Desperate Measures Part 3

By Melissa McClendon

What's wrong with me?... I act so silly around him and cry at the flip of a hat... I've never been one to cry... I can't be falling...No! That's impossible...
" Are you alright, Nineh ?" Julian asked with growing concern as they reached her doorstep.
" Y-yes, I'm fine. I'm just tired..."
" Well, you being stuck in that storm didn't help. You should go get some rest, that's what I'm going to do. Bowman opted to stay at the hospital during the night... I'm starting to worry about my friend ."
So am I...But in a very different way... Nineh blushed. " I'm sure he'll be fine. Just order him to stay in bed tomorrow and sleep ." Bowman's had so little sleep...
Julian smiled before bending down and gently kissing her. " You're so kind and considerate, Nineh... Good night ."
" Good night..." Nineh replied absent-mindedly before stepping inside her house.

When he kissed me... I didn't feel the fire from him that I did for Bowman... Oh dear... What's coming over me? Nineh ran the comb through her long sapphire hair one last time before setting it down on her vanity. Did he really say he didn't hate me? Perhaps he'll talk to me now... Hopefully then I'll be able to sort out my feelings for him... Nineh hesitantly donned her robe and left her room in relative silence, praying she wasn't going to make a bigger fool of herself.
Nineh began walking down the stairs, buried deep in her own thoughts. " Ahh !!" She shrieked in fright when she noticed a man sitting at her table, his head downcast in defeat. He didn't move, not even when she screamed and fell back in fright. Nineh hesitantly got up and moved closer, something about him was so familiar.
" B-Bowman?" She whispered.
Bowman finally looked up at her, his eyes full of defeat. " I'm sorry, Nineh ."
Nineh inched closer. " For what? Are you alright, Bowman ?"
" The way I have treated you is not a reflection of how I feel about you. I did it for Julian, but I can't hide it anymore. My feelings for you are too strong..."
Nineh gasped, it felt like her heart was going to flutter away or burst into a million pieces. " Bowman..."
" I was jealous tonight. It angered me to think of you with Jules... But I didn't mean to hurt you. That was not my intention ."
Nineh's warm smile was hidden by the shadows of her darkened house. " I... was about to go to you. I had to talk to you ." She was standing in front of him now, taking in his light green tea scent, causing her to smile even more. " Why aren't you at the hospital ?"
Bowman's light blue eyes locked with hers. In the dim moonlight, Nineh could almost swear she saw tears in his eyes. " They're all dead, Nineh. All the patients have died..." He buried his face in his shaky hands.
Nineh's smile quickly faded. "...No..."
" Its all my fault, Nineh... I couldn't save them..."
Bowman sounded like a broken man in heart rendering pain and Nineh ached to comfort him. Hesitantly, she placed her hand on his shoulder. " You did everything you could, Bowman ."
He looked up at her again. " I don't feel like I did ."
" Bowman... you can't blame yourself for something you had no control over ."
Nineh whispered even as she could feel herself choking up. Gone... Everyone's...gone?
She looked away, closing her eyes as tears threatened to fall for the second time that night. All the children who were sick? The elderly? How could they have all died?... Its not fair!! We all tried so hard... For nothing? Her eyes shot open when she felt him drawing her into his embrace, wrapping his arms tightly around her slim waist.
" I'm sorry I've failed you, Nineh... You most of all ." He whispered against her.
Nineh trembled as she returned his embrace, wrapping her arms around his neck and closing her eyes as she rest her head on his shoulder. We can't just give up... Not just yet... I've already lost my parents to this damned virus... We have to find a cure before more innocent children die as well...

Bowman gently lay Nineh down on her bed, pulling the blankets up to keep her warm as he prepared to leave. He couldn't quite remember when they had fallen asleep, just that he had finally woke up just as the early signs of dawn were creeping through Nineh's window, finding her curled up in his arms, sleeping peacefully in his protective embrace. My precious Nineh... He ran the back of his hand tenderly across her angelic face, tucking her hair back. Perhaps things would have been different for us... But I have failed you and I must amend that mistake before I can forgive myself... Once Jules and I have solved this madness... You and I can resolve our own chaos...
He bent down and gently kissed her before silently leaving to begin his work again.

" Jules, c'mon, you have to get up. I need you to leave for Lacour as quickly as possible and--" Bowman paused when he witnessed his best friend weakly sit up in the bed and stare at him blandly, perspiration collecting heavily on his forehead and his long green hair in disarray. " Jules ?" His voice was full of the fear he felt.
" I'm sorry, Bowman..." He whispered hoarsely as he reached for his glasses. " I should have been up an hour ago..." Shaky hands reached for the candle on the night stand and lit it. Julian, in a matter of a few hours, had grown deathly pale and dark rings were circling his eyes. " Now... What do you need from Lacour ?"
" It doesn't matter, Jules..." Bowman concluded solemnly. " I'll... Umm... Meet you outside and we'll decide what to do from there..." He quietly turned away and shut the door behind him, the new situation making him sick.

Several days later

" Jules, I need more aceras..." Bowman announced from his mixtures of various herbs, still trying to concentrate on a cure while trying to completely ignore the fact that
his best friend may have been infected with the virus. " Jules !"
A tiny hand reached out with a fist full of aceras. Bowman quietly looked up from his work to see Nineh standing there. " He's..." She whispered in disbelief.
Bowman solemnly took the herbs from her and began compounding them into a powder. " Yes... "
Nineh gently rest her hand over his. " I'm sorry..."
He glanced up at her, his light blue eyes full of pain. " So am I ."
" But we mustn't give up hope yet. I still have faith in you ." Nineh quietly withdrew her hand, allowing him to return to his work. " That was the last of the herbs... The ones I picked the other day were ruint ."
Bowman suddenly looked up at her, a strange gleam in his eyes. " You're not going out there alone, Nineh ."
" I know, Bowman... But I also know you're needed here, so Carter agreed to escort me out there. He's perfectly harmless ."
It still didn't feel right... There was just something about all of this... " Alright, Nineh..." Bowman hesitantly agreed. " But its only because of these circumstances. I don't want you getting hurt ."
Nineh managed a small smile. " You needn't worry. Carter will take good care of me ."
A strange feeling washed over Bowman as Nineh left him... A feeling of... Fear?

" They... haven't come back yet..." Julian whispered deliriously as Bowman placed a cool compress on his burning forehead.
" I know, Jules..." Bowman replied quietly as he examined his friend.
" I'm so tired, Bowman..." He continued weakly, closing his eyes as he relaxed his head against the pillow. " Just let me rest my eyes and I'll be able to help you again in a minute..."
" Don't worry about it, Jules ." Bowman concluded, trying not to show his frustration with his lack of a cure. Without that damned cure, I'm going to lose my best friend...
" I'm sorry, Bowman. You don't have to pretend anymore... I know I have little time left..." Julian was struggling to speak now. " Please... Forgive me, Bowman ."
" What have you to be sorry for, Jules ?" Bowman tried to sound light-hearted.
" Stop all this talk of death. You're going to be fine in a few days ."
" I'm no fool, Bowman ." Julian clasped Bowman's wrist. " I know... You love Nineh... Even if... You don't realize it... And she loves you... Please forgive my selfishness..."
" Don't give it another thought, Jules. Just relax and get plenty of rest ." Bowman went to place his hand back on the bed when he noticed Julian's bound wrist. " What happened to your wrist, Jules ?"
" C-Carter... His dagger..." Julian finally fell unconscious.
Bowman gazed upon Julian one more time before getting up to leave. " Good bye, my friend ." As he started back towards his room, all of the pieces of the puzzle started to fit together and a new fear swelled in his throat. Nineh!!

" Carter, where are you taking me? I have to get these herbs to--"
Carter suddenly stopped and jerked around to face Nineh. " Its pointless, Nineh. Those two doctors don't know what the hell they are doing, we've already lost half of the town because of their damned meddling !"
Nineh looked at him dumb-foundedly. She'd never seen him like this. " Carter? We have to atleast try ." She pleaded. " We can't just give up and allow all those innocent people to die... All those children..."
" You don't give a damn about the children, Nineh! Nor about our people !" Carter spat back venomously. " You've turned your back on all of us for some fool !"
" No, Carter, I would never--"
" You have! And now there's no turning back..."
" What are you talking about, Carter ?"
" One of them is already dying, Nineh. My father and the other will soon follow ."
" How can you say things like that, Carter ?" Nineh whispered, hardly believing what she was hearing.
" Its easy to tell the truth, Nineh. I am only speaking the truth ."
Nineh gasped. How could Carter know that... Unless... " You bastard !" She screamed, flailing her arms at him in fury. " You killed my parents! You killed all of those children!! You were the one who attacked me in the forest, weren't you ?!" Nineh whimpered when Carter grabbed a hold of her and slung her into a tree, landing with a loud thump.
" Calm down, Nineh. No more people have to die. Just my father and Bowman... With them out of the way, we'll both be free--"
" Why did you have to kill them, Carter ?" Nineh weeped. " Why did you have to hurt all those people... People we grew up with! Children we cared for! My parents... Julian... Now your father and Bowman? Why?..." She buried her face in her hands, wishing it would all just fade away.
" There's no need to explain my reasoning, Nineh, just that you and I can finally be together. You can end all of this, you know ?" Carter drew his dagger and gave it a twirl.
Nineh suddenly looked up at him, her eyes iced over in disgust. Slowly, she got up and stared at him. " What makes you think I could ever want you? You truly are dillusional, Carter. Bowman must have hit you a little too hard, perhaps he should hit you again to knock some sense into you ." Nineh jumped back in fear, landing near the ledge when Carter swiped at her with his dagger. " Carter! Stop it !"
Carter maliciously grinned at her, stepping even closer. " I'll give you two choices, Nineh. This dagger has been coated with the venom that has been killing the people in Escalon or... That steep, jagged downslope leads to the pit where I found the venom. One bite from the snakes down there, where the venom is in its natural, most potent form, will mean an even quicker, more painful death for you, my dear. Either way, I'm through with you and your treachery !"
Nineh shrieked in fright, ducking as Carter swiped at her again. " Please, Carter, stop!!!"
" Nineh, get away !!" Bowman commanded as he dove after Carter. Nineh dashed for the tree, but was quickly knocked flat of her back when Carter grabbed her ankle, causing her to land with a loud thump. Bowman got him in a headlock as Nineh kicked herself free. " Go, Nineh !!" Bowman yelled as he and Carter began wrestling around on the ground.
Nineh scurried up and launched herself into the tree like a frightened kitten, completely forgetting her phobia of heights until she glanced down. Oh dear!! She shot her head up and grabbed a hold of the nearest branch with a deathlike grip. " Be careful, Bowman! That blade is what is causing all the people to be sick !"
Bowman dodged a punch from Carter and quickly countered with a powerful side
kick, sending him sailing back. " Well-noted, darling. Hold on until I can get you down !"
Nineh held her breathe, praying Carter would stay down and Bowman wouldn't have to seriously hurt him. I never thought of Bowman as a fighter... Please be careful...
Suddenly, Carter jumped up, slinging a handful of dirt in Bowman's eyes and taking advantage of the sudden handicap by knocking him towards the ledge. Nineh gasped as Carter prepared to stab Bowman as he struggled to recover his sight. " NO!!"
Nineh screamed as she lunged at Carter from the tree branch, landing on top of him and knocking the dagger from his hand. The impact of the fall was too much for both of them, sending both Carter and Nineh into a roll dangerously close to the steep downslope.
" Nineh !" Bowman panicked, catching a glimpse of her rolling off the side of the ledge as he finally regained his vision. He dropped down, desperately trying to reach her but she slipped right through his grasp and began to roughly slide down the hill. By a slim twist of fate, something caught a hold of Nineh's hair before she landed in the snake pit with Carter, narrowly preventing what would have been her death. " Nineh !"
Bowman called, praying she was alright. " Nineh, darling, please answer me! Give me a sign that you're alright !!" He gasped desperately. " NINEH !!!"
As thunder cracked through the sky and it began to rain, Nineh's hand slowly moved up to her forehead, touching the blood that ran down her face. "...Bowman..." She whispered, her entire body in pain.
" Don't move, Nineh! I'm coming to get you !"
"...Be careful... Bowman..." She mumbled before she lost consciousness.

The rain was beating down hard on Bowman's back when he finally reached Nineh, the mud making it even harder to reach her without slipping or endangering her further. " Nineh..." He whispered, taking her cold, limp hand in his as he reached her. " Nineh, darling..." He gently kissed her.
Nineh's sapphire eyes slowly fluttered open, her bottom lip quivering. "...Bowman..." Her voice was weak and shaky, full of pain. " Is... Carter?..." She struggled to speak, her breathing strained.
" Yes... I'm sorry, Nineh ." He brushed his hand across her cold cheek, letting his fingers linger there longer than usual.
" Don't be..." She closed her eyes, trying to hold back her tears. Whether they were tears of sadness or pain, she did not know.
" I'm going to free you now... Hold onto me, Nineh ." He tried to untangle her hair, but it was so fine to begin with and being caked with mud, it proved impossible. "Damn it..." He mumbled.
Nineh managed to reach for Carter's dagger which was stuck in the ground near her. " Bowman..." She handed it to him, struggling to keep her eyes open. " Cut it..."
" What ?" He whispered in disbelief, struggling to maintain his grasp for both their sakes.
" We don't have time... Use the dagger and... Cut me free..."
Bowman looked at her as if he were going to say something and decided not to. Its hair... It'll grow back. Nineh wrapped her arms weakly around his neck as he hesitantly began cutting her hair free from its tangled mess.


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