Sweeter By Far
Title: Sweeter by Far
Fandom: Jurassic Park III
Pairings: Alan Grant/Billy Brennan
Summary: Alan reflects on the taste of ice cream and things that never were and now can never be.
Disclaimer: The characters of Dr. Alan Grant, Billy Brennan, et al. are the property of Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment and (in Alan's case) Michael Crichton. No copyright infringement is intended.
Notes: Response to the contrelamontre taste challenge (45 mins, taste, no PWPs) on Livejournal (http://www.livejournal.com/community/contrelamontre). I owe Munchie for the ice cream reference, since she was insistent that Billy, after his little demonstration with the resonating chamber, should tease Alan by eating some. Thanks must also go to Circe for the beta.
Sweeter By Far
When Alan thought about it - and he thought about it far too frequently for his peace of mind - he imagined that Billy would taste like ice cream. He knows why he believed this. It's not a mystery to him, not a wild reaching on his part, some flight of fancy or whimsy. Or so he tells himself. It's grounded in fact, in observation, in empirical evidence, like the good scientist he knows himself to be, stored up and filed somewhere in the recesses of his mind in picture form.
It's a picture that's been pulled out and examined too often for him to delude himself, especially when each time the memory holds the same power as it had the first.
It was hot, summer, the air close around them, shimmering in the midday heat. The area around the truck was crowded with students who seemed to shimmer too, so vibrant and full of life that they couldn't keep still. There were bright smiles and laughter and most of all there was ice cream, fetched back from town by students sent on other errands and already melting. He remembers looking on with an indulgent smile as it was sloppily dished out into cones, especially bought for the purpose, and distributed throughout the throng, the eddies and swirls of chattering youths for once a welcome distraction rather than an irritation. They'd been working hard and even he had had to admit they'd deserved this break, this brief moment in time away from the demanding earth although they couldn't escape its sway entirely, laughter and excitement from the previous day's find of an infant raptor's skeleton spilling over into their interactions.
Almost inevitably, as he'd thought of their find, he'd found his mind turning to Billy, into whose hands and shining eyes he'd delivered it, saying in actions what he couldn't in words. That he trusted Billy, trusted Billy's competence and expertise as well as he trusted his own, and that had been as far as he could go, even unsaid.
He'd automatically searched for Billy in the crowd, his eyes darting to and fro, drawn to Billy the way they so often were, whatever his will. He'd found him too, found him standing too close to Cynthia for Alan's comfort, and told himself that the sick feeling he experienced was just concern about the effect Billy had on the students, the whisper sounding desperate in the hollows of his mind. Caught Billy too in the act of laughing and licking melted ice cream from his wrist as it ran down his fingers.
Billy had looked up then, caught his eyes and smiled, full blooded and happy and full of life, hope, energy, all the things that Alan had lost and all the things that Alan longed for, before turning that attention back to Cynthia and to licking ice cream away from his fingers and where it ran down his chin.
And Alan had walked away, refusing with a smile the offer of his own cone from a bright-eyed student whose name he couldn't now recall, leaving them to laugh and tease and connect with his other in his wake. He'd been out of place there, a living dinosaur amongst the remnants of ones long dead. His footsteps had lead him around the site, reviewing the dig with only part of his attention while the rest of him thought of Billy and ice cream and agile fingers, darkened by the sun, and his mouth watered with the need for a taste of that ice cream, captured second hand.
It was madness, though. He'd known it and had persevered in ignoring the tempting murmurs in his mind, stubborn to the last. By the time that Billy had joined him again Alan was immersed in the rock, and the only taste lingering in his mouth by then was dust.
And yet still, when Alan thought of kissing Billy he thought of ice cream.
The taste in his mouth now is as far from ice cream as it can get; the mingled taste of mud and regret, of bitter river water burdened with silt that has left his lips chilled but not as chilled as his heart. He's always thought that 'a heart encased in ice' was a fanciful conceit, and he has no time for those, but he knows now it's true for all he wishes he didn't. He can feel it, a weight in his chest. Ice rather than ice cream.
No more ice cream. No more Billy laughing in the sun. No more heated looks under lowered brows when he thinks Alan isn't looking, looks that Alan cowardly ignores.
No more chances.
The taste in his mouth may be bitter but it's not as bitter as the taste of missed chances, the ashes of lost hope.
But there's no time to dwell in his grief, no time to give it the attention it deserves. No time to do anything but run, hide, fight to stay alive, literally wade his way through the shit and the mud and throughout it all the taste in his mouth is terror, acid and harsh, forced past his tongue by panting breaths that whisper out of him as he crouches beneath teeth that are sharp and unforgiving.
The hot, stinking breath of a predator huffs over his hair and for a single moment of perfect clarity he tastes something akin to relief. No more running. No more hiding. No more aching for the taste of ice cream, for the feel of Billy's smile curving under his lips and knowing that it will never, ever happen.
But even that comfort is torn away from him, and he's back to dragging hot and humid jungle air, redolent with ancient scents, into lungs that ache with the effort of it. Back to running for his life.
It's almost a surprise when the taste of petrol in the air brings relief, proof that he's still capable of caring whether he lives or dies. But it's nothing, can be nothing, to the relief that surges through him, giddy and heady and leaving him breathless, when he sees Billy, alive and breathing and looking at him with eyes that are warm if full of pain.
The air in the hospital is too dry, too clinical and with that antiseptic smell that all hospitals have. It leaves his mouth parched and arid. His heart is pounding as he waits impatiently for Billy to wake up, to throw off the shackles of the sedatives they've administered to him. He doesn't want to wait. He's wasted too much time, let fear rule him and imprison him in inaction when he was frightened of the wrong thing - having Billy rather than losing him.
And when Billy finally stirs he finds out that all of this time he's been wrong. Billy doesn't taste of ice cream. Billy tastes of the drugs that they've pumped into his system; the painkillers and the sedatives and the antibiotics to fight off the infections that are even now trying to take hold. Billy tastes faintly of metal, the iron in his blood tainting his tongue, his split lip only one of many places where he's injured, and by far the smallest hurt. His skin is rough and too warm under Alan's fingertips and his breath is slightly sour but his mouth curves in a smile under Alan's lips just as Alan knew it would.
Above all Billy tastes of life and hope and survival against all the odds. That's better than any flavour of ice cream.
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