elgrey: Artwork by Suzan Lovett (DM_MartinIcon)
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Even dangling dizzily from that ladder way too many feet above the snow-covered ground, Jack still felt he had made the right decision. The helicopter could only put down half a mile away from the cabin; the trees grew too closely together for any other landing to be possible – the pilot had been adamant about that. Although the paramedics had been willing to climb down the ladder to get to the wounded victim they knew was out there, Jack had insisted they dropped him first, as close to the cabin as they could get flying this low, so he could make sure he wasn’t going to get them killed. Now he clung to the ladder as it snaked and twisted like a tapeworm, while the edges of the helicopter blades sliced off twigs from the looming trees and sprinkled him with needles while a swirling vortex of snow was blown up to engulf him. He could see the footprints Martin had spoken of; two sets of them leading to the cabin from different directions and then setting off together in the direction of the mine.

Four feet from the ground, he jumped, landing awkwardly, and feeling pain jab hotly through his knee, but thankfully cushioned by the snow. He could see the cabin, and limped up towards it, massaging his knee and trying to stifle all the curses he wanted to say, as he kept to the cover of the trees.

He risked the quickest glance through the window and saw Danny sitting up on a table, still moving, so – against all odds – still alive. The relief was so incredible he almost passed out. He darted another look and saw no sign of Ryan or Martin, and then realized that Danny wasn’t just sitting up, but in the process of moving, gripping the edge of the table as he tried to swing his legs over the edge. His agonized cry had Jack kicking the door open in a second. The cabin seemed to be mostly full of someone cursing loudly in Spanish.

“FBI!” he shouted.

“Clear…” Danny gritted out. Despite being whiter than a cotton sheet, and clearly in too much pain to describe, Danny still seemed to be trying to get his feet on the ground.

Jack holstered his gun and gazed at him in disbelief. “What the hell are you doing?” He was across the cabin in two strides and caught him by the arms, holding him in place. It was dim in here after the white brightness of outside, but he could see bruises on his face, and, most ominously of all, that wet red stain that had spread out from makeshift bandaging to soak into his shirt all up his left side and halfway across his stomach. “Danny, stop moving. You’re going to bleed out if you don’t keep still.”

“I was going after Martin!” Danny snapped back, eyes dark with anxiety and pain.

“You wouldn’t make three paces. Now, cut it out.” Jack helped him to lie down again, Danny protesting as he did so. Jack pulled off his jacket and balled it under his feet. He checked the binding over the wound, which was completely blood-soaked but still seemed to be tight enough to be working as a kind of pressure bandage, apologized in advance and then pulled the knot tighter. Danny called him what he was sure was a very bad name and he acknowledged it with a regretful shrug. He caught sight of the backpack on the floor, snatching it up, he found a sleeping bag in it which he hastily unrolled and laid over Danny – who had not stopped talking the whole time Jack was seeing to him.

“…couldn’t see where they went but there could be a mine. There should be footprints in the snow…. Why are you still here…?”

Jack gave Danny a look which he hoped spoke volumes and went outside to look for the phone Martin had stashed; when he spoke into his own cell, he heard his voice sounding from a patch of snow a few feet away; he dusted off a light surface layer and retrieved it, breaking the connection, before using it to dial the paramedics as he headed back inside. “Malone. Danny’s alive but he’s lost a lot of blood. He’s in the cabin. I’m going to leave this line open and with him.” He put the phone into Danny’s hand and held his gaze. “Wait here for the paramedics. Don’t move an inch or I swear to God I’ll shoot you myself.”

“Jack…” Danny grabbed his wrist, leaving blood all over his sleeve. “You have to hurry.”

“How long since they left?”

He almost added ‘approximately’ but Danny was already checking his watch. “Six minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Ryan heard the helicopter. He knows he doesn’t have long before someone gets here.”

Jack touched his cheek briefly, feeling how cold he was and held his gaze. “I’m going to get Martin back, I promise.”

“If Ryan’s…done anything to him, promise me you’ll shoot that son-of-a-bitch…” Danny ground out. His voice sounded as if he’d been gargling with sandpaper.

“Keep that line open,” Jack warned him. He ducked back out into the brightness of the snow, following the footprints in the snow as fast as his bad knee would carry him. The tracks were clear enough and were leading straight for the mine. Ryan had obviously been pulling Martin along, Ryan’s long strides made even longer by the speed at which he had been walking. Jack dialed Vivian’s number as he hurried after them, saying as soon as she picked up: “Let me talk to Nathan.”

It was strange to hear his voice, that tentative: “Hello…?” from someone who had been a face in a file, a dead face on a file at that.

“Tell me how to stop Ryan killing Martin?”

There was a brief pause before he said: “I don’t know.”

“How did you stop him killing you?”

“I was his brother-in-law.” A brief pause as Jack grimaced at the probable truth of that, before Nathan added: “And I did what he said.”

“But he still beat you, didn’t he?”

“All the time, but I learned the rules. Most of the time if I followed them it didn’t get too bad. And he couldn’t make Mary stay with him without me to threaten.” Or the nameless young men out there who he would kill if she left him, Jack added mentally.

“Tell me the rules?” Jack pressed.

“You have to do what he tells you to do, always, and you have to apologize if he says you’re wrong, even if you’re not. You just say you’re sorry and that you’ll never do it again, and you don’t ever question him on anything. Does your agent understand that?”

“Martin? I sincerely doubt it.” Jack gripped the phone tighter. “Come on, you lived with the guy for four years and Mary lived with him for eighteen years, between the two of you there must be something...?”

“Clare, don’t…”

Jack realized Clare Hope must have snatched the phone out of Nathan’s hand when he heard the rasp of her breathing before she said clearly: “Just do the world a favor and kill the bastard already.”

Nathan came back on to say quietly: “We never found a way to stop him, Agent Malone. We just ran away. Remember?”

“Thanks. You’ve been a great help.” Jack switched off the phone, less angry than he sounded, because, ultimately, perhaps there was no magic word to use with Ryan. He was ready to say or do anything to get the guy away from Martin right now, but asking the people who had been victimized by him so completely probably wasn’t the best strategy.

It was automatic to speed up as the mine entrance came into focus, even though his knee was throbbing a protest with every pace; the dark square was half-hidden behind the fir trees that had grown up to reclaim it. Behind him, he could hear the helicopter must have landed, its blades whirling rhythmically while paramedics spilled from it, running, he sincerely hoped; Danny was tough and resilient, and took a lot of killing, but there had been far too much blood loss not to have him scared. One agent bleeding out in a freezing cabin and one in the custody of a serial killer was making the score pretty much Ryan 2, Malone 0 right now. Time to level the score.

Drawing his gun, Jack advanced carefully into the darkness of the mine, knowing he had probably presented a silhouette to any waiting murderer for a moment there, but also not caring that much about his own safety when one of his agents was in danger.

At first he could hear nothing except his own slightly ragged breathing, his eyes adjusting to the darkness as he debated whether or not to use his flashlight. Not particularly wanting to light himself up for a killer like a Macy’s window on Christmas Eve, he continued to inch forward cautiously. Then he could see a dim light in the distance, which, as his eyes became more accustomed to the gloom, revealed to him a long tunnel which led to an intersection, the light glowing from the left. And there were voices. He recognized the timbre of Martin’s, slightly croakier than usual, and that harsher deeper sound was Ryan.

“…don’t even know what I’m hoping for – I think your friend’s going to die. I think he’s lost so much blood that there’s no way back for him. On the other hand, I really like to picture his face when he reads your autopsy and realizes all the things I did to you.”

“Shouldn’t we go in deeper then? I mean my agonized screams are presumably going to travel quite a way on a still day like today. You probably wouldn’t want to tip off those search and rescue guys that you’re torturing someone to death in here.”

Martin should probably have pitched his tone a lot more respectful and scared than that. Jack suspected that if Nathan had been with him right now he would have been grimacing and shaking his head in horror at that ‘fuck you’ tone in Martin’s voice.

Ryan sounded more amused than angry: “You’re don’t think you’re going to scream? You think you outsmarted me and now your little friend is safe there’s nothing I can do that’s going to hurt you? You think because what I did to you last time didn’t make you beg for mercy, it’s going to be the same now? I went easy on you before. That’s not going to happen here.”

Jack edged further down the corridor, avoiding bowing pit props and wondering just how stable this place was. It felt dangerous; mossy and damp and ready to fall; as if its stones had been shifting for decades now and were just about at the point of collapse.

“You want to know what I think, Mr. Ryan? I think you’re really brave when the guy you’re up against has his hands cuffed behind his back or when he doesn’t even know you’re there and you shoot him anyway.”

“Are you going back on your word, Agent Fitzgerald. You told me you’d do anything I said.”

“Yeah, and if we’d stayed in that cabin, I would have done. But, like you said, Danny isn’t here now, and you can’t get to him.”

Jack decided that however angry Martin was about Danny getting shot he really did need to take lessons in How Not To Mouth Off To the Crazy Guy.

Luckily for Martin, Ryan still sounded more amused than anything: “I liked you so much better when you were all submissive and obedient, but, you know, Nate was just like you. The first few times he thought he could take it and keep coming back for more. He was sure nothing was ever going to make him give in even though it meant making his sister cry all those tears. So selfish. But he learned. So will you.”

Edging a little closer, Jack tried to steady his breathing, not wanting Ryan to hear his approach. He could have done with a covering of the kind of suspenseful music they always gave heroes in the movies – silly of him not to have remembered to bring his own string section. An earth wall was bulging like rancid fruit in a can and he moved past it warily, he wasn’t sure a gunshot was even possible down here, not without bringing down the roof. As he passed another pit prop he could almost hear it groaning.

“Weren’t you the guy making his sister cry? You know, by beating her brother half to death?”

“All he ever had to do was what I told him. Three days in the cellar with his hands cuffed behind his back and a broken arm and a few broken ribs soon taught him the error of his ways. Like I told Mary at the time, everything was going to be so much easier for all of us once Nathan had learned to obey me.”

“You did that to a seventeen year old boy – half your size? Man, that takes real courage. As much courage as it took to kill all those guys who’d never done you any harm and never had a chance. Your Daddy must have been a real piece of work. Tell me, all those drifters he raped and left to die in ditches – did he ever get in any practice on you…?”

Grimacing at the sharp report of what sounded very like a backhand, Jack wished he could shake off the feeling that Martin was probably channeling him right now. He liked to think that if he was at the mercy of a serial killer, even with no one else’s life in danger but his own, that he would still be rational and calm and not try to provoke the guy, but when he caught a glimpse of the wetness on his fingers from Danny’s blood-soaked clothing, he suspected that Martin might not be as far off base as he was thinking.

“You don’t talk about my father – ever. He was a good man; he had a calling; and he left the world a better place than when he found it. And I think it’s time you had a reminder about who’s in charge here.”

Jack was at the corner of the turn now; he risked a glance around the edge of the intersection and saw that Ryan had Martin in a small scooped-out chamber, presumably somewhere for the miners to kit up before they headed in deeper. There was an old pickax lying almost within reach, blade rusty with neglect, and a lantern that Ryan had lit and stood on an old packing case. Martin’s hands seemed to be cuffed behind his back, but by good fortune or bad judgment on Ryan’s part, Ryan had his back to the entrance and Martin was the one looking Jack’s way. Not that Martin had a chance to see him because all his attention was focused on the guy looming over him.

Ryan slammed Martin back against the wall and, as he winced from his skull being cracked against rock, Ryan reached under his pullover and squeezed his left side hard. That agonized cry from Martin went right through Jack like an electric current; even as his brain was processing that Martin’s ribs must be broken to make him hurt like that and that if Ryan knew about it then Ryan was the guy who had done it, his hand was reaching for the pickax.

“You getting the picture now, Agent Fitzgerald?”

Ryan’s vicious punch into Martin’s ribs would probably have broken them if they hadn’t already been broken, and that second cry of agony from Martin scraped all the sheaths from Jack’s nerve endings and left him vibrating with rage. He was across the chamber in two strides and slamming the flat side of the pickax hard against Ryan’s head. Possibly too hard as the man went down like a felled oak and didn’t move. He found himself gazing at Martin across Ryan’s unconscious body as Martin painfully straightened back up, the dim light of the lantern revealing all kinds of cuts and bruises, blood running from his mouth, and blue eyes dazed with pain. But at the sight of him, Martin did manage a glimmer of a smile.

“You didn’t say ‘Freeze, FBI’.”

Jack smirked back at him. “And I was hoping for a ‘I knew you’d come’.” He quickly knelt down, cuffed Ryan’s hands behind his back, and then checked for a pulse. It was almost a disappointment to find there was still one there. He checked Ryan for weapons and found another revolver, a second set of cuffs, and a set of keys, both of which he pocketed. As he straightened back up, he was only just in time to catch Martin before he toppled over. Holding him up, he said: “The things you boys will do for a helicopter ride.”

Martin spat out a mouthful of blood that Jack really hoped wasn’t from a broken rib impaling his lung; he was wheezing and still clearly in a lot of pain but he didn’t seem to be drowning in his own blood as yet. Jack gently turned him around and undid his cuffs. It was too dark to see very well but the little whimper of pain Martin uttered when he undid them suggested he had more bruises than this dim light was revealing. Martin rubbed his wrists. “Is Danny going to be okay?”

“The paramedics should be with him by now.”

Martin gave him a shocked look. “You left him alone?”

“You’d been hauled off by a serial killer, Martin. Excuse me for thinking that rescuing you was an urgent priority. Not to mention the fact Danny was trying to get up and come after you when I arrived there. I damned near had to handcuff him to the table as things were.” He dialed Cooper’s number rapidly, trying to get an ETA for his arrival.

“We’ve found Ryan’s vehicle,” Cooper’s voice sounded so clear he could have been standing a few feet away. “We can see the mine entrance from where we are now – and Ryan’s footprints in the snow.”

“He’s in the mine, about a hundred yards in, first chamber on your left. He’s all yours. Just be very careful not to let off a shot in there. That place is completely unstable. I haven’t read him his rights so I suggest you do – right after you charge him. I don’t think you can get him for murder, but you should be okay with kidnapping, attempted murder, and assault. ”

“You told me he was a serial killer.”

“He is a serial killer. But everyone who witnessed him committing a murder is dead. He told Mary what he did, but I don’t think he left any physical evidence hanging around for us to use as proof, which makes her testimony no better than hearsay. My boys can’t swear to who shot Danny, and Martin didn’t see the ranger get shot either. But you’re safe enough arresting him for kidnapping a federal agent. He had Martin in cuffs when I caught up with them and Martin’s going to be around to give evidence at a trial.”

Jack ended the call to find Martin looking at him in confusion. “Is that really all we have on Ryan?”

“Pretty much.”

“But he may have given Mary specific details about the killings. He may have kept trophies. There may be a much better case than you’re implying. We can recover the bullet that he shot Danny with and compare it to the gun he used. His fingerprints could still be on the weapon. And what about the campers – they could have seen him kill the ranger?”

“Maybe,” Jack acknowledged.

“Aren’t you worried that you’ve given Cooper the impression that Ryan is going to walk away from killing that ranger, nearly killing Danny, and all those other murders?”

“Did I?” Jack held his gaze, knowing he could beat Martin at poker any day of the week.

As expected, Martin looked away first. “We should stay with Ryan. We shouldn’t leave him unattended. We need to wait for Sheriff Cooper.”

“No, I need to get you to the helicopter so the paramedics can take a look at you.” Jack dialed their number rapidly, asking if they had taken off with Danny yet, and if not if they could afford to wait for Martin as well. He began to propel Martin away from Ryan and towards the long dark tunnel that led to the outside.

“No, they can’t afford to wait.” Martin gave him a look of disbelief. “Danny’s bleeding to death right now.”

The paramedic had been in the middle of some technical explanation which had sounded a lot like ‘No’ to Jack when Danny came on the phone shouting over the sound of whirling blades: “Jack? Did you get Martin? Is he okay?” Off to what was apparently the paramedic, Danny said clearly: “You try to take off without Martin and I’m jumping.”

He could hear polite paramedics patiently saying: “Sir, we need you to lie down…”

“I don’t know how he is,” Jack shouted back. “It’s very dark in here. He can walk and talk though.” Putting an arm around Martin to steady him he proved the truth of his words as he helped him to stumble towards the light. He much preferred this journey, the darkness behind him and the pale beckoning of the day lit snow ahead of him, Martin dimly visibly in the blue-white light, his bruised skin a palette of different shades of gray.

“Is he still wearing all his clothes or did Ryan…do something to him…?” Danny demanded anxiously.

Martin leaned across to shout: “No.” Wincing as raising his voice evidently expanded his ribcage to painful levels, he clasped his side and tried again: “No, he didn’t ‘do’ anything to me. Will you stop obsessing about that? You’re the one he shot.”

“Well, you’re the one he beat half to death!” Danny added something long and complicated in Spanish that sounded rude to Jack.

Martin retorted swiftly: “You didn’t teach me that phrase yet. Would you like me to ask one of the nuns at St. Augustine’s for a translation?”

They were getting closer to the light now, Jack could see the opening of the mine and the snow and trees beyond.

Over the phone, Danny seemed to be telling the paramedics that they needed to take a stretcher and go and pick up Martin – who was arguing with him about how he could walk perfectly well, and could in any case wait for a lift back to town in a car.

“Oh, right, because your broken ribs are just going to love that track – all three hours of it!”

As the light bathed them, Jack got his first good look at Martin’s face and exclaimed in anger. Martin darted a look at him, and said hastily: “Gotta go” to Danny. Holding the cell phone away as if he hoped that would render their conversation impossible to overhear, Martin began to say: “It looks worse than it is…”

“Like hell it does!” Jack gazed at him in disbelief. “What happened at Ryan’s place anyway?” He practically hauled Martin out from under the shadow of a tree to get a better look at him, tilting his head up to examine it. “Are you concussed?”

“Not any more…”

“What do you mean – ‘not any more’?”

“Well, I had a headache, but it’s gone now. And I was only out for a few minutes.”

“He beat you unconscious?”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Martin protested.

“So, you weren’t mouthing off at him the way you just were in that mine?”

“No. Well…yes. But, he knocked Danny out. Jack – you’re the one who said the guy’s a serial killer. I’m not responsible for his actions.”

“No, but you’re responsible for your own and it sounds as if they were completely contrary to the very specific orders I gave you!”

All of Jack’s instincts as an FBI agent – not to mention a parent – were telling him that Martin needed to be bawled out like no agent had ever been bawled out before, but unfortunately, the reason why he needed yelling at was also the reason why Jack didn’t have the heart. In the light, he looked dreadful; his left eye blackened, the paper-thin skin beneath both eyes bruised from lack of sleep, cold, hunger, and fists, his jaw and cheekbone were both badly bruised, his lip was bleeding, there was dried blood from a cut above his eye and a nose that evidently bled copiously, and it was clear that every pace was jabbing into his broken ribs like a spear. All that and a friend shot right in front of him too. Somehow, despite knowing he would regret it later, he couldn’t quite get his anger to overtake his concern.

“We’ll talk about this later.” He put an arm around Martin to steady him, helping him follow his footprints back downstream. “Are you sure you can walk as far as the helicopter?”

“You’re not going to yell at me?” Martin asked cautiously.

“Of course I’m going to yell at you.” Jack rolled his eyes at him even asking such a ridiculous question. “I’m just not going to do it now. Once you’re in the hospital and they give you the all clear I’ll yell at you then.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time. Viv and Sam will be back by then – right?” Martin sounded so hopeful and Jack just knew he was hoping for a human shield.

“I doubt it.”

“Did they find Mary?”

“Yes. And Margaret. They’re both fine, although Mary was apparently several centimeters dilated and quite possibly about to give birth in the back of a car. So maybe Sam really will get a kid named after her this time.”

Martin shivered. “How do you that? Raise the son of a serial killer and try not to act as if you’re watching him all the time?”

“I don’t know.” Jack knew he was already watching Hanna and Kate to see if there were any signs of depression or strange mood swings, afraid of his mother’s legacy being passed onto them; but perhaps even fearing that one’s child may have inherited a tendency for suicide was not as bad as fearing they had inherited a compulsion to commit murder. “Which is why I wouldn’t have had even one of that guy’s kids if I was her, never mind two.”

“You said Margaret was a nice little girl despite everything?” Martin was limping badly now; Jack could feel how much holding up he needed but tried to be tactful about it, and not point out how badly the guy was struggling.

“By all accounts she was – presumably still is. But she’s a girl. Boys are different.”

“How would you know?”

“Look there’s a reason my wife and I just had girls, okay?”

“You ate lots of yogurt?”

“Any male babies went in the water butt. If only your parents and Danny’s had been that sensible, I wouldn’t have had to drag myself out into all this snow to save your skinny asses.”

Danny’s voice crackled through the phone, killing any hopes Martin may have had that he had not been overhearing their conversation: “Some people find us both decorative and useful.”

“Well, today you’re neither,” Jack assured him. “Especially Martin – although you weren’t exactly looking your best either the last time I saw you. And aren’t you supposed to be unconscious by now? When Martin was shot at least he had the good taste to lapse into a coma.”

He hoped the spark of indignation that gave Danny – that Jack could even think about joking about Martin nearly dying – would give him the requisite jolt to keep him awake and aware. If there was a method to keep him like that all the way to the hospital, all the better. He was afraid that as soon as Danny saw that Martin was safe his reason for fighting was going to be over and he was going to sink into that never-never place the injured went to when they had lost a lot of blood and were exhausted and in pain and darkness was beckoning to them like a favorite dream.

“He wants to see Agent Fitzgerald,” a paramedic said wearily. The guy sounded extremely long-suffering to Jack and he guessed that Danny was in no way being a model patient.

“We need to hurry.” Martin increased his pace, breathing obviously like gargling ground glass for him right now, but doing it anyway. The faster pace made him breathe deeper and cough agonizingly, trying to hold his ribs in place as the coughs tore through them. Jack supported him as well as he could and then stopped worrying about his feelings and pretty much hauled him as fast as he could.

By the time they reached the helicopter they were both pouring sweat and Martin was hurting badly. It occurred to Jack that he had been in this state when he had been telling him he was ‘fine’. “You lied to me.”

Martin darted him a quick look. “No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. You told me you were ‘fine’.”

“Compared with Danny I was.”

Jack had his mouth open to tell Martin exactly what he thought of that argument when Martin was saved by paramedics reaching down to haul him up into the helicopter. Jack climbed up behind him in time to see Martin stumble over to where Danny was trying to sit up while an – in Jack’s opinion – overly-patient black paramedic was trying to get him to stay down. They dusted off so fast, Jack didn’t have time to get to a seat, swaying sickeningly for a moment before the second paramedic caught his arm and pulled him down into a seat. He had a good view of Danny from here and could see that in his eagerness to check up on Martin he was trying to struggle upright again.

“Danny, lie down!” Jack snapped; relieved to see that he still had it, as Danny obediently flattened as if someone had dropped an anvil on his chest. The paramedics – who introduced themselves as Jorge and Omar – had clearly been working hard on him, having cut off his shirt and removed the sodden mess of blood-soaked pullover and whatever had been underneath it, sterile dressings now in place. Omar, the black paramedic, was keeping pressure on the wound and politely asking Danny to stay still. Danny was hooked up to an IV but still looked deathly.

Jack watched as Danny reached out and Martin clasped his hand, the two of them gazing at each other in a way that revealed that they had never expected to see each other again. Looking at their expressions, Jack could imagine exactly how painful their parting had been; Martin having to leave Danny bleeding in a cabin; Danny watching Martin hauled off to what could well be his death. “Hey…” Martin said gently.

“Hey, yourself.” Danny gave him a smile of relief that showed just how exhausted he was from blood loss and pain. As Jack had feared, only waiting to see for himself that Martin was really alive seemed to have kept him fully conscious, and he was visibly drooping already. Now that he could see Danny in the light, he was better able to assess his condition, and, although it certainly didn’t make him want to get out his tap shoes and start twirling a cane, if he had been forced to choose a spot for a male agent to get shot in the torso he would definitely have opted for the left lower quadrant. But if the large intestine been nicked they would be looking at peritonitis, and he noticed that the paramedic who was putting pressure on Danny’s wound was also keeping an eagle eye on his blood pressure.

Martin looked anxiously at the paramedics. “Is he going to be okay?”

“We don’t think there’s any major organ damage, but it’s a borderline placement. We’ve radioed ahead, and there’s going to be an ER ready for him.”

As Danny once again tried to sit up, Omar said – far too politely for Jack: “Sir, you really need to stay flat.”

“Why didn’t you strap him down to a trauma board?” Jack demanded.

Jorge, the Latino paramedic, who was now trying to get a look at Martin, said: “He didn’t have a neck injury or a back injury.”

“Who cares? It would keep him still.”

Jorge was younger and taller, with short-cropped hair. His smile was unexpectedly teasing: “We try to avoid torturing our patients unnecessarily.”

“That’s good to hear.” Martin gasped as his clothing was lifted up and what was evidently a very cold stethoscope was applied to his back.

“Of course, it’s more of a guideline,” the man added mischievously.

“You need to check Martin’s ribs,” Danny said.

Jorge listened carefully to Martin’s breathing and nodded. “Not too bad. You’ve obviously been remembering to breathe deeply. Well done.”

“Actually he ran up and down a slope a few times then probably coughed his guts out.” Jack had no problem with ratting Martin out on this.

The paramedic winced in sympathy. “Well, we probably wouldn’t advise that from a pain management point of view but as a method for avoiding a collapsed lung you could do worse.”

When he undid the strapping around Martin’s ribs, he revealed a Kandinsky palette of bruises, all over his side, his back – flaring down and across his kidneys – and an ugly lumping around his ribcage. Jack looked at them in shock before fixing a glare on Martin that made him sink a little lower in his seat.

“Are they broken?” Danny demanded. “Is he breathing okay? Are you checking to see if his lung got punctured? Is there bruising around his kidneys? And don’t forget to check him for concussion. He was unconscious when I found him.”

“Thank you, Doogie Howser. Now be quiet and let them do their jobs.” Jack reached across and put a hand on Danny’s shin just wanting to feel for himself that he was still alive.

Jorge was now asking Martin to gaze into the light and count backwards from ten, before telling him to breathe deeply, no, deeper than that, and to cough if possible. Martin good-naturedly objected to apparently what sounded like torture to him before – inevitably – giving in and breathing deeply, coughing, and then gasping at the pain.

“I know it’s painful, but this is the best way to avoid lung collapse and pneumonia, and, trust me, you don’t want either of those. Breathe again… Okay, that’s good. Now, I need you to keep breathing that deeply and I’m going to give you some painkillers….”

Martin’s deer-in-headlights expression made Danny – who was watching everything closely – wince. “It’s okay, Martin.”

“No, it’s not.” Martin gazed at Jorge as if he were an oncoming train. “I can’t take painkillers.”

The paramedic handed out a couple of tablets and a bottle of water which he unscrewed for Martin as if he were six. “These are Tylenol with codeine. They’re not going to get you high, if that’s what you’re worried about. They’re just going to make it less painful for you to breathe as deeply as you need to breathe to avoid atelectasis. Take them now.”

Jack had always assumed that tall, blue-eyed men of privileged backgrounds would be the kind most likely to get Martin to do what he was told, but it turned out that tall, Latino paramedics with liquid brown eyes were able to hypnotize him like a snake with a rabbit. Martin obediently took the painkillers, obediently coughed some more, and obediently kept breathing deeply even though it obviously hurt. His reward was a nice warm smile of approval from the paramedic, who got a very sweet smile back in return. Jack wondered if Martin would ever realize that his unconscious response to men being nice to him came perilously close to flirting, and if he would realize it before he found himself on what the other guy thought was a date and he thought was a drink between friends.

As Martin inhaled and exhaled to the full extent of his lung capacity and Danny fought to keep his eyes open, Jack was pressing the number for Viv.

He could hear the tension in her voice as she answered: “Agent Johnson.”

“They’re alive, Viv.”

He heard her gasp of relief: “Are they hurt?”

“Danny’s been shot and may need surgery although I’m still hoping they can fix him up with some lidocaine and a needle and thread. Martin’s pretty banged up and looks like crap, but the general consensus seems to be that they’re probably going to make it as long as they don’t annoy me too much on the journey to the hospital.”

“Ryan?”

“In custody. I admit I wish the case against him was a little more watertight but the DA should have enough to get a conviction.”

“How could he get off? Danny and Martin are both witnesses and so are Mary and Nathan.”

“Mary and Nathan never saw him commit a murder, he just told him that he had. Ryan could claim to have told them he committed them to scare those two into doing what he said. Nathan didn’t even see him kill his father. He was unconscious at the time. Neither did Stapleton. He just came in and found Jake Gallagher already dead and Ryan standing over him. Danny and Martin didn’t see who shot Danny, and Martin didn’t see who shot the ranger. But even if they can’t get a conviction for the murder charges, any DA should be able to get one for him kidnapping two federal agents and for the assault on Martin.”

There was a long pause before Viv said quietly: “There was no justification for shooting him? He didn’t resist arrest?”

“I didn’t give him the chance. He had a loaded gun trained on Martin and that place was too unstable to withstand a gunshot. I knocked him out before he had a chance to fire.”

There was another semi-silence in which he could hear the car she was in scudding through the snow, the labored sound of Mary’s breathing in the background, Clare murmuring soothing words and Nathan apparently praying. He thought of Davidson’s shelter; the brightly colored chaos of that place, where lost souls went to find themselves, a place in which they could find the inner strength to turn away from alcohol and drugs and abusive partners or fathers. It suddenly seemed a lot like their office. “How are things going at your end?”

“We’re fifteen minutes from the hospital and now driving through a blizzard. I can’t see anything but apparently people born in Wisconsin have the ability to smell blacktop even through two feet of snow.”

Jack grinned and would have dared a ‘That’s my girl’ on the sound basis that Sam was much too far away to shoot him, but decided not to take advantage. “Mother to be?”

“Mary’s calm although she’s in a lot of pain and I think she’s pretty much sitting on the baby’s head. Clare is a great Lamaze coach. Nathan’s a gibbering wreck, but Clare says that normal for him when someone goes into labor.”

“Tell him to snap out of it and stop being such a wuss.”

“Sam already has. Twice. Apparently he can’t help it.”

“Is Mary asking about Ryan?”

“She’s worried about the baby growing up like him.”

Aren’t we all, Jack thought, but allowed he said only: “Tell Mary that all scientific evidence points to nurture being more important than nature, and that there’s no reason why any son should end up like his father unless the father’s around to make him turn out that way.”

“Are we sure he’s not going to be around?” Viv retorted cynically. “From what you’re saying he’s only going to be charged with kidnapping a federal agent and assault.”

“He didn’t deny shooting Danny and there could be more physical evidence than I think. There’s probably enough to hold him for a few years. Tell Mary not to worry, anyway, and to concentrate on having that baby. Do you need to me to get Davidson off the hook for impeding a federal investigation and whatever other crimes he’s currently committing?”

“I’ve already put in a few calls to make sure no one gets arrested, and to let Margaret and Charlotte know that their parents are okay, but Social Services have already spotted a few runaways so I think I’m going to sorting this one out for a while.”

“Especially as the only people in that car right now who haven’t committed a criminal offence or impeded an investigation are you and Samantha.”

“Don’t worry, we probably will have done by the time this is over,” Viv told him cheerfully. “Tell Danny to hang in there.”

“Will do.” He hung up the phone and looked over at Martin and Danny; Danny looked half asleep, wiped out with too much pain, and far too pale. Martin was still holding his hand, gazing down at him anxiously while Danny tried to give him a reassuring smile in between his heavy eyelids trying to lead him into sleep. “Viv sends hugs.” Jack remembered belatedly that Elena would still be waiting for information. “Hell…” he dialed quickly.

She sounded exhausted when she answered the phone for all the forced crispness of her tone. “Delgado.”

“Elena, we’ve got them. They’re okay.”

“I know. Sam just called me while you were talking to Viv.”

“Well, what are you still doing in the office? Go home. Drink soup. Take Tylenol. Try to get your temperature down below and a hundred and three. You can’t visit them in the hospital while you’re Typhoid Mary anyway.”

“You have such a way with words,” Elena told him. “And I’m not going anywhere until those two have been treated and Sam and Viv are out of that blizzard and Mary has had her baby okay. Let me talk to Danny.”

Jack obediently leaned over and held the phone to Danny’s ear while Elena said something in Spanish that made Danny and Martin smile. Danny said something back also in Spanish, of which Jack understood not a word.

“She said that if he was really badly hurt she may even be a little bit nice to him,” Martin explained. “He told her not to strain anything for his sake.” He leaned forward to hear what else Elena had to say and then smiled and managed what seemed to Jack to be some fairly wonky Spanish. “Was that right?” Martin asked.

“If we’d ever had sex, yes – although it would be a little formal. But, Martin, I didn’t think you were that kind of boy.”

“I was just thanking you!” Martin protested. “For what you did to help bring things to a happy…conclusion.”

“Climax,” Danny told him, not unkindly. “You said you were grateful to Elena for her part in bringing you to a happy climax.”

“And here was me thinking you were just stumbling around lost and bruised in the snow.” Jack shook his head. Seeing Danny looking as if he was going to start drifting off, he said quickly: “As Elena’s got nothing to do except spread her germs around the office, why don’t you two start relaying your statement to her and she can type it up. I’d particularly like to know how – after I expressly gave orders that you were not to antagonize Ryan in any way – Martin ended up looking like Mike Tyson’s sparring partner.”

That seemed to do the trick; at once Danny looked animated and focused, talking rapidly to Elena in Spanish while Martin tried to follow what he was saying and made belated interruptions. “No, I didn’t say that... I didn’t do that either… What was that phrase? I didn’t say that!” He turned to Jorge, who was applying an icepack to his ribs. “Jorge, help me out here.”

The paramedic smiled but shook his head. “I’m staying out of this one.”

Undercover of Danny and Elena toying with Martin, Jack gave Omar a glance of enquiry. The paramedic gave him a reassuring smile, letting him know that Danny’s blood pressure was holding steady, while Jorge glanced at his watch. “We should be there in seven minutes.”

Jack sat back with a nod of thanks, keeping one hand on Danny’s shoulder, grateful to the paramedics for probably saving Danny’s life, and grateful to Elena, who was managing to keep Danny conscious and entertained – albeit by tormenting Martin – as Danny gave what Martin insisted was a deeply inaccurate account of events. He knew Sam was probably worried sick, imagining another friend undergoing hours of surgery, and wished she wasn’t currently behind the wheel of a car driving a pregnant woman to hospital through a blizzard. Vivian would be hiding her stress better but she would still be feeling it, and for himself, he felt stretched a little thin, worried about Viv and Sam in that snowstorm, worried about Mary Ryan giving birth safely, worried, also, about what she might be giving birth to, worried about Danny, who was still bleeding and couldn’t be in the ER a second too soon for him, and for Martin, whose ribs seemed to be grating as painfully as a stab wound every time he breathed; and worried that Sheriff Cooper might, after all, not do what he was hoping, and blow Ryan’s head off the first chance he got.

***
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