Locke examined the ground. "They definitely passed this way," he said, reading the confused prints in the moist earth. Jack breathed a sigh of relief at Locke's news. The two of them -- along with Kate and Boone -- had been following Charlie and Claire's trail for more than two hours and were beginning to despair of finding fresh signs.
Locke motioned wordlessly to the others, who followed quietly behind him, careful not to tread on any telltale footprints. Boone continued to mark the way they had come with red cloth. He was glad to be doing something useful for once. So often, his attempts to help had been rebuffed or misinterpreted, like when he'd tried to give CPR to that woman on the beach or when he'd tried to ration the water. No one seemed to ever take him seriously since landing on this godforsaken island. Certainly not Shannon, who never took him seriously back home either.
But Locke had merely nodded and said "OK," when Boone volunteered to help track Charlie and Claire. And then Locke had turned down Michael. Seeing the look on Michael's face, Boone knew exactly how he felt. But for once, it wasn't him, so he hadn't said anything. He felt a rush of importance, of belonging. When Locke had handed him the knife, he felt like he'd been knighted. His feeling of satisfaction was tempered, but not diminished, by the fear he and everyone felt over Claire and Charlie's disapperance.
As they hiked farther into the jungle, Boone couldn't help notice the tension between the others. Jack and Locke clashed over how to lead the search, with Locke calmly stating his opinion while Jack was running on nerves and emotion. He was clearly upset, perhaps too upset to be thinking clearly. Kate kept giving sidelong glances at Jack, as if she wanted to say something but kept thinking better of it.
Jack had lost his temper earlier when Locke wanted to rest, and Kate had taken Jack aside for a small talk. Boone had heard their raised voices, but hadn't wanted to pry. He and Locke exchanged a glance but didn't comment. It wouldn't be like Locke to gossip.
Boone still couldn't figure those two out -- were they a couple or not? Sometimes they'd be all flirtatious smiles and other times they were downright hostile to each other. Boone had given up hope of catching Jack's eye himself. Jack clearly liked women. It was cool. Typical, maddening, and frustrating, but Boone was cool with it. He had to be.
It didn't stop him from daydreaming about some expedition that would leave him alone with Jack. Today's hike was the closest he would get to that. But Jack was so pre-occupied with guilt over Claire that Boone might as well not have existed. He kept telling himself why they were there, but he couldn't help looking at the back of Jack's neck, or hoping for the occasional glimpse of the tattoo on Jack's forearm.
Kate was busy looking at the trail, or at Jack. Only Locke, who was focused harder than any of them on the trail, would occasionally catch Boone's eye. When he did, Boone had the feeling Locke could see right through him, that he could even read his mind. Sometimes Locke scared him. He could be, well, eerie.
Boone had stepped off to the side to mark another tree, still thinking about whether Locke was reading his thoughts or not, when the ground gave way beneath him. He fell so suddenly, he didn't even have time to cry out. He hit the ground with a thud. Something sharp pierced his thigh and he heard a sickening crunch. The pain was strong and immediate. The fall had knocked the breath out of him, so his lungs fought desperately to let loose the bloodcurdling scream of pain that was coursing through him.
The others turned around at the noise of Boone's fall, shocked to see him seemingly swallowed up by the ground. Kate gasped and Jack ran over to where Boone had stood, but Locke held him back. "Careful," he said firmly. "This looks like a manmade trap. Someone dug this pit. This is no accident." He began cautiously inspecting the edge of the hole, seeing if it was safe to get closer.
"Boone!" Jack yelled. There was no answer. Jack sank to his knees. First Charlie and Claire, now this. Kate sat beside him and took his hand.
At last, Locke waved them over to his side. They looked down into the pit and saw Boone, a spike protuding from his right thigh. His eyes were open, but he looked dazed. He was groaning, a tortured, guttural sound that might have come from a dog or a wild animal.
"Boone!" Jack called again. "We're going to get you out of there!" He turned to Locke. "OK, how are we going to do this?" They deliberated briefly, and then Jack climbed down to check on Boone.
There was just room for Jack to stand next to Boone in the pit. "Boone, talk to me," he said, putting his hand on the injured boy's shoulder.
"It hurts," Boone said between gritted teeth. Hie eyes were frantic, but he was conscious and aware of his surroundings, Jack noted.
"I know it's bad, Boone," Jack said as calmly as he could. He crouched down to check out the leg. The thighbone was definitely broken. As Jack gingerly touched it, Boone screamed in agony. Jack knelt down and touched Boone's face. What could he say to him? Jack desperately thought of his medical bag, back in the caves. What could he do for him here without it?
Boone was deathly pale. His usually flushed cheeks were drained of color, his breathing was fast and shallow, and his eyes starting to go glassy. At least if he was in shock, he wouldn't feel the leg as much, Jack thought, but he knew Boone was going to deteriorate rapidly unless they got him out of there and ... even then Jack despaired. Treating a severe break like this, out here in the wild. Even if he got his medical bag, what was in it? Some painkillers. Some antibiotics. No miracle cure. He felt the familiar panic in his stomach, but he ignored it.
"You're going to be OK, Boone," he lied, squeezing the boy's hand. Boone held on fiercely, his eyes desperately searching Jack's face. Jack squeezed back and then delicately took his hand away. He climbed back up.
"We have to try to move him," he told Locke. "But it's going to be brutal. I wish I had my bag with me. At least I could give him something for the pain. Like this ... it's not going to be pretty."
Locke nodded. The two men carefully climbed down and tried lifting Boone. His agonized screams every time they touched his leg were gut-wrenching. Kate stood above, pale and tearful, biting her hand as they tried time after time to get him out.
Finally, they had to stop. They climbed back out and exchanged grim glances. "I've got to sedate him before we move him," Jack said wearily. "We need a stretcher of some kind to carry him back," he continued. "It's a long way to carry someone over rough ground and I need that leg to be stabilized first or I'll never be able to set it."
The other two nodded soberly. "You two run back to camp, and get my medicine, and some more people to help carry him," Jack said. "I can wait here with him. Maybe Sayid or Michael could rig some kind of stretcher," he said, thinking out loud.
Kate turned and was ready to dash off, but Locke just stood there. "What about Charlie and Claire?" he asked, his face unreadable as always. "This may be our last chance to find them."
Jack looked conscience-stricken. He'd almost forgotten why they were there in the first place. "It's OK," Kate said. "I can get someone from camp to help out. Locke, you should keep going."
Jack nodded and Locke patted him on the shoulder. "Take good care of him," he said. Kate impulsively hugged Locke farewell.
She then turned to Jack. "I'll be back as soon as I can," she said, trying to read his face. She gave him a quick hug. "It'll be OK," she whispered in his ear. She kissed him on the cheek, then was gone.
(To be continued...)