Somewhere in the Adirondack Mountains
Eames awoke slowly, her head spinning. For a long while, that was all she was aware of, and she dared not open her eyes for fear that she would find she really was spinning, that it wasn’t just inside her head.
Slowly, very slowly, she became aware that she was no longer tied up, nor lying on a cold, cement surface. She was surrounded by fresh (if bitingly cold) air, and when she moved her hands, her fingers scraped over soft dirt.
Curiosity finally won over, and Eames opened her eyes.
The first thing she became aware of was sunlight, filtering through treetops that were high above her head. She blinked hard, her eyes slowly adjusting to the daylight after nearly two days in complete darkness. Taking a chance, she moved her head slowly to the side, trying to get a look at her surroundings. She could see little more than bushes, shrubs and trees.
Groaning softly, she pushed herself up into a sitting position, wincing at the pain in her wrists. They were red raw, and still bleeding from the ropes that bound her so tightly from the last two days. She found on closer examination that her ankles were no better.
Grimacing, she looked around slowly, and that was when she saw him. Lying on the ground nearby, unmoving and apparently still unconscious, was Goren. Moving slowly out of consideration for her still spinning head, Eames made her way over to her partner.
Her throat was dry, and hoarse. A side effect, she supposed, of whatever their last lot of water had been doped with. Sitting beside him, she grasped his shoulder, and shook him gently.
“Bobby, wake up.”
He stirred at her touch, a small miracle considering the head wound he had. His face was half covered in dried blood from where his head had been slammed into the wall by Mathers at the warehouse. How long ago was that…? Nearly two days, Eames figured.
“C’mon, you’ve gotta wake up,” she mumbled, realising at the same time that she would have liked nothing better than to lie down next to him and just go back to sleep. His eyes opened slowly, then he groaned and shut them again.
“My head hurts…” he moaned.
“I know,” she said, starting to feel fresh anxiety clutching at her gut. “But you’ve gotta wake up. Bobby, I don’t know where we are.”
His eyes opened again. He stared up at her for a long moment, then finally pushed himself up into a sitting position, cringing at the searing pain through his skull at the movement. When the pain subsided, he looked around slowly, taking in their surroundings in growing confusion.
“Where are we?” he muttered. Eames shook her head, and then regretted the movement, wincing at the fresh onset of vertigo.
“I don’t know. But more to the point, where is Mathers?”
Grimacing, Goren got unsteadily to his feet. Eames noted wordlessly that his wrists, too, bore the bruised and bloodied marks of their two days bound in Mathers’ house.
He held a hand out to her, and she accepted it, getting up and looking around.
“Some sort of forest,” Goren muttered, more to himself than to Eames. “Feels like a fairly high altitude, so it could be a mountain range…”
He trailed off as his gaze came to rest on something. She followed his gaze, and felt a chill race through her body. Nearby, an arrow was embedded in a tree, holding a single sheet of paper in place. Goren exchanged glances with Eames, then walked over and tore the paper away.
“Please tell me there’s a map on that,” she pleaded. Goren looked grim.
“No such luck. It says, ‘Detectives, I promised you wouldn’t have long to wait. Now you get to learn firsthand how I dispatched my other prey. You are both going to join me in the ultimate hunt. I, of course, am the hunter, and you two are the prey. You have three hours to run, and then I’ll be coming after you. If you survive until midday of the third day of the hunt, you will be released. Good luck. PS, I suggest you head west.’ Hell… I think we’re in trouble.”
“If he wants us to go west,” Eames muttered, “then I say we go east.”
Goren stared at the note for a long moment, then shook his head.
“No… If we go east, we’ll run straight into him.”
“How can you know that, Bobby?”
“This guy… He’s a hunter. He’s giving three full days to this. It would be too easy, even for him, to give us false clues. He wants a challenge. He wants us to get as far away from him as possible before he comes after us.”
Eames shut her eyes for a moment, pressing her palm to her forehead.
“How did we end up in this mess?”
She felt a large, strong hand gently grasp her own, and looked down to see that he had taken her hand.
“We’ll be okay. As long as we stick together, we’ll be okay.”
She regarded him doubtfully.
“Mathers has set us up to fail, no matter what we do. Even if we can keep him at bay, we’ll be lucky to survive the nights. Don’t you feel how cold it is now? Look at us!”
For the first time, he realised what she meant. He wore only his trousers and shirt. His shoes and socks, his undershirt and his jacket were gone. Eames was in a similar position. No shoes, no jacket, only her slacks and form-fitting tank top. She was right, he realised glumly. Even if they lived through this first day, the freezing cold night would probably kill them both.
His grip on her hand tightened just fractionally.
“I’m not going to quit, Alex. Don’t you, okay?”
Tears filled her eyes.
“I’m scared, Bobby. I don’t think I’ve ever been this scared before in my life.”
He drew her to him, and hugged her fiercely. It was, he thought dimly, the first contact of this sort they’d ever had in their whole history of knowing each other. She hugged him back, her slender arms wrapped tightly around his waist and her head resting against his broad chest.
“I’m frightened, too,” he confessed softly, “but I’m not ready to die just yet, either, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to give in without a fight.”
“Okay,” she whispered finally. “Just promise me that whatever happens, we won’t let ourselves be separated?”
“I promise you that.”
She drew back from him, and looked up at him. Once it would have left her disconcerted, but now it comforted her instead to see her own tears reflected in his eyes. He was just as afraid as she was and somehow, knowing that gave her strength. She took a small step away from him, but didn’t let go of his hand.
“Okay. Let’s go.”
“I have to stop,” Alex said tiredly. “My feet are killing me, Bobby.”
He nodded in understanding. His feet hurt, too, after hours of trekking barefoot over all sorts of rough terrain.
They had just come upon a small stream, and it seemed the perfect opportunity to stop and recuperate. Sitting on the edge of the stream, they drank the icy water, and bathed their tired, aching and bloodied feet.
“We can’t stay here for long,” Bobby murmured. “Our three hours is about up. He’ll be coming after us soon.”
She didn’t answer that, but rather scooped some water up in a large leaf and, using her fingertips, took a moment to gently wash away the blood that was caked on his face.
“How’s your head?”
He answered her honestly. Considering their situation, he saw no point in lying.
“No better. Feels like someone hit me with a sledgehammer.”
“I just hope it doesn’t get any worse. You need medical attention for it.”
She finished washing the blood from his face, and then started cleaning his wrists. When she finished, he took the liberty of doing the same for her, gently washing the blood away from her wrists.
“How’s your shoulder?” he asked as he attempted to clean her up. “You said you thought it might be dislocated.”
She grimaced. Even with a serious head wound, his memory was still sharp as a tack.
“It’s not dislocated… At least, it’s not anymore. But it hurts like hell.”
“Can I look?”
She complied by pulling the shoulder of her tank top back to reveal a bruised and swollen shoulder joint.
“Hang on a second,” he murmured. “I think I can do something for that.”
She watched as he scooped up a palm full of mud from the stream bed, and packed it with moss from the bank. He then pressed it gently to her shoulder. She cringed and had to stifle a cry of pain, but that pain soon faded to a dull ache as the makeshift cold pack soothed the inflamed joint. He directed her to hold the pack in place and then, before she had a chance to protest, he ripped the sleeves from his shirt and fashioned them into a crude bandage which he wound around her shoulder to hold the mudpack in place.
“Bobby…” she growled softly. He gave a lopsided shrug.
“What good will sleeves do me anyway? How’s that?”
“Better,” she conceded. “Thankyou.”
He looked up to the sky. The sun was almost directly overhead, telling him it was around noon. He was about to suggest they get moving again when the unexpected sound of a twig snapping somewhere not too far away broke the silence.
They looked at each other wordlessly, the same fear and confusion registering in both their faces. If they had three hours to run, then surely Mathers could not have caught up with them so soon… Unless…
Cold chills of panics hitting her in waves, Alex held her hand out to Bobby.
“The note,” she whispered, her voice tense with fear. “Let me see it.”
He pulled it from his pocket and handed it to her. She read through it quickly, and a moment later looked up at him, wide-eyed with fear.
“I think we misread this. It says we had three hours to run, but it doesn’t say from when. We just assumed it meant from when we woke up and found the note…”
Bobby knew exactly what she meant.
“It probably meant from when he dumped us. We could have been unconscious most of that time…”
“Which means he’s probably been right on our tail the whole time,” Alex finished off.
A loud whistle shattered the stillness, and they both ducked instinctively. A dull thud could be heard, and when they looked again, there was an arrow embedded in the trunk of a tree where Alex’s head had been only seconds before.
Bobby reacted instantly, grabbing her hand and plunging into the thick foliage.
Alex was breathing raggedly, and Bobby was having to almost drag her along, forcing her to keep up with his long strides. She was almost ready to beg him to leave her and keep going when another whistle, lower pitched than the last, reached their ears. Alex gasped as Bobby literally lifted her off her feet and hauled her around in front of him, effectively shielding her with his body.
An instant later, he screamed in pain and staggered forward, finally crashing to the ground. Alex went down with him, barely avoiding being crushed beneath his bulk.
Dazed and frightened, she scrambled up, and saw what had brought her friend and partner down. Embedded in his back was a metal ball, about half the size of a billiard ball and covered with long spikes.
Alex looked around in panic. She could hear the sound of someone crashing towards them now through the undergrowth, still a ways off but clearly close enough to have heard Bobby’s scream of pain. Unless she did something fast, Mathers would be on them in a matter of minutes.
She looked around wildly, and that was when she saw it. Hidden by thick shrubs and overhanging vines was an opening in the rock wall. Had Bobby not gone down where he did, they would have missed it entirely. As it was, she judged it was just big enough for them to get through. She could only hope and pray that it was not already occupied.
“Bobby,” she whispered urgently, and he looked around at her, his eyes starting to glaze over from the pain he was in. She pointed to the opening, hoping he understood. He did and, with obvious effort, clambered across the uneven ground, just squeezing his bulky frame through the opening. Alex hesitated just a moment to look around, then followed him into the darkness.
She slipped her arms around his waist in silent comfort, as much for her sake as for his. Slowly, her breathing settled and his trembling eased. Minutes passed, and they lay side by side, waiting in complete silence, neither daring to make a sound.
Alex was beginning to wonder whether Mathers had gone in a different direction entirely when she heard the distinct, frightening sound of footsteps mere metres away, almost right outside the entrance to the tiny grotto where they were hiding.
She and Bobby froze, both of them hardly daring to breathe. Minutes dragged by while they listened to the sound of Mathers walking around nearby. At one point, it seemed to Alex that Mathers stopped right by the entrance to the cave, and her heart rate soared as she waited for the seemingly inevitable discovery.
It never came. Finally, after an almost unbearable age, Mathers moved on, his footsteps fading until he could no longer be heard.
Still Alex waited, letting the minutes slip by. She wanted to be certain that Mathers was definitely gone before she made any attempt to move.
Finally, when she could stand the wait no longer, she moved carefully around Bobby’s inert form and made her way back to the entrance to the cave. As she went, she felt a hand catch her own, and looked back to see Bobby watching her with pain-filled eyes.
“I’m just going to make sure he’s gone,” she whispered. “It’s okay, Bobby. I’ll be okay.”
He let go with open reluctance, and the fear in his eyes was all too obvious. Alex drew in a steadying breath, and crawled back out into the sunlight.
There turned out to be no cause to fear. Mathers really had moved on, leaving them with some precious time for recuperation. Grateful for the respite, however brief it might turn out to be, Alex slipped back into the dark cave to rejoin Bobby.
“He’s gone,” she said wearily, but still keeping her voice down regardless. Her gaze went to his new wound, and she felt her stomach roll at the sight. The ball itself was pressing hard into the flesh of his shoulder, and the different angles at which the spikes had driven into the skin was going to make the device a nightmare to remove.
“What is it?” he asked, his voice sounding more strained than she had ever heard. She hesitated, staring at the spiked ball for a long moment before answering him.
“It’s some sort of metal ball… with spikes. It’s buried in pretty good.”
“Can… Can you get it out?”
“I don’t know,” she answered with reluctant honesty. “I guess the question is, do you want me to try?”
He whispered so softly, that she almost missed it entirely. She looked back to the wound grimly. Yes, it had to come out, but it was going to be agony for him.
“Bobby, the spikes have all gone in at different angles. It’s going to hurt… a lot.”
He knew without her saying so that that was likely to be a massive understatement.
“Can you find something for me to bite down on?” he asked, his voice taking on a telltale tremble again. “A piece of wood… maybe a stick?”
“I’ll find something. Hang on, okay?”
Once more, she slipped outside, leaving him alone.
He knew, and he suspected Alex knew it too, that they would not be able to stay within the safety of this cave for long. Sooner or later… hopefully much later… Mathers would realise he’d been duped, and would backtrack to look for them.
The best action for them now, he believed, would be to head in a completely different direction to where they had been going. As near as he’d been able to tell, they’d been heading steadily west. It was time, he decided, to go either north or south.
Movement alerted him to Alex’s return. She sat down beside him, and gently helped him to take a piece of wood in his mouth.
“Bite down,” she murmured. “Okay… Now, Bobby, this is really going to hurt, so brace yourself.”
He already was, she realised a moment later. As she watched, he consciously relaxed his upper body and, in particular, his shoulders. His hands, though, were clenched into tight fists, and his jaw was locked like a vice on that piece of wood.
She returned her attention to the metal ball. Bracing herself mentally and emotionally, she took careful hold of the protruding spikes and pulled.
Two things happened. Bobby went rigid and, though he himself never made a sound beyond a strained grunt, Alex heard the dull crunch as he bit clean through the wood. At the same time, she realised with dismay that the spikes were not merely buried in his skin, but had actually gone deep enough to become stuck in the bone.
“Bobby…” she whispered, frightened and horrified.
“Get it out,” he begged her. “Just get it out…”
Steeling herself, she took hold again and pulled with all her strength. After excruciating seconds, the ball came loose and finally slid out of his shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, no longer able to hold back the tears. “God, I’m sorry…”
“Thankyou,” he whispered, his voice cracking and his body shaking slightly with suppressed sobs.
Alex looked at the wound, which was bleeding freely now, and wondered what to do about it. Finally, wordlessly, she removed the makeshift bandage that Bobby had wrapped around her shoulder earlier, and retied it to cover his wound.
“What are you doing?” he asked hoarsely, trying to pull away from her.
“Don’t fight me,” she scolded him. “You need this more than I do.”
It was testament to how much pain he was really in, she thought sadly, that he gave in without further protest. She finished tying the material off, and then lay down beside him. It was then that she saw his right arm. After biting through the piece of wood, it seemed he had bitten into the next available thing. There was a vicious bite wound in his arm, just above the wrist. She hadn’t seen anything like it since Jorge Galvez had bitten him when Bobby apprehended him at the Veterans’ Day Parade. He’d needed a tetanus shot and stitches then, and that bite wound hadn’t been as deep as this one. He’d damn near taken a chunk of skin out of his own arm.
She closed her hand gently over the wound, gazing at his tear-streaked face in silent sympathy. She had never seen him cry before, and it was strangely comforting to know that he was capable of it.
“We should get going again,” he whispered, though he seemed to have no inclination to actually move. She hugged him gently, careful to avoid touching the wound in his back.
“We can take a few minutes to rest.”
He gave in without argument, and a moment later his eyes closed and he slipped into a light sleep. Alex shut her own eyes, but didn’t allow herself the luxury of sleep. She would give him fifteen minutes or so before waking him up. God knew he needed some time to recover from the shock and, in all truth, so did she.
She wondered as she lay there just what might be happening back home, within the sanctuary of the Major Case squad room. Would Deakins have mobilised everyone in the wake of their disappearance? Or would he have kept it under wraps, and initiated a more subtle investigation? She hoped it was the former. In light of their bleak situation, it gave her some small comfort to think that perhaps the NYPD had gone into high alert.
She knew better, though, than to hope that they would be found. If they were to survive this nightmare, it would be exclusively up to them.
Of course, the note had said they would be released if they survived to midday of the third day, but she put no faith in that promise. Mathers had no intention of letting them live, even if they managed to survive the given time frame. The question was, were they going to be able to survive by running, or would the moment come when they had no choice left but to turn and fight? She hoped and prayed that if and when that moment came, they would both still be capable of resisting. She had no intention of going down without a fight anymore than Bobby did, but if they each sustained anymore injuries like the one Bobby had just suffered, she doubted they would have the strength to fight when the time came.
Sitting up, taking care not to disturb Bobby, she picked up the discarded metal ball and looked at it carefully in the dim light of the cave. It was a vicious instrument of torture, and she finally understood what had caused some of the horrendous wounds that peppered the bodies of the previous five victims.
She turned the ball over carefully in her hands, only to freeze when she realised two of the spikes were gone, broken off at their bases. She looked back to Bobby, her heart in her throat. There was only one explanation, and that was that the two broken spikes were still embedded in his back.
Alex shut her eyes against the fresh threat of tears, and she wondered despairingly whether they were fated to die in the middle of nowhere at the hands of the kind of psychopathic killer that they had spent the last five years of their lives working together to catch.
She came back to reality as Bobby stirred and started to push himself up, only to cringe at the pain that flared through his wounded shoulder.
“Easy, Bobby,” she murmured, struggling to keep her voice from cracking. “Just take it slow.”
He pushed himself up slowly, shuddering at the pain.
“I won’t even ask how you’re feeling,” she said, smiling weakly at him. He looked across at her, and a hint of a smile touched his lips.
“Ready to move on?”
He didn’t answer that, his attention going instead back to his shoulder. She watched as the muscles in his shoulder tensed just fractionally, only to be followed by a choked sob of pain from him.
“There’s something still in there…”
“Two of the spikes,” she confirmed softly. “There’s nothing I can do about them.”
He looked at her, then, and in the darkness she saw something in his eyes beyond the pain his was in. She saw guilt…
“I’m sorry, Alex.”
She stared at him, incredulous.
“For all of this…”
If he hadn’t already been hurt, she might have just hit him.
“Don’t you dare tell me you think this is your fault, because you know damned well that it isn’t.”
He shook his head.
“I know that. I know it isn’t either of our faults… but I still feel responsible for keeping you safe.”
She sighed, feeling too tired and too scared to take offence. Instead, she leaned into him, taking what comfort she could in having his strong arms around her.
“No more than I feel responsible for you,” she said softly. “It’s a mutual thing, Bobby. Don’t you ever forget it.”
“We need to get moving again,” he whispered, this time with more determination in his voice. “The sooner we do, the more of a head start we’ll have on him.”
She bit back the urge to make a crack about the last head start they’d had, and instead led the way back out into the daylight.
“Which way?” she asked as she helped him up.
“South,” he decided. Alex looked doubtful.
“We could go east, Bobby. Head back the way we came… He must have gotten us up here in a car, or some sort of vehicle. We were probably in spitting distance of a road where he dumped us, and we let him sucker us into going in the opposite direction.”
He couldn’t fault her logic, but instinct warned him against backtracking. Though he couldn’t explain why, he knew deep down that going east was the wrong thing to do.
“You don’t agree,” Alex said, easily guessing his train of thought from the look on his face. He looked genuinely upset at that, she thought wryly.
“I don’t want to fight about it,” he ventured. She slipped her hand into his, wanting to reassure him.
“We’re not going to fight about anything. I trust you, Bobby. If you really believe we should go south, then I’ll go along with that.”
He closed his large hand gently around her smaller one. She trusted him… and his judgment… implicitly. It was about time he showed her the same trust.
“We’ll head east,” he decided. “You’re right. He couldn’t have gotten us up here without a vehicle. If we can find a road, we might be able to find help.”
She regarded him seriously.
“Are you sure?”
There was that pained look again, the one that had nothing to do with the wounds he’d suffered.
“Alex… I’m not sure about anything. Whatever we do, our chances aren’t that great.”
She felt her hopes slide, hearing those despairing words from his own mouth.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. She stepped away from him, pulling her hand out of his grasp.
“So what do we do, then? Just sit down here and wait for Mathers to come back for us?”
She was angry at him now, and he couldn’t blame her. He was angry at himself. Perhaps it was the pain he was in… Or perhaps their bleak situation in general, but all of a sudden he could no longer find the strength to be positive.
He looked away from Alex, feeling sick to his stomach with grief, guilt and despair.
Alex watched him in silence, feeling the anger fade as quickly as it had come on. She had spent the last five years of their partnership repeatedly telling herself that he was a fallible human being, just like the rest of them. Now, he was openly displaying that, and she was angry at him for it.
Remorseful, she walked back to him, and slipped her arms around his waistin a warm hug.
“I’m sorry, Bobby. I shouldn’t be getting mad at you. Just tell me one thing, and be honest. Are you ready to give up?”
He stared at her, his brown eyes filled with pain, fear, despair… and something else.
“No,” he said softly, and she was gratified to hear a fresh spark of determination and anger in his voice. “I’m not.”
“So which way do we go?”
He took her hand once more.
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