Words That Bind


The elevator doors opened and Lt. Col Ironhorse gingerly stepped into the throbbing centre of their fight against the three-fingered aliens that had declared war on Earth.

Blackwood glanced up from leaning over Norton's shoulder and saw the Indian walk further into the room. A bright smile filled his face, until he realised that the man before him should not even be on his feet.

"Colonel," Harrison greeted, moving towards his friend. "You're looking a lot better this morning." Although he did not actually touch the man before him, he did guide him towards a chair, which he noted Ironhorse sank into gratefully. "I was coming to pick you up from the hospital this afternoon," he continued, his voice overly bright.

"I got bored just sitting about, so I called Derriman," Ironhorse said, aware that Norton and Suzanne, who had leapt up on his entrance, were not greeting him with enthusiasm.

"You should be in bed," Suzanne admonished, coming to stand beside Harrison, her arms crossed in front of her, not pleased at seeing him disobeying his doctor's orders.

"That's the best offer you're ever likely to get from us, Colonel," Norton replied with a wink.

Ironhorse felt his face grow red and looked down at his shaking hands, which he clasped together to hide their weakness.

Suzanne took a friendly swipe at the computer genius. "Leave the man alone, Norton, or I'll bug your microchips."

Norton looked suitably chastised, but continued, his tone saying more than his words ever could, "It's really good to have you back, man, we were all worried there for a while." Ironhorse looked up and caught the genuine look in the other's eyes and weakly smiled his thanks.

"It'll take more than a bullet to take this particular man out," Derriman said, coming to stand beside his commander. "But the doctor did tell me that he was to have complete bed rest for at least a week."

"Derriman," growled the seated man.

The sergeant held up his hands in defence. "Only obeying orders, sir."

"And I think that, for once Colonel, so should you," Blackwood observed, reaching out to help the other man to his feet.

As they made their way to the elevator, Blackwood on one side and Derriman on the other, Suzanne and Norton could hear Ironhorse griping, "I should obey orders for once, Blackwood..? What about you? You're not too good in the old hearing department, yourself, where that's concerned."

They never caught Blackwood's reply, as the doors slid closed.

"That sounds like the beginning of a very interesting conversation," Norton said as he wheeled himself back to his terminal.

Suzanne nodded slowly. "He looked terribly shaky, didn't he?" she said as she moved across the room, heading back to her own lab.

Norton glanced up and caught the concerned look that had settled upon her face. "Yeah, but getting a bullet in the chest at that close range can do that to a man."

"Norton!" Suzanne accused, unable to forget the gut-wrenching fear that had torn into her body at the sight of their fallen friend; blood everywhere, Blackwood kneeling beside the too-still body, the medics working frantically over the brutal looking chest wound.

"Hey... Hey... Suzanne," Norton said, coming to the woman's side and clasping her hand when he saw the effect his words had caused. "He's here and he's alive." He smiled and continued in a softer voice, "And Harrison, AKA Super Mother Hen, is not about to let him do anything silly."

Suzanne looked at Norton for a few moments, weighing up his words. Finally she smiled and, reaching over, gave him a sudden hug. "It's good to have him back."

***

Harrison was not annoyed. Or so he kept telling himself. He was only slightly put out that Ironhorse had not told him that he was planning on going with them on this particular mission, that was all. Blackwood took another deep breath and repeated the words to himself again.

Five minutes later he slammed out of his office and into Ironhorse's. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Colonel?" he snapped, coming to stand directly in front of the handsome man who was fastening his knife to his thigh.

Slowly, carefully, Ironhorse straightened to meet the angry man's smouldering look. "Something bothering you, doctor?" he asked, his tone casual but his attitude deadly.

"Yes, you could say that, Colonel," shot back Blackwood, almost hissing the man's rank. "You've only just recovered from our last run-in with the aliens, and now Suzanne informs me that you're going with us on this mission?"

Pushing past Blackwood, Paul stated, "As you said, I'm recovered, so there's no need..." He didn't get any further, as Harrison grabbed his arm and pulled him roughly around. Ironhorse forced down the hiss of pain this action caused.

"Not fully recovered... light duties only... I thought that's what the doctor said."

"I am merely going on this mission to observe my people, Harrison," Ironhorse snapped back, his own temper frayed by the pain of Blackwood's actions.

"Bullshit, and you know it. At the first sign of aliens, you'll be in there with the rest of them."

Ironhorse took a step back and deliberately turned away from his friend. "Just like you, Blackwood?" The voice held a slight tone of query.

Harrison made as if to follow Ironhorse as he stormed from the room, then paused. He had not missed the flash of pain that swept across the handsome face as he grabbed at the arm. Moving over to the phone, he dialled Norton's extension. He could picture him bent over his computer terminal, searching out more evidence of alien activity.

"Hey man, it's still ringing loud and clear," the wheelchair-bound man stated when he heard Blackwood's voice.

"Have you a clear location yet?"

"Eighty miles due south," came back the chirpy reply. "I lost it for a while, but they must have gone back on line, 'cos it's real clear now."

"Alright, get as much detail as you can and tell Suzanne I'll meet her in my office."

"Any luck with Ironman?" From Norton's tone it was clear that he did not believe that Blackwood would win this particular argument.

"The colonel is insisting on going with us," Blackwood stated, barely able to suppress the flash of anger his words caused to course through his body.

"But I thought the doctor said..." Norton began.

"He did, but the damned idiot thinks he's invincible," snapped Blackwood, remembering the broken, bloody body he had held only a few short weeks before.

"Blackwood," came the snarl from behind him. Harrison slowly turned to see a white faced Ironhorse standing in the doorway, glaring at him.

"Got to go, Norton," Blackwood hissed hastily, before he slammed down the receiver.

"Get out of my office," snapped the Indian, moving aside and motioning the tall man out. "Now," he finished with a snarl.

"Now look, Colonel, I was just..."

"I heard what you were just... Doctor, and I would appreciate it if in future you didn't discuss my personal matters between yourselves."

"Paul, you're being totally unreasonable. We care about you," began Harrison again, trying to reason with the man before him.

"So I just heard. Now get the hell out of here, Dr. Blackwood," came back the disgusted reply.

Blackwood spent a few moments looking at the man before him, realising that the walls he had spent many months breaking down were once again firmly in place. Drawing up to his full height, he finally acknowledged, "As you wish, Colonel." Slowly he walked past the rigid man and winced as the door slammed behind him, the shock of it vibrating through his own body.

***

The trip to the alien hideout was ominous in its silence. Blackwood had uncharacteristically offered to drive; Ironhorse sat beside him, with Suzanne in the back. She had bravely tried to engage the colonel in conversation, but had been met with short, clipped answers that had led to the oppressive silence they now rode in.

"How much further?" Suzannne asked again from the back; she was trying to read her watch from the meagre light of the moon.

"About fifteen miles, if Norton's location is accurate," Blackwood offered back, jumping at the excuse to break the atmosphere. "Are the Omegans still with us, Colonel?" His tone was forcibly bright, and Ironhorse resisted snarling back at him.

Instead, he glanced at the van behind them and commented dryly, "Yes," then added, "is the rear-view mirror broken, Doctor?"

Blackwood shot him a quick glance, then looked back at the road. "Just checking, Colonel." Silence again filtered into the small cab. "Look, Paul," Harrison began. "I didn't mean what you overheard me say..."

Ironhorse interrupted him, stating firmly, "If I had not heard, you would have meant it, though?"

"No... not at all... I mean..." Harrison stopped and took a deep breath, his anger and frustration boiling over once more. Suddenly he decided that there would be no more lies between them, no more grey areas of stepping carefully, of not wanting to upset anyone. No, he wanted it all out in the open, the fear that jerked him awake in the night crying out in terror. "Christ, Paul," he began, his tone bitter, "you scared the hell out of me when you got shot. Do you realise that I held you in my arms as your blood pumped out onto the floor, and that I couldn't do a damned thing to stop it. The hole was so big, it looked like half your chest was gone." He realised that he was gripping the steering wheel tightly and forcibly released it as he continued, "How the hell do you expect me to react, when you insist on coming with us on this mission, when you'rr obviously not up to it?"

"I can take care of myself, Doctor," Ironhorse snapped back. He turned his head to look out of the window, unwilling to let the other see the effect his words had had on him. His only real memory of his wounding had been the tight embrace of the man beside him, the incredible pain in his chest, taste of blood in his mouth, the fear of dying and the reassuring grip of his friend.

"You bastard," Blackwood shot back. "You don't give a damn about us, do you?"

"Harrison," gasped Suzanne from the back.

"No, Suzanne, he doesn't. If he did, he wouldn't do this. He's just obsessed with getting the aliens that killed his men, can't you see it? The stupid risks he takes, always pushing himself to the fore..." He glanced at the back of Ironhorse's head. "Is that it, are you trying to kill yourself because of what happened to your unit?"

"How dare you?" spat back Ironhorse, turning to glare at the man beside him. "You accuse me of taking stupid risks. Me! I'm not the one who's always blundering into trouble, using the excuse of needing to get more information, Doctor. At least I have a reason for being there; I'm a soldier. You... you've no real need to come on any of these missions, unless you count the fact that you're just as twisted up by the aliens killing your parents as I supposedly am about my unit." The Indian was furious and shouting words he would never normally have spoken. "Are you sure you're not looking in a mirror when you accuse me of taking stupid risks and wanting to die?"

"My parents have nothing to do with this," Blackwood shot back. "It's you we're talking about."

"The hell it is," Ironhorse snarled as he snatched up the radio and spoke into it. "Derriman, pull over, we're changing places. I want you and Stavrakos to ride with Blackwood and McCullough." Then, looking at Blackwood he ordered, "Pull over, Doctor."

"Running away, Colonel?" Blackwood asked coldly as he slowed the Bronco and then pulled to a halt.

"Harrison!" Suzanne exclaimed, shocked at the raw anger she had felt emanating from the two men. She was aware of the pain that both had suffered, but had not expected it to take the direction it was taking. "Paul... Harrison... this is stupid," she began, only to have Ironhorse round on her.

"It would appear, Doctor, that everything I do, according to you people, is stupid. I will talk to General Wilson when this assignment is over; it is obvious that we are not going to be able to work together." Then he was gone, the door slamming with such force that it rocked the car.

Ironhorse stormed towards the back of the Bronco. Seeing Derriman and Stavrakos walking slowly towards him, he took a deep breath to steady his nerves, then grabbed for the side of the car as the world suddenly tilted. He felt a slow heat infuse his body and knew that Blackwood was right; he was pushing it too hard, too soon.

"Sir," Derriman called in alarm as he rushed to his commander's side.

"I'm alright," Ironhorse gasped as he leant against the car, willing his legs not to give out under him, determined not to prove Blackwood right. "Just give me a second."

"Colonel?" came the concerned query from behind him.

Ironhorse straightened on pure willpower alone and turned to look at Blackwood's worried face. "Get back in the car, Doctor. We will be leaving shortly."

"Paul," Blackwood began, noting the pale face and the laboured breathing. He was torn by guilt at his words and only wanted to heal the wounds he saw in the other's stone-cold eyes. He had never seen such a look of dislike in them before, not even when they had first met. It increased his torment. "Please Paul, come back inside, we need to talk about this."

Ironhorse took a shallow breath and said, quietly and firmly, "There is nothing further to say." Then, turning, he pushed past his two men and headed for the van behind.

The silence of the open road could have been cut with the colonel's knife. Slowly Blackwood turned and climbed back into the cab of his car. He knew that his words, once spoken could never be recaptured. No, he had to think of another way to draw Ironhorse back to his side.

***

The aliens had been routed and were now fleeing through the forest with Ironhorse's Omegans firmly upon their trail.

Blackwood ducked behind a tree as a flash of weapon's fire came from ahead of them. Glancing back, he saw that Ironhorse was also seeking shelter as a bite of bullets slashed into the tree he was crouching behind.

The Indian had not spoken a word to either of the civilians since he had left their car, and Blackwood was starting to wilt under the strain of the enforced silence. He was not any good at handling strained situations, whereas Ironhorse was a master at it.

"Harrison, keep your damned head down," Ironhorse instructed, his anger forgotten when he saw the danger to his friend. Blackwood took his advice and crouched down lower.

Suddenly Harrison felt a body slam into him and he rolled with the force of it. Winded, he was yanked back behind the shelter of the trees. Looking up, he saw Ironhorse glaring down at him. "I was undercover until you pushed me out," snapped Blackwood in his defence.

A hand slipped tightly over his mouth and he was smothered to silence. Leaning down, Ironhorse hissed in his ear, "Alien... over there... keep quiet." It was an order, and one Blackwood knew he had to obey. Silently he tilted his head back and looked in the direction Ironhorse had indicated; all he saw was an upside down faint movement of bushes.

Ironhorse crabbed away from him. His movement seemed bulky, awkward, but no sound issued from his progress. With grace that belied his size, he slipped slowly around the clearing, heading in the direction of the moving bushes.

The sound of gunfire was growing faint, and Blackwood knew that the Omegans were chasing the aliens to earth further along the valley. There was only Ironhorse and himself to handle this particular monster.

Swallowing hard, he began to move in the opposite direction to the one Ironhorse had taken. His own movement was not silent, but he hoped that it would distract the alien long enough for Paul to reach his objective and kill the creature.

It happened so fast that he would not be able to explain in detail the next few minutes that occurred. A flash off movement of to his left caused him to spin in that direction, to be confronted by a hunched human form that was covered with blisters and a third hand reaching from its middle. It was obvious that its present body was dying and it was seeking an alternative host.

Blackwood cried out in shock and stumbled back, his fear total, the creature nearly upon him. He felt, rather than saw, the impact of bullets upon the monster as it arched back and was slammed forward into him. He went down under the extra weight and cried out in terror as it began to dissolve upon him.

With speed born of fear, he scrambled out from under the decaying mess and stared wide-eyed about him, frantically searching for Ironhorse, but he was nowhere in sight.

Then he appeared, bursting out from behind the bushes where the alien they had been stalking was hidden. The force of the alien's throw had caused him to be airborne and he landed with a thud, his body striking the ground with some force. He lay stunned, his previous wound screaming in protest at this action, weakly gasping for breath, tasting blood in his mouth as the alien approached him.

Blackwood felt his knees turn to jelly, but forced himself forward into the clearing. What he intended to do, he was not sure as he was not armed. He realised that Ironhorse had lost his knife upon landing; it now lay several meters away from his outstretched hand.

Blackwood yelled at the beast, which stopped and turned its gruesome head towards him. Then, as if knowing that Ironhorse was the real threat, it began to advance towards him again.

Ironhorse was unable to make a move to defend himself during this period. In fact, he was fighting to remain conscious, as red haze dripped across his vision. With a groan he tried to sit up, but flopped back helplessly as pain again flared through his body.

With fast-failing strength he saw the enemy approach and, looking for his knife, saw that it was out of reach of his straining hand. He tried once more to sit up, to reach his weapon, but the pain sliced again and he fell back, gasping weakly.

To Blackwood, events had slowed down in true horror fashion. The alien seemed to be moving towards Ironhorse with deliberate, sure steps. The colonel's feeble attempts to move were almost insignificant when confronted with the alien before them.

With a gasp of shock, Blackwood's mind snapped back to reality as he realised that he would have to act if he wanted to save Ironhorse's life. With speed that belied his shocked appearance, he rushed to the fallen weapon and, grabbing it up, he flung it towards the outstretched hand.

With unerring accuracy, the weapon sought the home of its master's hand and Ironhorse used it with the ease of one who knew his knife's ability. The alien, intent upon consuming the human before it, reared up in shock as it felt the killing bite of the sharp blade. With dulling eyes, it stared down at the face of the man who lay under its hands. Feebly it tried to drag a killing blow from its dying body, but the limbs were already dissolving.

Blackwood charged over to Ironhorse and pulled him out from under the dissolving monster, the memory of his own recent revulsion at being in a similar position still too fresh in his mind to allow his friend to remain under the goo.

"Where the hell was your gun?" Blackwood snapped, after he had regained some of his senses.

"I had to use it to shoot the one that attacked you," gasped Ironhorse, not moving from where Blackwood had lain him.

"How bad is it?" Harrison asked, suddenly concerned by the weak voice, sensitive fingers searching for wounds upon his friend's body, his eyes sharp for the colour of blood.

"Lay off, Blackwood," ineffectively snapped Ironhorse, trying weakly to slap his friend's hands away. "It just stunned me, alright?" he gasped, then coughed, groaning as he again tasted the iron taint of blood in his mouth.

Blackwood suddenly wanted to beat the man who lay under his hands for the fright he had caused; the sheer terror Harrison had felt when he saw the alien approach his fallen friend.

"You should have shot the damned thing when you had the chance," he snapped, realising that Ironhorse had put his own life on the line when he had made the decision to fire at the alien attacking Blackwood.

"Don't concern yourself, Doctor, I only shot the damned thing because it's my job," Ironhorse replied, wanting only for Harrison to go and leave him in peace. He laid his head back and let his mind drift; his men would return soon and they could attend to his wounds.

Blackwood settled down beside his friend and, after radioing Derriman and explaining the situation to him, he took off his jacket and spread it over his fallen friend. As he finished, he noted the drawn pale face and realised that Ironhorse had seriously injured himself once more for him.

"Is it just a job for you? Do you really think you can just leave us?" he accused, moving back to Ironhorse's head and raising the man up so that he was leaning against him; he knew that it would make his breathing easier. Taking a dirty handkerchief, he wiped at some goo that was on the other's face.

Ironhorse's eyes snapped open and he glanced back at Harrison, but his sharp retort died on his lips when he saw the raw pain reflected in Blackwood's eyes. "No," he finally admitted. "I don't think anyone else would put up with you," he added, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

"You don't just do it because it's a job, do you?" Blackwood asked again, tilting his head away, refusing to meet the stunned look that Ironhorse gave him.

Paul opened his mouth, suddenly unsure how he was going to answer. Finally he decided on telling the truth. "No... Maybe at first, but not..." He stopped as he realised that his words earlier had hit home and opened a vast wound that he had not even known existed. He took another shallow breath and continued, "Harrison, we've both said things tonight that maybe we shouldn't have. I've been told that I have an awful temper once its aroused." He paused, out of breath and panting slightly.

Blackwood, realising the effort it was taking Ironhorse to speak stopped him by agreeing, "I didn't mean what I said about your men. You're too good a soldier to throw your life away needlessly."

"You're right about my feeling guilty, though," Ironhorse confided hoarsely. "But If I'm to be of any use to you during this war, I've got to stretch beyond the pain."

"I used to lie awake at night, crying for my parents," Harrision confessed. "Clayton never really understood. He was the kindest loving man, but he never wanted to talk about them, always afraid that it would hurt too much. I wish that I'd been able to talk about them... I think that only by talking about it would I be able to truly come to terms with their death."

"Do you think it would help?" Ironhorse asked, remembering his own tearing pain when his men had been lost to him, his gut-wrenching terror as Sergeant Reynolds had tried to attack them at the underground hangar and then the hand that had probed out from his stomach, causing Ironhorse to almost lose his reason with the shock. Only Blackwood's quick action had saved them that day.

"I don't know. Now... now it just seems like a waste, all of it... All Forrester's work, the years he spent fighting..." He stopped, knowing that this was an area he didn't want to get into at this moment.

"Dr Blackwood," came the call from across the clearing. It was Derriman.

"Over here," he called back, directing them to his side.

As the medic began to work over Ironhorse, Blackwood refused to be moved from his side. As they lifted him onto the stretcher to walk him out of the small valley to the waiting helicopter, Ironhorse gripped Blackwood's hand and said, "When I'm out of hospital, we'll talk... I'd like to tell you about Sergeant Reynolds... my men." He gasped, suddenly unsure of the words he wanted to say.

Blackwood leant down and said, "And I'd like that... I'd like that a lot, and if you don't mind, I could tell you about my parents?"

Ironhorse smiled at him and nodded. "I'd like that too, Harrison." He looked sheepishly at his friend. "I think I'm gonna be out of commission for a while, so we'll have a lot of time for talking."

***

As the helicopter rose with Ironhorse on board, Suzanne turned to look at Blackwood, her eyes filled with suspicion. "What was all that about Ironhorse telling you about Reynolds, and you talking about your parents?" she asked, her dirty face and torn clothes making her look years younger.

Blackwood turned to look at her, a gleam of pure satisfaction in his eyes as he announced wisely, "Words that bind, Suzanne... Words that bind." Then he turned and headed back to the Bronco, full of enthusiasm. "If we hurry, we could reach the hospital at Fort Streeter by the time Paul's out of surgery."

Suzanne stood for a few moments, her arms crossed over her chest as she watched him. He only acted this conceited when he had won an argument, or tricked one of them to do something against their will. Her glance flickered up to the small speck of the helicopter in the distance and she hoped that Blackwood knew what he was doing. Words that bind could also turn into the rope that hangs. She considered mentioning this to Blackwood, then shook her head, a slight smile upon her lips as she followed him to the Bronco. No, it might do Harrison some good to suffer a few rope burns from life.

THE END


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