Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: Thanks as always to ritt, the world's best beta and sounding board!
So much blood. There's so much – too much.
"Hang in there, Jackson," Don told the injured agent lying in front of him. He tightened his grip on the gaping wound in the man's throat, silently cursing as his hands – slippery and red – slid from the wound. He quickly moved them back and tried to ignore the amount of blood that had escaped in the few seconds the injury had been left open. "Hang in there for me."
The man beneath his hands gave a slight gurgling sound as he tried to speak. Tears started leaking down the injured agent's cheeks – from pain or fear or strain, Don didn't know and didn't care. All he could think of was how this was all his fault – how this man shouldn't be here, dying from such a brutal injury. More gurgling, fainter yet more intense. Amazingly Jackson had managed to grab onto Don's arm, his grip surprisingly strong and insistent.
"Hang on," Don commanded. "Help is on the way so you damn well better hang on." Don looked up at the swirling chaos behind him, trying to pick out a member of his team. Giving up on that particular goal, he shouted to no one in particular, "Where the hell are the medics? I've got a man down!"
"We've called them," an agent – Don couldn't remember his name – replied. "I'll see what's taking them so long."
Don turned his attention back to the man who was quickly bleeding to death right in front of his eyes and tried to offer up a reassuring smile. "Hear that? They're on the way. Keep breathing for me – in and out, nice and slow, okay?"
The hand on his arm convulsively tightened as Jackson let out the most painful sounding attempt at a cough that Don had ever heard. He wanted so badly to offer comfort but he dared not move his hands from the deep gash that had practically severed the other man's head. He gurgled again and Don's heart sank as he saw a thick, red trickle of blood coming from Jackson's mouth.
"Shh, don't try to talk. Just keep breathing and we'll get you help soon." Jackson's bleary eyes found his and he locked gazes with Don, trying to convey his thoughts. "No, Bobby, don't think like that." The senior agent knew exactly what the younger man was trying to tell him, but he couldn't let him give up.
"…ra," Jackson uttered, using every last bit of strength he had to voice the one syllable.
"Bobby," Don breathed in despair as it began to sink in that his colleague – no, his friend – wasn't going to make it. He slid his mask into place as he reluctantly nodded. "I'll tell her and the kids you thought of them. I promise, Bobby."
A weight seemed to lift from Jackson's tortured body as his eyes rolled up into his head and he released one last stuttering breath. Don checked for a pulse, bowing his head as he found none. He knew CPR would do no good for someone who had lost that much blood but he was still willing to try. Before he could get started, the medics were there, pulling him away and shooting questions at him. He answered them succinctly and in monotone until they stopped coming, the medics announcing that Jackson was gone.
Like I didn't know that already, Don thought bitterly. He wearily pushed himself to stand and numbly walked toward his SUV, intent on seeking shelter from the horrors he'd just lived through. Vaguely he heard Megan's voice calling to him but he didn't want to stop – he had to get out of there. "Office," he said abruptly as he climbed into his vehicle. A little voice in the back of his head told him he was violating some sort of policy by leaving the scene without giving a statement, so Don quickly told the voice what it could do with itself. He cranked the engine to life and sped away, oblivious to his teammate's shocked and concerned expression.
"Don looked pretty shaken up back there," Colby observed as he, Megan and David rode in the government issued SUV. They had stuck around for about thirty minutes after Don's sudden departure, taking statements and delegating authority before leaving the scene in the hands of the Evidence Recovery Team and heading back to their office.
"Well, that was his old friend from Albuquerque, Granger," Megan pointed out. "You can't really blame him."
"Of course not," he sighed. "It's just that I've never seen Don look like that and we've seen some pretty disturbing things in the field."
"The guy practically bled to death in his arms," David spoke with a shake of his head. "Hell, I think we'd all be shell shocked."
"Guys," Megan interrupted. "I think we should be very careful about what we say when we get back to the office. I don't want to do anything that might… make this harder on Don. Agreed?"
"You're the shrink," Granger shrugged. "I'll follow your lead."
"I'm not a shrink," she said in exasperation. "But thanks for the vote of confidence."
Before too much longer they had deposited the SUV in the parking garage and were walking into the bullpen. None of them was surprised to see Don at his desk, an open report in front of him but his eyes staring into space.
"Don?" Megan asked as she gingerly perched on his desk.
"I know," he said flatly. "You need my take on what happened."
"Right," she nodded as she took out her notebook. "I can write it out for you."
"Whatever." Don closed his eyes, folded his arms on the desk, and wearily lowered his head to rest on top. "Not much to tell. We screwed up today – that's about it."
"Don't argue with me," he snapped. "We had a plan of attack that we executed and we lost a damn fine agent in the process. And Gardenia got away." He raised his head and gave her a cold stare. "So don't you even begin to tell me we did the best we could or any of that crap because it's not true and I don't want to hear it." Craning his head around, he gave David and Colby the same warning glare. "That goes for you two, too. Got it?"
"Sure thing," Colby said as he and David nodded.
The senior agent looked back to Megan and rubbed a hand through his hair. "Jackson took the left flank just like we had outlined. I was coming up the center and, as far as I could tell, we had all eight suspects in our line of sight. Must have been someone new to the party, though, because next thing I know, Gardenia's got Jackson in a choke hold with a gun to his head."
"He showed up at the same time the other attacker crashed the party?" Megan inquired.
"Right after that. Since the original eight were already running for cover, I knew the rest of you would have to scramble, too. That left me, Gardenia and Jackson alone up on that hill. I started to make a run at them but Gardenia said he'd shoot him if I didn't stop. So I held him under my gun and tried to talk him into surrendering but he refused to listen, like he had some ace in the hole. That's when the eleventh guy showed up behind him in that off-road pickup."
"Eleven?" Colby asked in shock. "Boy, when our intel's wrong it sure is wrong."
"No kidding," Don sighed. "Gardenia gave me this look and I knew exactly what he was going to do but I couldn't stop him. He backed up to the passenger side of the vehicle, dragging Jackson with him, and right before he got in he tossed the gun, grabbed a knife – although I have no idea from where – and… slashed his throat. Tossed him to the ground like a damn pile of garbage and then the truck sped off. I took a couple of shots but I was too focused on getting to Jackson to be efficient." Don suddenly flipped the file on his desk shut and stood up, grabbing his jacket. "You know the rest."
"Right," Megan said as she nervously watched her boss slip into his coat. "You're leaving?"
"Someone has to tell his wife and kids that he's…" He slipped the coat on and grabbed his keys. "I'll be back in a while."
"Want someone to go with you?" David asked, "Notifications can be-"
"I know how they can be," Don cut him off. "It's not my first and it won't be my last, I'm sure." As Megan opened her mouth to speak, he threw up his hands and scowled. "I said I can do this on my own. Here's a radical thought – why don't you three work on how to catch the SOB that did this?" With that, Don stormed to the elevators, leaving his team in stunned silence.
Don took a deep breath to calm his nerves as he sat in typical Los Angeles bumper-to-bumper traffic. He just wanted to get this over with and the longer he sat in traffic, the more anxious he became. Although he and Barbara Jackson had never really been close, she was Bobby's wife and Don had met her a few times back in New Mexico. Of course back then the Jacksons hadn't had any children yet – that had come in Don's absence. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he thought back to the previous night…
"Three kids?" Don asked as he ordered a beer for himself and Bobby. "In the five or so years I've been gone? Not wasting any time, are you?"
"I always said I wanted a big family," Jackson had grinned. "Makes up for being an only child growing up."
Don accepted the beer the bartender handed him and raised it to his companion. "Congratulations, my friend – you've succeeded."
"Thanks," the younger agent smiled as he clinked his beer bottle against Don's. "So, I'm going to like it out here, right? No more desert heat and boredom?"
"Los Angeles is a whole different ball game," the older agent promised. "You'll love it – never a dull moment. Not to mention lots more activities for you and your family, including a ton of beaches."
"Yeah, Barbara is thrilled about the move. 'I can't believe we're going to be living in LA!' She sounded like a five year old on Christmas morning."
"I bet," Don chuckled. "Have you gotten settled in your new house?"
Bobby nodded as he took a swallow of beer. "Took a quick trip out here a couple of weekends ago to sign the closing paperwork. The movers brought our stuff earlier this week so now we just have to unpack."
"I guess that week of leave you took got burned up in the actual trip out here," Don said.
"Oh boy, did it. You ever ride with three kids in a car? Even a five-minute ride seems like an hour. Try putting up with that all the way from Albuquerque. It's no fun, my friend."
"I can only imagine." Pointing at the younger man's half-empty bottle, he asked, "Want another one?"
"Sure," Bobby beamed. "After that I have to get home though. Barbara won't be too happy if I stay out with a buddy all night before my first day at work. Say, who'd you say my team leader is?"
"Jason Kedrick," Don said as he flagged down the bartender. "Good man. Pretty by-the-book so forget about half the stuff I taught you."
"Only half?" Jackson teased. "I may need to be completely re-trained."
"Hey, watch it," the older agent laughed. "I do still have some say over what happens to you."
"I wish I could report directly to you like in New Mexico. You're a great boss, Don."
"Maybe you don't need that second beer if you're getting this mushy with one."
"Shut up, old man," Bobby said as he gave Don a playful shove. "Seriously though, thanks for the recommendation. I know how hard it is to get on at the LA office without something to make you stand out. It means a lot to me that you put in a good word."
"No problem," Don assured him. "You're a great agent and I'm looking forward to seeing you do some great things with this office."
A car horn jostled Don from his thoughts and he looked up to see that he was the only one on the freeway that was still sitting in place. He gave a quick apologetic wave to the car behind him and started forward.
Sorry, Bobby. If only I'd known how wrong I was.
"What's the damage?" Hector Gardenia asked his second in command, Alfonso Delsorio, as he stared out of the huge window in his safe house.
"Everyone escaped the FBI's little party crashing escapade just fine," the other man answered as he leaned on his boss's desk. "We lost the weapons we planted for the setup, of course."
"Yes," the crime boss growled. "I was looking forward to watching the Feds get caught in our little trap. Do I need to tell you how disappointed I am?"
"No," Delsorio shook his head. "They were smarter than we gave them credit for. That won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't. Anything else I should know about?"
"I've got some men keeping an eye on Randall Sergio. He's our newest member and he seemed really shaken up by what happened today."
"I'm not sure if it was almost getting caught, or…"
"Spit it out, Alfonso."
"I think he may be freaked out about that agent."
"You have discussed the FBI being the thorn in our side with him?" Gardenia inquired, his gaze never moving from the vista before him.
"And why we value their lives so little?"
"Of course," Delsorio replied. "But he doesn't seem to really get it."
"Then he is a liability," Gardenia said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "And we don't want liabilities walking the street."
"I'll have the men take care of him."
"Good." Gardenia swiveled in his comfortable desk chair and leaned across his desk toward his second. "Now, there is one other matter I would like you to handle for me."
"That agent who held a gun on me," Gardenia's face contorted into a scowl. "He is going to be trouble. He doesn't know what fear and respect are. He dared to hold a gun on me. After I took care of his little friend, I saw a hatred in his eyes so intense that I know he's not going to give up until I'm captured."
"Not going to happen," Delsorio vowed. "Not on my watch."
"Calm down, my friend. I trust your ability to protect me just fine, but I think this agent could disrupt our business if his investigation is anywhere near as extensive as I feel it is going to be. So, I want you to research him for me – personally and professionally. See what his weaknesses are and how we can best exploit them."
"Consider it done," the other man nodded with a malicious grin. "I'll start with his personal life. Nothing says 'back off' like paying a little visit to a man's family."
Don sat in the driveway of the modest one story home, eyeing the children's toys scattered across the front lawn. He had no doubt this was going to be the hardest notification he'd ever done in his life and wondered for a moment if he should have taken David up on his offer. No, I brought them out here, he thought sadly. I know them. I'm the one who needs to tell them.
He wearily climbed out of the SUV and glued a neutral expression on his face. As he approached the house, Don noticed there was a spot on the roof where some shingles had fallen off. Bobby was probably going to fix those soon. He swallowed deeply as it occurred to him that Barbara was now a widow and, if he remembered correctly, both her and Bobby's families were in the Midwest. She's all alone with three kids to raise. Don had to really struggle to maintain his composure as that thought sunk in, but he knew he'd have to be the strong one for the next few minutes.
As he reached the front door, the agent raised his hand and gave two firm raps against the brightly painted wood.
"Coming!" a woman's voice called out. He could just make out the sound of a child's laughter before the door swung open. "Agent Eppes? What are you…?" He saw the look of shock and despair cross her face as she realized why he would be there, during the early afternoon, without her husband in tow. "Oh God."
"Barbara," Don said calmly. "Can we sit down somewhere?"
"No," she protested angrily. "No, you tell me where he is. Tell me he's okay. Right this minute, you tell me my husband's okay."
"I really think we should sit down," Don stated again. "Please, Barbara."
"He's in the hospital?" she asked in a pleading tone. "There was an accident, but he's in the hospital and he'll be just fine." When the agent remained silent, she shook her head as tears leaked from her eyes. "Tell me he'll be fine!"
"Barbara," he said again, struggling to keep his voice even. He reached a hand toward her, wincing when she slapped it away and fixed him with a glare. "He's not okay."
"He's not… He can't be…" she trailed off as Don slowly nodded. "I am not a widow with three kids."
"I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do?"
"You've done enough already," Barbara spat, her voice full of venom. "You brought him out here, remember? So he could die on his first day of work. You did this!"
"What?" Don asked, caught off guard by her sudden accusation.
"He told me that you recommended him for this office. He went on and on about how he could never have gotten on here if it wasn't for you and your 'good word'. We'd still be in Albuquerque and my kids would still have a father if it wasn't for you!"
Don opened his mouth but he couldn't think of any response to her words. Of course she's right, Don reminded himself. He wouldn't be here if it wasn't for me. Images began swirling unbidden in his head – Gardenia appearing and grabbing Bobby right in front of him, holding a gun on Gardenia but not able to stop him from slicing Jackson's throat, bending over the younger agent's prone form as he let him bleed to death at the scene. No…
"Are you deaf?" Barbara demanded and Don realized she had been yelling at him. "I said get out of here! I never want to see you again!" She slammed the door in his face and soon he could hear frantic sobbing coming through the door.
Don numbly walked back to his SUV and climbed inside and, with shaking fingers, dialed Megan's number.
"Don," she answered on the first ring. "How'd it go?"
"Not well at all," he admitted. "She doesn't want me here but I don't think she should be alone."
"I'll be there in ten minutes."
"Thanks," he sighed.
"How are you doing?"
"Fine," he responded automatically as he disconnected the phone. He sat in the quiet interior of his vehicle, alone with his dark thoughts, while he waited for Megan to arrive.