elgrey: Artwork by Suzan Lovett (DM_DannyIcon)
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Vivian watched the car they were pursuing turn onto a farm track. It was hardly a high speed chase any more; both of them slowing their pace as the snow danced around them. Gallagher’s car bumped over the tracks so carefully that she wondered if she should start calling the paramedics now, and, exchanging a look with Sam, saw the same thought cross her mind.

“How are you on delivering babies?” Sam asked.

“I don’t do that,” Viv assured her.

“But when you had Reggie…?”

“I was at the other end. Marcus could probably deliver a baby. Me – not so much.”

There was a flicker of panic in Sam’s eyes. “Well, I’m not doing it.”

“You’re a local,” Viv told her as comfortingly as she could. “Mary would be more inclined to relate to you.”

“You think we have babies differently in Wisconsin?” Sam’s voice was starting to rise to panic levels.

“Maybe he just wants to talk to us.” Vivian used her most soothing voice but Sam was still looking as if she thought she might be about to be suckered into playing midwife. “She’s not due for two weeks,” Viv added.

Sam just looked at her. “Yes, because babies never decide to come early, especially when their mothers are really stressed.”

“He could just want to shoot us?”

“You’re such a comfort.” Sam looked even more on edge as she pulled the car up next to Gallagher’s, Vivian covering her in case he decided that killing his pursuers was going to be his next trick.

There was a long pause as their two vehicles shuddered in the chill whisk of flakes, engines turning, exhausts pumping, the cars like racehorses after the final furlong, and then Gallagher slowly wound down his window, holding up his hands as Vivian pointed the gun at him. When he turned to look at them, his dark blue eyes with their fringing of long black lashes were unexpectedly beautiful.

“Are you police?” he asked.

“FBI,” Vivian told him clearly. “Your sister should remember me. I’m Vivian Johnson. I came with Agent Malone to talk to her after Margaret went missing. This is Agent Spade. Is your sister okay?”

Gallagher turned his head, still moving carefully. “Mary…?”

Vivian heard her voice, a thin gasp of sound between painful breaths: “I remember her. She’s nice, Nate.”

The relief at hearing Mary Ryan was still alive was overwhelming, and she and Sam exchanged a brief smile. Vivian raised her voice: “Mary, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” the woman called back.

“She’s having contractions,” Gallagher explained. He held out his hands so Vivian could see how badly they were shaking. “I don’t think I can drive any more, not in this snow.”

Sam said: “And you a boy from Wisconsin?”

His smile was fleeting but very pretty. “I’m usually okay to drive in any weather but I’m so tired right now I keep thinking I’m going to go off the road.”

“You drove Mary from Honesdale?” Vivian asked.

He nodded. “We had to stay off the main roads in case anyone was looking for us. It took a long time. I haven’t slept much the past few days, and Clare’s holding Mary’s hand. Can you take us to the hospital? Even if you’re going to arrest us I’m hoping you don’t mind taking us to the hospital first.”

Vivian nodded to Sam. “Over to you.”

Sam rolled her eyes but did switch off the engine. “Do you have any weapons?” she asked him.

He looked at her in confusion and then looked over the back seat. “Clare?”

“I got a nail file,” the girl said in obvious perplexity. “Is this like getting on a plane?”

“Nathan, get out of the car and let me search you,” Vivian said wearily.

The young man complied, although clearly still a little confused. Vivian patted him down carefully and found that underneath the layers of clothing he had the physique of a stray cat. She couldn’t help wondering if Martin would also have been this skinny if he didn’t have his junk food craving and need to pass FBI fitness tests. A look in the back seat won her a brief pained smile from Mary, who had her legs braced against the back of the passenger seat and sweat trickling down her face. Clare had her arms full of her sister-in-law and was keeping her hair off her face while breathing on her cheek and murmuring encouragement. Only by contorting oneself like a gymnast would it be possible to search either Clare or Mary for concealed weapons.

“How trusting are you feeling today?” Vivian murmured to Sam.

“There’s nothing in their records to say that they’d shoot two federal agents in the back of the head,” Sam pointed out. “And if Mary is faking labor, she’s doing it very well.”

“It’s not procedure.” Vivian had never felt less like caring about procedure but it wasn’t just her life she would be risking.

“Martin did it,” Sam pointed out. “And Jack didn’t even yell at him.”

“Well, Jack didn’t see him do it and Danny gave him the censored version of events before Martin had to face him.”

Sam shrugged. “Jack can’t see us either.”

Vivian held her gaze. “You sure?”

Sam glanced at them. “A woman in labor, a girl with her arms full of a woman in labor and a guy that I could take with one arm tied behind my back…? I think we can risk it.”

Vivian turned back to Nathan Gallagher who seemed to be waiting for her to handcuff him. “Get in the back with your sister. We’ll take you to the hospital. But in return you have to answer all our questions and you have to do it right now.”

“Anything.” He politely held the door open for her. “Just please hurry because the baby could be breech or it could have the cord wrapped around its neck or…”

“Shut up and get in the back,” Sam told him, sliding behind the wheel. Glancing in the rearview mirror she saw Clare Hope rolling her eyes at her husband for his paranoia.

“You know, Nate, nature’s on the side of babies being born just fine.” Clare smiled down at her sister-in-law reassuringly: “He was like this before Charlotte was born, too. Next time I’m putting him on Prozac the first day I get the test results.”

As they sped off into the snow, Nathan wriggled into the back seat to take his sister’s hand and gave Sam rapid directions on the quickest route to get to the hospital while Vivian called in where they were, who they were with, and where they were headed to the local PD. Nathan didn’t seem to get the significance of that either, much too focused on his sister.

As Sam drove, Vivian glanced in the rearview mirror, holding Mary’s gaze. “Mary, I need you to tell me what happened, to you and to your daughter. But before you do that I need you to tell me if your husband is dangerous?”

Mary’s dark eyes were lowered at once, a flicker of evasion across her face. “He’s never hurt me or Margaret. He doesn’t hurt women or children.” She glanced up at her brother and her eyes were full of apology. He leaned across to kiss her brow, stroking a wet strand of hair out of her face.

“Two FBI agents drove up to interview him last night and we haven’t heard from them since,” Sam said shortly.

Nathan looked up, startled. “Men or women?”

“Men,” Vivian asked. “Why?”

“How old?”

Vivian turned around in her seat to look at him. “Your age. Why?”

Nathan paled and Mary was looking stricken with guilt. “I knew it…” she breathed. “I should have stayed. I should never have left him…”

“You think he’s going to be angry that you left him?” Sam pressed.

“He doesn’t know you left him,” Clare assured her. “As far as he’s concerned you were taken. Not your fault and not your decision.”

“He was shown a photograph of the man who appeared to ‘kidnap’ his wife. Who we have now identified as you, Mr. Gallagher,” Viv pointed out.

Nathan stared at her. “But Ryan didn’t know that, right? He didn’t know it was me?”

“Not until we showed him the photograph of you abducting your sister, no. But he would have known it afterwards.” She found her voice was getting a steely edge she couldn’t quite seem to soften. “Mary, do you have any reason to believe that he would be a danger to the agents who went to interview him?”

There was a long silence before Clare said abruptly: “You have to tell them. Think if it was Nate.”

“I can’t…” Mary shook her head. “If I say it out loud…”

“You think you’ll make it truer than it already is?” Clare demanded.

Mary gazed up at Viv like someone pleading for forgiveness she felt she did not deserve. “We had an arrangement. I was the one who broke my word.”

“What arrangement?” Sam sounded as if she had slivers of glass in her mouth.

“If he’s hurt them, it’s my fault for leaving him. He never would have done if I’d stayed.”

“What arrangement?” Sam almost shouted.

“It was crazy!” Clare insisted. “The whole damned thing was crazy. You should have run out of on him when Nate did.”

“But he would have gone on…” Mary broke off while Vivian felt all the blood in her veins get colder and colder.

When she spoke her voice sounded like a stranger’s: “He would have gone on…killing?”

Mary nodded once, briefly, as tears rolled down her face. “The arrangement was that I would stay with him and be a good wife to him, and not tell anyone what he’d done in the past and he wouldn’t…hurt anyone else. I didn’t know when I married him, I swear. I didn’t know until Nate… I was afraid of him by then but I didn’t know everything. I couldn’t prove it – neither of us could, and when he talked to me about it he explained how he’d stopped the day we married and never done…that since. Not to a stranger. He didn’t break his word, but when I found out the baby was going to be a boy, I knew he’d do what his father did and want to raise it up to be just like him.”

Viv could make more sense out of Mary’s words that her confused tangle of sentences probably merited. The realization that she was married to a serial killer after years of being subjected to the mind-washing of a controlling husband had led her to make a deal where other women would be making a statement. The dead were already dead and she didn’t think anyone would believe her. The police in the form of Deputy Stapleton had already been shown the irrefutable evidence that Ryan was a murderer, and had done nothing but help him to conceal his crime. She had agreed to pawn her own liberty in exchange for the lives of the young men he would not kill if she stayed with him. Something that could have been considered noble if it had not also been so incredibly stupid.

“So you said nothing to anyone about the crimes your husband had committed in the past in exchange for his guarantee that he wouldn’t kill anyone else? And that arrangement stayed in place until you heard from your brother…?”

“He wanted to meet Margaret. He wanted her to see Charlotte. I agreed to it. But then…” Mary darted a look at Clare who held Vivian’s gaze unflinchingly.

“I knew what Ryan was. I thought about reporting him but then I thought what would happen…? He’d maybe think it was Mary who’d told on him and kill her. Or they’d send some young deputy up there and he’d kill him. But a little girl…? Sending her back to that…? When there was a chance to get her away…? I was the one who wouldn’t let Nate take her home. I was the one who said she couldn’t go on living with Ryan, not knowing what he was, what he’d done, what he was capable of. I thought Mary would come too. I thought we could save her too.”

Mary gasped as another contraction tore through her, her fingers tightening around those of her sister-in-law. “I missed her every hour of every day, but a part of me always hoped they wouldn’t send her back.”

“So you knew where she was the whole time?” Vivian pressed.

Mary shook her head. “I didn’t know for sure. I knew Nate was bringing Clare and the baby to show to her but I didn’t know if there had been an accident. But there were no reports of an accident so I hoped…and in the end I got a postcard that was supposed to be from my cousin Lucy. Except it wasn’t her handwriting. It was Clare’s. There was nothing there to make Frank suspicious – not that he was thinking I knew anything anyway – just things about the family, and recipes, but in the rest of it there was a sentence about how Charlotte was so happy to have her cousin staying for a visit, and I knew that was the message I’d been waiting for, letting me know that Margaret was okay.”

“But you thought you’d never see her again?” Vivian could remember how spiritless Mary had been; so devoid of hope.

“I had to stay with him or more people would die and I knew Clare wouldn’t let Margaret come home. So, I knew I’d never see her again. Not unless Frank died.”

“You didn’t think about helping that situation along?” Sam enquired.

“I never let myself think that. I never wanted to be like him.”

There was a pause while Vivian and Sam exchanged a glance; Vivian thinking that she probably ought to admire Mary’s restraint; her principled refusal to fight violence with violence, and yet at the same time, how much misery could have been averted if instead of sending Nathan away she had found a way to make sure that Frank Ryan never woke up.

“You didn’t feel you could contact your brother again to ask about your daughter?”

“I would never have done that. You were monitoring our calls. And Frank paid the bills. He could see all the numbers I called. I would never have put Nate and Clare and Charlotte in danger if I hadn’t been desperate.”

“Because of the sex of your baby? That was why you called your brother?” Viv prompted. “And you told him you wanted out of your marriage but that Ryan mustn’t know you’d left him willingly?”

She nodded, jerkily. “I was hoping he’d never find out. I knew if he did…”

Sam and Vivian exchanged a look of horror as Vivian hit the button for Jack’s number. As Mary went on apologetically, her voice hushed as if even now she could hardly bring herself to say the words out loud: “…if he did he might kill the next young man who walked through his door…”

***

Backing away to try to keep the scene as uncontaminated as possible, Martin took in the signs that he could see. More tire tracks, coming and going to this point. The place where it had been parked. Ryan’s vehicle, he was certain. He could see it in his mind’s eye now. Ryan driving here calmly, setting up, waiting for Danny and Martin to appear and then intending to pick them off. No doubt he would have retrieved the bodies afterwards, perhaps dumped then in one of the mines around here. He had not expected an audience. But he had been interrupted…

Martin imagined the ranger driving up, catching sight of the other vehicle, then hearing the gunshots, hurrying over to tell the man with the rifle that this was out of season, only to realize that what he was shooting at wasn’t deer. He had turned to run, perhaps shouting a warning to the campers, and Ryan had shot him in the back. No wonder the campers had left in such a hurry; that must have been the other shots he and Danny had heard – Ryan firing at the campers as they ran for their car. They were lucky he hadn’t taken out the tires. Martin checked the tracks again and it was clear that Ryan had got into his own vehicle and headed back the way he had come. Perhaps he was hoping to cut the fleeing campers off by some other route, but Martin couldn’t see any way that he could make it. He hated leaving the ranger lying there in the snow but preserving the crime scene was the best way to bring his killer to justice. Except…

All of Martin’s instincts as a federal agent rebelled at disturbing a body but he needed the phone the ranger was probably carrying. Wishing vainly for a pair of gloves, he delved under the corpse, trying to feel into the pockets of his jacket. His footprints were already confusing things, making it less easy for another crime scene investigator to work out what had happened. If Danny hadn’t been in such dire need, he would have taken a moment to find a pen and some paper and leave a note, but there was that pulse beating in his brain, that piece of elastic tightening with every second. He lifted the body up a little – gasping with the pain that exerted on his injured ribs – and searched for a weapon, but without success. He searched pockets too small to take a revolver, and felt the square edge of something in the man’s pocket. A second later he had it hooked out and in his hand. He opened his fingers cautiously, afraid of disappointment, but there it was, the outline of a cell phone, and when he flicked it open it was showing a signal. He was dialing so fast his fingers barely had time to shake.


Jack Malone’s phone hadn’t stopped ringing since daybreak. Elena giving him more information about the rescue personnel on their way; the helicopter pilot giving his ETA; Victor Fitzgerald wanting to know where his son was right now and why Jack couldn’t give him that information every twenty minutes or so, and a dozen other calls relating to the case. It was a relief to see Vivian’s caller ID. She might have something concrete to tell him instead of more questions he couldn’t answer.

“Hey, Viv. Tell me you have something…?”

“We’re on our way to the hospital with Mary Ryan, Clare Hope, and Nathan Gallagher, but, Jack, we have some bad news…”

He listened as the information rolled over him with all the finesse of a Sherman tank. Frank Ryan was a second generation serial killer. A chip off the old block, trained up by his father to inherit the family farm and the family nasty habit of picking up male drifters and beating, torturing and raping them before he murdered them and dumped them in a shallow grave. There had been no more killings in Indemnity for the past eighteen years because the marriage vow Ryan had made in private but forgotten to share with his wife was that he was giving up killing people on condition that she was a good wife to him. He had, apparently, truly loved her, but that hadn’t stopped him taking out some of his repressed psychosis and sexual frustration on making her brother his own special project. Which was when Mary had realized that her husband wasn’t quite the man she thought he was, because the warning bells his controlling behavior had set off before that point had been as nothing beside the clanking klaxon of realization after the first time he had beaten her brother unconscious and locked him in the basement to think about his options.

Nathan Gallagher had chosen obedience, which had helped some of the time, but hadn’t always averted the beatings that followed, as Ryan found excuses to smack him around for increasingly contrived reasons. Mary had become more and more terrified of doing anything that might make her husband angry, as he would then take it out on her brother, the two of them more brainwashed by Ryan every day into playing by his rules so completely that they never had time to stop and ask if the rules made any sense.

They had played by his rules for four years, not much better than prisoners on that farm, while Ryan stuck to his marriage vows and didn’t murder anyone, but the effort of doing so seeped out against his brother-in-law, who, by this point, could never be quite obedient, respectful or submissive enough. Nathan had left after Ryan – finding out that Nathan had seen his ex-girlfriend against his express orders – had beaten and raped and had probably intended to murder him, but had been interrupted by Jake Gallagher, who, for the first time in his life had tried to do something for his son. Jake was the only person, apart from Nathan and Mary, who had realized that someone other than him was now blacking his son’s eyes and had driven up to the farm to confront Ryan. Coming in on Ryan – who had overstepped his previous boundaries, as the old serial killing urges got away from him – he had confronted the man and had his head beaten in for his troubles. Realizing that, in Ryan’s perception of him, her brother had crossed the line he had been so precariously balanced on before as a family member rather than Ryan’s next victim, Mary had ordered Nathan to fake his death before it became a reality.

Had she been doing penance ever since? Jack thought about what that night must have been like for her. In what order had she found out? Had Ryan told her lovingly or brutally? ‘Sorry, I killed your father and raped your brother while I was beating him into unconsciousness, but as a tribute to my great love for you I haven’t killed anyone since I married you, which is really something, because up until then I used to do it all the time….’

Mary hadn’t been grieving for her not-dead brother or even her truly-dead father when she had been given all those anti-depressants, she had been having a complete nervous breakdown over the realization that she was married to a serial killer, and that she had the choice of either staying with him to protect his future victims or trying to make someone believe her story. Mary wasn’t a fighter. Jack had thought that on their first meeting. She was someone who endured; who suffered; who did penance for what she perceived to be her guilt. That was why she had let her sister-in-law take her daughter away and thought it was the right decision, rather than telling the FBI agents in her house that her husband was a murderer.

“Jack…?”

Jack blinked as he realized he was still standing in the snow, surrounded by trees and scurrying agents, whining dogs, the distant sound of something that could, please God be a helicopter finally on its way. He found Sheriff Cooper looking at him anxiously. “What is it?” the man demanded. “What’s wrong?”

He swallowed hard and while holding Cooper’s gaze said rapidly to Vivian: “So, you’re telling me that Ryan’s a serial killer who specializes in the murder of good-looking young men, and I not only entirely failed to realize it, I sent Danny and Martin up there, alone, to interview him…?”

Cooper turned away, pulling off his hat to run a hand through his hair. “Hell,” he said. And then more forcefully: “Hell and damnation!”

Jack personally thought ‘Fuck!’ was a more appropriate response, but he got that Cooper was probably using the two worst words in his vocabulary and ones he would never normally use in public.

“Jack, you couldn’t have known,” Vivian breathed.

“But I should have done.” He took a moment to try to get his heart rate back to normal but he could practically feel his blood pressure spiking. “How close are you to the hospital?”

“We should get there in time but – ”

He saw another number flashing at him and grimaced. “Viv, I have another call. Call me from the hospital or if you find out anything else. I’ll be in touch.” He didn’t recognize the number but took the call anyway, hoping it wasn’t Martin’s mother as he did so. It had been bad enough having to field Victor Fitzgerald all morning. “Malone.”

“Jack…?”

His heart did a double back flip. He tightened his grip on the phone. “Martin…? Where the hell are you? Are you okay?”

Cooper spun around at once, eyes full of hope, while Jack gestured at him to be quiet before he even opened his mouth.

Martin was breathing hard. “Danny’s been shot in the side. I’ve slowed the bleeding but I couldn’t stop it. He’s in a cabin – it’s about ten miles from Ryan’s place heading east, level with a campsite. It’s hard to spot from the air. You need to look for our footprints. There’s a mine to the north – about three hundred yards from the cabin. That should be on the map. I’m going back there now. I didn’t want to leave him but I had to find a phone…”

The Sheriff was already spreading out the map so Jack could find the location, while relaying the information overheard from Martin to another agent. For the first time, Jack felt a tiny spark of liking for Sheriff Cooper.

“How bad is it – the wound?”

“I don’t know. But they’re never good, are they?”

Martin’s teeth where chattering – he could hear down the line, and realized that the part of Martin that was a federal agent was giving him the information to find them while another part was spiking with panic for Danny.

“Who shot him? Was it Ryan?”

“We didn’t see, but we’re assuming it was him.” Martin sounded breathless, clearly moving over what seemed to be uneven terrain, little gasps and grunts of exertion accompanying each movement. “There’s a dead ranger up here. He was shot a few minutes after Danny. His name is Cliff Haynes. I’m using his cell. I didn’t see him shot either, but I heard it.”

Cooper grimaced. “Oh, hell. Not Cliff….”

“…And there’s a couple, I think, driving west fast. Whoever killed the ranger shot at them. I didn’t see any blood spatters in the snow so I don’t think they’re hurt but it might be a good idea to try to find them.”

Jack motioned to Cooper about the helicopter and the man told him rapidly that it was on its way and he’d asked for a trace on the call Jack was taking right now.

“What happened between you and Ryan?” Jack asked. Martin still sounded in pain to him. He was clearly moving fast and he didn’t like the way his breath was hitching over each inhalation. “Are you hurt?”

“He went ape. Started going on about discipline and obedience. Danny tried to talk him down. I probably didn’t handle it right. He knocked Danny out – I was worried. I know you told us to suck it up but I mouthed off more than I…”

“Martin…” Jack had intended to sound soothing, but anxiety had sharpened his voice and he practically snapped his name. “Ryan’s a serial killer. The second he found out that Mary had left him willingly the next young guy to walk through that door was already toast. It was probably nothing you did. Did he hurt you…?”

There was a fractional hesitation before Martin said: “I’m fine, Jack, but Danny’s bleeding heavily. He needs the paramedics.”

Cooper said rapidly: “The chopper will be here in five minutes. Fitzgerald’s about seven miles from here. Your guys have got his location. Do you want the helicopter to come here or go straight there?”

“Tell them to come here first,” Jack ordered. “There’s a guy with a gun out there who’s already shot two people, one of them fatally. I need to give them some back up.” He turned back to Martin and said gently: “Martin, the chopper’s on its way and I’m going to come and find you. Just keep talking to me.”

“Did I say it was a through and through? In his left side. I tied it up with my shirt and a sweater but I had to move him right after he was shot and there was a lot of blood loss. He was losing heat fast.”

He could hear still Martin’s teeth chattering with what sounded like shock and cold, and his chest had a wet sound he didn’t much care for. He heard a twig crack loudly, the sound of someone sliding, then even through the cell phone connection, Jack could feel the jolt as Martin hit the ground, and that cry of pain tore straight through him. “Martin? Are you okay?”

He heard Martin snatching more ragged breaths as he evidently struggled to his feet. “I just slipped. How long until the paramedics get here…?”

“They’re going to pick me up in a couple of minutes, then we’re going to come and find you and Danny. We’re pinpointing your location now.”

Cooper was circling a place on the map and whispering to him rapidly: “Hal Shire’s cabin. I’ll give the coordinates to the helicopter pilot, but they’re not going to be able to land there, closest place is about half a mile away.”

The gasp of horror from Martin made Jack break out in goose bumps, a chill shivering straight down his spine. “What is it?”

“Footprints. I can see footprints in the snow and they’re not mine.” Then Martin was moving at such speed that Jack could hear the tear and lash of tree branches, grunts as Martin stumbled and slid, presumably on his ass, in a mad scramble down what seemed to be very rough terrain. Jack could see the place on the map that Cooper had circled, the campsite marked and the contour lines so close together, proving how steep the incline was.

“Martin, don’t panic,” he told him sharply, afraid that his agent was going to fall and break his neck while he listened impotently.

“He’s going after Danny. I shouldn’t have left him….”

“Martin…?” Jack said his name several times but Martin had evidently stuffed the phone inside his clothing to leave his hands free because he could hear the sound of bumps and thuds and gasps of pain and the rapid beat of his heart; he was as close as an amulet and about as useful.

“How bad is it?” Cooper asked.

Shrugging helplessly, Jack said: “I don’t know. He said Danny’s been shot. It may look worse than it is but it’s pretty clear that if the bleeding isn’t stopped soon, Danny’s not going to make it, especially in that weather after the night those two must have had trekking through the snow. Martin sounds like crap to me, but he says he okay. You know the guy Martin mentioned – the ranger?”

Cooper nodded. “He’s a good man. Wife and two kids. Ryan must have lost it completely.”

“This is my fault.” Jack could feel the guilt coiling in his guts. “I should never have told Ryan that Mary had left him willingly until we’d found her and knew the reason why. It’s a miracle Danny and Martin are still alive.”

Cooper shook his head. “Malone, you had no reason to think the guy was a murderer. Heck, I’ve known him for twelve years and I certainly didn’t work it out.”

Rapid breathing and what sounded like little hitches of pain told Jack that Martin had hold of the phone again. “Martin, are you okay?”

“Jack, the footsteps lead toward the cabin. Danny can’t move, which means he’s a sitting duck up there. I’m going to try to get Ryan away from him but the paramedics need to get here fast.”

With the map in front of him, Jack could imagine the terrain, its ridges and rocks smoothed out by the blizzard, a white drift over everything, and those footprints, deeper and larger than Martin’s would ever be, like yeti prints in the snow, leading up to that cabin half-hidden on the opposite slope – the slope just as steep and rough as the one Martin had just stumbled down. With a wounded friend at the mercy of a serial killer, he doubted Martin was thinking any too clearly right now. He could feel his own tension ratcheting tight at the thought of Danny bleeding and helpless and that madman advancing on him, but the fact remained that he still had one agent who was definitely alive and in one piece and he wanted to keep it that way.

“Wait, Martin. Do you have your gun?”

“No. Ryan took them. That’s what I mean – Danny’s unarmed and I don’t even know if he’s still conscious. I should never have left him…”

“Martin, if you don’t have a weapon and Ryan does there isn’t a lot you can do right now. Danny may have a better chance as a hostage. If he’s a bargaining chip then Ryan won’t kill him.”

“Yes, he will.” Martin sounded absolutely certain about that. “But he’d rather kill me. I can get him away from Danny, and he won’t kill me quickly. He’s got a whole ritual he has to go through. There’s time for you to get here.”

He could hear the sound of Martin’s feet, a crisp intrusion into thick snow, then the sound of ground that was less densely covered, the crunch of twigs and leaves. That meant Martin was climbing again, and he could hear his breath hitch, the painful inhalations as he stumbled upwards doggedly. He hoped it was just a stitch, or cramp from muscles chilled by the cold night of escaping from Ryan, hurting as they were forced to move at speed. The frustration of having Martin on the phone and yet not being able to arrest his movement towards what could be his death was overwhelming.

Through gritted teeth, Jack said: “Martin, if Ryan has a weapon and you don’t, I am ordering you not to approach him. Do you hear me?” Jack felt like the father in Poltergeist, having to play stern to keep his child from going into the light, but the anxiety spiking in his voice needed no playacting at all. “Martin…!”

Martin’s voice was an entirely sane whisper on the other end of the connection. “Danny’s wounded and alone with a serial killer, Jack. Don’t tell me you’d just leave him there and wait for reinforcements because we both know you wouldn’t. I’m putting the phone down now. I’ll leave it open so you can hear what happens but don’t say anything or Ryan will know….”

He almost screamed his name again, but stifled it, despite his frustrated anxiety, imagining how close Martin could be to the hut by now, unarmed, and about to go up against a murderer.

That was when he heard a cry of pain that made chill sweat break out on his skin. He recognized who it came from and the sound was worse because it had so clearly been dragged out of Danny against his will; a snarl of anger coiled around the pain because he could not quite suppress the agony he was in.

“Ryan, don’t!”

Martin was giving the guy everything he wanted right there; the anguish that told him hurting Danny was absolutely going to get him what he wanted. Groaning, Jack pressed a hand to his forehead, hardly daring to breathe as he strained to hear what happened next.

“Martin, don’t come in here…!” That was Danny, who sounded ragged and desperate and angry as hell. Jack could picture him lying there, bleeding, in so much pain and furious at the pain, at the helplessness, at the way he was being used to walk Martin straight into a trap.

There was noise beating all around him now, louder and louder, but Jack just blocked it all out, straining every sinew to hear those ghost whispers on the other end of his cell.

“Mr. Ryan, can I come in?”

Martin was hanging onto his negotiator voice by the skin of his teeth there. Jack wanted to bodily reach down the phone line, grab him by the scruff of the neck and haul him the hell away from the maniac with the loaded gun, shove him behind a tree somewhere, then get Ryan away from Danny, with a bullet or with reason, he hardly cared which. He pressed a hand over his other ear, trying to just concentrate on what was happening where Martin was, all other sounds just extraneous noise to him right now.

“Martin – don’t…” he hissed under his breath at the same time that Danny said the words so much more forcefully as a tinny echo in his ear.

“I’m sorry…” Jack heard Martin say so quietly that he wasn’t sure if it was meant for him or a near-silent apology to Danny, and then there was the sound of the cabin door closing and everything was too muffled for him to hear.

Holding his phone against his ear to listen for what he feared was the inevitable gunshot, Jack motioned to Cooper who had done a good job – he now realized – of keeping everyone quiet. “I need that helicopter now,” he breathed.

Cooper pointed up and Jack realized that one of the noises he had been blocking out was the whirl of those blades as the helicopter swooped above them, sending beats of air down rhythmically to make the snow swirl and flurry and the dead fall leaves beneath rise up and dance.

***

Danny had thought that nothing and no one could blot out the pain; that had become so all consuming it was even making his hair pulse with it, as if there were not enough living cells in his body to absorb it all and it had leached out into the dead ones. His side was a throb-throb-throb of blood pumping and leaking, each pump an outgoing tide that took some more warmth with it; each inward tide broken glass ground deeper into the burn that was the bullet hole in his side. Then Ryan had stepped through the doorway with that look on his face, as if they were the ones in the wrong; the ones who deserved to be punished. Not even a man looking for a justification, but one who believed he carried one in his pocket, like a starched handkerchief, always ready in an emergency.

Shivering with cold and pain, Danny had tried to sit up, knowing he was a pasty, sweating, bleeding victim here and that was all Ryan was seeing. The satisfaction in Ryan’s steely eyes confirmed it, and he would have given almost anything to have a gun in his sock, in his sleeve, somewhere he could produce it and level it, and wipe that damned expression off the man’s face. But his gun was in Ryan’s hand right now, the rifle slung over his shoulder and the barrel of Danny’s revolver staring back at him, like the eye of the Cyclops.

“Where’s Fitzgerald?” Ryan asked.

“He’s gone for help.” Danny’s voice rasped with pain when all he wanted Ryan to be hearing was anger.

Ryan came closer and Danny looked around for anything he could use as a weapon, but there was nothing. He was lying on top of the only piece of furniture in the cabin. He tried to sit up but the pain in his side was too bad and he fell back, teeth gritted to try to choke down his exclamation. Ryan touched the wound with the barrel of Danny’s gun. “I didn’t give you permission to borrow my sweater.”

“You ruined Martin’s coat,” Danny managed between gritted teeth. “Fair exchange is no robbery.”

“He hasn’t gone far.” Ryan pushed the barrel a little harder against the wound. “He wouldn’t leave you for long.”

The pain was building again, radiating in red waves as that metal pushed a little harder and then a little more. Danny suspected his crowns were starting to chip but he managed to gasp out: “I’m the best chance you have of getting out of this alive.”

It felt like a long time since Ryan had blinked. “Call him.”

Danny met his gaze and felt some fear mix in with his anger. Torture was not something he had ever had entered on his mental ‘must try sports’ list. Hang-gliding, maybe, excruciating pain – no. He realized at least half of the fear was for Martin. “I’m not your type…?” he tried to sound witty and careless but suspected he just came off like someone bleeding to death. “You’re hurting my feelings.”

Ryan dug the barrel of the gun in harder. “Call him.”

Danny swung the punch with everything he had, only to find that dizzying blood loss had evidently slowed his reflexes, or Ryan had always been quicker than a rattlesnake, because he found his right wrist held in a painful grip and being twisted until the bone felt as if it was beginning to bow. Danny cursed, tears springing into his eyes from the intensity of the pain, but managed to stifle his urge to scream. Which was when Ryan dug the gun so hard into his wound that he saw stars and heard himself crying out before he could smother it in a snarl of rage.

And, damnit to hell, Martin was there right on cue, pleading with Ryan to stop. He shouted at him to stay away while the world swam in and out of focus, the dark cabin graying several shades darker as he tried to decide whether it was better to be conscious to help Martin get out of this or unconscious so Ryan couldn’t use him as bait.

He could hear Martin using the exact tone Danny had used earlier, and realized with horror that not only did he know why Martin had been so angry at Danny giving in to Ryan but that Martin was going to give Ryan any damned thing he asked for, just the way Danny had earlier, because neither of them were apparently capable of watching a friend get hurt if there was anything they could do to avert it. Desperation gave him the strength to shout: “Martin – don’t!”

Ryan jabbed him harder with the gun and for a moment he might have passed out. The pain spiked into unrelieved agony and when everything stopped going in and out of focus, he could hear the low rumble of Ryan’s voice countermanding him. The darkness lifted as the door was pushed open, letting in a blinding wedge of snow-reflected daylight. Martin came in slowly and Danny was just praying he would have a weapon in his hand, but, blinking the sweat out of his eyes, he saw that Martin had his hands held up as he advanced slowly into the room.

“Ryan, you need to give up now,” Martin said quietly. “You could claim temporary insanity. Your wife just left you – you already lost your daughter. People will understand. Any good lawyer could make a case for you.”

“You talk when I tell you to talk.” Ryan didn’t even sound particularly angry – just as if he was laying down the rules now, and everyone needed to understand them.

Danny watched Martin swallow, their gaze met, and he saw how sick and pale Martin looked, realizing with an inward cringe that it was his fault Martin looked like this, his fellow agent all twisted up inside with anxiety for him.

“Are you okay?” Martin mouthed at him.

He nodded emphatically, trying to communicate with his eyes how much he wanted Martin to get the hell away from this situation right now. When that didn’t work, he jerked his head savagely at the door, eyes urging Martin to run. Martin’s headshake was very slight and so regretful. Danny groaned and tried to shift into a better situation.

“I have this for Danny.” Martin carefully lifted a rucksack from his shoulder and held it out so that Ryan could see it. “Can I give it to him?”

Ryan took the rucksack from him and tossed it casually into the corner, too far for Danny to reach it. “No. Now, be quiet. Turn around and face the wall.”

Danny met Martin’s gaze in a last desperate ‘Run like hell!’ silent urging before Martin gave him a look that could possibly be the last one they ever shared, and turned. Still hoping that Martin might have a plan, Danny felt even the pain throbbing through his body recede as he focused on Ryan lifting that gun.

“Don’t…” Danny swallowed painfully over the razor blades that seemed to be lodged in his throat. “Ryan, please. Please…”

Ryan jammed the gun barrel into the back of Martin’s head. “Tell me why I shouldn’t blow your head off right now and your friend’s right afterwards?”

“He hasn’t done anything to you!” Danny protested.

Ryan grabbed Martin’s hair in his left hand and pulled his head back so he could see his face, still digging the gun barrel into his scalp. “Tell me.”

“I’m not your enemy,” Martin said quietly.

“Wrong answer.” Ryan cocked the gun.

Danny saw Martin go even paler, noticing the lines around his eyes, the shadows underneath them, the bruises looking crimson and black against the pallor of his skin. He saw Martin’s jaw clench and then he said quietly: “Because I’ll do whatever you say.”

Ryan’s smile was sharp as a shark fin cutting through the waves. “Good answer.” He took a step back. “Put your hands behind your back.”

If Danny had been able to get up he would have been rocking with rage and tension. He was afraid to say anything in case Ryan killed Martin just to make a point, but the anger and fear bubbling up in him was almost impossible to keep choking into silence. He so badly wanted Martin to slam an elbow into Ryan’s ribs, and yet he knew that Martin wasn’t going to, not with Danny immobilized through blood loss and likely to pay the price if Martin’s strategy failed. He knew that Martin was going to do exactly what Ryan wanted to keep Ryan in a good enough mood that he wouldn’t stick a gun back into Danny’s wound or blow a hole in his head, and that thought was killing him. Last time he had wondered why Martin had kept mouthing off to a maniac, and now he knew why. It was all he could do to keep biting down his hatred and scorn for Ryan as the man snapped on the handcuffs over Martin’s bruised wrists.

“I need to know you’ve really learned your lesson,” Ryan told him.

Danny could feel the fine hair on his skin bristling like an angry cat. Ryan’s unshakeable self-confidence in his own right to order them around was making him want to spit and hiss.

“I’ve told you,” Martin said quietly, still facing the wall as ordered. “I’ll do anything you want if you’ll leave Danny alone.”

Danny shuddered as he heard his own words echoed by Martin. But it had been easier to say them than to hear them said by another. “Martin, don’t…” he began tautly.

Ryan’s retribution was swift and completely unjust, his fist slamming hard into Martin’s kidneys. As Danny cried out a protest he quickly stifled at a warning look from Ryan, Martin’s knees buckled and he went down hard, gasping for breath as the pain radiated out from that blow, and then coughing and retching as the breath came wheezing back.

“I’m sorry…” Danny said at once. “Please don’t hurt him.”

“Too late for that.” Ryan’s eyes were cold as a lizard when the sun had gone down.

Danny knew that if Jack were here he would find the words somehow, the ones Martin was too breathless to utter even if they had occurred to him and that he had lost somewhere back in the sea of pain in which he was currently drowning. Jack would have known what to say to stop this; stop Ryan from whatever he had planned next, the whole ritual that was going to lead to them both being dead.

Ryan grabbed Martin by the collar and yanked him around – still on his knees – to face him. Danny saw the movement of Martin’s Adam’s apple as he swallowed. Ryan ran a thumb across the bruises marring Martin’s face and Martin turned his head away in disgust. “College boys like you – always think you’re too smart to end up dead. Always think a good education is going to help you, but it doesn’t.”

Martin held Ryan’s gaze, letting that flicker of ‘fuck you’ show briefly before he submissively lowered his gaze and pretended to be a good obediently cowed agent who accepted Ryan’s authority over him. “Do we have to do this here?” Martin asked.

“I want your friend to learn a lesson too. And wouldn’t you two rather die together than apart?”

“Do I get a last request?”

Ryan seemed amused by that. Danny thought that perhaps the only thing they had going for them right now was that something about Martin made Ryan want to kill him slowly instead of fast. “Maybe. Try me.”

He seemed more genial now that no one was opposing him. Danny understood how that could have given his past victims some power of their own. Mary and Nathan could feed his sense of being in control by instant acquiescence and absolute obedience, but in some ways it had still been them manipulating him even in the middle of him being the guy who made up the rules. He got that in a way that he knew Martin never would; the games you played when you lived with a guy who could hurt you; how every step of your wider defeat could feel like a small victory because the beating hadn’t been as bad as it could have been, or had even been averted. Concentrating on ways to avoid the next blow stopped you thinking about how none of this should be happening to you anyway. In the end you became complicit in your own abuse; too busy trying to bend the rules a fraction to remember the rules were unjust and had never made sense in the first place. He wondered if Ryan missed that even more than the groin-hardening fun of someone scared and pretty and unused to being powerless begging him to stop; people who affirmed his view of the world by playing by his rules. As long as Mary had been with him, there had been a connection to that power; that was something she had severed when she left him by choice. No wonder he needed this as much as he had ever done.

Martin said quietly: “Take me somewhere else before you do whatever you’re going to do. Don’t do it in front of Danny.”

Frowning, Danny tried to work out what Martin was up to. The last thing he wanted was for them to be separated. As long as they were together there was a chance they could come up with a way to overpower Ryan or outthink him. Separated, all they were was a guy with his hands cuffed behind his back, and another guy bleeding to death. He shook his head at Martin, who, still kneeling in front of Ryan, looked up for long enough to catch Danny’s eye. Martin gave an almost imperceptible head shake back, telling Danny that he wasn’t budging on this. Danny glared, eye-rolled, and gave him his best begging look to no avail. Martin looked up at Ryan and said: “Please…?”

Danny had to admit he would have caved in an instant but Ryan was made of more sadistic stuff and said: “Sorry, Agent Fitzgerald. No can do.” He grabbed Martin’s hair and pulled his head back and Danny had no idea if the next thing he had planned would have involved his gun or his fists or something more organic, because that was when he heard it, the distant sound of helicopter blades. Martin shot him a quick, loaded ‘You see?’ look – and he did see. He got why Martin had wanted to get Ryan away from Danny, because a madman – thinking himself trapped – might shoot one of them and keep the other for a hostage, whereas if Martin and Ryan had been elsewhere when that helicopter was first heard then Danny would have been out of harm’s way. Martin, of course, would not; meaning it still seemed like a seriously flawed plan to Danny.

Ryan transferred his grip to Martin’s borrowed pullover and yanked him roughly to his feet, almost throwing him against the wall. “Who the hell is that?”

“I don’t know.” For a very well trained, very fit FBI agent, Martin was doing a good job of looking scared and small, hunching his shoulders and ducking his head, feeding into Ryan’s view of himself as big and powerful as well as any pro; but Danny was pretty sure he was lying and – for once – lying really well. “I guess Jack got worried when he couldn’t get hold of us and sent out Search and Rescue.”

Ryan snarled something that was oddly mild, not profane or even vulgar. Danny wondered what kind of mindset thought it was okay to kill complete strangers for no reason at all but still wouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain. Ryan’s gaze as it rested on Martin was coldly assessing. “Looks like you get your wish, Agent Fitzgerald.” He pointed a gun at Danny. “Now, what are you going to do to pay me back for not killing him?”

Danny wondered if that was a question Mary had heard before or if Ryan had been subtler about the way he blackmailed her, masking it behind professions of love.

Martin darted an anxious look in Danny’s direction. “Anything you want.”

“I want you to die screaming.”

Danny shivered and saw Martin swallow again before he looked up at Ryan with no hint of that ‘fuck you’ showing through: “I can do that.”

“Good.” Still holding Martin by the pullover he began to haul him towards the door, his stolen revolver pointed unerringly at Danny the whole time. Danny realized how well Martin must have played this when Ryan didn’t pull the trigger – because it was clear how much he wanted to; he craved the power kick of ending Danny’s life with the squeeze of a trigger; wanted to see the bullet crack his skill and split his brain. He wanted the anguish from Martin, wanted to feed off that pain spike like a vampire feeds off blood. But he wanted Martin to die Ryan’s way even more – only just more – Danny could feel by what a fine thread his life was hanging – but slightly more, and that was enough to keep his finger from squeezing the trigger. After eighteen years of going cold turkey, he guessed Ryan really wanted this particular murder to go exactly to plan.

The door swung wider, letting in more of that dazzling white light, and Danny could see Martin’s face clearly, half-turned towards him. Martin gave him a brief smile, a not-scared, you’re-not-going-to-die smile so sweet and fond that it hurt like broken glass; and then Ryan had yanked Martin out of sight, the door banging closed behind them, and although he strained his ears Danny couldn’t even hear the crunch-crunch of their feet in the snow.

***

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