Disclaimer: All rights to Numb3rs belongs to CBS and the owners. I made no money from this.
All things must come to an end. A'sN at the end. Hidden shoutout to Newgal. Shows my loving thanks, and it's toward the bottom.
Repeat of reflections like the prologue.
That which doesn't kill us only makes us stronger.
No one really knows where this saying originated from, but its mysterious origin certainly does not deter anyone from tossing it around and using it for almost any situation. Just like when someone asks you "Are you hurt?" right after you fall down a flight of stairs, this saying can become quite annoying.
Proffering the wisdom that since you didn't die from whatever tragedy you went through, you'll become a harder and stronger person because of it doesn't magically wish everything away. Neither does it make everything okay.
But I digress. My real problem behind this saying is the pitying tone that seems to accompany it when someone says it. Maybe they don't mean it, but it still comes out that way with their false words and sorrowful gazes.
Perhaps the better way to put it, would be to say "that which doesn't kill us only makes us stronger" eventually. Eventually being the operative word in that sentence. With time, the repetition of what becomes your mantra, and several sessions with a therapist, we can become stronger.
Ultimately you only have two choices: you can lie there, wallow in self pity and admit defeat, or you can get back up and begin the long arduous task of piecing your life back together. Nobody ever said life was easy or fair. You have to work to get what you want.
Everyone has experienced an event of some kind that has made them stronger. Some have gone through more than others, but the fact remains the same that there are very few who escaped from life's curveballs. We're all blind sighted at some point.
Take my friend Kathryn for example. She's the one person that has been with me for my entire life, not counting my father. Now, she didn't ask to be a child of six. The Nost family, devout Catholics as they are, consist of Senator Nost of Maryland himself, his wonderful wife Elizabeth, four sons, and two daughters. Like I said, Kathryn didn't ask for such a large family, but what are you going to do? It's not like the decision was left up to her.
So as Kathryn and her one older brother got older, the two of them were often pushed aside for the younger ones. The twins took up a substantial amount of Mama Nost's time after they were born.
However, not once did Kathryn complain. Not one single day out of her eighteen years did she complain when her parents passed her over for one of her younger siblings. And when we graduated in 1990, Kathryn didn't even blink when her parents announced the soon to be arrival of their sixth and final child, never saying a word when we came home from winter break to find that her old room had been converted to make way for the youngest Nost.
Growing up with that family and seeing the time that had been unequally spread around makes me almost happy that I'm an only child.
Another prime example is my teammate Titus, the fiber analysis guy for my forensic team. When I first picked Titus out of a group of thirty three potential new recruits five years ago, I spent most of my time sighing in exasperation at his back worldliness and his very deep Southern accent. The fact that he talked about hunting deer and other woodland creatures didn't help.
I found Titus through a friend of mine whose governmental source I cannot disclose. All I need to say on the subject of his origins is that Titus comes from a little town called Tupelo in Mississippi and if it wasn't for me the poor boy would still be back there with his little high school hunting buddies, probably drinking beer and shooting Bambi on the weekend.
Take a first glance at Titus and you wouldn't think life had done anything to him except give him the bad graces to be born in the deep South, making it damn near impossible to understand much of what he says when you're not familiar with Southern speaking people.
I too didn't think life had been cruel to Titus, until about a year after I hired him. Turns out that Titus's mother remarried after the death of his father. And we can say "yea!" all we want for his mother to have moved on and to have found love again, except for the fact that she just so happened to fall in love with a raging alcoholic. That's just a homemade recipe for disaster right there.
Also, Titus hadn't originally planned on becoming a forensic scientist. Further discovery on my part found that my newly acquired trace expert had set his heart on becoming a chemistry professor. Except for the fact that one night while he was away at college, studying in his second year as an undergraduate, his new stepfather had a little bit too much to drink that night, came home, and proceeded to beat his mother to death.
Titus's sudden change in career came when an extremely lucky and happen chance lack of evidence allowed for his now murdering stepfather to get away and escape. So Titus picked himself up, buried his mother in true Mississippi fashion, and returned to school three weeks later, making a pit stop at the office of admissions to change his major.
There are other people that I have met over the years that have faced life's curveballs too. Some have been through experiences as bad as Titus's, and others have been through smaller scale instances like Kathryn's, smaller when compared to a son burying his mother. I've met people who have grown up in the shadows of a genius sibling, having to carve their own name out of life, people who have been the victims of crimes, and people who have faced far worse demons. My job forces me into contact with these types of people every day.
And I've had my fair share of challenges too.
For the most part I've lived a pretty good life, and up until now I didn't have much to complain about. I come from the long standing Huntzberger family, rumored to date back all the way to the beginnings of the Holy Roman Empire; whether that's true or not remains a mystery to me, personally I don't really see the connection. The Huntzberger family is old money, and continues to remain one of the wealthiest old families on the Eastern seaboard.
I was born into this family, the daughter of Damin Huntzberger and granddaughter of Sebastian Huntzberger. Growing up I didn't have much to want for. I went to the finest prep school in D.C. and was guaranteed a spot in one of the Ivy Leagues, though it was my fifteen year old mind that won over my acceptance.
Flash forward thirty two years later, and I now live in a historic townhouse in the neighborhood of Brentwood, drive a German imported sports car, and work as the Assistant Supervisor of the F.B.I. crime lab here in Los Angeles. My work is something that I love.
That's not to say that just because I was and still am the heiress to the Huntzberger fortune (not that I will get anything more than what exists in my trust fund until all three Huntzberger's die, including my father), that I had an easy childhood. It's not easy to grow up without a mother. It's no walk in the park to graduate high school at fifteen, surrounded by seventeen and eighteen year olds. And it's certainly not easy to go against your socialist grandparents and tell them that instead of becoming a prominent attorney or some other noble profession that you are going to become a forensic scientist and work for the government on their pay roll. That was the great Selfish, Un-Grateful P. Huntzberger vs. Always Right, Old Fashioned Grandparents case of '93.
But my point to all of this is not to spout off about how woe is all of us on this Earth.
It's all good and fine to learn from your experiences and struggles, and we certainly need to have a strong backbone to take on those curveballs.
But at what point do we become too strong?
How long do we harden our hearts and outer shells until there's nothing left for anyone to relate to, until we become a ghost of what we used to be?
I've always been an independent person. Born and raised that way, as the Huntzberger's are a proud and defiant breed, I've always been able to get back up after having been knocked to the ground.
Not this time though. Meinhard Ackerman smacked me down hard and I lay there for a long time, bleeding and broken. When I finally did manage to pick myself up again and dust off the wounds, I drew into myself, locking away my pain and problems.
I didn't manage to get away with that for long. Somehow he managed to find the key and work out what I couldn't. I believe I've mentioned him before, something along the lines that Don Eppes is a man that doesn't take no for an answer, doesn't take to being ignored, and is not a man that needs to be ignored. Well he didn't exactly take no for an answer when I said that I didn't want to talk about it.
Turns out that was the best for all of us.
When do we become too strong? I'm still not exactly sure. It varies from person to person.
I do know that my kidnapping by a deranged, psychotic, sociopathic, Aryan changed me in several ways. Yes, it made me strong, but it also made me strong by allowing others to be strong for me. We can't do it all in this world, and we especially can't do it all alone.
When did I become too strong? I'd like to think that I haven't reached that point yet. If there is one thing that I learned from my ordeal is that while I laid there on that ground, broken and shattered, there were hands waiting to lift me back up. I didn't have to be strong at that point. I could let others help me.
So I did. I, Peyton Huntzberger, leaned just a little bit to the left and let him, Don Eppes, be strong for me.
Turns out that was the best thing that I've done in a long time.
Now I've never been one who's much for history. All those dates and names had been far too confusing to keep up with. There had been way more interesting things to occupy my time with instead of homework with the likes of George Washington and Upton Sinclair, like baseball and girls.
However, out of all of my classes in my high school career, I would have to say the easiest one had been my eleventh grade United States History class. The A that I had received had been a mystery to both me and Mom and Dad, seeing as how I had barely passed my World Cultures and Humanities class the previous year.
The source of that A has remained a mystery. There are several possibilities to explain why I managed to shine in that one class. It could have been my teacher who actually cared about where her students were going in life. It could have been the fact that my usual gang of baseball friends weren't in there with me to create mayhem with, a popular theory supported by my father. Or it could have been something else entirely.
But my point is that even though I was not one for history, I found an interest in that particular class that year. My teacher, a Mrs. O'dell, had a thing for sneaking in sayings by famous figures from our country's history. She especially enjoyed the Roosevelts, Teddy and Franklin alike.
Over the years I've had a tendency to forget some of my days spent in high school, but have held onto the baseball and the typical ones that you just don't ever forget. That's just how things work. Plus all those tactical courses at Quantico pushed the tenth grade English out.
Among the baseball games, dates, and moments with my genius kid brother, I do remember Mrs. O'dell and her sayings, often used in an attempt to inspire us to something greater. Like I said, she had a thing for the Roosevelts, and her favorite saying was "One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes…and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility."
Don't ask why to this day, twenty years later, I remember that quote, but can't find it in me to recall what a derivative is or what the 'Lock and Key' theory is. I just do.
Anyway, Mrs. O'dell would quote those two lines by Eleanor Roosevelt every time we became upset about a pop quiz or an essay to do over the weekend, complaining because it just wasn't fair to have to do that and have it cut into our partying or shopping time. Shopping was the girls' excuse, not mine.
Mrs. O'dell would only give us that young, bright smile of hers and tell us that our choices decided our futures. Back then we simply rolled our eyes, but did the essay anyway, usually that Sunday night after having spent our Saturday doing what we wanted to.
Now I don't quite roll my eyes anymore. With age comes wisdom. That's something my father would say. Just as she said twenty years ago, the choices we make decide our future, and like Eleanor Roosevelt said "…the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility."
That doesn't mean we always make the right choices. Was it right to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima? Was it right to become involved in the Vietnam War? Was it right when the Europeans stole this land from the Native Americans who had been here first? They may not always be right in everyone's eyes, but those choices are our responsibility.
The world does not exist in black and white. There are many shades of grey. That much I have seen.
I made the choice all those years ago to have fun with my buddies instead of doing my work that Saturday, something I don't regret. The decision to trade my bat in for a nice service pistol had been mine alone, and protecting people everyday is something I too have no doubts about.
Some would say that to make the choice to stay with a recently kidnapped, traumatized, and hurt woman would not necessarily be the right one. Some would say the right thing to do would be to cut your losses and get out while you still could.
But I've never been one to run from a person who needs me. I was there for my little kid brother when the bullies tried to get him. I was there for my mother as she died, and I was there to take her place holding the remains of our family together when she was gone. I'm there for my team, and I'm there for the people of my country when they need me.
And so when some would have made the decision to cut and run, I, Don Eppes, made the choice to stay with her, Peyton Huntzberger.
Maybe it was because I simply like her, have come to enjoy having her around, and am willing to take a chance on something that I want. Maybe it was because in a way she reminds me of my brother, with the way that her whole being becomes charges as she excitedly explains her job, explanation complete with every forensic term known.
Maybe it was a combination of a bunch of things.
But I do know that she needed me.
And I've never been one to turn my back on someone who needs me.
"And maybe it's not meant to last, But what do you say to taking chances?, What do you say to jumping off the edge? Never knowing if there's solid ground below"
The loose gravel rocks littered across the paved road scattered under his feet as Don came to a stop, his eyes finally alighting on what he had been looking for. Or rather whom he had been looking for.
It hadn't been an extremely daunting task to find her. Contrary to what others believed, she was not an enigma shrouded in mystery and could be very predictable if you knew how to go about it. All he'd had to do was put himself in her head and shoes— like any other agent who put themselves into the minds of their suspects— and after that it had been pretty easy for him.
The slight wind rustled the leaves of the trees that shared this area of land with the numerous stone slabs; they were all lined up in long rows, stretching out across the many acres for as far as he could see. Don didn't move, content to stay in his spot for the moment, the small rocks skidding forward as his foot scuffed back and forth.
Kathryn, as soon as she had heard, had passed along the message that the deposition had ended after three long hours. By the time Don had managed to catch a small break from their car crash case and had left the bullpen for the lab, she had already fled the building.
Marilyn, the ever helpful secretary, didn't know her whereabouts, explaining that the doctor had only come downstairs long enough to grab something out of her office and then leave. No one else could say where their boss had taken off to either, all of them giving him a quick sideways shake of their heads as they hurried on their way.
A smile had seen to the unlocking of the office door. His Holy Grail, so to speak, had been located after a few minutes spent reading the papers resting on the very top of her desk; she was a highly organized person, he had long since discovered, which made his task of finding things much easier.
Moving left to right towards the desk phone, the torn scrap of paper with today's date and an address circled in bright red had all but jumped into his hand. That scrap address had narrowed his list of possible locations considerably.
Before he had come to his spot here at the circled location, he and Colby had set out to speak with their latest suspect. The talk had ended with the two of them nabbing the guy for further discussion back at the office. Leaving Colby to take him back, Don had taken a detour on the way to this wide open cemetery on the outskirts of Santa Monica.
Putting one foot before the other, Don decided he was done staying in his spot. Mindful of the dead and their final resting places, he carefully made his way around and through the rows, moving towards the one that he wanted and the woman standing in front of it.
The tombstone where she stood was one that had been placed beneath the branches of a tall, old tree. Remaining quiet, Don finally stopped when he was right next to her, shoulder to shoulder. Peyton didn't say a word but he knew that she was aware of the fact that she was no longer alone.
From the corner of his eyes he glanced at her, noting that her eyes were downcast and fixated upon the grave. Following her lead, he read the name embossed in black. 'David Elium' stared back up at him.
"I see you found me," she said, breaking the still silence with her voice.
Don shifted on his feet, his hands shoving themselves down into his pockets as both continued to look down instead of turning to each other. "Yeah. Marilyn let me into your office, and I found the address. Figured you might want someone. How did you get out here anyway?"
"Thanks. For everything. Keith Kelli was here. He wanted to come to see David; turns out that Keith was brought in when David was gotten rid of, and he remembers seeing him. I've been meaning to come out here myself, and Keith didn't want to come alone. You just missed him. He left a little while ago." Her head finally rose, and she changed her gaze to the tree branches overhead.
"So how were you planning on getting back?" He asked humorously.
She finally turned her body to face him. Don watched as she crossed her arms, noting that the cast had been replaced with a soft black brace that blended in with the black of her dress. Peyton blinked once, and the said, "I hadn't thought about that. Good thing you're here now."
He nodded and smiled, and then changed to a more somber tone. "How is he?"
"Who? Keith?," her eyes shifted to look quickly at David, "He's doing better. He doesn't have any family to talk to so I've made myself if he needs it. He's got eye surgery at the end of week."
The cry of a bird came from over head and a cloud passed over the sun, giving them a break if only for a minute. "I thought he couldn't afford the LASIK that would be needed."
She nodded, and took a step back. "He couldn't, but I can. It's the least I can do for him. He didn't deserve what happened to him. Just like David doesn't deserve to be underneath us. None of them deserved what happened to them."
"There was nothing that you did wrong. You did your job," Don said, reaching out to lay a hand on her elbow.
Peyton smiled at him sadly. "I know, but a part of me will always feel responsible for what happened to them. It's my job to find people like Meinhard Ackerman, and I didn't find him."
This was a different statement from when she had fully blamed herself entirely. Her admittance now didn't worry him much. In their jobs you always deep down did blame yourself for some small part, no matter how many times you were told that there was nothing that you did wrong or could have done better. It just was how it was.
She had stepped back, and was moving away now. Don spared David one last glance, nodded, and then stepped in alongside her. "How are you?" He asked, really inquiring about the hearing from the morning.
Catching on to what he really wanted, she answered, "Okay. It wasn't that bad. I expected the emotions that would come from remembering what happened, and it took a few minutes, but I just worked through them. The defense attorney asked me about you at the end."
A small bark of a laugh was let out into the air. They were on the road that led back to the main one now. "He tried to say that since you had been spending time with me that that was a breach of conduct. He also insinuated that my memories of Meinhard were false because you visited me the night he was taken into custody and that when you were with me you told me about him, creating my memories for me so that you could get the guy that you wanted."
Don cast a look of disbelief at her, saying as she nodded at him, "Are you serious?"
"Uh-hunh. He did. I told him that no such thing happened, and if he wanted to press the issue further he could take it before the Board of Internal Affairs. That seemed to shut him up."
His Suburban loomed in front of them, parked to the side of the main road from which the one they were walking on branched off from. Suddenly she stopped, and Peyton whirled around to face him. He stopped, seeing the look on her face and thinking that something was wrong.
The SUV was behind her, and just as he had sent the little pieces of gravel skidding, her heels did the same. Peyton took in a slow breath and let it out before speaking. "I meant what I said earlier. I am really grateful for what you have done. Everything that you have done…"
Where was she going with this?
"…You, against all logic and human normalcy, stuck with me when anyone else would have probably left…"
Don stared at her, wondering why she was fidgeting and looking anywhere but at him.
"…I had time to think about things in D.C…"
That never sounded good.
"…And I understand if you want nothing to do with me after all of this. I really do. I don't blame you or anything at all. A normal person wouldn't—"
He effectively cut her off as he moved forward, lightly grasped her shoulders, and kissed her. She froze, and when he pulled back those green eyes were wide and blinking, her mouth parted.
"Are you sure because—"
Don cut her off again, and after a second she relaxed in his arms, kissing him back. This time when he regretfully ended it, her eyes glittered and smiled.
"I suppose I shouldn't bring that subject up anymore. Though, it certainly does have its advantages."
He grinned at her, slinging an arm around her shoulders. "Oh, I don't know. We could certainly revisit it later."
"Later? How about now?" Peyton smiled, a slow grin spreading across her face as she leaned onto his shoulder.
From above came a cry from the same bird. Don watched as it swooped down and glided over the hood of the Suburban to land in one of the trees. Looking behind him one last time, he saw the tree of David's final resting place wave at him, branches swaying ever so slightly.
His arm tightened around her shoulders. She looked up at him, laying her head back down after he didn't speak.
No doubt something would come up as soon as they arrived back at the office. And there was no doubt in his mind that something would come up right after they closed this case.
But for now he was content to simply walk back towards his car with one arm slung across the woman against him. Whatever happened later was what happened later.
Now was now. And what was happening now was just fine with him. Later could wait. Just for this one time.
Can I ask for one last time?
Special thanks to everyone who has read this. Huge thanks to everyone who has reviewed! Huge thanks to those who added this to their favorites. This was my first story, and I owe much thanks for the support and advice I have gotten along the way.
Due to my college applications, I will be taking the next two weeks off to finish those. I think that it is only fair to me and to you guys as the readers. However, I have a six chapter (episode) arc that I am working on and will do in that time. That way I have something to keep the muse going.
The sequel to this is tentatively called Woke Up This Morning. And once my applications are done, I will be returning to work on the sequel. I want to get several chapters into it before I begin posting, and it is going to require a lot of background information and research. I want to get it right, and that is what it is going to take.
Once again, much thanks. Couldn't have done this without all of you.