Summary: Sometimes, falling for someone can really hurt.
Author's Note: This story is a gift for kuhori_rei, who requested "something suspenseful that keeps me on the edge of my seat." She also requested that this action/adventure story feature "Chad carrying Ryan bridal-style," the sentence "I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think I was going to lose you," and the word "defenestrate," which, I am very proud to say, was already in my vocabulary. This will, however, be the first time I've ever used it in a fic. (And I cheated--I had to use the noun form in order to make it fit the dialogue.) Five thousand words, exactly. ;)
Ryan winced in pain as he slowly rolled over onto his back, assessing his condition and waiting for the throbbing in his head to stop--or at least lessen to a dull ache. After a minute he opened his eyes, just in time to see Chad come hurtling down the side of the ravine into which he'd just fallen. His eyes opened wide and he gaped in mute horror as Chad--who'd slid feet-first for the majority of the fall--abruptly tumbled head over heels and landed a short distance away. Ryan winced sympathetically as Chad scrambled to his feet and made his way over to where he laid on the ground.
"I accidentally wandered off the trail and fell. What's your excuse?" Ryan asked conversationally, shutting his eyes again.
"I was looking for you," Chad replied in the same casual tone.
"Guess you found me."
"Yep," Chad replied as he knelt and pulled off his backpack.
"You should have gone to get help."
"And leave you lying unconscious at the bottom of a ravine? I don't think so."
"So now we're both stuck down here."
"You're welcome," Chad replied as he pulled out a first aid kit and opened it. He rummaged around in the kit and found some antibacterial spray. Ryan looked up at Chad, who appeared to be studying his face. He blushed and averted his gaze as it suddenly dawned on him that Chad had come down into the ravine intentionally.
"Oh," he said, lightly touching an abrasion on Chad's elbow. "You're bleeding."
"So are you," Chad replied, snatching his arm out of reach. He cleaned the cut on Ryan's forehead with water from his bottle and applied an adhesive bandage.
"Where are the others?"
"I don't know; the minute I realized that you'd disappeared off the trail I went after you."
"You mean no one even knows we're down here?" Ryan cried. "Troy! Troy!" Chad reached out and covered his mouth.
"Save your breath. They're not going to hear you from here."
"Then call them on your cell!"
"We're in the middle of a state park! There's no way we're getting phone reception out here."
"Great," Ryan said, shutting his eyes. He abruptly opened them a second later when he felt Chad's hands sliding down his leg. "What the hell--ow! Ow!"
"It's probably a sprain," Chad said as he carefully felt along Ryan's right ankle. He drew off Ryan's shoe and continued to gently probe his foot.
"How can you tell?" Ryan said with a hiss.
"Trust me, if you'd broken it you'd be screaming," Chad said as he dug through the first aid kit for something to wrap it with. "You know, you should have worn sturdier shoes. You need something with better ankle support on a hike."
"Next time I plan to slip off a trail and tumble into a ravine, I promise to wear sensible shoes," Ryan said, gritting his teeth against the pain as Chad expertly wrapped his ankle. "So since you came down here without telling anyone else and we can't reach them, how do you intend to get us out of here?"
"One thing at a time," Chad said. "How's your other ankle?" Ryan visibly flinched as Chad reached for his left leg.
"My other leg is fine," he said, hastily sitting up. Chad frowned at him, but he nodded and closed up the kit. He got to his feet, dusting off his hands, and looked around. "I think we should go that way," he said after a minute, pointing to the west.
"But that's where we just came from," Ryan protested. "Shouldn't we continue in the direction we were going in?"
"We have no idea what's up ahead," Chad replied. "But we do know that about a quarter mile back the ravine gets considerably shallower."
"A quarter mile? You want me to walk a quarter mile back on a sprained ankle? And then what?"
"And then we can get out of the ravine and back on the trail," Chad replied as he shouldered his pack. "Let's go."
"I think we should go the other way," Ryan said stubbornly. Chad rolled his eyes and reached out to help him up. Ryan folded his arms. Chad shrugged.
"Come on, Evans. This isn't the time for your diva act." Chad turned and looked to the east. "We might have to walk miles before the ravine widens again or gets shallow enough to climb out of in your condition. Do you really want to--?"
"All right, all right," Ryan spat. He allowed Chad to help him up and they began to make their way west.
"Where's Ryan?" Gabriella asked. Troy looked over his shoulder.
"Where's Chad?" Zeke asked, giving Troy a meaningful look. "You don't think he finally made his move, do you?"
"What do you know about--?" Troy glanced at Gabriella and blanched.
"What?" she said. "What's going on?"
"Maybe they just stopped to rest," Zeke suggested innocently.
"Good idea," Gabriella said, stepping off the trail to sit on an outcropping of rock. "Let's do the same."
"Dude, stow it," Chad said, nearing the end of his patience. "Bitching every three seconds isn't going to make this go any faster."
"I'm sorry, but it's not exactly fun tramping through old exposed roots, rocks and gravel on two bad ank--."
"Two? You told me your other ankle was fine!" Chad shouted as he let go of Ryan's arm and pulled off his pack.
"Well, it was, before I began stumbling on all this river rock."
"Why didn't you say something? Sit down."
"Let's just go on."
"Sit down!" Chad growled. Ryan sat down meekly and allowed Chad to bandage his left ankle.
"I'm sorry, he said softly. "I just wanted to get us out of here." Chad didn't answer as he busied himself stowing the first aid kit. "I didn't want to be a burden." Chad glared at him for a second, but his expression softened into something more resembling sympathy.
"I thought you dancers were made of sterner stuff," he said, with a hint of a smile.
"I usually dance on smooth surfaces for a reason," Ryan replied dryly.
"Because you've got ankles like a girl in a fifties horror movie? Here." Chad handed Ryan his water bottle.
"I don't want to drink all your water," he replied, shaking his head. He'd lost his own bottle--and his entire musette bag--when he fell.
"I brought extra."
"What are you, a Boy Scout?" Ryan teased as he took the bottle.
"Hey, I wouldn't make fun if I were you," Chad said, rising to his feet. "It's helping your sorry ass." He opened his second bottle and took a drink, frowning at the sky.
"Hey, where's my hat?" Ryan said looking around.
"You lost it back on the trail. That's how I was able to find you."
"And you didn't bring it down with you? Don't you Scouts have a badge for returning lost property?" Ryan quipped. Chad shot him an amused look. "Well, at least the sun isn't beating down on us anymore."
"The sun's not beating down on us anymore because those are rain clouds," Chad said. "We'd better get moving."
"One more minute," Ryan said stretching out his legs in front of him.
"You can rest when we get back on the trail. Come on." Chad helped Ryan to his feet and they slowly made their way along the trail.
"What's taking them so long?" Gabriella asked. Zeke and Troy exchanged a look.
"Why don't you two go on and I'll go back and look for them," Zeke suggested.
"I think we should all stay together," Troy declared.
"We aren't all together, Troy," Gabriella replied. "And I have to go to the bathroom, so I vote for Zeke's plan. We'll meet up with you back at the ranger station." She grabbed Troy by the arm and started to draw him away. Troy looked back at Zeke, who shrugged.
"We can't rest here, Ryan," Chad insisted. "It's going to rain any minute."
"So we're in a ravine. Don't you get it? This is a desert. The ground is hard and dry, which means that when it starts to rain the water won't be absorbed. It'll run off and--."
"And we're in a ravine," Ryan said as he painfully climbed to his feet.
"That's what I said," Chad replied, reaching out to help him. "Let's go." The first drops of rain hit them just a few minutes later and Chad decided that they couldn't wait any longer to get to higher ground. "We've got to start climbing," he said looking up. "You first."
"Go," Chad commanded. "I've got your back."
Ryan took a deep breath and exhaled before he slowly began to make his way up the steep wall of the ravine. His progress was slow, as the combination of pain and the rapidly deteriorating conditions conspired to make the footing treacherous and visibility a problem.
"I can't!" Ryan shouted.
"You've got to! Just put one hand in front of the other and--."
"I can't!" Ryan repeated. "I can't get any footing! I keep slipping!"
"Hold on!" Chad cried. Ryan gripped the rocks under his hands as tightly as he could and shut his eyes. A moment later he felt the warmth of Chad's body surrounding him, shielding him from the elements. But almost as quickly as it registered, Chad was moving again, climbing over Ryan's back to get ahead of him. "Give me your hand!" he called. Ryan lifted his eyes and saw Chad reaching out to him. "Come on!"
Ryan wanted to stay where he was, but something in Chad's voice compelled him. He reached out tentatively and Chad grabbed his arm in a vise-like grip and pulled him upward. Ryan clawed blindly with his free hand and found purchase. He used it to help Chad pull him up. He grunted when his hip hit something hard and realized that it was solid rock. He clambered up onto the ledge and was pulled into the safety of Chad's arms.
"Here it comes!" Chad said, pointing. Ryan looked down and saw the runoff sweep by, inches below where he'd just been. He shut his eyes again and rested his head on Chad's shoulder. "Rest up," Chad said softly, drawing him a bit closer and holding him protectively. "With any luck we should be able to ride out the storm here."
Zeke broke into a run when he reached the clearing and spotted the ranger station up ahead. He was soaked to the skin, but that was the least of his worries. He entered the small building and saw Troy and Gabriella standing in front of a vending machine. They looked up expectantly. Zeke shook his head and held up a powder blue baseball cap.
"Looks like it's beginning to let up," Chad said, turning to look up. "Stay here."
"What? Where are you going?" Ryan asked, gripping Chad's shirt. He'd been content to ride out the storm on a tiny ledge ten feet above a raging river in the security of Chad's protective arms. Now Chad was abandoning him and Ryan panicked as the reality of his situation struck him anew. He was injured, soaking wet, covered in mud, and about to be left alone on a narrow shelf of rock.
"I'm going to find a way to get us out of here," Chad said as he gently pried Ryan's fingers open. "It's only seven or eight more feet to the top. Stay put." He ignored Ryan's weak protests and eased himself off the ledge. He immediately slid down the wall, one foot disappearing under water.
Chad clung to the rock face until he was able to pull himself up and gain a foothold. He shut his eyes and tried to catch his breath before he continued. When he couldn't stop his heart from racing he grit his teeth and continued anyway. He looked over at Ryan, gave him a quick smile that he hoped was reassuring, and began to move. In less than a minute he was on solid ground and climbing easily. He reached the top of the ravine and disappeared from view. Ryan immediately called out for him.
"What did you think? I was going to go through all that drama just to leave you there?" Chad said mildly. Ryan craned his neck as much as he dared, but he couldn't see Chad. "Over here!" he called from directly above Ryan's head. "I'm trying to find an easier way for you to come up."
"Did you find one?"
"I've got good news and bad news," Chad said, leaning over the edge so that Ryan got a better view of him. "I've found a slightly better place for you to climb up. But you'll have to come up on your own. If I try to come down to you I stand a good chance of pushing you off that ledge."
"Great," Ryan said uneasily.
"You won't be on your own the whole way. If you can come my way just a few feet I can help pull you up. Come on."
Ryan didn't move. He was too frightened. He couldn't turn far enough around to see the path Chad had picked out for him; he wasn’t sure how he'd turn around far enough to even attempt an ascent.
"I can't," he said ashamedly.
"Come on, Evans," Chad said firmly. Ryan took a few calming breaths as Chad waited patiently. But then Ryan shook his head. "Evans! Listen to me. I know you can do this. Look at me." Ryan looked up. "You can do this, Ryan. Come on." Ryan shut his eyes, but a moment later, he opened them again and slowly, hesitantly began to move. He kept his eyes on Chad as he carefully got to his feet and turned to face the rocks. Only then did he look away, searching for hand holds to start his climb. He refused to look down and he refused to stop moving up the rock face. He wouldn't even allow himself to think until Chad's outstretched hand came into view. And then he was falling.
"The other one is about the same height, light-skinned African American," Zeke said to the ranger. "Black tee shirt, jeans--."
"Lots of hair," Troy offered.
"Yeah," Zeke said.
"When did you last see them?" the ranger asked.
"Just before it rained," Gabriella replied.
"Twenty minutes or so before it rained," Zeke corrected her. "I went back to look for them, but I didn't see any sign of either one--except for this." He held up Ryan's hat.
"Where did you find that?"
"About a half mile back, on the side of the trail. I looked around, but I didn't see anything that indicated that they were still in the area."
"All right," the ranger said. He relayed the information by radio to the other stations around the park. "You three sit tight," he told the worried teens. "We're sending out a team to search for them now."
Ryan didn't have time to scream, which, he recalled belatedly, was a bad idea. His father told him once that if he ever fell into water, he should try not to scream. Ryan couldn't remember why. He couldn't remember anything other than the sensation of being in freefall.
He was in a lot of pain--his left arm hurt like hell and he wondered if he'd broken it, or perhaps torn it off somehow in the fall. He wanted to open his eyes but he was afraid of what he might see--a tangle of broken limbs, blood, and skin. But after just a few seconds, Ryan opened one eye and instead of the bleak sight he'd envisioned he saw a landscape of skin. Warm, golden brown, rising and falling erratically, curving along a collar bone and up over an angled jaw line, stubbled in some places, smooth in others. It was Chad. Ryan buried his head in the warmth of Chad's throat and silently wept.
For the next minute, the only sound he heard was the rapid beating of two hearts. Then Chad grunted in obvious discomfort and Ryan realized that he was lying on top of him. More importantly, the two of them were on the upper edge of the ravine rather than at the bottom. Ryan also realized that he was clinging to Chad as tenaciously as he'd clung to the rocks below. He carefully moved off of him, not caring that he rolled over onto the mud.
"Ryan Evans, you are made of awesome," Chad declared breathlessly. Ryan smiled crookedly, in spite of the fact that he had no idea what had prompted the comment. Suffice to say, Chad had somehow managed to catch his hand before he fell to his doom and pulled Ryan over the top of the ledge. In Ryan's book, Chad was clearly the hero. But if Chad was disposed to call him awesome, Ryan was willing to live with the accolade. He shut his eyes and the two of them lay there, unmoving, for several minutes as the sky lightened and the clouds disappeared.
"So now what?"
"Now we're back on the trail, or close to it," Chad said, propping himself up on his elbows. "We can either wait here for someone to find us or--."
"Totally unlikely," Ryan concluded. "Who the hell goes hiking after a rainstorm?"
"Well, Troy and Gabriella might forget we're out here, but I'm counting on Zeke to come looking for us if we fail to show up."
"Fair enough. But just in case, is there a plan B?"
"We keep moving," Chad said, slowly sitting up and reaching out to collect his backpack.
"On second thought, I'll put my faith in Zeke," Ryan said, shutting his eyes.
"Look, why don't you stay here," Chad suggested. "I'll continue on to the end of the trail and get help."
"No," Ryan said resignedly as he slowly pulled himself up to a sitting position. "We'll go together."
"Yeah," Ryan said, grabbing hold of a tree limb to pull himself up. "We've made it this far. Let's get this over with." Chad got to his feet and helped him up. They began to slowly make their way down the trail.
"Do you think we should call their parents?" Gabriella asked. Troy checked his watch.
"Let's wait a while longer," he replied. "I can't speak for Ryan, but I know that Chad wouldn't appreciate me getting his parents worked up for no reason."
"Yeah, let's wait until the rangers finish their search," Zeke agreed. Gabriella nodded grimly and turned her attention back to the window.
"My mother had an uncle who was something of an amateur archaeologist," Ryan said as he and Chad slowly made their way along the trail. "He got lost for three days on a dig in Machu Pichu."
"Not everyone has your luck, I guess," Chad teased.
"They say that he was never the same again after that. He began to talk to himself, claiming that he heard voices…" Ryan stumbled slightly, but Chad's firm grip around his waist prevented him from falling.
"What happened to him?"
"He eventually died of defenestration," Ryan replied glumly. Chad frowned.
"He jumped out of a window?"
"No, he--. Wait--is that what that means?"
"Yeah. Didn't you take Spanish? 'Fenestra' means window."
"Oh," Ryan said thoughtfully. "The way they talked about it at family gatherings I always assumed that he lost his head."
"How high was the window?" Chad quipped with a wink.
"How much longer is the search going to take?" Gabriella asked.
"It's impossible to say," the ranger replied. "They started from two trails that connect to the one you were on and are working their way back here. If the boys got lost and veered onto the wrong trail that's the best way to locate them." Gabriella wasn't terribly reassured by his answer. "Look," he said, "if your friends stayed close to any one of the trails it shouldn't take long to find them. Keep your fingers crossed." Gabriella did just that as Troy wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Zeke began to pace, but something caught his eye and he went to the door.
"Look!" he shouted as he threw it open and ran outside. Everyone rushed to the door and saw Chad, with Ryan Evans cradled in his arms, coming toward them. Zeke ran over to help, but Chad ignored his offer; he carried Ryan inside and set him down on the nearest bench.
"What happened?" Troy demanded. Chad just doubled over, hands on his knees fighting for breath, so it was Ryan who told the story.
"I slipped and fell into the ravine about a half mile back. Chad came to my aid and we had to walk back a ways before we could climb out," he said, his eyes on Chad, whose knees abruptly buckled. Troy helped him to sit and Chad slumped against him, exhausted. Gabriella went to fetch him some water as the ranger called off the search and ordered a medical evacuation.
"He carried you all the way back?" Zeke said incredulously.
"Only the last 20 yards or so," Ryan replied.
"When he twisted his ankle--again," Chad said breathlessly.
"I twisted both ankles," Ryan admitted sheepishly. Gabriella sat down beside him and let him rest his head in her lap while the ranger brought out a first aid kit and checked him over.
"I'll be fine," Ryan said. "I just want to get home, have a nice hot bath and put my feet up."
"You're going to have to go to a hospital first and get checked out," the ranger said. "It's protocol. Neither of you have reached the age of consent, so you can only be released into the care of a parent or legal guardian." Ryan surrendered his contact information and the ranger went to call his family; Troy followed to call Chad's parents on his friend's behalf. Chad climbed onto another bench and rested until the ambulance came.
On the way to the hospital, the paramedic took Chad's vital signs and declared him to be suffering from exhaustion and mild shock, but promised that he'd get a more thorough examination in the emergency room. Chad just shook his head. All he wanted to do was lie down somewhere and sleep.
He got his wish; after he was examined and treated, he was left to rest until his parents arrived to claim him. He promptly fell asleep. Ryan, meanwhile, was subjected to a series of x-rays before he was moved to a cubicle of his own. Before he had a chance to settle in his personal physician arrived, summoned by his parents. Ryan was subjected to another examination and the same determination was reached: no sign of concussion, two sprained ankles and numerous bruises and contusions.
Chad dreamed he found Ryan's hat on the edge of the trail and when he looked down into the ravine he saw Ryan being swept away in a torrent of water. He abruptly opened his eyes, gasping for breath and momentarily confused by his surroundings. He relaxed as he recalled that he was lying in a cubicle in the emergency room. He shut his eyes again as he heard a familiar voice somewhere in the vicinity.
"I knew that going on a hike with those Wildcats was a mistake," Sharpay said as she marched into the cubicle two down from Chad's. "Two sprained ankles, Ryan? We're supposed to perform in that benefit next week! Now what am I supposed to do?"
"What you always do," Ryan replied dully. "Grab the spotlight for yourself."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Sharpay, this is not the time," Ms. Evans said evenly. "How are you feeling, Ducky? Dr. Schwester said that your injuries aren't serious."
"Well, not surprisingly, my ankles hurt and I hyper-extended my shoulder. But mostly, I'm really tired," Ryan said as he basked in the glow of his mother's smile.
"It must have been terrifying out there," she cooed. "My poor darling boy."
"I won't lie to you," Ryan said soberly. "If it weren’t for Chad--."
"Please! If it weren't for Chad, you would never have been in danger in the first place," Sharpay interjected. "He's the only reason why you even considered going on that hike!"
"Lower your voice Sharpay," Ms. Evans scolded. "And you know that Ryan went on that hike with Zeke and Gabriella to collect information for their group project."
"Yeah right," she replied, lowering the volume a few decibels. "He was all set to blow off the assignment until Gabriella told him that Troy and Chad decided to tag along for the ride."
"Well, I for one, am very glad they did," Ms. Evans declared, running her fingers through her son's filthy hair.
"The doc said I was free to go as soon as you arrived," Ryan said. "Can we get out of here?" His mother bent to kiss his forehead.
"I'll go sign the papers. Kitten, stay here with your brother."
Neither Ryan nor Sharpay were pleased at the prospect of being left alone together. She immediately pulled out a phone and started texting a friend. Ryan rolled over onto his side, turning his back to her, and stared out into the common space. A nurse walked past, speaking with an attractive woman of color.
"Your son is right down here, Mrs. Danforth," she said. Ryan hearkened his ears but he didn't hear anything to indicate that Chad was close by.
"Mom?" He opened his eyes and eyed her groggily.
"How are you feeling, baby?" she said softly, reaching out to caress his face.
"Like a panini," he quipped.
Chad shook his head, covering his mouth to stifle a yawn.
"Troy and Zeke told me what happened out there. How on earth did you manage to--?"
"Mom, can we discuss this later? All I want to do right now is go home, shower and get to bed."
"All right, honey. Your father's outside signing the release forms. I brought you a change of clothes."
"I only need a tee shirt," Chad said, slowly sitting up. "They cut off the other one."
"In that case, you'd best not put another one on," Ms. Danforth replied. "Here; I brought a sweatshirt. Want help getting into it?"
"I've been dressing myself since I was three," Chad said defensively.
"You've never had a broken rib before," she warned, but she backed off as she spoke. "I'll be out front."
Chad slipped off the bed and carefully pulled off the sling he'd been given. He picked up the sweatshirt, unzipped it and gingerly slipped it on. He could barely raise his arm without pain and he idly wondered how he'd managed back at the park in his condition. He carefully put the sling back on and stepped out of the cubicle, pausing a moment to get his bearings. He caught a glimpse of a hot pink boot and headed in that direction.
"You look like a drowned rat, Danforth," Sharpay said disdainfully when she looked up and saw him. Ryan turned back over and gaped at him.
"I'd like to speak to your brother for a moment," Chad said evenly.
"And I'd like to win an Oscar," she spat back. Chad took two steps toward her and she bolted. He smiled smugly and turned to Ryan, who was still gaping.
"What happened to you?" he said. Chad glanced down and quickly zippered his sweatshirt.
"I'm okay," Chad said hastily.
"You broke your arm?"
"It's only hairline fractures on a couple of ribs," Chad replied reluctantly. "I apparently hit them pretty hard when I fell into the ravine."
"And you supported my weight, dragged me over the edge of that wall and--."
"Hey, it's no big," Chad said uncomfortably, anxious to change the subject. "How are you feeling?"
"Very fortunate," Ryan said sincerely. "You probably saved my life out there."
"You would have done it for anyone," he said hastily, averting his eyes. "Look, I know you probably heard what Sharpay said--."
"You think I listen to anything your sister says?" Chad replied.
"She's pretty difficult to ignore."
"I've been practicing since middle school."
"Be that as it may," Ryan continued, but he faltered and sought the proper words. "Look, I know I was a pain in the ass out there, but what you did--." Chad moved a bit closer to the bed, shoving his free hand into his pocket.
"All right, I'll come clean. I did hear what Sharpay said. Listen, I meant what I said back there. You are made of awesome, Ryan Evans. And what I did today? I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think I was going to lose you." Chad averted his eyes and backed away a couple of steps. "I've got to go. My folks are waiting."
"We should probably talk--when you're up to it," Ryan said hopefully.
"Well, you're going to be laid up for a few days," Chad said, slowly raking his eyes over Ryan. "I could come by and keep you company."
"I'd like that."
Chad gestured with his hand, indicating that he'd call and, with a little wave, turned to leave. Ryan sank bank on the bed and watched him go.
Chad didn't get far; he encountered Ms. Evans, who asked after his health and thanked him for saving her son. Ryan ignored the conversation going on in front of him in favor of admiring the view of Chad's backside. Within a few seconds he'd begun to daydream about Chad, and this time--with the memory of Chad holding him in his arms--it was a lot more interesting than the one that led Ryan to walk off the edge of the trail in the first place.
On to The Talk