Disclaimer – I don't own them, I just borrowed them. Numb3rs and its characters are the property of those that created them. No copyright infringement intended. No financial reward gained. All real organisations are used in a fictional sense. Original characters and the storyline are mine however.
Tod poked his head outside for a moment. "Just one on duty." He reported.
"Perfect. Okay Agent, you know the drill. Keep quiet and no fuss."
Furious at himself for being so easily controlled Don could only nod.
They moved out and towards the lone sailor standing behind what looked very much like a lectern upon which sat the register showing arrivals and departures from the ship. The sailor looked up from the magazine she was flicking through and swept her gaze across the three men approaching her. Was it Don's imagination or did her gaze linger on him for a moment longer?
"Evening." She greeted them evenly. "Names?"
"Martin, C. Martin, T. and Hollis, B." Martin provided smoothly.
She made some notations in her register. "What time are you due back onboard?"
Another notation followed by a smile. "Enjoy your shore leave."
At the light pressure on his back Don started forward towards the waiting gangplank. He looked across to the dock and saw under the floodlights that it was empty aside from some equipment that was obviously being readied to be moved onboard the ship. He glanced back towards the female sailor in time to see her take something from beneath her lectern and dart away into the shadows. Something was about to go down.
He was abruptly jerked to a halt by Martin who had mercifully grabbed a handful of his jacket rather than tugging at the rope. Don turned his attention back forward. The dock was no longer empty, helmeted heads and rifles now protruded over and around the equipment. There was a noise from above them and he twisted his head back to see more marines moving up on some of the superstructure. They were surrounded.
"You set us up." Martin accused, increasing the tension on the rope.
A hard object was shoved into his back as Don fought back a reflex to cough at the increased constriction. The agent managed to find his voice. "You had me under guard all evening. I didn't do anything."
Martin levelled a glare at his brother who shook his head.
"I didn't leave him for a second." Tod insisted. "They must have figured it out."
"Well, now you're going to earn your keep, Agent."
The object was removed from his back and moved up to the side of his head. The Glock was pressed in firmly as Martin turned him around slowly to show the Marines what they were up against.
"You will release the FBI agent and lay on the deck." A voice instructed from beside them.
Martin spun Don around so that the agent was between him and the speaker, an officer standing at the edge of a door in the superstructure peering at them over a levelled handgun.
"No! You will order them to let us pass or I'll kill the agent."
"Release the agent and lay on the deck." The officer repeated calmly and confidently.
"I've got a noose on him. I pull this and he won't be able to breathe so good." Martin threatened, showing the rope wrapped around his left hand. He gave the rope a tug in demonstration.
Don's hands tried to jerk upwards towards his neck as the rope tightened again but the cord binding them to his belt was not going to break any time soon. This time he couldn't prevent coughing as he now had to work to get air into his lungs. His hands twisted but there was no slack to be had, he was not getting his hands free. The panic threatened to return but he just managed to force it back down. He was not going to die, the marines would ensure that, he told himself. He had to believe that.
The officer pointedly clicked the safety off his weapon, the click unnaturally loud in the still night air. He firmed his aim. "Let the agent go."
Martin ignored the command, dragging Don slowly backwards towards the gangplank. There were the sounds of heavier weapons being readied and Martin came to a halt.
"Look at what you are facing." Don forced out. "Stop and think for a minute. Do you think they really won't shoot you just because I am here? Do you think that they won't hesitate to shoot through me if it stops you from proceeding any further?"
"They wouldn't dare." Martin responded. Don was sure he detected doubt creeping into his voice. He eyed off the heavily armed marines arrayed around them both on the ship and the dock. Tod was sticking close in beside him, the three of them making a tight group. A shot fired at either he or his brother was just as likely to strike the hostage.
"You know the way this works. They don't know what you are up to or what you have done." Don had given this a little thought and had an idea as to what might help Martin and his brother see the light and give up. It was possibly a little farfetched but in today's climate he thought it had a real chance at working. He forced some more air into his lungs. "What would it take for them to classify this as a terrorist incident? What are the navy SOP's for that? I'm sure they are more stringent than the FBI's."
"They won't shoot you."
"Yes they will. What do they care about one FBI agent if it would stop a terrorist?"
"We're not terrorists."
"They don't know that." Don pointed out. "I've been with you all evening and I don't know what you are up to. I think you are just a pair of idiots who've bitten off more than you can chew, but I don't know that."
"Tell them, tell them we're not terrorists." Martin ordered.
Don almost laughed at that but it came out as coughs. "Like they would believe anything I say while you are holding a gun to my head."
Martin appeared to be at a loss. They really were in deeper than they could have imagined. To make matters worse their hostage had warned them this might happen and he'd blown it off.
Don decided to add a little more motivation. He'd noticed some movement as more people appeared on the dock. He knew his control couldn't last much longer. "Let's say you do get off this ship, past all these marines. Have a look at the dock, see those agents there? You won't get past them. We look after our own."
Megan noticed his gaze upon her. Despite the distance between them she read the message and pulled her weapon from her holster. The other agents followed suit. It may have been in breach of who knew how many naval regulations but Don knew Megan wouldn't care. Neither did he, the more weapons arrayed against Martin and his brother the better. Surely they couldn't be that stupid to not see that their position was hopeless. Their hostage was not sufficient to buy their way out of this situation.
"Chris?" Tod hissed fearfully. Don's words had found their mark. He shifted from foot to foot as if unsure whether to tuck in behind his brother and the hostage or to bolt for cover. "They're gonna kill us, Chris."
"I should have turned you in back in Hawaii before we left Pearl." Martin growled suddenly. "Now I'm going to spend the best years of my life in jail because of you!"
Abruptly Don was shoved forward hard. The rope around his neck jerked and tightened, his airway almost totally blocked. He stumbled and almost fell but held his footing. He turned and barely registered Martin tossing his gun aside before hitting his brother hard on the back of the head. Tod fell to the deck as Martin dropped to his knees hands behind his head. That was all he saw before his vision reduced to a pinprick.
He couldn't breathe! The bloated and blackened face of Johan Fredericks was again all he could see. It was about to happen to him. He was going to look like that.
Don struggled in earnest against his bonds, his control slipping away. He was shoved again and started to fall before being grabbed and held upright. He tried to jerk away from the extra restraint but was held securely. There were voices but he couldn't understand them. Hands were at his neck and suddenly the pressure was gone, air flooded into his starved lungs. His legs buckled and he was lowered to the deck, supported in a seated position.
"Don. Don! Come on man, you're okay." Colby's voice emerged through the roaring in his ears.
There was a click and as his vision returned he saw a flash of silver in the light as Colby brought his pocket knife to bear, cutting carefully but quickly through the cord binding his wrists.
Once free Don immediately staggered to his feet and away, coughing and rubbing at his neck. He leant on the railing as he worked on regaining his composure after having lost it.
He didn't react to the soft voice at first.
"Don, you are okay." Megan insisted, reinforcing Colby's words. She carefully reached out a hand and touched his hunched back, rubbing in gentle circles when he didn't flinch. "The rope is gone, you can breathe. You are safe."
Finally he nodded. "Yeah. Safe." He repeated. Safe, as long as he never went near a piece of rope again. He knew that was silly, rope was not something to be afraid of. But for the moment he was happy to leave it at that.
He seemed to be calming. Megan guessed that there was more to this than just a near strangling. Don's panic and the way that he had shied away from the discarded rope when making his dash for the railing after being freed showed that this ran far deeper. Up until that moment he had seemed to be okay, in control as usual but with Don it was hard to tell just what he was really feeling. She would have to take this further and soon. But not right now.
"I'm good." Don lied as he straightened a moment later, mask firmly in place.
Under her hand Megan could still feel his muscles quivering and knew that this was artificial. "Don, I understand. And you know that I am here for you. We'll talk about this okay? When you're ready."
"I guess." He turned to her and she saw the mask slip slightly. "I never knew."
That sounded like an opening. Instead of moving back towards the others he turned back to the rail staring out over the dock and the surrounding buildings. Perhaps he wanted to talk now. "Don?"
The story spilled out, clipped and sounding almost like a report. Don was trying to distance himself from the memory of that man he'd seen strangled as a junior agent. When he told her how the sailors had deliberately used the rope against him knowing it would cause him psychological distress she momentarily turned her attention back to the two prisoners, eyes flashing in anger. Her expression was lost on the two men as they were being searched after being secured, almost completely obscured behind the marines.
"Don you have nothing to be ashamed about." She told him when he finished. That was the main gist she got from the way he'd spoken of his reaction. There was also the fact that, knowing Don, he would have felt humiliated by displaying such fear in front of his team and worse, in front of offenders. She knew he always needed to be in control but the fear had handed it over to the sailors.
"I don't know, Megan. I was pretty useless."
"Not useless, Don. Cautious. You had to be very careful and you pulled it off. You got them to surrender and you survived." She'd not heard any of what he'd said to the two sailors as they stood on the quarterdeck under all the guns but whatever it was it had worked.
He'd even been in control enough to send her a message during that standoff, a message that had resulted in her going against the instructions given her by the marine commander and drawing her weapon. The other agents with her had all followed her lead. There was no way she would have fired from that range; it was difficult to be accurate with a handgun over longer distances. She was not prepared to risk that collateral damage. Drawing her weapon had been purely a show of force, she'd been confident that was what Don wanted.
His hand went again to the red welt around his neck, rubbing gently. She suspected he didn't even feel the angry welts on his wrists, easily visible in the light cast from the spotlights. A sailor with a red cross on a white armband started their way carrying a medical bag. David and Colby who were standing nearby headed him off before Don even saw him, knowing that the senior agent would refuse to be seen to now. They would take him the hospital on the way home.
"Felt pretty useless." Don insisted. "Letting two jerks like that get control over an experienced agent."
"Don, listen to me." That had been a big admission from him, even if he had put it in third person. It was also a sign of how badly he was taking this. "Any of us would have done the same, me, David or even Colby. The threat of strangulation is not something to be taken lightly. Nothing you did was wrong. As to that man who died all those years ago we can deal with that."
Don turned and looked at David and Colby, he would easily notice that they were set to run interference if anyone tried to approach before he was ready. He relaxed slightly, it seemed he had been expecting to see pity but what he would see was respect and understanding. They may not have heard the story behind the depth of his reaction, but they were going to stand by him, just as she was. They were a team and team members supported one another.
He straightened again, his expression not a forced mask this time. "Thanks, Megan."
"Boss, anytime." She reiterated. "Let's go. We can talk to the navy cops tomorrow."
That earned her a small smile. "That's the best suggestion I've heard all evening."
With David and Colby's help they got Don past the marines, shielding Don's view of his assailants, and onto the dock. The waiting FBI agents followed as they made their way to the parking lot and got Don ensconced into the front passenger seat of their car. Don's SUV would have to wait for forensic examination before he would get it back. He was in no fit state to drive so he would have to be a passenger but Megan was well aware that the back seat would be too much of a concession for him to make.
She made her promises to the navy cop that had followed them, satisfying his concerns and giving a very quick version of Don's treatment at the hands of the two sailors before they drove off the base.
It had been some afternoon.
A/N: Short I know, but it was something quick that wanted to be written. Thanks for the replies on the phobia question, Pnigerophobia or Pnigophobia (the fear of choking/smothering) would be the closest to what Don experienced.
Thanks as always for reading and reviewing and most of all, for enjoying the tale.