This piece was inspired, in part, by "Two Daughters" and it assumes you know that storyline. I wanted to write a piece about how Don might react to being kidnapped. The writing is experimental for me, in that it switches back and forth in time. It was a good exercise -- let me know if it works. :-)
Found: Tuesday afternoon
Everything is numbers.
Still, Charlie can't comprehend a number high enough to represent the nervous relief he feels. He paces the hospital lobby, checks his watch and his cell phone and hopes like hell they didn't change their minds and go to Huntington instead.
Then Don comes through the door, flanked by David and Megan. He is walking under his own power. He needs a shave. He looks tired and rumpled. His suit is dirty, his shirt is untucked and his tie is long gone. And he is saying Charlie's name.
The numbers flee Charlie's head as he launches himself at his big brother.
Lost: Friday night
Don was taken in the same way everyone else is: the kidnappers took advantage of the element of surprise.
"Agent Eppes? Don Eppes?" A man hurried across the parking lot toward him. "I have information for you on the Summers case."
Don's brow furrowed. "The Summers case?" he started, and then someone grabbed him from behind, forcing a rag over his mouth and nose, and it was over in seconds.
He woke up sitting in a chair, one arm handcuffed to a table in front of him. The room was almost completely dark. There were shadowy shapes, but Don could feel he was alone. His head ached. He felt on the table in front of him and his fingers brushed what turned out to be two bottles: water and aspirin.
He waited as long as he could, then fumbled the bottles open, downing four of the pills, feeling like somehow, they had won the first round.
Found: Tuesday afternoon
When was the last time his brother had been in his arms like this? Don feels Charlie's tears on his own cheek and closes his eyes, tries to remember. Was it when their mother died? No – he'd been too angry, Charlie too lost in his numbers.When they'd separated for college? Not then, either, though Don seems to remember Charlie hovering timidly at his elbow, as if waiting for the farewell embrace. When they were children? That didn't seem possible – 25, 30 years?
Unable to speak, Don clutches a fistful of Charlie's shirt as if he'll never let him go.
Lost: Saturday morning
It took Don's team almost ten minutes to realize that even though his SUV was in the parking lot, he wasn't in the building after all. When Megan called his cell phone, a strange man picked up, said, "We will be in touch" and hung up on her.
David went to the Eppes' house and brought Alan and Charlie in, so the team could not only talk to them about Don's last contact with them, but also keep an eye on them. When Alan saw David on his doorstep, alone, he had assumed the worst, and in those first moments he was almost relieved to discover Don was not dead, merely abducted.
Charlie asked Megan terse questions about the brief call. A tech had her cell phone hooked up to a tracer, ready for a second call, and Charlie fired impatient requests at him as well. He scribbled on the white board in front of him. His hand moved so quickly the marker blurred. He caught the look on Alan's face and said curtly, "It's not P vs. NP, it's something maybe that will help them find Don."
Alan's face was pinched. "I know how this goes," he said hollowly. "I hear the boys talking enough. The first few hours … if you don't find them in the first few hours …"
"It's not the quite the same as a child abduction," David said gently. "No one just kidnaps a federal agent. They want something. We've already spoken to them once. They'll call again, and we'll have a way to find them."
Forty minutes later, Megan's phone rang. The caller was brief. Don was fine. He was not being mistreated in any way. They wanted a straight trade – the federal agent for a federal prisoner, Jonas Branstert, who was serving time for computer hacking, wire fraud and tax evasion. They would call back with a location.
"Call back? No, no, I want to talk to him now," Megan insisted, and for the second time, the man hung up on her.
"We couldn't trace it completely," the tech said regretfully, pointing to his computer screen. "But it's narrowed down to these three towers."
"I'm going to run down Branstert, see if he has any connection at all to Don, see who he knows," Colby said. He turned to Alan and Charlie. "That name sound familiar to either of you?"
They both shook their heads.
"A hacker?" David mused. "Did we even work on that case?"
"I'm on it," Colby said, already halfway out the door.
Charlie turned back to his equations, trying to factor in the additional data from the brief call.
"See what you can do to narrow that down," David encouraged him. "We'll go out there door to door if we have to."
"Why would he want to wait?" Megan mused. "Why give us time to find them?"
"Maybe they're on the move," David suggested. "Or maybe the prisoner's not ready. Maybe there's something he needs to do, he needs to get --" He stood up. "I'm going to pay a visit to Mr. Branstert."
Alan buried his face in his hands, overwhelmed by the sudden flurry of activity. Megan sat beside him and put her hand on his shoulder.
"You remember when Crystal Hoyle grabbed me," she said quietly. "Don saved my life. Don, David, Colby, they all did. We watch out for each other. We'll get him back. I'm not going to tell you not to worry, but try to trust us."
"I trust you," Alan said thickly. "You are not the ones I'm worried about."
Found: Tuesday, late afternoon
They sit next to each other on a gurney in the examination room. Charlie refuses to leave Don's side. Don lets the doctor poke at him and answers his questions in a rusty voice. He hasn't talked in days and it hurts. He sips gratefully at a paper cup of water. He takes comfort in the feel of his brother, his knee bumping against his own. Charlie's arm rises to rub Don's shoulder, touch his back.
Megan watches them from the doorway. She wonders if she should be paying attention to Don's body language, looking for cues that will help him come out the other side of this ordeal, but all she can do is marvel that he is sitting there, whole and unharmed. Beside her, David rests a hand on her shoulder.
Colby brings Alan into the room. He is pale and his eyes are red-rimmed and bloodshot, as if he has spent a great deal of time crying instead of sleeping. Don stands up, pulled by paternal love, and Alan lays his hands gently on Don's cheeks.
"My boy," he whispers.
Alan's voice is hoarse and tender. It makes Don weep, and he lets his father hold him. He tries to relax into the embrace and appreciate feeling so beloved. Charlie's hand is still on his back, rubbing circles. He feels protected. His father whispers in his ear, over and over, "It's all right, son. You're safe now."
Lost: Saturday to Monday
Don's kidnappers were silent and civil. They didn't answer his questions or demands. They didn't speak at all. They came in twice a day and held him at gunpoint while leaving food and water. They took him to the bathroom three times a day and allowed him to use the toilet and the sink. They kept their heads covered and gestured with their high-powered rifles when they wanted him to move in a particular direction.
On the third day, one of the men said to his companion, "Their president will not allow them to release --" and the second man shot him instantly. His blood splattered Don's shoes.
That was when Don knew he would die. He knew it as surely as his mother had known, after the last round of chemo had failed, even though no one had told her. The government wouldn't negotiate with terrorists. He knew his team would not give up and he tried to take comfort in the fact that at least his father would have a body to properly lay to rest.
He wondered what he might have said on Friday morning, to Charlie and Alan, if he had known he wouldn't see them again. Nothing as predictable as "I love you." Maybe "thank you." His father always understood him; his brother always stood by him. His one regret was he hadn't told them he knew he'd been lucky that way.
They had taken his gun, his shield and his cell phone off his person, but left the small notebook and pen he carried around. It was difficult to write in the dark, but he painstakingly tried to letter some sort of a last will. It was harder than he expected.
Found: Tuesday, early evening
Don is pronounced fit to leave – not even dehydrated – and Alan and Charlie bring him home. Home to the Craftsman house, where he spent his first eighteen years, where he still shows up more nights than not.
Don showers, marveling at the hot water and the clean smell of the soap, and washes his hair three times with one of Charlie's many hair care products. His father wants to feed him. He's not sure he can eat, but murmurs, "Sure, that would be great" and is dead asleep on the sofa before Alan returns.
Alan takes Don's soiled clothes to the laundry room, automatically sorting them and emptying the pockets. Charlie finds him there, one fist stuffed in his mouth to quiet the sobs, clutching Don's makeshift will. The writing is ragged, but the last line is clear: Please put me with Mom. I'm so sorry. I love you both. Don.
Lost: early Tuesday morning
David's eyes were crossing. They hadn't slept and the lines on the computer screen were blurring. His visits to the prison had been frustrating. Branstert was a model prisoner, the warden said, who used his expertise to help with the prison's computer system and accounting. Why, the warden noted, Branstert even worked on his own computer.
David asked for the hard drive. The warden refused. Walt Merrick called him personally, screaming, and still, the warden refused. They had to get a subpoena and a warrant and then the warden stalled them until his own attorneys had looked it over.
Charlie had been working with the techs to get any information off the drive, and it was coming to the agents in waves. They were sifting painstakingly through all of it.
The kidnappers had called only once more, just to say, "Friday. LAX. Garage C, noon on the roof." It was not long enough to narrow Charlie's search grid, which was almost fifteen square miles.
David stood and stretched, then picked up the printout of the computer's deleted e-mail files. His eyes widened as he read a line halfway down the page. The warden was contacting Daniel Lennox, who was wanted for questioning in connection with terrorist acts. At least, e-mails were sent from the warden's account, and didn't Branstert have access to that?
"Lennox and Branstert did time together," David said, thinking aloud, "What if they were planning something else? Something that needed funding, money Branstert could hide?" He rifled through the papers. "And Lennox has a brother-in-law that owns a warehouse … shit. Holy shit." He raised his voice, shouting, "Megan! Colby! I think I have him!"
They were at his side in seconds, Charlie at their heels. David outlined his discovery.
"That warehouse is right in the middle of the hot zone Charlie indicated," David said. "I bet that's where Don is. And if Branstert needed the computer access to finish whatever he's doing, that explains the delay."
"So there's not a connection to Don," Charlie said.
"They must have been stalking him," Colby answered. "Probably all of us – any federal agent to use as leverage. The opportunity presented itself and …" He shook his head in disgust. "We could have had this on Saturday, why the goddamn holdup?"
David pointed. "Looks like he was having an affair."
Megan was holstering her gun. "Where are we going, and why aren't we moving?" she shouted. "Let's go, let's go!" David rattled off the address and she was on her cell phone, calling for backup as she raced for the door.
Colby put one hand on Charlie's shoulder. "You stay here, whiz kid. We'll call you the minute we have him."
Charlie nodded numbly. It felt like he'd been waiting a long time.
Found: Tuesday morning
Don was in the corner, his elbows on his knees, his hands propping up his forehead. He was trying to breathe deeply, to stave off the unfamiliar panic rising in him as he heard the banging and shouting from the next room. He counted the shots – one, two, three – and waited, still, eyes closed, sure the next bullet would be in his brain before he heard it.
He pictured his father and brother and missed them so acutely he almost cried out.
He didn't want to die, but he didn't intend to give his kidnappers the satisfaction of hearing him beg for his life. He knew when he entered the academy his career might someday end this way – they all did, though no agent ever truly expected it.
He tried to pray to a God he wasn't sure he believed in. He concentrated on inhaling and exhaling and wondered if he'd see his mother.
Then he heard, "Federal agent! Don't move!" and a voice that sounded blessedly like Colby's snarled, "Go on, just give me a reason." The next voice was Megan's, calling, "Clear! We're clear! I have him!" She knelt in front of him and tugged his hands from his face. When Don shook his head no, he wasn't hurt, she pulled him into her arms and soothed, "It's okay, sweetie, we've got you," just as Don had when he carried her, bleeding, from Crystal Hoyle's hotel room.
Found: early Wednesday morning
Don bolts upright on the couch with a great gasp, shuddering, wheezing.
His father's hands are strong, one on his shoulder, one on his chest, his voice confident and calm: "Breathe, Donny. You're all right. You can breathe. In and out, with me."
Don's hand clutches his father's wrist; the next morning, Alan will discover small cuts made by his son's fingernails. That detached part of Don, the one that had become bigger over the last several years, knows he's safe, knows he's on the couch at Charlie and Dad's, knows he is all right. He even knows he's being silly and childish and that he should just get a glass of water and go back to sleep.
But the other part of him, the part that has been in the dark for the better part of three days, can't let go of his daddy, no matter how irrational it is. He folds forward onto himself, grips Alan's arm and tries to do as he's told, in and out, in and out.
Alan holds him tightly, and the night passes.
It's a slow day. Don feels like he's acclimating himself back to his real life.
The team comes by with lunch. It's a beautiful day, and they eat outside. Don falls asleep over his turkey sandwich and wakes forty minutes later, embarrassed.
"Don't be," Megan says. "You have your days and night mixed up, that's all. You just have to let your body reset itself." She peers at him intently. He looks away. "Are you having nightmares?"
"You take a mind-reading class while I was gone?" he tries to joke.
She smiles. "Totally normal. You know, after that whole Crystal Hoyle thing, I made Larry stay with me. For almost a week. And I made him leave the lights on when we went to bed." She pauses, then says, "You should call behavioral health." When Don doesn't answer, she urges, "Today. Merrick'll make you see them anyway. Do it now, it'll help."
"Can't I just talk to you?" Don asks, only half-kidding. "You know, been there, done that?"
"Always," she answers, gathering stray paper plates and deli wrappers. "But I can't clear you for field duty."
By nine o'clock that evening, Charlie is curled up on one end of the couch, sound asleep. At the other end, Don pokes him with his toe and says, "hey, move, you're in my bed" but Charlie is dead to the world.
Alan sits nearby, pretending not to nod off. "You can go upstairs, you know," he suggests. "We can move whatever blackboard your brother has on your old bed."
"I like the couch," Don says. He stretches out his left leg, so it's resting behind Charlie's back, and finds he likes the warmth of having his brother right there. "He's fine. Never mind."
Don dozes. At some point past midnight he realizes the lights are still on and Alan is sitting in his chair.
"Dad. You don't have to stay there."
"I'm going my puzzle, Donny, I'm fine."
He remembers his parents doing this when he and Charlie were boys, when they were very sick – once when he had chicken pox, twice when Charlie had whooping cough. His father would drag the big armchair into their bedrooms and one of their parents would stay there all night, in case they were needed.
Don has always needed his family. He has always known this.
"Did you know Megan hasn't spoken to her father in ten years? And David's sister, she's married to this guy who abuses her, and they don't talk much either."
"No," Alan says slowly, "I can't say that I knew that."
"That whole time I was in Albuquerque … I wonder sometimes, if Mom hadn't gotten sick, if that might have happened to us. To me and Charlie, I guess I mean."
He feels a touch at his fingertips and looks down. Charlie is awake, reaching for his hand. Don meets him halfway and speaks directly to him. "It wasn't because … I wasn't mad or anything, it just … it just kind of happened."
Charlie rubs a finger over Don's wrist. There's a bruise from the handcuffs. "I know," he says quietly. "We didn't understand each other, is all."
"And we do now?" Don asks. It's not rhetorical or sarcastic; he really wants to know and it seems his future hangs on the answer.
"No," Charlie says simply. "But it doesn't matter anymore."
Don closes his eyes and squeezes his brother's hand. "I really thought I was going to die," he whispers.
He hears the shuffle of Alan putting the book on the side table. "We were a little worried about that ourselves," Alan says finally.
"I thought maybe I'd see Mom, and it wouldn't be so bad," Don says. "But I sure didn't want to leave you guys."
Charlie shifts so his head is resting near Don's knee. "Well," he says thickly, "it's a good thing you didn't."
Don rests his free hand on top of his little brother's head. Just before he drops off to sleep, a sleep that will actually be long and restful, he feels his father drop a kiss on his head and whisper "I love you, Donny."
This time, this place, this love, makes him feel safer than his weapon or his vest ever had.