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: ~3584
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 THIRTEENPaul approached him with food for a late lunch but Don found he had no appetite. He knew he should try to eat regardless but as he considered it he decided he simply did not want to. He waved the younger man off with a glare.“Agent?” Nelson queried when Paul put the food back on table.“What?” Don snapped. The emotional haze from the morning and the distress he had felt after speaking with his family were long gone, replaced by a steadily simmering anger at Nelson’s refusal to let him go immediately.“My son thinks you should eat,” Nelson said. His tone suggested he was somewhat ambivalent about it.“Is that an order?”At that Nelson bristled, “Should it be?”“Unless you’re making it one, leave me the hell alone.”The remainder of the day dragged interminably and he spent most of it in the chair. He got up at one point intending to look out the window only to find Nelson instantly on the alert. Stubbornly he went to the window, silently daring Nelson to stop him but the older man simply watched him closely. He stood there for as long as he could but the pain in his leg soon drove him back to the chair.As the afternoon drew on Nelson and Paul took turns moving around, packing up their personal possessions while the other kept watch. Some items were moved out to the car whilst others, including Don’s wallet, ID and Glock were set aside on the table. He eyed his weapon longingly even though he knew it was unloaded and useless. Nelson saw where he was looking and put the items into a shopping bag and then out to the car. It looked as though they were getting ready to leave and his anger was tempered with anticipation but as the flow of items to the car stopped and Paul started heating a kettle full of water he realised they were waiting for dark.The smell of the coffee was too alluring to refuse and he took the offered cup. Another long hour dragged by during which Paul once again checked his injuries. He ignored the attention as best he could and Paul seemed satisfied to leave the dressings alone. As the sun set noodles were offered for dinner and his stomach growled. Taking the bowl and fork from the table he retreated to the chair, ignoring the offer from the younger man to sit with them. Don knew he should have accepted the invitation, no matter how uncomfortable it might be to eat with Nelson, but he was in no mood to play the game. Paul finished first and approached him, holding out some clothes that had been left on the end of the bench earlier. After almost three days spent wearing only boxers Don accepted the sweatpants and t-shirt gratefully. After being escorted to the washroom he found dressing was a challenge but he finally managed and returned to the main cabin area to stand near the window. He could see nothing outside in the darkness but he was too restless to sit. Paul was off making what looked like a last sweep of the cabin when he saw Nelson pick up the cuffs from the table in the window’s reflection. Suddenly apprehensive Don turned as Nelson approached.The cuffs were held up, Nelson’s meaning all too clear.“No.”“Agent,” Nelson said in a warning tone.Don took a step away. A new emotion vied with his anger for prominence and he took another half step back all too conscious of the corner behind him and the fact he had nowhere to go. He looked directly into Nelson’s eyes, “I’ll give you my word. If you’re going to let me go you don’t need those.”“I’m going to let you go,” Nelson confirmed. “But we need to be clear when we do. Until then,” he ended by holding out the cuffs clearly expecting the agent to take them.“No.”Nelson raised his voice, “Paul?”“Dad?” Paul queried as he approached. He saw the cuffs and the agent’s tense stance and understood. “I don’t think they’re necessary, Dad.”“I do,” Nelson stated firmly. “We’re not going to jail for this. Until it’s safe for us to let him go we’re not giving him a chance to escape. Give me a hand.”Don saw the apologetic look before Paul moved forward. He may have been on Don’s side as far as the cuffs no longer being needed but he was going to do as his father told him. As they approached Don couldn’t help the next step back that made him bump into the wall. He was trapped and in his current condition a physical confrontation would only cause him pain he didn’t need. His hands clenched into fists but he forced them open, lifting them up in surrender. He tore off the sling supporting his right arm and shoved his wrists out in front of him, the pain in his shoulder welcome punishment for his capitulation. Unable to watch he turned his head away and didn’t move as Nelson stepped in and fitted the restraints. A hand touched his elbow and he turned back to see Nelson point towards the door. He felt a new surge of fear as he remembered the gesture from the morning but he quashed it, taking refuge in anger. “Are you sure you don’t need to pull your gun on me too?”Nelson’s own temper flared and his hand moved towards his weapon, “If you want me to I will.”“Dad, let it go,” Paul intervened, moving in to take the agent’s left arm forcing his father to move aside. After a moment his father left, taking a final bag and going outside. Paul released the agent’s arm and faced him, “Don’t push him.”Don let out a long breath before raising his hands slightly, “I know, I’m sorry.” The strength of his reaction had surprised him. That the cuffs been used again he should have expected, they had not been packed away with everything else and he had known what that meant even if he’d been trying not to consider it.“You don’t need to be sorry,” Paul said. “I understand. But you do need to let it go too.”He knew Paul was right, the young man showing surprising empathy towards him, but it was hard to keep accepting what was happening to him. There was no option however so he took some deep breaths, using the moment that Paul allowed him before he started for the door. As he’d told himself earlier, with or without the cuffs, his position was still the same. At least it was looking very much like he only needed to put up with it a little longer.***David pulled to a stop at the red signal and waited. He’d been instructed to go home; another night spent at the Field Office wasn’t going to find Don any quicker whereas a good night’s sleep to return in the morning with a clear head might. At least that was the argument Wright had used, David certainly didn’t feel that way. Whilst the agents left behind were more than capable of managing the search and following leads he felt he needed to be there. Charlie and Alan were back at the hotel room for the night but he owed them to keep working to bring Don home. He’d tried objecting on the grounds he needed to stay to have his cell recorded in the event that Don or more likely Nelson called him but the ADIC had Rachel install an app to record his calls. Virtually escorted out David had left and had actually started to drive home before he found himself taking an onramp up to the 10 to head east. He was tired but couldn’t leave it. He had taken the exit when he reached Redlands and had pulled up outside the business on East Colton where Don had killed Brad and, he suspected, the second man. The crime scene had long been returned to the owners but he’d walked down the driveway and stood under the glare of the spotlight trying to imagine what had happened. Returning to his car he’d got down to the task he’d set himself.Good work by teams of agents had slowly pieced together evidence that had led them to commencing a search for a blue car in the Los Angeles area below the hills that led up to the San Bernardino State Forest. The tyre prints left at the shooting scene had identified three possible models then exhaustive inquiries and countless hours of scanning CCTV footage had lead them to the colour. Their first break had come after inquiries had lead them to a convenience store about a mile away where some odd purchases had been made around the time of the shooting. With no CCTV system in the store itself they’d spoken to the clerk who remembered a young man running in to buy boxes of tissues, sticky tape, scissors, towels, mouthwash, fruit juice and water, an unusual combination of goods. The young man had also apparently had odd reddish stains on his hands and shirt that they strongly suspected was blood. The clerk wasn’t able to identify Paul Nelson from an old mug shot but it seemed likely he had been the customer with the FBI investigators having long since concluded he was helping his father. Footage from a gas station just up the road had shown a blue sedan of the right make passing by a few minutes later. They’d widened their search after that, viewing footage from Rialto and Yucaipa to catch teasing glimpses of a blue car in the right place at the right time. They had no luck with the same technique at Yucca Valley, Lucerne Valley or Barstow and the LEOs in the towns in the state forest had reported no matching unknown vehicles in their areas but it was a lead and they were going to run it out.The problem was the sheer number of cars that fell within the model/colour range. Charlie had done his best but they were back to basic legwork for the rest. They’d done it before when they’d gathered DNA from every man in a given area when chasing a rapist during the first case he’d worked under Don. They could do it again. Every car that matched was to be stopped and checked. The more they could cross off their list the further they could potentially narrow their search. In the morning they would start sending resources into the San Bernardino State Forest. Despite the locals being alerted to look for the car the FBI were going to work their way through the towns from Crestline and Running Springs towards Big Bear Lake and beyond. Other agents were going to start at Barstow and work their way back.It was labour intensive and whilst the LAPD were helping where they could it was frustrating going. Before he went home he was going to spend a few hours patrolling, if he could reduce the numbers of suspect cars by a few it would help him sleep better. In the first hour he had cleared four cars, working his way from Mentone to Highland. The light turned green and he accelerated having just seen a blue car of the right type turn onto the street ahead of him. They road they were on ran roughly parallel to the 210. He closed up the distance until he could see the rear plate, called it in and dropped back to tail the vehicle as he waited for the check to come back. As he waited he noted that the vehicle contained three people, at his best guess all male.Control provided the registered owner’s details and address which didn’t raise any mental flags with David. The male operator finished with, “No wants or warrants.”“Show me going off with that vehicle at East Highland Avenue, passing Del Rosa Avenue, inbound. Three heads,” David reported. He activated his lights and the car immediately pulled right, off the road and into a large vacant parking lot.Despite the general illumination provided by the pole mounted lights in the lot he grabbed his flashlight and approached the car, bending slightly to shine his light into the backseat as he passed. He froze then made a grab for his gun but froze again. The rear window wound down.“Agent Sinclair.”“Mr Nelson,” David said stiffly. He didn’t dare move as his flashlight had shown that the man’s weapon was pointed towards Don. He could see Don was looking back at him but the relief he felt at finding his friend and boss had to take a back seat for now. “Paul will take your gun,” Nelson said calmly.David took a long step back to make room and turned slightly as the youngest Nelson climbed out of the driver’s seat. He slowly moved his hands away from his body and then held still as Paul disarmed him. Now that he was less likely to be considered a threat David moved a little closer and bent again to better see into the back seat, careful not to shine his flashlight in Nelson’s face. He could see now that Don was handcuffed and dressed in clothes that were too big for him. There were no signs of the injuries he’d reported as they would be under his clothes but even in the light of the flashlight and the wash from the widely spaced lights in the lot he could see Don looked pale with dark circles under his eyes. Combined with a few days’ growth of beard his boss didn’t look the best.“Don?”“I’m fine, David,” Don answered. “Nelson, let him go.”“Did you call it in?” Nelson demanded, ignoring his hostage.“The stop?” David queried. At the nod he considered lying before answered truthfully, “Yes.”“Call them, tell them you’re back on and clear,” Nelson instructed.David made the call, switching his cell to speaker at the additional instruction. When he finished he handed the cell to Paul and as expected it was switched off.“Alright Agent Sinclair, give your keys to my son. You will drive us. Paul will follow in your car.”“Nelson, don’t. You have me, you don’t need him,” Don argued. “Leave him here with my car,” David jumped in with a counteroffer. Don could rest safely and use the radio to summon help. “I’ll drive you, wherever you want to go.”“No. Get in,” Nelson ordered.David climbed in, placing his hands on top of the steering wheel and held still after he’d closed the door. He met the other man’s eyes in the mirror before Nelson turned to Don.“We’re letting you go but only when it is safe for us, remember?”“It’s safe now,” Don said. “We need more time to be away clear,” Nelson said. “A little longer Agent, then you’ll both go free.”David shifted his attention as Paul held his hand through the open window. “The keys are still in it,” David told him. Paul took a step then stopped and looked into the back as if he were going to argue with his father but continued on to David’s car without a word. Watching in the wing mirror he saw the interior light come on briefly before the flashing emergency lights went dark. “Let’s go, Agent Sinclair,” Nelson ordered.“Where?” David asked as he started the engine.“I’ll tell you when to turn.”David drove for about half an hour, turning first south on the 215 before he was directed off the 91. Nelson allowed him to choose the streets they took as long as he continued along the same general direction of the main road towards Corona. As they got closer he was instructed to find somewhere quiet. He didn’t know Corona that well but he recalled there was a large concentration of shops and businesses near the highway that ran along the western side of the area. After a bit of hit and miss he finally pulled into one of the smaller parking lots and followed Nelson’s directions around the rear of one of the buildings to a loading dock area. Given the hour there was no one about. He turned the car so it was pointing back the way they had come and stopped. Paul pulled up a few metres away.“You can get out now,” Nelson allowed.David climbed out and backed away as Nelson also got out of the car. At the man’s nod he moved around the other side of the vehicle and pulled open Don’s door, helping him to his feet. He saw Don was favouring his left leg and went to take his arm in support but Don pulled away, standing by himself.“Can I take his cuffs off?” David asked Nelson who had followed him around the car.Nelson seemed to hesitate before he dug into his pocket with his spare hand and tossed over the key.Don held out his wrists and David worked quickly to free him.“We done?” Don demanded as David shoved the cuffs into his pocket.Nelson jerked his gun hand towards his son, “Wait over there, I want to speak to Agent Sinclair a moment.”Seeing no point in arguing Don moved away towards David’s car and the younger Nelson.David didn’t watch but turned instead to see Nelson standing close. He took a guess at what the older man wanted, “Your son?”“I want him returned to Albuquerque, to the Coroner there,” Nelson instructed. “I’ll make arrangements for the rest.”“I can do that. Did you want me to make the call now?” David asked, wondering if this was a condition of their release.Nelson shook his head. “You can do it later. I’ll take your word.”“I’ll get it done,” David promised. “I can’t even go to his funeral,” Nelson suddenly said.Not sure if he was meant to comment David initially held his tongue until he saw the intensity of the look the man was directing at Don. “Mr Nelson, I’m sure-““Enough, Agent Sinclair,” Nelson snapped in sudden anger. “He’s told me. I don’t need to hear it from you. What’s done is done. Over there, now.”At the insistent motion of the gun David moved to stand next to Don. When he turned he was surprised to see Nelson digging in the trunk of his car. Casting a quick glance sideways he saw Paul standing nearby with no weapon in evidence. He considered making a move but changed his mind, they were about to be released, starting something now would very likely end badly.Nelson dragged out a bag and brought it over, dumping it on the ground in front of Don.“Don Eppes.”David held his breath at the tone, wondering what the older man was about to do. Seeing the way Nelson flexed his hand on his gun as he held it steadily pointed at Don he started to take a step but a touch to his arm from Paul stopped him.Don looked up from his automatic glance downwards where he had recognised the shopping bag as the one that contained his wallet, ID and Glock. “Scott Nelson.”“I don’t ever want to see you again,” Nelson said. He lifted his gun slightly, “If I do, I’ll use this.”Don nodded, understanding. If they were to meet again it could well be under conditions where Don was trying to arrest him. Nelson may not be able to execute him in cold blood for killing his son but in an arrest situation any barriers he might have had to not shoot him would be gone. Don was going to wholeheartedly support the manhunt for Nelson but would not be taking part in it himself. Regardless of whether it was in court or on the street if he never laid eyes on Nelson again it would be too soon for him. He looked away.Nelson walked back to their car, climbed into the driver’s seat and waited. Don stood still as Paul gave David back his phone and unloaded weapon. The younger man looked across to him as if he were going to say something but instead started to turn away. Don took a step and the younger man stopped. He regarded Paul for a moment, thinking on how his promising career as an EMT was over because he’d followed his father. He let the thought go. Paul had made his own choice. He started to offer his hand but drew it back, speaking instead, “Thank-you.”Paul looked surprised before shaking his head, “No, Agent. You owe me nothing. I know you won’t accept this but I’m sorry. Dad would be too if he could think this through properly. If we’d left well enough alone much of this may never have happened. I wish things had been different,” he trailed off, glancing back at his waiting father.“So do I, but I do owe you,” Don insisted. “You saved my life when it would have been easier to let me die.”“I couldn’t let that happen,” Paul said, accepting the thanks this time. He took a few steps away before turning and making a request, “Give us a few minutes before you call in.”.
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