Rating: PG 13+
Characters: Don Eppes, David Sinclair, Colby Granger, Charlie Eppes, Alan Eppes, OMCs - Scott Nelson and Paul Nelson
Disclaimer: I don't own them, I just borrowed them. Numb3rs and its characters are the property of those that created them. No copyright infringement intended. No financial reward gained. All real places and organisations are used in a fictional sense. Anything you don't recognise is a product of my imagination.
Spoilers: Arrow of Time, Fifth Man, Pilot.
Word count this chapter: ~2860
Word count total: ~44,000
Summary: Making a choice is one thing, surviving the consequences that follow is something else altogether. Third instalment of Nelson series following Flight and Crosshairs - Brad escapes but danger for Don comes from an unexpected quarter.CHAPTER TWELVEThe sound of his phone ringing startled Alan. As he reached for it he found Charlie looking over at him questioningly. They were in one of the conference rooms in the Field Office, after the discovery of Brad’s body there was no longer the concern that they were at risk and they’d been able to convince David to bring them in. Charlie had been working at his laptop, the room’s projector showing on the screen his efforts to improve his algorithms that were already being used to try to track Don’s cell from the calls to date. Like the FBI Charlie had long come to the conclusion the calls were being made from deliberately selected places designed to confuse their efforts to track them back to where Don was actually being held. Charlie was working on it nonetheless, mathematically weighting each point. Alan knew it was an extremely complex problem given the size of the area they were searching as well as the all too difficult to predict variable of human behaviour.The agent assigned to them to see to their needs, a Mark someone-or-other, also looked at him alertly. Alan knew the agent had been assigned as much to ensure they didn’t access the incident room across the floor, where they were most definitely not permitted, as to help them but he had been most solicitous. They’d been receiving constant briefings personally from David as well as a daily visit from the Assistant Director in Charge. Still confused as to who could be calling him he finally got his phone free from his pocket and suddenly sat bolt upright as he saw the caller ID. He quickly answered the call.“Don?” At his incredulous query Charlie and the agent both rushed over. He put the phone on speaker and after a moment of silence he asked hesitantly, “Don, is that you?”There was a long expelled breath then a less than steady voice, “Dad.”Charlie leant in and demanded, “Don! Hey, Don, are you -“At the same time the agent shot out of the room at a dead run, heading to the incident room.“Charlie,” Don interrupted his brother, his voice faint and hard to make out on the poor line. “I’m, I’m here.”The Eppes men looked to each other, not missing that Don had not said he was fine. They hardly would have believed it, they had been briefed that he’d been injured but Don always said he was fine. Alan waved his hand to silence his youngest. “Don, are you okay?”“I needed to hear your voice.”“Donny, I’m here. We’re both here, anything you need, please just talk to us.”“I can’t, I just needed to hear you. I’m sorry,” he said. Choked with emotion Don’s voice lacked its normal snap.“No! You have nothing to apologise for, nothing! Don please, tell us what is happening,” Alan demanded in alarm. He’d never heard his oldest like this before. His fatherly instincts rose up, “Is he there? Let me talk to him.”“I have to go.”“Don, stay alive! Whatever you have to do, do it,” Charlie said quickly.“Come back to us, Donny. Please,” Alan pleaded.“Dad, Charlie-” Don started but there was a muffled sound and the phone died.David and Colby burst into the room but stopped as they saw Alan and Charlie huddled around the now silent phone. The older man suddenly sat up, wiping at an eye and noticed the agents.“Mr Eppes?” David prodded gently.“It was him,” Alan managed as Charlie put his hand over his. “He wouldn’t say he was fine. He always says he’s fine.”“Did he say anything else? Anything we can use to find him?”Charlie gave his father’s hand a squeeze and looked up at David. “No, all he said was he needed to hear us. Oh, no. You don’t think-““No!” David jumped in seeing Alan’s head came up in alarm as he understood Charlie’s conclusion. He couldn’t dance around this so was blunt, “No, the longer they keep him alive the less likely they are to kill him. This is a good sign.”“But what if it was his last request?” Alan asked, his voice strained with the effort of getting the words out.Charlie nodded in agreement, equally stricken by the same thought.“No. Mr Eppes, Charlie, no. Not after all this time,” he hesitated, glancing at Colby for support. David well understood their fear. They may not have had all the information to fully understand the situation but they did know that Brad was dead and that Don was hurt. The two long days with no contact, with Don’s cell phone not even turned on to retrieve messages had been bad for all of them and he’d struggled to keep their hopes alive as his own faded to almost nothing. It was time now to come clean with some information and whilst it was far from comforting it would explain why hearing from Don now was a very good sign. “When we spoke to him last he told us he was seriously injured but that he’d received care. We think they quite probably saved his life. They wouldn’t help him to then do that.”Both Eppes men looked at the two agents sharply.“You never said it was that bad,” Charlie accused.“No,” David acknowledged. He didn’t try to explain why they’d withheld the severity of Don’s injuries. “What else haven’t you told us?” Charlie demanded.David tried to keep the guilt from his face and resisted the urge to again seek support from Colby. There was no way he was going to tell them of Don’s confession as that would destroy their already fragile hope. “Charlie, you know how this works. There are things I can’t tell you.”“They’ve been looking after him,” Alan suddenly said, having missed the last exchange whilst deep in thought. He sounded the theory out. “They let him call us.”“Yes, it is a positive sign,” David insisted, believing it. “Look, I have to report this. When you’re up to it can you give Mark everything that was said in as much detail as you can remember?”The agent took a slight step forward at his name but didn’t press, favouring the family under his care with a sympathetic smile.Charlie levelled a look at David that indicated quite clearly how he felt about information being withheld from them. After a long moment he glanced back at his father and nodded. “Give us a minute.”“Thank-you,” David said, relieved Charlie wasn’t going to push it. “I’m going to try calling them again.” He’d lost count of the messages he’d left since that last call. He waved at both Colby and Mark to follow him out of the room.“Get as much as you can and get it to me straight away, okay?” David instructed.“I will,” Mark answered. He let himself back into the room but stayed close to the door so as not to intrude.David looked at Don’s family a moment longer through the glass. The guilt returned, “We were right not to tell them, weren’t we?”“Absolutely.” ***“Come back to us, Donny. Please,” Alan’s voice choked off on the plea.Don started to respond even as he didn’t know what to say but Paul reached for the phone and pulled it away, disconnecting the call.Absurdly grateful for the interruption Don turned away, shutting Paul out of his awareness. He was still drowning in the feelings that had burst on him on hearing their voices and he fought to push everything back down. Closing his eyes to see the image of the dawn he’d fixed in his mind earlier he was able to regain control. He opened his eyes and found himself once again staring out the window at the dry, stunted brush under a brilliant blue sky thinking it one of the more beautiful sights he had ever seen.He wasn’t sure how long he was still, but suddenly it was as if a switch had been thrown. His head jerked up, instantly alert. Agent Eppes turned his head carefully and surveyed the room, searching for weapons, assessing exits and threats. Paul was standing a short distance away, just now sliding the cell phone into a pocket with the room otherwise empty. Of Nelson there was no sign and he knew the door that led outside was unlocked. The location of the key to the car parked outside was unknown but lack of access to the vehicle was not a major concern. Of most import was the fact he was unrestrained, the handcuffs still dangled from his left wrist but for the first time in days he was not shackled to a bed, he was free to move about. Without forming any conscious intent he took a step bringing him within range of an unsuspecting Paul, the young man half turned away. Moving quickly the agent brought up his left hand, need and urgency outweighing the unfamiliarity of the strike with his off hand. The blow would incapacitate the other man allowing him the opportunity to take possession of a weapon, regain his cell and make his bid for freedom.An instant later he twisted and pulled his blow, stumbling off balance. Paul, who had moments before been his target, reacted, grabbing at his right arm in reflex to steady him.Gasping at the pain in his chest and shoulder Don staggered then recovered, freezing in place as he stared across the room.“You shouldn’t be up,” Nelson said.Don felt a rush of relief as he didn’t see anything in the older man’s face to indicate he’d seen what the agent had been attempting. Nelson had only just made the decision to spare the man that had killed his oldest son, if he’d seen that same man attacking his surviving son... “Here, I need to check your shoulder,” Paul said as he felt the agent suddenly tremble, misinterpreting the reaction.“I’m fine,” Don said on autopilot, trying to fight the shakes that had returned at the latest near miss. He’d not thought it through, had made his move without considering whether he had any real chance of success. There hadn’t been, even if he’d put Paul down, recovered his phone and taken the younger man’s weapon he would not have made it far in his condition. He would have been caught in minutes, the outcome after that no mystery.Nelson moved closer, “Let him look.”Rightly or wrongly interpreting the move as a threat he numbly let himself be led back to the bed and helped to sit on the edge. Nelson moved even closer and Don found himself automatically holding out his left arm, expecting the cuff to be relocked around the bed frame. Nelson looked at the proffered wrist and then to the agent for a long moment. Reaching into a pocket he pulled out the key and fitted it into the lock on the cuff around the agent’s wrist, opening the band. Nelson then moved well away before slowly, thoughtfully, placing the restraints on the table.Surprised Don watched on, barely feeling Paul working at his shoulder and chest. As soon as his right arm was free again after Paul’s ministrations he pulled it from the sling and rubbed at his left wrist. The cuff hadn’t been removed in days and he couldn’t help but revel in the feeling even as the chafed and bruised skin stung.“Does that hurt?” Paul suddenly asked, reaching out a hand.Don jerked his wrist out of Paul’s reach, turning protectively away. “It’s fine,” he snapped, irrationally angry at the younger man’s attempt to help.Paul instantly backed off, packing away the depleted first aid kit and standing. He looked between his father and the agent a moment before crossing the room to the doorway to the bunk room. “I’ll just, ah. I’ll be in here.”Nelson watched him go before turning to the waiting agent. He stepped away from the table, waving a hand in invitation, “Please.”Surprised at the courtesy after the last few days it took him a moment to move to the offered seat. It didn’t escape his notice that it was the side away from the door even as it faced it. He squashed that disappointment in favour of the change in Nelson’s attitude towards him. There was a desperate need to regain their lost rapport. He sat and given the change in the way Nelson was treating him he risked speaking, “Thank-you.”Nelson nodded shortly, leaning with his hands against the back of the opposite seat. “Agent, I -. My behaviour, I-” he stopped, head dropping as he struggled with what he was trying to say.“I understand,” Don said before snapping his mouth shut. It had been automatic, an unthinking response to someone else’s distress. The last thing he felt like doing was to offer comfort to the man.Nelson’s head jerked up in surprise. “What I just did to you-”Now it was Don’s turn to look down, his attention focused on the handcuffs as he unconsciously rubbed again at his left wrist. The reminder of what Nelson had done was hard.“I was going to do it,” Nelson finally stated, his voice soft. Unable to face Nelson Don closed his eyes and again saw the pre-dawn sky. His answer was little more than a whisper, “I know.”“I watched you,” the other man continued quietly. Remaining with his head bowed he was dragged back to that eternity kneeling on the dusty ground, watching the sky brighten, the colours changing and all the while expecting at any moment... He couldn’t complete the thought even as Nelson continued, forcing him to relive it.“Seeing you kneeling there, waiting, I realised what you must have been feeling and I knew it was wrong. I can’t forgive you for what you’ve done but I should never have done that to you.”There was nothing Don could say to that. He was emotionally wrung out and knew he would never forget, or forgive, what Nelson had done. The apology meant nothing, it wasn’t over, he was still being held and the other man could still change his mind. Suddenly he remembered his father’s voice on the phone, his last instruction. A slow burn of anger spread through him and his head came up. Shoving his chair back he stood, ignoring the pain in his leg as he fixed Nelson in a hard stare. "This is done. Release me, or kill me," he demanded firmly. Despite his anger he had to stop before he could continue, that was no abstract concept. With a sweep of his hand he knocked the cuffs from the table to land with a heavy clatter on the wooden floor. “I'm not doing this any more." Paul dashed out at the sound but stopped short as he saw the two men standing silently staring across the table at each other. Nelson looked to his son before speaking. "We’ll let you go. Tonight, when it is safe for us."Don shook his head, "Now. Take your stuff and drive away. Leave me my cell. By the time they get here you'll be long gone.""Tonight," Nelson repeated firmly. Forestalling any further argument Don might have tried Nelson bent and picked up the cuffs, holding them in his hand and looking steadily at him. The look and action was a clear message, push it and he’d be wearing them once again. After four days Don knew he would do everything he could to avoid that. He might have made it clear he considered his captivity should be over, the reasons for it now gone, but that decision was not his to make. Nelson continued to hold all the power and whilst Don could take whatever stance he wanted it still came down to what the other man allowed him.Forced to let it go Don took a step back, hating his surrender but hating the alternative even more. “Fine.”Nelson held his gaze a little longer before once again putting the restraints on the table where they would be in full view, a less than subtle reminder in case he needed it. The other’s apology and change in attitude towards him only went so far. Angry and frustrated Don made his unsteady way over to the easy chair Paul had been sitting in and tried to make himself comfortable. He ended up twisted slightly to avoid putting pressure on his shoulder and had his leg propped up on the small table but it was better than the alternative, the bed. It may have been the more sensible option but it reminded him all too much of his true status. .
Next chapter - here