A/N: Apologies for the delay in posting this - not really writer's block so much as it not doing what I wanted it to! So annoying when that happens. A BIG THANK YOU and HUG to everyone that reviewed the last chapter - I shall get back to you tomorrow through if I can do so :)
"Stop wasting shots," Ben growled at Zack as they headed after Lisbon and Jane. "Take your time. They're easy to track, crashing through all the undergrowth like that."
"I'm not wasting them," his nephew refuted defiantly before suddenly smiling nastily. "I'm making them panic. Keeping them running and wearing them out. When they're exhausted, I'll shoot them. The guy first, a shot to leg, then the arm, maybe the shoulder, let him bleed out slow. Once he's gone I can have some fun with the woman, then I'll kill her too. Bullet to the brain; it'll blow her head clean off."
His uncle saw the way Zack seemed to get off on his thoughts. It hadn't been the first time he'd noticed that particular trait in his nephew and he was sure it wouldn't be the last.
"You're a sadistic son of a bitch," Ben snorted in disgust. "Been saying it for years."
"I'm my father's son," he retorted, bitterly.
"There's no denying that," Ben concurred. He looked over at his own son and beckoned him over. "I want you to go back and fetch the dogs. They're going in deeper and I think we'll need them to flush them out."
"Dad," Wade whined, disappointed at being sent away when it was just starting to get interesting.
"Do as you're told. No arguments and be quick," he ordered harshly. "We'll steer the Fed's towards the creek and meet you there."
The youth stared at his father for a few seconds but couldn't find the courage to disobey. With a shake of his head, he turned and trotted off back in the direction of the cabin.
"You should think about getting him a leash too," Zack commented sarcastically.
"I'm better off getting you a muzzle," Ben retorted irately. "Now shut up."
Zack smiled. He didn't care what the old man said anymore, he'd had enough. Once they'd killed the Fed's he was going to make sure his uncle had a little accident of his own too.
Lisbon and Jane sank down behind one of the giant redwood trees and each caught their breath.
"We can't keep on running like this," said Lisbon between pants as she laid the rifle across her lap. "We need to find some water soon."
Jane merely grunted in reply. His legs burned almost as much as his lungs and he didn't think he could utter more than two words together at that particular moment in time.
They sat next to each other in silence for a few moments until their breathing evened out then Lisbon turned her head to look at him. His eyes were closed and his head rested back against the trunk, face flushed from exertion. Sweat beaded on his brow and she watched a drop wend its way down the side of face, the rivulet subtly changing direction every time it hit a slight imperfection in his skin. She lifted her hand and reached out to wipe it away with her thumb but caught herself just in time. Letting her arm drop to her side she couldn't quell the unwelcome feeling of guilt that rose within her. He wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her insisting that he come along. If anything happened to him now it'd be all her fault.
"I'm sorry," she murmured, still staring at him.
He opened his eyes at her softly spoken apology and turned his head to gaze back at her. Confusion and no small amount of surprise swirled in his cerulean depths as he noted the troubled expression on her face.
"For forcing you to come on this case with me," she confessed, quietly.
He took in her glowing cheeks and bright eyes that the adrenaline and exercise had produced. Her tousled hair was slightly damp at the ends making it curl and even with the bruising coming out nicely on her forehead he still thought she was really quite beautiful. The merest hint of a smile touched his lips as he wondered what she'd think if he told her that he really wouldn't want to be anywhere else but by her side...and not just for then, but always.
He imagined such a declaration would go down like a lead balloon. Those emotions were best left until after they'd dealt with Red John; if they managed to eventually catch the serial killer, obviously. Not to mention if he were even still alive when it was finally all over.
So many obstacles, but he liked to think that one day, maybe, there might be a future for them both together. But first they had to get out of this mess.
"Meh, no need to apologise to me, Lisbon. You can't force me to do anything I don't want to do, you should know that by now," he replied with a wry smile.
The brunette's eyebrows rose at his flippant words but a part of her was glad that he was choosing to be glib. It was a far more familiar territory than the one she'd just strayed into and so taking his lead, she smiled back at him sweetly.
"I think your ego misunderstood me, Jane," she retorted mockingly. "I meant I'm sorry I forced you to come because if I hadn't Cho would be with me right now and I'd have a better chance of getting out of this crap alive."
"Ouch," he replied with a wince. "A dagger right into the heart of my virility. Painful."
"I'll think you'll survive," she retorted with a snort.
Jane silently agreed with her. They both knew he wasn't hero material so it was pointless even denying it. Lisbon stirred beside him and he looked over just as she stood up and held the rifle at the ready.
"You hear something?" he asked softly, automatically tensing and straining to listen for any signs of their hunters being nearby.
"No," she replied as she looked back from where they'd just come. "But they can't be far behind us. We should get going."
The consultant stood up, ignoring the heaviness of his legs. Lisbon was right; they couldn't keep on running. He, in particular, just wasn't in good enough shape. Looking around cautiously, he saw the trail of broken and trampled ferns they'd left in their panicked wake. They were making it too easy for the men chasing them to follow. They needed to do something else. A little misdirection.
"We need to backtrack," he said, turning to Lisbon with a sudden smile.
She stared at him blankly for a moment.
"Backtrack?" she queried dubiously. "But I thought you said it was better for us to head deeper into the forest?"
"I've changed my mind," he told her, feeling a surge of renewed vigour pump through his veins. "Follow me."
Lisbon stayed put for a moment then let out a sigh and headed after him as he began tramping through the foliage.
"I don't like it," stated Cho as he pocketed his phone and turned to Rigsby and Van Pelt. "Lisbon doesn't go this long without checking in, especially in the middle of a case. Something's up." Rigsby grinned suggestively and opened his mouth to speak but Cho quickly cut him dead with a curt, "Don't say it."
Rigsby immediately sobered and looked down, a little put out by his friends tone.
"I can check for the GPS on their phones," Grace offered, giving her ex love a slight frown at his almost ill-placed levity.
"Sounds good," Cho concurred. "They were checking out Old State Highway so let's head there while you're doing that. It might help us get a quicker fix on their location," he continued before glancing at Rigsby and adding, "Probably best if Van Pelt rides up front with me."
Rigsby scowled slightly then jerked open the rear door of the SUV and climbed in slamming it hard behind him. Feeling like a scolded child, he folded his arms and sulkily stared out of the window.
Cho and Van Pelt both got into the vehicle then the redhead opened her ever present laptop and waited for it to power up while she fastened her safety belt. Cho started the car and they set off towards the old highway.
Jane moved quickly, treading down the foliage as he made a trail towards a nearby fallen tree. Once there he came to a stop and looked at his handiwork, seemingly pleased.
"Give me your jacket," he commanded, holding out his hand.
"My jacket?" repeated Lisbon dubiously. "No."
"Come on, I'll buy you a new one," the consultant urged, waggling his fingers for the item of clothing.
"Why do you want it?" the brunette asked curtly, even though her hands were already at the lapels and beginning to slip it off her shoulders.
"I want to make them think we're hiding here," he replied, pointing to the tree as he grabbed the jacket she reluctantly held out.
"Why can't you leave yours?" she queried with slight chagrin. That was her favourite.
"First of all this is a quality suit," the blond announced as he gestured to himself, causing her jaw to set angrily at his implication that hers wasn't. "And second of all, I've still got my notebook in my pocket and if I leave my jacket here, I won't have anywhere else to carry it."
Lisbon watched him arrange her clothing in such a way that anyone approaching would notice some of the black fabric poking out from the side of the trunk as though they hadn't hidden quite well enough.
"There, that should do it," he said coming around the front to see how it looked. "Yes. Perfect."
"Now what do we do?" the agent asked, quickly scanning the area before looking back at him.
"Well, you either climb a tree and pick them off one by one," he suggested with a smile. "Or we could take a very careful walk back the way we came. Make sure we don't leave such an obvious trail for them to track."
Lisbon eyed a nearby tree without enthusiasm then nodded at him. "Let's go for the second option," she decided.
Jane grinned and held out his hand for her to take. She looked at it for a moment then deliberately brushed passed him as she stalked away. Allowing her hand to be grabbed while running scared was one thing, to offer it willingly; that meant something else entirely and she wasn't going there today.
The consultant's expression dropped a little at her snub but Lisbon didn't notice as she cautiously navigated her way through the thick undergrowth, trying not to snap too many fern fronds along the way.
She could sense Jane close behind her as she moved stealthily, cringing slightly at every little snap of a twig and crunching of leaves underneath her feet. Her only comfort was that when they encountered the men coming in the opposite direction as they undoubtedly would at some point, they'd be making the same amount of noise. More even, as they probably wouldn't be so careful.
They'd been walking only a few minutes when Lisbon suddenly heard something up ahead and to the left of them. She halted and put her hand up to signal Jane to do the same. A bright glint in the distance caught her eye and she quickly spun around then launched herself at an unsuspecting Jane. He let out an 'oof' as she grabbed him around the waist and they ended up in a tangle of limbs on the forest floor with Lisbon laying fully on top of her consultant.
The fall knocked the rifle from her grip and it skidded away, coming to a stop under a nearby large fern. She left it where it was and clamped a hand over Jane's mouth to prevent him from saying anything as she urgently whispered, "Hush."
The consultant's eyes widened and he nodded slightly in acknowledgment so she slowly removed her hand. They could hear the men approaching and Jane automatically placed his arms around her slim form, his hands splaying across her back as if it would somehow help them become more invisible.
She turned her head and laid it on his shoulder, trying to control the slight shaking in her limbs that was threatening to overwhelm her. They were only relying on the foliage for their protection, the tall fronds arching over them and aiding their concealment. Feeling Lisbon's heart hammering against his chest and the way she shook in his arms, Jane tightened his grip on her, hoping to convey some reassurance.
The brunette closed her eyes and pressed herself down onto him even further, trying to obtain that tiny inch of space that might be the difference between being discovered or not.
They could hear the men talking quietly to each other, although not loud enough to hear exactly what they were saying. The tone of their voices betrayed their displeasure; whether at the situation or at each other was hard to determine. They walked swiftly on by and as the sounds of their footsteps faded, Jane let out a shuddering breath that he hadn't realised he was holding.
"I think they're gone," he whispered into her ear; although he only loosened his hold enough that his hands dropped lower to span her waist.
Lisbon lay still a moment longer, trying to get her rigid form to relax as her shakes subsided. However, now that the imminent danger had passed, she found herself tensing for a whole different reason as she became very aware of her consultant's warm, firm body lying beneath hers. Despite the fearful situation of only a moment ago, her own body tingled from top to toe as it revelled in the heady feeling of lying so intimately against him. It gave her pause to wonder what sort of person she was that she could glean a perverse kind of pleasure in such dire a circumstance but then again, adrenaline was a powerful force. It made people feel and do the craziest of things at times.
She lifted her head and opened her eyes to look down at him. They were so close their breaths mingled as they gazed at each other intently. She only had to move a few, scant centimetres to close the gap between them and then she'd finally know what it felt like to have his lips on hers. She noticed his eyes darken a shade and his lips part slightly as the tension stretched out until it practically crackled between them. She felt his fingers dig into her waist, her skin burning beneath his touch even though her top still served as a barrier for any real contact. Her breathing deepened. It was what she wanted, more than anything, she suddenly realised; but did she have the guts to actually do it?
It would change things between them irrevocably. She wouldn't be able to pass it off as a mere spur of the moment thing. They both knew it would be a conscious decision on her part if she chose finally to cross that line.
The moment dragged on and just when Jane was about to broach that forbidden barrier himself a distant shot rang out followed by the panicked screeching of several birds, breaking the spell.
With such a strident reminder of their current situation ringing in her ears, Lisbon placed her hands either side of Jane's shoulders then hurriedly pushed herself up and scrambled off of him.
Jane let her go and swallowed hard as he watched her brush down her jeans. From where he lay, he could see the slight betraying tremor of her hands as they struggled to do even such a menial task. He slowly sat up and brought all his mental abilities into play as he tried to calm his own unruly body down. He could see her face was extremely flushed and judging by the way she had still yet to meet his gaze he knew she couldn't have been unaware of how much being that close to her had affected him.
He stood up as she bent down to retrieve the rifle and after a cursory glance in her direction he looked away. Seeing her like that really wasn't going to help his condition in any way he decided as his gazed skywards in the vain hope that if there were a God he'd throw some divine intervention his way and help them both through this awkward moment.
Lisbon chanced flicking Jane a glance as she came back with the gun and seeing he was ready she immediately continued on the way they were going before they'd seen the men. The consultant took her lead and followed silently behind, shedding his jacket to brush off the back that was covered in leaves and dirt.
"There were only two of them. We'd best be careful in case the third man is around here somewhere," he cautioned in a low voice as he donned his jacket again.
A nod of the head was the only response he received and he damped down a wave of frustration. It was becoming more and more obvious to him now that despite his own dogged reticence and many reasons why not to, they were just going to have to stop skirting around the issue of their feelings for each other and at the very least talk about it. True, he could pretend that it was down to the rush of being in danger, but he knew he'd be lying to himself and he was certain that Lisbon had realised it too. She wasn't stupid and if nothing else, it would stop the silent treatment he received every time she got a little too close to revealing herself.
He really was finding it quite tiresome.
Zack angrily picked up the offending black jacket then tossed it carelessly away as he scanned the surrounding area.
"Where the hell are they?" he ground out irately.
Ben slowly turned around looking for the telltale sign of which direction Jane and Lisbon had headed. He had far more years experience at hunting than Zack and knew exactly what he was searching for…and then he spotted it. A broken fern frond at the farthest end of the downed tree trunk. Nondescript in its own way but Ben hurried over to it to check it out. It was a fresh break and although there was always a chance that it could have been done by an animal, it was slim given the height and angle off the ground. Besides, his gut told him he was right. The one time he'd hadn't listened to it was when his brother had told him that Zack wasn't a psychopath, he was just in need of some discipline. How that had come back to bite him in the ass.
"I've found something," he said to Zack. "You go on to the creek and meet up with Wade. The dogs will lead you back to me."
"No way," his nephew replied. "If you're going after them, I'm coming with you."
"I haven't got time to argue, boy," Ben retorted angrily. "If they get away then we're all going down, do you understand? Now go get Wade and bring those dogs back. I'm sick and tired of your games."
Zack's jaw clenched as he stared at his uncle in disdain. Without warning he levelled his rifle at the older man but Ben was just as quick. They eyed each other down the barrels of their guns but Zack's overwhelming desire to stay alive proved too much and he lowered his gun with harsh laugh.
"You'd better watch your back, old man," he cautioned with a sneer before turning a walking away.
Ben kept his rifle trained on his nephew until he was sure he'd gone then let out a sigh of relief as he relaxed his aim. He'd won this round but he knew there would soon come a time where he was going to have to do something about Zack once and for all.
With one last look in the direction his nephew had gone, Ben turned around and concentrated on finding Lisbon and Jane.
Van Pelt tutted in annoyance as the GPS tracker failed yet again.
"I can't get a lock on their phones," she announced worriedly.
"What about the car?" Cho questioned as he finally pulled onto Old State Highway.
"I'll give it a try," she said, tapping away at the keyboard. There were a couple of minutes of tense silence then she stated urgently, "Got it. About five kilometres north of here."
The stoic agent nodded in response and pressed harder on the gas pedal. How was it that they could get a fix on their car but not their phones?
They passed a lagoon and continued on until Cho had to slow for a tight left hand corner.
"It should be somewhere here," the red head declared, looking avidly out of the windscreen.
He manoeuvred the car smoothly around the bend only to slam on the brakes when Rigsby let out a sudden cry from the backseat.
"Stop! I think I saw something in the trees back there," he exclaimed as he jabbed his finger on his window by way of pointing the direction.
Cho quickly performed a U-turn and drove back to the bend where he pulled off the road so as not to inconvenience any other driver that might by chance happen along the little used road.
Van Pelt propped the laptop onto the top of the dashboard then got out with the men to have a look around. Rigsby jogged forward into the forest to where he thought he'd caught a glimpse of a car parked between two trees.
"It's here," he called grimly as he spied Lisbon's damaged SUV and went over to it. "Looks like they had an accident. Drivers side took the hit."
The other two agents joined him and together they checked over the vehicle inside and out. They soon found that the guns were gone and that there was a small smear of blood on the steering wheel.
"Looks like Lisbon was hurt," Cho commented impassively. "Not too bad though."
"No guns so I guess they're armed at least," said Van Pelt trying to be optimistic.
"Armed against what though?" Rigsby asked with a puzzled look. "I mean, why didn't they just call us? And why is the car pushed all the way back here, away from the road?"
"Because something else happened here," Cho replied, looking around at the forest as though it would somehow magically reveal the events that had unfolded there. "Whatever it is, they're in trouble and we need to find them, quick."
"I'll see if I can get a fix on their phones again," Van Pelt immediately offered before heading back to their car.
"I'll call local PD and get them to come and tow the car and get forensics on it," Rigsby declared, pulling out his phone.
"Good. I'll call Sheriff Newland and let them know they're missing; see if we can set up a search," said Cho as he too got out his phone.
As he waited for his call to be answered, Cho glanced over at the battered SUV again and tried to quell the uneasiness that had settled in his stomach. Something was off about the whole accident thing. Lisbon didn't have accidents. Ever.
Which begged the questions; what the hell really happened here? And where the heck were they now?
He just hoped he found out the answers before it was too late.
END CHAPTER 6
A/N: Please let me know what you think - I hoped you enjoyed it and I'll see you in the next chapter :)