A/N: Well, the play is over and went very well and I have something resembling a life again. I know this isn't "Quarry", but that update should be posted shortly. I don't really know where this one came from, except that I wanted to finish something, and it does relate to the end of "Quarry". And I was so happy to be able to sit down at the computer and write again, instead of just checking email as I ran by. Just a little slice-of-life, I guess.
Spoilers here for "Manhunt", "Protest", "Running Man" and "Hot Shot". And I did use Soames from "Quarry", since I had already invented him - two for the price of one.
"First dibs on the shower!"
"Yeah, yeah - go ahead." Don pushed at the water running down his face from his hair and watched as Coop inserted the plastic-tagged key in the lock and kicked the door inward.
It wasn't much of a shower anyway, he reflected - dingy with a coat of permanent grime and barely concealed by a crumpled curtain of dubious cleanliness, it would only deign to emit anything shower-like after considerable coaxing: a tepid trickle of rusty water that left an odd film over skin and hair. As for the towels…well, it was better, Don found, not to think too much about the towels. It was better, in fact, not to touch the towels - any toweling off was best done with any remaining scraps of clean clothing. Air drying was out of the question in this perpetually rain-drenched clime.
He was already mentally cataloging his remaining clean clothing - not a whole lot left. An undershirt, maybe. Hopefully a pair of socks. These socks were soaked through with rain and mud; his shirt a total loss, saturated with the same, spattered with blood, dangling precariously from his shoulder where it had been ripped beyond repair. He dragged the shirt over his head as he followed Coop through the door and tossed it on the musty carpet by one of the beds. Small shadows scurried out of sight as Coop flicked on the lights. Don pretended not to notice. He found it was better not to think about that, either.
Coop went directly to his duffle bag, rifling it for a change of clothes, and Don picked up his cell phone to check for messages. Cell calls were far too interceptable to justify any use of it while they were tracking, but now that the perp was in custody, he could indulge. He punched in his code. Looked like he had messages.
"Your nose is bleeding again."
Don pushed his phone against his ear, automatically scrubbing under his nose with the back of his hand. It came away slick with blood.
"Thanks." He groped for a wad of napkins left over from some takeout meal and pressed them against his nose, wincing at the contact and tilting his head back. "Next time," he continued, voice muffled by the napkins. "You jump on the guy's back. I think his elbow was about the size of my knee."
Coop laughed, dubiously eyeing the scant collection of dry, clean clothing he had gathered. "Aw, you had it easy - got to take him from behind. I had to face that hulk head on."
"Yeah, it was great," Don agreed, tilting his head further back. "What took you so long, anyway? I lost track of how many times he whammed me into that brick wall, trying to get me to let go."
Coop laid the motley string of clothing out across the moldy bedspread. "Hey, I couldn't fire - mighta hit you. And at the rate he was moving, I was having trouble getting a good pop at him. You could have tried choking him out faster, you know."
"I was trying - his neck was, like, the size of my waist."
Coop squinted one eye at him. "Sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, yeah…" Don took another swipe at his nose. "Just - next time? You're coming up from behind."
Coop shook his head at the sight of his prospective wardrobe, sending droplets flying everywhere. "We need a Laundromat."
"Why bother? We're headed in."
"True." Coop jerked his chin at the phone in Don's hand. "Anything from Madden?"
Don cocked his head, still blotting at his nose. "Yeah - sounds like the Federal Marshall already contacted him. He says 'nice work' and to come in for our next assignment."
Coop made a disgusted sound, pulling off his own rain-soaked shirt and tossing it on the floor next to Don's. "He mention giving us a couple of days off in between?"
Don studied the tiny display screen. "I'll leave a message that we're coming in."
Coop peeled down his sodden cargo pants and stepped out of them. "Call out for some food while you're at it?" He disappeared into the curtained cubicle that did duty as a bathroom.
Don stared at the phone. There was another message…his thumb hovered over the key pad, then hit the button.
'Donnie,' a tinny, electronic voice played in his ear, 'It's been three weeks since we've heard from you - three weeks!'
Three weeks. Had it really? His eyes automatically searched the mottled walls for a calendar.
'I know you've been busy, but your mother worries. The least you can do is give her a call. Or drop her a line. You know I don't like to see her worry.'
The message ended. Don hit the button to play it again, sighing inwardly. Funny how his dad could always make him feel like he was playing hooky with the guys, rather than chasing down dangerous felons. Maybe that was even how he saw it.
He glanced at the bathroom cubicle, heard the patter of the inadequate water supply, a staccato counterpoint to the steady thrum of the rain outside. After a second, he touched the speed dial button and waited. It rang four times, then picked up.
"Mom?" His voice was still a little muffled from the clotting in his nose.
"..you have reached the Eppes residence…"
Oh. He waited, cold and disappointed, his feet sloshing in his wet shoes and socks. He should probably take them off, but he was much more afraid of what bacteria might be lurking in the scruffy carpet than he was of a little dampness.
"…please leave a message at the sound of the tone…"
Don hesitated. Seemed silly to talk to a machine, but, well, even the recorded sound of his mother's voice had tightened something in his chest, so maybe she'd like to hear his, too - bloody nose or not. He waited for the tone to finish.
"Hey, Mom, Dad - it's me. Just finished a job and heading back in for our next assignment. Sorry I missed you, but I'll drop you a line. Hope you're all well - best to Charlie." He clicked off and sat staring at the phone a while longer, brushing at the moisture still dripping from his hair. He needed to do that - to drop his mother a line. She'd like that.
He opened the top drawer of the rickety desk and found a message pad with another motel's name printed on top. Yup - these accommodations were first class all the way. He dug through his gear for a pen, realized he was shivering and draped his FBI jacket over his bare shoulders, resettling himself at the desk.
What to say?
'Dear Mom, how are you? I am fine.'
He paused to squeeze the tender spot at the bridge of his nose. Man, that stung. And he was still seeing the occasional star. Probably he'd have raccoon eyes come morning. He wondered if it was worth getting up to look for aspirin.
'I'm not supposed to tell you where I am, but we've had non-stop rain here for ten days - coming down in sheets. I'll be glad to leave this state behind. We should be leaving it as soon as we catch a little shut-eye.'
He paused to read over what he had written. From the bathroom cubicle, he could hear Coop launch into a slightly off-key rendition of some country song. That made him smile, then he frowned again as he read.
Maybe he shouldn't make such a big deal about the rain. That would just raise questions about umbrellas and rain boots and slickers that he couldn't really answer honestly. After a minute, he crossed out the sentence about weather and replaced it with, 'We've had some rain here'.
He re-read the line about the shut-eye and paused again.
Maybe he should cross that out, too. If she saw that, she'd just worry that he wasn't getting enough sleep, and if questioned, he couldn't truly say he was. While they were on the hunt, they slept when and if they could, spelling each other when possible. Not the kind of thing a mother liked to hear. After another minute, he crossed that out as well. He sat chewing on his pen, thinking.
'We got our man, though - big guy - really big - named Soames. Led us halfway across the country after going over the wall of the federal pen. Beats me how a guy who murdered his girlfriend can have so many friends still willing to help him hide out. Or maybe they're just scared. Guess they have a right to be. Anyway, we turned him over to the Federal Marshall, so our part is done. Madden says he has another job waiting for us. Maybe he'll give us a couple of days off in between and I can swing by.'
He heard the water turn off, Coop's off-key humming morphing into an off-key whistle. The rain hissed on the ground outside the window. Don stared at his letter, pushing more water out of his face and blotting his hands on his jacket. He should dry off, probably. His mother would never approve. He gnawed on the pen some more.
She probably didn't really need to hear about the giant, prison-breaking, girlfriend-murdering felon, either. The pen hovered over the words, then scratched out those lines too. It was so hard to know what to say. A drop of water slid from his hair and hit the page, blurring the ink and blistering the paper.
"Thanks." He puckered his forehead at the letter, heard Coop rustling into his clothes.
"Did you order food?"
"Hm?" Don didn't look up from his page. "Oh. Sorry." He heard the exaggerated sigh of longsuffering, his letter swallowed up in Coop's looming shadow, grey and fuzzy in the inadequate light of the one bare bulb overhead and the small lamp between the two beds. Coop held out his hand for the phone. Don gave it to him.
"Nose," Coop said automatically.
Don tasted blood on his upper lip and swiped at it again. "Yeah, yeah…" He chewed on a fingernail, studying the letter. Dear Mom…his fingers left a smear of blood on the paper.
"Burgers okay with you?"
"Anything hot." Mom would have a nice brisket, juicy and fragrant and tender, and crisp fried potatoes, redolent with onion.
"Better get clean or that mud might stick forever. I tried to leave you some hot water."
There would be a stack of freshly laundered towels, big and white and fluffy, and a sparkling shower with gallons of hot water - as hot as he could stand - water that would cut right through his thick hair and get rid of all the shampoo at last.
"Thanks." Don tucked his letter slowly away. He'd finish it later. He'd think about it in the shower.
He found clean shorts and a clean undershirt and stepped into the bathroom cubicle. No clean socks. Maybe he'd wear these dirty ones right in and clean them that way.
He turned on the shower. It gave an uncertain sputter, then spit sporadically, filling the small space with an odd sulphur smell. A dark bug scuttled away from the spray. He flipped open a bottle of liquid soap that could do double duty as soap and shampoo and lathered up his hair, then his body. He needed a haircut, too. Not to mention a shave.
The water was not particularly warming, so he kept it short. He ducked under the intermittent spray and hissed a little as it peppered his back. Ouch. Probably gonna be some brick-shaped bruises back there come morning, too. He focused on squeezing the suds out of his hair, then turned off the faucet. It would have to do.
He stepped out and eyed his waiting clothing uncertainly. Be a shame to use his last clean undershirt and pair of shorts to dry off…he looked at the towels again and shuddered. He wasn't sure you could catch a communicable disease from a towel, but he wasn't looking to find out, either.
"Hey, Coop - " he yelled through the curtain, "you got anything you can spare me to dry off with?"
After a moment, a tee shirt was thrust through the curtain. "Food's here, too."
"Thanks." Don rubbed the shirt over his chest and shoulders.
"What would you do without me?"
Don scrubbed at his hair with the shirt. "I don't know - not get rammed into brick walls?"
"You'd be bored. You'd be so bored. Hurry up or I'm eating yours."
Don chuckled, tossing the wet tee shirt aside and reaching for his dry underwear.
By the time he padded out of the cubicle, Coop was halfway through his burger and eyeing Don's fries. "Don't even think about it," Don warned, accepting the beer Coop handed him.
Coop grinned around a mouthful of burger. "Hey, I come from a big family - eat first or lose out."
Don peeled back the unsavory bedspread, avoiding looking too closely at the grey, slightly damp sheets. His mother's sheets were always crisp and white and smelled cleanly of bleach and some kind of detergent. He glanced at the phone again as he slid into bed and took a swallow of beer.
"Hey, Coop," he said suddenly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "What would you think of taking two days to get back and spending the night at a hotel? I mean a real one - not this roach motel."
"Two days?" Coop whistled. "Madden would have a cow."
"We're allowed two days' travel for that distance," Don argued. "We're allowed to sleep at the same time. C'mon, wouldn't you like to sleep in a clean bed again? Not someplace like this where you wake up to something chewing on you in the middle of the night, and not the back seat of the car. A real bed - clean sheets. Clean blankets. A real shower."
Coop reached for one of Don's fries and Don didn't bother to slap his hand away. "Even if we're allowed the travel time, Madden will croak at the expense."
"I wasn't thinking of the Ritz Carlton - just some mid-range chain. Some family place. Anyway, I'd be happy to pay. It'd be worth it." He mentally calculated the date. His paycheck should have been direct deposited by now. The nice thing about Fugitive Recovery was that you rarely had a chance to spend your pay - spent most of your life on per diem. After a while, it really added up.
Coop leaned back against the wall and took a long slug on his beer. "Works for me. But you can explain to Madden. You're better at that." He watched as Don put down his beer and smoothed a sheet of paper over his knee. "What's that? You working on the report already?"
Don shook his head. "Letter to my Mom. Want me to tell her 'hi'?"
"You do that. She was a nice lady." He paused, sneaking another fry. "Skip the greetings to your Dad, though - I don't think he liked me very much."
"It's not you." This time Don knocked Coop's hand away and picked up one of his own fries. "It's what you stand for. The Bureau. The whole deal."
"What, your Dad isn't a fan of truth, justice and the American way?" Coop surrendered his battle for the fries and slid down in his bed, stretching out.
"He is. Just - disagrees about how to go about that."
Coop gave a quiet grunt of acknowledgement and rolled onto his side, his back to Don. "Say, Don?"
"Hm?" Don didn't look up from where his pen was tapping at the page.
"Maybe we could get us a couple of girls to go with that hotel room? I wouldn't mind paying for that."
Don grinned around the mouth of his beer bottle. "The day I have to pay for that, pal, is the day I'm packing it in."
He looked back at his letter, made a face at all the cross outs. He'd probably have to copy this over.
Let's see…Dear Mom…a small black figure crept out across the page and he squashed it deftly with the heel of his palm. Ugh. He picked at the residue stuck to the paper with his nail.
Well, now it read Dear Mo…he leaned back against the headboard and sighed. Yeah. He was definitely gonna be copying this over.
"Mmmm…" Alan Eppes nuzzled his wife's neck and wondered how she always managed to smell like fresh air and sunshine. "What's that you've got?"
Margaret lifted one hand and brushed it over his hair. "A letter. From our eldest."
"Oh, yeah?" Alan scooted a chair next to hers. "I'd almost forgotten we had him. What's he got to say for himself?"
Margaret absent-mindedly slapped his hand away from the peppers she had been cutting for dinner, her eyes on her letter. "Not much…note the hotel stationary…let's see…'Dear Mom, how are you? I am fine. We've had a lot of rain here, but we got our man and we're heading in. Madden says he has another job for us. Maybe he'll give us a couple of days off in between and I'll be able to swing by. Hope all is well with Dad and Charlie, too. Give them my love and keep a big share for yourself. Your loving son, Don. P.S. Coop says hi. D.'"
"Hm." Alan managed to swipe a slice of pepper anyway. "A man of few words, our first born."
Margaret tapped his lip with another slice of pepper and he took it from her fingers. "He'll tell us more when he sees us. That would be nice."
Alan grunted non-committaly. "It would. Would be even nicer if it happened a little more often."
"Alan," she reached over to run a hand along his jaw. "It's that kind of job. You know that."
"So I hear." He twirled the half-bitten slice of pepper in his fingers and put it down.
She glanced at his face, then folded the letter carefully and tucked it in her pocket. "He couldn't play ball forever anyway, you know."
"There were a lot of things he could have done. I always wondered…"
She waited, then raised her brows at him. "What? Wondered what?"
Alan slid his arm around the back of her chair and leaned his chin on her hair. "If - he just chose this to - "
"To…?" Margaret prompted. "To…spite you?"
Alan flushed. "Not that. I didn't mean that."
She leaned into his arm. "Then what?"
"To - be as different from the rest of us as possible. To prove something."
Margaret touched the letter in her pocket so that the paper crackled. "I'm a lawyer, Alan. It's not that different from me."
Alan's chest heaved under her shoulder in a sigh. "From Charlie. As different as possible from Charlie."
"Hm." Margaret reached for his hand, idly entwining their fingers. "I'll let you in on a secret. Sometimes? What Don does has nothing to do with Charlie. Sometimes, it's just about him."
"I know that." But Alan didn't sound quite convinced.
"We're not all as lucky as you and Charlie, Alan - not all of us are born knowing what we want to do. Some of us have to fumble around a little."
He breathed on her hair. "I don't think you've ever fumbled in your life."
Her voice was soft but challenging and he turned his head so that he could catch her expression. "You're talking about your music?"
"Mm hm. Some of us have more than one thing we love."
"Humph." The grunt this time sounded conciliatory. "I suppose. Just wish he could find something to love that kept him closer to home. I don't like the way it worries you."
She ran a finger down his cheek. "Me, huh?"
He snorted a small laugh. "All right, I worry about him doing something stupid. Something that - you know."
She snuggled back against him. "I know." She was quiet a minute. "But I figure - we spent all those years adjusting our lives around Charlie's special needs. If now we have to adjust our lives a little around the special needs of Don's job, well, it seems only fair."
Alan sighed into her curls. "I hate it when you're right."
She gave him an impish smile. "Then you must hate it a lot. Because I'm always right."
He laughed and sat up straight. "Yeah. I do hate that."
Margaret rose and scooped the peppers into a bowl. She paused behind Alan's chair and whispered in his ear, "You know, it's okay to miss your son. It would even be okay to tell him that."
Alan grabbed her hand and pulled her around into his lap, endangering the peppers. "Maybe I'll write him a letter. 'Dear Don, where the hell are you and why don't you come home?'"
"You don't want to overwhelm him with sentiment."
Alan brushed his lips against hers. "You'll have to show me how. Since you're always right."
She rested her hands on either side of his face. "Oh, there's still a few things I could show you." She pulled his head down to hers.
Alan closed his eyes to give himself up to the kiss, mentally letting go of the letter he composed every night in his prayers, but would probably never write down and send:
'Dear Son, how are you? We are fine. Keep low. Keep safe. Come home. We miss you. Love. Love. Love. Your Dad.'