The belt was stuck.
Dr. Alan Grant, survivor of multitudinous dinosaur attacks and proponent of unpopular theories, swore quietly and jiggled the mechanism again. He had the worst luck with mechanical things- ah, there it went. The stubborn seatbelt released with a satisfying snick and Alan rose, automatically steadying himself against the sway of the helicopter. He took two steps back towards the rear before his way was blocked by one of the military men.
"You need to return to your seat, Dr. Grant," the man shouted over the noise of the chopper blades. Alan tugged his hat a bit more firmly down onto his head.
"I need to see my research assistant-" he quickly checked the man's stripes "-Sergeant."
"You need to return to your seat," the sergeant repeated firmly. "Your assistant is fine."
"Look, just for a minute-" and Alan shoved past the sergeant. He crossed the four steps seperating him from Billy in a flash, and knelt down beside the injured man. "Billy."
His eyes opened, clouded by drugs but still aware enough to recognize him.
"I saved it for you," he said, and pulled the lucky pack off his shoulder. "It's safe now." He laid it gently on Billy's chest, hoping not to hurt him. Billy blinked up at him, eyes suspiciously bright, then smiled and grasped the pack with his uninjured hand.
"Thanks," was all he said, but it was enough. Alan smiled and rose, brushing off the red-faced military man and returning to his seat.
He was sleeping now. The doctors had been at him for a couple hours earlier, poking, prodding, testing. They had shaken heads and clucked with dismay, taken X-rays and run fluids and given drugs... In the end, though, they left him alone in the sterile hospital room to sleep off the influence of the drugs. He was clean now, bandaged and splinted, face relaxed and peaceful. One hand still clutched the strap of his pack.
The man watching over him smiled, reached out and touched the hand lightly. That was one of the few uninjured places on Billy. He couldn't believe that the kid had actually survived.
Billy... a survivor. Who would have believed it? Then again, who would have believed the little twit kid would grow into such a serious, intense man?
Billy sighed in his sleep, head turning slightly to one side. Alan brushed his hair back from his eyes, feeling again the relief of seeing him alive. All was not lost, after all- he'd been granted the proverbial second chance.
You're as bad as the people who built this place, he'd said. And then Billy had sacrificed himself to save that child- looked right into his eyes with a look guaranteed to haunt Alan's dreams for a good long while. I hope you didn't mean it, that look had said. And, even if you did mean it, it doesn't matter.
And then he'd jumped.
Alan's throat closed off tight around a knot of emotion. He looked away for a moment, pulled his hand away from Billy's forehead. After what he'd said, what he'd done- how he'd wounded Billy, perhaps worse than the pteranodons had. He had no right... But Billy was making small distressed sounds in his drugged slumber, head turning and uninjured hand groping feebly about the covers. Alan swallowed and caught the hand again, folding it gently in his own. Perhaps he had no right in his own mind, but he could no more deny Billy whatever comfort he derived from the contact than he could take back what he'd said.
Billy's fingers tightened on his and his restless thrashing stopped. With a faint smile, he slid back into a deeper sleep. Alan stroked his hand lightly with his thumb. Funny, how young Billy still looked while asleep. What was he now, twenty-seven years old? Twenty-eight? Yes, twenty-eight. And yet he was still and always "the kid" to Alan. It had been the summer of '90 when he'd had his dig infested by all those kids, Billy included. He snorted. That summer had been hell to begin with, and it hadn't gotten any better. Billy had been the biggest pain in the ass- always whining, causing trouble, being a little twit. Acting, in short, like a spoiled rotten teenager whose parents thought he should experience life on a dig rather than spending the summer in Neosho with his Aunt Amy.
And then John Hammond had come along, with his pristine white suit and his helicopter, damaging the delicate dig his news was about to render irrelevant. Hammond, his money, and his offer- which had taught Alan his first lesson in "how to watch a loved one suffer from dinosaur-inflicted injuries."
Ellie. He really owed her a lot, this time. Not just his own life, no- that wasn't nearly as important as the life of the kid laying here in front of him. Man, really- he must remember that Billy wasn't a boy any longer. He was a man, as completely changed from the snotty little twit of eleven years ago as Alan himself was changed. Yes, changed... in ways he never would have believed possible, changed by the dinosaurs, changed by... Ellie... Changed... by Billy...
Alan's head lolled back against the back of the bedside chair. His thoughts slowed, his breathing slowed, and he slept.
Nurses roused him, bustling around the bed. One of them caught his eye, gave his hand a significant glance where it still clasped Billy's, then smiled. Alan humphed and shifted, but didn't let go.
"Dr. Grant, I see you're awake," the other nurse said, straightening from her task of checking the IV drip.
"Yeah," he grunted, stretching in a futile attempt to ease his back. For all that hospitals were supposed to be dedicated to keeping people healthy, they sure could come up with some unique torture devices in the disguise of chairs.
"The doctor will be along shortly to check on Mr. Brennan's progress. I can see no reason why he won't sign the release papers. There's really nothing left for us to do here. All he needs is rest, food, and to take it easy for a while, all of which can be better accomplished at home than here."
"Thank you, nurse," Alan said, rubbing his eyes. The nurse who had smiled at him started for the door, then stopped.
"And Dr. Grant? I've just remembered- you have a visitor."
"A visitor?" Alan started to rise, then stopped when Billy moaned and clutched at his hand. "Billy- Billy, can you hear me?" The fingers tightened again, then relaxed. "I have to go for a minute, okay?"
Billy's eyes flickered, squinched shut, flickered again. "Alan-"
"Shh, Billy, don't talk," Alan soothed, stroking Billy's forehead and smoothing away the pain wrinkles between the bandages. "I have to go away for a minute, okay? I'll be back."
"Promise?" The hoarseness of the voice was due to drugs, Alan told himself firmly. He's not really that weak, not really in that bad of shape- it's just a holdover from the drugs.
"I promise. I'll be back as soon as I talk to this person, okay?" Billy nodded minutely. "Now you rest, so you feel better when I come back."
"Okay," Billy whispered, with a slight twitch of the lips that might have been a smile. Alan stroked his cheek lightly one last time, then turned away.
Ellie was in the doorway.
"Uh," Alan said.
"Hello, Alan." Ellie smiled, the same bright and happy smile he'd seen on her face- what, was it really only a week ago? So much had happened since then. "Care for a coffee? You look like you could use one."
"Yes, thanks," Alan said, leaving the bedside. He couldn't resist a backward glance when he reached the door, just to make sure that Billy really was okay. "It would seem I owe you a lot," he said, returning his gaze to Ellie.
She smiled again. "Hey, what are friends for? Come on, the cafeteria's this way."
"How did you manage it?"
"Manage what?" Ellie opened a door and the smells of food and coffee wafted out. Alan followed her in to the cafeteria and through the line, acquiring a steaming styrofoam cup of coffee on the way.
"You know," he said at length, when they were seated at a quiet table. "All of it. How'd you manage to call out the military? And how'd you figure out where I was at, in the first place? I never got a chance to tell you."
"Simple, Alan," she laughed, then abruptly sobered. "Can you think of any other place in the world where I'd be able to hear dinosaurs roaring in the background?"
He shook his head, half-smiling as he raised the steaming cup to his lips. After a cautious sip, he grimaced and set the cup back down. Hospital coffee was on a par with hospital seating. "And the military?"
"That was actually the easy part," she said, sipping at her own coffee. Either hers was better, or she concealed her dislike better than he ever could. "All I had to do was contact the Embassy to Costa Rica. They were absolutely frantic- apparently there's been a boat lost, some two months ago?' She raised an eyebrow.
Alan nodded. *Empty boat, shredded canopy- screams of panic from Eric, frantic attempts by Ben to escape the harness...*
"And then, two days ago, a plane overflew the prohibited zone and went down- I'm assuming that was the one you were on?"
Alan nodded again. *Jarring impact, crashing and tearing, blood on the windshield... Sick feeling of terror... We haven't landed, yet...*
"Anyway, the Costa Ricans were frantic with wanting the problem off their hands. They not only authorized the military involvement, they patched me through to the base themselves. And thank God they've been dealing with the escapees from the island for so long- they not only believed me that you were in danger of your life from dinosaurs, but they took the threat seriously enough to send out their full specialist unit for dinosaur control. I caught a plane out here as soon as I could."
"For which I am eternally grateful," Alan said, stirring sugar into his coffee. Perhaps that would make the stuff more palatable. He sipped again, and grimaced. Better, but still not as good as even your average instant. "Not just for myself, you understand."
"I-" Ellie blinked, and took a healthy swallow of her coffee. "Alan- Billy? How..."
He leveled a wary look on her. "Do you mind?"
Her eyes widened. "Mind? Hardly. I'm just- surprised is too mellow a word for it."
"Good." He nodded once, sharply. He didn't know what he'd have done if she'd been upset. "It was almost an accident, really," he admitted, turning the coffee cup in idle circles.
She giggled suddenly, and clapped her hands over her mouth like a naughty little girl. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
He raised an eyebrow and drank down some of the vile brew. If he just tried not to think about it, it was almost drinkable. But caffeine was caffeine, and he needed it badly enough to put up with the taste.
"Remember what it took for me to make you realize why I was always following you around?" She smiled fondly. His ears burned, and he stolidly took another drink. "I had to literally surprise you in your bed- and even then, you thought that I was only in there for some silly reason-"
"I thought you were trying to get away from Hodges," he said, hunching his shoulders in remembered embarassment. He'd walked in to his tent one night, the year before Jurassic Park, and found Ellie there in his bedroll, wearing not a stitch. He'd averted his eyes immediately, painfully shy, and nearly fallen through the tent wall when she'd stood up and wrapped her arms around him.
"I was, I suppose... But you started to tell me. What happened? Or have you made it a practice to seduce all your research assistants?" Her smile took the sting out of the words, but he still winced. Damn ethics, anyway.
"You know he applied for the position as a freshman- didn't get it, though. And when he did- well, he was always around. Constantly. Worse even than when he was a snotty little brat- worse because he was so damn useful all the time. Could get any of the equipment to work right, lucky enough to walk off to take a piss and stumble across an intact skeleton. And smart- smart as a whip. Made me feel downright ignorant, half the time. And he kept coming back, year after year- this makes his fifth year on the dig. Makes me feel like an old fart."
Ellie laughed. "Alan, you'll never be old. Not as long as you retain your enthusiasm for your work."
He sighed and sat his half-empty cup down. "I've been finding that hard, lately."
The sympathy in her eyes let him know that, as always, she understood.
"Anyway, the kid- Billy- he wasn't a kid anymore. And he was always there, even after we'd... well." Best not to think of the time apart, the time when he'd nearly made the biggest mistake of his life. "Then I pulled a muscle, catching the damn computer when somebody knocked into the table..."
...You're hurt, Alan- let me take care of that for you. No, I don't want to hear a word of complaint!... Off with that shirt, now... Hands on his back, feeling oh-so-good, more so because he'd thought never to feel them again. Fingers working gently at the soreness, shifting to deal with the knots brought on by a bad season on a meager grant that wasn't enough to hire half his usual team. Hands seeking and easing pains he didn't know he'd had... then lips. Don't you dare tense up on me, Alan, or I'll be forced to do this all over again... Billy, Billy- you're too young, I'm- You're what, thirty-eight? So what? I'm a big boy now, Alan, and I know what I want. And then, as though the previous weeks of hellish loneliness had never happened, it was all right again.
Alan jumped and knocked the remains of his coffee over. Ellie was tapping her fingertips against her cheek, an amused smile on her face. "Earth to Alan, anyone home?"
He scrabbled at the napkin holder, at last succeeding in pulling out a wad to wipe up his spill. "Sorry."
"That's okay, I think I can figure it out from there. I'm just- surprised, I suppose that's the only word for it after all." Ellie sighed. "But I can see he's made you happy, at least- more so than I could ever have done. And I'm glad."
"So am I." He wiped the last drop of coffee up and looked for a place to put the napkins, settling on the empty styrofoam cup. He stuffed then in with unnecessary care, packing them into the most compact ball possible inside the cup. "I thought he was dead."
"Oh, Alan..." Ellie reached out and took his hand, squeezing it for a moment before letting go. "I'm glad the helicopters were able to reach you all in time."
"Thank you again, Ellie. I owe you a big one."
"That's what friends are for." She smiled again, lighting her eyes with the familiar joy. "Just remember that, if you're ever in town and I need a babysitter!"
Alan laughed, as expected, and smiled and made some inane comment. But really his attention was on the clock, high up on the white cafeteria wall. The hands crept forward inexorably, marking more time spent away from Billy, more time for things to take a sudden turn for the worse, more time for-
"Alan, are you all right?" Ellie's concerned voice penetrated his worry.
"Huh? Fine, fine. Just- you know how it is," and he glanced at her with a pleading expression. Please understand, please realize that I'm not ignoring you or trying to seem ungrateful...
She nodded, slowly. "Yes, I guess I do know how it is, after all. Just- I hope he can handle it. I don't want to see you hurt again."
Alan squirmed a little. She couldn't handle it, as she'd pointed out on several occasions- that obsessive worry over her safety, the need to watch over her... "There hasn't been a problem so far. And he's been around for five years now, after all, long enough to know- you know."
"Yes, I do know." She stood up, collecting her empty cup and used napkin. "And that's why we're going back now. Okay?"
Alan rose quickly, grateful. Ellie always understood.
When they reached Billy's room, the doctor was in there. Billy was awake, looking as alert as possible for someone who'd been on a demerol drip for the last twelve hours. His eyes found Alan and locked on to his face with desperate urgency.
"How is he, Doctor?" Alan asked, stepping up to the bedside. He smiled quickly at Billy and some of the strain eased around his eyes.
"Ah, Dr. Grant." The physician turned towards Alan, clipboard in hand. "Am I to understand you'll be supervising Mr. Brennan's recovery?"
Alan quirked an eyebrow at the phrasing. "As much as anyone can supervise Billy in anything- yes, I will. He's my research assistant, after all."
Sharp black eyes peered out from under heavy brows, then returned to the clipboard. "And you'll be returning to the States?"
Alan shuddered involuntarily. As if he'd want to stay here, one moment longer than necessary! "Yes."
"Very well, then. I'll just get these papers in order. I'm sending the initial examination notes and reports along with you. As soon as you return to the States, get him to a hospital there for another checkup, to ensure that there is no further damage sustained while traveling. I'm issuing a prescription for pain medication, along with a note to get the pharmaceuticals through Customs. Now, if you'd just sign here, and here..."
Alan scrawled his signature over several sheets of paper, averring that Billy was being released into his care, that he was taking financial responsibility, that he'd heard and understood the continuing care instructions, that he realized it was an offense punishable by X amount of years in prison to distribute prescription medication, that...
And I thought American hospitals were into paperwork.
Finally, the last paper was signed and dated, and he held a handful of pink and yellow carbon copies. The physician left without a backward glance, already flipping through his charts for the next patient on the list.
There was an awkward silence. Alan stood clutching his handful of papers, Ellie sat quietly in the chair she'd taken while the doctor was talking, and Billy stared at Alan.
Both men started speaking at once, and broke off in confusion.
"You first," Alan suggested.
He laughed a little, uncertainly. "Well, I was going to say, maybe I'd better try to get up and get dressed, if we're going to be leaving."
"That sounds like a very good idea," Elllie said. She stood. "I'll just wait outside."
Alan watched her leave, then looked back at Billy, who was pushing himself upright with a grimace. "Should I- I mean, if you want I can-"
"Stay." Billy succeded in sitting up, then started to fall back against the pillows. Alan crossed the distance between them in a heartbeat and caught him, supporting him against his shoulder. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," Alan managed. His heart was trying to explode. No, not just trying, it was going to explode. Those brown eyes were mere inches away, staring at him calm and steady through the haze of pain and leftover drugs.
"Do you- do you know what they did with my clothes?" Billy coughed, carefully. His voice was still hoarse.
Alan reached down, careful not to overbalance Billy and knock him over. He found the strap of the pack and retrieved it from where it had fallen during the night. Billy's eyes widened when he saw it.
"You did save it!" he said, touching the pack almost in awe. "I thought maybe I dreamed it. I mean, why would you save it?"
"No, I couldn't just leave it there-" *dinosaurs pounding all around, stampeding in terror, humans stampeding in terror as well- Billy's pack, must save Billy's pack- then the feel of worn canvas in his hand- and later. The eggs. You're just as bad as the people who built this place... But he still couldn't throw it away, because it was important to Billy.* "-you needed all the luck you could get."
"Yes." Billy looked at him, expression unreadable, then opened his pack.
On top, where the dinosaur eggs had lain, were his clothes- torn, bloodied, mudstained. Billy put them aside with a grimace of distaste. Then a notebook, an empty camera case, two candy bars, and finally clean clothes- jeans and a t-shirt, a pair of socks-
"Hey, did my boots survive?"
Alan nodded, rose from the bed, with a concerned look to make sure Billy remained upright. He did. Alan found the boots at the foot of the bed and brought them over.
"Thanks." Billy's face twisted with pain as he tried to reach back and untie the hospital gown. "Would you mind...?"
"Not at all." Alan untied the laces gently, then eased the gown back, allowing his first sight of the injuries on Billy's back. "Oh, Billy..."
His entire back was abraded and bruised. Where the wounds were deepest, neat white bandages covered them up, concealing stitches. The claws of the pteranodons had torn right through his clothing and into his flesh, especially around the shoulders, where the one had actually lifted him.
"Is it bad?" Billy asked.
"It could be worse," Alan said. He couldn't tear his eyes off the injuries, received while Billy was saving Eric's life.
"Yeah, I could be dead," Billy grunted, sliding the gown off and beginning to work his t-shirt over his splinted arm.
Alan flinched. "Don't- don't say that."
"But it's true. I could be dead, just like the rest of them."
Alan had drawn a breath to reply when a nurse entered the room.
"I've got your prescriptions," she announced, with a cheery smile. Her eyes narrowed when she saw how close Alan was sitting, on Billy's bed. "Just take these down to the hospital pharmacy and get them filled there. It must be the hospital pharmacy, mind- the others out there aren't nearly as concerned with quality or accuracy."
"Understood," Alan said.
The nurse shooed him out of the way and helped Billy into his clothing quickly and efficiently. She only left when he was on his feet, swaying unsteadily. The door had barely closed behind her before he turned back to Alan with a pleading look.
"Alan-" He held out a hand.
Alan was at his side, offering support. "How can I do this without hurting you?"
Billy's arm slid around his waist. It felt good. "Lower back's fine," he said, face white with strain.
"Are you sure we should be doing this?" Alan asked, carefully holding Billy up. "I mean, if it hurts so bad, maybe-"
"I want to go home, Alan," Billy interrupted. He took a cautious step forward, then another.
There was a knock on the door. "Is it safe?" Ellie called from the other side.
"Yeah," Alan replied.
The door opened. "I've been on the phone," she said, smile giving way to concern for Billy. "We've got tickets on a flight leaving in four hours. Is that okay with you?"
"At this rate, it'll take me four hours to get out of this room," Billy said, grinning weakly.
"I could carry you, you know," Alan chuckled faintly. "And scandalize the entire hospital."
"Want me to get a wheelchair?" Ellie asked, shooting Alan one of her famous "knock it off, idiot!" looks. Idly, he noted that she still seemed to have it down pat- she must be getting some practice in with her husband... what was his name, again? Mark, that's right. It was Mark.
"No, thanks- to both of you. I can make it, if you'll just tell me where we're going."
"Follow me." Ellie turned and went out the door. Alan and Billy followed, slow but steady. "I have a rental car, got it at the airport."
"Where are your kids? And your husband?" Alan asked.
"They stayed home, of course."
The journey to the car was accomplished in stages, punctuated by much quiet swearing. Alan, mindful of Ellie, kept a tight leash on his concern. Wouldn't do to have her hauling Billy off to give him The Talk at the first opportunity. After all, Billy already knew that he was overprotective and obsessive. Not to mention an idiot.
They made a brief detour to the pharmacy, to pick up the prescriptions. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and painkillers- a ten-day supply of each.
Thank God the scrips are in the computer, Alan found himself thinking, repeatedly, as the pharmacist tried to puzzle out the physician's scrawl. Why was it, anyway, that medical doctors were incapable of writing legibly? Was it something they learned in med school?
Ellie took the little paper bags, leaving Alan to help support Billy. He didn't mind. They reached the front door at last, and Ellie hurried on ahead to get the car.
Alan found a bench and steered Billy over to it, easing him down gently, then sitting beside him. Billy laid his head on Alan's shoulder with a sigh.
Alan rubbed his hair and gathered his courage. "I'm sorry."
"For what I said, back there. On the island."
"Alan- you have the worst timing." He shook his head. "Later, okay? When we're alone. Home."
Home... "Not the dig. We're not going back to the dig with you like this."
"Right now, I don't want to even think about dinosaurs, much less look at their bones. I don't know how you managed to go back to it."
"Habit, I guess. And besides, it's what I do. Look- there's Ellie. Can you make it back up?"
"I'll have to, won't I? You first."
Alan stood, and Billy used his arm to pull himself upright. Alan gritted his teeth, trying not to say anything about Billy's obvious pain. He knew Billy wanted to do this with as little help as possible- it was just the way the kid was.
Ellie pulled the car, a small Japanese affair, up to the loading zone in front of the doors. Alan gave it a dubious look, then told Billy, "You're in front."
"No argument. You're in front. You'd be able to get in the back just fine, but I don't even want to think about what it would take to get you out."
Billy started to protest, then thought better of it and nodded. Alan ducked into the miniscule back seat, then popped the front seat upright again and Billy lowered himself carefully into it. Closing the door was rather awkward with his right arm splinted, but he managed. The car pulled away from the hospital.
The little car's air conditioner blasted away full force. Alan was grateful for the thin stream of cold air that worked its way into the back seat. Even just a few minutes outside in the damp heat had him dripping. He felt a sudden, fierce longing for the badlands of Montana- cool, dry, always with a steady wind even in the dog days of summer. Why people would choose to live in this humid tropical hellhole was beyond him- or worse yet, choose to vacation here.
"How far to the airport?" he asked Ellie.
"About an hour's drive," she replied, swerving out of the way of a tourist.
"Good. Wake me when we get there." Alan pulled his hat down over his eyes, leaned back with his arms crossed over his chest, and dropped into sleep like a stone.
He tried not to think on the journey back home. It wasn't hard- the plane trip lasted a total of eleven hours, with a forty-five minute layover in Houston, so they could catch a flight up to Helena. They parted ways with Ellie in Texas, with many thanks and good wishes. The plane noise drowned out most attempts to communicate, and Billy had taken another of his pain pills. So Alan spent the journey staring out a window, with Billy's head on his shoulder, trying not to think and dozing.
He wasn't too sure what was going on here. Obviously, Billy wasn't too mad at him, but who ever really knew what was going on in that dark head of his? Hopefully the fact that he'd wanted to go home was a positive sign- even Alan's paranoia found it hard to believe that the man leaning trustingly against his shoulder only wanted to clean out his personal belongings and then leave. But he wouldn't blame him, really he wouldn't...
All right, Alan, look at this logically. He'd hurt Billy- said something he really didn't mean, and knew wasn't true even as he'd said it. And then Billy had jumped. He hadn't even remembered the kid had packed that parachute- he'd thought, for one horrific moment, that Billy had jumped because of what he'd said. Then the parachute had deployed, saving Billy, saving Alan. Ensuring that he didn't follow through on the crazed impulse to jump after the kid.
He shuddered. For the length of that single mad moment, it had seemed only logical- the natural conclusion to the events started by the discovery of the raptor eggs. He'd follow Billy down, into the gorge, make amends... But no. The chute had deployed. And while part of him was glad he hadn't jumped, part of him wished it was all over. No more pain, no more dinosaurs... no more chances to screw up.
The plane touched down in Helena well after dark. Alan thought for approximately half a second of trying to rent a car and push on to Bozeman and home, then discarded the idea. He was tired. Driving in this condition would be suicide, on that road.
"Billy," he said, squeezing Billy's hand. "Wake up. We've landed."
"Hunh?" Billy raised his head, blinking groggily in the sudden light. Other passengers protested the brightness sleepily, but Alan was glad of the light. It meant that they were down safely, and that the plane was ready to unload. It also meant that a motel room and a shower were in the near future. He'd picked up clean clothes before they'd reached the airport, but that did nothing for the dirt.
"We're home?" Billy looked around, disoriented.
"Not yet," Alan sighed. "Helena. We'll have to rent a car. Tomorrow."
"'kay." Billy shook his head and blinked, then reached for his pack. He gasped when the movement strained his injuries.
"Want me to get that?" Alan was instantly concerned. But Billy managed to get his pack, and made it to his feet as well. They waited patiently for the press of people to disembark, shuffling past with many a yawn and grumble. Billy leaned against Alan, who wrapped an arm around him gingerly. "Hang in there, we're almost done for the day."
"You know what I want right now?" Billy murmured, barely audible above the sounds of people retrieving luggage from overhead compartments and leaving.
"What's that?" Alan held him carefully, oblivious to the stares of the other passengers.
"I want to lay down, in a real bed, with you. And I want to know that you're there, and that you're not going anywhere. That you'll still be there when I wake up, and not eaten by some damn dinosaur."
"Sounds like a good idea to me," Alan said. "A very good idea."
They moved out into the aisle at last, progressing unsteadily towards the front of the plane. Alan kept a hand on Billy, wishing there was a way he could help, but the aisle was just too tiny.
Once off the plane, Alan was able to put his arm back around Billy. He glared at anyone who stared, daring them to say anything, as they headed for the hotel reservation desks. No one did, but there were more than a few unfriendly looks.
The Holiday Inn reservation desk was actually still open, despite the late hour. Alan sighed. It would have to be one of the more expensive ones... oh well. He pulled out his battered wallet and his credit card, that had somehow made it through the past few days unscathed. Room, shuttle... even a car. Perfect.
The desk clerk stared at them, taking in their battered appearances without a word. She found them a room-
"I'm sorry, sir, but all we have available at this hour is a single. Will that do?"
"Ma'am, that's fine," Alan said. He didn't bother to conceal his weariness. "At this point, I'd probably take one of the couches in the lobby, and as for Billy here- well, his painkillers are making him mighty sleepy."
"Very well, then." She looked at Billy rather more closely and her eyes widened. She returned her attention to her computer. "You're good to go. I've got you booked for room 2137, transportation on the hotel shuttle which leaves in-" she checked her watch "-fifteen minutes. Also, one midsize car through Hertz, dropoff time 12 noon, to be returned tomorrow in Bozeman. Will that be all?"
"Sounds fine to me." Alan handed over the credit card, trying not to worry about the total. It was worth it.
Alan must have been even more tired than he'd thought- he blanked out completely while waiting for the shuttle. He hadn't gotten much rest on the plane. Unlike Billy, he didn't have the help of percocet to allow him to ignore the thoughts which refused to go away. He was roused by the shuttle driver, who expressed concern for both of his passengers.
"We're fine, thanks," Billy said, rousing from his daze when they boarded the shuttle.
"You both look pretty seedy, if you ask me." The shuttle driver shook his head. "Are you sure you'll be all right?"
"Yeah," Alan grunted. "Just get us to the hotel- we'll be fine."
"Hope so," the driver replied, then slammed the sliding door. He circled the back of the van and hopped into the driver's seat, setting off without a further word.
"You two got lucky," he said, a few minutes later. "This is the last shuttle of the night."
"Close call." Alan yawned, hoping the man would get the message and shut up. Beside him, he felt Billy go limp again. If he hadn't experienced percocet before, he'd be very worried about Billy's inability to stay awake. As it was, he was impressed that Billy was able to wake up enough to walk and talk when needed.
The driver continued to chatter on, seemingly unaware that neither one of his passengers was listening. The lights of Helena streamed past, and Alan drifted. Almost there. Almost safe. Almost...
The van stopped and Alan jerked awake. Ridiculous, really- he hadn't had any real sleep in what, four days now? No wonder he was ready to drop. When the van door opened, he picked up the pack and woke Billy again.
The hotel lobby was brightly lit and inviting. Alan persuaded his legs to move, one step after the other, helping support Billy again. They made their way inside, only staggering slightly. The night clerk took one look at them and nearly lost her eyebrows in her hairline.
"Reservation for Grant." Alan leaned against the shiny brass rail of the counter, grateful for the extra support.
"Would you like someone to show you to your room?" the clerk asked, clearly concerned. She found the reservation quickly and produced a keycard.
"No, thanks- just tell me, which way is it?"
"Take those elevators over there," and she indicated the shiny brass doors around the corner. "You're on the second floor, about half way down, on the left. Are you sure you'll be okay?"
"Yes, thank you, ma'am." Alan pushed himself away from the counter. Every bone and muscle in his body was conspiring to ache at once, each trying to clamor the loudest. "C'mon, Billy."
"We almost there?" Billy asked.
"Good." The elevator dinged and opened. They entered. "It's about damn time- thought we'd never be done traveling."
"Well, we won't- not until tomorrow. But we are for tonight, anyway. You okay?"
"Yeah." The elevator stopped, opened onto a green carpeted hall with dim lights in frosted glass sconces. "What room is it?"
"2137." Alan set off as briskly as he dared. There it was at last... He opened the door. Plain room, one bed, one table, a dresser with a tv, a bathroom, open curtains...
Billy made his way to the bed on his own, and Alan shut the curtains.
"Yeah?" He turned, saw Billy trying to undo his boots, and knelt down to undo the laces.
"Thanks. Now that we're alone," he said, around a yawn, "I wanted to tell you something."
"What's that?" Alan got one boot off and set to work on the other.
"I know you. You're all messed up over what happened- right?"
Alan froze, an icy chill racing through him and waking him up completely for the moment. He looked up into Billy's eyes, hands still on his boot. Billy smiled.
"I'll take that as a yes. But you know what?"
Alan couldn't have said anything to save his life.
"It's all right. I won't say it doesn't matter- what I will say is that it's all right. I'm not mad. And I'm not holding you to that damn deal we made, okay?"
Alan resumed breathing. He slowly pulled Billy's boot off the rest of the way, then put his hands on Billy's knees. "Are you sure? This isn't just the drugs talking?"
"Not the drugs, Alan," Billy smiled. "Although, I have to admit- I feel very funky. But I know what I want."
"And what is that?" Alan felt like this was part of some dream, unreality pressing closer and closer. Even the floor felt unreal- kind of like it was moving. The semi-rational part of his mind identified the feeling as an effect of riding on an elevator while exceptionally tired, but it still added to the dreamlike quality of the moment.
"I want you, same as always," Billy said, with a gentle smile. "Now get up here- you look like you're about to fall over."
Eyes wide, Alan obeyed. He pulled the covers back on the bed, then struggled out of his clothing. He helped Billy out of his, as well, then they were actually in the bed, laying still, not cramped on a plane or in a vehicle or a hospital... Alan sighed contentedly as Billy rested his head on Alan's shoulder. Free from prying eyes, he pressed his lips to the dark hair, pulling Billy closer. "This okay? Not hurting you?"
"Mmmm," Billy replied. Alan felt his lips curve into a smile against his shoulder. "G'night..."
"Good night, Billy," Alan whispered. He retained enough consciousness to feel a burst of sheer happiness that Billy had forgiven him, then slipped into blessed oblivion.
|AS&J||BSG||Farscape||Jeremiah||Jurassic Park||Litslash||Potpourri||SAJV||Star Wars|