Author’s note: This part would have been longer, but I have some parts of the next section that need rewriting. Please bear with me, and trust me when I promise that a newchapter will be coming fairly quickly after this one.
Over the years I’ve learnt one important thing,
It’s that real friends shall never truly be apart;
You were there in my darkest time of need
With a hand reaching straight to the heart.
‘Straight to the Heart’ by Michael W. Smith
Bobby glanced sideways at Alex. They had virtually come full circle, so to speak, and were once again struggling their way up the slope, towards higher ground. He was holding to the belief… or rather, the hope that the chopper had been searching for them, and that it hadn’t been a once off fly-by. This time, though, rather than going up the slope single file, they hobbled along side by side. Though neither had said it out loud, they both had the same thought. At least if they went side by side, if one fell, they wouldn’t take the other with them.
“Forgot my watch. Sorry.”
Bobby smiled a little, then slowed to a halt and peered up at the sky.
“I think it might be just a little after one… or maybe closer to two. I can’t really tell through the trees. Does it really matter that much?”
Alex grimaced. “It does if we have to spend another night out here. We barely got through last night, Bobby, and I think that was only because Mathers quit hunting us after we took a freefall off that ledge. He’s not going to give us that sort of consideration again.”
Bobby shook his head, only to regret the action as it stirred up a familiar, unwanted ache in his skull.
She sighed a little. “You know what I mean.”
“Yeah,” he muttered. “I know.” He paused, his gaze going to a flat rock that he had just come level with. “Hang on, Alex. I need to stop… Just for a few minutes.”
He edged his way over to the rock and sat down without waiting for her to answer. She made her way over, and sat down beside him, taking similar relief in the brief respite.
“How are you feeling?” she asked once she’d caught her breath. He looked directly at her as he answered; wanting her to know he was being honest with her.
“Not great… but not bad, either… considering.”
“I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description for both of us right now. You sure you’re okay, though?”
“I won’t say I’m okay,” he murmured, “but I think I can manage. That’s the best I can do.”
“I can accept that,” she agreed. Her gaze went down to her injured leg. Though it had not bled again, the pain was starting to push her to the very limit of her endurance. She wasn’t game enough to look so she could be certain, but she suspected the wound was becoming infected. A telltale sign was the bruise-like colouring that was slowly spreading beyond the makeshift bandage.
Anxious to take her mind off her own injuries, her gaze went to Bobby’s legs. She really didn’t like the way his left ankle had swollen up so much, but considering just how badly his right leg was broken, she could see no point in voicing her concerns. She could only hope that his ankle was only badly jarred or, at the very worst, twisted from their earlier fall.
“How’s your arm?” he asked, bringing her rather abruptly back to reality. She shifted her position on the rock, and winced at the pain the movement caused.
“I think I might have busted it up even worse in that fall,” she admitted. “Serves me right, it was my own stupid fault.”
He took her right hand in his, holding it gently.
“Don’t say that.”
She leaned carefully against him, resting her head against his shoulder, silently and acutely conscious of the fever-generated heat that still radiated from his body. He was holding up well, considering he had a fever that had already sent him once into a state of delirium, and she had to wonder just how much longer he was going to be able to stay lucid.
She shut her eyes, pushing those thoughts to the back of her mind, and trying instead to just take comfort in the close contact. She couldn’t help but wonder, if they got out of this mess alive, would this closeness continue, or would their relationship revert back to what it had been before? Professional, incidental contact only…
His hand closed around hers, squeezing affectionately, and she felt his cheek rest gently against the top of her head. Neither of them spoke. It wasn’t necessary, and words would have spoiled the moment.
Then it was past, and Bobby gently drew back from her.
“Ready to keep going?”
She smiled a little. Ever the gentleman…
It was a fairly reasonable assumption at this point that Goren and Eames were both badly hurt, and that Erik Mathers was probably at full strength and moving at full speed. The stakes had just gone up considerably, and Mack knew without any doubt that if they did not find the detectives now, they wouldn’t find them at all. Not alive.
The dog had halted up ahead, and appeared confused.
“What’s wrong?” Deakins asked, visibly agitated.
“The scent goes in two different directions,” the Rescue officer explained, “and so do the tracks. Look, one set seems to head up that incline, and the other heads in that direction, towards the river.”
“So which way do we go?” Bishop asked. Mack frowned.
“We know at least one of them is using a stick to walk with. One of them was either shot in the leg by one of those arrows we found, or maybe has a broken leg. Either way, I can’t see them being able to make it up any sort of hill.”
“Are you suggesting that maybe they split up?” Calleigh asked, frowning.
“I don’t believe they would have split up,” Bishop chimed in. “Especially not if one of them is seriously hurt. They’re too close for either of them to be willing to leave the other.”
“Bishop’s right,” Logan agreed. “No way would Goren abandon Eames. And she wouldn’t leave Goren, either.”
“So which track do we follow?” Horatio asked of no one in particular. “If we choose the wrong one…”
“It could be catastrophic for Goren and Eames,” Deakins concluded grimly. “Okay, we’re going to have to split up. It’s too big a risk to just pick one trail to follow. Mack, you and Bishop go with these guys from the Rescue team and head towards the river. Logan, Horatio, Calleigh and I will go up. Keep your radios on, and stay alert. The moment any of us gets any sort of confirmation that we’re going the right way, let the others know straight away. Let’s move!”
Exhausted, Bobby sank to the ground, almost literally unable to go any further. Alex sat beside him, abandoning her walking stick and collapsing wearily against him.
“You hear that?” she asked, and he nodded. He heard it. As yet unseen, but in the distance they could both hear the distinct sound of a helicopter.
“We’ll be home in time for dinner,” he mumbled.
“Mm,” Alex murmured. “I’m having steak, and a really big plate of mash potato. What are you having?”
Bobby rolled his eyes.
“Anything, as long as it’s hot and cooked.”
She grinned, and couldn’t resist teasing him.
“You mean you’re passing up on the sushi? Shame…”
“Shut up,” he grouched, and she laughed and got slowly back to her feet.
“I know. Veal Parmigiana for you, right?”
“Alex, stop, please,” he begged her. “You’re just making it worse.”
She smirked at him.
“Fine. You wanna talk about something else? I’m still one up with our game, and you never answered my last question.”
“That shouldn’t count,” Bobby growled. “I was delirious.”
“So answer it now,” she told him as she sat back down on the grass across the way from him, stretching her legs gingerly out in front of her, and leaning back against a thick tree trunk.
“What was the question again?”
“Where was I assigned before I joined Vice?”
Bobby stared at the sky, mulling it over in his mind. He was glad they were off the ‘my favourite things’ kick, but this was a tough one. Alex rarely talked about her time in Vice, let alone anything prior to that. All the same, his usually sharp memory seemed to recall her mentioning something some time ago. But what…?
“Ready to give up?” she teased, getting ready to crow again.
“Not yet. Give me a chance.”
Alex smirked. She loved seeing Bobby confounded, and faced with questions he couldn’t immediately answer. He looked like a flustered little boy.
“I know!” he burst out suddenly. “You were in Robbery. You were only there for eight months, after transferring out of Traffic, while you waited for an opening in Vice.”
“Damn,” Alex grumped. “That was a good one, too. Okay, your turn.”
A grin lit up his pale face.
“How many languages am I fluent in?”
“Boy, I should’ve seen one like that coming. Okay… I know you’re fluent in German, and Russian… Um… You can read some Arabic, but you said yourself that you aren’t fluent in it… Same with Chinese… Okay, I’ll take a wild stab and say three.”
Bobby stared at her curiously.
“You know I’m fluent in German and Russian, but not in Arabic or Chinese. How do you make it three?”
She smiled sweetly at him.
“Are you saying you’re not fluent in English?”
The stunned and confused look on his face was more than enough to reduce her to a fit of laughter. Only when she’d calmed down some was she able to explain.
“You asked me what languages you’re fluent in, Bobby. You didn’t specify foreign languages, so I said three. German, Russian and English.”
He laughed, then, clearly impressed.
“I’ll let you have that one just for ingenuity.”
“So what else are you fluent in?” she asked bemusedly.
“Italian. Not by choice, though. My family is of Italian descent. My dad spoke Italian to me all the time. He said he wanted to be sure that I spoke it as well as English. I think it was pretty much the only practical thing he ever taught me.”
“I should’ve known,” Alex said. “You sure you don’t want to claim that one?”
“I’m sure. You earned that one. Go ahead, ask something.”
“Okay. Since we’re on the subject of languages, how many languages am I fluent in? And I mean foreign languages when I say that.”
Bobby stared at her, genuinely surprised.
“I didn’t know you spoke a foreign language. You got me there. What languages do you know?”
“Spanish, and Japanese. I learnt Spanish from Puerto Rican friends I had as a kid, and I studied Japanese in school. And yes, I am fluent in both.”
“I’m impressed. That’s two you have on me, now.”
She smirked at him. “Don’t know quite as much about me as you thought, do you?”
He smiled as he lay down on the grass.
“I know enough. I know you’re the best friend I have, and I know I can trust you with my life. I don’t need to know anything more than that.”
Alex bit down lightly on her lower lip at his frank admission. She knew that while he had plenty of casual friends, he was not especially close to most of them, with the possible exception of his car enthusiast buddy, Lewis. For him to openly admit that he considered her to be his best friend touched her to the heart.
The arrow came almost out of nowhere, whistling through the air, spearing Alex through the stomach and impaling her to the tree against which she had been sitting. She grasped helplessly at the protruding part of the arrow, even as blood began to trickle from her mouth, and her eyes began to glaze over.
Bobby started up in shock and horror, but before he had a chance to drag himself up off the ground, Erik Mathers strode out from the shelter of the trees. He ran across the ground and delivered a brutal kick from his steel-tipped boot to Bobby’s left arm, breaking both the radius and the ulna bones.
Bobby slumped back to the ground, clutching his arm to his chest in agony. Mathers sneered down at him, crossbow reloaded and at the ready.
“I don’t know whether to be disappointed or not, Detective. I really hoped you might have lasted the full time, but I have to admit you gave me a pretty good run for my money anyway.” He looked across at Alex, who by then was slumped forward, and not moving. “Both of you did. But it’s game over, now.” He crouched down next to Bobby, pushing the sharp tip of the arrow that was loaded in his crossbow against Bobby’s throat. “And you… I have to ask this. Just how the hell did you manage to make it all the way up here with two broken legs?”
Bobby drew in a strangled breath, wincing as he felt the tip of the arrow pierce the flesh of his throat. His confusion at Mathers’ question was obvious, and Mathers laughed cruelly at the sight of it. He reached down and slapped Bobby hard on the left leg, below the knee. Pain exploded through his leg, causing Bobby to howl in anguish. Mathers laughed again.
“You see, Detective Goren? You didn’t even realise you had two busted legs, did you? I guess your right leg probably hurts so bad you never even gave a thought to the other leg. You really are something, you know that? I’m almost sorry that I have to kill you.”
Bobby tried to shut out Mathers’ voice, looking instead to where Alex sat slumped over, blood spreading rapidly across her tank top. A pain more profound than any physical agony he’d suffered so far cut deep into his very heart and soul at the sight of her impaled to the tree. He didn’t know if she was even still alive, but to lie on the ground and do nothing but wait for Mathers to strike the final blow was, in his mind, unforgivable.
Mathers grunted in surprise as Bobby, in a moment of pure adrenalin-fuelled fury, swung at him with his one remaining good limb, and struck him hard across the face. The killer went over backwards, and Bobby was on top of him an instant later, the combined torture of all his injuries momentarily forgotten.
Bobby managed to slip his right hand around Mathers’ throat and squeezed hard, determined to end it once and for all. However, after four days of no food, only a minimal amount of water and suffering horrendous injuries, his strength was only a fraction of what it would normally have been.
Mathers grabbed at Bobby’s wrist, pushing it away from his throat, and twisting it sharply. Bobby cried out in pain, and his body rolled off Mathers instinctively to prevent another broken bone. Mathers quickly reassumed control, one knee planted squarely in the centre of Bobby’s bare chest as he snatched the crossbow off the ground where he had dropped it. Then, without hesitating, he fired the arrow directly into Bobby’s right shoulder.
“Nice try, Detective Goren,” Mathers said, sounding more amused than angry. He looked away, spitting blood out onto the grass. “You and your pretty partner have shown more guts than any of my other prey. I know this probably isn’t much of a consolation to you, but I consider it a huge honour that I’ll get to be the one who ends your life. I mean, I bet there’re heaps of people out there who’d give up vital parts of their anatomy for that honour.”
Mathers paused, eyeing Bobby thoughtfully, and then took hold of the arrow that protruded from Bobby’s shoulder and gave it a vicious twist. Bobby could do little more than sob in pain, his strength almost completely gone.
“Tell me, Detective Goren,” Mathers whispered to him. “How would you like to die? Will I cut your throat? Or maybe put one of my arrows straight through your heart? What do you think? Have you suffered enough? Are you ready to die?”
Bobby couldn’t have answered even if he had wanted to. As it turned out, he never had the opportunity. Mathers looked away from him suddenly, his gleeful expression melting into one of anger and suspicion.
“What the fuck…?”
A moment later, Mathers’ knee was gone from his chest, and the younger man was hurrying away towards the trees, crossbow at the ready. Bobby watched him go, not understanding what could have caused him to go so suddenly, but grateful for the reprieve nonetheless. He looked back to Alex through eyes that were slowly starting to dim. He didn’t think the arrow had hit an artery, but he’d suffered so much blood loss already that he doubted he would last too much longer.
Scraping together what little strength he had left, Bobby dragged himself across the ground to his partner.
She didn’t respond, just as he’d known she wouldn’t. Tears brimmed in his eyes and overflowed as he reached out with trembling fingers to touch her cold, pale face, stroking her cheek lovingly.
“No… Alex, no…”
Grief descended on him like a tidal wave, followed by a rage unlike any he had ever known. In that moment, he accepted his coming death, almost looked forward to it with the hope that it would reunite him with the one person who had ever truly understood and accepted him. He had no intention, though, of simply giving up. If he was going to die, he was damn well going to take Erik Mathers with him.
Bobby leaned in, and kissed Alex tenderly on the forehead, and then on the lips.
“Have to leave you now,” he whispered through his tears. “You don’t have to be afraid, he can’t hurt you anymore.” He drew in an unsteady breath. “I’ll see you soon.”
Then, with a last stricken look at her, he dragged himself to his feet and stumbled away, into the trees.
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