At Alex’s stubborn insistence, Bobby let her take the first watch while he slept fitfully on the bed. She watched him from where she sat by the window, her arms wrapped tightly around her body in a vain effort to keep warm. It wasn’t yet dark, but it would be soon enough, and she dreaded the onset of darkness for two reasons.
Firstly, the cold was going to prove a harsh test for the both of them. The bed offered no help there. It was a mattress on a spring base and a thin pillow, and nothing more. There was not even so much as a flat sheet to cover it. The only thing in the entire cabin that might have simulated for a blanket was the rug on the floor, and it was likely to provide as much warmth as their shredded clothes in the suitcase.
Secondly, they had no way of knowing whether Mathers would quit for the night, or whether he would continue hunting for them. If he did, and if he succeeded in tracking them back this cabin…
Simply put, she doubted that either she or Bobby would see him coming in the black of the oncoming night.
At the moment, Bobby lay on his left side, facing away from her. Blood from his wound had soaked through the makeshift bandage and covered most of the back of what remained of his shirt. She wished she had some water, not to drink but rather to try and clean the wound. The way things stood at the moment, he was at huge risk of infection. She sighed softly. And pneumonia. And dehydration. And hypothermia. Just as the same as herself.
She chided herself for including herself in that thought. The night promised to be a hard one, but she thought she would probably get through okay. She had serious doubts about her partner.
As though he’d heard her thoughts, Bobby stirred and woke up. He started to sit up, only to go rigid from a flare of pain through his back and shoulder, as he inadvertently aggravated his wound.
Abandoning her position by the window, Alex went to his side.
“Easy,” she murmured, taking his arm and gently helping him to turn around and sit beside her on the narrow bed. He looked at her tiredly, with gratitude in his eyes.
She didn’t answer, concerned instead with the realisation that his skin was almost like ice to touch.
“Bobby, you’re freezing!”
His hand closed gently over her.
“So are you. It’s not even dark yet, and it’s only going to get worse.”
She was too distressed to be angry at his apparent negativity.
“We have to find some way to get warm, or we aren’t going to survive the night. If only this cabin had a fireplace…”
“Even if it did, we couldn’t risk it,” he said quietly. “That really would bring Mathers back here.”
Tears filled her eyes as she looked up at him.
“So what do we do?”
“The rug,” Bobby murmured. Wincing in pain from the movement, he dragged the rug off the floor. Alex looked at it sceptically.
“That thing wouldn’t keep a polar bear in summer warm.”
“Not on its own,” he agreed. “But if we…”
He trailed off, looking at her uncertainly. She suspected she knew what had been about to come out of his mouth, but she felt a sudden, irrational desire to make him say it out loud.
“If we what?” she pressed, trying to hide the smirk that was fighting to show itself. Bless him, he was actually embarrassed.
“If we… you know… close together… um…”
“Bobby,” she interrupted gently, her voice tinged with amusement, “stop. You’re going to give yourself a stroke.”
He fell silent, the red flush of his cheeks a stark contrast against the white of his face. She wondered fleetingly just how much blood he had lost before squeezing his hand reassuringly.
“We might be able to stay warm if we cuddle together under the rug. Is that what you’re trying to say?”
“Yeah,” he confessed. She did smile, then.
“It’s a good idea. No reason to be embarrassed about it. We’d better just make sure at least one of us stays awake, in case Mathers does actually come back.”
“Um… How do you want to do this?” Bobby asked. She smiled again. Ever the gentleman. He knew as well as she did that there was only one way to go about it, and that was to lie down together on the narrow bed.
It was going to be a tight fit. After all, he barely fit on it himself, let alone both of them together, but spending the night sitting up was not an option for either of them. Nor was lying on the hard, cold floor.
“Let me lie against the wall,” she murmured. “You don’t need your back to be rubbing against it.”
He conceded silently, allowing her to slip around him and lie down, laying her head carefully on the edge of the pillow. He followed suit, settling down beside her and pulling the rug up to cover them both.
She felt his arms slip tentatively around her and she did the same, marvelling silently at how neatly they seemed to fit together. His hold tightened on her just a little, pulling her in close to him, and she gladly cuddled in against his broad chest.
A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. It wasn’t unlike cuddling a giant teddy bear. Almost before she realised she was doing it, she giggled.
“What’s so funny?” Bobby asked, confused.
“Sorry,” she murmured, hiding her grin by burying her face in his chest. “Just… memories.”
“I hate to think what memories this might have resurrected.”
She knew he meant their situation in general, and not having to cuddle up together to survive frigid temperatures, but that didn’t stop a fresh burst of giggles.
Bobby couldn’t resist the smile that fought its way to the surface. He had often marvelled at the way his feisty partner always managed to put a smile on his face when things seemed at their worst, and it seemed now was no exception. On impulse, and before he could think twice about it, he kissed her gently on the top of her head.
“What was that for?” Alex asked, startled out of her giggling fit by the unexpected gesture. Bobby rested his cheek gently against her head.
“Just a thankyou… for everything.”
She shut her eyes. She liked the feel of his cheek against the top of her head. It was comforting. It was nice.
“For everything? That’s pretty broad.”
He smiled faintly.
“Go to sleep, Alex. I’ll listen for any sign of Mathers.”
She decided not to argue. All of a sudden, she felt an exhaustion weighing down on her that she no longer had the strength to fight. Shutting her eyes, secure in her partner’s embrace, Alex Eames fell asleep.
A faint sigh escaped him as, for the first time since this whole damned business had started, he felt the ever-turning wheels of his tired mind finally start to slow. This was the first chance he’d had to stop and recuperate, both physically and mentally. He didn’t just mean from the moment of their abduction, either. They had been hunting down this killer for over a month, on top of dealing with other minor cases.
For over a month, it seemed his brain had been locked into overdrive while they strove to solve this one nightmare case.
He almost laughed. Nightmare didn’t even begin to describe this. A nightmare was something that, while potentially terrifying, you eventually awoke from. There was no waking from this terror.
He glanced down at the slim figure of his partner, sleeping relatively peacefully in his arms. Here was the one saving grace in this whole lousy situation. He had no idea how he would have coped had he been alone. One thing he was sure of was that Mathers probably would have caught him in very quick time.
Having Alex with him gave him strength and courage, and that wasn’t true exclusively for this situation. For as long as he could remember, throughout the course of their partnership, Alex had been the major stabilising force in his existence. Whenever he had run the very real risk of going off the rails, she had been there to put him gently back on track.
Like with the Nicole Wallace case. His mind went back nearly two years, recalling her vicious manipulation that had resulted in the death of an innocent man. He had been left shattered both mentally and emotionally by that, and it seemed to him that there had been no way back. But Alex had been right there, supportive as always. She’d steered him away from the edge of the black hole that Nicole had left him teetering on the brink of, and shown him that it was okay to trust himself again.
He wondered if she knew just how completely he trusted her. He wondered if she knew she could only have done that for him because he did trust her implicitly.
He was very much aware of the broad nature of the effect that Alex had on him, and he seriously doubted that she knew just how much he really appreciated it.
Bobby shuddered as pain flared anew through his skull. It was just one more constant of this nightmare experience. Between the pain in his skull and the pain in his back, he honestly couldn’t see how he was possibly going to survive three days of this. Even now, the only thing that made him want to keep fighting was his partner.
It surprised him a little to realise just how desperate he was not to disappoint her, and giving up would definitely do that.
Then, inevitably, his wayward and disjointed thoughts turned towards his mother. He couldn’t help but wonder whether she would even notice his absence. It seemed that more often than not when he visited her lately, she would be lost in yet another delusion, and not even recognise him. He didn’t know what was worse, not being recognised by his own mother, or being recognised and suffering a volley of abuse all the same.
His last three visits to her had been like that, and it hurt far worse than he was willing to admit to anyone when she turned on him in one of her hysterical rages. He never spoke to anyone of that hurt, though, not even the staff at Carmel Ridge who witnessed it with their own eyes. One of the psychiatrists there had tried to encourage him to talk about it, and he had politely but firmly refused. It wasn’t that he didn’t need to talk about it. He just wasn’t ready to spill his guts to a professional head shrink.
Alex seemed to know, though. He saw it in her eyes whenever he saw her the day after one of his visits. It was in her manner towards him, in her voice… even in her smile. She radiated sympathy, understanding and support without being condescending in any way, and without expecting him to say a word about any of it to her.
He appreciated that far more than he would ever be able capable of expressing.
Unconsciously, his hold on Alex tightened just a little more. Above all else, right now he wanted to keep her from being hurt as he had been. He had no interest in playing hero. It was simply that the idea of her being in as much pain as he was right then was abominable to him.
He wanted to protect her, and he was not trying to be macho, or do the ‘alpha male’ thing. He just wanted to keep her safe.
And yet, so far Alex had been the one to take charge. Even when it seemed he was making the decisions, he still deferred to her.
When he’d been wounded earlier, Alex had found the shelter to keep them both hidden and safe from their psychotic pursuer. Alex had pulled that… thing out of his shoulder, when all he had been able to do was lie trembling and sobbing in the dark, a helpless wreck.
Not that she blamed him for that, of course. Despite everything, he couldn’t even find it in him to blame himself. The pain had been unlike anything he’d ever experienced before in his life. The truth was, it had been all he could do not to simply give in to the pain and lose consciousness. He’d wanted to desperately. That moment when Alex had made her first attempt to pull the metal ball out of his shoulder, he didn’t have words in his substantial vocabulary to describe the sheer agony he’d suffered. Even now, he didn’t understand how he’d managed to keep from screaming.
One thing he hadn’t dared to tell her about, though, was his suspicion that the damned ball was doing damage even now, well after it had been removed and discarded.
For starters, there was a distinct tingling sensation up and down his right arm, suggesting possible nerve damage. He’d had the pins and needles since not long after they’d left the sanctuary of the little cave, and it showed no sign of abating.
Also, the pain from the wound itself was steadily getting worse. As much as he hated to think it, and he had no intention of worrying Alex with his fears, he was beginning to believe that he had been poisoned.
He recalled the tox screens done on each of the previous five victims. There had been undetermined poisons present in their bodies, courtesy of puncture wounds that, at the time, had been caused by an unknown weapon. Though not enough to cause death, CSU had determined the poison had been enough to slow the victims down, and reduce their awareness significantly.
Bobby wondered dimly how long it would be before the poison leaking from the spikes still in his shoulder began to noticeably affect him. He suspected it would only be a matter of time.
He shut his eyes tightly, trying to focus on his partner’s sleeping form rather than the morbid thoughts that assailed him. He drew in a steadying breath, willing himself to immerse his heart, mind and soul in her presence and forget all other traumas that threatened to drag them both down.
He began to relax, finally, taking relief in the warmth that was finally being generated by the closeness of their bodies. Gradually, his breathing slowed and deepened and, comforted by the warm body in his arms, he slipped into a light sleep.
Feeling bothered and not knowing why, he gently disengaged himself from Alex, and got up.
Though there was still a steady aching, he was relieved beyond measure to discover the pain in his skull had subsided considerably. It seemed he had only been concussed after all, and did not have a fractured skull like they had both feared.
He grimaced and winced as the pain in his shoulder flared up anew. Too bad he wasn’t as fortunate where that was concerned.
He ventured slowly over to the window and peered out, though he still took care to stay hidden in the shadows. It was almost pitch black outside, with no moonlight at all to illuminate anything. He could barely see twenty metres ahead, let alone to the bordering rim of trees. Had Mathers chosen that moment to return, he could easily have taken them both completely by surprise.
Bobby looked up to the sky, and again found he could see very little. Clouds blanketed the sky, creating a shield that it seemed the moon had no hope of breaking through.
He looked away from the window, back to Alex. Without him next to her, she was starting to shiver again. It was a reminder to Bobby just how bitterly cold it was.
He was about to return to the bed when a flicker of light from outside drew his attention. Looking back out the window, his heart rate almost doubled and he desperately prayed that the growing light did not mean what he suspected it did. His fears were confirmed a moment later as a dark figure emerged through the trees, a heavy duty torch lighting the way. Though Bobby could not see the face of the person approaching the cabin, he knew beyond any doubt that it was Erik Mathers.
Heart in his throat, Bobby slipped away from the window and over to the bed. He stared at Alex for a long moment, contemplating how to wake her up, firstly without making a sound and secondly without scaring the hell out of her. It turned out to be unnecessary. In the seconds that he was thinking it over, Alex’s eyes flickered open and her gaze quickly focused on him.
He gently pressed one fingertip to her lips, warning her to stay silent. Her eyes widened slightly with realisation, and he nodded in grim confirmation. Then, he pointed silently to the door of the room that had been their prison for two days.
Alex was incredulous at first, though she dared not voice any argument. Then, she remembered the window. She didn’t think it was big enough for Bobby to squeeze through, but it was big enough for her. She could get outside, create some sort of distraction and draw Mathers away from the cabin, hopefully long enough for Bobby to escape as well.
She slid out of the bed, and opened the door to the other room. Bobby paused just long enough to lay the rug back on the floor, as near to where it had originally been as he could get it. Then, he followed her into the room and pulled the door shut behind them.
Wasting no time, Alex strode over to the window. She was gratified to discover that it did, indeed, open up – a minor detail she’d failed to notice earlier. Grateful because, after all, even if Mathers was not yet aware of their presence in the cabin, the sound of breaking glass would be a dead giveaway.
She grimaced as she pushed the window up as far as it would go. Pun definitely not intended.
She was about to boost herself through the window when a hand alighted on her arm, stopping her. She looked back to find Bobby staring at her with a look of shock and dismay on his pale face. It seemed he had just realised her intentions, and was not the slightest bit happy about it.
Patting his arm reassuringly and then firmly disengaging herself from his grip, Alex climbed through the window and quickly vanished into the darkness beyond. Feeling sick to his stomach, Bobby pulled the window nearly all the way shut and sank down into a low crouch on the floor to wait. A moment later, he heard the distinct creak of floorboards, warning him that Mathers was inside the cabin.
He wondered what Alex could possibly do to draw Mathers’ attention, without putting herself in anymore danger than necessary. Minutes dragged by, and he waited with a sick feeling for the door to open, and Mathers to stumble across him…
Bobby’s heart skipped a beat as an idea occurred to him. Sure, it would alert Mathers to their presence, but it might at least give them a chance, and right now Bobby could not see any other way out. That, and he was loathed for Alex to put herself in harm’s way just because he was too damned big to fit through a window.
Staying low, Bobby scuttled across the floor, and positioned himself by the door. He was about to give a loud cough when the sound of breaking glass shattered the silence. Bobby listened, hardly daring to breathe, as Mathers ran outside.
Suddenly realising the danger of becoming separated from Alex if she ran into the woods to escape Mathers, Bobby stood up and pulled the door open, peering out anxiously. He could see Mathers standing just outside the door, on the porch, crossbow at the ready. All thoughts of his own safety forgotten, Bobby charged Mathers, colliding the full force of his body with their pursuer and sending them both crashing to the ground.
The crossbow fired its deadly cargo and, even as Bobby was grappling desperately with Mathers, the cry of pain that reached them from just beyond the trees was unmistakable.
Driven by panic and anger, Bobby slammed the heel of his palm into the side of Mathers’ head, momentarily stunning him. Pulling himself to his feet, Bobby ran in the direction the cry of pain had come from, frantic to reach Alex before Mathers regained his senses and came after them.
He almost tripped over her, nearly missing her entirely in the darkness.
“Alex…” he whispered, dropping into a crouch beside her. She looked up at him, her brown eyes filled with pain and fear. He saw then with a sinking heart what had brought her down. Mathers’ arrow had gone through her right leg, and was firmly impaled there.
There was no way in hell she could walk with that thing in her leg, he realised dimly, let alone run. So they either waited for Mathers to find them, which was likely to be any second, or…
“Just go,” Alex whispered. Bobby stared down at her, horrified by the suggestion.
“No. I’m not leaving you to him.”
“And if you don’t go, we’re both dead.”
Bobby looked up. He could just see through the trees that Mathers was recovering from the blow to the head, and was slowly pushing himself up. It would not be long before he came after them, and Bobby had no doubts that he was no physically able to fight the younger man off. Which left him with just one last alternative…
Alex gasped as Bobby slid his arms beneath her and, with as much care as he could afford, picked her up.
“What are you doing…?” she asked breathlessly. He didn’t answer, feeding every ounce of strength and concentration that he had into supporting her weight. Then, he took off at a run through the trees.
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