A/N: Once again, apologies for the lateness. School is really cutting into writing time, and that's not going to get better. This is a fairly long chapter, though. The next chapters should be shorter, and that will help.
All disclaimers still apply.
E is for Enemy, Part 10
Colby straightened in his seat as David pulled up outside of Che Lobo Santiago's estate and threw the SUV into Park. He peered through the ornate scrollwork of the wrought-iron gate, over the expanse of manicured lawn, to the gleaming white Colonial beyond. It looked neither more nor less ostentatious than any other mansion along the street, and entirely respectable. Could it really be a haven, if only for a little while? He turned to David and shook his head. "Man, I'm still not sure we should be here.
David grimaced at him. "We need stuff. He's got stuff. Besides, nobody's going to expect it."
Colby eyed his friend, mouth open to protest, when he saw David wince and ease his hands off the steering wheel. What David wasn't saying came clear--he was exhausted and in pain. He needed his cuts looked after and a chance to pull himself together. Instead of protesting further, Colby nodded. "But one of us is going to have to get out and go up to the intercom."
David slumped back in the seat and laid his head against the headrest. "Yeah. So?"
"I don't suppose you've kept track of how Organized Crime is doing on any RICO case."
"Oh. Yeah." David leaned forward and peered past Colby at the front gate. "You worried about video?"
"I doubt it's active surveillance. He's trying to stay clean for Joey, right?"
Colby nodded again, a faint smile tugging at his lips as he thought of Che Lobo's little boy. Brave kid, Joey. Colby hoped the boy was in school right now, because Colby didn't want Joey to see him like this.
"Then I'd say there's probably video, but low-priority video. Doubt it gets screened more than once a week." David slapped his shoulder. "But if you're worried, I'll go."
"Like that's going to be any safer?" Colby checked the street. One good thing about these enclaves; there were probably a lot of people outside right now--gardeners, nannies with playing kids, chauffeurs washing cars--but they were all hidden behind high, white walls. The sidewalks were empty, traffic light. He took a deep breath. "We both go," he said.
David shrugged. "You got it."
Colby watched as David pocketed the SUV's keys and checked the clip in his gun. As David reached for the door, Colby stopped him with a hand on his arm. David turned back with a questioning frown. The thoughts and emotions that had been swirling through his mind since Don had--had not shot him were starting to come clear and he almost wished they wouldn't. Colby jerked his chin toward the wrought-iron gate. "After Santiago--then what?"
David's frown softened. "One step at a time." A cut on his forehead had cracked open again and he dabbed at it with a cuff.
"Man, I hate to see you put yourself in this position--"
David fixed him with a serious gaze. "I'm looking at keeping you in one piece as my new assignment, Colby. So let's get our asses in gear or I'm not gonna get a very good write-up."
Colby pulled away. "And as soon as we figure out what's going on you hand me back?"
David froze, his eyes narrowing. Then they closed briefly, and he dropped his hand to the steering wheel. Not to his gun, Colby noticed, and was absurdly grateful. "One step at a time, man," David said. "Please."
"Okay." Colby nodded. "Let's go, then." He couldn't blame David--the man had his part to play, too. In fact, when it came to busting the bad guys, David was a lot more by-the-book than Colby himself. In some ways David's current behavior didn't make much sense.
David's words did. You gonna take that, Granger? Or are you going to step up to the plate and start creating a situation of your very own? Part of the tacit agreement between a soldier and his commanding officer was honorable treatment for honorable service. So far, Colby was the only one who had held up his end of the deal. He was starting to think that creating a situation might be an appropriate response.
The question remained: Should he create his situation on his own, or keep dragging David into it? Colby glanced at David one more time before slipping on another man's sunglasses and opening the car door. As selfish as it made him feel, he was sure glad David was with him.
As Colby climbed out of the car, the transition from cold, recirculated air to a warm breeze and the smell of new-mown grass hit him like a punch to the chest and he had to concentrate to pull in a full breath. Feeling light-headed, he reached up and slid the glasses down his nose; the slice of lawn he could see though the gate was so green it made his eyes water. He gazed up instead, at the big spruces ranked along the inside of the estate wall. They carried thick coats of needles, so dark they were almost black, and the trunks were seamed and weathered. They looked real. They looked like home.
Colby started and slid the glasses back up the bridge of his nose, cutting him off once more from a little taste of normal. They pinched. "I'm--it's a nice day," he said inanely.
David sighed. "Get your fix later, Nature Boy."
Colby grimaced, but David was right. Pulling down the glasses to reveal his most easily identifiable feature had not been smart. He cast a quick, guilty look at David, but his friend couldn't see through the dark lenses, anyway.
Colby strode with purposeful steps toward the gate, David right beside him, and hit the intercom button before he could think of any more reasons why he shouldn't.
So much for respectability. Colby grinned at David and cleared his throat. "I want to speak to your boss. Tell him it's Co--"
He stopped. One look at David's wide eyes told him he wasn't alone in his sudden realization. Video was one thing, but the words "Colby" and "Granger" had to have been flagged. If he said his name out loud here there would be units rolling within hours.
David gave him a frantic nudge. Colby shook his head a little, a hint of panic tightening his throat.
"Well? I don't got all day."
Inspiration struck. "Dudley Do-Right." Colby blew out a long breath as David's eyes got even wider. "Tell him Dudley Do-Right needs to see him."
"Dudley Do-Right?" David mouthed it with the flunky on the other end of the line, his incredulous face matching the man's tone perfectly. Colby shrugged.
"So who's the other guy? Snidely Whiplash?"
"Naw," said Colby. He grinned at David.
"You call me Nell and I'm hauling you back to the office. You can take your chances."
"Aw, man, you know you mean more to me than that." Colby turned back to the speaker grille. "This is Horse." David glared.
"Dudley Do-Right and Horse." The flunky sounded amused. "I'll let el Jefe know."
The faint, staticky buzz from the speaker cut out, and David put his hands on his hips. "Aw, man, Horse? What about Inspector Fenwick?"
"You don't like it, you pick something."
David grinned back, and suddenly Colby felt the sunlight again, sinking through his skin, right down to his bones. Something in him loosened. Nobody better for a situation than David, he thought, and realized he'd made his decision.
"How about Mr. Peabody and Sherman?" David said. "'Cause I can totally see you as Sherman."
"While you're Peabody? Not buying it."
"Hey, man, I'll have you know history was my best subject."
"I thought ditching class and hanging out at the basketball court was your best subject."
"You have obviously not seen my transcripts."
Both of them jumped.
"The boss says to tell you to get your pimped SUV in here, and he'll try to rustle up some gold chains."
David's eyebrows went up, while Colby looked elsewhere. "What else you holding out on about the time you spent bonding with Che Lobo?"
"I'll tell you later, man."
Ten minutes later Don's SUV was out of sight in the cavernous garage ("Damn cars get more square footage than I do," muttered David) and the two men were being ushered into Che Lobo Santiago's equally spacious office. But while the garage was--well--a garage, even if it did house a couple of Expeditions, a few Porsches, a Corvette, and several Harleys, the office was light and airy, with high ceilings and French doors backing Santiago's massive desk. Colby could see David sneak peeks at the gold records set in alcoves about the room. The smells of leather and wood polish lent an odd air of domesticity to their surroundings.
Santiago stood as they entered, dressed in black slacks and a crisp white shirt, just as he'd been the first time Colby saw him. A big grin creased his blunt features. "Hey, Granger, to what do I owe this--" His voice trailed off as he took in the appearance of the two men--Colby's ill-fitting uniform, David's scratched and scabbed face. His eyebrows went up and his grin changed to a calculating smile. He waved a hand peremptorily, and the flunky who had ushered them in gave his boss one uncertain look before backing out of the office and closing the door behind him. "You need my help," Santiago said. Colby wished he didn't sound so smug.
"Yeah." Colby hooked the pair of sunglasses he'd been fiddling with over his collar and tried to decide what to do with his hands. He wasn't sure whether to extend his right in an offer to shake or shove them both in his back pockets. Did this uniform even have back pockets? "Yeah, we do."
Santiago nodded once, then circled his desk with hand outstretched, solving Colby's dilemma for him. He still moved easily for a big man, as easily as Colby or David themselves. He clasped Colby's hand in his. "Anything, man, anything. You gave me back my boy, my Joey. Nothing I do can ever repay that."
"Wait until you hear the list," David said dryly.
Santiago turned to him, one eyebrow raised. "This guy with you, Granger?"
Colby stiffened at Santiago's tone of voice, while next to him, David smiled a dangerous little smile. Santiago locked eyes with David, and Colby got a sudden urge to smack both of them upside the head. "Yeah," said Colby, "he's with me. There a problem?"
"I seem to remember making that offer only to you."
Colby stepped back, one hand on David's arm. Damn, David was right, they needed the help Santiago could give, but they did not need this crap. "Come on, David. Let's get out of here. The man's word is obviously no good."
Both Santiago and David looked at him in surprise. David shrugged and turned to go, but Santiago, face darkening, grabbed his shoulder and David tensed under his hands, fists clenching. "Just a damned minute. Nobody comes into my house and tells me my word is not good. Not even you, Granger. I'm a generous man, but I have to be careful. You vouch for this guy?"
Colby stepped in, pushing Santiago back one step and away from David. "First of all, this guy's got a name, and it's David Sinclair. Second, he pretty much put his ass in a sling just to get me here. And third, maybe I did the flashy shit for Joey, but I work as part of a team. If it weren't for David neither Joey nor I would have come back alive. Comprende?"
Both of Santiago's eyebrows went up at that. He looked David over again and nodded grudgingly, but the big agent paid no attention. He was still staring at Colby, an odd look on his face.
"Okay, then," said Santiago, and held out a hand to David. "Welcome to my home, man. Whatever I can do for you." David started, and with one last look at Colby took the record mogul's hand, wincing a little as he shook. "Now I suppose you want me to send what'sername, Agent Reeves, some flowers."
"That might not be a bad idea," said Colby, and David smiled.
"Sit, sit," said Santiago, waving them to a pair of overstuffed leather chairs in front of his desk. "Something to drink? Too early for tequila, too much air-conditioning for beer..."
"Iced tea?" David asked as he sank into the chair. Colby followed his lead with a weary sigh. "I've got more driving to do."
Santiago gave him a lopsided smile. "Iced tea it is." He thumbed the intercom and leaned forward to issue a low-voiced order, then sat back and laced his fingers together on his desk. "So--don't tell me Dudley Do-Right's done wrong."
"All right," said Colby. "I won't."
"Aw, man," said Santiago. He leaned forward. "You show up looking like you're batting for a different team, and your buddy--" Colby raised his eyebrows. "--David here looks like he took a header through a window. You can't leave me hanging."
Colby shook his head. "Man, I wish I could tell you what's going on, but I can't." It would be easy for Colby to hide from Santiago behind the magic words "national security," but he couldn't hide from himself. He didn't want Che Lobo to think he was a spy. And he couldn't tell the whole truth, not with David here. Not yet. He shrugged. "I'm in trouble. That's what I can tell you."
"Somebody wants him dead," said David softly. Colby shot him an annoyed look and David stared back, unrepentant. "I don't think that's classified, Colby."
"Do you know who?" Santiago's voice quickened. Colby got the distinct impression that the man may have cleaned up his act for the sake of his son, but there were parts of his old life that he actually missed.
David shook his head. "No, we don't. I don't," he corrected himself. He jerked his head at Colby. "He might. He hasn't told me anything, either."
"So," said Santiago, a small grin curling his lips. "You ain't just Agent Dudley Do-Right. You're Secret Agent Dudley Do-Right."
"Look, I don't know either," Colby burst out. "I just know somebody wants me dead and they're willing to go to pretty extreme lengths to make it happen."
God, Don. He hadn't even thought about Don. He shared a glance with David.
"An untraceable cell phone," his partner murmured, and he nodded.
"Just adding stuff to the list."
A knock on the door interrupted them, and at Santiago's answering shout the flunky brought in a tray with three glasses, a sugar bowl, and a small plate of lemon slices. The flunky, tall, wiry, and with a narrow, pock-marked face, looked them over as he served them, and carefully did not turn his back as he set the tray down on a small side table, and Colby had to fight not to laugh at the incongruity of the picture.
"I don't recognize your boy," Colby said, as Flunky saw himself out.
"I cleaned house a bit after--after Joey got home," Santiago said. Colby and David both nodded. The kidnapping of Santiago's son had been at least partially an inside job.
"How is he?" asked Colby, his voice softening.
"Joey? He's great." Santiago smiled broadly and leaned back. Like that, with his whole face radiating pride and love, the ex-gangbanger, extortionist, thief, mugger, and god alone knew what else looked like a good man. Hey, thought Colby, it could happen. He smiled back.
"How's the paper route?" David finished doctoring his tea with lump after lump of sugar and took a cautious sip.
"Paper route?" Santiago shook his head. "That's over, man. Too dangerous. He can go to school, man, but no paper routes." Santiago fell silent. Hell of a way to live, Colby thought again. Then Santiago brightened. "No, Joey's got himself a sweet little eBay store. Trading cards. He's gonna buy me out by the time he's twenty, you wait and see." He looked at Colby, and his smile softened. "He'll be so excited to see you, man."
"No." Colby jerked forward in the chair and swore as ice tea sloshed over his hand. "We need to be out of here before he gets back." Colby fought to keep his gaze steady as Santiago looked him over. "We can't get Joey involved in this, you know we can't." I can't let him see me. You're not the only one who wants to be Superman.
Santiago finally nodded. "Yeah. You're such a badass, I gotta get you out of my house. No offense."
"None taken," said Colby.
"So, drink up, and let's talk about that list."
2.718281828459 2.718281828459 2.718281828459 2.718281828459
Iago, ever conscious of Raymond's hand wrapped around his upper arm, kept his gaze forward as he allowed himself to be steered through the hospital halls. Men and women bustled past, brandishing clipboards, armored in stethoscopes. He caught only the merest glimpses, and not because Raymond was ruthless in his control; no, Iago could scarcely bear to look. The sight burned.
White lab coats blazed like Arctic sun on snow, and even the colors of the pale green or powder blue lab coats some doctors wore seemed supersaturated. They flapped open to reveal dark suits like masses of shadow. The nurses--he winced--the nurses wore Saturday-morning cartoon scrubs made from day-glo fabric that made his teeth ache. Rubber soles squeaked on tile, gurney and cart wheels rattled, the sting of antiseptic tore at his throat.
Iago had a vision of himself passing through these corridors as insubstantial as fog, as memories. He'd had privileges at several area hospitals--no, thought Iago, Lawrence Dryden had had privileges at several area hospitals, though not this particular institution. Not enough self-destructive starlets among his clientele, he thought, and almost smiled. Too bad. So many things might have been different.
But why waste regrets for the past life of another man? Someone who was becoming more and more of a stranger to him with each passing day? Someone whose grand plans had come to disaster, while Iago still had a part to play. And not the part that others had written for him, either.
Agent Raymond certainly wasn't doing what he'd planned. He'd planned to direct his men in a concerted effort to smear Agent Eppes, leaving behind the memory of a man who had cracked and killed. Instead, Iago had watched as Raymond answered his cell phone, his face first going blank, then white, as white as the bloodless fingers clutching the phone to his ear. Afterwards he'd shouted orders, new orders, and his men had jumped to their new mission: a cleanup, then a hunt. Eppes had broken his conditioning, and the target had gotten away.
After the first frenzy of activity, Raymond's men had climbed into their rented trucks full of equipment and driven off. Raymond had waited with Iago, sometimes pacing, sometimes turning a cold, speculative eye on his charge--first prisoner, then co-conspirator, and now--
Time to improvise. "I never promised this would work."
"But he's still alive," Raymond had snarled once.
Iago had begun to understand what Raymond was waiting for, and to hope for a part in what was to come.
Raymond had gotten his second phone call, and Iago's instructions afterward were intriguing, to say the least. He'd typed up a very short list of drugs and dosages--they'd stuck to just two: an experimental NMDA receptor antagonist and Iago's beloved dextroamphetamines. Iago was given to understand that the experimental drug was so hush-hush he could not be told its name; he privately thought it was so new no one had bothered to name it yet. No matter; it had controlled Eppes wonderfully and apparently the resulting hallucinations as Eppes had come out of it while under a hood must have been quite--something. He'd forwarded on the relevant information Raymond had given him.
As for the amphetamine dosages--they'd spiked Eppes' gum. He'd taken his best guess.
And then they'd come here.
Iago allowed himself a smile, glad that Raymond was behind him and could not see his face. Raymond thought they were here for some sort of retrieval, that he could just dump Eppes onto a gurney and roll him out of the hospital and into limbo. And that Iago would help him.
He fought the urge to shove his hand in his pocket, rub his thumb across the smooth plastic of the flash drive.
Agent Raymond was working off the wrong script.
"Where's that treatment center?"
Iago started, then stifled a chuckle. Raymond was coaching him on his lines. "Bethesda."
"Why is it so important?"
"He's at risk for a psychotic break if he doesn't receive proper support for his withdrawal--but really," Iago said, and he couldn't keep the smirk from his voice. "Any half-way decent doctor is going to take one look at the formula and recognize it as hopped-up ketamine."
Raymond's hand tightened around his upper arm and Iago sucked in a quick breath. He could feel bones grind together. "That's why you have to be convincing," said Raymond. He shoved hard and Iago stumbled. He heard a few disapproving whispers and saw a security guard take a step toward them, but Raymond must have flashed his badge because the man subsided, still glowering.
Not too many days before Iago would have found the crowd in the elevator to be intolerable, but now they were just people; a custodian, two interns, various friends and family members bearing bouquets and cowed expressions. And best of all, Raymond remained silent. As they got off on the fifth floor, the agent pulled in a deep breath and moved up next to Iago, shifting his grip from arm to shoulder and his expression from anger to studious concern.
Iago wondered if any of the people they were about to face would buy Raymond's act.
The automatic doors swung open at their approach. Iago took a deep breath as he saw a knot of four people gathered where the hall opened out into the waiting room. Only one looked familiar--the tall, slender woman with long, honey-blonde hair. He didn't need the sight of her shoulder holster to recognize Agent Reeves.
She stood between two men: one older, grizzled and slump-shouldered, his face a mask of bewilderment and anguish; one young, with dark curly hair and a tense, angry mouth. Iago recognized them from their file photos as Alan Eppes and Professor Charles Eppes. Another man, smaller and with wavy brown hair and a soft, expressive face, flanked the father on the other side. He and Reeves kept close to the older man, their hands on his back, trying to comfort him. That left the brother to look up and lock eyes with Iago, who swallowed and faltered.
"Agent Reeves," said Raymond. His hand tightened on Iago's shoulder. Reeves looked up, her eyes narrowing, as the brother broke away and stalked toward them.
"Dryden," he rasped, and Iago cringed to hear the name that had been taken from him. But where a month ago the name had brought pain, now he felt--nothing. Raymond moved forward to intercept Professor Eppes while Reeves left the elder Eppes' side in pursuit of the mathematician.
"Charlie," she said, a warning note in her voice.
Eppes stopped, looked down at his clenched fists. He laughed harshly. "Don't worry," he said, eyes never leaving Iago's. "I'm not going to touch him. He has work to do."
"What about that one?"
The father had roused himself from his misery to stride forward, suddenly sharp eyes fastening on Raymond. The man couldn't be briefed completely about what had happened to his son, both Reeves and the professor would know that, but neither was he stupid. He could obviously tell from the demeanor of both his younger son and Reeves that Iago and Raymond were the enemy. He waded forward, grizzled but still strong and bigger than either of his boys, both fists clenched just like the professor's, and he did not seem inclined to stop. "Are you the man who taught my son to fear me?"
Raymond stepped back as Reeves grabbed the older man. "Alan, as much as I'd like to let you punch this jerk in the nose, you can't help Don if you've been arrested for assaulting a federal officer."
Alan Eppes stopped. Her hand on his heaving chest seemed an insubstantial barrier, but it held. Until the professor said, "You're Agent Raymond, aren't you," and the father took one look at the loathing on his son's face and pushed forward again.
"Charlie, you're not helping," said Reeves, who shoved herself between Raymond and Alan Eppes as Professor Eppes finally came to her aid. "Larry," she called, "get Alan out of here."
Iago smiled as Raymond backed up. "Now I know where he gets it," Raymond muttered. The fourth man in the group, the one Reeves had just addressed as "Larry," scurried forward and tugged the father around with a surprisingly firm hand.
"Alan," he said, drawing the older man's attention with a forefinger waggling under his nose. "Alan, apparently these men believe ideals are no longer necessary for the guidance of our country. Do you intend to indicate your agreement by resorting to violence?"
Iago started. You tell me what's the difference between them and you, Eppes had said.
Alan Eppes finally let his shoulders slump and covered his face with his hands. "Dad," said the professor gently, "why don't you go with Larry. Megan and I will take care of things with these two. I'll call you as soon as I find out anything, okay?"
"Don't tell me," the father muttered. "National security, right?"
The son remained silent.
"I tell you, Charlie, we are not secure." He straightened, pulling in a deep breath. He turned to Dryden. "I have to know before I go. Can you help my son?"
Iago nodded, stirred to respect. His father had been long gone by the time Porter got into trouble, across the country with new wife number three, two toddlers, and an abiding belief that grown sons were grown first and sons second--if at all. No matter what Agent Eppes' folder had said existed between them, Alan Eppes was here for his child. "Yes, sir," he said quietly. "I won't lie to you. Your son has a long road ahead of him. But there's something I can do to set him on the right path. After that, it's in your hands."
Eppes nodded. "That's fair." He met Iago's eyes again. "Thank you. Now go do your job." He jerked his head toward the hallway, where Iago could see a heavyset Asian woman standing with her arms crossed, watching them with a raised eyebrow. Obviously another FBI agent, on guard duty. I hope you have more where she came from, Iago thought. You might need them.
Under cover of Larry leading Alan past them, Raymond jerked on Iago's arm. "What was that about?" he muttered, but Iago pulled smoothly away.
"Where is your brother's attending?" he asked the professor, who pulled his attention back from his vanishing father.
"Uh--Dr. Kim forwarded the email you sent to a Dr. Harmon, a psychopharmacologist at Thalians, and followed it to consult with him." The professor studied Iago, brown eyes wider, suddenly looking very young. Iago knew his offer of aid had shaken the man. The professor had probably been functioning under the assumption that he was his brother's sole shield against a very hostile world, and the slightest chance to unburden himself, the tiniest corner of shield to hand off to someone else, could make him crumble.
Don't trust me so much just yet. "Have Dr. Kim paged." He brushed past Eppes and Agent Reeves and strode toward the hall. He could feel Raymond's eyes as he walked. "Meanwhile, I need to see him. Where is he?"
"Don't we have something to discuss with Professor Eppes and Agent Reeves first?" Raymond's voice was sharp and threatening, and in spite of himself Iago shuddered.
"I presume you'll want him quiet?" Iago turned around, glad to see both Eppes and Reeves looking from Raymond to him and back, Eppes with an almost desperate expression, while Reeves' face had gone cold and hard.
"Yes," snapped Raymond. "Certainly I want him quiet."
"Then let me go see him. And I need to see him alone." Iago turned back to find the Asian woman standing directly in front of him, right hand methodically stroking the lapel of her suit. He started. Damn, but he wasn't used to being outside anymore. Who would have thought that he'd look back at that horrific warehouse he'd lived in for the last two weeks as a safe haven? Pull it together, he thought. This is new, but you still have a script. He looked back at Reeves, who exchanged a glance with Eppes.
"Agent Hsu, please escort Dr. Dryden to Agent Eppes' room."
Hsu gave Iago one last look before she stepped back and nodded. "Follow me."
Iago followed the agent, letting Raymond's voice fade behind him. He thought he heard Eppes' voice rise in protest, but when he caught sight of the second guard, a wiry black man with a deeply-lined face, everything else faded around him. He was dimly aware of the suspicious looks from the nurses, the wary orderlies pushing their carts on the far side of the corridor, but only as confirmation of what--who lay behind that door.
"Hey, Wolcott. Visitor for Agent Eppes," said the woman. Hsu.
"You want me to go in with him, or do you want to take it?"
Hsu looked over her shoulder at Iago, who did not need to be a psychiatrist to read the wealth of distrust in her gaze. "Reeves says alone."
Wolcott's eyebrows traveled upward, rearranging the lines on his face. "No way."
"I need his total focus. It will take five minutes at the most. Time me."
Wolcott pushed himself away from the door. "Arms out at your sides."
God damn it. "I don't know how long Raymond will wait--"
"Arms out at your sides, or he won't have to wait at all."
Iago closed his eyes and lifted his arms, the fear he thought he'd left behind beginning to squeeze his chest, his throat as he felt unfamiliar hands touch him. Agent Eppes, he suddenly thought, I'm so sorry.
"What's this?" muttered Wolcott as he dipped a hand in Iago's pocket. Iago forced himself not to pull away. "It'd better not be a syringe."
"It's a flash drive," Iago choked out. "Information for Dr. Kim. That's all."
"Well," said Wolcott, dangling the flash drive from its lanyard, "how about I deliver it for you?"
"And leave your post?" snapped Iago. He swallowed, eyes following the flash drive as it swung slowly back and forth. "Please. I'm here to help."
"Reeves said it was okay," said Hsu.
Wolcott shrugged. He dropped the drive, and Iago snatched it out of the air and shoved it back into his pocket. Wolcott stepped away from the door. "Five minutes."
"Thank you." Iago took a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart, then pushed through the door.
The room was more brightly lit than he'd expected, since he was sure they'd want the agent to try to sleep, but then he remembered: Eppes would not do well with darkness right now. The only sounds were the sterile beeps of monitors and Eppes' harsh breathing.
Iago rolled his shoulders back and slowly approached the agent. Now that he was away from the situations he could not control, the people he did not know, he felt himself relax. He knew how to deal with the man on the bed. He ticked off indicators as he approached: limb holders, mitts. Probably a locking belt, but it wasn't visible under the sheet. An IV with, he thought, little more than saline, until Dr. Kim and her psychopharmacologist deciphered his email. And until they got this, he thought, fishing the flash drive out of his pocket once again. Though a lot more people than just Eppes' doctors would be interested in the information on this drive.
He unthreaded the lanyard and stepped up to the agent's side. Even as Iago reached for one padded cuff-clad wrist, he glanced at Eppes' face. The agent was white, masked in sweat, teeth clenched and eyes tightly shut. He smelled sour, and his gown was already soaked through. The wrist under Iago's hand was rigid. Iago slipped the flash drive inside the cuff and shoved it around until the lump was hidden by straps.
Satisfied, he stepped back and looked up into blank brown eyes. They widened as Eppes recognized him. The agent's mouth opened to scream, and Iago lunged forward, planting one hand on his chest, the other over his mouth. Iago shoved his face down next to Eppes' ear, ignoring the wild, white-rimmed eyes, the racing heart under his palm.
"The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief," he whispered, and waited. Eppes tried to tear himself away, and Iago pulled back until he could see into the man's eyes. "The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief."
Eppes froze, then his eyes rolled back and he sagged against the pillow.
Iago stepped back and wiped his shaking hands on his jacket. There was more Eppes should hear, but he was running out of time--
There. Iago scooped up a glass from the bed tray, but stopped with it poised to pour. No. Bad idea. That would probably cause a flashback. He slipped a hand under Eppes' head and brought the glass to the man's cracked lips.
Eppes sputtered, but swallowed once, then again, and opened his eyes. Iago set the glass down and leaned over Eppes, both hands steadying the man's face. The sheer terror was gone, replaced by confusion.
"Agent Eppes, I don't have much time," Iago said. "But you need to know that your mission was successful. You met your objectives. Do you understand?"
Eppes' brow furrowed, and he glanced past Iago at the room, then down at himself, obviously contrasting the fact that he was still alive with Iago's statement.
"Dammit. Don't fight me on this one. Objectives change. Your mission was successful."
There was a rap on the door, and Iago straightened. Eppes blinked at him, but made no sound. "You are safe. Your family is safe. You will never see me again." He held Eppes' gaze, and the agent's eyes slowly slid closed. Iago backed toward the door, fumbling for the knob. Wolcott opened the door and peered past him.
"Go check," Iago said simply, not bothering to wait. He headed for the waiting room, feeling numb. Hsu, obviously torn between staying to check on Eppes and sticking with Iago, walked backward beside him down the hall.
Iago had just registered the tiny, broad-faced Asian woman in a white lab coat--Dr. Kim, he guessed--who had joined the group when Wolcott called after them. "He's resting better."
"Cool," Hsu responded, earning a "sssh" from a passing nurse. The group in the waiting room was startled out of what was obviously an argument, until Raymond followed up with, "You see. We know how to take care of him. You don't. And I'm afraid some of the treatments are classified."
"Like hell we don't," said Dr. Kim. "And I would prefer to evaluate his condition myself, instead of depending on the medical expertise of an FBI agent."
"Be my guest," said Raymond. He swept his arm toward the hall, and Iago had to dodge the furious doctor as she stormed down the hall.
Raymond grinned at him as he rejoined the group. "So, is the agent ready to transport? The sooner we get him out of here, the sooner he can start to get better."
Iago steeled himself. Act Three. "No," he said. Ignoring Raymond's incredulous look, he turned to the younger Eppes. "You realize that if we leave with your brother you'll never see him again." The little mathematician's eyes went wide.
Iago glanced at the CIA agent. Raymond hadn't seemed to realize that his old name no longer hurt. "Agent Reeves," Iago said, "I would like to be placed in protective custody."
"You god-damned--" That was Raymond.
The howl of rage was from Eppes.
He launched himself at Raymond, fist cocked for a wild punch. Raymond grabbed it easily and twisted. Eppes yelped. "What is it with your family?"
"Let go of him," snarled Reeves. She reached for the professor, and as her arms stretch forward, her holster swung into view, and Iago watched, entranced, as the script rewrote itself again. One hand on her shoulder, one hand on the gun, one smooth pull, swing up and--
Raymond's head snapped back and he crashed down onto a coffee table, sending glossy magazines slithering out from under him, sliding to the floor as he lay very still. The crack of the shot, loud in the small space of the waiting room, was followed by Eppes' cry as Reeves yanked him to the side with a shout of her own. "Jesus! Is this Get Your Gun Stolen at Work Day?" Iago ignored them; he stared at Raymond's prone figure, thinking, This ending is so much better. Then, I thought there'd be more blood. And less smell.
"Drop the weapon," barked Hsu from behind him.
"No!" Eppes pulled away from Reeves and scrambled around and past Iago.
"Professor Eppes, get out of the way."
"You can't hurt him! He has to help Don!"
You know how this ends.
Iago raised the gun to his temple.
Eppes must have seen something in Hsu's face and turned around, because he gasped and Iago sensed him slowly edging his way back into Iago's line of sight. Iago countered until he had his back to the wall and could see all of them--all their white, strained faces. He had to explain.
"Wolcott, get back to Eppes' room," Reeves snapped, and one of the faces disappeared.
"No," said Eppes. "You have to help Don."
Iago sighed. "I'm sorry, Professor Eppes. What's done is done, and I've helped him as much as I can. Read the literature. He needs you; he needs your father. Though you might tell Mr. Eppes to tone down the authoritarian act--your brother has issues."
"He needs time. He needs his old reality back. He needs to not be tortured anymore."
The little professor closed his eyes. Iago could see tears trembling on the lashes.
"But most of all, you need to make sure he knows that he was strong enough. He won't believe you, but he was." Eppes blinked at him. "It wasn't my idea for him to break his conditioning. I wanted dead bodies for them to try to explain away, but this is much better. Your brother can't be explained away, as long as you keep him safe. And neither can your missing target." He lifted a shoulder in a shrug. The gun was getting surprisingly heavy, surprisingly quickly. "I'll just have to get the dead bodies elsewhere."
Eppes glanced behind at Raymond, while Reeves eased forward a step. "Who would have to explain them away?" she asked. "Who are we talking about here?"
"I've left you all the information I have. But Brutus has to end here."
"You don't have to end with it," Reeves said quietly. She held out her hand. "Give me the gun."
Iago smiled, a little sadly. He thought about what he'd realized in Agent Eppes' room. The only human he felt safe with was a man he'd already tortured. "I've discovered that your brother isn't the only one who's been conditioned. And I don't think I'm strong enough to break mine."
"He's dead too," Iago said, and pulled the trigger.