elgrey: Artwork by Suzan Lovett (DannyMartin)
[personal profile] elgrey


They left Bennett talking to Stapleton, his deputy wandering around outside awkwardly, shoulders hunched against the flakes that found their way between his coat and his neck, looking like a child left out in the rain, and, inside, Bennett with his head bent close to Stapleton, not judging, just listening; another wrecked life washed up on the shore of their investigation.

As Viv drove them through the snow to the house of the woman who had taught Clare Hope, Samantha was still seeing that scene in her mind’s eye: the barn and the beaten naked boy, and every time she saw him like that she was getting newspaper headlines flashing through her mind, a kaleidoscope of corpses, police photographs of bodies coaxed from the mud of ditches, hands bound behind their backs, faces bruised into unrecognizable shapes. She was so cold she could never imagine being warm again. She glanced sideways at Vivian. “Do you think it was him?”

Viv’s voice was as steady as a lifeline. “Who?”

“Jake Gallagher. Do you think he was the serial killer?”

“He was too young.”

“Maybe he was a victim who got away from the first killer but it turned him into a killer himself.”

Viv grimaced. “I suggested that to Jack but I don’t think he really liked it as an explanation. I don’t think I do either.”

“It would make sense of the killings happening over such an extended time period.”

Viv said gently: “Only if the killings stopped for the six years while Jake Gallagher was in prison. Which they didn’t.”

From the beginning of her training, Sam had known what a crime it was to make a theory try to fit the facts instead of letting the facts lead one to the solution. In this instance she felt positively indignant towards the facts – slippery deceptive things that seemed to have no interest in forming themselves into a coherent pattern. “But it fits – it even explains why Mary felt so guilty about the murder victims. If her father was the one killing them and she didn’t turn him in, she was partly responsible for those mothers never knowing what happened to their sons.”

“Except the killings didn’t stop while Gallagher was in prison.”

And there they were, dusty men looking up from broken down cars, relieved to see lights on the road, or weary hitchhikers holding up a thumb despondently only to be trapped in the headlights of a braking vehicle, men who were cold or hungry or exhausted sliding into the warm comfort of a car only to wake up with their hands tied behind their backs and blood trickling from a head wound, their clothes already burned, their lives already over, except for the screaming.

She wanted to believe it was Gallagher and that justice had finally caught up with him. She wanted to believe it was definitely over. “Bennett said there could have been two killers. Perhaps Gallagher had an accomplice who kept on picking up drifters while his partner was in prison.”

“The young men killed by two murderers instead of one were mostly in the early eighties. In the fifties, sixties, and seventies, and then again in the late eighties there was only one killer.”

Sam banged her head back against the seat rest. “This case doesn’t make any sense.” The scenes kept running through her head, a permanent loop of weary drifters silhouetted against the blaze of headlights, their shadows not showing sense enough to flee, car doors opening, and then a barn somewhere and the blows raining on them. The scene switched to a trailer and a drunken brute stumbling into the room of a teenage girl whose mother was passed out on the couch so that she wouldn’t have to deal with what happened next. She closed her eyes as if that would somehow block out images in her mind. “I keep thinking about her.”

“Mary?”

“Clare.” She opened her eyes and gazed at Viv as if she could provide an answer. “How can it happen like that? Everyone knows her father’s beating her mother and molesting her and no one does anything? A teenage girl having to abort her father’s baby and the whole town just…rolls on around it. How would you even know there was another way to live? All she’s seen since the day she was born was ugliness and cruelty; no wonder she ended up turning tricks in the local bus stop to buy crack. Anything that blotted out reality for an hour was probably worth any price she had to pay for it.”

She clicked open her phone and dialed Danny’s number again. Still nothing. She tried Martin’s number with fingers that shook slightly, only to have to listen to a blandly unhelpful voice informing her that the cell phone she was calling was not switched on at this time. “What is up with those two? Why aren’t they answering?” The anxiety had used to operate at more controllable levels, but ever since Martin’s shooting it was as ungovernable as her temper, a shooting star spike of fear that if she took her eye off a teammate they would be developing life-threatening heart problems or getting themselves riddled with bullets.

“Jack’s following it up, Sam.” Viv checked the address they had been given as she drove slowly down a snow-covered road. “I think this is it.”

“I just need to…” Sam dialed Martin’s number again, holding it to her ear while she tried not to pray. “Come on, Martin, switch on your damned…” She broke off as the same voice repeated the same message, and held the phone against her forehead for a moment, feeling the soft indentations of the numbers against her skin; willing him to just be there so she could tell him the relative of the missing person whose house he was in had once killed a man. Danny had already been knocked unconscious when camped out in someone’s house; the anxious husband revealed to be a bomber wanted for blowing up an abortion clinic. It wasn’t as if her fears were groundless.

Viv’s hand on her back rubbed gently between her shoulder blades. “They’ll be fine.”

The hot salt tears came out of nowhere and she wondered if it was just being back here in this damned snow that was making her feel so fissured with weakness. Perhaps this was about Clare, and her frustrated empathy with someone who had probably gone beyond any help now; was probably someone she was going to have to end up arresting for a crime against another woman who was also owed a childhood she had never known. Or perhaps she should have talked to someone a long time ago about how it had felt to walk across that neon-lit street and see those crimson-stained cloths lying in puddles of Martin’s blood; to sit with him for all those hours in recovery, breathing in time with his breaths as if she could keep his heart beating and his lungs inflating and deflating by will alone.

“I should have known. I knew what his aunt was like. She was in so much pain and so scared and she didn’t tell anyone; she just…kept it all inside until…. I should have known he wasn’t okay. I should have…”

Viv’s arms enfolded her in a hug and Sam remembered Martin breaking down in her arms; that protective warmth she’d felt as she held him and he cried and cried…. Vivian said gently: “I think you’ve been beating yourself up about the Martin business for long enough.”

Sam hastily wiped her eyes. “Viv, I can’t… I still feel so…”

“You know it’s not a crime to find a guy physically attractive without wanting to date him forever.” Viv lowered her head to catch Sam’s eyes. “Martin’s a good looking guy. You were tempted. You gave way to temptation. You’re both single, and it’s not as if you slipped him a roofie. He was willing, wasn’t he?”

“But I knew the kind of guy he was. I should have known that it wasn’t going to be okay for him if it was just about having sex. I knew he’d want to make it a relationship thing. I thought I was okay with that. I thought I could… Sometimes I think there must be something wrong with me. If they’re unavailable I want them, but when they’re not….”

“Sam, Martin had known you for two years and he should have gone into it with his eyes open. If he kidded himself that things were going to be different between the two of you just because he wanted them to be, that was up to him. You weren’t responsible for his assumptions. Unless you made him sleep on the damp patch every time I think your conscience is clear.”

Sam laughed despite herself. “I just feel so…crappy. Sometimes I look at him and I remember him being so…happy and sweet and relaxed and funny because he thought he and I were….”

“Sam, Martin’s at that age when he’s starting to think that when his father was his age, he was already married and Martin was already born, okay? Guys hit thirty and they start thinking they should be taking a girl home to meet their mothers. He set himself up for disappointment. All you did was what you always do.”

“Sometimes I don’t like me very much,” Sam admitted.

“Sometimes none of us like ourselves very much. But it’s not like you broke his heart – you just hurt his feelings a little. He’s over it. You need to be too.”

“Because there’s always some new mistake to make that I can beat myself up about instead, right?”

“Exactly.” Viv glanced at her sideways. “Is Sheriff Bennett the kind of mistake you had in mind…?”

Sam rolled her eyes. “He’s a mistake I’ve already made about twenty times over. Maybe not him, but a half a dozen guys just like him.”

“So, you’re not tempted…?”

“Oh, I’m always tempted – hence the number of my mistakes. But I’m learning to Just Say No.”

“Even to the really cutes ones?”

“Especially to the really cute ones.”

“You know, that’s not much fun for those of us who are happily married and have to get our thrills vicariously these days – especially as Danny will never kiss and tell.”

“My heart bleeds for you.” Sam smiled at her. “Thanks, by the way. I didn’t realize how much sackcloth and ashes chafes.”

The security light had come on outside Eileen Walker’s house; the door opened and the woman stood there, a dark silhouette against light, gazing out at them through the swirl of white flakes. Sam tried to get her into focus, pull the case back to the front of her mind. They weren’t here to make sure Danny and Martin were safe; there was a woman out there somewhere who could be a prisoner and was undoubtedly pregnant enough to go into labor any time soon. They needed to find her before any more harm came to her, because there was no doubt in Sam’s mind that Mary Ryan was well overdue a break.

“You okay?” Viv opened the car door, looking calm and focused and exactly the way an FBI agent ought to look when time was of the essence and everyone they spoke to could hold the information to help them find their missing person.

Sam nodded. “Fine.”

They walked up the drive with their footsteps in perfect rhythm, their shoes leaving matching prints in the new fall of snow.

***

Danny Taylor’s world had narrowed to the darkness of this room, the ticking of another clock – he had never known a house so caught up in marking each slow-crawl of time – and this thin spindle of chill metal with which he was trying to spring the lock. Twenty-seven minutes since Ryan had taken the keys to the Humvee from Danny’s coat and walked out of the house. Ten minutes since he had finally managed to hook that damned fork. He had cut his wrist on the cuffs in the process and almost wrenched his shoulder out of his socket, but he had managed to get a decent toehold on it and now, after a lot of squirming and twisting, he had it in his fingers.

There were so many stories of this happening, the biter bit, the law enforcement agent bound with his own cuffs, shot with his own gun. But there hadn’t been a gunshot, and even with the swirl of snow and wind outside, he would have heard it; even muffled through a sack, he would have heard something, that cough of gunpowder and death. He’d heard gunfire too often not to recognize it, however distorted or distant it might be; it never sounded like a car backfire to him. There were always the echoes of the angel of death in its trumpet.

The house was getting colder; he could feel the pipes contracting like hardening arteries as the hot water stopped its flow. If it were already this cold in here what was it like in the barn? What if he only hadn’t heard a gunshot because Ryan had snapped Martin’s neck or beaten his head in with something that crushed his skull with a wet muffled thud…?

Danny swore as the fork slipped out of the cuff and dug into his thumb again. He could feel the blood trickling down between his fingers from the previous fork stabs; but although the operation was delicate, one had to use a certain amount of force. His anxiety levels were telling him to hurry, hurry, hurry, seeing the car speeding down the hill road, that snow-filled valley of firs a steep-sided bowl of darkness to the west; the sky white metal with the coming blizzard and Ryan with his foot to the floor, staging the accident that would make everyone who might be searching for them start looking in the wrong place. And all the while Martin was bleeding in the barn, or else already dead. Danny stabbed himself with the fork again and cursed, then snatched a breath, deep breathing, steadying himself, no point in thinking about Martin; what was done to him was done and he couldn’t go back in time and avert it, all he could do was very carefully insert the prong of the fork into the locking mechanism and try to spring the catch so that he could get loose and do what needed to be done.

The deep breathing helped, and for a moment it was just him, the prong of the fork, the catch of the lock, his fingers slippery but dexterous, and there at last was the right grip and the right pressure and it was going, he could feel it….

The click sounded deafening. He dropped the fork in shock and went to scrabble for it, fingers reaching desperately, shocked when the cuffs abruptly gave way and he realized he was free.

He was on his feet so fast that the kitchen pirouetted like a girl at her first dance, a spin of faded blue and yellow cabinets. Someone had stenciled flowers and butterflies on them in the past but they had faded with time, insects missing half their wings, flowers whose petals had long since flaked away. He had to lean hard on the table to get his bearings, heart slamming, cold sweat running down his spine as his head hammered a warning about how hard it had been hit. The keys to the cuffs were on the dresser in a blue and white willow pattern fruit bowl, kept company by a slightly shriveled orange. Ryan had tossed them there as if they were of so little consequence, Danny and Martin these dumb pups he’d had to leather that had now dutifully learned to cower. Anger spiked in him, but he banished it at once. Getting angry about being powerless led to that need for some chemical forgetfulness; vodka or crack or a bar fight with a stranger who ended up taking the brunt of a decade of frustration. A man sucked it up and moved on and didn’t let this be all that he was: the victim of an injustice on a slow burn to oblivion. He grabbed the keys and pocketed them, snatching up the phone only to find it dead, no dial tone; when he followed the wire in case it was just unplugged he found it in order. The fault was in the line to the house then; probably a cut wire on a telegraph pole. Something Ryan had calmly driven out there and done while Danny was cuffed to a damned table trying to move a fork with his toe. He pulled on his coat and started searching drawers for their guns and their badges, their cell phones, anything to make him feel like an FBI agent again, and not like a kid who had to listen to another taking a beating he would much rather have had directed at him.

There was nothing. No guns, no holsters, no ID. He tried the drawers in the back room where Ryan had laid him out and then looked in the bedrooms, but he couldn’t find so much as a box of ammunition; not even a hunting knife. He could almost imagine Ryan pointing out to him reasonably that of course he didn’t keep his guns where anyone could find them, he was used to having a child to think of.

Danny grabbed a blanket and a sweater and the first aid kit from the bathroom instead, stuffing it all into a backpack. He added matches and a knife and fork into the rucksack as well, keeping the bottled water on top, despite all the snow out there. It was a three-hour drive to the hospital and it was going to take longer in this weather. He needed to be able to keep Martin hydrated and warm. He found their cell phones in the kitchen garbage, smashed to a hundred pieces of plastic and metal and mixed in with the greasy remnants of a microwave dinner. It would have taken an expert to put them back together and there wasn’t any time; for all he knew he was already too late. The keys to Ryan’s Cherokee were also in the fruit bowl, orange scent warring with the leather smell of the key chain from the dealership where Ryan had bought it.

As he turned, he saw the whiskey bottle again, the light glinting through its amber contents. It called to him like the One Ring to a Nazgul, and he found himself walking towards it, imagining the taste of it in his mouth, knowing it would help dull the pain of what had been done to Martin like nothing else. He picked it up and unscrewed the bottle, inhaling the scent of it and then, even as he was waiting for that delicious burn on his tongue, his hand was upending the bottle over the sink and pouring out every irresistible drop. A part of him was relieved, another part wanted to lean in and start licking the drain just to get the taste of it.

He stumbled out into the night, the cold slamming into him, the warning whine of the wind in the trees and a flurry of snow melting against his skin, letting him know there was more to come, and from here on it was only getting colder. If was thirty degrees at the most and being out in this was like being held under a freezing sea of wet air. He just wanted the car engine running so he could get Martin into it with no delay, just ease him into the back seat, cover him with a blanket and then drive hell for leather to the nearest hospital. But when he turned the key in the ignition nothing happened, not a sound. He staggered out and lifted the hood, hoping for a loose connection, something obvious, fixable, and instead found the starter missing. It occurred to him that he, with his years at law school and his experience in the FBI, was currently less use to Martin than Rafael would have been; his brother could have found a way to make this damned thing work, even with that starter missing; Danny didn’t even know where to begin. He slammed down the hood and backed up, hating this situation: no car, no guns, no phones, and time running out rapidly. He couldn’t put it off any longer – time to find out if he still had a partner or if Martin was already a corpse.

Danny left behind the crunch of snow for the muffled straw scent of the barn. A battery lantern was hanging from a hook, unlit, left in readiness for Ryan’s return. Danny twisted the dial and the light spread out from it, a soft golden glow, color of mangers and nativity plays. The first thing it showed him was the torn remnants of Martin’s coat and jacket and his heart turned straight over in his chest. He picked up the coat and it looked as if it had been shredded, it had been yanked off with such ferocity. The jacket was almost in two pieces where it seemed to have been ripped from Martin’s body. “No, no, no…” Danny breathed. This was exactly what he had been afraid of when Ryan came back in smelling of all that testosterone.

He rounded a stall and held up the lantern, looking for someone who was probably going to be naked but might not yet be dead…. Another jolt as he saw a battered figure slumped on the ground with his hands cuffed to an upright.

All those bruises and his overwhelming feeling was relief, because he could see the rise and fall of Martin’s chest, which meant he was still breathing, and, apart from the loss of his jacket, he was still wearing the same amount of clothes he had been when Danny last saw him, which could mean that all Ryan had done was hit him. Danny allowed himself to snatch a much-needed breath, although his chest still felt so tight it was as if fear had it snared. He crouched down next to Martin, holding up the lantern, and saw again the rise and fall of his chest. Martin shivered with the cold and began that vague stirring of someone semi-conscious in response to another bending over him. As Danny’s fingers gently cradled his face, Martin’s head came up blearily and he blinked in confusion. Danny gazed into bloodshot blue eyes, mauve bruising under both of them from pain, cold, and too many collisions with unyielding fists.

“Martin…?” Danny hung the lantern on a nail and tilted up his head so that he could examine it. Martin’s face was a mess of bruises, the left side had taken the worst of the blows from the right-handed Ryan, but a backhand had bruised the left side of his jaw as well. Dried blood had congealed down the left side of his face from a cut over his eye, and more had run in a now-crusted trail from his nose, the left cheekbone was lumpy, possibly cracked, and there was a dull red bruise along the right side of his jaw. His mouth was swollen and cut, his white shirt ripped and blood spattered. He looked as if he’d gone ten rounds with Hasim Rahman and never once got off the ropes.

In a voice that shook a little he said: “Do you have a death wish?”

Martin blinked at him dazedly, the soft light clearly eye-wateringly bright to him. His teeth already seemed close to chattering. “What kind of a question…? No, of course not.”

“Then what the hell were you thinking?”

“I was thinking that crazy son-of-a-bitch had no right to take us prisoner. What were you thinking?” He sounded a lot more like Martin than he had been expecting. He had been afraid that Martin was going to sound like someone else: a rape victim for one.

“That it would have been nice to get a partner with more brain cells than his shoe-size. What happened in there?”

“I don’t know. He came back into the kitchen and I asked where you were and he said you were in the bathroom. He started crowding me and I asked him to step back – which was stupid, because I should have put him down hard then – but then he must have punched me, because the next thing I know I’m sliding down the wall with the room spinning and he’s got my gun in his hand. He cuffed me before I had a chance to get my bearings. You?”

Watching him carefully, Danny could see no signs of evasion or concealment. Battered half to death he might be, but he still seemed to be…Martin. “He hit me with something right in the middle of a conversation about his brother-in-law. Next thing I knew I was waking up with a headache.”

Martin squinted up at him in concern. “You okay? You don’t look so good.”

“Trust me, I look a lot better than you.”

“What happened to Ryan? Where is he?”

“He’s taken the Humvee – probably to dump it somewhere and make it look like we ran off the road. When he comes back I think he’s going to kill us and bury us in the woods. So, rather than waiting around for that, I thought we might try breaking out of here and running away.”

Martin swallowed painfully, tongue straying over the blood on his swollen lip. “We need to arrest him. He’s dangerous.”

“And I’m good with arresting him when I have a gun in my hand, not when I’m unarmed and have a half-dead partner bleeding all over me. I think you have a concussion.”

“I’m fine,” Martin insisted unconvincingly.

“Like hell you are.” Danny crouched behind him, wincing as he saw the blood running down Martin’s wrists. “Hold still.”

“This isn’t my fault,” Martin insisted. “I didn’t do anything to provoke him.”

“You were provoking him the whole time I was trying to get him to calm down!”

“That was after he’d hit us both. I think the whole being reasonable strategy was kind of a dead duck by that point. Something in that call from Jack set him off and it wasn’t me. We need to work out what’s up with him.”

Danny took a moment to snatch a few calming breaths, remembering Jack slamming him against that car, eyes fiery with anger and fear. Now he knew exactly how he must have felt. He turned the key in the lock, easing the cuffs away from his injured wrists. Martin hissed with pain and put his head back against the upright. Martin’s wrists looked like his, bruised, swollen, and cut. Danny very gently cupped his face with his hand, not sure if he was trying to conceal anger and project compassion or conceal his compassion and project anger. It was taking all the self-control he had not to pull Martin into a hug and start either crying all over him or shaking him until his teeth rattled. “You look like crap.”

“Man, you really know how to sweet talk a guy.” Gritting his teeth against the pain in his shoulders, Martin eased his arms forward.

Danny pulled up his bloodstained shirt, realizing his hands were shaking harder than ever as he did so, expecting to find those healed wounds ripped open again, and Martin spilling blood. For an instant in the battery light he thought his hands were red again, soaked to the wrists as he kept pressure on the wound and saw Martin slipping into unconsciousness. He ran gentle fingers over Martin’s skin, needing to be sure about this, but the healed wounds had held, no tearing, although he winced at the mottled area of bruising all over his ribs. When he tentatively touched it, Martin hissed and twisted away from his touch. “Damnit, Fitzie,” Danny hissed.

“You should try breathing around it.”

“I’m serious, Martin. I think he’s cracked your ribs.”

He fingered the discolored area again gently and it was fever-hot against his hands. There were dull red contusions all over Martin’s stomach as well, under and around the scar tissue from the gunshot wounds. That must have hurt, must have hurt like white molten lead all over again, and yet Martin hadn’t backed down. What the hell were you trying to prove, Martin? But he knew, of course he knew. All those months of being in pain, shuffling around, every staircase a nightmare, every meal an ordeal, Martin had needed to prove to himself that he was normal again, not weak, not in need of anyone’s protection. It was so hard not to yell but he still remembered Jack yelling at him, and even if it had made Jack feel better to vent all that protective frustrated fear, it certainly hadn’t helped Danny Taylor, and he doubted taking a leaf out of Jack’s book would help Martin either.

“Okay, Martin, we need to get you up and find out how badly you’re hurt and whether or not you can walk.”

Martin glanced up at him with difficulty through a black eye and a drying blood trail from his cut head. “I told you I’m fine.”

“You know saying something – doesn’t make it true. Hang on to me, okay? One, two, three –” Danny hauled him to his feet as gently as he could, but Martin still gasped at the pain of moving. Danny shook his head. “I need to wrap those ribs.” Danny quickly unrolled the bandages in the first aid kit and began to strap up Martin’s ribs as tight as the man could bear it and then a half pull tighter. Current medical thinking might advise rest and painkillers but without access to either of those things, he was going traditional here with the supportive bandaging.

Martin hissed and Danny winced. “I’m sorry, but it has to be tight.” Martin just nodded, still trying to breathe around the pain, a hand pressed to the upright as he tried to ride it out.

Danny unscrewed the bottle of water and held it to his lips. Martin gulped it down gratefully and tried to smile, although his face looked drawn with pain. “Any chance I can have those aspirin now?”

Grimacing, Danny poured some of the water onto a towel he’d snatched from the bathroom and tried to wipe the worst of the blood from Martin’s face. “You could have internal bleeding. I don’t think we can risk anything that could thin your blood.” His nose had stopped bleeding but the cut above his eye was still trickling. “I think you may need stitches.”

Martin took the towel from him and pressed it much more firmly to his head, wincing at the pain but dabbing the cut dry. “Just put a Band Aid on it, if you’ve got one in your little First Aid kit there. Where did you get all this stuff from anyway?”

Danny stuck a Band Aid over the cut as well as he could, tilting Martin’s head up to examine it in the light and trying to remember what that guy in the hospital had done to him when checking him for a concussion, but all he could remember from that time was Martin lying on the gurney covered in blood. “I stole it from Ryan’s bathroom cabinet. Also, matches, and a sweater and a blanket.” He really did not like the look of that cheekbone or the livid bruise on his jaw – which had evidently been the one to lay him out. “Are you sure you’re not concussed? Because that guy was not pulling his punches.”

“I’m fine. You stole things from the relative of a missing person?”

“Yes, I was a bad boy. When we get back, Jack can spank me, right now I’m more worried about stopping Ryan from spanking you again. No double vision?”

“What are you – my mother?”

“Just humor me – follow my finger with your eyes.”

Sighing, Martin dutifully followed Danny’s finger, correctly named the President of the United States, and the day of the week while Danny chewed his lip nervously as he looked Martin over. It took him a moment to get the words out: “Martin, did Ryan…do anything else to you…?”

Martin blinked at him in slightly dazed confusion. “Like what?”

“Like anything…else?”

Martin looked down at himself in confusion. “Danny, you can see everything he did to me. You’ve been poking your nose into every bruise for the last ten minutes.”

Perhaps he was wrong but he really didn’t think Martin was a good enough actor to be lying right now. He would have expected him to wake up flinching and traumatized if anything…like that had been done to him, and there had been no signs of evasion since Martin had opened his eyes. Yet he was sure he had been right about Ryan’s motivation, too. Perhaps the guy had a disciplinary alpha male bug up his ass about making young men obey him, but he also got off on it, Danny would have laid money on that. He would have said Martin had been saved through not being Ryan’s type – except Ryan had zeroed in on Martin from the start even though they had both been equally polite until after the guy had started hitting them, suggesting Martin was exactly his type and Ryan had always intended to make him pay for it. Or perhaps Ryan had managed to hold onto some self-restraint, after all. Martin was badly bruised but he didn’t seem to be coughing up blood. Perhaps a part of Ryan had not wanted to become a rapist or a murderer – under normal circumstances that would be a reasonable assumption – so why did Danny feel in his bones now, with the same conviction Jack must have felt in the past that Ryan abused his wife, that Ryan had no problem with becoming either of those things?

Martin was the living, breathing, apparently unmolested, proof that Danny was doing Ryan an injustice and yet all he found himself thinking was that Ryan must have been saving the really bad stuff for later.

“Can you walk?”

“Yes.”

“I mean without falling over, throwing up or passing out?”

“For the last time – I’m fine.”

Danny had a vivid memory of Martin telling everyone how fine he was and how ready to come back to work and then paling with pain as he had to get to his feet even with a cane to help him.

“Okay. Well, while you’re being so fine and dandy, just hang onto me, we’ll take it one step at a time.” He put his arm around Martin, trying not to flinch when Martin winced at the pressure on his ribs. Every minute he expected to hear the sound of Ryan coming back before he had got Martin to safety. Not that there was any ‘safety’ around here. No shelter either. The second to last thing he wanted to do right now was drag his beaten partner out into a blizzard and force him to scramble down a rocky slope through a snowdrift; unfortunately that still scored over leaving Martin anywhere that Ryan could find him.

Martin glanced out at the flurry of snow and white-laden trees and drew in a painful breath. Everything was glittering as it froze, more snow piling onto the white blanket that already covered the yard. “What about the phone?”

“Dead.”

“Cell phones?”

“Smashed.”

“Guns?”

“None in the house and, trust me, I looked. He must have taken ours with him as well as any he has. There are a couple of blunt knives in the kitchen drawer.” Danny held one up to show just how pathetic the blade was.

“Okay, he has our car, we take his.”

“Already tried it. He took the starter. Unless you fitted in a car maintenance course you’ve never told me about in between all that accountancy and investigating alien abductions, it’s a big hunk of useless metal right now.”

Martin winced at the pain of breathing in and out, already locked rigid with trying to avoid using any of the muscles touching his ribs. When he glanced up at him, bruises seeming to darken on his skin even as they talked, he looked so ill that Danny felt sick inside. “I’m sorry, Martin, but we need to get out of here now.”

As he pushed the door open wider, the cold was a fist to his chest, a freezing chill with every breath. Martin snatched a lungful of cold air then began to cough, trying to conceal how much it hurt as that action tore through his ribs. The barn had seemed so cold after the house, but compared with the great outdoors, it was positively sheltered.

Danny tried to sound positive: “There’s a stream that runs through the valley. We’ll follow that – stop us getting lost.”

Martin wiped some more blood from his mouth. “We should wait for him to come back. Take him out as he gets out of the car. It’s two to one in our favor and – speaking for myself – I’d really like a chance to hit him with a blunt instrument.”

Danny looked down the long rough road that led nowhere but here. It was the only level piece of land around, for all its ruts and rocks, and it was the one path they could not afford to take in case they met Ryan coming back the other way.

Martin was quietly persistent: “There has to be a weapon around here somewhere. An ax, a wrench…something.”

“No, Martin. It’s not an option.”

“Why not?”

“Because if I don’t do the job right, that leaves you…like this…with him, and he was enjoying himself – in case you didn’t notice – beating the crap out of you was giving him a hard-on, that’s how much fun he was having cracking your ribs. Christ, Martin, I thought he’d…” He broke off because he was so angry with his partner right now for scaring him like that; leaving him handcuffed in a kitchen, not knowing if Martin was being raped out there in that freezing cold barn or relentlessly beaten to death.

Martin’s blue eyes widened at the tremor in Danny’s voice. “He just took me by surprise. But we have a responsibility to stop this guy from doing this to anyone else. If we plan it right, we can take him…”

“No we can’t,” Danny insisted ruthlessly. “An hour ago we could have taken him, but now he’s armed, you’re a hundred and seventy pounds of dead weight, my head feels like there’s a truck parked in it with its engine running, and I don’t think I can take him out alone, especially when he has at least two guns and I don’t have any. So, we get down that slope, hide in the woods, and follow the stream until we find a house or a phone and we call Jack. And what we absolutely don’t do is leave you alone with him again. Okay?” He resolved not to say anything else and then found himself spitting out angrily: “Do you have any idea what I thought he was doing to you in here?”

Martin still looked infuriatingly clueless, and slightly bemused by Danny’s stress level, which was a relief in some ways, but also all kinds of annoying given the horror show that had been running in glorious Technicolor in Danny’s mind while he was struggling to get free. “He was just punching me out for the exercise.”

Danny hauled him through the snow, trying to hold him without hurting him, while still supporting his weight. “You have no idea, you know that? No. Frickin’. Clue.”

“It’s only a few bruises.” Martin limped along next to him, aching muscles stiffening up in the cold, an arm wrapped around his sore ribs. Danny couldn’t help holding him gently, even though a part of him wanted to shake him, another part wanted to hug him close for not being dead, and then probably shake him some more for doing this to him again. Oddly, Martin still smelt a little of that lemon shower gel, despite the blood and sweat scents clinging to him, there was the underlying crispness of cheap citrus.

They paused on the brink of the slope. It looked treacherously steep and the faint ribbon of the water a long way below them. If they fell down they were going to slide or roll until they hit a tree and scrape themselves raw in the process. “Hold on to me,” he ordered, and helped Martin down the first couple of feet, looking for footholds anywhere he could find them, eyes already aching with trying to permeate the darkness.

“You didn’t pick up a flashlight?” Martin said plaintively. When Danny turned to glare at him he found Martin flashing him a grin that had no business being on a face that battered. “Don’t suppose you found a granola bar, did you? I’m hungry.”

“Concussed people aren’t supposed to eat and, yes, I packed a flashlight, I’m just afraid to use it in case Ryan sees it.”

“He’s got to walk back as far as he drives. He can’t be here that quickly.”

His partner sounded maddeningly calm and Danny reached for the flashlight with his temper spiking. He put it in Martin’s hands and said firmly: “You hold it. I’ll hold you. Okay?”

Martin shone the flashlight ahead of them and kept the beam playing on a mossy length of wood, coated with snow. “We could hit him with that. Several times. I could really get behind that plan.”

“No. For the last time, we’re not lying in wait for him or trying to take the guy down. Do you get it yet? That guy can kill you with his bare hands, and he will if he catches up with us again.” He was still feeling the cuffs biting into his wrists as he fought to get free, all the while knowing Ryan had a handcuffed Martin at his mercy.

Martin’s expression was genuinely curious. “Why are you so scared of this prick?”

“Because I have to be scared enough for both of us because you’re too dumb to be scared for yourself.” Danny thought it was just as well for Martin’s sake that there was probably nothing Martin Fitzgerald could do that would ever make Danny Taylor hit him, not since he had been shot; not since he had gone all out to pretend he wasn’t hurting with every breath and every step so that Danny wouldn’t guilt-trip himself to the morgue. He knew Martin hated it, being turned into something so fragile, something they were all desperate to keep safe; a nerve-jangle to them, watching Viv to be sure her heart was beating, watching Martin to be sure he wasn’t silently bleeding; needing to be seen as strong again so he could believe that was what he was. He snatched a breath out of the freezing air, feeling it chill him all the way down. “If Ryan catches us…”

“I thought we caught guys like him?” Martin countered, sliding gracelessly down a few feet of slope while Danny fought to keep him on his feet. “He’s done this before. He had a whole ritual thing going while he was punching me. He’s definitely not right in the head.”

“Oh, really? What was your first clue? And was there some point when that realization was going to start impacting on your behavior?”

“You’re angry with me…” Martin said it as if it were a revelation to him and Danny wondered what conversation he had been a part of for the last ten minutes that this was only just dawning on him.

“Of course, I’m angry with you!” His grip tightened as Martin slipped in the snow-slush beneath their feet and he barely held him up. The sides of the valley felt sheer as glass. “What the hell were you playing at in there, mouthing off at that guy?”

“Well, what were you playing at with all that ‘yes, sir’ ‘no, sir’ bullshit?”

“I was trying to stop you from getting creamed. And I would have appreciated a little help with that, too. You don’t go off at guys like that.”

“I was telling him that there would be consequences if he kidnapped a pair of federal agents. Why were you such a…?”

“Because it works.” Danny hoped Martin wasn’t too concussed to read the warning in his eyes. “Sometimes, it works, and it’s the only thing that does. You say ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, and I’ll never ever do it again, please, Papi, I’m so sorry’ and sometimes, just sometimes, it’s enough to stop him putting your brother in the hospital, okay?”

Martin’s eyes widened in understanding. “I’m sorry.” Danny knew Martin wasn’t apologizing for going off at Ryan but for his blighted childhood.

“Don’t be, because I’m figuring if only your father had been an abusive drunk, too, we’d both be in better shape right now.” Danny glanced at him. “Just remember next time – I’m the hot-headed Latino, you’re the uptight WASP – we stick to those stereotypes we’ll both stay alive longer.” He saw the look in Martin’s blue eyes and touched his arm briefly to let him know it was okay, then snatched in a breath of lung-freezing air. The trees looked like dark sentinels against the snow; everything glittering with frost, the air still chilled by lazy white flakes; the sides were getting steeper; they were probably going to have to slide a little, move from tree to tree and hope not to hit anything too hard. “Damn, it’s cold up here. These people need to invent skyscrapers.”

“I’d settle for more than one road,” Martin admitted.

He could feel Martin shivering and it was difficult to find a place to hold him that wouldn’t be hurting one bruise or another. The sides of the slope were just about to get steeper and he needed to catch his breath. “Wait.” He pulled him under a tree, propping him against it while he delved in the backpack and pulled out a sweater. “Put this on. You could be in shock.”

“I’m not in shock.” The chattering of Martin’s teeth did little to reassure him. “I’m a little embarrassed by our incompetence, and not looking forward to having to explain to Jack how we let one unarmed guy overpower both of us. Apart from that I’m fine, now – can we drop it?”

Sometimes he felt sorry for Martin’s father. Not often, of course, as a rule he was a lot more likely to feel sorry for Jack or for Martin when Victor Fitzgerald was around, but occasionally he felt sorry for the Deputy Director himself; such as when Martin had been undergoing surgery and everyone had realized that, while Martin might be an adult and a federal agent to everyone else, that, to Victor, the man who had been shot by Dornvald was still, on some level, his little boy.

Right now, he could see the kid Martin had used to be as well, and it was clear that in between all the need-to-please starved-of-attention moments, and the hard working boy who was no trouble, and the sports-crazy boy who was happy as long as he could play football in a friend’s back yard, and the alienated geeky teen who liked reading up on Roswell conspiracy theories and even with that face had probably had more trouble than he should have done getting laid because of the overwhelming nerd factor, there had been moments when Martin had become the most stubbornly aloof adolescent from hell. Danny narrowed his eyes and spat out through clenched teeth:

“Put on. The damned. Sweater.”

Martin jumped at his tone and then took it from him, looking at Danny a little warily as he did so. Then, as Martin attempted to obey him, he understood the real reason why he was being so stubborn. Martin had his teeth gritted so hard as he tried to pull on the sweater that Danny swore he could hear the enamel chipping, and Danny had to reach up to pull handfuls of blue chunky cable-knit down over his head while Martin tried not to whimper in pain. But then at last the thing was on, the weight of it pulling it down. Martin gave a gasp of relief, as the cold no longer blew straight through his ripped shirt to his bruised skin. The sweater, being Ryan’s, was far too big for him and hung protectively low, keeping his kidneys insulated from the snow. As he rolled up the sleeves to find his hands, Martin looked not unlike a kid in his big brother’s clothes, but he also looked five times warmer than he had even a moment before.

“You see? Sometimes Danny knows best.”

Danny tilted his head back to examine his pupils while Martin unwillingly shone the flashlight where directed, his face looking strange with its disfiguring of bruises and blood trail remnant even before he played little kid on Halloween flashing the blue light over their faces. “Do you even know how to check for concussion, Florence Nightingtaylor?” Danny made an appropriate gesture and Martin said brightly: “One.”

“What?”

“That’s how many fingers you’re holding up.”

Danny said conversationally: “You know the only thing sustaining me right now is the thought of what Jack is going to say to you when I tell him about you mouthing off to Ryan. If I don’t hear the words ‘stupid son of a bitch’ coming out of his mouth at full volume I may never get over my disappointment.”

“I bent over backwards to put up with Ryan’s crap in there and you know it.” Martin caught sight of Danny’s right wrist and caught Danny’s sleeve. He pulled it back, gingerly, wincing at the bruised mess the cuffs had made of it. “Danny, we need to bandage this.”

Danny pushed one sleeve of the over-sized sweater back another few inches to point out to Martin what kind of condition his own wrists were in. “What do you know – we have a matched set.”

Martin was still more interested in the bruises spreading up halfway to Danny’s elbows, examining them with gentle fingers before searching Danny’s face anxiously. “Did he do anything else to you?”

He felt so close to crying he wondered how he was stopping himself. “No, Martin. Beating you unconscious kept him so well entertained he didn’t need to start on me.”

“If this is my fault then I’m sorry.” Martin was still looking guiltily at Danny’s wrists and Danny yanked his coat cuffs down to conceal them. “I wasn’t trying to make him angry. I really did try to…”

“I know.” Danny would have liked to stay angry, it was at least insulating, and in this kind of weather it helped to have a good glow of righteous indignation in the pit of his stomach to help with the sick fear that he might be killing Martin with every step. But he had never been very good at sustaining his anger with Martin. “I know you did. Just – let me do the talking next time. Now, hang onto me – getting down this stretch isn’t going to be fun.” He looped Martin’s arm around his neck and put his other arm around his back to steady him, pulling him in against him so they were at the right angle to tackle the slope. Martin slid and he barely held him up, getting a mouthful of shiny hair that even with the lemon-scented shower this morning carried faint traces of his conditioner.

They slid down another few feet of slope, snow covering their shoes in a wet cold intrusion, and Danny realized he had never put his sock back on; which would explain why his right foot was so much colder than his left one at the moment. They should have left a note somewhere, something to prove they had ever been there and that Jack should come and find them quickly. All those people who went missing every day and right now he and Martin were two of them; lost and scared and really wanting to be found. A screech owl in the darkness made them both jump.

“I don’t think Ryan’s wife was kidnapped.” Martin stumbled over a rock and Danny barely held him up. “I think she escaped from him.”

“Well, I’d run off with a crack addict to get away from him and I’ve only known him for a few hours.”

They slid down another few feet of slope, snow drifting over their shoes. Danny grabbed a branch to hold them upright while the flashlight beam illuminated the relentless fall of flakes.

Snow flurried around them and Danny could feel them melting in his hair, trickling down the back of his neck, felt Martin shiver as the breeze blew through him. They slid down a few more feet of slope in silence, but Danny noticed that Martin was letting him help him more now, his body feeling clumsier and more pliant, leaning in against Danny and not objecting to that tightening grip on his arm.

“Jack was right all the time. He thought there was something off about Ryan and he was right.”

Danny was amused by the satisfaction with which Martin asserted Jack’s infallibility. “Let’s try and stay alive so we can tell him that.” They skidded down another few feet, Danny taking the impact on his shoulder as they hit another tree, and just catching the tail end of a flinch from Martin.

“Did Ryan punch you in the kidneys?”

The expression in Martin’s blue eyes was half-exasperated, half amused. “How would I know?”

“Well, you were there, weren’t you?”

“I didn’t notice exactly where he hit me. I was mostly focused on telling him to stop and that if he didn’t he’d go to jail for a very long time. Also, the floor kept coming up to meet me.”

Danny could imagine the scene in the barn, Ryan telling Martin how he expected him to behave, what he needed to say and do, and Martin refusing to concede an inch; getting angrier every time the man knocked him down and told him to stay down, more determined to get back to his feet and tell the guy to go screw himself instead of finding a compromise. And yet if there had been a third party in that barn, someone Ryan was threatening, Martin would have said and done anything to keep them safe. “You know, there’s a word ‘sorry’ that you could try out sometime. Might even work for you.”

“Why was I supposed to apologize to him when he was the one hitting me?”

“Because it might stop him hitting you, Martin.” Danny propped him against another tree as they dragged some more icy air into their lungs. Martin was shivering and sweating at once and Danny wondered again if every step he was making him take was killing him. He reached up and felt his forehead, grimacing as he felt how clammy it was. “This is so not what you should be doing after that beating you took. And don’t tell me you’ve had worse because I know you haven’t.”

There was a long pause before Martin said quietly: “It didn’t hurt like getting shot.”

Danny tightened his grip on him instinctively. “You don’t have anything to prove.”

“I think maybe I did. To me. I had things I needed to prove to me.”

“Did getting the crap kicked out of you by a psychopath help you with that at all?”

In the blue-white beam of a flashlight, Martin’s eyes were ridiculously expressive; or maybe he and Martin had just got way too good at reading each other over the years. “I don’t want to make every decision based on a fear of getting hurt again.”

“But there’s a reason we’re afraid of getting hurt, Martin. Fear of pain is a good thing, it’s what stops you walking into traffic or sticking a fork in the light-socket; it’s what stops you mouthing off to guys who can pull off your head with their bare hands and use it for a football. Not wanting to get beaten to death doesn’t make you a coward, it’s makes you smart. I’d appreciate it if you could bear that in mind because if you keep doing these things to yourself, you, my friend, are going to drive me to drink.”

Danny saw that hit home as nothing else had done, that brief shocked look from Martin and then realization following as he understood it wasn’t a joke, but a genuine warning of how close the last few months had brought him. Ironically, it was only now that Martin might understand how much Danny had wanted to buy a bottle on the way home from the office on that endless day when Martin had been shot. Every day since he had told himself that he wouldn’t have a drink today, even though he really wanted one; if he still wanted one tomorrow maybe he’d have one then; and then when tomorrow had come around he’d told himself that he wasn’t saying he could never have a drink to get through this but just not now, maybe tomorrow…. It really had been one day at a time and he had come so close so many times, even walking into one liquor store before he’d made himself turn around and walk out. And he would never have breathed a word of it to Martin if he hadn’t known that Martin now knew what that meant; when you’d been through withdrawal and self-loathing and your self-esteem had dropped to way below your ankles and you were still thinking about putting yourself back there, turning yourself into something you despised because the need for that drink – or that handful of pills – was so strong.

“I’m sorry.”

That was truly heartfelt and Danny felt a little relief break through the fear. At least Martin now seemed to be getting that there were other better ways to handle dangerous madmen than making them angry. He tightened his grip on him a fraction, helping him over a slippery moss-covered log that might have turned under his feet. “It’s okay. Just don’t do anything reckless or stupid or get yourself shot or smacked around again for a decade or so and we’ll be fine.”

They slid down another nasty patch of ground and Danny thought how loud their breathing sounded in the darkness, how cold the air was that he needed to fuel his lungs with oxygen; despite the chill, he was sweating with the effort of holding Martin up, and he could still feel the tremors going through Martin’s body; what this little hike through the night was costing him. He had barely noticed the snow until now; it was light and powdery and barely brushed against them; he had even seen Martin turn his face into it because the cold was soothing against his aching cheekbone, but now he realized that the sweater in which he had his fingers twisted was already getting heavier and wetter.

“Damnit. Wait, Martin.” He propped him against another tree and saw Martin grit his teeth as he tried to drag some air into his lungs that didn’t torture his aching ribs.

Shrugging off the backpack, Danny wriggled out of his coat. “You need to put this on.”

“No.” Martin shook his head. “I have the sweater, you have the coat, that’s fair.”

Danny gave him his best ‘don’t fuck with me’ glare. “I don’t have a concussion and unless you want another one, put it on.”

“Danny, you have a bleeding head wound and you were knocked unconscious less than an hour ago. You can’t go without a coat in this weather.”

He could already feel the cold biting into him but held Martin’s gaze unflinchingly. “Will you stop being such a pain in the ass and do as you’re told? If Jack were here I don’t think you’d be giving him all this crap. Just pretend I’m him – only, you know, taller and prettier and with way better hair.”

He helped Martin into the coat while Martin tried to pretend that it didn’t hurt as much as it did every time he had to move or breathe. He snatched a breath as the tears glinted in his eyes from the stabbing pain in his ribs and Danny leaned in close and pressed his forehead briefly against Martin’s. “And another thing – don’t ever scare me like that again? Okay?” He breathed out slowly, trying to release some of the wound up tension still thrumming through him, briefly clasping the back of Martin’s neck as he straightened up. He pulled the backpack on again, the weight of it already hurting his aching shoulders. “Come on. We need to keep moving. If your muscles seize up we’re going to be screwed.” Possibly literally if Ryan catches up with us, he added mentally.

As they scrambled and slid on down the sides of the valley, shoes never made to be worn in this weather going deep into drifts while their socks soaked up the wet and cold and began to chill their feet through to the bone, Martin seemed to get it at last, that Danny had been stuck in the house with no way of knowing what was being done to him, and how long every crawling moment had seemed while that was happening. He put his head on one side, a frown creasing his brow. “What was it you were telling me to do, anyway?”

“When?”

“When Ryan was coming back. You told me to do what he said. What were you expecting him to tell me to do?”

“I was expecting him to tell you to…you know...”

Martin’s blue eyes were the innocent blank of a guy who had never spent a minute in Juvenile Hall. “No, I don’t know.”

Danny wondered how a guy this slow had ever survived in a world this big and bad before he had the rest of Jack’s team to look out for him. “You know.” He jerked his head. “An action that generally involves being on your knees.”

Martin still looked as if a turtle would have outstripped him in the fast lane but he did finally get it. “You expected me to what?”

“You’d rather be dead?”

“Hell, yes.”

Danny felt another spike of irritation. “You really think that would be it – you’d never have another good day ever again if you had to spend five minutes with your mouth full thinking about something else?”

“Are you this sensitive with rape victims, because, if so, I think they should have you teaching seminars.”

“No one is saying it would have been fun for you, Martin. I’m just saying it’s better than some of the alternatives…like being dead, which is what you would have ended up being if you kept smart-mouthing Mr. Insane Control Freak. Didn’t they teach you anything at Quantico?”

“Well, they didn’t teach me how to do that. I guess your training was a little more extra-curricular than mine was.”

They ducked under a branch bent low with a white glitter of frozen snow and only with a great effort did Danny resist the urge to shove a handful of it down the back of Martin’s neck.

“Damn, and I thought we got everything but the splinters too.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about that stick up your ass that I thought Jack, Viv, Sam and I had got out years ago.”

“You know if you were even half as funny as you think you are you’d still be less amusing than road kill. And what was that ‘Ivy League boy scout’ crap anyway?”

Danny hauled Martin up as he slipped again, feeling his bone deep exhaustion as he held him and that shivering still running through him. The snow was going right through his shirt, which was now icy wet cotton clinging to his chilled skin. He was already so cold that he was starting to hate his extremities; especially his damned bare right foot that kept slipping around in his sodden shoe; soon stopping his teeth from chattering was going to be a full time job. “I was trying to stop him messing up that pretty face of yours.”

“Save your own pretty face. I don’t need your protection. I don’t need you taking bullets for me or taking punches for me, okay? I’m not the new guy Jack asked you to look out for any more. I can take care of myself.”

Sometimes, Danny thought that it really was a miracle that Martin had lived as long as he had without someone – an exasperated teammate perhaps – doing something to him that was really regrettable. “Are you trying to tell me you didn’t need my help? That you had the situation under control?”

“Yes.”

“The situation where you were handcuffed to an upright while Ryan punched you senseless?”

“I was just lulling him into a false sense of security.”

“By letting him concuss you?”

Martin’s mouth was twitching with humor, as was Danny’s, but both fought hard to keep a straight face; these battles were a matter of honor, after all. “It worked, didn’t it?”

“I had to rescue you!”

“Yes, but you were only able to get free because of my lulling him. Without that we were toast.”

Danny was smirking at him now and Martin couldn’t help smirking back. “You are so full of crap,” Danny told him, not without affection.

“I’ve been hanging around you for all this time, what did you expect?”

The whine of the motorcycle engine coiled up through the valley. It was distant still, perhaps following the horseshoe bend of the rocky track, or coming from the other side of the valley, beyond that impossible-looking ascent through perpendicular snow-covered trees. They exchanged a look of hope which turned to disappointed resignation as they both identified the motorcycle engine become a wasp whine following the track that led to nowhere else but Ryan’s house.

Danny reached for the flashlight even as Martin was fumbling it and between the two of them they managed to stab the button off; both exhaling misty breath as they gazed at one another in the sudden darkness.

“So much for him having to walk back.”

“He can’t possibly see us,” Martin murmured, as the whine of the engine got louder and louder. The track had seemed so high above them a moment before, but now Danny found himself wondering how long it would take for a fit man with a flashlight and good hiking boots to follow them, and realized they had to get a lot further away then this.

“We have to go.” He pulled Martin in close and slid purposefully down the next ten feet of snow-covered rock and tree roots. Martin felt heavier than he had before and Danny realized that his coat was soaking up the snow like a sponge; the bruises were really kicking in hard now, too; he could feel it with his own shoulders and back where Ryan had slammed him against the kitchen cabinets, the cold biting into them, everything stiffening up. Martin felt unwieldy, trying to coordinate his movements, but his feet dragging and catching on every rock and fallen branch, drooping lower in Danny’s grip. Through gritted teeth, Danny hauled him up higher. “Martin? Are you awake?”

“Yes.” Martin jolted back into full consciousness in shock, tripped over a rock and pulled them both down.

The world briefly became a blur of tumbling trees, sharp things that scraped, snow that soaked into him, as he rolled and slid, and then rolled again and found himself sliding much too fast over bruising, soaking, freezing terrain, until something crashed into him and sent him somersaulting. His shoulders slammed into the trunk of a tree and for a moment he thought his back had to be broken, the white-out of impact screaming through every nerve. And then something snow-dusted and sodden hit him and he grabbed it instinctively, holding on tight as the world spun and he tried to remember how to breathe.

***
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