Title: The Fugitive
Rating: T (violence, language)
Genre: Like, totally, AU.
Summary: Inspired by the classic story, an innocent man wrongly convicted of murder must flee for his life and his freedom while seeking the truth.
Timeline: AU, branching off after "Money for Nothing." In this world, there was no mysterious DOJ assignment for Megan, no Janus List, and there never will be.
Disclaimer: I don't own Don (much as I'd like to) or any of the other NUMB3RS characters; this story was only written for fun and stress relief, not profit. Anyone you don't recognize is mine, however. Certain story elements are taken from the movie and both TV versions of "The Fugitive."
Author's notes: Long before I became obsessed with NUMB3RS, I was obsessed with "The Fugitive," and I was tickled when I finally worked out a way to bring the concept of one into the world of the other. If you're thinking this is too AU for you, stick with me; it'll all work out in the end.
Thanks to MizEm, Izhilzha, rittenden, and 3rdgal for concept review and encouragement; many thanks to ritt and Susan W. for more detailed beta reading. I also want to thank Suisan for technical help—any mistakes that remain are my own—and Lady Shelley for maintaining "Running the NUMB3RS."
Warning: supporting character death. Sorry, but there has to be one to tell this story properly…
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Santa Barbara Mountains
His heart was pounding like it was going to burst, and the relatively thin air had him gasping for breath, but he had to keep running, racing over the rock-strewn trail as fast as he could. One misstep could send him crashing to the ground with a twisted or broken ankle, or it could send him over the edge of the steep drop-off to his left. The trail kept twisting and turning, enough to keep his pursuer off his back, but also enough that he had to pay very close attention to his footing. The lack of sleep and food over the past twenty-four hours made paying attention even more difficult, but the adrenaline and desperation he was feeling more than made up for it.
"Eppes!" He heard the shout from behind him, and fear quickened his pace even more. He rounded a sharp corner and skidded a little on the loose rock that had crumbled off the outcropping to his right, putting out a hand to keep his balance. There was a relatively straight stretch of trail ahead, but to his dismay, it led to a series of switchbacks straight up the scrubby mountainside. There was no cover to speak of, nothing to keep him from being a clear target once his pursuer rounded the corner behind him and caught sight of him down the straightaway.
He slowed in his flight to look down to his left. It was a steep talus slope, a pile of rocks that were too small to afford cover but too large to simply slide down. Up ahead, though, the talus ended and the chaparral and manzanita vegetation resumed. If he could just get to that point, he could head down off the trail and hide among the thorny stems until it was safe to move on.
Then he heard the crunch of footsteps behind him, and he knew he was lost.
"Hold it right there!" The command came from what sounded like ten feet behind him, the point where the trail had curved around a rock outcropping. How had she gotten there so fast? He closed his eyes, fighting back the dread and helplessness that threatened to overwhelm him. If she got close enough, there was a chance that he could do something to get away. He didn't want to think about what that "something" might be. He was a federal officer himself, or at least he had been. He knew all too well the penalty for assaulting one.
But then, when you had already been convicted and sentenced to death for murdering a federal agent, you didn't really have a lot to lose.
"Hands up! Now!" She snapped the command in a voice that had become all too familiar during his weeks of interrogation. Special Agent Geraldina Javier had been the outsider brought in to the Los Angeles field office to investigate the murder of a member of that office, allegedly by a colleague, and the tangled web of corruption that had allegedly led to the murder. She had been unrelenting in questioning him and his team members and in pursuing the evidence, conducting what he would have considered a thorough investigation under any other circumstances. However, the fact that the investigation had ended with his wrongful conviction made him see otherwise. It figured that she would be the one to hunt him down after his escape on the way to the federal prison that would have been his home for the rest of his limited life.
Realizing that he had no other choice, he slowly raised his hands. He heard the scrape of her shoes on the rock as she came closer. A slight gust of wind came up, and a chill ran down his spine as the breeze brushed across his sweat-soaked back. It was colder up here than he had expected, and while he had been more than warm enough during his flight, he was now practically shivering. Not that it's all from the temperature, he thought grimly.
She was only a couple of steps behind him now, and he tensed. "On your knees," she commanded from what sounded like less than three feet away. "Then put your hands behind you."
He didn't say anything, but lowered himself to one knee. There was nothing to say, no way to beg for mercy. If there were any words he could use to convince her that he hadn't killed his fellow agent, he hadn't found them in the weeks after his arrest, and he wouldn't be able to find them now. As he waited for the cold steel of the handcuffs to close around his wrists and seal his fate, he stared grimly ahead at the rocky landscape, feeling the small flame of hope that had been lit when he slid out of the wrecked sheriff's bus being extinguished like a single, solitary match.
Another gust of wind ruffled his hair, and he heard a rustling sound coming from the hillside above them. They were standing in the middle of the talus slope, one long ramp of rocks extending for a thousand feet from top to bottom. The rocks making up the slope had all come from above them over the long years, and there was nothing to prevent more from joining them at any moment. Still on one knee, he glanced over his shoulder to see if the sound he had heard was a pebble or a boulder following the law of gravity, and if he was going to have to jump out of the way.
As he did so, he saw that Javier's attention was entirely focused on the rocky slope. And he knew with a cold certainty that he would not get another chance.
He spun up and to his left, bringing his arms in front of him so that when he had turned completely around, his momentum carried him into Javier, driving into her side shoulder-first like a linebacker while he reached for her gun with his outstretched hands. She fell back against the boulder by the side of the trail, a whoosh of breath escaping her lungs, and although he heard the clink of the handcuffs falling to the ground, she kept a one-handed grip on the weapon. He twisted around, trying to trap her body between him and the rock in order to amplify the pressure on her left arm, which he had managed to trap between his elbow and his side.
Pressed closely to her as he was, he could feel the shift in her weight as a warning, and he danced back as she tried to stomp on his foot. He knew the procedures for keeping a suspect from getting a hold of his weapon; he'd never thought he would have to make use of them from the point of view of the person trying to take the gun from an agent.
He winced as her fingernails scraped across the back of his right hand, but he realized that the position of her hands meant he could gain greater purchase on the gun. With one final burst of strength, he wrested the gun all the way out of her grip, pulling back in a mirror of the move that had gotten him to the weapon in the first place. Swallowing hard at what he was about to do and at all of the implications that it posed, he raised the gun and pointed it at Special Agent Javier.
She froze, her back pressed against the russet-colored boulder behind her. Her shoulders were heaving, and he realized her breathing rate matched his own. A small part of him wanted to laugh at how ridiculous this situation was, but the rest of him realized that it was deadly serious. She wouldn't be the only person out here looking for him, and if he wasn't careful, he wouldn't have bought anything with his assault of a federal officer besides a few more seconds of freedom.
"Put your hands on top of your head." His voice sounded rough, and he had to clear his throat, hoping she couldn't hear the nervousness underlying his words. "How many are there?"
She was slowly raising her hands, interlacing her fingers without being told. "How many what?"
He shook his head impatiently. She knew damn well what he meant. "How many more are behind you?"
She regarded him for a moment, her light brown eyes boring into his. Another gust of wind blew wisps of chestnut hair into her eyes, but she didn't flinch. Finally she said in a tone of quiet, practiced confidence, "Three behind me and four coming down from above. They'll be here any minute."
He felt the corner of his mouth turning up. He'd used that same tone of voice himself on more than one occasion, trying to bluff a suspect into believing that the cavalry was right behind him when in reality, they were precious minutes away. There were other searchers out there, of that he had no doubt. But now he knew that if he could get away from here within the next few minutes, he stood a pretty good chance of getting away all together.
He was standing only a couple of feet away from her, close enough to look into her eyes and read the bravado there that matched her bluffing words. But he saw something else as her eyes flickered down to the gun he was holding on her, something he wasn't used to seeing in an FBI agent's expression, certainly not one with the same amount of age and experience that he had, and it floored him.
She was terrified of him.
He took an involuntary step back. Slowly, disbelievingly, as if he were realizing it for the first time, he asked, "You really think I killed her, don't you?"
Her chin lifted a fraction, and her reply was brief. "Yes."
He grimaced. He'd known that she had believed him guilty from the start; that had never been in doubt. She had looked vindicated at the trial, not in the sense that she was lording her victory over him or his fellow agents, but simply that she had been right and that justice had prevailed. He had known that all along. So why was it striking him so hard just now?
It was the fear on her face, he realized. She was trying to hide it with a blank expression, but he could see the bleak resignation that he'd felt a time or two himself when escape had seemed impossible. The gun in his hand shifted downwards a fraction of an inch. When he spoke, his voice was low and rough. "And you think that I'm going to kill you."
"No, it's just the altitude that's making me breathe faster here," she retorted. The snappy comeback made him think of Megan for a second, and he thought as he had a few times before of how much the two women might have liked each other if they had met in different circumstances. He knew, though, that Javier's sarcastic reply was hiding sheer terror. He knew because he'd made similar sharp retorts to keep himself distracted when he thought he was about to die. Just like she must be thinking right now.
And that realization scared him to death.
He swallowed. "Pick those up," he said, taking a step back and gesturing at the handcuffs lying on the ground between them.
She eyed him warily, but slowly bent over to retrieve the restraints from where they had fallen. As she straightened up, he pointed at a tree a few steps behind her at the side of the trail. It was a scraggly little thing, the main trunk no thicker than her wrist, but it rose at least twice as tall as she was. "Put your hands around it and cuff them together." He took another step backwards as he spoke, his foot carefully feeling for the side of the trail while his eyes remained locked on his former pursuer. She might be able to exert enough pressure to bend the tall twig over and get herself free, but it would buy him enough time to slip away. He hoped.
She did as he said, but not without another sharp comment. "I guess one dead federal agent on your conscience is enough for you?"
He narrowed his eyes, his discomfort momentarily giving way to anger. "I didn't kill Agent Warner," he growled, aware that saying the words now was no more likely to make her believe him than any of the previous times he'd spoken them.
She glanced at her gun, still held in his hands and still aimed at her. "If you say so," she wryly replied.
He wanted to roll his eyes at her, but he didn't let himself react. After all, he had to admit to himself, pointing a gun at someone while proclaiming your innocence of murder was a pretty good example of the concept of "mixed message."
He took another step backward, then paused, lowering the gun to point down at the ground. "I didn't kill her," he repeated a little more desperately, wishing somehow that repeating the words enough times would make someone believe him, would make this whole nightmare go away, would take back his arrest and his conviction and his sentence and bring him back home. He had given the justice system its chance, and it had betrayed him like he never could have imagined.
Now, by a miracle, he had been given a chance to get away, and he wasn't going to let it pass. So before she could reply, he turned around and raced down the trail, hoping that he had enough of a lead on the other searchers that he would be able to get away completely.
As for what would happen after that—he had absolutely no idea.
A/N: This is going to be a long one…raise your hand if you're on board…or if you're even remotely interested…