“Stop,” Alex moaned after what felt like an age, even as Bobby continued to plough through the trees. Either he didn’t hear her, or he was ignoring her. He continued on, not running any longer but almost staggering forward as he fought his own pain and fatigue to put as much space as possible between them and Mathers.
She clung weakly to him, the pain from her wounded leg sending her brain into sensory overload and completely fogging up her thought process.
“Bobby… stop… You’re… gonna collapse…”
All she got in reply was a strained grunt. In shock from her own wound, all she could do was press her face in against his chest, shut her eyes and hope to God that he didn’t collapse.
Hope was fading deep within her, though. There were no sounds to suggest that Mathers coming through the trees after them, but she knew he could not be far behind them. She knew in her gut there was no escaping him this time.
“Stop,” she choked out, trying once more to make him stop. She pounded one fist weakly on his chest, desperate to get his attention before he killed himself from over-exertion. This time he reacted, slowing to a halt. His gaze went to her, his eyes clouded by fear and trauma, but also with deep concern for her.
“Put me down,” she mumbled, wondering how much longer she was going to be able to stay conscious.
He looked around anxiously, then moved around behind a couple of large trees, and lay her down gently on the cold ground.
“We can’t stay here,” he whispered as loudly as he dared. “He’ll catch up to us.”
She reached up, grasped his hand. They were both trembling badly, she from fear and pain and he from fear and exhaustion.
“We can’t outrun him,” she told him softly, struggling to concentrate past the fiery pain that was engulfing her leg. “Not while you have to carry me. Bobby… I think we’re going to have to split up.”
He stared at her in open disbelief.
“But… You can’t…”
She squeezed his hand tighter.
“You have to leave me here. You might have a chance to get away… if you’re on your own.”
Even as she spoke the words, she could see his rejection of them in his face. Hurt, mixed with anger, lit up in his eyes.
“We promised,” he whispered. “Damn it, we promised.”
“I know. It’s time to break that promise.”
The not-too-faint sound of someone coming through the trees reached their ears. She looked up at him, fresh desperation written on her face.
“Bobby, just go! At least save yourself!”
He crouched there beside her for a long moment, his expression inscrutable. Then, he spoke in a voice thick with emotion.
Alex had no chance to respond as he lifted her off the ground once more, and took off through the trees with renewed energy. All she could do was cling to him as he moved at a speed that defied the injuries he had.
He was operating on pure anger and adrenalin, and she could only hope it would be enough to get them away from Mathers.
They came out of the trees into a clearing, and she felt Bobby stagger to a halt, his breath coming in ragged bursts.
She heard him whisper the words, and sensed the despair in his voice. She lifted her head, vision badly blurred.
“What is it…?”
She trailed off, taking in the sight before them with a similar feeling of sudden despair.
They had come out of the trees to find themselves at the edge of a steep drop. Below them was a wall of rock that went straight down at a sheer vertical angle and at the bottom of the precipice, far enough down to give anyone vertigo, was a river that they could not see in the dark, only hear. Bobby’s tired mind estimated from the sound of the water below that it was perhaps fifty feet or more to the bottom, and there was no way of telling how deep that body of water was, or how fast it was running.
Hugging to him as tightly as she was able, Alex could feel the strain slowly beginning to overcome him. She feared he was on the brink of collapse, and it terrified her to think how much damage he might be doing to himself.
“Bobby, you gotta stop,” she mumbled, though she suspected that he had no intention of stopping again.
“Can’t,” he answered hoarsely. “He’s right behind us.”
Bobby turned to his right and began to make his way along the rocky ground, moving as fast as he dared in the darkness. Twice he stumbled, and Alex’s heart rate soared both times. If they slipped and fell into the gully beside them, she doubted either one of them would survive. If the fall itself didn’t kill them, the freezing water far below surely would.
There was a sharp whistling sound in the silence that froze Alex’s blood, and Bobby’s as well, judging from the way his grip on her tightened. A moment later, they heard a dull thud as the unseen arrow struck a tree heart-stoppingly close by.
Bobby picked up the pace, almost running again. His breathing had become even more ragged and erratic as he struggled to make every step count. But he was fading, and Alex could sense it as clearly as she could sense Mathers quickly closing the gap between them.
She shut her eyes, helpless to do anything but wait for what she saw as the inevitable.
Bobby staggered on, barely able to see more than five feet ahead of him through the blackness of night. He was dimly aware of Alex’s pleas for him to stop, but he didn’t dare. He still believed they could escape Mathers, but that wouldn’t happen if he stopped now, like she was begging him to.
Pain was alight through his body, especially his head and his shoulder. Carrying Alex like this was going to cost him dearly, he suspected, but if it meant their survival for a little longer, then so be it.
He held her all the more tightly to him, determined not to let go of her for any reason. Her words to him earlier… asking him to leave her… had cut him to the heart. They had sworn right from the start that they would not abandon each other, and it hurt to think that she believed that he would, even if she was the one insisting on it. He could no more have left her than he could have physically split himself in two. She should have known that well enough not to even make the suggestion.
Now, he was subconsciously aware of her face pressing in against his shoulder, and her arms clinging weakly to him. More acutely, he was aware of the arrow shaft impaling her right thigh. God only knew what damage it had done, what nerves it may have severed or what muscles it may have torn.
When they did eventually stop, he would have to get it out, and then it would be a race against time to seal the wound and keep her from bleeding out. There was one sure fire way to do that, but he was loathed to think about it, let alone carry it out.
He knew he was going to have to do it, though, like it or not. He was going to have to cauterise the entry points, and to do that he would have to be aware and in control. And, he was going to have to find a way to get a fire going.
Finding a piece of metal to do the job would be no problem. He could take the metal arrowhead and use it. It would mean removing it before getting the shaft out of her leg, but it was all he had. As long as he could get a fire going, heating up the arrowhead to cauterise the wound would not be a problem. And, when he was done, he could use what remained of his shirt to turn into makeshift bandages.
He was so buried in his own thoughts about how he was going to help Alex that he nearly didn’t see that they had come as far as they could.
Bobby skidded to a halt, realising almost too late that they had come to a pinnacle of land, a cul-de-sac with nowhere left to go but back. He looked down into the gully before them, hearing the roar of water that he could not see.
There was no other option. He had to turn back. All he could pray was that they still had time before Mathers caught up with them.
A second whistling sound cut through the night, and Bobby went rigid, his grip of Alex tightening involuntarily to the point where she cried a little in pain. She looked up at him, confused and frightened, then slipped her left arm down to his waist, searching for confirmation of her fears. A moment later, she found it. A wooden shaft had buried itself deep in his waist on the right side.
“Bobby…” she whispered, suddenly terrified as she realised exactly where they were.
He took a stumbling step forward, his eyes glazing over with pain and shock. The ground crumbled under his feet, and then gave way completely.
Bobby recovered from the shock of the new wound only to realise too late what was happening. His feet slipped beneath him as the fragile ground crumbled away into nothing, and the next instant they were plummeting through darkness to the river that flowed below.
In those last precious seconds of awareness, Bobby did the only thing he could, twisting his body around to try and create a barrier between Alex and the inevitable impact that was coming. He felt her tense and struggle as she realised what he was doing, but even in his weakened state his strength still surpassed hers.
Alex had not the energy or the time to scream they slipped and fell off the edge of the precipice. One second they had been on solid ground, the next they were free-falling God only knew how far to a perhaps not so uncertain fate in the river below.
Even as they fell, though, she felt Bobby twisting himself around. Was he really doing what she thought…? He was, she realised dazedly. He was deliberately putting himself between her and the coming impact.
She fought to stop him, but her strength was gone. His arms folded around her, holding her on top of him to protect her as much as possible from what was coming. In the end, she could only shut her eyes and wait.
They hit the water long seconds later, and then darkness claimed them both.
They walked in silence, with Winters and Deakins at the lead, and Mack Taylor and Horatio Caine close behind. Logan, Bishop, Ash and King followed behind them, and after that came the contingent of CSIs and the rest of the taskforce. In all there were nearly thirty people.
As Winters had instructed, they moved off the path a couple of miles in and headed northward. The going was not easy until Logan happened to sidestep to avoid Bishop stumbling into him, missed his footing and disappeared down a hidden slope with a crash.
“Logan?” Deakins called to him, sounding highly irritated. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
There was a long silence, and then Logan’s voice floated back up to them.
“Captain, I think you should come down here. I think you ought to see this.”
Frowning still, Deakins made his way down the slope. He found Logan at the bottom, looking slightly crumpled, but otherwise unhurt, and standing in the middle of what appeared to be a well-worn dirt track with distinct tyre impressions in the soil.
“Are you all right?” Deakins asked. Logan nodded.
“Yeah, I’m fine. But I think I just found out how Mathers got Goren and Eames to that cabin from the road. Look.”
Deakins looked, and his jaw dropped. A little ways back down the track, almost completely shielded by a combination of shrubs and shadows, was a quad bike and flat bed trailer.
“Mack!” Deakins called back up the slope. “Come down here!”
Mack joined them a minute later, gingerly making his way down the slope to them.
“Check this out,” Deakins told him, leading the way along the track to the bike. Mack’s attention went immediately to the trailer.
“There’s blood on this. I’m betting we’ll find it belongs to either Detective Goren or Detective Eames, or both. It also means we are definitely headed in the right direction.”
“Logan, get everyone else down here,” Deakins said. “We’ll follow this path.”
“I’m not sure that’s such a great idea, Captain,” Logan said tentatively. “If we happen to run into Mathers…”
“Then we’ll take him out,” Deakins growled. Logan hesitated, contemplating how to say what he wanted without further aggravating the captain. In the end, Mack said it for him.
“Captain Deakins, I think Detective Logan is trying to say that if we take Mathers before we find Goren and Eames… Well, we may never find them. We’d be best to stick to the path Winters was taking us along… try and keep our presence here as quiet as possible, at least for the moment.”
Deakins sighed faintly.
“Point taken. Well, let’s get back up there, and get moving again.”
When they got back up the slope, it was to an increasingly agitated Jamie Winters.
“It’s going to be near to pitch black here in less than half an hour. We can’t make it to the cabin before dark. Best we can do is to find a spot to set up camp for the night.”
“Mathers won’t stop for the night,” Horatio said quietly, “and neither do we.”
Winters looked around at them, clearly dismayed.
“But that’s insane!”
“So is Erik Mathers,” Deakins said coolly. “My two detectives are out there somewhere, Mr Winters, and I doubt they’ll get much rest tonight. We keep moving.”
Winters conceded, albeit with extreme reluctance.
“Okay. I think you’re all fools, but okay.”
“We’re only a couple of miles from his cabin now. Another twenty or thirty minutes, and we should be there.”
Deakins nodded. His stomach was a mass of knots now, in anticipation of what they would find sending his adrenalin into hyper drive.
“Okay, then. Let’s get moving…”
He trailed off abruptly as a new sound broke the otherwise still night. A cry of pain split the night, the bone-chilling sound reaching them through the trees.
“What the hell was that?” Delko said hoarsely. Deakins had gone white, his pale features reflecting the light from the torches. He had recognised that voice, and a quick glanced revealed that he was not the only one.
“That was Eames,” David Ash said tensely. “I’m positive it was Eames.”
“It was,” Deakins confirmed. “Winters, which way?”
Winters pointed through the trees.
“That way. Straight ahead.”
Deakins snapped his fingers, indicating for the taskforce leaders – Logan, Bishop, Mack and Horatio – to lead the way.
“Get moving,” he told them, his voice audibly strained with fear for whatever may have caused Eames to scream in pain. Logan and Bishop took off at a run, with Mack and Horatio close on their heels. The rest of the taskforce quickly fell in behind.
They came upon the cabin abruptly. One moment they’d been stumbling through the darkness, the next they broke into a clearing, and found themselves virtually on the front steps on Mathers’ cabin. The front door was wide open, and as near they could tell, the place appeared to be deserted.
“Look at this,” Horatio murmured, shining his flashlight on the ground near the steps.
“Soil’s been disturbed,” Mack commented. “There was a struggle here not too long ago.”
“Building’s clear,” Bishop announced as she and Logan emerged from inside the cabin minutes later. “No one’s home.”
“But we got the right place,” Logan added as Deakins led the rest of the team into the clearing. “There’re two rooms to this place. The first has a bed, a cabinet, throw rug on the floor… Real rustic, simple living type thing. But the other is just a concrete floor, and ropes hanging from hooks on the wall, and blood on the floor. And we found this under the bed.”
He kicked a battered old suitcase down the steps, causing the lid to fly open, revealing the hidden contents.
“Christ,” Deakins muttered as he crouched down to look at the shredded clothes inside the case. “These are Goren and Eames’ clothes… Their jackets… their shoes…”
“Bad enough that they’re out there in the cold,” Calleigh said grimly, looking over Horatio’s shoulder at the ruined clothing. “They’ll be hypothermic for sure with only their shirts and pants on.”
“I think Goren and Eames were here not that long ago,” Mack piped up, aware of the ashen colour that Deakins had gone at Calleigh’s words. “There’s evidence of a struggle here… and look there. Those bushes have been disturbed.”
He rose up from where he’d been examining the soil, and hurried over to look at the new evidence. He disappeared into the trees, only to emerge a minute later looking grim.
“I found fresh blood. Someone’s got a new wound.”
“Eames,” Deakins said grimly. “Damn it, do we have any idea which way they might have gone?”
The only answer to his question was silence. Finally he sighed and nodded.
“Okay. We’ll set up here for the night. I want lookouts posted all around, in case Mathers comes back. First thing in the morning, we’ll bring in Search and Rescue, and start looking for them properly.”
“We’ll find them, Captain,” Logan said quietly, sounding more confident than he honestly felt. “We’ll get to them in time. I’m sure of it.”
Deakins stared out into the blackness surrounding the cabin.
“I wish I was, Logan.”
He turned and headed into the cabin, leaving Logan alone to contemplate his own words.
Alex awoke to pain. Pain in her legs, her arms, her head… Pain eclipsed everything, and almost completely engulfed her entire body. She lay still, staring upwards blindly, her thoughts scrambled and incoherent.
It took several minutes of consciously struggling to set her mind in order before she realised it was no longer night.
Alex blinked once, then twice as her vision slowly adjusted to daylight. She didn’t remember how she had made it through the long, terrifying night. The last thing she clearly remembered was… what? Being at the cabin… Mathers coming back… Being shot…
She gasped in momentary panic as those memories assailed her. Anxious to see the state of her wounded leg, she tried to sit up quickly. That was when she discovered her arm was broken.
Alex sobbed aloud as pain flared through the limb, forcing her to lie back down. How badly it was broken she didn’t know, but it hurt like hell.
Minutes passed, and the pain gradually subsided. When it had faded to a more tolerable level, she tried again, this time taking care to use only her good right arm. Once she finally managed to get herself sitting up, the sight that met her left her truly stunned.
The arrow was gone from her leg, and strips of formerly white material were wrapped firmly around her thigh. The entire right leg of her pants was gone, cut away to give the one who had treated the wound free access to her leg.
What made her exceptionally curious, though, was the apparent lack of blood. The material substituting for bandages should have been soaked in it, but there appeared to be only a very minimal amount.
Intensely curious, she carefully lifted the material, and was stunned by what she saw. The wound had been cauterised, sealing it over and preventing significant blood loss that could possibly have led to her bleeding out.
She drew in a steadying breath. Someone had cauterised her wound. Someone, she suspected, named Bobby.
She looked around, half expecting to see him sitting nearby, smiling at her in that sweet, shy way of his. Instead, her gaze fell on the dying embers of a fire, set up close enough to her to have kept her from freezing throughout the rest of the night. But where was Bobby?
Then she saw him. He lay on the ground on the far side of the fire… asleep or unconscious? She hoped to God he was just asleep. His shirt was gone entirely; used, she suspected, to make the improvised bandages for her leg. Gathering her strength, she dragged herself around to him, anxious to see that he was okay.
He lay still and silent, unresponsive to her calls for him to wake up. His face was the colour of ash, and there was no telling how much blood he had lost in the hours before dawn.
Alex pressed her cold fingers to his throat, and was gratified at least to find a strong pulse. Now, if she could only wake him up.
“Bobby, c’mon,” she begged, fighting to control her fear. “Please wake up…”
She was finally rewarded with a weak moan from her partner, and it was all she could do not to cry with relief. Slowly, his eyes opened, and his vision eventually focused on her.
“’lex…” he mumbled, and she could hear the relief in his voice. “You ’kay…?”
She smiled tearfully at him.
“I think so, thanks to you. What about you? Are you okay?”
But even before he could gather his thoughts to give her an answer, she knew he was not. Where her left arm was badly broken, it appeared his right leg was in a similarly bad state. The right leg of his pants had been torn open, and the flesh beneath was almost entirely black and blue, and painfully swollen. His leg was most certainly broken, probably in more than one place.
A quick glance revealed they were a good couple of hundred yards from the riverbank. How, she wondered dazedly, had he gotten them both out of the water, and gotten a fire going? She suspected she would never know. He probably could not remember doing it himself.
He trailed off, coughing painfully, and she felt a spark of fear at the thin line of blood that trickled from the corner of his mouth.
“You couldn’t what?” Alex asked softly.
“Couldn’t… Couldn’t get it… out…”
She was confused. Her gaze went to her wounded leg. Did he not remember getting the arrow out?
“Yes, you did,” she reassured him. “Bobby, you did get… it… Oh… Oh god…”
Her blood chilled in her veins as she suddenly realised what he meant, and more memories of the night before came creeping back. He didn’t mean the arrow that had pierced her leg. He meant something else.
She reached around him, and her hand closed over the long arrow shaft that protruded from his waist, at the back. There was no way of knowing how far in it was, or how much damage it had done. His hand closed over her wrist, drawing her attention back to him.
“It has to… come out…”
She felt a sudden, inexplicable rush of nausea through her gut. She thought she knew was coming, and she was fairly certain she didn’t want to hear it.
“Bobby, if I pull it out… It could kill you…”
“Gotta… Gotta punch it through the other side.” His fingers brushed lightly over his stomach. “It missed my lung… I’d be dead if it hadn’t. But you’ve gotta punch it through the other side.”
Alex’s stomach rolled as she finally understood what he was asking. It had been hard enough getting that spiked ball out of his shoulder. She didn’t know whether she had the strength or the stomach for this.
Yet, as much as she wanted to tell him no, she couldn’t. After all, how hard must it have been for him to do what he did for her, even if she had been unconscious at the time?
“What do I need to do?” she asked softly. Even through his pain, she could see the relief and gratitude in his brown eyes.
“Build up the fire,” he told her. “The arrow that I… I pulled out of your leg… Get it hot in the fire… You’ll have… have to use it to… to cauterise the wounds… once the arrow is out.”
Tears filled her eyes.
“I don’t know if I can do this.”
“If you don’t… I’m going to die.”
Her breath caught in her throat at the blunt ultimatum. She wanted to argue against that, but couldn’t. After all, surely he knew better than she just how serious his own injuries were. If he said he was going to die unless the arrow came out, then she had to believe him.
In grim silence, Alex set about building the fire back up to strength. Collecting sufficient wood to do the job was no easy task, given that she could hardly crawl, let alone walk, but somehow she managed it. She then carefully set the metal arrowhead in the reheated embers, taking care to keep the wooden shaft clear of the fire.
“What now?” she asked, not entirely sure that she wanted him to answer.
“Help me sit up,” he mumbled.
She did so, with considerable effort, and then could only watch as he dragged himself a short distance across the ground, to lean against a tree.
“Your leg,” she said softly. He looked at her, apologetic.
“I’m sorry. I was looking for wood… something to brace your arm with… But I must have passed out… before I could.”
Not for the first time, Alex had to fight an urge to hit him. Here she was, concerned with injuries that could potentially kill him, and he was apologising for supposedly not doing everything he could for her.
“Don’t worry about my arm,” she told him. “I can cope. But we’ll have to do something about your leg.”
“The water… It was shallow.”
She stared at him, thoroughly confused now, and wondering whether he was suffering some degree of delirium. He certainly didn’t seem to be consciously focusing on the current crisis.
“Bobby, what are you talking about?”
“When we fell last night,” he said. “The water wasn’t deep. I broke my leg… and you broke your arm… on the rocks.”
“We’re lucky we weren’t killed,” she agreed grimly, finally understanding what he was trying to say. “Okay… What do I do now?”
“Look at the arrowhead. What colour is it?”
She peered across at the fire without shifting her position.
“Okay, that’s hot enough. Listen, Alex… When you do this, I’m probably going to pass out. I don’t think I can prevent that. Once the arrow is out, you’ll have to be quick. Take the arrow out of the fire… seal both wounds with it. If… If you don’t, I could bleed out.”
“And what about your leg?”
“I’ll worry about that later.”
She didn’t voice her fear that if they stayed where they were for much longer, there might not be a later. She had no doubt that Mathers was searching for them even now.
“Okay,” she murmured, and rested her hand on the end of the shaft. Her mind was in turmoil, running a hundred and one scenarios of things that could go wrong. The predominant fear in her mind was that the shaft might break as she was trying to push it through, leaving the arrowhead and part of the shaft inside his body. If that were to happen, the shock alone would probably kill him.
“It might not come out in one go,” Bobby whispered. “If it doesn’t… you have to keep pushing.”
She couldn’t resist a smirk at that.
“Last time I heard that line, I was in labour.”
Bobby laughed softly. Alex took the opportunity of the momentary distraction, and shoved against the arrow with all her strength.
Bobby’s scream of pain shattered the stillness. His back arched involuntarily in defence against the extreme pain and then, true to his warning, he lost consciousness, slumping against the tree.
Alex pulled herself around to look at his front, and nearly cried with relief when she saw the arrow had pierced through the flesh just beneath his ribcage. Grasping the protruding part of the arrow, she pulled hard.
To her immense relief, the shaft slid out with little resistance. As Bobby had warned, though, both entry and exit points began to bleed profusely.
Stretching across the ground, Alex pulled the other arrow from the fire. She wasted no time in pressing the red hot metal to the open wound, cringing at the sharp hissing sound and the sickening smell of searing flesh. She thanked God that he was not awake to suffer this agony.
She then performed the task on his back, sealing both wounds. Then, the awful task completed, Alex crawled some metres away and began to dry retch violently.
Minutes passed before she finally regained some semblance of control. Feeling sick and wasted, she made her way back to Bobby’s side, and gently guided him to lie down on the rocky ground. She then lay down carefully next to him, taking care not to aggravate her broken arm. When he regained consciousness, she would see about doing something to brace his leg, and perhaps her arm as well, but until then she was content to just rest along side of him.
Were Mathers to happen along at that point, she could almost say she didn’t really give a damn, but instinct told her they were safe from him for a little while longer. Settling down beside him, she shut her eyes and slipped into a light sleep.
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