First off, thank you to everyone who's ever read, enjoyed, and especially reviewed this story! It's been far too long in coming, but I finally finished it. Everyone who stuck with me, even through the years-long silences, this is for you! I said I would finish and by damn I did, all thanks to your kind words and support.
In any case… enjoy!
Rating: T for language
Pairings: None aside from a little one-sided Chase/Cameron fluff here and there.
Timeline: Early canon, before Foreman's dead patient and the new fellows.
"When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of The Blanched Soldier
He stared straight ahead as he walked through the half-empty bus terminal, nervously gripping the straps of his pack as he tried to keep tabs on everyone around him. Anxiety that had been growing ever since he entered Princeton was slowly culminating to an all-time high, his heart pounding so loud he was sure everyone near him could hear it. He rubbed his aching chest nervously, wondering how each and every person could look so sinister. Just nerves, he told himself, trying not to return the stare of an elderly woman to his right. It's all nerves, you'll be fine. Everything's planned, they can't find us. We'll all be fine.
He kept this mantra up, running circles through his head. It wasn't long before he found himself out on the street and safely concealed in the thinning crowds of the late afternoon. Now all he had to do was walk a few blocks and he'd be safe. For now, at least.
There was the hotel, dead ahead. He allowed himself a small smile as he neared it. It had been a long trip. Hopefully they weren't… no, they should be there, he told himself, they will be there. There were plenty of reasons why he couldn't reach them without jumping to conclusions. Just because someone wasn't answering a phone or two didn't mean they were—
He cut himself off with a small shake of the head and pushed his way through the ornate glass doors. The lobby seemed far too empty, leaving him with a curious sense of vulnerability. As if he was a mouse suddenly caught out in the open without a hole in sight to dash into.
Pointless thoughts and metaphors, he thought irritably. I'm not a mouse, and there certainly aren't any cats here. The sign says 'no pets' right in front of your nose, idiot. Just calm down and get to the room… He refrained from swallowing nervously and set a determined expression to his face. This was nothing. He'd been in worse before. The cave, even! He'd been shot and still gotten three kids out alive. And that was really nothing. This would be even easier. All he had to do was get… to the… room.
He coughed and winced slightly as his chest began to ache again, but steadfastly ignored it. It was probably heartburn. He'd been living on takeout and travel food for, what, four days now? Frowning, he made his way to the nearest staircase and began climbing as fast as silence would allow. Elevators were too risky, too confined, held too many bad memories.
The room number ran through his head as the mantra had earlier. Two-oh-six, two-hundred-six, two-zero-six… Opening the door to the second level he was met with a deserted corridor. Where was everyone this time of day? He began his cautious journey down the hall and scowled lightly as the room numbers jumped from 205 to 207 for no apparent reason. Across the hall, he reminded himself sternly, simple organization. He turned towards the desired door with a relieved sigh, happy to be done with the journey at last, and suddenly froze. A flash of pain behind his ribs accompanied the sickening realization that the face in the open door was not, by any means, the welcoming smile he'd expected.
Instead a silent grin held him in place for a few precious seconds before he thought to run. The delay was more than enough for the man in the door to draw his weapon and aim.
He bolted down the hall and stubbornly fought the temptation to look back, air coming in painful gasps as he ran back towards the door he'd just come through. The soft crack of a silenced pistol behind him and a searing pain in his upper arm announced that he'd been shot; grazed at least. The wound sent him flailing for the stair door and he crashed through it, flapping his arms in vain as his momentum sent him tumbling down the staircase.
A sharp crack echoed through his head as skull met concrete.