by Valerie Vancollie
valeriev84 at hotmail dot com
Characters: Liz Warner, Don
Summary: But when had anything to do with Don Eppes ever gone the way it should?
Spoilers: Longshot, Blackout, Finders Keepers, Burn Rate, Under Pressure, Money for Nothing, The Janus List
Note: This fic was written for the rare het pairings (i.e.: anything other than Charlie/Amita & Megan/Larry) round at Numb3rs Write-Off, an LJ community. I was a member of Team Angst and choose the word prompt 'moonlight.'
From the moment she'd decided to join the FBI, Liz had known that she was entering a world dominated by men. It hadn't deterred her in the least. If anything, it had encouraged her. Ever since she was a little girl, she'd thrived on challenges and, growing up as both the youngest and the only girl in a four child family, she'd had plenty of practice surmounting obstacles. Not the least of which was the deep-rooted mentality of what was proper and right for a girl that existed on her mother's side of the family.
Liz had entered Quantico with that same determination. Determination to succeed and excel. Determination to rise above expectations and become more than a tolerated presence to satisfy someone's office diversity requirements. Her hard work and efforts had paid off: she'd graduated near the top of her class at Quantico and had gone on to move through the Bureau's hierarchy at a respectable pace.
That was not to say that there hadn't been any costs, as there had been plenty, but Liz had known there would be. There was the expected resentment of some of her male colleagues at being outdone by a woman, especially at such a physically demanding job. Earning the nickname 'coldhearted bitch' had been more of a badge of honor than an insult as it was so often handed out to those of her gender who strove to succeed. She had used it as a milestone by which to track her progress instead of the deterrent it was intended to be.
The one negative reaction Liz had taken special care to try and avoid from the start, though, had been to give anyone cause to seriously doubt the reason for her advancement. On some level she realized that there would always be those who refused to believe she'd risen through the ranks on her own merit, but she didn't want to give them anything solid to back up their prejudiced beliefs. For that very reason she had always been careful of who she dated within the FBI.
At the start, Liz had laid down a few ground rules for herself: don't date a superior directly in charge of her, don't date any of the agents she regularly worked with and don't date anyone who could damage her career either out of spite when they broke up or in some other fashion. Although she hadn't always been entirely faithful to them, those rules had served her well so far.
Which was what made her present situation so difficult.
Her own rules made it perfectly clear what she should do right now; what the situation called for. The thing was, she didn't want to do it.
"God, what a mess," Liz said aloud, drawing a funny look from the man who stood beside her, waiting to cross the street.
Liz ignored him. Her mother had warned her against dating fellow agents altogether, but she knew herself well enough to know that would never work. She liked an edge of danger to her men, the thrill of playing with fire. She needed someone who wouldn't look at her like some delicate flower to be shielded and treated with care. Besides, who else could understand the demands and hours of her job? Although she wasn't looking for a long-term relationship anymore, she did like being with the same person for a while.
The idea of a family was a sacrifice Liz had known she'd have to make if she truly wished to make herself a career with the FBI. It was a sacrifice she'd made consciously and one that she didn't regret. What she hadn't fully realized at the time, though, was that it also meant sacrificing almost any hope of a long-term relationship. It had taken Special Agent Matthew Snyder to make her see that. They'd been dating for close to a year when he'd received a promotion. At first she'd been ecstatic for him, he'd worked hard for the position and she knew no one who deserved it more. Then she'd learned it was in Indiana, which hadn't been a problem initially (she hadn't been particularly attached to New York) until she'd looked up the vacancies there and discovered no position that wouldn't require her to take a demotion. That had been the end of their relationship as Matt had made it quite clear that he expected her to simply follow him despite the setback to her career.
Liz's jaw clenched again at his arrogance as she entered the LA FBI building. Eventually she'd come to terms with what this meant for her prospects of finding a long-term partner as she still felt her career was worth it.
So why was the present situation so damn difficult?
All of her own rules, all of her previous experiences and convictions made it quite clear what she should do at this point: walk away; leave this relationship as she had left so many others before. After all, it wasn't like she'd expected anything different to happen. Besides, by all rights it was a relationship she should never have entered into, at least not after being permanently transferred to LA.
But when had anything to do with Don Eppes ever gone the way it should?
Hell, even back in Quantico it hadn't. Back then she'd had an additional rule: teachers were off limits. It was simple, right? Well, it had been up until the moment she'd laid eyes on Agent Eppes. There'd been an instant attraction on her part. He was unlike any of the other teachers, there was a wildness, an edge, to him that drew her like a moth to a flame, clich? as it sounded. It wasn't until later that she learned why, that he was fresh from the field, from the most dangerous and wild task within the FBI. From Fugitive Recovery.
It hadn't been hard to picture him doing that. Not with the sense of danger and recklessness he'd fairly oozed with back then. Liz knew she would have thrown her rules out even then if he'd given her half a chance. Yet, while he'd looked, he'd never made a move. It seemed Don Eppes had a few rules of his own, and students were clearly off limits, even if no other women were.
When Liz had first seen Don at the race tracks, her heart had sped up as all her Quantico fantasies returned to her. He looked as good as he had then despite the intervening years. His subsequent flirting had given her the courage to ring him up when her date had abandoned her and things had gone from there. That had been when the situation was still under control. She'd merely been a visiting agent and Eppes was by no means her true superior or a team member. He was exactly the type of man she'd normally date and thus she'd allowed herself him.
As soon as the elevator doors opened and the occupants stepped out, Liz got in and hit the button for her floor as other agents and visitors followed her in, lighting up the panel like a Christmas tree.
It wasn't until she'd been permanently been transferred to LA that the situation had spun so helplessly out of control. She'd been so assured of the fact that she'd be leaving that it had never entered her mind that it would be up to her to distance herself from Don. So there she'd been, caught off guard and only able to make some feeble, half-hearted attempt to try and make him see why she couldn't continue to date him. Even now she was embarrassed to remember how weak her arguments had sounded despite all of her rules. Although she wasn't directly a member of his team, he was now a superior and she had been assigned to his team on numerous occasions.
Liz knew, though, why she hadn't broken it off. On some level she was flattered that Special Agent Don Eppes, infamous for his dating habits, wanted to keep seeing her. That and she'd come to care for him. What had started off as purely sexual had evolved into something more. Though, honestly, she hadn't realized that at the time. No, back then she'd been waiting for him to end it. After all, Eppes didn't stay with one woman for too long, so why not enjoy it while it lasted?
Only Don hadn't broken it off. As one week stretched into two and then into a month and beyond, Liz had only started to fall for Eppes more and more. The next thing she knew, she was reacting jealously when an ATF agent mentioned one of his former girlfriends. That had been a real wakeup call for her but she'd been stumped as to what to do. She didn't want to break it off, but she didn't want to damage her career either. Despite her better judgment, and the knowledge that working in a building full of investigators made keeping secrets of this nature virtually impossible, she'd done nothing.
If only she had. If only she had broken it off then! It would have saved her from her present predicament.
Liz sighed in frustration as the elevator stopped at yet another floor that wasn't hers. This is what she got for returning from lunch on time. If the elevator hadn't been so full, she'd bang her head against the side of it. She really needed to break this thing off with Eppes, whatever 'this' was, before it did even more damage to her career than it already had. She'd allowed herself to be lulled into a false sense of security and it was costing her. When her fears had finally seemed to come true, when Sinclair had brought up the fact that he knew about her and Don, she'd been ready to break it off. She'd gotten as far as informing Don of the situation when he completely caught her off guard yet again, openly admitting to their relationship despite the damage it could do to his position.
That act coupled with Sinclair and Granger's calm reactions had lulled her under even further. It had allowed her yet another excuse to push back what she knew to be the inevitable. On some level she really couldn't believe herself. She'd gotten so far and sacrificed so much to get there, so why the hell was she risking it all now? And for something she'd decided long ago she didn't even need, at least not long-term?
As the elevator finally stopped on her floor, Liz got out and headed straight for her desk. Well, whatever the reason she had been unable to break-up with Don before, she was going to do so now. Having been called in to be basically interrogated by visiting Agent Ragdas regarding her relationship with Don's team was too much. She knew she was already being looked at as part of the overall investigation into Granger's espionage and she simply refused to allow her career to be damaged even further by her relationship and continued association with Don.
Liz nodded her head in satisfaction as she reached her desk and sat down. Now that she'd finally reached a decision she felt a little better. All that was left was to inform Don.
Right, that was all that was left. Gritting her teeth, she forced herself to start the report she had to hand in tomorrow morning.
Fifteen minutes later, Liz pushed her chair back in disgust. She was getting nowhere with her work. She'd get herself a coffee from the break room, give herself a few more minutes to calm her racing mind, and then get back to work.
As she was fixing her drink, Liz glanced up and froze as she caught sight of Don walking through the bullpen.
He looked terrible.
His face was drawn, haggard and pale, creased with lines of both worry and stress. The skin under his eyes was dark with shadows from multiple nights of little to no sleep. Even beyond his mere physical appearance he looked beat. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but he was different, something about his demeanor had changed. Where he could once stride into a room and exude confidence and capture attention, he now seemed only to slink in, projecting an odd mixture of shame, misery and distrust of those around him.
When Liz finally managed to tear her eyes away from him, she caught the quick, furtive, glances the other agents were sending his way when they thought he wouldn't notice. Her heart ached for him, wondering if this was what he'd had to endure since the truth of Granger's allegiances had been unveiled. Yet, despite this, she stepped into the shadows of the break room when Don's eyes darted to her empty desk as he strode past it, faltering slightly, towards the elevator. He must have been down here to speak with one of the agents about the details of a case. She had heard, as had most agents, of the scrutiny being cast upon all cases Granger had worked.
Liz waited until the elevator had closed on Don before stepping forwards and dumping the coffee down the drain, her lunch turning to acid in her stomach.
Liz checked the straps of her Kevlar as she got out of her car at the allocated meeting place, wondering once more just what exactly was going on. She'd been at the office, working late for the third time this week, when an agent had popped in saying Agent Norton had called in requesting immediate backup. All she knew was that it was likely to get ugly fast.
"Warner," a voice greeted from her right.
"Milton," Liz acknowledge as she tilted her head towards Norton's SUV which was partially surrounded by other agents. "Any idea what's going on?"
"No, I was just on my way out when I heard. You?"
"Paperwork," Liz stated, her eyes widening as she caught sight of Agent Ragdas standing among those already waiting. "What's he doing here?"
"Huh," Milton commented before he shrugged. "What does it matter, it means an extra gun."
"True," Liz replied as she looked about.
They were in a rough neighborhood, most of the houses rundown and in desperate need of some serious maintenance. The street lights were in a similar condition, their bulbs either shattered or long since dead, leaving most of the area shrouded in the dappled shadows cast by the pale light of the full moon that danced through the scattered clouds. The cluster of cars parked beside the boarded up church were a striking contrast to their surroundings simply because they lacked the coating of grim and despair that choked everything else.
Liz was just finishing her sweep when she caught sight of a figure getting out of an SUV that had just pulled up. Though it was dark and his face was cast entirely in shadow, she didn't need to see any more. She would recognize the man anywhere. Don Eppes had just arrived.
"He's got guts," Milton declared as Don stepped into a patch of moonlight, heading towards them.
Liz merely shrugged, attempting to ignore the way her heart started to race. "Like you said, another gun," she stated simply, wishing she could ignore the continued deterioration of his condition that was once again glaringly evident in the time since she'd seen her lover last week.
He had lost weight. Noticeably.
Despite her initial determination, she'd as of yet failed to inform him of her decision. Though, in some ways, her complete lack of contact in the past few weeks probably spoke louder than anything she could say to him.
Liz was just telling herself to turn away when Don looked up. His eyes widened in surprise and his gait faltered slightly. She could read the multitude of pained questions in his dark eyes as his mouth opened soundlessly before shutting once more. The moment stretched as her throat worked furiously as she found herself caught once more between her rules and career and everything that Don had come to mean to her.
"Thank you all for coming so quickly," Norton said, shattering the moment as Liz instinctively turned to face him. "To cut right to the chase, we have four to five hostiles armed with handguns in an abandoned warehouse just two blocks from here. They have a young woman hostage who they have ransomed for impossible demands, the deadline for which is in just two hours.
We need to go in and go in fast. Our intel says that the woman is being held in an upstairs room while the men generally spend the evening in one of the downstairs rooms when it isn't their turn to stand guard. Two of them patrol the perimeter of the warehouse, though they are by no means very disciplined about it."
Out of the corner of her eye, Liz watched as Don came closer to the group. She observed with trepidation as Ragdas caught sight of him and his eyes narrowed suspiciously. She seriously doubted that he would make an issue of Don's presence, but she knew that he would be keeping a close eye on him.
As the clouds shifted, the group was bathed in the silvery glow of the moon and Liz's breath caught in her throat as she caught sight of just how poorly Don looked.
"...I need two agents to aid Hanson and Lincoln with covering the East entrance," Norton continued, indicating two of his team. "Another two should go in the South entrance with MacKenzie while the rest of you can join myself in taking the Northeast garage entrance."
Liz could feel the moment Don's gaze returned to her, clearly seeking her out as a partner for the raid. She snuck a quick glance in his direction to confirm her suspicion before turning to Milton. "Let's join Hanson and Lincoln," she decided, moving towards them without a backwards glance despite the screaming desire to do so within her.
The moment the sound of gunfire rent the air, Liz's heart clenched with dread, horror and denial ripping through her even before the call of "Agent down, Agent down!" crackled across the radio. Her head snapped to the left, seeking out Lincoln even as she forced herself to stay put, waiting for permission to leave her assigned post.
"Go," Lincoln urged her and Milton as he crept forward so that he and Hanson could cover the entrance.
With a look at Milton, Liz carefully but quickly took off towards the garage and the sound of combat. As she ran only one thought raced across her mind. Don was at the garage. When she'd denied his silent request to pair up, he'd been forced to join Norton, Ragdas and the others in taking the garage entrance. Don was possibly the one who'd been shot.
Liz attempted desperately to shove the thought from her mind. There was no way to know who had gone down. No way to know how bad it. Except that her heart clenched painfully in her chest and the sinking feeling in her gut refused to go away, solidifying instead into a knot of ice.
"We've got the hostage," a voice declared via her earpiece. "We've also got two of the hostiles. A third is dead."
"Two are down here," Norton's replied just as Liz and Milton rounded the corner.
As agents slowly began to get up and check the perimeter, Liz's eyes scanned the scene, desperately seeking Don. Instead she found Ragdas and two others crouching around a fourth person on the ground.
"Where is that God damn ambulance!" one of them demanded as Ragdas tugged off his coat and handed it over.
"They're ten minutes out," a female voice responded.
"He may not have ten minutes!"
The faint, lingering look of shock and disbelief on Ragdas' face slowed Liz as she approached the quartet with a pounding heart. When she could finally make out the features of the fallen agent in the dark, a gasp escaped her as her world was sent spinning.
"Don," Liz whispered in horrified denial, her legs freezing her in place.
No! This couldn't be happening, he couldn't be shot. Don couldn't be dying. The thick liquid spilling rapidly onto the tarmac, however, told a different story. It was dark as night but recognizable all the same even without the cloying smell.
"Don!" Liz exclaimed as she suddenly broke through the paralysis and flew to his side, dropping to the ground alongside him. "Don."
"Don?" the agent holding Ragdas' jacket to Don's shoulder questioned, his brow furrowed. "This is Agent Eppes?"
The question flew meaninglessly past her as Liz reached a trembling hand out to touch her lover's face. He looked peaceful now, much more so than he'd been since the whole Ashby fiasco began. But it was a horrifying peacefulness. It had a hint of finality to it that ripped right through Liz and left her with a feeling of cold dread. Her eyes snapped to his shoulder, where the blood was seeping through the jacket covering the wound.
"What happened?" Liz demanded, looking up.
"He... he knocked me aside," Ragdas murmured, traces of surprise still evident in his voice.
Of course he did, Liz thought. No matter what may have transpired between the two of them since Ragdas' arrival in LA, the man was still a fellow agent and Don would do everything to protect a colleague, or anyone else for that matter.
"The bullet hit him right under the arm. Just next to the Kevlar."
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask at what angle it had entered him at, but Liz swallowed the question, not knowing if she could handle the answer. Besides, the blood pooling around him told her more than enough on it's own.
A low moan of pain drew Liz straight out of her thoughts. "Don?" she whispered. "Don, can you hear me?" She took his free hand in hers, shivering as she felt how cold it was.
"'iz?" Don questioned faintly as his eyes fluttered before a hiss of pain escaped him.
"Hold still, Don, you've been shot."
"Liz?" Don repeated hesitantly, his eyes opening halfway and darting about.
"I'm right here," Liz replied, leaning forwards so that he could see her easily.
Even as the words left her mouth, Liz cursed herself for her earlier stupidity. How could she ever have thought of breaking it off with him? How could she have considered the mere possibility when she looked forward to all of their dates so much and smiled more with him than she had done in years? What the hell had she been thinking leaving him alone just when he needed her most? To abandon him when he meant more to her than anyone had since Matt? Perhaps that was the problem...
"'ou're here," Don said in surprise, his voice so soft she hardly caught the words though they shattered her.
"I'm sorry," Liz whispered, tears stinging her eyes. "Don, I'm sorry, so sorry."
"Liz," Don started, his hand tightening fractionally against hers.
"Hush, don't talk. Save your strength. An ambulance is on the way."
"She's safe. Everyone else is safe too," Liz quickly assured him, knowing he wouldn't rest until he knew.
"Good," Don whispered as his eyes darted quickly past her, to where Ragdas stood.
"Don!" Liz cried as his eyes slid shut once more and his hand loosened in hers.
Just then the cloud that had been blocking the moon shifted enough for the entire scene to be bathed in pale light. The blackish blood took on a glittering silvery glow as it slowly drained from Don. The sight sent shivers down Liz's spine as she watched a hand reach for Don's throat only to draw back as he coughed before his eyes snapped open in realization even as dark, silvery drops erupted from his mouth. Her gut clenched impossibly tighter even as the men around her cursed as they all realized what it was.
The bullet had hit his lung.
"Get him onto his side," Ragdas ordered just as the sirens of the ambulance could finally be heard. "He'll choke!"
"Don, stay with me," Liz pleaded as he was rolled onto his good side, facing her. "You need to stay awake."
"'m here," he replied between coughs, his eyes mere slits though she could tell he was looking at her.
"The paramedics are here, but you need to fight, do you hear me?" Liz continued as she moved to make room for the EMTs. "Don."
"'romise," it was hardly spoken and she would have missed it entirely if she hadn't been inches from him.
"Don," Liz began but didn't have time for more as the agent who'd been keeping pressure on her lover's wound pulled her away.
Instinctively she began to struggle, needing to be close to him. To know that he was still alive and that she'd have the opportunity to properly apologize for her behavior. To be able to be forgiven, or not, as long as Don was there to make the choice.
What the hell had she been thinking?
How stupid was she? To throw away everything that he had done for her, everything that he offered? And he was offering it all, no matter how much she'd shied away from the realization before. He'd poured himself into the relationship. And what had she given him in return? Distrust and suspicion before she'd abandoned him at the first sign of trouble. What kind of person did that make her?
"Agent Warner," Ragdas repeated, touching her shoulder and finally drawing her attention. "Do you want a ride to the hospital?"
"What?" Liz questioned, dazed. "Yes, please."
"I'll let Norton know."
As Ragdas walked away, Liz shrugged herself free of the arms holding her just as an agent closed the door of the ambulance and it took off, sirens screeching. Staring after it as it sped away, Liz was unable to force herself to move, dreading what she'd be told when she reached the hospital.
Her determination had failed her, she only prayed that his didn't.
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