thing.
"Jeff."
Colin and Brad helped him to his feet and back over to Jeff's side. He didn't need to speak this time, just wait. Holding Jeff's hand turned into holding his entire upper body in a heartfelt attempt to connect with him. Agony-filled minutes passed before Greg heard a catch of breath, startled and hesitant. He immediately looked at Jeff's face, wincing at every returning sensation, especially pain.

Finally, those hazel eyes opened. "Thanks for waiting," he whispered with a weak smile.

Witty retorts failing him once again, Greg brushed his hand across Jeff's clammy forehead.
"I love you," was all he could manage to say. And it was all that needed to be said.

----------------------------------------------------------------

"This is it," Colin said, trying to keep the tremor of hope from his voice. "Our last night out here one way or another." Brad and Wayne were scavenging for whatever safe food and/or water they could gather, mostly to give the couples some well-deserved privacy. Greg and Jeff, still too weak to move but unwilling to part for even a second, were doing god-knows-what pressed up against each other, whispering into each others' ears.
Colin and Ryan offered comfort as best as they could. Colin tended to Ryan's leg with deep kisses and other distracting activities.

Ryan reassured Colin that no matter how bad things got, he'd always be there. And that Colin was an amazing leader, much more so than he gave himself credit for.
"How many days now?" Ryan inquired.

It took Colin a second to understand the question. "Oh. Hang on. Today...nine, I think. Nine days we've been lost."

"Fucking crazy. It's been at least a month," said Ryan, tracing the outline of Colin's chest with his fingers.

"I know," Colin murmured. "Do you think anybody's still looking for us?" It had been bothering him since they'd hit the one-week mark.

Ryan shrugged. "Sure, of course. They'll be looking for bodies by now, but..."

Colin rolled his eyes. "Won't they be in for a surprise. We can handle ourselves in the wild."

"Yeah. We're tough. You know, I'm thinking you and me should just stay out here. Maybe build a cabin." He spotted the terror in his lover's face and laughed. "I'm joking, Col."

"Yeah. If you were serious, I'd probably strangle you," was Colin's reply. Somehow it was unmistakably affectionate.

"Honestly," Ryan said in a truthful tone this time, "we probably wouldn't have been able to talk to each other like this if none of this had happened. So I guess that's the one good thing here."

Those green eyes. Colin couldn't disagree with them. "I know. You almost make it worth it." A playful shove from Ryan made him smile for real for the first time all day. "I love you too, Ry."
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