Time stretched like a rubber band, became nothing more than the sight of a boy falling endlessly through space, beyond reach, beyond help . . .
Then a hated voice, dripping with malicious glee, lanced through his head. "I win, Bogg. And you lose."
Time snapped--and the world went red.
Bogg felt rather than heard the snarl that tore itself from him as he launched himself at Drake. The rogue Voyager's smirk dissolved in a rasping crow as Bogg seized him by the throat. Face livid, Drake scrabbled at the larger man's hands, trying to break their grip, but he was forced inexorably to his knees.
Bogg grimly tightened his hold, squeezing until Drake's eyes looked ready to pop from their sockets. He was weakening now, his face congested, his arms dropping to his sides. And in Bogg's own brain, the blood was beating a fierce tattoo: failed, failed, failed . . .
Then he heard it, though he could not have said whether it was with his ears or his heart--a low moan and a barely audible cry.
"Help . . . please . . . help me."
Faint as it was, it penetrated the red haze in his brain, and sanity came trickling back.
He loved Jeffrey. And he hated Drake. There was no contest. Letting go of the other Voyager's throat, he threw him aside like so much garbage and hurtled down the slope to where the boy lay. He was dimly aware of Drake wheezing and gasping above him but beyond a brief flare of savage satisfaction, he had no attention to spare for anyone but Jeff.
Please, God, he prayed as he knelt beside the small, still form, don't let it have been my imagination. Mouth dry, heart racing, he picked up one limp hand, searched for a pulse--and felt the world right itself with a shudder at the thready beat beneath his fingers.
Alive. Still alive, although if he had lain here all night, he could well have succumbed to shock and exposure. Not to mention that nasty knock on his head.
"Another concussion, kid," he whispered, gently fingering the lump forming beneath the boy's dark curls. "Sorry about that . . . sorry about everything."
Irresistibly, he glanced towards the trees, saw with dread the plume of smoke rising in the distance. From where the Jones' camper undoubtedly lay--turned over on its side perhaps, like some mortally wounded beast.
Directives pounded in his head now, stern warnings in Professor Garth's voice, in his own. "A Voyager cannot change history . . . "
Their images rose in his mind. Kathy looking at him with Jeffrey's eyes, filling a stage with her voice and presence, Bill shaking his hand, sizing up and taking down a larger man with a few well-chosen words. He heard their laughter, saw them dancing, with their son balanced between them . . .
He couldn't. He just couldn't. History be damned, he had to try, for all their sakes.
With a last agonized glance at Jeff, he straightened up and set out for the trees at a flat run. The uneven ground threatened to trip him up at every stride but he kept going, hoping, hoping . . .
He had taken no more than half a dozen strides when the explosion ripped through the trees, the force of it literally knocking him off his feet.
Too late. Forever and always, too late.
Dazed and sick, Bogg crouched in the dirt, ears ringing, stomach churning. From a distance, he could hear the insatiable crackle of the flames, imagined them devouring and consuming.
Failed, failed, failed . . .
Jeffrey. The thought was like a dash of cold water in his face, rousing him from his stupor. He hadn't failed--not completely. There was still something he could do--the most important thing of all.
Moving like an old man, he forced himself to rise and make his way back to Jeffrey's side. Still unconscious, mercifully so, though he gave a faint moan as Bogg slipped an arm beneath his body and lifted him from the ground. Once the boy was safely settled in his arms, Bogg tilted his head back and scanned the road above them.
Drake was gone. So was the limousine.
Keeping a firm hold on Jeffrey, Bogg began the laborious climb up the slope. Light as the boy usually was, the dead weight of him dragged at Bogg's arms as he struggled towards the top of the incline. Slinging him over the shoulder in a fireman's carry might have been easier, but Bogg didn't want to risk aggravating the head injury. Gritting his teeth, he soldiered on . . . not too far now, he could actually glimpse the surface of the main road.
And suddenly Susan was there, a little above him, holding out her arms for Jeffrey. Too winded to speak, Bogg handed the boy up to her. She grasped him under the arms, pulling him to safety while Bogg hauled himself over the edge.
Still kneeling by Jeffrey, Susan reached out and grasped Bogg's forearm. "The others?" she asked, and there was a terrible urgency on her face.
Grief reared its head, threatened to crash down on him like a tidal wave. Forcing it back, he made himself look at her--and shook his head, just once.
Susan closed her eyes but not before he saw the sorrow in them. Her face was white as chalk. "This--is why I'm not in the field," she whispered through stiff lips.
Bogg had no comfort to give. Susan stayed as she was for a moment longer, crouching protectively over Jeffrey. Then she opened her eyes, her face wiped clean of all expression. "Come on. We need to get him to a hospital."